Abu Nu`aym al-Asbahani

Abû Nu`aym, Ahmad ibn `Abd Allâh ibn Ahmad ibn Ishâq ibn Mûsâ ibn Mahrân al-Mihrânî al-Asbahânî or al-Asfahânî al-Ahwal al-Ash`arî al-Shâfi`î (336-430), the Imâm, erudite scholar, Sûfî, Shaykh al-Islâm, and major trustworthy hadîth Master. His first teachers were his grandfather the Sûfî master Muhammad ibn Yûsuf al-Bannâ’ al-Asbahânî and his father, a hadîth scholar who had travelled all over the Islamic world. Under his father’s direction Abû Nu`aym began his scholarly career very early, and before the age of ten possessed certificates of narration transmission from all the major shaykhs of the Islamic world in his time, obtained for him by his father. Among them: al-Mu`ammar `Abd Allâh ibn `Umar ibn Shawdhab in Wâsit, Abû al-`Abbâs al-Asamm in Naysabûr, Khaythama ibn Sulaymân al-Atrâbulsî in Shâm, Ja`far ibn Muhammad ibn Nusayr al-Khuldî and Abû Sahl ibn Zyad al-Qattân in Baghdâd, Abû Bakr ibn al-Sunni in Daynur, and others. Subsequently he took hadîth and narrated it from and to an innumerable list of shaykhs and students.

Among his shuyûkh: al-Tabarânî, Abû al-Shaykh, al-Ajurrî, al-Hâkim, and others. Among his students were al-Khatîb, al-Malînî, al-Dhakwânî, Abû al-Fadl Hamd ibn Ahmad al-Haddâd, his brother Abû `Alî al-Hasan, and others. Many of Abû Nu`aym’s Shaykhs did not certify any other than him in their lifetime, hence the statement of the hadîth Scholars that “Abû Nu`aym possessed chains of transmission that no one else in the world possessed in his time.” Because of the two factors of having received many of these chains at a very early age and the fact that he lived almost a hundred years, Abû Nu`aym also became famous for the shortness of his chains. This is attribute is much prized among hadîth Scholars in view of the rule that the shorter a chain of transmission is, the stronger the probability that its narration is error-free. Hence, Ahmad ibn Hanbal’s statement: “The pursuit of short transmission chains is a Sunna inherited from those who came before.” One drawback of Abû Nu`aym’s unique chains is that some of his shaykhs are unheard-of and therefore of unverifiable reliability.

Abû Nu`aym was assiduous in the pursuit of knowledge according to the manner of the ascetic scholars. Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Mardûyah said of him: “He had no other sustenance than giving audition (al-tasmî`) and writing.” This quality joined with his superlative intelligence and early start to make him one of the major hadîth Masters and compilers in Islâm and the most sought-after hadîth narrator in his time. Ibn Mardûyah states that even during the time that he walked home from his mosque gatherings, a student would be reading a volume of hadîth to him on the way. Al-Khatîb said: “I did not see anyone for whom the unqualified term “the hadîth Master” (al-hâfiz ) was used except two men: Abû Nu`aym and Abû Hâzim al-`Abdawî.” Hamza ibn al-`Abbâs al-`Alawî said: “The hadîth scholars used to say that the hadîth Master Abû Nu`aym remained for fourteen years without equal, no one from East to West possessing any chain of transmission shorter than his, and there was no one stronger in memorization.”

Abû Nu`aym was Ash`arî in doctrine as indicated by Ibn `Asâkir’s inclusion of him in the second generation-layer of al-Ash`arî’s students and as stated by Ibn al-Jawzî in his great history, al-Muntazam. This is confirmed by Abû Nu`aym’s doctrinal criticism of Ibn Mandah when it is known that the latter narrated anthropomorphist views and his authoring al-Radd `alâ al-Hurûfiyya al-Hulûliyya (“Refutation of the Letter-Worshippers Who Believe in Indwelling”) against Ibn Mandah’s belief that the pronunciation of the Qur’an is uncreated1 [1] Because of this adherence, Abû Nu`aym was boycotted by extremist Hanbalîs in his time.

Al-Dhahabî narrates the following incident from Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Jabbâr al-Fursânî: In my childhood I attended Abû Bakr ibn Abî `Alî al-Mu`addil’s gathering with my father. When the gathering ended someone said: “If anyone wants to attend Abû Nu`aym’s gathering, let us go!” Abû Nu`aym followed a different doctrine from al-Mu`addil’s and was boycotted by the latter’s circle because of that. For there was too much hostile partisanship between Ash`arîs and Hanbalîs, leading to dissension. Hearing the man, the hadîth scholars surrounded him with their pen-knives and he was almost killed. Al-Dhahabî then comments: “I say, these are not hadîth scholars but ignorant transgressors – may Allâh keep their harm away!”

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