THE MAQRA’AH IN LONDON, DECEMBER 2011
A blessed gathering of the recitation/reading of 2 famous ahādith compilations
Bismillah, as-salatu wa’s-salāmu ‘ala Rasulillah.
This blessed gathering took place on the 25th and 26th of December 2011 in a mosque in (East) London under the supervision of the learned 85 year old shaykh, ‘allamah and musnid Ya’qub al-Qasimi hafizhahullah (and we continue to pray for his health as he wasn’t really well just before the event) and it was organised by Al-Buruj Press. They had organized other maqra’at previously.
I was blessed to attend this gathering (majlis of dhikr) through the mercy and will of Allah Ta’ala and all praise and thanks belongs to Him alone. I have had the burning desire and intention to go to a maqra’ah for the last couple of years ever since I read about it on the internet. Now Allah made it possible for me at the last moment al-hamdulillah. My good friend and brother Z. from the Netherlands also attended the maqra’ah.
Shaykh Ya’qub al-Qasimi from Dewsbury (and originally from Gujurat, India) is one of the most senior scholars of the UK and he has got very high asānid in all major ahādith collections. He is the headmaster of the Ma’had al-Bahuth al-Islāmiyyah in Dewsbury.
Read were the books “al-Muwatta” from imam Malik bi riwayati imam Muhammad ash-Shaybani and the “Shama’il” of imam at-Tirmidhi (rahimahumullah).
Shaykh ‘Ali Khalfaoui (originally from Algeria) hafizhahullah -an experienced reciter apparently- recited all the ahādith masha’Allah, in total around1400 ina very fast pace. The first day we finished reading around 900 ahādith from the Muwatta and the second day we read the remaining 100 ahādith from the Muwatta and the approximately 400 ahādith from the Shama’il. On the first day mufti Shabbir, another senior ‘alim of the UK, dropped by for a short while to read a couple ahādith from the Muwatta.
I’m told shaykh ‘Ali Khalfaoui has more than 80 ijāzāt in the Islamic sciences. He is a teacher at the recently established London College of Islamic Sciences (LICS). More background info on him can be read on the website of LCIS.
Some 30 (male) students were attending the reading those 2 days. The students didn’t only come from different parts of the UK but even from outside of the UK. There were (male and female) students from the USA, France and the Netherlands.
Shaykh ‘Ali started with relating the well-known musalsal “Hadith of Rahmah” to all the students (I assume through the chain of shaykh Ya’qub).
Moments to remember
When shaykh ‘Ali introduced shaykh Ya’qub he made a gesture that will be remembered by those who saw it. Shaykh Ya’qub took shaykh ‘Ali by his hand and gestured him not to tell too much about him and stop praising him. That was a very touching and beautiful moment and it showed the humility / humbleness of shaykh Ya’qub.
Although shaykh ‘Ali read very fast he was still able to discover some few mistakes in the prints / copies of the texts.
While reading the ahādith about the death of the Prophet s.a.w.s. at the (end of the) Shama’il he was very emotional and almost cried. He needed to stop shortly to be able to continue.
The second day shaykh ‘Ali highlighted and explained some ahādith from the Shama’il, which was very nice indeed. Especially the hadith of ‘Umar’s coming to Sham (nr. 927 in the Muwatta) and the hadith on the people of Hijr (nr. 966 in the Muwatta) were impressive.
The sitting and sleeping on the floor for 2 days. As one brother said: “No pain, no gain.” As Westerners we are used to sitting at chairs and on desks. Compared to the shaykh the students were very young and he also sat on the floor for 2 days masha’Allah. Sitting and sleeping on the floor also teaches one humility.
The receival of the ijāzāt. An ijāzah khassah with regards to the 2 texts and an ijāzah ‘ammah with regards to the Sahih Sittah with the full sanad of shaykh al-Qasimi.
One of the students told me afterwards –when we received the written ijāzāt– that we actually received a very high sanad which we share with around 20.000 to 30.000 ‘ulama from the subcontinent. If you start thinking about this and look at were you are, you can only be(come) humble.
The brotherly and peaceful atmosphere. Sleeping and eating in a mosque for 2 days, which is a form of ‘itikāf, with other brothers. The fact some Tablighi jama’ah people also stayed in the mosque made it even more special. As always they were showing their ikrām and doing khidmah, masha’Allah.
