Only a handful of scholars can claim to the measure of distinction achieved by Abd Al-Razzaq Al-Sanaani.
Here is why. Abd Al-Razzaq belongs to a small group of scholars who are known by their first names, in the sense that when the name is mentioned on its own, without adding the name of the scholar’s father or tribe, everyone knows the one being referred to. When we mention Abdullah, it is well known that he is Ibn Masoud, and we say Ibraheem, then we mean Al-Nakhaie. Similarly, if the name Abd Al-Razzaq is mentioned on its own, then the reference is undoubtedly to this particular scholar of Hadith.
Abd Al-Razzaq ibn Hammam ibn Nafi’ is rated as an imam in Hadith scholarship. He belonged to Himyar, a major Yemeni tribe by association, as he descended from a slave family. He is known as Al-Sanaani, as he lived in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen.
Abd Al-Razzaq was born in 126 H, corresponding to 744 C. E. Although he was a gifted scholar, he did not start his pursuit of specialized studies until he was 20 years of age. However, it is also reported that he was 18 when Ibn Jurayj arrived in Yemen. This suggests that he began his studies somewhat younger, because he studied under Ibn Jurayj, who was a major Hadith scholar of the second tabieen generation.
Abd Al-Razzaq studied under a large number of scholars including many of the main figures of his time. Thus, his list of teachers includes figures like Imam Malik, Ibn Jurayj, Ma’mar, Al-Awzaie, Sufyan Al-Thawri and Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah. His pursuit of studies also included travels to Makkah, Madinah, Syria and Iraq, where he studied under many scholars in all these cities and countries.
Similarly a large number of scholars read under him or reported his Hadiths. The latter include his teacher Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah as well as the famous Hadith scholars Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Ishaq ibn Rahaweih, Yahya ibn Maeen and Ali ibn Al-Madini.
However, a scholar of Hadith is known by his rating by the main scholars of Hadith. Hence it is important to know the views and ratings given to Abd Al-Razzaq by such scholars. Ahmad ibn Hanbal is reported to have said: “If Ma’mar’s reporters differ, then the version reported by Abd Al-Razzaq is the one to accept.” This is high praise indeed. Hisham ibn Yusuf, a contemporary of Abd Al-Razzaq, is quoted by Ali ibn Al-Madini as saying: “Abd Al-Razzaq was the best among us in his knowledge and memorization.” Imam Ahmad was asked whether he met anyone who was better in Hadith scholarship than Abd Al-Razzaq and he answered in the negative.
However, Hadith scholars may rate a reporter of Hadith differently at different times of his life, or in some other ways. Thus, Al-Bukhari says: “When Abd Al-Razzaq reports Hadiths reading from his book, then what he reports is more authentic.” This means that Al-Bukhari would accept Hadiths reported by Abd Al-Razzaq as authentic when he is aware that he was reading from his book. If he were reporting from memory, then Al-Bukhari would want some corroboration to classify the reported Hadith as authentic. In the same way we may quote Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal who says: “We visited Abd Al-Razzaq before year 200, when he still enjoyed a good eyesight. Anyone who attended Abd Al-Razzaq’s circle after he had lost his eyesight may be classified as poor in authenticity.
A question is raised about him belonging to the Shiites, or those who consider Ali ibn Abu Talib to be the rightful heir of the Prophet as a leader of the Islamic state, and that he should have been given that leadership ahead of Abu Bakr and Umar. But this does not stand to scholarly examination. Imam Ahmad was asked by his son Abdullah: “Was Abd Al-Razzaq of the Shiites? Did he go far in his Shiite leanings?” He answered: “Personally, I heard nothing from him on this point at all, but he was highly interested in historical reports.” A meticulous scholar of Hadith like Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal could not have omitted to verify this point had he had any reason to suspect Abd Al-Razzaq’s affiliation. Furthermore, Abdullah ibn Ahmad reports a statement by Abd Al-Razzaq which goes as follows: “By God, I never leaned to preferring Ali to Abu Bakr and Umar. May God shower His mercy on Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali. A person who does not love them is not a believer.” Abd Al-Razzaq is also quoted as having said: “The surest work I have done is that I love them all.” This refutes any suggestion that Abd Al-Razzaq was a Shiite.
Abd Al-Razzaq’s area of specialization was the Hadith discipline, which he helped to perfect. Numerous Hadith scholars traveled to meet him and learn from him. His knowledge of Hadith was extensive. He wrote several books, the most important being Al-Mussannaf, which is a collection of Hadiths in several volumes. The title means The Classified, which suggests the nature of this Hadith collection, as it is arranged according to the topics of Fiqh. His other works include a commentary on the Qur’an and a book on the Prophet’s life. However, only Al-Mussannaf survives, and has been published more than once. A new and fuller edition was published by Dar Al-Kutub Al-Ilmiyah in Beirut in 2000.
This edition benefits from the fact that the editor was able to refer to three manuscripts which complement each other to provide a full copy of the book, as each manuscript suffers from the loss of some pages. It also benefits from an earlier edition published in 11 volumes. This complete version is a precious addition to the Hadith library, as it revives the fruits of an important stage in the development of Hadith collections.
Abd Al-Razzaq died in the month of Shawwal 211 H, when he was well over 80 years of age. May God grant him mercy in abundance.