Bio: Imam Al-Bayhaqi

Imam Al-Bayhaqi

(384 – 458 H)
radiya Allah anhu

Dr. Jibril Haddad

Ahmad ibn al-Husayn ibn `Ali ibn `Abd Allah ibn Musa, Abu Bakr al-Bayhaqi al-Naysaburi al-Khusrawjirdi al-Shafi`i al-Ash`ari (384-458), “the jurisprudent imam, hadith master, authority in the foundations of doctrine (usuli), scrupulous and devoted ascetic, defender of the School both in its foundations and its branches, one of the mountains of Islamic knowledge.” He is known in the books of the scholars of Naysabur and his direct students as “al-faqih Ahmad.” He took fiqh from the imam Abu al-Fath Nasir ibn al-Husayn ibn Muhammad al-Qurashi al-`Umari al-Marwazi al-Shafi`i al-Naysaburi (d. 444) among others.

Al-Bayhaqi belongs to the the third generation of Imam Abu al-Hasan al-Ash`ari’s students and took kalam from the two Ash`ari imams Ibn Furak and Abu Mansur al-Baghdadi. His oldest shaykh was the imam and hadith scholar of Khurasan al-Sayyid Abu al-Hasan Muhammad ibn al-Husayn ibn Dawud al-`Alawi al-Hasani al-Naysaburi al-Hasib (d. 401), who was also the shaykh of the hadith master al-Hakim al-Naysaburi. Al-Bayhaqi’s other shaykhs in hadith include the latter, whose foremost pupil he was; the hadith master Abu `Ali al-Husayn ibn Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Rudhabari al-Tusi (d. 403); the Ash`ari imam in the foundations of doctrine Abu Bakr ibn Furak (d. 406); the imam, jurist, philologist, and hadith master of khurasan Abu Tahir Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Mahmish al-Ziyadi al-Shafi`i al-Naysaburi (d. 410); the Sufi master, Ash`ari imam, hadith master, and author of Tabat al-Sufiyya Muhammad ibn al-Husayn ibn Muhammad, Abu `Abd al-Rahman al-Azdi al-Sulami (d. 411); Muhammad bin Hibat Allah al-Lalika’i’s teacher, Muhammad ibn al-Husayn ibn Muhammad ibn al-Fadl al-Qattan al-Baghdadi (d. 415); and the Ash`ari imam, jurist, and hereseiologist Abu Mansur `Abd al-Qahir al-Baghdadi al-Shafi`i (d. 429).

It is noteworthy that neither al-Tirmidhi’s Sunan, nor al-Nasa’i’s, nor Ibn Majah’s were transmitted to al-Bayhaqi, as stated by al-Dhahabi and others. Al-Dhahabi said, “His sphere in hadith is not large, but Allah blessed him in his narrations for the excellence of his method in them and his sagacity and expertise in the subject-matters and narrators.”

His Ascetiscm

Al-Bayhaqi lived frugally in the manner of the pious scholars. He began fasting perpetually thirty years before his death. Perpetual fast (sawm al-dahr) is the practice of several of the Companions and Salaf such as Ibn `Umar, `Uthman, Abu Hanifa, al-Shafi`i, al-Tustari, al-Qurashi al-Zuhri, and others such as al-Nawawi. Ibn Hibban devoted a chapter of his Sahih to the subject in which he said, commenting the hadith of the Prophet (s): “Whoever fasts all his life has neither fasted nor broken his fast”:

He means: whoever fasts all his life including the days in which one was forbidden to fast, such as the days of tashriq and the two `Ids. By the words: ‘he has neither fasted nor broken his fast’ he means that he did not in fact fast all his life in order to reap reward for it. For he did not omit [the fasting of] the days in which he was forbidden to fast. That is why the Prophet (s) said, ‘Whoever fasts all his life, the Fire shall straiten him for this much,’ and he counted ninety on his fingers, meaning the days of his life which he was forbidden to fast. It does not apply to the person who fasts all his life – being strong enough to do so – without the prohibited days.

Imam al-Nawawi said on the topic:

Ibn `Umar fasted permanently, i.e. except the days of `Id and tashriq. This perpetual fast is his way and the way of his father, `Umar ibn al-Khattab, `A’isha, Abu Talha and others of the Salaf as well as al-Shafi`i and other scholars. Their position is that perpetual fasting is not disliked (makruh).

His work

Ibn Qudama states something similar in al-Mughni and adds that the same view is related from Ahmad and Malik, and that after the Prophet’s (s) death Abu Talha fasted permanently for forty years, among other Companions. Ibn Hajar al-Haytami in al-Khayrat al-Hisan similarly relates that Abu Hanifa was never seen eating except at night.

