His name is Ahmad ibn 'Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Muhammad 'Ali al-Kinani al-Asqalani. His great grandparents lived in Asqalan where they entered it in the year 583H. The word Hajar is the name of one of his grandfathers. His kunya is Abul-Fadl and his Laqab is Shihabuddin.
This city Asqalan is found in Palestine in Gaza. Ibn Hajar was born on the 12th of Sha'ban, 773H. Ibn Hajar was an orphan. His father who was a great scholar and merchant died in the year 777H (making Ibn Hajar only four years old). His mother passed away before that and so he was an orphan from both of his parents. Ibn Hajar had an older brother who was very learned, but died before Ibn Hajar and due to this his father became very upset and saddened. One of the pious people saw a dream and he gave glad tidings to the father of Ibn Hajar, and told him that he would be succeeded by a person who would be better than him and have a long life. Ibn Hajar himself then says that, "I was born and Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala opened my hands for me."
Meaning that Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala gave him good knowledge and a sound memory.
Ibn Hajar is regarded to be one of the rare people in our beautiful history, as Shaykh al-Albani said, "Ibn Hajar was the strongest of those 'Ulama who had memorised hadith," and so there was no one really the same as him in regards to what he memorised and to the precision that he done it.
Ibn Hajar went to school where they make you memorise the Qur'an. When he was only five years old. He completed the memorisation of the Qur'an. When he was nine years old he would lead the people in Tarawih prayer in Makkah in the year 785H (when he was just twelve years old). His guardian or the person looking over him was Zakiuddin and he had been requested by the father of Ibn Hajar to take care of him.
So the fact that Ibn Hajar was able to memorise the Qur'an at such a tender age, shows the precision and strength of his memory. Ibn Hajar first heard Sahih al-Bukhari from one of his earliest scholars Affifuddin an-Nashawari.
In the year 786H, Ibn Hajar moved from Makkah to Egypt where he memorised a number of small summarised books like Al-'Umda al-Hadith and also Al-Hawi which is a book in Shafi'i Fiqh and also Mukhtasir al-Hajib which is a book on Usul ul-Fiqh and other books like in grammar. Then for a short period of time for certain reasons, he stopped seeking knowledge and then in the year 790H, he again returned in seeking the knowledge of the different sciences of knowledge, which the students of knowledge concentrate on. Such as Tafsir and Qira'at, but something that he was very fond of and what he started doing more often was reading History. History of battles and wars and he also had a great love for reading Arabic literature. Some of the scholars would encourage him to read about History and Literature. One of these scholars was Al-Badr al-Bushtaki who encouraged him to read al-Ghani, which was one of the greatest books written in Arabic literature. It's almost 20-30 volumes long and Ibn Hajar read this, such that he would hear poetry and know who mentioned it as well as understanding the meaning of the poetry (this is very important for one who wants to understand the Qur'an and the Sunnah), this reading and understanding of literature. Ibn Hajar would even write poetry himself. He started to read more into the sciences of hadith and Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala gave him the love and inspired him to learn the sciences of hadith and its memorisation and in doing so he benefited himself and the Ummah greatly.
In 796H, Ibn Hajar started to turn to knowledge with great enthusiasm and hard-work. He himself says that, "The veil between him and knowledge was removed for him and the doors were opened for him to learn with great and strong resolve." He was able to acquire much knowledge and was blessed by Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala in this regard. He would travel much in the days of learning in the morning and in the evening trying to learn from the scholars of his time. Amongst the most famous of scholars that he learnt from were Al-Hafidh al-Iraqi and Ibn al-Mulaqqin, who were two famous scholars of hadith and he learnt from these two scholars and other scholars like them. He traveled to Alexandria, to Ash-Sham, Syria, to Egypt and to other places as well, where he would get benefit and also benefit others. One of the times when Ibn Hajar went to Sham, he was 60 years old and at this time he had already become a great scholar (he had become high in his knowledge and learning), but this didn't prevent him from learning and traveling to seek knowledge. This showed the keenness and steadfastness of this great Imam in learning the knowledge from the people. During this visit to Yemen he said that he met some of the scholars such as Firazuddin al-Abbadi, the great grammarian and scholar who wrote one of the dictionaries of the Arabic Language and he also met the King of Yemen. When he came back from Yemen, the boat that he was coming back on capsized and many of the books that he had written were lost. All of this shows the great lengths that Ibn Hajar went to, to learn and write about Islam.
Ibn Hajar took a number of posts and different positions in his life, despite the fact that he did not want these positions, but because the people asked him to take these positions, he did so. One such position was teaching the different Islamic Sciences such as Tafsir, Qira'at, etc. He was also the Mufti, so he would give fatawa (he would give legal rulings). He was also a judge, and took the position of the person who would give the Khutbah on the days of Jumu'ah. These positions in those times were only given to the scholars, or those who could fulfill the criteria of these positions.
As for the teachers of Ibn Hajar, he has more than eight hundred. He wrote a book talking about his various different teachers who he learnt from. Also his students were very many, such that a student would come and learn from him and then the son of the student would also come and learn from him. So a father and son would take priding in having learned from Ibn Hajar owing to the rank that Ibn Hajar held in his lifetime.
Also the different scholars in the land were students of Ibn Hajar himself. He had many books and these books spread out amongst the Muslims world in his lifetime. Even the teachers and contemporaries of Ibn Hajar would request his books. Even more so than his students, so that they may learn from them. This showed the level that Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala had placed Ibn Hajar that he was above most of the contemporaries of his time.
Ibn Hajar was well known for his piety, being detached from the world (his Zuhd). Al-Buqa'i mentions about Ibn Hajar that he would fast continuously and eat very little. He would also be careful of eating the food of other people and if he was travelling then he would eat whatever he wish to, and if his money were to run out, then he would eat things (lowly things) that normal people wouldn't like to eat. People would eat meat, those who took salaries from the government for example the army, etc. But he would never take any of the food from these people because of his piety and his cautiousness of where his food would come from.
The scholars of Islam would give Ibn Hajar precedence and they would honour him whether they be the scholars of his time or those who came after him. Al-Buqa'i said about him that he is the leader of the people, the Imam of the Muslims. Ash-Shawkani said about him, that he is the great famous hafidh well knowledgeable about hadith. So if the word Al-Hafidh is given to anyone, then by ijma' or after him is given to Ibn Hajar and Ibn Hajar alone. So if the word Al-Hafidh is said, then it indicated Ibn Hajar, unless the word Al-Hafidh is qualified by someone else. This shows the great level and rank that Ibn Hajar reached.
Another scholar said about him, that he is one of the great scholars of the scholars of our past he is the Leader of The Believers in regards to hadith, he is the most knowledgeable scholar of his time. About his great book Fath al-Bari, the Shaykh said, it is like a dictionary of the Sunnah. Rather it is a dictionary of all the Islamic Sciences. This book would be said to be beneficial in the sense that if you were to ask a question, then Ibn Hajar would provide such as answer in this great book, that the questioners thirst would be quenched.
Concerning his books, then Ibn Hajar has a great number of books, his most famous book is Fath al-Bari, which is the explanation of Sahih al-Bukhari and also his book Tahrib wa't-Tahrib, which is a book concerning the different narrators in the Kutub as-Sitta. He has books in all the various Islamic Sciences such as Hadith, Tafsir, Ulum al-Qur'an. On Tuesday 14th of Dhul-Hijjah the year 852H, he became ill, such that Saturday 18th of the same month, he passed away in Cairo (may Allah have mercy on his soul).