examine or challenge laws, it was considered rude and such a person would be admonished for his impudence.
Abdullah ibn ‘Umar once narrated that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, 'A person should not prevent his wife attending the masjid if she wishes to perform bsalat therein.” One of Ibn ‘Umar’s sons, considering the prevalent conditions (of his time), declared “We will not allow them to attend salat at the masjid.” Since this statement was in apparent contrast to the hadith of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) , Ibn ‘Umar found it extremely offensive and not only did he admonish his son,1 but according to the narration of Musnad Ahmad, he refrained from speaking to him right until his death.
Similarly, Ibn ‘Umar was once asked if witr salat was wajib or sunna. He responded: “‘The Messenger of Allah as well as the Companions [sahaba] always performed the witr salat. “The questioner continued asking the same question repeatedly and Ibn ‘Umar continued to provide the same answer.2
The reason for his unwavering answer was simply to draw attention to the fact that those who sincerely wish to practice Islam will not delve into any intricacies. If Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) and his Companions consistently carried out a certain action, its obligation [wujub] is self-evident. In short, the laws of Islam used to be taught in a practical manner according to the need of the occasion. The Companions used to detest questions based on mere assumption: questions such as, if a certain act is omitted in wudu’ or something additional is done, what is the ruling?”
Ibn ‘lJmar says that, ‘Umar invoked the curse of Allah on a person who posed hypothetical questions. The Companions would only ask the Messenger of Allah about issues (masa'il) which occurred in reality. Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) would then issue a verdict according to the circumstances and conditions of the questioner. Differences and contradictory narrations are quite obviously destined to follow from this. A few examples are listed below which demonstrate this fact even more explicitly.
Imam Muslim narrates on the authority of ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar that a blind Companion [sahabi] once approached Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) and submitted: “I did not have anyone to guide me to the masjid, please excuse my absence from the masjid for the congregational salat and permit me to perform my salat at home.’ The Messenger of Allah granted him permission. However, when he learnt that this Companion lived in close proximity to the masjid and he was able to hear the adhan, the Messenger (PBUH) withdrew his permission and ordered the man to join the congregational salat in the masjid.3 Conversely in the case of ’Itbãn ibn Malik., Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) accepted his excuse of blindness and exempted him from attending the congregational salat.4
Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) had permitted ‘Abdullãh ibn Zayd, who had heard the words of the call to prayer (adhan] in a dream to make the call to commence [iqama] inspite of Bilãl calling out the adhan.
5 However, onceon a journey Ziyad ibn Hárith al-Suda’i called out the adhan and Bilal was about to call out the iqama when the Messenger of Allah said, “Whosoever calls out the adhan, has the right to call out the iqama as well.” Saying this, he restrained Bilal from calling out the iqama.6
Once, Abü Bakr gave his entire wealth in charity and Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) accepted it. However, when certain other Companions decided to give their entire wealth in charity Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) did not accept it.
These are not isolated incidents. There are thousands of such incidents, which clearly demonstrate that the
Messenger of Allah issued varying orders for different people.
Abu Hurayra narrates that a person once asked Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) if he was permitted to hug and kiss his wife while fasting. The Messenger (PBUH) granted him permission. However, when another Companion sought permission to do the same, he was declined permission. Abu Hurayra said, “I immediately understood the reason for the disparity between the two. The one who was permitted was an old man while the other Companion was a young man.”
In cases like the above-mentioned incident, each narrator will narrate what he heard directly from Allah’s
Messenger (PBUH). The person who was granted permission to kiss his wife while fasting will obviously narrate that hugging and kissing does not nullify the fast. However, the other person will narrate his hadith in direct contrast to this and will vehemently deny the permissibility of kissing and hugging while fasting. This apparent contradiction between the two narrations is not only confined to two isolated narrators. In fact, there were always groups of students, devoted followers, enquirers, visitors, delegates, and others in the presence of Allah's Messenger (PBUH) who would have heard these exchanges and related them according to their own understanding.
For this reason, the two groups who heard two conflicting laws would narrate only what they heard from Allah’s Messenger (PBUH). Any number of conflicting narrations falling under this fundamental rule will still be considered negligible because every gathering consisted of various people, the exempted [ma'dhur] as well as the healthy, the able-bodied as well as the weak. The Law took into consideration the health of one and the weakness of the other. This is the reason for the apparent contradiction.
One of the people in the gathering was so strong-hearted that even if he gave all his wealth in charity, there was no fear of him ever complaining. Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) was quite confident that no matter what calamity afflicted that particular person, he would become ever more engrossed in turning his attention toward Allah and totally at ease with the fate issued by Him.
On the other hand, there were other personalities in the gathering upon whom he did not have such confidence. In fact, these was a fear of them exceeding even the boundaries of lamentation if they gave away all of their wealth in charity. Hence, he prohibited them from doing so.
Similarly, for a traveler who is quite strong and able, it is most appropriate for him to fast in the holy month of
Ramadan. He should not postpone the fast when traveling, thereby forfeiting the great virtues of this month. On the other hand, if a person is extremely weak and fasting while traveling will most probably be detrimental to him, he is not permitted to last, Due to such differences, the hadiths narrating laws pertinent to fasting while traveling are sure to differ as well.
A Sa’id al-Khudri narrates, “On the sixteenth of Ramadan we set out for a battle in the company of Allah’s
Messenger (PBUH). Some of our friends observed the fasts of Ramadan, while others decided sane to fast.
However, each group had no objection against the other. Those fasting did not accuse chose abstaining nor did the latter challenge the former.”8
Hamza ibn ‘Amr Aslami narrates that he once asked the Messenger of Allah whether, since he was in a habit of fasting excessively it would be permissible for him to fast while traveling. Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) replied, “You are at liberty to fast or to abstain from fasting. You may do as you please.”
9 However, Jabir narrates that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, “There is no good in fasting while traveling”
10 In fact, one hadith even refers to those who fast when traveling are sinners. Notwithstanding this, ‘Abd aI-Rahmãn lbn ‘Awf narrates that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, “The one who fasts while traveling is like a person who breaks his fast while at home.”11
In short, the disparity of narrations stems from the disparity of conditions. As evident from the aforementioned incidents, the Messenger of Allah (sometimes) issued two utterly different orders for different individuals. The group that was present when the first order was given will obviously differ from the group that was present when the second order was issued. As a result, two large groups became narrators of two totally conflicting rulings.
There could have been, in fact there were, some people who were present in both gatherings, and they were most certainly compelled to ponder over the disparity between the rulings and reach a decision whereby both rulings are taken into account. As explained above, Abu Hurayra provided the conflicting narrations about kissing and hugging while fasting. He narrated the reason for the disparity as well.
There are thousands of other similar incidents, which cannot be contained here wholly, and it is not our purpose to do so here. Even though the aforementioned fact (regarding she difference of narrations) is quite evident, a few testimonial incidents proving this fact were provided merely to drive the point home.
Following such diverging narrations, the responsibility now falls upon the Companions [sahaba], the Followers [tabi'in], and the mujtahid Imams to determine the source, occasion and correct juncture of each narration, and they should interpret each narration according to the demands of the occasion.
The second reason for contradictory narrations is that at times, the Messenger of Allah issued an exclusive order for a particular person due to some special reason, and the audience [majlis] was led to believe that it was a general order and not a restricted order. Thus, they started narrating it as a general rule.
For example; according to 'A’isha, lbn ‘lJmar narrates that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said; ‘The deceased is punished due to the crying of his house folk.” ‘A’isha rejected this interpretation. According to her, Allah's
Messenger (PBUH) made this statement in regard to a Jewish woman whose household was crying over her.12
Apparent Contradictions in the Hadiths
Allow me to point out at this juncture that we do not wish to elaborate on the category of this hadith, nor do we wish to comment on it, nor do we wish to ascertain whether ‘A’isha’s hadith or lbn Umar’s hadith is given preference. All we wish to clarify here is that such degrees of disparity and contradiction exist in the field of hadith study.
For example, according to the Hanafi school of thought, the salat for greeting the masjid [tahiyyat al-masjid] is prohibited while the Friday sermon [khutba] is in progress. However, one hadith makes mention of a very poor Companion named Sulayk al-Ghatafani who entered the masjid while the khutba was in progress. Allah’s
Messenger (PBUH) ordered the Companion to perform tahiyyat al-masjid so that the people could witness his poverty and constrained circumstances.13
Together with this, they also witnessed this special concession awarded
to this particular Companion in that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) ordered him to perform supererogatory [nafl] salat while the sermon was in progress. According certain narrations, Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) brought the sermon to a halt and remained standing to enable this Companion to complete his salat.
On the basis of this narration, many people considered this action as a general ruling, and as an all-encompassing principle they narrate that a person who enters the masjid while the Friday sermon is in progress should perform two rak’ats [units] of tahiyyat al-masjid.
The story of suckling Salim, the slave of Abu Hudhayfa is also a similar nature. ‘A’isha narrates that Sahla bint Suhayl came to Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) and submitted, “O Messenger of Allah, I perceive a feeling of displeasure on (my husband) Abu Hudhayfa’s face whenever Sãlim, our freed slave, comes before me.” Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) advised: “Breastfeed him.” She replied, “He is a bearded adult.” He said, “Go ahead and breastfeed him. You will not perceive any displeasure on. Abu Hudhayfas face thereafter.”14
On the basis of this narration, ‘A’isha, considered this a general rule while the other wives of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) rejected this opinion. Umm Salama, the wife of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) , comments on this: “We are not aware of the actual reason for this command. However, we are confident that this rule was specifically confined to Sãlim only.”15
Ibn Qutayba narrates in his book Ta’wil mukhtalaf al-hadith that ‘Imran ibn Husayn says, “By Allah, I know so many Hadiths that I can narrate rather extensively if I want to, but the practice of certain Companions impede me from doing So. They (i.e. those Companions) heard many hadiths from Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) like I did, and they remained in his service like I did, but some of them have committed many inaccuracies while narrating. I fear that if I had to narrate, then the narration of the hadiths would bewilder me just as they were left bewildered.
