The Kitâb al-Âthâr (Book of Traditions) was the first book composed in Islam after the generation of the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad (ṣallâ Allâhu ʿalayhi wasallam). The author Imâm Abû Ḥanîfah (d.150/767) was the first to record the science of Islamic law and organise it in to chapters systematically. The version translated here from the original Arabic by Abdassamad Clarke is the one narrated by his student, Imâm Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan ash-Shaybânî (d. 189/805).
The publishers, Turtah Publishing have added a preface and introduction to the work which includes a biography of Imâm Abû Ḥanîfah and Imâm Muḥammad ash-Shaybânî as well as additional information on the structure of the book, the technical usage employed by Imâm Muḥammad in addition to other useful information such as the types of hadith and the history of taqlîd (to follow or to imitate). The contents are detailed and well laid out. The only modification of the book, Kitâb al-Âthâr, itself is the inclusion of chapter headings i.e. Purification, Prayer, Fasting etc which makes it easier to navigate and read. The publishers have also included footnotes sourcing the hadith from the classical works of hadith in addition to adding commentary where necessary to expand upon a narration which is extremely useful for explanatory purposes. The appendices found at the end of this book are excellent. There is a whole chapter listing cases in which Imâm Muḥammad ash-Shaybânî and/or Imâm Abû Ḥanîfah differed from Ibrâhîm an-Nakha'î (d. 96/715) or some of the Companions. There is also an appendix listing the narrations from other than Imâm Abû Ḥanîfah as well as a rijâl listing the narrators and the major hadith collectors who transmitted their hadith. The Index is very useful and has been arranged by verdicts of the Companions and Early Muslims as well as listed by subject. Both are very helpful.
The Kitâb al-Âthâr is composed of twenty chapters (not including the publishers preface, introduction and appendices) which are as follows:
1) Purification 2) The Prayer 3) Fasting 4) Zakâh 5) The Book of Rites (of Hajj) 6) Imân 7) Marriage 8) Divorce 9) Compensatory Payments and Retaliation 10) Ḥadd Punishments 11) Testimony 12) Inheritance and Bequests 13) Oaths and Vows 14) Sales 15) Legal Judgements 16) Sacrifices and Slaughtering Animals 17) Food and Drink 18) Clothing 19) Jihad 20) Miscellaneous
The narrations begin with the original Arabic and are followed by the English translation. They are dictated by Imâm Muḥammad ash-Shaybânî from his teacher Imâm Abû Ḥanîfah. This importantly includes the isnad i.e. chain of narration as given by Imâm Muḥammad ash-Shaybânî for each and every narration. The imâm then comments on the juristic rulings drawn from each narration within the context of the teachings of Imâm Abû Ḥanîfah. He concludes each narration with his comments in which he may concur with the ruling or he may disagree and state his alternative opinion or he may agree with the ruling by adding something to it. Here is an example where student (Imâm Muḥammad ash-Shaybânî) and teacher (Imâm Abû Ḥanîfah) disagree with the teacher (Ibrâhîm an-Nakha'î) of their teacher (Ḥammâd ibn Abi Sulaymân (d.120/738)):
"124. Muhammad said, "Abû Ḥanîfah informed us from Ḥammâd that Ibrâhîm said, `If one wakes up in the morning without having done the witr then there is no witr.'"
Muhammad said, "We do not adhere to this. One does the witr in any case except at that time at which prayer is abhorrent; when the sun rises, in the middle of the day up until the declination, or at the redness of sunset until it has set. That is the verdict of Abû Ḥanîfah.""
This was a common occurrence during the formative period of Islamic law [alternative opinions]. There are even instances where Imâm Muḥammad ash-Shaybânî respectfully disagrees on certain rulings with his teacher Imâm Abû Ḥanîfah [and other Imâms], though that being the case he still maintained allegiance to his authority, School and methodology.
It should be understood that a majority of traditions found in this work are from the Companions (ṣaḥâbah) or from the Followers (tâbi`ûn) or from the Followers of the Followers (tâbi' tâbi`ûn). Hence most of them are mawqûf narrations i.e. stopping short at the Companions or Followers without being ascribed to the Prophet Muhammad (ṣallâ Allâhu ʿalayhi wasallam). This is in addition to mursal traditions (ascribed to the Prophet Muhammad (ṣallâ Allâhu ʿalayhi wasallam) but stopping short at a Follower without mention of the Companion) which were accepted as authoritative by Imâm Abû Ḥanîfah and Imâm Mâlik ibn Anas (d.179/795) as well as their contemporaries. As Imâm Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabarî (d. 310/923) has stated, "The Followers were absolutely unanimously agreed upon the acceptability of mursal hadith, and we have no transmission from any of them rejecting it nor from any of the imâms after them until the end of the second century." Regardless, it should be noted that Imâm Abû Ḥanîfah only accepted ṣaḥîḥ traditions from trustworthy narrators as found in this work.
I gained a lot from this book and even had answers to questions I didn't even know I had! For example, in a state of wuḍûʼ, you may end up tasting some food. It is common practice to then rinse your mouth and not have the need to renew your wuḍûʼ. However, I didn't ever ask or know the source of this practice. There is a narration in this work where the Messenger of Allah (ṣallâ Allâhu ʿalayhi wasallam) was brought some meat which he tasted and then he called for some water. He washed his hands and rinsed his mouth without renewing wuḍûʼ. Though some may just follow this action as logic or common practice as I previously did, I believe as a Muslim we should know why we follow certain practices or acts so that they are not mere rituals/practices and this is where fiqh works come to life. This book will assist in that department however the most effective and correct method to achieve this is by learning at the hands of a teacher/scholar.
Overall, this is an excellent work and much needed English translation. The book consists of over seven hundred pages and is of very good quality. It is easy to read and contains invaluable knowledge whether you follow the Ḥanafî fiqh or not. It is of immense value. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this work and I will no doubt refer to it in the future too. The translation by Abdassamad Clarke is solid and the commentary where applicable by Ḥâfiz Riyâd Ahmad al-Multâni in the footnotes is accommodating. The preface, introduction and appendices are commendable and add important information to the work. It is a foundational historical Ḥanafî fiqh text. If you have any interest in fiqh or the very first collections of hadith then I would recommend you purchase this book.