An Introduction To Sunan At-Tirmidhi

By Abu Khaliyl

Introductory Points: From At-Tirmidhi

The great Hafiz of Hadith, Imam Abu ‘Isa At-Tirmidhi wrote a book known as Al-‘Ilal (or Al-‘Ilal As-Saghir), which is often published along with Jami‘ At-Tirmidhi, or Sunan At-Tirmidhi as it is more commonly known. In Al-‘Ilal, he mentioned some important introductory points to let the reader know about what he has included in his Sunan. The following are some excerpts from Al-‘Ilal for the benefit of those who read this translation of Sunan At-Tirmidhi:

At-Tirmidhi’s Objective

Abu ‘Isa said:

“All of the Hadiths that are in this book are acted upon and utilized by some of the people of knowledge, with the exception of two Hadiths: 

The Hadith of Ibn ‘Abbas, that the Prophet (S) combined the Zuhr and ‘Asr (prayers), and the Maghrib and ‘Isha’ (prayers) in Al-Madinah, without being in a state of fear, nor due to rain. 

And the Hadith of the Prophet (S): “Whoever drinks wine, then lash him. If he returns to it, then on the fourth time kill him.” 

I have clarified the deficiencies of both of these Hadiths in the book.”

Regarding The Opinions Of The Fuqaha’ That At-Tirmidhi Mentions After Some Chapters

He said:

“And whatever we mentioned in this book, from choices of the Fuqaha’: 
Then whatever is in it from the saying of Sufyan Ath-Thawri, most of it is what was narrated to us by Muhammad bin ‘Uthman Al-Kufi (he said): ‘‘Ubaidullah bin Musa narrated it to us from Sufyan.’ Some of it was narrated to me by Abu Al-Fadl, Maktum bin Al-‘Abbas At-Tirmidhi (he said): ‘Muhammad bin Yusuf Al-Firyabi narrated to us from Sufyan.’

Whatever is in it from the sayings of Malik bin Anas, then most of it is what was narrated to us by Ishaq bin Musa Al-Ansari (he said): ‘Ma‘n bin ‘Isa Al-Qazzaz narrated to us from Malik bin Anas.’ Whatever it contains from the chapters on fasting, then Abu Mus‘ab Al-Madini informed us of it, from Malik bin Anas. Some of the statements of Malik are from what was informed to us by Musa bin Hizam (who said): ‘‘Abdullah bin Maslamah Al-Qa‘ni informed us from Malik bin Anas.’

Whatever is in it from the sayings of Ibn Al-Mubarak, then it is what was narrated to us by Ahmad bin ‘Abdah Al-Amuli, from the companions of Ibn Al-Mubarak, from him. Among it is what has been related from Abu Wahb [Muhammad bin Muzahim], from Ibn Al-Mubarak. And among it is what has been related from ‘Ali bin Al-Hasan, from ‘Abdullah bin Al-Mubarak. Among it is what has been related from ‘Abdan, from Sufyan bin ‘Abdul-Malik, from Ibn Al-Mubarak. And among it is what was related from Habban bin Musa, from Ibn Al-Mubarak. And among it is what was related from Wahb bin Zam‘ah, from Fadalah An-Nasawi from ‘Abdullah bin Al-Mubarak. And there are other narrators whose names we mentioned from Ibn Al-Mubarak.

And whatever it contains from the sayings of Ash-Shafi‘i, then most of it is what Al-Hasan bin Muhammad Az-Za‘farani informed me of from Ash-Shafi‘i. Whatever there is regarding Wudu’ or Salah, it was narrated to us by Abu Al-Walid Al-Makki from Ash-Shafi‘i. And among it is what was narrated to us by Abu Isma‘il [At-Tirmidhi] (he said): ‘Yusuf bin Yahya Al-Qurashi Al-Buwaiti narrated it to us, from Ash-Shafi‘i.’ Some things were mentioned in it from Ar-Rabi‘ from Ash-Shafi‘i, and Ar-Rabi‘ permitted us to narrate that, and he wrote that (permission) for us.

