Weak Ḥadīths Pertaining to Virtuous Deeds

by godilali

Weak Ḥadīths Pertaining to Virtuous Deeds[1]

by Sh. ‘Abd-Allāh al-Juday‘

Translated by Ali Godil (with some minor changes)

In the later period of Islamic history, it has become prevalent among scholars to adopt a lenient attitude towards weak ḥadīths related to virtuous deeds, some of them attributing this approach to certain early authorities of ḥadīth.  In order to arrive at an accurate conclusion regarding this issue, we must first examine the statements of the early imāms who allegedly adopted this approach and ascertain their original intent:

1. Sufyān al-Thawrī –

The following is related from him through a weak chain of narrators:

When it comes to [ḥadīths dealing with] legal rulings (ḥalāl and ḥarām), only rely on well-known authorities of this disciple who are aware of additions and omissions.  As for [ḥadīths dealing with] other topics, there is no problem in referring to other narrators.[2]

2. ‘Abd-Allāh b. al-Mubārak –

In an authentic narration, ‘Abda b. Sulaymān relates:

It was said to ibn al-Mubārak when he related a ḥadīth from a man, “This man is unreliable.”

He replied, “Reports of such nature can be related from his likes.”

Abu Ḥātim said: I said to ‘Abda, “What was the nature of this narration?”

He replied, “Regarding etiquette, admonition, asceticism, etc.”[3]

3. ‘Abd al-Raḥmān b. Mahdī –

It is authentically related that he said:

If we narrated anything from the Prophet, may Allāh bless him and grant him peace, related to the lawful and unlawful as well as legal rulings, we would scrutinize the chains and evaluate the narrators.  However, if we narrated anything related to virtuous deeds, rewards, punishments, merely-permissible actions (mubāḥāt), and supplications, we would be lax with the chains of narration.[4]

4. Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal –

The following is related from him:

Narrations whose purpose is to move the heart (riqāq) are tolerated and treated with leniency as opposed to narrations dealing with legal rulings.[5]

5. Abū Zakariyyā Yaḥyā b. Muḥammad al-‘Anbarī –

A report cited that does not declare something lawful to be unlawful nor something unlawful to be lawful, does not establish a ruling, and is only related to encouraging good deeds and discouraging evil deeds, should not be intensely scrutinized and its narrators should be treated with leniency.[6]

The aforementioned quotations of these imāms all indicate laxity in relating and recording ḥadīths transmitted by weak narrators, as long as they do not pertain to legal rulings.  This is due to their contents generally having a basis in reliable traditions and not presenting any new ruling not found in known authentic material.  However, there is nothing to be found in any of their statements that indicates the permissibility of directly attributing such narrations to the Prophet, may Allāh bless him and grant him peace.  The most that can be said is that is permissible to simply relate these reports and record them in books, despite their authenticity not being innately supported.

Also relevant is their statement regarding certain narrators: He is acceptable when it comes to riqāq and similar content, not legal rulings.

The following are some examples of the above:

1. Sufyān b. ‘Uyayna said, “Do not rely on Baqiyya for legal traditions, but listen to what he narrates regarding rewards and similar topics.[7]

2. Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal stated regarding Rishdīn b. Sa‘d, “There is no issue with Rishdīn when it comes to heart-moving traditions.”[8]

3. Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal was asked about al-Naḍr b. Ismā‘īl Abī al-Mughīra.  He answered, “We recorded his ḥadīth, but he is not very reliable.  Only his reports related to riqāq are given consideration.”[9]

4. Abū al-Faḍl ‘Abbās b. Muḥammad al-Dūrī relates that Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal stated, “As for Muḥammad b. Isḥāq, these types of narrations should be recorded from him,” meaning those related to the genre of prophetic biography and similar topics.  “As for traditions dealing with the lawful and unlawful, we require men like this.”  Abū al-Faḍl grasped four fingers of each hand not including the thumbs.[10]

‘Abd-Allāh b. Aḥmad was asked about Muḥammad b. Isḥāq.  He replied, “My father would study his narrations carefully and record many of them, through high (shorter) and low (longer) chains and would record them in his musnad.  He was asked if ibn Isḥāq is an authority.  He replied, ‘Not regarding legal traditions.’”[11]

These and similar statements regarding ḥadīth narrators are explicit in only accepting traditions that establish a legal ruling if they are related by highly proficient authorities.  Leniency is only shown with narrators who are not of this level with respect to non-legal traditions, but this does not extend beyond recording their ḥadīths in books in chapters not dealing with legal rulings.  This leniency may either be due to the narrator’s expertise in the topic at hand (as is the case with ibn Isḥāq and historical/biographical narrations) or the topic allowing some leeway due to it dealing with the virtues of a deed that is already known and established through authentic textual evidence.

