Ulum al-Hadith Curriculum

Ulum al-Hadith is a vast ocean of a science. It requires extensive reading and study over many, many years. Here is a suggested curriculum for aspiring students of hadith, consisting of a combination of Arabic and English works. It is based on my own experiences and advice from consulting with scholars, as well as the wonderful Multaqa Ahl al-Hadith forum. This is the sort of guide I wish I had when I began studying. One may not necessarily study all the works in each level but extensive study is absolutely required to attain mastery. Note that each level is predicated on studying parallel levels in other sciences (especially fiqh and usul al-fiqh).


This objective of this stage is to become acquainted with the major features of the hadith literature, nomenclature, sciences, as well as the content of prophetic narrations.

One of the best places to start with regard to the major hadith books is Studies in Hadith Methodology and Literature (revised Malaysian edition) by Mustafa al-A’zami followed by Hadith Literature by Muhammad Zubayr Siddiqi (ITS edition by Abd al-Hakim Murad). These two English classics introduce one to the main canonical texts, their features, as well as some methodology of hadith scholars. These could be supplemented by The Garden of the Hadith Scholars by al-Dihlawi, though it is not as essential as the former two.

Moving on to nomenclature, Introduction to the Sciences of Hadith by Suhaib Hasan is a brief but popular work, but I much prefer al-Manhal al-Latif by Muhammad b. ‘Alawi al-Maliki followed by Taysir Mustalah al-Hadith by Mahmud al-Tahan with its commentary Islah al-Istilah by Tariq Awad Allah as a preparation for Nukhbat/Nuzhat (more on that to follow).

A really beneficial book, that builds on the above as well as introducing more sciences related to hadith, is A Textbook of Hadith Studies by Hashim Kamali.

By now, one should be ready to dip into the study of the meanings of hadiths, and the obvious place to begin is al-Arba’un by Imam al-Nawawi, alongside reading its brief but excellent Sharh Ibn Daqiq al-‘Id, which may actually have been written by Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani. This should be followed by Jami’ al-‘Ulum wa al-Hikam by Ibn Rajab. These two commentaries introduce elements of the hadith scholars’ methodology which will be vital later on. Possibly the best commentary for fiqh discussions is Fath al-Mubin by Ibn Hajar al-Haytami. An unusally thorough English commentary based on a number of contemporary Arabic works is by Jamal al-Din Zarabozo.

Lower Intermediate

The objective of this stage is to deepen one’s knowledge of hadith sciences and nomenclature, as well as widen one’s familiarity with popular and well-known hadiths, as well as understanding their contents’ implications.

An excellent and comprehensive book on hadith literature for this stage is al-Kattani’s al-Risalat al-Mustatrifah, which has an audio commentary by shaykh Hatim al-‘Awni. This should be followed by Akram al-‘Umari’s Buhuth fi Tarikh al-Sunnah.

One must now master Nukhbat al-Fikar and its commentary Nuzhat al-Nazar, both by Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani. The first step to this is with the modern commentary on Nukhbat al-Fikar called Nahj al-Mubtakar by al-Shirbini as well as Hatim al-‘Awni’s audio lessons and transcribed notes (mudhakkirah). This should be accompanied with reference to Tariq b. Awad Allah’s Sharh Nukhbat al-Fikar. Thereafter, Nuzhat al-Nazar (edited by Nur al-Din ‘Itr) should be studied with the excellent audio commentary by Hatim al-‘Awni (with its mudhakkirah) as well as the written commentary by Tariq Awad Allah. Mastering this stage will make all subsequent study much easier.

