Monday, September 30, 2013

Principles of Hadith Verification and Acceptance

Principles of Hadith Verification and Acceptance

Based on Shaykh Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani’s notes in the introduction to Dars Tirmidhi (1/80-86). Compiled by Waqar Gulam Dastaguir, student of Jami’ah ‘Uloom al-Qur’an, Leicester, and checked & edited by Mufti Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari

The science of hadith deals with both the narrating (riwaya) and deep comprehension (diraya) of Prophetic statements. In the section of deep comprehension, it further divides into fiqh al-hadith (understanding the text of the hadith) and mustalah al-hadith (classification of the hadiths).
In this last branch of mustalah al-hadith, hadiths are classed into various categories depending on the chain of narration, the context of the hadith, who narrated it, the number of people narrating it, among other things.
One classification is regarding the authenticity (sihha) of hadiths.
There are three main categories in this classification:
1) Sahih – the rigorously authenticated hadith
2) Hasan – the sound hadith
3) Da’if – the weak hadith
In order to classify hadiths into these three categories, hadith scholars (muhaddithun) have gone to great lengths, researching every single narrator and chain of narration. This led them to the declaration of a hadith being sahih, hasan or da’if. The act of declaring a hadith as sahih is known as tashih. For the latter two, the words tahsin and tad’if are used.
Due to the intricate nature of this science, this classification, of course, requires the one dealing with it to be a master in the science of hadith. It requires him to know the details of the narrators, the different classifications and, of course, to be acquainted with hundreds of thousands of hadiths. Scholars who dealt with these classifications were experts. They spent tens of years training to understand this science, let alone applying it. Then they spent more years in the company of others who too were experts in this science. Then they spent even more years researching and writing in this field themselves. They sacrificed their time and lives in their quest.
Some of the luminaries who excelled in this science include: Imam Nawawi, Hafiz Dhahabi, Hafiz Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Imam Yahya ibn Ma’in, Imam Ali ibn al-Madini and Hafiz Iraqi (Allah have mercy on them all).
In this article, we wish to highlight certain principles of classifying and declaring hadiths as sahih and da’if, for overlooking them can lead one to think that certain hadiths were wrongly classed by earlier scholars.
However, before explaining these principles, it is vital to know what exactly a sahih and da’if hadith is.
For a hadith to be classed as sahih, it needs to meet five conditions:
1) The chain of narration, from the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) to the final narrator, must be connected (muttasil) in such a way that every single person in the chain has himself heard or received this narration from the person he is narrating from.
2) All the narrators in the chain must be upright (‘adil) – meaning that they must be:
a) Muslim
b) Of the age of puberty (baligh)
c) Sane (‘aqil)
d) Not an open sinner (salim min al-fisq)
e) Free from bad habits (salim min khawarim al-muru’ah)
3) All the narrators must possess the ability to preserve the hadith precisely (dabt).
4) The hadith should not contradict other hadiths which have come from more reliable narrators (‘adam al-Shudhudh).
5) There are no other hidden weaknesses (‘adam al-illah al-Qadiha) – such as a hidden gap in the chain of narration.
Upon the absence of any one of the above five conditions, the hadith immediately is classed as da’if.
But if all of the conditions are met, with the third (preservation) being of a lower degree, then it is classed as hasan.
 Now that we have understood the definitions of the three classifications, it will be easier to understand the principles given by Shaykh Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani.
The principles themselves are detailed very lengthily in the Urdu language. However they have been simplified here so they may be understood by those who are not too familiar with the hadith sciences.
They are seven as follows:
Principle 1 – What is a sahih hadith?
A hadith is classed as sahih if it meets the above five conditions, as outlined. Some erroneously think that only the hadiths in Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim(known together as the Sahihayn) are sahih, or that all sahih hadiths have been covered in them.
The authenticity of a hadith is not based on which book it is in, rather on the fulfilment of the above five conditions. Imam Bukhari himself mentions that his book does not cover all the sahih hadiths.
In fact, some hadiths in other books are more authentic than some of those found in the sahihayn – several are in the Sunan of Imam ibn Majah. Imam Bukhari’s work is called “the most authentic book after the Book of Allah” in an overall sense; it does not mean every single hadith found inside it is above every single hadith found in other books.
Principle 2 – Who is authorised to declare hadiths as sahih and/or da’if?
Declaring a hadith to be sahih (tashih) or da’if (tad’if) is an intricate task which requires deep understanding and a profound knowledge of the science of hadith. Only the elite (mujtahidun) are able to do this. Imam Ibn al-Salah mentions in his book Ulum al-Hadith (more commonly known as Muqaddima ibn al-Salah) that since the turn of the fifth hijri century, scholars can no longer be deemed qualified to declare a particular hadith as sahih or da’if if a classification has already been given regarding it (which will be in most cases).
However, the mainstream scholars are of the opinion that the ability to qualify a hadith does not depend on the era of a muhaddith; rather it depends on his knowledge. This is a more accepted approach since the scholars who took on this task later on were the ones most famous for it. They include Hafiz Dhahabi, Hafiz Ibn Hajar, Allama Ayni, Hafiz Sakhawi, Hafiz Zayla’i, Hafiz Iraqi amongst many others. Imam Anwar Shah al-Kashmiri, who passed away less than a century ago (1933), was also considered to be at this level.
Principle 3 – Scholars can disagree about the authenticity of a particular hadith
Since classifying hadiths is based on the independent research of each scholar, sometimes we find mixed opinions of expert scholars (mujtahids) regarding the authenticity of a particular narrator or hadith.