The khatm on the second day by the imam of the mosque (and the attendance of all the people who prayed maghrib), shaykh ‘Ali and shaykh al-Qasimi. Shaykh al-Qasimi gave -what seemed- a monumental and historical speech in (I assume) Urdu. Afterwards I asked a brother what he told in summary. Two points are worth mentioning here:
1.) Who could have thought 50 years ago a maqra’ah of hadith would take place in the heart of London?
2.) The importance of the sanad in islam.
Shaykh ‘Ali clarifying the asānid of shaykh al-Qasimi to some students.
Lastly I’d like to state it was a pleasure to meet several students from Cordoba Academy at the maqra’ah.
When leaving for home from the mosque we nearly waited for 2 hours to take a bus back to our place of stay. For me this was almost too much but my fellow brother and traveller said: “We have the asānid, does everything else really matter?”
Now some people might wonder what a maqra’ah exactly is.
The term “maqra’ah” refers to the reading or recitation of a text, usually an ahādith collection or book, in an intense fashion over a number of sittings on usually continuous days or as best as possible by the participants. The recital is usually supervised by a scholar who has an ijāzah in that text and is aware of the subtle intricacies of the text and sanad and is able to ensure an authentic transmission during the reading. The reading is normally incredibly fast, only carried out by the most proficient students or scholars, utilising various styles of qirā‘ah, all faster than then well known Qur’ānic hadr speed. It needs to be very fast of course if the expected speed of at least a 1000 ahādith per day is to be achieved (with isnād). To have an idea how it works see here: http://cordobaacademy.lefora.com/2011/12/28/maqraah/
The recited books
The first book we read was the famous “Muwatta” of imam Malik through the narration of imam Muhammad ash-Shaybani, the student of imam Abu Hanifah and imam Malik and a teacher of imam ash-Shafi’i (also a student of imam Malik; he even memorized the Muwatta at the age of 10 in only 7 nights), may Allah be pleased with them all. This is just 1 out of the around 80 narrations/versions of the Muwatta, of which the narration of imam Yahya ibn Yahya al-Laythi is the most well known.  For those who are interested: imam ad-Daraqutni and others wrote books describing the differences in some of the versions of the Muwatta.
What are some of the differences between the narrations of imam al-Laythi and ash-Shaybani? For example:
– Firstly, the number of ahādith. The narration of al-Laythi has 853 marfû’ traditions. The narration of ash-Shaybani has 1007 ahādith and āthār.
– Secondly, specific and important ahādith: the hadith of intention (“innama’l-‘amālu bi’n-niyyāt”) for example is not found in the version of al-Laythi.
– Thirdly, the version of ash-Shaybani is from a Hanafi scholar while the version of al-Laythi is from a Maliki scholar. Although imam Muhammad does not include imam Malik’s accounts of the ‘amal of Madinah, and Malik’s own judgements and explanations of different points of fiqh from the Madinan point of view, in their place he substitutes his own judgements and the judgements of Abu Hanifah (and others), may Allah show him mercy, but nevertheless sometimes opting for the position of Malik where it is based on a stronger hadith. In this respect, although the book is not the final word on Hanafi fiqh it is a fascinating glimpse of the crystallisation of the Hanafi madhhab in a very early stage. We can read in the book many times for example: “Muhammad said: ‘We adhere to this (..)’ or ‘That is the verdict of Abu Hanifah (..) ’.” etc.
The riwāyah from imam Muhammad ash-Shaybani actually differs significantly from most other riwāyāt.
Shaykh ‘Ali actually read from the excellent commentary on the version of ash-Shaybani by shaykh ‘Abd al-Hayy al-Lucknowi (rahimahullah), called “At-Ta’liq al-Mummajad”. This commentary is partly translated into English and published by Turath Publishing.
The maqra’ah brought into (my own) mind that for example in Fez, Morocco, (at the time of sidi Ahmad Zarruq rahimahullah) they used to organize public recitations of the “Mudawwanah”. The Mudawwanah is a work of Maliki fiqh next in importance to the Muwatta. Especially the “juridical Sufis” used to memorize the Mudawannah.
The second book we read was the famous Shama’il of imam ‘Abu ‘Isa at-Tirmidhi on the character -inwardly and outwardly- of the Prophet s.a.w.s. This book contains around 400 ahādith. Also this book has been translated into English alongside with an excellent commentary by Shaykh ul-Hadith Mawlana Muhammad Zakariyya Kandahlawi rahimahullah.
Purpose(s) and benefits of a maqra’ah
What are the purposes and benefits of a maqra’ah?
