This article discusses the phenomena of hadith fabrication in the early centuries and efforts made to counter these phenomena.
Motives behind Fabrication of Hadith
There were a number of reasons why hadith were fabricated. These included:
The Shia’s, particularly in Iraq fabricated many ahadith in praise of Ali, and his family. In response some ignorant sunnis began to fabricate hadith in support Mu’awiyah. For the Shia’s, lying, even against the Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam) was considered acceptable if it helped promote their beliefs.
Groups who took opposing views on the issue of Imaan
A number of groups appeared after the death of Ali, including the Khawaarij, Qadariya, Jubariya, Mu’tazila and others, all having differing views on the nature of Imaan. Apart from the Khawaarij, all these groups fabricated hadith to support their view. As for the Khawaarij, they considered lying to be major kufr. This did not stop them however , from rejecting the Companions’ understanding of the Qur’an, and killing anyone who disagreed with their views. Many fabricators would add an isnad of reputable scholars to add credence to their lie.
Some individuals embraced Islam outwardly, but hated it inwardly. Many of them had seen their prestige and authority collapse when Islam entered their lands. They tried to undermine Islam and cause confusion amongst the Muslims by fabricating hadith. Many of the early Caliphs and Governors pursued and punished them. For example, Muhummad ibn Said al- Maslub, who fabricated the hadith “I am the seal of the Prophets if Allah wishes”, was executed by the Caliph, Abu Ja’far.
They would add isnads to their incredible and ridiculous stories to give them credibility.
In order to encourage the people to devote themselves to various types of worship, they would fabricate hadith about the merits of various actions. They would say: We do not lie against the Prophet, we lie for him”. (Ibn Kathir, al Ba’ith al Harith).
Abu Isma Nuh ibn Abi Marayam admitted fabricating hadith on the virtues of each Surah of the Qur’an satating that people were over-occupied with fiqh issues to the detriment of the Qur’an so “I invented these hadith for the sake of reward (from Allah)”.
Prejudice for one’s town, race, or Imaam
Fabricated hadith about the virtues of Jeddah, Basra, as well as many other cities were invented due to personal prejudice. Also bigoted partisanship led to hadith such as “There shall be a man in my ummah by the name of Muhummad ibn Idris (i.e. al Shaafi’i) who will be more dangerous to my ummah then Iblees, and there shall be a man in my ummah known as Abu Hanifa who is the lamp of my Ummah”.
Said ibn Taarif fabricated a hadith against teachers, because a teacher beat his son. (Suyuti: al L’alo: 1:263) Giyath ibn Ibrahim ibn al Nakh’I fabricated a hadith about virtues of pigeons, to please the Caliph Mahdi (who was very fond of pigeons). When the Caliph realised that the hadith was fabricated, he ordered that his pigeons be slaughtered, and he abandoned the practice of flying pigeons.
Verification in the time of the Companions
During the time of the Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam) the Companions would report his sayings and actions and tacit approvals to other Companions. These reports are known as hadith. The Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam) has stated that “whoever lies against me intentionally shall reserve his place in the Hell Fire”. This widely report mutawattir hadith, along with the integrity and uprightness of the Companions, as testified by Allah in the Qur’an ensured that there was no fabrication of hadith during the life time of the Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam). By fabrication, we mean a false statement attributed to the Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam whether deliberately or unintentionally. Anas b Malik said: “By Allah, we did not used to lie, nor did we know what a lie is”.
After the death of the Prophet, the Companions continued narrating ahadith to each other and to the next generation; the tabee’een. Ibn Abbas, for example heard many hadith from older Companions. Again, there was no fabrication of hadith by the Companions, however, mistakes in rulings amongst the Companions did occur either due to their misunderstanding of a hadith, being unaware of it, the hadith being abrogated and other reasons. Actual mistakes in narrating hadith were very rare, and when they did occur, it was quickly corrected by other Companions.
The companions were very careful in both narrating and accepting narrations, due to their fear of lying against the Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam). Umar al Farooq cautioned against the excessive narrating of hadith, due to his fear of unqualified people mistakenly attributing statements to the Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam).
