The khabar (report) which is synonymous to the terms hadith and sunnah is divided, in terms of the line of transmission (sanad), into the khabar mutawatir (continuously recurrent report) and khabar ahad (isolated report).
The mutawatir comprises of four issues, and these are:
1. The number of transmitters should be such that they are a group and not be restricted to any specific number. So whatever number proves to be a group, that is considered mutawatir. However, the minimum requirement is five. Four is not enough, because four are in need of another to attest their integrity (tazkiyah) if nothing is known about them when they give testimony for zina. The group accredited for tawatur (continuous transmission) is that it should not need any attestation (tazkiyah) so as to be definite by the mere notification of the report.
2. It should preclude collusion on a possible lie. It differs according to the difference between persons and locations. So five people like ‘Ali b. Abi Talib are sufficient to consider their report as mutawatir. However for other types of people, five may not be a sufficient figure. Five transmitters who have not met from five different countries may be enough for the report to be considered as muttawatir, for they did not meet together in one place for collusion to occur. Probably a notification by the same number of people in one country may not suffice.
3. That they transmit the report from a group like them from the beginning to the end of the transmission, in a manner that precludes collusion on a possible lie, even if they were not of the same number. In other words, the first two conditions should be met in every tier of transmitters.
4. The basis of their report should be sensory perception, like hearing and the like, but not what is established by pure reason, because the pure reason can make mistakes if not based on sensory perception, thus not indicating certainty.
The value of the mutawatir report is that it yields positive knowledge (‘ilm daruri). It is what one is compelled to accept, such that he is unable to refuse it. It is compelling, because it does not require study, meaning the mutawatir report imparts certainty (yaqin).
The mutawatir report is divided into two categories:
1. The verbal (lafzun) mutawatir like the hadith: ‘Whosoever intentionally lies about me, let him reserve his place in the Hellfire.’ and the hadith of wiping on the socks (khuff), hadith of hawdh (river in paradise), hadith of intercession (shafa’ah) and the hadith of raising the hands in prayer.
2. The mutawatir by meaning (ma’nun), such as when the transmitters concur on a matter occurring in different incidents such as the sunnah of the morning prayer being two rakats, a category which does exist. Numerous mutawatir hadiths have been reported even though the ‘Ulema differ on what constitutes mutawatir according to their different views about the mutawatir report.
As for the isolated report (khabar ul-ahad). It is the report whose narrators have not reached the number required for the muttawatir, whether it was reported by one or four narrators, meaning it is the report which falls short of the preceding four conditions for the mutawatir report. It is divided, in terms of the number of narrators, into three categories:
1. Gharib (Alien)
It is the report narrated by a single transmitter, meaning there is a single narrator throughout the narration at any stage in the isnad (line of transmission). It is divided into: gharib in isnad only, and gharib in isnad and matn (wording of hadith) together. There is no such report as gharib only in matn. The gharib in matn and isnad is that whose narration is by a single narrator. For example the hadith prohibiting and donating the sale of wala’a (patronage). The gharib in isnad and not in matn is the matn narrated by a group of Sahabah, but a single transmitter narrated it from another Sahabi, like the hadith: ‘Actions are judged according to intentions.’
2. Aziz (scarce)
It is a report transmitted by more than one narrator but less than four, meaning it is narrated by two or three narrators, even at one tier. It is called aziz (scarce) due to its rarity.
3. Mashur (famous)
A report which has been narrated by more than three narrators, but still it did not reach the level of mutawatir. It is called mashur due to it being clear and widely mentioned on the lips of people, irrespective of a sanad (chain) being found for it or not found. It is also the mustafid (abundant). It has two categories: mashur according to the scholars of hadith and mashur for the general public.
The first is like the hadith of Anas, that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم made du’a (qunut) for one month against (the tribes of) Ra’al and Dhakwan.
The second category is like the hadith: ‘A Muslim is someone from whose (sharp) tongue and hands other Muslims are safe.’
