The Muslim ummah, in its entire history,
has faced many kinds of assaults by enemies of Islam. However, the Hadīth
fabrication presented the most severe and unique challenge. The enemies of
Islam, in the early phase of Islamic history, decided to damage the authenticity
of the unparalleled and unexampled treasure of the prophetic knowledge, if not
destroy it altogether. Their efforts, however, were thwarted by the efforts of
imāms of the science of Hadīth criticism. May the Almighty bless the souls of
those imāms who defended the treasure of prophetic knowledge! They exerted their
full efforts in sifting the true knowledge from fabrications. They pointed out
the loopholes through which the weak Aḥādīth were mixed with the sound ones.
The intensity of fabrications can be imagined by considering the fact that only
a few thousand narratives could pass the test of a set criterion for the sound
Aḥādīth from hundreds of thousands of traditions. This renders it important for
us to discuss in detail the motives of Hadīth fabrication and try to ascertain
the ways weak and fabricated traditions were included in the sound narratives.
We must also understand the nature of this evil. For if a researcher in this
field is not fully conscious and well aware of the nature of the evil he can
hardly be expected to show the required competence.
Why were Aḥādīth fabricated?
A study of the pioneer works on the
principles of Hadīth criticism reveals that there were pious as well as impious
motives for fabricating Aḥādīth. It was not that the fabrications for pious
purposes were less harmful. Indeed both have done equal damages to the religion.
The fabrications under pious motives have rather proved more detrimental for
Islam than the ones concocted under evil designs.
I Hadīth Fabrication for Pious Purposes
A thorough enquiry into the issue of
Hadīth fabrication reveals that there are two major pious motives behind
fabrication of Aḥādīth. First, people fabricated Aḥādīth concerning virtues
and excellences of the Qur’ānic sūrahs in order to attract people to the Book.
Second, with the aim of drawing people to do good and avoid evil, such Aḥādīth
were concocted and circulated which exaggerated rewards of good deeds and
punishment for evil ones. All other types of pious fabrications have
ramifications of these two motives.
The First Form
People started to fabricate Aḥādīth
with an intention to serve the religion of God. Most Aḥādīth about the
excellence of reciting any of the Qur’ānic sūrahs are examples. The Aḥādīth
forged to attract people towards good deeds (targhīb) and warn them about the
Last Judgment and the consequences of misdeeds (tarhīb) are also examples of
this type of fabrications. Such Aḥādīth tell us that merely reciting a single
sūrah of the Qur’ān suffices one as a guarantor of success in the Afterlife. If
a believer recites a sūrah of the Qur’ān, for example, he does not need do
anything else to deserve the life of eternal bliss. Thus, these narratives
promise extraordinary rewards for a person reciting a single sūrah.
One wonders how one merits such lofty
rewards by merely uttering words of a sūrah without even understanding it. This
clearly contradicts the teachings of Islam. The Prophet (sws) is reported to
have stated that a believer will be rewarded for what he comprehends in the
recitations he makes in the Prayer. The Qur’ān has expressly commanded that the
believers should ponder over the Book of God. It has commanded the believers to
act upon its teachings. There is no concept of heaping reward or seeking
blessings merely through chanting the words of God.
That the narratives regarding the
excellence of reciting the sūrahs of the Qur’ān are very famous and widely
accepted can be gleaned from the fact that Zamakhsharī, a celebrated exegete of
the Qur’ān, tries to mention such a narrative at the end of almost every sūrah
in his commentary on the Qur’ān. This is in spite of his claims to be mutazilite
rationalist. One wonders what becomes of his rationality at this point.
Some experts in the science of Hadīth
criticism investigated these Aḥādīth and discovered a certain fabricator. When
asked why he incurred such a heinous sin, he explained that he noticed people
readily learning and following the juristic work of Imām Abū Ḥanīfah. This
alarmed him and he decided to concoct Aḥādīth eulogizing recitation of certain
verses so that people might be attracted by the Qur’ān. This motive is obviously
pious. Such Aḥādīth became popular and many great scholars contributed to their
spread. The experts in the science, however, always declared them fabrications.
