By Rasheed A. Haashim
Muslims believe that Al-Qur’an is Allah’s words revealed to the Noble Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) through angel Jibril for the guidance of mankind. Almighty Allah Himself has promised in Q.15:9 that He will truly preserve Al-Qur’an. This preservation to a larger extent extends to the numerous ahadith of the noble Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Al-Qur’an, being the primary source of Islamic legislation, its correct understanding is necessary for every Muslim. This may be highly impossible without the intervention of the prophetic traditions. In other words, one can only understand Al-Qur’an correctly in the light of the authentic traditions of the esteemed Prophet. He (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was the one whom Allah revealed the Qur’an to and he has all the required potentialities to explain it and convey its messages to the entire creatures. Thus, the indispensability of hadith of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) becomes an established fact among Muslims.
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) at the initial stage of Islam forbade his companions (sahabah) to write down his ahadith in order not to mix it with Al-Qur’an. He later allowed them to do so. The sunnah of the Prophet was preserved by Allah by enabling the companions of the Prophet and those after them (tabi‘un) to memorise, record and pass on the ahadith of the Prophet from one generation to another. Some of them even embarked on tireless journeys to collect and search for ahadith of the Prophet from scholars of hadith. Serious attempts were made in distinguishing the true and authentic statements of the Prophet from those credited to him fallaciously through weak memories, forgeries, unscrupulous lies and incoherencies.
They did this by narrating chain of transmitters (isnad) through which a particular hadith was collected. Having gone through this isnad, hadith experts can easily verify the authenticity of the hadith or otherwise through some sciences and technicalities involved. It is out of the fervent efforts of these outstanding hadith experts (muhadithun) of incredible memory, skills and analytical expertise that the traditions of the noble Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) were preserved from corruption, fabrication, distortion, forgery and lies. Imam Abdullah bin Al-Mubarak remarked: *“The isnad (chain of narration) is part of the religion, were it not for the isnad, whoever wished would have said what he liked.”*
Some ahadith were sought out to be da‘if (weak) while others were declared sahih (authentic/sound) or hasan (good/fair). Those traditions that were forged against the authentic traditions of the prophet were called mawdu‘ (forged/fabricated).
The hadith experts have made it crystal clear that both hadith sahih and hasan can be quoted and used as proofs in establishing legal and other religious matters. Likewise, they have explained that hadith mawdu‘ should not be used at all in establishing either legal or other religious affairs. Serious divergences and arguments were only expressed on the validity of hadith da‘if. In this write-up, the discussion will be on weak hadith, its viability in legislating legal matters, divergences of Muslim scholars on its application in fada’ilul-a’aml (virtuous deeds) among other relevant issues on the concept.
Imam Ibn As-Salah has defined hadith da‘if as *“Any narration which does not fulfill the conditions or requirements of hasan (good) or sahih hadith (sound and authentic)”.*
The weakness may occur in its isnad (chain of transmission) or matn (content). Some of the factors that may contribute to the weakness of a particular hadith include: discontinuity in the chain of narration, one of the reporters having a disparaged character, involvement of the reporters in heresies, opposition of the narration to a more reliable narration, excessive mistakes from the reporters, ambiguity surrounding the personality of the reporter, to mention but a few.
Hadith da’if is in-between good and fabricated hadith. The smaller the defects in its isnad and matn, the closer it is to being a hasan hadith. The more the defects and weakness in its matn and isnad, the closer the hadith will be to being a fabricated hadith (mawdu‘).
The scholars of hadith agreed that a ‘weak hadith’ must not be attributed directly to the Prophet (peace ad blessings of Allah be upon him) by saying: “The Prophet said,” the ‘Prophet did’, ‘the Prophet commanded’, ‘the Prophet prohibited,’ etc.
