How hadith narrations are confirmed
In the early years after the Prophet’s death the companions used to write down hadiths without paying much attention to their isnads, or chains of transmission. But when Islam began to spread into new lands and the number of Muslims grew rapidly, certain intellectual currents began to stir. These in turn gave rise to sects and cults, such as the Qadariyah (who denied predestination and the Jabriyah who confirmed predestination wrongly, and numerous Sufi cults, not to mention new philosophical movements. With these developments, deviant groups began to spread, calling people to extremist beliefs of one form or another. Some, like the Shias, glorified individuals, while others, such as the Sufis, began to invent extreme forms of asceticism and
dependence upon beggary as they withdrew from the world, cutting all ties to their wives, children and parents.
Every sect began to fabricate hadiths to support its claims and many contradictory views and many innovations began to be expressed through fabricated hadiths. By that time, the companions and those who had come after them had begun to take an uncompromising stand in front of a babble of contradictory claims.
What we now know as the science of biography and biographical criticism appeared. This consisted in the detailed study of the circumstances and means by which a hadith had been transmitted, and included an assessment of the trustworthiness of those who related the account, their moral character, and their
commitment in following the Sunnah. It included considerations for the times in which they lived, the places where they lived, and information about the names of their fathers and their children, the names
of their teachers and their students.
They divided the hadith into three broad categories:
1. sahih (correct).
2. da’eef (incorrect or weak).
3. maudu (false or fabricated). The category of a hadith was determined by its isnad (chain of transmission) and by whether or not it met had the criteria for a particular group. Ibn Sirin said, “They (the companions and their followers, taabi’een(13)) used not to ask about the isnad (names of narrators), but when the trials (of setting false narrations) began, we then started saying, ‘name to us your narrators. After this they were observing cautiously the status of every narrator, and then they take narrations from those who were known to be followers of the Sunnah, and leave (or reject) the narrations of those who were known as innovators in religion.” Also Abdullah Ibn al-Mubarak said, “isnad (observing chain of narration) is part of religion. Without isnad, any one will say what he desires.”(14).
Scholars say that the science of isnad is a special gift of Allah to the nation of Muhammad. It was given in order to protect the trustworthiness of accounts. The People of the Book have no connected chain of what they narrate about their prophets, so all their narrations in their books are disconnected. Likewise, the deviant innovators of this Ummah (nation).
This system of isnad is only for those to whom Allah has granted it, to the people of Islam and of the Sunnah, who use it to distinguish correct from incorrect narrations, to distinguish the straight from the
The people of innovation and the disbelievers only possess a mass of unchained stories that they depend upon and set as bases for matters of their religion, without knowing from where they came, and without knowing what is true from what is not; or what is beneficial from what is useless.(15)
We can realize the extent of their accuracy in following up the chain of narration and the investigation of the status of every narrator when we see them, for example, distinguishing between two kinds of liars among narrators.
They call the first liar as kaadhib, one who was known to be a liar, but was not caught fabricating lies against the Prophet. Therefore they define his narration as munkar (indefinite or indeterminate) narration. While they define the second liar as kadhaab, one who was caught with lies against the Prophet. And they define his narration as Maudu’ apocryphal or spurious. This is the worst kind of narration and its use is extremely prohibited.
Many scholars have traced all of the fabricated hadiths we know of, and collected them into books, together with notes about them and warnings to people against them. This investigation and accuracy come as a fulfillment of what the Prophet said, “It is enough evil that one narrates anything he hears.” (i.e without examining the truth of what he narrates )(16) Al-Shafi’i said that “The likeness of a person who seeks a hadith without isnad (examining its trustworthiness) is as the likeness of a wood gatherer who collects
wood by night, carrying home with it a snake while he does not perceive it.”(17) Al-Shafi’I as well as other scholars demonstrated the methodology of their school of thought by saying, “The sahih (correct) hadith is our madhhab (i.e reliable source of knowledge that we ought to take before giving personal thoughts or verdicts).” (18)
“Do not imitate us blindly apart from the correct Hadith.” But people abandoned this methodology of their scholars when the words and the opinion of men became to them madhhab, even if their opinions were contradictory to the correct sahih hadiths of the Prophet . After words, other people after them made it obligatory to follow blindly what their scholars had forbade them. Allah has preserved the Sunnah of His Prophet with this science of isnad. He used for it reviewers, memorizers, and guardians of the Prophet’s Sunnah.
The world did not know anyone equal to them in their wideness of memory which resulted in some of them memorizing almost one million Hadith with their narrators and texts.
They have set scientific rules for assessing the reliability of a hadith which are more stringent and more detailed than have ever been known before. Therefore, this Nation should return to the way of our predecessors of verifying the narrations about the Prophet , and not narrating anything that it hears except after checking its chain of narration.
One should be careful, that he is conveying what the Prophet said, not a fabrication of the liars. The Prophet said, “Whoever quotes a hadith of mine which he knows is a lie, he is one of two liars.” (19) And he said, “Whoever deliberately attributes a lie to me should prepare his place in hellfire.”
Whoever says, “The Prophet said” should make sure that he said it, otherwise he will be conveying the falsehood of the liar, not the message of the Prophet , and then he is subjecting himself to a seat of fire in Hell. For one should convey the message of the Prophet not that of the liar.
Many have been indulgent about this matter, and we find many authors of Islamic books do not indicate the degree of reliability of the hadiths that they cite in their books. They even use fabricated hadith which are untrue, and without saying anything more, refer to hadiths from primary sources such as Ahmad and Tirmithi that contain both correct and incorrect narrations. But this referring is still not sufficient unless degree of hadith reliability is shown, such as to say, “Narrated by Ahmad and it is correct,” or better yet to use only the reliable ones.
The reason why we find incorrect narrations being used is that some scholars allow incorrect narrations that contain the encouragement about virtue of an act. But it should be known that these scholars had set conditions for this case:
• That they not be extremely weak.
• That they be related to the act that was authentically legitimized.
• That one who uses them should mention clearly their weakness.
• That they be used only in the case of meritorious acts, such as urging people to righteousness.
• That one should never say, in this instance, “The Prophet said…”
Even then, many scholars, including Yahya b. Ma’in, Ibn al-Arabi, Bukhari, and Muslim insisted that a da’eef (weak) hadith must never be related. They said that leniency in the matter of hadiths that relate to meritorious refers to acts that had been authentically proved by either by the Qur’an or the sunnah. One should realize that Allah did not preserve the sunnah by using people who spent their lives in memorizing millions of narrations and distinguishing between the correct from the incorrect one, except to make it sufficient for our need of guidance. Therefore, what we have of the correct narrations should be enough for us, than using the incorrect ones.
(13) The generation who did not see the Prophet but saw his companions who taught them the religion.
(14) Muslim Volume 1 P. 15.
(15) Ibn Sirin, Majmu’a al-fatawa, 1/9.
(16) Muslim 1/10; Abu Daud, (4992).
(17) Faid al-qadir, 1/433.
(18) Meaning: the correct narration is the source of our school of thought, because the prophet’s saying
is more important than our thoughts, for what he has given us is taken from Allah. While usually the word madhab means « a school of thought».
(19) That is to say, the person who relates a lie is the same as the person who makes it up.