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Are all Ahaadith authentic?

By A. Faizur Rahman, New Age Islam

 4 February 2011

At a recent Islamic conference held in Chennai, a hardcore Salafi scholar spewed venom at the munkireen-e-ahaadith (the rejectors of  hadiths). “These people” he said, “claim that if a Hadith goes against the Quran or common sense, it should be rejected” thereby giving the impression that all hadiths are to be followed in their entirety without subjecting them to intellectual scrutiny. Short of inciting his captive audience to lynch the munkireen-e-ahaadith this so-called scholar heaped all the expletives in his vocabulary against them and demanded that Muslims shun these “enemies of Islam.”  It therefore becomes imperative to discuss further the place of Ahaadith (sing., Hadith) in Islamic law and also in the lives of Muslims.

In a nutshell a hadith may be defined as a report concerning the sayings and the doings of the Prophet Muhammad which has reached us through a chain of narrators. The Quran described the Prophet as the Muallim (teacher) of Allah's Book and its Wisdom and as such his sayings and doings constitute an exposition of the philosophy of the Quran. This also means that no Prophetic saying or deed can go against the Quran, for how could the Messenger violate the very Message he brought?

But what if there are Ahaadith which contradict the Quran? Of course they need to be questioned and their authenticity examined because it is possible such traditions may have wrongly attributed to the Prophet what he did not say or do. Muslim scholars have rejected several Aahaadith on this basis without their Eeman or motives being questioned. Therefore, it must be understood that rejection of questionable Ahaadith does not amount to the rejection of the Prophet. It only amounts to a rejection of unreliable reports wrongly attributed to our beloved Prophet.

Classification of Ahaadith

Ahaadith are broadly divided, based on their Isnaad (chain of narrators),  into two categories namely Aahad and Mutawaatir. An Aahad hadith is that which has been transmitted by just one narrator (or upto four according to some scholars) from the Prophet, that is, when the Prophet was speaking only that narrator was present. In other words, the authenticity of the hadith is dependent on the memory of just that narrator.

And a Mutawaatir hadith is that which has been transmitted by a number of narrators ( at least 40, and more than 70 according to some scholars). In such narrations the chances of all narrators conspiring together to propagate a falsehood are nil, and for this reason Mutawaatir Ahaadith are the most reliable of all Ahaadith.

According to Muslim scholars only a small percentage of Ahaadith in present corpus (the sihah sitta) are Mutawaatir and the rest are Aahad. And all the grades of Ahaadith such as Sahih, Hasan, Zaif, Mursal, Shaz, Mauzu, Muallaq etc apply only to the Aahad reports. Mutawaatir Ahaadith are of only one grade, SAHIH,  because of the great number of narrators they command.

Examples of Mutawaatir and Aahad Ahaadith

The Ahaadith which talk about the five times prayers and the number of rakaths in each prayer are Mutawaatir. For this reason historically there never has been a dispute on these issues. All schools of thought agree on the five times prayers and the numeber of rakaths.

On the other hand, the Ahaadith pertaining to other aspects of the salah such as Rafyadain, Aameen, the recitation of surah Fatiha after the Imam, the timings of the salah etc are Aahad reports. And that is why all schools of thought differ on these issues, sometimes to the extent of resorting to violence to make their respective views prevail.

Another point to be noted here is that Ahaadith have not been classified on the basis of their content or text (matn) but only on the quality of the narrators.This means that even if an Aahad hadith has been categorised as SAHIH on the basis of its Isnaad, there is no guarantee that it would really be SAHIH because it is still possible that the lone narrator may have made a genuine mistake in quoting the Prophet. The only way out therefore is to compare it to the Quran and if it violates the Book of Allah in letter or spirit it must be rejected no matter in which hadith collection it appears.

Examples of doubtful Aahaadith

1. The missing verse

Just look at this hadith from Kitab-al- Raza'a (Book of Fosterage) in Sahih Muslim.

"Aisha narrated that it had been revealed in the Quran that ten sucklings make marriage unlawful. Then it was abrogated and substituted by five sucklings, and the Messenger of Allah died while it was still being recited from the Quran"

The problem with this hadith is that the verse of five sucklings does not find a place in the Quran!! How could it have gone missing when the Prophet gave no instructions to remove it, and in fact, died while it was still being recited?

2. Humans made in the Image of God?

According to another hadith narrated by Abu Hurairah in Kitab-as-sifatil jannah of Sahih Muslim

“Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, created Adam in His own image (ala soorathihi) with His length of sixty cubits (about 30 meters), and as He created him He told him to greet that group, and that was a party of angels sitting there, and listen to the response that they give him, for it would form his greeting and that of his offspring. He then went away and said: Peace be upon you! They (the angels) said: May there be peace upon you and the Mercy of Allah, and they made an addition of" Mercy of Allah". So he who would get into Paradise would get in the form of Adarn, his length being sixty cubits, then the people who followed him continued to diminish in size up to this day.

The question is: does Allah have a face (soorath) like human beings? Or is it the vice versa? This hadith echoes the Biblical verse found in the Book of Genesis 1:27 which says, “God created man in His own image.” Not many are aware that this hadith (which also finds mention in Bukhari) has been criticised by Ibn Hajar Asqalani in his famous commentary of Bukhari Fath al-Baari.

