Truly, there is very little of what I can say about the sciences that this extraordinary personality had acquired. It is sufficient to know that his knowledge, taqwa and level of mastery were acknowledged by the masters themselves; the renowned Jurists, masters of Hadith, and scholars of traditional Islamic sciences from the two Holy sanctuaries and the subcontinent.
His Juridical opinions ‘fatawa’ and legal stances share a great deal of information with us about his mastery in Legal Methodology, Jurisprudence and inference from the Primary sources as well as other ancillary sciences. ‘al-Ataya al-Nabawiyyah fi al-Fatawa al-Rifdwiyyah’, is an outstanding contribution made by Imam Ahmad to the traditional sciences and their development, hence acclaimed as one of the greatest encyclopedias on the Hanafi Law and its branches. Not only that it is rooted in the essence of Islamic Jurisprudence, his Fatawa also consists of a variety of subjects from mathematics, theology, history, Euclidean geometry, philosophy, linguistics, and astronomy to exegesis of the Qur’an and Hadith sciences. As recent studies show, it is this work that acclaims him mastery in third from the rank of absolute ijtihad, namely, the rank of the mujtahid fi al-masa’il.
As for His works in the Hadith area, Imam Ahmad has written a huge amount on Inference of rulings from Hadith proof texts ‘Fiqh al-Hadith’, Legal Hanafi Methodology and authentic hadith, Principles of hadith ‘Usul al-Hadith’ and the biographies of men ‘Asma al-Rijal’.
To name a few of his works, I shall first and foremost mention his excellent epistle on the science of takhreej entitled, ‘al-Rawdh al-Baheej fi Adaab al-Takhreej’ (1219h). No work of any hadith scholar before him covers this area of hadith to such an extent. The remarks of Mawlana Rahman Ali, a renowned researcher from Madhiyah Pardesh, India, whence reading the details of scrupulous takhreej and its etiquettes were, ‘if there were no other book of its subject the author i.e. Imam Ahmad Rida would be acknowledged as the founder to this branch of hadith’.
From his works on Fiqh al-Hadith is the far-famed ‘Haajiz al-Bahrayn al-Waqi an jama’ al-Salatain’ (1313h) which he wrote in defense of the Hanafi stance on the impermissibility of combining between prayers. When I studied this work (which is present in his Fatawa) I found it amongst the most amazing works in reconciling the ostensibly contradicting hadith proof texts on this issue which is the most sensitive and complex area of all Muslim Legal concepts.
‘al-Fadhl al-Mawhab fi ma’na izha sahha al-Hadithu fahuwa madhabi’ (1313h), his concise guide on Hanafi Legal methodology and authentic hadith, is another masterpiece which stands unique in its detailed research, strategic presentation and in-depth study. This book is a ‘must read’ for all Hanafi students in specific, and other Madhab students in general, regardless of their religious backgrounds. It provides authoritative guidance for scholars and a great deal of information on fundamental maxims for students, summarized in just a few pages. The book encapsulates issues such as why many authentic hadith are unaccepted in the Hanafi School and its criterion of acceptance. It’s a first-rate manual.
From his other works in hadith sciences are,
In February 1992, Dr S M Khalid al-Hamidi published an article on the Imam’s books in Hadith studies in which he gathered forty names of the imam’s epistles and works in hadith, its fundamentals and branches. (Malyah University, India. Maktub no: 20)
Five common elements of hadith found in his works
His breadth of memorization of Hadith textual corpus and transmissions
The famous caliph of Haji Imdadullah Muhajir Makki, Mawlana Karamatullah wrote a letter to Imam Ahmad Rida questioning about ‘Durud al-Taj’ (a special salawat known as Taj), in which the Prophet Muhammad (May Allah be shower peace and blessings upon him) was referred to as ‘Dafi al-Bala’ or the ‘a guard from befalling calamities’. Whereupon receiving this letter, Imam Ahmad wrote an epistle on the Prophet as the protection and guard of the Ummah entitled, ‘Ikmal al-Tamah ala shirki sawa bi al-Umur al-Aamah’ also known as ‘al-Amnu wa al-Ula’ in which he collected three hundred hadith on the permissibility of calling him by this name !
