If the purpose of exploring, and learning about sub Saharan African scholars and their timeless and monumental contributions to Muslim history, was to give African American Muslim converts a greater appreciation of Black scholars in history, especially in light of the racist climate in some parts of the Arab and Muslim world, and to offset the negative emotions that some African Americans have as a result of being marginalized, and disrespected by other Muslims, then there is a whole lot of benefit in that. Jalaaludden as-Suyooti (1505 C.E.) made a similar attempt when he wrote the book; “The Raising of the Status of the Ethiopians”, and so did Jamal al-Din Abu’l Farj ibn al-Jawzi (d. 1208 C.E.) when he wrote the book; “The Lightening of the Darkness on the Merits of the Blacks and the Ethiopians”. These books were written according to Dr. Bernard Lewis, “to defend both groups against the various accusations against them”.
However, if the current trend of associating attachment to Africa or to African scholars and their scholarship as part of a remedy for reversing the downward spiral of Black American convert communities, or a packaged panacea for civilizational dysfunction of the Black American, Muslim convert dilemma in the United States, has the potential to uplift our people as a group, then such is just another example of misplaced, wishful thinking. If may enrich the lives of some, who actually go to Africa, establish or renew roots and relationships there, buy land, make investments, travel back and forth, and connect with each other through marriage. However, for the overwhelming majority of Black American Muslims, the African connection is just a mirage.
Looking towards Africa for answers is not the answer in my view. It’s not even close to the answer. I fail to see how building a connection or a bridge to Africa in itself is a solution or even a part of a solution other than for the reasons of maybe building some self-esteem, or augmenting historical knowledge of Africa and Islam. Otherwise, how does building this connection Africa improve the lives of converts and convert communities as a whole? How does it impact our future? Furthermore, what exactly is the African connection?
The first question that I have about building on the African connection is; what is meant by it? Africa is a pretty big and complex continent. How can we even come to a consensus on what we mean by an African connection? As if we don’t already have enough to argue about. Africa has scores of different Muslim cultures, 140 different languages, different ways at looking at the world, different ways at looking at Black Americans, and different ways at looking at the United States. There is no clear indication that as a rule, African Muslims respect us as equals, and there is very little evidence, if any, to indicate that Africans, whether here as immigrants or those still in Africa, are prepared to invest in convert America, or have made any appreciable investment in terms of material support, or serious problem solving. The way that some of us fawn over them, I’d doubt that behind closed doors, African brothers and sisters extol, or look up to Black Americans. If anything, it would seem that Africans do all that they can not to end up like African Americans.
According to data by compiled in 2010 by sociologists, including John R. Logan at the Mumford Center, State University of New York at Albany, “black immigrants from Africa averaged the highest educational attainment of any population group in the country, including whites and Asians.” In fact, 40% of African immigrants from sub saharan Africa have at least a bachelors degree. While according to the Journal of Blacks in education; “in 2008, 19.6 percent of all African Americans over the age of 25 held a college degree’. So while Black immigrants hold the highest averages of educational attainment in the United States, African American born blacks, hold the lowest. So if we want to make an African connection and follow the African way, I would start by taking better advantage of what the United States has to offer, because that is exactly what Africans who live in America are doing.
In fact, if it was permissible for me to gamble, I would lay odds that Africans in general, look at African Americans as a degree or two below them in class, except for a few exceptions. Now, if the people of mother Africa want to come over and take the same political risks that we have to take in order to move forward, and build masaajid and schools to be controlled and operated by the convert community, without any strings attached, then I’ll go out and buy a couple of dashikis, some new African sandals, and be all ready to make that connection. Otherwise, we need to consider severing all umbilical cords, not establishing new ones.
If we want to establish an African connection then I suggest we take note of how Africans come to the United States, work hard and take advantage of what the country has to offer. Otherwise we can do research, hold forums, conferences, write books and engage in a variety of low budget intellectual, spiritual or cultural pursuits, we can even have educational exchanges, or teach African islamic history in our schools (if we had more of our own schools). But first we have to have something of our own that serves our immediate needs and interests as Muslims and that’s not going to happen running in the wind to feel some Africa.
There’s are thousands of reports and documentaries on Africa, there are planes that fly to Africa (about $1000 for a ticket), as well as African Embassies, African cultural, religious, and political organizations, as well as thousands of African artists, academics, and artifacts for us to look at and hang in our homes. I’m hearing a lot of brothers talking about this undefined ‘African connection’, and that’s just the point. It is undefined. What exactly do we mean by building on the African connection. While many of us seem to be day-dreaming about an African connection, other Americans outside of our Muslim communities, are way ahead of us.
Millions of Americans visit Africa each year. Many do business, buy property, and engage in a large variety of religious, commercial, educational and cultural exchanges. American Christians have built and are maintaining hundreds, if not thousands of churches, orphanages, and schools in Africa. What do we as African American Muslims have to offer? Are we just talking about connecting with a few shaykhs, learning some African religious treatises, learning African languages or adopting some African cultural practices as our own? If that’s all we’re talking about then we need to go back to the drawing board on this African connection thing, and we need to make sure that the interest in such a connection is reciprocal.
There are like 1.2 billion people in Africa. There are less than one million of us (AA Muslims). We don’t need to remake ourselves in anyone else’s image, Africans or otherwise. Nor do we need to reach outand have hardly anyone reach back. We just did that remember? W’ve been doing it for the last 40 years or more, and it turned out too well for us. Knowing our history should tell us that we need to learn to fend for ourselves and build, support, plan and run our own communities. We are a part of this society and no one is taking up the mantle to help us except for some social and educational institutions, (at least some), the safety nets, the welfare system that many of us depend on and perhaps some other entities that I’m not thinking of at the moment. Making nice with a few Africans, having them come and lecture us about Islam, bless us with their awliyaa (saints), or teach us how to be authentic, is not going to affect our condition. However, building communities, building a few more decent masaajid, with leadership, responsible congregations, families with some generational continuity and taking advantage of the good that our country has to offer, will more than likely affect our condition. Even the Africans are doing that.