The companions had a number of methods to verify and investigate the authenticity of a hadith. When this method was applied upon narrations from other Companions, it was not due to suspicion of fabrication, but to ensure that a false report was not inadvertently attributed to the Messenger of Allah (sallahu alaihi wa sallam). This methodology was the basis of hadith scrutinisation of the later generations.
1. Referring back to the original source
Umar and Ibn Abbas would forbid anyone praying after the Asr prayer, based upon an authentic hadith, but upon hearing that Aisha observed prayer after Asr they sent Kuraib to her to investigate. Aisha in turn referred Kuraib to Umm Salama, who had witnesses the situation in which the Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam) had observed two rakaat after Asr. Umm Salama had asked the Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam) as to why he observed two rakaat after Asr in light of his prohibition of praying after Asr. The Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam) explained that he had been delayed from praying the two rakaat after Thuhr, as he had been engaged with some people who wished to embrace Islam. Hence he (sallahu alaihi wa sallam) prayed these two rakaat (of the sunnah of Thuhr) after Asr.
2. Asking for an oath, or demanding confirmation from a reporter
Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, said: “if someone from among his (the Prophet’s) companions narrated hadith to me, I asked him to take on oath. If he did so, I held him as true”. (Tirmidhi)
3. Rectification of a mistaken report
Ibn Umar had said that the dead would be punished because of his family’s lamenting for him. Ibn Abi Mulaika narrated Ibn Umar’s words to Aishah. She corrected the misunderstanding that Ibn Umar had by stating that the Prophet had stated that the punishment of the unbeliever would increase because of his family’s lamenting for him. She then told Ibn Abi Mulaika: “you have narrated it to me from those who are neither liars, nor suspected of lying, but (sometimes) hearing misleads” (Muslim:2:440).
4. Demanding the reporter to repeat the hadith on the same or later occasion
Ibn Abbas asked Bushair ibn Ka’b to repeat hadith in order to check if he was making mistakes in his narrations. (Muslim).
Aishah asked her nephew, Urwah, to travel to Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al Aas to ask him about hadith. A year later, she sent Urwah to him again to hear the same narrations. Aisha then confirmed that the hadith were correct as he had not added or taken away anything from the narration. (Muslim)
5. Asking the reporter for a witness to his narration
Abu Bakr asked Mughira ibn Shu’ba to produce a witness regarding the narration of the inheritance of the grandmother. (Abu Dawood). Also Umar asked Mughira ibn Shu’ba to produce a witness, when the latter narrated a hadith regarding the diyat of an unborn child. (Muslim:3:906).
Imaam Dhahabi said of Abu Bakr; ‘He was the first to take precautions regarding accepting of reports’.
6. To take the writing (letter or book) as binding if proved to be authentic.
Umar declared that 16 camels should be given as a bloodwit against a thumb until the letter of the Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam) to the family of Amr ibn Hazm was found. It stated that the blood wit was ten camels for each finger. When it was proved that this was indeed the letter of the Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam) they acted in accordance with it. (al Qasim, Jamal al Din: Qawa’id al Tahdith)
7. To know the authenticity of a hadith by hearing its contents only
Ka’b ibn Malik, after having being blind, used to say whenever any person spokes lies before him: “Keep quiet, I smell lies from your mouth”. He developed this merit because he himself faced the trial of telling the truth when the Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam) came back after the battle of Tabuk. Allah revealed on that occasion: “O believers, have fear of Allah, and be with those who speak the truth”.
(Hakim: Ma’rifat al Ulum al-Hadith)
Hence despite the fact that none of the Companions ever suspected a fellow Companion of lying, they still took great precautions in accepting their narrations due to the fear of a mistake being made.
Verification in the time of the Taabe’een
In the time of the Taabe’een, a similar methodology to that used by the Companions was employed in order to verify hadith, and detect fabrication. These included:
1. Referring back to the original reporter
Marwan ibn al Hakam, (the governor of Madina at the time of Mu’awiya) heard from Yusuf ibn Abdullah ibn Salam who heard from Umm Maqul who heard the Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam) say that the reward for Umra in Ramadan was equivalent to Haj. (Abu Dawood).