It is a matter of ijtihad; hence no scholar can be condemned or rebuked for his position. Moreover, when an expert Imam (mujtahid) uses a particular hadith as proof for a (fiqh) ruling, it shows that he believes it to be worthy enough to be used as a proof. It would be wrong, in such an instance, to present the opinion of another expert scholar and say that the hadith is not worthy of being used as a proof, since both are experts (mujtahids).
Remember that when a scholar says that this hadith is sahih or da’if, it is not a factual statement; it is merely his personal opinion based on his research.
Principle 4 – A sahih hadith may be considered da’if in later times
At times, it is possible that an earlier scholar – like Imam Abu Hanifa – finds a particular hadith to be completely authentic when it reaches him through the Companions (sahaba) and those succeeding them (tabi’un). However, a weakness in the chain of narration could have appeared as it progresses past this Imam. In such an instance, it would be wrong to accuse the earlier Imam of using a weak hadith if it was perceivably sahih in his time but da’if later on. Therefore, a hadith which was regarded as da’if in Imam Bukhari’s time, for example, was not necessarily as such at the time of the earlier scholars.
Principle 5 – How authentic is a sahih hadith, and do we leave da’if hadiths altogether?
Imam ibn al-Salah, the renowned hadith expert, states in his Muqaddima that just because a hadith is given the status of being sahih, it does not necessitate that in actual fact it is undeniably sahih. It merely means that from a technical aspect in terms of fulfilling the five conditions, the hadith is sahih and therefore it is most likely that it will be sahih in actual terms as well.
However, there remains a possibility that even a hadith considered as sahih may not actually be as such, since a reliable narrator (known as thiqa) can also make a mistake. But this “possibility” is not given any credit unless there are indications and strong proofs elsewhere (such as the hadith opposing a clear Qur’anic verse or other more authentic hadiths) suggesting that a mistake may have been made by a narrator of this sahih hadith. If such strong proofs are found, it is perfectly acceptable to not act upon this sahih hadith.
Likewise, just because a hadith has been given the status of being da’if, it does not necessitate that in actual fact it is undeniably incorrect. It merely means that from a technical aspect the hadith is da’if and therefore it is most likely that it will be da’if in actual terms as well.
However, there remains a possibility that a non-authentic narrator has narrated the hadith correctly; nobody is wrong every time. But just like with the sahih hadith, it is necessary to have strong indications and proofs to suggest that this hadith is acceptable. If such strong proofs are found, it is perfectly acceptable to act upon this da’if hadith.
Based on this, if a mujtahid Imam – due to other strong proofs – chooses not to act upon a hadith technically considered as sahih, or chooses to act upon a hadith technically considered as da’if, he cannot be accused of “leaving the sunnah” or as “one who acts upon weak narrations.”
Imam Tirmidhi, one of the six authors of the widely taught six hadith collections, mentions in his Sunan that he has included two hadiths in his book which are sahih, yet no one has acted upon them. The scholars have reached a consensus on leaving both, despite their being sahih, due to other strong proofs – but no one was accused of “leaving the sunnah.” There is also a da’if hadith found in the same collection which is acted upon and accepted by many scholars due to other strong proofs, such as Imam Malik, Imam Shafi’i, Imam Ahmad and Imam Awza’i – but no one was accused of “acting upon a weak narration.”
Principle 6 – A da’if hadith is accepted if supported by the actions of the Sahaba and Tabi’un
Many hadith experts and scholars of principles of Islamic jurisprudence (usul) assert that if a hadith is da’if in its chain of narration, but the ruling given in it was acted upon by the Companions (sahaba) and those who followed them (tabi’un), it can be used as a proof, despite being da’if. An example of this is the ruling of a slave girl’s divorce and waiting period. In a da’if  hadith it is narrated to be two divorces and two menstrual cycles. In spite of it being da’if, this was still found to be the common understanding of the sahaba and tabi’un. This is the very same principle which Imam Abu Hanifa uses in many of his rulings. He accepts certain narrations technically considered as da’if today, yet the sahaba acknowledged their correctness through their actions.
Furthermore, a sound (hasan) hadith can be used to derive rulings just like sahih hadiths.
So it’s important to know that a da’if narration may be elevated to the level of a sound (hasan) hadith if there are several chains of narration for it. This type of sound (hasan) hadith is known as hasan li ghayrihi (meaning “sound due to the support of other narrations”).
Principle 7 – What happens if two authentic hadiths contradict each other in their context?
In the instance of authentic and acceptable hadiths contradicting each other, some jurists (fuqaha) and hadith experts (muhaddithun) compare the chains of both and act upon the one considered as more authentic. Others like Imam Abu Hanifa, however, do not always prefer the one which has the more authentic chain of narration; instead they select the one which conforms to the Qur’an and general spirit of Shari’ah the most, regardless if it has a less authentic chain.
Though this decision may seem “eccentric” to some, it is in fact more likely to be the correct one since you are making a decision based on what the boundaries of Shari’ah dictate. Just having a stronger chain of narration does not necessitate a hadith’s superiority; it is much more than that.
This is one of the reasons why it is not recommended for people who do not possess the mastery of the hadith sciences to take up a position where they devise their own rulings based on what they understand from the hadiths they read.
More than often, they will find many contradictions in the hadith collections. This will lead them to unnecessary confusion, strife, conflict with others, and worst of all, the separation and disunity of the Ummah.
By keeping the above broad principles of “hadith verification and acceptability” in mind, much of the objection levied against earlier mujtahid Imams would no longer remain. And Allah knows best.

