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As most Muslims are aware, the life example of the Prophet Muhammad () is the basis for the beliefs and laws of Islam. His sayings, actions and expressions are a fountain of guidance for the believers. The Sahaabah Kiraam themselves () memorized each and every page of the life of the Prophet ()- standing and sitting, traveling and living at home. From the conditions of his household life to the political and economic laws he established, there is no incident from the life of the Prophet () except that the Companions () took note of it and preserved its remembrance- some by pure memory and others by writing it down. After them, the Taabi’een and their followers continued this process of memorizing and compiling the hadeeth to the point that by the second century Hijri, publication of entire books and writings of hadeeth was widespread. It is because of those times that Muslims today have a picture of the entire way of life of the Prophet () laid out for them.
The great scholars and legislators of the ummah dedicated their entire lives to acquiring the knowledge of hadeeth. They used to travel thousands of miles just to learn one hadeeth. Nothing would deter or hinder them from their search for hadeeth- they would even narrate hadeeth from their own students. These scholars memorized and compiled books of hadeeth and established an entire science around hadeeth and the biography of narrators (‘ilm-ur-rijaal: “the study of men”). In order to fully understand the greatness of their achievement and its value for Islam, one only has to consider what would be the state of the ummah if such narrations had not been collected and preserved- what a great foundation of the deen would have been missing.
The purpose of this small booklet is to provide an overview of the importance, history and study of hadeeth. This summary barely touches the surface of the sciences of hadeeth. As such it should be kept in mind that understanding of the intricacies and details of hadeeth and the rulings derived therefrom requires intense and extensive study from a reliable Muslim scholar.
Allah has summarized in a concise and beautiful way in the Qur’aan the basic foundations of Islam. Without the explanation and elucidation provided by the hadeeth, however, there is no other way to gain understanding of the details of all such rulings. The prophetic ahadeeth provide Muslims with the practical actions necessary for implementing the Qur’aanic injunctions. For example, words like salaah, zakaah, tayammum, hajj and ‘umrah each have a literal meaning in Arabic which is somewhat different from their meaning as used by the Shari’ah- without the hadeeth of the Prophet (), there would be no way to tell what the Shar’i meanings of such words are.
Allah has firmly commanded the Muslims to follow the actions and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (). Thus, He has said:
From these blessed verses, it is clear that obeying the rulings of the Prophet () and following his actions is obligatory on every Muslim up till the Day of Judgment. The question then is how can people who come after the Prophet () know what his sayings and actions were. Allah sent the Prophet () as an example for us- how else is it possible that we model our lives on his life without the existence of hadeeth? Just as the Prophet () himself was a direct example for the Sahaabah (), who took guidance from him in person, in the same way the hadeeth provide this guidance to us. For if one does not accept the guidance given by the hadeeth, the hujjat established by Allah will be incomplete. Allah not only sent the Qur’aan for guidance- He also sent with it a Messenger () whose obedience and following has been made necessary as well, and again, without the hadeeth there is no other way to know the sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad ().
If one does not accept the hadeeth, then
not only is one prevented from acquiring the guidance given by the Prophet (),
but one will also have an incomplete understanding of the rulings given in the
Qur’aan. Allah establishes
that He has sent the Prophet Muhammad ()
to explain the meanings of the Qur’aan and to teach their implementation:
Some people may argue that the meanings of the
verses and the knowledge of the “Book” and “Wisdom” was only necessary
upon the Companions. However, Islam is not only for the Sahaabah ().
Rather, until the Day of Judgment, it is the religion for all the people and
thus, the people need to know the same wisdom that the Sahaabah needed to
know. Furthermore, just as the Sahaabah needed the Prophet ()
to explain and elucidate the meanings of the Qur’aan for them, even though
they themselves were of sterling character, those people who come afterwards are
lesser in quality of belief and understanding than the first generation. Thus,
they will be even more needy of such explanation. Thirdly, Allah has said in the
From this verse it is clear that the Prophet () was sent not only to teach the Qur’aan to the Sahaabah () but also for those Muslims who would come after them. Thus, it cannot be argued except that just as the Prophet () was a guidance and example for the Sahaabah, so he is for all the Muslims up till the Last Day. If this were not the case, then there is no other way that prophecy of the verse above would be fulfilled.
