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The books known as Masaneed (plural of Musnad) differ from the books known as Sunan (plural of Sunnah). The Musnad ahmad is a book in which the author has placed the AHadith narrated by each companion in separate chapters, each of them under the name of the relevant companion. Among the Masaneed are the Musnad of Abdu bin Humaid, the Musnad of Ad Darimi, the Musnad of Abu Yala, the Musnad of Al Bazzar, the Musnad of Abu Dawood, the Musnad of Al Hasan bin Sufyan, the Musnad of Ishaq bin Rahawaih, the Musnad of Ubaidullah bin Musa and the Musnad of Imaam Ahmad.
As for the Sunan, they are arranged according to topics of Islamic jurisprudence, Seerah, [Biography of the prophet] Tafsir Explanation and commentary of Quranic verses] and other subjects, such as the Sunan of At-Tirmidhi, the Sunan of Abu Dawood, the Sunan of An-Nasai, the Sunan of bin Majah and similar to them is Al-Jami As-Sahih by Al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim [Ahmed bin Hanbal, by Abdul Ghani Ad Daqr, p-40]
Imaam Ahmad’s Musnad ahmad was the greatest book of Hadith in the lifetime of the author and after it and it is an abundant spring of the AHadith of the Messenger of Allah and the Ijtihad [Juristic reasoning based upon the fundamentals of Islamic jurisprudence] and sayings of the Companions and some of the Tabaeen [Those who met and learnt from one or more of the companions, but did not meet the prophet].
In Musnad ahmad there are numerous chains of narrators and Hadith texts which are equivalent to those in Sahih Muslim and indeed, to those found in Al-Bukhari’s Sahih, but they were not narrated by either of them; in fact, none of the compilers of the four books (Abu Dawood, At Tirmidhi An-Nasai, and bin Majah) reported them, as Al-Hafiz bin Katheer said. [Ikhtisar Uloom Al-Hadith]
Bin Khallikan said: “He was the leader of the scholars of Hadith; he compiled his book, Al-Musnad and he gathered in it AHadith not found in other collections.” [Wafayat Al- Ayan, vol-1, p-30]
Abdullah bin Ahmad bin Hanbal said: “I said to my father: Why do you dislike the writing of books, when you have made Al-Musnad?” He said: “I made this book as an Imaam, so that if the people disagree regarding the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah, they may refer to it. [Khasa is al Musnad, p-2]
Imaam Ahmad said to his son, Abdullah: “Take care of this Musnad, for it will be as an Imaam for the people.”
Abu Bakr bin Malik said: “I attended a teaching session of Abu Yusuf Al-Qadi in the year 285 A.H., in order to hear from him Kitab Al-Wuqoof, and he said: Whoever has Mussnad Ahmad bin Hanhal, then (I ask) What is he doing here?” Or he spoke words to that effect.”[Ahmed bin Hanbal, Imaam Ahlus Sunnah, by Abdul Ghani Ad Daqr, p-41]
Imaam Ahmad began writing his Musnad around the year 200 A. H., when he was aged thirty-six years, after returning from ‘Abdur-Razzaq in San’a. From more than seven hundred thousand AHadith which he had heard during his travels, he selected around thirty thousand AHadith, which he narrated on the authority of two hundred and eighty-three of his Shaykhs. [Manaqib Al Imaam Ahmad by Ibn Al-Jawzi]
The manner of collection was not based upon arrangement or chapters. He wrote it on separate sheets of paper, in individual sections, in the manner of a rough draft. He narrated it to his son, Abdullah to be transcribed and arranged in sections and he would order him: “Place this in the Musnad of so-and-so and this in the Musad of so-and-so.” [Siyar Alam An-Nubala by Az-Zahabi] He continued to reread and revise it until the end of his life.
It was not the intention of Imaam Ahmad to arrange his book in chapters relating to Islamic jurisprudence (such as purification, prayer, Zakat, fasting, Hajj etc.); rather, his aim was to classify the AHadith which were well-known throughout the Muslim lands, with Asaneed [chains of narrators] connected to the Messenger of Allah (Pbuh) in accordance with the narrators from among the Companions.
