Book Review: Abū Bakr al-Bayhaqī’s al-Madkhal ilā ‘Ilm al-Sunan
By Muntasir Zaman
[Al-Madkhal ilā ‘Ilm al-Sunan, by Abū Bakr al-Bayhaqī, 2016, 1st ed. Muhammad ‘Awwāmah, pp.969 + 94, vol.2, $35 (hardback), ISBN 978-9933-503-59-8]
Covering nearly one-hundred topics, it is no wonder the disciplines of Hadīth are one of the few sciences that are ‘ripe’ (nadaj) and ‘roasted’ (ihtaraq), that is, they were clearly elucidated and thoroughly researched (al-Jazā’irī, Tawjīh al-Nażar, vol.2, p.903). Obviously, this accomplishment was not the doing of a few scattered scholars; it was the result of relentless effort from an unbroken chain of scholars over a millennium. In his authoritative commentary, Nuzhat al-Nażar, Hāfiż Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalānī (d. 852 AH) briefly outlines the most prominent installments to the genre of Hadīth nomenclature, starting with al-Ramahurmuzī’s (d. c. 360 AH) al-Muhaddith al-Fāsil and culminating with Abū ‘Amr Ibn al-Salāh’s (d. 643 AH) Ma‘rifat Anwā‘ ‘Ilm al-Hadīth. There is, however, a conspicuous gap as one key figure does not feature on this list: the 5th century Hadīth expert and prolific author, Abū Bakr al-Bayhaqī (d. 458 AH), whose monumental work al-Madkhal ilā ‘Ilm al-Sunan serves prima facie as merely an introduction to his compendium, al-Sunan al-Kubrā, but in essence is a phenomenal work in its own right.
Al-Madkhal was first edited in 1984 by Dr. Diyā’ al-Rahmān al-A‘żamī and published by Dār al-Khulafā’, but it was based on an incomplete manuscript. In 2016, Dār al-Minhāj published the book in two volumes with annotations from Shaykh Muhammad ‘Awwāmah, who cross-examined it with two early manuscripts, one complete and the other partly incomplete. To create awareness of this valuable work, we will briefly summarize its contents, highlight certain salient passages, and examine the editorial work of Shaykh ‘Awwāmah.
For our purposes, al-Madkhal can broadly be categorized into an introduction and three parts. The introduction comprises an expose of Imām al-Shāfi‘ī’s (d. 204 AH) status as a scholar and mujtahid. Towards the end, the author dedicates several passages to explain the reason for compiling al-Sunan al-Kubrā and the modus operandi of citing hadīths therein (pp.3-45). This is followed by two chapters on the virtues of studying, and the obligation of following, the Qur’ān and the Sunnah, respectively (pp.46-74). The first part covers essential and peripheral discussions concerning Hadīth (pp.75-406). These include introductory topics, such as the authoritativeness of the Sunnah and the veracity of isolated-transmission; it further delves into the disciplines of Hadīth proper with chapters on paraphrased transmission, tadlīs, the traits of a reliable transmitter, and the use of mursal reports. The second part of al-Madkhal covers discussions on legal theory, such as consensus, ijtihad, Mafhūm al-Mukhālafah, and ostensibly conflicting hadīths (pp.407-669). The third part covers the virtues of acquiring knowledge, the rank of scholars, and the etiquettes of students (pp.670-886). Read the rest of this entry »