The next book to study should be ‘Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghuddah’s edition of al-Muwqizah (al-Dhahabi’s abridgement of Ibn Daqiq al-‘Id’s al-Iftirah) with its commentary by Hatim al-‘Awni (originally audio but also transcribed and published) and Abdullah al-Sa’d’s mudhakkirah. It is a brief but excellent book that complements Ibn Hajar’s aforementioned work. Another additional work at this stage that one may reference is Ahmad Shakir’s al-Ba’ith al-Hathith (Sharh Ikhtisar Ulum al-Hadith by Ibn Kathir) with the recorded audio class of Tariq Awad Allah. However, the trio of Nukhbah-Nuzhah-Muwqizah is sufficient for this stage.

Now one can move onto studying and memorising famous narrations in ‘Umdat al-Ahkam by al-Maqdisi alongside reading its outstanding commentary Ihkam al-Ahkam by Ibn Daqiq al-‘Id. This will introduce fiqh al-hadith (an essential skill) as Ibn Daqiq al-‘Id deduces the rulings from each hadith in a masterful way. One may also refer to an easy contemporary sharh such as Taysir al-‘Allam. Those with aspiration may also read the commentaries of Ibn al-‘Attar and Ibn al-Mulaqqin, though Ibn Daqiq al-‘Id is a great summary of what one needs.

Thereafter, memorise and study Bulugh al-Maram by Ibn Hajar with its excellent commentary, Subul al-Salam by al-San’ani, another classic in fiqh al-hadith. Two contemporary commentaries that stand out are Minhat al-‘Allam by Abdullah al-Fawzan and I’lam al-Anam by Nur al-Din ‘Itr. The hadiths found in Umdat al-Ahkam and Bulugh al-Maram are the foundations of legal rulings and one really should memrorise them as they will pop up again and again in one’s future studies.

The final collection to memorise and study is Riyadh al-Salihin by al-Nawawi. The best commentary is Dalil al-Falihin by Ibn ‘Allan, which summarises from classical commentaries such as Fath al-Bari and al-Nawawi’s Sharh Sahih Muslim. A short, but excellent, contemporary sharh is Nuzhat al-Muttaqin by Mustafa Khinn and associates. A good large contemporary commentary is Kunuz Riyadh al-Salihin. Through these three works (i.e. ‘Umdat al-Ahkam, Bulugh al-Maram, and Riyadh al-Salihin), one will have grasped the spirit and essence of the Sunnah.

The most important books to prepare for at this stage are the Sahihayn of al-Bukhari and Muslim. In order to become easily acquainted with the contents of the Sahihayn, Salih al-Shami’s al-Wafi bi-ma fi al-Sahihayn is an excellent choice which some even recommend memorising, though one could otherwise study separately the mukhtasars of al-Zabidi and al-Mundhiri, on al-Bukhari and Muslim respectively. Whilst covering each hadith, refer to Ibn al-Athir’s al-Nihayah fi Gharib al-Hadith for obscure or ambiguous vocabulary and research the general meanings of each hadith, where possible, in al-Munawi’s Faydh al-Qadir and al-Tibi’s Sharh Miskhat al-Masabih. These provide clear and brief commentary on many famous hadiths.

If one decides on studying al-Zabidi’s mukhtasar, al-Tajrid al-Sari, then there are two excellent commentaries, both based on Fath al-Bari‘Awn al-Bari by Siddiq Hasan Khan and Manar al-Qari by Hamza Qasim.

Upper Intermediate

The objective of this stage is to begin preparing for the thorough and exhaustive study of the major hadith literature.

An excellent book that covers a wide range of topics related to hadith is the aptly-named Hadith by Jonathan Brown. This should be read alongside Studies in Early Hadith Literature by Mustafa al-A’zami, his 1966 Ph.D thesis at Cambridge, which is available in Arabic too.

As an introduction to the major hadith narrators and critics, whom one needs to know for mastery, as well as the emergence of classical Sunnism, Scott Lucas’ Constructive Critics, his 2002 Ph.D thesis at Chicago, is an outstanding work.

