Islamic Voice
Jamadi Ul Akhir 1422
September 2001
Volume 15-09 No:177

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Perfecting the Science of Hadith

Perfecting the Science of Hadith

Adil Salahi

We have seen how the scholars of Hadith have always paid greatest attention to the chain of transmitters and reporters, making sure that no Hadith may be classified as authentic unless there can be no doubt whatsoever with regard to its correct attribution to the Prophet. Professor Azami’s article which we carried in our last issue, provided us with an outline of the rules set by scholars for the acceptance or rejection of any report attributed to the Prophet. A classification of Hadith was also given which could serve as an indication of the perfectionism which has always been the hallmark of this branch of scholarship. The fact is, however, that the Hadith science branches into several disciplines, which require a great deal of the attention of a great number of scholars of the highest standing known in Islamic civilization. The most important of these disciplines is the one known as ilm al-jarh wat-tadeel.

Reporters of Hadiths

This discipline is concerned only with the transmitters and reporters of Hadith. It involves the study of the character, biography and knowledge of every reporter of Hadith, in every generation and in every city, from the time when a compiler of the time of the Prophet. The standards set for the acceptance or rejection of any particular report were stringent indeed. The scholars of Hadith may reject a certain transmitter although they know him to be a man of great integrity. The reason for their judgment would be something like his memory being relatively weak, or that he may transmit a report without making absolutely certain that it is authentic. In such a case, they classified the man as good and honorable, but they also pointed out that his Hadith is “weak”. If a transmitter is known to have made even a slight mistake, his reports would be unacceptable. We have stories which tell us that a certain transmitter was rejected because he was seen driving his mule very fast. A scholar of Hadith went to Basrah to meet its renowned scholars. He went to one of them, hoping to learn of the Hadiths he had compiled. On arrival, however, he found the scholar playing chess. He left him without sitting or hearing from him. We have to explain here that there is nothing wrong with playing chess or driving a mule fast. Neither is forbidden or discouraged. According to the strict standards of Hadith scholars, however, such activities are unbecoming of scholar who devotes himself to the study of Hadith.

Context of Hadith

Considering that the statements, actions and approvals attributed to the Prophet run into many thousands, and considering also the fact that there were thousands and thousands of Hadiths falsely and fraudulently attributed to the Prophet, this study of transmitters and reporters meant that there was a huge mass of biographical study which came under the discipline of ilm al-jarh wat-tadeel. The name itself suggests the formal boundries of this discipline. Al-Jarh means in the context of Hadith and its reporters: to fault or reject a certain transmitter. Tadeel, on the other hand, means to classify a certain person as acceptable. In order to appreciate the consciousness demonstrated by the scholars of this discipline we need only to state that if a transmitter or reporter is classified as acceptable, no specific reason was required for such classification. In order for anyone to earn such a classification he would have had to meet certain high standards, which were stringently applied.

When someone is rejected, a specific reason is required for his rejection. It is a duty of the scholar to state whether he tell lies or to indulge in practices unacceptable to Islam or because he is a person who can be influenced easily by others who may not have had the interests of Islam at heart. We make a great mistake if we think that such a great volume of biographical study consisted merely of millions of notes about the reporters of Hadith which may have been properly classified. Some people make an even greater mistake when they imagine that the fact that no computers or printing machines were available at the time to the scholars of Hadith could only make their work imperfect. In fact, what that meant was that scholars needed to exert more effort and to rely more on their own excellent memories, handwritten books and hard work. Nowadays, as the computer is being used to make the benefit of Hadith study available to a much greater number of people, the standard of perfection achieved by those scholars of Hadith is shown to be far more admirable than it was ever thought to be.

Hadiths reported from people whose character was not consistent with Islamic etiquette were not included in the collection. Consequently, hadiths reported by those seen either driving their mules very fast or playing chess were rejected.

Science of Hadith

The following well-documented story gives us an insight into what sort of scholarship they tried to achieve: When Al-Bukhari was still a young man, he visited Basrah in Iraq. One day, people sitting in the Great Mosque of Basrah heard someone calling in a loud voice: “Scholars, Muhammad ibn Ismaeel Al-Bukhari has arrived.” They hurried to meet him. When he finished his prayers, they asked him to arrange for them a session for dictation. (This was how scholars circulated their books.) He accepted, and the caller announced again in the mosque: “Scholars, Muhammad ibn Ismaeel Al-Bukhari has arrived. We have asked him to dictate to us and he will be sitting tomorrow at this particular spot for dictation.” The following day thousands of scholars and students attended at the time specified. He introduced that session as follows: “People of Basrah, I am only a young man and you have asked me to speak to you about Hadith. I will relate to you a number of Hadiths transmitted by people from your own city which will form a contribution to what you have. I mean, you do not have these Hadiths now.”

People wondered how he could do that. He began by saying: “It has been related to me by Abdullah ibn Uthaman Al-Ataki in your city. When he said that he had been told by his father on the authority of Shu’bah, on the authority of Mansoor and others, quoting Salim and he in turn, quotes Anas ibn Malik that a Bedouin came to the Prophet and asked him...” Al-Bukhari related them the Hadith and concluded by saying to his audience: “You have this Hadith with a chain of reporters which does not include Mansoor, but includes someone else in his stead. Now you have it with another chain of reporting.” He went on with this line of giving them new chains of reporters for Hadiths, which they have already had. They were so gratified and felt that they benefited a great deal by that session. This story shows us that the science of Hadith and the various disciplines, which branched out of it were carried into a standard of perfectionism which is rare in human scholarship. Moreover, it shows how Hadith was served by dedicated scholars. Indeed, it was Al-Bukhari who brought the science of Hadith to its zenith of perfectionism.


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