Not every mashur report among people is sahih. Some ahadith which have no basis or are entirely fabricated may become famous and well known. These are many, like the hadith: ‘the day of your fast is (identical to) the day of your sacrifice’, which has no basis. The Khabar al-ahad also, whether gharib, aziz or mashur, the isnad has a termination point, either ending with the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم or with a Sahabi or tabi’i. In terms of the end of the chain (isnad) there are three types:
It is a report which has been specifically ascribed to the Prophet in terms of his actions, sayings, consent or description, whether the one who attributed it to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم was a Sahabi, tabi’i or someone who came after them. An example of that is when the Sahabi says: ‘we used to do or say such and such (thing) during the lifetime of the Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم , ‘or when he was among us’, or ‘when he was amongst us’, or ‘we did not see anything wrong with such and such thing’, or the Sahabah used to do or say such and such (thing); or such and such (thing) was said during the lifetime of the Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم.
Another example is when the Sahabi says: ‘We were ordered to do such and such (thing)’, or ‘we were forbidden from doing such and such (thing)’ or ‘such and such (thing) is from the Sunnah’.
It is also considered a marfu’ report when the Sahabi says: ‘We used to do or say such and such (thing)’ even if they did not attribute it to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم, because it indicates a consent. Likewise, the saying of Anas b. Malik is considered as a marfu’ report when he said: ‘The Prophet’s doors used to be knocked using the fingernails’, and when Anas said; Bilal was ordered to double the azan and make iqamah one.’
Similarly the tafseer of the Sahabah concerning the cause of revelation comes under the rule of marfu’. Anything other than that from the tafseer of the Sahabah is not considered part of the hadith. That is because the Sahabah performed many ijtihads in explaining the Qur’an and they disagreed as a result. We find also many of them used to narrate isra’illiyyat from the people of the Book. That is why their tafseer is not considered part of the hadith, let alone considered as a marfu’ hadith.
It is the narration from the Sahabah in terms of their sayings and actions. It is specifically related to the Sahabah. Its isnad can be continuous or broken. It is the report many of the Fuqaha and muhaddithun also call ‘athar’. The mawquf does not serve as a proof, because Allah سبحانه وتعالى said:
وَمَا آتَاكُمُ الرَّسُولُ فَخُذُوهُ وَمَا نَهَاكُمْ عَنْهُ فَانتَهُوا
“And whatsoever the Messenger gave you, take it, and whatsoever he forbade you abstain (from it).” [59:7]
This means that whatever came to us from other than the Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم do not take it. Therefore, there is no proof in the saying of anyone except Rasool Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم. It is not permitted to ascribe it to Rasool Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم, because it is a mere possibility and not a prevalent opinion (zann), and possibilities are not recognised.
It is not the same as munqati’. It is that whose chain stops at the Tabi’i in terms of sayings and actions. A proof is not established by it, and it is weaker than the mawquf.
Categories of the Khabar al-Ahad
The khabar al-ahad (isolated report) in its three forms: gharib, ‘aziz or mashur, whether marfu’, mawquf or maqtu’ is divided by the scholars of hadith, in terms of its acceptance or rejection, into three categories: sahih, hasan, da’eef. The following is a clarification of each category:
The hadith whose isnad continues through transmission of the reliable (‘adl) narrator whose retention is accurate (dhabit) from another reliable (‘adl) transmitter who has an accurate retentive ability, and so on until the end of the chain, and is not shadh (irregular) or mu’allal (defective).
In other words, the isnad of the hadith continues through by the transmission of the reliable (‘adl) and accurate (dhabit) narrator from another of same quality until it ends with Rasool Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم or a Sahabi or someone after him.
The statement of the scholars of hadith that the ‘ the isnad of the hadith continues through the transmission of the reliable (‘adl) and accurate (dhabit) narrator from another same as him’, excludes the mursal, munqati’ and mu’dhil hadiths, from the category of sahih.
The mursal is what the Tabi’un have narrated from the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم without mentioning the Sahabi.
The munqati’ is when a single narrator is omitted in one or more places in the isnad.
