Biographies, Islam

Imam Abu Dawud (202 – 275 AH)

Imam Abu Dawud

Name, Genealogy and Lineage

Imam Abu Dawud Sulaiman ibn Ash’ath ibn Ishaq ibn Bashir ibn Shaddad ibn ‘Umar ibn ‘Imran al-Azdi Sajastani.

Year and Place of Birth

Imam Abu Dawud was born in Sistan, a famous city in Khurasan in the year 202 AH (817 AD). He belonged to the Arab tribe, Azd. Even though he was born in Sistan he spent the greater part of his life at Basrah which was the seat of Islamic learning in his time. Imam Abu Dawud also travelled for collecting hadith. Many times he visited Baghdad. He also went to Hijaz, Egypt, al-Jazirah, Nishapur, Syria and Isfahan.i.

Special Attributes

He was blessed with an exceptional mind. Imam Abu Dawud had to read a book only once to commit its entire contents to memory. He was well versed in the criticism of hadith and an expert in distinguishing the sound hadith from the weak and defective ones.

Only four persons are reported to have earned their names for the criticism of hadith. They are: Imam Bukhari, Imam Muslim, Imam Abu Dawud and Imam Nasa’i. Imam Abu Dawud lived during the time when the Muslim world was full of eminent scholars. He had so much command over hadith, he was considered by many as Imam al-muhaddithin of his time.

Besides his expertise in hadith he was also a great jurist. He had keen insight in fiqh and ijtihad. He was a religious man. He led a pious and ascetic life. He devoted most of his time for worship, devotion and remembrance of Allah. He always kept away from men of rank, the company of sultans and courtiers.

It is stated that Imam Abu Dawud used to wear one of his sleeves wide and the other correctly sized. When he was asked for the reason of this oddity he replied, “To store notes on hadith. I consider widening the other sleeve unnecessarily as an extravagance”.

His Work

Imam Abu Dawood heard hadith from 300 persons who were his teachers. Some were: Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Ishaq ibn Rahawaiy, Abu Thaur, Yahya ibn Ma’in. For one to grasp his elevated status, he narrated hadith to the teachers of Imam Ahmad. Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal also narrated one hadith from him. Among the students of Imam Abu Dawud are great personalities like:
Ibn Arabi, Abu ‘Isa al-Tirmidhi and Abu ‘Abdur-Rahman An Nasa’i.

They were transmitters of his famous work Sunan Abu Dawud. Imam Muslim was also one of his pupils. Imam Abu Dawud’s works are:

Kitab Al Radd Ala’ Ahl al Qadar

Kitab Al Masa’il

Musnad Malik

Kitab Al Marasil

Sunan Abu Dawud

“Sunan” Abu Dawud

Imam Abu Dawud completed his famous book “Sunan“, and presented it to Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal, who admired it.

His book is not limited to the three types of Hadith; the Sahih (referenced), but also included the Hassan (accepted), Da’eef (weak), as well as the probable and the controversial.

He ended up compiling 4800 Hadiths from the 500 thousand Hadiths he initially collected.

In his book, he took care of all the Hadiths that the scholars had quoted and discussed among them which later turned into the Hadith of directives. It is mentioned that he only cared about the Hadiths of directives and did not include the Hadiths of self-discipline and virtues.

The book of Sunan of Abu Dawud is arranged in the form of volumes. It includes 1871 volumes divided into 35 books. It counted the Hadiths of the prophet, the companions and the affiliated scholars.

About his book, he said: “In my book, I sought to explain the flaws in the Hadith Da’eef (the weak Hadith), but if I didn’t explain anything, the Hadith is valid.”

Sunan Abu Dawud is an important collection of hadith: Most of the scholars have assigned it to third position among the six authentic books of hadith. It is only after the compilation of Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim.

A few statements from scholars of hadith concerning Sunan Abu Dawud:

Al-Khattabi said:

Sunan Abu Dawud is an excellent book. No such parallel work has been produced so far in religious sciences. It has gained popularity amongst the people. It has a decisive position among various classes of scholars and jurists. All have benefited equally from it. The people of Iraq, Eygpt, Maghrib and most of the countries depended upon it.

Ibn al-Jawzi said:

Abu Dawud was an eminent doctor of hadith and an outstanding scholar. No one has compiled a book like his Sunan.

Ibn Kathir remarked:

Sunan Abu Dawud is considered to be a famous and popular work among scholars.

Imam Abu Dawud himself has stated:

From this book of mine four (4) hadith are sufficient for an intelligent and insightful person. They are:

  • Deeds are to be judged only by intentions
  • Part of a man’s good observance of Islam is that he leaves alone that which does not concern him
  • None of you can be a believer unless you love for your brother that which you love for yourself
  • The permitted (halal) is clear, and the forbidden (haram) is clear, between these two are doubtful matters. Whosoever abstains from these doubtful matters has saved his religion.

The traditions compiled in Sunan Abu Dawud were generally followed by companions, successors and their followers. It is a basic source of knowledge about the legal points of views held by Imam Malik, Sufyan Al-Thawri and Al-Awza’i. It serves as an arbiter for disagreement among jurists.

His Death

Imam Abu Dawud died on Friday 16th Shawwal 275 AH (888 AD) at the age of 72.


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