Matan al-Arba’in is another one of Imam Nawawi’s great books which have stood the test of time. For more than 800 years, this collection of Forty Hadith has lighted the path of believers “whose hope is in Allah and the Last Day". Each of the Hadith included in this collection sets forth one of the fundamental points of Islam and is a sahih Hadith taken mostly from the Sahihayn of al-Bukhari and Muslim. The English translation is published as a service to the students and ordinary people who are not well grounded in Arabic.
Imam Nawawi collected and sourced these 40 Hadiths back to one of the sahabaeen (companions of the Prophet Muhammad (saw), which was no small task. From the whole corpus of our Hadith literature, his efforts to make it reachable to non-scholarly Muslims by selecting these 40 crucial Hadiths have benefitted us since then. May Allah reward him abundantly, Amin.
I will start a class based on this book next week. Students of the class are also warned to read the text prior to class and to think through the issues prior to the class. There will be so much to cover, hence preparation will be crucial.
Our intentions of studying this book are various. Whatever it may be, the benefits are tremendous. It is instructive to read from an Introduction by Imam Nawawi taken from this Book:
It has been transmitted to us on the authority of Ali bin Abi Talib, Abdullah bin Masud, Muadh bin Jabal, Abu Al-Darda, Ibn Omar, Ibn Abbas, Anas bin Malik, Abu Hurairah and Abu Saeed Al-Khudri, may Allah be pleased with them all, through many chains of authorities and in various versions, that the messenger of Allah said: "Whosoever memorises and preserves for my people forty hadith relating to their religion, Allah will resurrect him on the Day of Judgment in the company of jurists and religious scholars".
In another version it reads: "Allah will resurrect him as a jurist and religious scholar". In the version of Abu Al-Darda it reads: "On the Day of Judgment I shall be an intercessor and a witness for him". In the version of Ibn Masud it reads: "It will be said to him: Enter by whichever of the doors of Paradise you wish". In the version of Ibn Omar it reads: "He will be written down in the company of the religious scholars and will be resurrected in the company of the martyrs".
Scholars of hadith agreed that it is a weak hadith despite its many lines of transmission... I have asked Allah Almightly for guidance in bringing together forty hadith in emulation of those eminent religious leaders and guardians of Islam. Religious scholars are agreed it is permissible to put into practice a weak hadith if virtuous deeds are concerned; despite this, I do not rely on this hadith but on his having said the [following] sound hadith: "Let him who was a witness among you inform him who was absent", and on his having said: "May Allah make radiant [the face of] someone who has heard what I have said, has learnt it by heart and has transmitted it as he heard it".
Furthermore, there were some religious scholars who brought together forty hadiths on the basic rules of religion, on subsidiary matters, or on jihad, while others did so on asceticism, on rules of conduct or on sermons. All these are godly aims-may Allah be pleased with those who pursued them. I, however, considered it best to bring together forty hadith more important than all of these, being forty hadith which would incorporate all of these, each hadith being one of the great precepts of religion, described by religious scholars as being "the axis of Islam " or "the half of Islam" or "the third of it", or the like, and to make it a rule that these forty hadith be [classified as] sound and that the majority of them be in the sahihs of Al-Bukhari and Muslim. I give them without the chains of authorities so as to make it easier to memorise them and to make them of wider benefit if Allah Almighty wills... On Allah do I rely and depend and to Him do I entrust myself; to Him be praise and grace, and with Him is success and immunity [to errors]."