In Islam, there is no dispute among the scholars that Qur’an and hadiths are the primary sources of Islamic law. All issues related to the religion, particularly theology and legal rulings, must be in accordance to these two vital sources. Any type of ruling, worship or belief that has no basis in the Qur’an or hadiths is rejected in Islam. There is no dispute when it comes to the content of the Qur’an, however, hadiths have been scrutinized throughout Islamic history by scholars of hadith in an attempt to separate the authentically narrated reports of the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) from the unauthentic. While the Qur’an was untouchable with regards to tampering, mainly due to it being compiled in one book within the lifetime of the companions, the hadiths have come under attack throughout history by various people trying falsely to attribute statements and actions to the Prophet for personal and worldly reasons. Some examples of these reasons include: promoting one’s own ideology, giving one’s own tribe superiority over others, hypocrites tampering with the religion to destroy it from within, and even some righteous people who did it with the intention of promoting good in society and forbidding evil.
The scholars of hadith took on the task to thoroughly research the chain and the text of every hadith they came across and identify elements within it which can help determine to the masses whether a particular hadith is reliable or not. They categorized the grading of hadiths into four main categories: sahih (authentic), hasan (good), da’if (weak), and mawduu’ (fabricated). They have sub-categories underneath them as well but these four are the general categories under which hadiths are placed. There is a consensus with the scholars when it comes to not acting in any way or form with regards to mawduu’ (fabricated) hadiths. However, when it comes to da’if (weak) hadiths, there is a difference of opinion “concerning the relating of and acting in accordance with weak hadith.”
Shaykh Jamaal al-Din Zarabozo points out that there are three opinions on this matter:
- The first opinion states that weak hadith may be used with virtually no restrictions on their use. This opinion has been attributed to Ahmad and Abu Dawood.
- The second opinion states that weak hadith may be acted upon given certain conditions…This is the view of a large number of scholars, in fact, it is the majority view.
- The third opinion states that weak hadith are never to be acted upon.
Afterwards, Shaykh Zarabozo delves into the arguments of each opinion by those who held those opinions and concludes that the strongest opinion is the third one. According to him the first opinion is a misunderstanding and the scholars of the past who held that position were not referring to hadiths which are today classified as da’if (weak). Rather, he suggests, they were referring to hasan (good) level hadiths. He uses quotes of Ibn Qayyim, Ibn Taymiyyah, al-Shaatibi to back his claim.
As for the second opinion, this is the opinion of the majority of the scholars. They allowed acting on it provided the following four conditions as stated by Ibn Hajr:
- The hadith in question must not be very weak…[it may] only have minor defects.
- The hadith is taken as subservient to the confirmed sources, that is the Qur’an and accepted hadith. Therefore, it may not be used to establish something that has no basis in the confirmed sources.
- The reward that is stated in the hadith should not be expected…deed should be done more out of safety and a hope for some type of reward.
- The doer of the act should not make the act public so that no one else may act upon that hadith and think something is sanctioned while it is not sanctioned or so that no ignorant people might see the person doing the act and think that the act is an authentic sunnah.
Ibn al-Salah al-Shahrazuri in his famous work on the introduction of the sciences of hadith also pointed out about this second opinion:
“This applies in topics other than the characteristics of God (He is exalted) and legal rulings concerning the permitted and forbidden, and so forth. It is valid, for instance, for sermons, stories, the descriptions of the rewards associated with the performance of various religious acts…and the hadith on other matters having no connection to legal rulings and theological issues.”
Shaykh Zarabozo’s reasons for rejecting this opinion as well, in summary, are as follows:
- He states, “this is based on the presumption that virtuosity of acts somehow differs from laws in the religion of Islam. There is no reason or proof for that presumption…statements concerning the virtuousness of an act must be based on the same types of evidence as any other deed in Islam.”
- Weak hadiths are doubtful in nature and there is acceptable number of hadiths available and there is no need to refer to these doubtful hadiths. Muslims should act according to knowledge and not conjecture.
