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The Classification of Hadeeth

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An Important Argument regarding the Ahad Hadeeth

Taken from, “An Introduction to the Principles of Tafseer”, by Sheikh ul-Islaam Ibn Taimeeyah. p.32

Mursal [1] Hadeeth which have been transmitted through numerous channels, and not been produced by collusion between the transmitters, and whose agreement with each other is merely incidental, are definitely true. For a Hadeeth is either authentic and true to the event, or it is a lie willfully concocted by the narrator, or erroneous wherein he has inadvertently committed some error. The report which is free from deliberate lie and accidental error is certainly

Hence if a Hadeeth is reported through two or more channels, and if the transmitters are not found to have conspired, and if it is true that agreements on such things did not happen without collaboration, simply by chance, we can be sure of its authenticity. Suppose, a person reports an event and gives details of what was said and done, then another person whom we know that he did not discuss with the first, reports the event and mentions all the words and actions the first had reported, we will conclude that the event is true and has been, on the whole, correctly reported. For if both give a wrong report, whether deliberately or by mistake, it is very unusual that one would come out with the same details as the other. This would not be possible unless one conspires with the other. To be sure, it is very much possible that a person composes one verse of poetry and another composes the same verse without knowledge of the first, or that one tells a lie and another person tells a similar lie. But it is certainly not possible that a poet composes a whole long poem with all its embellishments and charms in a particular meter and rhyme, and another poet composes the same poem without any difference in language, content or size. If such a thing does happen, we will only conclude that one has taken it from the other. Similarly, if one produces a long report and mentions a lot of things, and another gives the same report, he has either colluded with the other or taken it from him, or else the report is true.

In this way we become sure of the authenticity of most of the Hadeeth that have been transmitted by many channels. However, it is true that a Hadeeth which has been transmitted by only one channel will not be enough; if it is mursal, or if there is some weakness in the transmission. Even multi-channelled Hadeeth do not guarantee the accuracy of words or details; these things cannot be ascertained in this way. We have to have another method to establish the accuracy of words and details. For example: we known that the battle of Badr occurred before the battle of Uhud. This is established by tawaatur (that is, by a stream of traditions with unbroken continuity). We also know that Hamzah (an uncle of the Prophet), 'Alee  and Ubaydah  came out to meet 'Utbah, Shaybah and al-Waleed during the combat, and that 'Alee killed al-Waleed and Hamzah killed his combatant; but we are not sure as to whom Hamzah fought, 'Utbah or Shaybah. One must keep this principle in mind: for it is the criterion by which one can ascertain the truth of many of the Hadeeth in the field of Tafseer and maghaazee as well as the reports about the life and the words of other people.

Hence, if a Hadeeth to which this principle may apply is reported from the Prophet  by two men, and we come to know that neither took it from the other, we will be sure of its authenticity, particularly when it is known that the reporters do not lie, even though they might forget something or commit some error in their reporting. Those who know the companions like Ibn Mas'ood [2], Ubay ibn Ka'b [3], Ibn 'Umar [4], Jaabir [5], Abu Sa’eed [6], Abu Hurayrah [7] and others, definitely know that none of them would tell a lie about the Prophet  and certainly not those Companions who are greater than them. It is just like knowing the veracity [8]of someone whom you have experienced and tested for a long time that he does not steal money, or commit robbery or give false witness, etc.

Similarly, one who knows the successors of Madeenah, Makkah, Syria and Basrah such as Abu Saalih al-Sammaan, al-A'raj, Sulaymaan ibn Yaasir [9], Zayd ibn Aslam and others like them know certainly that they would not lie in Hadeeth, not to mention those who are better than them like Muhammad ibn Seereen [10], al-Qaasim ibn Muhammad [11], Sa'eed ibn al-Musayyib [12], 'Ubaydah al-Salmaanee [13], Alqamah and al-Aswad, etc. Sure, they may err; for people often forget and commit errors. However, there are huffaz (memorisers and narrators) of Hadeeth  such as al-Sha'bee, al-Zuhree, Urwah, Qataadah [14] and al-Thawree who have been known to be far from error. Al-Zuhree and al-Thawree, in particular, were famous for that in their time. It has been common saying that Ibn Shihaab al-Zuhree never commits error though he has memorised a lot of Ahadeeth.

Therefore if a long Hadeeth is reported by two different channels without prior discussion between the report, it cannot be wrong on the whole, even though it might not be completely free from error. Hence, if someone relates a long and elaborate story, and another relates exactly as the first without prior discussion between them, the story as a whole cannot be wrong. Nor can its reporters be imagined to have lied if they had not previously entered into a conspiracy.

“…..In fact, the great majority of the Ahadeeth which al-Bukhaaree and Muslim have in their books, have definitely been said by the Prophet. The greater part of his collection has been found to be of this kind, and scholars have approved of them and accepted them, and the ummah does not agree on something which is not true….. (If the ummah approved of a false Hadeeth) it would mean that they agreed on approving a thing which was in fact false. It would amount to a consensus (Ijma) on untruth, which is ruled out …. However, if there is a consensus on a Hadeeth, we would be sure that it is true in meaning as well as wording.
This is the basis of the principle on which the scholars of all schools of thought agree and that if the ummah accepts a one-man Hadeeth (khabar al-waahid) and approves of it and acts upon it, it gives Knowledge.