We want to romanticize about having an African connection which so far has not amounted to much more than getting to know a few African Sheikhs, learning about some remarkable islamic scholars of history, some brothers marrying some African sisters, some from Africa marrying some of our sisters, and a whole bunch of pictures and selfies from Africa and with Africans, (and it is a beautiful continent). Hoorah! If we really want to connect to our ancestry like that then we need to get DNA testing for our people, and at about $300 a pop, you do the math. In fact, instead of that, how about 10,000 of us put up $300 bucks and build 3 or 4 quality nice sized masaajid where they are most needed?
It seems like we always want to do the feel good stuff, the selfie stuff, the showy stuff, and the bandwagon stuff that does not change a thing on the ground. In the meantime, there are 3.1 million African immigrants living in the United States and they are interacting in our country on all levels. Just check to see how many African dentists, engineers, academics, business owners, psychologists, and even farmers, there are in this country, and we talking about establishing an African connection with little or no resources of our own? Not too many are even paying attention to us on this African connection thing. Africans who hear rumors about it are probably looking at us like; whaaaaaat????? All the while they are reminding their children to steer clear of us, unless it could lead to a green card, or a following. Many Muslims whom I love and respect have embraced this African connection craze. I happen to disagree with the notion that re-connecting to Africa and African shaykhs is going to somehow be the catalyst for changesomehow and think that it is a wrong direction; another faze. We seem to keep avoiding the reality that it is us who need to come up with our own plan. The African Muslims that I know, are smart, incredible people who know the difference between strength and weakness. If you ask them, they would likely say that we have to put in our own work, with our own people, with our own home grown plan. Sadly, many of us just don’t get it. Yet. And Allah knows best.
Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad
American born Luqman Ahmad is a Sunni Muslim, the son of converts to Islam. He is a Philadelphia native, a writer, consultant, an an Imam at Large. He is a former executive committee member of the North America Imams Federation, a founding member of COSVIO, (the Council of Sacramento Valley Islamic Organizations), and the author of the new book “Double Edged Slavery“, a critical and authoritative look at the condition of African American and convert Muslims in the United States. He also authored, “The Devils Deception of the Modern day Salafiyyah Sect”, a detailed look at modern-day extremist salafi, the ideology. He blogs at, imamluqman.wordpress.com, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Race and Slavery in the Middle East. Bernard Lewis, 1990, Oxford University Press, p. 33
In the view of many Muslims, Black American Muslims aren’t considered a real civilization of people in the first place, let alone a declining one. Black Muslims themselves do not regard themselves as a new and distinct civilizations of Muslims. That right there is a problem. A problem that is so pronounced, that academic, and demographic studies about the status and conditions of Muslims in America whether it is mental health, family, mosque participation, new mosque construction, congregation size, or generational continuity, rarely even include Black Americans Muslims. To say that we are increasingly regarded by many as a fractional and insignificant part of the American Muslim demographic., is an understatement. In the 1980s Black American Muslims and converts to Islam were about one-third of the Muslim population of the United States. Today they are a mere 13%. That was in 2016, some people think the number today is more like 10% of the total American Muslim population. When people talk about the future of Islam in America, population growth, new masjid construction, generational continuity, the growth and expansion of supporting non-profit organizations, new Muslim schools, Black American Muslims and converts to Islam, are conspicuously left out of the conversation. That’s another part of the problem.
For those who are paying attention, there is ample evidence that American Muslim convert communities in the United States, the majority of whom are Black American converts to Islam, are headed for possible extinction as a civilization. Well, perhaps not total extinction but certainly headed for nearly total marginalization and at risk to nearly disappear into thin air. This is a tough, taboo topic, unsettling at best. If any of it is true, which I believe it is, then we’ve got a crisis on our hands of civilizational proportion. There is no intelligent way to ignore this conversation.
Many folks prefer that American Muslim converts are oblivious to their own realities, especially when it comes to the decline of convert communities. Some people, even some converts, would rather that the American Muslim convert community look at the world through the rose colored glasses of others, and not through their own reality. In fact the national narrative as reflected on the news, in politics, movies and television, of the American Muslim, is that of a nearly invisible community. Notwithstanding that there is an abundance of first hand accounts, testimonies, anecdotal evidence, and my own discussions with Imams my own communication and thousands of Muslims across the United States confirms that Black American Muslims are on a a precipitous and steady civilizational decline without a doubt.
That is the reality on the ground. Certainly, we (Black American Muslims) are alive and present, and a relevant part of Muslim America, but there are a trunk load of issues to contend with. We are a civilization of new Muslims who are already damaged by post-slavery oppression and marginalization, self-hate, coming from a hyper-jaahiliyyah lifestyle of broken homes, single parent households, pimp-hoe culture, coupled with multi-spheres of foreign Islamic influence. Add to that a trunk load of life changing, out of context, fatwas randomly thrown at our people from every which way over a period of forty years. If you add that all up, then there is no doubt that we are being slowly navigated into irrelevancy and extinction. That is a lot for any new civilization to handle, and all it has done is to add to the confusion and to spur debate. Debating has become like the new form of worship (ibaadah). We’ve raised an entire generation of Muslims who believe that debating is a form of practicing Islam. All the while the Prophet (SAWS) said, “No people ever went astray after Allah guided them, except that they were overcome with debating“. [At-Tirmithi].
We can swim in denial or continue kicking the can down the road. Nevertheless, there seems to be data that shows that the American Muslim convert community, a community already fractionalized, marginalized, and historically disadvantaged because of race, are at great risk of extinction, and here’s why.
Black American Muslims, who still constitute the overwhelming majority of converts to Islam in America, rank dead last on every socio-economic barometer that measures well being in the United States of America. This does not change when they convert to Islam. Add to that the terrible burden of marginalization and near civilizational irrelevancy by the rest of the Muslim world, near zero growth as a religious demographic and it all adds up to an undeniable path towards extinction. That’s the way it looks on the ground based on the information we have. More isn’t studied about it because quite simply, Converts to Islam, specifically Black American converts to Islam, to most, even to themselves, simply aren’t worth the time or the investment, and it’s hard to say otherwise with a straight face. By all accounts as far as I can see, our own survival doesn’t matter to us unless someone else is willing to pay the cost, do the work, and hold our hand, and there’s no one else left, who is willing to do that.
