Dr. Farooq's Study Resource Page
The authenticity of
Courtesy: Studia Islamica
About the author:
He is a professor and expert of Islamic law at McGill University,
earlier version or this paper was presented at a conference on hadith held
at the School of oriental and African Studies, University or London. March
19-21. 1998. I should like to thank the participants who commented on my
presentation, notably M. Qasim Zaman, Lawrence Conrad and Harald Motzki.
Geschichta der Chalipben, 5 vols. (Mannheim; Friedrtch Bassermann,
1846-62), II, 289 ff.
Das Leben und die Lebre des Mohammad, 3 vols. (Berlin;
Nicholalsche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1861-5), III, Ixxvii-civ; idem,
"On the Origin of Writing Down Historical records among the Musulmans;
Journal of the Asiatic Society of the Bengal, 25 (1856);
Muslim Studies, ed. S.M. Stern, trans. C.R. Barber and S.M.
Stern, 2 vols. (London: George Allen and Irwin, 1971), II, 1989 ff.,
126 ff. For a summary of Goldziher's position, see James Robson, "Muslim Tradition:
The Question or Authenticity," Memoirs and Proceedings, Manchester Literary and
Philosophical Society, 93, 7 (1951-2): 84-102, at 94 ff.
The Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
Schacht published his monumental work in 1950, scholarly discourse on this
matter has proliferated. Three camps of scholars may be identified: one
attempting to reconfirm his conclusions, and at times going beyond them;
another endeavouring to refute them; and a third seeking to create a
middle, perhaps synthesized, position between the first two. Among others
(5), John Wansbrough (6), and Michael Cook (7)
belong to the first camp, while Nabia Abbott (8), E Sezgin (9),
M. Azami (10), Gregor Schoeler (11) and Johann Fuck
(12) belong to the second. HamId Motzki (13), D.
Santillana. (14), G.H. Juynboll (15), FazIur Rahman
(16) and James Robson (17) take the middle position.
Despite significant differences in the methodologies and assumptions of these scholars, even within one and the same camp, and despite the fact that not all of them dealt with the problem of authenticity for its own sake (18) they all shall one fundamental assumption, namely, that
(5) See: n. 19, below.
(6) Qur'anic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural
Interpretation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977).
(7) Early Muslim Dogma: A Source-Critical Study
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981)
(8) Studies in Arabic Literary Papyrus, II: Qur'anic Commentary
and Tradition (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1967), 7 ff.
(9) Geschichta des arabibischen Schrifitums, Band I:
Qur'anwissenschaften, Hadith, Geschichte, Fiqh, Dogmatik, Mystik bis ca.
403 H. (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1967), 53 ff.
(10) On Schacht's Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence (
Riyadh: King Saud University, 1985); idem, Studies in Hadith
Methodology and Literature (Repr., Indianapolis: American Trust
(11) "Die Frage der schriftichen oder mundlichen
Uberleifreung der Wissenschaften im fruhen Islam," Der Islam,
62 (1985): 201-30; idem, "Weiteres zur Frage der schriftlichen oder
mundlichen Uberlieferung der Wissenschaften im Islam," Der Islam,
66 (1989): 38-67; idem, "Munliche Thora und Hadith: Uberlieferung,
Scheiberbot, Redaktion," Der Islam, 66 (1989); idem, "Schreiben
und Veroffentlichen: Zu Verwendung und Funktion der Schrift in den ersten
islamischen Jahrunderten", Der Islam, 69 (1992): 1-43.
(12) "Die Rolle des Traditionalismus im Islam", Zeitschfit
der Deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft, 93 (1939): 1-32. For a
summary of Fuck's position, see Robson, "Muslim Tradition",
(13) Die Anfange der islamischen Jurisprudenz: Ibre
Entwickhung in Mekka bis zur Mitte des 2/8, Jabrbunderts
(Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1991): idem, "Quo vadis Hadith-Forschung,
Elne kritische Untersuchong von G.H.A. Juynboll: 'Nafi' the mawla of Ibn
Umar, and his position in Muslim hadith Literature," Der Islam,
73 (1996): 40-80; idem, "The Musannaf of 'Abd al-Razzaq al-an'ani as
a Source of Authentic Ahadith of the First Centure A.H.", Journal
of Near Eastern Studies, 50 (1991): 1-21; idem, "Der Fiqh des
Zuhri: Die Quellenproblematik", Der Islam, 68 (1991):
(14) For Santillana's position, see Robson, "Muslim
(15) Muslim Tradition: Studies in Chronology, Provenance and
Authorship of Early Hadith (Cambridge University Press, 1983).
(16) Islam (Chicago and London: University or Chicago
Press, 1979), 43 ff; Idem, Islamic Methodology in History (Karachi:
Central Institute of Islamic Research, 1965), 1-24, 27-82.
(17) "Muslim Tradition", 84-102; Idem,
"Tradition: Investigation and Classification", Muslim World, 41
(1951): 98-112; idem, "The isnad in Muslim Tradition", Transactions
of the Glasgow University Oriental Society, 15 (1953-4): 15-26.
