Who Is A Greater Scholar? An Nawawee or Albani ?

By Shaykh Mashhoor bin Hasan Aal Salmaan
Taken from a fataawaa session of Shaykh Mashhoor bin Hasan Aal Salmaan that was held during the month of Shai’baan 1424 hijri at Masjid al-Albaanee, Ammaan, Jordan

Question: Some people say that an-Nawaawee is a greater scholar then al-Albaanee, whereas others say that al-Albaanee is a greater scholar than an-Nawaawee, what is your opinion regarding this?

Answer: Brothers first of all mufaadalah (i.e. making comparisons) between the scholars has its principles and it has its fiqh. The messenger (sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) indicated to some of these principles, and many people delve into al-mufadalaat (making comparisons) without knowledge and thus make horrendous mistakes, and the most repugnant kind of al-mufadalaat (making comparisons) is that the one who is hearing such speech thinks that the one whom the others are given precedence above is a person who lacks merits. Hence when the messenger (sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) heard a man preferring him over Yunus ibn Matta, he (sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “One should not say I am better than Yunus Ibn Matta.” In spite of that fact that Allaah stated, “Those Messengers! We preferred some to others.” However, the messenger (sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) refused to be given preference – why? Some of the people of knowledge have said he (sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said this because the one who was not given the higher preference may feel that he is a person worthy of criticism. Thus it is not permissible for the one who was not given higher preference to think that the one who was given preference above him is better than him. In general those who came before us are better than us, this is generally speaking not individually. Al-mufaadalah (making comparisons) between two scholars can be limited to one science, or it can be that in a manner that this scholar is better than these two scholars. As for comparison between contemporaries, then this is not an easy matter especially since the scholars have a principle that states whoever extols his Shaykh it is as if he has extolled himself. Meaning that whenever a student constantly praises his Shaykh he is in realty praising himself because the Shaykh in regards to the student is like his father, so just as a person exaggerates in the praise of his Shaykh, likewise is the one who exaggerates in the praise of his father. Our Shaykh (Muhammad Naasir-ud-Deen al-Albaanee – rahimahullaah) specialized in a field and advanced in it in a manner I don not think any one after al-Haafidh ibn Hajar has done, and after al-Haafidh ibn Hajar I don’t think that anyone has excelled Shaykh al-Albaanee in service of the ‘ilm of hadeeth. With regards to the Shaykh there are those who elevate him above his status and there are those who put him below his level and this group is incorrect just as the other is incorrect. In one of the gatherings of our Shaykh, I heard a person tell him that he is like Shaykh-ul-Islaam ibn Taymiyyah, so he became extremely angry and he said that, “I am a taalib-ul-‘ilm.” Our Shaykh always used to say that I am a taalib-ul-‘ilm. He died (rahimahullaah) in his eighties and of that age he spent more than sixty in service of the hadeeth of the messenger (sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), yet still he stated about himself, “I am a taalib-ul-‘ilm.” Today one of us reads a small book and he becomes a scholar, he places himself above other scholars, and he begins to make comparisons between them – You are in a state of peace and ease, what made you do that? You are in a state of ease, remain there and not make things hard for yourself. I heard some people say that Shaykh al-Albaanee has more understanding than other scholars of hadeeth such as Abu Dawood and others – why? Because in his Sunan there are ahaadeeth that are weak and that the Shaykh (i.e. al-Albaanee) does not put weak hadeeth in his books. I said: Subhaan’Allaah this is jahl, this is jahl with regards to the methodology of the scholars. One of the best things Abu Dawood did with his Sunan was to place weak ahaadeeth in his book, he placed these ahaadeeth based on a methodology – a very scholarly one. Abu Dawood did not just place any hadeeth in his book, rather he would write chapter headings, e.g. “The Chapter: Blood nullifies wudu.”

This is as if he is saying to you; what I have mentioned here in my book are the strongest hadeeth in every chapter. It is possible that this hadeeth can be the only one chosen amongst thousands of ahaadeeth. Thus, if Abu Dawood mentions a hadeeth under a chapter heading and it is not authentic, know that those that he did not mention are even weaker. This is a very good deed that those in our present times are unable to achieve – why? Because the ahaadeeth during those times were narrated verbally in the gatherings of knowledge and those scholars travelled the earth and categorized the ahaadeeth. As for those who came after them, then the ahaadeeth that they narrate is based on what they found in manuscripts or in books, so what they find they try to utilize it in the best manner possible. Thus the merits of those who came before remains, especially the distinguished Imaams, and at the head of them the authors of as-Saheehayn (al-Bukhari and Muslim), the Sunan (Abu Dawood, at-Tirmidhi and ibn Majah) with which we are all familiar with. Hence, in order for a taalib-ul-‘ilm to distinguish himself he must know the methodology of these authors. So we say that Saheeh al-Bukhari is the most authentic book after the book of our Lord – how is this? What do we know about al-Bukhari? We do not want to know about al-Bukhari simply for the sake of knowing about him, but we want to know about his book which we proudly claim is the most authentic book after the Qur’aan al-Kareem. We want to know about Muslim and the methodology of his book, which is the most authentic book after al-Bukhari, for the fiqh of the Muslim hinges around these books, and all the matters of halaal and haraam are in these books. Thus we must know the methodology of these scholars, then we would be seeking knowledge in the proper manner, and then we would have a proper understanding of the capacity of the scholars.

The scholars are of different categories, and if any mufaadalah (making comparisons) takes place between them, then this should be done by some one who is extremely knowledgeable, and the one who hears this should not think that by giving one scholar a higher preference than the other that this is belittling the status of the one who was given lesser preference. Also, if there is no benefit behind the mufaadalah (making comparisons), then staying away from it is better, however if there is a benefit then this is ok. In most cases any mufaadalah (making comparisons) that the scholars make amongst themselves occurs amongst contemporaries, and every age has its means of knowing (who is better then who). As for mufaadalah (making comparisons) between those who came before and those who came after, then this is very difficult. They say: perfection is rare and it is possible that it does not exist, and from what I have noticed from those scholars whom I have met is that they are basically two categories, and for every category they have their merits, good, and barakah within them. The first category is the one that inclines to memorization, and if you hear what they have memorized, you will say Subhaan’Allaah to the One who gave this gift.