Imam An-Nawawi in Al-Majmu’ volume one page sixty remarks: *“The learned scholars among the hadith experts and others said: “if the hadith is weak, it will not be said of such hadith: “The Prophet (peace ad blessings of Allah be upon him) said or he did or he ordered or he prohibited or any other affirmative statement. It will only be said regarding such situations: It was reported from him or it was narrated from him or related expressions showing non-affirmative. They said: “Affirmative statements are meant for sahih and hasan while non-affirmative statements are meant for others than them”.*
It is pertinent to mention here that if there are weak ahadith on a particular issue, such ahadith may mutually support and thus strengthen each other to the level of hasan provided that the weakness found in the reporters or chains of narration is of a mild nature. Such hadith is known as hasan ligharihi (hasan due to other narrations). It is lesser in degree than hasan lidhatihi (hasan on itself). However, if a hadith is very weak, forged or it contains a reporter accused of lying against the Prophet, such very weak hadith cannot be strengthened by another like it. Imam At-Tirmidhi, Ibn As-Salah, Ibn Kathir, Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani and As-Sayuti agreed on this principle.
*VIABILITY/VALIDITY OF WEAK HADITH*
The Muslim scholars have expressed divergent views on permissibility of using a weak hadith as a proof for religious matters or otherwise. Three different views have been identified on the issue. They are as follows:
Religious issues should not be based on weak hadith whatsoever.
Religious practices may be based on weak hadith if there is no other hadith to that effect and there is no hadith that contradicts it. Weak hadith can only be used as evidence for virtuous deeds and good characters not for legal rulings.
The above cited views have been supported by different eminent scholars. The analysis of those views is as follows:
*WEAK HADITH SHOULD NOT BE USED WHATSOEVER IN RELIGIOUS MATTERS*
This opinion was upheld by Imam Abu Bakr Ibn Al-Arabi Al-Maliki, Imam Bukhari in his Sahihul-Bukhari, Imam Muslim in his Sahih Muslim, Ibn Hazm among others. Among the contemporary Muslim scholars who uphold this opinion include: Shaykh Nasirud-din Al-Albani, Dr. Rabi‘ bin Hadi Al-Madkhali, Muhammad Al-Jibali, Jamaludin Zarabozo, Amru Abdul-Mun‘im, Salim Al-Hilali, Al-Halabi to mention but few. The adherents of this view remark that weak ahadith should be absolutely rejected as using them is tantamount to invention of lies against the noble Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W) who said: *“Whoever invents a lie and attributes it to me intentionally, let him prepare his seat in the fire”.* (Bukhari and Muslim).
Imam Ibn Al-Arabi Al-Maliki as quoted by Muhammad Al-Jibali said: *“The weak hadith should be absolutely avoided and not dealt with.”*
*WEAK HADITH MAY BE USED IN RELIGIOUS ISSUES IF THERE IS NO OTHER HADITH ON THAT PARTICULAR ISSUE*
The supporters of this opinion argued that there is nothing bad in using weak ahadith as proofs for religious matters if there is no authentic hadith on the subject matter and also there is no any sound hadith that contradicts such weak one. The advocates of this view prefer using weak hadith to men’s opinions. (Ra’yur-rijal). The leading proponents of this assertion include Imam Ahmad, Abu Dawud and Abu Hanifah.
Abu Abdullah Ibnu Manduh reported from Abu Dawud that he used to cite the chain of transmission of weak hadith if he did not find other than it under a particular chapter (bab), and that he considered it stronger evidence than men’s opinions.
It has also been reported from Imam Ahmad bn Hanbal as quoted in Al-Hafiz As-Sakhawi’s work titled: “Al-Qawl Al-Badi‘’ that one may act on the basis of weak hadith if there is no other hadith to that effect and also if there is no hadith that contradicts it. In other narration, Imam Ahmad said: *“I prefer weak hadith to men’s opinions”.*
*WEAK HADITH CAN ONLY BE USED IN VIRTUOUS DEEDS (FADAILUL-A‘AMAL AND NOT IN LEGAL MATTERS (AL-AHKAM)*
The proponents of this view argued for the permissibility of using weak hadith to establish virtuous deeds and good ethical characters. They made clarification that this does not extend to legal rulings as legal matters are to be established with either sahih or hasan hadith. This opinion was upheld by overwhelming majority of the Muslim scholars. The notable among them include: Sufyan Ath-Thawri, Ibnul-Mubarak, Ibnu ‘Uyaynah, Ibnu Mahdi, Yahya bin Ma‘in, Ahmad bin Hanbal, Al-Khatib Al-Baghdadi, Ali Al-Qari, Ibnu Abdil-Barr, As-Sakhawi, Ibnul-Qayyim Al-Jawziyah, Ibnu Hajar Al-Asqalani and As-Sayuti.