The Pew Research Center, a well-known respected organization that has accumulated highly credible amounts of research and data about Muslims in America, estimates that there were “about 3.3 million Muslims of all ages living in the United States in 2015”. Which amounts to about 1% of the U.S. population (322 million) at the time of the study. They estimate also, that by the year 2050, Muslims will constitute 2% of the American population, doubling their current percentage of 1%. which is why some people say that Islam is the fastest growing religion in America.
So all indications seem to indicate that there is a clear trajectory of growth of Islam and Muslims in the United States; numbers of Muslims, growth in new masjid construction, new Islamic schools, and institutions. Except in the Black American Muslim and convert community where new Masjid construction is at a virtual standstill. In fact, the number of African American Muslim communities and masaajid that cater to converts is on a decline.
Convert Muslims used exuberantly to believe, and many still do, that the glowing numbers of the Muslim increase in the United States meant that people were converting to Islam in droves, and that although the immigrant community was growing, the convert community was growing in similar proportion. That might have been the case 40 years ago. However, today, Islam is growing in America today largely through immigration of Muslims from Muslim lands, and in people having children, not through conversion. Over half of the projected growth of Muslims in America from the years 2010 to 2015 were from immigration. New data released by the Pew Center in July 2017 states that excluding African American Muslims who are in prisons or otherwise institutionalized, American born blacks make up just 13% of the American Muslim adult population, which is less than half the 20 years ago number of 33% which places the current number of African American Muslims (excluding children) at around 266,000. That’s down from just a few years ago. Still we would be hard pressed to locate that many AA Muslims in congregations because of the increasing scarcity of Black American or convert masaajid in the United States. Most Black American Muslims operate as individuals outside of communities, and an estimated 6-8 out of 10 adult Muslims in the Black American convert community aren’t married. Still we are producing children, many out of wedlock. Marriage is in near shambles. And if we don’t get this marriage thing straightened out, we’re poised to become the first self- bastardizing ummah in Muslim history.
There is other data as well which suggests that the American Muslim convert community is not growing in net numbers. Dr. Besheer Mohamed, a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center, and a Muslim himself, concluded in a January 2016 report that; “people leave Islam at the same rate that people convert to Islam”. He also concluded that; “There has been little net change in the size of the American Muslim population in recent years due to conversion.” (Mohamed, 2016) This would seem to indicate that the American Muslim convert community is pretty close to zero net growth right now if you look at the raw numbers. My numerous conversations with imams, activists in the convert community, individuals on the ground who work in da’wah, and people paying attention to these trends, seem to confirm Dr. Basheer’s and the Pew Research Center’s conclusions.
If these conclusions and observations are even close to correct, and I believe that they are, then we have to consider that the convert community is headed for possible extinction. If such is true, that means that the demographic landscape of Muslim America over the next 30 years will change drastically. It already is changing faster than many people, especially coverts to Islam, realize. One of the reasons why you do not see African American, White American, or Latino American Muslims presented too much in the national narrative is because the numbers of people simply aren’t there. Thirty years from now, by the year 2050, if there is no change in current the trend toward decline, the American Muslim convert community, and their children will be probably be around 5% of the total population of Muslims in America. That’s problem.
Think it can’t happen? Then let’s consider something else; according to a 2011 CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations) report, between 2000, and 2010, the number of masaajid (mosques) in the United States increased from 1,209, to 2106. An increase of 74%. The overwhelming majority of new masaajid built from the ground up (estimated 90%) have been built, run and sustained by and primarily for Muslim immigrants. The American Muslim immigrant community is moving forward in leaps and bounds on many fronts wal al—humdu lillaah. In addition to that, according to another 2015 CAIR report; “The USA’s estimated 2.4 million Muslims – are mostly middle class and willing to adopt the American way of life.
this country; employment, access to health care, two parent families, college education, business ownership, incarceration rates, and access to capital. This is the reality, and this is why the convert community is being left behind on many fronts.
At this point, the political will for (immigrant Muslims) to address or be concerned about socio-economic, spiritual, developmental, or da’wah issues related to the American Muslim convert community is almost non-existent. The obvious moral imperative is to look at Islam in America as an all for one, one for all situation and to look at ourselves as a single brotherhood working together across the board. However, the operational and historical reality suggests otherwise.
The reality is that there are two distinct Muslim Americans separated by Muslim converts, of all races on one side, and the immigrant community on the other side. The burgeoning divide between . Sure, there are plenty examples of integration, mixing, and some amounts of local cooperation, but for the most part, we’re talking about two distinctly different communities, with two distinctly different trajectories. In the midst of it all, Immigrant communities by and large are growing and convert communities are declining pretty much across the board.
Immigrant Muslim communities are doing what they view are in the best interests for their constituents and for the people who help build, fund and support their masaajid and communities. Convert Muslims and communities that serve their needs, have been stuck in decline for a long time, not even realizing or openly discussing that they have issues that are specific to them, or acknowledging the demographic decline. All that is starting to change as a new awareness is setting in, but it’s happening in a somewhat awkward way. Just seven to ten years ago, it wasn’t acceptable for converts to even mention that their condition overall as Black Americans, differ from that of the general immigrant community.
Not too long ago you couldn’t talk about the racial divide, about the influence of foreign Muslim groups, sectarianism and confusing sub ideology on the convert community, or the sense of abandonment that many converts to Islam feel when they come into the faith. 10 years ago, people did not talk about the fact that there is a high turnover rate of converts to Islam and those who end up leaving the religion. So now all of that is coming out at once, so it’s a halting conversation that is a little disjointed and seems to go all over the place.
