11. The sciences concerned with Prophetic traditions.



The sciences concerned with Prophetic traditions (hadith) are numerous and varied. 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."108

The 109 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 110 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 111 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 117 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.118 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 part of the seventh [thirteenth] century. His example was followed by Muhyi-ad-din an-Nawawi.120

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.

It should be known that 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.

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-Shafi`i, Ibn Wahb,121 Ibn Bukayr 122 al-Qa`nabi 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. 125 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, and it may be repeated in (different) chapters (of works of jurisprudence) because it deals with several subjects.

There was Muhammad b. Isma'il al-Bukhari, the leading hadith scholar of his time. In his Musnad as-Sahih, he widened the area of tradition and 128 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 132 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. 140 (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. With very few exceptions, no attention has been paid to more than the five main works.

Al-Bukhari's Sahih occupies the highest rank among them. People have considered it difficult to comment on the Sahih and have found it rather complicated, because it requires a knowledge of numerous recensions and personages from the Hijaz, Syria, and the 'Iraq, as well as knowledge of their conditions and of the different opinions of scholars about them. Constant study is also required to understand the subject headings. Al-Bukhari would make a chapter heading and mention under it a tradition with a certain chain of transmitters or in a certain recension. Then, he would make another subject heading and mention the very same tradition under it, because it (also) deals with the subject of that par­ticular chapter. This applies to every chapter heading, so that the tradition may be repeated in separate 142 chapters according to the various different subjects it deals with.

A study 143 of the chapter headings should clearly indicate the relation that exists between them and the traditions the chapter contains. However, in many cases, this relation is obscure, and people have lengthily tried to explain it.

This happened in connection with the chapter heading: "The House will be destroyed by an Abyssinian with two little legs." 144 It occurs in the book on "Disturbances" (fitan). Then, (al-Bukhari) quotes the Qur'an: "And when we made the House a meeting place for the people and a place of safety." 145 Nothing is said of the matter mentioned in the chapter heading, and the relationship between the chapter heading and the chapter has remained obscure to scholars. Some have said that the author wrote all the chapter headings down in his draft and wrote the traditions under each chapter heading later, whenever he had the opportunity. He died before he was able to fill in all the chapter headings, and his work was transmitted in this (incomplete form).

However, as I learned from the companions of Judge Ibn Bakkar, 146 the judge of Granada who died in the battle of Tarifa in the year 741 [1340],147 and who was well versed in the Sahih of al-Bukhari, the chapter heading (quoted) was intended by al-Bukhari to interpret the verse of the Qur'an in the sense that it dealt with "something estab­lished by law," and not with "something appointed by divine decree." 148 The difficulty results from interpreting "we made" in the sense of "we appointed by divine decree." If (the word in question) is interpreted in the sense of "we established by law," there is no confusion (or contradiction) in the (chapter heading saying that) a man with two little legs will destroy (the House). I learned this explanation from our teacher, Abul-Barakat al-Ballafiqi,149 who had it on the authority of (Ibn Bakkar). Al-Ballafiqi was one of his most important pupils.

Commentators who do not exhaust such problems do not completely fulfill their duties as commentators. Commen­tators of this sort include Ibn Battal,150 Ibn al-Muhallab,151 Ibn at-Tin, 152 and others. I have heard many of our teachers say: "The Muslims still have the obligation to write a commentary on al-Bukhari." They meant that no Muslim scholar has so far completely fulfilled the task of a commentator in the sense indicated.

The Sahih of Muslim has been given much attention by Maghribi scholars. They applied themselves to it and agreed that it was superior to the work of al-Bukhari. Ibn as-Salah said: 153 "It is considered superior (by Maghribis and other scholars) to the work of al-Bukhari, because it is free from admixtures of material that is not sound and that al-Bukhari wrote down disregarding his own conditions (of soundness), mostly in connection with the chapter headings."

The imam al-Mazari,154 a Malikite jurist, dictated a commentary on the Sahih of Muslim which he entitled al-Mu'lim bi fawa'id Muslim. It contains much important source material from the science of tradition and solid juridical knowledge. The work was later on perfected by Judge 'Iyad.155 He called his work Ikmal al-Mu'lim. The two of them were followed by Muhyi-ad-din an-Nawawl with a commentary containing all the material of the two works and adding to it, thus becoming a complete commentary.

