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Author: Amin Ahsan Islahi
The Muslim ummah, in its entire history, has faced many kinds of assaults by enemies of Islam. However, the Hadīth fabrication presented the most severe and unique challenge. The enemies of Islam, in the early phase of Islamic history, decided to damage the authenticity of the unparalleled and unexampled treasure of the prophetic knowledge, if not destroy it altogether. Their efforts, however, were thwarted by the efforts of imāms of the science of Hadīth criticism. May the Almighty bless the souls of those imāms who defended the treasure of prophetic knowledge! They exerted their full efforts in sifting the true knowledge from fabrications. They pointed out the loopholes through which the weak Aḥādīth were mixed with the sound ones. The intensity of fabrications can be imagined by considering the fact that only a few thousand narratives could pass the test of a set criterion for the sound Aḥādīth from hundreds of thousands of traditions. This renders it important for us to discuss in detail the motives of Hadīth fabrication and try to ascertain the ways weak and fabricated traditions were included in the sound narratives. We must also understand the nature of this evil. For if a researcher in this field is not fully conscious and well aware of the nature of the evil he can hardly be expected to show the required competence.
Why were Aḥādīth fabricated?
A study of the pioneer works on the principles of Hadīth criticism reveals that there were pious as well as impious motives for fabricating Aḥādīth. It was not that the fabrications for pious purposes were less harmful. Indeed both have done equal damages to the religion. The fabrications under pious motives have rather proved more detrimental for Islam than the ones concocted under evil designs.
I Hadīth Fabrication for Pious Purposes
A thorough enquiry into the issue of Hadīth fabrication reveals that there are two major pious motives behind fabrication of Aḥādīth. First, people fabricated Aḥādīth concerning virtues and excellences of the Qur’ānic sūrahs in order to attract people to the Book. Second, with the aim of drawing people to do good and avoid evil, such Aḥādīth were concocted and circulated which exaggerated rewards of good deeds and punishment for evil ones. All other types of pious fabrications have ramifications of these two motives.
The First Form
People started to fabricate Aḥādīth with an intention to serve the religion of God. Most Aḥādīth about the excellence of reciting any of the Qur’ānic sūrahs are examples. The Aḥādīth forged to attract people towards good deeds (targhīb) and warn them about the Last Judgment and the consequences of misdeeds (tarhīb) are also examples of this type of fabrications. Such Aḥādīth tell us that merely reciting a single sūrah of the Qur’ān suffices one as a guarantor of success in the Afterlife. If a believer recites a sūrah of the Qur’ān, for example, he does not need do anything else to deserve the life of eternal bliss. Thus, these narratives promise extraordinary rewards for a person reciting a single sūrah.
One wonders how one merits such lofty rewards by merely uttering words of a sūrah without even understanding it. This clearly contradicts the teachings of Islam. The Prophet (sws) is reported to have stated that a believer will be rewarded for what he comprehends in the recitations he makes in the Prayer. The Qur’ān has expressly commanded that the believers should ponder over the Book of God. It has commanded the believers to act upon its teachings. There is no concept of heaping reward or seeking blessings merely through chanting the words of God.
That the narratives regarding the excellence of reciting the sūrahs of the Qur’ān are very famous and widely accepted can be gleaned from the fact that Zamakhsharī, a celebrated exegete of the Qur’ān, tries to mention such a narrative at the end of almost every sūrah in his commentary on the Qur’ān. This is in spite of his claims to be mutazilite rationalist. One wonders what becomes of his rationality at this point.
Some experts in the science of Hadīth criticism investigated these Aḥādīth and discovered a certain fabricator. When asked why he incurred such a heinous sin, he explained that he noticed people readily learning and following the juristic work of Imām Abū Ḥanīfah. This alarmed him and he decided to concoct Aḥādīth eulogizing recitation of certain verses so that people might be attracted by the Qur’ān. This motive is obviously pious. Such Aḥādīth became popular and many great scholars contributed to their spread. The experts in the science, however, always declared them fabrications. As mentioned above, one of the fabricators confessed his crime. These narratives, however, could not meet the objective of the fabricators. People could not be attracted to the Qur’ān. Contrarily, these Aḥādīth created the erroneous belief that the basic purpose the Qur’ān has been revealed to serve is not to understand and obtain guidance from it but to earn reward by merely reciting it.
