Eight remedial principles in evaluating hadith

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[The full article following the summary is a translation of a section in Dars Tirmidi by Shaykh al-Islam Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani entitled Ahadith ke tashih wa tad’if ke usul wa qawa’id.]


[The following is a summary of some remedial principles which aid to avoid the common mistakes in evaluating hadith and making unwarranted objections that one abandons strong evidences. (1) A hadith is evaluated on the reliability of the sanad and validity of the matn not merely based on the collection it belongs. (2) The appraisal of the hadith is a tedious task and solely the purview of those who possess the requisite criteria and the rank of ijtihad in the field. (3) When such experts differ in their appraisal, prioritise the cautious expert over the lenient and the fair over the harsh. If both the experts are fair and cautious one should judge the rationale if they are qualified to do so or else they should choose the one they trust. (4) Know that the opinion of one expert is not evidence against another expert. (5) Furthermore, note that the experts judge with the quality of the sources at hand, hence, the loss of information at a later stage does not negate the classification of the earlier experts. (6)The declaration of sahih or da’if signifies that it fulfils or lacks the set criteria for acceptance; it is highly likely that it reflects the reality but not certainly so. One must act upon the likelihood unless strong evidence indicates to the contrary. (7) The ahnaf amongst others consider the practice of the sahabah and tabi’in as significant evidence to strengthen a seemingly weak hadith similar to the existence of multiple sanads which in effect reclassifies it to hasan li ghayrihi. (8) If two reliable ahadith collide, the ahnaf will prioritise the content which conforms to the Quran or the general principles of Shari’ah irrespective if the other sanad is relatively stronger as according to them effect in superior to quantity once reliability is established. - Saif]


[In Dars Tirmidi (p. 80-86), Shaykh al-Islam Mufti Mufti Taq i Usmani says:]

Even though the tashih(authentication) and tadi’f (repudiation) of ahadith is a separate field of study which is established as Ilm Usul al-Hadith and Ilm Jarh wa Ta’dil. Here it is not possible to mention all the details. However, on this matter I will present a few principles which generally are not considered and in discussion of hadith it is required. Due to neglecting these [principles] people object on the ahnaf that most of the evidences of the ahnaf are da’if (weak).

The first principle

Some people assume that authentic ahadith are only confined to Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim. They assume that if it is not in the sahihayn (Bukhari and Muslim), it must be weak and in no circumstance can they compete against the sahihayn. This is absolutely incorrect.

The consideration of a hadith being sahih is not based on [the fact that] if it is in Bukhari or Muslim rather it is on the merit of its own sanad (transmission). Imam Bukhari himself says, ‘I have not included all the authentic sahih ahadith in my book’. Hence, it is entirely possible that a hadith is not in the sahihayn but its status in term of sanad is superior to some of the ahadith in the sahihayn. For instance, Mawlana Abdur Rashid Nu’mani in ‘Ma Tamassuhu Ilayhi al-Hajah’ outlines some narrations of Ibn Majah, the sanad of which according to the judgement of the Muhaddithin is superior to even the sanad in Bukhari. So the sahihayn being called ‘Asah al-kutub ba’da kitab Allah’ is in terms of [the collection] as a whole not in terms of each and every hadith. For further elaboration of his issue, Hadrat Mawlana Zafar Ahmad Usmani’s inha’ al-sakan ila man yutali’ i’la al-sunan is a worthwhile read.

