THE WEAK ḤADÎTH is the report attributed to the Prophet ﷺ that lacks one or more of the conditions of an acceptable isnâd, or chain of narrators. There are different levels of weakness of isnâd. Some are weak, others very weak, and still others “frail.”
The Weakest Chain of Narrators
In the standard curriculum of authentic a ḥadîth, scholars include a discussion about which chains of ḥadîth narrations are strongest. There is a hierarchy according to strength. So when it came to the study of weak a ḥadîth the scholars mirrored this hierarchical qualification, deeming it befitting and symmetrical to include in the study of what constitutes a weak ḥadîth a discussion of which of the chains of narrators was the weakest. Of these chains of narrators which are considered weakest Ibn Ḥajar says of one: “This is the chain of lies….” Thus it parallels the strongest chain of ṣaḥîḥ ḥadîth, namely, the Golden Chain of narrators.
An Example of a Weak Hadith
The ḥadîth “extracted” by Al-Tirmidhî—He who approaches a woman [for sexual intercourse] during her menstrual cycle or [approaches her] from behind [that is, anal intercourse] has disbelieved in what has been revealed to Muhammad ﷺ.”
Al-Tirmidhi said after citing this ḥadîth: “We do not know this ḥadîth save through the narration of Ḥakîm Al-Athram on the authority of Ibn Al Ḥajamî on the authority of Abû Hurairah. Muhammad [Al-Bukhâri] rated this ḥadîth weak due to its narrators.”
The narration is weak because Ḥakîm Al-Athram is one whom the ḥadîth scholars have deemed weak. Ibn Ḥajar said of Al-Athram in his book Taqrîb Al-Tahdhîb, “He has weakness in him.”
The Ruling Regarding Narrating a Weak Hadith
The ḥadîth scholars, as well as scholars of other Islamic sciences, agree that it is permissible to narrate a weak ḥadîth without specifying that the ḥadîth is weak, as long as the following conditions are fulfilled:
- The content of the ḥadîth do not mention matters of ʿaqîdah [belief], such as ṣifât Allah, God’s attributes.
- No legal [Sharîʿah] ruling is derived from the ḥadîth, that is entailing ḥalâl and or ḥarâm, how to worship, or instructing as to transactions and contracts.
- One reporting weak ḥadîth refrains from using phrases conveying certainty, such as “The Prophet ﷺ said such and such,” or, “it has reached us that the Prophet ﷺ said such and such,” and the like.
The Ruling Regarding Usage of Weak Ahadith
Bukhâri was of the opinion that a weak ḥadîth should not be used for any matters of religion. A ḥmad ibn Ḥanbal was of the opinion that if a ḥadîth is not very weak, then it can be used even to derive legal rulings (a ḥkam Sharîʿah).
The opinion of the majority of scholars lies between these two opinions. They hold that a weak ḥadîth cannot be used to derive legal rulings or principles of belief (ʿaqîdah), but it is desirable, musta ḥab, to do good works (faḍâ’il al-aʿmâl) based on weak a ḥadîth, provided the following three conditions are fulfilled:
- The weakness is slight or moderate
- The content of the ḥadîth falls under an established category. For example, there is a weak ḥadîth: “Be chaste and your women shall be chaste.” The commandment of chastity is well-established in the Quran and the authentic ḥadîth.
- One not believe with certainty that the ḥadîth is authentic.
For example, there is no authentic narration that the recitation of Sûrat Al-Mulk before sleeping is a protection from the punishment of the grave, if its reciter dies while sleeping that night. On the contrary, all the narrations that indicate this are weak. Nonetheless, it is desirable that one recite Sûrat Al-Mulk before going to sleep because there are weak a ḥadîth that advise it, and that the ḥadîth falls under an established principle; namely, that it is good to recite Quran during the day and night.
However, since a weak ḥadîth means by definition that there is uncertainty as to whether the Prophet ﷺ said or did something, one should recite Sûrat Al-Mulk before sleep with this understanding: If the Prophet ﷺ did say that it protects from punishment in the grave, if read with belief and for the sake of Allah, then one shall gain that benefit. But if the Prophet ﷺ did not say this, then it is still good and beneficial to recite of the Quran at any time of day or night—and it may be that Allah, out of His mercy, will grant a person who reads Sûrat Al-Mulk before sleeping what they hoped for.