A Timeless Tale of Erudition: al-Yūnīnī and his Proverbial Manuscript of Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī
By Muntasir Zaman
While mapping out his genealogy of Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī (d. 852 AH) identifies nine routes of transmission from Muḥammad ibn Yūsuf al-Firabrī (d. 320 AH), the primary transmitter of the Ṣaḥīḥ from its author. These routes further multiply as the transmission spreads out in every successive generation. The invention of the printing press has allowed for the production of countless identical copies of a book with ease, but that is a privilege unheard of not too long ago. Hence, due to a range of factors related to methodology, memory, comprehension, attendance, and scribal oversight, the recensions of the Ṣaḥīḥ naturally differed in their details. In the 7th century AH, one Levantine scholar set out to collate the variants of the major recensions to produce the most accurate rendition of the work.
The legendary audition of Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī in Damascus around the year 666 AH headed by the renowned Ḥadīth scholar, Sharaf al-Dīn al-Yūnīnī (d. 701 AH), with the aid of the celebrated linguist, Ibn Mālik (d. 672 AH), in a gathering of scholars who utilized critically acclaimed manuscripts of the Ṣaḥīḥ for cross-referencing is an awe-inspiring episode of literature preservation in human history. Al-Yūnīnī’s role in latter-day scholarship on the Ṣaḥīḥ by collating the variants of its major recensions into one manuscript cannot be overemphasized. Starting with al-Yūnīnī’s biography, this article will explore this phenomenal project on the Ṣaḥīḥ. Three folios from manuscripts related to the Yūnīniyyah have been appended for the purpose of illustration. Read the rest of this entry »
On the Manuscripts of Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī: Discrepancies and Disappearance of the Original Copy
By ʿAbd al-Qādir Jalāl
Translated by Muntasir Zaman
Orientalist studies on Ḥadīth were part of a broader investigation into Islamic history. Their criticism on the reliability of Ḥadīth started as early as the nineteenth century; by 1848, Gustav Weil (d. 1889) had already criticized a substantial number of ḥadīths. The Hungarian Ignaz Goldziher (d. 1921) was the first to write a fundamental study on Ḥadīth, and his teachings deeply influenced subsequent critics, notable among whom was Joseph Schacht (d. 1969). Their contentions quickly found their way into the Muslim world, due in part to the writings of Aḥmad Amīn (d. 1954) and Maḥmūd Abū Rayyah (d. 1970), who did little more than reproduce outdated clichés. It was not long before Muslim scholars responded. One of the most vigorous rebuttals to Schacht’s ideas was by the late Muṣṭafa al-Aʿẓamī (d. 2018), who authored Studies in Early Ḥadīth Literature and On Schacht’s Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence. Muṣṭafā al-Sibāʿī (d. 1964) authored his masterpiece al-Sunnah wa Makānatuhā fī al-Tashrīʿ al-Islāmī to address similar criticisms by Maḥmūd Abū Rayyah. Others dedicated works to address specific topics, such as a vindication of Abū Hurayrah by ʿAjjāj al-Khaṭīb and ʿAbd al-Munʿim al-ʿIzzī, respectively.
In his timely contribution to this exchange entitled “Iʿlāʾ al-Bukhārī,” Shaykh ʿAbd al-Qādir Jalāl offers a robust rejoinder to modern criticisms on Ṣāḥīḥ al-Bukhārī. The roughly 200-page monograph, edited by Shaykh ʿAlī al-ʿImrān, comprises five chapters, tackling a range of topics related to the Ṣaḥīḥ from a defense of Imām al-Bukhārī to explicating ostensibly problematic ḥadīths to clarifying doubts surrounding the credibility of the Ṣaḥīḥ’s narrators. Iʿlāʿ al-Bukhārī, which can be downloaded here, is a valuable resource for those who seek clarity on the reliability and status of Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī.