As mentioned above, one of the fabricators confessed his crime. These
narratives, however, could not meet the objective of the fabricators. People
could not be attracted to the Qur’ān. Contrarily, these Aḥādīth created the
erroneous belief that the basic purpose the Qur’ān has been revealed to serve is
not to understand and obtain guidance from it but to earn reward by merely
The Second Form
Another group of fabricators comprises
reformers and pious individuals. Directed by their mystic disposition, they
forged a lot of traditions containing warnings of punishment for the committers
of certain wrongs (tarhīb) and promising rewards of good deeds (targhīb). The
purpose was to create fear of the Last Judgment in the hearts of people, to make
them perform religious duties and to encourage them to avoid sinful acts. When
these fabricators were attacked by the muḥaddithūn, they pleaded that they
fabricated Aḥādīth with the intent to call people to virtuousness and to stop
them from sinfulness. They should, therefore, not be subjected to the strict
criteria of Hadīth acceptance concluded by the muḥaddithūn.
The muḥaddithūn, instead of countering
and rejecting these erroneous views, showed a concessive attitude to these
shallow arguments. They practically yielded to the view of the fabricators and
subsequently confined their scrutiny to the narratives containing legal
directives (al-aḥkām). Thus, they let the band to fabricate and spread, as the
prophetic word, whatever they liked. The view of the fabricators finally
dominated. Their fabrications are diffused through esoteric literature produced
by the Muslim Sufis. I have discussed this issue in the chapter “Excellence and
Inherent Limitations of the Isnād”.
The Sufis successfully put grave
misconception in the minds of the muḥaddithūn. History proved that the stance
of the latter regarding such narratives was mere naivety. If one reads through
the works of the Sufis, one shall learn that they base their innovatory beliefs
and notions either on esoteric interpretation of the Qur’ānic verses or baseless
Aḥādīth. This practice is not confined to the general class of the Sufis; even
the most learned among them take this very path.
No one doubts Imām Ghazālī’s scholarship
and eruditeness. His work Iḥyā’ al-‘Ulūm is one of the best works written on
the subjects of taṣawwuf and tadhkiyyah (purification of the self). However, he
is the least careful person among the scholars of the ummah in quoting baseless
The fabricators and the concessive
muḥaddithūn claimed that the weak narratives that they accepted belong to the
category of targhīb wa tarhīb. They attract people to do good and encourage them
to avoid evil. However, the truth of the matter is that these narratives affect
all spheres of human life. They even cover the fundamental religious beliefs
including the belief in unicity of God (tawḥīd) and the Last Accountability (ākhirah).
It was not, in fact, possible to contain this onslaught. For Islam is a
religion, all parts of which are inseparably interlinked. Religious directives
and beliefs as well as their philosophical bases and wisdom are inseparably
interconnected. Parts depend on the whole. If one part is infected, the whole
cannot be saved from the ailment.
We can say that the sayings the Sufis
pass as Aḥādīth affect tawḥīd, among other fundamental beliefs, moral theories
and Islamic worldview. It strikes even attributes of God Almighty. Thus all the
fundamentals of Islam are affected.
The muḥaddithūn committed a serious
wrong by accepting the weak narratives concerning the targhīb wa tarhīb. This
opened the doors to disputations over religion beyond reform. The door to entry
for the weak Aḥādīth let the ideas of Confucius, Buddha and Zoroaster enter the
religion. Alien philosophical and esoteric notions and theories assume the form
of Aḥādīth and find their way into the religion of God.
Once this door for the weak and
fabricated reports was opened, it became impossible for the Muslims to parry the
onslaught. Nobody knew what to do. All believers cannot be expected to develop
in the science, act like the most careful critics and sift the weak from the
sound Aḥādīth. Yet, however, it is the duty of the scholars to appreciate the
evil results of the misjudgements of the muḥaddithūn.
I believe that the muḥaddithūn did it
with true intentions. I do not think they committed deliberate wrong. However,
it is also true that the laxity they showed corrupted the face of Islam. It has
made falsehood dominate all aspects of religious life. Truth was shrouded and
concealed under layers of falsehood.