Those who are well aquainted with the lives of the transmitters of Hadeeth can make the best use of a Hadeeth. (This is why they have collected) Hadeeth reported by transmitters who are not well known or who are quiet weak in their memory, as well as Hadeeth that are Mursal. (This is because) even though by themselves these Hadeeth do not prove anything, they can nonetheless to used to strengthen other Hadeeth. Ahmed ibn Hambal has said that sometimes he notes down the Hadeeth of a person just to strengthen other Hadeeth. As an example he has mentioned the name of Abdullah ibn Lahay’ah (d.174/790) the Qadi of Egypt. The man narrated a lot of Hadeeth and was one of the best men of Hadeeth. But since his books were burned in a fire, he began to make errors in his narration. Consequently, Ahmed used his Hadeeth only as a supporting evidence.
 
 

 
The Important points of this section by Sheikh ul-Islaam Ibn Taimeeyah are
  • Ahad Hadeeths that have multi channels of transmissions are a valid source of Knowledge, if there had been no prior discussion or agreement between the reporters; because in this way the possibility of deliberate fabrication is eliminated.
  • The reliability of the reporters of the Hadeeth must be taken into consideration, because narrations by some reporters carry more weight than others.
  •  Ijmaa’ (consensus) of the scholars on a perticular Hadeeth is another important factor, because the Messenger of Allaah said, “Indeed Allah will never unite this Ummah upon misguidance.” Reported by at-Tirmidhi (no.2269) in the Book of Fitan.
  •   Scholars of Hadeeth often use a Hadeeth, which suffers from error caused by weakness of memory as a supportive evidence.

 


F O O T N O T E S

[1] If in the Sanad of a perticular Hadeeth, the link between the Successor (Tabi’ee) and the Prophet is missing, the Hadeeth is Mursal (hurried), eg. when a Successor (Tabi’ee) says, “The Prophet said .....” A detailed discussion on the authority of a Mursal Hadeeth in light of the various scholars of Hadeeth shall follow after this section
[2] Abu Abdur-Rehman ibn Masood   (d.32/652) was one of the earliest six to embrace Islaam, was in the service of the Prophet for many years. He was among the most Knowledgeable Companions, of the Qur'aan. Umer   sent him to Koofah to teach the Qur'aan, where he served as a qadee and incharge of the government treasury
[3] Ubay ibn Ka'b al-Ansaaree, one of the scribes of the Qur'aan who wrote part of it at the Prophet's bidding, taught the Qur'aan at Madeenah. He died during the rule of 'Umar b. al-Khattaab.

[4]Abdullah ibn Umer b. al-Khattab (d.74/693) one of the most outstanding young Companions, and a learned scholar known for his piety and strict immitation of the Prophetic precepts, distinguished himself as a narrator of Hadeeth, next only to the most prolific narrator, Abu Hurairah .

[5] Jaabir b. 'Abdullaah al Ansaaree (16/607-78/687) one of the prolific transmitters of Hadeeth, taught Hadeeth at the mosque of the Prophet at Madeenah

[6] Abu Sa’eed Sa'd ibn Maalik b . Sinaan al-Khudree was one of those men who were in the service of the Prophet at different times. He has narrated quite a lot of hudeeth. He died at Madeenah

[7] Abu Hurayrah  (d.58/678), the greatest narrator of Hadeeth has narrated according to a very cautious recent study, some 1236 Ahadeeth ('Azami, Studies in Hadeeth  Methodology and literature, Indianapolis, American Trust Publication, 1977, p.26.)

[8] ve•rac•i•ty  -ties 1 : devotion to truth : TRUTHFULNESS 2 : conformity with fact : ACCURACY 3 : something true

[9] Abu Saalih Zakwaan b. 'Abdullaah al-Sammaan (d.203/818), Abu Hazi Abd al-Rahmaan b. Hurmooz al-A'raj (d. 117/735), and Sulaymaan b. Yaasir (d. 107/725) are all from Madeenah and are well known narrators of Hadeeth.

[10] Muhammad ibn Seereen (d.110/728), a very distinguished successor and scholar of Hadeeth was own for his piety and devotions

[11] Al-Qaasim b. Muhammad, the grandson of Abu Bakr al-Siddeeq ? and a scholar of Hadeeth and fiqh died in 106/724

[12] Abu Muhammed Sa’eed ibn al-Musayyib (d.94/712), a great scholar of Hadeeth, fiqh and the Qur'aan is hailed as the leader of the Successors (Sayyid al-Tabi'een).

[13] Ubaydah b. 'Amr Salmaanee, a well known narrator of Hadeeth, a faqeeh and a judge from Yemen died the year 72/691

[14] Abu l-Khattaab Qataadah b. Du'amah (d. 118/736), a man of extraordinary memory was the most distinguished narrator of Hadeeth at Basra

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