Hadīths are narrated on a regular basis among the community
of Muslims. There are those who accept any Hadīth that is narrated to them.
There are those who reject any Hadīth that is narrated to them. In between,
there are those more rational individuals who value the Hadīth and would like to
take benefit of Hadīth, however at the same time are conscious not to accept a
suspicious Hadīth or not to interpret and implement the content of a Hadīth in a
wrong way. The problem for many of these wise Muslims is that they have no or
little knowledge or experience of evaluating Hadīth and at the same time it is
not always possible for them to consult a learned scholar about the reliability
and the meaning of a Hadīth.
Following is a brief explanation aimed at the layman in the
area of Hadīth that may help the person in evaluating a Hadīth and its
interpretation when he/she does not have access to a learned scholar to help
It is advisable for a person who needs to assess a Hadīth
with no or little knowledge, skill and experience in analyzing Hadīth to observe
the following simple principles. There are some overlaps between some of these
principles but they are detailed them in the following way in a hope that they
may be clear:
1. The primary sources of understanding Islam are the
Qur’ān and the established Sunnah. Hadīth is a valuable source of information
but it is not an independent source of understanding Islam. Therefore no Hadīth,
on its own, adds any essential religious beliefs or practices to the corpus of
2. No understanding of Hadīth can be against the clear
statements of the Qur’ān or clear principles that the Almighty has established
in the Qur’ān.
3. When the Qur’ān instructs about a religious practice no
hadīth can add any compulsory elements to that instruction.
4. No understanding of a Hadīth can be against known facts.
5. No understanding of a Hadīth can change the meaning of a
verse of the Qur’ān from its obvious meaning.
Apart from the above principles, in a second level of
studying a Hadīth the following considerations need to be in place:
– Is the Hadīth narrated in the more reliable books?
If not, it is closer to caution to remain with reservations
about what the Hadīth suggests.
– Are there more than one versions of the Hadīth?
If yes, then it is worth to read them as well before coming
up with any conclusions.
– Is the Hadīth claiming that the prophet (sws) made an
important statement to the public, yet it is narrated by very few companions
Imām Abū Hanifah very wisely used to question such Hadīths.
– Is the Hadīth about news of the future? Merits of
individuals? Reward of some deeds?
I am not suggesting that if the answer is yes then the
Hadīth is wrong. However it is worth noticing that the scholars of Hadīth have
found that comparing to other subjects, Hadīths related to the above subjects
are more prone to weakness because these have always been topics that
fabricators of Hadīth and exaggerators or unwise well-wishers have been
– Is the Hadīth in favour of a particular sect of Islam and
is narrated in the sources of that sect of Islam only?
If the answer is yes then it is wise to be cautious as the
elements of sectarian bias can always be there.
Almost all that is mentioned above is about the content of
Hadīth. Of course studying the narrators is another dimension of studying Hadīth,
however since this writing is aimed at the layman no reference has been made
towards this aspect of Hadīth evaluation. Having said that, analyzing the
context of a Hadīth using the above principles and observations provides a
rather safe stance that may not necessarily be provided by analyzing the
narrators only. Incidentally there are now a number of books and even online
services on internet that can give the opinion of a scholar about the degree of
reliability of a Hadīth. These can easily be used by a layman especially if
reading Arabic is not a problem. Of course for more educated and experienced
students of Islam looking at the original sources of rijāl (narrators) is
The above is for the situation where there is no easy
access to a learned scholar. When there is a possibility, consulting an expert
is always highly advisable.