Let’s be honest. There are in fact, two distinctly different Muslim Americas; one made up of immigrants who are better educated, more affluent, more organized and more poised for upward mobility as citizens and as a Muslim community, and the other are the converts and largely African American Muslim counterparts, who are poorer, less educated, higher percentages of ex-convicts, single parent homes, less family support as far as their Islam is concerned, and very naïve to the realities of Islam in America and the quest for power and control.
There are plenty of moral reasons, but virtually no practical, or political reasons for immigrant communities to look back and lend a hand to the convert community. If you think that politics do not figure prominently in the inner workings of Muslim America, then you are woefully out of touch. Still, even if there was a a national spiritual catharsis and a serous concerted effort to attend to the needs of the American Muslim converts, it would run into numerous challenges as long as the American Muslim convert community does not do and think for themselves and determine their own self intersts as Muslims. The groundwork has been laid for the success of immigrant Muslim communities and the groundwork has been laid for the failure of convert communities. I spell out some of the main challenges of the convert community in my book ‘Double Edged Slavery’, as well as other articles on my blog.
American Muslim Immigrant communities have done pretty well in overall in building up a viable religious and social infrastructure of masaajid, schools, institutions, legal, engineering, scientific and medical professionals, as well as research, service, and professional organizations, business men and women and strong intergenerational families. The generation that is coming are very educated, engaging, focused, and more and more are distancing themselves from some of the rigidity and backwardness of the old country. These are viable building blocks for any religious community in America, Muslim or otherwise.
Black Muslim and convert communities on the other hand, have not fared as well. There is a huge generational disconnect between one generation and the other.
As pop psychology replaces scripture, and the absence of generational continuity of Islam becomes common amongst younger Muslim generations, our ability to build Muslim communities for the future will be greatly compromised. The foundation of Islam is crumbling in Black Muslim America. The Quran and prophetic tradition are no longer the go to documents for guidance. There are scant institutional vehicles in the convert community (including masaajid), to pass anything along to our younger generation. Interestingly enough, the American Muslim convert community has spent much of the past thirty years under the inspiration of a dozen or so foreign spheres of religious influence. Whether it’s been salafiyyism, the different brands of Sufism, jihadism, the caliphate ideology, groups like Hizb ul Tah’reer, the Jamaa’aat ul Tabligh, the Ikhwaan ul Muslimeen, a phalanx of African Sheikhs, and others. Add to that, the roaming cheerleader section of Muslim converts who move from one issue to the next, providing the cheerleading or groupie section on a variety of global islamic issues that have little to do with their condition at home. Yet, there are negligible examples where convert loyalty to these outside groups, or dedication to outside and global issues have benefitted indigenous convert communities. There has been very little reciprocity.
Another unfortunate phenomenon that has occured is that the American Muslim convert community has spent a great deal of the last three decades arguing over religious minutia, debating over micro-doctrine, and looking overseas, sometimes to failed societies, for answers to their problems here at home. The Prophet ﷺ said, “No people ever went astray, after they were guided, except that they were overcome by arguing”. [at-Tirmidhi]
Arguing and disputing with one another has taken up an incredible amount of time and energy and has not bode well overall for the convert community. So while we were busy arguing amongst one another about shoes and socks, and madhhabs and minhaj, and sparring with one another using the views of our sheikhs as if we’re playing Rokem Sockem robots, something extraordinarily consequential has occurred. Time has elapsed, and a lot of time was wasted
Additionally, we’ve created a very confusing, hostile and contentious climate in many masaajid, and too many masaajid have been overrun with foreign sectarianized ideology that dismisses cultural and physical realities on indigenous peoples, particularly, the descendants of slaves. Although that trend is changing now, the effects are already in place and has had generational consequence. People are waking up, but they are waking up to emptied out masaajid, mass splintering, a nearly insurmountable leadership void, and a deeply entrenched sense chaos. Like someone bragging about and admiring their house for years and they suddenly realize that the contractor misled them, and that the house is infested with termites, the electrical system were the wrong specs, and that the septic system has been backed up for months.
This is not to diminish at all the good that is taking place in convert communities, and I do see light on the horizon in sha Allah. However, it is an uphill battle. It has to start with raising consciousness which is what many of us are working to do. Once Black American Muslims and converts realize that that they are free to work in their own self-interests according to Islam, without looking at things through the lenses of immigrant Muslims who mean well, but in many cases do not have a clue about our needs, then perhaps there can be forward motion. That’s just for starters and that’s starting to happen slowly.
This is not meant in any way as a slight towards immigrant Muslims; we are all, at least in principle, brothers and sisters in islam. It is simply the reality of our condition that we be realistic and truthfully forthcoming, and it is not a matter of placing blame on this or that group. There is light at the end of the tunnel because Allah is Light, but this is an uphill struggle and many of our people do not yet know or believe that they are free and there are many others who fear that indigenous Muslims would wake up.
Another thing we have to keep in mind is that as the convert community is continues to decline and lack in institutional congregational presence, there are unavoidable consequences to that. Just add up the numbers of Jum’ah attendees or the number of people who are connected to actual physical masaajid or communities. You need the critical mass in order to have protracted forward motion. Muslim communal and civilizational growth is tied to congregation, family and governance . In fact the basis of Muslim community centers around things like congregation, an Imam, a shura, establishing prayer in congregation, and responsible individuals who are in charge of dealing with the different religious as well as temporal affairs of the Muslims. Nearly every immigrant community that I know of, has these elements. Without them we are simply a scattered community that only comes together on the Eids maybe. Then there are talented, willing, energetic and intelligent people in our midst who have no where to plug in. the doors of inclusion are locked to them in many fledgling convert communities. Thousands of individual Islands can not sustain communal growth. That’s the math. Islam is a way of life but it’s also a system and if we ignore the systems aspect of our religion, then we’re just reduced to wishful thinking. Then there’s the issue of religious knowledge (a whole separate topic) which many of us completely ignore.