However, let me draw your attention to the fact that this was only an oversight on their part and they had no
intention of committing these blunders."16
It was for the same reason that ‘Umar prohibited the people from excessive narration during his caliphate [khilafa]. In fact; he even prevented some of the very senior Companions from excessive narrations of the hadiths.
Abu Salama asked Abu Hurayra if he used to narrate as abundantly during the time of ‘Umar as he did in later times. Abu Hurayra replied, “If I were narrating (then) like I am doing now, ‘Umar would have cautioned me with his whip.”
In short, the second reason for the apparent contradictions in the narrations is that at times, Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) issued a special command confined to one person only, but a narrator narrated it as a general rule. The examples have been explained above.
One example is the narration of Ibn ‘Umar regarding the punishment of the deceased. Ibn ‘Umar narrated this as general rule. However, ‘A’isha said that this applied only to a particular incident of a Jewish woman who was being mourned by her family.
Hence, for the revision of such narrations, a great need is felt for the mujtahids who are aware of all the various types of narrations. From these narrations they are able to deduce which rules are of general applications, which are special, and what the reasons for rendering something permissible for one and impermissible for the other.
(PBUH) doing a certain thing and they all narrated according to their own understanding of things. The beholders of any deed are obviously of diverse perception. Some of the witnesses were very discerning. They were able to understand every incident according, to the occasion. On the other hand, some of them were not as discerning, but they had very retentive memories. They narrated certain events according to the way they understood them. Many examples of this can be found in the hadiths dealing with the pilgrimage (hajj). For example, one of the narrators says that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) made an ifrad hajj because he heard the Messenger (PBUH) saying “Labbayk bi hajjatin" or "I have presented -myself in Your service to perform the hajj.” The narration itself is authentic and the narrator is not guilty of any deficiency. However, other people narrate that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) performed a qiran hajj. This narration apparently seems contradictory to the first, because the qiran hajj is very different from the ifrad hajj. In actual fact though, there is no contradiction between the narrations since it's permissible for one performing qiran hajj to say “Labbayk bi hajjatin" (as Allah’s Messenger had uttered). Only a mujtahid is able to bring about some harmony between the apparently contradictory narrations and avoid unduem confusion.
Similarly the hadith dealing with the Messenger’s commencement of his ihram or “pilgrim sanctity,” There are
conflicting narrations as to exactly when Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) started his ihram. Due to this, the Imams have also differed as so when it is most virtuous for one to initiate one’s ihram. Prompted by these very same contradictory narrations, Sa’id ibn Jubayr , an outstanding Follower [tabi’in], asked ‘Abdullah bin Abbas to explain these contradictions. Imam Abu Dawud (may Allah have mercy on him) transmits this narration in complete detail as follows:
Sa'id ibn Jubayr said: I said to Abdullah ibn Abbas: Abul Abbas, I am surprised to see the difference of opinion amongst the companions of the Messenger (PBUH) about the wearing of ihram by the Messenger of Allah when he made it obligatory.
He replied: I am aware of it more than the people. The Messenger of Allah performed only one hajj. Hence the people differed among themselves. The Messenger of Allah came out (from Medina) with the intention of
performing hajj. When he offered two rak'ats of prayer in the mosque at Dhu al-Hulayfah, he made it obligatory by wearing it.
At the same meeting, he raised his voice saying 'labbayk' for hajj, when he finished his two rak'ats. Some people heard it and I retained it from him. He then rode (on the she-camel), and when it (the she-camel) stood up, with him on its back, he raised his voice saying 'labbayk' and some people heard it at that moment. This is because the people were coming in groups, so they heard him raising his voice calling saying 'labbayk' when his she-camel stood up with him on its back, and they thought that the Messenger of Allah had raised his voice saying 'labbayk' when his she-camel stood up with him on its back.
The Messenger of Allah proceeded further; when he ascended the height of al-Bayda' he raised his voice saying 'labbayk'. Some people heard it at that moment. They thought that he had raised his voice saying 'labbayk' when he ascended the height of al-Bayda'. I swear by Allah, he raised his voice saying 'labbayk' at the place where he prayed, and he raised his voice saying 'labbayk' when his she-camel stood up with him on its back, and he raised his voice saying 'labbayk' when he ascended the height of al-Bayda'.17
Since Sa’id ibn Jubayr heard various contradictory accounts of this hajj he felt he should delve deeper into the true account of what exactly took place. ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbbs was fully aware of what transpired, so he confidently explained exactly what happened. Since he was a jurist [faqih] as well as a mujtahid, he also explained the reasons for the differences of narrations and at the same time he brought about harmony between all the narrations, In contrast, if an ordinary layman is confronted with all these apparently contradictory narrations, the unfortunate person will be left perturbed and dumbfounded. Objections and various complications are thereafter bound to follow. At the end of it all, even the people who do not adhere to any madhhab [ghayr muqallidin], in spite of their vehemence and prejudice, have no retreat but to make taqlid (i.e. resort to a school of thought [madhhab]).
In his book, Sabil al Rashad, Mawlãna (Rashid Ahmad) Gangohi (may Allah be pleased with him) quotes an
extract from the Isha'at al-sunna by Mawlana Muhammad Husayn Batãlwi, a leader of those who do not follow a traditional school in jurisprudence, who writes that a non-mujtahid has no retreat or option but to follow a mujtahid (Isha’at al-sunna II:2II). Mawlana Batalwi further writes:
'After twenty-five years of experience, we have become aware of the fact that those who, out of ignorance, totally relinquish following a school altogether [taqlid] eventually relinquish Islam altogether. Some of them convert to Christianity while some of them become atheists. The most insignificant outcome of this freedom is flagrant
violation of Islamic law (ibid II:53).
At times many groups of people witnessed the Messenger of Allah doing something. Some of them considered it coincidental and treated it as a natural and habitual activity of his. Others considered it intentional and willful, thereby narrating it as a sunna or mustahab (preferred) action. There are many examples of this nature in the books of hadith. For example, on the occasion of the farewell pilgrimage, it is an accepted fact that the Messenger of Allah camped at a place called Abtah. According to Abu Hurayra and ‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Umar, this lodging was included in the devotions of hajj and it is sunna for a pilgrim to camp at Abtah.18
However, according to ‘A’isha and ‘Abbas, this stay over at Abtah was coincidental and it had nothing to do with the devotions of hajj. The servants pitched his tent at that spot: that is why he camped there. Plus, it facilitated easy departure toward Madina Munawwara.19
This is where the services of a mujtahid or a jurist [faqih] are required to sift through the various narrations and views of the Companions and award preference to one opinion over the other. The Imams have done accordingly on the basis of the following hadith: "We will camp at Khayf Bani Kinana where the polytheists had vowed to oppose Islam.”20
The Imams are of the view that this lodging was not coincidental but intentional. Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) intended to demonstrate the magnificence of Islam at the very spot where the disbelievers displayed their rejection [kufr] of Islam. Together with this objective, if other reasons are found—for example, he camped there to facilitate easy departure this does not mean that his stay at Abtah was not intentional.
At times, contradictions appear due to the contradictory underlying reasons found in the hadiths. For example, it is mentioned in a hadith that Allah's Messenger (PBUH) was once seated when the bier [janaza] of a disbeliever passed by. He immediately stood up. 21 According to some narrations, he got up in honor of the angels accompanying the bier.22 If this is the case, there is even more reason for the people to stand for the passing of a Muslim bier. The narrators who consider this to be the underlying principle of the hadith do not even mention the word ‘disbeliever' in their narrations. They do not consider it necessary because it is immaterial whether the bier is that or a disbeliever, due to the presence of the angels.
However if we learn from other narrations that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) stoop up so that the bier would not pass above the heads of the Muslims, as this is a form of humiliation to them. If this is the reason for his standing up, then the practice of standing up for janaza will be restricted to the bier of a disbeliever only. Hence, in this case, the word “disbeliever” must be mentioned in the hadith by the narrator.
Similar is the case of another hadith. Rifi’ ibn Khadij says, “We used to hire out our lands on the basis of temporary sharecropping [muzara'a]. This was very beneficial to us but Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) prohibited us from it. Obedience to Allah and His Messenger precedes all benefits.”23 ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar says, “We used to hire our plots on a temporary sharecropping basis and regarded his beneficial and permissible. However, since Rifi’ ibn Khadij informed us that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) prohibited it, we abandoned this practice.24
In another narration, Rafi’ ibn Khadij says, ‘My uncle and other family members used to hire out their lands on a temporary sharecropping basis. The land owner and the farmer would agree that the crop which will grow around the water supply drains or any other pre-specified area will belong to the land owner while the remainder will belong to the farmer. Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) prohibited them from this.” Rafi' ibn Khadij was then asked, if the land owner lets his land on a specified rental?” He replied, “That is quite in order.”25
In contrast to these narrations, ‘Amr ibn Dinar relates, “I told Tawüs to desist from hiring out his land on the basis of sharecropping because the Companions prohibited people from doing this. Upon this Tawus replied, 'The most learned of the Companions, ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas informed me that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) did not actually prohibit this practice altogether What he actually meant was that it is better for a person to lend his plot of land to his Muslim brother for purposes of cultivation instead of letting it to him in exchange of something."26
So, according to Ibn ‘Abbas; the underlying cause for the prohibition was merely to ensure that people maintain good conduct with their fellow Muslim brothers. This prohibition was not a juridical injunction. However, according to Rafi’ ibn Khadij, the underlying cause of this ban was to demonstrate its prohibition and nothing else.
There are many other examples of this nature in the books of hadith. We do not wish to encompass them all, nor is it our objective to do so.
In short, the narrators differ in the underlying cause for the injunction expressed in a particular hadith. Each narrator will narrate the hadith according to his own understanding of it. Hence, we consequently have two apparently conflicting hadiths.
Nevertheless, one who is confronted with both hadiths and is cognizant of the principles of hadith, etc., is bound to grant preference to one of the narrations only and attempt to reinterpret the other. This can only be carried out by a person who knows many hadiths on a given subject and who also knows the actual texts of the various hadiths. On the other hand, a person who only knows the translation of one hadith on a particular topic, has no knowledge of a contrary hadith, and is not aware of the principles of awarding preference to some hadiths over others: will he ever be able to understand which is awarded preference over the other and why?
