His Name and Birth:
He is the Imām, the Ḥāfiẓ, the Faqīh, the great orator, the Muḥaddith, and historian: ʾAbū Bakr Aḥmad ibn ʿAlī ibn Thabit ibn Aḥmad ibn Mahdī, better known as al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī. He was born in the year 392 AH, corresponding to 1002 CE.
His father was the Khaṭīb (lecturer) of his village (hence how al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī acquired his name). He had high aspirations for his son and set him upon the path that would create a scholarly giant. His father encourged him to begin sitting in the classes of Ḥadīth at the age of 11 (in the circles of ibn Rizqaway) and thus his journey in the pursuit of knowledge began, taking him on extensive travels to numerous areas such as Nīshāpūr, Isfahān, Hamadān, Bāra, Damascus, Sur, al-Quds, and Makkah & Madīnah at various points in his life.
His Character & Personality:
Despite the substantial knowledge he carried, al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī possessed great humility. It is narrated by ʾAbū Nāṣr Muḥammad ibn Sa’īd al-Muaddib on the authority of his father that he said: “I said to ʾAbū Nāṣr when I met him, ‘Are you al-Ḥāfiẓ ʾAbū Bakr?’ He replied: ‘Memorization ended with ad-Dāraquṭnī. I am Aḥmad ibn ʿAlī al-Khaṭīb.’“
He was a voracious reader and would devour books at unfathomable rates. He wrote in his Tārīkh Baghdād that once when he travelled for Hajj, he read the whole of Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī to his Shaykh in three sittings. Imām adh-Dhahabī states: “By Allāh, this is a kind of reading faster than anyone has heard.“
In light of this, it is evident that one with such a quality would not waste time. It is reported that al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī would read whilst walking and he himself narrated regarding multi-tasking that ʾUbayd ibn Ya’ish stated: “For 30 years I never ate at night with my own hand. My sister would spoon feed me whilst I wrote Ḥadīth.” Therefore, it is evident that this is from the conduct of the Muḥaddithūn.
al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī also would never neglect The Qurʼān, giving its due right through frequent recitation, as evidenced by a great number of reports.
al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī authored over 100 books on several sciences of the religion, but most of his books are focused on Muṣṭalaḥ al-Ḥadīth & ʿIlm ar-Rijāl. ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī said in his introduction to Sharḥ Nukhbat al-Fikr: “There is hardly a single discipline among the sciences of Aḥādīth in which al-Khaṭīb did not author a treatise.” Then he cited the great Muḥaddith ibn Nuqta’s praise: “Whoever gives credit where credit is due knows that all Ḥadīth scholars after al-Khaṭīb depend on his books.“
The book that he is most known for is his Tārīkh Baghdād (History of Baghdād). Tārīkh Baghdād is a 24 volume encyclopaedic insight into the history of Baghdād with an emphasis on ʿIlm ar-Rijāl and its high esteem. It contains 7,831 biographies of which approximately 5,000 are narrators of Ḥadīth. It also contains over 4,000 Aḥādīth of which over half are not found in al-Kutub as-Sittah (The 6 Books of Ḥadīth), indicating al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī’s stature in the field of Ḥadīth.
ibn Khalkhān mentions: “He (al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī) was a Ḥāfiẓ of exact knowledge and a scholar of profound learning. Had he written nothing but his Tārīkh, that production would have been sufficient for him due to its vastness of information and yet he has produced nearly 100 works. His merit is too well known to require description. He was a scholar in Fiqh until he became overwhelmed with Ḥadīth and Tārīkh.“
al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī, the great scholar and Muḥaddith, passed away in the year 463 AH, corresponding to 1071 CE. ibn an-Najjar said: “At the end of his life he gave away his wealth in charity to those devoted to Ḥadīth & Fiqh and to the poor. His wealth amounted to approximately 200 dīnārs. He also gave away his clothes and left his books as a wakf, a legacy for the Muslims to benefit from.“
al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī was known as the Ḥāfiẓ of the east and his contemporary ibn ʾAbd al-Barr was known as the Ḥāfiẓ of the west. It is interesting to note that Allāh took their souls away during the same year.
May Allāh have mercy upon al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī & reward him immensely for his colossal contributions to the religion of Islām.
[Extracted from ar-Riḥla fī Ṭalab al-Ḥadīth, Dār al-Arqam Print – Minor changes added]
Ṣafīullāh Labīb ibn Salīm ʿAbd al-Malik
22nd of Rabīʿ al-ʾAwwal 1443 – 28th of October 2021