(18) Admittedly, a number of historians subjected hadith to
the same historiographical apparatus they applied to other types of
historical narrative, thus circumventing the issue of authenticity
altogether. Although in practical terms their approach is the desideratum,
the problem remains, theoretically and epistemologically, unsolved.
the early and medieval Muslim scholars espoused the view that the Prophetic hadith literature is substantially genuine, and that despite the relatively large scale forgery that took place in the early period, the literature, at least as it came to be constituted in the six so-called canonical collections, has been successfully salvaged and finally proven to be authentic. It is only against this backdrop of traditional religious assumptions that the modem controversy can make any sense. For if the mainstream traditional scholarship was perceived not to have made claims for the authenticity of hadith there would be little, if anything, to argue against. In fact, if these were not the perceived traditional claims, there would have been no controversy to begin with, since the issue would in no way pose a problem.
would expect that before any ink had been spilt in commenting on the problem
of authenticity (19), it would have been a fundamental
requirement first to define the traditional Muslim position with regard to
this specific question. If mainstream Muslim scholarship considered the hadith
literature: to be a true representation of the actual words of the
Prophet, then by what epistemological yardstick did they measure the
veracity of that literature? Furthermore, we should have asked - before
Goldziher, Schacht, and their like began to expend so much scholarly
energy in treating the matter - how the traditional Muslim criteria for
judging the authenticity of the Hadith tally with, or more
importantly, epistemologically differ from our modern critical and
scholarly criteria. In this short essay, I argue that the scl1olarly
output concerned with authenticity since Well raised the issue a century
and a half ago is largely, if not totally, pointless.
I have no new evidence to add to the massive repertoire of existing material, and nothing in my methodology here is unconventional. In fact, I shall - insofar as an author can minimize the divide between his sources and his reader - let the traditional position speak for itself. Once that position is clarified and defined, we will be able to conclude that traditional Muslim scholars have already solved the problem for us, and that we have needlessly expended much scholarly effort because we have not listened carefully to what these scholars have for so long been telling us.
(19) The secondary
literature dealing with the problem of authenticity is massive, and the
contributors to the debate mentioned in nn. 1-17 are only among the most
obvious. In the west, there are several others who wrote on the problem;
in the Muslim world, the list of contributors to the debate, see James
Robson, "Hadith", Encyclopedia of Islam, New Edition, III
(Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1979), 28.
evidence of my argument is derived from a familiar field of Islamic
traditional discourse, a field that has escaped the attention of modern hadith
scholarship. This is legal methodology, properly known as usul al-fiqh.
In this methodology, Prophetic hadith is treated from a number
of perspectives, but what concerns us here is the perspective of
epistemology which seeks to order the types of hadith on a spectrum
that ranges from the dubious to the certain, by way of the central
category of the probable. Setting, for obvious reasons, the dubious aside,
legal methodology acknowledges two categories, khabar al-wahid (or
the ahad) and the mutawatir (20). Because of the
modalities through which they are transmitted, the contents of the former
are known only with probability, the latter with certainty (21).
In the following paragraphs, we shall define the two categories in terms of epistemology. It is a curiosity of legal methodology -a curiosity whose explanation is irrelevant here - that the ahad is defined in terms of the mutawatir; that is, the ahad can be identified and known only in terms of what the mutawatir is not (22). If this is the case, then what is the mutawatir? The common, and indeed indisputable, definition of this type of hadith is that it is any report that reaches us through textually identical (23) channels of transmission which are sufficiently numerous as to preclude any possibility of collaboration on a forgery. The persons who witnessed the Prophet saying or doing a particular thing, or merely approving an act or event tacitly, had to have been sure of what they observed, and their knowledge of what they witnessed must have been based on sensory perception (mahsus) (24). For the
(20) One jurist, for instance, stated the matter in unequivocal terms: "Reports are either tawatur or ahad. There is no third (category)" (al-akhbar imma tawatur aw ahad, la thalitha lahuma). See Ahmad b. Qasim al-Abbadi, al-Sharh al-Kabir 'ala al-Waraqat, ed. Sayyid 'Abd al-'Aziz and 'Abd Allah Rabi, 2 vols. (Madina (?): Mu'assasat Qurtuba, 1995), II, 403. Another jurist noted that there is no middle category between the two. See Muhammad Amin Amir Badishah, Taysir al-Tahrir: Sharh 'ala Kitab al-Tahrir, 3 vols. (Mecca: Dal al-Baz, 1983), III, 37.
(21) 'Ali b. Amr Ibn al-Qassar, al-Muqaddima fi al-Usul,
ed. Muhammad Sulaymani (Beirut: Dar al-Gharb al-Islami, 1996), 65-6, 69.
(21) 'Ali b. Amr Ibn al-Qassar, al-Muqaddima fi al-Usul, ed. Muhammad Sulaymani (Beirut: Dar al-Gharb al-Islami, 1996), 65-6, 69.
(22) Muhammad b. Al ial-Tahanawi, Kashshaf Istilahat al-Funun, 2 vols. (Calcutta: W. N. Leeds' Press, 1862), II, 1463.
(23) Meaning that all instances of transmission must be identical in their language (lafz). Hence the name al-tawatur al-lafzi which is given to this type of hadith in order to distinguish it from al-tawatur al-ma'nawi (to be discussed below).
(24) Shihab al-Din al-Qarafi, Sharh Tanqih al-Fusul fi Ikhtisar al-Mahsul fi al-Usul, ed. Taha 'Abd al-Ra'uf Sa'd (Cairo: Maktabat al-Kulliyyat al-Azhariyya, 1973), 349; Muhammad b. al-Husayn al-Farra al-Baghdadi, al-Udda fi Usul al-Fiqh, ed. Ahmad al-Mubaraki, 3 vols. (Beirut: Mu'sassasat al-Risala, 1400/1980), III, 848; W.B. Hallaq, "On Inductive Corroboration, Probability and Certainty in Sunni Legal Though", in Nicholas Heer, ed., Islamic Law and Jurisprudence: Studies in Honor of Farhat J. Ziadeh (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1990): 10 ff.; Bernard Weiss, "Knowledge of the Past: The Theory of Tawatur According to Ghazali", 61 (1985): 88 ff.
