The Greatest Hadith Collections: Forty Hadiths by Imam an-Nawawi
The hadiths play a very important role in our lives. They are the Sacred Tradition of the Messenger of Allah the Prophet Muhammad, the Sunnah – his words, his deeds, his assessment of the deeds of other people, events and phenomena. Being inspired by Allah through angel Jibril, the Prophet in his earthly life would relate to the people the Will and Revelation of Allah. Therefore it is extremely important for Muslims to have good knowledge of the Tradition of the Prophet as explanation and elaboration of God’s will in respect of His people which He expressed in the Holy Quran. No wonder that medieval scholars deemed the hadith science the greatest of all Islam sciences while the experts in hadiths worked hard to collect and write down as many of them as possible and ordinary Muslims believed it to be great virtue to learn them by heart.
One of such hadith collections became the collection known as The Forty Hadiths, compiled by a great scholar of the Quran, Sunnah and fiqh imam Muhyiddin an-Nawawi, an outstanding Muslim theologian and faqih who lived in Damascus at the time of its conquest by the Mamluks of Egypt and was famous for his oppostition to the Egyptian Sultan Baibars (1223-1277).
The tradition to compile collections of 40 hadiths goes back to one of them which well-known muhaddises (such as, for example, the famous collector of false hadiths Ibn al-Jawzi (1116-1201) believed to be false and which still became part of the pious practices: “”Whosoever memorises and preserves for my people forty hadith relating to their religion, it will be said to him: Enter by whichever of the doors of Paradise you wish “. Imam an-Nawawi cites this hadith in the preface of his book as his pious motto, mentioning, however, that the hadith is weak.
The Forty Hadith by imam an-Nawawi comprised the most important commandments of faith in Allah and righteous life from the point of view of Islam. All the hadiths which he had selected are authentic and are to be found in al-Bukhari and Muslim. Many people before or after imam a-Nawawi attempted to make similar compilations yet the only one that became popular among Muslims was the collection of imam an-Nawawi.
Imam an-Nawawi says that he “considered it best to bring together forty hadiths more important than all of these, being forty hadiths which would incorporate all of these, each hadith being one of the great precepts of religion, described by religious scholars as being “the axis of Islam ” or “the half of Islam” or “the third of it “, or the like, and to make it a rule that these forty hadiths be classified as sound and that the majority of them be in the sahihs of Al-Bukhari and Muslim. I give them without the chains of authorities so as to make it easier to memorise them and to make them of wider benefit if Allah Almighty wills, and I append to them a section explaining abstruse expressions. Every person wishing to attain the Hereafter should know these hadiths because of the important matters they contain and the directions they give in respect of all forms of obedience.”
This concise profession of faith has immense usefulness for a Muslim. No wonder that the weakness of the hadith regarding the forty hadiths does not dissuade compilers from undertaking such collections. The important thing, though, is the ability to select the ones that really matter out of the immense treasury of the hadiths. And that is something which imam an-Nawawi did better than the rest.