-Taken from

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Hadith books and Fiqh Imams: Ibn Taymiya

 The claim made by some naive people these days that today's scholars have access to more hadiths than  Imam Abu Hanifa and other fiqh Imams is totally fallacious.
Imam Ibn Taymiya (ra) in Raf’ al-Malam says, “If we were to believe that the all the Ahadith of Rasulullah (Sallalahu Alaihi Wasallam) were confined to books, then no Alim knows all that is written in books and nor is it possible for anyone to know all. Instead, at times a person has many books with him but does not know all which it contains. In fact, those who came before the compilation of these (Hadeeth) books were much more knowledgeable than those that came afterwards. This is due to the fact that many Ahadith were authentic in their time but reached to us through an unknown narrator, or with a broken chain, or did not reach us at all…Their books were their hearts which contained many folds more than what is contained in these [present] books. And this is something that a person with some understanding of the matter has not the slightest doubt. (Ahtar al-Hadith al-Shareef p. 173& 186 Dar al-Basha’ir al-Islamiya) 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Legitimate Islamic Learning: Being People of Isnad

Legitimate Islamic Learning: Being People of Isnad

One cannot worship God with loving submission, save with sound sacred knowledge or ‘ilm. The Golden Rule in this regard was stated by Imam al-Bukhari in these terms:al-‘ilmu qabla’l-qawli wa’l-‘aml – ‘Knowledge comes before speech and action.’1 If we don’t possess sound knowledge, we may make something a part of the religion which should never be part of it – effectively introducing an innovation or bid‘ah into Islam. One hadith says: ‘Whoever does an act that we haven’t instructed, it shall be rejected.’ [Muslim, no.1718] The Qur’an itself says: Do they have partners who have made lawful for them in religion that which God has given no permission for? [42:21]

