by Dr. G.F. Haddad

Abū Nu`aym, Ahmad ibn `Abd Allāh ibn Ahmad ibn Ishāq ibn Mūsā ibn Mahrān al-Mihrānī al-Asbahānī or al-Asfahānī al-Ahwal al-Ash`arī al-Shāfi`ī (336-430), the Imām, erudite scholar, Sūfī, Shaykh al-Islām, and major trustworthy hadīth Master. His first teachers were his grandfather the Sūfī master Muhammad ibn Yūsuf al-Bannā' al-Asbahānī and his father, a hadīth scholar who had travelled all over the Islamic world. Under his father's direction Abū Nu`aym began his scholarly career very early, and before the age of ten possessed certificates of narration transmission from all the major shaykhs of the Islamic world in his time, obtained for him by his father.
Among them: al-Mu`ammar `Abd Allāh ibn `Umar ibn Shawdhab in Wāsit, Abū al-`Abbās al-Asamm in Naysabūr, Khaythama ibn Sulaymān al-Atrābulsī in Shām, Ja`far ibn Muhammad ibn Nusayr al-Khuldī and Abū Sahl ibn Zyad al-Qattān in Baghdād, Abū Bakr ibn al-Sunni in Daynur, and others.
Subsequently he took hadīth and narrated it from and to an innumerable list of shaykhs and students.
Among his shuyūkh: al-Tabarānī, Abū al-Shaykh, al-Ajurrī, al-Hākim, and others.
Among his students were al-Khatīb, al-Malīnī, al-Dhakwānī, Abū al-Fadl Hamd ibn Ahmad al-Haddād, his brother Abū `Alī al-Hasan, and others.
Many of Abū Nu`aym's Shaykhs did not certify any other than him in their lifetime, hence the statement of the hadīth Scholars that "Abū Nu`aym possessed chains of transmission that no one else in the world possessed in his time." Because of the two factors of having received many of these chains at a very early age and the fact that he lived almost a hundred years, Abū Nu`aym also became famous for the shortness of his chains. This is attribute is much prized among hadīth Scholars in view of the rule that the shorter a chain of transmission is, the stronger the probability that its narration is error-free. Hence, Ahmad ibn Hanbal's statement: "The pursuit of short transmission chains is a Sunna inherited from those who came before." One drawback of Abū Nu`aym's unique chains is that some of his shaykhs are unheard-of and therefore of unverifiable reliability.
Abū Nu`aym was assiduous in the pursuit of knowledge according to the manner of the ascetic scholars. Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Mardūyah said of him: "He had no other sustenance than giving audition (al-tasmī`) and writing." This quality joined with his superlative intelligence and early start to make him one of the major hadīth Masters and compilers in Islām and the most sought-after hadīth narrator in his time. Ibn Mardūyah states that even during the time that he walked home from his mosque gatherings, a student would be reading a volume of hadīth to him on the way. Al-Khatīb said: "I did not see anyone for whom the unqualified term "the hadīth Master" (al-hāfiz ) was used except two men: Abū Nu`aym and Abū Hāzim al-`Abdawī." Hamza ibn al-`Abbās al-`Alawī said: "The hadīth scholars used to say that the hadīth Master Abū Nu`aym remained for fourteen years without equal, no one from East to West possessing any chain of transmission shorter than his, and there was no one stronger in memorization."
Abū Nu`aym was Ash`arī in doctrine as indicated by Ibn `Asākir's inclusion of him in the second generation-layer of al-Ash`arī's students and as stated by Ibn al-Jawzī in his great history, al-Muntazam. This is confirmed by Abū Nu`aym's doctrinal criticism of Ibn Mandah when it is known that the latter narrated anthropomorphist views and his authoring al-Radd `alā al-Hurūfiyya al-Hulūliyya ("Refutation of the Letter-Worshippers Who Believe in Indwelling") against Ibn Mandah's belief that the pronunciation of the Qur'an is uncreated1 [1] Because of this adherence, Abū Nu`aym was boycotted by extremist Hanbalīs in his time. Al-Dhahabī narrates the following incident from Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Jabbār al-Fursānī:
In my childhood I attended Abū Bakr ibn Abī `Alī al-Mu`addil's gathering with my father. When the gathering ended someone said: "If anyone wants to attend Abū Nu`aym's gathering, let us go!" Abū Nu`aym followed a different doctrine from al-Mu`addil's and was boycotted by the latter's circle because of that. For there was too much hostile partisanship between Ash`arīs and Hanbalīs, leading to dissension. Hearing the man, the hadīth scholars surrounded him with their pen-knives and he was almost killed.
Al-Dhahabī then comments: "I say, these are not hadīth scholars but ignorant transgressors - may Allāh keep their harm away!"
Abū Nu`aym's extreme mutual enmity with the Hanbalī hadīth Master Ibn Mandah for the same reasons gave rise to sharp criticism from both sides. However, the rule followed by the succeding scholars in this and every case of mutual disaffection between contemporary rivals (aqrān mutanāfisūn ), is to ignore the attacks of each with regard to the other. Another problem sometimes raised with respect to Abū Nu`aym is his narration of a number of forgeries in Hilyat al-Awliyā', but the scholars have replied that he always named his narrators, which allows one to assess the reliability of every report he cites.