The works of al-Bayhaqi count among the treasures of Islamic knowledge for their meticulousness, reliability, and near-perfection in the estimation of the scholars. Among those which have been published are the following:

  • Al-Sunan al-Kubra (“The Major Work of the Prophet’s (s) Sunna”) in about ten large volumes, concerning which Ibn al-Subki waid: “No such book was ever compiled in the science with respect to classification, arrangement, and elegance,.”
  • Ma`arifa al-Sunan wa al-Athar (“The Knowledge of Sunnas and Reports”) in about twenty volumes, which lists the textual evidence of Shafi`i school under fiqh sub-headings. Ibn al-Subki said: “No Shafi`i jurist can do without it.” While his father said,: “He meant by the title: Al-Shafi`i’s Knowledge of the Sunnas and Reports.”
  • Bayan Khata Man Akhta`a `Ala al-Shafi`i (The Exposition of the Error of Those who have Attributed Error to al-Sahfi`i). This book complements the Sunan and the Ma`rifa in the presentation of the textual evidence of the Shafi`i school.
  • Al-Mabsut (The Expanded [Reference Book]), on Shafi`i Law.
  • Al-Asma’ wa al-Sifat (The Divine Names and Attributes), concerning which Ibn al-Subki said: “I do not know anything which compares with it.”
  • Al-I`tiqad `ala Madhhab al-Salaf Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama`a (Islamic Doctrines According to the School of the Predecessors Which is the School of the People of the Prophet’s (S) Way and Congretgatoin of His Companions) in about forty brief chapters.
  • Dala’il al-Nubuwwa (The Signs of Prophethood) in about seven volumes, the foremost large ook exclusively devoted to the person of the Prophet (s), as al-Qadi `Iyad’s al-Shifa’ fi Ma`rif Huquq al-Mustafa (The Healing concerning Knowledge of the Elect Prophet’s Rights) is the foremost condensed book on this noble subject.
  • Shu`ab al-Iman (The Brances of Belief) in about fourteen volumes, in which al-Bayhaqi provides an exhaustive textual commentary on the hadith of the Prophet (s) whereby, “Belief has seventy-odd branches.”
  • Al-Da`awat al-Kabir (The Major Book of Supplications) in two volumes, which arranges the narrations related to the subject by circumstance, like al-Nawawi’s al-Adhkar and al-Jazari’s similar book.
  • Al-Zuhd al-Kabir (The Major Book of Asceticism), which arranges the relevant narrations fo the Companions and early Sufis by subject-heading.
  • Al-Arb`un al-Sughra (The minor Colleciont of Forty Hadith), which is devoted to the purification of the self and the acquisition of high manners.
  • Al-Khilafiyyat (The Divergences [between al-Shafi`i and Abu Hanifa) of which Ibn al-Subki said: “No-one preceded him in writing a book of this kind, nor followed him in writing its like. It is an independent method in hadith science which is appreciated only by experts in both fiqh and hadith. It is precious for the texts it contains.
  • Fada’il al-Awqat (Times of Particular Merit ).
  • Manaqib al-Shafi`i (The Immense Merits of al-Shafi`i) in two volumes, which al-Nawawi said was the most reliable book on the merits of the Imam. Ibn al-Subki said: “Of al-I`tiqad, Dala’il al-Nubuwwa, Shu’ab al-Iman, Manaqib al-Shafi`i, and al-Da`awat al-Kabir, I swear that none of them has any peer.”
  • Manaqib al-Imam Ahmad (The The Immense Merits of Imam Ahmad).
  • Tarikh Hukama al-Islam (History of the Rulers of Islam), Etc.

The Ash`ari school

Ibn al-Subki relates that al-Bayhaqi considered the Prophet’s (s) references to Abu Musa al-Ash`ari’s people to include Abu al-Hasan al-Ash`ari and his school. Al-Bayhaqi said:

The Prophet (s) pointed to Abu Musa al-Ash`ari in relation to the verse: “Allah will bring a people whom He loves and who love Him” (5:54) saying: “They are that man’s people,” due to the tremendous merit and noble rank attributed by this hadith to the imam Abu al-Hasan al-Asha`ri. For he is part of Abu Musa’s people and one of his children who have received knowledge and were granted discernment, and he was singled out for strengthening the Sunna and repressing innovation by producing clear proofs and dispelling doubts. It is most likely that the Prophet (s) named Abu Musa’s people a people beloved by Allah because he knew the soundness of their religion and the strength of their belief. Therefore, whoever leans towards them in the sciences of the foundations of Religion and follows their position in disowning tashbih while adhering to the Book and the Sunna, is one of their number.

Al-Bayhaqi is the last of those who comprehensively compiled the textual evidence of the Shafi`i school including the hadith, the positions of the Imam and his immediate companions. Imam al-Haramayn said: “There is no Shafi`i except he owes a hurge debt to al-Shafi`i, except al-Bayhaqi, to who al-Shafi`i owes a huge for his works which imposed al-Shafi`i’s school and his sayings.” Al-Dhahabi comments: “Abu al-Ma`ali is right! It is as he said, and if al-Bayhaqi had wanted to found a school of Law for himself he woul dhave been able to do so, due to the vastness of his sciences and his thorough knowledge fo juridical differences.” Among al-Shafi`i’s legal positions reported by al-Bayhaqi is the following in his book Fafa’il al-Awqat:


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