Just think for yourself, that if one only tried to follow the Qur’aan, then how would one determine that the word salaah refers to that procedure that is familiar to all Muslims from the time the adhaan is given until the imaam says the salaam. Similarly, words like Hajj, Zakaat are only mentioned briefly in the Qur’aan to establish their performance. How else, other than the hadeeth, can one determine the detailed rulings, procedures and etiquettes of these and all other actions in the life of a Muslim?
The complete understanding of the rulings of Qur’aan is only gained through the guidance of the Prophet (). During the period of revelation, the Sahaabah () obtained such guidance directly from his blessed tongue. For those Muslims coming later, the hadeeth provide the same function.
Just as the Prophet Muhammad () was sent to explain the meanings of certain words of the Qur’aan, he was also sent to teach certain rules of the Shari’ah which are not even mentioned in the Qur’aan. In this regard, Allah has said:
Some things that the Messenger of Allah () made halaal or haraam are not otherwise mentioned in the Qur’aan. Only in the hadeeth can one find their mention. Without accepting the proof of hadeeth, we would remain with an incomplete picture of the way of life that Allah has established for us.
Even to understand the literal meaning of verses in the Qur’aan, the hadeeth are necessary. This is because certain verses were revealed for a particular situation or in response to some specific question or statement of the non-believers and hypocrites. Sometimes a verse referred to an incident that would happen later or some verses came down to correct or support the actions of the Companions (). Thus, without the knowledge of the reason for revelation of such verses (asbaab an-nuzool), it is not possible to understand their meaning correctly. Without accepting the hadeeth, it is impossible that one will be able to practice upon the teachings of the Qur’aan.
Another argument of those ignorant people who reject the hadeeth is that the collection of hadeeth only started hundreds of years after the death of the Prophet (). Thus, they claim the books of hadeeth are not authentic. However, this claim is entirely baseless because the memorization and writing down of the hadeeth was begun during the very lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad () and continued in every generation with no exception.
During the blessed time of the Prophet () many Sahaabah () started to preserve in writing the ahadeeth. Imaam Bukhaari () mentions a tradition in his Saheeh that at the time of the liberation of Makkah, the Prophet () gave a long khutbah. Afterwards, a man from Yemen requested him: “Have it written down for me, Oh Messenger of Allah.” The Prophet () then gave the order: “Write it for so-and-so.”
In the same way, Hadrat ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr ibn
was given a general order and permission to write down hadeeth:
Hadrat Abu Hurairah ()
also mentioned the writing down of hadeeth that was done by Hadrat
‘Amr ibn al-‘Aas ():
From these narrations, it is clearly established that ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr () maintained a large written collection of hadeeth. Because of the close proximity that Abu Hurairah () used to keep with the Prophet (), he himself was able to memorize hadeeth very easily and thus did not need to write them down. However, he was still in possession of some written pages of the hadeeth of the Prophet (). ‘Amr ibn Umayyah reported:
Thus, one can see that even Abu Hurairah ()
eventually had all his narrations of hadeeth written down. Haafiz
Ibn Hajar ‘Asqalaani ()
says that Abu Hurairah ()
did not write down any hadeeth during the period of revelation. However
after the passing of the Prophet (),
he wrote down the hadeeth or had someone write them all down for him.
Hadrat Anas ()
used to write down hadeeth and read them back to the Prophet ()
as mentioned in a narration by Qataadah. Hadrat ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar ()
also used to write down and keep pages of hadeeth:
Besides these individual examples, there is also evidence
that it was common among the Sahaabah ()
to write down hadeeth during the time of the Prophet ().
Thus, Hadrat ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr ()
From the traditions above, then, it is clear that from the
time of the Prophet ()
the Sahaabah Kiraam ()
used to write down and preserve his sayings and actions. And those instances in
which the Prophet ()
did not allow someone to write down some particular hadeeth were because
of special circumstances, such as the fear of confusing a hadeeth with
After the passing of the Prophet (),
the Taabi’een began to gather and write the traditions from the Sahaabah
in a similar way. Hadrat Abu Hurairah (),
from whom 5,374 hadeeth have been narrated, taught those hadeeth
to countless numbers of students, who wrote down and memorized them and taught
them in turn to their students. In Musnad Daarimi it is mentioned that
one such student who wrote down hadeeth from Abu Hurairah ()
and preserved them was Basheer ibn Naheek. Besides other students, Kareeb wrote
down hadeeth from Hadrat ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbaas ()
who narrated 2,660 hadeeth. From Hadrat Anas (),
who also narrated over 2,000 hadeeth, it is mentioned in Musnad
Daarimi that Abaan used to write down and memorize his hadeeth.
