What is the difference between Mutawatir and Ahad Hadith? Some said – Mutawatir hadiths conform to Aqeedah but Ahad does not. Correct or wrong? Do the Imams have Ikhtilaf in that?
Depending on the number of the reporters of the hadith in each stage of the isnad, i.e. in each generation of reporters, it can be classified into the general categories of Mutawatir (consecutive) or Ahaad (single) hadith.
A Mutawatir hadith is one which is reported by such a large number of people that they cannot be expected to agree upon a lie, all of them together.
Imam Al Ghazali stipulates that a Mutawatir narration be known by the sizeable number of its reporters equally in the beginning, in the middle and at the end. He is correct in this stipulation because some narrations or ideas, although known as Mutawatir among some people, whether Muslims or non- Muslims, originally have no tawatur. There is no precise definition for a ‘large number of reporters’; although the numbers four, five, seven, ten, twelve, forty and seventy, among others, have all been variously suggested as a minimum, the exact number is irrelevant (some reporters, e.g. Imams of Hadith, carry more weight anyway than others who are contemporaries). The important condition is that the possibility of coincidence or ‘organized falsehood’ be obviously negligible.
Examples of Mutawatir practices are the five daily prayers, fasting, Zakaat, the Hajj and recitation of the Quran. Among the verbal Mutawatir ahadith, the following has been reported by at least sixty two companions of the Prophet (S.A) and has been widely known amongst the Muslims throughout the ages: ‘Whoever invents a lie and attributes it to me intentionally, let him prepare his seat in the Fire’.
Ahadith related to the description of the Haud Kauthar (the Basin of abundant goodness) in the Hereafter, raising the hands at certain postures during prayer, rubbing wet hands on the leather socks during ablution, revelation of the Quran in seven modes, and the prohibition of every intoxicant are further examples of verbal Mutawatir ahadith.
A hadith Ahaad or Khabar Wahid is one which is narrated by people whose number does not reach that of the Mutawatir case. Ahaad is further classified into: Gharib, Aziz and Mashhur
A hadith is termed gharib (scarce, strange) when only a single reporter is found relating it at some stage of the isnad . For example, the saying of the Prophet (S.A), ‘Travel is a piece of punishment’, is gharib; the isnad of this hadith contains only one reporter in each stage: Malik – Yahya bin Abi Salih – Abu Hurairah – the Prophet (S.A). With regard to its isnad, this hadith is Sahih.
If at any stage in the isnad, only two reporters are found to narrate the hadith, it is termed ‘aziz (“rare, strong”). For example, Anas reported that the Messenger of Allah (S.A) said, “None of you (truly) believes until I become more beloved to him than his father, his son, and all the people.”
Two reporters, Qatadah and ‘Abdul ‘Aziz bin Shu’aib, report this hadith from Anas, and two more reporters narrate from each of them: Shu’bah and Sa’id report from Qatada, and Isma’il bin Ulayyah and ‘Abd al-Warith from ‘Abd al-‘Aziz; then a group of people report from each of them.
A hadith which is reported by more than two reporters is known as mashhur (“famous”). According to some scholars, every narrative which comes to be known widely, whether or not it has an authentic origin, is called mashhur. A mashhur hadith might be reported by only one or two reporters in the beginning but become widely-known later, unlike gharib or ‘aziz, which are reported by one or two reporters in the beginning and continue to have the same number even in the times of the Successors and those after them. For example, if only one or two reporters are found narrating hadith from a reliable authority in Hadith such as al-Zuhri and Qatadah, the hadith will remain either gharib or ‘aziz. On the other hand, if a group of people narrate from them, it will be known as mashhur.
According to al-‘Ala’i (Abu Sa’id Khalil Salah al-Din), a hadith may be known as ‘aziz and mashhur at the same time. By this, he means a hadith which is left with only two reporters in its isnad at any stage while it enjoys a host of reporters in other stages, such as the saying of the Prophet (S.A), ‘We are the last but (will be) the foremost on the Day of Resurrection’.
This hadith is aziz in its first stage, as it is reported by Hudhaifah bin a! Yaman and Abu Hurairah (R.A) only. It later becomes Mashhur as seven people report it from Abu Hurairah (R.A).
Some of the Aziz and Gharib types of Ahaad ahadith are accepted while others are not. The process of rejection or acceptance of a Khabr Wahid (Ahaad) is based on a complete background check of each narrator. Then there are many types of Gharib. The gharabah (when the number of narrators is only one person) may be in the beginning or in the end of the chain of transmission. The Khabr Wahid (Ahaad) is authentic if the narrator is trustworthy in his memorization of the hadith. The transmission of the hadith must be continuous (it does not break anywhere with a missing narrator) and it is not Muallal or Shaaz.
Muallal is a hadith which contains a hidden weakness within it. A hadith is Shaaz when a trusted narrator brings a hadith that opposes the narrations of other trusted narrators. The level of authenticity of the hadith varies depending on the amount of Shaaz and Muallal present in the hadith.
As mentioned before, Mutawatir ahadith are connected to many things, not only to Aqeedah. However, since Aqeedah is so important to a Muslim, the early scholars of Ahadith and Aqaaid have censored all the traditions that establish the beliefs in Islam to ensure that they fulfill a high standard of authenticity and soundness. Hence, we find Mutawatir ahadith in the area of Aqeedah. Furthermore, the topic of Aqeedah requires that ‘beliefs’ are established through knowledge that brings about certainty, and the only type of ahadith that gives ‘knowledge of certainty’ is that of the Mutawatir Ahadith. (See Sharh Nukhbatul Fikr)
Ahaad ahadith, once they are sound and reliable then they will be accepted anywhere, whether it is in the chapter of Aqeedah, Taharah or Salaah. Let’s take for example the following hadith which states, ‘Actions are judged according to their intentions’. This is an authentic and sound hadith narrated by Imam Bukhari, Muslim and all other compilers of Hadith. The hadith teaches us about a fundamental part of our religion which is connected to Aqeedah and all other matters in Islam. Yet, it is a Khabr Wahid!Ahaad hadith. So, it is wrong to say that only Mutawatir ahadith conform to Aqeedah and Ahaad does not.
Seeing that the early traditionists have formulated principles for the acceptance and non acceptance of Ahadith, which may slightly vary from one to the other, there will be differences among them in the acceptance and non acceptance of Ahaad traditions. It should however be understood, that the word ‘Ahaad’ or ‘Khabr Wahid’ itself does not signify that a hadith is weak or not accepted. Ahadith of this category are assessed and scrutinized and are then given the grades of Saheeh li zaatihi, Saheeh li ghairihi, Hasan ii zaatihi, Hasan ii ghairihi (sound on its own, sound on account of other narrations; good on its own, good on account of others etc). In fact, there are many ‘Ahaad’ ahadith in Sahih Al Bukhari and Sahih Muslim which are all sound and authentic.
And Allah knows best.
Mufti Waseem Khan
This answer was collected from DarulUloomTT.net, which is operated under the supervision of Mufti Waseem Khan from Darul Uloom Trinidad and Tobago.