A Brief Biographical Sketch of Imām Dhahabī
By Muhammad Bilal Khizar
(4th Year Alim Student, DarusSalam Seminary)
Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad b. Aḥmad b. ʿUthmān b. Qāymāz al-Dhahabī was born on the 3rd of Rabīʿ al-Awwal in AH 673. He was born in Damascus and grew up in a righteous home. His grandfather was a carpenter. And his father, Shihāb al-Dīn Aḥmad, worked as a goldsmith. From his father’s profession, he took the ascription “al-Dhahabī.”
Dhahabī’s father was very religious and affluent. He married the daughter of Abū Bakr Sanjār b. ʿAbd Allāh, who was originally from Mosul. His father ardently loved sacred knowledge. It is said that his knowledge and character gave him such a status that when he died the people felt compelled to attend his funeral. This shows that Dhahabī grew up in a religious atmosphere and was exposed to knowledge from a young age.
Dhahabī commenced his journey in pursuit of knowledge (ar. riḥlah) at the age of eighteen. He loved to travel. However, his father did not like him going far, and sometimes he would prevent him from doing so. Dhahabī mentioned in his biography of Abū al-Faraj ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. ʿAbd al-Laṭīf: “I really wanted to travel to him, but I could not because of my father.” In Maʿrifat al-Qurrāʾ, he said: “He was unique among his peers. I really wanted to travel to him but did not out of fear of my father. He prevented me from traveling.”
Thus, even though Dhahabī had a burning desire to meet these scholars and benefit from them, he did not go against his father’s wishes. His father granted him permission to go on journeys for four-month durations when he turned twenty. And then, he traveled to many places including the Hejaz, Ramallah, Balabak, and Cairo.
He focused on studying the subjects of qirāʾāt and ḥadīth. He studied qirāʾāt under Jamāl al-Dīn Abū Isḥāq, who was a student of Sakhāwī. However, during this time his teacher became hemiplegic. And when Dhahabī had nearly completed his readings, Jamāl al-Dīn’s condition worsened to the extent that students were not allowed to recite to him. He passed away soon after, and Dhahabī’s studies were left incomplete. Thereafter, Dhahabī resumed under the tutelage of Ibn Jibrīl al-Miṣrī. He also recited to Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad b. Jawhar and to Abū Bakr al-Mursī.
While studying qirāʾāt, Dhahabī began to develop an interest in ḥadīth. He met many ḥadīth scholars and spent most of his life in this pursuit. This is the main subjects in which he authored countless books that would become indispensable references works.
From the many scholars that Dhahabī studied with, three are his main teachers. They are: Mizzī, Ibn Taymiyyah, and al-Burzulī. He kept a good relationship with them throughout his life.
Dhahabī is one of the most prolific writers in Islām. He wrote in many subjects, including qirāʾāt, ḥadīth, theology, legal theory, jurisprudence, and history. His numerous works are invaluable references for scholars and students, even today. His brilliance and proficiency are known and recognized by those who continue to benefit from his thought.
Even his contemporaries acknowledged his abilities. In Ṭabaqāt al-Shāfīʿiyyat al-Kubrā, Ibn al-Subkī said: “Dhahabī is our shaykh, teacher, and the greatest muḥaddith of the era.” Ibn Kathīr, who was his contemporary, said: “He was an eminent scholar and a historian, the leader of the ḥadīth scholars.” Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī said: “He was an expert in ḥadīth and wrote so much that he was the most prolific author of his time.”
He passed away on the 3rd of Dhū al-Qaʿdah in AH 748. Many great scholars attended his funeral, including Imām Subkī and others.
 Aʿlām, 3:7.
 Tadhkirat al-Huffāẓ, 1:29.
 Ibid, 1:24.
 Ibid, 1:24-25.
 Siyar, 1:20-23.
 Mizān al-Iʿtidāl, 1:26.
 al-Mughnī, 1:4-5.
 Siyar, 1:73.