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The Authenticity of Hadīth
Hadith & Sunnah
Asif Iftikhar

“O ye who believe! Obey Allah and obey the Prophet and those charged with authority among you. Therefore, if there is a difference of opinion among you in any matter, refer it back to Allah and His Prophet1, if ye do believe in Allah and the Last Day.” (4:5)

This verse of the Qur’ān clearly indicates that the original sources of knowledge on Islam are only two: The Holy Qur’ān and the Sunnah of the Prophet (sws2). The first addressees of this verse were the Companions3 of the Prophet (sws). It was they who were the first to be told that they should refer to the Qur’ān (refer it back to Allah) and the Sunnah (and His Prophet) in case they had a difference of opinion in any matter pertaining to religion. Therefore, only these two can be considered as original sources of religious knowledge by the Muslims. All other sources of religious guidance are subservient to them.

The problem is that today many people regard the Sunnah and the Hadīth as synonymous terms, whereas the two are quite distinct from each other. The Sunnah (or Sunnat-i-Thaabitah4) refers to ‘those established customs of the Prophet (sws) that were passed on as religion to the Muslim Ummah5 by the Companions of the Prophet (sws) through their practical consensus6 on these customs or through their perpetual adherence7 to them’8. Therefore, there is no doubt about the authenticity of the Sunnah as an original source. Just as the Qur’ān was perpetuated by oral transmission, the Sunnah was passed on by perpetual adherence. Hence, the authenticity of the Sunnah does not epend on the narratives told by a few individuals; the entire society in the Prophet’s time adopted and transmitted the Sunnah, thereby making it an established fact of history.

A Hadīth on the other hand, refers to a short narrative which describes a statement or an action or a tacit approval of the Prophet (sws). Most of these narratives were told by a few individuals at each link of the chain of narrators and, therefore, are very appropriately called Akhbaar-i-Ahaad9.

As the transmission of Ahādīth10 went on, it became evident that the Hadīth11 was being invaded by many forgeries. Therefore, scholars of Hadīth formulated numerous methods of evaluation by which genuine Ahādīth could be sifted out of the mass of forgeries. These methods belong to either of the two disciplines essential for investigating the authenticity of Ahādīth: Fann-i-Riwaayat and Fann-i-Daraayat. Fann-i-Riwaayat12, which has many branches, involves investigation of the complete chain of narrators13 going back to the original narrator of a particular version14 of the Hadīth in question. This science, thus, investigates the bonafides, the moral character, truthfulness, and power of memory of the narrators. Fann-i-Daraayat, on the other hand, investigates the authenticity of a Hadīth by determining whether or not its subject-matter is acceptable.

A Hadīth is accepted only when its authenticity has been established on the basis of both Fann-i-Riwaayat and Fann-i-Daraayat. Therefore, a Hadīth can be regarded as a source of religious guidance only ‘if the basis of that Hadīth exists in the Qur’ān or the Sunnah or the established principles of human nature and intellect. Moreover, it should not be contradictory to any of these bases, and should have been transmitted by reliable sources’15. A Hadīth which meets these criteria is accepted as a bonafide record of the Sunnah and of information pertaining to Islam. However, the following points must be kept in mind which stem from these criteria:

1. No Hadīth can present anything as religion which does not have its basis in the Qur’ān or the Sunnah or the established principles of human nature and intellect. Therefore, whatever a Hadīth presents would either be an explanation of a principle found in these sources or a branch emanating from that principle.

2. A Hadīth must not be against the Qur’ān or the Sunnah or the established principles of human nature and intellect. In short, the Hadīth in question must conform with the entire fabric of Islam.

3. A Hadīth must have been transmitted by reliable sources.

The first two of these points relate to Fann-i-Daraayat and the last to Fann-i-Riwaayat.

Unfortunately, the scholars competent to analyse Ahādīth on the basis of these criteria are few, and the untrained eye is often confused while studying the Hadīth. There are three mawjor reasons for this confusion:

1. Almost all the available written collections of Ahādīth, including the most revered ones, contain those Ahādīth which were analysed primarily on the basis of Riwaayat. Most Ahādīth, therefore, have to be analysed further on the basis of Fann-i-Daraayat before they can be accepted or rejected.