The contemporary scholars who opined as such include: Shaykh Ibn Baz, Abubakr Jabir Al-Jazairi, Dr. Mustofa Murad, Dr. Yusuf Al-Qardawi among others.
*IMAM AN-NAWAWI IN SUPPORTING THE VIEW*
In his work titled Al-Adhkar page 24, Imam An-Nawawi remarked: *“the scholars among the experts in hadith (muhadithin) and the experts in Islamic jurisprudence (fuqaha’) and others have said: “it is permissible and recommended that the practice concerning good deeds and good characters, encouragement to do good and discouragement from evils (Targhib wat-Tarhib) be based on weak hadith provided it is not forged. As for legal rulings (ahkam) such as the lawful and the unlawful (Al-halal wal haram), modalities of trade (Al-Bai‘u), marriage (An-nikah), divorce (At-Talaq) and other than that, one’s practice should not be established in such situations except with sahih or hasan hadith”.
At this junction, we should know that the scholars of hadith who supported the use of weak hadith for virtuous deeds have set strict conditions in applying it.
Al-Hafiz Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani said: “There are three conditions that must be fulfilled in using weak hadith:
1. That the hadith must not be very weak.
2. That it should be used under already well-established principles. In other words, there should be a general legal basis for it.
3. That one not thinks, while practising on the basis of weak hadith, that the Prophet said it. Ibn As-Salah, An- Nawawi and Al-Iraqi added two other conditions.
4. The hadith be related to good deeds (fadailul-a‘mal) without bearing legal rulings and doctrine.
5. The hadith is not forged.
From the above mentioned conditions, it can be inferred that weak narrations are not just freely applied as common in the contemporary time. Likewise, one should avoid quoting it in legal matters as explained by Muslim scholars. One should be very conscious of the laid down conditions in order not to attribute falsely to the beloved Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) what he has not said.
From the foregone discussion, it is explicitly clear that Muslim scholars have agreed on the viability of using sahih and hasan hadith as the basis for religious matters. They prohibited quotation of forged ahadith as proofs for religious and legal matters. They only differed on the validity of weak hadith in religious matters especially on Fadailul-A‘mal (virtuous deeds). The reason is that weak hadith is lesser in status if compared with sahih and hasan hadith. Its application is even tantamount to telling lies against the noble Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) which may lead one to hell. Three different opinions have been identified under this. The overwhelming majority of the Muslim scholars opine that weak hadith can be used in virtuous deeds but not extended to legal rulings. Strict conditions were attached to this permissibility. One should not take them with levity in order not to invent lies against the authority of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).
1. Suhaib Hassan .1996. An Introduction to the Science of Hadith Darus-Salam. Riyadh.
2. Muhammad Nasirud-din Al-Albani.1987. Sifatus-Salatin- Nabiyy. Al-Maktabul-Islami. Beirut-Lebanon.
3. Yahya bn Sharaf An-Nawawi. 2006. Al-Adhkar. Maktabatus-Safa. Cairo Egypt.
4. Al-Hafiz Jalaludin As-Sayuti .1418 A.H. Tadrib Ar-Rawi. Commentary on Taqrib of An-Nawawi. Maktabatul-Kawthar. Riyadh.Fourth Edition.
5. Ahmad Muhammad Shakir. 1994. Al-Ba’ith Al-Hathith. Commentary on Sharh Ikhtisar Ulumil-Hadith of Ibn Kathir .Darus-Salam. Riyadh. First Edition.
6. Abdur-Rahim bn Al-Husayn Al-Iraqi .1997. At-Taqyid Wal-’Idah Darul-Kutubil-Ilmiyah. Beirut-Lebanon. First Edition.
7. Muhammad Al-Jibaali. 2007. The Effects of Using Weak Hadith (n.p).
*Other references are contained in the article.*
(Published in Muflihun High School 2019 yearbook pages 10-11)