هَتَفَ العِلمُ بالعمَلِ فَإنْ أجابَهُ وإلّا ارْتَحَلَ (رواه السيوطي في جياد المسلسلات بإسناد فيه رجال مجهولون)
‘Knowledge calls out to action. If it responds to it [then it stays], but otherwise it departs.” [ʿAli ibn Abi Talib, d. 661CE]
This is the last narration in Suyuti’s (d. 1505CE) compilation Jiyad al-Musalsalat. The musalsalat genre in hadith comprises narrations whose isnads (chains of narration) contain a pattern repeated at multiple generations in the chain, e.g. each narrator having the same name, or performing the same action while narrating the hadith.
The most common musalsal hadith is the ‘Hadith of Firstness,’ “The merciful ones will be treated mercifully by the Source of Mercy (God). Be merciful to those upon the earth, [that] [God] who is in (i.e. above) Heaven be merciful to you.” Since the time of Sufyan ibn ʿ Uyayna (d. 815CE / 198H), it has been a tradition that the “hadith of Firstness” be the first hadith that a student hears from his hadith teacher.
The above quote from ʿAli has 9 successive narrators each saying, “My father told me that ….” Most of these hadiths have weak chains of narration. The above quote from Ali contains a number of narrators about whom we do not know much (i.e. we don’t know how reliable they were). The most reliable (sahih) musalsal hadith is that it which each narrator recites Surat al-Saff after narrating the hadith.
Suyuti compiled 85 musalsal narrations in his book al-Musalsalat al-Kubra, and then selected 25 of the best of these for the compilation Jiyad al-Musalsalat. Note that ‘the best 25 of the 85’ does not necessarily mean that they are all reliable (sahih); some are, but others are merely stronger than the rest.
These musalsal hadiths continue to be transmitted to this day with the patterns replicated, and are a type of collector’s item for students of hadith. i.e. these hadiths are fun!
Suyuti probably chose to end the book with this quote from ʿAli in order to remind us that the main objective of acquiring Islamic knowledge is to act on it; to become a better person, to contribute positively to the world, and to grow in love for God. i.e. You can have fun (including dabbling in musalsal hadiths), but at the end of the end of the day, make sure you have done something you can be proud of when you face God.
PICTURE CREDIT: Hans Braxmeier, from https://pixabay.com/photos/chain-jewellery-gem-valuable-2119612/#