Imam Tirmidhi began the study of Hadith at the age of twenty, and from the year 235 A.H. he traveled widely, in pursuit of learning Hadith, to Hijaz, Kufa and Basra. Tirmidhi heard Hadith from the following most eminent traditionists, Imam Qutaiba b. Sa’id, Imam Bukhari, Imam Muslim and Imam Abu Dawud.
Imam Bukhari’s extreme regard for Imam Tirmidhi is evidenced in his statement, “I have benefited more from you than you have benefited from Me”. The high respect in which Imam Tirmidhi was held, is evident by the fact that Imam Bukhari received a few traditions from him. Imam Tirmidhi narrated one tradition from Imam Muslim in the “Chapter of Fasting” in his Jami’. Imam Tirmidhi also received traditions from Imam Abu Dawud, one of which is in the “Chapter on Hagiology” in his Jami’.
Imam Bukhari’s influence on Imam Tirmidhi is apparent in the field of jurisprudence. In that he (Imam Tirmidhi), generally abstained from mentioning Abu Hanifa’s (d.150 A.H.) name. This procedure was used by Imam Bukhari in his Sahih. Furthermore, Imam Tirmidhi used Imam Bukhari’s Kitab al-Tarikh as a source and standard for mentioning the discrepancies in the text of the traditions or the transmitters. Imam Tirmidhi in a personal statement lavished great praise upon Imam Bukhari by declaring him as being the most learned person in Iraq or Khurasan in the science of discrepancies of Hadith.
Imam Tirmidhi has maintained the following conditions:
- The traditions of any narrator who persistently commits errors in transmitting a Hadith or is considered weak due to his unmindfulness or weak memory, will not be cited in evidence.
- It is not permissible to narrate a Hadith from persons who fabricate traditions.
- The ahadith in the Jami’ are divided in four categories. The first category consists of those ahadith which fulfill the conditions of Imam Bukhari and/or Imam Muslim. The second category consists of those ahadith which comply with the conditions of Imam Abu Dawud or Imam Nasa’i. The third category are those ahadith that have certain discrepancies either in the text or Sanad. The fourth type of traditions are those mentioned by Imam Tirmidhi, in spite of their weakness, as some jurists relied on them. Imam Tirmidhi was the only one amongst the six canonical traditionists, who quotes ahadith from the fourth category unhesitatingly, whilst Imam Abu Dawud also quotes from the fourth category but confines himself to the famous reporters of this category. The reporters who belong to the fourth category are persons who are truthful but have the tendency to speculate.
- Imam Tirmidhi has applied the term Mursal Hadith where a reporter between the successor and the Prophet (SAW) is missing or where a reporter other than a companion is missing. To the later traditionists, the second type of Hadith is known as Munqati’ (broken). Even a Mursal Hadith is valid according to Imam Tirmidhi when supported by a Hadith with an uninterrupted Sanad. In Imam Tirmidhi’s opinion the majority of the scholars when classifying a tradition as Mursal consider it as weak. They have done so because Mursal narrations are narrated through either reliable or unreliable reporters and due to this doubt a precautionary stance is taken by classifying Mursal as weak.
- Imam Tirmidhi accepts a Hadith conveyed by the usage of ‘an (from), if the reporter is proved to be the contemporary of the one from whom he is reporting, unlike Bukhari, who as already mentioned, requires the meeting of both persons as well.
- Imam Tirmidhi did not specify several conditions for the acceptance of Ahadith, since he included those traditions that were utilized by the jurists.