Ali ibn Abu Bakr al-Haythami

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Not to be confused with Ibn Hajar al-Haytami.

Nur al-Din `Ali ibn Abi Bakr ibn Sulayman, Abu al-Hasan al-Haythami (735AH 1335 – 807AH 1404) was a Sunni Shafi`i Islamic scholar from Cairo, whose father had a shop on a desert road. He was born in the month of Rajab in 735 H. corresponding to 1335 CE. He learned the Qur'an and memorized it, and when he was a teenager, he became a disciple of a highly renowned scholar of Hadith, Abd Al-Raheem ibn Al-Hussain ibn Abd Al-Rahman, who was better known as Zain Al-Deen Al-Iraqi.

Al-Haythami became a committed associate of Al-Iraqi, staying with him all the time, traveling with him when he traveled, and offering the pilgrimage in his company. He attended with him every circle he attended in Cairo, other cities in Egypt, Makkah, Madinah, Jerusalem, Damascus, Baalbak, Aleppo and other places. The only teacher under whom Al-Haythami read, without being attended by Al-Iraqi, was Ibn Abd Al-Hadi, from whom he heard the Sahih collection of Imam Muslim. On the other hand, Al-Iraqi heard from only four teachers without Al-Haythami taking part.

Al-Iraqi, who was only ten years older than Al-Haythami, was a highly distinguished scholar of Hadith. Al-Haythami was also to distinguish himself as a scholar of Hadith, but despite his broad scholarly achievement, he preferred to remain in the shadow of his teacher and friend, Al-Iraqi. Indeed, Al-Iraqi relied on Al-Haythami in conducting much of his affairs, and gave him his daughter in marriage. He trained him in a particular area of Hadith scholarship and Al-Haythami was to achieve distinction in this field and to produce highly valuable works in it. This is the area of Zawa’id which we will presently discuss.

Al-Haythami was exemplary in his religious devotion, and his serious approach to Hadith scholarship. He cared little for worldly matters, which are the main preoccupation of many people, dedicating himself to the study of Hadith, and associating only with Hadith scholars. While Al-Iraqi was alive, he taught Hadith in his presence. Similarly, Al-Iraqi rarely taught without Al-Haythami being present. But after Al-Iraqi’s death, he was sought by many students who wished to read under him. He taught unhesitatingly, but without assuming any personal distinction. He is praised by many scholars for his humility, kindly manner, and dedication to learning. Ibn Hajar, a Hadith scholar of the highest caliber who studied much under Al-Haythami, describes him as very kind, highly critical of anyone indulging in a practice that is unacceptable to Islam, yet he was extremely tolerant when it came to personal grievances. When other students of Al-Iraqi repeatedly tried to irritate him, he simply tolerated them without much complaint.

While many scholars mention his commitment to his teacher, showing him great respect in all situations, all are agreed that his own knowledge was broad, and that he distinguished himself by his great achievement in Hadith scholarship. They are also agreed that he was highly devoted in his worship, very pious and very kind in his dealing with other people.

As we have already said, Al-Haythami distinguished himself in a particular area of Hadith scholarship, namely Zawa’id, which linguistically means ‘addition or increase’. This is a comparative study seeking to identify all the Hadiths that are listed in a collection by a distinguished Hadith scholar but are not listed in any of the six main Hadith collections. This is highly useful for students of Hadith, because it identifies for them which Hadiths they need to learn from any particular collection, if they have already learned the six main ones. Moreover, many of these collections, from which Al-Haythami extracted the Zawa’id, are not arranged according to topics of Fiqh, while Al-Haythami arranged them on this basis, which makes for easier reference. Hence, his work is highly valuable.

In all, Al-Haythami extracted the Zawa’id from Al-Musnad by Ahmad ibn Hanbal, and also from Al-Bazzar’s collection, Ibn Hibban’s Sahih, Al-Musnad by Abu Ya’la, as well as the three collections named Al-Mu’jam by Al-Tabarani, and then collected all these and listed them all in one voluminous work which he called Majma’ Al-Zawa’id wa Manba’ Al-Fawa’id. He dropped all chains of transmission and arranged his book according to the topics of Fiqh, which is the pattern used in the six main collections of Hadith. He graded each Hadith, pointing out which were authentic and which lacked in authenticity. Alternatively, he would mention names of narrators who were questioned or regarded as unreliable. It should be pointed out that not all Al-Haythami’s gradings were acceptable to later Hadith scholars. The book was published in 10 volumes by Qudsi in Cairo about 70 years ago, but more recently, a new annotated edition was published by Dar Al-Fikr in Beirut, Lebanon.

The omission of chains of transmission, justified on grounds of brevity, has been felt as a defect in this work, but it remains a great encyclopedia of Hadith. Al-Haythami was praised for it by his contemporaries and by later scholars.

Al-Haythami died on 19 Ramadan 807 H, corresponding to 1405 CE. May God bestow abundant mercy on his soul.

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