First of all one needs to know and realize that the science of hadith can generally be divided into two divisions:
1. ‘Ilm ar-riwāyah: science of narration and transmission of ahādith
2. ‘Ilm ad-dirāyah: science of explanation of ahādith
Without this knowledge and realization one can’t understand the maqra’ah from the outset.
The main purpose of a maqra’ah is (solely) riwāyah and for that reason the maqra’ah is more suited to students of knowledge whom already have a grasp of the Arabic language and good understanding of hadith through prior study (i.e. dirāyah).
A main purpose nowadays is the preservation of isnād and the comparison between various manuscripts/editions/versions/prints of the text by the readers. With this the maqra’ah offers an opportunity to correct the mistakes therein.
As for the preservation of the isnād: all attendees are granted an ijāzah of samā’a with the full chain of narrators.
This all might confuse some people. At a maqra’ah there is a lack of time to fully reflect upon the wisdoms and secrets of the text and there is little time for an explanation of difficult and strange phrases/words of the ahādith.
In reality, attendees have to appreciate and beware of the fact that a maqra’ah is not a lesson, or a commentary, or a study or anything else that will cover such queries as above, rather it is used by those attendees to perfect their recitation, to become familiar with the narrators, and most importantly to make “dabt” or affirm for themselves the exact content of a particular text or source.
The maqra’ah is a good opportunity to learn gharā’ib of the ahādith since in order to know their meanings you have to initially know they exist and what hadith-collection they are in. It is also a good opportunity to get familiar with the language used in the hadith and to get familiar with certain words and terms.
The benefits of a maqra’ah are well-known to the scholars of our ummah for many generations yet due to the difficulties of our time and the modern day context, we have seen a drop in this art and beneficial sitting, alongside the other problems experienced such as the free-time of the supervising scholar, the lack of scholars with the correct credentials to lead, the lengths of the texts, the unsuitability of the students etc.
Some of these benefits are:
– to attain the barakah of sitting in these blessed gatherings and to sit with the ‘ulamā and other students of knowledge
– to get connection with the sunnah and the books that contain the sunnah
– to gain closeness to the Prophet s.a.w.s. through the sanad. The sanad gives one a direct connection through an unbroken chain of reliable narrators to him s.a.w.s. One brother at the maqra’ah illustrated this by taking the hand of another brother after asking him about the purpose of the maqra’ah.
– to be aware of the ahādith (in the recited texts)
– to gain a good understanding of the tabwib and tartib of a book and the main ahādith in each chapter. This is essential when a student of knowledge engages in research and a maqra’ah facilitates that. This will also give the student more insight in the different chapters of fiqh books. The scholars who compiled their collections didn’t just randomly put ahādith a certain place in their book. They did this with wisdom and for a certain reason. The Muwatta (both versions mentioned above) for example starts with a bāb on the times of prayer where most other collections start with ritual purity or the hadith of intention. Why this is was highlighted by Hamza Yusuf when asked but I can’t remember exactly what he said.
As for myself the maqra’ah benefitted me in that I learned something about the adab of a student.
A maqra’ah is a sunnah of the scholars
Here are some examples of known scholars of the past who partook in a maqra’ah and details of how they did it.
– al-Khatīb al-Baghdādi
He read the entire Sahīh of imam al-Bukhāri upon Ismā‘īl b. Ahmed b. ‘Abdillāh al-Dharīr al-Hīrī, according to the riwāyah of one of its most famous narrators, al-Kushmīhanī. He recited it completely in three sessions, two of them starting at maghrib and finishing at fajr time, and the last session starting late morning and finishing at fajr. (See: Tārīkh ul-Baghdād) This equates to over 7500 hadīth.
– Al-‘Izz b. ‘Abd us-Salām
Known as the Sultān of the ‘Ulamā’, he (rahimahullāh) recited the lengthy Nihāyat ul-Matlab of imām al-Haramayn al-Juwayni in three days. Ibn Fahd narrated in Lahdh ul-Alhādh: “Our shaykh al-Hāfizh Burhān ud-Dīn (al-Halabi) said: “I was told that shaykh ‘Izz ud-Dīn b. ‘Abd us-Salām would leave for the masjid on Wednesday with a copy of the Nihāyah of imām al-Haramayn and stay there all day, through Thursday and into Friday just before the (Jumu‘ah) prayer, reading this book.”” A few scholars disputed this claim due to the huge size of the Nihāyah to which shaykh Sirāj ud-Dīn al-Bulqīni explained that this was not impossible simply because Imām ‘Izz ud-Dīn knew the book so well, and had no problems understanding it and thus had no need to stop and ponder over difficult issues.