One of other reasons for the apparent contradictions in the hadiths is that there are many words that are sometimes used in the literal sense and at other times in the technical or figurative sense. Allah's Messenger (PBUH) used to say something using a particular word in one context, while some of the Companions considered the usage in a different context. There are not a few, but thousands of instances of this nature.
To give one example, the word wudu' is quite common in its technical sense (of ablution before prayer). However, literally, the word wudu' means cleanliness, purity, and washing of the hands. In a narration of the Shama’il of Imam Tirmidhi, Salman once told Allah's Messenger (PBUH) that according to the Torah, wudu’ after meals brings about blessings [baraka] in one’s food. Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) added, 'Wudu' before as well as after the meal is a source of blessing in ones food.” In Salman’s statement as well as the statement Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) , the word wudü’ unanimously refers to the washing of the hands.
In addition, there is a lengthy hadith narrated by ‘Ikräsh in Sunan al-Tirmidhi. At the end of the hadith he says, “After partaking of this meal, water was brought before Allah’s Messenger (PBUH). He washed his hands and thereafter rubbed them over his face and arms. He thereafter addressed me, ‘O ‘Ikrãsh, the injunction of making wudu’ after partaking of something cooked over the fire refers to this (form of) wudu'."
27 In spite of this narration being somewhat disputed [mutakallam fih], we can still establish that the word wudu’ is not used in its technical sense but in its literal sense.
Similarly, it is narrated in Jam’ al-Fawa'id on the authority of Bazzar that Mu’adh was asked, “Do you perform wudu’ after partaking of something cooked over the fire?” He replied, “We wash our hands and mouth after meals and interpret it as wudu” 28 For this reason, all four of the Imams have unanimously agreed that the narrations which mention (the obligation of performing) wudu’ after eating something cooked over the fire refers to wudu’ in its literal sense (i.e. just washing the hands and mouth). Otherwise such an injunction could have been abrogated.
Likewise, on one occasion, ‘Ali washed a few parts (of those normally washed during wudü’) of his body. Thereafter, he commenced, “‘This is the wudu’ of one whose wudu’ is still intact.” Therefore, washing only a few parts of the body is not referred to as wudu’ in the technical sense.
These are just a few examples where the word “wudu’” is not used in its technical sense. My aim in presenting these examples is to show that the word “wudu’” and other words have been utilized in their literal as well as their technical sense. From this, one can understand the principle cause of differences as well.
Quite frequently, certain narrators will consider the word wudu’ in a certain hadith in its technical sense, and they will most probably add an explanation like “wudü’ such as wudü’ for salat.”29 This is to ensure that no doubt remains and those listening are not left in any confusion. On the other hand, if the word wudu’ is not intended in its technical sense but in its literal sense, a narrator will most probably explain that it refers to the washing of the
mouth and hands, etc. This is explained in order to avoid confusion.
It is now clear that differences among the narrations are bound to occur. Differences among the Companions
[sahaba] and Followers [tabi'in] will consequently bring about differences among the jurists [fuqaha] as well. This is why, initially, there were differences over whether or not the consumption of anything cooked over the fire nullifies the ablution [wudu']. However, since there were relatively very few narrations supporting its nullification in the latter times, all four Imams unanimously agreed that the ablution would not be nullified by eating something cooked over a fire.
There are many other issues on which the Imams ['ulama’] and their followers disagree. One example is, the issue of whether touching private parts nullifies the wudü’ or not. Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, 'whosoever touches his private parts should perform wudu’”. The Companions, Followers, and the Imams have all differed as to the type of wudu' required. According to some of them, the hadith is referring to wudu' in its technical sense, while some of them assert that it refers to the literal meaning of the word. Similarly, they have differed the meaning of the word “touch” in the aforementioned hadith. Some of them say that the word “touch” refers to its literal meaning. Others say that the word “touch” refers to passing urine, because one normally touches one’s private part to cleanse it after urinating. Similarly they have differed on the status of the wudu’ demanded by this hadith. According to some of the jurists, wudu’ is compulsory [wajib], while others regard this wudu’ as preferable [mustahab].This will be explained in further detail in the next chapter.
Of similar nature is a hadith in which Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) says, “The salat is broken if a woman, dog or donkey passes in front of a person performing salat” Some jurists take this hadith literally. According to them, the salat is technically nullified if a woman, dog or donkey passes in front of one who is praying. However, according to other Companions and jurists, there is no relationship between the breaking of the salat and the passing of one of these three. Therefore, it cannot be in taken in its literal sense. To them, the breaking of the salat refers to the breaking of one’s concentration in the salat. There are not one or two, but scores of facts that affirm this second meaning. They are explained in their respective places (i.e. in books of hadith commentary). We have omitted them here for the sake of brevity.
The eighth reason for contradictory narrations is closely related to the seventh, and some aspects of it have already been alluded to in the previous chapter. In every language we find that there are various types of injunctions. Thus, when Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) issued a certain command, some people considered it so be compulsory i.e. they believed in its compulsion [wujub] A second group considered it a preferable and virtuous action, while a third group regarded the injunction as merely giving permission (to perform that action).
An example of this is the hadith which commands us to put water into the nostrils while performing wudu'. Taking the obvious and apparent meaning into account, some people regard this as compulsory [wajib], whereas another group consider it preferable, judging from other factors.
Similar in nature is another hadith which makes mention of washing the hands after waking up, before making
wudu' According to some people, the apparent meaning of the hadith is taken, and it is compulsory to wash the hands at that time. However, another group asserts that this is preferable [sunna] to wash them.
In actual fact, the reason for the differences of narrations is a long issue indeed. ‘This matter can only be reconciled by a jurist [faqih] or mujtahid because wherever there is a single command, every individual is compelled to view other commands and injunctions as well. This is necessary to enable him to ascertain rise status of that individual command.
If one hadith makes mention of reciting the “tashahhud" [prayer recited in the sitting posture of salat] while sitting, another hadith says, "Kill the snake and scorpion (if they appear before you) while performing salat". Obviously both hadiths can not be of the same status. This is why even the Imams have differed over whether this injunction is compulsory, preferable, or merely a meritorious act.
Similarly the Imams have differed as to whether the injunctions pertaining to the takbir of salat or the injunction regarding the tasbih of ruku' and sujud, etc., are compulsory or merely preferable. With diligence and perseverance, all the Imams have differentiated between all of these apparently contradictory narrations, keeping in the hadiths, the actions of the Companions, and the principles of jurisprudence [fiqh]. Thereafter, they applied every injunction to the correct occasion. This is a clear indication of the indispensability of mujtahid and the necessity of adhering to a particular school thought.
Mere recitation of a translation of Sahih al-Bukhari will not enable one to determine whether a certain injunction is compulsory, optional or permissible. This is why the scholars of hadith have instituted the study of the principles of Qur'an, hadith, and jurisprudence [fiqh] as a prerequisite to the actual science of Qur’an and hadith. This will enable the mujtahid to become conscious of the various categories of Qur’anic verses such as the general [‘amm], specified [khass], ambivalent [majmal], unequivocal [mufassar], perspicuous [muhkam], interpreted [mu’awwal], abrogator [nashikh], abrogated [mansukh] etc. In addition, he should be aware of the various categories of hadith such as the continuously recurrent [mutawatir], non-continuously recurrent [ghayr mutawatir], those attributed directly to the Messenger (PBUH) by a Follower without mention of the Companion in between [mursal] continuous [mutassil], rigorously authenticated [sahih], defective [mu'allal], weak [da'if], etc. He should also be aware of the status of the narrators of the hadiths, and should be well versed in lexicography and grammar. The statements of the Comparisons and the Followers, their differences, and their unanimous decisions should also be studied carefully. Apart from this, the mujtahid should be well acquainted with the types and categories of deduction, analogy, and logical reasoning [qiyas].
On another occasion, a person performed his salat very haphazardly and in extreme haste. Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) ordered him to repeat his salat, saying his salat was not valid. He repeated his salat but once again, Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) ordered him to go and repeat his salat. After this happened a third time and his salat was still considered invalid, the person submitted, "Please explain to me. I am unable to comprehend what is required of me.” Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) then explained to him of the repose and tranquility required in his salat.31
Differences are bound to occur over incidents such as these because every individual who was present in such a gathering will reinterpret these commands differently. Although there are very few examples of this nature in the books of hadith, they do form the basis of some of the differences in narrations.
Allah‘s Messenger (PBUH) was not only the Prophet of the entire community, he was also a physical doctor for the masses, a spiritual doctor to his lovers, and a leader to his people. On the one hand, he was more affectionate than parents to a child, though he was also more efficient than an ordinary teacher and mentor in the field of spiritual nurturing and upbringing. Just as it is possible to find injunctions issued by the Messenger in an affectionate tone, one will also come across many injunctions which were issued as stern warnings and reprimands. This is something about which there can not be any shadow of doubt; it is a clear truth exposed to everyone. Many injunctions of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) in spite of being issued in one context are bound to be confused with injunctions issued from the opposite context.
These factors are such that each one of them can become an individual reason for the vast differences of narrations, but our discussion is becoming inadvertently lengthy. Owing to the possible frustration of the reader, which is a consequence of lengthy discussions, I have incorporated all those reasons into one. I will terminate this discussion concisely together with a few examples.
Allah's Messenger (PBUH) instructed a woman suffering from dysfunctional uterine bleeding [mustahada] to take a single bath for Zuhr and ‘Asr prayer, another bath for Maghrib and ‘Isha prayer, and another bath for the Fajr prayer. The Scholars have differed as to whether this type of bathing is a form of religious injunction or whether it is a form of medical treatment to combat the illness.32
Similarly, one hadith mentions the compulsion of wudu’ after touching the private parts, while another hadith says the private parts are merely a piece of the flesh of one’s body. Therefore, according to this hadith, just as wudu' is not compulsory after touching any other part of the body, it is not compulsory after touching the private parts. ‘Allama Sha’rani (may Allah be pleased with him) explains this contradiction thus: “The non-compulsion of wudü’ is for the masses only, while its compulsion is confined to the leaders of the Umma.”