Whatever it contains of sayings of Ahmad bin Hanbal and Ishaq bin Ibrahim, then it is what Ishaq bin Mansur informed us of from Ahmad and Ishaq, except what is in the chapters on Al-Hajj, Blood Money (Ad-Diyat), and Punishments (Al-Hudud) – for I did not hear that from Ishaq bin Mansur, (rather) Muhammad bin Musa Al-Asamm informed me of it from Ishaq bin Masur, from Ahmad and Ishaq. And some of the statements of Ishaq [bin Ibrahim] were informed to us by Muhammad bin Fulaih, from Ishaq. We have clarified this appropriately in each place in the book.”

Regarding At-Tirmidhi’s Statements Of Criticism After Some Narrations

He said:

“Whatever is in it mentioning deficiencies regarding the Hadiths, the narrators, or historically, then it is what I extracted from Kitab At-Tarikh. And most of that is what Muhammad bin Isma‘il observed. Among it are the observations of ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abdur-Rahman, and Abu Zur‘ah. Most of it is from Muhammad, and the least of it is from ‘Abdullah and Abu Zur‘ah. [And I have not seen anyone, in Al-‘Iraq nor Khurasan, more knowledgeable about the meaning of deficiencies, history, familiarity with many chains of narration, than Muhammad bin Isma‘il].”

Regarding The Meaning of Hasan and The Meaning of Gharib According To At-Tirmidhi

He said:

“Whatever it is that we mentioned in this book saying ‘A Hasan Hadith,’ we only meant that its chain is Hasan according to us.

Every Hadith that is related that does not have in its chain someone who is accused of lying, nor is the Hadith Shadh, and it has been related through other routes similar to that, then it is a Hasan Hadith according to us.

About whatever we said in this book is a Gharib Hadi[th, then the people of Hadith considered the Hadith to be Gharib for various reasons:

Sometimes a Hadith is Gharib because it is not related except through one route, like the Hadith of Hammad bin Salamah from Abu Al-‘Ushara’, from his father, who said: ‘I said: “O Messenger of Allah! Is there no slaughtering except upon the neck and the throat?” He said: “If you stab its thigh it would be accepted of you.” 

So Hammad bin Salamah was alone with this Hadith from Abu Al-‘Ushara’, and it is not known of Abu Al-‘Ushara’ (narrating) [from his father] except this Hadith, even though this Hadith is popular with the people of knowledge….”


“Abu ‘Isa said: Sometimes a Hadith is considered Gharib due to an addition that is in the Hadith, and it will only be correct when the addition is from one who is depended upon for his memory. For example; what is reported by Malik bin Anas from Nafi‘, from Ibn ‘Umar who said: ‘Allah’s Messenger (S) Zakat Al-Ftr during Ramadan obligatory on every free person or slave, male or female, among the Muslims: A Sa‘ of dates, and a Sa‘ of barely.’ He said: Malik added in this Hadith: ‘among the Muslims.’

Ayyub As-Sikhtiyani, ‘Ubaidullah bin ‘Umar, and more than one of the Imams, reported this Hadith from Nafi‘, from Ibn ‘Umar, and they did not mention “among the Muslims” in it.

Some of them whose memories are not relied upon, reported similar to the narration of Malik from Nafi‘.

More than one of the Imams utilized the narration of Malik, and they used it as proof. Among them Ash-Shafi‘i and Ahmad bin Hanbal, they said: ‘When a man has slaves that are not a Muslims, he does not have to give Sadaqat Al-Fitr for them’ and they used the narration of Malik as proof. So when a Hafiz whose memory is relied upon narrates an addition, then that is accepted from him.

Sometimes a Hadith is related through many routes, and it is only considered Gharib due to the condition of the chain….”

The Terminology Used By At-Tirmidhi

There are some terms that At-Tirmidhi uses in his Sunan, which are either not very common, or used by him in a manner that is not very common, and in the case of some terms, there is a difference of opinion among the scholars about their meanings. Some of these disagreements are very difficult to rectify.

Hasan And Gharib

As for the meaning of Hasan and, that of Gharib, then we have already quoted At-Tirmidhi explaining what is intended above.