It’s not so much worrying about who Allah will hold accountable for it because Allah will hold all of us, everyone for everything according to how He sees fit. It’s more a matter of recognizing the trending decline of our communities and coming up with strategies, for stemming the decline and for rebuilding. Too many want to sit around and chant slogans, and rallying cries, or wallow in denial while the community is crumbling. Now is not the time for that. It is tragic when people enter into this faith and fail to pass it down to their children, or sometimes not even fully embrace it themselves. even worse when people live their Islam through someone else’s reality without never having experienced its core beauty.
In order to fully engage your Islam so that it becomes more than a bevy of regurgitated slogans, successive, ideological bandwagons, faddish adaptations, and after-market creeds that people can barely understand, that you pick up and then discard later, you have to believe in Islam at it’s source; the Quran, the Sunna and the authenticated hadith of the Prophet (SAWS). You must believe in it totality, and practice it as a lifestyle to the best of your ability. However, the secret to it all, is that you must be engaged with Allah; that you must worship Him Alone without partners. There are five things we should focus on if we are to stem the tide towards Black American Muslim civilizational decline in my opinion. 1. Generational continuity of our faith and religion. 2. Preservation of our history. 3. Congregation. 4. Religious governance. 5. Individual and group accountability. 6. Simplicity. Without these six elements, any path forward is murky at best. Wal Allahul Musta’aan.
Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad
American born Luqman Ahmad is a Sunni Muslim, the son of converts to Islam. He is a Philadelphia native, a writer, researcher and consultant. He is presently an Imam, khateeb and Resident Scholar at the Toledo Masjid al-Islam in Toledo, Ohio. He is a former executive committee member of the North America Imams Federation, a founding member of COSVIO, (the Council of Sacramento Valley Islamic Organizations), and the author of the new “Double Edged Slavery“, a critical and authoritative look at the condition of African American and convert Muslims in the United States. He also authored, “The Devils Deception of the Modern day Salafiyyah Sect”, a detailed look at modern-day extremist salafi ideology. He blogs at, imamluqman.wordpress.com, and can be reached at email@example.com. You can support his work through cash app to: $abulaith2
The study of hadith is a world in itself. It is a beautiful, remarkable and detailed universe of source knowledge, intra-disciplinary sciences, and sub-sciences that support the preservation, transmission, explanation, understanding, and implementation of the Sunna of our Beloved Prophet Muhammad ibn Abdullah ﷺ. The world of hadith is a world of guidance, knowledge, and understanding of this religion. It is the collection of statements, actions, habits, travels, and events of the Prophet ﷺ and is one of the most satisfying and beneficial paths and pursuits of knowledge. The study of hadith and its related sciences is vast, and is something that scholars, students of knowledge, and regular folk engage in as a lifelong pursuit.
There are many ways to approach hadith study. Primarily as Muslims, we want to know and understand what the Prophet ﷺ did and said so we can obey him and follow him. Of course it’s more than that; it’s loving him, using his guidance, and following his path. No one gets to a point where they know all the hadith, or studied all the hadith or have learned everything there is to learn about hadith of the Prophet ﷺ. There are many approaches, many disciplines and sub-disciplines, and many methods. I advise every student, or serious seeker of knowledge that when you decide to read a collection of hadith, or an explanation of a collection of hadith like Aoun al-Ma’bood, or Tuh’fatu Ah’wathi, or Fat’h al-Baari, or even study it with your sheikh, you would benefit a lot by reading the introduction, or the foreword by the author himself. You learn a lot from the introduction such as terminology, the reasons behind writing the book, how it is arranged, the authors methodology, and the views of that particular scholar on issues relating to hadith and to his own hadith collection or explanation.
There are two principle ways that hadith books are put together. One is according to chapter and subject matter or what scholars call ‘abwaab’ which is the plural of ‘baab’ which literally means door. In these types of hadith books, the book is organized by subject matter such as tahaara, salat, zakat, siyaam, buying and selling etc. Books arranged by subject matter are easier for research and finding the topic you are looking for and is preferred by students and scholars alike. If a person wants to look up a hadith on a certain topic, then there’re likely to refer to these types of books first as opposed to the second type which I’m going to talk about next.
The second type of hadith book are books that are arranged according to the companions of the Prophet ﷺ that narrated the hadith originally. Usually this is done in alphabetical order. Sometimes it’s done according to the rank of the narrator (راوي) his preference in Islam or his ranking, or what’s called a tabaqa (طبقة). The following types that I mention are not all of the types of books of hadith but they are the major ones. In sha Allah this short piece will help understand in some small way, how to study and look at books of hadith. Keep in mind that this is just a small window to a very wide and deep topic. Wal Allahu al-Musta’aan.
Types of Books of Hadith:
A Jaami is a hadith collection that contains all the main categories of primary islamic knowledge which represent the full breadth of the religion such as aqeeda, adab, eating and drinking, tafseer, hadith about fitan (trials), raqaa’iq / رقائق (spiritual heart softeners) and ibaadah / عبادة (worship). The most well-known of such types of hadith books are Jaami as-Sahih by ImamMuhammad Ismaa’eel al-Bukhaari (d. 256 h.), better-known as Sahih al-Bukhaari. The actual title that Imam Bukhaari named the book that we’ve come to know as; “Sahih al-Bukhaari” was, “Al-Jaami’ al-Musnad as-Sahih al-Mukhtasar min umoor Rasoolillaah wa sunanihi wa iyyaamihi” (الجامع المسند الصيح المختصر من أمور رسول الله و سننه و ايامه). Over time it simply became known as Sahih al-Bukhaari, or Jaami Sahih, or Jaami’ Sahih al-Bukhaari.
Another is al-Jaami as-Sahih by Imam Muslim, known as Sahih Muslim, and al-Jaami by Imam Abu Eesa at-Tirmithee, better known as Sunan at-Tirmidhi. The actual name of Imam al-Tirmidhi’s collection is Al-Jaami al-Mukhtasar min al-Sunan wa Ma’rifatu as-Saheeh wal ma’lool, wa maa alaihi al-amal. الجامع المختصر من السنن عن رسول الله صلي الله عليه و سلم و معرفة الصحيح و المعلول ما عليه العمل)). As you can see, it is a pretty long name and one that is hardly ever used in any modern printings of the book. It has been referred to at times as Jaami’ as-Sahih by at-Tirmidhi which is a misnomer because the collection contains hadith which are not sound. It’s sometimes referred to as a Sunan because it deals a lot with hadith al-ah’kaam, or hadith that has to do with law and it follows the same pattern as other books of Sunan and notwithstanding that Sunan is part of the original title of the book. Imam Abu Eesa said about his collection; “anyone who has this book in his house, it’s like the Prophet ﷺ is in his house talking”.