An excellent introduction to how scholars differ in their understanding of the texts of hadith is The Differences of the Imams by Zakariyyah Kandhlawi. This must be followed by the outstanding Athar al-Hadith al-Sharif fi Ikhtilaf al-A’imma al-Fuqaha by Muhammad ‘Awwamah. One may also add to these Shah Wali Allah’s al-Insaf as well as his Hujjat Allah al-Baligha.

Nur al-Din ‘Itr’s book Manhaj al-Naqd, which introduces a wide range of topics, should be covered as a precursor to his edition of Muqaddimah Ibn al-Salah. The importance of mastering this text cannot be stressed enough, as its structure is the basis for a number of subsequent works which can be referenced alongside its study. The audio class of Hatim al-‘Awni is excellent and should be listened to completely for a solid grounding. Tariq Awad Allah has an edition that includes the Nukat of both Ibn Hajar and al-‘Iraqi. Mastery can be assisted by referencing the corresponding relevant sections in Tadrib al-Rawi by al-Suyuti (edited with hashiya by Muhammad ‘Awwamah but also two good editions by al-Faryabi and Tariq Awad Allah) and Fath al-Mughith by al-Sakhawi (edited by ‘Abd al-Karim al-Khudayr). Another book one may add for reference is Tahir al-Jaza’iri’s Tawjih al-Nazar, which my Syrian shaykhs highly recommend.

At this juncture, two contemporary works must be covered which raise questions on nomenclature and other hadith sciences according to the methodology of the earlier scholars. The first is al-Manhaj al-Muqtarah by Hatim al-‘Awni and the second is Tahrir ‘Ulum al-Hadith by Abdullah al-Juday’. These two works are very original and insightful and have proved to be quite controversial. Their conclusions are that more effort needs to be made in ‘ulum al-hadith.

A good introduction to methodological differences between earlier scholars and later ones is Hamza al-Mallibari’s al-Muwazana bayna al-Mutaqaddimin wa al-Muta’akhirin.

As a counterbalance, Dhafar Ahmad al-‘Uthmani’s Qawa’id fi ‘Ulum al-Hadith argues that the classical sciences of hadith are subjective and not absolute, whilst championing Hanafi usul al-hadith. That is to say, classical ‘ulum al-hadith were developed for the most part by hadith scholars influenced by al-Shafi’i and thus implicitly undermined the usul of the Hanafis (and by extension the Malikis). Whilst one may not agree with all of his arguments, it does offer an important different perspective and underlines the subjective nature of the science, which may open it up for further development.

The above should provide a good framework for the study of by al-Risalah by Imam al-Shafi’i, which some have rightly argued is one of (if not the) earliest treatises on hadith methodology, in addition to being incredibly influential in the development of hadith science, in the sense that later hadith scholars took up al-Shafi’i’s arguments and developed them further. Joseph Lowry’s insightful 1999 Pennsylvania Ph.D thesis Early Islamic Legal Theory clarifies al-Shafi’i’s concept of al-Bayan. Tariq b. ‘Awad Allah’s al-Naqd al-Banna further clarifies explains al-Shafi’i’s conditions for accepting murasil from tabi’in.

At this stage one could also add Ma’alim al-Sunnah al-Nabawiyyah, by shaykh Salih al-Sahmi, who strove in this collection to gather the sahih and hasan individual hadiths, without repetition, from fourteen major hadith sources: (1) al-Bukhari, (2) Muslim, (3) al-Nasa’i, (4) Abu Dawud, (5) al-Tirmidhi, (6) Ibn Majah, (7) al-Darimi,  (8) Malik, (9) Ahmad, (10) al-Bayhaqi, (11) Ibn Khuzaymah, (12) Ibn Hibban, (13) al-Hakim, and (14) al-Maqdisi. It contains just under 4,000 hadiths and is an excellent introduction to the textual content of the major hadith collections. Indians tend to prepare for the dawrah al-hadith with the popular Mishkat al-Masabih by al-Tabrizi, which was abridged from al-Baghawi’s Masabih al-Sunnah. However, I think Ma’alim al-Sunnah is a worthy alternative due to its wider sourcing and relatively better selections in terms of soundness.