Likewise, some narrations inform us that touching a woman invalidates the wudu' while we deduce from other narrations that the wudu’ remains intact. There are conflicting opinions of the scholars in this regard and they obviously, for various conflicting reasons, either awarded preference to one narration over the other, or they established a compromise between she two conflicting narrations. ‘Allama Sha’rani (may Allah be pleased with him) correlated between these two hadiths in the method demonstrated above. He ruled that the first hadith applies to the leaders while the second is for the general masses.
In one battle, Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, “Whoever kills a non- Muslim on the battlefield is entitled to the goods in the possession of the non-Muslim.” According to some scholars, this injunction is more of a political or diplomatic nature than a religious injunction. Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) issued this statement as a king would issue a royal statement. Hence, if the leader of the Muslim army wishes to issue such a statement, he may do so if he feels it is expedient. Conversely, some scholars assert that this was a religious injunction. They argue that it will always be applicable and can not be subjected to the discretion of the leader. There are thousands of hadiths dealing with jihad which are perfect examples of the differences in narrations.
In addition, there are many narrations which prohibit his companions from certain farming arrangements. This
prohibition stems from the Messenger of Allah’s affection toward the farm laborers. (This prohibition is not
general, since most forms of farming are permitted in the Shari‘a.)
In a similar vein, many people were prevented from excessive fasting on grounds of the Messenger of Allah’s
affection for them. ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr reports that Allah’s Messenger once told him, "I have been informed that you fast daily and you observe optional [nafl] prayer throughout the night.” He replied, “This is indeed the case." Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) thereupon said, “Do not do this. You should fast on certain days and refrain on certain days. You should perform salat during a portion of the night and sleep during a portion of it as well. Your body also has a right over you. If you continue doing as I advised you, you will nor get tired Your family also has a right over you. Set aside some time for them during the day and night. Your friends, relatives and visitors also have a right over you. Therefore fasting only three days a month and completing the recitation of the Holy Qur'an only once every month will suffice for you."
Abdullah replied, “Oh Messenger of Allah! I can massage more than that." Following repeated requests, the Messenger of Allah finally relented and said, “Fine! I will permit you no more than the fast of Dawud: You may fast every alternate day and no more. Also you are prohibited From completing the Holy Qur’an once every seven days.”33
This hadith has been transmitted with slight variations in its text in the various books of hadith. According to the version mentioned in the Mishkat al-Masabih on the authority of Imam Bukhari, the hadith prohibits perpetual fasting. At the end of the narration, what else save affection for ‘Abdullah had prompted Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) to permit him to fast the fast of Dawud (i.e. to fast every alternate day)? This is why ‘Abdullah used to lament in his old and feeble age, ‘If only I had taken heed of the advice of Allah’s Messenger."34
There are many other hadiths which were conveyed as threats or admonishments. For example, Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, “There no fast for one who observes perpetual fasting [sawm al-dahr].”35 According to some scholars, this hadith is more of an admonishment to abstain from perpetual fasting. It does not mean that (one who does this) will not be rewarded for it, or that his fasting is null and void.
Likewise, Allah's Messenger (PBUH) cautions, “A believer [mu’min] does not remain a believer while he is
committing adultery nor does he remain a believer while he is stealing”36 Of a similar nature is the hadith wherein Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) says, “Whosoever consumes alcohol, his salat is not accepted for forty days.”37
The aforementioned reasons for the differences of narrations were merely mentioned as examples. This category (of differences) is not confined to these examples only. All I wish to prove at this juncture is that the basis for which these differences came about is indispensable. All the reasons for the differences cannot be accommodated in this brief assignment nor, due to my helplessness, do I wish to cover them all. The objective of this assignment has been achieved up to a certain degree, in that the apparent contradictions in the statements of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) are all explainable. From among the many reasons for these differences, some have been explained above as
At this point, I would like to discuss other reasons for these differences which surfaced in the era of the
Companions, and the consequent differences that appeared. I will also present a few examples from these eras. Before I go further, though, I would like to bring up an unfounded objection (which normally comes up) at this juncture.
An objection which normally appears at this juncture is this: since Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) was sent to this world to convey injunctions of Islamic law [Shari 'a], and this was a primary reason for his advent, why did he not convey all the injunctions of Shari 'a in complete detail during his lifetime? This would have averted the confusion and anxiety of contradictory narrations and other such issues.
On the outside, this objection looks quite clear-cut and sensible, but in reality it is unfounded and baseless. This objection stems from a lack of insight into the laws of Shari 'a. In actual fact it is due to an intense degree of affection toward this Umma that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) did not regulate and gather all of the by-laws of the Shari’a, since this would have caused hardships to the Umma. Instead, he divided the laws of the Shari'a into two categories: a set of laws in which contemplation, deliberation and discussion has been abhorred, and a second set of laws in which differences of opinions have been declared a source of Allah’s mercy. Thus, every action, even if the action is incorrect, can potentially earn the reward of Allah, provided that the error is not due to one’s negligence.
In essence, the Shari’a has divided all the laws into two basic categories: the definitive [qat’i] and the speculative [zanni]. Qat’i is a reference to those laws which are not left to the intellectual capabilities of man. They are all explicit, definitive, and unequivocal, and man has no right to reinterpret or to re-expound these laws. Anyone reinterpreting these laws is in error and would be considered misguided. The second set of laws is such that the Shari’a has placed no constraints upon them. In fact, this set of laws has taken into account the weakness of the Umma and is intended to make things simpler for the people. The one who reinterprets these laws differently and does not practice them will not be considered misguided. The first set of laws is referred to as fundamental beliefs [i'tiqadat], while the second set is referred to as by-laws or derived laws [juz’iyyat or far’iyyat].
Under the category of by-laws, the Shari’a did not place any constraints. If all the fundamentals, compulsions, etc., were explained in complete detail by Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) , everything in this category would have also been incorporated in the first category. This would have consequently placed hardships on the Umma. Plus, even if this was the case, it would still have been extremely difficult to preserve these laws from differences of opinion.
Differences would still have occurred because all statements constituting the by-Laws of Shari'a are issued through the medium of words. Words are multi-facetted and can have multiple interpretations. Hence, the Shari’a has divided the laws into the two categories of fundamentals and by-laws, and made it strictly prohibited to debate on the first category as is evident from the following verse:
Allah has established for you the same religion as that which He enjoined upon Nuh, and that which We had
revealed to you and that which We have enjoined upon lbrahim, Musa and ‘Isa; namely that you should remain steadier in religion and make no divisions therein. (Surat al-Shura 42,13).
This verse sternly prohibits any debate in religion [din] with regard to the first category of injunctions. However, differences in the second category are considered a source of mercy upon mankind. This is why there has been no prohibition on this type of debate and differences, as evident from the scores of incidents which occurred during the blessed era of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH). I will present just two examples of this nature.
In one example, Imam Nisai (may Allah be pleased with him) narrates on the authority of Tariq an incident of two Companions who were both in need of a compulsory bath [ghusl]. Due to a lack of water, one of them refrained completely from performing salat while the other performed tayammum [dry ablution]. On their return to Allah’s Messenger, he approved both of their actions.38
Similarly, on another occasion, the Messenger of Allah commanded a group of Companions to perform their ‘Asr prayer at the dwellings of Banü Qurayza. Some of them took the command to perform the ‘Asr prayer at Banü Qurayza literally and acted accordingly. Even though their salat was delayed from its actual time, they nonetheless executed what they felt was the meaning of the command issued to them by Allah’s Messenger (PBUH). However, another group regarded this as a command to reach Banu Qurayza in haste (i.e. by ‘Asr time). Hence, they performed their Asr salat at its proper time, en-route to Banü Qurayza. Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) did not object to the actions of either of the two groups.39 This incident is mentioned in detail in Sahih al-Bukhari. There are numerous other incidents of this nature.
FUNDAMENTAL AND SUBSIDIARY DIFFERENCES
In short, there is a vast distinction between fundamental differences and secondary differences. Those who consider these secondary differences equal to the fundamental differences and apply the Qur'anic verses and hadiths about the evil of differences to these secondary differences are either ignorant or fooled into believing otherwise. There is no doubt that the Shari'a has placed great ease and flexibility on these secondary differences. If this was not the case, the Umma would have been encumbered with difficulties beyond their endurance. This was one of the reasons why Imam Milik (may Allah be pleased with him) declined to comply with Caliph Harün al-Rashid’s request for him to hang a copy of his Muwatta’ upon the wall of the Ka'ba and issue a command for everyone to adhere to it, in order to ensure that people did not differ over religious [dini] matters. Imam Malik was requested repeatedly to do this but he emphatically refused each time and declared:
The Companions also differed in subsidiary issues and all of them were considered to be correct. Their statements and schools of thought are practiced throughout the world and there is no sense in prohibiting the people from other schools of thought.
Similarly, when Caliph Mansur went for hajj, he requested Imam Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) to give him a copy of all his works so that he (Mansur) could have them published and dispatched to all the parts of the Islamic world. Mansur wanted all the Muslims to adhere to uniform code of Islamic law. Imam Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) replied,
O leader of the faithful! Do not ever think of doing this. The people have in their possession the hadiths and the statements of the Companions which they are adhering to. Allow them to continue accordingly.
DIFFERENCES: A SOURCE OF MERCY
This is a desired objective of the statement of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) wherein he says, “The differences of my Umma are a source of mercy,” The fact that these differences of opinion area source of mercy is quite obvious. Every Imam has some difference or another on subsidiary issues of Shari'a. In addition, it is permissible to issue a religious verdict (fatwa) according to the school of thought of another Imam provided there is a legal and juridical (shar'i) need to do so. However if there were no allowances for such differences of opinion, it would not be permissible to sway from one ruling to another even if there was a dire need for it.
In short, the differences of opinion found among the Imams are religiously required, and the benefits of them are manifold. Allah willing, if time assists me in my endeavors, I will mention this topic in more detail while discussing the differences of opinion of the third era. It is not my objective of discussion at this point. Those who have some inclination toward jurisprudence [fiqhi] will surely understand the aforementioned benefits of the differences of opinion.
