Fighting Over Weak Hadith

What is needed in my view is that we campaign against general ignorance of religion. Weak hadith are not the main issue; it is in how people use hadith, weak or authentic which seems to cause so many problems. People’s mis-use and misunderstanding of authentic hadith is a greater problem than people’s use of weak hadith

By Shaykh Luqman Ahmad

It has been prophesized that the Muslim Ummah would follow the path of those that came before us, i.e., the Jews and the Christians. “You will follow the ways of those nations who were before you, … much so that even if they entered a hole of a lizard, you would follow them[1].Nowhere has this been more apparent than in our differing with each other in matters of religion.  “The Religion before Allah is Islam (submission to His Will): Nor did the People of the Book dissent therefrom except through envy of each other, after knowledge had come to them.´3:19. In today’s times, differences amongst Muslims frequently take on an air of hostility and acrimony.  As Muslim Americans become more familiar with principles of hadith methodology, we find ourselves at odds over many issues relating to statements attributed to our beloved Prophet (SAWS). Historically, such topics were the exclusive realm of legitimate scholars, their students and people who had great familiarity with the disciplines of sacred knowledge. Nowadays, as the lines between teacher and student have become blurred, some Muslims find themselves in vociferous contention over amongst other issues, weak hadith.

People dispute over weak hadith to a degree that some people repudiate others, not for the way they practice religion, but in the hadith they read. I have seen where people have virtually vilified scholars for using weak hadith in their books, or Imams who quote weak hadith in their sermons,  or suggested that we throw books out into the garbage pile because they  contained weak hadith or that we avoid this or that book because of the presence of weak hadith in them. Of course, all of this in nonsensical; It is incredulous that Muslims fight and argue over the use of weak hadith in unprecedented ways. However, these types of disputes are becoming commonplace amongst American Muslims.

We should all understand that as Muslims, we should strive to be accurate in what we report about the Prophet (SAWS), and that indeed amongst the volumes of prophetic traditions reported about the Prophet (SAWS) there are reports that are authentic (sahih or hasan), and there are reports that are not authentic, otherwise known as da’eef (weak). In any matter relating to deen, authentic hadith of the Prophet (SAWS) are first and foremost, and form the basis and foundation of our religion along with the Quran. However, weak hadith are not going to be expunged from hadith literature and people will continue to encounter them in books, read them and transmit them to others.  Thus, it is helpful to understand they way weak hadith are used in our religion.

 A weak hadith does not necessarily mean that the Prophet (SAWS) did not say, or sanction a thing; it simply means that the hadith does not meet the standard of authenticity set by hadith scholars.  Weak hadith contribute to the overall understanding of the religion of Islam, and its auxiliary sciences   of knowledge, such as tafseer (exegesis), fiqh (jurisprudence), and history. This issue of weak hadith is not simply a matter that all weak hadith are bad and need to be trashed as some Muslims are suggesting. There are different categories and variants of weakness ranging from 50 types according to ibn Habbaaani, to seventy something categories according to ibn Kathir, to over one-hundred and twenty categories of weak hadith according to Sharfud Deen al-Manaawi. A hadith can have multiple chains of transmission, each with the same or slightly different wording. Sometimes a hadith is weak when related through a particular chain of transmission but strong when related to another chain.

Generally speaking, there is nothing inherently wrong with quoting weak hadith, otherwise scholars like Imam Ahmad, Imam an-Nawawi, Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali, as-Shawkaani, and so many countless others, would not have done so. Even Imam Bukhaari uses weak hadith in his book ‘Adab al-Mufrad’ (Muslim Manners). Imam Ahmad and Imam Shaafi’ee both consider weak hadith as a legitimate evidentiary resource used in arriving at rulings. It is not in the best interest of Muslims to argue about whether or not a person should read or use weak hadith. In fact, doing so only exposes a person’s ignorance of Islamic procedural law (usul al-fiqh).

It is important that people understand how to use or not to use hadith, both weak and authentic. Some people have advocated reading only hadith from Bukhaari or Muslim since they are two collections of prophetic tradition that scholars consider to be completely authentic. However there are other collections of hadith that are authentic as well; such as the Sahih of Ibn Khuzaimah, the Sahih of Ibn Habbaani, the Sahih of Abu Awaanah, and others. Ibn Hajar al-Asqalaani in his explanation of the classical work on hadith methodology; “Nakh’batul Fikr fee Mustalihaat Ahlul Thikr”, says, “Scholars agree that it is incumbent to act upon every sound authentic hadith, even if was not produced by the two sheikhs (Bukhaari and Muslim)[1].

