Book Review: The Differences of the Imams

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Title: The Differences of the Imams (Ikhtilaf al-a’imma)
Author: Shaykh al-Hadith Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhlawi
Translator: Mawlana Muhammad Kadwa
Publisher: White Thread Press (2004) [Previously published in 1997 in South Africa, and in 1999 in the UK, it also been reprinted recently by White Thread Press with a different cover]

Shaykh al-Hadith Muhammad Zakariyya was born in 1898 in the village of Kandhla in India. His first teacher was his father, Shaykh Muhammad Yahya who was a hadith student of Shaykh Rashid Ahmad Gangohi. Shaykh al-Hadith’s uncle was Shaykh Muhammad Ilyas, and he studied with him as well. Shaykh al-Hadith studied the five of the six authentic books of hadith with his father, and then studied Sahih al-Bukhari and Sunan al-Tirmidhi (for a second time) with Shaykh Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri. It was Shaykh Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri who gave Shaykh Zakariyya the honorary title of Shaykh al-Hadith. Shaykh Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri recognized his deep insight, clear-sightedness, and extensive knowledge of hadith and related sciences.

Shaykh al-Hadith initially intended to write a book of about 400-500 pages on the differences of the imams in regards to the four schools of Sunni jurisprudence. However due to his extremely busy schedule, a shorter work was written after the insistence of his peers to publish a book on this topic. The differences amongst the schools of jurisprudence is a topic that often confuses or unnerves the common Muslim. This book begins to unravel the sources of these differences, taking us through three chronological stages of hadith development, each corresponding with a specific age, the first is the Era of the Messenger (peace be upon him), second is the Era of the Companions and Followers and lastly the Era of the Mujtahid Imams.

In the first part, Era of the Messenger (peace be upon him), Shaykh al-Hadith expounds upon the reasons that led to sources of differences in juridical rulings. The some of reasons are: Varying Commands for Different People and Circumstances, A Special Case Taken as a General Order, A General Order is Taking as a Special Case and A Difference of Perception and others. Each reason is then expanded upon in very clear manner, speaking to the lay-person, with demonstrative examples of hadiths and juridical rulings. This gives the reader an understanding of how jurisprudence flowed from the Beloved Messenger (peace be upon him) through his actions and words.

In the next two parts, the book explores why some mujtahid imams differed and why they were inclined to act upon one hadith over another. Essentially, each mujtahid employs a different method of analysis and criteria for acceptability. These differences in analysis and acceptability created a difference in rulings and which hadiths were acted upon, and formed the basis of each school of jurisprudence. Shaykh al-Hadith writes:

In short, specific rules and principals are required for practicing on the hadiths which enable one to award preference to some hadiths over others. The Imams of hadith and jurisprudence have differed over the matter of which principals apply in awarding this preference. It is a very lengthy discussion which we would prefer not to discuss in detail (here). In fact, the principals of hadith and jurisprudence are taught even before the major books of hadith in our madrasas.

Some of these principals will be mentioned briefly. The Imams of hadith, due to the aforementioned reasons, have divided the hadiths into three different categories: mutawatir [continuously recurrent], mashhur [well-known], and khabar al-wahid [a single person’s report] or ahad [solitary hadith]

Shaykh al-Hadith also comments on what makes a mujtahid:

Mere recitation of a translation of Sahih al-Bukhari will not enable one to determine whether a certain injunction is compulsory, optional or permissible. This is why the scholars of hadith have instituted the study of the principals of Quran, hadith and jurisprudence [fiqh] as a prerequisite to the actual sciences of Quran and hadith. This will enable the mujtahid to become conscious of the various categories of Quranic verses such as the general [‘amm], specified [khass], ambivalent [mujmal], unequivocal [mufassar], perspicuous [muhkam], interpreted [mu’awwal], abrogator [nashikh], abrogated [mansukh], etc. In addition, he should be aware of the various categories of hadith such as the continuously recurrent [mutawatir], non-continuously recurrent [ghayr mutawatir], those attributed directly to the Messenger (peace be upon him) by a Follower without the mention of the Companion in between [mursal], continuous [muttasil], rigorously authenticated [sahih], defective [mu’allal], weak [da’if], etc. He should also be aware of the status of the narrators of the hadiths, and should be well versed in lexicography and grammar. The statements of the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) and the Followers, their differences, and their unanimous decisions should also be studied carefully. Apart from this, the mujtahid should be well acquainted with the types and categories of deduction, analogy and logical reasoning [qiyas].

The book is written in a very clear manner, the target audience is the layperson, and the intent is not to deliver a full book on hadith sciences, rather it is to create a high level of appreciation and recognize the effort of the mujtahid imams, and to conclude that in order to replicate what they did in our times would be a very difficult if not an impossible task. This book is a great read, and highly recommend to those who are curious about the differences in the schools of jurisprudence and builds a strong case for the under-appreciated or unrecognized complexity of hadith and juridical sciences.

May Allah preserve the teachers of this great science, and bless all those who participated in making this book available to us. Ameen.

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