Although the muḥaddithūn have stressed
care in accepting the weak Aḥādīth from the pious reformers, this emphasis is
meaningless because the muḥaddithūn themselves did not make proper efforts to
analyze the narratives containing targhīb wa tarhīb. Besides, not every narrator
could analyze the isnād and the matn. In the present day, such a work is an
insurmountable task. The duty to ferret out the truth is, now, a crown of thorn
Now I will explain, with the help of
some examples, the nature of the act accomplished by the pious narrators
referred to earlier. To this issue the author of al-Kifāyah fī ‘ilm al-riwāyah
has devoted a complete chapter entitled “Chapter regarding avoiding narrating
aḥādīth on the authority of individuals who are not persons of sound memory and
reasoning (dirāyah) even if they are known for piety and worship”. In this
chapter, al-Baghdādī states that there are people who are famous for their
God-consciousness (taqwā) and piety. However, they are not reliable
transmitters. They cannot remember Ahādīth correctly and are not trustworthy
narrators. It is not allowable to accept ahādīth narrated by any of them. In
this connection, the author recounts many incidents. I intend to present some of
the incidents reported by him. This shall help the reader understand how the
evil of Hadīth fabrication spread in the guise of God-consciousness. Abū
Sulayman, narrated from Rabī‘ah ibn Abū ‘Abd al-Rahmān:
Among our brothers, there are some
[who are so pious and God-fearing] that we believe their prayers [to God] will
not be left unheard. [However, they are least trusted.] If any of them bears
witness to an ordinary fact we do not rely on their testimony.
Rabī‘ah means to say that the apparent
piety of these characters made people believe that their prayers will definitely
be heard by God. They seemed to be very close to God. However, their testimony
was not trusted even in insignificant matters of daily life let alone the Hadīth
Yaḥyā ibn Sa‘īd is reported to have
In the Hadīth analysis, I have not
seen anything more [deceiving and, therefore,] trying than the pious narrators.
These people are believed to be very
pious and God-conscious. However, they are the real Hadīth fabricators. Their
apparent position puts a researcher in great trial.
Yaḥyā ibn Sa‘īd Qaṭṭān says:
There are people who I can fully
trust regarding a hundred thousand dirham but I cannot trust them regarding even
a single Hadīth.
There could, thus, be a person who is
trusted for precious assets. He is, however, not trusted as a narrator of
Ibn Abī al-Zanād narrates from his
I met hundred such men in Madīnah who
are reliable in every aspect. However, they are not trusted as Hadīth narrators.
Concerning them it is declared: “They are not reliable.”
Imām Mālik says:
I have met seventy such persons near
these pillars [in the Mosque of the Prophet (sws)] who ascribed Aḥādīth to the
Prophet (sws). I have not accepted any Hadīth from them. This is in spite of
that some among them could be trusted as in charge of the bayt al-māl
(treasury). Yet, however, they were not reliable narrators.
I have selected only a few from hundreds
of such anecdotes. My purpose is to show that many people have been fabricating
Aḥādīth, ascribing them to the Prophet (sws) and disseminating them considering
it a pious deed. Imām Muslim has stated in his introduction to al-Ṣaḥīḥ that
there were pious people in Madīnah whose tongues glibly narrated fabrications.
The above discussion shows that there
are people who are apparently so pious and God-fearing that one does not dare to
mistrust their statements. One feels it wrong to doubt their testimony for fear
of God. Yet, however, the experts in the science who were very knowledgeable
indeed proved that they were unreliable. One must not blindly take anything that
people ascribe to the Prophet (sws). The above mentioned statements ascribed to
the experts of the science teach us a lesson of a very great import. One regrets
to state that people did not hearken to these warnings. What was feared by these
great experts, in fact, came true later on. The muḥaddithūn, with the only
exception of Mālikīs, bought the view that as far as the issue of the Aḥādīth
of targhīb wa tarhīb is concerned, they may not show best care and may abandon
rigorous investigation. They confined their scrutiny and required care to the
narratives containing legal rulings (ḥalāl wa ḥarām). The muḥaddithūn
surrendered before the upholders of this view perhaps because they could not
defeat this evil. They decided, as a principle, to abandon scrutinizing such
narratives. This, as has been mentioned above, relieved them from all types of
investigation and analysis on such narratives. Fabrications and weak narratives
were left to reign supreme in the Muslim beliefs and practices and thus all
heresies and innovations fed on them.