‘Urwah ibn Zubayr used to write hadeeth from Ummul-Mu’mineen
who related 2,210 hadeeth.
In general, it was common for people to memorize hadeeth
from the Sahaabah. From the first century onward, numerous collections of
hadeeth were assembled. There was no single, combined, organized
collection of hadeeth- rather, the Taabi’een collected and
preserved any hadeeth that they could find. During the khilaafah
of Hadrat ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul-‘Azeez (),
he felt a great need for a reliable and complete arrangement of hadeeth.
Thus, he established a committee of well-known scholars to perform this task,
among whom were the great Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Umar ibn Hazm, Qaasim ibn
Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr and Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Muslim ibn ‘Ubaydallaah ibn
‘Abdullah ibn Shihaab Zuhri ().
Hadrat ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul-‘Azeez ()
arranged for the gathering of hadeeth from all different places and had
them written down. Ibn Shihaab Zuhri arranged and compiled those hadeeth.
In addition to gathering hadeeth, the chains of narrators (sanad)
were also meticulously preserved by az-Zuhri. Thus, he is often
known as the originator of the science of isnaad.
The students and contemporaries of Zuhri ()
continued and carried on this work after him. Thus, in the second century, one
of his students, Imaam Maalik ibn Anas (),
compiled the first major collection of hadeeth arranged in the order
similar to that common today. That book was called the Mu’atta.
Besides the Mu’atta of Imaam Maalik, the Imaam-e-A’zam
Abu Hanifah ()
also recorded his narrations in his Kitaab-ul-Aathaar. Besides these two
great works, other collections that were produced in the realm of hadeeth
during the second century were: Sunan Abul-Waleed (151H)
Jaami’ Sufyaan Thawri (161H), Musannaf Abi Salamah (167H), Musannaf
Abi Sufyaan (197H) and Jaami’ Sufyaan ibn ‘Uyainah (198H). In the
third century, additional great compilations were produced by ash-Shaafi’ ()
in his Kitaab-ul-Umm (204H), Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal (241H), al-Jaami’
as-Saheeh of Bukhaari (256H), al-Jaami’ of Muslim (261H), Sunan
of Abu Dawood (275H), Jaami’ Tirmidhi (279H) and Sunan Ibn
Thus, from the history of the development of the ummah,
it is clear that the work of collecting and preserving hadeeth in all
forms was practiced from the time of revelation itself up through the third
century and onward. By the third century, this process had coalesced into an
entire branch of study and the Sihaah Sitta (six reliable works of hadeeth)
had been compiled, providing a well-documented and well-arranged collection of
the hadeeth that had been narrated by the earlier generations of Sahaabah
The term “sihaah sitta” or “the six sound books,” refers to six collections of hadeeth whose reliability is generally agreed upon among the Muslim scholars. These collections are:
Al-Jaami’ as-Saheeh li Bukhaari: Imaam Abu ‘Abdullah Muhammad ibn Ismaa’eel ibn Ibraaheem ibn al-Mugheerah ibn Bardizbah al-Bukhaari () (194 – 256H) was born in Bukhara, Iran. At the age of ten he began acquiring knowledge of hadeeth and at sixteen years old he went with his mother to Hajj. He stayed in Makkah for two years and then went to Madinah, studying from the great scholars of Islam. He also traveled to Egypt, Basra, Koofa, Baghdaad and Syria. His greatest work, al-Jaami’ as-Saheeh, took 16 years to complete. It is said that he collected some 300,000 to 600,000 hadeeth, of which 200,000 he memorized himself, and of those he selected 7,275 which he deemed to be the most reliable and authentic. The scholars of Islam have unanimously labeled his collection as “the most authentic book after the Book of Allah.”
Al-Jaami’ as-Saheeh li Muslim:
Next in reliability to Saheeh al-Bukhaari is the work of Imaam
Abul-Husayn Muslim ibn al-Hajjaaj ibn Muslim al-Qushayriy an-Naisaaburiy ().