The Second Form
Another group of fabricators comprises reformers and pious individuals. Directed by their mystic disposition, they forged a lot of traditions containing warnings of punishment for the committers of certain wrongs (tarhīb) and promising rewards of good deeds (targhīb). The purpose was to create fear of the Last Judgment in the hearts of people, to make them perform religious duties and to encourage them to avoid sinful acts. When these fabricators were attacked by the muḥaddithūn, they pleaded that they fabricated Aḥādīth with the intent to call people to virtuousness and to stop them from sinfulness. They should, therefore, not be subjected to the strict criteria of Hadīth acceptance concluded by the muḥaddithūn.
The muḥaddithūn, instead of countering and rejecting these erroneous views, showed a concessive attitude to these shallow arguments. They practically yielded to the view of the fabricators and subsequently confined their scrutiny to the narratives containing legal directives (al-aḥkām). Thus, they let the band to fabricate and spread, as the prophetic word, whatever they liked. The view of the fabricators finally dominated. Their fabrications are diffused through esoteric literature produced by the Muslim Sufis. I have discussed this issue in the chapter “Excellence and Inherent Limitations of the Isnād”.
The Sufis successfully put grave misconception in the minds of the muḥaddithūn. History proved that the stance of the latter regarding such narratives was mere naivety. If one reads through the works of the Sufis, one shall learn that they base their innovatory beliefs and notions either on esoteric interpretation of the Qur’ānic verses or baseless Aḥādīth. This practice is not confined to the general class of the Sufis; even the most learned among them take this very path.
No one doubts Imām Ghazālī’s scholarship and eruditeness. His work Iḥyā’ al-‘Ulūm is one of the best works written on the subjects of taṣawwuf and tadhkiyyah (purification of the self). However, he is the least careful person among the scholars of the ummah in quoting baseless Aḥādīth.
The fabricators and the concessive muḥaddithūn claimed that the weak narratives that they accepted belong to the category of targhīb wa tarhīb. They attract people to do good and encourage them to avoid evil. However, the truth of the matter is that these narratives affect all spheres of human life. They even cover the fundamental religious beliefs including the belief in unicity of God (tawḥīd) and the Last Accountability (ākhirah). It was not, in fact, possible to contain this onslaught. For Islam is a religion, all parts of which are inseparably interlinked. Religious directives and beliefs as well as their philosophical bases and wisdom are inseparably interconnected. Parts depend on the whole. If one part is infected, the whole cannot be saved from the ailment.
We can say that the sayings the Sufis pass as Aḥādīth affect tawḥīd, among other fundamental beliefs, moral theories and Islamic worldview. It strikes even attributes of God Almighty. Thus all the fundamentals of Islam are affected.
The muḥaddithūn committed a serious wrong by accepting the weak narratives concerning the targhīb wa tarhīb. This opened the doors to disputations over religion beyond reform. The door to entry for the weak Aḥādīth let the ideas of Confucius, Buddha and Zoroaster enter the religion. Alien philosophical and esoteric notions and theories assume the form of Aḥādīth and find their way into the religion of God.
Once this door for the weak and fabricated reports was opened, it became impossible for the Muslims to parry the onslaught. Nobody knew what to do. All believers cannot be expected to develop in the science, act like the most careful critics and sift the weak from the sound Aḥādīth. Yet, however, it is the duty of the scholars to appreciate the evil results of the misjudgements of the muḥaddithūn.
I believe that the muḥaddithūn did it with true intentions. I do not think they committed deliberate wrong. However, it is also true that the laxity they showed corrupted the face of Islam. It has made falsehood dominate all aspects of religious life. Truth was shrouded and concealed under layers of falsehood.