Marwan then sent for Ma’qal ibn Abi Ma’qal who had also heard this narration from (his mother) Umm Maqul. Upon hearing that the Sahaabee, Umm Maqul was still alive, Marwan travelled to her house to hear the narration directly from her.
Scholars of later times made extensive journeys to verify hadith, often travelling for months.
2. Demanding isnad from a narrator
Umar ibn Abdul Aziz asked Urwah ibn Zubair to name his source when the latter narrated a hadith about Jibra’eel leading the Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam) in prayer at the fixed time. (Bukhari)
3. Demanding repetition of a hadith after a long time
Ibrahim al-Nakh’i heard a hadith from Abu Zur’a ibn Jareer. Two years later he asked him to repeat the same hadith. Abu Zur’a repeated it, word for word.
4. To support a hadith by pronouncing an oath
Khuram ibn Fatik supported a narration regarding fitnah and strife, by an oath.
5. Confession of a fabricator
Some individuals, after abandoning their innovation, admitted that they had fabricated hadith. Nuh al Jami, an ascetic admitted that he had fabricated hadith on the virtues of each surah of the Qur’an.
The use of the isnad
In the latter part of the Caliphate of Uthmaan, a number of disturbing phenomena occurred. Respect and honour for the Companions amongst a section of the Muslims diminished to the extent that both Uthmaan and later Ali were killed by fellow Muslims. In fact Ali, the one whom the Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam) promised Paradise, was declared to be a kafir by the Khawaarij. A number of new sects appeared, some, such as the Shia, were influenced by heretics who were determined to cause havoc amongst the ranks of the Muslims. It was at the time that the isnad started playing an important role in the detection of fabricated hadith. Ibn Sireen said: “They did not used to ask about the isnaad, but when the fitnah occurred, the people would say: ‘state your authorities’. And they would look to ahl- sunnah and accept their hadith. And they would look to ahl-biddah and reject their hadith”. The fitnah here refers to the martyrdom of Uthmaan and the subsequent fighting between Ali and Mu’awiya, may Allah be pleased with both of them.
The isnad consists of the names of the reporters. Once the reporters are in the chain of narration are identified, a judgement can be made an each narrator, whether he was trustworthy or not, and whether he actually heard the report from the person he was narrating from. Criticism of this nature came to be known as ilm jarh was ta’deel.
This narration of Ibn Sireen above does not imply that the isnaad was not used before the death of Uthmaan. However narrators were not so particular in applying it until the fitnah occurred. After the fitnah, scholars would ask for the isnad in order to know the narrators in the isnad, and make a judgment on each and every narrator. This later developed into a fully fledged science called jarh wa ta’deel (science of disparaging and complementary remarks about a narrator) and ilm ar-rijaal (knowledge of the biographies of men). Hence the use of the isnad was the major weapon in countering fabrication of hadith.
As mentioned earlier, the righteous Caliphs would force narrators to prove the authenticity of their hadith, by either bringing a witness, or swearing an oath. By doing so, the narrators were making it clear whether they had heard the narration directly from the Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam) or through another Companion. Therefore it can be said that Abu Bakr was the first person to force narrators to prove the authenticity of their hadith and hence state the isnad for their hadith. In most cases, in the time of Abu Bakr, there was no intermediary between the narrator and the Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam). The fourth rightly guided Caliph Ali, who ruled during times of great fitnah would force narrators to state his sources.
In the time of the ta’be’een, the narrators themselves begin to insist on mentioning the isnad. Al-Amash would narrate a hadith and then say: ‘here is the head of the matter’ and then he would mention the isnad. Many students would not take a hadith from their teacher if there was no isnad.