To really expand one’s understanding of the fiqh of the famous hadiths, an outstanding book is Imam al-Baghawi’s Sharh al-Sunnah. This masterpiece is highly regarded by our contemporary senior researchers (such as Shu’ayb al-Arna’ut and Abdullah al-Turki) due to its balance between hadith and fiqh. It contains just over 4,400 hadiths that are widely circulated among the hadith scholars, with valuable insights and commentary by al-Baghawi. Studying this before the major works will place one at a massive advantage over those who neglect it.


The objectives of this stage are reading the major hadith works with commentary and takhrij as well as becoming acquainted with the main features of ‘ilm al-rijal (biographical data), and al-jarh wa al-ta’dil (narrator criticism), as well as responding to criticisms levelled against ‘ulum al-hadith.

A popular work that introduces and addressing the challenges levelled against ‘ulum al-hadith is al-Sunnah wa Makanatiha by Mustafa al-Siba‘i, which responds to some of the objections raised by Orientalists. Alternatively, or additionally, Nur al-Din ‘Itr has al-Sunnah al-Mutahirah wa al-Tahadiyat covering similar ground. ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Mu’allami’s al-Anwar al-Kashifa addresses criticism of narrators, Abu Hurayrah specifically. These should be followed by On Schacht’s Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence by Mustafa al-A’zami, Harald Motzki’s collection of articles in Analysing Muslim Traditions, and The Evolution of a Hadith by Dr. Iftikhar Zaman (his 1991 Ph.D thesis at Chicago).

One should now learn the biographies of the major narrators through al-Mashur min al-Asanid al-Hadith by Adil b. Abd al-Shakur al-Zuraqi, as well as his Tabaqat al-Mukthirin. One should research these major figures in the books of rijal, beginning with Tahrir Taqrib al-Taqrib by Shu’ayb al-Arna’ut and Bashar ‘Awwad Ma’ruf as well as Tariq b. Awad Allah’s Tahdhib Taqrib al-Tahdhib for the summary (both are refinements of Ibn Hajar’s Taqrib al-Tahdhib which inexplicably has mistakes and inconsistencies), then Ibn Hajar’s Tahdhib al-Tahdhib for more detail, and finally al-Mizzi’s Tahdhib al-Kamal. Write all the relevant biographical data down in your own note book and review constantly. You will be seeing a lot of these narrators in your future studies!

The outstanding book to study at this stage is Tarh al-Tathrib fi Sharh al-Taqrib (published by Dar al-Badr/Shuruq) by Wali al-Din al-‘Iraqi (d.826). It is a completion of the commentary of his father, the great mujaddid Zayn al-Din al-‘Iraqi (d.806), on his own work Taqrib al-Asanid. It comments on the hadiths of the strongest narrators according to the structure of a sunan/ahkam work. For whatever reason, the book has been wrongfully overlooked in favour of works likes Nayl al-Awtar by al-Shawkani.

These famous chains should also be checked in Tuhfat al-Ashraf by al-Mizzi to see which hadiths they have produced. These are the figures who will feature prominently in one’s study of the major works, and so getting the gist of their biographies and relationships beforehand gives one a massive advantage later on. One must know how nuanced grading can be and will learn that refraining from rash judgements on chains of hadith without extensive research of each chain and hadith in context is wise and proper.

Takhrij can begin with Mahmud al-Tahan’s popular book Usul al-Takhrij wa Dirasat al-Asanid. ‘Imad ‘Ali Jumu’ah has an excellent chart form of this. This should be followed by Hatim al-‘Awni’s audio class on takhrij as well as its printed transcript (mudhakkirah), al-Takhrij wa Dirasat al-Asanid, which the shaykh highly recommends. To see how takhrij is practically applied, one excellent reference is Badr al-Munir by Ibn al-Mulaqqin (he called himself Ibn al-Nahwi) and it’s abridgement Talkhis al-Habir by his student Ibn Hajar.

