His respected name is Abu al-Fida, ‘Imad ad-Din Isma’il bin ‘Umar bin Kathir al-Qurashi al-Busrawi – Busraian (Busra) in origin, Dimashqi (Damascus) in training, learning, and residence.
Ibn Kathir was born in the city of Busra in 701AH. His father was the deliverer of the Friday Khutba in his village and he died when ibn Kathir was only four years old. Ibn Kathir’s brother, Shaykh Abdul-Wahhab raised him and taught him until he moved to Damascus in 706 AH at the age of five.
Ibn Kathir studied Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) with Burhan ad-Din, Ibrahim bin ‘Abdur-Rahman al-Fizari, known as Ibn al-Firkah (died in 729 AH). Ibn Kathir listened to Hadith from ‘Isa bin al-Mutim, Ahmed bin Abi-Talib (Ibn Ash-Shahnah) (died in 730 AH), Ibn al-Hajjar (died in 730 AH), the Hadith narrator of ash-Sham (modern day Syria and surrounding areas), Baha ad-Din al-Qasim bin Muzaffar bin ‘Asakir (died in 723 AH), Ibn ash-Shirazi, Ishaq bin Yahya al-Ammuddi, otherwise known as Afif ad-Din, the Zahriyyah Shaykh (died in 725 AH), and Muhammad bin Zarrad.
He remained with Jamal ad-Din, Yusuf bin az-Zaki al-Mizzi, (died in 724 AH), benefitted from his knowledge and also married his daughter. He also read with Shaykh al-Islam Taqi ad-Din Ahmad bin ‘Abdul-Halim bin ‘Abdus-Salam bin Taymiyyah (died 728 AH), Imam Hafiz and historian Shams ad-Din Muhammad bin Ahmad bin ‘Uthman bin Qaymaz adh-Dhahabi (died 748 AH), Abu Musa al-Qarafi, Abu Al-Fath ad-Dabbusi, and Ali bin ‘Umar as-Suwani, and many others who gave him permission to transmit the knowledge he learned with them in Egypt.
In his book, Al-Mu’jam Al-Mukhtas, Al Hafiz adh-Dhahabi wrote that Ibn Kathir was
The Imam, scholar of jurisprudence, skilful scholar of Hadith, renowned Faqih and scholar of Tafsir who wrote several beneficial books.
In Ad-Durar Al-Kaminah, Al Hafiz Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani said,
Ibn Kathir worked on the subject of the Hadith in the areas of texts and chains of narrators. He had a good memory, his books became popular in his lifetime, and people benefited from them after his death.
The renowned historian Abu al-Mahasin jamal ad-Din Yusuf bin Sayf ad-Din (Ibn Taghri Bardi), said in his book, Al-Manhal As-Safi,
He is the Shaykh, the Imam, the great scholar ‘Imad Ad-Din Abu Al-Fida’. He learned extensively and was very active in collecting knowledge and writing. He was excellent in the areas of Fiqh, Tafsir, and Hadith. He collected knowledge, authored books, taught, narrated Hadith’s and wrote. He had immense knowledge in the fields of Hadith, Tafsir, Fiqh, the Arabic Language, and so forth. He gave Fatwa’s (religious edicts) and taught until he died, may Allah Grant him Mercy. He was known for his precision and vast knowledge, and as a scholar of history, Hadith and Tafsir.
Ibn Hajji was one of Ibn Kathir’s students, and he described Ibn Kathir;
He had the best memory of the Hadith texts. He also had the most knowledge concerning the narrators and authenticity. His contemporaries and teachers admitted to these qualities. Every time I met him I gained some knowledge from him.
Ibn al-Imad al-Hanbali said in his book Shadharat Ad-Dhahab,
He is renowned Hafiz ‘Imad ad-Din, whose memory was excellent, whose forgetfulness was miniscule, whose understanding was adequate, and who had good knowledge in the Arabic language.
Ibn Habib said about Ibn Kathir,
He listened to knowledge and collected it and wrote various books. He brought comfort to the ears with Fatwa and narrated Hadith’s and brought benefits to other people. The papers that contained his Fatwa’s were transmitted to the various (Islamic) provinces. Further, he was also known for his precision and encompassing knowledge.
- Tafsir of the Noble Qur’an, considered one of the best commentaries and explanations based on narrations of Authentic Hadith and Tafsir of the Companions. His work has been printed many times over and many scholars have worked and summarized it in various condensed formats.
- Al-Bidayah, a history collection printed in 14 volumes under the name Al-Bidayah wan-Nihayah, containing the Stories of The Prophets (عليهم السلام) and previous nations, the life story (Seerah) of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) and Islamic history until his time. He also added a book, Al-Fitan, about the signs of the Final Hour.
- At-Takmil fi Ma’rifat Ath-Thiqat wa Ad-Duafa wal Majahil, which Ibn Kathir collected from the books of his two Shaykhs, al-Mizzi and adh-Dhahabi; Al-Kamal and Mizan Al-I’tidal. He added several benefits regarding the subjects of Al-Jarh and At-Ta’dil.
- Al-Hadi was Sunan fi Ahadith Al-Masanid was-Sunan which is also known as Jami’ Al-Masanid. In this book, Ibn Kathir collected the narrations of Imams Ahmad bin Hanbal, al-Bazzar, Abi Ya’la al-Mawsili, Ibn Abi-Shaybah, and from the six collections of Hadith, the two Sahih’s (Bukhari & Muslim) and the four Sunan (Abu Dawud, At-Tirmidhi, An-Nasai and Ibn Majah). Ibn Kathir divided this book according to areas of Fiqh.
- Tabaqat Ash-Shafiyah which also contains the virtues of Imam ash-Shafi'.
- References for the hadiths of Adillat At-Tanbih from the Shafi chool of Fiqh.
- Explanation of Sahih Al Bukhari but he did not live to complete it.
- Started writing a large volume on the Ahkam (laws) but completed only up to the rituals of Hajj.
- Summarized al-Bayhaqi’s Al-Madhkal. Many of these books were not printed.
- Summarized ‘Ulum Al-Hadith by Abu ‘Amr bin as-Salah and called it Mukhtasar ‘Ulum Al-Hadith. Sheikh Ahmad Shakir, the Egyptian Muhaddith printed this book along with his commentary on it and called it Al-Ba’th Al-Hathith fi Sharh Mukhtasar ‘Ulum Al-Hadith.
- As-Sirah An-Nabawiyyah, which is contained in his book Al-Bidayah both of which are in print.
- A research on Jihad titled, Al-Ijtihad fi Talabi Al-Jihad wich has been printed several times already.
Al-Hafiz Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani said,
Ibn Kathir lost his sight just before his life ended. He died in Damascus in 774A.H. May Allah grant him Mercy and make him amongst the residents of Jannah (Heavenly Garden).
Written by the honored Shaykh Abdul-Qadir al-Arnaut.
[Tafsir Ibn Kathir 1/23-26]