Prejudice toward any School
‘Allama Sha’rani (may Allah be pleased with him) writes in his book Al-Mizan,
'If you view it with an impartial eye, you will clearly realize that all the four Imams and their followers are on the path of divine guidance. Once you have studied this carefully, you will not have objections against the followers of any of the Imams. It will be firmly impressed on your mind that all the four schools of thought are part and parcel of the Shari’a, and that the contradictory statements of the various Imams are a source of divine mercy. Allah is All-Knowing and All-Wise and His expediency demanded that things should turn out as they have become, if Allah abhorred this difference of opinion, then He would have forbidden it as He had forbidden debating on the fundamental teachings of the Shan’a. If you regard the subsidiary differences of opinion as the same as fundamental differences in religion [din], you will land yourself in an abyss of destruction because Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) concluded that differences in subsidiary issues of religion are a source of divine mercy.
In actual fact, the various opinions of the Imams are all extracted from the hadiths. The only difference between the opinions of the Imams is that, where one Imam considers a certain juridical [shar'i] injunction as compulsory, another would consider the same as optional. By this statement, I am in no way implying that one is at liberty so select the opinion of whichever Imam one fancies—either the compulsory or the optional. Some students were duped into believing that this is what I meant. This is most definitely not what I mean, as it would render the entire religion a plaything. What I am saying is that each of the Imams has selected one of the two options before him. However, whichever one they select, their followers are bound to adhere to it.
Whatever I have mentioned about the Imams I have not said simply because I cherish favorable thoughts about them. On the contrary, I have established good thoughts toward them as a result of extensive research into their opinions, deductions, inferences, and corroborating statements. Whoever does not believe me should study my book, Al-Manhaj al-mubin fi adillat al-mujtahidin [Clear Way in the Proofs of the Mujtahids}. I have assembled all the corroborating statements of the various Imams in that book and, consequently, established that they were all divinely guided.
The fact of the matter is that as long as one does not cross all the stations of the spiritual path (suluk) through the companionship and direction of an accomplished spiritual guide [shaykh kamil], the complete reality of this, as it should be understood, will not be exposed to him. Hence, if you wish to savor its taste, you should also proceed to an accomplished spiritual guide and exert yourself in order to acquire the reality of these metters. This is not a fabrication from myself, but an established reality confirmed by the statements of the learned elders [masha'ikh].'
Shaykhh Muhyi ‘l-Din ibn ‘Arabi writes in his book Futuhat al-Makkiyya, "When a person is bound to a particular school of thought and he also progresses in the field of spirituality at the very summit he reaches a sea (of consciousness) through which all the Imams have passed. At that time a person realizes that all the schools of thought are on the right path. This can be likened to a Prophet who, once he receives divine revelation [wahy], has a good view of all the other religions as well.’
This priceless treatise of Imam Sha’rani (may Allah be pleased with him), which runs into almost a hundred pages, is worth writing in gold. His topic is extremely beneficial in fact; the entire work is worth translating.
In short, what I wish to say is that the differences of opinion found among the Imams which appear to be disunity are in actual fact not disunity. Whatever their stages of differences, they are indispensable and their absence would have been a burden on the Umma. Furthermore, since their differences of opinion stem from the differences in narrations, there was a religious [dini] need so have the narrations also revealed with some amount of ambiguity. If these juridical laws were conclusively revealed like the fundamental tenets of faith, there would be no scope for the Imams to have any differences. In that case, any debate of the Imams would have been a source of misguidance and the lack of debate would have caused untold hardship to the community at large.
Nonetheless, this does not mean that a person is at liberty to infer and draw conclusions from the texts of the Qur’an or hadiths according to his own understanding, as this would lead him astray. Such a difference of opinion is not sound. The only difference of opinion which is reputable is that which is subjected to judicial [shari'] maxims and principles. For instance, in the incident which dealt with bathing when in a seminally defiled state [janaba], Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) considered the actions of those who had speculated based to their own understanding as ignorance.
Narration by Meaning
Apart from the reasons mentioned regarding the first era, there were many other factors during the era of the
Companions and Followers that contributed to the conflict in narrations. This conflict was bound to occur.
One of the foremost reasons for these conflicting narrations is due to narration by meaning and not narration by actual text. In other words, people used to narrate the hadiths in their own words and not in the actual words of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH). Ibn Sirin says, “I used to hear one hadith from ten people and all of them used to differ in the text but they used to be unanimous in the meaning.”
Allama Dhahabi (may Allah be pleased with him) quotes the statement of Abu Hãtim in his book Tadhkirat alhuffaz: “I have not seen any of the hadith narrators, besides Qubaysa, memorizing and relating the exact words of the hadiths (as they had heard them) without any change whatsoever.”
Allama Suyuti (may Allah be pleased with him) has dealt with this topic in detail in his book Tadrib al-rawi,
wherein he also transmits the various opinions of the scholars on this issue of whether or not narrating the meaning of the hadith instead of the actual text is permissible. However, Allãma Suyuti says that all four Imams have unanimously agreed that narrating a hadith by meaning instead of the actual text is permissible, provided the other prerequisites are found in the narrator. He based its permissibility on a hadith narrated by Tabarani and Ibn Manda in which Abdullah ibn Sulayman once told the Messenger of Allah that he was unable to narrate the Messenger’s exact words. The Messenger (PBUH) permitted him to change the text of the hadith, provided he narrated the meaning of the hadith in full.40
The Difficulty of Narrating by Memory
It is also very difficult to remember all the actual words of the hadiths. On one occasion Makhul asked Wãthila ibn al-Asqa to narrate a hadith that he heard from Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) without adding or subtracting any words and without a doubt or error in the text of the hadith. Wãthila asked him, “Does any one of you know the Qur’an by heart?” Makhül replied, “We do not know the Qur’an so well that we would not make any mistakes whatsoever.” Upon this Wathila commented, “The Holy Qur’an is written out and preserved in its original form. In spite of this, you tend to make errors in the letter "fa" and “wãw” (i.e. they are sometimes interchanged), etc. So how can I narrate a hadith in the manner you have requested? In fact, some of the hadiths I have only heard once. When it comes to narrating the hadiths of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) consider the narration of the meaning as sufficient (and do not be overly concerned with the actual text).” Waki’ (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “If there were no (allowance for) narrating the meaning of the hadiths instead of the actual text, the entire nation of Muslims would have been destroyed.”
According to Ibn al-Arabi, narrating the meaning of the hadiths rather than their text was permissible only for the Companions, and not for anybody else. However, other hadith scholars [muhaddithin] like Qasim ibn Muhammad, Ibn Sirin, Zuhri, Ibrãhim (al-Nakh'ay), Sha'bi, among others have permitted this for all narrators, albeit with certain conditions.
‘This was one of the main reasons why a great multitude of the Followers [tabi'in] abstained from attributing a hadith directly to the Messenger of Allah. Instead, they used to narrate the hadith in the form of an injunction.
Among others, the aforementioned issue is one of the chief reasons why Imam Abü Hanifa (may Allah be pleased with him) refrained from attributing the hadiths directly to Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) , along with the fact that it is dangerous to attribute (a hadith) directly to him. It is possible that in narrating the meaning instead of the actual text, one may attribute something incorrectly to him and consequently become liable to severe punishment.
Cautioun in Textual Narrations
Other great scholars were also very cautious about attributing the hadiths directly to Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) because it was extremely difficult to abstain from any form. of error or mistakes while narrating the actual (text of the) hadiths
Even a personality like Ibn Mas'üd was extremely cautious in attributing any hadith directly to Allah’s Messenger (PBUH). He was one of the greatest of the Companions, about whom Abu Musa al-Ash'ari says, “He (Abdullah’ ibn Mas'ud) used to frequent the house of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) to such an extent that we were initially under the impression that he was a family member.”41
Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) even granted him permission to listen, to his personal secrets. During his lifetime, the Messenger of Allah appointed him as a teacher of the Holy Qur'an. The Messenger (PBUH) once said, “If I were to appoint anyone as a leader [amir] would have appointed Ibn Mas'ud as a leader.”42
Hadiths like this explaining the virtues of Ibn Mas'ud are rarely found narrated in favor of the other Companions. This is why Imam Abu Hanifa (may Allah be pleased with him) decided to make the religious verdicts [fatawa] of Ibn Mas’ud the basis of (much of) his jurisprudence [fiqh]. We will explain this in detail at another time.
What I wish to make clear at this point is that in spite of his excessive knowledge, his lofty virtues, and his
numerous hadiths, he rarely attributed the hadiths directly to Allah’s Messenger (PBUH). Abu ‘Amr al-Shaybani says, “I stayed with ‘Abdullãh ibn Mas'üd for a period of one year and I did not hear him attributing any hadith to the Messenger of Allah. lf he did, per chance, say Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said’ in regards to any sentence, his entire body would tremble (out of fear of attributing something incorrectly to him).”
Anas, the special attendant [khadim khass] of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) says, “If I did not have a fear of slipping up, I would have narrated many hadiths that I had heard from Allah’s Messenger (PBUH). However, I fear that if I narrate those hadiths, I will fall under the threat of punishment”
Suhayb says: “I will be able to narrate the incidents that took place in our battles while we were with Allah’s
Messenger (PBUH) However, for me to narrate that ‘this is what Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said,’ I will not be able to do that.”
In short, there are many such incidents which highlight the Companions’ caution when it came to attributing the hadiths to Allah’s Messenger (PBUH). If Allah wills, I will deal with this in more detail when we discuss the allegations against Imam Abü Hanifa (may Allah be pleased with him) regarding his knowledge of hadith. At this point, I have mentioned a few incidents to elucidate on the fact that, since it was difficult to narrate the hadiths word for word, the narrators related the meanings of the hadiths instead. I have also explained why the senior Companions refrained from attributing anything directly to Allah’s Messenger (PBUH).
Since we have established the permissibility of narrating (a hadith) with meaning instead of narrating with the
actual text, we have also established that differences in those narrations are also inevitable. Due to a difference in interpretation, differences in meaning are also bound to appear. This is one of the reasons why Abü Bakr, in his speech after the death of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH), forbade the people from narrating hadiths, as this would have created differences and contention among the community.