All of the previous study should now have prepared one for engaging with the hadith literature. Many scholars recommend commencing with al-Sahihayn but Nur al-Din ‘Itr and Shah Wali Allah argue (convincingly, in my view) that the famous al-Muwatta of Malik should be one’s first major work for, in ‘Itr’s words in Manhaj al-Naqd, it is the ‘easiest in length, shortest in chains, and has a most excellent selection of hadiths.’ Thereafter, one should study the Sahihayn of al-Bukhari and Muslim, beginning with al-Bukhari. Whilst reading these three works, each narrator must be researched extensively in Tahdhib al-Kamal, as they are the pivots upon which the strongest hadiths depend. Do not rely on short works such as Taqrib al-Taqrib for this. It is a beginners book meant only for quick review and the habit of some of the muta’akhirin (even among commentators) of relying on it is frankly poor practice and low aspiration.

Al-Muwatta should be prepared for with Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr’s Muqaddimah al-Tamhid together with Ibn al-Salah’s Wasl al-Balaghat al-Arba’ah fi al-Muwatta’, both of which have been edited and published by ‘Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghuddah in Khams Rasa’il fi ‘Ulum al-Hadith. Also read the three other treatises in the collection as they touch upon essentials of hadith study such as the difference between hadathana and akhbarana. Thereafter read Umar F. Abd-Allah Wymann-Landgraf’s updated 1978 Chicago Ph.D thesis, Malik and Medina, which has valuable insights into the terminologies used by Malik, which really will help in understanding Malik’s intend and methodology. There are many commentaries on al-Muwatta, but the greatest are unquestionably al-Tamhid (more for ‘ulum al-hadith) and al-Istidhkar (more for fiqh), both by Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr. One would do well to also reference al-Baji’s al-Muntaqa (which is easier) and Ibn al-‘Arabi’s al-Masalik. For an abridged summary of the Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr and al-Baji, Sharh al-Zurqani is an excellent place to start. Awjaz al-Masalik by al-Kandahlawi is very clear (although the irrelevant  defense of Hanafi views therein is a distraction), but the best modern commentary is by Ibn ‘Ashur’s Kashf al-Mughatta. I still think that Bashar ‘Awwad Ma’ruf’s second edition of al-Muwatta in two volumes is the best one, though Kilal Hasan Ali’s is excellent too.

Ghassan Abdul Jabbar’s Bukhari is an excellent introduction to the man and his work. This should be followed by Scott Lucas’ article The Legal Principles of Muhammad b. Isma’il al-Bukhari and Mohammad Fadel’s article Ibn Hajar’s Hady al-Sari. After this, Jonathan Brown’s The Canonization of al-Bukhari and Muslim, his 2006 Ph.D thesis at Chicago, is an absolutely essential read. It is better than most Arabic books on the Sahihayn.

Sahih al-Bukhari must accompanied by Ibn Hajar’s classic commentary Fath al-Bari, for those with aspiration, or al-Qastallani’s Irshad al-Sari, which is based on Fath al-Bari and al-‘Ayni’s ‘Umdat al-Qari. Ibn Hajar’s introduction to Fath al-Bari contains many fine points of detail and criticism, addressing some of the objections in al-Daraqutni’s al-Ilzimat, which should be read alongside this introduction with the audio commentary of Abdullah al-Sa’d. This will further introduce one, in addition to the previous study of al-Tamyiz, to ‘ilal al-hadith (hidden defects), which is the most difficult aspect of ‘ulum al-hadith. Nur al-Din ‘It’s book on al-Bukhari’s fiqh and chapter headings, al-Imam al-Bukhari wa al-Fiqh al-Tarajim, should also be consulted. One good modern commentary by Anwar Shah al-Kashmiri, Faydh al-Bari, also discusses the fiqh of al-Bukhari’s chapter titles really well, and also objects to Ibn Hajar at times, but Indian Hanafi hadith commentaries tend to be motivated by defending Hanafi fiqh against the Ahl al-Hadith more than trying to understand the methodology of the authors. The best edition to study Sahih al-Bukhari is undoubtedly still al-Sultaniyah in the edition of shaykh Muhammad Zuhayr al-Nasr, followed by the Maknaz al-Islami edition. All other editions (as of 2016), including Dar al-Ta’sil, presently fall short.