The mu’dhil has two or more narrators missing from one or more places in the isnad.
These three all have discontinued isnads which takes them out of the sahih category. The statement that “the hadith should not be shadh” (irregular) excludes from the sahih hadith the shadh report where a trustworthy narrator goes against the narration of narrators who are more reliable than him. Their statement: ‘It should not be mu’allal (defective)’ excludes from the sahih hadith the mu’allal report which has a defect. The ‘illah (defect) consists of a weakness in the hadith, causing its rejection, a matter which appears to the critics when collecting and examining the various transmission routes of the hadith.
For example, the chain of a narrator being continuous while a group has transmitted it as mawquf. Their statement: ‘By the transmission of the reliable (‘adl) narrator’, it excludes the report narrated by a transmitter whose apparent and hidden condition is not known, majhul al-‘ayn (not known personally), or he is known to be weak. Such a hadith is not considered as sahih. Their statement: ‘by the transmission of a narrator who has accurate retentive ability (dhabit)’ excludes what has been narrated by someone who is not retentive and aware, that is his transmission is negligent and he commits many mistakes. This report is not considered a sahih hadith, rather, all the conditions which have been clarified should be met in the sahih ahadith. If one condition is missing then the hadith is not sahih.
It is a report whose collector is known and its transmitters are well known. It is the most regular hadith, and most scholars accept it, and it is used by the fuqaha generally, meaning that in its isnad there are no narrators that have been charged with lying, nor it is a shadh (irregular). It is of two types:
First: a hadith whose isnad is not free from a transmitter who is mastur (of hidden condition) and whose capacity is not realized, but not negligent nor prone to make many mistakes or charged with mendacity. However, a hadith of similar matn might have been narrated from another way, and it is thus excluded from being shadh or munkar (rejected).
Second: The narrators must be known for their trustworthiness and honesty, but they do not attain the level of the transmitters of the sahih category in retention and percesion; and what he narrates of reports singularly is not considered as munkar (rejected), nor is the matn irregular (shadh)or defective (mu’allal). So the hasan ahadith is the report transmitted by a reliable (‘adl) narrator who is of lesser retentive capacity, but its isnad is continuous and not irregular (shadh) or defective (mu’allal). The hasan hadith is used as proof exactly as the sahih hadith.
It is the hadith which does not have the qualifications of the sahih or hasan hadiths. The weak hadith is not used as evidence at all. It is a mistake to say that when a da’eef hadith comes via numerous lines of transmission then it rises to the level of hasan or sahih. For when the hadith is weak because its narrator has actually committed transgression or has been accused of actual lying, and the hadith came through other lines of transmission which are of this type, then it has increased in iweakness. As for when the meaning contained in the da’eef hadith is also contained in the sahih ahadith, then the sahih hadith is cited and the da’eef hadith is rejected. Therefore, the da’eef hadith is not used as proof in any way whatsoever.
The accepted hadith (maqbul) and the rejected hadith (mardud)
It becomes clear from dividing the hadith into sahih, hasan and da’eef, that the hasan and sahih hadiths are both advanced as proof and the da’eef hadith is not. What makes the hadith acceptable or rejectable is the examination of the sanad (chain), transmitter and matn. If a narrator is not omitted from the sanad and whose omission would not lead to the inability of attesting to the reliability of the omitted narrator; and the narrator’s integrity is not questioned; and the matn is not weak nor it does contradict certain parts of the Qur’an or Sunnah mutawatir or definite ijma’a, in this case the hadith is accepted, acted upon and advanced as a shar’ai evidence, whether sahih or hasan.
As for when the hadith is contrary to these qualifications, it is rejected and not educed as proof. Therefore, the rejected hadith is the hadith rejected due to omission from the sanad of a narrator which results in the inability to attest the reliability of this narrator, or due to a narrator’s integrity being questioned, or due to the weakness of the (matn) of the hadith or its contradiction to the Qur’an, hadith and Ijma’a which are definite.