One of the other reasons for differences in narrations during the era of the Companions and Followers was that many a time Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) would say something which later became abrogated. However, some of the people who heard the initial injunction were probably not present to hear its abrogation and thus continued narrating what they heard (before the abrogation). For example, there are many narrations which permit wiping [masah] over the turban. However, Imam Muhammad al-Shaybãni (may Allah be pleased with him) writes in his Muwatta “As far as we are aware, wiping over the turban was permissible at the very beginning of Islam and it was later prohibited.”
Similarly, he narrates the statement of Abü Sa'id al-Khudri’ that bathing [ghusl] is compulsory upon every mature person on Fridays. However, Ibn Abbãs said, “This compulsion was confined to the beginning of Islam only. At that time the people used to work in their fields themselves and were unable to employ any servants due to extreme poverty. Their garments were made of thick woolen material at that time. While toiling in their fields, due to excessive perspiration, their clothing used to give off an offensive odor. The masjid in those times was also very small. When all the people used to gather in the masjid for the Friday prayer, the odor given off by some people used to be very offensive to other attendees. This is why they were commanded to have a bath and apply perfume, etc. Thereafter, Allah provided ease for the Muslims and the masjid was also extended. Hence, the compulsion of bathing no longer remains.”43
There is also a comparable narration from Abü Hurayra which says that the wudü’ is nullified if one consumes anything cooked over the fire.44
Contrary to this, Jabir’ relates, “Toward the latter part of his life, the Messenger of Allah’s habit was not to make wudu’ after eating something cooked over the fire.”45
This hadith clearly shows that the compulsion of wudü’ was abrogated. However, Imam Abü Dãwud (may Allah be pleased with him) disagrees with this interpretation of the hadith. This is why we also mentioned another interpretation of this hadith previously [see page 15]: the word wudu’ in the hadith of Abu Hurayra (as explained above) refers to the washing of the hands and the mouth and nor to the technical meaning of wudu’.
THE PROBLEM OF HUMAN ERROR
The scholars are unanimous in their view that the Companions were all reliable narrators ['adul]. They can neither be criticized nor censured. In his Isaba, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani describes this as the unanimous opinion of the People of the Sunna [Ahl al-Sunna].
However, everyone is afflicted with forgetfulness, errors and other human shortcomings. Hence, there is a possibility of making a mistake while narrating a hadith.
I have already mentioned the statement of Imrän ibn Husayn, in which he says, “By Allah! I know so many hadiths that I can go on narrating for a very long time. However, I am restrained by the fact that there are some Companions who heard the hadiths from Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) like I did, but in spire of this they are prone to making mistakes while narrating. Obviously, they are not doing this intentionally. If I had to narrate, I fear I would also fall into the same abyss.”
Likewise, whenever Ali would hear a hadith from anyone other than Abu Bakr, he used to make the narrator swear an oath that he had reported it exactly the way he heard it from Allah’s Messenger (PBUH).
The inevitable existence of these types of errors explains why, among other things, it is incumbent to compare
narrations with one another to determine if there are any errors. If there are any contradictions on the part of the narrator, the contradictions will be resolved.
The specialists in the field of hadith have prohibited the people from acting upon the hadiths directly until they have the capability to distinguish between the authentic and the unauthentic, between the correct and the incorrect, and between the truth and the fabricated.
There are scores of examples of such errors in the books of hadith. One such example involves a narration from Abdullah ibn Umar which states that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) performed ‘umra in the month of Rajab. When 'A'isha heard of his account, she said; “Ibn Umar has forgotten. Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) did not perform any 'umra in the month of Rajab.”46
In addition, we have already previously mentioned the case in which Abdullah ibn Umar said, “The deceased is punished in his grave if his family cries or mourns over him.” His report was rejected by 'A’isha, who insisted that Ibn Umar had erred in narrating the hadith. According to her, the hadith is as follows: “On one occasion, Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) passed by a deceased Jewish woman who was being mourned over by her family members. He remarked; ‘These people are crying over her whereas she is being inflicted with the punishment of the grave!” According to 'A'isha , their crying had nothing to do with her punishment.
Likewise, Abu Hurayra says if a person is in need of a compulsory bath [ghusl] at the time of true dawn [subh sadiq], he is not permitted to fast on that specific day. He narrates this (ruling) from Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) , and this was also his personal ruling [fatwa] on the issue. Such narrations are compiled in detail in Fath al-Bari, the commentary on Sahih al-Bukhari, under the chapter dealing with fasting. However, in opposition to this, 'A'isha and Umm Salama report that at times the Messenger (PBUH) used to be in need of bathing [ghusl] at dawn, but he would fast on those days as well.47
Similarly, a group of narrators relate that the salat is nullified if a woman or dog passes in front of one performing salät. 'A'isha rejected this view, saying this narration is incorrect.48
Finally, Fatima bint Qays narrated that a woman who has been issued an irrevocable divorce has no right to claim food, clothing, or shelter from her husband. When Umar heard this he remarked, “How can I relinquish a Qur'anic verse for the statement of one woman?49
To sum up, one of the reasons for the contradiction of narrations stems from the differences in how the hadiths were preserved. At times, those narrating the hadiths tended to slip up in their narrations. This is not impossible.
Sometimes, even the most intelligent person can become confused with comprehending, transmitting, or relating the meaning of a statement. There are many such cases in which the narrators erred in spite of being reliable and truthful. This is why the scholars have laid down stringent rules for accepting the narration of a lone narrator. One of the rules is to compare the narration with other narrations. If it is conforming to the juridical principles, it will be accepted; otherwise it will not.
The aforementioned incident of Umar also supports one of the principles of the Hanafi school. According to the Hanafis, the hadith that is in greater conformance with the Qur’an will be awarded preference over the hadith that is not as conforming to it, even if the latter has relatively more reliable narrators or there are other narrations supporting it.
All of these incidents also verify what I have repeatedly indicated: that the only person who can practice upon the hadith directly is the one who has the capacity to recognize right from wrong. It is quite bewildering to note that to determine the purity of gold, one avails himself of the services of a bullion dealer, but to practice upon the hadiths, he considers the services of an analyst as dispensable. The one who does this is quite proud of his own knowledge in spite of his ignorance. We beseech the assistance of Allah alone.
LOVE FOR ALLAH’S MESSENGER (PBUH)
Companions were the real devotees and ardent followers of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH). They were prepared to lay down a hundred lives for every action of his. They were wholly befitting of the poem:
The relationship the Companions enjoyed with Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) cannot be expressed in words. Every one of the most seemingly trivial incidents that transpired while they were in the company of the Messenger PBUH) is a testament to their devotion to him.
Anas narrates, “The Messenger of Allah passed by the house of a Companion who had added an additional room to it. Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) asked who the house belonged to. On being informed, the Messenger (PBUH) did not utter a word. When the Companion in question appeared before Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) , he declined to reply to his salam. The Companion made salam many times, but to no avail. When informed by the others about what had transpired earlier, he immediately went home and demolished the extended room. Above that, he did not even inform Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) of his action: out of shame and remorse, he refrained from informing him. The Messenger of Allah only learnt of it when he happened to pass by the same house on another occasion.”
The Companions used to accept even the outward meaning of the words of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH). They at times were quite aware that this was not what he meant, but taking the literal words into account, they used to adhere to it
Once, Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) pointed to one of the doors of the masjid [al-Nabawi] and remarked, “It would have been a good idea to reserve this door for the exclusive use of the women.” From then on, Abdullah ibn Umar never entered the masjid by that door.
Likewise, when Abu Sa'id al-Khudri was on his death-bed, he called for a new set of clothes and put them on. He thereafter said, “I heard Allah's Messenger (PBUH) saying that a person will be resurrected on the Day of Judgment- with the clothing he dies in.”50
On the contrary; it has been established by famous hadiths that everyone
will be resurrected naked on the Day of Judgment. This is discussed under the commentary of the Quranic verse, “As We commenced the initial creation, so shall We return it” (Surat al-Anbiya 21:104) This meaning is established on the grounds of many hadiths. It would be preposterous to suggest that Abü Said al-Khudri was unaware of the meaning, of the hadiths. He was aware of it, but he chose to act on the literal meaning of the hadith and wear the new clothes.
The books of hadith are replete with such examples. On the surface, these examples seem dubious, but one who has “had a sip from the fountain of love." will clearly understand the importance of even the apparent worth of his beloved, above and beyond the consideration of their actual meaning. This was one of the main reasons why the Companions used to narrate even the abrogated hadiths. -
On the outside, it seems senseless to propagate abrogated hadiths (but such was their, love for the Messenger (PBUH) and his words). Similarly, there are many such hadiths which were narrated in spite of the fact that their apparent meanings were unanimously declared obsolete.
From this, we understand why the hadith scholars have laid down such stringent rules and regulations for acquiring the science of hadith, and why they were so cautious before saying or writing anything on this subject. They have even laid down principles and conditions for the seekers of this science. The rules and regulations set out for the teachers and hadith scholars are even more stringent.
The Advice of Imam Bukhari to the Seeker of Hadith
Even though the issue at hand is growing more long-winded, spurred by the necessity of the present discussion, I will narrate a remarkable quote from Imam Bukhãri (may Allah be pleased with him) which will enlighten the reader on the diligence required to become a seeker of hadith, let alone an accomplished shaykh or scholar of hadith [muhaddith].
Allama Suyuti relates (through his chain) that Muhammad ibn Ahmad said: “When Abu ‘l-Abbas Walid ibn
Ibrahim was deposed as the chief justice of Rayy (formally of the great cities of Persia located a few miles from Tehran) and he came to Bukhãrã, my teacher, Abü Ibrãhim Al-Khatalli took me with him to see Walid. My teacher requested him to narrate those hadiths to me which he had heard from his teachers [mashä’ikh]. He replied, ‘I have not heard anything from them.’ My teacher was quite shocked and remarked, ‘How can you say that you have not heard anything from them whereas you are a deeply-read scholar?’
