Part 11

The Hadith: sciences concerned with Prophetic traditions

by Ibn Khaldun Icon

There are many and varied hadith. One of them concerns abrogating and abrogated traditions. The permission to abrogate previous statements and the occurrence of abrogation have been established in our religious law.

It is a favor shown by God to His servants and a kind of relief granted them to help them along in matters affecting their well-being (masalih) for which He is responsible to them. God said: “Whenever We abrogate a verse or consign it to oblivion, We bring one that is better, or as good.”

The knowledge of abrogating and abrogated verses belongs both to the Qur’an and to the traditions.

Everything about (abrogation), as far as it concerns the Qur’an, is included in the Qur’an commentaries. Whatever is restricted to traditions falls under the sciences of tradition.

Two traditions may be mutually exclusive, and it may be difficult to reconcile them with the help of interpretation. If, in such a case, it is known that one is earlier than the other, it is definite that the later (tradition) abrogates (the earlier one).

This is one of the most important and difficult of the sciences of tradition.

Az-Zuhri said; “It has been a baffling and impossible task for the jurists to distinguish traditions of the Messenger of God abrogating others, from those that were abrogated by them.”

Ash-Shafi’i was firmly grounded in this subject.

Another of the sciences of tradition is the knowledge of the norms that leading hadith scholars have invented in order to know the chains of transmitters, the (individual) transmitters, their names, how the transmission took place, their conditions, their classes, and their different technical terminologies.

This is because general consensus makes it obligatory to act in accordance with information established on the authority of the Messenger of God.

This requires probability for the assumption that the information is true.

Thus, the independent student must verify all the means by which it is possible to make such an assumption.

He may do this by scrutinizing the chains of transmitters of traditions. For that purpose, one may use such knowledge of the probity, accuracy, thoroughness, and lack of carelessness or negligence, as the most reliable Muslims describe a transmitter as possessing.

Then, there are the differences in rank that exist among transmitters.

Further, there is the way the transmission took place. The transmitter may have heard the shaykh (dictate the tradition), or he may have read (it from a book) in his presence, or he may have heard (it) read in the presence of the shaykh and the shaykh may have written (it) down for him, or he may have obtained the approval of the shaykh for written material (munawalah), or he may have obtained his permission to teach certain traditions (ijazah).

Then, there is the difference> with regard to the (degree of) soundness or acceptability of the transmitted material. 112 The highest grade of transmitted material is called “sound” by (the hadith scholars).

Next comes “good.” The lowest grade is “weak.”

(The classification of traditions) includes also= “skipping the first transmitter on Muhammad’s authority” (mursal), “omitting one link” (munqati’),“omitting two links” (mu’dal), “affected by some infirmity” (mu’allal), “singular” (shadhdh), “unusual” (gharib), and “singular and suspect” (munkar). 113

In some cases, there is a difference of opinion as to whether (traditions so described) should be rejected. In other cases, there is general agreement that (they should be rejected). The same is 114 the case with (traditions with) sound chains.

In some cases, there is general agreement as to their acceptability and soundness, whereas, in other cases, there are differences of opinion. Hadith scholars differ greatly in their explanations of these terms.

Then, there follows the discussion of terms applying to the texts of the traditions. A text may be “unusual” (gharib), “difficult” (ambiguous, mushkil), “(affected by some) misspelling (or misreading),” or “(containing) homonyms” (muftariq), or “(containing) homographs” (mukhtalij). 116

On all these points, hadith scholars have laid down a canon explaining the (various) grades and terms, and adequate to protect the transmission from possible defects. The first outstanding hadith scholar to lay down such a canon was Abu ‘Abdallah al-Hakim.

He improved it and presented it to its best advantage. His works on the subject are famous.

Other leading hadith scholars followed him and wrote works on the subject. The most famous work by a modern scholar on the subject is the book of Abu ‘Amr b. as-Salah. 119

He lived in the early 13th century. His example was followed by Muhyi-ad-din an-Nawawi.

The purpose of the discipline is a noble one. It is concerned with the knowledge of how to preserve the traditions (sunan) transmitted on the authority of the Master of the religious law (Muhammad), until it is definite which are to be accepted and which are to be rejected.

The men around Muhammad and the men of the second generation who transmitted the Sunnah were well known in the cities of Islam. There were transmitters in the Hijaz, in al-Basrah and al-Kufah, and then in Syria and Egypt. They were famous in their time.

The transmitters of the Hijaz had fewer links in their chains of transmitters (than others), and they were sounder (transmitters), because they were reluctant to accept (as reliable transmitters) those who were obscure and whose conditions were not known.