2. In most cases the context of a Hadīth is not clear or is even left out. The reason is that a typical Hadīth is what is called Riwaayat-bil-Maa’naa, which refers to such a Hadīth the narrators of which had not transmitted its exact subject-matter but had used their own words to convey the meaning.

Riwaayat-bil-Maa’naa has also led to complete distortion of the actual subject-matter in many cases. Occasional alteration in the text by mistakes in copying has also added to these problems.

3. Placing a Hadīth in its right context is not the job of a layman. It requires a sound understanding and appreciation of the classics of Arabic literature of the Prophet’s time and training in various disciplines necessary for understanding and analyzing any segment of the whole corpus of the sources of religious knowledge. In short, analysis, in the true sense of the word, of this historical record---the Hadīth---is the job of a scholar. Unfortunately, this confusion pertaining to Ahādīth has given rise to some adverse reactions. People who have shown such reactions can be classified into two categories:

1. There are those who have reacted by formulating the erroneous premise that the Hadīth can in no way be a reliable source of religious knowledge. This reaction went beyond all proportion when they confused the Hadīth with the Sunnah and then refused to accept even the Sunnah as an original source.

2. On the other hand are those who tried to defend the status of the Sunnah as an original source but in the process lost sight of what they were actually defending. They too have come to regard the Sunnah and the Hadīth as one and the same thing. Therefore, they consider those Ahādīth which have already been evaluated on the basis of Fann-i-Riwaayat as an unchallengeable source of knowledge even where the possibility of further analysis on the basis of Fann-i-Daraayat clearly exists.

As far as the former group is concerned, the very premise it has formulated is incorrect. Many Ahādīth were fabricated; there is no doubt about that; but it does not imply that all Ahādīth are false. A Hadīth can neither be considered as genuine nor as fabricated until proper analysis on the basis of both Fann-i-Riwaayat and Fann-i-Daraayat has been made.

Moreover, it must be remembered that the Sunnah relates to that part of religion which the Prophet (sws) taught as the instructor of divine law and as a model for mankind so that his followers should mould their lives in accordance with the wishes of the Almighty by performing the rituals and following the injunctions found in Islam. Transmission of the Sunnah was his duty and, therefore, it was not passed on to a few narrators merely but to the whole society at that time and was transmitted to the Muslim Ummah by the perpetual adherence of the Companions of the Prophet (sws). For example, the exact significance of thd Qur’ānic term Al-Salaat16 is not something which the Prophet (sws) explained to a few narrators only---who might or might not have passed on the information to someone like Imam Bokhari17, who might or might not have accepted it as genuine18---but something which the Prophet (sws) explained to the whole Muslim community in his time orally and through demonstration. Therefore, Al-Salaat, as the Prophet (sws) defined it, became so much a part of the daily routine of those people that it is now an established historical fact. It is also natural that in the case of the Sunnah---which relates to the performance of rituals and execution of injunctions and not to articles of faith---some variations should emerge. Such variations as do not distort the broader structure of the Sunnah are acceptable. The Prophet’s reply ‘La Ba’s’ (no problem) on a certain occasion when some people were not certain whether they had correctly made the Haj owing to such minor variations also corroborates this principle. Questions as ‘should the hands be clasped together above or below the navel in Al-Salaat’ are hardly important and minor variations on their account do not impair the position of the Sunnah as an original source. Therefore, this position of the Sunnah cannot be denied on the grounds that some Ahādīth had been fabricated. Take a crude example---that of circumcision. For centuries, Muslims have been circumcising the male child. They still regard it as part of the Sunnah passed on from generation to generation. Few parents need a Hadīth from Al-Bukhari or Al-Muslim19 before circumcising their child. Today, those who deny the Sunnah would find, on close inspection, that they too had been circumcised by their people. They would be lying if they denied that more often than not their parents did not have to bother about finding a Hadīth to justify that ‘terrible act of cruelty’ to their child.

The latter group has great contempt for those those scholars who use Fann-i-Daraayat for making further analyses of a Hadīth which had already been confirmed as genuine on the basis of Fann-i-Riwaayat by earlier scholars. In the following paragraphs we present a translation of a portion from a book20 by Maulana Habib-ur-Rahman Kandhalvi. This portion of his book discusses Fann-i-Daraayat and highlights its importance. It clearly points out that Fann-i-Daraayat is essential for confirming the authenticity of Ahādīth and that the option of using this approach is still available to Hadīth scholars of today as much as it was to the scholars of earlier times.