When asked by his teacher Mawlana Ghulam Qadir Beygh to write on the ‘excellence of the Prophet over all Prophets’, Imam Ahmad wrote an epistle containing one hundred hadith on the issue entitled, ‘Tajjaliy al-Yaqeen’.
Imam Ahmad Rida wrote many works against the heresy of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, founder of the Qadyani movement which is today known as the Ahmadiiyah movement (See more on this, in this blogpage). His work entitled ‘Jazallahu uduwwahu’ is a notable one in hadith since he narrates one hundred and twenty one hadith in refutation of Mirza Qadiyani!
The student of the renowned Mawlana Ahmad Kanpuri, Mawlana Hassan wrote a question to Imam Ahmad inquiring about the legal Islamic opinion on meals which were cooked for the ulema and local community members for rain at time of famine. The imam supported his fatwa with sixty hadiths on the permissibility of such a practice.
In 1305H, he was asked about the ‘hearing of the dead’ whereupon he wrote the far-famed ‘Sama’al-Mawta’ in which he collects seventy seven hadith on this issue.
On the necessity of the beard, Imam Ahmad narrates fifty six hadith in his work entitled ‘Lum’at al-Duha fi I’fa al-Luha’.
On the rights of parents, his works consists of ninety one hadith.
On the impermissibility of performing sajdah of reverence, he collected seventy hadith in his work entitled ‘al-Zubdah al-Zakiyyah fi Tahreemi Sujudi al-Tahiyyah’
His mastery can be identified by the fact that when he wrote a hadith, it would seem that all of its channels of transmission, narrators and sources were in front of his eyes. On narrating the hadith, ‘seek goodness and accomplishment of needs by the handsome faced ones’ (utlubuw al-khayra wa al-hawa’ija min hisan al-wujuh) he says,
-‘Tabarani narrated it in al-Kabeer, and Uqaiyli, Khateeb, and Tamam al-Razi in his Fawa’id, Baiyhaqi in Sha’b al-Iman all from Ibn Abbas,
-Ibn Abi Dunya in Qadha al-Hawa’ij, Uqaiyli, Dar Qutni in al-Afrad, Tabarani in al-Awsat, Tamam, and Khateeb in Ruwatu Malik from Abu Hurayrah,
-Ibn Asakir and Khateeb in their chronicles from Anas Ibn Malik,
-Tabarani in al-Awsat, Uqaiyli and Khara’iti in I’tila al-Qulub, Tamam, Abu Sahl, Abd al-Samad bin Abdurahman al-Bazzar in his juz’, and the author of Mahraniyat from Jabir bin Abdullah,
-Abd bin Hameed in his Musnad, Ibn Hiban in al-Du’afa, Ibn Addi in al-Kamil, al-Salfi in al-Tuyuriyat from Ibn Umar
-Ibn al-najjar in his chronicle from the commander of Believers Ali,
-Tabarani in al-Kebeer from Abu Khusayfah,
-Tamam from Abu Bakrah,
-Bukhari in his chronicle, Ibn Abi Dunya in Qadh al-Hawa’ij, Abu Y’ala in his Musnad, Tabarani in al-Kabeer, al-Uqayli, Bayhaqi in Sh’ab al-Iman, and Ibn Asakir from the mother of believers Aisha Siddiqah May Allah be pleased with all of them’. [Nine different transmissions of sahabah from thirty four sources, Al-Amnu wa al-Ula Page 70]
This an example from many other examples found in his books explicitly marking his mastery in hadith textual corpus and transmission studies.