attain the level of certainty, these conditions must obtain at all stages
of transmission, from the first tier to the last (25).
great majority of Muslim legal theoreticians (usuuliyyun) espoused
the view that the mutawatir yields necessary or immediate knowledge
(daruri), whereas a minority thought that the information contained
in such reports can be known through mediate or acquired knowledge (muktasab
or nazari (26). In contradistinction to
mediate knowledge, where by definition inference is the means of its
acquisition, necessary knowledge is neither inferred nor does it allow for
any mental or intellectual reflection. It is directly imposed upon the
intellect without any awareness of the process through which knowledge
obtained in the mind (27). When a person hears a hadith
narrated by one transmitter, he is presumed to have gained only
probable knowledge of its contents, and thus of its authenticity. To reach
conclusive knowledge, the hadith must be heard by this person a
sufficient number of times, and each time it must be narrated by a
different transmitter. Four or fewer instances of hearing such a hadith
were deemed insufficient to constitute a tawatur transmission,
since, the jurists argued, the qadi in a court of law must
deliberate on the testimony of four witnesses (as well as investigate
their moral rectitude) before he renders his verdict. This process of
deliberation and reflection precludes the possibility of immediate
knowledge obtaining, be it in the case of court-room witnesses or of hadith
scholars fixed the minimum number of transmissions yielding tawatur at
five, while others set them variably at 12, 20, 40, 70 or 313, each number
being justified by a Qur'anic verse or some religious account (29).
The inability to determine, on rational grounds, the minimum number of
transmissions required, led Muslim jurists back to the
Qarafi, Sharh, 349-50; Muhammad lzmiri, Mir'at al-Usul fi
sharh Mirqat al-Wusul, 2 vols. (lstanbul: n.p., 1884), II,
199. Weiss, "Knowledge of the Past", 88-9.
'Abbadi. al-Sharh al-Kabir, II, 392-3. Abu Bakr Ahmad Ibn
Sahl al-Sarakhsi, al-Muharrar fi Usul al-Fiqh. ed. Salah b. 'Uwayda,
2 vols. (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyya, 1996), I, 213, 218 f.
W,B. Hallaq. A History of Islamic Legal Theories (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1997), 37 ff. The Immediate knowledge which
the tawatur engenders In the inteIlect eliminates any possibility
of inference because the mahsus. the original Prophetic cvent
words, tacit approval, etc.) perceived by the senses, are directly connected
with the comprehension and sense-perception of the hearer. Thus, when one
hears a mutawatir number or identical hadiths transmitted,
the knowledge that accumulates therefrom is said to carry with it the actual
original cxperience, as if it were the direct experience of the hearer
himself. See Abu Ishaq al-Shirazi, al-absira fi Usul al-Fiqh, ed.
M. Hasan Haytu (Damascus: Dar al-Fikr, 1980), 291, 293.
(28) Abu Bakr al-Baqillani, Tamhid, ed. R.J. McCarthy (Beirut: Librarie Orientale, 1957), 384; Qari, Sharh, 352; Farra', Udda, III, 856; Sayf al-Din al-Amidi, al-Ihkam fi Usul al-Ahkam, 3 vols. (Ciro Matba'at Ali Subay, 1968), I, 230.
(29) Amidi, Ihkam, I, 229; Imam al-Haramayn al-Juwayni, al-Burhan, ed. 'Abd al-Azim Dib, 2 vols (Cairo: Dar al-Ansar, 1400/1979), I, 569-70; Farra, Udda, III, 856-7.
intellect of the hearer as
the point of reference for measuring the number of hadiths leading
to conclusive, immediate knowledge. It turns out that it is the moment at
which a person realizes that he is completely certain of the contents of a
reported hadith which determines the number of transmissions
required for that particular instance of transmission, not the other way
round; the number may be decided only when immediate and conclusive
knowledge has been reached (30).
Now, the khabar al-ahad is simply defined as any hadith which falls short of meeting the requirements of the mutawatir (31). It may be solitary throughout all tiers of its transmission, but it may begin as an ahad and later acquire added channels of transmission. If the total number of channels becomes at any tier three, four or even five, and continues to be transmitted through any particular number of channels, then it becomes known as mustafid (32). If, on the other hand, the channels multiply further so as to reach a tawatur number, then it becomes known as mashhur (33). A number of scholars espoused the view that the mashhur and the mustafid are identical, in the sense that they are two interchangeable names for any hadith that begins as an ahad and later acquires added channels of transmission (34). Some Hanafites argued that the mashhur yields acquired knowledge, but the general view seems to have been that since all these types originated as ahads , they engender only probable knowledge (35). In any event, no hadith of the ahad category can, by itself, reach the level of tawatur; however many channels of transmission it may later acquire.
sometime during the fourth/tenth century, but certainly not before the
middle of the third/ninth, a new category of hadith was introduced.
This category acquired the name al-tawatur al-ma'nawi, and we have every
reason to believe that it was created in order to solve what was
considered to be a formidable problem regarding the issue of
Farra', 'Udda, III, 855; Qarafi, Sharh, 352: Muwaffaq
Ibn Qudama. Rawdat al-Nazir wa-Junnat ai-Munazir; ed, Say al-Din
al-Katib (Beirut: Dar al-Katib al-'Arabi. 1372/1952), 89; Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, Lubab
of Isharatt (Cairo: Matba'at al-Sa'ada, 1355/1936),
!s to be noted that the determination of the rnutawatir was not
in reality as subjective a matter as legal theory makes to be. The community
jurists and traditionists did agree. In the great majority of cases, on which
hadiths were mutawatir and
which were not.