The translation begins thus:

“Although books on these two disciplines: [Fann-i-Daraayat and Fann-i-Riwaayat] have been available in the sub-continent21 for a long time, few scholars have made use of Fann-i-Daraayat and that too for merely solving problems in Fiqh22.

If Fann-i-Daraayat was limited to a small number of scholars in an age when learning was in its prime, its virtual non-existence in the present age of blind acquiescence in conventions must come as no surprise. However, it is important to discuss the significance of Fann-i-Daraayat.

The Foundations of Daraayat

The basis of Fann-i-Daraayat can be found in the Qur’ān. When some hypocrites tried to cast aspersions on the honour of Aa’isha (may Allah be pleased with her), one of the Prophet’s wives, some of his Companions were also misled. She was accused of adultery on one occasion, and it is recorded in Al-Bukhārī and Al-Muslim that even Hasan Bin Thaabit and Mistaih Bin Athaathah were among the accusers. Thus, both of them were punished for calumny when the Qur’ān declared the accusation to be baseless, though they were faithful Companions of the Prophet (sws). The Qur’ān giving its judgement on the issue says, ‘As to the party among you who have published this falsehood...’ (24:11). According to Tafsīr-i-Jalaalain, a well-known exegesis of the Qur’ān, ‘a party among the faithful’ is the interpretation of the Arabic word ‘minkum’ used in the verse. This interpretation indicates that not only the hypocrites but also some faithful Companions of the Prophet (sws) were involved in spreading the scandal. Therefore, the Qur’ān was addressing the Companions of the Prophet (sws) when it said:

‘Did not the faithful men and the faithful women, when they heard this, judge in their own minds for the best; and say, this is a manifest falsehood.’ (24:16)

Now, in accordance with the principles of Fann-i-Riwaayat, the names, reliability and trustworthiness of all those who testified against Aa’isha (may Allah be pleased with her) should have been investigated and the testimonies accepted or rejected on that simply basis; however, God Almighty chose to reject all the testimonies without giving any such justification for this decision. God said that since all the testimonies were against reason, the faithful should have refused to accept them at the outset of the matter.

It is clear from this discussion that a statement which is fundamentally against reason, deserves nothing but an outright denial. There is no need in that case for further investigation. This manner of thinking is closely associated with Fann-i-Daraayat, the foundations of which, as that of Fann-i-Riwaayat, can be traced back to the times of the Prophet’s Companions.

Once, some Companions of the Prophet (sws) had a difference of opinion over whether eating cooked food necessitated performing Wadhu23 again for Al-Salaat. Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Holy Prophet (sws) had once said that eating cooked food did necessitate performing Wadhu again for Al-Salaat. On hearing that, Abdullah-bin-Abbaas (may Allah be pleased with him) rebuked him by saying that then even hot water [ie, heated by placing under fire] should necessitate Wadhu. Now, Abdullah-bin-Abbaas did not doubt Abu Hurairah’s sincerity, but since he found the narrative contrary to common sense, he rejected it. Owing to such complications, when the compilation of the Hadīth began, the leading scholars of that time, realizing the significance of Fann-i-Daraayat, postulated principles along with those of Fann-i-Daraayat to check the infiltration of forgeries.

Imam Ibni Ali Jauzee is reported to have said:

‘If you find a Hadīth against the dictates of common sense or contrary to a universal rule, consider it a fabrication; discussions about the trustworthiness of its narrators are needless. Similarly, such Ahādīth should be suspected as are beyond comprehension to the extent that they leave no room for any possible explanation. Also, a Hadīth in which colossal recompense is promised for a minor deed and a Hadīth which is absurd in meaning are suspect. For example take this one: “Do not eat a pumpkin that has not been halaled.” Therefore, many Hadīth scholars consider absurdity in a Hadīth as a clear evidence of the narrators’ prevarication.

All these principles relate to the text of Hadīth. However, in certain cases, they are applicable to the investigation of a narrator’s reliability as well, for example in the following cases:

When a person narrates a Hadīth not reported by anyone else and he had not even met the authority he is quoting.

When, as Khateeb points out in his book “Al-Kifaaya”, only one narrator reports a Hadīth whereas the situation described in it is of such a nature that it should have attracted the attention of many others.

