FEW MUSLIMS TODAY memorize a^adîth in quantity and fewer still according to their categories in the various |ahîh collections. But there are those among that ever-rare breed of scholars, the mu^addithîn, that still do.
There can be no doubt that new computerized databases of ^adîth are exerting a sea change in how scholars (and the rest of us) access ^adîth (and, in fact, in the breadth and re-classification underway as a result of computerized access). Nonetheless, a virtue remains—and particularly in ^adîth studies—of memorizing a^adîth and understanding how to locate a ^adîth in the tried-and-true hard copy ^adîth collections. For one, while there are currently outstanding computerized data-base collections of ^adîth available (and some serious ^adîth projects in the works), the vast majority of what most of us access, by way of the Internet, lacks verified reliability (which is an odd contradiction to the purpose of this science to begin with. It seems we need an entirely augmented ^adîth system for grading what is on the Internet). Moreover, most of us do not have the skills to verify ^adîth reliability to begin with—and reliability, after all, is everything when it comes to ^adîth.
Also, while there are Sunnah projects underway that have a more global approach to computerizing availability of ^adith, coherent works like
Ibn ±ajar’s commentary on Bukhârî’s unparalleled ßa^î^ collection (Ibn ±ajar’s compendious work is called Fat^ Al-Bâri),
Al–Nawawi’s commentary on ßa^î^ Muslim (Al-Minhâj bi Shar^ ßa^î^ Muslim), and
Al-¢Aynî’s ¢Umdat Al-Qâri Shar^ ßa^î^ Al-Bukhâri)
will not likely ever be superseded. And even in their Internet forms, they require some level of word or category knowledge of ^adîth to find what you are looking for in them.
So here is an overview of step one in Hadith extraction, or takhrîj, as the science is called, for those of us who want to learn how to find a^adîth in the collections.
This classic method is for someone who remembers the first few words of a ^adîth. The positive aspect is that it is quick. The drawback to it is that if you remember the beginning of the ^adîth in even a slightly variant way, you will not be able to locate it, or you will find it only with difficulty.
For example, in English ^adîth translations, the word “if” can represent either of the Arabic terms ‘law’ or ‘idha.’ Take the ^adîth:
If one comes to you whose character and religion is pleasing to you, then marry [the marriageable women in your care] to him. (Tirmidhi, graded ^asan)
In this ^adîth, if you remembered the first word as ‘law’ instead of ‘idha,’ you would not be able to find it where you believe it should be.
There are a number of books that are dedicated to locating a ^adîth based on its first few words. The following is a brief on one of the more well-known books in this genre:
Al-Jâmi¢ Al-Azhar fî ±adîth Al-Nabî Al-Anwar [The Brilliant Compendium in ±adîth of the Beaming Prophet’s Speech].
The compiler of this work ¢Abd Al-Ra’ûf ibn Tâj Al-¢Ârifîn Munawi, lived in the tenth hijri century (17th c.e.), and, as his name indicates, was originally from Al-Minya in the center of Egypt. He then moved to Cairo and became the most knowledgeable ^adîth scholar of his time. He spent the majority of his time and effort in composition and compilation and was considered the most prolific writer and editor of ^adîth works of the era.
About a century before the compilation of Al-Jâmi¢ Al-Azhar, the celebrated scholar Al–Suyû~i (d. 911 A.H. / 1505 C.E.) had compiled a takhrîj book called
in which he attempted to gather the Sunnah in its entirety, having written of his intention in the introduction of his book. Yet he never made clear whether or not he believed that he had reached his goal.
This led ¢Abd Al-Ra’ûf to compile Al-Jâmi¢ Al-Azhar with two goals in mind: First, to prove that not all of the Sunnah was in Al-Suyû~i’s book; and second, to follow up some of the a^adîth with commentary on their levels of authenticity.
Here is a summary of a portion of Abdul-Ra’ûf’s introduction to Al-Jâmi¢ Al-Azhar:
Although Al-Suyû~i gathered a large portion of the Sunnah, he did not come close to gathering it in its entirety. Yet many of the major ^adîth scholars were under the impression that he did. Thus if they were looking up a ^adîth and did not find it in his book, they would teach it as an unreliable ^adîth that had no basis—even though such was not always the case. So in order to establish that not all of the Sunnah are in Al-Suyû~i’s book, I have gathered a group of a^adîth that are not included in his work.
¢Abd Al-Ra’ûf, in fact, gathered some thousand a^adîth that were not in Al-Suyû~i’s collection. He also added commentary about the authenticity of a^adîth, which he considered lacking in Al-Suyû~i’s book. As for the a^adîth that were not found in Al-Suyû~i’s book, he focused on gathering them from relatively obscure sources in order to bring to public attention a^adîth that were previously difficult to find or which had been overlooked.
He ordered the a^adîth alphabetically based on the first few words of each ^adîth. He handled the definite ‘particle’ al (or, definite ‘article,’ ‘the’) by dividing each letter-section into two parts: Words with al, and words without it. So, for example, he would have a section for the letter (râ) and in it he would list alphabetically all the a^adîth whose first word began with (râ). Then he would again list all the words that began with (râ), but which were preceded by the definite particle/article al.
Hence, ¢Abd Al-Ra’ûf’s rather meticulous work is one of the most important books to be aware of in the science of ^adîth extraction.