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THE PRINCIPLES OF CRITICISM OF HADITH

The Traditionists and the jurists have developed some sound principles for the
criticism of Hadith. These principles are described in the works on Usul al-Hadith
and Jurisprudence, and some of them may also be gathered from the works on the
Mauduat and the Asma al-Rijal.
As every Hadith consists of two parts(i) the Isnad (the chain of narrators) and
(ii) the Matn (the text)the principles of the criticism of Hadith may also be
classified into two categories (i) those relating to the Isnad, and (ii) those relating to
the text.
(i)The criticism of the Isnad, its origin and the earliest application to Hadith,
and its development, the origin and development of biographical literature in
connection with it, and other connected matters (including the necessary
qualifications of the narrators) have already been discussed in detail. The principles
of its criticism, which are based on them, may be summarized as follows:
(a)Every Hadith must be traced back to its original reporter through a
continuous chain of transmitters, whose identity, unquestionable character and high
qualities of mind and heart must have been established.
(b)Every Hadith reporting an event which took place every now and then in
the presence of a large number of people, must have been originally reported by
several narrators.
It is on account of these principles that a large number of traditions, which do not
follow them, have been rejected by all the important Traditionists, and are included
in the works on the Mauduat. An example of this class is the Hadith reported by
Abu Hurayra alone, that the Prophet used to recite Bismillah loudly in all his
prayers.30 Another example is the Hadith (said to have been reported by Abu Bakr
alone) which says that, at the time of the Call for prayers, the Muslims kissed their
thumbs when the Prophets name was recited. Each of these traditions was rejected
by the Traditionists because it was reported by a single Companion, whereas the
events reportedly took place several times every day in the presence of a large number
of Muslims.
(ii)The genuineness of the Isnads, however, is no proof of the actual
genuineness of the text of the traditions to which they are attached. 31 According to
the Traditionists, even if the Isnad is faultless, the text may be a forgery. Ibn al-Jauzi
has appreciated and quoted the remark: If you find a Hadith contrary to reason, or
to what has been established to be correctly reported, or against the accepted

30 NA, 185f.
31 As has been pointed out by Robson. See pp. 25-26 in his article on Isnad (op. cit.)
principles, then you should know that it has been forged. 32 Abu Bakr b. al-Tayyib is
reported to have remarked that it is proof of the forged character of a tradition if it
be against reason and common experience; or if it be contrary to the explicit text of
the Quran or the Mutwatir traditions or the Consensus (Ijma); or if it contains the
report of an important event taking place in the presence of a large number of
people, whereas it has been reported by a single individual; or if it lays down severe
punishment for minor faults, or promises high rewards for insignificant good
deeds.33 Al-Hakim has given several examples of forged and weak traditions having
sound Isnads.34 Al-Suyuti has remarked that very often, there are found weak or
forged traditions with sound Isnads; and he has given several examples of them. 35 As
a matter of fact, the only sure guidance to the determination of the genuineness of a
tradition is (as remarked by Ibn al-Mahdi and Abu Zara) a faculty that is developed
by a Traditionist through long, continuous study of the traditions, and as a result of
constant discussions about them with other Traditionists.36
On the basis of the above-mentioned and other similar remarks by important
Traditionists, the following general principles for the criticism of the texts of the
traditions may be laid down:
(a)A tradition must not be contrary to the other traditions which have already
been already accepted by the authorities on the subject as authentic and reliable. Nor
should it be contrary to the text of the Quran or the accepted basic principles of
Islam;
(b)a tradition should not be against the dictates of reason and natural laws and
common experience;
(c)the traditions containing disproportionately high rewards for insignificant
good deeds or disproportionately severe punishments for ordinary sins must be
rejected;
(d)the traditions containing the excellent virtues of the various chapters of the
Quran should not be generally accepted as reliable;
(e)the traditions containing the excellence and praises of persons, tribes and
particular places should be generally rejected;
(f)the traditions which contain detailed prophecies of future events with dates
must be rejected;
(g)and the traditions containing such remarks of the Prophet as may not be in
keeping with his prophetical position, or such expressions as may not be suitable to

32 TR, 100.
33 TR, 99.
34 UD, 58 ff. These traditions have been quoted by Robson (op. cit.)
35 TR, 48.
36 Ibid, 89.
him, should be rejected.
It is on account of these principles that a large number of traditions which are
included in such collections of them as are commonly thought to be reliable, have
been rejected by the compilers of the standard Hadith-collections; and they are
included in the collections of forged traditions (like those of Ibn al-Jauzi, 37 Mulla, Ali
al-Qari,38 al-Shaukani39 and others).
Among them al-Shaukani has collected together in his book the results of the
researches of the previous writers on the subject. He has also given the names of the
Hadith works in which the forged traditions are to be found. Moreover, in many
cases, he has pinpointed the narrators who forged these traditions.
In the standard collections of traditions also (in spite of the great care of their
compilers), there are still found some weak or forged traditions, which have been
discussed and criticised by their commentators and some other authorities on
traditions. The following are some examples of them:
(a)The Hadith, reported by al-Bukhari, that Adams height was sixty yards, has
been criticised by Ibn Hajar on the basis of the measurement of the homesteads of
some of the ancient nations, which do not show that their inhabitants were of an
enormous height.40
(b)The Hadith reported by al-Bukhari, that the verse of the Quran (XLIX, 9):
And if two parties of believers fall to fighting, then make peace between them,
refers to the quarrel between the party of Abd Allah b. Ubayy and that of the
Companions of the Prophet, was criticised by Ibn Battal, who pointed out that the
verse refered to a quarrel between two parties of the Muslims, whereas Abd Allah b.
Ubayy had not accepted Islam even outwardly at the time when the verse was
revealed.41
(c)The Hadith, that if Ibrahim, (the son of the Prophet) had lived, he would
have been a prophet, was severely criticised by al-Nawawi, Ibn Abd al-Barr and Ibn
al-Athir; and al-Shaukani included it among the forged traditions.42
(d)The Ahadith reported by Ibn Maja on the excellence of Qazwin (his own
hometown) were declared by the Traditionists to be forged ones.
(e)The Hadith reported by some Traditionists, that he who loved, kept clean
and died, is a martyr was declared by Ibn al-Qayyim to have been forged and

