In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
Imam al-Nawawi’s collection of 40 Hadiths is one of the most important collections of hadiths we have today. Imam al Nawawi actually compiled a total of 42 hadiths for this collection, not 40. He was one of the greatest scholars of Islam and lived from 631 A.H. to 676 A.H, passing away at the age of 45. Allah (swt) granted him blessing and success in his work so that he could make great contributions to Islam before passing away at a relatively young age.
Imam al-Nawawi was a scholar in many different disciplines of Islamic studies. The vastness of his works in these different areas is so great that if an individual decides to study fiqh, hadith, spirituality, or Quran; one would need to pass through Imam al- Nawawi. Along with the 40 Hadiths, he authored Riyad al-Saliheen, Al-Adhkar, and commentary of Sahih Muslim and Sahih Bukhari.
Imam al-Nawawi was one of the foremost figures of the Shafi’ madhab and the largest and most substantial book he wrote in this regard is called Al Majmua’ which is about 30 volumes. It is a work of comparative fiqh because he brings all of the opinions of different madhab’s on different issues together.
Imam al-Nawawi begins the “Forty Hadith” with an introduction. Many times we are in the habit of skipping the introduction or quickly looking through introductions. This is a mistake, especially when studying Islamic sciences. We need to move on to a point where we actually know what we know and we can present it to others. This is important in being able to carry the dawah. In his introduction, Imam al-Nawawi is telling us essentially why he wrote this book, what got him to write this book and this is important in understanding the purpose of the work.
Points from Imam Al-Nawawi’s Introduction
1.) Reason for compilation
Imam al-Nawawi begins by mentioning a narration attributed to Prophet Muhammad (sas) as one reason for the compilation of the “Forty Hadith”. The hadith states that anyone who memorizes forty hadiths from the hadiths of the Prophet (sas), Allah will resurrect him among the scholars. Imam al-Nawawi, however, also clearly mentions that this hadith is weak.
Types of Hadiths:
This is very important because we should always know what the source of our information is, whether the hadith is reliable, not reliable, is it sahih (authentic), hasan (good) or da’if (weak) and how this relates to whether a hadith is acceptable. When it comes to using weak hadiths there is a very important and profound difference in opinions. Essentially there are three main schools of thought about weak hadiths:
- One school of thought says one can use weak hadiths whenever you want. This is not a very strong opinion.
- Another school of thought says one can never use weak hadiths
- The last opinion is that one can use weak hadiths in areas about virtuous deeds and as a reminder. This is the majority opinion and what Imam al-Nawawi refers to in his introduction.
Conditions to using weak hadiths this way:
- Weak Hadiths that are related to virtues, deeds, reminders, etc. But not related to ahkam, legal rulings or related to belief.
- They cannot be extremely weak, generally it is said a hadith is da’if (weak) but there are more than 30-40 different classification of da’if with some being more weak than others
- The hadith comes under a general principle/ understanding of Islam, it is not bringing anything new but just adding.
- ex.) We have an acceptable hadith about the importance of Surah Ikhlas and there is a weak hadith that also says something similar, in this case it can be used.
Issues around using weak hadiths is a bit more complicated. There are different opinions and we should know as students of knowledge that these complications can arise therefore it is best to not use a weak hadith if possible, in order to avoid any argumentation.
However, Imam al-Nawawi also clearly says that the hadith mentioned before about memorizing the one who memorizes forty hadiths is not the only reason he is writing this book, there are other hadith’s he quotes that are authentic about seeking and conveying knowledge.
2.) The Criteria of Choosing the Hadiths for this Collection:
Imam al-Nawawi also says there are many people who have written a 40 Hadith collection based on different topics, like Zuhd (aestheticism). In this compilation however he sought to use hadith’s that were comprehensive and cover all areas of religion. They will be short so they can be memorized easily and he made sure that they would be at least acceptable if not completely authentic.
Imam al-Nawawi did succeed in collecting hadith’s per his goal. They are very comprehensive to every single area of the deen. This is why Imam Hassan al-Banna recommended that active workers in dawah should also memorize the hadiths of Imam al-Nawawi, along with reading and memorizing the Quran, because they are very comprehensive and applicable to many situations.
The reason why it is so easy to be so comprehensive with only 40 hadith is because the Prophet (sas) was blessed with "jawami' al kalam" (comprehensive speech). The Prophet (sas) says in a hadith,
I was sent with comprehensive speech.
What this means is as Imam az- Zuhri, one of the great early scholars who passed away around the turn of first century Hijri said,
As far as what has come to us from the understanding of this comprehensive speech the Prophet (sas) was given, is that Allah gave him the ability to combine many types of ideas that would formally be written in entire books, but the Prophet (sas) could portray in only a couple of sentences.
This is an important concept because sometimes we do not give the hadiths of the Prophet (sas) the kind of respect it deserves in understanding how great his (sas) statements were. The Prophet (sas) also said,
Verily I was given this comprehensive speech, and language was made concise to me with a perfect concision.
He (sas) was granted the ability to say simple things that have a myriad of meanings, which is why scholars early on began to compile different sets of hadiths in small amounts to benefit from this quality of the Prophet (sas).
Ibn Salah, one of the first scholars to compile these types of books, has one of the most famous books in hadith sciences called Al-Mukadimah (The Introduction.) And pretty much all the later books that come out in hadith sciences go back to his book. He first started having sittings/gatherings where he would explain hadiths and this is where the idea of explaining these comprehensive hadiths began. He reached up to 26 hadiths with their explanation and then Imam al-Nawawi came and picked up his work. Imam al- Nawawi used the 26 that was explained by Ibn Salah and then added until he finished compiling the 42 hadiths which are today famously known as “Arba’een al-Nawawi,” or “Imam Nawawi’s Forty Hadith.”