Here is another similar example. In his massive refutation on Mirza Ghulam Qadyani’s claim of prophecy entitled ‘Jazallahu uduwwahu’ p46, Imam Ahmad Rida narrates the following hadith ‘Oh Ali! Are you not pleased that your rank with me is as Haruns to Musa except that there is no prophet after me’ (ama tardha an takuwna minni manzilata Haruna min Muwsa Ghayra annahu la nabiyya ba’di) as such,
-‘Ahmad narrated, and Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, NIsa’I, Ibn Majah, Ibn Abi Shaybah and Ibn Jareer in His Sunan from Sa’d Ibn Abi Waqqas,
-Hakim, Tabarani, Abu Bakr, Ibn Mardaweyh, Bazzar, and Ibn Asakir from Ali,
-Ahmad, Bazzar, Tabarani and Mutayri from Abu S’eed al-Khudri
-Tirmidhi from Jabir bin Abdullah and Abu Hurayrah
-Tabarani and Khateeb from Abdullah bin Umar
-Abu Nu’aym from Sa’eed bin Zayd
-Tabarani from Barra bin Azib, Zaid bin Arqam, Hubaysh bin Janadah, Jabir bin Samrah, Malik bin Huwayrath, Mother of the believers Umm Salmah and from Asma bint Amees, May Allah be pleased with all of them.
On the hadith ‘I am Muhammad and Ahmad, the last in succession and the gatherer; I am the Prophet of repentance and the prophet of mercy’ (ana Muhammad wa Ahmad wa al-Muqaffa wa al-Hashir wa Nabiyy al-tawbah wa Nabiyy al-rahmah), Imam Ahmad Rida states in his epistle ‘al-Amnu wa al-Ula Page129:
-‘Ahmad narrated it, and Muslim, and Tabarani in [Mu’jam] al-Kabeer from Abu Musa Ash’ari
-the abovementioned and Ibn Sa’d, Ibn Abi Shaybah and Bukhari in his chronicle, Tirmidhi in his Shama’il from Huzayfah
-Ibn Mardawayh in His tafseer, Abu Nu’aym in al-Dala’il, Ibn Addi al-Kamil, Ibn Asakir in Tareekh Dimashq, and Daylami in Musnad Firdauws from Abu Tufayl
-and Ibn Addi from Abu Hurayrah. May Allah be pleased with all of them.
In His al-Amnu wa al-Ula Page 73, he collects ten different transmissions to the sahabah from twenty three sources on the hadith in a similar fashion to the aforementioned, ‘Oh Allah! Cherish Islam with the most beloved to you from either of these two men; Umar bin al-Khattab or Abu Jahl bin Hashim’. Similarily, he collects ten different channels of transmissions back to the Sahbah and one successor from twenty three sources on the hadith ‘the great practices that bring one near to Allah are; spreading salam, giving food, and praying salah at night when people are asleep’ (Raad al-Qaht wa al-Waba p12). There are several other examples like this, providing sufficient evidence of his breadth of study and memorization of hadith. If one wants to see this mastery, acquire his book al-Amnu wa al-Ula, and al-Zahr al-Basim on the impermissibility of zakah on Banu Hashim. When he wrote, it was as if the pen never stopped and the chains and sources flowed continuously from his blessed pen. May Allah shower abundant mercy on him, and place him in the greater gardens. Ameen.
Elucidation and rectification of Hadith terminology
His explanations to the fundamentals of hadith in his prominent work on kissing the thumbs entitled, ‘Muneer al-Ayn’ spreads over two hundred pages of scholarly rectification and correction of mistakes made by those who objected to the narrations on this issue. His explanations to the principles such as, ‘Negation of authenticity does not entail negation of soundness’, ‘fifteen signs of forgery’ (after which he says, ‘and memorize this for you shall not find this detail elsewhere’), ‘empowerment of weak hadith’, ‘difference between acting and accepting a hadith’, ‘ranks of hadith and their reliability’, ‘weak hadith in issues of merit and excellence’, ‘experience without reliance on the channel of transmission’, ‘authentication of hadith by means of spiritual opening or kashf’, ‘difference between non-authentic and forged narrations’, ‘authenticity and weakness are based on the apparent, thus the weak may be authentic in reality’, ‘the types of ambiguity of narrators and their rulings’ are some of the very detailed issues in this work. In numerous sections of this work, he wrote statements such as ‘take this for you shall not find it elsewhere’ and ‘this was what was spiritually opened upon me, and Allah knows best’.