37 Kitab al-Mauduat.
38 al-Laali al-Masnuah fi al-Ahadith al-Mauduah.
39 FMj.
40 SB, Kitab al-Anbiya, bab khalq Adam; FB (Egypt, 1320 A.H.), vi, 230.
41 SB, Kitab al Sulh, ch. I; also see FB ad. loc.
42 See Ibrahim (the son of the Prophet) in IMA and UGh. Also see FMj, 144. For another
version of this Hadith, see SB, ii, 434 (Krehls ed., cited in IT, 63)
baseless. He said that even if the Isnad of this Hadith were as bright as the sun, it
would not cease to be wrong and fictitious.43
(f)The Hadith reported by al-Bukhari that Abraham would pray to God on the
Day of Judgement (Saying: O Lord you promised that you would not humiliate me
on the Day of Judgement) was criticised and rejected by al-Ismaili (cited by Ibn
Hajar).44
(g)Most of the traditions concerning the coming of al-Dajjal and of Mahdi, and
those concerning Khadir, were declared by the Traditionists to be forged ones, and
were included in the works on the Mauduat.
Many other similar instances of the criticism of the text of traditions included in
their collections by even standard, authoritative compilers may be gathered from the
commentaries on those compilations and the works on the Asma-al-Rijal and the
Mauduat. It is thus clear that the Muslims doctors criticised not only the Isnad of
each tradition but also its text, and did not fail to point out its defects, weakness and
its unreliability or its forged character (determined in accordance with the principles
which have been mentioned above).
To conclude, I may add that there is enough material available for the compilation
of a standard collection of completely authentic traditions out of the already
generally accepted compilations of them. I have reached this conclusion after
examining each tradition contained in them, according to the principles already laid
down by the Muslim Traditionists, as well as according to those which may be
prescribed by modern literary critics. It is, of course, a tremendous task; but
certainly, it can be achieved with the combined efforts of such Muslim scholars and
modern Orientalists as may be interested in the subject.

Source
Muhammad Zubayr Siddiqi, The Sciences of TraditionContd. (Ulum al-Hadith), Hadith
for Beginners: An Introduction to Major Hadith Works and Their Compilers (New Delhi:
Goodword Books, 2012), 21823.

43 ZM, 97.
44 FB, viii, 354.
It would be a mistake, however, to suppose that the Sahih has no defects, or that
the Muslim scholars have failed to criticise it. Thus, it is generally admitted that, like
other Traditionists, al-Bukhari has confined his criticism to the narrators of
traditions and their reliability, and that he has paid no attention to the probability or
possibility of the truth of the matters reported by them. In estimating the reliability
of the narrators, his judgement has in certain cases been erroneous. The Muslim
Traditionists did not fail to point out these defects of the Sahih. Al-Daraqutni (306-
385 A.H.) has tried to show the weakness of 200 traditions contained in the book (as
well as that of many of their narrators) in his al-Istidrak wal-Tatabbu113 which has
been summarized by al-Jazairi in his Tawjih al-Nazar.114 Abu Masud of Damascus
and Abut Ali al-Ghassani have also criticised the Sahih of al-Bukhari,115 and al-Ayni
in his commentary has shown the defects of some of its contents.116

Source
Muhammad Zubayr Siddiqi, Hadith Literature, Hadith for Beginners: An Introduction to
Major Hadith Works and Their Compilers (New Delhi: Goodword Books, 2012), 1178.

113 KZ, ii, p. 545.


114 TN, pp. 96-113.
115 NSM, p. 8.
116 Dr. A Mingana published a note on an MS of the oldest fragments of the Sahih of al-Bukhari
in J.R.A.S., 1936 (pp. 287-292). In it he has described the special features of the MS and
promised to publish a complete set of facsimile of it, which has not been available to me. His
suggestion, however, that the book was not composed by al-Bukhari, but by a student of the
book one or two generations after al-Bukhari, because the word Akhbarana is used for him
and Haddathana for the later narrators, is not warranted. For the strict use of these terms
was not definitely fixed at the time of al-Bukhari and also because in the Risala of Taqyid
al-Ilm of al-Khatib al-Baghdadi which was also certainly composed by al-Khatib, the author is
introduced by the term Akhbarana and other narrators by the term Haddathana.