Ibn al-Salāh in his manual of hadīth science named Abū Nu`aym among the seven Acholars of highest excellence in the authorship of works in Islām.2 [2]
Abū Nu`aym authored over a hundred works Among them:
* Al-Arba`īn `alā Madhhab al-Mutahaqqiqīn min al-Sūfiyya, in print
* Dalā'il al-Nubuwwa ("The Signs and Proofs of Prophethood"), devoted entirely to the person of the Prophet Muhammad MHMD , this large work - partly in print - was expanded by al-Bayhaqī to seven volumes in a like-titled work.
* Dhikr Akhbār Asbahān ("Memorial of the Chronicles of Ispahan"), in print
* Al-Du`afā', in print
* Fadā'il al-Khulafā' al-Arba`a wa Ghayrihim, in print
* Fadīlat al-`Adilīn min al-Wulāt, a collection of over forty narrations on just government and the duties of the governed towards the rulers. Al-Sakhāwī documented each narration in detail and both the work and its documentation were published.
* Hilyat al-Awliyā' wa Tabaqāt al-Asfiya' ("The Adornment of the Friends of Allāh awjand the Biography-Layers of the Pure Ones") in ten volumes, one of the earliest comprehensive encyclopedias of Sūfī personalities. The book sold in Abū Nu`aym's lifetime in Naysabūr for four hundred gold dinars and received many editions to our time. Ibn al-Jawzī attacked him for including the Companions in it, then proceeded to epitomize it in his two-volume Sifat al-Safwa, in which he studiously avoided using the words sūfī and tasawwuf. Ibn Kathīr praised the work as an illustration of the author's strength in hadīth narration. Ibn al-Subkī relates that this book was among Shaykh al-Islām Taqī al-Dīn al-Subkī's favorite works. Abū Nu`aym stated the following in his introduction:
I have compiled a book that comprises the names, narrations, and sayings of a number of personalities among the most eminent verifying Sūfīs and their Imāms, arranged in the order of their biographical layers (Tabaqāt) and including those famous for abundant worship together with their methods. It begins with the time of the Companions, their Successors, and those who came after them.
* Juz` Turuq Hadīth Inna Lillāhi Tis`atun wa Tis`īna Isman, in print
* Al-Mahdī.
* Ma`rifat al-Sahāba wa Fadā'ilihim ("Knowing the Companions and Their Merits"), in print. This book was the basis of subsequent similar works by Ibn `Abd al-Barr, Ibn al-Athīr, and Ibn Hajar.
* Musnad al-Imām Abī Hanīfa, in print
* Al-Mustakhraj `alā al-Bukhārī ("Additional Narrations Meeting al-Bukhārī's Criterion"), in print
* Al-Mustakhraj `alā Muslim ("Aditional Narrations Meeting Muslim's Criterion"), in print
* Riyādat al-Abdān, in print
* Al-Shu`arā' ("The Poets").
* Al-Sifāt. Al-Suyūtī mentioned it in his commentary on Sūrat al-Nās in his book al-Iklīl Istinbāt al-Tanzīl.
* Sifat al-Janna ("Description of Paradise"), in print
* Tabaqāt al-Muhaddithīn wal-Ruwāt ("Biography-Layers of the Hadīth Scholars and Narrators").
* Tasmiyatu Intahā ilaynā min al-Ruwāt `an al-Fadl ibn Dukayn `Aliyan, in print
* Tasmiyatu Intahā ilaynā min al-Ruwāt `an Sa`īd ibn Mansūr `Aliyan, in print
* Tathbīt al-Imāma wa Tartīb al-Khilāfa, in print, a refutation of Shī`ism.
* Al-Tibb al-Nabawī ("Prophetic Medicine").
One of the miraculous gifts bestowed upon Abū Nu`aym was his banishment from the mosque of Ispahan by a group of people there. The same people, unhappy with the Sultan Mahmūd ibn Subktukin's appointment of a certain man as governor for them, ambushed and killed the man. Later, the Sultan, pretending to reconcile them, reunited them in the mosque from which Abū Nu`aym had been banned and massacred them to the last man. Thus Abū Nu`aym's banishment had saved his life.

[1] Cf. Abū Nu`aym, Dhikr Akhbār Asbahān (2:306), al-Dhahabī, Siyar (Risāla ed 17:462), and Ibn Taymiyya, Majmū` al-Fatāwā (12:209) and Dar' Ta`ārud al-`Aql wal-Naql (Ed Muhammad al-Sayyid Julaynid, Cairo: Mu'assasat al-Ahrām, 1988) 1:268=Muwāfaqat Sarīh al-Ma`qūl (1:160) on the margins of Minhāj al-Sunna al-Nabawiyya (Bulāq: al-Matba`at al-Kubrā al-Amīriyya, 1904).
[2] Ibn al-Salāh, `Ulūm al-Hadīth (p. 348).