The beginning of fabrication and efforts to counter it
As to when fabrication first occurred, Fullaatah mentions in his thesis (al-Widha fi al-Hadith, 1981) that an individual called Al Mukhtaar ath-Thaqafi asked al Rabi al Khuzai to fabricate a hadith. In return he would receive seven hundred deenars. The latter refused, and although Al Mukhtaar tried to convince others to fabricate hadith, he was unsuccessful. In fact he killed Muhummad ibn Amaar ibn Yaasir for refusing to fabricate hadith. (al Bukhari in Al-Tareekh al-Sagheer). Hence according to Fullaatah, fabrication first occurred in the last third of the first century. (70H onwards). However, by this time, the isnad system was already in use and the
science of jarh was ta’deel had began. Therefore the fabrication of hadith did not affect the preservation of the sunnah, as the sciences of hadith needed to counter (intentional or unintentional) fabrication, were already in place. When the fabricators reared their ugly heads, the scholars already had the weapons (the isnad, jarh wa ta’deel, ilm ar-rijaal etc) to repeal them.
Adh- Dhahabi said: ‘There was hardly anyone [who was considered] of little authority (da’if) during the first century in which the Companions and the outstanding Followers (tabe’een) died out – except isolated individuals. However when the second century began, they were to be found among the later circle of the Followers’.
Adh- Dhahabi also mentioned that excessive mistakes in narrating only began to appear among the minor (i.e. latter) Followers and those who came after them. It was at this point that the ulema took great care regarding accepting reports. The first research into the narrator who had cited a hadith, and whether he was free of faults, began in the latter part of the second century, (150H onwards). As the number of narrators in the chain was greater than before, there was more need for scrutinising the reporters, and there were more critics found in this period.
As well as examining each narrator in the isnad, the text of the narration would be compared to other narrations that were established to have come via a Companion. Hence there were two types of verification; naqd al matn and naqd al isnad. Az-Zuhri (d124) was the most vigilant, and most careful amongst the scholars who examined the narrations in Madinah. Ibn Sirin (d110) was the foremost in Iraq to subject the narrators to critical verification, and to discriminate the trustworthy from the rest.
The early specialists who wrote on jarh wa ta’deel were Shu’ba ibn al Hajjaj (82 – 160H), al Layth ibn Sa’d (d 175H), and Yahya ibn Said al Qattan (d198H). Shu’ba ibn al Hajjaj. a senior atba at tabi’in, was the first scholar to truly devote himself to the critique of narrators. Ibn Hibban said that Shu’ba was the “first to broaden the scope of jarh wa ta’deel”.
Then this knowledge was passed down to their students from the generation after the atba at tabi’in. From them were Ahmed ibn Hanbal (164-241H), Yahya ibn Ma’in (158 -233H) and Ali ibn al Madini (161-235H).
This knowledge was then passed on to the likes of Abu Zur’ah ar Razi (d263), ad-Darimi (d255), al-Bukhari (d256), Muslim (d261) and Abu Dawood (d275).
These last two generations represent the culmination of this science.
Once a hadith fabricator had been identified, (or even an honest narrator with a weak memory for that matter) none of his narrations would be accepted, even though some of his narrations may have been correct. There was no fear of an authentic hadith being lost however, as it would have been preserved through a different, correct chain. Many fabricators avoided going too public. This was partly due to fear of the great scholars, and the rulers. Many fabricators were condemned to death after being caught. The fabricators, after being caught, would claim that they had fabricated thousands of hadith. This claim itself was a deliberate lie in order destroy faith in hadith.
The writing and classification of hadith in the middle of the first century by Ibn Juraij (d150). Malik (d179), Ibn Ishaq (d151), Awza’ee (d157) and Sufyan al-Thawri (d161) further reduced the impact of the fabricators. This was followed by the compilation of hadith books in the third century. Of the six books in the Kutub Sittah, only one (Ibn Majah) contains a few fabricated reports without the author mentioning that it is fabricated.,
The science of ilm rijaal was developed in a significant way after 150H. Malik (d179H), ath- Thawri (d162) and Shu’bah (d160) were the most outstanding scholars of this science. Through this science detailed biographies of hundreds of thousands of narrators were compiled. Yahya ibn Sa’d al Qattan was the first to collect written records of the biographies of men.
