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Unacceptable Narrator Criticism in the Science of Hadith

July 24, 2010 An original Deoband.org article By 'Allamah 'Abd al-Hayy al-Lakhnawi Translated by Ali Godil [Translator's note: 'Allamah 'Abd al-Hayy Lakhnawi wrote this treatise more than one hundred years ago in the context of some 'ulama, particularly those of the Ahl al-Hadith movement, using the statements of the early hadith scholars, to disparage and declare unreliable certain great imams. This topic is even more poignant in our modern context, because although such discussions were limited to scholars and students of knowledge in the past, now every Tom, Dick, and Harry with a broadband connection, upon reading an article, listening to a lecture, or attending a weekend crash course on 'ulum al-hadith (hadith sciences) deems himself worthy of declaring an imam like Abu Hanifah (Allah be pleased with him) an unreliable narrator. As the author so effectively displays, this brashness in passing judgment on great figures in Islamic history stems largely from a lack of precision in understanding the hadith sciences. As in every science, the rules have certain conditions and nuances, and it is not enough to simply read a book on one's own and take a maxim like "jarh mufassar is given preference over ta'dil" and unleash one's pen on the imams. Rather, this is a complex field that requires training at the hands of a master. As the old adage goes, 'A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.' Due to the above, I felt that the following chapter would be particularly relevant to our context and would perhaps deter certain bold individuals from making their tongues and their pens a means of their own destruction.] Warning Twenty-Five: If jarh (narrator criticism) is issued due to partisanship, enmity, loathing, or the likes, then it is rejected, and only he who is rejected relies on it. In light of this, the statement of Imam Malik regarding Muhammad ibn Ishaq, the author of Al-Maghazi, that he is a dajjal from amongst the dajjals, was not accepted, since it is known that it stemmed from clear animosity. Rather, they (the imams of jarh wa ta’dil) affirmed that he was hasan al-hadith (an acceptable narrator), and the imams of hadith used him as a proof. I have dealt with this issue more thoroughly in my treatise, Imam al-Kalam fi ma Yata’allaqu bi ‘l-Qira’ah Khalf ‘l-Imam. Likewise, Al-Nasa’i's censure of Ahmad ibn Salih al-Misri, Al-Thawri’s censure of Abu Hanifah al-Kufi, Ibn Ma’in’s censure of Al-Shaf’i, Ahmad’s censure of Al-Harith al-Muhasibi, and Ibn Mandah’s censure of Abu Nu’aym al-Asbahani are not accepted, due to the same reason. There are many similar examples in the famous books of this discipline. Hence, the scholars stated, “One’s criticism of a contemporary is not accepted.” That is, if it is without evidence, because being a contemporary often leads to personal animosity. We should mention excerpts from the writings of the reviewers (nuqqad) of hadith, so as to quell the attacks of corrupt individuals, for indeed, many of them caused corruption in the religion, brought destruction on others and themselves through criticizing the imams of the religion, were misguided and misguided others through their defamation of the elders of the pious predecessors (salaf) and the greatest of the khalaf, due to their unawareness of the

fundamental rules and principles compressed in the books of the religion. A large group of the scholars of our time, although known for great virtues, have been afflicted with this calamity, and the masses, who are like livestock, emulated them in this regard; rather, they added a note to the lute and darkness to the gloom (i.e. they made the situation worse). Since Allah had given them the tawfiq (ability) to study the books of history and rijal, but did not give them the tawfiq to delve deeply into and become acquainted with that with which the hadith critics paved the way, they became bold, hasty, neglectful, antagonistic, and unleashed criticism on the reliable imams and those whose greatness has been established, borrowing from what was published regarding them by their contemporaries and opponents, or their enemies and degraders, or those who opposed them due to obstinacy or bigotry. So, the intelligent person should be wary of being duped and captivated by this recklessness, and from being amongst the, “Greatest losers in regard to their works; those whose effort goes astray in the life of this world, while they reckon they are doing good work.” (Qur’an 18:103) Al-Dhahabi states in Siyar A’lam al-Nubala’regarding the great exegete, Abu ‘Abdullah Muhammad ibn Hatim al-Baghdadi (d. 235 AH), “Ibn ‘Adi and Al-Daraqutni declared him trustworthy, and Abu Hafs al-Fallas mentioned him stating, ‘He is nothing.’ I say that this is from the speech of peers, which is not to be given any heed, for the man is reliable and a proof (hujjah). ” He further states regarding the biography of Abu Bakr ibn Abi Dawud al-Sijistani (d. 316 AH) in his book Tadhkirah al-Huffaz, after mentioning his being declared trustworthy (thiqah) by a group of reliable hadith scholars and his being weakened by Ibn Sa’id and others: “I say that it is not befitting to accept the statement of Ibn Sa’id regarding him, just as we do not give any consideration to his (Al-Sijistani’s) declaring Ibn Sa’id a liar, and likewise, the speech of Ibn Jarir against him is not given any heed, since there was clear enmity between them, so refrain from the speech of peers against one another.” He states regarding the biography of ‘Affan al-Saffar in Al-Mizan, “The speech of contemporaries and peers requires deep reflection and careful deliberation.” He states regarding the biography of Abu al-Zinad ‘Abdullah ibn Dhakwan, “Rabi’ah states regarding him, ‘He is not trustworthy,’ I say that Rabi’ah’s statement concerning him should not be given any regard, since there was clear enmity between them.” He states regarding the biography of Muhammad ibn Ishaq ibn Yahya, Abu ‘Abdullah, known as Ibn Mandah al-Asbahani, “Hafiz Abu Nu’aym used harsh language when criticizing him, due to some alienation between them, and he hurled accusations against him, so this is not given any consideration, due to major disputes between them, for Ibn Mandah also spoke against and abused Abu Nu’aym.” He also states regarding the biography of Hafiz Abu Nu’aym Ahmad ibn ‘Abdullah al-Asfahani, “The speech of Ibn Mandah regarding Abu Nu’aym is dreadful, and I do not like relating it, nor do I accept the speech of either one of them regarding the other, and they are both agreeable according to me; I do not know them to have any fault greater than narrating fabricated hadiths while remaining silent about them.” I read in the handwriting of Hafiz Yusuf ibn Ahmad al-Shirazi, “I read in the handwriting of Tahir al-Maqdisi, stating, ‘May Allah distress Abu Nu’aym for speaking against Abu ‘Abdullah ibn Mandah, while the people have reached a consensus regarding his status as an imam.’ I say the speech of peers against one another is not given any attention, especially if it becomes clear that it is a result of personal animosity, partisanship against a particular school of thought, or jealousy. None is free of this trait except he whom Allah protects, and I do not know of any time in which the people of that time were safe from this trait save the prophets and the siddiqin, and if I wished to, I could fill many books expounding upon this topic.” It is stated in Fath al-Mughith, “Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr dedicated an entire chapter to discussing the speech of contemporaries against one another in his Jami’,