Tahanawi, Kashshaf, II, 1463.
Abbadi, al-Sharh al-Kabir; II, 404.
The jurists differed on the details or such classifications. See Amir
Badishah, Taysir; III, 37. It is to be noted that some hadiths of the mashhur type are
considered spurious by the traditionists. Ibn Salah observes that there
are hadiths of this type that "are attributed to the Messenger of God and
circulate in the the marketplace, but which are fictitious" (wa
hunaka ahadith mashhura taduru 'an Rasul Allah fi al-aswaq laysa laba asl).
See his Muqaddimat Ibn al-Salah wa Mahasin al-Istilah, ed. 'Aisha 'Abd
al-Rahman (Cairo: Dal al-Ma'arif, 1989), 451. .
(34) Abbadi, al-Sharh al-Kabir, II, 404
Amir Badishah. Taysir; III, 37.
the authoritativeness of
consensus (hujjiyyat al-ijma') (36).Despite the limited
use of this type of tawatur; it became nonetheless a widely
recognized category, standing on equal footing with the regular mutawatir
(technically known as tawatur lafzi) and the ahad. This
latter type engenders, in terms of the Probability Theory in mathematics,
a degree of probability in excess of 0.5 (certainty being 1.0). Now, when
two ahadi hadiths relayed by different transmitters support a
particular point or theme (ma'na), their probability together
increases. If we assume that two ahadi hadiths possess in common a
given theme, and the probability of each hadith being true is, say,
0.51, then the aggregate probability of their being true is increased to a
degree higher than 0.51 but still significantly lower than 1.0. Then a
greater number of such hadith, all being textually different and
all having independent channels of transmission, possess in common the
same theme, the knowledge of tl1is theme increases until it finally leads
to a degree where it becomes both immediate and conclusive (37).
before discussing the epistemic value of the three types outlined here, we
shall do well to assess our own epistemic criteria for accepting
historical narrative, since, after all, the issue at stake is whether or
not we can take the hadith literature to be a true representation
of what the Prophet had actually said or done. We have already said that
if what Weil, Goldziher, Schacht and their ilk have argued against the
hadith's authenticity is to make any sense, it must be taken for granted
that what they have assumed Muslim scholars to say is that the hadith is
authentic, namely, that as a whole it represents what the Prophet said or
did with certainty. It is inconceivable that these Orientalists would have
made such drastic assertions had they understood traditional Muslim
scholars to assert the veracity of the hadith merely in
probabilistic terms. I for one do not believe that Goldziher, for
instance, would have raised such a fuss over the reliability of the hadith
as a historical source had he understood the traditional scholars to
acknowledge that the hadith's veracity cannot be known
apodictically and that its authenticity can be asserted only in
In most instances
involving the study of individual hadiths (the total numbering in the tens
of thousands) it is frequently difficult to establish that a particular hadith
represents a later fabrication. But if we are able to cast serious, or
even some, doubt about a hadith's authenticity, then, as careful
historians - which I hope we are - we should either dismiss it entirely
or, if it is only mildly problematic, use it in a circumscribed
On this, see Wael B. Hallaq, "The Authorit3tlveness of Sunni
Coosensus", International Journal of Middle East Studies, 18
Amidi!, Ihkam. I, 232-3; Abu al-Walid b. Khalaf al-Baji, al-Minhaj
fi Tartib al-Hijaj, ed. 'Abd al-Majid Turki (Paris: Paul Geuthner,
1976), 76; Hallaq. "Inductive Corroboration", 17 ff.
with the full knowledge and awareness that it cannot constitute a reliable
source. In either case, it is not to be trusted. We trust only a
historical narrative that we believe with assurance to have originated
with the event itself, and even then we must guard against
"ideological" biases as well as a variety of other potential
In terms of the Probability Theory, any narrative that we think to be equal to 0.51 or less is to be immediately dismissed. Compare this, for instance, with the case of a human birth, where the probability of the infant being a girl is 0.5, since the remaining 0.5 is assigned to the probability of its being a boy. If the probability of a hadith being true (=authentic) is only marginally higher (by 0.01 or even moderately more) than the probability of a certain new born being a girl (or for that matter a boy), then surely we have little reason, if any, to trust such a hadith as a credible historical datum.
In this context, both the ahad and the tawatur al-ma'nawi fail to survive beyond the test of probability. The ahad is admittedly zanni, meaning that it engenders in the intellect a probability in the order of 0.51 or higher, but never, even in the most optimistic of circumstances, certainty. It is with this in mind that the Muslim jurists and traditionists readily acknowledged that the ahad is subject to mendacity and error, for probability itself is, by definition, liable to falsification (38). If the ahad is not to be trusted as a historical source, then al-tawatur al-ma'nawi is to be treated precisely in the same manner, for this type of tawatur is nothing more than a collection of hadiths of the ahad type. In fact, it is precisely on these grounds that a number of scholars denied the mutawatir Iafzi the status of certainty, although this tawatur was universally acknowledged as being epistemically superior to the ma'nawi type (39). For our purposes then - and not those of medieval Muslim scholars who associated this concept of tawatur with metaphysical and theological postulates - if the particulars are dubious, then the whole is equally so. In due course, we shall see that. in any event, no ahadith of the ma'nawi type, except for one (40), can
(38) Najm al-Din Sulayman al-Tufi, Sharh Mukhtasar al-Rawda, ed. 'Abd Allah al-Turki, 3 vols. (Beirut: Mu'assasat al-Risala, 1407/1987), II, 112, 115 (khabar al-wahid yahtamil al-kadhib); Abu 'Amr Ibn al-Salah, Siyanat Sahih Muslim min al-Ikhlal wal-Ghalaj, ed. Muwaffaq 'Abd al-Qadir (Beirut: Dar al-Gharb al-Islami, 1404/1984), 85 (al-zann qad yukhti); Ibn al-Qassar, muqaddima, 110 (khabar al-wahid ... jaza 'alayhi al-naskh wal-ghalaj wal-sahw wal-kadhib)' Abu Ali al-Sarakhsi, Usul (Beirut: Dar al0Kitab al-Arabi, 1982), 269; [al-ahad] fi-hi ihtimal wa-shubha".
