al-Khatib al-Baghdadi

“Truly, hadith pleases the virile among men, while the effeminate among them hate it.” Al-Zuhri.

Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, Abu Bakr Ahmad ibn ‘Ali ibn Thabit ibn Ahmad ibn Mahdi al-Shafi`‘i (392-463), with Abu al-Ma`‘ali Ibn al-Juwayni and Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri the third most important figure in the fourth generation-layer of Abu al-Hasan al-Ash`‘ari’’s school, praised by al-Dhahabi as “the most peerless imam, erudite scholar and mufti, meticulous hadith master, scholar of his time in hadith, prolific author, and seal of the hadith masters.” Al-Qinnawji said: “He was a jurist whose preference went to hadith and history.” His father – a memorizer of Qur’an and the main preacher (khatîb) in Darzijan Southwest of Baghdad – sat him at the age of eleven in the class of Ibn Razquyah al-Bazzar (d. 412), after which he travelled first to Baghdad then Naysabur around 415, back to Baghdad, then Asbahan for two years, Ray, Hamadhan, Dinawar, back to Baghdad, then al-Sham and Mecca for pilgrimage, then Baghdad or his nearby native Darzijan until 451, then Damascus until 459, then Tyre (Sûr) until 462, then Baghdad again where he died.

Al-Khatib wrote abundantly on the science of hadith and became the undisputed hadith authority in his time according to his student, the Hanbali hadith master Ibn ‘`Aqil. He heard countless hadith masters, among them Abu Bakr al-Barqani (who also narrated from him), Abu Nu`‘aym al-Asbahani, al-‘Abdawi, and the pious centenarian virgin scholar Karima bint Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Marwaziyya (d. 463) – one of al-Kushmihani’’s students – from whom al-Khatib took al-Bukhari’s Sahih in five days during his pilgrimage trip at age fifty-two. He took Shafi‘`i fiqh from Abu al-Hasan ibn al-Mahamili and the qadi Abu al-Tayyib al-Tabari, whom he frequented for several years. Among his famous students: al-Nasr al-Maqdisi, Ibn Makula, al-Humaydi, Abu Mansur al-Shaybani – who transmitted his Tarikh – and the Hanbali Abu Ya`‘la.

Ibn Makula and al-Mu’taman al-Saji said that the people of Baghdad never saw anyone such as al-Khatib after al-Daraqutni. Abu `‘Abd Allah al-Suri ranked al-Khatib far above Abu Nasr al-Sijzi. Abu ‘`Ali al-Baradani said: “It is probable al-Khatib never met his equal.” Abu Ishaq al-Isfarayini said: “Al-Khatib is the Daraqutni of our time.” Ibn Makula said:

He was one of the foremost scholars whom we witnessed in his science, precision, memorization, and accuracy in the hadith of the Messenger of Allah (s). He was an expert in its minute defects, its chains of transmission, its narrators and transmitters, the sound and the rare, the unique and the denounced, the defective and the discarded. The people of Baghdad never had someone comparable to Abu al-Hasan `‘Ali ibn ‘`Umar al-Daraqutni after the latter, except al-Khatib.

Sa‘id al-Mu’addib asked al-Khatib: “Are you the hadith master Abu Bakr?” He replied: “I am Ahmad ibn `‘Ali; hadith mastership ended with al-Daraqutni.”

About hadith mastership al-Khatib wrote:

He does not excel in hadith science nor is able to peruse its complexities and shed light on its hidden benefits except he who has gathered its variants, collated its loose ends, brought it all together, and worked assiduously to compile it under its topical subheadings, organizing its different types. This activity strengthens competence, cements memorization, purifies the heart, hones the personality, expands the tongue, greatly improves language, unveils ambiguities and clarifies them. It also earns memorability and immortality, as the poet said:

Some die then knowledge keeps alive their memory, While ignorance joins the dead with the dead.

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