Imām Al-Tirmidhī

He is the compiler of the well-known book of Hadith Jami Al-Tirmidhī which is distinguished by his unique approach of the classification and verification of Hadiths. His work is also amongst the al-Sahih al-Sittah.

His Name, Background and Family

His full name is Muhammad ibn Eisa ibn Sawrah ibn Musa ibn Ad-Dahhak Al-Tirmidhī Al-Bughi As-Sulami, from the well-known Arab tribe of Sulaim ibn Mansur. He was in Tirmidh, Persia in 209AH (284CE).

The Imam studied and read so vastly, he eventually fell blind in old age.

His Journey to Seek Knowledge

Imām Al-Tirmidhī devoted his whole life for learning and studying Hadith. He travelled a lot and learned under the greatest scholars of Hadith, such as Imam Al-Bukhari. Once Imam Bukhari said to him, “I have benefited from you more than you have benefitted from me.” Some scholars state that this refers to when a student is very intelligent and asks challenging questions, the teacher has to put in extra effort, by which the teacher himself benefits! Amr ibn Alak said: When Al-Bukhari died, he did not leave behind anyone in Khurasan like Abu Eisa (Al-Tirmidhī), in terms of knowledge and God-fearing. He also studied hadith under Imam Muslim, Imam Abu Dawud, Ahmad ibn Mani’, Qutayba ibn Sa’id, Muhammad ibn al-Muthanna and Mahmud ibn Ghaylan.

Imām Al-Tirmidhī was keen on learning Hadith. He travelled to numerous places and narrated Hadiths from many persons. He travelled to Al-Hijaz, Basra, Kufah, Baghdad, Ar-Rayy and Khurasan. It is narrated that he took Hadith from more than 200 narrators of Hadith.

The Imām travelled to many towns and villages to seek out hadith narrations. He took Hadiths from some of the teachers of both Imam Al-Bukhari and Imam Muslim, the teachers of Imam Al-Bukhari that Muslim did not narrate from, and the teachers of Imam Muslim that Imam Al-Bukhari did not narrate from. Not only that, he narrated Hadith from 42 narrators that the five Imams of Hadith (Imam Al-Bukhari, Imam Muslim, Imam Abu Dawud, Imam An-Nasai and Imam Ibn Majah) did not narrate from. Also, he narrated Hadiths along with five scholars of Hadith (Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, An-Nasai and Ibn Majah) from the same 9 narrators of Hadith.

Hadith was not the sole knowledge that Imām Al-Tirmidhī acquired, he was an encyclopaedic scholar. He was versed in other branches of knowledge, such as Fiqh, Islamic History, Arabic language and other sciences. He was renowned for his excellent understanding and deduction of the Fiqh rulings from Hadiths.

He also had an excellent memory. One day on his way to Makka, he met a scholar of hadith (muhaddith) from whom he had previously received two chapters of hadith. Thinking that he had the manuscript with him, he asked the Shaykh if he would allow him to read these two chapters with him. The Shaykh agreed. Imām Al-Tirmidhī checked his belongings, and discovered he had mistakenly brought along blank sheets with him! So he took the blank sheets, and the Shaykh began reading. After a while, the Shaykh realised what he was doing, and became upset saying, “Have you no shame?” Imām Al-Tirmidhī explained his story and then said, “Don’t worry; I have committed all the hadiths to memory.” The Shaykh asked him to read, and he read them out. The Shaykh was not convinced, so he said, “Did you memorise them from before?” to which Imām Al-Tirmidhī replied, “No.” Imam Tirmidhī requested him to recite some other hadiths, and the Shaykh recited forty unknown hadiths, which Imam Tirmidhī then repeated without making a single error. The Shaykh said to him, “I have not seen the like of you!”

Jami al-Tirmidhī

Jami’ al-Tirmidhī is a collection of hadith compiled by Imām Al-Tirmidhī. It contains roughly 4400 hadiths (with repetitions) in 46 chapters. The full name is: Al-Jami’ al-Mukhtasar min al-Sunan an Rasulillah wa Ma’rifat al-Sahih wa ‘l-Ma’lul wa ma alayhi ‘l-amal.