Although the muḥaddithūn have stressed care in accepting the weak Aḥādīth from the pious reformers, this emphasis is meaningless because the muḥaddithūn themselves did not make proper efforts to analyze the narratives containing targhīb wa tarhīb. Besides, not every narrator could analyze the isnād and the matn. In the present day, such a work is an insurmountable task. The duty to ferret out the truth is, now, a crown of thorn rarely worn.
Now I will explain, with the help of some examples, the nature of the act accomplished by the pious narrators referred to earlier. To this issue the author of al-Kifāyah fī ‘ilm al-riwāyah has devoted a complete chapter entitled “Chapter regarding avoiding narrating aḥādīth on the authority of individuals who are not persons of sound memory and reasoning (dirāyah) even if they are known for piety and worship”. In this chapter, al-Baghdādī states that there are people who are famous for their God-consciousness (taqwā) and piety. However, they are not reliable transmitters. They cannot remember Ahādīth correctly and are not trustworthy narrators. It is not allowable to accept ahādīth narrated by any of them. In this connection, the author recounts many incidents. I intend to present some of the incidents reported by him. This shall help the reader understand how the evil of Hadīth fabrication spread in the guise of God-consciousness. Abū Sulayman, narrated from Rabī‘ah ibn Abū ‘Abd al-Rahmān:
Among our brothers, there are some [who are so pious and God-fearing] that we believe their prayers [to God] will not be left unheard. [However, they are least trusted.] If any of them bears witness to an ordinary fact we do not rely on their testimony.1
Rabī‘ah means to say that the apparent piety of these characters made people believe that their prayers will definitely be heard by God. They seemed to be very close to God. However, their testimony was not trusted even in insignificant matters of daily life let alone the Hadīth transmission.
Yaḥyā ibn Sa‘īd is reported to have said:
In the Hadīth analysis, I have not seen anything more [deceiving and, therefore,] trying than the pious narrators.2
These people are believed to be very pious and God-conscious. However, they are the real Hadīth fabricators. Their apparent position puts a researcher in great trial.
Yaḥyā ibn Sa‘īd Qaṭṭān says:
There are people who I can fully trust regarding a hundred thousand dirham but I cannot trust them regarding even a single Hadīth.3
There could, thus, be a person who is trusted for precious assets. He is, however, not trusted as a narrator of Aḥādīth.
Ibn Abī al-Zanād narrates from his father:
I met hundred such men in Madīnah who are reliable in every aspect. However, they are not trusted as Hadīth narrators. Concerning them it is declared: “They are not reliable.”4
Imām Mālik says:
I have met seventy such persons near these pillars [in the Mosque of the Prophet (sws)] who ascribed Aḥādīth to the Prophet (sws). I have not accepted any Hadīth from them. This is in spite of that some among them could be trusted as in charge of the bayt al-māl (treasury). Yet, however, they were not reliable narrators.5
I have selected only a few from hundreds of such anecdotes. My purpose is to show that many people have been fabricating Aḥādīth, ascribing them to the Prophet (sws) and disseminating them considering it a pious deed. Imām Muslim has stated in his introduction to al-Ṣaḥīḥ that there were pious people in Madīnah whose tongues glibly narrated fabrications.
The above discussion shows that there are people who are apparently so pious and God-fearing that one does not dare to mistrust their statements. One feels it wrong to doubt their testimony for fear of God. Yet, however, the experts in the science who were very knowledgeable indeed proved that they were unreliable. One must not blindly take anything that people ascribe to the Prophet (sws). The above mentioned statements ascribed to the experts of the science teach us a lesson of a very great import. One regrets to state that people did not hearken to these warnings. What was feared by these great experts, in fact, came true later on. The muḥaddithūn, with the only exception of Mālikīs, bought the view that as far as the issue of the Aḥādīth of targhīb wa tarhīb is concerned, they may not show best care and may abandon rigorous investigation. They confined their scrutiny and required care to the narratives containing legal rulings (ḥalāl wa ḥarām). The muḥaddithūn surrendered before the upholders of this view perhaps because they could not defeat this evil. They decided, as a principle, to abandon scrutinizing such narratives. This, as has been mentioned above, relieved them from all types of investigation and analysis on such narratives. Fabrications and weak narratives were left to reign supreme in the Muslim beliefs and practices and thus all heresies and innovations fed on them.