3. Will Allah put his foot in Hell?

Yet another Hadith in Sahih Bukhari narrated by Abu Huraira says,

“The Prophet said, "Paradise and the Fire (Hell) argued, and the Fire (Hell) said, "I have been given the privilege of receiving the arrogant and the tyrants.' Paradise said, 'What is the matter with me? Why do only the weak and the humble among the people enter me?' On that, Allah said to Paradise. 'You are My Mercy which I bestow on whoever I wish of my servants.' Then Allah said to the (Hell) Fire, 'You are my (means of) punishment by which I punish whoever I wish of my slaves. And each of you will have its fill.' As for the Fire (Hell), it will not be filled till Allah puts His Foot over it (hatta yaza’a rijlahau) whereupon it will say, 'Qati! Qati!' At that time it will be filled, and its different parts will come closer to each other; and Allah will not wrong any of His created beings. As regards Paradise, Allah will create a new creation to fill it with."

It is difficult to understand here why Allah needs to put His Foot in Hell to satisfy its hunger.It is up to discerning Muslims, whom the Quran calls ulul albaab (open-minded people capable of mature thinking), to analyse these Ahaadith and decide whether they could have emanated from our beloved Prophet who was a mercy unto mankind.

The renowned scholar of Ahaadith Dr. Muhammad Zubayr Siddiqi writes in his essay Uloom al- Hadith (published in Hadith and Sunnah, Islamic Book Trust, Kuala Lumpur) that, “In the standard collections of traditions also (in spite of the great care of the compilers), there are still found some weak and forged traditions, which have been discussed and criticised by their commentators and some other authorities on traditions.” And he cites as evidence the books on forged hadiths by great scholars such as Ibn al-Jawzi (Kitab al- Mauzu’aat), Mulla Ali Qaari (Al-La’ali al-Masnoo’ah fil Ahaadith al-Mauzu’aat) and Al-Shawkaani (Al-Fawaa’id al-Majmoo’ah fi Bayaan al- Ahaadith al-Mauzu’aat).

Another commentator of the Quran Shamz Pirzada has this to say about a hadith (found both in Bukhari and Muslim) which claims that the Prophet suffered for six months under the magic spell cast by one Labid bin A’sim: “This narrative is contradictory to what is stated in Quran, because Quran has refuted this accusation of the infidels that the Prophet is a charmed person or affected by magic…..It would mean that the thing which Quran is refuting, this narrative is confirming.” Pirzada goes on to say that, “any narrative which goes against the essential attributes of the Prophethood cannot be considered tenable, whether it is contained in Bukhari or in Muslim.” Expressing astonishment at the tendency to blindly believe in all ahaadith he says; “It is really surprising that people have so much interest in trying to prove one narrative to be true, and they have not that much interest in realising what affect this narrative has on the belief of the innocence of the Prophet. If this is not blind following of a dubious narrative, then what is? “( Dawatul Quran, Vol 3, pp 2379-81). Perhaps this is what the Quran means when it says, “But there are, among men who purchase idle tales (lahwal Hadith) without knowledge, to mislead people from the Path of God and to ridicule (His verses): for such there will be a Humiliating Penalty.”(31:6). It is interesting to note here the use of the word “hadith” in the phrase lahwal hadith to describe idle tales.


Regarding the Usool-al- hadith, as argued above, the Matn or Text of the hadith was never seriously considered a basis to authenticate hadiths.

The scholars of the hadiths usually evaluate a report on the following 5 conditions.

a)  Ittisaal - A report must be muttasil. In other words, its chain must not be broken.

b)  Adl - The narrator must be Aadil. That is, he must not be a child, mentally challenged, kafir, faasiq or makhroom al muruwa meaning one who has not gone against the traditional customs of a place which are not against Islam.

c)  Zabt - The memory of a narrator must be good. Such a narrator is known as Zaabith.

d)  Adamus shuzooz - This means that a hadith must not contradict any other sahih hadith. 

Narrators are classified into two categories namely, Siqa and Sadooq. A Siqa narraror is one who is both Zaabith and Aadil while a Sadooq narrator is less Zaabith and less Aadil. Therefore, if the hadith of a Sadooq narrator contradicts the report of a Siqa narrator it will be rejected in favour of the Siqa narration. Such a sadooq narration is called a shaaz hadith.

e) Adamul illath - The hadith must be free from defects of any kind particularly those mentioned above.

It may be noticed that nowhere Matn is mentioned here. The truth is, the above usool holds good only for a narrator-based evaluation and not Matn-based. Hence, this usool must be adopted to authenticate hadiths only when the Matn of the hadith does not contradict the letter or spirit of the Quran, commonsense, universal human values or established facts because Islam is founded on these principles. Even ijthihad must satisfy these conditions. Accepting hadiths that do not satisty these conditions would amount to believing that the Prophet taught against the principles of Islam which is unimaginable. Therefore, hadiths that do not satisfy the aforementioned conditions have to be ignored.

But let it be understood that rejecting a hadith on this basis does not amount to rejecting the Prophet. It only means that we are rejecting (on a scientific basis) what has been wrongly attributed to our beloved Prophet. In other words, just as all Ahaadith cannot be rejected, all Ahaadith cannot be accepted without subjecting them to intellectual scrutiny within the framework of the Quran.


A. Faizur Rahman is Secretary-General of the Islamic Forum for the Promotion of Moderate Thought He may be reached at


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