Under God’s blessing, I have always cherished great interest in the Qur’ān as well as the Ḥadīth. After the death of Imām Farāhī, I felt a strong desire to learn the Ḥadīth from an expert in the discipline the way I learnt the Qur’ān from a master of the Qur’ānic sciences. The Almighty fulfilled this desire of mine. Thus, shortly afterwards, a great scholar of the prophetic ḥadīth, Mawlānā ‘Abdul Raḥmān Mubārakpurī concluded his teaching and writing services and settled in his hometown, Mubārakpur, situated at a distance of mere two miles from my native town, A‘zamgarh. I availed myself of this opportunity and immediately went to him. I requested him to let me benefit from his knowledge and teach me aḥādīth of the Prophet (sws).
The Mawlānā probably knew that I, being a graduate of Madrasah al-Iṣlāḥ, had been trained by Imām Farāhī in the Islamic Sciences. He, therefore, said: “You have already learnt a great deal. What is the need of learning more?” He was ready to grant me a formal certificate if I so desired. This was indeed a great honour for me. I, however, intended to learn aḥādīth. I did not seek a formal certificate. I, therefore, stated that I was a humble student who did not have the courage to be adorned with such kingly crowns and that I only needed to learn how to properly study and understand the prophetic ḥadīth. Having heard this request, he paused for a moment and then said: “In this case I will teach you the book of your choice.” Considering that he had taught and written a commentary of Ṣaḥīḥ of Tirmidhī, I requested him to instruct me in the same work. He consented to my request and handed me an autographed copy of his commentary of the book.
I started studying Ṣaḥīḥ of Tirmidhī from the very next day. It was the blessed month of Ramaḍān. As I stated earlier, his home was only a couple of miles from my town. I walked to his house every morning and returned in the evening. During the night, I would study Ṣaḥīḥ of Tirmidhī in the light of his commentary on it. During the day, I would spend about two to three hours reading out the book to the Mawlānā. This exercise usually exhausted me completely but my teacher, in spite of his old age, never showed even a slightest fatigue. May God bless his resting place and raise his status in the afterlife.
I have not narrated this story to express my relationship to this great scholar. Rather I intend to express my interest in this exalted discipline. The above mentioned episode dates back to the first half of the year 1932. Decades have passed since. I have gone through good and bad times. I have cherished different academic engagements during all this time. However, besides carrying out other tasks, I have been constantly serving the prophetic ḥadīth. This service has not been a ritualistic one. I have, on the contrary, pursued a very noble cause.
I have believed for a long time that it is not possible for our traditional scholars to confront the challenges facing our religion today. To render this service, only those have to take up the field who are well acquainted with the poisonous modern thought and philosophy, and at the same time, are expert physicians of the remedy of the evil, thorough knowledge of the Qur’ān and the Ḥadīth. But the question is: where do we have to look for such people? The institutions that produce scholars in this country be they modern or traditional are barren for this purpose. I believe that the first and foremost step towards remedying this evil is to abrogate the parallel education system. A single, unified education system should be introduced, combining the modern and traditional education systems. This new system should not include, to any degree, the religious disciplines merely as blessings, but, on the contrary, the philosophy and core teachings of the Qur’ān must run through the entire system as its life-blood. This task, however, cannot be undertaken and accomplished by individuals alone and lies within the realm of the government. Ordinary people like me cannot do anything but choose a few able graduates from the same system and guide them to this noble discipline, lead them through a process of refinement and growth and enable them to take the teachings and philosophy of the Qur’ān to the world.
Pursuing this purpose, I focused on two things. First, I started academic and research lectures (dars) on the Qur’ān. I also planned a commentary on the Qur’ān based on the coherence in the Book and the corroboratory evidence from its parallels so that the Qur’ānic wisdom and philosophy is brought to the readers and their hearts and minds are satisfied.
Second, I started, in parallel, academic and research lectures on the second source of religious knowledge in Islam, the Ḥadīth. In the beginning, I taught Ṣaḥīḥ of Muslim to the college students who were interested in religious learning. Later, I gave lectures on the text of Muwaṭṭā of Imām Mālik. Having finished that, I have taken upon myself a lecture series on Ṣaḥīḥ of Bukhārī as well and quite a number of intelligent and religious minded students are regularly attending these lectures.
My work on the Qur’ānic commentary was, with the help of God, completed in the latter part of 1980.This nine-volume commentary titled Tadabbur-i Qur’ān has been published. Its initial effects indicate that it will, God willing, fulfil the purpose it was written for. As for my work on the Ḥadīth, it is still confined to lectures. Some friends, however, are trying to get my lectures on Muwaṭṭā transcribed and then compiled and prepared for publication. If God wills, this work will soon be accomplished. For the compiled work, I have already had a lecture recorded to be formed into the introduction to the book. Mr. Mājid Khāwar, my dear fellow, has transcribed and compiled it in the form of a manuscript. There is a great difference between a spoken and a written word. It is not easy to transcribe any speech and then produce it in the book form. I have gone through the manuscript and have realized that the readers may find it deficient in terms of arrangement and order, brevity and explanation, and beauty of expression. However, as far as the basic message is concerned, it has been sufficiently preserved and duly conveyed. This last element is the real purpose which must be met. The fine points and beauty of discourse is a secondary element. Readers are encouraged not to attach more than due share of significance to these things.
In this booklet, I have explained all such principles of understanding aḥādīth which I believe are fundamental in determining the reliability or weakness of the traditions as well as understanding the matn (text). I have myself followed these principles in my explanation of the speech of the Prophet (sws) of God. I have not introduced a single new thing in these. All these principles have been taken from the primary and the most reliable works by the great scholars of the science of ḥadīth criticism. These principles are very natural and reasonable. No rational being can deny or reject them. The task of those people who are accustomed to studying only those aḥādīth which support their juristic (fiqh) viewpoint is always easy. Such people may not possibly acknowledge the significance of this endeavour and will fail to give any credence to these principles; they may rather feel an aversion to this kind of work, I am afraid. On the contrary, those who intend to gauge and scrutinize all the works in the discipline and present it before the world as a source of religious knowledge must have, in their hands, something that can be acknowledged by all as a criterion.
I have followed these principles in understanding, interpreting, and explaining to the people in my lectures on the major ḥadīth works. My concerted efforts are now directed to communicate to other people the good effects this line of study produces. I do not know to what extent my desire will be fulfilled. Yet, however, I am confident in that my efforts are directed at serving the prophetic ḥadīth. I will not be, God willing, deprived of the due reward in the long run.
I must now state that if a scholar points out any errors in the present work, I shall amend and correct it. I will gratefully receive such suggestions. However, I am not interested in the comments of those who toe the line of their guides. They profess much love and care for the prophetic tradition but never serve it properly and never devote time for it. Their only academic treasure in the field of the ḥadīth studies is what they have heard from their teachers for which their sectarian brothers are ready to die. Such people come up with criticism but their reviews are always devoid of academic strength. I do not have time to read and respond to their criticism.
I finish this preface by expressing my gratitude to the Almighty Allah, the Lord of the worlds.
Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāḥī
February 27. 1989