Forty Hadiths

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Forty hadiths or Al-Arbaʿūn ḥadīth (Arabic: الأربعون حديثاً) or Arbaʿīnīyyāt (Arabic: أربعينيات) is a general title for books that contain forty hadiths, usually along with their commentary. Books of forty hadiths emerged at the end of the 2nd/8th century and continued along. Due to the famous hadith from the Prophet (s) which encourages the Muslims to memorize forty hadiths that they need, the tradition of writing "al-Arba'un hadith" became common among Sunni, Shi'a, and Sufi scholars. Scholars of hadith (Muhaddiths) compiled their works of al-Arba'un on various topics such as: theology, hadith, exegesis of the Qur'an, mysticism, history, society, and ethics. One of the most famous contemporary book of this kind is "Chihil Hadith" by Imam Khomeini.

The Prophet's (s) Saying about Memorizing Forty Hadiths

The tradition of writing books of forty hadiths, takes root from a famous hadith from the Prophet (s) which encourages the Muslims to memorize (preserve) forty hadiths that they need in their life. The above-mentioned hadith reads, "whoever from my community (Umma) memorizes forty hadiths that they (Muslims) need in their religious issues, Allah will resurrect him as a knowledgeable scholar on the Judgment Day." However the hadith is narrated by different words and sometimes shorter or longer in hadith collections.

This hadith is very well-received among Shi'a scholars. In Shi'a sources, the connotation of the hadith is accounted as mashhur (famous), mustafid (reported by at least three narrators) and even mutawatir (reported numerously). Although the chain of narrators of this hadith was considered as unreliable in some Sunni sources, they pay attention to this hadith and act according to it, too.

Hadith scholars believe that the word "Hafiza" (Arabic: حَفِظَ, preserve) in this hadith has apparent and hidden denotations. Apparent denotations are: memorizing, writing, transferring, protection from alteration and distortion, teaching, correction and learning hadith. The hidden meanings are: thinking and pondering in hadiths, deducing the rulings (ahkam) and teachings of Islam and acting according to hadiths.

Baha' al-Din al-'Amili believed that what "they (Muslims) need in their religious issues" includes both hadiths about theology or the way of worship and hadiths about worldly affairs, such as earning money and overcoming the enemy. Al-'Allama al-Majlisi, however, said that it does not include hadiths about worldly affairs (mu'amilat) and rulings. Also, it is said that the phrase "God will resurrect him as a knowledgeable scholar on the Day of Judgment" means he will be considered among jurists who are knowledgeable and righteous.


2nd/8th Century

Tradition of compilation of al-Arba'un hadith book began in the late 2nd/8th century. The oldest known work which is titled as al-Arba'un, was apparently written by 'Abd Allah b. Mubarak al-Marwazi. But the oldest available al-Arba'un book is al-Arba'in 'an al-mashayikh 'an al-arba'in sahabiyya (published in Beirut, 1410/1989) written by Muhammad b. Aslam al-Tusi.

4th/10th Century

In the 4th/10th century Abu l-'Abbas al-Hasan b. Sufyan al-Nasawy wrote the book al-Arba'un containing social and moral hadiths, and Abu Bakr, Muhammad b. Husayn al-Ajuri (d. 360/971) wrote the book al-Arba'un haditha containing hadiths about theology, ethics, and rulings.

5th/11th Century

In the 5th/11th century the current of writing al-Arba'un books became common among Sufis. Significant works such as al-Arba'in fi l-tasawwuf containing hadiths about Sufi ranks and levels by Abu 'Abd al-Rahman al-Sulami, al-Arba'in fi shuyukh al-sufiyya by Abu Sa'id Ahmad b. Muhammad Malini and al-Arba'in 'ala madhhab al-mutahaqqiqin min al-sufiyya containing hadiths about the stages that a Sufi should pass by Abu Nu'aym al-Isfahani were written. Al-Arba'in al-wada'aniya by Abu Nasr Muhammad b. 'Ali, known as Ibn Wad'an, is counted among the important al-Arba'uns written in the 5th/11th century.

In some al-Arba'uns, hadiths about the merits of Ahl al-Bayt (a) were the main topic, such as: al-Arba'in fi fada'il al-Abbas (a) by Abu l-Qasim Hamza b. Yusuf al-Sahmi. Also, one of the famous al-Arba'uns in this regard is al-Arba'in fi fada'il al-Zahra (a) authored by Abu Salih Ahmad b. 'Abd al-Malik al-Nisaburi the book was available to Ibn Shahrashub and in some cases, he quoted from it.

By the development of theology, al-Arba'uns of hadiths related to the roots of faith (Usul al-Din) and beliefs were compiled. For instance al-Arba'in fi dala'il al-tawhid authored by Abu Isma'il 'Abd Allah b. Muhammad al-Hirawi (d. 481/1088) which is a commentary of forty hadiths in forty chapters, about the Divine names and attributes.

6th/12th Century

Diversity of the subjects, considering theology issues, Jihad and Imam 'Ali's (a) merits and virtues characterize the al-Arba'uns compiled in the 6th/12th century. Al-Arba'in fi fada'il Amir al-Mu'minin (a) by Muwaffaq b. Ahmad al-Khwarazmi, known as Akhtab Khwarazm, is one of al-Arba'un books of this century which is listed among sources Ibn Shahrashub has used.