Born in 202 H. in Nisaabur, Iran, he died in 261 H. and was buried near the same
place. He also traveled widely and among his many works is his al-Jaami’ as-Saheeh
in which he selected about 4,000 hadeeth out of 300,000 he collected. Among both
his teachers and his students one finds the names of many great scholars of
Islam. Together with Saheeh al-Bukhaari, his collection is known as one of the
Saheehayn- “two authentic books.” The term muttafaqun ‘alayh (“agreed
upon”) indicates that a certain hadeeth is to be found in both collections.
Jaami’ Tirmidhi: Imaam Abu ‘Eesa Muhammad ibn ‘Eesa at-Tirmidhi () was born in 209 H. in Tirmidh, Iran and he passed away in the same town in 279 H. In addition to his other books, he is most well-known for his collection of hadeeth and for his Shamaa’il, a collection of traditions concerning the person and character of the Prophet (). His Jaami’ includes fewer hadeeth than the previous two above (2,028) but is known for his critical remarks concerning the chains of narrators and the points of differences between the four madhaahib. Among his teachers were Imaams Bukhaari, Ahmad ibn Hanbal and Abu Dawood as-Sijistaani (). He also traveled through Khuraasaan, ‘Iraq and Hijaz to collect his hadeeth.
Sunan Abi Dawood: Imaam Abu Dawood Sulaymaan ibn al-Ash’ath Sijistaaniy () heard hadeeth from over three hundred scholars. He was born in Sijistaan, Khuraasaan, near Afghanistan, in 202 H. and lived for 73 years. Known for a strong memory and a penetrating mind, his collection is composed of 4,800 traditions selected from a half of a million which he wrote down. Previous to his work, the collections of hadeeth were arranged in the manner of a Jaami’ (see below for definition). In his Sunan, he instead collected only traditions related to the laws, rulings and legal questions of Islam and arranged them by subject matter.
Sunan Nisaa’i: This fifth famous collection of 5,761 hadeeth was compiled by Imaam Abu ‘Abdur-Rahmaan Ahmad ibn Shu’ayb ibn ‘Ali Nisaa’i (). He was born in another town of Iran- Nisa- in 215 H. and died in 303 H. His book also mainly contains traditions related to legal issues of the Shari’ah.
Sunan Ibn Maajah: Imaam Abu ‘Abdullah Muhammad ibn Yazeed ibn Maajah al-Qazweeniy () was born in Qazween, Iran in 209 H. and lived for 64 years. His compilation contains some 4,000 hadeeth. The Sunans of Nisaa’i and Ibn Maajah are somewhat more lenient in their criticism of the authenticity of hadeeth than the previous books, but nonetheless they are among the most reliable collections of hadeeth.
Having discussed the importance of hadeeth and the brief history of collection, we will now discuss some of the technical details related to the hadeeth.
There are two types of study of hadeeth: one is ‘Ilmul-Hadeeth riwaayatan and the other is ‘Ilmul-Hadeeth diraayatan. As for the first, it is the study and knowledge of the sayings, actions, states, conditions and descriptions of the Prophet (). The second type is the study of narrators and those narrated to, and the conditions of acceptability or rejection.
The word hadeeth itself, in the context of Islam, refers to the sayings, actions, tacit approvals, character and descriptions of the physical features of the Prophet (). A hadeeth consists of two parts: the sanad, which is the chain of names of people who have narrated the hadeeth through the generations, and the matn, or the actual text and substance of the report. Often the words hadeeth and sunnah are used interchangeably. Their meanings are almost the same except that hadeeth is slightly more general as sunnah does not refer to such things as the physical features of the Prophet (). There are other words, such as “khabar” and “athar”, which are often used synonymously with “hadeeth” but some scholars also use them to indicate only certain types of hadeeth.
Below are listed some of the different types of hadeeth that one may come across:
Marfoo’: That hadeeth which is directly attributed to the Prophet () and tells of his actions, sayings or speech.
Mawqoof: That which tells of the actions, sayings or speech of a Sahaabi.
Maqtoo’: That in which the actions, sayings or speech of a Taabi’ee is described.
Muttasil or Mawsool: That hadeeth whose chain (sanad) is not broken, eg. by missing the name of a narrator.
Mu’allaq: That hadeeth from the beginning of whose sanad some or all of the narrators’ names have been dropped.
Mursal: That hadeeth whose last narrator in the chain, ie. the Sahaabi’s name, is dropped. That is, when a Taabi’ee directly narrates something about the Prophet ().
Mu’dal: Two consecutive narrators have been dropped from the chain.