The biographies included birth and death dates, names of his teachers and how long he was in their company, his students, which books he had studied and with whom, did he rely on written material or memory, if he relied on written material, did he have access to them when narrating, where he had travelled, if he was influenced by any innovated ideas, his level of memorisation at the time of narrating,(youth, manhood, old age) his being prone to confuse narrations or isnads, his being resident or travelling at the time of narration, his accuracy, was he a qualified jurist, and his moral character. Example of such remarks are: ‘Imaan’, ‘Trustworthy’, ‘Makes mistakes’, ‘Weak’, ‘Abandoned’,m ‘Liar’.
The German Orientalist Dr. Sprenger said: ‘There has never been a people or nation of former times, just as there does not exist now among contemporary peoples or nations, people who had such mastery of the tremendous science of men’s names (and biographies) like that possessed by the Muslims, a science that dealt with the status and circumstances of five hundred thousand men and their activity.’
Sometimes a fabricated hadith would be detected purely on the basis of examining birth and death dates. For example Abdullah ibn Ishaq claimed to have narrated from Muhummad ibn Yaqoob. He was told, “Muhummad ibn Yaqoob died 13 years before you came into this world”.
Sufyan at Thawri said: “When the narrators forged narrations, we used the tarikh (chronology) against them”. (Muqadamah, Ibn Salah).
Rihlaa (travelling) to hear and confirm hadith started in the time of the Companions. As the Islamic Empire grew rapidly, the Companions travelled to the various parts of the empire for jihad and dawah. They took the narrations of the Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam) with them. Jabir ibn Abdullah travelled a months journey to hear a single hadith from Abdullah ibn Unais. (Bukhari). Al Khateeb al Bagdadi has written an entire work on the subject of travelling in search of hadith.
Travelling became widespread in the time of the atba at tabi’in. Ma’mar ibn Rasheed (96-54H) spent many years travelling to hear hadiths. Az- Zuhri (d 124H) also made many lengthy journeys. By travelling they were able to detect forgers, weak narrators and untrustworthy chains. The great journeys of the scholars meant that they were able to collect and share information from all of the experts of verification (of men) from all the centres of the Islamic world. Thus the discussion of the narrators was not restricted to the men of one particular region alone, but encompassed all of the narrators in general. Scholars would not narrate a hadith, unless they were 100% it was from the Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam). By travelling often long distances they were able to confirm the words of the Messenger of Allah (sallahu alaihi wa sallam). For example Yahya ibn Ma’een travelled to hear the same narrations from over 17 of Hammad ibn Salamah’s students. He did this in order to distinguish between the mistakes of Hammad ibn Salamah and that of his students. Thus Rihlah was an important tool in the verification of hadith.
The criteria for accepting hadith
As time passed the number of reporter involved in the isnad increased, and the number of liars and weak narrators also increased. Hence scholars laid down strict criteria in the acceptance of hadith. The terminologies differed from scholar to scholar, this partly reflected the difference in criteria used. Each hadith was independently scrutinised, both the matn and isnad were subjected to a number of tests to judge the authenticity of hadith. Much of the focus was on judging the narrators of the hadith in terms of their honesty, integrity, memory, reliability and their method of narrating from their sources. Any narrator who held deviant beliefs and was known to call to those beliefs would have his narrations rejected even if he was known to be honest and of good memory. However some scholars would accept his narrations as long as they did not pertain to his beliefs, and he fulfilled the other criteria of narrating. Imaan Malik mentioned that he did not report from four types of people; those who were incompetent, those known to lie in every day speech, heretics, and ascetics.
Any isnad with an interrupted link would be rejected, although there was a difference of opinion with regards to mursal hadith. Some scholars would also give little credence to solitary reports, particularly gharib hadith. The way the hadith was reported was also scrutinised, for example using the word “an” (on the authority of) did not necessarily mean that the narrator heard it directly from his source, or had even met his source. If a mudalis (where a reporter is known to have concealed the identity of his Sheikh) used the term “an”, his narration would be rejected. The matn of the hadith would also be examined, if it contradicted a hadith with a more authentic chain, then it would be rejected, even if its isnad was sahih. Finally, both the matn and the isnad were examined for hidden defects. For example, an authentic chain going back to a Companion (i.e. the narration is the saying of a Companion), may be mistakenly be attributed to the Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam).