Walid then related his story saying, ‘When I became a rational and mature adult and I developed a passion toward the science of hadith, I went to Imam Bukhãri (may Allah be pleased with him) and explained my intentions to him. He advised me thus, “Son, before you set out to pursue any field, make sure you are well-grounded with its prerequisites and demands. And remember that a person cannot become a perfect scholar in the science of hadith [muhaddith] until and unless he writes four things with four other things, which are as indispensable as four things, which resemble four other things. (He must write these things) in four times, with four conditions, in four places, upon four things, from four types of people, and for four objectives. All of these four-angled things can only be achieved with another four things coupled with another four. Once all these things are achieved, four things will become insignificant before him and he will be tried with four other things. If he exercises patience in these four trials, Allah will honor him with four things in this world and award him four things in the hereafter.”
I said, “May Allah have mercy upon you. Please explain these four-angled things for me.” He said, “Certainly. The four things he has to write are:
(1) the statements and commands of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH).
(2) the sayings of the Companions and their relative ranks.
(3) the sayings of the Followers and their ranks (i.e. who among them are reliable and who are not),
(4) the conditions of all the narrators who narrate hadiths.
These (four pieces of information) must be written together with the following four things:
(1) the actual names of the narrators,
(2) their appellations or titles [kuna],
(3) their places of residence, and
(4) their dates of birth and death (to determine whether the narrator actually met the people he has narrated
(These are indispensable to him) just (as four things are necessary with four other things:)
(1) as praises [tahmid] of Allah (are necessary) with the khutba,
(2) as salutations [salawat], (are necessary) with mention of the name of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH).
(3) as (the recitation of) bismillah (is necessary) with a süra (of the Qur’an), and
(4) as the takbir (is necessary) with the salat.
These resemble four other things (which are names of four categories of hadith):
(1) the musnadat [narrations traceable to the Messenger],
(2) the mursalat [narrations transmitted by a Follower from the Messenger directly without a Companion in between],
(3) the mawqufat [narrations traceable only to a Companion ], and
(4) the maqtu'at [narrations traceable only to a Follower].
(These things must all be written) jn four times:
(1) in his childhood,
(2) in his age of discernment (i.e. close to maturity),
(3) in his youth, and
(4) in his old age.
(In other words, he must continue acquiring hadiths at all times throughout every stage of his life? They must be written) under four conditions:
(1) while his is occupied,
(2) while he is free,
(3) in his poverty, and
(4) in his affluence.
(In other words, he must diligently pursue the knowledge of these things no matter what his circumstances may be. This is done) at four places:
(1) in mountainous terrain,
(2) on the seas,
(3) in cities, and
(4) in rural areas.
(In other words, he must endeavour to acquire this science from the right teacher, no matter where that teacher is located. He writes what he has acquired) upon four things:
(1) upon stones,
(2) upon shells,
(3) upon skins, and
(4) upon bones.
(In other words, even when be does not find paper he will continue recording it somewhere) until he finds the paper upon which to preserve it. (He acquires it from four different types of people :)
(1) from his seniors,
(2) from his juniors,
(3) from his counterparts, and
(4) from the books of his father, provided he has firm conviction that these are his father’s books.
(In other words, he endeavours to acquire this science in every way possible without feeling ashamed to obtain it even from his juniors. He has four objectives for doing all of these things :)
(1) to acquire (this science) solely for the pleasure of Allah ,
(2) to practice upon the hadiths which confirm to the verses of the Holy Qur’an,
(3) to propagate (the science) to those who seek it, and
(4) to write it out so that it can be a source of guidance to those who will come after him.
Thereafter, the aforementioned four things cannot be acquired (unless he has first acquired) four other things that are part of human acquisition:
(1) the knowledge of how to read and write,
(2) lexicography and vocabulary,
(3) morphology, and
Together with four other things that are not of human acquisition, but are bestowed by Allah :
(1) sound health,
(3) an ardent desire for learning, and
(4) a retentive memory.
Once all the aforementioned four-angled things are attained by him, then four things will become insignificant
He will then be afflicted with four things:
(1) his enemies will rejoice at his distress,
(2) his friends will reproach him,
(3) the ignorant will taunt him, and
(4) the scholars [ulamà] will be jealous of him.
Once he exercises patience on these calamities, Allah will honor him with four things in this world:
(1) the honor of contentment [qana'a],
(2) conviction coupled with awe and dignity,
(3) the pleasure of sacred knowledge ['ilm] and
(4) eternal life.
(On top of that,) Allah will honor him with four things in the hereafter:
(1) the honor of intercession on behalf of whomever he pleases,
(2) the shade of the throne of Allah on the day when there will be no shade available except the shade of His
(3) the privilege to provide water to whomsoever he pleases from the pool of Muhammad [al-Kawthar], and
(4) close proximity with the Prophets [anbiya'] in the Highest of the High Places [a’lã ‘illiyyin].
So now, my son, I have told you whatever I have heard from my teachers [mashä’ikh]. Now you have the choice to either pursue this field or to abstain from it.”
These are the principles and rules Imam Bukhäri has laid out for every individual who wishes to become a hadith scholar or a student of hadith. We should take heed of Imam Bukhãri’s advice and hold firmly onto it. In actual fact, the science of hadith is even more difficult to attain than Imam Bukhãri (may Allah be pleased with him) describes.
Our present times of extreme negligence and laziness, where the maximum extent of education in this science is (normally limited to studying) the six authentic books of hadith [sihah sitta] for one to call himself a hadith scholar, can be likened to “a monkey who has a bit of turmeric powder and wishes to be called a grocer.” The extent to which this group of half-baked molwis [scholars graduating from madrasas] has made a mock of our religion [din] cannot be found in the time of our predecessors, even if we were to search for it. The main cause for this current degeneration among the scholars stems from our confidence in our virtues and our reliance upon our defective and unsound knowledge. In fact, the jurists of the later centuries [muta’akhkhirin] have prohibited us from issuing any religious verdicts [fatawa] based on our own opinions. Instead, they have advised us to transcribe the verdicts from similar religious verdicts of the past. But alas! In these times, even the most intricate of scholastic issues, let alone ordinary concerns, have become subjected to the people’s whims and fancies. To Allah alone do we complain and He alone is the Helper. -
This subject is out of our present range of discussion, so I will now return to our previous discussion. In the second era, from among the numerous reasons for the differences of opinions, I have sufficed by mentioning a few reasons. During the times of the Companions [sahaba], Followers [tabi'in], Followers of the Followers [atba' al-tabi’in], mujtahid Imams and the hadith scholars [muhaddithin], the reasons that led to differences of opinion increased. In other words, the further we moved away from the era of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) , the more the reasons for these differences also increased. This increase is quite rational because (as an Urdu expression goes) “The more the mouths, the more the statements.”
EXCESSIVE LINKS BETWEEN NARRATORS
The fifth reason for differences is basically due to the excessive number of links in conveying the hadiths (between the time of the Messenger (PBUH) and the current era). The more the links in conveying the hadiths increased, the more the disparities between them increased. The reason for this is quite clear as well. If you relay a message to someone and there are many links involved in conveying the message, an inconsistency in the message is bound to occur. This is why the hadith scholars have considered a hadith with a smaller number of links as having a preferential factor over other hadiths. If Allah wills, I will explain this in detail at some other point. All I would say at this point is that an excessive number of links is a major cause for differences, a fact which one can determine logically, traditionally, practically and through sound discernment. According to the Hanafi school, the jurisprudence [fiqh] of Imam Abü Hanifa (may Allah be pleased with him) is awarded preference over the jurisprudence and statements of the other jurists and hadith scholars because, among other reasons, there are relatively fewer links between him and Allah’s Messenger (PBUH). In order to clarify this, the dates of birth and death of the famous Imams are listed below:
Imam Birth Death Age
Abu Hanifa 80 AH 150 AH 70
Malik 95 AH 179 AH 84
Shafi'i 150 AH 204 AH 54
Ahmed bin Hanbal 164 AH 241 AH 77
Bukhari 194 AH 256 AH 62
Muslim 204 AH 261 AH 57
Abu Dawud 202 AH 275 AH 73
Tirmidhi 209 AH 279 AH 70
Nasa'i 214 AH 303 AH 89
Ibn Maja 209 AH 273 AH 64
From this table, it is quite evident that since a period of two hundred years separates Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) from Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim, there are bound to be many links between them. Contrast this with the era of Imam Malik and Imam Abu Hanifa (may Allah be pleased with them): not even a period of one hundred years separates them from Allah’s Messenger (PBUH).
Among other things, an excessive number of links is one of the causes for differences between narrations. Also, since the compilation of the various hadith books only began in the second century, there were relatively more narrators (at that time). This consequently brought about more differences in the wording of the narrations.
The sixth reason is caused by the weakness of a narration. Due to the excessive number of links in a narration, a weak or unreliable narrator sometimes finds his way into the chain of narrators. Some narrators have a tendency to narrate something very different from what they heard, either due to a weak memory or due to some other disorder.
Some narrators were such that their books or their memories could be relied upon, but due to some problem or other, they began making blunders in their narrations and narrating incorrectly. This is why the Imams of hadith have concluded that if a person wishes to practice upon a particular hadith, he should be well aware of the conditions of its narrator. This is also one of the major reasons why the learned elders [mashã’ikh] prohibit the ordinary laymen from practicing upon a hadith directly without the consent of the scholars. Imam Nawawi writes in his commentary on al-Arba’in:
"The person who wishes to prove anything on the basis, of any of the hadiths appearing in the Sunan collections of Imam Abü Dãwüd, Tirmidhi,. Nasã’i Ibn Mäja and in the Musannafs of Ibn Abi Shayba or Abd al-Razzaq’ ibn al- Humans, and other hadith books which have many weak narrations and that person has tile capability to differentiate between the authentic and’ unauthentic, (he) is still not permitted to employ a particular hadith to prove something until he verifies the continuation of the link of narrators and studies the conditions of its narrators.
If he does not possess these capabilities, he is compelled to fallow an Imam and he is not permitted to draw his own deductions from the hadiths, lest he should fall into falsehood."
At a later stage we will, Allah willing, explain in a more detail that most of the jurists and hadith. scholars have explicitly concluded that a person cannot be permitted to practice upon hadith directly if he does not have the capacity to differentiate between the reliable and unreliable, between the hadith that abrogates and the one that is abrogated, and between the general statements and the specifying statements of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) . This is so obvious that it does not require any explicit mention. How can a person who is unable to distinguish between the reliable and unreliable practice upon a narration?
