The Isnād System: An Unbroken Link to The Prophet
By Muntasir Zaman
Pause for a moment, and ask yourself: what are the greatest accomplishments of the Muslim civilization? At first thought, a number of things will probably come to mind, ranging from mathematics to medicine to architecture—perhaps even coffee. But unfortunately we tend to overlook one of the greatest accomplishments, if not the greatest: the isnād system. That a person, till this day, can attribute a hadīth to the Prophet and then follow it with a list of authorities reaching back successively to the source is what scholars as early as Abū Bakr al-Thaqafī (d. 309 AH) described as an exclusive accomplishment of the Muslim civilization.
The word sanad (lit. base) refers to the chain of transmitters leading to the text of a hadīth while isnād refers to the mentioning of the chain. Majority of scholars, however, use both terms interchangeably. Al-Bukhārī (d. 256 AH), for instance, mentions, “Makkī ibn Ibrahīm—Yazīd ibn Abī ‘Ubayd Allāh—Salamah: I heard the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) say, ‘Whoever lies about me should prepare his abode in the fire.’” In this example, the names leading to the text form the sanad of the hadith.
The usage of isnād began simultaneously with the transmission of the Prophet’s hadiths. Companions like Abū Salamah al-Makhzūmī (d. 3 AH), and Ja‘far ibn Abī Tālib (d. 8 AH), who passed away during the Prophet’s lifetime, transmitted hadiths citing the Prophet as their source. Furthermore, Companions who were preoccupied with their daily responsibilities would take turns to attend the gathering of the Prophet. When the present partner would relate the day’s teachings to the absent partner, he would obviously preface his words with “The Prophet said so and so.” The shortness of the chain, i.e. direct transmission from the Prophet, makes this first rudimentary usage of isnād unnoticeable. During this time, transmitters were not required to disclose their sources. That is why we find Companions like Anas ibn Mālik, who lived during the Medinan period, relate incidents from the Meccan period without citing their sources. This was not an issue because even the thought of lying about the Prophet was inconceivable to the Companions. Read the rest of this entry »
Give It a Second Thought: Guidelines on How to Approach Seemingly Problematic Hadīth
By Muntasir Zaman
“The example of the intellect is sight free of defects and illnesses, and the example of the Qur’ān 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 in the deluge of fools. The one turning away from the intellect, sufficing with the light of the Qur’ān, his example is one exposed to the light of the sun, while closing the eyelids, so there is no difference between him and the blind. Thus, the intellect with the sharī‘ah is light upon light. The onlooker with an eye blind to one of them specifically is drawn in by a deceptive rope.”
– Imām al-Ghazālī (d. 505 AH) 
In numerous places, the Qur’ān calls on man to use his intellect and to contemplate over the perfection of Allah’s creation. Allah says, “We have certainly sent down to you a Book in which is your mention. Then will you not reason?” In other verses, the Qur’ān reprimands those who do not use their reasoning, such as, “But those who disbelieve invent falsehood about Allah, and most of them do not reason.” Therefore, there exists no incongruity between reason and revelation; rather, reason leads one to appreciate and understand revelation. But it should be ensured that the reasoning is sound and the revelation is authentic.
From the formative period of Islamic history, scholars have written books to address apparently contradictory hadīths, a field known as Mukhtalif al-Hadīth, and hadīths that seem to conflict with other evidences or external realities, a field known as Mushkil al-Hadīth. In this regard, Muhammad ibn Idrīs al-Shāfi’ī (d. 204 AH) authored Ikhtilāf al-Hadīth, regarded as one of the earliest works on the subject, Ibn Qutaybah al-Dīnawarī (d. 276 AH) authored his pioneering monograph Ta’wīl Mukhtalif al-Hadīth, Abū Ja‘far al-Tahāwī (d. 321 AH) authored his peerless compendium Sharh Mushkil al-Āthār, and Abū Bakr Ibn Fūrak (d. 406 AH) authored his masterpiece Mushkil al-Hadīth wa Bayānuhū (Allah have mercy on them all). Scholars have also dealt with narrations of this nature in their Hadīth commentaries. Abū Bakr Ibn Khuzaymah (d. 311 AH), a leading authority in Hadīth, states, “I am unaware of any two authentic narrations of the Prophet that are contradictory. If anyone comes across such narrations, let him bring it to me so that I can reconcile between them.”
The surge of criticism in recent times towards supposedly problematic hadīths has arisen because critics claim that these reports are absurd, unscientific, impossible, or contradictory. Many of the narrations that have been cast into the spotlight for allegedly problematic content were already discussed in detail by the greatest Islāmic minds. The difference, however, between classical Muslim scholars and modern critics is the perspective with which the two groups view the objection. Traditional scholars were not oblivious to scientific realities nor were they blind to logical fallacies. They were simply more charitable in their readings of scriptural texts whereas modern critics are not willing to do so.
