The compilers of collections of 40 hadith

The compilers of collections of 40 hadith

Imam Nawawi in his introduction to his famous Forty Hadith mentions the great scholars who inspired him, and were the brainchild behind compiling the 40 narrations (which were in fact 42). He said:

“And many scholars compiled in this topic countless books”

Amongst the first who compiled them are:

Abdullah bin Mubarak (118-181 AH) is mentioned as an authority. A lot of the names of the scholars are based on where they lived or if they followed a particular trade. For instance, Abdullah bin Mubarak is known as the son of the blessed one. He was also well known for his piety, knowledge and wisdom. Among his famous books is Zuhd.  He was one of the students of Imam Abu Hanifa (80-150 AH) and lived through a very blessed time.

Muhammad bin Aslam Attoosi. He came from a town called Toosi which is the same place where Imam Ghazali came from as well. Imam Nawawi called them Al Alam Arrabbani, the godly scholars.

I want you to taste the sweetness of the introduction. He refers to these scholars to show us their heritage and their connectivity. He says, knowledge is like a blood line. For instance, when you mention your forefathers, you mention their lineage. In the world of sacred knowledge, the bloodline of the scholars is their connectivity.

He acknowledges those who were before him as a means of giving them respect but also to show that we are a continuation of the scholars. We have roots and a shared history. He intends to bring this to our attention. The practice of mentioning previous scholars is also common amongst scholars. In the introduction of their works, they mention the names of their predecessors and those who produced work in their respective fields. He says that he is not first who invented the idea of 40 narrations, but a continuation in the lineage of the blessed scholars.

The title Al-‘Alim Ar-Rabbani, is not given to any scholar who is a mere expert in science or expert on a specific topic. Rather, the title is given to those scholars who embody the knowledge and piety in their life. They simply can’t earn this by attending colleges or universities. Such an honour is a gift from Allah and it is a result of their deep commitment and true sincerity to Allah Almighty. As Allah stated in the Quran, be like the Lord and have Lordly attributes. (not sure about this quote)

Muhammad bin Aslam Attoosi passed away in 242 AH. We don’t have any record on his birth and this too was very common. No one was concerned about his birth and his family as he wasn’t famous and so his birth wasn’t recorded.

Hasan bin Sufyan an Nasai (213-303 AH).

Each of these scholars produced 40 hadith on a specific topic.

Abu Bakr al Ajurree (d. 360 AH). The word ajurree refers to the craft of brick making. A craftsman will usually make the bricks from clay and the dried clay is called ajur. Pottery was commonly made from ajur.

For instance, Moroccan potteries are made from ajur. There is a possibility that this scholar produced this craft for his livelihood whilst being a knowledge seeker.

Abu Bakr Muhammad bin Isfahani.

Dara Qutnee (306-385 AH) He is one of the famous scholars of hadith with plenty of books. One of his famous books is Sunan Dara Qutnee which covers 4 volumes of narrations. The sunnan is classified as half and half, where some of the narrations are authentic while others are weak. He compiled the 40 hadith as well.

Imam Al Hakim An Naisaburi (321-405 AH) was a famous scholar of hadith. His most prominent is called Al Mustadrak ala Sahihain. Imam Al Hakim tried to follow the footsteps of Imam Bukhari and Muslim to produce his book. His goal was to collect those narrations, which they missed in the Sahihain, using the same criteria for selection and verification. Al Mustadrak means appendix. Imam Al Hakim delivered some of what he intended to do however, he passed away before he completing his work. Although he selected some authentic narrations, his work didn’t reach the level of his predecessors.

Many years later, scholars came and purified and completed what he started. Imam Dhahabi commented on his book as well as Ibn Al Mulaqqin. They attached their names to his such that any search on the commentary of Al Mustadrak will come up with these three names.

We are now in the 5th century.

Abu Nuaim Asfahani (b.336 d. 430)is a big name. He is also known as Asfihani. His famous book is called, Hilyat Al Auliya, produced over 10 volumes. In this book, he compiled the biography of the awliya of Allah, who were excellent in both their practice and knowledge of deen. It is a beautiful book that has a mix of strong and weak narrations. The primary purpose of the book is to mention the biographies of these pious people, rather than to view it as a book of hadith. 