II Hadīth Fabrication for Evil Purposes
The above discusses the pious motives
for Hadīth fabrication. People have been engaged in fabricating Aḥādīth for
evil motives as well. Two evil motives for Hadīth fabrications are prominent;
first, seeking fame and prominence, and second, introducing innovations in the
religion of God.
Fabrication for Fame
This is known that in the early period
of Islamic history a narrator of Aḥādīth commanded great respect. No other
accomplishment was considered more respectable. The fame that could be earned by
merely narrating a single Hadīth was usually unparalleled. Hadīth narration was,
therefore, the most cherished engagement and a very popular vocation. People
were greatly attracted to this activity. Those known to have related a Hadīth by
a highly valued and rare isnād attracted even more love and respect from people.
People would throng towards them and would try hard to meet them. Seekers of
Aḥādīth would travel from far off places to visit such people bearing great
difficulties. The roads to their hometowns grew busier. These people were
respected not only by the students of prophetic Aḥādīth but also by those of
the rich and the rulers who had regard for knowledge and wisdom. They too would
express reverence for these persons believed to be possessed of great prophetic
knowledge. They too would travel to the hometowns of these teachers of Aḥādīth
despite physical hardships and financial costs. Something that popular and,
hence, a source of respect and reverence attracts all kinds of people, pious and
evil. Evil people are attracted towards it with a purpose to earn fame and
monitory benefits. This makes it difficult for masses to differentiate between
those who seek such a valued thing with purity of intention and those who seek
it for mundane purposes.
The author of al-Kifāyah has an
interesting story to tell us. Someone invented twelve Aḥādīth. He was a hero.
“From where did you obtain those narratives?” it was asked. The man answered:
“From someone endowed with this knowledge by the Almighty Allah.” He could not
name the source. Of course, there was none. It is obvious that in his fervour to
earn false fame, he went as far as to inventing Aḥādīth. A person, at this
stage, tries to have a narrative related. When he fails to obtain a sound
narrative, he opts for a weak. If he fails to obtain even a weak narrative, he
forges one. He has to possess himself of a Hadīth by hook or by crook.
Fabrications for Innovations
It was the innovators who benefited from
inventing Aḥādīth the most of all. Heretic sects which emerged in the Muslim
ummah including Khawārij, Shī‘ī, and Murjites
are examples. Some of them had political motives too. This made them fabricate
Aḥādīth expressive of the excellence of their beloved leaders and imāms, and
condemnation of their opponents. They heaped up propaganda material for or
against certain individuals. Besides, they had developed certain beliefs
divorced from the teachings of Islam. When they intended to mix their heretic
beliefs in the Islamic faith they had, to their service, the easiest method of
Hadīth fabrication. They disseminated the fabrication in order to make the ummah
accept their heresies as the part of religion. This was because they had failed
to base their innovations on the Qur’ān. They, therefore, disguised in the form
of a Hadīth anything they intended to introduce as part of the religion. In this
manner, their heresies became popular for it was easy for the generality to
accept anything however removed from religion presented in the form of a
These people successfully pretended that
their heresies were based on the Qur’ān. This too was possible only because some
of the exegetes mentioned in their commentaries baseless Aḥādīth without
bothering to investigate their authenticity. The words and expressions of the
Qur’ān are twisted to mean something new and baseless. The innovators could not
have used the Qur’ān, had the careless exegetes not opened this door for them.
For those who interpret the Qur’ān in accord with their heretic beliefs and
innovations are thwarted by the Qur’ān itself. Thus, in order to make the
Qur’ānic expressions say that which corroborates their beliefs they resort to
esoteric interpretation of the text.
