Al-Dhahabi

Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn `Uthman ibn Qaymaz ibn `Abd Allah, Shams al-Din Abu `Abd Allah al-Turkmani al-Diyarbakri al-Fariqi al-Dimashqi al-Dhahabi al-Shafi`i (673-748), the imam, Shaykh al-Islam, head of hadith masters, perspicuous critic and expert examiner of the hadith, encyclopedic historian and biographer, and foremost authority in the canonical readings of the Qur’an. Born in Damascus where his family lived from the time of his grandfather `Uthman, he sometimes identified himself as Ibn al-Dhahabi – son of the goldsmith – in reference to his father’s profession. He began his study of hadith at age eighteen, travelling from Damascus to Ba`labak, Hims, Hama, Aleppo, Tripoli, Nabulus, al-Ramla, Cairo, Iskandariyya, al-Qudus, Hijaz, and elsewhere to thirty different locations, after which he returned to Damascus where he taught and authored many works and achieved world renown. He lost his sight two years before he died, leaving three children: his eldest daughter Amat al-`Aziz and his two sons `Abd Allah and Abu Hurayra `Abd al-Rahman. The latter taught the hadith masters Ibn Nasir al-Din al-Dimashqi1 and Ibn Hajar, to whom he transmitted several works authored or narrated by his father.

Among al-Dhahabi’s most notable teachers in hadith and fiqh:

1. Ibn al-Zahiri, Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn `Abd Allah al-Halabi.

2. Al-Abarquhi, Ahmad ibn Ishaq ibn Muhammad al-Misri (d. 701), from which al-Dhahabi received the Suhrawardi Sufi path.2 He said in his last illness while he was in Mecca: “I will die in this illness because the Prophet — Allah bless and greet him — promised me that I would die in Mecca.”3

3. Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Daqiq al-`Id whom he identified in his youth as Abu al-Fath al-Qushayri, later as as Ibn Wahb.4 When al-Dhahabi first came before Ibn Daqiq al-`Id to study hadith the latter quizzed him: “Who is Abu Muhammad al-Hilali?” Al-Dhahabi correctly answered: “Sufyan ibn `Uyayna.”

4. Sharaf al-Din al-Dimyati, `Abd al-Mu’min ibn Khalaf, the foremost Egyptian authority on hadith in his time.

5. “Qadi al-Qudat, the Paragon of Islam, the standard-bearer of the Sunna, my shaykh” Jamal al-Din Abu al-Ma`ali Muhammad ibn `Ali al-Ansari al-Zamalkani al-Dimashqi al-Shafi`i (d. 727).5 He replaced Safi al-Din al-Hindi as chief prosecutor in the Damascus trial of Ibn Taymiyya against whom he subsequently wrote a refutation on divorce, and another refutation on the Visitation to the Prophet — Allah bless and greet him.

Among the praises of hadith scholars about al-Dhahabi:

1. His student Ibn al-Subki said:

Our time was graced with four hadith masters: al-Mizzi, al-Birzali, al-Dhahabi, and my father the Shaykh and Imam [Taqi al-Din al-Subki].7 As for our shaykh Abu `Abd Allah, he is an ocean without peer, a treasure and refuge in time of difficulty, the imam of the living on record, the gold of our time in spirit and letter, the shaykh of narrator-discreditation and narrator-commendation (al-jarh wa al-ta`dil)… and the one who trained us in this science and brought us out into the scholarly throng – may Allah reward him greatly!

3. Another student of his, Salah al-Din al-Safadi, said:

I read before him many of his works and did not find in him the rigidity (jumud) of hadith scholars nor the denseness (kawdana) of transmitters. Rather, he is highly perspicuous and proficient in the sayings of the scholars and the schools of the imams of the Salaf and authorities in doctrine. What most pleased me is the care he shows, in his works, not to mention a hadith except he states whether it suffers from any weakness in its content or chain of transmission or one of its narrators. I did not see others show the same care in what they cite.8

4. The “Commander of the Believers in Hadith” (Amir al-Mu’minin fi al-Hadith), Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani said of him: “He was the most prolific of the scholars of his time. People yearned to obtain his books, travelling to him for that purpose and circulating them through reading, copying, and audition.”“He is among those who have total mastery in the field of narrator-criticism.”10

5. Al-Sakhawi said: “To understand the loftiness of his rank it is enough to know that our shaykh’s [Ibn Hajar] supplication, upon drinking Zamzam water, was that Allah make him reach al-Dhahabi’s rank in the hadith sciences.”11

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