FEW MUSLIMS TODAY memorize a ḥadîth in quantity and fewer still according to their categories in the various ṣahîh collections. But there are those among that ever-rare breed of scholars, the mu ḥaddithîn, that still do.
There can be no doubt that new computerized databases of ḥadîth are exerting a sea change in how scholars (and the rest of us) access ḥadîth (and, in fact, in the breadth and re-classification underway as a result of computerized access). Nonetheless, a virtue remains—and particularly in ḥadîth studies—of memorizing a ḥadîth and understanding how to locate a ḥadîth in the tried-and-true hard copy ḥadîth collections. For one, while there are currently outstanding computerized data-base collections of ḥadîth available (and some serious ḥadîth 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 ḥadîth system for grading what is on the Internet). Moreover, most of us do not have the skills to verify ḥadîth reliability to begin with—and reliability, after all, is everything when it comes to ḥadîth.
Also, while there are Sunnah projects underway that have a more global approach to computerizing availability of ḥadith, coherent works like
Ibn Ḥajar’s commentary on Bukhârî’s unparalleled Ṣaḥîḥ collection (Ibn Ḥajar’s compendious work is called Fat ḥ Al-Bâri),
Al–Nawawi’s commentary on Ṣaḥîḥ Muslim (Al-Minhâj bi Shar ḥ Ṣaḥîḥ Muslim), and
Al-ʿAynî’s ʿUmdat Al-Qâri Shar ḥ Ṣaḥîḥ Al-Bukhâri)
will not likely ever be superseded. And even in their Internet forms, they require some level of word or category knowledge of ḥadîth 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 ḥadîth in the collections.
This classic method is for someone who remembers the first few words of a ḥadîth. The positive aspect is that it is quick. The drawback to it is that if you remember the beginning of the ḥadîth 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 ḥadîth translations, the word “if” can represent either of the Arabic terms ‘law’ or ‘idha.’ Take the ḥadîth:
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 ḥasan)
In this ḥadîth, 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 ḥadîth based on its first few words. The following is a brief on one of the more well-known books in this genre:
Al-Jâmiʿ Al-Azhar fî Ḥadîth Al-Nabî Al-Anwar [The Brilliant Compendium in Ḥadîth of the Beaming Prophet’s Speech].
The compiler of this work ʿAbd Al-Ra’ûf ibn Tâj Al-ʿÂrifîn 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 ḥadîth 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 ḥadîth works of the era.
About a century before the compilation of Al-Jâmiʿ Al-Azhar, the celebrated scholar Al–Suyû ṭi (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 ʿAbd Al-Ra’ûf to compile Al-Jâmiʿ Al-Azhar with two goals in mind: First, to prove that not all of the Sunnah was in Al-Suyû ṭi’s book; and second, to follow up some of the a ḥadîth with commentary on their levels of authenticity.
Here is a summary of a portion of Abdul-Ra’ûf’s introduction to Al-Jâmiʿ Al-Azhar:
Although Al-Suyû ṭi gathered a large portion of the Sunnah, he did not come close to gathering it in its entirety. Yet many of the major ḥadîth scholars were under the impression that he did. Thus if they were looking up a ḥadîth and did not find it in his book, they would teach it as an unreliable ḥadîth 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 ṭi’s book, I have gathered a group of a ḥadîth that are not included in his work.
ʿAbd Al-Ra’ûf, in fact, gathered some thousand a ḥadîth that were not in Al-Suyû ṭi’s collection. He also added commentary about the authenticity of a ḥadîth, which he considered lacking in Al-Suyû ṭi’s book. As for the a ḥadîth that were not found in Al-Suyû ṭi’s book, he focused on gathering them from relatively obscure sources in order to bring to public attention a ḥadîth that were previously difficult to find or which had been overlooked.
He ordered the a ḥadîth alphabetically based on the first few words of each ḥadîth. 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 ḥadîth 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, ʿAbd Al-Ra’ûf’s rather meticulous work is one of the most important books to be aware of in the science of ḥadîth extraction.