[1] Qawaa’id at-Tah’deeth, Jamaaluddeen al-Qaasimee, p. 90. In my opinion, a person should not restrict themselves to reading only certain books of hadith as there are dozens of hadith collections and they all have benefit. Muslims should not engage in any campaign against weak hadith, although it is necessary to distinguish between the authentic and the not authentic, as many of our illustrious scholars have done for us.

What is needed in my view is that we campaign against general ignorance of religion. Weak hadith are not the main issue; it is in how people use hadith, weak or authentic which seems to cause so many problems. People’s mis-use and misunderstanding of authentic hadith is a greater problem than people’s use of weak hadith. The important thing is to correctly understand the deen of Islam as a whole, so that it can be practiced properly. For example, the hadith “He who memorizes forty hadith will enter paradise and be raised alongside the scholars“, although it has many variations and different chains of transmission, is itself a weak hadith. However, scholars have used this hadith as an inspiration to compile collections of forty hadith, such as the forty hadith compiled by Imam Nawawi. Another example are mursal (incompletely transmitted hadith). A hadith can have a sound chain of reputable narrators but omit the name of the companion of the Prophet (SAWS) from whom the hadith was taken. Imam Shaafi’ee used to use mursal hadith attributed to Sa’eed ibn al-Musayyib, who was a taabi’ee[2], since the latter was considered one of the Imams of the taabi’een, and it was extremely unlikely that he would lie about the Prophet (SAWS) or lie about having heard a hadith from a companion of the Prophet (SAWS).  Thus when a personage such as Sa’eed ibn al-Musayyib would say; “the messenger of Allah (SAWS) said so and so”, its understood by scholars that he (Sa’eed ibn al-Musayyib) got the information from a companion of the Prophet (SAWS) although he does not mention the companion by name. It’s like an otherwise trustworthy person saying; ‘my grandfather used to say this and that, and although the person never met his grandfather, it is understood that he got the information from someone who did hear it from his grandfather, such as his parents. A mursal hadith is considered by definition to be a weak hadith. However as we have shown, its weakness is due to omission, and not deception.

ibn Hajar al-Asqalaani has set what I consider to be intelligent guidelines for the use of weak hadith and they are as follows:

  1. That the hadith does not have extreme weakness. (There can be over fifty reasons that a hadith is weak)
  2. That the hadith is not used to make something haraam, or to make something that is haraam, halal
  3.  That the hadith is not used to confirm a certainty, but instead only as an affirmation of a possibility
  4. That acting upon a weak hadith is used only in the support of a confirmed act of goodness.

It’s more advantageous in the long run to be rounded in Islam as a religion. When people take it upon themselves to read hadith on their own and try to come up with fiqh rulings as many people do, it creates individual discord, each person arguing his or her point in an open court, with no ruler, no judge, no decorum and no civility. Reading hadith, authentic or not is one thing; practicing Islam according to the Prophet’s way (SAWS) is something entirely different.

Many hadith, just like verses in the Quran, require explanation in order to understand it correctly.  Most of the mis-informed opinions derived from hadith that I have encountered in my 15 years as an Imam has been through mis-understandings people have about authentic hadith by not understanding the hadith itself, mis-using it or emphasizing hadith without understanding fiqh application, or a combination of all the above. The hadith about the seventy-two sects of Islam is in authentic, yet so many people misunderstand it, that some actually believe that if you call yourself a certain type of Muslim, you are automatically saved.

The current problems with new Muslims and old, straying off the path, bordering extremism and getting confused has more to do with the near leaderless structure of the umma in its current form, the multiple spheres of influence, and the degeneration of spiritual intuitiveness that comes with diseases of the heart, than it have to do with people following weak hadith. And Allah knows best. Imam Luqman Ahmad

[1] Bukhaari

[2] A taabi’ee is a Muslim who met a companion of the Prophet (SAWS) but never met the Prophet himself (SAWS).


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