Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Salim was born in a small village called Saffarin, near Nablus in Palestine, in 1114 AH, corresponding to 1703 AD. His family came originally from Hijaz, in today’s Saudi Arabia, but some of its members settled in Tulkarem and Jaffa in Palestine.
He pursued his studies first at his own village and in Nablus, and completed the Qur’an when he was only 17 years of age. A couple of years later, in 1133, he began a five-year stay in Damascus in pursuit of his studies under its best scholars. At the time, Damascus was full of scholars and students, which created an atmosphere of competition highly conducive to learning. He benefited from a sharp memory and native intelligence, so that he was able to excel in those five years some of his colleagues who spent a much longer time in their studies.
His teachers recognized his excellence and extended to him a special treatment. Indeed, he was soon considered fully entitled to discuss issues with his teachers on an equal basis. He reports that Sheikh Ahmad Al-Ghazzi, one of his teachers, used to afford him such special treatment. “He used to have a session a week, attended by a number of scholars and teachers belonging to all schools of law. He would place me among the most senior of them. I was very shy to have to sit with my teachers, but I could not disobey him.
He was held in much awe by all those present. When some question needed to be answered according to the Hanbali school of law, he would put the question to me in the presence of my teachers. I would answer, then after the session was over, I would express my apology to my teachers.
One of them, Sheikh Mustafa Al-Lubadi, a recognized scholar of the Hanbali school, would say that he was proud that one of his students would provide the answers in such a gathering.”
Al-Saffarini attained a recognized position among the top scholars of his age, which means that he had a large number of students as well. Indeed some of his students attained positions of prominence as scholars in various disciplines. Plenty are the praises he earned from a large number of his contemporary scholars, not only on account of his scholarly distinction, but also as a sincere, diligent and God-fearing man. He is said to have combined an awe-inspiring appearance with genuine humility.
He was brave, stating the truth, without fear of anyone. He was very generous, but did not care to own anything personal apart from his books.
Al-Saffarini was a prolific writer in various disciplines. Some of his books were voluminous, as the one entitled Sharh Thulathiyat Musnad Al-Imam Ahmad. This book is devoted to a commentary on those Hadiths in Ahmad ibn Hanbal’s great collection of Hadiths, known as Al-Musnad, which had chains of transmission of no more than three reporters. This is a highly valuable book published in two large volumes by Al-Maktab Al-Islami of Damascus and Beirut.
Another of his valuable books is a commentary on Umdat Al-Ahkam, a book of Hadiths that defines legal rulings, written by Abd Al-Ghani Al-Maqdisi who lived six centuries earlier. This book, which survives in manuscript form, is highly valuable. It is hoped that it will be edited, annotated and published soon.
While the two books mentioned above are on Hadith, Al-Saffarini’s writings covered different disciplines. For example, he wrote a full explanation of a 33-line poem outlining the fundamental concepts of faith by Abdullah ibn Abu Dawood. The poem was written more than 800 years earlier, but Al-Saffarini felt that writing a commentary on it was useful for his contemporaries as an outline of the pure concepts of the Islamic faith.
The commentary is a long one, constituting a book of two volumes. His method of explaining the poem is that he starts first with giving the full meaning of every word in each line. He may go into an extensive explanation of operative words, quoting its usage in the Qur’an, Hadith and older poetry. He follows that with a detailed explanation of the concept a line of the poem touches on. These are concepts related to faith, and some of them define and illustrate God’s attributes. He explains these on the basis of what was illustrated by early authorities on the faith of Islam. He may provide the views of some deviant groups, comparing them with the original Islamic view, and supporting the latter.
Apparently Al-Saffarini attached special importance to maintaining faith on a solid and clear basis. He devoted much of his time to the task of making the principles of faith known to people in every possible method. He himself composed a poem on the subject, with full elaboration of every principle of faith. He then wrote a whole book, explaining his poem in full detail. The poem runs into 216 lines, which means that it is much longer than that of Abdullah ibn Abu Dawood, whom we introduced last week. This length gave the author the scope to state these principles in detail, and tackle other subjects that are not immediately related to faith. Similarly the book explaining it is extensive, and the author often tackles some side issues. However, the book is nevertheless of immense value.
The list of the books authored by Al-Saffarini include no less than forty titles, some of which run in several volumes, while others are simply pamphlets tackling a single issue each.
Al-Saffarini died in the month of Shawwal in 1188 AH in his hometown, Nablus. May God shower His grace on him.