The Classification Of Hadith: 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, or about some other points in the isnad or the text, in such a way that none of the opinions can be preferred over the others, and thus there is uncertainty about the isnad or text, such a hadith is called Mudtarib (shaky).55
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 (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) replied, “What made me old are Surah Hud and its sister surahs.” 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’ishah. Since all these reports are comparable in weight, it is difficult to prefer one above another. Hence, the hadith is termed as Mudtarib.”56
As an example of idtirab in the text, Rafi’ b. Khadij said that the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) forbade the renting of land. The reporters narrating from Rafi’ give different statements, as follows:
- Hanzalah asked Rafi’, “What about renting for gold and silver?” He replied, “It does not matter if it is rent for gold and silver.”
- Rifa’ah — Rafi’ — the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), who said, “Whoever owns a piece of land should cultivate it, give it to his brother to cultivate, or abandon it.”
- Salim — Rafi’ — his two uncles — the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), who forbade the renting of farming land.
- The son of Rafi’ — Rafi’ — the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), who forbade the renting of land.
- A different narration by Rafi’ from the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), 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 for a third or a quarter of the produce, nor for a given quantity of the produce.”
- Zaid b. Thabit said, “May Allah forgive Rafi’! I am more aware of the hadith than he; what happened was that two of the Ansar (Helpers) had a dispute, so they came to the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), who said after listening to their cases, ‘If this is your position, then do not rent the farms.’ Rafi’ has only heard the last phrase, i.e., ‘Do not rent the farms’.”
Because of these various versions, Ahmad b. Hanbal said,
“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 (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) gave the land of Khaibar to the Jews on condition that they work on it and take half of the produce.”57
A hadith is known as Maqlub (changed, reversed) when its isnad is grafted to a different text or vice versa, or if a reporter happens to reverse the order of a sentence in the text.
As an example relating to the text, in his transmission of the famous hadith describing the seven who will be under the shelter of Allah on the Day of Judgment, Muslim reports one of the categories as, “a man who conceals his act of charity to such 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 …”58
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 (text) of these ten people was prefixed with the isnad of another. Imam al-Bukhari listened to each of the ten men as they narrated their ahadith and denied the correctness of every hadith. When they had finished narrating these ahadith, he addressed each person in turn and recounted to him each of his ahadith with its correct isnad. This trial earned him great honour among the scholars of ahadith.59
Other ways in which ahadith have been rendered Maqlub are by replacement of the name of a reporter with another, e.g. quoting Abu Hurairah as the reporter from the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) although the actual reporter was someone else, or by reversal of the name of the reporter, e.g. mentioning Walid b. Muslim instead of Muslim b. Walid, or Ka`b b. Murrah instead of Murrah b. Ka`b.60
Ma`lul or Mu`allal
Ibn al-Salah says, “A Ma`lul (defective) hadith is one which appears to be sound, but thorough research reveals a disparaging factor.” Such factors can be:
- declaring a hadith Musnad when it is in fact Mursal, or Marfu` when it is in fact Mauquf;
- 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.61
Ibn al-Madini (d. 324) says that such a defect can only be revealed if all the isnads 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 ahadith directly. For example, he says that al-Hasan al-Basri (d. 110, aged 88) did not see `Ali (d. 40), although he adds that there is a slight possibility that he may have seen him during his childhood in Madinah.62 Such information is very important, since for example, 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, in his Kitab al-‘Ilal, has given 2840 examples of Ma`lul ahadith about a range of topics.
An example of a Ma`lul hadith is one transmitted by Muslim on the authority of Abu Hurairah, who reports the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) as saying,
“Allah created the land on Saturday; He created the mountains on Sunday; He created the trees on Monday; He created the things entailing labour on Tuesday; He created the light (or fish) on Wednesday; He scattered the beasts in it (the earth) on Thursday; and He created Adam after the afternoon of Friday, the last creation at the last hour of the hours of Friday, between the afternoon and night.”63
Regarding it, Ibn Taimiyyah 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 (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), but one of Ka`b al-Ahbar’.”64