Book Review 6: Commentary of Sahih Muslim by Imam al Nawawi
Imam al Nawawi is a fascinating scholar. He led an exemplary life. He lived exclusively for knowledge; he dedicated his whole life to it. The diversity of his knowledge made him an expert in many fields. His writings on fiqh are so important that when there is a difference of opinion among Shafi’i jurists, it is his opinion that becomes the official opinion of the Shafi’i School.
His book, Riyadh al Saliheen, (Gardens of the Righteous) is the most widespread book of hadith in the Muslim world. The Nawawi Forty Hadith is a household name. His book on the remembrance of Allah, al Athkaar, (The Remembrances) is one of the most famous books on the subject and his Commentary of Sahih Muslim is the standard in the field. He had begun writing a book on comparative fiqh, but died before its completion.
Isn’t it amazing that all of this knowledge came from a man who died at the age of forty-five?
He was a pious, ascetic, and unpretentious man. It has been mentioned that he lived in the library of Damascus for two years and read continuously. During that period he would not sleep on a bed but instead put his head down over a book and take a nap and then continue reading.
He started writing at the age of 30. One of the scholars said that the way Imam al Nawawi wrote all of these books in such a short time was that he would combine studying with writing. While he was studying, he would write notes about what he had learned. These notes would later become a published book. Without this methodology, it is hard to imagine how it would be possible for him to have authored such a large number of books.
The impression I have of Imam al Nawawi, is that he was a very serious person who was always doing what would draw him closer to Allah. He was a person who was not affected by temptations and did not slack-off or waver. He was someone who was consistent and deliberate. He was not diseased with jealousy or envy.
In his commentary, he described the isnaad, (i.e., chain of narration), then explained the meanings of words and phrases in the hadith and then gave a brief summary of rulings derived from the hadith.
Nawawi’s commentary of Sahih Muslim is brief, which may be the reason it is preferred by some Islamic universities for their curriculum despite the fact that Imam Ibn Hajar’s commentary of Sahih al-Bukhari, the most important book of hadith, is regarded as the best commentary ever written on any book of hadith.
Comparing the methodology of the two, Ibn Hajar elaborated on details of the hadith, much like an encyclopaedia, and Nawawi was concise. When defining terms in the hadith, Ibn Hajar would elaborate on the language used and Nawawi would define the meaning of selected vocabulary. Ibn Hajar would mention all existing narrations of the hadith, and Nawawi would not generally include other narrations. Ibn Hajar referred to fiqh derived from the hadith with quotations from various scholars of different schools of Islam and Nawawi would usually quote from scholars who had written commentaries on Muslim such as al Qadhi Iyadh, al Maziri, and al Khatibi. Both would mention the various benefits to be deduced from the hadith but Ibn Hajar would do so on a larger scale than Nawawi. At the end, Nawawi’s commentary leaves the reader with a clear understanding of the hadith and Ibn Hajar’s commentary leaves the reader with a comprehensive understanding of the hadith and all that relates to it from the other books of hadith.
May Allah reward our beloved Imam and grant him al Firdaws.
Next: Nail al Awtaar by al Shawkaani