What is Fabricated Hadiths?

𝐖𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐢𝐬 𝐅𝐚𝐛𝐫𝐢𝐜𝐚𝐭𝐞𝐝 𝐇𝐚𝐝𝐢𝐭𝐡𝐬?

Mohamad Mostafa Nassar


All Islamic sources hold that an enormous amount of forgery was committed in Hadith literature. Ibn Hanbal said that seerah and tafseer have been more affected by forgery than any other branch of literature. The very existence of copious literature on fabricated hadiths reminds us of this consciousness. Based on this fact, a great many Western scholars declared Hadith literature to be unreliable and unauthentic (Siddiqi 127).

Definition of a Fabricated Hadith

A fabricated hadith is a hadith which is falsely ascribed to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) while in fact he did not pronounce it; it is not permissible to narrate such hadiths (As-Suyuti 2:274). Most of the fabricated hadiths were introduced in Muslim literature by the fabricators themselves; they forged the statements and invented the isnad from their own imagination.

The Beginning of Fabrication

It is very difficult to determine the beginning of the fabrication of hadiths. Some Western scholars like Sir William Muir maintained that the forgery of hadith took place during the reign of the third Caliph, `Uthman.

In a note in his book The Life of Mohammad, Muir quoted the hadith “Who deliberately lies about me, let him seek a place in Hell” and said that this hadith, if well founded, gives pretty clear intimation that, even before ‘Uthman’s murder, fabricated hadiths were propagated by opponents to shake his authority, and that the unfortunate caliph endeavored to check the practice by forbidding the currency of hadiths not already known in the reign of his two predecessors. (36)

The Dutch Orientalist G. H. Juynboll

stated that All Muslim theologians agree on the fact that forgery of hadiths has occurred on a gradually increasing scale from the middle of the first century of the Hijrah onwards, until such authors as Bukhari, Muslim and others had compiled their almost flawless collections; by doing so, they gave the hadith literature its definitely sound form. (Juynboll 100) As-Siddiq Bashir Nasr charged Juynboll with prejudice when he maintained this view.

In refuting this argument, Nasr said that Juynboll concluded this view from the statements of theologians, and he wonders how theyagreed on this, how their consensus came down to us, and who were those scholars. Nasr wrote If he said the Hadith scholars held this view, we would give weight to his view.

However, it is still probable to give the date of the middle of the 1st century as the beginning of fabrications of hadiths only if we interpret the fitnah mentioned by Ibn Sirin (d. 110/729), which he made the beginning of introducing the system of isnad, to refer to the fitnah of killing `Uthman ibn `Affan.

But this is still in the sphere of probability as there is reliable historical evidence to assume that the fabrication began during the Caliphate of `Uthman or even `Ali, who died in AH 40.” (106-7) Other Muslim scholars have given more or less the same views. For example, Ahmad Amin held that the fabrication began during the lifetime of the Prophet. To support his view he cited the frequently quoted hadith which reads, “Who deliberately lies about me, let him seek a place in Hell” (Muslim). Amin understood this hadith to imply that the forgery took place at the time of the Prophet and this hadith was uttered in response to an incident in which some words were attributed to the Prophet but he was not responsible for them (Amin 211).

But As-Siba`i interpreted the above-mentioned hadith to mean that the Prophet only warned his audience with this hadith and that there is no indication that the Prophet thought his Companions might forge his hadiths; he wanted his Sunnah to reach the coming generations in its complete form and without the least trace of distortion (As-Siba`i 216).

Therefore, it is safe to conclude that the hadith, according to As-Siba`i, can be interpreted to mean “he who will tell lies about me” (215-218). Zubayr Siddiqi, a professor of Islamic culture at Calcutta University, was in full agreement with Amin’s view. After quoting Muir’s view Siddiqi said, “But I think it originated during the lifetime of the Prophet himself. His opponents could not have failed to forge and attribute to him words and deeds for which he was not responsible.