A hadith would be accepted as Sahih if there was a “continuous chain made up of reporters of trustworthy memory from similar authorities and which is found to be free from any irregularities (in the text) or defects (in the text or chain). [Ibn Salah].
Detecting fabrication on the basis of the text alone
A person who studied a poet for a long time, and has become fully acquainted with his style, can easily detect a poem that does not belong to the author, Likewise, scholars who devoted their entire lives to collecting, classifying and studying hadith were often able to detect those statements which had been falsely attributed to the Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam). Certain narrations were automatically rejected if they fell into one of the following categories.
• if the report is totally nonsensical. e.g. ‘Nuh’s ark made tawaaf around the Kaaba’
• if the report is disproved by the turn of events.
• if the report opposes an established principle of the religion – e.g. reports discouraging marriage.
• if the report contradicts a verse in the Qur’an – e.g. “the child of a fornicator will not enter Paradise, up to seven generations” contradicts the verse: “No soul shall bear the burden of another”.
• If the report favours the innovated beliefs of a heretical group such as the Shia, Qadariyyah, Jabariyyah, etc.
• If the report offers a huge reward for a small deed – e.g. “whoever performs Salaat-ul Duha would receive the reward of seventy Prophets”.
Books on Ilm ar-Rijaal
One of the first books on this ilm-rijaal was at-Tarikh by Ibn Ma’in (d233). Some books dealt exclusively with weak narrators such as ad-Du’afa by Bukhari. Others dealt only with trustworthy and reliable narrators such as al-Thiqaat by Ibn Hibban.
Abdul Ghani al Maqdisi (d273) wrote a large work on the reporters of the kutub sittah called Al Kamal fu Asma’ al Rijaal. Later, al-Mizzi (d742) edited and abridged it in a 12 volume work naming it Tadhib Al Kamal fu Asma’ al Rijaal, Ibn Hajar (d852) further abridged al-Mizzi’s work, adding additional information. This was called Tadhib al-Tahdib. He further edited this to a two volume work entitled Taqrib al-Tadhib.
Ibn Hajar’s Classification of Narrators.
Ibn Hajar placed narrators into 12 grades:
2. Thiqaatan thabt’un
These three were the only acceptable narrators in a Sahih hadith.
This was acceptable in a hasan hadith
6. maqbul (acceptable)
7. majhul al haal (integrity not verified, although some students did narrate from him)
8. da’if (scholars have declared him weak)
These narrators were weak, but could strengthen one another to bring a hadith to the level of hasan lighairihi.
10. fasiq, and also “one who commits many mistakes”
11. muttaham bil kadhib (accused of lying)
12. Kadhdhaab (liar) or Waddaa (forger)
The narrations from these narrators could not be used to strengthen other hadith.
Allah promised to preserve the Book: “It is We Who have sent down the Reminder and We shall surely preserve it” (Nahl:44). Allah’s protection of the Book, necessitates the protection and preservation of the Sunnah, as the latter explains and clarifies the Qur’an. The Messenger (sallahu alaihi wa sallam) did not leave this worldly abode until he had completely conveyed the Message, ensured that the Companions understood it, and had instructed them to convey it to others.
The Companions learnt the Sunnah, preserved it in writing and memory, and taught it to the next generation – the ta’be’een. They in turn conveyed it to the following generation. However, in the time of the latter ta’be’een, untrustworthy narrators and liars began to appear. However, Allah raised up men who devoted their entire lives to the preservation of the Sunnah. Detailed sciences and methodologies were developed which included the use of the isnad, jarh wa ta’deel, and ilm ar-rijaal. Scholars travelled thousands of miles to verify just one hadith.
Hence the existence of fabricated hadith did no harm to the Sunnah. As Nabia Abbot stated:
“Deliberate tampering with the either the contents or the isnads of the Prophets traditions, as distinct from the sayings of the Companions and the Successors, may have passed undetected by ordinary transmitters, but not by the aggregate of the ever watchful, basically honest, and aggressively outspoken master traditionalists and hadith critics”.
(Abbot, Nadia: Hadith Literature –II: Collection and Transmission of Hadith in Cambridge History of Arabic Literature). 4768