It will be beneficial to keep a few broad guidelines in mind when dealing with narrations of this nature. By no means are these guidelines meant to be exhaustive. But keeping them in mind can help to provide a more charitable reading of hadiths that may appear problematic. Read the rest of this entry »
Insights on the Usage of Computer Programs to Locate and Grade Hadīth
By Muftī ‘Abd al-Mālik al-Kumillā’ī
[Translator’s Preface: The following is an excerpt from Muftī ‘Abd al-Mālik’s book “al-Madkhal ilā ‘Ulūm al-Hadīth al-Sharīf” on the use of computer programs to locate and grade hadīths. In this excerpt, Muftī ‘Abd al-Malik, seeing the abuse of these programs, sets out to clarify several misconceptions regarding them. Although the author’s contention lies mainly in the usage of computer programs to locate and grade Hadith, his insights are equally applicable to internet searches, printed books, and computer searches in other sciences as well. No doubt computer programs have immense benefit and can open many avenues when searching for hadīth, but everything needs to be put into perspective, and that is what this article hopes to achieve. An idiomatic translation was adopted to make the article more reader-friendly. – Muntasir Zaman]
In accordance with His promise to preserve the true teachings of Islām, Allāh has selected certain individuals or groups throughout Islām’s history to carry out the task of preserving the noble Islāmic legacy. At times of creedal turmoil, the likes of Ahmad ibn Hanbal stood against the Mu’tazilī heresy; at times of political instability, personalities such as Salāh al-Dīn al-Ayyūbī mobilized the Muslim armies for combat; and at times of spiritual degradation, reformers like al-Ghazālī let the ink of their pens flow to revive the true spirit of scholarship and worship. Thus manifested Allāh’s undertaking mentioned in the verse: “We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it.” (Qur’ān, 15:9)
The founding of an institution in Deoband, India, in the year 1866, was not the inception of a yet another sect. Rather, it was an extension of this continuous effort to preserve the noble Islāmic legacy. The scholars of Deoband have played a pivotal role in preserving Islām, be it the Qur’ān, the Sunnah and their connected sciences or Islām’s prestigious history. It is sad to witness such a noble legacy and rich heritage go largely unnoticed by many students and scholars of Islām. They have contributed tremendously in various fields of Islām, from Qurā’nic exegesis, to jurisprudence, to Arabic, to political reform. However, their contribution towards the revival and preservation of the blessed Sunnah is most noteworthy.
As a token of acknowledgment and a means of creating awareness, the following article was prepared to highlight their most important contributions in the field of Hadīth. More emphasis has been given to earlier scholars, although contemporary scholars are also occasionally cited. Among other sources, the book Dār al-Ulūm Deoband by Shaykh Muhammad ‘Ubayd Allāh al-Qāsīmī and a list published in a monthly newsletter by Dār al-Ulūm Deoband (Rajab, 1432 AH) were consulted. Honorific titles such as Shaykh, Mawlānā, Muftī, etc. were omitted from the lists.
Muntasir Zamān Read the rest of this entry »
Chronological List of Prominent Hadīth Scholars
The importance of knowing the dates of birth/death of the scholars cannot be stressed enough, for it holds a high status in Islāmic knowledge in general and in the science of Hadīth in particular. Thus, Imām ‘Alī ibn al-Madīnī mentions, “Comprehension of the meaning of Hadīth is half of knowledge and knowing the transmitters is the other half.” To illustrate this point, let us look at the following incident:
A group of Jews presented a letter from the Messenger of Allāh that supposedly absolves the inhabitants of Khaybar from paying jizyah. This letter contained the testimony of the Companions and had the signature of ‘Alī (Allāh be pleased with him). When it was brought to the head of state, he gave it to al-Khatīb al-Baghdādī to examine it. After examining it, al-Khatīb concluded that the letter was forged. When asked how he came to that conclusion, he replied, “It contains the testimony of Mu‘āwiyah (Allāh be pleased with him) who only accepted Islām during the conquest of Makkah whereas Khaybar was conquered on the seventh year of Hijrah. Further, it contains the testimony of Sa‘d ibn Mu‘ādh (Allāh be pleased with him) who passed away during the battle of Banū Qurayżah, which was two years prior to the conquest of Khaybar.”
In view of this importance, we prepared the following chart, which contains the names, dates of birth/death, and works of prominent hadith scholars, starting from the second century AH until the present century. In this chart, we have sufficed on the relatively prominent hadith scholars; as otherwise, there would be no end to the list. Wherever possible, both the dates of birth and death were mentioned. Otherwise, only the date of death was mentioned, preceded by the abbreviation, “d.” When an approximate date is mentioned, it is preceded by “c.” (circa). The abbreviation “p.” means “post.”