Munqati’ (bi ma’nan akhass): More than two narrators are dropped consecutively in one part of the chain, or two narrators are dropped consecutively in multiple parts of the sanad.
Mudtarib: That in whose sanad or matn additions or deletions exist. [That is, a hadeeth might be transmitted along many chains and in one particular chain, there may be additions or deletions to some part of the sanad or matn that is found in the other transmissions.]
Mudarraj: That in which the narrator added his own or some other sayings to the matn.
Shaadh: That hadeeth of a narrator who has narrated something that is the opposite of what a narrator of more reliability narrated. Its opposite is Mahfooz.
Munkar: That hadeeth of a weak narrator who narrates something the opposite of a more authentic tradition.
Mu’allal: That hadeeth in which there is a major, hidden defect, such as a mursal hadeeth which is narrated as if it is mawsool.
Saheeh li dhaatihi: That hadeeth whose chain of narrators is unbroken, every narrator is reliable (‘aadil), well-known for memorization and preservation (dabt) of hadeeth, and the hadeeth falls in neither of the categories of the Shaadh or Mu’allal.
Saheeh li ghayrihi: That hadeeth which has the same qualities as the previous one except for the dabt of a narrator which may be slightly less reliable but that is compensated for by the fact that the hadeeth is narrated from many chains of people. [The word dabt refers to a narrator having a good grasp of what he narrates as well as a sound memory and/or carefully kept books.]
Hasan li dhaatihi: That hadeeth which has the qualities of Saheeh except that the dabt is not as reliable and there are not enough other chains of narrations to raise it to the status of Saheeh li ghayrihi.
Hasan li ghayrihi: That hadeeth which is lacking in more than one quality required for the Saheeh but this lack is again compensated for by the presence of other chains of transmission of the same hadeeth.
Da’eef: That hadeeth which is lacking more than one of the qualities of Saheeh and there are not enough alternate chains to raise its status to Hasan.
Matrook: That hadeeth in whose chain is a narrator known for lying.
Mawdoo’: That hadeeth in whose chain is a narrator upon whom it is established that he fabricated hadeeth.
Ghareeb: That hadeeth whose sanad is such that at some link in the chain, that narrator is alone in narrating the hadeeth from the shaykh. [In each generation, many people might have narrated the same hadeeth through different chains. A ghareeb hadeeth is one in which the number of narrators of that hadeeth in one particular generation is only one.]
‘Azeez: That hadeeth in which the number of narrators drops to two in one generation and is more than two in the rest of the chain.
Mashhoor: That hadeeth which is narrated from more than two chains in every generation. That is, in each generation, at least three people narrated the hadeeth. Slightly less than the number of a mutawaatir. This type of hadeeth and the previous two are types of aahaad hadeeth.
Mutawaatir: That hadeeth which is narrated from so many different chains in every generation that it is impossible to suppose that anyone could have conspired to fabricate the hadeeth.
There are many different types of compilations of hadeeth, each of which has gained a specific name. Some of these type of books of hadeeth are:
Saheeh: That book whose compiler indicated that he has only included Saheeh hadeeth. For example, Saheeh Bukhaari and Saheeh Muslim.
Jaami’: That book which includes hadeeth categorized under the following eight categories: Siyar, Aadaab, Tafseer, ‘Aqaa’id, Futun, Ahkaam, Ishraat and Manaaqib. For example, Bukhaari and Tirmidhi.
Sunan: That book which only includes hadeeth that are related to rules (ahkaam). For example, Sunan Abu Dawood and Nisaa’i.
Musnad: That book which is arranged by the order of the name of the Sahaabah who narrated the hadeeth. For example, Musnad Imaam Ahmad.
Mu’jam: That book which is arranged by the order of the shuyookh who narrated the hadeeth. For example, Mu’jam Tabaraani.
Mustakhrij: That book in which the compiler brings chains from other shuyookh besides the author of another book to support the hadeeth of that author’s book. For example Mustakhraj Abi Nu’aym on Bukhaari.
Mustadrik: That book which includes hadeeth under various headings which another author has left out of his book. For example, Mustadrik Haakim includes hadeeth that are not in the two Saheeh but which Imaam Haakim has indicated as satisfying the conditions for authenticity that were followed by Bukhaari and Muslim.
Risaalah: That book which only contains hadeeth under the heading of one of the eight headings mentioned in the Jaami’. For example, Imaam Ahmad’s book of Zuhd which falls under aadaab and Ibn Jareer’s book of tafseer.