Ibn Taymiyya explains the reasoning behind certain scholars’ dispensation regarding weak narrations pertaining to virtuous deeds:

“Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal and other scholars permitted narrating material that is not confirmed to be authentic as long as it is not proven to be false, because if a particular deed is already known to be legislated in the religion through [established] legal evidence and the ḥadīth being narrated about its virtue is not known to be false, it is possible that the reward being mentioned in the ḥadīth is indeed true.  None of the imāms have said that it is permitted to deem a particular deed obligatory or recommended [solely] on the basis of a weak narration.  Whoever claims that has violated legal consensus (ijmā‘).  Similarly, it is not permissible to deem a particular deed as impermissible without [established] legal evidence, but if its prohibition is already known [through authentic evidence], and a ḥadīth that is not known to be false is narrated about the punishment of the perpetrator of this deed, it is permissible to relate it.  Hence, it is permissible to narrate a tradition [whose authenticity is not established] that encourages good deeds and discourages evil as long as it is not proven to be false, with the condition that the status of the action being encouraged or discouraged by said tradition is already established through other evidence.”[12]

In order to properly understand the intent of these scholars in their statements regarding treating such reports with leniency, we must take the following facts into consideration:

  • They completely abandoned certain criticized narrators and did not permit relating any material from them at all.
  • Some of them would classify what would eventually become termed as the ḥasan ḥadīth as ḍa‘īf (weak), as was the practice of Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal.
  • Some of the scholars would evaluate the frequency of a particular narrator’s problematic reports (munkarāt)[13] when determining whether to cite his ḥadīths as the primary traditions for a particular topic (i.e. uṣūl, as opposed to corroborating reports: mutaba‘āt and shawāhid).  If the narrator did not meet their standard but was still deemed upright and honest, then his ḥadīths would be recorded as long as they did not obligate a particular action, but even ḥadiths that were not uṣūl would still be avoided if they were determined to be erroneous.  Thus, we see that Al-Bukhārī cited the reports of certain narrators related to riqāq but avoided their legal traditions.
  • Likewise, the early scholars who showed lenience in this regard would not cite such reports without mentioning their chains of narrations, as is well known to be their practice and as their previous statements regarding laxity with such chains of narration demonstrate.  They would relate such reports with their chains, thus fulfilling their obligation, because others coming across these reports would be expected to evaluate their authenticity based on these chains.  However, chains of narrations are only of use to a person who comprehends them, not one who is ignorant of them.

The practice of later scholars who showed leniency in this issue did not stay within this scope.  They contravened the approach of the early scholars in three essential matters:

  1. They generally omitted the chains of narration, whereas the early scholars would mention them.
  2. They were lax in relating such reports to laypersons, attributing them to the Messenger, may Allāh bless him and grant him peace, without any disclaimer.  The layperson could be lead to believe that such traditions are accurately ascribed to the Prophet after hearing them or reading them in books.
  3. They went beyond citing somewhat weak narrations that are suitable to use as corroborating reports to citing severely weak, munkar, and fabricated reports.

Whoever is guilty of the above cannot rightfully claim that he is merely following the dispensation of these early scholars if he does not restrict himself to their methodology in dealing with such reports.