Commendation and criticism of the narrators
His accuracy and depth of understanding in this branch of Hadith principles was extraordinary.
Some scholars of Imam Ahmad’s era objected to the narration of Muhammad bin Is’haq on the second adhan of Juma based on the fact that he was a rafidhi Shiite to which he replied in book-form, entitling it as ‘Shama’im al-Anbar fi Adaab al-Nida amama al-Minbar’. His commendation ‘ta’deel’ of Muhammad bin Is’haq is based on the commendation of twenty one masters of this domain and a must-read for those who want to acquire knowledge about his knowledge in the branch of al-Jarh wa al-Ta’deel and breadth of study of the biographies of men.
In his work ‘al-Hujjat al-Muwtammah’ Imam Ahmad Rida commends and makes tawtheeq of Ash’ath bin Siwar, who was marked as ‘weak’ in Taqreeb al-Tahdheeb, based on specialist commendations and said that the criticism was not explained ‘jarh ghayr mufassar’ hence his narration on the permissibility of a dhimmi on entering the mosque was sound ‘hasan’.
The hadith on the excellence of wearing a turban in salah was marked a ‘forgery’ by Ibn Hajar since it passed through a chain of four unknown persons; Abbas bin Kathir, Abu Bashr bin Yasar, Muhammad bin Mahdi Marwazi and Mahdi bin Maymun. On his comments to this ranking, Imam Ahmad Rida, with all respect and esteem for Ibn Hajar, remarks,
‘May Allah have mercy on Ibn Hajar! It is a questionable fact why he marked this hadith forged when none amongst its narrators is a forger ‘wadda’ nor accused of forgery ‘muttaham bi al-Wad’, and neither a liar ‘kadhab’ nor accused of lying ‘muttaham bi al-kadhib’, neither does its context contravene the law or prove logically impossible! Such a narration should not be rejected as a forgery ‘mawdu’ so as to exclude it from the chapter of excellence’.
Nevertheless, Imam Ibn Hajar himself values two hadith of such a nature in ‘al-Qawl al-Musaddad’ which consist of unknown ‘majhul’, ‘Mudhtarib al-Hadith’, those who make excessive mistakes ‘katheer al-Khata’ and ‘fahish al-wahm’ narrators and accepts them in the issue of excellence!
Whilst commenting on the second of the two, Ibn Hajar states that it neither contravenes the Islamic law nor does it conflict with human logic hence accepted. To this Imam Ahmad Rida states, ‘why not say the same for the hadith on the turban!? It is also from the issues of excellence and neither contradicts the law nor logic. Its narrators are of a lesser degree in weakness than those narrators whose chains are accepted by Ibn Hajar himself!’
Conciliation between mutually contradictory hadith narrations
Imam Ahmad had strong knowledge if fiqh al-Hadith. His works such as Hajiz al-Bahrayn and al-Fadhl al-Mawhabi shed light on his manhaj in conciliating contradictory texts and lifting the conflict of narrations, as if there was no contradiction in the first place.
Hadith scholars agree that this area of study is the most complex of all since it requires a thorough mastery of the principles of riwayah and dirayah. Dirayah here would include a solid understanding of abrogation, limits of interpretation, detailed consideration of the illah, depth of knowledge in hadith flaws ‘illal’ and so forth.
His conciliation between hadith texts on the following issues is a categorical proof on the depth of his knowledge
These are only a few examples; his fatawa is the best source for this study.