Various types of hadith come under the hadith mardud (rejected) which do not exceed the following descriptions:
When there is one or more narrators are consecutively missing from the beginning of the sanad in a blatantly obvious manner. The term ‘more’ is more general to include the whole or part of the isnad. Also included, is the omission of the whole chain such as when the muhaddith or hadith compiler, says: Rasool Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم said so or did such and such thing.
Is a chain in which two or more narrators are missing from one or more places, such as when the tabi ut-tabi’i omits a tabi’i and sahabi from the isnad. But it does not include the statement of authors from the fuqaha when they say: ‘Rasool Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم said’. Or their statement ‘from Rasool Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم’. This is not (mu’dil), because that is not transmission, rather it is quoting and educing a proof which is valid.
When a single narrator is missing before the Sahabi in any one place wherever it is, even if they are many, such that the missing narrator is not more than one from each place, so it will be munqati’ in these places. Also considered to be munqati’ is the chain in which there is an obscure narrator (mubham).
An example of a transmitter being omitted is what has been narrated by ‘Abdur Razzaq > ath-Thawri > Abu Ishaq > Zayd b. Yathi’ > Hudhayfa, which goes back to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم that he said: “If you assigned it (authority) to Abu Bakr, indeed he is powerful and honest.”
The isnad has breaks in two places. First, ‘Abdur Razzaq did not hear from ath-Thawri but rather narrated it from al-Nu’man Ibn Abi Shaybah al-Jundi who narrated it from ath-Thawri. The second, ath-Thawri did not hear it from Abu Ishaq but rather narrated it from Shurayk who narrated it from Abu Ishaq. The hadith, therefore, is rejected. An example of a transmitter being obscure is what is narrated by Abu al-‘Ala b. ‘Abdullah b. Shukhayr > two men > Shaddad b. Aws the hadith of: ‘O Lord! I ask you to make me steadfast in the matter.’ Therefore, the hadith is rejected due to the presence of an unknown (majhul) narrator in the transmission.
When a reliable transmitter narrates a hadith which contradicts what others have narrated. It is not shadh if a reliable narrator transmits something no one else has narrated, because the narration of a reliable transmitter is accepted even if others have not narrated it, and it is used as proof. That is like the hadith: ‘Actions are judged according to intentions’. Only ‘Umar narrated it and from him only ‘Alqama narrated it. A single narrator, Muhammad b. Ibrahim al-Tamimi narrated from him, and from him only Yahya b. Said al-Ansari narrated and from him Yahya b. Said, then there was a proliferation of transmission routes. Therefore, the shadh is only when a reliable narrator transmits something which contradicts what has been narrated by others, meaning the accepted narrator transmits a report that goes against the report which is more stronger than it.
A hadith which is found to have a defect (‘illah) and impairs its authenticity through it appears to be sound. This applied to the isnad whose transmitters are reliable and which apparently includes the conditions of authenticity.
What a single unreliable transmitter narrates alone. The munkar is the narration of a weak narrator which contradicts the report of a transmitter who is less weak.
The hadith mawdu’u is the fabricated hadith. The fabricated hadith is the worst among the weak ahadith. The narration of such hadith is not allowed if its condition is known except when it is linked to clarifying its fabricated status.
A hadith is known to be fabricated when the forger acknowledges its fabrication or something which takes the position of a confession. The fabrication can be understood from the condition of the transmitter, such as the narrator following the whims of certain leaders in his lies. Or while he is attributing the hadith he is caught out as a consummate liar, where the report is not narrated from any way other than him, nobody supported him and he has no witness. It could be also understood from the condition of what has been narrated, meaning the state of the matn, if it is deficient in its wording or meaning or it contradicts parts of the Qur’an, mutawatir sunnah and definite Ijma’a.
There are different types of hadith fabricators. The ones causing most harm are those associated with zuhd (pious ascetics), who fabricated Hadiths hoping to get reward for what they alleged. The danger is that people accept their fabrications, trusting and depending on them. Then, maybe a forger fabricated a saying coming from himself so he narrated it. Probably, he took a saying from the sages or others and falsely ascribed it to Rasool Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم.