Imaam Ahmad wrote this book – in spite of his well known dislike of writing books – in order that it might be a source and an authority to which people could refer, in an age when beliefs, philosophies and juristic reasoning had become mixed up; this is why he said:
“I made this book as an Imaam, so that if the people disagree regarding the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah, they may refer to it. [Khasais Al Musnad, p-2 and Tabaqat Al Hanabilah].
Around the year 225 A. H., following the trials to which he subjected, [This is reference to his imprisonment and torture during the Caliphate of Al Mamoon, because he refused to subscribe to the Mutazilite doctrine, which declared that the Quran was created] Imaam Ahmad began letting his sons, Salih and Abdullah and his cousin, Hanbal bin Ishaq listen, as he reviewed his AHadith and he ordered Abdullah to remove those narrations which it was evident had some weakness in them, and he continued this until he died. ‘Abdullah attended these readings more than the others and it was he alone who narrated Al Musnad on the authority of his father, after his death.
Hadith of those which are included in Al-Musnad
Those who AHadith are included Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthrnan, Ali and the Imaams among the Companion and it ends with the Masaneed of the Ansar, the Makkans, the people of AI-Kufah and, Al Basrah and the people of Ash Sham. In summary, Al-Hafiz Abu Musa said: “As for the companions, they number around seven hundred men and a hundred and odd women, while as for the sons they are eight three men.
In, addition to this, we find that for each Companion there is a large amount written about his jurisprudence and his legal verdicts; in the Musnad of Umar, for example, there are a number of the legal verdicts which he delivered, while in the Musnad of Ali and those of Uthman, ‘Abdullah bin Masood and others, there are great and important legal verdicts from them and judgments made by those of them who were in positions of authority.
It is clear that Imaam Ahmad arranged the Companions in his Musnad based upon a number of considerations: Their precedence, how early was their conversion to Islam, nobility of lineage and the volume of narrations attributed to them.
Thus, he began his Musnad with the Masaneed of the four righteous caliphs, then the remaining Companions from among the ten who were given the glad tidings of Paradise, then the Musnad of the members of the Prophet’s household, then the Masaneed of those Companions who narrated large numbers of AHadith, such as the four Abdullahs: bin Abbas, bin Masood, bin Umar and bin Amr.
Then followed the Musnad of the Makkans and the Musnad of the Madinans, then that of the people of Ash-Sham, then the people of Kufah, then the people of Al-Basrah, then the Musnad of the Ansar, then that of the women. [Introduction to the Musnad of Imaam Ahmad]
In arranging the Companions he followed a number of methods: It was arranged alphabetically, or according to tribe, or how early was their conversion to Islam, or nobility of lineage or other considerations.
Some of the Masaneed might contain only one Companion, such as that of Abu Bakr, they might contain AHadith from a number of Companions, such a – the Musnad of the four and the ten, or a group who had one thing in common, such as the Musnad of those who narrated but few AHadith and others. [Ar Risalah Al Mustatrafah]
Ibn Al-Iawzi said of Al Musnad: “I was informed of the whole of this book – and it is a book of Hadith the superior of which has not been seen on this earth – from the Shaykhs by the word of mouth and 1 was given permission to transmit this knowledge. [Al Masnad Al Ahmad, p-28, 29]
He also said: “There is no Hadith which does not have a basis in this Musnad.”
In Tareekh Baghdad, it is written: “The people disagreed regarding the number of AHadith and narrations from the Companions -and the Tabi’oon, because the early scholars did not mention the exact number of AHadith in it and there is much repetition of some of the routes via which a single Hadith is narrated, some of them containing some minor differences, which made it difficult for any consensus to be reached.
Some people hold that the number is between twenty-eight thousand and twenty-nine thousand, while Abu Bakr bin Malik said: “It is said that the total number of Hadith comprised in Al- Musnad is just thirty or forty short of forty thousand,” Abu Bakr Al-Khateeb said:
“Ibn Al-Munadi said: “There is no one on earth who narrated more from his father than he (referring to ‘Abdullah bin Ahmad) because he heard Al- Musnad and it is thirty thousand and the explanations, which are a hundred and twenty thousand – eighty thousand of which he heard and the remainder of which he acquired from reading, without hearing them directly (Now I do not know if Ibn Al-Munadi was referring here to those AHadith which are not repeated, or whether he meant those which are repeated as well). [Tareekh Baghdad, Vol-9, p-375]