The Isnād System: An Unbroken Link to The Prophet
By Muntasir Zaman
Pause for a moment, and ask yourself: what are the greatest accomplishments of the Muslim civilization? At first thought, a number of things will probably come to mind, ranging from mathematics to medicine to architecture—perhaps even coffee. But unfortunately we tend to overlook one of the greatest accomplishments, if not the greatest: the isnād system. That a person, till this day, can attribute a hadīth to the Prophet and then follow it with a list of authorities reaching back successively to the source is what scholars as early as Abū Bakr al-Thaqafī (d. 309 AH) described as an exclusive accomplishment of the Muslim civilization.
The word sanad (lit. base) refers to the chain of transmitters leading to the text of a hadīth while isnād refers to the mentioning of the chain. Majority of scholars, however, use both terms interchangeably. Al-Bukhārī (d. 256 AH), for instance, mentions, “Makkī ibn Ibrahīm—Yazīd ibn Abī ‘Ubayd Allāh—Salamah: I heard the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) say, ‘Whoever lies about me should prepare his abode in the fire.’” In this example, the names leading to the text form the sanad of the hadith.
The usage of isnād began simultaneously with the transmission of the Prophet’s hadiths. Companions like Abū Salamah al-Makhzūmī (d. 3 AH), and Ja‘far ibn Abī Tālib (d. 8 AH), who passed away during the Prophet’s lifetime, transmitted hadiths citing the Prophet as their source. Furthermore, Companions who were preoccupied with their daily responsibilities would take turns to attend the gathering of the Prophet. When the present partner would relate the day’s teachings to the absent partner, he would obviously preface his words with “The Prophet said so and so.” The shortness of the chain, i.e. direct transmission from the Prophet, makes this first rudimentary usage of isnād unnoticeable. During this time, transmitters were not required to disclose their sources. That is why we find Companions like Anas ibn Mālik, who lived during the Medinan period, relate incidents from the Meccan period without citing their sources. This was not an issue because even the thought of lying about the Prophet was inconceivable to the Companions. Read the rest of this entry »
The profound influence ones environment has in shaping his personality, worldview, and knowledge is a universally accepted fact. It is as the age-old proverb goes, “Tell me the company you keep, and I will tell you who you are.” As such, to appreciate the early Muslim scholars of ‘Irāq, in particular those of Kūfah, it is of paramount importance to understand the academic status of their hometown and those who helped shape it. The following is an excerpt from the book Fiqh Ahl al-‘Irāq which explains the stages the city of Kūfah went through until it developed into an unparalleled city of knowledge, from its inception when ‘Umar dispatched ‘Abd Allāh ibn Mas‘ūd (Allāh be pleased with them) until the era of Imām Abū Hanīfah.
The author commences by highlighting the lofty rank and vast knowledge of Kūfah’s first mentor, ‘Abd Allāh ibn Mas‘ūd (Allāh be pleased with him). Thereafter, he speaks about the shift of the khilāfah in the era of ‘Alī (Allah be pleased with him) from Madīnah to Kūfah which increased the amount of Companions and scholars who travelled and took residence there. From among the Companions, one-thousand five hundred took residence in Kūfah, apart from those who spent time and taught there. Further, he enumerates the names of prominent students of ‘Alī and Ibn Mas‘ūd, such as Qādī Shurayh, Abīdah al-Salmānī, and ‘Alqamah who were leading authorities of their time. He then discusses the status of Ibrāhīm al-Nakha’ī and his student Hammād ibn Abī Sulaymān, who was the teacher of Imām Abū Hanīfah. By this, he establishes the chain of knowledge from the Companions until Imām Abū Hanīfah. He concludes with a few incidents on the excellence of Kūfah in the sciences of Hadīth, Fiqh, Arabic, and Qirā’ah.
An idiomatic translation was adopted and subtitles were added in many places to make the article more reader friendly. The footnotes of Shaykh ‘Abd al-Fattāh Abū Ghuddah and Mawlānā Yūsuf Banūrī were selectively added and notified; for the sake of brevity, these were often abridged. An attempt was made by the translator to reference all the quotations and necessary passages. These references alongside other footnotes from the translator were placed in square brackets.
Muntasir Zaman Read the rest of this entry »