Q. What is a weak hadith and what is the status of its acceptance in fiqh?
A. A weak hadith is one in which the conditions for the soundness (Sahih) of a hadith are not present, and the conditions placed for a hadith to be ‘Hasan’ (good) are also not present.
The cause for the weakness of a hadith can be any of the following:-
1) There is no Itisal in the Sanad (chain of narration).
2) Narrators are not Adil (just).
3) ‘Dhabt’ is not found in the narrators.
4) There is doubt in the part of a narrator.
5) Contradiction or opposition on the part of a narrator.
Each of the above are further sub divided into many types, each bearing a different name.
On this topic, it is to be noted that sometimes a narrator may be ‘weak’ to a scholar of hadith but yet, he may be sound and reliable to another.
In a similar manner, sometimes a hadith may be termed as ‘weak’ for some scholars, while it may be sound (saheeh) or hasan (good) to others.
This has been clearly stated by Hafiz Ibn Taimiya in his book ‘Raf’u Malam an Al A’imatil Ilaam’. (Fawaaid Fi Uloomil Haadith by Allama Zafar Uthmani pg.33)
This means that whatever is considered to be a weak Ahadith by some scholars, it does not mean that it is weak for others. Many of the sound and great Muhadithen of the past have established their own conditions for the acceptance and non acceptance of traditions. They have also fixed certain maxims through which they will consider a hadith to be sahih (sound), hasan (good) or weak. Hence, when a certain scholar classifies a hadith as being weak, this in no way means that it is a proof against another scholar if he does not consider it weak. There are hundreds of such cases in the books of Ahadith.
In the topic of Fiqh, weak Ahadith have not been accepted by the Imams of Fiqh. The traditions which they have used as proofs and evidences are those which they have accepted as being sound and authentic in accordance to their great knowledge of the science of hadith and its narrators. If other scholars have viewed such traditions as being weak, then this is based upon the understanding of that particular scholar or scholars. This, in no way means that the hadith is weak to the Imams of fiqh.
It must be understood that the Fuqahaa (Jurists/Scholars/Imams of Fiqh) from among the Tabieen and Tabu’t Tabeen period were not only versed in the field of Fiqh. They also possessed great knowledge of the other sciences of Islam including the science of hadith. They were more leant in this field that those who came after them, and they had a first hand knowledge of many of the narrators of the hadith seeing that they lived at the same time. As such, their acceptance of ahadith, and their practice upon them are much more authoritative and relied upon than that of the scholars of the latter generation.
This goes to show that the ahadith which have been accepted and adopted by the different Imams of Fiqh like that of Imam Abu Hanifa, Shafi, Malik, Ahmad, this occurred after they had thoroughly scrutinized and investigated the traditions and the narrators of such ahadith. Being great traditionists, they were in the best position to determine what was Saheeh, (sound) Hasan (good) or Dhaeef (weak) from the collection of ahadith which they got. Hence, what they accepted were not only Saheeh (sound), but they were also the best practices that they saw, after having done a thorough investigation on the different practices that may have been evident in the ahadith.
Let’s take the case of ‘Raf’ul Yadain’ (the raising of the hands in Salaah while going for ruku and also coming up from ruku). On this issue, Imam Abu Hanifa has stated that it should not be done. The reason he give this opinion was that he saw that the hadith coming from Abdullah bin Masood from the Prophet (SAS) was much stronger and better that the hadith which came from Abdullah bin Umar (RA).
The hadith of Abdullah bin Masood which clearly states that the Prophet (SAS) did not do Raf’ul Yadain has been further substantiated by other authentic and sound traditions, and was also the practice of many Sahabahs (Companions).
So, on this issue, Imam Abu Hanifa accepted the hadith that he saw as being stronger, and at the same time it was as an action which was practiced by most of the Companions of the Prophet (SAS). One of the reasons he accepted the tradition of Ibn Masud was that he (Ibn Masud) was closer to the Prophet (SAS), he was an adult, while Ibn Umar was a very young boy, and he was far more knowledgeable than Ibn Umar. In fact, it is unanimously accepted by all scholars, that Abdullah Ibn Masood was one of the greatest scholars of the Sahabahs.
This approach of accepting the better/greater scholars from among the sahabahs was also adopted by many other great scholars. In this regard, Hafiz Raja bin al Murjee narrates that once Imam Ahmad, Yahya bin Maeen and Ali bin al Madeeni came together in Masjdul Khaif at Mina and engaged in a lengthy discussion about a law of Wuzu. While discussing the issue, the great scholar Ali bin al Madeeni gave his opinion and then placed his argument for it saying that when Abdullah bin Masud (RA) and Abdullah bin Umar (RA) differ on an issue, then Abdullah bin Masood is more deserving and wothy of being followed. Imam Ahmad bin Hambal fully agreed with him (Hakim and Baihaqi).