The titles of the books of hadith and the arrangement of the chapters and subject matter gives you an insight into the thinking and methodology of the muhaddith who authored the book. For example, Imam al-Bukhaari and others use what’s called the tarjama [ترجمة]. The word tarjama has several meanings in the Arabic language but according to traditionalists (scholars of hadith) the tarjama is the section heading. The common word for chapter is Kitaab [كتاب] and the common word used for section is baab [section]. The name of the section is the tarjama and the tarjama give you a clue of the scholar’s view on the issue. Imam an-Nawawi used to say; “Bukhaari’s fiqh is in his taraajam”. For example, in Sahih al-Bukhaari in the Book of ghusl (ritual bath), there is a section titled; “If one remembers while he is in the masjid that he is in a state of impurity, he should leave as he is without making tayammam” (بلب اذا ذكر في المسجد انه جنب خرج كما هو، و لا يتيمم), then he proceeds to present the hadith that proves the implication of the tarjama. You see this example throughout his Sahih and in other books of hadith.
Books of Sunan in the language of hadith scholars are books of hadith that contain hadith dealing with law (احكام), organized by the sections of fiqh. For example, these books usually begin with purification (طهارة), and the section on purification will start with a certain aspect of purification depending on the detail, the style and choice of the compiler of the book. For example, Imam Abu Eesa at-Tirmidhi (d. 279 h.), begins his book with tahaara but starts with the hadith; “the salat is not accepted without wudu” . Then he follows with hadith about the virtues of wudu and moves on from there. However, Imam Abu Dawood (d. 275 h.) takes a different approach; he begins his Sunan with a chapter titled tahaara but begins the first section with hadith about the etiquettes of relieving one’s self. Which is also a part of tahaara. In the Sunan of an-Nasaai, Imam Abu Abdurrahman Nasaai (d. 303 h.) takes a slightly different approach. He begins his book with the chapter on tahaara but starts with the hadith of Abu Hurraira that the Prophet ﷺ said; “When one of you wakes up from sleep, he should not put his hands water (for ablution) until he washes them because he does not know where his hand spent the night”. (what his hands touched”. The second hadith in his collection is about using siwaak (miswaak), which is also a part of tahaara.
So the major books of Sunan follow the same style and methodology in that purification is usually at the beginning but differ in the exact approach to the topic. This is one reason why students of knowledge should be broad in their lifelong study of the hadith of the Prophet ﷺ which is not something that you do over a certain period of time; it’s something that you do without. Even the major shuyookh of the ummah, still read and study hadith of the Prophet ﷺ and engage in its related sciences.
This demonstrates the breadth of approach to knowledge and scholarly independence of hadith preservation. So of the great scholars who compiled and preserved the ahaadeeth of the Prophet ﷺ, they demonstrated their preferences in how they approach of hadith the topics of Sunna in their books.
All books of hadith do not have the same detail, the same number of hadith, or the exact same approach to any given topic. After tahaara (purification) Sunan books usually follow with ibaadah starting with salat, then zakat, then fasting and so on. The most well-known books of Sunan are the Sunan of Abu Dawud, the Sunan of at-Tirmithee which is the Jaami of at-Tirmithee [جامع الترمذي], the Sunan of an-Nasaa’i, and the Sunan of Ibn Majah. These four are known as the Four Sunan (السنن الاربعة). Within the discipline of hadith study, scholars employ certain terminology that is specific to the science. Within it, they have several ways of referring to books of hadith also. For example, if they say “the three”, then they mean the four Sunan we just mentioned minus the Sunan of ibn Majah. If the say “the five” for example, they mean the four Sunan and the Musnad of Imam Ahmad. If they say ‘Sahihain’ (صحيحين) they mean the collection of al-Bukhaari and Muslim and if they say; ‘as-shaykhaan (الشيخان), [the two shaykhs], then they are talking about al-Bukhaari and Muslim also.
A Musnad is a collection of hadith that is according to the name of the companion of the Prophet ﷺ who narrated the hadith. Sometimes this is done in alphabetical order, other times it is arranged according to who preceded who in Islam, and other times it is arranged according to preference (fadeela/ فضيلة) of the particular companion to another. Many musaaneed begin with hadith narrated by the four caliphs (الخلفاء الراشدين) starting with Abu Bakr as-Siddeeq. Others arrange it according to the ten companions who were promised paradise, then the companions who were at Badr. At other times, a Musnad is arranged according to genealogical status or lineage. There are many musaaneed / مسانيد (plural of Musnad). The most well-known of the musaaneed is the Musnad ofImam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d. 241 h.), followed by the Musnad of Abu Ya’laa. At other times a Musnad its arranged according to preference or the historical position of the narrator of the hadith.