The other three collections of traditions contain the most extensive source material for jurists. Most comment on (that material) is found in the law books, except for those things that are peculiar to the science of tradition. Scholars wrote on (that material) and exhaustively presented in this respect as much as was needed of the sciences of tradition, their subjects, and the collections which contain traditions considered (norms) for action.

It should be known that, at this time, traditions are classified in grade as "sound," "good," "weak," "ill," and so on. The classification was fixed and made known by the leading hadith authorities. It is no longer possible to declare a tradition sound, that had not been (known as) sound before. The hadith authorities made known the traditions in their various recensions and with their chains of transmitters. They were so thorough in this respect that, if a tradition had been transmitted with a chain of transmitters or in a recension not belonging to it, they would have realized that it had been tampered with. Something of the sort happened to the imam Muhammad b. Ismail 156 al-Bukhari. He came to Baghdad, and the hadith scholars wanted to examine him. They asked him about several traditions, transposing the chains of transmitters (cited). He said: "I do not know those traditions, but I was told by so-and-so . . ." and then he repeated all the traditions in the correct order, supplying each text with the chain of transmitters to which it belonged. The hadith scholars (in Baghdad), in consequence, acknowledged (al-Bukhari's) leadership.157

It should also be known that religious leaders of independent judgment differed in the extent of their knowledge of traditions. It is said that the (number of) traditions that Abu Hanifah transmitted came to only seventeen or so.158 Malik accepted as sound only the traditions found in the Muwatta'. They are at most three hundred or so. Ahmad b.Hanbal has 50,000 159 traditions in his Musnad. Each (authority) has as many traditions as his independent judgment in this respect allowed him to have.

A certain biased, unfair person dared to say that some (of the authorities) knew little about traditions and, therefore, did not transmit many. It is impossible to believe such a thing about the great religious leaders. The religious law is derived from the Qur'an and the Sunnah, and those who know little about traditions definitely have to study and transmit them with eagerness and zeal, in order to be able to derive the religion from (its) sound basic principles and to get the laws from their Master (Muhammad) who brought them from God. Therefore, the great religious leaders who transmitted only a few traditions, did so (not because they knew little about traditions but) because they might have been attacked with regard to the traditions they transmitted, and because their transmission might have been accused of defects, especially since the majority (of scholars) gives preference to negative (as against positive) personality criticism. Therefore, their independent judgment induced them to leave aside traditions and chains of transmitters in which such (defects) might occur and which are numerous. Therefore, they transmitted few traditions, because of the weakness of the ways of transmission. Furthermore, the Hijazis transmitted more traditions than the 'Iraqis. Medina was the place to which Muhammad emigrated and where the men around him made their home. Those of them who moved to the 'Iraq were more occupied with the holy war (than with the transmission of traditions).

The imam Abu Hanifah transmitted only a few traditions, because he was very strict in applying the conditions governing the transmission and retention of traditions. He declared traditions weak when they were contradicted by decisive logical (arguments). Therefore, it was difficult for him to transmit traditions, and his traditions are few. However, it can by no means be assumed that he purposely omitted to transmit traditions. He would not have done such a thing. He was one of the greatest scholars of independent judgment in the science of tradition. This is proven by the fact that the hadith scholars follow his school and refer to it and take it into consideration in rejecting or accepting (arguments).

Other hadith scholars, that is, the great majority, permitted a certain latitude in applying the conditions (governing the soundness of traditions). They transmitted many tra­ditions, everyone relying on his own independent judgment. The later (Hanafites) permitted a certain latitude in applying the conditions and transmitted many traditions. At-Tahawi 160 was a transmitter who transmitted many traditions. He wrote his Musnad, which is an important work. However, it does not have the same value as the two Sahihs, because the conditions applied by al-Bukhari and Muslim in their works are those accepted by the general consensus of all Muslims, as has been said. The conditions applied by at-Tahawi, on the other hand, are not generally agreed upon. For instance, he transmits traditions on the authority of persons whose condition is obscure, and other things. Therefore, the two Sahihs, as, indeed, the other well-known collections of traditions, are preferable to (at-Tahawi), because his conditions are inferior to theirs. Therefore it is said that the two Sahihs are accepted by general consensus, as there is general consensus concerning the soundness of the conditions applied in them and generally agreed upon. No one should be in any doubt about this. Of all people, scholars most deserve that one have a good opinion of them and that one be eager to find sound excuses for them.