From the fabricated ahadith are the ahadith about the merits of the Qur’an, surah by surah, especially narrations on the authority of ‘Ubay b. Ka’b and those from Abu ‘Ismah > ‘Ikrimah > Ibn ‘Abbas. Their fabrication has been established from the study (cross refrences) of scholars and through the confession of Abu ‘Ismah. It has been narrated that he said: ‘I saw that the people had turned away from the Qur’an and occupied themselves with the fiqh of Abu Hanifah and the maghazi of Muhammad b. Ishaq, so I forged these ahadith seeking reward in the Hereafter.’
This is a selection of the types of rejected ahadith, but they are not all the possible types that could be mentioned. There are many types of rejected ahadith for which mentioning a part is sufficient as an example for the criterion by which the acceptable hadith is identified from the rejected hadith.
A hadith is not rejected because it does not meet the conditions for the category of sahih as long as its sanad, transmitters and matn are acceptable, meaning it is hasan because its narrators are of lesser reliability than the narrators of the sahih hadith. Or if there was a mustur, (a transmitter whose record is unknown) or he had a bad memory, but he has been strengthened by a qarinah (indication) that weighs up its acceptance, such as when it is strengthened by another narrator agreeing with it or by a witness, meaning, strengthened by a narrator thought to be alone (in narration) or by another hadith. One should not be over strict in rejecting a hadith as long as it is possible to accept it according to the requirements of the sanad, transmitter and matn. Especially when the majority of the ‘ulema have accepted it and the fuqaha have generally used it. It is then worth to be accepted, even if it does not meet the conditions of the sahih, because it comes under hasan. Just as one should not be over strict in rejecting a hadith, at the same time it is not allowed to be complacent with respect to the hadith, thus accepting the hadith which is rejected due to the sanad, transmitter or matn.
The Mursal Hadith
The mursal hadith is the hadith from which a Sahabi has been omitted. For example, when the Tabi’i says that Rasool Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم said or did such and such thing, or such and such thing was done in his presence. A representative example would be the hadith of a tabi’i who has met a number of companions and has sat down to learn from them like ‘Ubaydullah b. ‘Adiy b. al-Khiyar, then Sa’id b. al-Musayyab and their likes when they say (directly) that: Rasool Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم said’. It is well known that all of the Tabi’un are treated equally, ie what the tabi’i narrated from the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم without mentioning the Sahabah, without a difference between the older or younger tabi’I, because it is well known that they are treated equally.
The muhaddithun, scholars of usul (usuliyyoon) and the imams have differed over the use of the mursal hadith as proof. There were those who did not use it, and considered it to be rejected like the munqati’ hadith; and there were those who did accept its use. Those who do not accept it reject it for a defect (illah), which is a transmitter, who is not known, has been omitted form the isnad, and who might be unreliable. The consideration in narration is reliability and certainty, so there is no proof in the unknown transmitter. This is the reason for rejecting the mursal ahadith. The reason is correct and the rejection of a hadith according to it is correct, but this does not apply to the mursal hadith, because the transmitter who has been omitted is a Sahabi. Even though he is not known in terms of his identity, he is known as a Sahabi. As stated previously the Sahabah are all trustworthy (‘udul). They cannot be unreliable. They are rather definitely trustworthy. The reason for which they would reject the hadith does not apply to the mursal, nor is there any other reason to reject it.
Since the mursal fulfils the conditions of the matn, sanad and narrator, no harm is there from omitting the Sahabi as long as it is known that he is a Sahabi, and thus by definition is trustworthy. Thus mursal hadith is a proof and should be used as an evidence.