Juz: That smaller book which only contains hadeeth about a particular subject. For example, Imaam Bukhaari’s Juz Qira’ah Khalf al-Imaam.
Arba’een: A collection of 40 hadeeth. For example, Arba’een-e-Nawawi.
Shah Waliyullah () has specified four ranks of books of hadeeth with regard to their reliability, fame and acceptability. The first contains those books whose reliability is strongly agreed upon. For example, Saheeh Bukhaari, Saheeh Muslim, Mu’atta Imaam Maalik.
The second rank are close in fame and reliability to the first. Most of the hadeeth in such books are either saheeh or hasan. Some da’eef hadeeth may also be included but they are clearly indicated. For example, Jaami’ Tirmidhi, and the Sunans of Abu Dawood and Nisaa’i.
The third level are those books whose authors preceded or were contemporaries of Bukhaari () and Muslim (). The competence of these scholars is firmly established but in their collections they also included da’eef hadeeth and even sometimes those which were known to be fabricated. For example, Musnad Shaafi’i, Sunan Ibn Maajah, Musannaf ‘Abdur-Razzaaq, Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaybah, Sunan Daarimi, Sunan Daaraqutni and Sunan Bayhaqi.
Fourthly, there are those books of the later scholars which include hadeeth that are not found to be related by the scholars of the early era. The reason for this might be that either the previous scholars were not aware of those hadeeth or they left them alone because of some defect (‘ilal). Some examples of such collections are Daylami, Abu Nu’aym, Ibn ‘Asaa and others.
When the sanad of a hadeeth is the subject of dispute or unreliability, it is called mat’oon or majrooh. That are many types of hadeeth that fall in this category, discussed above, such as Mudtarib, Munqati’, Mu’allal, Munkar, Matrook and others. All such hadeeth are known as da’eef, however they are of different ranks of weakness. In comparison to other types for example, the matrook is one of the most deficient types of hadeeth. It is possible that the sanad of one hadeeth may contain several types of weaknesses at once, however its status remains da’eef although its weakness increases. The purpose of mentioning this is that just because a hadeeth is labeled as da’eef does not at all imply it is fabricated. Only a hadeeth for which the chain of narrators contains a fabricator is known as mawdoo’.
Sometimes, the muhadditheen have written regarding a particular sanad: Laa yasihh (“it is not saheeh”). This phrase is erroneously understood by ignorant people to mean that the hadeeth is fabricated or rejected. However, in the terminology of the muhadditheen, saheeh is not the opposite of a fabricated or rejected hadeeth. Rather, those hadeeth which are not saheeh include Saheeh li ghayrihi, Hasan and Da’eef. The meaning of the phrase above is that the hadeeth is not Saheeh li dhaatihi. In summary, the negation of something being Saheeh is not necessarily an indication of its unreliability.
A ruling regarding the strength of a chain is based on the reputation or reliability of a narrator. On the other hand, the matn is judged according to different criteria. For example, it is possible that in one chain a fabricator of hadeeth narrates a hadeeth which is otherwise saheeh. Thus that particular chain will be labeled as Mawdoo’ (fabricated), however the hadeeth may well be transmitted reliably through a different, acceptable chain. For example, regarding the hadeeth, “The seeking of knowledge is obligatory…” Imaam Hanbal () mentions that this particular hadeeth through a certain chain of narrators is fabricated. Allaamah Shamsuddeen Dhahabi () writes that the particular chain of the hadeeth is unreliable but the hadeeth itself is supported by other reliable chains of transmission.
In the same way, a da’eef hadeeth is
so labeled because of a weakness in the particular sanad. So again, it is
entirely possible that a particularly unreliable narrator narrates a hadeeth
that is otherwise saheeh. That particular chain will be labeled as weak
but the ruling regarding the matn will not necessarily be the same. Imaam
“The narrations of weak narrators may in themselves be saheeh, da’eef or rejected. So the scholars write them down and present them to those knowledgeable in this subject for clarification. And for those knowledgeable in such ways it is easy for them to distinguish one type from another. This is the meaning of Sufyaan Thawri () when he prohibited others from narrating from Kalbi. It was said: You yourself narrate from him. He said: I know his truth from his falsehoods.”