This is classically what the maqra’ah focuses on, the reading as opposed to the stopping and reflective pondering, which is to be reserved for times of study and learning the text as opposed to its recital.
– Ahmad Ibn Taymiyyah
His reading and periods of isolation are well known; his student Ibn ‘Abd ul-Hādi mentions in “Mukhtasar Tabaqāt ‘Ulama al-Hadīth” that Ibn Taymiyyah recited the “Ghaylāniyāt” in a single session. The Ghaylāniyāt consists of almost 1100 ahadith with isnād.
– Al-Hāfizh al-Mizzi
Al-Hafizh Abu’l-Hajjāj al-Mizzi recited the “Mu‘jam ul-Kabīr” of at-Tabarāni upon al-Birzāli in sixty sessions.
– Al-Hāfidh adh-Dhahabi
Imām adh-Dhahabi (rahimahullah) has narrated to us much of the way of the ‘ulamā’ and their love of the maqra’ah to revise texts and partake in the blessings of hadith as well as getting closer to the sources and evidences of sacred knowledge. But other types of books were also recited as he himself explains, that he recited the Sīrah of Ibn Hisham upon al-Abarqūhī in only six days, despite its size.
– Sirāj ud-Dīn Ibn al-Mulaqqin
This great muhaddith read two volumes of imām at-Tabari’s “al-Ahkām” in a single day, as narrated in “al-Lahdh ul-Alhādh”.
– Hāfizh Zayn ud-Dīn al-‘Irāqi
The great muhaddith recited the Sahīh of imām Muslim in six sessions, as narrated by al-Fāsi in “Dhayl ut-Taqyīdand” in Lahdh ul-Alhādh, which adds that in the final session, al-Hāfizh al-‘Irāqi read the whole final third of the Sahīh also in the presence of Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali with his own copy. This was all read upon the great Ibn al-Khabbāz, the muhaddith of his time, who had his own isnād direct to imām Muslim by samā‘a. It is also narrated in Dhayl ut-Taqyīd that al-Hāfizh al-‘Irāqi recited the monumental Musnad of Imām Ahmad upon Ibn al-Khabbāz in thirty separate sessions!
– Al-Hāfizh Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalāni
The imām of the muhaddithīn, the one without comparison in this most noble of sciences. Taqi ud-Dīn al-Fāsi and as-Sakhāwi both described Ibn Hajr’s recitation as very fast, yet beautiful, and compared it to that of al-Khatīb al-Baghdādi. We have mentioned above his reading of al-Jāmi‘ as-Sahīh of imām al-Bukhāri in ten sessions, which as-Sakhāwi later added were of four hours each in length and thus only 40 hours in total! Ibn Hajr himself mentions in his biography of his Shaykh, ‘Abdullāh b. ‘Amr b. ‘Alī al-Hindi Abi’l-Ma‘āli (d. 807 AH) in his book “al-Majma‘ al-Mu’assas li’l-Mu‘jam al-Mufahras” that he himself recited the entire Musnad of Imām Ahmad upon Abi’l-Ma‘āli in fifty three sessions. Ibn Hajr again mentions in his al-Majma‘ al-Mu’assas that he recited the Sahīh of imām Muslim upon his shaykh Ibn al-Kuwayk (d. 821 AH) in five sessions. As-Sakhāwi elaborated further that this amounted to approximately two and a bit days. As-Sakhāwi said in “al-Jawāhir” that Ibn Hajr recited “as-Sunan al-Kubrā” of imām an-Nasā’i in ten sessions, each session lasting approximately four hours, finishing from it in crowd consisting of the noble and the imams on the Day of ‘Āshūrā’ of 814 AH. Please note that there are almost 12000 ahadīth in this book! As-Sakhāwi also said in al-Jawāhir that Ibn Hajr recited as-Sunan of imām Ibn Mājah in four sessions. Ibn Hajr mentioned in his al-Majma‘ al-Mu’assas during the biography of ‘Umar b. Muhammad b. Ahmad al-Bālisi (as-Sālihi) that he himself recited “al-Mu‘jam as-Saghīr” of imām at-Tabarāni upon the shaykh in a single session between Zhuhr and ‘Asr – Ibn Hajr’s students considered this was the fastest the shaykh had ever recited, especially as there are approximately 1500 ahadīth therein!
Thoughts and reflections on the maqra’ah
Shaykh ‘Ali explained to us that shaykh al-Qasimi read the Sahih Sittah twice during his studies after concluding years of study at the madāris he attended. We actually read the Muwatta and the Shama’il in the beginning of our studies, the other way around, subhanallah.
