An introduction to mutawatir

Social_Network_Analysis_Visualization

Allamah Abu Barakat al-Nasafi writes in Manar:

[Mutawatir] is the message which is narrated by a group whose number [is so high that it] cannot be accounted and it is [normally] impossible for them to have colluded upon a lie. This criterion extends [to every point in the chain]. Hence, its end will be like its start, its start like its end and middle like it two sides. For example, the reporting of the Quran and the five salahs. [Mutawatir] results in knowing with certainty (yaqin) like seeing gives necessary knowledge.

Mulla Jiwan explains the text in his commentary, Nur al-Anwar:

[Mutawatir] is the message which is narrated by a group whose number [is so high that it] cannot be accounted and it is impossible for them to have colluded upon a lie.

[The reason for the impossibility] is due to sheer number, differed places and character. An exact number (minimum threshold) is not specified as [opposed to what] some have inferred such as seven, forty and seventy. Rather, so long as necessary knowledge is attained, it will signify tawatur.

This criterion extends [to every point in the chain]. Hence, its end will be like its start, its start like its end and middle like it two sides.

In other words, [the volume] will remain the same in every era from the start when the message arose to the end when it reached the reporter. The start is the era when the message occurred. The end is the era of every reporter as they would have perceived it as the end. If it was not like that at the start, it will be ahad al-asl and called ‘mashhur’ so long as it spreads in the middle and the end [with the second or third generation]. If it did not spread like that in the middle or end [despite the fact that it had tawatur at the start], it is [considered] munqati’.

For example, the reporting of the Quran and the five salahs.

The examples are of mutawatir in general and not mutawatir [as found in the] sunnah. The reason being there is a dispute as to [whether] mutawatir in the sunnah exists. It is said, no [example] of it is found. Some said, ‘innamal a’malu bi al-niyyat’ and others said, ‘al-bayyinatu ala al-mudda’i wa al-yaminu ala man ankar’ [are examples of mutawatir].

[Mutawatir] results in knowing with certainty (yaqin) like seeing which gives necessary knowledge.

This is in contrast to what the mu’tazila say, ‘it provides convincing knowledge such that it gives weight to the truth but does not deliver certainty’. This is also in contrast to another group who say, ‘it provides evidentiary knowledge which arises from considering factors; [it does not deliver] necessary knowledge’. [Mutawatir leads to knowledge necessarily] because the existence of Makkah and Baghdad is clear and apparent [through mutawatir reports]; [it is free] from the need to prove it with evidence to remove doubt of its existence or the need to defend it through hypothetical constructs.

Notes

  • There is no specific threshold for tawatur. The numbers stated such as 5, 7, 10, 12, 40, 70 etcetera should be perceived more as a marker. It is a rule of thumb that a hadith which contain 10 or more separate sahabah is indicative of that hadith being mutawatir although not necessarily so.
  • The impossibility of collusion refers to the fact that it should be practically or generally (adatan) impossible. It does not refer to that which is theoretically (aqlan) impossible (cf Yawaqit al-Ghaliyah v. 1. p. 41).
  • The message must have been mutawatir in every era including the time of the sahabah (See Yawaqit al-Ghaliyah v. 1 p. 40).
  • The example of mutawatir in the sunan is من كذب علي متعمدا فليتبوأ مقعده من النار. The point mentioned by Mulla Jiwan addresses mutawatir in both text and sanad. If one considers mutawatir to have other forms such as through practice or amalgamation, there will many examples within the sunnah (cf types of mutawatir).
  • Necessary knowledge (ilm daruri or ilm yaqini) is knowledge which is self evident (requires no evidence) and understandable to any average person who hears. This is in contrast to evidentiary or convincing knowledge (ilm iktisabi or ilm nazari) which requires evidence to know and a level of expertise to understand (cf Nuzhat al-Nazar lil Asqalani).

————

Muhammad Saifur Rahman Nawhami
8 Rabi II 1437
18 January 2016