Sunan Al Tirmidhi
Imam Tirmidhi (209 – 279 H)
Imam Tirmidhi was born in the year 209 A.H. during the reign of the Abbasid Khalifa Ma’mun al-Rashid. The Abbasid Caliphate, despite its brilliant contributions to Islam, brought along with it many thorny problems. Greek Philosophy had a free flow into the Islamic world. This was fully sanctioned by the government until eventually it declared the Mu’tazila school of thought as the state religion. Anyone who opposed the Mu’tazila school of thought would be opposing the state. With the influence of Greek philosophy infiltrating within the people, many Muslims began attempting to reconcile between reason and revelation. As a result they deviated themselves and misled many innocent weak Muslims away from Allah and His Prophet (s). Many scholars of Islam had come to the fore in order to defend the Shari`ah. Forgeries and interpolations in Hadith by rulers who wished to fulfil their personal motives was common. In the first century `Umar bin Abdul `Aziz (r) initiated a movement for the compilation of the holy hadith of the the Prophet (s) as there was a fear of it being lost. Eventually this gigantic task was undertaken by six towering scholars of Islam. One of them was Imam Abu `Isa Muhammed ibn `Isa Tirmidhi
Having grown up in an environment of learning, together with possessing many great qualities naturally drove Imam Tirmidhi to dedicate his life totally towards the field of Hadith. He obtained his basic knowledge at home and later travelled to far off lands in search of this great science. He studied Hadith under great personalities such as Imam Bukhari, Imam Muslim and Imam Abu Dawud. In some narrations Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim are his students as well.
Once Imam Bukhari mentioned to him “I have benefited more from you than you have benefitted from me.” Musa ibn `Alaq once said: “When Imam Bukhari passed away, he left no one in Khurasan who compared with Abu `Isa Tirmidhi in knowledge, memory, piety and abstinence.” According to `Abdullah ibn Muhammed Al-Ansari, Imam Tirmidhi’s Al-Jami` is more beneficial than the works of Bukhari and Muslim since their compilations can only be understood by a very deep sighted scholar whereas Al-Jami` can be understood by both the scholar and the layman.
Imam Tirmidhi said that he compiled this book and presented it to the learned of Hijaz, Iraq and Khurasan and they were pleased with it. Who ever has this book in his home, it is as though he has the Prophet (s) speaking to him there.
His remarkable memory:
Imam Tirmidhi had an exceptionally remarkable memory. If he heard something once he never forgot it. Once on his way to Makkah, Imam Tirmidhi met a scholar of hadith (muhaddith) from whom he had previously copied two chapters of hadith. Thinking that he had the notes with him he asked the scholar if he would allow him to read out these two chapters so that he could correct any errors. After realizing that he did not have those notes with him he took a blank piece of paper and read out the entire two parts from memory. When the muhaddith realized what he was doing he rebuked Imam Tirmidhi saying: “Have you no shame, why are you wasting my time.” Imam Tirmidhi assured him that he had committed all the ahadith to memory. The scholar was not convinced, even though Imam Tirmidhi had recited all the hadith from memory. Imam Tirmidhi requested him to recite to him some other hadith. The scholar recited forty ahadith which Imam Tirmidhi thenrepeated without making a single error, thus showing his remarkable power of committing hadith to memory.
Another incident has been recorded by Hakim ul-Ummat in his Al-Misk-us-Zaki, depicting the profound memory of Imam Tirmidhi. He writes:
Imam Tirmidhi had lost his sight towards the latter portion of his life. Once whilst on a journey, at a certain point he bowed his head. When asked as to why he did this, he replied: “Is there not a tree here whose branches hang over in such a manner that it harms those who are passing by.” They answered in the negative. He was quite shocked when he heard this as he distinctly remembered there being a tree and was worried as to whether his memory was failing him or not. He stopped the caravan immediately and asked his companions to enquire from the locals whether a tree had existed there or not. “If it is established that no tree existed then I will stop narrating the Hadith of the Prophet (s) due to my weak memory.” On inquiry it was shown to them that a tree had previously existed over there but due to it being a hindrance to travelers it was removed.