No ruling can be based upon a mawdoo’ hadeeth. Nor is it permissible to present such a hadeeth without mentioning that it is fabricated. If a da’eef hadeeth comes along several different chains of narration, its status can become stronger. However, if one hadeeth comes from several different chains of narration, which are all mawdoo’, the reliability of the narration is not increased. This is because a multitude of bad never builds up to produce good.
The types of matters, such as permissibility/non-permissibility, whose rulings are established based on hadeeth are four: (1) firmly established beliefs (‘aqaa’id) such as Tawheed, Risaalah, the Beginning and the End, (2) more general beliefs such as virtues of the prophets and angels, (3) rulings of law, (4) virtues and descriptions of good deeds and other characteristics.
‘Aqaa’id Qat’eeyah: For the establishment of a basic Islamic tenet of belief a mutawaatir hadeeth is required.
‘Aqaa’id Zanniyah: For its proof, a hadeeth aahaad is sufficient.
Ahkaam: A hadeeth saheeh is required for establishment of a legal ruling, or at the least the hadeeth must not be weaker than hasan li ghayrihi.
Fadaa’il wa Manaaqib: For this type of subject hadeeth including those that are da’eef are acceptable. Thus, Imaam Nawawi () said:
“The scholars of hadeeth have narrated (from weak narrators) ahaadeeth relating to encouragement and discouragement, virtues of good deeds, stories, piety, good character, and others as long as there was no implication of a matter of halaal or haraam. And narrating and acting upon such types of hadeeth, except for the fabricated ones, is absolutely correct because the basic topic of such hadeeth is established in the Shari’ah already. Thus, the scholars do not reject any weak tradition unequivocally but they use it as long as it is not a solitary hadeeth relating to a legal issue.”
It is clear from this statement that following and acting upon da’eef hadeeth related to virtues and good deeds is acceptable. In some cases, even da’eef hadeeth are used for establishment of some rulings, after careful examination of the particular hadeeth. Thus Imaam Nawawi () also states:
“The scholars from the muhadditheen and fuqahaa and others say that it is permissible and even recommended to act upon hadeeth da’eef in the realm of virtues and good deeds as long as it is not fabricated. And as for legal rulings such as halaal and haraam and trade and marriage and divorce, then it is not supportable except by a saheeh or hasan, except if it is due to some careful examination [of the status of a particular hadeeth which might otherwise be weak]. For example, several weak hadeeth are used to support the undesireability of certain types of trade and marriage.”
The first example of how the weakness of a hadeeth may be strengthened is if the hadeeth is narrated through several chains, so it achieves the status of hasan li ghayrihi. ‘Allaamah Sha’raani () writes:
“When a hadeeth da’eef is narrated through many chains, the majority of the muhadditheen use it as a proof and they augment it as saheeh sometimes and hasan other times.”
A second possibility is that one finds in the
statements of the mujtahideen some support for a hadeeth da’eef.
From such a statement, the weakness of a hadeeth may be lessened. Thus, Shaami
“When a mujtahid draws judgments based on a hadeeth, it is an indication of its being sound in his opinion.”
The third possibility is that one finds some support
for a hadeeth from the sayings of the people of knowledge. This also adds
to the reliability of a hadeeth. For example, regarding Tirmidhi’s
comment about a particular hadeeth: “This is a ghareeb hadeeth,
we do not know of its chain of narration, except through this particular
individual, and the people of knowledge act upon it,” Mulla ‘Ali Qaari ()
“Nawawi said that its sanad is weak and Tirmidhi desired to strengthen it by mentioning that the people of knowledge act upon it.”
A fourth situation is that sometimes evidence supporting a hadeeth
is found in the actions of the righteous people. For example, the narration
which establishes Salaat-at-Tasbeeh is da’eef in itself but
Haakim and Bayhaqi have indicated the reason for strengthening of its position
as the fact that ‘Abdullah ibn Mubaarak ()
used to act upon this hadeeth. Writes Maulana ‘Abdul-Hayy:
“Bayhaqi says: ‘Abdullah ibnul-Mubaarak used to pray it and the righteous people used to follow each other in performing it and thus is support for the strength of this hadeeth marfoo’.”
Besides these ways, careful study and uncovering of conditions may also allow for the support of hadeeth that are otherwise da’eef.