Ijazahs in Hadith
Imam Ahmad Rida was very fortunate to complete his studies at a very young age. It is recorded in many sources that the first time he issued a fatwa were at the age of thirteen. His detailed answer to a question on ‘breastfeeding’ astonished his father thus acclaimed popularity for his knowledge at a very young age.
On his first travel to Haj, in company with his father, Imam al-Mutakallimeen Mawlana Naqi Ali Khan, he attained ijazahs in hadith from the following scholars of Makkah
His Ijazahs in hadith from India pass through his grand teacher, the pillar of Muhaddith masters, Shah Abd al-Aziz al-Dehlvi from whom he narrates through his teacher and spiritual guide, al-Sayyid Aal al-Rasul al-Marharwi.
Imam Ahmad Rida narrates all hadith from his father, too, which pass through Sheikh Abd al-Haq al-Dehlvi.
From his other ijazah’s are the musalsalat which he narrates from numerous scholars. May Allah be pleased with all of them.
Scholars’ praise to Him
On his second travel for haj and ziyarah in 1323h (1905), Imam Ahmad Rida’s knowledge shun over the horizon of al-Hijaz and his great work ‘al-Dawlah al-Makkiyah bi al-Madah al-Ghaybiyyah’ , which he wrote in response to the wahabi rejection of the Prophet’s knowledge of the unseen during his travel in approximately nine hours, acclaimed great praise and commendation. Imam Ahmad wrote this book without the direct study of any books which was then recited in his absence in a gathering of three hundred scholars, in two sittings.
Thereafter, great scholars of hadith from Makkah and Madinah took ijazahs from him in hadith which are recorded in two of his great works,
The total number of ijazahs he issued were seven to the follwing scholars,
Shaykh Yaseen Ahmad al-Khiyari, a renowned scholar of Madinah, referred to him as ‘Imam al-Muhadditheen’ the leader of hadith masters.
The Archive keeper of the Mekkan library, Shaykh Isma’il Makki called him ‘Shaykh al-Muhadditheen ala al-Itlaq’ the absolute shaykh of Hadith scholars.
Ali bin Hussain Maliki, a teacher of the Mekkan Haram, called him ‘the encyclopedia of all sciences’.
When asked about the mastery of Imam Ahmad in Hadith, ‘Hafiz al-Bukhari’ Shah Wasi Ahmad Surti (who was known as ‘the pillar of hadith masters’ in the subcontinent) said: ‘he is the commander of believers in Hadith of our era’. Upon hearing this Muhaddith Kachawchwi remarked: ‘do you know what level of mastery this is!?’ To which Hafiz al-Bukhari replied, ‘the awilya distinguish awliya and masters identify the masters’.
In 1303H Imam Ahmad Rida was invited to the opening ceremony of Madrasah al-Hadith in Peeli Bheet, India, to lecture on the Sciences of Hadith. Renowned scholars of hadith from Saharanpur, Lahore, Kanpur, Jauwnpur, Rampur, Badayun and elsewhere attended (all of the aforementioned are far-famed cities for service in hadith sciences in the subcontinent). Imam Ahmad lectured continuously for three hours shedding light on Hadith fundamentals and its obscure stages and in other of its branches whereupon the scholars were astounded by his meticulousness in Hadith narration, breadth of knowledge of the biographies of men, memorization of hadith texts and their channels of transmission. Sheikh Khaleel al-Rahman, the son of the great master of Hadith in Saharanpur Mawlana Ahmad Ali, praised the Imam with these words, ‘Had my father been alive today, he would have acclaimed your mastery in hadith and he would have the right to do so’. Hafiz al-Bukhari al-Surti and Mawlana Muhammad Ali Mawngeeri, the founder of Nadwat al-Ulama Lakhnouw, accredited this reality.