The second principle

The tashih and tadi’f of [the transmission of a] hadith is a delicate task which requires extremely broad and deep knowledge. Consequently, only those are qualified for this who have the status of ijtihad in the field. As a result Hafid Ibn Salah (may Allah have mercy upon him) has opined in his Muqaddimah that after the fifth century hijri no person has the right to reclassify a hadith as sahih or da’if. However, the majority have opposed this view. The researched position is that sahih and da’if is not the purview of any particular time rather whoever is found to have the requisite criteria of knowledge and understanding may make a judgement. Hence, after the fifth century hijri there have been ulama that have done tashih and tad’if and the ummah has accepted it. For instance, Hafid Zahabi, Hafid Ibn Hajar, Allm. Ayni, Hafid Sakhawi, Hafid Zila’i, and Hafid ‘Iraqi (may Allah have mercy upon them all), such muhaddithin came after the fifth century hijri but their tashih and tad’if is considered acceptable. In the latter ages Allm. Anwar Shah Kashmiri (may Allah have mercy upon him) is also most likely of that calibre.

The third principle

Sometimes regarding one hadith or one narrator differing statements of the ulama are found. Some have repudiated and some endorsed. The question arises as to whose statement should be taken in such a circumstance. In answering this question, Mawlana Abd al-Hayy Lacknawi (may Allah have mercy upon him) in ‘al-Ajwibat al-Fasilah’ (p.161-180) has discussed the issue in detail. The summary [of the discussion] is that to give tarjih (preponderance) in these statements there are three methods:

  1. The first method is that if amongst two ulama one in matters of tashih is mutasahil (relaxed) and the other is muhtat (cautious), then the action will be in accordance to the statement of the second. For example, Hakim [Nishapuri] (may Allah have mercy upon him) authenticates a hadith and Hafid Zahabi declares it weak. Hafid Zahabi’s statement will be taken as Hakim is mutasahil. Similarly, if [Hafid] Ibn Hibban (may Allah have mercy upon him) declares a narrator to be thiqah (reliable) and others declare [the narrator] to be not thiqah, the position of Ibn Hibban will not be taken as has already passed that he includes Majahil (unknown narrators) amongst the thiqat.

  2. The second method is that if amongst two muhaddithin, one is mutashaddid (harsh) and the other is mu’tadil (fair), the position of the second will be chosen. For example, [Allm.] Ibn Jawzi (may Allah have mercy upon him) is very mutashaddid whilst Hafid Ibn Hajar or Allm. Zahabi are considered Mu’tadil as such the statement of these two will be taken over that of Allm. Ibn Jawzi.

    Mawlana Abd al-Hayy Lakhnawi quotes Hafid Ibn Hajar that the Imams of Jarh wa Ta’dil in terms of eras have four classes. Within theses Hafid Ibn Hajar outlines who amongst them is Mutashaddid and who is Mu’tadil. (1) The first category is that of Shu’bah and Sufyan Thawri (may Allah have mercy upon them). Amongst the two, Shu’bah is harsher. (2) The second category is that of Yahya b. Sa’id al-Qattan and Abd al-Rahman b. Mahdi (may Allah have mercy upon them). Amongst the two, Yahya is harsher. (3) The third category is that of Yahya b. Mu’in and Ali b. Madayini (may Allah have mercy upon them). Amongst the two, Yahya is harsher. (4) The fourth category is that of Ibn Abi Hatim and Imam Bukhari (may Allah have mercy upon them). Amongst the two, Ibn Abi Hatim is harsher.

    Mawlana Lacknawi states, the ulama following the [aforementioned] individuals [such as] Allm. Ibn al-Jawzi, Umar b. Badr al-Mawsuli, Alm. Jawzqani, Hafid Saghani, the author of Safar al-Sa’adat, Abu al-Fath al-Azdi, Allm. Ibn Taymiyyah are also [considered] amongst the Mutashaddidin. Hence, compared to Mu’tadil ulama such as Hafid Ibn Hajar, Hafid Zahabi, Hafid Iraqi etcetera their statement will be abandoned.

  3. The third method is that the evidence of both groups be analysed and adopt whoever’s evidence is stronger. However, this work can only be done by a person who has a complete grasp of ilm hadith [including] the ancillary [matters]. This third method will be used in the event that the mu’tadil ulama are differed. As in if somebody has the capacity to assess the evidences of both the sides, they may give preponderance to one statement after assessment or else one should adopt whoever they have a greater trust in.

