|Title:||Authentication of Hadith: Redefining the Criteria|
|Authors:||Israr Ahmad Khan|
|Publisher:||International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT)|
|Number of pages:||240|
The Qur’an and Hadith govern all aspects of Islam’s belief system and its manifestation in human life. The Qur’an represents the precisely revealed words of Allah (SWT) and the Hadith constitute the practical and methodological dimensions of the Qur’anic commands and instructions. Allah tasked the Prophet Muhammad (SAAS) to do the following: rehearse the Qur’an’s messages to people; unfold the truth revealed in the Qur’an; and teach his followers. The bayan of the Qur’an is known as the Hadith and Sunnah.
To that end, the following aspects are true and stated in the Qur’an: Allah’s blessings will cover those who obey Him and His Prophet; obedience is required and deliberate indifference is a serious offense; the Prophet is a judge in all disputes of life; and avoiding and disregarding the instructions of Allah and the Prophet leads ultimately to failure in life and causes man’s deeds to lose all meaning.
In contemporary times, Muslims comprise four categories in their approach to Hadith: those who totally reject its relevance in Muslim life; those who blindly accept all apparent ahadith regardless of their authenticity; those who indiscriminately select Hadith for practical purposes; and those who believe in the sanctity of Prophetic traditions but who carefully approach them regarding their logical and practical relevance to Islamic life and civilization.
Today, Muslims suffer less from rigid adherence to old traditions of the Prophet than from having strayed far from the Qur’an and the Sunnah in their thoughts and practices. For example, semi-literate Muslims with unconditional love for the Hadith and Sunnah can be misguided as to their meaning, and then misguide others, blindly adhering to anything labeled a Prophetic tradition regardless of authenticity. This situation is one of the main factors behind Muslim backwardness and decline in virtually every field of life, including the religious and spiritual.
In the Muslim world today we see a tendency to select only those Qur’anic ayat and Prophetic traditions that benefit people’s vested interests and covert agenda. On the other hand, a balanced approach to the Sunnah and Hadith denotes a belief in and practice of only those Prophetic traditions that are highly authentic.
Hadith compilations are commonly classified into four categories according to the rank of their authenticity: the most authentic works, such as those of al-Bukhari and Muslim; collections with only a few dubious reports such as al-Tirmidhi, al-Nasai, and Abu Dawud; collections with many problematic traditions such as those of Ibn Majah and Ahmad; and collections with many weak and fabricated traditions such as those of al-Tabarani.
Authentication of Hadith as claimed by Hadith authorities entirely depends on the authenticity of the chain of narrators reporting Hadith. Hardly any serious attention is paid to the authenticity of Hadith by the authentication of the text of Hadith. Muslim scholars believe that if the chain of narrators of a hadith fulfils five criteria, the hadith is to be accepted as authentic: continuity in the chain of narrators; integrity of character; infallible retention; freedom from any hidden defect; and safety from any aberrance. Although the last two criteria also apply to the examination of the text of a hadith, scholars of Hadith have rarely accommodated them in their examination of Hadith text.
Nonetheless, many reasons justify the added examination of Hadith from a textual angle including controversy over the position of a particular narrator and the inability of some narrators to maintain the preciseness of the report, wherein most Hadith scholars believe that Prophetic traditions were not narrated in the words of the Prophet but in terms of the meaning of the message, which can cause confusion.
In addition, textual conflicts among reports arise when certain reports concerning the same matter vary in words and meaning. Scholars generally suggest that such differences in reporting result not from narrating errors but because the Prophet made the statements differently on different occasions.
Another reason is the claim of ‘delusion’ of reliable narrators: at times the chain of narrators is extremely authentic but there is an obvious problem in the text of the narration. Rather than examine the text as a possible source of defect, Hadith commentators blame a narrator. Instead, there should be some criteria to identify defect in the text.
The process of practical correction of narrations also justifies Hadith examination. Even during the Companions’ time, serious attention was given to the reporting of Prophetic traditions, particularly regarding their preciseness. Some statements of the Prophet that were reported incorrectly and were then corrected by experts nonetheless led to confusion at times.
Hadith examination is crucial when identifying the contemporary relevance of Hadith: the Qur’an and Hadith encapsulate the teachings of the Prophet and are intended for practical application in our daily lives. Therefore, interpretations of the Qur’an and Hadith should be carefully examined and the text reinterpreted.
Another reason for examination is understanding the methodological dimension of Hadith: the Prophetic traditions may be classified into legislative and non-legislative categories, some binding and some not. Binding traditions are viewed vis-à-vis the Qur’an, human reason, and Sunnah with historical continuity (mutawatir). When the Hadith and Qur’an contrast each other, scholars should affect a compromise among them. If this is not possible, traditions lose their eminent status as authentic. Only the authentic text of a tradition can be used as a source of guidance, both methodological and practical.
Regarding the probability of fabrication in some Hadith texts, their actual number runs into untold thousands. Hadith scholars undoubtedly did their best to identify the genuine from the false but despite great care and effort they could not ensure one hundred percent accuracy. Therefore it is likely that some fabricated traditions are still considered genuine due to the authentic chain of narrators behind them. We have no other way to check for fabricated traditions in the most popular sources except to examine the text of the particular traditions.
Many controversies exist among Muslim jurists concerning certain issues related to Muslim life, wherein certain texts of a particular tradition are preferred to other texts. Finally, the responsibility and task of scholars is not yet concluded regarding Hadith examination. The Hadith hold a very sacred position in Islamic life, but this sanctity is exclusively for the genuine traditions of the Prophet and should not be accorded to inauthentic ones.
The idea of an apparent conflict between various texts of recorded Prophetic traditions is discomforting for any concerned Muslim. In reading and analyzing traditions recorded in al-Bukhari and Muslim, the following is apparent: the Hadith commentators had not used any well-established and universally defined principles of Hadith commentary, and were not justly balanced in their approach to Hadith, placing their main focus on the chain of narrators, not on the text of the traditions.