It was their purpose in misrepresenting him to arouse public opinion against him” (127). Siddiqi quoted a hadith, as follows, to convince his readers of his view:

After the Prophet’s Hijra, a man went to a suburb of Medina, and told a tribe living there that the Prophet had given him authority over them. He had resorted to this fraud because he wanted to marry a girl who was a member of the tribe, to whom he had proposed marriage before the Hijra, but who had never been given in marriage to him.

The tribe sent a messenger to the Prophet to make enquiries concerning the authority that was claimed in his name. The Prophet denounced the pretender, and ordered that he be put to death, if he were still alive and be burnt, if he were dead. (Ibn Hazm 2:83-84)

Causes of Fabrication

The fabricated hadiths can be divided into two categories:

  1. Intentionally fabricated hadith, which is called hadith mawdu` (invented or fabricated hadith), and
  2.  Unintentionally fabricated hadith, which is referred to as hadith batil (invalid hadith).

Causes of Intentional Fabrication

1. The Zanadiqah (Heretics)

2. Political Differences

3.Favour Seekers

4. Storytellers

5. Human Frailties

6. Ignorant Ascetics

7. Prejudice for One’s Own Town, Race, or Imam

Causes of Unintentional Fabrication

1. Novelty

2. Mistakes

3. Inexactness

4. Indirect Transmission

5. Failure to Copy

6. Lack of Qualification

7. Lost Books

Causes of Intentional Fabrication

  1. The Zanadiqah (Heretics) The term zanadiqah was defined as those who deny the validity of prophecy. Al-Ghazali divided the zanadiqah into absolute zanadiqah who deny the resurrection after death and the existence of the Creator of the world, and specific zanadiqah who recognize the existence of the Creator of the world but deny knowledge of the details of that world (193).

In some sources they are referred to as those who do not believe in any of the divine attributes of Allah (Al-`Iraqi 95). Some give the word zindiq (singular of zanadiqah) to the adherent of the thanawiyyah who believe in the two forces of Light and Darkness, or to one who does not believe in the world to come (Lane 1:1258).

Lane said that zindiq is an arabicized word originally Persian, so they say from Az-Zand, which is a book belonging to them, that is the book of Zoroaster, or from the Persian zandik (1:1258).

The zanadiqah flourished under various banners during early Islamic history and wrought havoc by forging thousands of hadiths and propagating them among the Muslim community (Abdul Rahman 30).

Their anti-Islamic attitude motivated them to forge some hadiths, as they could not do anything to the Qur’an, which had been transmitted and written down in early Islam (As-Sabbagh 315). According to some sources, the zanadiqah concocted about fourteen thousand hadiths.[1]

Muhammad Rashid Rida mentioned that some scholars of Hadith said that when `Abdul-Karim ibn Abi Al-`Awja’ was to be executed he said, “I fabricated four thousand hadiths in which I made the lawful prohibited and the prohibited permissible” (Ibn Al-Jawzi 1:37).

By fabricating hadiths, the zanadiqah did a great damage to the history of Islam (Ibn Al-Jawzi 1:37). But Siddiqi, recognizing the anti-Islamic motivation of the zanadiqah, does not see any harm in the forgery of hadiths by the zanadiqah, as these hadiths were rejected by Muslims (53).

An example of this class of fabrication is the report “When Allah wanted to create Himself, He created the horse first and let it gallop till it sweated. Then He created Himself from its sweat” (As-Suyuti 1:2).

  • Political Differences

Islamic history passed a very critical stage after the death of the third caliph, `Uthman. Differences and battles between `Ali and Mu`awiyah were the reason behind the emergence of several religious sects, especially the Shiah and the Khawarij.

Many hadiths, which might be termed as the fada’il genre, in favour of `Ali and the House of the Prophet, Ahl Al-Bayt, came from the Shiah. Ibn Abi Al-Hadid (d. AH 655/1257 CE), the famous commentator of Nahj Al-Balaghah, candidly points to this where he says:

Lies were introduced in Hadith on merits (fada’il)[2] originally by the Shi`ah.

