WHAT A KIND of additional collaborative evidence makes a solitary-transmitted (âhâd) ḥadîth reliable? What determines whether such a ḥadîth is applicable for juristic determinations?

As mentioned in previous Mus ṭala ḥ Al- ḥadîth (specialized terminology of prophetic reports) articles, a  ḥadîth is either mutawâtir or â ḥâd. A ḥadîth that is mutawâtir is one that is narrated by an overwhelming number of people such that no investigation is necessary to verify its occurrence. A ḥadîth that is â ḥâd is anything less than that. These reports are further criticized by Ḥadîth scholars (Mu ḥaddithîn) according to the reliability of their having originated with the Prophet ﷺ as ṣaḥîḥ (sound), ḥasan (good), and ḍaʿîf (weak). There is an additional category of mawḍûʿ(fabricated) narrations, meaning that they are invented.

Among the ṣaḥîḥ â ḥâd narrations, however, there are some that are accompanied by additional evidence, which renders them stronger than other ṣaḥîḥ a ḥadîth. The most well-known of these â ḥâd narrations fall into three categories:

  1. A ḥadîth narrated by both Bukhârî and Muslim, known terminologically as muttafaq ʿalayhi (agreed upon). These a ḥâdîth are considered stronger than other ṣaḥîḥ a ḥâdîth for three reasons: i) The meticulousness of Bukhârî and Muslim in reporting a ḥâdîth, ii) The superiority of Bukhârî and Muslim in distinguishing authentic narrations, and iii) The consensus that the collections of Bukhârî and Muslim are authentic—which alone is enough to make their a ḥâdîth reports more authentic than others.
  2. A ḥâdîth that have three or more separate chains of narrators, none of these chains having any weaknesses.
  3. A ḥâdîth that have two or more narrations, one of them having only renowned imams in its chain of narrators, such as a ḥadîth narrated by Imam A ḥmad, on the authority of Imam Al-Shâfiʿî, on the authority of Imam Mâlik, each of these Imams being corroborated by subsequent narrators.

Not only are these three categories of a ḥâdîth authentic, they are strengthened by the presence of additional evidence, such that the mu ḥaddithîn give them precedence over other ṣaḥîḥ a ḥâdîth. For example, if there are two ṣaḥîḥ ḥadîths that have an apparent contradiction with each other, a ḥadîth of the categories just listed takes precedence.

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A word on Arabic technical terminology is in order before we proceed. There are Arabic terms that Muslims need to know so as to correctly understand their religion for which English provides no exact correlation. Allah describes His revealed ayât of the Quran as ‘mu ḥkamât,’ carrying the meaning of sturdiness, stability, and, like bricks properly mortared together, being perfectly set in place, position, and in every way. At the same time, this word also means that they are applicable, actionable, in force, to be implemented, in accordance with proper context and conditions.

Applicable and Inapplicable Ahadîth

Authentic a ḥadîth can either be applicable (or actionable) or inapplicable (or non-actionable)—in ḥadîth terminology: Maʿmûl bihi or ghayr maʿmûl bihi. Applicability is a characterization that tells the believer if a ḥadîth’s ruling is in force or still applies. Two aspects are taken into consideration when determining whether or not a ḥadîth is applicable:

1. Is the hadîth muhkam (consistent) or mukhtalif (contradictory)?

Mu ḥkam, linguistically, means something that is complete, sturdy, stable, and perfectly set. Terminologically, in the Quranic sciences, it means that an ayah is not abrogated by another Text. In the science of ḥadîth, it means an authentic ḥadîth that is free of what appear to be contradictions arising from any other authentic ḥadîth of equal strength that also has not been abrogated. The vast majority of a ḥadîth are mu ḥkam (consistent, i.e. free of competing contradictory Texts).

Mukhtalif, linguistically, means to “differ” or “contradict.” Terminologically, in ḥadîth, it designates an authentic ḥadîth that is in apparent contradiction with another ḥadîth of equal strength or authenticity, but which can be conjoined, or brought into harmony with the other.

An example of a mukhtalif ḥadîth is the ḥadîth that Muslim reports, which begins with the words: “There are no contagions, and there are no bad omens…” This ḥadîth seems to be contradicted by the ḥadîth reported by Bukhârî, in which the Prophet ﷺ said: “Flee from the leper as you would a lion.”