- People who narrate such hadiths do not assure to make sure that it is not very weak; rather, they even narrate fabricated hadiths using the logic provided in this opinion that it is permissible as long as it is related to virtuous acts. This understanding makes people too lax and they are not careful in determining if a hadith actually qualifies to be used for this purpose. Thus, this view is not being put into practice with its proper conditions as stated by those scholars who hold this view.
- It is not easy to distinguish weak hadiths from very weak hadiths for even the scholars and is a very tedious task.
The third opinion, which Shaykh Zarabozo considers as the strongest, is that one should not act in accordance to any type of weak hadith no matter what be it subject matter. He suggests that this is the opinion of Yahya ibn Maeen, Abu Haatim, Abu Zakariya al-Naisaboori, Abu Zarah, al-Bukhari, Muslim, Ibn Hibban, al-Khattabi, al-Shawkani, Sideeq Hasan Khan, Abu Bakr ibn al-Arabi, Ahmad Shaakir, Subhi al-Saalih, Ibn Uthaymeen, al-Albaani, and others. Mohammad Hashim Kamali states, “A weak or da’if hadith does not constitute a shar’i proof (hujjah) and is generally rejected.” Among the reasons listed by Shaykh Zarabozo for this opinion to be the strongest include:
- Due to the numerous hadiths of authentic nature, there is no need to turn to these doubtful hadiths.
- There are strict warnings against attributing something to the Prophet which he did not say. The companions use to start sweating when they narrated hadiths out of fear that they may attribute a lie to the Prophet. As for some of the statements of the Prophet himself in this regard, following are a few examples:
- “One of the worst lies is to claim falsely to be the son of someone other than one’s real father, or to claim to have had a dream one has not had, or to attribute to me what I have not said.” (Bukhari)
- “Whoever falsely attributes something to me shall take his seat in the Fire.” (Bukhari)
- “Telling lies about me is not like telling lies about anyone else. Whoever tells lies about me deliberately let him take his place in Hell.” (Bukhari)
- “Whoever narrates a hadeeth from me that he thinks is false is one of the liars.” (Muslim)
- “Beware of the hadith related on my authority, except for what you are knowledgeable of.” (Tirmidhi, Ahmad, Ibn Abu Shaiba)
- In the terminology of hadith scholars, a weak hadith is basically a type of hadith in which there is a great possibility that the Prophet never made that statement and most likely it has not been properly preserved. And “Allah has promised to preserve the sunnah. Obviously, the preservation of the sunnah must imply that Allah will preserve it in such a way that the Muslim scholars can distinguish what is preserved from what is not preserved. With respect to weak hadith, the evidence in front of the scholars is that they are not preserved.”
A final point to mention about this issue is that some of the scholars, such as Ibn al-Salah al-Shahrazuri, had indicated that when “you want to relate a weak hadith without an isnad, do not use, ‘The Messenger of God (peace be upon him) said such and such,’ or similar phrases that definitively indicate that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said the words. Instead, you should say for it, ‘It is related from the Messenger of God (Peace be upon him), such and such,’ ‘We read from him such and such,’…or something similar to that.” They said this in order to avoid attributing something to the Prophet which he did not say. However, Shaykh Zarabozo makes a good point in that most people nowadays, due to lack of knowledge, are not able to determine through such phrases that the hadith is weak, hence, it is necessary to explicitly point out that the hadith is weak.
- Kamali, Mohammad Hashim. Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence. Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society, 2003.
- Al-Shahrazuri, Ibn al-Salah. An Introduction to the Science of the Hadith. Trans. Dr. Eerik Dickinson. Reading: Garnet Publishing Limited, 2006.
- Zarabozo, Jamaal al-Din M. Commentary on the Forty Hadith of Al-Nawawi. vol. 1. Denver: Al-Basheer Company for Publications and Translations, 2008.