What follows are six points that summarise, God-willing, the issue of what constitutes legitimate Islamic learning:
1. The crux of how one seeks sacred knowledge is best expressed by a famous maxim: ‘Indeed this knowledge is religion, so look from whom you take your religion.’2 The upshot is that one avoids learning religion from those who are not Imams; or people not schooled, qualified or authorised in the traditional sciences: be it in theology, law, hadith, Qur’anic recital (tajwid), or any other discipline.
2. This qualification/authorisation (‘ijazah) must be part of an unbroken chain (isnad) of learning extending back to the Prophet, peace be upon him. One hadith says: ‘This knowledge will be carried by the trustworthy ones of every generation: they will expel from it the distortions of the extremists, the fabrications of the liars, and the mistaken interpretations of the ignorant.’ [Bayhaqi, Sunan, 10:209] If one takes knowledge from those outside of this unbroken chain, there is no telling what deviation can be passed-off as “the real deal” – as is all too often the case in these times.
3. To believe that the truths of Islam existed amongst the salaf; the pious predecessors, but then “sahih” or “authentic” Islam was lost or neglected for the next thousand years or so; until recently when it was rediscovered, is nothing but a dangerous myth which flies in the face of what God proclaimed in the Qur’an: Indeed, it was We who sent down the Remembrance, and of a surety We will preserve it. [15:9] Consider also these following hadiths: ‘My ummah shall never unite upon misguidance.’ [Al-Tirmidhi, no.2255] And: ‘There shall never cease to be a group of my ummah unmistakably upon the truth.’ [Al-Tirmidhi, no.2230; Muslim, no.1920] Also the hadith cited earlier: ‘This knowledge will be carried by the trustworthy ones of every generation.’ [Bayhaqi, Sunan, 10:209]
What these proof-texts collectively tell us is that God has promised that knowledge of Islam shall always be kept intact and be transmitted from one generation of scholars to the next, in an unbroken chain. While it is true that individual scholars can and do err; and while it is true that individual scholars can and do espouse aberrant (shadhdh) opinions that are excluded from the umbrella of legitimate scholarly differences; it is utterly preposterous to believe that many truths and sunnahs were unknown, lost or neglected by the entire scholarly community for many centuries (even a millenium), only to be revived or rediscovered by certain scholars in our time! Such a belief could only be held by one whose heart is plagued either with ignorance (jahalah), innovation (bid‘ah), hypocrisy (nifaq), deviation (zandaqah) or disbelief (kufr). And we seek refuge in God from such things.
4. In terms of fiqh (Islamic law and rulings; or to use its modern equivalent, “positive law”) the unbroken chain now only exists in the four remaining Sunni schools of law or madhhabs: Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi‘i and Hanbali. To the question as to why a person cannot follow other Imams or schools of fiqh besides these four, Ibn Rajab says: ‘It is said [in reply]: We have already alerted you to the reason for preventing this, which is that the schools of other than these [four] were not widely diffused, nor fully codified. At times views are ascribed to them which they never said, or their pronouncements are understood in ways they never intended. There is no [expert in] these schools to defend them or point out where such slips and errors lie – contrary to the case of the well-known madhhabs.’3 Hence it is from these four madhhabs and their relied-upon (mu‘tamad) manuals and teachers that fiqh must be taken.
5. As to a murajji‘, a “comparatist” (a highly-versed jurist qualified to evaluate the views of the mujtahid Imams and to then select the ruling he deems to be the ‘strongest’), al-Dhahabi wrote: ‘There is no doubt, one who has an intimate familiarity with fiqh, and whose knowledge is copious and intentions are sound, should not rigidly cling to one specific madhhab in all that it states. For maybe another madhhab has stronger proofs in a certain issue, or evidence may emerge by which the proof is established to him. In such a case, he must not follow his Imam, but must act by what the proof necessitates; following another mujtahid Imam whose view agrees with the evidence – doing so not out of pursuing whims and desires. However, he must not to give a fatwa to the public, except in accordance with the madhhab of his Imam.’4
6. Ibn al-Qayyim was asked about someone who possessed Sahih al-Bukhari, or Sahih Muslim, or one of the Sunans, and whether he may act on the hadiths in them, without first consulting a scholar. He replied thus: ‘The correct view in the matter is that there is some detail: If the textual indication in the hadith (dalalat al-hadith) is obvious and clear to whoever hears it, and allows for no other plausable reading, he should act on it and give fatwa according to it: he doesn’t need the approval of any jurist or Imam. The saying of the Prophet, peace be upon him, is proof in itself, no matter who it opposes. But if the indication is vague, or the intent is unclear, then it is unlawful for him to act on it or to give a fatwa based upon what he thinks it means, until he asks a scholar and gets clarity about the meaning of the hadith … This applies to one who is qualified, but has some shortcomings in his knowledge of fiqh, the principles of the legalists, and the Arabic language. If he isn’t of those who are qualified, his duty is simply to act on what God says: So ask the people of knowledge if you do not know. [16:43]‘5
Much more can be said about the subject, but what has preceeded should suffice. The sum and substance being that fiqh authority and orthodoxy resides in the four Sunni schools of law. The current ‘do-it-yourself’ fiqh culture which actively encourages the lay people, or those unschooled in fiqh, to dabble in the sacred texts and to ‘weigh-up’ the proofs (or the equally absurd ‘the-hadith-is-clear’ syndrome), are unwitting pawns who only serve to plunge this fragile ummah into even further religious anarchy. Such a methodology is to be seen for what it truly is: dal mudill: ’misguided and misguiding!’ Those holding such mistaken notions must correct them.

1. Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari (Damascus: Dar Ibn Kathir, 2002), 29.
2. Muslim b. al-Hajjaj, Sahih Muslim (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1991), 14.
3. Al-Radd ala man Ittabaah Ghayra’l-Madhahib al-Arbaah (Makkah: Dar al-‘Alam al-Fuwa’id, 1997), 33-4.
4. Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 8:93-4.
5. I‘lam al-Muwaqqi‘in (Jeddah: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2002) 6:164.