Imām Abū Dāwūd

Imām Abū Dāwūd is the compiler of the well-known book of Sunan Abū Dāwūd and is also amongst the al-Sahih al-Sittah.

His Name, Background and Family

His full name is Abū Dā’ūd Sulaymān ibn al-Ash‘ath ibn Isḥāq al-Azdī al-Sijistānī and was born in Sistan, Iran in 202 AH (817 or 818 CE). His focus on legal ḥadīth arose from a particular interest in fiqh (law). And with his unique talent of memorisation that helped him commit a great deal of Hadiths to memory.

His Journey to Seek Knowledge

Just as all Hadith students, Abu Dawud toured the Islamic regions and cities pursuing Hadith wherever it was. In 220 AH (835 CE), Abu Dawud traveled to Baghdad when he was only 18, and two years later, he moved to the Levant (historical region of Syria). These early journeys helped him get high chains of transmitters, even higher than those of Imam Muslim at sometimes. He moved to many different places narrating and collecting the Hadiths of the Prophet (S.A.W.). He travelled widely collecting ḥadīth from scholars in Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Hijaz, Tihamah, Nishapur, and Merv among other places.

The depth of the sources of Imam Abu Dawood’s learning stretches back to about 300 teachers whom he met and learnt from, the most notable of them being Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal. Three of Imam Dawood’s students rose to such eminence that they have become household names in their own right and became famous for their own compilations of Hadiths, these are Abu `Isa al-Tirmidhi, Abu `Abdur-Rahman An Nasa’i, Ibn Arabi, and Imam Muslim who was his compatriot as well, there being a difference of only two years in their ages, Imam Dawood being born in 202 AH whilst Imam Muslim was born in 204 AH.

Imam Abu Dawood was reputed to have a truly amazing Memory. It is said that he would read a book just once and it’s entire contents were then recorded in his memory. He was exceptionally talented in the sciences of Hadiths distinguishing the sound one from the weak ones whose chain of narrators had breaks in them or where one of the links in the chain was not reliable.

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”. It is not clear to which school of thought he belonged. Some scholars say he was a Hanbali jurist, others regarded him as a Shafi’i jurist.

Having collected about 500,000 Hadiths and deciding to include less then 10% (4800) of those in his compilation, Imam Abu Dawood then chose 4 which he thought were the most illuminating of them all, and these 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.

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.

Sunan Abu Dawud

Abu Dawood compiled twenty-one books related to Hadith and preferred those ahadith which were supported by the example of the companions of Muhammad. As for the contradictory ahadith, he states under the heading of ‘Meat acquired by hunting for a pilgrim’: “if there are two contradictory reports from the Prophet (SAW), an investigation should be made to establish what his companions have adopted”. He wrote in his letter to the people of Mecca “I have disclosed wherever there was too much weakness in regard to any tradition in my collection. But if I happen to leave a Hadith without any comment, it should be considered as sound, albeit some of them are more authentic than others”. Hadith Mursal (a tradition in which a companion is omitted and a successor narrates directly from Muhammad) has also been a matter of discussion among the traditionists. Abu Dawood states in his letter to the people of Mecca: “if a Musnad Hadith (uninterrupted tradition) is not contrary to a Mursal or a Musnad Hadith is not found, then the Mursal Hadith will be accepted though it would not be considered as strong as a Muttasil Hadith (uninterrupted chain)”.

The traditions in Sunan Abu Dawood are divided in three categories. The first category consists of those traditions that are mentioned by Bukhari and/or Muslim. The second type of traditions are those which fulfil the conditions of Bukhari or Muslim. At this juncture, it should be remembered that Bukhari said, “I only included in my book Sahih Bukhari authentic traditions, and left out many more authentic ones than these to avoid unnecessary length”.

It took Abu Dawod 20 years to collect the hadiths. He made a series of journeys to meet most of the foremost traditionists of his time and acquired from them the most reliable hadiths, quoting sources through which it reached him. Since the author collected hadiths which no one had ever assembled together, his sunan has been accepted as a standard work by scholars from many parts of the Islamic world, especially after Ibn al-Qaisarani’s inclusion of it in the formal canonization of the six major collections.