When a Hadīth is reported by only one person whereas the incident reported is so extraordinary that scores of people should have reported it; for example, if it were reported by somebody that in a certain year someone had kept the Hajjis from making the Haj, a ritual of great importance, it would be an incident which, if it had occurred, would have been reported by many others.’

From the passage quoted above, it can be concluded that such Ahādīth as the following cannot be accepted and there is no need for investigating the reliability of their narrators:

1. A Hadīth which is fundamentally against the dictates of common sense.

2. A Hadīth contrary to a universally accepted principle; for example, there is a general tendency among human beings to regard urine, faeces and all such excreta as filth; now, if a narrator were to report that someone tasted the Prophet’s urine with his tacit approval and conclude that even such excreta of the Prophet (sws) are to be hallowed by the believers, it would only be assumed that the narrator possessed a mind full of nothing but nonsense.

3. A Hadīth relating something which is against common human experience.

4. A Hadīth contrary to the Qur’ān or Hadīth-i-Mutawaatir24 or Ijma25, especially when no possible explanation for this contradiction exists; for example, a narration which approves of drinking of blood, whereas the practice is not only forbidden by the Qur’ān but also by the Sunnah and is held in abomination by a majority of Muslim scholars. Such a Hadīth is bound to be a fabrication.

5. A Hadīth in which enormous reward is promised for a relatively minor deed.

6. A Hadīth which warns of an extremely severe punishment for a relatively minor deed; for example, take this one; ‘He who cuts down a jujube tree shall be thrown upside down into Hell.’

7. A Hadīth which is meaningless; for example, ‘Do not eat a pumpkin that has not halaled.’

8. A Hadīth in which the narrator quotes an authority he had never met, and no one else confirms his narrative.

9. A Hadīth which should have been in the knowledge of numerous authorities, but only one narrator reports it.

10. A Hadīth relating an incident which, if it had occurred, would have been reported by hundreds of people; yet only one narrator reports it; for example, the sun re-ascending itself for the sake of a Companion of the Prophet (sws).” (“Mazhabi Daastanain aur un kee Haqeeqat”, Pgs 9-12)














1. The word Prophet has been used for Muhammad (peace be upon him) for two reasons: a) The Oxford Dictionary (A S Hornby, Advanced Learner’s) now uses the term ‘the Prophet’ specifically for Muhammad (peace be upon him), and b) In the Qur’ān, the word Rasul has quite a different connotation from the one implied by the word Nabi. Owing to various reasons, too lengthy to be discussed here, we think that the word Prophet in English is a better synonym than Messenger for Rasul. For a detailed discussion on the difference between Rasul and Nabi, see Javaid Ahmad Ghamidi, ‘Nabuwwat-o-Risaalat’, “Ishraaq” (Urdu), (Oct. 1988), page 27.

2. sws has been used as an abbreviation for sallalaahu ‘alaihi wasallam (May God bless him and may peace be upon him).

3. ‘The Companions’ has been used as a specific term, ie, as a synonym for Al-Sahaabah. Many people use Al-Sahaabah for all those who, after embracing Islam, had the opportunity of seeing the Prophet (sws) even if only once. In our opinion this is an erroneous interpretation of the term. It should refer merely to those Companions of the Prophet (sws) who were the foremost converts to Islam and who had in times of ease, as well as in times of difficulty, supported the Prophet (sws) in his cause and had generously spent out of their wealth in the way of Allah and had taken an active part in the Ghazwaat (those Holy battles which were fought under the Prophet’s command and in which he had taken part).

For a detailed exposition see Maulana Amin Ahsan Islaahi,” Mubaadi-i-Tadabbur-i-Hadīth” (Urdu), (Lahore Faraan Foundation, 1989), pages 76-86.

4. Established Sunnah about which there is no doubt.

5. The whole Muslim Community.

6. This has been used as a synonym for a specific term ie, Ijma’ Generally, Ijma’ is used to refer to a consensus on an interpretation. In our opinion this connotation of the term is ambiguous. There has never even been a consensus on this sense of consensus. We have used the term to refer to the consensus of the Companions of the Prophet (sws) through their adherence to the Sunnah. Therefore, in this sense Ijma’ refers to their ‘practice’ of the Sunnah not to its interpretation.

7. This (perpetual adherence) has been used a synonym for tawaatur-i-amalee.

8. It must be remembered, as we have also pointed out in the article, that the Sunnah relates to the performance of rituals and execution of injunctions and not to articles of faith as such.

