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FaithHistory

A Short Biography of Imam Tirmidi

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“I heard Umar ibn Allak saying, Imam Bukhari died leaving no one in Khurasan who can be compared with Abu Isa Tirmidhi in knowledge, memory, piety, and abstinence”.

Imam At-Tirmidhi is certainly an illuminating star of this Ummah whose role in the preservation of the Prophet’s traditions is noteworthy. The name of this great Imam is Abu Isa Mohammad ibn Isa ibn Sawra ibn Musa ibn Dahhak As-Sulami At-Tirmidhi. He was born around 209 Hijri (824 AD) at the place called Tirmiz which is located in the southern part of Uzbekistan and near the Afghanistan border. He was of a non-Arab origin. During his birth, the 7th Abbasid Caliph Al Mamun Al-Rashid was on the throne. 

The books of history did not report much about the early life of the Imam. However, it is reported that the Imam naturally fell in love with the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH) and dedicated his life to learning Ahadith. In the year 235 Hijri, Imam Tirmidhi started to visit different Muslim lands including Iraq, Makkah, Madina, Basra, Wasit, Royy, Kufa, Syria, and other places where he studied Prophetic traditions under the prominent scholars of his time.

There are narrations that indicate that Imam Tirmidhi did not visit Baghdad while Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal was alive since he did not narrate a single Hadith from him. Another interesting fact is that one of the authors of six canonical collections of Hadith, Imam Ibn Majah, was a close friend of Imam At-Tirmidhi and they accompanied each other on several educational trips. 

Imam At-Tirmidhi is known for his photographic memory. It is reported that the Imam had collected quite a number of Ahadith from one scholar through an intermediary. That means there was another narrator between Imam and that scholar. The Ahadith were compiled in two volumes of books. While on a trip to Makkah, Imam At-Tirmidhi met that scholar luckily. The Imam informed the scholar that he has compiled two books of Ahadith narrated by that scholar, and requested him to narrate all these Ahadith to him directly so that he can eliminate the narrator between them in order to shorten the isnaad.

The scholars of Hadith always preferred to narrate Hadith with the shortest isnaad i.e. less number of narrators. The scholar agreed and they scheduled a specific time for this purpose. Imam At-Tirmidhi was under the idea that he brought the books of Ahadith with him on that trip but he did not find the books with him. The Imam then met the scholar with a blank page. While narrating the Ahadith the scholar noticed that Imam At-Tirmidhi is holding a blank page. That infuriated the scholar and he said to Imam At-Tirmidhi that ‘you have wasted my time’.

Imam At-Tirmidhi replied that he has memorized all the Ahadith compiled in those two books which he did not bring. The scholar did not believe the same and asked Imam At-Tirmidhi to narrate all the Ahadith. Imam-At Tirmidhi then narrated all the Ahadith compiled in two volumes of books from his memory. The scholar was amazed by such a demonstration of exceptional memory. He then narrated some more Ahadith to Imam At-Tirmidhi.  

The number of teachers of Imam At-Tirmidhi was around 220 and out of them, 41 were inhabitants of Kufa. 27 scholars who were teachers of both Imam Bukhari (died on 256 Hijri) and Imam Muslim (died on 261 Hijri) were also teachers of Imam At-Tirmidhi. The Imam was a direct student of Imam Al Bukhari. It was a matter of great pride for Imam At-Tirmidhi that despite being his teacher, Imam Bukhari narrated two Hadiths from him.

Imam Bukhari once said, “I have benefitted more than you have benefited from me”. Apart from that, Imam At Tirmidhi narrated Ahadith from Imam Muslim and Imam Abu Dawood (died on 275 Hijri). He also studied under scholars like Qutaybah ibn Saeed (died on 240 Hijri), Mohammad ibn Bashar Al Bundar (died on 252 Hijri), and Mohammad ibnu Musanna (also known as Abu Musa) (died on 252 Hijri). 

Imam At-Tirmidhi was alive for 23 years after the death of his teacher Imam Al Bukhari. Imam Muslim also died 18 years before Imam At-Tirmidi’s death. Al Hakim [author of Mustadarak Al Hakim] (died on 405 Hijri) once said, “I heard Umar ibn Allak saying, Imam Bukhari died leaving no one in Khurasan who can be compared with Abu Isa Tirmidhi in knowledge, memory, piety, and abstinence”.

Therefore, seekers of knowledge from different parts of the Islamic world kept visiting Imam At-Tirmidhi to learn about this Deen of Allah. Many of his students became prominent scholars of Hadith. Some of the famous students of Imam At-Tirmidhi were Abu Bakr Ahmed Ibn Ismail As-Samarkandi (died on 268 Hijri), Ahmad ibn Yusuf al-Nasafi, Haytham ibn Kulayb al-Shashi, and Muhammad ibn Ahmad Shah Abdul `Aziz.

Imam At-Tirmidhi has written several books, namely (i) Kitabul Asma wal Kuna (name and description of the narrators of Ahadith), (ii) Kitabut Tarikh (History), (iii) Kitabuz Zuhud (Asceticism) and so many. One of the outstanding works of Imam At-Tirmidhi is his book called Shama’il un-Nubuwa. This is a book about the character, manners, and physical description of the Prophet (PBUH). He also authored two books called Kitab al-Ilal al-Kabir and Kitab Al-Ilal as-Saghir. These two books are remarkable works with regard to the methodology of the critical analysis of narrators of Hadith (also known as ilm ur Rijal). It is reported that Imam At-Tirmidhi had authored another book called Kitabut Tafseer but this book is no longer available. 

The work which made Imam At-Tirmidhi unparallel in the history of this Ummah is his book called Jami-at-Tirmidhi. This book contains around 4,400 Hadith in 46 books with 84 repetitions only. According to Tahir Muqaddisi, Al-Jami ut-Tirmidhi contains four types of Ahadith: (i) those Ahadith that conform with the conditions of al-Bukhari and Muslim, (ii) those Ahadith that conform with the conditions of Abu Dawud and Nasai, (iii) those Ahadith that have certain discrepancies either in the sanad (chain of narrators) or matan (text), and (iv) those weak Ahadith that some fuqaha (scholars who give legal verdict) have relied on [source: www.sunnah.com].

This book is amazing for students of knowledge. The Imam has organized the book as a manual for students of knowledge. There are chapter headings, explanation of difficult words, the actions of the companions of the Prophet (PBUH) regarding specific Hadith, biography of narrators, opinions of the scholars of the past on various issues, and explanation of many verses of the Quran in the light of Ahadith. The Imam also explained how the scholars use Ahadith for rendering their opinions. 

The Imam remained dedicated although his life for the preservation of Prophetic traditions. He was extremely God-fearing and pious. It is reported that the Imam used to shed tears in remembrance of Allah so much that during the last days of his life he became blind.

In the year 279 Hijri (892 AD) this giant of Islam passed away in his birthplace Tirmiz. The contribution of Imam At-Tirmidhi for this Ummah is unmatchable and the students of knowledge will always remain indebted to this giant of Islam.


Bibliography

  • Imam Tirmidhi: Life, Work, and Process of Compilation of Hadith [written by Dr. Mufti Mohammad Manzurur Rahman and published by Ashrafia Book House, Bangladesh] 
  • About – Jami at-Tirmidhi
  • Lecture of Sheikh Navid Aziz found here
  • Lecture of Shaykh Aqeel Mahmood found here
  • This History of the Ummah (Encyclopedia of Islamic History) by Mawlana Mohammad Ismail Raihan

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