Imam An-Nawawi: A Pioneer Scholar

On islam Shari`ah Staff
Imam An-An-Nawawi is known for his profound knowledge of various Shari`ah sciences. The following lines do briefly shed light on his life, merits, and scholarly contributions.

Name and Birth

The full name of Imam An-Nawawi is Abu Zakariyyah Muhiuddin Yahya, Ibn Sharaf An-Nawawi, Ibn Murry, Ibn Hassan, Ibn Hussain, Ibn Muhammad, Ibn Hazam. An-Nawawi refers to Nawa, a place near Damascus, in the suburb of the city of Huwran. One of his ancestors named Hazam had settled at this place. Imam An-Nawawi was born at Nawa in the year 631 A.H.

His father, a virtuous and pious man, resolved to arrange for proper and befitting education as he had discovered the symptoms of heavenly intelligence and wisdom in his promising child at an early stage.

Sheikh Yasin Ibn Yusuf Marakashi, a saintly figure of Nawa, says: "I saw Imam An-Nawawi at Nawa when he was a youth of ten years of age. Other boys of his age used to force him to play with them, but Imam An-Nawawi would always avoid the play and would remain busy with the recitation of the Noble Qur'an. When they tried to domineer and insisted on his joining their games, he bewailed and expressed no concern over their foolish action. On observing his sagacity and profundity, a special love and affection developed in my heart for young An-Nawawi. I approached his teacher and urged him to take exceptional care of this lad as he was to become a great religious scholar and most pious saint of future. His teacher asked whether I was a soothsayer or an astrologer. I told him I am neither soothsayer nor an astrologer but Allah caused me to utter these words." His teacher conveyed this incident to Imam's father and he, keeping in view the learning quest of his son, decided to dedicate the life of his son for the service and promotion of the cause of Islamic Faith. In a short period, An-Nawawi learnt to read the Qur'an and by that time he nearly had attained puberty.

Nawa had no academic or scholarly atmosphere and there were no religious academies or institutes where one could earn excellence in religious learning, so his father took him to Damascus, which was considered the center of learning and scholarship, and the students from far and wide gathered there for schooling. During that period, there were more than three hundred institutes, colleges and universities in Damascus. Imam An-Nawawi joined the Madrasah Rawahiyah which was affiliated with the Ummvi University. The founder and patron of this Madrasah was a trader named Zakiuddin Abul-Qassim who was known as Ibn Rawahah. The Madrasah was named after him.

Noted and eminent teachers of the period taught in that Madrasah. Imam An-Nawawi says, "I studied in this institution for two years. During my stay in the Madrasah Rawahiyah, I never had complete rest and lived on the limited food supplied by the institution." As a routine he used to sleep very little at night. When it became irresistible as a human being, he would lean and slumber for a while against the support of books. After a short duration he would again be hard at his scholastic pursuits.

His Teachers and Guides

During his stay at Damascus, he studied from more than twenty celebrated teachers. These teachers were regarded as masters and authority of their subject field and disciplines they taught. An-Nawawi studied Hadith, Islamic Jurisprudence, its principles, syntax and etymology from great scholars of his time. Abu Ibrahim Ishaq Ibn Ahmad Al-Maghribi, Abu Muhammad Abdur-Rahman Ibn Ibrahim Al-Fazari, Radiyuddin Abu Ishaq Ibrahim Ibn Abu Hafs `Umar Ibn Mudar Al-Mudari, Abu Ishaq Ibrahim Ibn `Isa Al-Muradi, Abul-Baqa Khalid Ibn Yusuf An-Nablusi, Abul-Abbas Ahmad Ibn Salim Al-Misri, Abu `Abdullah Al-Jiyani, Abul-Fath `Umar ibn Bandar, and many others.

His Desire and Crave for Learning

Imam An-An-Nawawi had endless thirst for knowledge, and it can be guessed from his daily practice of studies. He used to read daily twelve lessons and write explanation and commentary of every lesson and also made important additions. Whatever the book he read, he put down the marginal notes and explanations on that book. His intelligence, hard work, love, devotion and absorption in his studies amazed his teachers and they become fond of him and began to praise and admire him. According to Imam Adh-Dhahabi, Imam An-Nawawi's concentration and absorption in academic love gained proverbial fame. He had devoted all his time for learning and scholarship. Other than reading and writing, he spent his time contemplating on the interacted and complex issues and in finding their solutions. Allah had also conferred upon him the gift of fast memory and depth of thought, and he who makes the right use of this boon, there remains no doubt in his sagacity and discernment. Imam An-Nawawi made full benefit of his God-given qualities and potentialities and earned the highest degree of honor.

Noble Manners

The learned persons, elite of the society and the public greatly respected Imam An-Nawawi on account of his piety, learning and excellent character. He used simple dress and ate simple food. Devout scholars do not care about worldly chattels; they give preference to religious and academic pursuits, propagation of Faith, etc. They experience more heavenly delight and joy in such activities than those who seek satisfaction in luxurious foods, precious clothes and other worldly things. Imam An-Nawawi had a prominent place among the erudite notables of his age. He was God-fearing person having illustrious and glorious aims regarding propagation of Faith. Celebrated Sheikh Muhiuddin expresses his impression about An-Nawawi as thus: "Imam An-Nawawi had three distinctive commendable qualities in his person. If anybody has only one out of these three, people return to him in abundance for guidance: First, having knowledge and its dissemination; second, to evade completely from the worldly inclinations; third, inviting to all that is good (Islam) enjoining Al-Ma`ruf (i.e., Islamic Monotheism and all that Islam orders one to do) and forbidding Al-Munkar (polytheism and disbelief and all that Islam has forbidden). Imam An-Nawawi had all the three."

Scholarly Works

Though An-Nawawi had a very short life, he had written a large number of books on different subjects. Every work of the Imam is a masterwork and a treasure of knowledge. Hundreds and thousands of people benefit from these works. Some of the prestigious works of An-Nawawi are:

- Commentary on Sahih Al-Bukhari
- Al-Minhaj fi Sharh Sahih Muslim
- Riyad-us-Salihin
- Kitab-ur-Raudah
- Commentary on Muhadhab
- Tahdhib-ul-Asma was-Sifat
- Kitab-ul-Adhkar
- Arba`in
- At-Taqrib fi Ilmil-Hadith wal-Irshad fihi
- Kitab-ulMubhamat
- At-Tibyan
- Al-Idah fi Manasikil-Hajj
- Sharh Sahih AlBukhari
- Sharh Sunan Abu Dawud
- Tabaqat Ash Shafi`iyyah
- Muhimmatul-Ahkam
- Manaqib-ush-Shafi`i
- Bustan-ul`Arifeen
- Al-Khulasatu fil-Hadith
- Mukhtasar At-Tirmidh
- Al-Masa'il Al-Manthurah
- Al-`Umdah fi Tashihit-Tanbih

His Death

After spending 28 years of age, Imam An-Nawawi returned to his hometown. Soon after his arrival at Nawa, he felt ill and died. Imam An-Nawawi is still living in the hearts of Muslims. His works are of everlasting value. May Allah be pleased with him.

Taken, with editorial modifications, from

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