It might be said that the reason is that there is a possibility that a tabi’i narrated from a tabi’i like himself who narrated from the Sahabah. The ommision of a Sahabi does not mean the ommision of only one narrator, but the break in the chain means that it is possible that two narrators have been omitted, one of them satisfying the conditions of integrity, which is the Sahabi, while the other narrator is dubious, who is a tabi’i. Therefore, there is a possibility in the hadith of a jarh (invalidation) or absence of accuracy (dhabt), so it is rejected. The response to this is that the definition of the mursal hadith is that: it is a report narrated by a tabi’i from the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم without mentioning the Sahabi’. The narration of a Tabi’i from a Tabi’i who is not known does not come under this definition. Even if we accept this possibility, that a Tabi’i is omitted and the Sahabi is not mentioned, this possibility of omission is by way of suspicion, which does not reach the level of possibility. This is because it is suspected the tabi’i narrated it from another tabi’i whom he did not mention nor mention the Sahabi i.e. he assumes that a Tabi’i has been ommited. There is no evidence for this hypothetical assumption. It is merely suspicion, which has no value and the judgement on the hadith is not based on it. It should not be said that an unknown narrator (majhul) has transmitted it, because there is no one to whom a narration has been ascribed so as to say that one is a majhul (unknown). Therefore, the mursal hadith is not cosidered to be from the rejected ahadith, rather it is accepted and used as proof.
The hadith Qudsi
The hadith qudsi is what has been transmitted to us as isolated reports from Rasool Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم, with its isnad going back to his Lord. It is from His سبحانه وتعالى speech, for it is attributed to Him, which is present in the majority of cases. The attribution to Him, is an attributiuon of composition, because He is the One Who spoke it first. It could be attributed to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم, because he is the one informing about Allah سبحانه وتعالى. This is different to the Qur’an which is attributed to no one except to Him سبحانه وتعالى, so it is said: Allah سبحانه وتعالى said’.
On the other hand, in the hadith qudsi, it is said: Rasool Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم said in what he narrates from his Lord’. The narrator of the hadith qudsi has two characteristics, firstly, he may say: ‘Rasool Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم said about in (what) he narrates from his Lord’. Secondly, he may say: ‘Allah سبحانه وتعالى said concerning that which Rasool Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم narrated from Him’. They have the same meaning.
The difference between the Qur’an and the hadith qudsi is that the wording and the meaning in the Qu’ran are from Allah سبحانه وتعالى and through clear revelation. As for the hadith qudsi, the wording is from the Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم, and the meaning is from Allah سبحانه وتعالى through ilham (inspiration) or sleep. The Qur’an’s wording is a miracle, revealed through the medium of Jibreel. The hadith qudsi is not a miracle and without any medium. The difference between the Qur’an, hadith qudsi and all other ahadith is that the Qur’an is the wording that is brought down by Jibreel to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. The hadith qudsi is the notification of its meaning by Allah سبحانه وتعالى through ilham (inspiration) or sleep, so the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم informed people of it with his own words. As for the rest of the ahadith they are like the hadith qudsi in that their meaning is from Allah سبحانه وتعالى and their wording is from the Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم and without attributing them to Allah سبحانه وتعالى. The designation of the hadith attributed to Allah سبحانه وتعالى as the hadith qudsi is a terminological designation.
The inability to prove the authenticity of a hadith from its sanad does not indicate that it is a weak hadith
The strength of the sanad is considered a condition for accepting a hadith. However, it should be known that judging the sanad of a specific hadith as weak does not necessarily mean the hadith is weak in itself. For example, it might have another isnad, unless an imam stated that it has not been narrated except from this line of transmission. So, whoever finds a hadith with a weak isnad, it is more inclusive to say that it is weak through this isnad, but the text cannot be judged as weak unrestrictedly without qualification. Therefore, the rejection of the isnad does not necessitate the rejection of the hadith. However, there are ahadith which are not proved from the perspective of the isnad, but when passed from people to people they accepted their authenticity, so did not need to ask for the isnad. There are many example of this such as the hadith: ‘There shall be no bequest (wasiyyah) to an heir’ and the hadith: ‘the blood money (diyyah) is due on the immediate blood relatives (‘aaqilah)’, and many others.
The above article is taken from the book Shakhsiya Islamiyya Volume 1 by Sheikh Taqiudeen an-Nabhani, founder of Hizb ut-Tahrir