He is Sulaiman ibn Al-Ash`ath ibn Is-haq ibn Bashir ibn Shaddad Abu Dawud Al-Azdi As-Sijistani from Sijistan, known today as Sistan, the compiler of the well-known collection of hadith entitled “Sunan Abu Dawud” which comes in degree and renown after Sahih Al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim. Abu Dawud was one of the most knowledgeable scholars of the Hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him), its fiqh (jurisprudence), deficiencies, texts and chains of narrators throughout the Islamic history.
The scholars of his time recognized his high scientific status, as indicated by some narrations. It is reported that Sahl ibn `Abdullah At-Tastury came to Abu Dawud and said, “O Abu Dawud, I want something from you.” He said, “What is it?” Sahl said, “On a condition that you say that you will fulfill it if possible.” Abu Dawud replied in the affirmative. Sahl said, “Get out your tongue with which you narrated the hadiths of the Prophet (peace be upon him) so that I kiss it.” Abu Dawud accept that and Sahl kissed his tongue.
His Birth and Early Life:
Abu Dawud was born in Sijistan in 202 A.H. in the outset of the golden scientific century which witnessed the rise of Imams of Hadith, such Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Yahya ibn Ma“in, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, At-Tirmidhi and many others. He grew up fond of knowledge, especially Hadith of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), aided by his unique talent of memorization that helped him committing great deal of hadiths to memory. Thus, in a very early age Abu Dawud collected lots of hadiths in a short time.
His Pursuit of Knowledge:
Just as all Hadith students, Abu Dawud toured the Islamic regions and cities pursuing Hadith wherever it was. In 220 A.H. Abu Dawud traveled to Baghdad when he was only 18, and two years later he moved to the Levant. These early journeys helped him get high chains of transmitters, even higher than those of Imam Muslim at sometimes. He moved to many different places narrating and collecting the hadiths of the Prophet (peace be upon him). Al-Khatib Al-Baghdadi said, “He narrated from the people of Iraq, Khurasan, the Levant, Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula.”
His Sheikhs and Students:
Ibn Hajar said, “It is said that the Sheikhs of Abu Dawud in his book “As-Sunan” and other books were about 300 persons.” Among his renowned sheikhs were Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Yahya ibn Ma“in, `Uthman ibn Abu Shaybah, Is-haq ibn Rahawayh, Sulayman ibn Harb, Abu Al-Walid At-Tayalisi, Qutaybah ibn Sa`ad, Sa`id ibn Mansur, Abu Ja`far An-Nufaili, Zuhayr ibn Harb, Abu Isma`il Al-Bukhari and many others.
Notably, Abu Dawud accompanied Imam Ahmad for a long time and loved him so much. He was so fascinated with Imam Ahmad to the extent that he would mimic him in his appearance and speech. This companionship with Imam Ahmad helped him acquire the knowledge of Fiqh in addition to Hadith. Abu Dawud compiled a book on the questions and replies from Imam Ahmad entitled “Masa’il Ahmad”. He presented his book As-Sunan to Imam Ahmad and he praised it.
As for his students, the list is endless. Among them were Abu `Isa At-Tirmidhi, Abu “Abdur-Rahman An-Nasa’i, Abu Bakr Al-Khallal, Isma“il ibn Muhammad As-Saffar, Abu Bakr ibn Dawud Al-Asfahani, Abu `Uwanah Al-Asfarayini, Muhammad ibn Nasr Al-Mirwazi and Abu Bakr Yahya As-Suli.
Those who narrated his book As-Sunan from him are 9 narrators, including Abu At-Tayyib Al-Ashnani, Abu `Isa Ar-Ramly, Abu `Ali Al-Lu’lu’i, Abu Bakr ibn Dasah At-Tammar, Abu Sa`id ibn Ziyad Al-A`rabi, Abu Al-Hasan ibn Al-`Abd Al-Ansari, Abu Usamah Ar-Ru’ami and Abu Salim Al-Haludi. It is reported that Imam Ahmad narrated one hadith from him, something that Abu Dawud would boast of.
In addition to his most renowned book As-Sunan, Imam Abu Dawud wrote a lot of books such as Al-Marasil, Masa’il Al-Imam Ahmad, An-Nasikh wal-Mansukh, Al-Qadr, Az-Zuhd and many others.
- Abu Bakr Al-Khallal said, “Abu Dawud Sulayman Al-Ash`ath, the superior scholar of his time, he was a man that nobody excelled in recognizing the verification of sciences and in his awareness of their questions. He was an outstanding devout person.”
- Ahmed ibn Muhammad ibn Yasin Al-Harawi said, “Sulayman ibn Al-Ash`ath Abu Dawud As-Sijzi was one of the memorizers of the actions of the Prophet and his hadith, its deficiencies and chain of narrations. He was at the peak of virtuousness, abstinence, rightness and devoutness.”
- Ibrahim Al-Harbi said, “The hadith has been made pliable for Abu Dawud similarly as the iron was made pliable to Dawud (peace be upon him).”
- Musa ibn Harun Al-Hafiz said, “Abu Dawud was created in this life for Hadith, and in the hereafter for Paradise. I have not seen someone better than him.”
- Abu Hatim ibn Hayyan said, “He (Abu Dawud) was one of the leading persons of this world in matters of Fiqh, knowledge, memorization, asceticism, devoutness and proficiency. He compiled and defended the Sunan.”
- Al-Hakim said, “There is no disagreement about that Abu Dawud is the leader of the scholars of hadith during his time.”
- Adh-Dhahabi said, “He was a head in hadith and Fiqh. He was distinguished with dignity, esteem, uprightness and devoutness so that he resembled Ahmed ibn Hanbal.”
- The hidden craving is the love of leadership.
- Whoever satisfies with simple cloth and food has spared his body.
- I collected in my book As-Sunan 4800 hadiths but it is enough for the religion of a person only four hadiths from them: “Deeds are judged by intentions,” “A sign of man’s good observance of Islam (his piety) is to keep away from that which does not concern him,” “A believer will not attain true faith unless he accepts for his brother that which he accepts for himself,” and “The lawful is clear and the unlawful is clear, and between that are matters that are doubtful (not clear)..”
Abu Dawud (may Allah confer His Mercy upon him) died on Friday 15 Shawwal in 275 A.H. in Basrah and was buried alongside of the grave of Sufyan Ath-Thawri.
– Siyar A`lam An-Nubala’ by Adh-Dhahabi
– Tadhkirat Al-Huffaz by Adh-Dhahabi
– Tarikh Baghdad by Al-Khatib Al-Baghdadi
– Wafiyyat Al-A`yan by Ibn Khalkan
– Al-A`lam by Az-Zirikli
– Tahdhib At-Tahdhib by Ibn Hajar
– Tabaqat Al-Huffaz by Jalaluddin As-Suyuti
– Al-Bidayah wal-Nihayah by Ibn Kathir
Summary: Abu Dawud was an authority in memorizing, comprehending and ranking of hadiths.