Thus, when heretics found it impossible
to incorporate their innovations in religion basing it on the Qur’ān they relied
on fabricating Aḥādīth to be welcomed by people. Whatever lies they invented
and ascribed to the Prophet (sws) were received by the opportunists and
disseminated in the public speedily.
We should not underestimate the
fabrications and lies spread in this way. A huge number of fabrications have
been incorporated in the Muslim literature. It would not be an exaggeration to
say that the number of fabricated Aḥādīth reaches hundreds of thousands. This
can be gleaned from the following reports:
Ḥammād ibn Salamah was heard saying:
“The heretics have fabricated and disseminated twelve thousand Aḥādīth.
Ḥammād ibn Zayd narrated from Ja‘far
ibn Sulaymān that he heard Mahdī say that one of the heretics confessed that he
had fabricated four hundred Aḥādīth which gained currency.
If a single fabricator can invent four
hundred Aḥādīth and successfully disseminate them in public, how dangerous
would be the collective result of such endeavours by all the adherents of the
strayed and heretic sects. Keeping this situation in perspective, we do not find
it strange that Imām Bukhārī and Imām Muslim chose a few thousand narratives out
of millions of aḥādīth in circulation.
The Muḥaddithūn on the Innovators
The muḥaddithūn adopted a lenient
attitude in response to the efforts of the pious people to disseminate weak and
fabricated narratives containing targhīb wa tarhīb. Similarly, they adopted a
weak stance regarding the forgeries of the heretics. Instead of curbing the
evil, their attitude encouraged it.
Imām Mālik, nevertheless, adopted a
sound stance in this regard. According to him, it is prohibited to accept a
Hadīth narrated by stray people who lead others into error. He adopted such an
uncompromising attitude that he did not even consider it allowable to narrate a
Hadīth by meaning (bi al-ma‘nā) and accepted verbatim reports only. The
following statement ascribed to him truly depicts his unbending attitude in this
regard. He said: “I have met seventy such persons near these pillars [in the
Mosque of the Prophet (sws)] who ascribed Aḥādīth to the Prophet (sws). I have
not accepted any Hadīth narrated by them. This is in spite of that some among
them could be trusted as in charge of the bayt al-māl (treasury). Yet, however,
they were not reliable narrators.”
This was the principle he expressly held and faithfully followed. One may find
narratives in his book that do not pass this test. In such cases, one should
give him some allowance. He was working in an environment where everyone
accommodated falsehood. In such situations, even a very strong person can
stumble a little.
Contrarily, Imām Shāfi‘ī, Imām Aḥmad
ibn Ḥanbal, Imām Abū Ḥanīfah and Qāḍī Abū Yūsuf adopted an untenable stance
on this issue. These people invented strange and queer arguments to accommodate
the narratives by the inventors. Some of them held that no body can be declared
non-Muslim even if he adheres to waywardness and interprets the sources
according to his whims. This leads to the conclusion, they say, that the
Aḥādīth narrated by him should not be rejected. Thus, according to them,
someone offering wrong interpretation of a religious text may not be condemned
as a non-believer. This view is obviously weak and untenable. We know that open
and clear rejection of Islam is seldom committed. Mostly people take shelter in
baseless reinterpretations of the texts. That is why the Shī‘ī, Khawārij,
Murjites, Qadariyyah and many other sects give a particular interpretation to
the texts which accords to their beliefs and personal leanings and then declare
it the true form of religion which they profess and follow. We see that, even in
this day, many kinds of waywardness are being adopted which are not declared and
professed openly. Nor can such waywardness be considered an open rejection of
the faith. Contrarily, all such transgressions are incorporated in religion
through reliance on misinterpretation and reinterpretation of the source texts.
Therefore, the accommodative attitude our imāms showed in response to the evil
of the inventors is obviously naïve. These scholars have not fully investigated
and properly analyzed the possible consequences and implications of their view.