The above was simply mentioned to show that the Imams of Fiqh have very strong proofs and evidences for what they have adopted as their opinions and verdicts. Even though other scholars may give their personal judgment of the ahadith used by a particular Imam of Fiqh, this is no way stands as a proof against the Imam nor does it prove that a certain hadith may really be weak. The statement given by any scholar that a certain hadith is weak can be their personal judgment of that particular scholar. It does not necessarily mean that there is unanimity upon that statement, nor does it mean that the hadith is really weak.
As mentioned before, many of the Fuqahaa and Muhaditheen of the early generations have established their own principles and criterias for the acceptance and non acceptance of a hadith, and they have fixed certain maxims through which a hadith can be termed as Saheeh, Hasan and Dhaeef. One person’s judgement of the weakness or non acceptance of a hadith may not be the same with another. This exists even among the renowned Muhaditheen like Imam Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmizi, Abu Dawood, Nasaai and Ibn Majah.
Having said this, it should be understood that the practice which has become a norm today where ignorant, unqualified and incompetent people are writing, and using remarks against the Imams of Fiqh, is nothing short of a widespread Fitna which is meant to disunite the Ummah. It is in this regard Hafiz Ibn Taimiya wrote, ‘So whoever speaks with ignorance and speak with that which is in opposition to the statement of the Imams of Fiqh, then he must be stopped. (Fatawa Ibn Taimiya vol.22 pg. 227 Argimaan Haqq pg.320).
With respect to what was said ‘that the Sahabah didn’t know all of the hadith and the Imams didn’t know all of the hadith’, this, in my opinion is a statement which is used to bring a person in a state of confusion in his deen. The context in which this statement is used, shows that the person wishes to bring about discredit and disrepute to the illustrious Sahabahs and the great Imams from the Salafus Saaliheen (pious predecessors). (May Allah save us from this trap of Satan).
It is true that an individual Sahabi (companion) did not hear/know all the statements of the Prophet (SAS) since it was impossible for any one Sahabi to be with the Prophet(SAS) 24 hours per day for 23 years (which was the period of Prophethood). However, it is totally wrong to assume from this that a Sahabi would have been unaware of the teachings of the Prophet (SAS) regarding the matters of Islam.
Even, if on an individual basis certain Sahabahs did not know all of the hadith, it is an established fact that all the Sahabahs collectively knew all the ahadith of the Prophet(SAS), since they were the ones who transmitted this knowledge to the generation of the Tabieen (2nd generation Muslim). This was the only way that the knowledge of ahadith came down to the Muslims who lived after the Sahabahs. During the period of the Tabieen (2nd generation), scholars started to travel far and wide to learn Ahadith from the different Sahabahs who at that time resided in different cities and territories. The Tabieen therefore gathered the knowledge which came down from the Sahabahs which comprised of everything that they (the Sahabahs )had learnt from the Prophet(SAS) from his words, practice, conduct, approval, disapproval and in general, the entire life of the Prophet of Allah (SAS).
During this period, the documentation of ahadith officially started, and all the traditions that were narrated and taught by the masters of ahadith were then preserved in books. When the 3rd generation of Muslims came in (that is, the period of the Tab’ut Tabieen), the Scholars travelled to distant lands and leant thousands and thousands of ahadith which were taught by the great Muhaditheen all over the Islamic Empire. The scholars during this period also had access to the documented works that were preserved from the period before them. Long and tiresome journeys were undertaken by these blessed scholars to gather and learn the traditions (ahadith) that were taught by many different sahabahs who lived in different cities. An example of how these scholars traveled for the sake of learning was the case of Imam Abu Hanifa. It is authentically narrated that Imam Abu Hanifa first of all studied from the great Tabiee Scholars of Fiqh and Hadith in Koofah. Abul Mahsin Ash Shafi mentions that he (Abu Hanifa) learnt from 93 well known Tabiee Scholars of Koofah. These were form among the greatest Muhadith and jurists of Koofah who had studied from the great Sahabahs like that of Abdullah bin Masood (RA), Ali (RA), Muaz bin Jabal (RA) and Umar (RA).
After this, Imam Abu Hanifa traveled to Basrah for the sake of acquiring knowledge. At Basrah, he studied from the well known Tabiee scholars like that of Shubah and Qatadah who received their knowledge from the great sahabahs like Anas bin Malik (RA) and other sahabahs who resided in Basrah.
Imam Abu Hanifah, then traveled to Makka and Madina and stayed there for a long time while acquiring knowledge. At these cities, he was honoured to have studied from such great Tabieen Scholars who received their knowledge form Sahabahs like that of Jabir (RA), Abu Moosa Ashari (RA), Muawiya (RA), Abu Darda (RA), Ubai bin Kaab (RA) and Abdullah bin Umar (RA). Imam Abu Hanifa became such a great Scholar that in each of these great cities of Islamic learning he was permitted to issue fatawas (religious verdicts) by his teachers who were from amoung the great Tabiee scholars.
