ḤADÎTH NARRATIONS ARE considered mardûd (rejected) based on four discrepancies:

  1. Discrepancy in the continuity of the chain of narrators
  2. Discrepancy with one or more of the narrators
  3. Discrepancy in the chain of narrators
  4. Discrepancy in the Text

One of the issues of continuity is the linguistic connecting particle (adât al-itti ṣâl) that is used to express the junction between two narrators. There are a handful of known terms that serve as junction connectors that indicate a direct connection and imply physical meeting between two narrators, such as ḥaddathanâ (he told us), anba’ana (he informed us), and the like. These words have slightly different meanings and consequently are of varying strengths, from a ḥadîth point of view (which is to be discussed in detail at a later point in this series, inshâ’Allâh). What is relevant here is that ḥadîth scholars agree that all the junction connectors explicitly indicate a direct connection except for two: ʿAn (on the authority of) and anna (that).

The Junction Connector: ‘An

Grammatically, ʿan is a preposition that, technically, does not have a narrow specified meaning on its own, although it corresponds to the English “on” or “about.” When it occurs in a chain of ḥadîth narrators, it means “on the authority of so-and-so.”

A ḥadîth that has links in its chain connected by ʿan is termed muʿanʿan (some writers define muʿanʿan ḥadîth as having “all” the connections made by ʿan, but this is irrelevant. The point is what ʿan implies about how reporters of a ḥadîth are connected and its impact on the validity of reports that use ʿan to convey a ḥadîth.) An example of muʿanʿan ḥadîth is the following ḥadîth narrated by Ibn Mâjah. (Keep in mind that each subsequent line represents a human link in the chain of reports. The person named in the first line heard the report from the person in the second line who heard it from the person in the third, and so on, in descending order, until we reach the origin of the report):

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ʿUthmân ibn Abi Shaybah told us:

Muʿâwiyah ibn Hishâm told us:

Sufyân told us:

On the authority of Usâmah ibn Zayd,

On the authority of ʿUthman ibn ʿUrwah,

On the authority of ʿUrwah,

On the authority of ʿÂisha: She said:

The Prophet ﷺ said: Indeed, Allah and His angels send their prayers upon the right flanks of the rows (of ṣalâh).

The Mu an an Hadith in the Opinion of the Scholars

The issue with the muʿanʿan ḥadîth is that it is linguistically accurate for someone to say “on the authority of such-and-such a narrator, the Prophet ﷺ said…” without him actually having met the narrator. That someone could have been told what the narrator said by someone else or read it somewhere. This, at first, led some scholars to take the extreme position that no muʿanʿan ḥadîth is acceptable. However, this opinion was soon discarded.

The reality is that the narrators tend to rely heavily on the term ʿan, most probably due to the ease it provides in narration of the sanad because of its conciseness. Moreover, ḥadîth scholars have an agreed upon understanding that when a narrator says ʿan in the terminology of narration it means that they met the one they took the narration from. Thus, it would have to be an intentional act on the part of a reporter, not a simple error, to knowingly omit narrators and cloak this omission by using the word ʿan. That is why this kind of intentional act has a name, tadlîs.

Tadlîs linguistically means ‘to shroud in darkness’. The ḥadîth scholars borrowed this meaning to create a technical term for “concealing” the identity of the one from whom the transmitter received his ḥadîth report. Such a report is termed mudallas (concealed), and the one who perpetrated (the concealment) is called a mudallis (concealer).

Tadlîs can occur in one of two ways. The mudallis (concealer) may report from a transmitter whom he has met, but without proof that he actually heard from him the specific ḥadîth he is attributing to that transmitter. Or, the mudallis may attribute a ḥadîth to a transmitter—a contemporary of his—without actually having met him and taken the report from him in person. There are more subtle variations of these two discrepancies, such as attribution to a reporter by a lesser-known name (which has the effect of concealing the reporter’s identity), and omitting the mention of an intermediary reporter rated as weak between trustworthy reporters.

But that is tadlîs, not muʿanʿan. So there is agreement by the mu ḥaddithîn ( ḥadîth scholars) that the muʿanʿan ḥadîth is acceptable and precisely conveys a continuity in the chain of narration, provided (a) that none of the narrators has ever committed tadlîs, and (b) that it is possible for consecutive reporters to have met. This latter point means that they lived at the same time and that they both lived in, or visited at some time, the same vicinity.

Such narrations fulfill the conditions of continuity. Some scholars, however, have imposed additional stipulations for an even higher standard of continuity. Bukhâri required that there be at least one confirmed meeting between the two reporters. Al-Samʿâni stipulates that a long companionship must have occurred between the two. Al-Dâni stipulates that it must be well known that the first narrator used to narrate a ḥadith from the second, meaning that it was not a one time or rare occurrence, but rather an established connection.

There is another kind of ḥadîth narration that relates to our discussion, namely, a narration that achieves the connection between narrators using the Arabic word anna, spelled with a beginning hamzah (glottal stop), NOT with a beginning ʿayn. Ann is usually translated into English by the word ‘that.’ The ḥadîth type that uses ann (that) is termed muʿanʿan. Its meaning—of implying person-to-person transmission between reporters—and its discussion is identical to the discussion of the muʿanʿan ḥadîth.

The muʿanʿan report paradigm is as follows: “So-and-so narrated that so-an-so said that.…

Ibn Ḥajar in Al-Nukat notes one subtle category of muʿanʿan ḥadîth which evaded the notice of most other scholars. When ʿan (about) occurs at the end of a chain of narration followed by a name, it is actually the beginning of the Text (matn) of the ḥadîth. That is, such an ʿan is being used linguistically, not terminologically. In such a case, the beginning of the Text is sometimes confused for the end of the chain of narration. Hence, the reader of a ḥadîth should heed the position of ʿan in a report, and recognize that in the latter position described by Ibn Ḥajar it is actually part of the Text. This is to avoid falling into error.

(Recalling that each line of reporters represents a human link in the reporting chain who heard it from the next line’s human link, and so on), we can give this example of this use of ʿan. In the narration of Ibn Abî Khaythamah in his Ta’rîkh, he narrates ʿan (on the authority of) his father, who said:

Abû Bakr ibn ʿAyyâsh told us:

Abû Is ḥaq told us:

‘About’ (ʿan) Abî Al-Aḥwa ṣ that the Khawârij came out in arms against him and killed him.”

ʿAn, which linguistically here means “about,” but terminologically means “on the authority of” should not cause confusion in a report like this. To misunderstood ʿan in this report as “on the authority of” would necessitate Abî Al-Aḥwa ṣ being killed and then coming back to life and narrating what happened to him.

So there is an unarticulated meaning in ʿan that the context here dictates, namely, “about what happened to,” or “about what befell Abî Al-Aḥwa ṣ.”

Allah knows best.

Originally posted 2015-07-10 12:00:48.

Omar Abdl-Haleem

Omar Abdl-Haleem is a fourth generation Muslim in America. He has a BA from Al-Azhar University in Usul Al-Din, specializing in Hadith, and was about to finish his Master’s Degree from Al-Azhar in Hadith, when he had to leave Egypt for safety reasons in the fall of 2013. He has translated most of Ibn Al-Jawzi’s book: Sayd Al-Khatir into English, which he intends to complete (some episodes of Omar’s translation of this book have appeared in Aljumuah Website). He is also working on a Hadith book for English speakers that explains and teaches Mustalah Al-Hadith (Hadith Terminology) in common terms. His Arabic is native, having studied in Egypt since he was 14, and then full time after completion of High School in the US. He is invaluable for AlJumuah in accessing scholarly texts. He intends to complete his graduate studies in Hadith.

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