Another 161 of the sciences of traditions is the application of this canon to the discussion of the traditions, one by one, according to their various chapters and headings, by interpreting these collections of traditions.162 This was done by the hadith expert Abu `Umar b. `Abd-al-Barr,163 by Abu Muhammad b. Hazm,164 by Judge 'Iyad, by Muhyi-ad-din an-Nawawi, and by Ibn al-'Attar165 after (`Iyad and an­Nawawi), and by many other leading religious scholars of the West and the East. It is true that their discussions of the traditions contain other things, such as things that have to do with the text, the lexicography, and the grammar (i'rab) of the traditions. Still, their discussions of the chains of transmitters of the traditions in accordance with the hadith technique, are more comprehensive and longer (than their discussions of other matters).

These are the various sciences of tradition current among leading contemporary authorities.166

God guides toward the truth and helps to (find) it.


Another of the sciences of tradition is that concerned with the chains of transmitters and with knowledge of the traditions in accordance with which one must act because they are provided with chains of transmitters fulfilling all the conditions (of trustworthiness). One must act only in accordance with those traditions of the Messenger of God that, in all probability, are true. How it is possible to assume probability must be investigated by independent study. One gets to (the assumption of probability) through knowledge of the probity and accuracy of the transmitters of traditions. Such knowledge is established through information obtained on the authority of religious leaders, which declares a transmitter to be reliable and free from unreliability or negligence. This shows us whether we should accept their (traditions) or reject them.

Furthermore, knowledge of the transmitters includes knowing and distinguishing the different ranks of the individual transmitters among the men around Muhammad and the men of the second generation.

The chains of transmitters also differ in respect to continuity or lack of continuity, in that a transmitter may not have known personally the transmitter on whose authority he transmits a tradition. They also differ in respect to their freedom from weaknesses which may affect them adversely. These differences lead to (the designation of) two kinds of chains, and the rule is that the "highest" 115 chain is to be accepted, and the "lowest" chain to be rejected. There are differences of opinion with regard to the inter­mediate kind, according to the transmitted statements of authorities on the subject. They have invented technical terms for (classifying) the various grades (of reliability), such as "sound," "good," "weak," "skipping the first transmitter on Muhammad's authority" (mursal), "omitting one link" (munqati'), "omitting two links" (mu'dal), "singular" (shadhdh), "unusual" (gharib), and the other terms in use among them. Each term has been treated by itself, and the existing disagreements or agreements among linguistic authorities concerning each term have been noted.

Further, there is the study of how the transmission took place. It may have taken place by reading (gira'ah), by writing (kitabah), by getting the approval of the authority for written material (munawalah), or by obtaining the permission of the authority to teach certain traditions (ijizah). One must study the difference in grade assigned to these different types of transmission, and one must also study the differences of opinion among scholars about what is to be accepted here and what to be rejected.

Then, there follows the discussion of terms applying to the texts of traditions. A text may be "unusual" (gharib), or "difficult" (ambiguous, mushkil), or "(affected by some) misspelling (or misreading)," or "(containing) homonyms" (muftariq), or "(containing) homographs" (mukhtalif), or something else of this sort.

This constitutes the largest and preponderant part of the studies of hadith scholars.

The conditions of the transmitters of traditions in early Muslim times, the men around Muhammad and the men of the second generation, were known to the people of their respective countries. There were transmitters in the Hijaz, in the `Iraq in al-Basrah and al-Kufah, and in Syria and Egypt. All of them were well known and famous in their day. The people of the Hijaz in these (early) times had fewer links in their chains of transmitters than others, and they were sounder (transmitters), because they insisted upon probity and accuracy as (necessary) conditions of transmission. They were reluctant to accept (as a reliable transmitter) anyone whose condition in these respects was not known.

These are the collections of traditions that are famous in Islam. They are the chief orthodox works on traditions. Though hadith works are numerous, reference is as a rule made to the (books mentioned).

The knowledge of all these conditions and technical terms is the science of tradition. The subject of abrogating and abrogated traditions is occasionally taken out and treated as a discipline by itself. The same applies to "unusual" traditions. There are famous works by scholars on that subject. Then, there are the homonyms. Scholars have written a great many works on the science of traditions. An outstanding hadith scholar was Abd 'Abdallah al-Hakim. His works on the subject are famous. He improved the science of tradition and presented it to its best advantage.'"

The most famous work by a modern scholar on the subject is the book by .Abu 'Amr b. as-Salah. He lived in the early part of the seventh [thirteenth] 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.