As mentioned by the great scholar Abu Hafs, Imam Abu Hanifah learnt ahadith from at least four thousand scholars.
In this way, through his deep leaning and great ability, he became one of the greatest scholars at his time. He was an expert in the field of hadith, in fact, as mentioned by many scholars, he was a Hafiz of Hadith. He was also known to be the greatest Mujtahid and jurist.
Even when he gave religious verdicts and issued Islamic formal opinions while compiling his works, he chose forty of the greatest scholars in the field of hadith, Arabic, Qiyas and other sciences. Every point and issue will be discussed by all at length. Ahadith and explainations would go through thorough scrutiny and investigation by these great experts and masters of Hadith before it could be accepted as the accepted opinion and verdict regarding any issue.
It is on account of these stringent measures, he implemented for the compilation of his Mazhab that the great scholar of hadith, Wakeeh bin Al Jarrah said, ‘How is it possible for there to remain a mistake in the Fiqh of Imam Abu Hanifa, because he had the great masters in every field with him.
Based on this, it must be understood that when a certain hadith has not been accepted by an Imam of Fiqh, then it is because of a very good reason he has with him. Probably he knows that it was a weak hadith, or it was abrogated, or probably it was given for a special situation. It can also be that practice upon that hadith was not continuous. So, the Imams had knowledge of the hadith and all the other ahadith. However, they accepted what they knew to be the best from the ahadith that have been narrated regarding an issue.
The conduct of present day incompetent people to write articles and books giving two or more ahadith and then giving the explaination that one is strong and the other is weak is nothing but a Fitna (mischief) which is created by unqualified people who have no knowledge at all in the field of hadith or Usul Al Hadith. They ‘rake and scrape’, and gather selected information which they believe, and then pass it on to others. While doing so, they leave out a great amount of the truth, and present only that which is in their favour. This is a great distrust on their part, and it is nothing but a clear deception to the innocent and general Muslims. Some of them are so deceitful and dishonest that they quote a hadith which supports their view and then gives a view of an Imam, while concealing the hadith which the Imam has used as an evidence for his statement.
Having presented this to a Muslim, they ask the question, ‘would you follow the ahadith of the Prophet? Or would you follow the opinion of an Imam? Obviously the naïve and simple minded Muslims would quickly say that they wish to follow the hadith.
In this way the hadith which has been used by the Imam is not shown to a person, and one gets the impression that the Imams of Fiqh do not practice upon hadith. This is a clear deception on the part of those who are involved in this practice.
Another deceitful trait of the mischief makers, is that they may present two ahadith regarding one issue and then give a complete explaination of the soundness, authenticity and reliability of one which conforms to their view. While doing this, they will give the quotations of the great scholars to show that this is what must be accepted. As for the hadith which does not conform to their view (and may be the one which has been accepted by an Imam), they will give selected quotations of certain scholars to show that it is weak. As for the statements of other great scholars who have proven that the hadith is Sound/Sahih, they do not present this information to Muslims. In this way, they continue to deceive many innocent Muslims entrapping and ensnaring them into their deviated way of thinking.
Their conduct of deception will be found in many other things. For example, in the issue of Taqleed and following an Imam, they will give a lot of quotations of the modern day ‘free thinkers’ and ‘self acclaimed Mujtahid’ to show that one must not do Taqleed. While doing this, they will fully conceal the beautiful quotations and explainations of the Salafus Saaliheen (Pious Predecessors ) who spoke in favour of Taqleed and have even emphasied that one should do Taqleed. Their attitude is akin to the Christian Priests of the past who used to give to the masses only what they wanted them to know. As for the whole truth of a matter, they will conceal it from the people.
With respect to what you asked about ‘acting on a strong hadith or following the Imam’, I say to you that the Imams were the best of those, and the most knowledgeable of those who knew the status of ahadith. They knew very well what was stronger or which one was weaker. Based on their vast knowledge, they chose one to be practiced upon and adopted it to be their position. As for the other ahadith on the same topic, they gave sound explainations as to why they did not practice upon it. So when you follow an Imam of Fiqh, you are in reality, following the hadith of the Prophet (SAS) which he, (the Imam) has accepted as his practice. You must understand that Imams/Mujtahids are not independent sources of the law, they are only interpreters of the law given in Islam. When one follows an Imam, he is simply following the valid and sound explaination and interpretation which an Imam, Mujtahid has given on any relevant topic of the deen of Islam which is supported by strong evidences in the shariah.
It should therefore be understood that when one follows an Imam, he does not go against any hadith of the Prophet (SAS). Instead, he is actually following the hadith of the Prophet (SAS) which the Imam has used as a basis for his statement.
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.