Outstanding Hadith Collections: Kanz al-Ummal

Islamic manuscript
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The book of hadiths ‘Kanz al-Ummal’ (‘Treasures of the Doers of Good Deeds’) was written by an Indian scholar Abdulmalik al-Hindi (1472-1567) and is a compilation of the hadiths which are missing in the collections by imams al-Bukhari, Muslim and other authors of the hadith canon known as the Six Books (Kutub al-Sittah).

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.

However, besides al-Bukhari, Muslim, an-Nasai, Abu Dawood, al-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah (the six hadith collectors whose books made up the canon of Kutub al-Sittah) there were other people who collected the hadiths. There is a great number of hadiths which they recorded that are absolutely original and not repeated in the Six Books. For various reasons they failed to be recognized as canonical (one such reason being a less rigorous check-up of authenticity than that applied by al-Bukhari and Muslim), however they continue to be read and respected a lot.

In order for the Muslims to be given a better targeted instruction in faith, compilations started to be made out of the primary hadith collections, a kind of abridged textbooks of faith, which became extremely popular. Most of them were based on the Six Books but some of them followed a tradition called ‘al-zawaid’ (‘appendage’). This tradition demanded that compilations must be made only from the collections not included in the Six Books canon. Thus the hadiths in such compilations were unique in respect of the Six Books.

Some of such collections are especially notable for their total lack of criticism in approaching the selection of the hadiths. One of the famous Egyptian scholars of Islam called Jalaluddin al-Suyuti who lived in Cairo at the time of the Mamluks at the end of the 15th century was known to adhere to such an approach. His goal was to collect as many hadiths as possible never minding their authenticity. This was how he compiled his collection known as ‘Al-Jami al-Kabir’ (‘The Great Mosque’) which incorporated some 46 thousand hadiths.

Al-Suyuti’s cause was championed in India by al-Hindi who rearranged al-Suyuti’s hadiths and put out a renewed collection which he called ‘Kanz al-Ummal’ (‘Treasures of the Doers of Good Deeds’). Unfortunately, it must be admitted that Kans al-Ummal lacks precision and diligence. Many hadiths have corrupt chains of narrators, many are clearly fabricated. It is true that the author was motivated by a pious intention to collect as many hadiths as possible however lack of criticism in his approach annulled this good intention almost completely.

Nonetheless, ‘Kans al-Ummal’ as a source of Islamic thought was published and studied by many scholars. We would loath to recommend ‘Kanz al-Ummal’ as point of reference or source of knowledge to those who are studying the basics of faith, yet to the researchers of more advanced lore of Islam it can be an ingratiating read.