Abu Zakariyya Muḥyi al-Dīn Yaḥya Ibn Sharaf al-Nawawi was born at Nawā, a place near Damascus, in the suburb of the city of Howran, in 631 AH (1234 CE), and died forty-four years later in 676 AH (1278 CE). From a young age he showed signs of great intelligence, so his father resolved to arrange for his education. He studied in Damascus from the age of 18 and after making the pilgrimage in 1253 he settled there as a private scholar.
At a young age, Imam Nawawi learnt to read the Noble Qur’an and by that time he nearly had attained puberty. Nawā, at the time, had no academic or scholarly atmosphere and there were religious academies or institutions 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 across the Ummah gathered there for Islamic learning. During that period, there were more than three hundred institutes, colleges, and universities in Damascus.
During his stay in Damascus, he studied from more than twenty renowned teachers. These teachers were regarded as masters of authority in their fields of specialty and disciplines they taught. Imam Nawawi studied Hadith, Islamic Jurisprudence, its principles, syntax and etymology from some of the greatest scholars of his time.
His Academic Interests
Imam Nawawi had an endless thirst for knowledge, which can be deduced from his daily practice of studies. He used to read twelve lessons daily and write explanations and commentaries of every lesson, all the while making important additions. Whatever 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 became fond of him and began to praise and admire him.
Other than his reading and writing, he spent his time contemplating upon the complex issues of his time and in finding their solutions. Allah had conferred upon him the gift of a quick and strong memory along with depth of thought. Imam Nawawi made full benefit of his God-given qualities and earned the highest degree of honor among his peers and future generations.
The scholars, elite of his society, and the public greatly respected Imam Nawawi on account of his piety, learning, and excellent character. He dressed and ate simply and humbly. Devout scholars do not care about attaining worldly possessions, they give preference to religious and academic pursuits, and the dissemination and propagation of faith. They experience more heavenly delight and joy in such activities than those who seek satisfaction in luxurious life styles. He was God-fearing who had high ambitions and aims in the dissemination and propagation of faith.
His Works and Death
Imam Nawawi had a very short life (44 years) but even during this short period, he wrote a large number of books on various subjects. Nearly every work is a masterpiece and a treasure of knowledge. Hundreds of thousands of people have benefited from these works.
Some of the prestigious works of Imam Nawawi, apart from the compilation of the “40 Hadith” (al-Arbaʿīn) include:
- Riyāḍ al-Ṣāliḥīn
- Commentary on Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī
- Commentary on Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim (Al-Minhāj fi Sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim)
- Sharḥ Sunan Abī Dāwūd
- Mukhtaṣar Al-Tirmidhī
- Kitāb al-Rawḍah
- Kitāb al-Adhkār
- Al-Taqrīb fī ʿIlm al-Ḥadīth wa al-Irshād fīhi
- Bustān al-ʿĀrifīn
After spending 28 years in scholarly pursuits away from home, Imam Nawawi returned to his hometown. Soon after his arrival in Nawā, he fell ill and died. His works are of everlasting value. May Allah bless him.