Rules Governing the Criticism of Hadeeth

The Classification of Hadeeth - According to a hidden defect found in the isnad or text of a hadith

Before discussing ma'lul (defective) ahadith, a brief note on mudtarib (shaky) and maqlub (reversed) ahadith would help in understanding ma'lul.

According to Ibn Kathir, if reporters disagree about a particular shaikh, about some other points in the isnad or about the text in such a way that none of the opinions can be preferred over another, such a hadith is called mudtarib.

For example with regard to idtirab in the isnad, it is reported on the authority of Abu Bakr that he said: "O Messenger of Allah! I see you getting older?" He replied, "What made me old are Sura Hud and its sister suras."

Al-Daraqutni says,

  "This is an example of a mudtarib hadith. It is reported through Abu Ishaq, but as many as ten different opinions are held about this isnad; some report it as mursal, others as muttasil; some take it as musnad of Abu Bakr, others as musnad of Sa'd or 'A'isha. Since all these reports are reliable, it is difficult to prefer one to the other: hence, the hadith is termed as mudtarib."

As an example of idtirab in the text, Rafi' b. Khadij that the Messenger of Allah forbade the renting of land. The reporters narrating from Rafi' give different statements as follows:

(i) Hanzala asked Rafi', "What about renting on gold and silver?" He replied, "It does not matter if it is lent on gold and silver."

(ii) Rifa'a --- Rafi' --- the Prophet, who said, "Whoever owns a piece of land should cultivate it, give it to his brother to cultivate, or abandon it.

(iii) Salim --- Rafi' --- his two uncles --- the Prophet, who forbade the renting of farming land.

(iv) The son of Rafi' --- Rafi' --- the Prophet, who forbade the renting of Iand.

(v) A different narration by Rafi' from the Prophet, who said, "Whoever owns a piece of land should either cultivate it or give it to his brother to cultivate. He must not rent it on a third or fourth part (of the produce) or on a given quantity of the produce."

(vi) Zaid b. Thabit said, "May Allah forgive Rafi'! I am more aware of the hadith than he; what happened was that two Helpers had a dispute, so they came to the Prophet, who (after listening to their cases) said, 'If this is your position, then do not rent the farms.' Rafi' has just heard the last phrase, i.e., 'Do not rent the farms'."

Because of these various versions, Ahmad says,

  "The ahadith reported by Rafi' about the renting of land are mudtarib. They are not to be accepted, especially when they go against the well-established hadith of Ibn 'Umar that the Messenger of Allah gave the land of Khaibar to the Jews on condition that they work on it and take half of the produce."

Maqlub (reversed) ahadith

A hadith is known as maqlub when its isnad is grafted to a different text or vice versa, or if a reporter happens to reverse the order of phrases in a sentence in the text.

As an example relating to text, Muslim, in his transmission of the famous hadith describing the seven who will be under the shelter of Allah on the Day of Judgment, quotes one of the categories as, "A man who conceals his act of charity to an extent that his right hand does not know what his left hand gives in charity." This sentence has clearly been reversed by a reporter, because the correct wording is recorded in other narrations of both al-Bukhari and Muslim as follows, "... that his left hand does not know what his right hand gives in charity."

The famous trial of al-Bukhari by the scholars of Baghdad provides a good example of a maqlub isnad. The traditionists, in order to test their visitor, al-Bukhari, appointed ten men, each with ten ahadith. Now, each hadith of these ten was grafted with the isnad of another. Imam al-Bukhari listened to each of the ten men and denied the authenticity of every hadith. When they had finished narrating these ahadith, al-Bukhari turned to each person inturn and recounted to him each hadith with its correct isnad. This trial won him great honour among the scholars of Baghdad.

Other ways of rendering a hadith maqlub are by replacing the name of a reporter with another, e.g. quoting Abu Huraira as the reporter from the Prophet although the actual reporter is someone else, or by reversing the name of the reporter, e.g. mentioning Walid b. Muslim instead of Muslim b. Walid, or Ka'b b. Murra instead of Murra b. Ka'b.

Ma'lul or Mu'allal (defective) hadith

Ibn al-Salah says, "A ma'lul hadith is one which appears to be sound, but thorough research reveals a disparaging factor." Such factors can be:

(i) declaring a hadith musnad when it is in fact mursal, or marfu' when it is in fact mauquf; and

(ii) showing a reporter to narrate from his shaikh when in fact he did not meet the latter; or attributing a hadith to one Companion when it in fact comes through another.

Ibn al-Madini (d. 324) says that such a defect can only be revealed if all the asanid of a particular hadith are collated. In his book al-'Ilal, he gives thirty-four Successors and the names of those Companions from whom each of them heard directly. For example, he says that al-Hasan al-Basri did not see 'Ali, although he adds there is a slight possibility that he may have seen him during his childhood in Madina. Such information is very important since many Sufi traditions go back to al-Hasan al-Basri, who is claimed to report directly from 'Ali.

Being a very delicate branch of Mustalah al-Hadith, only a few well-known traditionists such as Ibn al-Madini (d. 234), Ibn Abi Hatim al-Razi (d. 327), al-Khallal (d. 311) and al-Daraqutni (d. 385), have compiled books about it. Ibn Abi Hatim has given 2840 examples of ma'lul ahadith related to different issues in his Kitab al-'Ilal.

An example of a ma'lul hadith is one transmitted by Muslim on the authority of Abu Huraira, who reports the Prophet as saying

  "Allah created Land on Saturday, the Mountain on Monday, despised things on Tuesday, Light on Wednesday, scattered the cattle in it (the earth) on Thursday, and created Adam on Friday."

About it, Ibn Taimiyya says,

  "Men more knowledgeable than Muslim, such as al-Bukhari and Yahya b. Ma'in, have criticised it. Al-Bukhari said, 'This saying is not that of the Prophet, but one of Ka'b al-Ahbar'."

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