(39) Sarakhsi, muharrar, I, 213 ff.
(40) Which has the common theme "my community shall never agree upon an error". See Hallaq, "On the Authoritativeness of Sunni Consensus". 441 ff. I should note that this hadith was not admitted by all jurists as capable of engendering certainty. Fakh al-Din al-Razi and Tufi, for instance, rejected it as less than an apodictic source, and thus incapable of justifying consensus. See his al-Mahsul fi 'Ilm al-Usul, 2 vols. (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyya, 1988), II 8-47. See alo W.B. Hallaq, Law and Legal Theory in Classical and Medieval Islam (Ladershot: Variorum, 1994), addendum to VIII.
said to have survived, assuming that there was more than one in existence
remains then is the mutawatir of the lafzi kind, which is
productive of immediate and thus certain knowledge. However, before we
address this category, we ought to look at another sphere of traditional
Muslim discourse generated not by the jurists and legal theoreticians, but
by the traditionists (muhaddithan) themselves, the hadith experts
the linguistic and epistemological study of hadith was one of
numerous subjects that preoccupied the legal theoreticians, the
traditionists' main business was, by definition, exclusively that of the hadith.
This, in other words, was their specialty. But this shared interest in
the hadith was virtually the only common denominator between the
two groups (42). The legal theoreticians were, in the final
analysis, interested in the hadith as part of their epistemological
enterprise, which was usul al-Fiqh. What concerned them in the end
was the evaluation of this source, among many other theoretical elements,
in terms of the degree to which law as conceived by man is identical or
different from that lodged in the mind of God. The higher the probability
that a particular hadith (on which a ruling is based) was
authentic, the closer the jurist came to the Higher Truth of the Law as it
pertained to that particular ruling. It was precisely in this epistemic
evaluation that the interest of the legal theoretician lay. (And it is
precisely here that the interest of the theoreticians coincides with that
of modern scholars. Both groups are interested in the authenticity and
veracity of hadith from an epistemological perspective, despite the
differing approaches they adopt in their assessments.)
interest of the traditionists, on the other hand, lay elsewhere. True,
they were interested in the veracity of the hadith but from an
entirely different vantage point. They studied hadith insofar as it
leads to what they called 'amal (43), that which is
based on probability but
With the exception of the hadith pertaining to the
authoritativeness of consensus, I know of no other. See previous note.
Works on hadith constantly make reference to the distinctly
different categories and terms used by the jurists and legal
theoreticians. Less often, but frequently enough, the theoreticians make
the same reference to the traditionists.
See' Abd al-Rahman Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddima (Beirut: Dar lhya al-Turath
al-'Arabi, n.d.), 442, who argues that the hadith constituting the bulk of the
six canonical collections is that which fulfills the requirement of 'amal. Undeniably, the consideration of 'amal was
also important from the legal perspective, but the traditionists laie
more stress on it than did the legal theoreticians. who were interested more
in the epistemological side of the hadith. See' Abbadi, al-Sharh
a/-Kabir; n, 405; Tufi, Sharh,
is also necessary to constitute the foundations of pious religious
practice (44). In other words, unlike the legal theoreticians, they were
by no means interested in the probable/certain dichotomy, but rather in
any Prophetic material that appeared to them to meet the minimal
requirements of "soundness." This is why their first and
foremost category of hadith, the "sahih" (sound),
consisted of various types, not the least of which are those hadiths which
engender mere probability (45).Probably for the same reason,
they did not, in their classification of hadith, distinguish any
category equivalent to the usuli type of the mutawatir. Ibn
al-Salah (d. 643/1245), one of the most distinguished traditionists of the
muta'akhkhirun (46), explicitly states that in the
traditionists' discourse the taxonomy of the mutawatir is nowhere
to be found; and this, he says, is due to the fact that such hadiths do
not constitute part of their riwaya (47).
bears some reiteration here that a major criterion of the traditionists
(and to some extent of the legal theoreticians) (48) was the
desideratum of 'amal (49) that is, religious praxis in
all spheres of human life, praxis that is founded upon a reasonable
knowledge of the divinely ordained sources. Certainty concerning the
details of human behaviour was considered unattainable, and if conducting
and organizing such behaviour were to depend significantly. or even
partly, on such an epistemic category, the regulation of human life would
become well-nigh impossible (50). For, as one jurist put it,
certainty is a rarity in matters of law (51) and law regulates
an spheres human conduct.
the mutawatir was not part of the traditionists' repertoire of hadith,
then what they handled were hadiths of the ahad type, or
those even of a weaker sort. The sources, as is well-known. make it quite
clear that the traditionists set forth a classical taxonomy which
distinguishes between three main types: the sahih (sound), the hasan
(good), and the da'if (weak) (52). The last two
categories may be further distinguished,
Ibn al-Qassar, Muqaddima. 67-8.
Ibn al-Salah, Muqaddima. 169-70; Nawawi, Taqrib, 23-4.
(46) Ibn Khaldun remarks that Ibn al-Salah's writings on hadith are the most authoritative among the later Muslim authors (muta'akhkahirun). See his muqaddima, 443.