When some prominent later scholars observed this excess, they set out to define the conditions and parameters for acceptable leniency in this issue, meaning the necessary criteria for narrating weak reports related to virtuous deeds for one choosing to adopt this approach.  Ḥāfiẓ ibn Ḥajr, may Allāh have mercy on him, precisely lays out these criteria in the following passage:

“The conditions for acting on a weak narration are three:

  1. This is an agreed upon condition: for the report not to be severely weak.  This rules out narrations solely reported by known liars, those suspected of dishonesty, and those prone to gross errors.
  2. For the report to be related to an action that already has a sound basis in the religion supported by authentic evidence.  This rules out weak reports whose contents are unprecedented and do not have such a basis.
  3. For a person not to believe that the authenticity of the tradition is established, so he does not ascribe to the Prophet, may Allāh bless him and grant him peace, that which he did not say.

The second two conditions are taken from ibn ‘Abd al-Salām and his student, ibn Daqīq al-‘Īd, while al-‘Alā’ī cited consensus regarding the first condition.”[14]

These conditions are properly understood only by a person who has experience in the science of ḥadīth and is capable of distinguishing between severely weak and slightly weak reports.  However, it is feared that a person who does not have any expertise in ḥadīth yet still resorts to utilizing weak reports may be guilty of attributing misinformation to the Prophet, may Allāh bless him and grant him peace.

[1] Al-Juday‘, ‘Abd-Allāh. Taḥrīr ʻUlūm Al-ḥadīth. 4th ed. Vol. 2. Beirut: Muʼassasat Al-Rayyān, 2010. 1108-114. Print.

Please refer to the bibliography of this book for publication information about all other references cited here.

[2] Ibn ‘Adī, al-Kāmil fi Ḍu‘afā al-Rijal (1/257), al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādi, al-Kifāya (212), al-Jāmi‘ li Akhlāq al-Rāwī (#1266), al-Rāmahurmuzī, al-Muḥaddith al-Fāṣil (406, 417-418)

[3] Ibn Abī Ḥātim, al-Jarḥ wa al-Ta‘dīl (1/1/30-31)

[4] Al-Ḥākim, al-Mustadrak (1/490), al-Madkhal ilā Kitāb al-Iklīl (29), al-Bayhaqī, Dalā’il al-Nubuwwa (1/34), al-Khaṭīb, al-Jāmi‘ (#1267)

[5] Al-Khaṭīb, al-Kifāya (213)

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibn Abi Ḥātim, Taqdimat al-Jarḥ wa al-Ta‘dīl (41), al-Khaṭīb, al-Kifāya (212)

[8] Al-‘Uqaylī, al-Ḍu‘afā (2/67)

[9] Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal, al-‘Ilal wa Ma‘rifat al-Rijāl (#218)

[10] Al-Dūrī, Tārīkh Yaḥyā b. Ma‘īn (#231), al-Bayhaqī, Dalā’il al-Nubuwwa (1/37-38)

[11] Al-Khaṭīb, Tārīkh Baghdād (1/330)

[12] Ibn Taymiyya, Qā‘ida Jalīla fī al-Tawassul wa al-Wasīla (162-163)

[13] According to some later scholars, the term munkar refers to a report of a weak narrator that contradicts more authentic material.  However, the word has multiple usages according to earlier authorities, the most common of which is for a narrator to be alone in reporting content that his level of proficiency would not justify.   This is determined by examining both the content of the report and the proficiency of the narrator.  For instance, a narrator being isolated in reporting a detail about an issue that people dealt with on a regular basis (such as the daily prayers, ritual purification, etc.) would be viewed with a greater degree of skepticism.  When evaluating the narrator, we take into account his level of proficiency in general (including the strength of his memory, his accuracy in recording ḥadīths in writing, etc.), the era in which he lived (for instance, we would be more open to accepting an isolated report of an early Successor than that of a later narrator), his level of proficiency in relating from the shaykh from whom he is alone in narrating this report (a narrator who is known to have accompanied a particular shaykh for a lengthy period of time and to have mastered his traditions would be treated with less skepticism than someone not at that level), etc.  To decide whether an isolated report is munkar or not, we compare both the level of skepticism the content of the report merits with the level of proficiency of the narrator and reach a conclusion.

See: al-ʻAwnī, Ḥātim. Sharḥ Mūqiẓat Al-Dhahabī. Dammam: Dār Ibn Al-Jawzī, 2006. Print.

[14] Al-Sakhāwī, al-Qawl al-Badī‘ (363-364)