They in the beginning fabricated many Hadiths in favour of their man, motivated by enmity towards their opponents. When the Bakriyyah (those favouring Abu Bakr) found out what the Shi`ah had done, they in turn fabricated hadiths in favour of their man. When the Shi`ah found out what the Bakriyyah had done they increased their efforts.[3] 

  • Favour Seekers

The various party leaders, the numerous sectarian preachers, and the seekers of favours from the caliphs and their chiefs, and those who sustained their legal or theological theories by inventing hadiths were more dangerous to the authenticity of Hadith than the zanadiqah (Rida 545–547; Siddiqi 53).

This was done even, Rida continues, by some of the Ahl As-Sunnah (Sunnis) who differed among themselves on subsidiary issues and to support their opinions, they resorted to inventing hadiths. To gain the favour of sovereigns some people fabricated hadiths that might please them.

A well-known example is the report of Ghiyath ibn Ibrahim who came upon the Caliph al-Mahdi (d. 158/785) when this ruler was playing with a pigeon. Ghiyath recited to him the famous saying of the Prophet:

“There shall be no wager except in the case of racing camels, hoofed animals or in the case of shooting (competitions)” (Abu Dawud). Then Ghiyath added the words “and pigeons,” to please Al-Mahdi.

The Caliph gave him a large reward, but stated: “Verily, your neck is the neck of a liar who puts false words into the mouth of the Prophet.” Then he ordered the pigeon to be slaughtered. (As-Siba`i 103)

  • Storytellers

The storytellers, qussas, were no less dangerous than the party leaders or sects in fabricating hadiths. They “saw an easy profit by playing on the credulity of their audience. Some of them were compelled to invent Hadiths through the urge to instil into their listeners awe and reverence towards the religion” (Juynboll 100). The following incident shows an example of the hadiths invented by such storytellers:

The hadiths concocted by the storytellers were few in the first century, but they increased by the passage of time. Hadith scholars traced these hadiths, detected their fabricators, and put them under severe criticism. Ahmad ibn Hanbal and Yahya ibn Ma`in [4] were performing their prayers in the mosque of Rusafah when a storyteller stood up in front of them and began to recite the following: Ahmad ibn Hanbal and Yahya ibn Ma`in related to us a hadith on the authority of `Abdur-Razzaq, who in turn had it on the authority of Ma`mar, who had it on the authority of Qatada, who had it on the authority of Anas, who reported: “The Prophet of God said, ‘Whoever says:

There is no god but God, God will create for him for every word he utters of this formula a bird with a beak of gold and feathers of pearls.’” He continued with his story which would have taken up about twenty pages had he committed it to writing.

Upon this Ahmad ibn Hanbal began to look in amazement at Yahya ibn Ma`in, and Yahaya ibn Ma`in at Ahmad ibn Hanbal. Then Ahmad said, “Did you narrate this hadith?” Yahya replied, “By God! I never heard this hadith before this present moment.”

The two remained quiet until he had finished his story. He then undertook to receive contributions and sat down and waited for the rest to come with their gifts, but Yahya ibn Ma`in beckoned to him with his hand.

So, he came supposing that it was a gift that he was about to give him. Yahya then asked him, “Who narrated this hadith to you?” He replied, “Ahmad ibn Hanbal and Yahya ibn Ma`in.” He retorted, “But I am Yahya ibn Ma`in and this is Ahmad ibn Hanbal!

We never heard this story among the hadiths of the Prophet. As a matter of fact, it is nothing but a falsehood! Its authorities are not us!” Then he asked, “Are you Yahya ibn Ma`in?” He answered, “Yes!” He went on, “I constantly hear that Yahya ibn Ma`in is fool, a fact which I never realized until this moment.”

Then Yahya ibn Ma`in said to him, “How did you know that I was a fool?” He replied, “You act as if there is no other person by the name Yahya ibn Ma`in and Ahmad ibn Hanbal.