The fourth principle

The tashih and tad’if is a jtihadi matter as alluded to by Muhaqqiq Ibn Humam. Issues which can have different views from the mujtahidin, in such issues no mujtahid can be chastised. Hence, any mujtahid using any hadith as evidence is indicative to that hadith according to them being qualified to be used as evidence. As such, it is not correct to oppose them by presenting the statement of another mujtahid in that the hadith cannot be used as evidence. The reason being, the statement of one mujtahid is not evidence against another mujtahid.

The fifth principle

Sometimes a hadith reaches a mutaqaddim such as Imam Abu Hanifa (may Allah have mercy upon him) with a sanad which is sahih. Thereafter, after him comes a weak narrator [in the chain connecting to him]. So the later people declare it weak. It is clear that the tad’if of those who came later cannot be used as evidence against Imam Abu Hanifa. Other than the hanafites, other ulama have also proclaimed this principle. it is not necessary that a hadith which was declared da’if at the time of Imam Bukhari must have been da’if in the times before.

The sixth principle

Hafid Ibn Salah in his Muqaddimah writes that when we declare any hadith as sahih it does not mean that it in reality for certain issahih. Rather it means that it contains all the academic criteria which the muhaddithin have determined for sahih.So, there iszann ghalib (high likelihood) that it is in reality sahih as the certainty of the actual reality cannot be determined without tawatur. Thus, there remains the possibility in sahih that there is some error as a thiqah person can make mistakes or forget. It is possible that a wahm(oversight) may have occurred, however, no action is permissible on this risk until it is established through other indicators and strong evidences. Subsequently, if through other strong evidences, indications are found that in a given sahih hadith a narrator had wahm, that hadith could be rejected. For instance, it contradicts a hadith which is more sahih or the hadith contradicts a clear ayat of the Quran. Similarly, when we say that a given hadith is da’if, it does not mean it is actually false in reality. Rather it means that it is lacking the academic criteria for sahih and da’if due which it is not so reliable that it forms the foundation of a shar’i ruling. Otherwise, the possibility exists that the weak narration reported the absolute truth as the weak narrator does not always make a mistake. However, it is not allowed to act on the possibility until there is strong evidence which prove it so. Often the case is that amujtahid has such strong evidences due to which they give preponderance to the weak possibility and abandon a [seemingly] sahih hadith or opt for the [seemingly] weak hadith. Consequently, in such a case a person will not be deemed a person who abandons sahih hadith or one who acts upon da’if hadith.

This will be clear from an example. Imam Tirmidi (May Allah have mercy upon him) in Kitab al-Ilal writes that in my book there are two such hadith which no faqih acts upon. The first is the narration of Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him). The second is the narration of Amir Mu’wiyah (may Allah be pleased with him). This in despite the fact that [both] in terms of sanad are qualified to be used as evidence.

(عن ابن عباس رضي الله عنه في) قال جمع رسول الله صلي الله عليه و سلم بين الظهر و العصر و بين المغرب و العشاء بالمدينة من غير خوف و مطر (رواه ترمذي في سننه ص 47 ج 1 في باب ما جاء في الجمع بين الصلاتين). و (عن امير معاوية رضي الله عنه) قال قال رسو ل الله صلي الله عليه و سلم من شرب الخمر فاجلدوه فان عاد في الرابعة فاقتلوه (رواه ترمذي ص 209 ج 1 في باب ما جاء من شرب الخمر فاجلدوه فان عاد في الرابعة فاقتلوه).

In accordance with the ijma ummat, the apparent mean of both these ahadith have been abandoned as there were other strong evidences which opposed it. However, due to the abandonment of this ahadith no one is declared the abandoner of the sunnah.