Ibn al-Salah, Muqaddima. 453-4.
(48) Who are to be distinguished here from muftis, qadis, and other members of the legal profession that had to deal with, and directly confront the realla of judicial practice. True, the ultimate destination of usul al-fiqh was law in a social context, but in order to be elaborated as a theory of law, the usul lent itself fundamentally and structurally to epistemological distinctions which seemingly obscured, to some extent, it own genuine interest in the social reality of the law.
See n. 43, above.
'Abbadi, al-Sharh al-Kabir; II, 405; Tufu, Sharh, 112,
Tufi, Sharh, l!, 112.
(52)The da'if is less frequently known as saqim. See Ibn al-Salah, Muqaddima, 151 ff; James Robson, "Varieties of the Hasan Tradition", Journal of Semitic Studies, 6 (1961): 47-61, at 49.
other types may be added; e.g., hasan-sahih, hasan-gharib (53).
Be that as it may, the da'if gharib and other more inferior types
do not concern us, for they are admitted by the traditionists themselves
to be highly problematic at best and spurious at worst (54).
sahih is defined as having been transmitted in an uninterrupted
manner by persons all of whom, from the first tier to the last, are
known for their just character ('udul) and excellent memory (dabt)
(55). We have already said that not all hadfths of
this type are of the same quality or strength. At least half a dozen
sub-types were distinguished, depending on how they were classified and
treated by Bukhari and Muslim, the authors of the two Sihah (56).
The hasan, on the other hand, is a hadith transmitted by
persons whose character is known to be neither just nor nefarious (57).
This type, despite its potential shortcomings, may be acted upon (yasluh
lil amal bi-hi), but cannot be said to represent anything more
than mere probability (58).
appears that after the fifth/eleventh century, the epistemic value of the sahih
became a mildly controversial matter among the traditionists - their
interest being essentially non-epistemological. Nawawi (d. 676/1277) and
Ibn al-Salah seem to have spearheaded the two opposing campaigns. Nawawi
unequivocally states that the sahih means just that, sahih, and
does not mean that it is certain." (59). He vehemently
argued that the majority of Muslim scholars and leading authorities (al-muhaqqiqun
wal-akthartun) held that unless the sahih is of the mutawatir
category, it shall remain probable and can never attain the level of
certainty (60). On the other hand, Bulqini (d. 805/1402) also
enlists the authority of a number of scholars on his side and, basing
himself on Ibn al-Salah, argues that those hadiths of the sahih type
on which Bukhari and Muslim agreed lead to acquired, certain knowledge (yaqini
nazari) (61). This knowledge, Ibn al-Salah, maintains, is
due to the fact that the community of Muslims has agreed to accept
Bukhari's and Muslim's Sihah as authoritative, and this agreement
amounted in his view to
(53) Muhyi al-Din Sharaf al-Din al.Nawawi. al-Taqrlb wal Taysir li-Ma'rifat Sunan al-Bashir wal-Nadhir, ed. 'Abd Allah al-Barudi (Beirut: Dar al-Jinan, 1986), 26; Robson, "Varieties", 48 ff; Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddima, 444.
Nawawi. Taqrib. 24; Muslim. Sahih. I, 30; Tufi, Sharh,
(55) Taqi al-Din Ibn Daqiq al-'Id. al-Iqtirah fi Bayan al-Istilah, Qahtan al-Duri (Baghdad: Matba'at al-Irshad, 1402/1982), 152; Ibn al-Salah, Muqaddima, 151, 152; Tufi, Sharh, 148.
Ibn al-Salah. Muqaddima. 169-70; Nawawi. Taqrib. 234.
Ibn Daqiq al-'ld. Iqtirah 162-3; Tufi. Sharh, II,
Ibn Daqiq al-'ld. Iqtirah 168; Ibn al-Salah, Muqaddima, 175.
(59) Nawawi. Taqrib. 21; "wa-idha qila sahih, fa-hadha ma'nahu - la anna-hu maqtu'un bi-hi".
(60) Nawawi. Taqrib, 24; Siraj al-Din al-Bulqini. Mahasin al-Istilah, printed with Ibn al-Salah's Muqaddima, ed., 'Aisha 'Abd al-Rahman (Cairo: Dar al-Ma'arif, 1989), 171-2. In fact, Amir Badishah, Taysir al-Tahrir, 37, without making distinctions, generally remarks that probability is the function of the sahih and the hasan".
(ijma' ) which generates certainty (62). It is important
to observe here that certainty for Ibn al-Salah does not stem from the
modalities by which the sahih is transmitted, but is deduced from the
extraneous fact that a consensus was concluded on the authoritative
choices of Muslim and Bukhari. The implications of ignoring lines of
transmission and the character of transmitters as the established criteria
of proof in favour of an extraneous method of evaluation are grave. For
Ibn al-Salah's position amounts in effect to arguing that the Muslim
community, in and by itself, is empowered to legislate, by elevating, for
instance, the status of a source of law from a level of probability to
certainty. More importantly, his argument, once taken to its logical
conclusion, destroys the very foundations of consensus as a source of law,
since, as I have shown elsewhere, it traps it In the insoluble quandary of
a petitio principii (63). It was precisely to avoid this
very trap that generation after generation of jurists consecrated their intellectual
energies. It must have been in this spirit that the influential scholar
Ibn Abd al-Salam (d. 661/1262) reproached Ibn al-Salah, calling his
view defective (radi) (64). Perhaps the most evincive
argument against the fictitious authority bestowed by consensus is
Goldziher's insightful statement that" [d]espite this general
recognition of the Sahihan in Islam, the veneration never went so
far as to cause free criticism of the sayings and remarks incorporated in
the collections to be considered impermissible or unseemly (65).
remaining sub-types of the sahih (on which Bukhari and Muslim could
not agree), as well as those of the hasan, are unquestionably
considered to be probable, and thus belong to the legal theoreticians'
category of the ahad. And if we take exception to Ibn al-Salah's
claims concerning the sahih on which Bukhari and Muslim agreed,
then any non-mutawatir sahih of this category is also considered,
by definition, an ahad, falling short of engendering certainty. In
favour of this position we can list not only the traditionists who opposed
Ibn al-Salah's view, but also all the legal theoreticians and jurists for
whom, after all, the entire hadith literature was collected,
organized and scrutinized. In fact, Shawkani explicitly states that legal
rulings may well be constructed on the basis of the sahih and the hasan
because these two categories engender probability, which suffices in
legal matters (66).