II Hadīth Fabrication for Evil Purposes
The above discusses the pious motives for Hadīth fabrication. People have been engaged in fabricating Aḥādīth for evil motives as well. Two evil motives for Hadīth fabrications are prominent; first, seeking fame and prominence, and second, introducing innovations in the religion of God.
Fabrication for Fame
This is known that in the early period of Islamic history a narrator of Aḥādīth commanded great respect. No other accomplishment was considered more respectable. The fame that could be earned by merely narrating a single Hadīth was usually unparalleled. Hadīth narration was, therefore, the most cherished engagement and a very popular vocation. People were greatly attracted to this activity. Those known to have related a Hadīth by a highly valued and rare isnād attracted even more love and respect from people. People would throng towards them and would try hard to meet them. Seekers of Aḥādīth would travel from far off places to visit such people bearing great difficulties. The roads to their hometowns grew busier. These people were respected not only by the students of prophetic Aḥādīth but also by those of the rich and the rulers who had regard for knowledge and wisdom. They too would express reverence for these persons believed to be possessed of great prophetic knowledge. They too would travel to the hometowns of these teachers of Aḥādīth despite physical hardships and financial costs. Something that popular and, hence, a source of respect and reverence attracts all kinds of people, pious and evil. Evil people are attracted towards it with a purpose to earn fame and monitory benefits. This makes it difficult for masses to differentiate between those who seek such a valued thing with purity of intention and those who seek it for mundane purposes.
The author of al-Kifāyah has an interesting story to tell us. Someone invented twelve Aḥādīth. He was a hero. “From where did you obtain those narratives?” it was asked. The man answered: “From someone endowed with this knowledge by the Almighty Allah.” He could not name the source. Of course, there was none. It is obvious that in his fervour to earn false fame, he went as far as to inventing Aḥādīth. A person, at this stage, tries to have a narrative related. When he fails to obtain a sound narrative, he opts for a weak. If he fails to obtain even a weak narrative, he forges one. He has to possess himself of a Hadīth by hook or by crook.
Fabrications for Innovations
It was the innovators who benefited from inventing Aḥādīth the most of all. Heretic sects which emerged in the Muslim ummah including Khawārij, Shī‘ī, and Murjites6 are examples. Some of them had political motives too. This made them fabricate Aḥādīth expressive of the excellence of their beloved leaders and imāms, and condemnation of their opponents. They heaped up propaganda material for or against certain individuals. Besides, they had developed certain beliefs divorced from the teachings of Islam. When they intended to mix their heretic beliefs in the Islamic faith they had, to their service, the easiest method of Hadīth fabrication. They disseminated the fabrication in order to make the ummah accept their heresies as the part of religion. This was because they had failed to base their innovations on the Qur’ān. They, therefore, disguised in the form of a Hadīth anything they intended to introduce as part of the religion. In this manner, their heresies became popular for it was easy for the generality to accept anything however removed from religion presented in the form of a prophetic Hadīth.
These people successfully pretended that their heresies were based on the Qur’ān. This too was possible only because some of the exegetes mentioned in their commentaries baseless Aḥādīth without bothering to investigate their authenticity. The words and expressions of the Qur’ān are twisted to mean something new and baseless. The innovators could not have used the Qur’ān, had the careless exegetes not opened this door for them. For those who interpret the Qur’ān in accord with their heretic beliefs and innovations are thwarted by the Qur’ān itself. Thus, in order to make the Qur’ānic expressions say that which corroborates their beliefs they resort to esoteric interpretation of the text.
Thus, when heretics found it impossible to incorporate their innovations in religion basing it on the Qur’ān they relied on fabricating Aḥādīth to be welcomed by people. Whatever lies they invented and ascribed to the Prophet (sws) were received by the opportunists and disseminated in the public speedily.