FABRCATION OF HADITHS
The era of the best of generations [khayr al-qurun] (i.e. the first three generations of Muslims), gave way to the era of falsehood and fabrications, as foretold by Allah’s Messenger (PBUH). (At that time,) people began fabricating hadiths willfully. This is why many hadith scholars compiled books focusing only on fabricated hadiths (in order to expose them as unauthentic). Inspired by their vested interests, many of the fabricators used to concoct false hadiths. Consequently, whatever differences do occur in the accepted narrations will still be considered minimal (compared to what the situation could have been).
Ibn Lahi'a says, “There was a person who was once a leader [shaykh] of the Khawãrij (a deviated sect). He later received divine guidance to repent for all his wrongdoings. He advised, ‘Before you accept a hadith, make sure you study the conditions of its narrators. When we (the Khawarij) wanted to propagate something, we used to fabricate a narration accordingly.”
Hammãd ibn Salama (may Allah be pleased with him) narrates the statement of a Rãfidi (a member of the Shiite Twelver sect):
“Whenever any proposals used to be passed in our gatherings, we would fabricate a hadith accordingly.”
Masih ibn Jahm narrates the incident of an innovator [mubtadi] who, when he repented, taking an oath, said: “We had fabricated many baseless narrations which you narrated from us, and we used to consider leading you astray to be a meritorious act.”
The hadith scholars have recorded many similar statements. Hãfiz ibn Hajar (may Allah be pleased with him) has made particular mention of such incidents in his book Lisan.
Some Reasons for the Fabrication of hadiths
My objective in relating a few of these incidents is to point out that the fabricators themselves have confessed to concocting hadiths. Some of these fabricators used to fabricate solely for what they called the preservation of their ideology [din], such as the Rãfidis, the Khawãrij, etc. This is why the hadith scholars have laid down, among other principles, the rule stating that if a person is known to have inclinations to the Rafidi sect, his narrations regarding the household [ahl al-bayt] of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) will not be accepted.
Hammãd ibn Zayd said, “The hypocrites have fabricated fourteen thousand hadiths. One of them was Abd al-Karim ibn AbI al-Awja’, who was hung in the time of (the Abbasi) Caliph Mahdi. While he was being hung he said, “I had fabricated four thousand hadiths in which I had made many unlawful things lawful and vice versa.”
Some people used to fabricate hadiths merely to appease a king or a leader. Their stories are mentioned in detail in the books dealing with fabricated hadiths.
One of the categories of hadith which has come under criticism by the Imams includes the hadiths of the Sufis and the Preachers [wã'izin]. The Sufis, having good thoughts of all and sundry, readily accepted all types of narrations. Considering such narrations to be authentic, they used to transmit them to others. Since the Sufis were regarded as reliable people, the others in turn accepted their narrations. Imam Muslim (may Allah be pleased with him) has dealt with this topic extensively in the introduction to his Sahih.
Similar is the case of the “Hadiths of the Preachers.” Many a time, preachers tended to fabricate hadiths merely to add a bit more spice to their lectures. In fact, some people believed that it was permissible to fabricate hadiths with intent to create a yearning in the hearts of the people toward the delights of the hereafter, or to instill fear in them of the catastrophes of doomsday. The narrations of the Preachers can also be found in the books dealing with fabricated hadiths.
Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal and Yahya ibn Ma'in (may Allah be pleased with them) once went into a certain masjid to offer their salat. After the, salat, a preacher [wa'iz] began narrating hadiths attributed to these two Imams during his lecture. At the termination of his lecture, Yahya ibn Ma'in beckoned the preacher with his hand to come over to them. Under the false impression that he was being summoned to be rewarded, he came over to them. Yahya asked, “Who narrated these hadiths to you?” Once again, he mentioned their names. This ignorant fool did not even know who he was talking to. Since these two personalities were very famous in the world of hadith, he had simply made use of their good names.
Yahya said, “I am Yahya ibn Ma'in and this is Ahmad ibn Hanbal. We did not narrate these hadiths to you nor have we ourselves heard them (from someone else). The preacher then asked, “So you are Yahya ibn Ma’in?” “Surely that is me,” replied Yahya. Upon this, he commented, “I always heard that Yahyã ibn Ma'in is a stupid fool but today this hearsay has been confirmed.” “How is this confirmation possible?” asked Yahya. The preacher replied, “How can you be under the impression that the names ‘Yahya ibn Ma'in and ‘Ahmad ibn Hanbal’ refer only to you two? I have heard hadiths from seventeen people by the names Yaliyã ibn Ma'in and Almad ibn Hanbal.” While this was taking place, Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal covered his face out of grief while the lecturer brushed the whole incident off as a joke and vanished.
This was one of the main reasons 'Umar placed constraints on lecturing during his time.
Abü Nuaym writes in AI-Hilya that Imam Zuhri said, “When there are two, three, or even four links in a chain of narrators (for a hadith), there is no problem with the narration. However, the moment the chain exceeds this number, it is better to remain silent.”
Khabbab ibn al-Aratt narrates that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, “The annihilation of the Bani Isrã’il was also triggered by their indulging in (baseless) sermons.”
Hafiz Zayn al-Din al-Iraqi says, “One of the predicaments of the Preachers [wa'izin] is their tendency to narrate anything and everything before the masses. Often, the common laypeople are unable to fathom what is being said. This eventually leads to corrupt beliefs. When this is the case with true and authentic statements, what will then be the situation with fabricated statements?”
These were the reasons which prompted the scholars to compile special books on fabricated hadiths. Just as they compiled books on authentic hadiths, they also compiled books on fabricated hadiths, to ensure that those who came after them do not fall into a trap of deception.
TAMPERING WITH SOUND NARRATIONS.
This reason is also quite similar to the previous reason. Many a time, a narrator himself is trustworthy and reliable, but a malicious or antagonistic person tampers with his writings and brings about certain changes. This creates contradictions between the narrations; though the actual narrator himself is reliable. That is why his (other) narrations are not rejected: he confusion in his, narration only occurred because of some other conspiracy. ‘Those who specialize in the principles of hadith study [usul al-hadith] have explicitly mentioned that Hammãd ibn Salama’s books had been tampered with by his adopted son Abü al-Awjã’. Similarly, a hadith was added into the books of Mu’ammar by one of his nephews who converted to the Rafidi sect. There are many other such incidents mentioned in the books of the hadith scholars.
Apart from the aforementioned reasons, there are many other reasons for the differences of opinions, many of which are not worth delving into before a mainstream audience, who may not possess the full intellectual capacity needed to grasp these extremely complex issues. There is a risk that some people may develop evil thoughts of the hadiths due to their lack of understanding and awareness of juridical [shar'i] knowledge. ‘Therefore, this discussion has remained brief.
The subject matter that we are dealing with is not so simple that it can be explained to all people, nor does every individual have the capacity to grasp its reality. This is why the scholars have prohibited the explanation of certain complicated issues to the laymen. Also, for this reason, our past scholars considered certain branches of knowledge mandatory even before one ventures into the field of hadith. This knowledge would develop a capacity to understand the hadiths.
The principles of hadith and jurisprudence [usul al-hadith and usül al-fiqh] are particularly singled out as
prerequisites for the field of hadith. This background knowledge would enable a person to understand the reality of the hadiths, and he would be able to assess the truthfulness of the hadiths as well. Zayn al-Iraqi said, “One of the shortcomings of the Preachers [wa'izin] is their tendency to lecture to the laymen on issues which they (the laymen) are unable to understand. This in turn leads to corrupt beliefs.” Abdulläh ibn Masüd says, “If you narrate such hadiths to a group of people who are unable to understand what you are saying, it will be a cause of turmoil [fitna] to them.” Imam Muslim (may Allah be pleased with him) has also mentioned this in the introduction to his book, and Imam Bukhãri (may Allah be pleased with him) narrates something to this effect from ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib.
Weak Hadiths in the Later Generations
In our times, these have no longer remained very sensitive issues because the scholars of hadith have already sifted through the hadiths. They have separated the fabricated from the authentic and distinguished the reliable from the unreliable. For example, Imam Bukhãri selected the hadiths compiled in his book from a collection of six hundred thousand hadiths. Imam Muslim selected his from a collection of three hundred thousand, and Imam Abu Dãwüd from a total of five hundred thousand hadiths.
SUMMARY OF THE DIFFERENCES IN THE SECOND ERA
At this juncture, I will now terminate the discussion of the differences of opinion in the second era. The main
objective of this section was to demonstrate the reasons contributing to the vast differences found in the hadiths. Apart from these reasons being obvious, they are also intellectually compatible. Eighteen reasons were mentioned from the first era and eight from the second era.
As time went along and the links in the chains of narrators increased, differences in the actual texts of the narrations also increased. This is one of the main reasons why there are so few weak narrations; in fact there may not be any, in Imam Bukhäri’s Collection. This was so because he lived during the second century. On the other hand, many weak narrations found their way into the book compiled by Imam Daraquni because he compiled his collection of hadiths at a much later stage. The era of the four mujtahid Imams predates even the era of Imam Bukhäri. Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal was the last of the four Imams, and he preceded Imam Bukhâri. This is why there were fewer weak hadiths in their era, and there were not so many differences in the narrations as we have today.
In conclusion, due to the aforementioned reasons for the differences in narrations, and owing to the appearance of many weak narrations, the Imams of hadith and jurisprudence [fiqh] realized the urgent need for sifting through all the hadiths. They selected all the reliable [mu'tabar] narrations and rejected the fabricated and unreliable ones. Thereafter, they sifted through all the reliable narrations, separating the preponderant [ràjih] from the preponderated [marjuh] and the abrogating hadiths [nasikh] from the abrogated [mansukh]. However, such sifting through the volumes of hadiths was obviously bound to bring in its wake differences of opinion among the Imams. Every one of them realized that certain narrators may be acceptable to one of them and not acceptable to the others, or that a narrator may be considered reliable by one of them and not by the others. This is why the Imams of jurisprudence had differences in their views, and these led to differences in their schools of thought as well, a fact which is quite natural and acceptable. On that note, we will now briefly explain the reasons which led to the differences of opinion among the Imams of jurisprudence.