Upon reading the Imam’s response to a question on the legal stance of making a sajdah of reverence ‘sajdah al-Ta’zeem’, Mawlana Abu al-Hassan Ali al-Nadwi remarked, ‘This rich epistle clearly indicates his depth of knowledge and strength of inference’. He furthermore comments saying, ‘Other than the various verses and one hundred and fifty legal proof texts on this issue, he i.e. Imam Ahmad Rida refers to fourty hadith linked to it’.
From his unpublished works in the sciences of hadith are his commentaries and notes on the following great works
Dr Masud Ahamd from Imam Ahmad Rida research Institute, Karachi, has managed to obtain all of the abovementioned works. Walhamdulillah
The greatest resources available on Imam Ahmad Rida’s mastery in Hadith are listed below:
‘Ilm-e-Hadith auwr Muhaddithe-e-Brelvi ki rijaley hadith auwr Usul par nazar’ (The science of Hadith and the Muhaddith’s knowledge of its men and fundamentals) by Aal Mustafa Misbahi prnt. Ma’arif Raza Karachi, 1991
‘Imam Ahmad Rida bahaythiyyet Imam-e-Fanney hadith’ (Imam Ahmad Rida; An Imam of Hadith Science) by Abdal Mustafa al-Azhari prnt Ma’arif Raza Karachi, 1992
‘Imam Ahmad Rida auwr Ilmey Hadith bahawalah tareekh -e- Adabiyyat –e- Musalmanan-e- Pak wa Hind’ (Imam Ahmad Rida & hadith sciences; a study from the historical perspective of scholars from the subcontinent) by Dr Ghulam Mustafa Khan, Punjab University
‘Ilm-e-Hadith auwr Muhaddith-e- Brelvi’ (Hadith Science and the master of Breiley) by Muhammad Anwar Nizami prnt Ma’arif Raza, Karachi, 1998
‘Hadith-e-Nabawi Fatawa Rizwiyyah ka bunyadi Ma’khaz’ (Hadith; the fundamental source of Fatawa Ridhwiyyah) by Dr Muhammad Tufayl
Jami’ al-Ridhwi also known as ‘Saheeh al-Bihari’ (a collection of Imam Ahmad Rida’s narrations in hadith) by Sheikh Muhmmad Zafar al-Din al-Bihari
‘Imam Ahmad Rida auwr Ilme-e-Hadith’ (Imam Ahmad Rida and the science of Hadith in 3vols) by Sheikh Muhammad Isa Rizvi prnt Dehli, 1999
‘Muhaddith-e-Breillvi’ (The hadith master of Bareilly) by Dr. Masud Ahmad, Karachi, 1993
‘Imam Ahmad Rida aur Aalmi Jami’at’ (A study of Imam Ahmad Rida in the international universities) by Dr Masud Ahmad, Karachi, 1998
‘Jami al-Ahadith’ (a collection of the Imam’s hadith from his Fatawa in 6 Vols) by Sheikh Muhammad Haneef Khan, Gujrat, 2001
‘Imam Ahmad Rida ki Khidmaat-e-Ulum-e-Hadith ka tahqeeqi wa tanqeedi Ja’izah’ (A phd on Imam Ahmad Rida’s service in Hadith sciences; a critical research) recently completed by Sheikh Manzur Ahmad Sa’eedi
I hope this article has shed some light on the hadith knowledge of Imam Ahmad Rida and lifted the weak comments on his mastery, as such made by Mawlana Ali Miyah al-Nadwi who wrote the additional notes on his father’s (Mawlana Abd al-Hayy al-Lakhanwi) biography of the subcontinent scholars entitled ‘Nuzhat al-Khawatir’ in which he added, ‘he i.e. Imam Ahmad Rida had little experience in hadith and Tafseer’. I will request the reader to think about this injustice. Even so, ‘Inba al-Hayy’, the detailed commentary on al-Dawlah based on largely tafseer and hadith issues, alone is sufficient to know about Imam Ahmad’s mastery in tafseer and Hadith!
Wa Sallalahu ala Sayyidina Muhammadin wa Aalihi wa saHbihi wa Sallim