al-Imam al-Nawawi loved knowledge since his youth. He memorized the Qur’an early on and then travelled to Damascus so that he could benefit from the major Shafi’i jurists and traditionists. He moved between their gatherings of religious learning, gaining proficiency in hadith and its sciences, mastering jurisprudence and its application, while also gaining much in other Islamic sciences. Accomplishing all this, he never travelled outside the Levant, except to perform Hajj. Even so, his status manifested distinctly amongst the Shafi’i jurists of his time, from east to west, without divagation. During his era, he was the acuminous instigator of an in-depth expansion of the copious literature of the School, his insights being meticulously accurate. The stepping-stone that gave him such a standing, along with his corpulent effort in re-examination of the School, stemmed from the efforts of al-Imam Abu al-Qasim ‘Abd al-Karim al-Rafi’i (Allah be pleased with him).
As such, al-Imam al-Nawawi authored many books. Rawdat al-Talibin is a summarization of al-Imam al-Rafi’i’s noble book, Sharh al-Wajiz (nicknamed al-Sharh al-Kabir). Likewise, al-Imam al-Nawawi wrote Minhaj al-Talibin, a summarization of al-Imam al-Rafi’i’s al-Muharrar. His al-Majmu’ is an encyclopedic work commenting on Abu Is-haq al-Shirazi’s al-Muhadhdhab; however, he passed away before completing it. Al-Tahqiq was meant to be a summary of al-Majmu’, but was not finished before his passing. Along with these, he also commented on al-Imam al-Ghazzali’s al-Wasit, under the title al-Tanqih. He gave a complete commentary on Sahih Muslim [the authentic hadith compilation of al-Imam Muslim b. al-Hajjaj al-Qushayri].
These augmented other works that he most graciously penned, constituting the totality of his efforts. He systematically extricated the agglomerate of inter-school jurisprudential differences and elucidated preponderant viewpoints pertaining to the School’s foremost legal verdicts. He openly disclosed his approach to this unequivocally unfettered exactification in the introductions to his books; the climax of this disclosure peaked in his priceless introduction of al-Majmu’ Sharh al-Muhadhdhab. These represent his authority in re-examination and verification.
Complementing these innumerable feats, al-Imam al-Nawawi also wrote in the other Islamic sciences, notably the field of hadith. His penetrating comprehension and understanding manifest through the aggrandizement of his works. As well, he was a pious ascetic who lived completely occupied with gathering, dispensing, and preserving religious knowledge. He was known in his time for commanding the good and forbidding the evil. al-Imam al-Nawawi passed in his home city, Nawa, in the year 682 A.H., in the 45th year of his life. May Allah be pleased with him, us, and you. Allah blessed him in his time and life with knowledge. After his passing, all of the places in the world where the sun shines imbibed benefit from the fountain of knowledge he left.
In instances where al-Imam al-Nawawi’s opinions differ, they are considered in light of the sequence of his works, as follows. Below is a general guide:
1. Kitab al-Tahqiq.
2. al-Majmu’ Sharh al-Muhadhdhab.
3. al-Tanqih Sharh al-Wasit.
(al-Imam al-Nawawi did not complete these first three)
4. Rawdat al-Talibin.
5. Minhaj al-Talibin.
6. His Fatawa.
7. Sharh Sahih Muslim.
8. Tas-hih al-Tanbih.
And Allah knows best.