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IslamQA: On the vast memories of past Islamic scholars

As-salaamu 'alaykum, wa rahmatu-llaahi wa barakaatuh. Al-hamdu li-llaah, this website is very beneficial. One of my interests has been "human memory." I have read that some Muslim scholars of the past memorized an extraordinary number of Hadith - up to one-hundred thousand, or more, memorized by one individual. Then, there are scholars like Imaam ash-Shaafi'ii, may Allaah have mercy on him, who had a photographic memory. My question is: throughout your reading, have you come across examples of modern individuals who have had similar capacities for memorizing information, such as a photographic memory? Jazak-Allaahu khayran.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh,

No, I haven’t come across that. Also, I would be skeptical about the miraculous level of memory that’s attributed to some scholars. It is often based on rumors without strong chains of transmitters (and sometimes without a chain at all). Writers of biographies liked to attribute such qualities to the scholars they admired, so they wrote such things down even if they were based on unverifiable rumors.

I have not studied the matter in detail, so there might really be scholars with amazing memories. But personally I’m skeptical of the notion that classical scholars enjoyed memories that is nearly impossible for people today to have.

And God knows best.

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