When there are several differing hadeeth on one particular topic, the four madhaahib have each undergone a careful study and analysis of the chains of such hadeeth in order to form rulings. In the case of Imaam-e-A’zam (), in such an event he tried as far as possible to satisfy every narration and if it is not possible to fulfill two opposing narrations simultaneously, he picks the one which is closer in spirit to Islam and the fundamental of the deen. Imaam Shaafi’i () in such a situation takes the narration which is of the strongest and most reliable sanad and gives ruling based on that one. Imaam Maalik () gave preference to those narrations which reflected what the people of Madinah acted upon. And finally, Imaam Ahmad () based his decisions upon the actions of the early Muslims.
Each madhhab produced its own stars in the realm of hadeeth. Below, some of the well-known memorizers and collectors of hadeeth are given.
Ahnaaf: Haafiz Abu Bashr Dulaabi, Haafiz Ishaaq, Haafiz Abu Ja’far Tahaawi, Haafiz Ibn Abil-Awaam Sa’di, Haafiz Abu Muhammad Haarithi, Haafiz Abdul Baaqi, Haafiz Abu Bakr Raazi Jasaas, Haafiz Abu Nasr, Haafiz Abu Muhammad Samarqandi, Haafiz Shamsuddeen Sarooji, Haafiz Qutbuddeen Halbi, Haafiz ‘Alaa’uddeen Maardini, Haafiz Jamaaluddeen Dhayl’I, Haafiz ‘Alaa’uddeen Maglataa’i, Haafiz Badruddeen ‘Ayni, Haafiz Qaasim and others ().
Shawaafi’: Haafiz Daaraqutni, Haafiz Bayhaqi, Haafiz Khataabi, Haafiz ‘Izzuddeen ibn Salaam, Haafiz Ibn Daqeeq al-Eid, Haafiz ‘Iraaqi, Haafiz Dhahabi, Haafiz Ibn Atheer Jazri, Subki, Haytami, Ibn Hajar and others ().
Maalikiyyah: Haafiz Husayn ibn Isma’eel, Haafiz Raheeli, Haafiz Ibn Abdul-Birr, Haafiz Abul-Waleed al-Baaji, Haafiz Qaadi Abu Bakr al-‘Arabi, Haafiz ‘Abdul Haqq, Haafiz Qaasni ‘Iyaad, Haafiz Ibn Rushd, Haafiz Abul-Qaasim Suhayli and others ().
Hanaabilah: Haafiz ‘Abdul-Ghani al-Muqaddasi, Haafiz Abul-Faraj ibn al-Jawzi, Haafiz Ibn Quddaamah, Haafiz Ibn Rajab and others ().
May Allah have mercy on all their souls.
Among the Muslim ummah today, one unfortunately finds people who go to extremes in regards to the status of hadeeth. On the one hand are those who reject the legitimacy of the hadeeth in part or whole. Such people tread the borderline of Islam because they are in fact rejecting the authority of the Prophet () himself and they are not able to follow Quranic injunctions, as discussed in the beginning of this article. At the other extreme are those people who think that by reading Bukhari and Muslim, they have gained enough knowledge to issue rulings on matters that have already been established a thousand years ago by the madhaahib. The derivation of rulings from hadeeth is a science that requires much more knowledge and grasp of Islam than an English translation of the Qur’aan and the Sihaah Sitta.
In fact, the proper attitude for the average Muslim is to have the goal of increasing and strengthening one’s belief by reading and hearing the narrations of how the Prophet () and his Companions () lived their lives. Reading the hadeeth should have the effect of increasing one’s resolve to act upon the Sunnah and the Shari’ah of Islam, which has in turn been expounded in detail by the pious scholars of the madhaahib. Attempting to go beyond this, without qualification, redefining the rules established by a madhhab, will lead to nothing but error and unnecessary division in the ummah. And Allah knows best.
May Allah grant all Muslims the ability to study and follow the sunnah as it should be followed. And may Allah grant all Muslims the strength of imaan to work together to establish the laws of Islam as described in the Qur’aan and hadeeth and expounded by the scholars of Islam. Aameen.
Most of this booklet is based upon a translation by Nadeem Abdul Hamid of the introduction to Jaami’ Tirmidhi by Allaamah Ghulam Rasool Sa’eedi, Shaykhul-Hadeeth of Jaami’a Nu’maaniyah in Lahore. Material from other sources was also added to provide more coverage of the subject matter.
Arabic text has not been verified with the originals. If any mistakes are found, in the Arabic or otherwise, please forward the correction to the publisher.
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Last modified 08/12/05 09:25 AM - Iqra - ISSN #1062-2756