Before commencing with Sahih Muslim one should read Hatim al-‘Awni’s Ijma’ al-Muhaddithin, which addresses common misconceptions regarding the conditions of al-Bukhari and Muslim as well as the mu’an’an controversy discussed in Muslim’s Muqaddimah. A controversial thesis, it should be read with Ibrahim al-Lahim’s al-Ittisal wa al-Intiqa.

Thereafter, the Muqaddimah of Imam Muslim and Kitab al-Tamyiz (ed. Mustafa al-A’zami) with the audio of Abdullah al-Sa’d are excellent starting points for preparing to study Sahih Muslim as well as introducing hidden defects (‘ilal).

One must study Sahih Muslim with at least Sharh al-Nawawi, for the fiqh, and al-Kawkab al-Wahhaj by Muhammad al-Amin al-Harari additional benefits in discussing the chains. Fath al-Mulhim by al-‘Uthmani also has some interesting observations and discussions apart from the usual Indian Hanafi defence. One must bear in mind Imam Muslim’s methodoly. He arranges the hadith in each chapter according to degrading levels of strength. Thus, the first one or two hadiths are the basis (asl) of the topic or argument, of which there are 3,145, and the following hadiths are supports (mutaba’at), from a total of 7,748. Most commentaries miss this point too, focusing instead on fiqh of hadiths rather than hadith methodology. Critics have often failed to understand this subtle point and have criticised the mutabi’ hadiths when their main purpose is to support the asl hadiths. A good teacher should be able to point these out and differentiate between them. Another key point to note is that Imam Muslim never wrote chapter headings or titles. He simply gathered the hadiths of a particular issue together in order of strength. Later, commentators wrote chapter headings, which they deduced from the contents of the topical hadiths. Most editions of Sahih Muslim use Imam al-Nawawi’s chapter headings, due to his great standing in both fiqh and hadith. However, one should check earlier and later commentaries to see how different scholars have understood the chapters. Sometimes, chapter headings have misplaced Muslim’s priorities in certain narrations as well as missing the methodological point being made by focusing on the fiqh rather than the method. The best edition of Sahih Muslim is still al-‘Amirah edited by Muhammad Zuhayr al-Nasr. One should also benefit from al-Faryabi’s edition due to its useful footnotes drawing on al-Daraqutni’s criticisms, among others.

Whilst reading the Sahihayn, keep at hand Mustafa Bahuw’s al-Ahadith al-Muntaqadah fi al-Sahihayn. This collects together and evaluates a lot of research into the criticised hadith in al-Sahihayn. It is a valuable reference.


At this juncture, before commencing with the major Sunan works, one should know that the objectives of this stage are to master ‘ilal (hidden defects), ‘ilm al-rijal (biographical data), and al-jarh wa al-ta’dil (narrator criticism).

Moving on to narrator criticism (al-jarh wa al-ta’dil), one excellent introduction is al-Raf’ wa al-Takmil by al-Laknawi (edited by ‘Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghuddah). This should be accompanied by Hatim al-Awni’s Khulasat al-Ta’sil with audio and transcript commentary and Dawabit al-Jarh wa al-Ta’dil by ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ‘Abd al-Latif. Abdullah al-Sa’d has three recorded series that are excellent: al-Qawa’id, al-Dawabit, and al-Mubahith fi al-Jarh wa al-Ta’dil. Finally, Ibrahim al-Lahim’s book al-Jarh wa al-Ta’dil, has a good level of coverage of the topic.