Similarly Imam Tirmidi reports the narration of Abd Allah Ibn Abbas,

ردّ النبي صلي الله عليه وسلم ابنته زينب علي أبي العاص بن ربيع بعد ست سنين بالنكاح الأول و لم حدث نكاحا

This hadith clearly suggests regarding a wife who reverts to Islam that if even after six years if her old polytheist husband becomes Muslim a renewal of the marriage is not necessary. No faqih takes this position. Hence Imam Tirmidi after reporting this hadith states,

هذا حديث ليس بإسناده بأس و لكن لا نعرف وجه الحديث و لعله قد جاء هذا من قبل داود بن الحصين من قبل حفظه

Here Imam Tirmidi gave preponderance to other evidences over the possibility of wahm from the narrator.

In contract sometimes due to other evidences [seemingly] da’if hadith are acted upon. In the same chapter Imam Tirmidi relates the narration of Amr b. Shu’aib (May Allah have mercy upon him),

عن عمرو بن شعيب عن أبيه عن جده أن رسول الله صلي الله عليه و سلم ردّ ابنته زينب علي أبي العاص بن الربيع بمهر جديد و نكاح جديد

Regarding this hadith Imam Tirmidi writes,

هذا حديث في إسناده مقال و العمل علي هذا الحديث عند أهل العلم الخ (ثم قال) و هو قول مالك بن أنس و الأوزاعي و الشافعي و أحمد و إسحاق

Can it be said regarding all these Imams that they are ‘Amil bi al- hadith al-da’if. It is clear that they opted for the [seemingly] da’if hadith because it is supported by other evidences.

The seventh principle

If any da’if hadith is mu’ayyad bi al-ta’amul as in the sahabah and tabi’in acted in accordance, it despite its weakness qualifies as evidence (as has been clarified by [Imam] Jassas in Ahkam al-Quran and numerous Muhaddithin and Usuliyyin). For example, the [following] hadith is da’if,

طلاق الأمة تطليقتان و عدتها حيضتان

However, due to ta’amul it can be used as evidence. Hence, Imam Tirmidi writes under it,

حديث عائشة رضي الله عنها حديث غريب لا نعرفه مرفوعا الا من حديث مظاهر بن أسلم و مظاهر لا يعرف له في العلم غير هذا الحديث و العمل علي هذا عند أهل العلم من أصحاب النبي صلي الله عليه و سلم و غيرهم (ترمذي جلد اول أبواب الطلاق باب ما جاء أن طلاق الأمة تطليقتان)

Similarly, the sanads of the [following] Ahadith are also da’if: ‘la wasiyyata li warithin’ and ‘al-qatil la yarithu’. However, due to the general acceptance, these [narrations] have been considered qualified to be used as evidence. Likewise, many muhaddithin have declared the hadith ‘huwa tuhuru ma’uhu wa al-hillu maytatuhu’ as being da’if. However, due to the general acceptance, the [narrations] has been considered qualified to be used as evidence. Based on this principle Imam Abu Hanifa and other ahnaf sometime adopt such [seemingly] weak narrations which are mu’ayyad bi al-ta’amul. A da’if hadith which is reported through multiple sanads is declared hasan li ghayri and is considered qualified for being used as evidence.

The eighth principle

If two hadith which qualify to be used as evidence conflict, one group of fuqaha and muhaddithin give preponderance solely based on the strength of the sanad and choose whichever is ‘Asah fil Bab’. However, Imam Abu Hanifa’s position in such a matter is that he gives preponderance to that which conforms to the noble Quran or general principles of the shari’a even if it is not preponderate in terms of strength of sanad.

If these principles stay in mind, the answer to the many objections forwarded on the ahnaf will be known.


Muhammad Saifur Rahman Nawhami
Thursday, 20 Ramadan 1435
18 July 2014


Usmani, Mufti Muhammad Taqi. (2014). Eight remedial principles in evaluating hadith (Nawhami, Muhammad Saifur Rahman, Trans.). Islamic Studies Bulletin (DIBAJ), Number 3. Available at http://uloom.com/dibaj/article/140718501