  • Al-Jami’ means it is a comprehensive collection covering the eight main subjects.
  • Al-Mukhtasar means it is a concise collection.
  • An Rasulillah refers to all hadiths being attributed to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace).
  • wa Ma’rifat al-Sahih wa ‘l-Ma’lul refers to knowing the authenticated narrations from those that may be problematic.
  • wa ma alayhi ‘l-amal refers to mentioning whom from amongst the jurists (fuqaha) have acted upon the hadiths.

Imām Al-Tirmidhī says, “I compiled this book and presented it to the learned scholars of Hijaz, Iraq and Khurasan; and they were pleased with it [and thereafter I brought it out to the public]. Whoever has this book in his home, it is as though he has the Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace) in his house speaking to him!”

The special characteristics of Al-Jami’ al-Tirmidhī

Imam Ibn al-Athir (a famous muhaddith) says in his Jami’ al-Usul, “Tirmidhī’s work is the finest, most beneficial, least repetitive and has the best arrangement. It also stands out by mentioning the different opinions and ijtihad [of the jurists], and clarifying the different types of hadith authentication, i.e. sahih, hasan, gharib. It also has some aspects of critical analysis of narrators.”

  1. It is a Sunan and Jami’ at the same time – It covers the main eight subjects, as well as being arranged according to the fiqh chapters.
  2. There is very less repetition of hadiths – as opposed to other books such as Sahih al-Bukhari. This is why some early scholars consider it to be more beneficial and reader-friendly than Bukhari’s and Muslim’s collections.
  3. It covers the major proofs of all the mainstream Mujtahid Imams and jurists, dividing them into separate chapters.
  4. In each chapter, Imām Al-Tirmidhi cites the fiqh opinions of the Companions, their students, and Imams of fiqh by their names, and clarifies their method of using the hadiths as proof. As such, his work is also a priceless resource of fiqh, with students of hadith and fiqh both able to benefit.
  5. After mentioning a hadith, he classifies it by stating whether it is authenticated (sahih), sound (hasan) or weak (da’if). If the chain has any discrepancies, he explains the reasons in detail. He discusses the status of the narrators.
  6. He only records one or two hadiths in each chapter (unlike other books where many narrations can be recorded under one chapter-heading), and then alludes to related hadiths by saying “wa fi ‘l-bab” i.e. regarding this issue there are other narrations related by such-and-such companion…
  7. If a hadith is long, Imām Al-Tirmidhī only mentions that part which is relevant to the chapter-heading, and omits the rest. As such, hadiths in his collection are short and easy to remember and memorize!
  8. If a hadith is difficult in terms of its chain or text, he provides a full explanation for it.
  9. If a narrator is not well-known, he provides details by mentioning his name, title (kunya), and outlines whether the narrator heard the hadith from his Shaykh or not.
  10. Jami’ al-Tirmidhī has been set out in an excellent sequence; hence searching for a hadith is relatively simple. Scholars say it is the most reader-friendly book amongst the well-known hadith collections.
  11. Every hadith in his book is ‘ma’mul bihi’ (practiced upon by some jurist).
  12. One hadith in Jami’ al-Tirmidhī is a thulathiyaat i.e. the transmitters of the hadith between Imām Al-Tirmidhī and the Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace) are only three. (There are 22 thulathiyaat in Sahih al-Bukhari, a few in Sunan Ibn Majah, and none in Sahih Muslim, Sunan Abi Dawud and Sunan Nasa’i).

The status of Jami’ al-Tirmidhī

Imam Hafiz Dhahabi and others class Jami’ al-Tirmidhī as fifth amongst the six famous collections of hadith, after the Sunans of Abu Dawud and Nasa’i. This is due to Imām Al-Tirmidhī narrating from ‘some’ non-reliable narrators like Kalbi and Maslub.

However, others including Haji Khalifa in his Kashf al-Dhunun categorize Tirmidhī’s work in third position after Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim. Ibn Hajar categorizes it in fourth place after Sunan Abi Dawud. The view of it being ‘third’ seems most appropriate due to many benefits and particulars of the book outlined above. As for the weak narrations, they are very few and Imām Al-Tirmidhi always points them out, hence his book is harmless. Imam Abu Bakr al-Hazimi states that Tirmidhi’s conditions are more stringent than those of Abu Dawud.

Weak and fabricated hadiths in Jami’ al-Tirmidhī:

In terms of weak (da’if) narrations, as mentioned previously, Imām Al-Tirmidhī always points out if a narration is weak, and normally he only uses them as additional support (mutabi’ or shahid). Furthermore, there are only a few (about 10) narrations in his entire work which he considers as authentic whilst other Imams class them as weak. Also, often the weak narration has multiple chains because of which it is elevated to the level of being hasan (sound).