Building upon Abdullah al-Sa’d’s audio commentaries upon Muslim’s Tamyiz and al-Daraqutni’s Ilzimat, Hatim al-‘Awni’s book and audio commentary al-Madkhal ila Fahm ‘Ilm al-‘Ilal is a brief, but excellent, step into ‘ilal. This should be followed by Hamza al-Mallibari’s al-Hadith al-Ma’lul and Ali al-Sayyah’s al-Hadith al-Mu’all and al-Manhaj al-‘Ilmi fi Dirasat al-Hadith al-Mu’all. Tariq b. ‘Awad Allah’s al-Irshadat must be studied as an excellent and practical book that bulits on the previous ‘ilal studies by focusing on mistakes that are frequently made in strengthening hadiths with mutaba’at (follow-up) and shawahid (witnessing) narrations.

At this juncture, Shurut al-A’immah al-Khams by al-Hazimi and Shurut al-A’immah al-Sittah by al-Maqdisi, which discuss the conditions each of the Imams (al-Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, al-Nasa’i, and al-Tirmidhi) stipulated for including hadiths in their collections,should be read and summarised in a chart. Keep referring back to this chart throughout and try to determine whether al-Maqdisi’s and al-Hazimi’s deductions are always precise. Both are found alongside Abu Dawud’s Risalah (see below) in Abd al-Fattah Abu Guddah’s Thalath Rasa’il fi ‘Ilm Mustalah al-Hadith.

When studying the forthcoming sunan works, analyse each chain of transmission independently. It is crucial to remember that each chain needs to be analysed individually and in context, understanding the methodology of the early hadith masters, and referencing ‘Ilal al-Daraqutni, ‘Ilal Ibn Abi Hatim , and ‘Ilal Ibn al-Madini. One should be very careful in grading hadith and should strive to understand rather than innovate new gradings. Check one’s own reseach against that of Shu’ayb al-Arna’ut, Nasr al-Din al-Albani, and Abdullah al-Sa’d’s audio commentaries.

The Sunan of Abu Dawud should be prepared for by reading Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghuddah’s edition of his Risalah ila Ahl Makkah, which some have argued is one of the first treatises on nomenclature and methodology alongside Muslim’s Muqaddimah and al-Shafi’is Risalah. Abdullah al-Sa’d has an excellent audio commentary, focusing on ‘ulum al-hadith, of the opening chapters. Check your own research against his. Also, refer to the gradings and justifications of Shu’ayb al-Arna’ut and Nasr al-Din al-Albani. When these three agree, it should suffice. When they differ, research it extensively. Three commentaries to refer to are Mu’alim al-Sunan by al-Khattabi for a brief overview, ‘Awn al-Ma’bud for some good discussions on the fiqh, and Badhl al-Majhud for more clarification in the chains. The best edition of Sunan Abi Dawud is by Muhammad ‘Awwamah, which has met great aclaim among contemporaries.

The Mujtaba of al-Nasa’i should be introduced with Hatim al-Awni’s Mashayikh al-Nasa’i wa Dhikr al-Mudallisin. Abdullah al-Sa’d has an excellent audio commentary, focusing on ‘ulum al-hadith, of the opening chapters. Check your own research against his. Also, refer to the gradings and justifications of Shu’ayb al-Arna’ut and Nasr al-Din al-Albani. When these three agree, it should suffice. When they differ, research it extensively. The best commentary is Sharh Sunan al-Nasa’i by al-Wallawi, though I also like Sharh al-Shanqiti. The first is very clear and makes life easy for the student. Nevertheless, one must focus on how al-Nasa’i collects chains to teach ‘ilal al-hadith. The best edition of Sunan al-Nasa’i probably is by Dar al-Ta’sil, but Dar al-Ma’rifah’s edition with the hashiyah has been met with the most approval by contemporary scholars.

