Outstanding Hadith Collections: Riyad al-Salihin

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The book of hadiths called Riyad al-Salihin (The Meadows of the Righteous) was written by imam an-Nawawi and is a compilation of the hadiths taken from the collections by imams al-Bukhari, Muslim and others.

The Sunnah (the hadiths of the Prophet) stands as the second source of Muslim faith and law after the Quran. Initially, the hadiths were passed on by word of mouth as retold by the Prophet’s companions, then they were written down on the orders of Caliph Umar.

The multitude of the hadiths was collected together by righteous imams of subsequent centuries. The most complete and authentic of them are the collections prepared by the imams al-Bukhari and Muslim. Each one contains more than 7,000 hadiths. The righteous imams had travelled to every part of the Arab world at the time in order not to miss one single hadith attributed to the Prophet. They devoted their whole lives to this. Their books served as the basis for subsequent compilations undertaken by virtuous scholars of faith in the centuries that followed.

Wherein, then, lies the difference between the hadith collections of the imams al-Bukhari, Muslim, an-Nasai, Abu Dawood, at-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah (the Six canonical Books of Hadith ‘Kutub al-Sittah’) and the subsequent compilations from them made by such teachers of Islam as khatib al-Tabrizi, imam an-Nawawi, imam al-Asqalani and others?

One can liken the hadith collections of Kutub al-Sittah to a dictionary or an encyclopedia. They are the sum total of all human knowledge, yet it is almost impossible to read through a dictionary or an encyclopedia from page one to the very last page. Instead, a man opens a textbook where this knowledge is related in an abridged and systematized form. The books of Kutub al-Sittah are the encyclopedias of Muslim faith. The compilations from them are the textbooks of Muslim faith.

The purpose of each compilation was to make it easier for Muslims to digest the regulations of Islam. Each of them followed a certain principle in selecting the hadiths, the one considered crucial by a particular author (the fundamentals of faith, the moral rules, the laws of sharia), and relayed them without quoting the chains of narrators (to make it easier to read), whereas these chains could always be double-checked from the references to the original text.

One of such compilations was the book by imam an-Nawawi called ‘Riyad al-Salihin’ (The Meadows of the Righteous, or the Gardens of the Righteous). Imam an-Nawawi selected 1,896 hadiths rom Kutub al-Sittah and divided them into 20 books. The main emphasis in The Medows of the Righteous is placed on the achievement by a Muslim of righteous living. In the very first chapter imam an-Nawawi cites the Prophet’s hadiths about the Lord judging not the deeds but rather the intentions of men. “Allah does not look at your figures, nor at your attire but He looks at your hearts and accomplishments.” (hadith No. 7) This according to the imam is the foundation of righteousness. He goes on to discuss obedience to Allah and taking care of your next-of-kin, repentance, behaviour towards the people around you, ways to seek virtuous living, reverence of Allah, rules of hajj, regulations of dua, immunity to prohibited things.

Imam an-Nawawi selects thematic hadiths which apart from their theme contain reference to its place in the overall profession of Islamic beliefs. This way a Muslim is time and again taught the basics of his faith. For example, when talking about bashfulness, the imam cites the following hadith: “Faith has sixty odd or seventy odd branches. The uppermost of all these is the Testimony of Faith La ilaha illallah

(‘There is no true god except Allah’) while the least of them is the removal of harmful object from the road. And shyness is a branch of faith.” (hadith No. 682)

The book by imam an-Nawawi is one of those especially loved by all Muslims. It is an engaging read which shall enrich each Muslim with knowledge, shall strengthen his Iman and shall teach him the basics of righteous living as directed by the Prophet himself.