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 »
A Student’s Guide to Essential Works on Qur’ānic Exegesis
By Mawlānā Yūsuf al-Bannūrī
Before you is an excerpt from “Yatīmat al-Bayān,” a forward by the critical hadith scholar Mawlānā Yūsuf al-Bannūrī (d. 1397 AH) to “Mushkilāt al-Qur’ān” which is a compilation of exegetical notes by ‘Allāmah Anwar Shāh al-Kashmīrī (d. 1352 AH). In this excerpt, Mawlānā Yūsuf al-Bannūrī begins by pointing out beneficial resources for commentary of Qur’ānic verses in works not written exclusively on the subject of Tafsīr but are nonetheless written by brilliant scholars whose works are generally filled with beneficial commentary. He then draws the attention of the reader to four primary books of Tafsīr which in his opinion “would quench the thirst of anyone who drinks from their springs.” These four are:
(2) Mafātīh al-Ghayb/al-Tafsīr al-Kabīr by Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 606 AH)
(3) Rūh al-Ma‘ānī fī Tafsīr al-Qur’ān al-‘Ażīm wa al-Sab‘ al-Mathānī by Mahmūd al-Alūsī (d. 1270 AH)
(4) Irshād al-‘Aql al-Salīm ilā Mazāyā al-Qur’ān al-Karīm by Abū al-Su‘ūd (d. 951 AH)
He further adds four more works: two as a replacement for those who are too busy to consult the first four books, and two for those who are interested in particular commentary, identifying in the process certain weaknesses found in them. Finally, he suggests a Tafsīr written in Urdu for those who are more comfortable with reading in that language; but he reassures the reader that there isn’t an Arabic Tafsīr that can replace it.
The entire forward, published in nearly 140 pages, serves as a beneficial introduction for students interested in an in-depth study of Qur’ānic exegeses and related disciplines. Mawlānā Yūsuf al-Bannūrī eloquently discusses issues like reason-based exegesis (al-tafsīr bī al-ra’y) and the nature of the Qur’ān’s inimitability (i‘jāz al-Qur’ān), constantly citing notes and research from his teacher Allāmah Anwar Shāh al-Kashmīrī. May Allah accept their efforts. To make this article more reader-friendly, an idiomatic translation was adopted in many places.