I felt like following in the footsteps of previous tullāb ul-‘ilm and seekers of hadith who travelled hundreds of kilometres to gather and listen to ahādith. And the fact that there were students from other countries even strengthened this feeling more. This was very special. The fact someone travelled all the way from the U.S.A. to listen to ahādith reminded me of classical times and the likes of imam al-Bukhari and Fatimah bint Qays, may Allah be pleased with them, just to mention two examples. The reason I mention Fatimah bint Qays is I attended shaykh Akram an-Nadwi’s course on women hadith scholars the day before the maqra’ah.
I spoke with shaykh ‘Ali and we both thought we should revive or rather introduce the maqra’ah in the Netherlands. This would be a unique and historical event in the Netherlands, where this phenomenon is not known at all. The fact another Dutch brother and me attended this maqra’ah, as what you could call the only representatives of the Netherlands, feels kind of special. Out of almost 1 million Muslims in the Netherlands Allah chose us to be there. To realize you are most probably the two only Muslims in a tiny country like the Netherlands who have such a high/short sanad going back to the Prophet s.a.w.s. makes me feel very blessed indeed and at the same time it humbles me.
Next to this -after having obtained some few ijāzāt next to the ones received at this maqra’ah- I (as a poor and weak slave of Allah) realize I need to bring the sunnah more alive in my own life and that of others around me. I possess something very valuable which can not be expressed in material things, which will be part of my (family) heritage (after I leave this world), which needs to be passed on and guarded carefully. That will be the legacy I leave behind bi idhnillah.
Another thing is that I felt more part of the Prophetic heritage than ever, more connected to Islam and the Prophet s.a.w.s. than ever before. I felt part of something that brings life back to the sunnah, revives the sunnah.
Sometimes we come across people who claim the Hanafi madhhab disregards the ahādith while after a maqra’ah you are assured this is not the case at all. The scholars from the Hanafi madhhab from the subcontintent are at the forefront of the study and preservation of the hadith collections.
Tips for students who want to attend future maqra’at
– Take your copy of the book, even if accompanied by the English translation. It is better to try and read with the reciter. This also improves your concentration and focus. Solely listening without text is harder.
– Learn Arabic properly. Attending a maqra’ah is definitely an incentive for learning and studying Arabic.
– Check your intention(s). Remember the first hadith in the famous collection of imam an-Nawawi rahimahullah: “Actions are based on the intentions behind them (…).”
With this I ask Allah to bless and forgive all attendees of the maqra’ah and to enlighten their hearts with love for and knowledge of Allah and His Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.s.. I also ask Allah to make more of these maqra’at possible all over the world. This in light of what Jonathan Brown (in the introduction of his dissertation “The Canonization of al-Bukhari and Muslim”) calls “reinforcing a sense of Sunni communalism” amongst the different groups and sects out there, as instigated by the great Nizam al-Mulk rahimahullah when he organized a reading of Sahih al-Bukhari.
Lastly I end with one of the last sayings of the version of the Muwatta of al-Laythi where Luqman al-Hakim radiy Allahu ‘anhu advises his son: “My (dear) son! Sit with the learned men (‘ulama) and keep close to them. Allah gives life to the hearts with the light of wisdom as Allah gives life to the dead earth with the abundant rain of the sky.” (Kitāb ul-‘Ilmi, Bāb ma ja’a fi talabi’l-‘ilmi)
 For some videos of a previous maqra’ah, see here: http://cordobaacademy.lefora.com/2011/12/28/maqraah/#post0
 About the importance of the sanad see: http://cordobaacademy.lefora.com/2011/06/15/the-uniqueness-and-importance-of-isnaad/ and: https://baytulhikma.wordpress.com/2011/12/28/the-importance-of-isnad/
 See Bilal Philips, Usool al-Hadeeth, pag. 159.
 On the different versions of the Muwatta see: http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Hadith/muwatta.html
 See: http://kitaabun.com/shopping3/product_info.php?products_id=353 This is the link to buy the English translation of “The Muwatta of Imam Muhammad” as it is called. There is also an Engish translation of the version of al-Laythi by Aisha Bewley.
 See Scott Kugle, Rebel between Spirit and Law; Ahmad Zarruq, Sainthood, and Authority in Islam, pp. 61-64.
 This commentary can be read online here: http://www.tamilislamicaudio.com/download/Books/Shamaail-e-Tirmidhi.pdf