Abu Abdurrahman as Sulami (325-412 AH) was a Sufi scholar who produced 40 on Sufism and Zuhd. Imam Ghazali benefitted from his knowledge as well as scholars like Ibn Ata related and connected to him.

Abu Sa’ad Malini (passed away 412 AH). There is no record of his birth. He was a well-known scholar of his area.

Abu Uthman As Sabouni (373-449 AH)  

Muhammad bin Abdullah Al Ansari

Abu Bakr Al Bayhaqi (384-458 AH) is a well-known scholar. His famous work is Sunan al Baihaqi, produced over 15 volumes and divided into Sunan al Baihaqi al Sughra and Sunan al Baihaqi al Kubra. He also produced Dalail al Nubuwa, Evidences of Prophethood, a beautiful book. He produced many other books.

Each of one of these biographies are a gem. Through these biographies, we appreciate all that has been done before us. Through them, we connect to our heritage, and to the lives of the current and future believers. It is similar to what we do in our salah when we recite the At Tahiyat and say, as Salamun Alaina wa ala Ibadillahi Saaliheen. By doing so, we send peace and blessings on the righteous servants, those who lived before us, the ones who are alive today and those believers who will live in the future. The greeting integrates the bondship of iman, connecting you back to your history and to your future. It also connects you to your present reality. When you send the greeting, you connect with all the people across the globe and simultaneously they too send the peace and greetings back to you. So, we are all connected through this chain. These waves of iman and belief are ongoing. You can feel the effect of these waves when you have the sincerity and purity of heart. This is exactly what Imam Nawawi is trying to do. Our shuyukh used to do this by mentioning the isnad. Imam Nawawi is saying it is not you but the accumulation of what came before you that is meaningful.

Unfortunately, Imam ibn Rajab didn’t comment on the Introduction of the 40 Nawawiya. He made his own Introduction and started compiling the narrations. He chose instead to comment on the ahadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him).

I would like to note that we have no record of any of the books on 40 narrations produced by the scholars mentioned above. It was hard to find the 26 narrations of Ibn Salah. If one goes back, it is difficult to find these narrations unless they are identified and republished.

Finally, it was a very common practice among parents and young students to memorize the 40 Nawawiya. In fact, one memorised their name, the last Juz of the Quran, Amma, and the 40 Nawawiya. There is a very interesting story on the memorisation of hadith. Long time ago, in Sharia college in Dimashq, our Shaykh started a program on memorising Sahih Bukhari in the Girl’s College. Within two years, the girls had not only memorised the hadith in Sahih Bukhari, but they had also memorised them along with their chain of narrators. It was surprising but it showed us that with commitment and sincerity, one can achieve such a mammoth task. It was a common practice in the community to memorise hadith.

When a death happens in a community, we organize a khatm of the Quran. Similarly, we have another practice such that, when there is a calamity, the people would distribute Sahih Bukhari in short juz with the goal of doing khatm of Bukhari in one day. The intention of such a practice was to ask Allah to relieve the community from calamity through the barakah of reciting hadith and mentioning the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) name. This is our heritage. Although it is not a sunnah, but the practice brings barakah.

Shaykh Haytham Tamim

Transcribed by Sabeen Sheikh


Shaykh Haytham Tamim is the founder and main teacher of the Utrujj Foundation. He has provided a leading vision for Islamic learning in the UK, which has influenced the way Islamic knowledge is disseminated. He has orchestrated the design and delivery of over 200 unique courses since Utrujj started in 2001. His extensive expertise spans over 30 years across the main Islamic jurisprudence schools of thought. He has studied with some of the foremost scholars in their expertise; he holds some of the highest Ijazahs (certificates) in Quran, Hadith (the Prophetic traditions) and Fiqh (Islamic rulings). His own gift for teaching was evident when he gave his first sermon to a large audience at the age of 17 and went on to serve as a senior lecturer of Islamic transactions and comparative jurisprudence at the Islamic University of Beirut (Shariah College). He has continued to teach; travelling around the UK, Europe and wider afield, and won the 2015 BISCA award (British Imams & Scholars Contributions & Achievements Awards) for Outstanding Contribution to Education and Teaching.