“Oh my Lord Advance me in knowledge.” (Qur’an 20:114)
THREE KINDS OF HADITH
Before providing an answer to the question of why people sometimes disagree on accepting and rejecting some of the traditions in spite of the fact that they have laid down generally accepted principles on which they are supposed to base their arguments and the foundations of their analyses and interpretations, it is equally important that we have a look at the division of hadith. Generally, the rule, as seen in the article no. one holds that a tradition is treated as weak if narrated by a weak narrator and sound if narrated by a reliable one. But when we come to the world of practice and reality, we find that there are a lot of traditions which have been related by the reliable but do not make sense. Reversely, there is a considerable amount of other accounts told by weak narrators but sound a voice of reason.
The reason for this is simple and clear:
A narration by a weak narrator whose weakness has resulted from his poor memory is considered to be weak. But a forgetful narrator does not always forget: occasionally he remembers a lot of things and narrates them correctly.
A narration by a liar is classified with the fabricated hadith, but a liar does not always speak a lie.
A narrator with a strong memory, accepted with the observance and consideration of other necessary conditions of acceptability; however, even a man of strong memory might sometimes forget things and relate them incorrectly.
A narration by a pious one is equally accepted on the condition that other stipulations of acceptability have been available. But a pious narrator may speak the untrue not purposely but as a result of illusion or absent-mindedness at the time of narrating a hadith, and because of his fame as religious people take his delivery for granted.
It is for this reason that when you read books by Muslim scholars, especially those authored on explaining the hadith of the Blessed Messenger (saw) you find statements such as: “The sanad of this hadith is weak but its matn (text) or its meaning is sound”, or adversely: “The sanad of this hadith is acceptable but its meaning is illogical or unacceptable”.
It is clear, hitherto, that, unlike the Qur-an, when we deal with the Prophetic hadith we deal with one of the most sophisticated but complicated subjects. As such, in order to reach reality, accounts must undergo a scientific-analytical criticism or preferably, scientific critical analysis not only in terms of their sanads but also in terms of their mutun (texts). The latter (The analysis of a text) is more important because finally, it provides you with the reality of a hadith whereas the former (the analysis of sanads) is merely a probable explanation very much like a theoretical approximation of a natural phenomenon. In other words, a hadith may have a weak sanad though it has been truly uttered by the Blessed Messenger (saw).
This means that the problem occurred during the process of transmitting it from one narrator to another where one or more of the transmitters lost one or more qualities for acceptability. It is logical, therefore, to claim, as scholars do, that the sanad of a particular hadith is genuine but the meaning of its text is wrong. While, on the other hand, it is logically unacceptable to say that the matn of a certain Hadith is sound and acceptable but its meaning is unsound and incorrect! It is possible that one may accurately transmit inaccurate information and one may inaccurately transmit accurate information. Transmission is in relation to the narrators where as matn corresponds to the information being transmitted. In this sense, we can divide hadith into three parts:
A) A hadith whose sanad is weak but its matn is acceptable.
B) A hadith which is weak in terms of both its sanad and matn.
C) A hadith whose sanad is strong but its matn is unsound: not compatible with one or more principles.
This is one of the most important things to know for those who study the authenticity or the inauthenticity of any hadith. If not taking this fact into consideration, a researcher into the Prophetic traditions will always be faced with the risk of coming up with the wrong conclusion because instead of searching for the reality he will go for theories and base his analysis upon that. It remains to be seen, which methodology are we to undertake in surveying the texts of the hadith in order to know the really authentic from the unauthentic ones? Before doing so, let us advance a few illustrations of:
A hadith whose sanad is weak but its matn is acceptable.
A hadith which is weak in terms of both its sanad and matn.
A hadith whose sanad is strong but its matn is unsound: not compatible with one or more principles.
To be continued in the article no. 3.
Shaykh Juma Al-Mazrui (May Allah continue to bless him and bless us by him.)