Another common style of writing al-Arba'un in this century, was civic al-Arba'un. In this style, scholars of hadith gathered forty hadiths from forty masters from forty cities. Apparently, the first work in this field is al-Arba'in al-Buldaniyya written by Abu Tahir, Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Silafi al-Isfahani. Some of other civic al-Arba'uns are: Al-Arba'in al-Buldaniyya 'an Arba'in min Arba'in li-Arba'in fi Arba'in written by Ibn 'Asakir al-Dimashqi and al-Arba'in al-Buldaniyya by Shams al-Din Muhammad b. Ahmad b. 'Uthman al-Dhahabi.

Some of the most important al-Arba'un hadiths in the 6th/12th century are the followings:

7th/13th Century

Al-Arba'in al-Nawawiyya by Yahya b. Sharaf al-Nawawi

Moral, social and mystical subjects made up the most common subjects of al-Arba'un books in 7th/13th century. Some of the most important al-Arba'uns in this century are:

  • Al-'Arba'in fi l-jihad wa al-mujahidun; written by Muhammad b. 'Abd al-Rahman al-Muqri.
  • Sharh al-arba'in hadith; written by Sadr al-Din al-Qunawi.
  • Al-Arba'in hadith or al-Arba'in min al-arba'in 'an al-arba'in; written by Sadr al-Din Abu 'Ali, al-Hasan b. Muhammad al-Bakri which is a masterpiece in al-Arba'un books.
  • Al-Arba'un hadithan al-Nawawiyya fi l-ahadith al-Nabawiyya; written by Yahya b. Sharaf al-Nawawi. Numerous commentaries have been written on this book.

9-10th/15-16th Centuries

Writing al-Arba'uns peaked up in 9th/15th and 10th/16th centuries. These two centuries are counted as the time of authoring, summarizing, and explaining books about history, hadith and tafsir. The most famous al-Arba'uns in this period are:

Also, some al-Arba'uns were written in verse. For example, Nur al-Din 'Abd al-Rahman Jami, the mystic and poet of the 9th/15th century, quoted forty short hadiths of the Prophet (s) in verse.

Among Shi'a

Writing al-Arba'un books among Shi'a has a historical background. The oldest existent work in this field is al-Arba'in 'an al-arba'in fi fada'il Amir al-Mu'minin (a) written by Abu Muhammad 'Abd al-Rahman b. Ahmad al-Khuza'i al-Nishaburi. Arba'un hadith fi fada'il Amir al-Mu'minin (a) by Muhammad b. Abu Muslim b. Abu l-Fawaris, a muhaddith of the 6th/12th century, is also one of the oldest Shi'a al-Arba'uns. In this book, the author has mentioned when and where he heard each hadith from his masters.

Muntajab al-Din al-Razi (d. After 585/1189), is another Shi'a scholar, who has written a book under the title: al-'Arba'un hadithan 'an arba'in shaykhan min arba'in sahabiyyan. Rafi'i Qazwini reported that the author read this book for him in 584/1188. Also, one of al-Arba'uns compiled before establishment of Safavid Dynasty, is al-Arba'un hadith written by Muhammad b. Makki al-'Amili known as al-Shahid al-Awwal. There is another book with the same title written by al-Fadil al-Miqdad al-Suyuri al-Hilli.

Arba'in al-Hashimiyya by Sayyida Nusrat Amin
Forty Hadiths by Imam Khomeini, translated by Mahliqa Qara'i. The author narrates the hadith first then provides ethical and mystical points and advices under each hadith.

Safavid Era

With establishment of Safavid Dynasty and immigration of scholars from Jabal 'Amil to Iran, the science of hadith made a tremendous progress among Shi'a. As a result, a new trend began in writing of al-Arba'uns. Some scholars of Jabal 'Amil, such as al-Husayn b. 'Abd al-Samad al-'Amili (d. 984/1576) and his son Baha' al-Din al-'Amili, authored some al-Arba'uns. Al-Arba'un haditha by Baha' al-Din al-'Amili and al-Arba'un by al-'Allama al-Majlisi are the two most important and note-worthy al-Arba'uns of this period.

Important al-Arba'uns in the 12th/18th Century

Some of the most important al-Arba'uns in the 12th/18th century are:

Important al-Arba'uns in the 13th/19th Century

Also some al-Arba'uns were written in the 13th/19th century, such as:

Important Contemporary al-Arba'uns

Some of the most important al-Arba'uns among Shi'a in the present time are:

Some al-Arba'uns written by contemporary Sunni scholars are: Al-Arba'un al-buldaniyya, arba'un hadithan 'an arba'in shaykhan min arba'in balada and al-Arba'un hadithan min arba'in kitaban 'an arba'in shaykha both written by Abu l-Fayd Muhammad Yasin b. 'Isa al-Fadani al-Makki.

Sources about al-Arba'un Books

Ibn 'Asakir, Haji Khalifa, I'jaz Husayn Kanturi, Aqa Buzurg Tihrani, and 'Atiyya have compiled separated lists of Arba'ins.


  • The material for writing this article has been mainly taken from چهل حدیث in Farsi wikishia.