It should be noted that the purpose of this chart is to serve as an easy reference for those searching for the names and dates of birth/death of major hadith scholars. Those who are interested in detailed biographical entries of these scholars should refer to the relevant works, such as Wafayāt al-A‘yān of Ibn Khallikān, Siyar A‘lām al-Nubalā’ of al-Dhahabī, Tabaqāt al-Shāfi‘iyyah al-Kubrā of Tāj al-Dīn al-Subkī, Shadharāt al-Dhahab of Ibn al-‘Imād, and al-A‘lām of al-Ziriklī etc.. To facilitate easy referencing, relevant works for further details have been cited under each entry in the Arabic chart.
Muntasir Zaman -Click here for the Pdf version of Chronological List of Prominent Hadīth Scholars-English –Click here for the Arabic List Read the rest of this entry »
The following is a brief, yet comprehensive, explanation of the rank of Imām Abū Hanīfah in the science of Hadīth. As was mentioned earlier, this is an excerpt from the previous section of our abridged translation of Athar al-Hadīth al-Sharīf fī Ikhtilāf al-A’immah al-Fuqahā’.
In this excerpt, the author commences by differentiating between the amount of hadiths a scholar knew and the amount he imparted; the latter does not reflect the exact amount of the former. Just as the knowledge of Abū Bakr (Allāh be pleased with him) cannot be gauged at by the amount of hadīths he narrated, likewise, Imām Abū Hanīfah cannot be labelled as one who knew very few hadiths simply because he narrated a limited amount hadiths.
One can understand the amount of hadiths Imām Abū Hanīfah knew by the fact that he is accepted by scholars as a mujtahid, and one of the prerequisites to reach the ranks of ijtihād is to know thousands of hadiths as mentioned by Imām Ahmad and Imām Yahyā ibn Ma‘īn. Accordingly, Imām Abū Hanīfah was aware of that amount of hadiths if not more.
Thereafter, the author discusses the academic status of Kūfah by citing the influence of ‘Abd Allāh ibn Mas‘ūd and his students upon its inhabitants, such that ‘Alī mentions he has filled it with knowledge and understanding. He then follows this by proving the encompassing knowledge Imām Abū Hanīfah acquired from the scholars of Kūfah. He further explains that his knowledge was not confined to what he learnt from his townsmen; rather, he was well versed with the knowledge of Makkah, Madīnah, and other Islāmic cities, by virtue of his frequent travels to the holy cities during Hajj and his stay there for several years.
In conclusion, the author briefly mentions several scholars who in recent times have penned works regarding the status of Imām Abū Hanīfah in the science of Hadīth, among whom is the erudite scholar of Hadīth, ‘Allāmah Zafar Ahmad al-‘Uthmānī.
It should be remembered this is only an abridged translation. Therefore, several sections have been omitted and others were summarized. To make the article more-reader friendly, an idiomatic translation was adopted in many places. Those who are interested in more detail are advised to read the original work.
————————————————————————————————————————————————————————- Read the rest of this entry »
Book Review: “An Introduction to the Disciplines of the Noble Hadīth” by Mufti Abdul Mālik al-Kumillā’ī
Book Review: “An Introduction to the Disciplines of the Noble Hadīth”
Author: Mufti Abdul Mālik al-Kumillā’ī
By Muntasir Zamān
Being the second source of Islāmic law, the blessed hadīths of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) hold a lofty position in the hearts of Muslims. The science of hadīth is extremely vast and requires strenuous effort to familiarize oneself with even its basic concepts.
Students of dīn are generally interested in gaining some acquaintance with the various genres of hadīth literature, and to learn how to search for a hadīth in the relevant works. In earlier times, this was a talent naturally acquired in the course of a scholar’s general studies and was not in need of any separate study or specialist course. However, due to the infrequent usage of such works, the general condition nowadays is that very few are able to navigate through the hadīth literature and locate a hadīth in the relevant compilations and, perhaps more importantly, find the correct ruling of the hadīth in terms of its authenticity or inauthenticity from the experts of the science.
Many books have been written as an introduction and basic guide for beginners to learn how and where to search for hadīths, and the methods used to analyze their strength. Examples of such books are:
- Usūl al-Takhrīj wa Dirāsat al-Asānīd by Dr. Mahmūd al-Tahhān,
- Takhrīj al-Hadīth al-Sharīf by Dr. Nā’if Biqā‘ī, and
- Kayfa Nadrus ‘Ilm al-Takhrīj by Shaykh Hamzah al-Malibārī and Dr. al-‘Akā’ilah, among other books.
However, one of the most beneficial and comprehensive books is al-Madkhal ilā ‘Ulūm al-Hadīth al-Sharīf (An Introduction to the Disciplines of the Noble Hadīth) of Mufti Abdul Mālik.
In this short review of his book, we will briefly discuss the background and academic qualifications of the author, followed by a summary of the book. We have also provided a digital copy for the benefit of readers. It is necessary to point out that by merely reading several books of this nature, one does not become an expert hadīth scholar. Rather, he must stay in the company of the experts of the field and invest long hours burying himself in the books.