We should not underestimate the fabrications and lies spread in this way. A huge number of fabrications have been incorporated in the Muslim literature. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the number of fabricated Aḥādīth reaches hundreds of thousands. This can be gleaned from the following reports:
Ḥammād ibn Salamah was heard saying: “The heretics have fabricated and disseminated twelve thousand Aḥādīth.7
Ḥammād ibn Zayd narrated from Ja‘far ibn Sulaymān that he heard Mahdī say that one of the heretics confessed that he had fabricated four hundred Aḥādīth which gained currency.8
If a single fabricator can invent four hundred Aḥādīth and successfully disseminate them in public, how dangerous would be the collective result of such endeavours by all the adherents of the strayed and heretic sects. Keeping this situation in perspective, we do not find it strange that Imām Bukhārī and Imām Muslim chose a few thousand narratives out of millions of aḥādīth in circulation.
The Muḥaddithūn on the Innovators
The muḥaddithūn adopted a lenient attitude in response to the efforts of the pious people to disseminate weak and fabricated narratives containing targhīb wa tarhīb. Similarly, they adopted a weak stance regarding the forgeries of the heretics. Instead of curbing the evil, their attitude encouraged it.
Imām Mālik, nevertheless, adopted a sound stance in this regard. According to him, it is prohibited to accept a Hadīth narrated by stray people who lead others into error. He adopted such an uncompromising attitude that he did not even consider it allowable to narrate a Hadīth by meaning (bi al-ma‘nā) and accepted verbatim reports only. The following statement ascribed to him truly depicts his unbending attitude in this regard. He said: “I have met seventy such persons near these pillars [in the Mosque of the Prophet (sws)] who ascribed Aḥādīth to the Prophet (sws). I have not accepted any Hadīth narrated by them. This is in spite of that some among them could be trusted as in charge of the bayt al-māl (treasury). Yet, however, they were not reliable narrators.”9 This was the principle he expressly held and faithfully followed. One may find narratives in his book that do not pass this test. In such cases, one should give him some allowance. He was working in an environment where everyone accommodated falsehood. In such situations, even a very strong person can stumble a little.
Contrarily, Imām Shāfi‘ī, Imām Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal, Imām Abū Ḥanīfah and Qāḍī Abū Yūsuf adopted an untenable stance on this issue. These people invented strange and queer arguments to accommodate the narratives by the inventors. Some of them held that no body can be declared non-Muslim even if he adheres to waywardness and interprets the sources according to his whims. This leads to the conclusion, they say, that the Aḥādīth narrated by him should not be rejected. Thus, according to them, someone offering wrong interpretation of a religious text may not be condemned as a non-believer. This view is obviously weak and untenable. We know that open and clear rejection of Islam is seldom committed. Mostly people take shelter in baseless reinterpretations of the texts. That is why the Shī‘ī, Khawārij, Murjites, Qadariyyah and many other sects give a particular interpretation to the texts which accords to their beliefs and personal leanings and then declare it the true form of religion which they profess and follow. We see that, even in this day, many kinds of waywardness are being adopted which are not declared and professed openly. Nor can such waywardness be considered an open rejection of the faith. Contrarily, all such transgressions are incorporated in religion through reliance on misinterpretation and reinterpretation of the source texts. Therefore, the accommodative attitude our imāms showed in response to the evil of the inventors is obviously naïve. These scholars have not fully investigated and properly analyzed the possible consequences and implications of their view.
Some scholars on the other hand differentiate between the innovators who profess their adherence to the innovations they introduce and those who do not openly commit such a transgression. These scholars hold that they would not accept narratives transmitted by a person who calls other people to adopt the inventions in the religion he has introduced or which he adheres to. However, they consider it allowable to accept the Aḥādīth narrated by such a fabricator who himself adheres to heresies but does not call others to follow it. Thus, according to them, a staunch Shī’ī or Khārijī can narrate acceptable Aḥādīth, if he keeps from openly confessing his heresy and calling others to it. A little deliberation shows that this viewpoint is not understandable. For the one who adopts a belief considering it the true religion divulged by God would not narrate anything other than that which corresponds to his personal views. He would only narrate things he hears from his religious leaders. This fact alone renders the stance of the imāms untenable.