Imam Tirmidhi had a large number of students from all over the world. The most famous amongst them were Haysam ibn Kulaib, Abul Abbaas and Muhammed ibn Ahmed Shah Abdul `Aziz describes Imam Tirmidhi in the following words: “His memory was unique and his piety and fear of Allah ta’la was of a very high caliber. He would cry so much out of the fear of Allah, that towards the end of his life he lost his sight.”
According to Ibn Taymiyya and Shah Waliullah, Imam Timidhi was an independent Jurist (Mujtahid). Moulana Anwar Shah Kashmiri is of the opinion that he was a Shafi`i.
In the year 279 A.H. in a village called Bawag at the age of 70 , Imam Tirmidhi left this temporary abode for the everlasting life of the hereafter. May Allah swt fill his grave with light. The enormity of his sacrifices and the extent to which he served the religion can never be fully comprehended.
Many books of hadith were compiled before Imam Tirmidhi decided to compile his Al-Jami`. Dawud Tayalisi and Ahmed ibn Hanbal had compiled books consisting of both authentic and weak hadith. Later Imam Bukhari compiled his Sahih and omitted all weak narrations from it. His main objective was to derive masa’il / laws from the relevant hadith. Later Imam Muslim compiled his book with a primary focus on the isnad (different chain of narrators). Imam Nasa’i’s aim was to mention the discrepancies of the hadith whilst Abu Dawud prepared a book which became the basis for the fuqaha. Imam Tirmidhi had combined the styles of Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud and Nasa’i by mentioning the discrepancies regarding the narrators and also making his compilation a basis for the jurists.
The Special characteristics of al-Jami` ut-Tirmidhi
1. It is a Sunan and a Jami`.
2. Only 83 hadith are repeated.
3. Imam Tirmidhi omits the major portion of the hadith and only mentions that part which is relevant to the heading. (title)
4. After mentioning a hadith he classifies it narration (whether it is authentic or weak, etc.)
5. He specifies the narrators names, e.g. if the narrators kunya (honorific name) was mentioned, he would then mention his proper name and vice versa.
6. One hadith in Tirmidhi is a thulaathiyaat i.e. the transmitters of the hadith betwen Imam Tirmidhi and the Prophet (s) are only three.
7. Every hadith in Tirmidhi al-Jami` is “ma’mul bihi” (practised upon by the jurists.)
8. He explains the different madhahib together with their proofs.
9. He gives an explanation to all difficult ahadith.
10. His book has been set out in an excellent sequence, hence to look for a hadith is very easy.
11. There is no fabricated hadith in the entire book.
The conditions of Imam Tirmidhi in the selection of hadith
According to the commentators of Al-Jami Imam Tirmidhi maintained the following conditions throughout the compilation of his book.
1. He never narrated hadith from those who fabricated hadith. 2. Allama Tahir Muqaddisi mentions that al-Jami` ut-Tirmidhicontains four types of hadith:
 Those ahadith that conform with the conditions of Bukhari and Muslim.
 Those ahadith that conform with the conditions of Abu Dawud and Nasa’i.
 Those ahadith that have certain discrepancies either in the sanad or matan.
 Those weak hadith that some fuqaha have relied on.
3. Imam Tirmidhi accepts a hadith which is narrated with the word “a’n” provided both the narrators are contemporaries. 4. After mentioning a weak hadith, he explains the state of its weakness. 5. A mursal hadith is accepted by Imam Tirmidhi when it is supported by a chain of narrators which is not broken.
The status of al-Jami` ut-Tirmidhi among the six authentic books of hadith. al-Jami` ut-Tirmidhi has been categorized as fifth amongst the six most authentic books of hadith. According to the most preferred opinion, Bukhari enjoys the highest status, followed by Muslim, Abu Dawood, Nasai, Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah respectively. Haji Khalifa in al-Kashf al-Dhunoon has categorised Tirmidhi in third position. Al-Dhahabi has written that Tirmidhi in actual fact should be holding the third position, but due to him bringing weak narrators like Kalbi and Masloob its status has dropped. However, looking at the manner in which he set out his book it seems that Haji Khalifa’s opinion is best.
Some of the commentaries of Tirmidhi
An Arabic compilation of Qadi Abu Bakr ibn `Arabi (r) in 7 volumes.