Al-Mu’jam (plural: mu’aajam/ معاجم ), in the terminology of traditionalists, are hadith collections that are arranged according to a name of the sheikh from whence the author narrated it. Where the author arranges the hadith according to his shuyookh that he heard them, in alphabetical order. The most well-known of these are the three ma’aajam written by Abu al-Qasim Sulaiman at-Tabaraani (d. 360 h.), called al-Mu’jam al-Sagheer, and al-Mu’jam al-Awsat which were both hadith that he related from his shuyookh, and his third one is called al-Mu’jam al-Kabir [المعجم الكبير], which consists of hadith narrated by companions. The Mu’jam al-Kabir is the most famous of Tabaraani’s three collections. It popularity and recognition is at a level that when people mention “al-Mu’jam” then it is known that they are referring to al-Mu’jam al-Kabir by Tabaraani. Some books are so well-known and so widely used that they are fully recognized by even part of the name. for example, the book, Fat’h al-Baari, the famous explanation of Sahih al-Bukhaari by Ibn Hajar al-As’qalaani (d. 852 h.) is known across centuries simply as “al-Fat’h”, despite that there are hundreds of books whose title begins with al-Fat’h or contains the word Fat’h. Nevertheless, when a reference to al-Fat’h is mentioned in a book or a footnote, scholars of this discipline generally assume (depending on the context) that you are referring to Fat’h al-Baari. An anecdotal note about Ibn Hajar’s Fat’h al-Baari is that Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (d. 795 h.) himself, started writing an explanation of Sahih al-Bukhaari and he titled it; ‘Fat’h al-Baari’ he completed up to the chapter on salaatul janaaza before he died. Twenty years after his death, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalaani began his explanation of Sahih al-Bukhaari and he named it; ‘Fat’h al-Baari’ in honor of ibn Rajab.
Al-Musannafaat al-Jaami’a [المصنفات الجامعة]
These are encyclopedic collection of hadith compiled from many different collections by different scholars of hadith. These types are arranged in two different ways. The first way is to arrange it according to subject category or chapters (abwaab). An example of this type of hadith collect in this style is the book; Jaami’ al-Usool fi Ahaadeeth ar-Rasool [جامع الأصول في احاديث الرسول] by ibn al-Atheer [d. 606 h.] In his book he compiles hadith from Bukhaari, Muslim, Abu Dawood, at-Tirmidhi, ibn Maajah and the Muwatta by Imam Malik. He also takes the added steps of explaining unclear words. Another book like this is the book; Khunz al-A’maal fi Sunan al-Af’aal wal Aq’waal [خنز العمال في سنن الاقوال و الافعال] by Ali ibn Hussaam al-Muttaqi (d, 975 h.), better known as al-Muttaqi. This is probably one of the most comprehensive books of this type; he complies hadith from about ninety something different collections of hadith. In the beginning of the book he explains terminologies of different scholars of hadith that are specific to them, since all scholars do not use all terminology in other same way.
The second style of collection of this category are books where the hadith are compiled alphabetically according to the first word in the hadith. Such is the book al-Jaami al-Kabir (الجامع الكبير) by Jalaaluddeen as-Suyuti (d. 911 h.). al-Jaami al-Kabir by Suyuti is considered to be the basis for Khanz al-A’maal. Another book by Suyuti, al-Jaami as-Sagheer in one where he (Suyuti) abridged the Jaami Kabir by removing ahaadeeth that were repeated, and he added other ahaadeeth. The whole book (al-Jaami al-Kabir) has 10,031 hadith altogether.
Al-Mustad’rak / المستدرك
Al-Mustad’rakaat [المستدركات] are books of hadith where the author writes down hadith whose status of authenticity meet the standards [شرط] of a traditionalist although that traditionalist did not include those ahaadeeth in his own book. For example, Imam Al-Bukhaari memorized 200,000 authentic hadith. However, he only included 7,275 hadith in his Sahih. If you count the hadith that Bukhaari repeated [المكرر], then the number of hadith in Sahih Bukhaari is only 4,000 or so hadith. So another scholar of hadith will come along and make a collection the hadith that meets Bukhaari’s standards of authenticity, but that Bukhaari did not include in his Sahih. Such a book is referred to by scholars of hadith as a Mustadrak / المستدرك.
The most well-known of the Mustad’rakaat (plural) is the Mustadrak of al-Haakim on Bukhari and Muslim titled; al-Mustadrak alaa Sahihain [المستدرك علي الصحيحين]. In al-Haakim’s Mustadrak, Al-Haakim (d. 403 h.) takes hadith that were collected by imam al-Bukhaari and Imam Muslim, that they did not included in their published collections. He somewhat follows some of Bukhaari’s arrangement of subject matter. The first four sections the Mustad’rak is similar to that of the Sahih as far as methodology. Al-Haakim begins with the book of faith [كتاب الايمان], then the book of knowledge [كتاب العلم], then the book of tahaara [كتاب الطهارة], followed by the book on salat [كتاب الصلاة]. Although he uses different hadith, he uses the same subject categories in the beginning of al-Mustad’rak except that Imam al-Bukhaari starts his book with “The Beginning of Revelation” (بدء الوحي), then he follows with the Book of faith, the book of Knowledge, and then after that al-Bukhaari, instead of having a chapter entitles the book of Tahaara like some of the others, he moves to the Book of Wudu, then the Book of Ghusl, then the Book of Menstruation, then the Book of Tayammum, then he moves to the Book of Salat, and so on. Similar methodology of the others, but different approach to the subject matter.
Unfortunately, scholarship is not without its controversy. Imam al-Haakim, like many other early scholars of hadith compilation, was a Persian. Some have accused Imam al-Haakim as having had leanings towards Shi’ism, and others have said that all of the hadith in the Mustadrak were not according to the standards of Bukhaari and Muslim; some of the hadith they say, were weak, and even forgeries. Other scholars defended him with that if particular muhaddith but that particular muhaddith did not include it in his book. For example, the most well-known Mustad’rak is the Mustad’rak of al-Haakim from Bukhaari and Muslim. He related hadith that met the standard of authenticity of Bukhaari and Muslim even though they did not include those hadith in their collections and we already mentioned some of the controversy surrounding al-Haakim (رحمه الله).
Forty Hadith Collections / الاربعينات
Forty hadith collections are amongst the most common and popular types of hadith collections. In the terminological language of traditionalists ((المحدثين, Arba’een is a collection of hadith that is comprised of forty ahaadeeth, or forty sections (ابواب) of knowledge. The most well-known and perhaps the most often used of forty hadith collections is the Forty Hadith of Imam Abu Zakariyyah Yahya ibn Sharf An-Nawawi (d. 676 h.). Sometimes a forty hadith collection will contain the isnad (chain of transmission) of the hadith and at other times it won’t contain isnad. Sometimes a collection or book will use forty hadith as a benchmark but add to it. For example, ibn Rajab al-Hanbali’s (d. 795 h.) Jaami Uloom wal Hikam (جامع العلوم و الحكم), is a pipular and widely read explanation of Imam an-Nawawi’s forty hadith but he added ten more hadith to it.