Some scholars on the other hand
differentiate between the innovators who profess their adherence to the
innovations they introduce and those who do not openly commit such a
transgression. These scholars hold that they would not accept narratives
transmitted by a person who calls other people to adopt the inventions in the
religion he has introduced or which he adheres to. However, they consider it
allowable to accept the Aḥādīth narrated by such a fabricator who himself
adheres to heresies but does not call others to follow it. Thus, according to
them, a staunch Shī’ī or Khārijī can narrate acceptable Aḥādīth, if he keeps
from openly confessing his heresy and calling others to it. A little
deliberation shows that this viewpoint is not understandable. For the one who
adopts a belief considering it the true religion divulged by God would not
narrate anything other than that which corresponds to his personal views. He
would only narrate things he hears from his religious leaders. This fact alone
renders the stance of the imāms untenable.
Another group of scholars held that we
may only reject Aḥādīth by a specific category of religious innovators. As for
other innovators, their Aḥādīth may be accepted and reported further. These
scholars, therefore, accept Aḥādīth from all innovators with the only exception
of a certain group called rawāfiḍ. The question, however, is who would decide
which group of the innovators is to be rejected and which is to be accommodated.
Who carries a meter measuring the level of heresy? I believe we may only set a
concrete principle and apply it to all equally. Either all the innovators are
unworthy as narrators or they are acceptable.
The lenient attitude adopted by the
above mentioned three views gradually got currency. It reigned on the minds of
the believers. What is worse is that even the most expert among the muḥaddithūn
accepted narratives from innovators. This is why the works compiled by these
muḥaddithūn contain a lot of fabrications and weak narratives. This has made it
very difficult for the experts to investigate these narratives afresh and sift
the fabrications from the original and the weak from the sound. Al-Khaṭīb Al-Baghdādī
quoted ‘Alī ibn al-Madīnī:
Had I rejected the narrators of
Aḥādīth from the people of Baṣrah considering their view on the issue of qadar
(predestination) and had I rejected the narrators from Kūfah doubting their
adherence to shī‘ism, the Hadīth works would become empty.
In this connection, another scholar,
Muḥammad ibn Na‘īm al-Ḍabbī says that when he asked Abū ‘Abd Allāh Muḥammad
ibn Ya‘qūb about Faḍl ibn Muḥammad al-Sha‘rānī, he replied:
He is a ṣadūq.
However, he was one of the extremist Shī‘īs. It was asked: “You have accepted
his narrative and have reported it in your work “al-Ṣaḥīḥ?” He replied: This
is because the book of my teacher is replete with narratives transmitted by
The teacher here refers to Imām Muslim
and the book of the teacher is Ṣaḥīḥ of Muslim.
Evil consequences of accepting Aḥādīth
from the shī‘ī narrators cannot be discussed in detail here. However, one thing
must be kept in mind: those who cannot differentiate between the genuine and the
fabricated swallow poison taking it to be elixir.
We can guard the religion only by sound
knowledge. The scholars must develop understanding of the basic sources of
religious knowledge in Islam, the Qur’ān and the Sunnah. The struggle to
safeguard religion demands firm, sound and uncompromising faith as well as
commitment to obtain true knowledge.
Aḥādīth help us know the genuine Sunnah
of the Prophet (sws). The Hadīth literature is the record of the Sunnah. Muslim
scholars have indeed put unparalleled efforts to preserve the prophetic
knowledge. At the same time, it is also true that endeavours of evil factions to
fabricate Aḥādīth have left their marks on the literature. Fabrication was done
for pious as well as evil motives. The muḥaddithūn needed to show more care in
closing the door for fabricators. Their weak response to fabricators’ efforts
made it possible for the latter to disseminate fabrications which found way into
all the major Hadīth works.
Presently it is incumbent upon every
such scholar as specializes in the Hadīth studies to make sure that the Hadīth
he is relying on in an issue is actually the word of the Prophet (sws) and is in
accord with the Qur’ānic teachings on the issue. It should not be affected by
the onslaughts of the innovators.
Mabādī Tadabbur-i Hadīth by Tariq Mahmood Hashmi)