and I view that the criticism of the people of knowledge is not accepted except when it is manifest and clear, and if there is any sort of personal animosity attached to it, then it is preferable not to accept it.” It is stated in Al-Taj al-Subki’s Tabaqat al-Shaf’iyyah, “It would behoove you, oh seeker, to tread the path of etiquette with the past imams and not to give consideration to the speech of some of them against others, except if they bring clear proof. Subsequently, if you are able to give an alternate explanation or interpret the criticism in a more favorable way, then do so. If not, then devote one page to what took place between them and move on, for you were not created for this. Busy yourself with that which concerns you and leave that which does not. A student of knowledge remains noble until he delves into that which occurred between the early scholars. You must be beware of devoting your attention to the disputes that took place between Abu Hanifah and Sufiyan al-Thawri, Malik and Ibn Abi Dhi’b, Ahmad ibn Salih and Al-Nasa’i, Ahmad ibn Hanbal and Al-Harith al-Muhasibi, and so on, until the time of Al-’Izz ibn ‘Abd al-Salam and Al-Taqi ibn al-Salah, because if you busied yourself with that, I fear for your destruction, for those men are the eminent imams, and their statements have proper interpretations, some of which we may not have understood, so we should be pleased with them and remain silent about what occurred between them, just as is done regarding the disputes that occurred amongst the Companions (sahabah), may Allah be pleased with them.” It is also stated in the same book, “One must be wary of understanding the maxim ‘criticism (jarh) is given precedence over accreditation (ta’dil)‘ in the absolute sense. Rather, the correct opinion is that for the one who’s status as an imam and integrity is established, and his acclaimers are many and his critics are few, and there is an inference (qarinah) indicating that the criticism stemmed from sectarian partisanship or the likes of it, this criticism is not given any heed.” It also states, “We have informed you that a person’s criticism is not accepted, even if he explained it (i.e. jarh mufassir), if it is against one whose good deeds are far more prevalent than his sins, and those who praise him are far more prevalent than those who dispraise him, and those who vindicate and recommend him are far more prevalent than those who criticize him, if there is an indication that something drove the critic to defame this individual, such as sectarian partisanship, worldly competition, or another reason, as often occurs between peers. Therefore, one should not entertain the speech of Al-Thawri against Abu Hanifah, Ibn Abi Dhi’b and others against Malik, Ibn Ma’in against Al-Shaf’i, Al-Nasa’i against Ahmad ibn Salih, etc. If we gave preference to criticism over praise, than no imam would remain untouched, because there is no imam except that he has been criticized or attacked.” It is stated in Ibn Hajr al-Makki’s Al-Khayrat al-Hisan fi Manaqib al-Nu’man, in the thirty-ninth chapter, answering what Al-Khatib related in his Tarikhfrom those who defame Abu Hanifah, “Know that his (Al-Khatib’s) only intention was to gather everything that was said regarding the man, as is the habit of historians, and he did not intend to belittle him (Abu Hanifah) or lower his status, as is evidenced by his first mentioning the speech in favor of him, along with his achievements, copiously, then following up with the speech of his defamers against him. “Another evidence for this assertion is that the majority of the chains of narration he mentioned regarding the dispraise of Abu Hanifah are not free of criticized or unknown narrators, and by consensus, it is not permissible to impugn the honor of an ordinary Muslim through such narrations, let alone an imam of the Muslims. If one assumes that the dispraise Al-Khatib mentioned is authentically related from those who stated it, it is still not given any consideration, for even if the criticism came from those who were not peers of the imam, they were merely following that which the imam’s enemies said or wrote before them, and likewise, the criticism is not entertained if it came from his peers, because, from what mentioned previously, the speech of peers against one another is not accepted, as was proclaimed by Hafiz al-Dhahabi and Hafiz ibn Hajr ['Asqalani].”

Additional Benefit: The scholars have proclaimed that the speech of an individual against his contemporary is not accepted. However, this rule is restricted to that criticism which is issued without proof or evidence and stems from bigotry or personal enmity. Otherwise, it is accepted without doubt, and you should remember this rule, for it will benefit you in this world and the Hereafter. Al-Lakhnawi, ‘Abd al-Hayy. Al-Raf’ Wa Al-Takmil. 8th ed. Beirut: Maktab Al-Matbu’at Al-Islamiyyah, 2004. Print. http://www.deoband.org/2010/07/hadith/principles-of-hadith/unacceptable-narrator-criticism-in-the-science-of-hadith/