There are no fabricated (mawdu’) narrations in Jami’ al-Tirmidhī.

The terminology of Imām Al-Tirmidhī in hadith classification

The classification of hadith was first discussed by people like Imam Ali ibn al-Madini, Imam Bukhari and others. However, Imām Al-Tirmidhī was the first to base his hadith collection on these classifications. Imām Al-Tirmidhī classifies most of the hadiths and mentions their status. Some of the terms he uses are:

1) Sahih (rigorously authenticated) – His use of this term is in accordance with the general usage, i.e. the existence of five conditions:

a) The chain of narration, from the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) to the final narrator, is connected (muttasil) in such a way that every single person in the chain has himself heard or received this narration from the person he is narrating from.

b) All the narrators in the chain are upright (‘adil).

c) All the narrators possess the ability to preserve the hadith precisely (dabt).

d) The hadith does not contradict other hadiths which have come from more reliable narrators (‘adam al-Shudhudh).

e) There are no other hidden weaknesses (‘adam al-illah al-Qadiha) – such as a hidden gap in the chain of narration.

2) Hasan (sound) – The definition of hasan according to Imām Al-Tirmidhī is a hadith whose chain does not contain a narrator accused of lying, the hadith does not oppose another which is reported by more authentic narrators (shadh), and it is transmitted through more than one chain.

[Note the mainstream definition of hasan is similar to that of sahih, with the difference only being in the fact there is a narrator/s in the chain whose capacity to ‘preserve’ is of a lower degree].

3) Da’if (weak) – That which fails to reach the level of hasan.

4) Gharib (isolated) – Normally refers to a hadith in whose chain there is only one narrator at a particular stage. Imām Al-Tirmidhī sometimes says “gharib min hadha ‘l-wajh” meaning the text of the hadith is well-known, however this particular chain is gharib.

5) Jayyid (good) – This term is used synonymously with sahih (although it may be slightly lower than sahih).

6) Asahhu shay fi ‘l-bab (most authentic in this chapter) – This means that the hadith is relatively more authentic than other hadiths in the chapter, although in of itself it may be weak.

7) Hasan Sahih –This term has caused much debate amongst the Muhaddithin, since hasan is lower in rank than sahih. While sahih indicates to the excellent ‘preservation’ power of a narrator, hasan indicates to a deficiency in this regard; hence it seems both are opposites and it is not possible to reconcile. The explanations given are:

a) Imām Al-Tirmidhī is unsure whether the hadith is sahih or hasan [Ibn Hajar].

b) The hadith is transmitted through two chains; one is hasan and the other sahih [Ibn Salah].

c) Imām Al-Tirmidhī has made up a new term which implies the hadith is higher than hasan but lower than sahih [Ibn Kathir].

8) Sahih Gharib – This term implies that the hadith is rigorously authenticated, but there is an isolated narrator in its chain of transmission.

9) Hasan Gharib – Same as above, with the authentication being at the level of hasan.

10) hasan sahih gharib – The same explanation applies here in terms of combining hasan and sahih, with the exception of there being more than one chain. It is also possible that the hadith has multiple chains, but a particular word in gharib.

The conditions of Imām Al-Tirmidhī in hadith selection

According to the commentators, Imām Al-Tirmidhī maintained the following conditions throughout the compilation of his book:

1) Imam Tahir al-Maqdasi states in his Shurut al-A’imma al-Sittah (specifically written to outline the conditions maintained by the six Imams) that Jami’ al-Tirmidhī contains four types of hadiths:

a) Those absolutely authentic and narrated by Bukhari and Muslim.

b) Those conforming to the conditions of Bukhari and Muslim.

c) Those having certain discrepancies in their chains, and are recorded by other Imams such as Abu Dawud and Nasa’i. He normally highlights the weakness.

d) Those that only he narrates, some of which are authentic and some not.

2) Imām Al-Tirmidhī accepts a hadith which is narrated with the word “an” provided both narrators are contemporaries.

3) A Mursal hadith is accepted by Imām Al-Tirmidhī when it is supported by another chain that is not broken.