Ibn al-Salah, Siyanat Sahih Muslim, 85-7.
(63) Hallaq, "On the authoritativeness of Sunni Consensus", 427.54.
(64) Dulqini, Mahasin al-Istilah, 171-2
(65) Muslim Studies, II, 236 and the following pages where
he substantiates his assertion..
(66) Irshad al-Fuhul ila Tahqiq al-Haqq min 'Ilm al-Usul (Surabaya: Sharikat Maktabat Ahmad b. Nabhan, n.ed.), 48.
we turn to the problem of the mutawatir which engenders certainty.
We recall that Ibn ai-Salah himself acknowledged that the traditionists'
repertoire of hadith does not include this category. But Ibn al-Salah
said more. He argued in categorical terms that the mutawatir is a
rarity (67). "He who is asked to produce an example of a hadith
that is transmitted in a mutawatir [fashion] will be exhausted
by his search" (68). In his own search for such hadiths,
he could cite only one, presumably narrated by more than a hundred
Companions: "He who intentionally lies concerning something I [viz.,
the Prophet] have said will gain a seat in Hellfire" (69).
The other hadith which he could find that seemingly met the
standards of the mutawatir was: "Acts are Judged by
intentions". However, he acknowledges that although this hadith was
reportedly narrated by a mutawatir number of transmitters, its
apodictic manner of transmission occurred in the middle tiers of
transmission, not from the outset (70).
later legal theoreticians Ansari (1119/1707) and Ibn ' Abd al-Shakur
(1225/1810) accepted the general tenor of Ibn al-Salah''s argument about
the scarcity of tawatur, but seem to think that there are more hadiths
of this type in existence. Having enumerated, with what seems to be
great difficulty, four such hadiths, they call upon Ibn ai-Jawzi
(d. 598/1201) who is quoted as saying: "I have tracked down the mutawatir
hadiths and found a number of them." He enumerates six, at least
one of which, and probably two, had already been listed by Ansari and Ibn
' Abd al-Shakur (71). Thus, a thorough search by a number of
the most eminent traditionists and jurists of Islam could yield no more
than eight or nine hadiths of the mutawatir type.
number may be left to stand only if we admit that all were truly of the mutawatir
type. However, in his commentary on a passage in Ansari's work, Ibn 'Abd al-Shakur informs his readers that they will encounter yet other such hadiths
in the later sections of his commentary, including one which speaks of
the infallibility of the Muslim com-
This should not be taken to contradict his earlier assertions about the
apodictic status of the sahih. The knowledge engendered
by the mutawatir, all agreed. was of the immediate type, On the
other hand, he held that the sahih on which both Bukhari and Muslim
agreed was capable of yielding mediate, acquired knowledge.
(68) Muqaddima, 454; "wa-man su'ila 'an ibrazi mithalin li-dhalika fi-ma yurwa min al-hadith a 'yuha tatallubuhu".
Ibid. Muhammad b, Nizam al-Din al-Ansari. Fawatih al-Rahmut, printed with
Ghazali's Mustasfa, 2 vols. (Cairo: al-Matba'a al-Amiriyya,
1324/1906),II, 120; "man kadhiba -alayya muta'ammidan
fal-yatabawwa' maq'adahu min al-nar".
Muqaddima, 454; "inna-ma al-a'malu bil-niyyat"..
Fawatih al-Rahamut, II, 120.
(72). This suggests that when at least Ibn ' Abd al-Shakur was
speaking of tawatur; he may not have always meant the tawatur
lafzi since the hadith speaking of the infallibility of the
Muslim community is of the tawatur ma'nawi' type (73).
Therefore, it is possible that the total number of mutawatir hadiths he
cited may even be less than four, with the possible result that the number
of such hadiths in toto may fall short of even eight or nine.
sum up, western scholarship has concentrated its attention upon an area of
traditional Muslim discourse that is not particularly instructive. The
traditionist discourse is stated in terms that are largely incongruent
with the epistemic evaluation of the hadith, an evaluation that is
directly relevant and indeed central to the Islamicist paradigm of
historical research. If minimal traces of this epistemic interest are to
be found in the traditionist discourse, it is because legal theory
commanded a measure of attention from the traditionists. The epistemic
evaluation of the hadith was finely articulated and elaborated by
the legal theoreticians and jurists, and it is in this area of traditional
discourse that western scholars should have begun their enquiry - if such
an enquiry need at all be embarked upon.
The legal theoreticians' classification of the hadith into mutawatir and ahad leaves us with a colossal number of the latter, merely probable type, and less than a dozen of the former, reportedly apodictic, variety. The ahad, including the hasan, were universally acknowledged to have constituted the bulk of hadfth with which the traditionists dealt, and on the basis of which the Jurists derived the law (74). The apodictic type was simply inconsiderable. Even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that the mutawatir hadiths are more than a dozen, say a score, or even many more (75), the problem of authenticity nevertheless turns out to be
(72) Musallam al-Thubut: Sharh Fawatich al-Rahamut, printed with Ghazali's Mustasfa, 2 vols. (Cairo: al-Matba'a al-Amiriyya, 1324/1906), II, 120-1; See also n. 36, above.