Is the hadith about collecting Forty hadith, a weak hadith?
What prompted many scholars to compile books of forty hadith were two things; the first is the hadith of the Prophet ﷺ: “Whoever of my Ummah memorized forty hadith from the affairs of its deen, Allah will resurrect him (on the day of judgment) as a scholar, and I will be a witness and an intercessor for him on the Day of Judgment”. This hadith, although weak (ضعيف), was reported by thirteen different companions of the Prophet ﷺ. According to Imam an-Nawawi; scholars all agree that this is a weak hadith despite that it has been reported through several chains. Some scholars say that due to the severe weakness of the multiple chains of this hadith, it is not permissible to act according to it. Imam an-Nawawi himself, who compiled one the most famous and enduring collections of forty hadith said; “I’m not depending on this hadith to compile my collection, on the contrary, (I’m basing it on) other sound hadith such as the hadith; “Let those who are present inform those who are absent”, and the hadith; “Allah will brighten (the face) of the person who hears what we say, understands (memorizes) it and passes it on just like he heard it”. that he compiled his forty hadith collection based upon the virtue of compiling and spreading ahaadeeth of the Prophet ﷺ. Nevertheless, despite the weakness of this hadith, many scholars have compiled collections of forty hadith and it has become an accepted and agreed upon category in hadith compilation.
The first of our scholars to compile a book of forty hadith was Abdullah ibn al-Mubaarak (d, 181 h.). This was during the second century of Islam. His work was followed in the next century by Muhammad ibn As’slam at-Toosi (d. 242 h.), and Ibraheem ibn Ali at-Thah’li (d. 293 h.). During each century of Islam, there have been scholars and Imams who compiled forty hadith collections. Even Ibn Hajar as-Asqalaani compiled a forty hadith compilation according to as-Sakhaawi in his biography of Ibn Hajar. However, there have been others. For example, Jalaaluddin as-Suyuti (1445-1505 CE) wrote a Forty Hadith book on the virtues of Umar ibn al-Khattaab. Abu Hasan ad-Darul Qutni (918-995 ) wrote an Ar’ba’een, ibn Ismaaeel al-Harwi (481A,H.) wrote a book, “Forty Hadiths of the Proofs of Tawheed”, Afeefuddeen Muhammad ibn Abdul-Rahmaan al-Muqri (618 H.) wrote a Forty Hadith about Jihaad and the Mijaahideen, and the list goes on and on up until this present day.
Books of Takh’reej / كتب التخريج
Books of takhreej (extraction) are books where the author extracts or deducts hadith from another a book of knowledge that has hadith mentioned in it, and he clarifies in which book this hadith is collected, or which hadith scholars narrated or has a chain to this hadith. books of takh’reej may or may not clarify the strength or the weakness of the hadith, but it will tell you where the hadith is located. There are many books of takh’reej. The idea being takh’reej is so that the reader or student of knowledge is clear about the origin of the hadith he finds in a book. So that he knows which of the traditionalists collected the hadith in his book, and possibly the authenticity of the hadith. Scholars continue to this very day to write books of takh’reej of other collections. It is common for a scholar to do a takh’reej on another book. Usually he’ll put the takh’reej right in a separate or supplemental printing or publication of the book as a footnote, and end note or part of the commentary.
A couple of the more well-known books of takh’reej are;
Tal’khees al-Hibar fi Takh’reej Ahaadeeth al-Raafi’ee al-Kabir / التلخيص الحبير في تخريج احاديث الرافعي الكبير written by Imam Ibn Hajar al-As’qalaani. In it ibn Hajar clarifies the hadith contained in Imam Abu al-Qaasim al-Raafi’ee’s (d. 623 h.) explanation of the book ‘al-Wajeez Fi fiqh al-Shaafi’ee (الوجيز في فقه الشافي) which was written by Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazaali.
Al-Mughni an Himl al-Asfaar Fi al-As’faar Fi Takh’reej ma Fi al-Ih’yaa min al-Akh’baar / المغني عن حمل الاسفار في الاسفار في تخريج ما في الاحياء من الاخبار, by al-Haafiz Imam Abdul-Raheem ibn Hussain al-Araaqi, better known as al-Haafiz al-Araaqi (d. 806 h) who incidentally was one of the Shuyookh of ibn Hajar al-Asqalaani. In it, he extracts and clarifies the ahaadeeth contained in ‘Ih’yaa Uloom ad-Deen / احياء علوم الدين, by Imam al-Ghazaali and offers some explanation of some of the text.
Keep in mind, there are many, many other books of takh’reej, books of hadith, other types of hadith books, books about the different sciences of hadith and associated sciences of hadith. The number of books relating to hadith study and methodology are in the thousands, perhaps tens of thousands. Some are well-known and others are not so well-own. And Allah knows best as to their number.
These are not all of the types of books of hadith. However, these are the major ones. There is no one book that will give you all the understanding or all the knowledge of the religion . The religion is based upon the Quran and the sunna of the Prophet (SAWS) as recorded in hadith. Understanding is from Allah sub’haanahu wa ta’ala. The books are tools towards understanding in sha Allah, and our scholars are writers, compilers and preservers of these books. May Allah increase us in knowledge and understanding of the religion.
Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad
Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad, a Philadelphia native, is a writer, a researcher and Imam at ToledI Masjid al-Islam in Toledo, Ohio. He is also and the author of the new book, “Double Edged Slavery “, a critical and authoritative look at the condition of African American and convert Muslims in the United States, and the book: “The Devil’s Deception of the Modern Day Salafi Sect “, a look at the ideological underpinning of modern Salafist extremism. He blogs at imamluqman.wordpress.com, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 The word mentioned in the hadith is tuhoor (طهور). By this he means wudu (ablution).
 الجواهر والدرر في ترجمة شيخ الإسلام ابن حجر, Vol, 2, p 669