These two a ḥadîth occupy the highest level of authenticity. Yet they appear to be in contradiction. The first ḥadîth negates contagion. The second establishes it. The scholars have conjoined these two a ḥadîth and brought their meanings into harmony, or reconciled them, in a number of different ways. Some did so by pointing out that the first ḥadîth cautions believers to remember that the true reason a disease spreads among people is not the apparent agency of the disease itself, but rather Allah’s will that the disease spread among them. The second ḥadîth is a prophetic instruction to the believers to act responsibly in identifiable situations. One is to remove oneself from another who has a contagious disease but stay mindful that Allah decrees for the disease to infect one or not. In this way, the meaning of the two ḥadîths are reconciled.

The first applies to our tendencies to hypochondria. It frees us of excessive fears of disease that alter our behavior in less than rational ways, rousing panic in us, like one whose fear prevents him from emerging from his home or going into public spaces. It reminds us that all that Allah decrees shall come to pass, and whatever Allah does not decree will not touch us.

The second ḥadîth applies to the reckless who do not take necessary reasonable measures of precaution to protect themselves, and who justify their carelessness by exalting their reliance on Allah. Such a person’s reliance on Allah is false if he does not rationally remove himself from a known harm when Allah has given him the knowledge and freedom to remove himself from it (specified in this ḥadîth by exposure to leprosy).

2. Has the hadîth been abrogated or does it remain in force?

To be applicable a ḥadîth cannot have been abrogated. Abrogation means that a ḥadîth’s ruling or instruction has been annulled by a subsequent ruling or instruction of another Text so that the former ḥadîth no longer applies. This change in legislation, whether it occurs in the Quran or ḥadîth, is a divine change, meaning that Allah determined a ruling for a specified time and determined that that ruling would end at a specified time. Thus, it is not that people have discerned a ruling’s untenability and changed it.

Abrogated ḥadîth are few, as are abrogated verses of the Quran. There are four ways to determine if a ḥadîth is abrogated:

  1. The Prophet declares it. For example, the Prophet ﷺ said: “I had forbidden you [believers] from visiting graves. Now visit them, for they remind you of the Afterlife” (Muslim).
  2. A Companion of the Prophet states it. For example, Jâbir ibn ʿAbdullah g said: “The last of the two matters [in question] was that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ did not make wudu’ on account of what touched fire.” The two matters in question here regard the ruling necessitating wudu’ for anyone who has eaten cooked food. It used to be that cooked food was considered something that broke one’s wuḍu’. This ruling, in fact, went in and out of effect more than once during the time of the Prophet ﷺ. Sometimes it was required of Muslims to make wuḍu’ after eating cooked items and sometimes it was not. This statement of Jâbir makes clear that the final state of affairs was that eating cooked food does not break wuḍu’, that this rule had been finally abrogated.
  3. Scholars determine it. By knowing which ḥadîth came first, scholars can determine the abrogated narration. Take, for instance, these two ḥadîth on therapeutic bloodletting. The Prophet ﷺ said: “His fast is broken, the one who has bled another or the one whom has been bled” (Abû Dâwûd). This ḥadîth was abrogated by the ḥadîth narrated by Ibn ʿAbbâs g that the Prophet ﷺ was [therapeutically] bled while fasting (Bukhârî). It is known, based on other narrations, that the first ḥadîth was spoken at the time of the Opening of Makkah (fat ḥ Makkah), which occurred in the eighth year after the hijrah. The ḥadîth of Ibn ʿAbbâs was reported during Ḥajjat Al-Wadâʿ(The Farewell Pilgrimage), which took place in the 10th year after the hijrah. Therefore, the second narration abrogates the first because it came later.
  4. There is Consensus (ijmâʿ) about it. For example, the Prophet ﷺ said: “Whip the wine drinker. And if he returns to this four times, kill him” (Abû Dâwûd). Scholarly consensus, however, establishes that capital punishment is not the penalty for the recurring or habitual drinker. This confirms the original ruling’s abrogation. The consensus does not abrogate the ḥadîth ruling. It establishes proof that this ruling was abrogated. The learned (including the Companions) either knew of the ruling’s abrogation by some means—no report of the abrogating Text having reached us—or Allah willed this abrogation by allowing this consensus in the Ummah to come about.

In sum, a ḥadîth is either mu ḥkam (applicable) or “not mu ḥkam” (inapplicable). Inapplicability occurs for two reasons: (1) Textual contradictions seem irreconcilable, or (2) its ruling has been abrogated. Having said this, know also that some scholars hold that the rulings of a ḥadîth that appear in contradiction are actually circumstantial. That is to say, a particular ruling applies in certain circumstances, while its contrary applies in others.

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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