(73) In fact, one of the hadiths enumerated by Ansari and Ibn 'Abd al-Shakur is that of al-mash'ala al-khuffayn, (wiping one's footgear with wet hands), said to be of the mutawatir ma'nawi type: 'Abd al-Wahhab Ibn Nasr al-Baghdadi. See his ijma', printed with Ibn al-Qassar, Muqaddima fi al- ..., ed. Muhammad Sulaymani (Beirut: Dar al-Gharb al-Islami, 1996), 276.
(74) Nawawi, Taqrib, 24-5; Ibn Daqiq al-'Id, Iqtirah, 168; 'Abbadi, al-Sharh al-Kabir; II, 416; Jamal Din Yusuf al-Mizzi, Tahdhib al-Kamal fi Asma al-Rijal, ed. Bashshar Ma'ruf, 35 vols. (Beirut: Mu'assasat al-Risala, 1985), I, 171. See also Ibn Abi Shama's critique of the practices of his fellow Shafi'ites whom he charges of employing weak hadiths in the construction of law, Mukhtasar Kitab al-Mu'ammal fi al-Radd ila al-Amr al-Awwal, printed in Majmu' al-Rasail (Cairo: Matba'at Kurdistan, /13281910), 20-1, 36.
(75) In his Qatf al-Azhar al-Mutanathira fi al-Akhbar al-Mutawatira, which is an abridgment of ...wawa'id al-Mutakuthira, Suyuti collected 88 hadiths claimed to have been narrated through ten or
minor one, involving a minuscule body of Prophetic material that can
easily lend itself to our critical apparatus.
al-Salah's claim that the sahih type - on which Bukhari and Muslim
agreed - engenders certainty cannot be taken seriously by modern scholars,
and this for two reasons: First, the claim was highly controversial among
traditional Muslim scholars themselves, having been rejected, for logical
and epistemological reasons, by a significant majority. If consensus,
which is alleged to elevate the sahih to an apodictic level,
sanctions the authority of hadith, then hadith cannot
sanction the authority of consensus; for this would entail a circularity
of which Muslim scholars were acutely aware. But hadith does in
reality sanction consensus, especially in light of the widely acknowledged
fact that it is the only authoritative text which can. Thus, consensus
cannot sanction hadith, also a widely accepted conclusion among
traditional Muslim intellectuals (76). Second, and more
importantly, the claim is theological in nature, fundamentally departing
from the criteria of hadith evaluation established by the Muslim
traditionists themselves. The certainty which the sahih yields is
not established by means of the modalities of transmission or the quality
of rectitude attributed to the transmitters. For instance, it never was
the case that the authenticity of an individual hadith of the sahih
category was declared ab initio and a priori certain
just because it belonged to that group of traditions agreed upon by
Bukhari and Muslim. A positive affirmation of authenticity always required
an investigation of individual hadiths insofar as their particular
mode of transmission was concerned. When these formal methods of enquiry
were applied, Ibn al-salah himself found that the mutawtatir is
virtually non-existent. Rather, what was said to guarantee Ibn al-Salah's
apodictic sahih was the divine grace metaphysically bestowed upon
the Muslim community as a collectivity, not any "scientific"
enquiry into the concrete historical and socio-moral context ('ilm al-rijal)
in which these hadiths were transmitted.
is quite possible that some hadiths of the sahih type were
considered to belong to the mutawatir category. What matters, in
more channels of transmission. Except for the title itself, nowhere in the manuscript does he qualify these hadiths as mutawatir. It is noteworthy thta Suyuti includes here a number of hadiths that were clearly dismissed by more distinguished traditionists as falling to meet the standards of tawatur. For instance, "Deeds are judged by intentions" was deemed by Ibn al-Salah as falling short of maintaining a tawatur transmission throughout all stages. Similarly, Suyuti includes therein the two hadiths relating to the infallibility of the Muslim community and to the wiping of the footgear, which were considered as tawatur ma'nawi not lafzi. On these see nn. 40, 70, and 73, above. It is also noteworthy that more than 50 of these hadiths listed have to do with rituals and matters of belief. See Qatf al-Azhar, ms. 2889. Yahuda Section, Garrett Collection, Princeton University. I am grateful to Ms. Annalee Pauls of Princeton University Libraries for her extraordinarily prompt help in making this manuscript available to me.
See n. 36, above.
is the fact that this last category is quantitatively insignificant,
however it may be measured or calculated. It can be easily controlled and
investigated. And surely, the modern western debate about authenticity
would be considered absurd if its object were to be confined to a handful
of such hadiths. That the debate was not so confined, and that it
dealt in fact with the vast majority of the hadith is quite obvious
not be demonstrated. If both the traditionists and the jurists -the
Wael Hallaq Wael Hallaq Hadith
Sahih Authenticity Shariah Shari'ah
Wael Hallaq Wael Hallaq Hadith Sahih Authenticity Shariah Shari'ah
Wael Hallaq Wael Hallaq Hadith Sahih Authenticity Shariah Shari'ah
Wael Hallaq Wael Hallaq Hadith Sahih Authenticity Shariah Shari'ah
Wael Hallaq Wael Hallaq Hadith Sahih Authenticity Shariah Shari'ah
Wael Hallaq Wael Hallaq Hadith Sahih Authenticity Shariah Shari'ah