The special characteristics of Jami` Al-Tirmidhī:

  1. It is a Sunan and a Jami`.
  2. Only 83 hadith are repeated.
  3. Imām Al-Tirmidhī omits the major portion of the hadith and only mentions that part which is relevant to the heading. (title)
  4. After mentioning a hadith he classifies its narration (whether it is authentic or weak, etc.)
  5. He specifies the narrators names, e.g. if the narrators kunya (honorific name) was mentioned, he would then mention his proper name and vice versa.
  6. One hadith in Tirmidhī is a thulaathiyaat i.e. the transmitters of the hadith between Imām Al-Tirmidhī and the Prophet (s) are only three.
  7. Every hadith in Tirmidhī al-Jami` is ma’mul bihi (practiced upon by the jurists.)
  8. He explains the different madhahib together with their proofs.
  9. He gives an explanation to all difficult ahadith.
  10. His book has been set out in an excellent sequence, making is easy to look for a hadith.
  11. There is no fabricated hadith in the entire book.


The Imām is also well known for his work on the Shamaail of the Messenger. He categorises hadith solely based on the appearance adn character of the messenger. This collection is recited often in gatherings.

Al-Tirmidhī’s Death:

After a life replete with knowledge-seeking, travelling for narrating Hadiths and teaching and explaining Hadith, Imām Al-Tirmidhī passed away on Monday 13th of Rajab, 279 AH (892 CE) in Bugh (a village lies in his hometown Tirmidh) at the age of 68.

Notable Teachers

  • Ibrahim ibn Ismail ibn Yahia
  • Abu Ishaq Al-Tabari
  • Ibrahim ibn Hatim Al-Harawi
  • Ibrahim ibn Harun Al-Balkhi
  • Ibrahim ibn Yaqub Al-Jawjajani
  • Muhammad ibn Bashshar ibn Bindar
  • Muhammad ibn Al-Muthanna
  • Qutaybah ibn Said Al-Baghlani
  • Ali ibn Hajar Al-Mirwazi
  • Muhammad ibn Ismail Al-Bukhari
  • Muslim ibn Al-Hajjaj An-Naysaburi
  • Ahmad ibn Mani Al-Baghawi
  • Mahmud ibn Ghaylan Al-Mirwazi
  • Abdullah ibn Abdur-Rahman Ad-Darimi
  • Ishaq ibn Rahawih

Scholars’ Praise of Al-Tirmidhī:

Abu Sad Al-Idrisi said:

“Muhammad ibn Eisa Al-Tirmidhī, the blind memorizer of Hadith, is one of the leading scholars of the knowledge of Hadith. He compiled the book Al-Jami, At-Tawarikh and Al-Ilal in a proficient and scientific way. He was an example of the memorization of Hadith.”

As-Samaani said:

“There is no dispute that he (Al-Tirmidhī) was the Imam of his age. He also said, He was one of the leading Imams of Hadith.”

Ibn Al-Athir Al-Jazari said:

“He was one of the prominent memorizing scholars of Hadith. Also, he was well-informed of Fiqh.”

Abu Al-Fida said:

“He was a leading memorizer of Hadith, and he was blind. He was one of the well-known proficient scholars of Hadith.”

Ibn Kathir said:

“He (Al-Tirmidhī) was one of the Imams of this matter (Hadith) at his time.”

Al-Hafiz Abu Al-Hajjaj Al-Mizzi said:

“He (Al-Tirmidhī) was one of the prominent memorizing Imams (of Hadith) by whom Allah has benefited Muslims.”

Notable Students

  • Abu Al-Abbas Muhammad ibn Ahmad Al-Mahbubi Al-Mirwazi
  • Abu Said Ash-Shashi
  • Abu Dharr Muhammad ibn Ibrahim Al-Tirmidhī
  • Abu Muhammad Al- Hasan Al-Qattan
  • Abu Hamid Ahmad ibn Abdullah Al-Mirwazi
  • Abu Bakr Ahmad ibn Aamer As-Samarqandi
  • Ahmad ibn Yusuf An-Nasafi
  • Al-Hasan ibn Yusuf Al-Farabri
  • Ar-Rabi ibn Hayyan Al-Bahili

Notable Works

  • Al-Ilal As-Sughra- Az-Zuhd
  • Al-Ilal Al-Kubra
  • Ash-Shamail An-Nabawiyyah wa Al-Fa-dail Al-Mustafawiyyah
  • Al-Asmaa wa Al-Kuna- Kitab Al-Tarikh

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