Abu Dawud (may Allah confer His Mercy upon him) died, at the age of 73, on Friday 15 Shawwal in 275 AH (889 CE) in Basrah, located in Iraq, and was buried alongside of the grave of Sufyan Ath-Thawri.

Notable Teachers

Notably, Abu Dawud accompanied Imam Ahmad for a long time and loved him so much. He was so fascinated with Imam Ahmad to the extent that he would mimic him in his appearance and speech. This companionship with Imam Ahmad helped him acquire the knowledge of Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) in addition to Hadith. Abu Dawud compiled a book on the questions and replies of Imam Ahmad entitled “Masail Ahmad”. He presented his book As-Sunan to Imam Ahmad who praised it. It is reported that Imam Ahmad narrated one Hadith from him, something that Abu Dawud would boast of.

  • Ahmad bin Hanbal
  • Yahya ibn Main
  • Uthman ibn Abu Shaybah
  • Ishaq ibn Rahawayh
  • Sulayman ibn Harb
  • Abu Al-Walid At-Tayalisi
  • Qutaybah ibn Saad
  • Said ibn Mansur
  • Abu Jafar An-Nufaili
  • Zuhayr ibn Harb
  • Abu Ismail Al-Bukhari

Scholars’ Praise of Abu Dawud:

Abu Bakr Al-Khallal said:

“Abu Dawud Sulayman Al-Ashath, the superior scholar of his time, was a man that nobody excelled in recognizing the verification of (Shariah) sciences and in his awareness of their questions. He was an outstanding devout person.”

Al-Khatib Al-Baghdadi said:

“He (Abu Dawud) narrated Hadith from the people of Iraq, Khurasan, the Levant, Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula.”

Ahmed ibn Muhammad ibn Yasin Al-Harawi said:

“Sulayman ibn Al-Ashath Abu Dawud was one of the memorizers of the actions of the Prophet (S.A.W.) and his Hadith, its deficiencies and chain of narrations. He was at the peak of virtuousness, abstinence, righteousness and devoutness.”

Musa ibn Harun Al-Hafiz said:

“Abu Dawud was created in this life for Hadith, and in the hereafter for Paradise. I have not seen someone better than him.”

Abu Hatim ibn Hayyan said:

“He (Abu Dawud) was one of the leading persons of this world in matters of Fiqh, knowledge, memorization, asceticism, devoutness and proficiency. He compiled and defended the Sunan [Sunnah of the Prophet (S.A.W.)].”

Al-Hakim said:

“There is no disagreement about that Abu Dawud is the leader of the scholars of Hadith during his time.”

Adh-Dhahabi said:

 “He was a head in hadith and Fiqh. He was distinguished with dignity, esteem, uprightness and devoutness so that he resembled Ahmed ibn Hanbal.”

Abu Dawud’s Words:

“The hidden craving is the love of leadership.”

“Whoever satisfies with simple cloth and food has spared his body.”

Notable Students

  • Abu Eisa At-Tirmidhi
  • Abu Abd-ur-Rahman An-Nasai
  • Abu Bakr Al-Khallal
  • Ismail ibn Muhammad As-Saffar
  • Abu Bakr ibn Dawud Al-Asfahani
  • Abu Uwanah Al-Asfarayini
  • Muhammad ibn Nasr Al-Mirwazi
  • Abu Bakr Yahya As-Suli.

Notable Works

  • Al-Marasil
  • Masail Al-Imam Ahmad
  • An-Nasikh wal-Mansukh
  • Al-Qadr
  • Az-Zuhd
  • Sunan Abu Dāwūd; contains 4,800 hadith – mostly sahih (authenticated), some marked ḍaʿīf (unauthenticated) – usually numbered after the edition of Muhammad Muhyi al-Din `Abd al-Hamid (Cairo: Matba`at Mustafa Muhammad, 1354/1935), where 5,274 are distinguished. Islamic scholar Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani), and some others, believe a number of the unmarked hadith are ḍaʿīf.
  • Kitab al-Marāsīl, lists 600 extensively investigated sahih mursal hadith.
  • Risālat Abu Dāwūd ilā Ahli Makkah; letter to the people of Makkah describing his Sunan Abu Dāwūd.[8]
  • Kitāb al-Masāhif, catalogs non-Uthmanic variants of the Qur’an text

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