Karahiyyah And Makruh

When At-Tirmidhi mentions the Karahiyyah of a topic, translated as: “What has been related about it being disliked to do such and such…” then the reader must understand that the term Makruh was used by the early scholars to imply a wider meaning than those who came later. 

Contemporary Fiqh defines Makruh as a judgement in Islamic law that an action is disliked, loathsome or detested, but one is not accountable for doing something unlawful if he or she commits a Makruh act. So it is essentially something that one should stay away from, but one will not be held accountable if one does it.

The early scholars used the term and its derivatives in a wider sense, that is, they used it for something that there was a prohibition against, or an indication of a prohibition against it. Yet, there were reasons that they did not feel confident enough to label it “Haram” or absolutely unlawful.

This means that one may find At-Tirmidhi saying: “About it being disliked to do this or that” and one must understand that the topic in question may in fact be considered absolutely unlawful, based upon the evidence produced. Additionally, it would be incorrect to say that At-Tirmidhi only considered the thing to be “disliked” when he uses such expressions. Rather, it is an indication that this evidence indicates – or almost indicates – that the action is unlawful.

Hasan Sahih

This is the statement that the scholars disagree the most about, “This Hadith is Hasan Sahih.” The most popular views about its meaning are one of, or a combination of the following:

1. It means that one of the chains of the Hadith is Hasan and another is Sahih. This is mentioned by Ibn As-Salah in his introduction to ‘Ulum Al-Hadith.
2. It means that the Hadith is either Hasan or Sahih, as scholars would differ over what to call it. This was mentioned by Ibn Hajar in Nuzhat An-Nazr.
3. It is a grade above Hasan and below Sahih. This is the view of Ibn Kathir as mentioned in Ikhtisar ‘Ulum Al-Hadith.
4. It means that it is Hasan by itself, or Sahih due to other narrations. This was said by ‘Abdul-Haqq Ad-Dahlwi in his introduction to his explanation of Mishkat.
5. That they are two descriptions; Hasan describing it as good, and Sahih describing it as a higher level of precision in its transmission due to the narrators. This is the view of Ibn Daqiq Al-‘Id in Al-Iqtirah, Adh-Dhahabi in Al-Muqaddimat Al-Muwqizah. In An-Nukat ‘Ala Ibn As-Salah, Ibn Hajar stated that this is the strongest view. Similarly, in his explanation of At-Tirmidhi’s Al-‘Ilal, Ibn Rajab said: “A Hadith will only be Sahih Hasan when its chain is correct, being narrated by trustworthy, just narrators, and it is not Shadh, and similar is related from other routes. As for Sahih by itself, then it is not made a condition that similar to it be related from other routes, but it also must not be Shadh, so in this case As-Sahih Al-Hasan is stronger than what is merely Sahih.”
6. In the introduction to Tuhfat Al-Ahwadhi, Al-Mubarakpuri said: “There occurred to me two other views, one of them that the meaning is Hasan by itself, Sahih due to other narrations. And the other that the meaning is Hasan in rank, and its chain is correct (Sahih), meaning that it is the most correct thing mentioned on this topic. So if it is said ‘The most correct of what is mentioned about this,’ even if it is Hasan or weak, then it refers to the preponderance of, or lack of weakness.”

There are other views stated by the scholars that are in many ways similar to one of these. 

Additionally, one will find that At-Tirmidhi utilizes various combinations of all of these terms, calling a narration “Hasan Gharib Sahih” , “Sahih Gharib,” “Gharib Hasan,” “Sahih Hasan,” as well as others. 

The Meaning Of Jayyid

At-Tirmidhi also mentions the term Jayyid for some narrations: “Jayyid Gharib Hasan,” “Hasan Jayyid Gharib,” “Jayyid Gharib.” 

In most cases, the usage of the term Jayyid, or its derivations to grade a narration, means one of three things:

1. When it is used to describe how one of the narrators narrated it, then the narration is safe from Tadlis. 
2. That it is a Hadith grade meaning that it is better than Hasan but not as good as Sahih.
3. That a narrator, or narrators, in the chain were generous in the manner that they narrated it, meaning that they did a very good job in the narration.