The following is an excerpt from the second chapter where the author examines three contentions surrounding the authorship of Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī and its recensions: (i) Imām al-Bukhārī passed away before producing a fair copy of the Saḥīḥ; (ii) the disappearance of the original manuscript penned by al-Bukhārī; and (iii) the multiplicity of recensions with discrepancies and additional material within them. On the preservation of Ḥadīth literature in general, the reader may consult our previous article. To make this article more reader-friendly, a paraphrased translation was adopted in several places. A diagram summarizing the present article and a brief biographical entry on al-Firabrī have been appended for the benefit of the reader. Read the rest of this entry »
On the Statement “Acquire Knowledge from the Cradle to the Grave”
By Shaykh ʿAbd al-Fattāḥ Abū Ghuddah
[Translator’s note: The purpose of translating this short excerpt is not only to highlight the status of the report in question. Shaykh ʿAbd al-Fattāḥ’s treatment of this report can be extended to other reports that may have a sound meaning but are not correctly transmitted from the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).]
The phrase “The acquisition of knowledge is from the cradle to the grave” also quoted as “Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave” is not a Prophetic ḥadīth. It is, therefore, not permissible to attribute it to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) as many people are accustomed to doing. Only the action, statement, or tacit approval of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) may be attributed to him as a ḥadīth.
That the meaning of the quoted phrase is correct and its message is true does not legitimize its attribution to the Prophet. Ḥāfiẓ Abū al-Ḥajjāj al-Mizzī (d. 742 AH) said, “A person is not allowed to falsely attribute to the Prophet a single letter from a phrase he finds beautiful even if its meaning is sound; although everything the Prophet said is sound, he did not say everything that is sound (kull mā qālahū al-rasūl ḥaqq wa laysa kull ḥaqq qālahū al-rasūl).” See Ḥāfiẓ al-Suyūṭī, Dhayl al-Mawḍūʿāt, p.202.
The fabricated ḥadīth “Acquire knowledge from the cradle to the grave” is widespread. Strangely enough, books on widespread ḥadīths have not mentioned this report.
[ʿAbd al-Fattāḥ Abū Ghuddah, Qīmat al-Zaman ʿind al-ʿUlamā, p.30]
By Muntasir Zaman
The example of the intellect is sight free of defects and illnesses, and the example of the Qurʾān is the sun with rays spread out. Hence, the seeker of guidance that dispenses with one of them in lieu of the other is most fit to be included among fools. The one who turns away from the intellect, sufficing himself with the light of the Qurʾān is like one exposed to the light of the sun while closing his eyelids; there is no difference between him and the blind. Thus, the intellect with revelation is light upon light. The onlooker with an eye blind to one of them specifically is drawn in by a deceptive rope.
– Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī (d. 505 AH)
The surge of criticisms in recent times towards supposedly problematic ḥadīths generally rest on the claim that such ḥadīths are absurd, unscientific, impossible, or contradictory. Every ḥadīth whose content is seen as problematic will have a specific explanation, for which relevant literature can be consulted. This article will highlight broad guidelines that are to be kept in mind when dealing with narrations of this nature. After some preliminary thoughts, four points will be proffered for consideration: (1) the limits of human reason and experience; (2) the importance of contextualization; (3) the usage of figurative speech; and (4) the need to distinguish between impossibility and unlikelihood. In no way are these guidelines meant to be exhaustive. As a first response, they can help to assuage the concerns of a Muslim whose conscience is constantly agitated by reading apparently problematic ḥadīths. Detailed discussions on specific ḥadīths can be offered on a case by case basis.
In numerous places in the Qurʾān, Allah calls upon humankind to use their intellect and to contemplate the perfection of His creation. He says, “And now We have sent down to you [people] a Scripture to remind you. Will you not use your reason?” In other verses, He reprimands those who do not use their intellect; “But the disbelievers invent lies about Allah. Most of them do not use reason” is a striking case in point. That the Qurʾān transcends a mere exposition of raw assertion by engaging in a process of argumentation and dialogue—it is the “evincive proof” (burhān) and “conclusive argument” (al-ḥujjah al-bālighah)—is indicative of its appeal to the human mind. Therefore, there exists no incongruity between reason and revelation; the former in fact leads one to appreciate the latter while the latter enjoins and exemplifies the former. There is, however, an important caveat that should not escape our attention: the reasoning has to be sound and the revelation authentic.