Imam Malik

After the early Muslims, the master of the Hijazi tradition was the imam Malik, the leading scholar of Medina. Then came his colleagues, such as the imam Muhammad b. Idris ash-Shafii, Ibn Wahb, 121 Ibn Bukayr 122 al-Qanabi 123 Muhammad b. al-Hasan 124 and after them, the imam Ahmad b. Hanbal, and other later scholars.

At the beginning, knowledge of the religious law was entirely based on oral tradition. It involved no speculation, no use of opinion, and no intricate reasoning.

The early Muslims occupied themselves with it, selecting the sound material, and thus eventually perfected it. Malik wrote the Kitab al-Muwatta’ according to the Hijazi tradition, 126 in which he laid down the principal laws on the basis of sound, generally agreed-upon material.

He arranged the work according to juridical categories.

The hadith experts concerned themselves with knowledge of the recensions of traditions and of the different chains of transmitters, such 127 as the Hijazi and the ‘Iraqi transmissions and others. A certain tradition may be known in one way only or in numerous ways. It may be repeated in (different) chapters (of worksof jurisprudence) because it deals with several subjects.

Muhammad b. Isma’il al-Bukhari

Muhammad b. Isma’il al-Bukhari was the leading hadith scholar of his time. In his Musnad as-Sahih, he widened the area of tradition and published the orthodox traditions arranged according to subject. He combined all the different ways of the Hijazis, ‘Iraqis, and Syrians, accepting the material upon which they all agreed, but excluding the material concerning which there were differences of opinion.

He repeated a (given) tradition in every chapter upon which the contents of that particular tradition had some bearing. Therefore, his traditions were repeated in several chapters, because a (single) tradition may deal with different subjects, as we have indicated. His work thus comprised 7,200 traditions, 129 of which 3,000 are repeated.

In each chapter, he kept separate the recensions with the different chains of transmitters belonging to them. Then came the imam Muslim b. al-Hajjaj al-Qushayri. He composed his Musnad as-Sahih, in which he followed al-Bukhari, in that he transmitted the material that was generally agreed upon, but he omitted the repetitions and did not keep the recensions and chains of transmitters separate.

He arranged his work according to juridical categories and the chapter headings of jurisprudence.

Scholars have corrected the two (authors), noting the cases of the sound traditions not (included in their works). 130 They have mentioned the cases where (they) neglected (to include traditions which, according to) the conditions governing the inclusion of traditions in their works, (should have been included).

Abu Dawud as-Sijistani, Abu ‘Isa at-Tirmidhi, and Abu Abd-ar-Rahman an-Nasa’i 131 wrote sunan works which included more than merely “sound” traditions. Their intention was to include all traditions that amply fulfilled the conditions making them actionable traditions. They were either traditions with few links in the chain of transmitters, which makes them sound (traditions), as is (generally) acknowledged, or they were lesser traditions, such as “good” traditions and others.

It was to serve as a guide to orthodox practice.

These are the collections of traditions that are used as reference works in Islam. They are the chief orthodox works on traditions. Other collections have been added to these five, such as the Musnads of Abu Dawud at-Tayalisi, 133 al-Bazzar, 134 ‘Abd b. Humayd, 135 ad-Darimi, 136 Abu Ya la alMawsili, 137 and the imam Ahmad.

According to Ibn as-Salah, their intention was to collect the material transmitted on the authority of the men around Muhammad that cannot be used as argument.

However, it has been transmitted on the authority of the imam Ahmad, that he used to say to his son ‘Abdallah concerning his own Musnad, which includes 31,000 traditionsand the same statement by Ahmad is also transmitted (in the same words) on the authority of a number of his companions, who said that he had instructed them in his Musnad-= “This work is a selection from among 750,000 traditions.

The Prophetic traditions concerning which the Muslims hold divergent opinions (of their genuineness), and which you do not find in it, cannot be used as arguments.” This shows that all the material in his Musnad can properly be used as argument.

This is the opposite of what has been said by Ibn as-Salah. I have quoted (Ahmad’s) statement from the Manaqib al-Imam Ahmad by Ibn al-Jawzi. 138 At this time, traditions are no longer published, nor are the (publications of) traditions by former scholars corrected. Common (experience) attests the fact that these numerous religious leaders, close to each other in time, were too capable and too firmly possessed of independent judgment to have neglected or omitted any tradition, so that it is impossible that some later scholar might discover one.

Therefore, at this time, one is concerned with correcting the principal written works, with fixing the accuracy of their transmission, and 141 with establishing continuous chains of transmitters leading back to the authors, chains that are sound throughout.


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