The Jami’ of al-Tirmidhi should be introduced through Nur al-Din ‘Itr’s al-Imam al-Tirmidhi wa al-Muwazana Bayna Jami`ihi wa Bayn al-Sahihayn, which was his Ph.D thesis at al-Azhar as well as Ibn Rajab’s Sharh ‘Ilal al-Tirmidhi (edited by Nur al-Din ‘Itr) with Hatim al-‘Awni’s audio commentary. This wonderful book helps to understand al-Tirmidhi’s use of tahsin. I would also add that Dr. ‘Adab al-Hamsh’s al-Imam al-Tirmidhi wa Manhajuhu fi Kitabihi al-Jami’ is an excellent study in three volumes. Abdullah al-Sa’d has an excellent audio commentary, focusing on ‘ulum al-hadith, of the opening chapters. Check your own research against his. Also, refer to the gradings and justifications of Shu’ayb al-Arna’ut and Nasr al-Din al-Albani. When these three agree, it should suffice. When they differ, research it extensively. My favourite commentary is Tuhfat al-Ahwadhi by al-Mubarakfuri, through whom my ijazah in al-Tirmidhi goes (the same path as shaykh Ibn ‘Aqil). Another good reference is ‘Aridat al-Ahwadhi by Ibn al-‘Arabi al-Maliki. The best edition of Jami’ al-Tirmidhi is best Shu’ayb al-Arna’ut but ‘Isam Musa Hadi’s edition points out some typos and errors in it. Ahmad Shakir’s edition, though incomplete, has very valuable footnotes. Make sure to reference al-Daraqutni’s Kitab al-‘Ilal, where possible.

The Sunan of Ibn Majah is where where should practically apply all of one’s skills attained through the previous studies for an academic investigation and engagement with Ibn Majah. It should be prefaced with Muhammad al-Nu’mani’s al-Imam Ibn Majah wa Kitabuhu al-Sunan. My own preference is to isolate the zawa’id of Ibn Majah and analyse those chains independently, comparing my results against the research of al-Arna’ut and al-Albani. Don’t rely on al-Busiri due to the weakness of the editions and some zawa’id that appear to be missed or included when not zawa’id. Rather, isolate them using your gained takhrij skills and Tuhfat al-Ahraf. Our count is that there are in fact 1,213 zawa’id hadiths (with repetition) but 1,476 in al-Busiri’s Misbah al-Zujajah. From these, 98 hadiths have a sahih isnad, 113 are sahih with mutaba’at (follow-up hadiths), 219 are sahih with shawahid (witnessing hadiths), 58 have a hasan isnad, 42 are hasan with mutaba’at, 65 are hasan with shawahid, 6 are possibly hasan in sha Allah. The best edition is the second Maknaz edition, published in two volumes in 2016.

By now, one should be well-prepared to read the hadith literature. The next step is yours. Indians like to move on to al-Tahawi’s two books: Sharh Mushkil al-Athar and Sharh Ma’ani al-Athar. Some Arabs move on to the zawa’id of Musnad al-Darimi, Ibn Khuzaymah, Ibn Hibban, and al-Daraqutni. Others prefer to delve into Musnad Ahmad. It took me a while to realise this, even after repeatedly seeing it exhorted to by many hadith masters and jurists of the past, but my preferred step now at this stage is to go on to al-Bayhaqi’s Sunan al-Kabir. Also known as al-Sunan al-Kubra, it is practically a mustadrak of the major hadith corpus, and truly one of the masterpieces of Islam. Research any issue and see how it is presented by al-Bayhaqi and you will quickly realise that this is a magnificant treasure trove. Managing to complete reading it (my version is 24 volumes!) can be assisted by al-Dhahabi’s abridgement in 10 volumes.

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