From the formative period of Islamic history, scholars have written books to address apparently contradictory ḥadīths, a field known as mukhtalif al-ḥadīth, and ḥadīths that apparently conflict with other evidences or external reality, a field known as mushkil al-ḥadīth. In this vein, Imām al-Shāfiʿī (d. 204 AH) authored Ikhtilāf al-Ḥadīth, regarded as one of the earliest works on the subject. Analogous works include Ibn Qutaybah al-Dīnawarī’s (d. 276 AH) pioneering monograph, Taʾwīl Mukhtalif al-Ḥadīth, Abū Jaʿfar al-Ṭaḥāwī’s (d. 321 AH) peerless compendium, Sharḥ Mushkil al-Āthār, and Abū Bakr Ibn Fūrak’s (d. 406 AH) masterpiece, Mushkil al-Ḥadīth wa Bayānuhū. Scholars also dealt with such narrations in their general Ḥadīth commentaries when the occasion arose. Abū Bakr Ibn Khuzaymah (d. 311 AH) confidently proclaims, “I am unaware of any two authentic narrations of the Prophet that are contradictory. If anyone comes across such narrations, let him bring them to me so that I can reconcile them.” Read the rest of this entry »
On the Retention of the Companions
By Muntasir Zaman
To evaluate the reliability of a narrator, Ḥadīth scholars examined two integral characteristics: probity (ʿadālah) and retention (ḍabṭ). After studying the probity of the Companions (Allah be pleased with them), a person is left with the following question: companionship with the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) does not enhance one’s memory, so even if it is accepted that the Companions were upright, how sure are we that they adequately retained ḥadīths before transmitting them? In other words, did they meet the required standards of memory to transmit ḥadīths? The following explanation does not preclude the fact that they occasionally forgot or erred. It aims to shed light on factors that allowed them to satisfactorily retain the ḥadīths they heard and then transmit them to their students.
It may be difficult to recognize a relationship between a narrator’s probity and his retention, but functionally they are definitely intertwined. This is because an upright transmitter will only narrate material the authenticity of which he is certain. Towards the end of his life when Anas ibn Mālik was asked a question, he replied, “Go and ask our master al-Ḥasan [al-Baṣrī]. Indeed, we heard and he heard, but he remembers and we forgot.” A narrator exercises caution when narrating ḥadīths proportionate to his probity; since the Companions possessed the highest level of uprightness, their caution was correspondingly firm. This is more so given their familiarity with the Prophet’s warning, “Whoever lies about me should prepare his abode in the Fire.” Companions like ʿAbd Allah ibn Masʿūd (d. 32 AH) and Abū al-Dardāʾ (d. 32 AH) are on record for following their narrations with phrases such as “similar to this” and “more or less” which they expressed out of caution, not out of doubt. Their cautious attitude even influenced Successors like Ibrāhīm al-Nakhaʿī (d. 96 AH) and ʿĀmir al-Shaʿbī (d. c.103 AH). From this angle, there is a relationship between one’s probity and retention. Read the rest of this entry »
The Preservation of the Ḥadīth Literature
By Muntasir Zaman
“Marks of ink on one’s mouth and clothes are emblems of honor.”
– Ibrāhīm al-Nakha‘ī
How has the Islamic civilization maintained the rich literary heritage of Ḥadīth developed by early Muslim scholars? What guarantee is there that the collections of ḥadīths in our possession have reached us accurately or that they were compiled by their purported authors? Far from being exhaustive, this article intends to provide answers to these questions. It begins by examining the procedures scholars instituted to ensure accurate transmission of Ḥadīth books. It then proceeds to study the practice of oral/aural transmission (samā‘) and public reading sessions and their influence in preserving the Ḥadīth literature. Thereafter, the article builds on three arguments that Ibn al-Wazīr al-Yamānī (d. 840 AH) posits in response to those who doubt the authorship of the major Ḥadīth collections. Before concluding, it sheds light on the usage of wijādah in terms of transmission and practice. The appendix contains diagrams on the transmission of Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī.