Another group of scholars held that we may only reject Aḥādīth by a specific category of religious innovators. As for other innovators, their Aḥādīth may be accepted and reported further. These scholars, therefore, accept Aḥādīth from all innovators with the only exception of a certain group called rawāfiḍ. The question, however, is who would decide which group of the innovators is to be rejected and which is to be accommodated. Who carries a meter measuring the level of heresy? I believe we may only set a concrete principle and apply it to all equally. Either all the innovators are unworthy as narrators or they are acceptable.
The lenient attitude adopted by the above mentioned three views gradually got currency. It reigned on the minds of the believers. What is worse is that even the most expert among the muḥaddithūn accepted narratives from innovators. This is why the works compiled by these muḥaddithūn contain a lot of fabrications and weak narratives. This has made it very difficult for the experts to investigate these narratives afresh and sift the fabrications from the original and the weak from the sound. Al-Khaṭīb Al-Baghdādī quoted ‘Alī ibn al-Madīnī:
Had I rejected the narrators of Aḥādīth from the people of Baṣrah considering their view on the issue of qadar (predestination) and had I rejected the narrators from Kūfah doubting their adherence to shī‘ism, the Hadīth works would become empty.10
In this connection, another scholar, Muḥammad ibn Na‘īm al-Ḍabbī says that when he asked Abū ‘Abd Allāh Muḥammad ibn Ya‘qūb about Faḍl ibn Muḥammad al-Sha‘rānī, he replied:
He is a ṣadūq.11 However, he was one of the extremist Shī‘īs. It was asked: “You have accepted his narrative and have reported it in your work “al-Ṣaḥīḥ?” He replied: This is because the book of my teacher is replete with narratives transmitted by shī‘ī narrators.12
The teacher here refers to Imām Muslim and the book of the teacher is Ṣaḥīḥ of Muslim.
Evil consequences of accepting Aḥādīth from the shī‘ī narrators cannot be discussed in detail here. However, one thing must be kept in mind: those who cannot differentiate between the genuine and the fabricated swallow poison taking it to be elixir.
We can guard the religion only by sound knowledge. The scholars must develop understanding of the basic sources of religious knowledge in Islam, the Qur’ān and the Sunnah. The struggle to safeguard religion demands firm, sound and uncompromising faith as well as commitment to obtain true knowledge.
Aḥādīth help us know the genuine Sunnah of the Prophet (sws). The Hadīth literature is the record of the Sunnah. Muslim scholars have indeed put unparalleled efforts to preserve the prophetic knowledge. At the same time, it is also true that endeavours of evil factions to fabricate Aḥādīth have left their marks on the literature. Fabrication was done for pious as well as evil motives. The muḥaddithūn needed to show more care in closing the door for fabricators. Their weak response to fabricators’ efforts made it possible for the latter to disseminate fabrications which found way into all the major Hadīth works.
Presently it is incumbent upon every such scholar as specializes in the Hadīth studies to make sure that the Hadīth he is relying on in an issue is actually the word of the Prophet (sws) and is in accord with the Qur’ānic teachings on the issue. It should not be affected by the onslaughts of the innovators.
(Translated from Mabādī Tadabbur-i Hadīth by Tariq Mahmood Hashmi)
1. Khaṭīb Al-Baghdādī, Al-Kifāyah fī ‘ilm al-riwāyah (Hyderabad: Dā’irah al-ma‘ārif al-‘uthmāniyah, 1938), 158.
4. Ibid., 159.
6. The author of the article on Murjites in Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam writes: “One of the early sects of Islam, the extreme opponents of the Khawārij. The latter thought that a Muslim by committing a moral sin becomes a kāfir. The Murjites, on the other hand, were of opinion that a Muslim does not lose his faith through sin.”
7. Al-Khaṭīb Al-Baghdādī, Al-Kifāyah, 158.
9. Ibid., 159.
10. Ibid., 129.
11. The term ṣadūq is applied to those of the narrators who are considered to be somewhat reliable but not thiqah (reliable).
12. Ibid., 131.