9. (Singular: Khabr-i-Waahid). It is often claimed that many of the Ahādīth as recorded in the well-known collections of AHadīth are Akhbar-i-Mutawaatir (Singular: Khabr-i- Muttawaatir). Khateeb Baghdadi has defined Khabr-i-Mutawaatir as ‘a Khabr (Version of Hadīth) that had been narrated by so many people that it is not possible to believe that so many people would have agreed to lie, all at the same time, about an open matter, especially when there is no evidence to believe that they had been coerced.’

Maulana Amin Ahsan Islaahi says about Khabr-i-Mutawaatir: ‘It should be clearly borne in mind that although the definition of Khabr-i-Mutawaatir exists, that which it defines, does not. Often a Hadīth is given the status of Khabr-i-Mash hoor [a well-known Khabr) but on inspection one finds that its narrators were one or two till the third stage [in the chain of narrators], whereas at the fourth or fifth stage, the number of narrators had increased. Therefore, in our opinion, such Ahādīth as are generally called Akhbaar-i-Mutawaatir require further investigation after which, if they are found to be in accordance with the definition mentioned above [Khateeb Baghdadi’s], they would be accepted as Mutawaatir. But it is not correct to give something the status of Mutawaatir artificially. However, it must be remembered that the Sunnah has.... the status of Mutawaatir and this status is on the basis of perpetual adherence not on the basis of oral transmission [by a few individuals].’ (“Mubaadi-i-Tadabbur-i-Hadīth”, Lahore, Faraan Foundation, 1989; pages 20 and 21).

10. Plural of Hadīth.

11. ‘The Hadīth’ has been used, where the context permits, as a term to denote the whole corpus of Ahādīth.

12. Two of the major branches are: i) Asmaa-ur-Rijaal: Compilation, analysis, and use of the dictionaries of the narrators’ biographies. ii) Jarah-o-Ta’deel: The science of impugnment and justification of the bonafides of the narrators.

13. Such a chain of narrators is called Sanad (plural: Asnaad).

14. Quite often, a Hadīth has different Asnad. Therefore, the same Hadīth may have various ‘versions’ (Riwaayaat; singular: Riwaayat).

15. See, Javaid Ahmad Ghamidi, Ishraq, March 1990, page 6.

16. Al-Salat refers to a form of prayers which was specified by the Prophet (sws).

17. A well-known compiler of Ahādīth (194-256 AH). His ‘Sahih’ is one of the most venerated collections of Ahādīth.

18. It is said that Bukhārī alone sifted around 7,000 Ahādīth from approximately 200,000 for inclusion in his Sahīh.

19. Another well-known compiler of Ahādīth. His collection is also known as Sahih (of Imam Muslim).

20. “Mazhabi Dastaanain aur un kee Haqeeqat” (Urdu) (Karachi, Anjumani-Uswa-i-Hasanah, 1987).

This translation is of a portion from the second volume of the book (pages 9-12). The book is very useful in the sense that it has brought out the truth behind such stories and parables as have found their way into religious literature and have served to create a religion entirely different from Islam. Although one may disagree with Maulana’s approach to Hadīth analysis and his style of criticism and his research methodology, one has to concede that, on the whole, the book is an excellent piece of research work.

For a comparison of Maulana Kandhalvi’s approach with that of some other scholars see the following:

i) Maulana Amin Ahsan Islahi, “Mubaadi-Tadabur-i-Hadīth” (Lahore, Faraan Foundation, 1989).

ii) Javaid Ahmad Ghamidi, Ishraq, March 1990, pages 4-6.

iii) Javaid Ahmad Ghamidi, “Rajam Ki Sazaa” (4 parts), Ishraq, May-Aug, 1990.

21. India and Pakistan.

22. Islamic law.

23. Wadhu refers to a form of ablutions specified by the Prophet (sws). Wadhu is necessary for Al-Salaat.

24. Hadīth-i-Mutawaatir is another name for Khabr-i-Mutawaatir (see note 9).

25. Often, the word Ijma’ is used quite vaguely (see note 6). Therefore, it must be remembered that Maulana Kandhalvi may have used the terms ijma’ and the Companions (Al-Sahaabah; see note 3) in a sense entirely different from the sense in which we have used them.

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