Procedures for Preservation
The attention and care scholars gave to the vast literature of Ḥadīth to ensure that the efforts of their predecessors were not in vain is truly awe-inspiring. They were methodical in their treatment of the Ḥadīth literature. They laid out guidelines on issues like book authorization, auditions, and the handling of manuscripts and registers. Qāḍī ‘Iyāḍ’s (d. 544 AH) al-Ilmā‘ ilā Ma‘rifat Uṣūl al-Riwāyah wa Taqyīd al-Samā‘ is among the most prominent titles on the subject. Although an oft-cited authority on the subject, Qāḍī ‘Iyāḍ was by no means the first to address this topic. He drew extensively from earlier works like al-Rāmahurmuzī’s (d. 360 AH) al-Muḥaddith al-Fāṣil and al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī’s (d. 462 AH) al-Kifāyah fī‘ ‘Ilm al-Riwāyah and al-Jāmi‘ li Akhlāq al-Rāwī wa Ādāb al-Sāmi‘. At times, scribes would devise creative techniques to prevent confusion when reading their manuscripts. For instance, Shu‘bah ibn al-Ḥajjāj (d. 160 AH) narrated the ḥadīth of Abū al-Ḥawrā’ to a student who wrote the ḥadīth and further added the word “ḥūr ‘īn” (wide-eyed damsel) as a note beneath the name Abū al-Ḥawrā’. The reason for this peculiar note was the presence of a narrator by the name Abū al-Jawzā’ in the same generation as Abū al-Ḥawrā’. To avoid confusing the two similar yet distinct narrators, the student diligently wrote ḥūr as a note to remind him of al-Hawrā’, which is the singular form of ḥūr. Read the rest of this entry »
Guidelines on Evaluating Historical Reports
By Shaykh Sharīf Hātim al-‘Awnī
Translated by Muntasir Zaman
[Translator’s preface: The following paper outlines an approach to evaluating the authenticity of historical reports. The author begins by emphasizing the merits of the Hadīth methodology, but makes sure to point out that not every science is obliged to adopt such a rigorous method. Drawing on statements from Hadīth experts like Ibn al-Mubarak and al-Khatīb al-Baghdādī, he proves that Hadīth scholars themselves were nuanced in their treatment of non-prophetic reports.
After a lengthy preamble, he presents a maxim that can be applied to such reports: every report that, directly or indirectly, forms the basis of a religious ruling will be accepted only through the rigorous methods of the Hadīth scholars used for the Sunnah; otherwise, their methods will not be applied. He then explains the theoretical application of this maxim in all areas from Sīrah to Companion statements to stories of the following generations; to illustrate its practical application, he provides two case studies.
To be sure, this paper is not a license to cite unsubstantiated stories. As the author himself explains, “Taking certain liberties when assessing transmitted information besides Hadīth is not tantamount to authenticating what is inauthentic; instead, every transmitted information is to be evaluated with a relevant scale.” Note: a paraphrased translation was adopted and subtitles were added to facilitate an easier read.]
There has been an increasing demand to refine Hadīth studies in the fields of Sīrah, history, and prosopography. These demands have been made for a diverse set of methodologies, the most pure and cautious being the methodology of the Hadīth scholars. As a result, numerous research projects and books were produced, which is a blessed endeavor and a sign of great good. These studies have corrected many academic errors and refined some of the most integral primary sources. Nonetheless, these were human endeavors and therefore prone to error. An error in a peripheral issue is a light matter that can be easily resolved, but a methodological error is dangerous and its findings are difficult to remedy. Read the rest of this entry »