As for me, I have recorded hadiths on the authority of seventeen persons by the names Ahmad ibn Hanbal and Yahya ibn Ma`in.” Then Ahmad placed his sleeve over his face and whispered [to Yahya], “Let him leave.” The hadiths concocted by the storytellers were few in the first century, but they increased by the passage of time.

Hadith scholars traced these hadiths, detected their fabricators, and put them under severe criticism.

  • Human Frailties

Neglect, bad memory, feeble-mindedness, boastfulness, and other human frailties have also given rise to fabrication (Rida 569).

  • Ignorant Ascetics

Those ascetics fabricated hadiths to let the people come close to Allah and devote much time to different forms of worship and even to encourage them to be more pious (Ahmad and `Abdul Malik 75).

When reminded of the hadiths threatening those who lie against the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), they say, “We do not tell lies against him but for him” (As-Siba`i 103). Al-Albani provided us with this example:

“The world is prohibited to people of the Hereafter and the Hereafter is prohibited to people of the world, and both the world and the Hereafter are prohibited to the people of Allah” (Al-Albani 1:15).

  • Prejudice for One’s Own Town, Race, or Imam

To mention only one example of the last motive, that is, to praise one’s imam, As-Siba`i cites the alleged hadith that praises Abu Hanifah while degrading Ash-Shafi`i.

The hadith reads, “There shall be in my Ummah a man by the name Muhammad ibn Idris who will be more dangerous to my Ummah than Iblis and there shall be a man in my Ummah known as Abu Hanifah who will be the lamp of my Ummah” (As-Siba`i 100).

An example of favouring one’s race is the report that states that “When Allah gets angry, He reveals the Qur’an in Persian. And when He is satisfied, He reveals it in Arabic” (Ibn Al-Qayim 59).

Causes of Unintentional Fabrication

Below are the unintentional reasons behind the widespread phenomenon of the forgery of hadiths.

  1. Novelty.

Some transmitters took a well-known hadith and supported it with a new isnad (chain of transmission) just for the sake of novelty to attract the people around their transmission.

  • Mistakes.

Sometimes scholars committed a mistake in the transmission of a hadith when its isnad ended with a Companion or a Successor only, so they attributed sayings to the Prophet while a Companion or a Successor was responsible for them.

  • Inexactness.

Some people were not as exact in the transmission of Hadith as they were in their worship, so they committed mistakes in the process of transmission.

  • Indirect Transmission.

Some scholars learned Hadith from a certain sheikh and later came to know that the same teacher had transmitted other hadiths on different occasions. So instead of being satisfied with what they learned directly from their teachers, they transmitted them all, pretending that they had learned them.

  • Failure to Copy.

Some learned books from certain authorities but did not copy what they learned at that time. When they grew old and were asked about some hadiths, their desire to appear professional in the field led them to transmit hadiths from copies of the same book which they possessed.

But which did not contain notes giving them ijazah (license to teach) in Hadith. This practice was very common in the fourth century.

  • Lack of Qualification.

Some people lacked the necessary qualifications for teaching Hadith. Then a student came and recited hadiths to them that they had not transmitted, but they ignorantly confirmed the students.

One of the traditional ways of teaching Hadith is that a student recites a group of hadiths reported originally by the teacher, and after this recitation, the teacher gives the student the ijazah that he can report or transmit these hadiths.]

  • Lost Books.

 Sometimes scholars undertook journeys in pursuit of collecting Hadith and were recognized as Hadith specialists, but unfortunately, they lost their books.

At a later stage when they took charge of teaching students, they relied on copies other than their own, without expecting the possibility of the existence of some differences between two copies of the same work, or they relied on their weak memories (A`zami 70-1).

Signs of Wad` (Fabrication) in Hadiths

In part one the author defined the fabrication of Hadith and gave a brief historical background on the emergence of this phenomenon. In part two he listed the types of fabrication with the causes of each type.

In this part, he highlights the efforts of Muslim scholars and the tools they applied to sift through hadiths and eliminate the fabricated ones.

On the basis of the methods of matn (textual) criticism1developed by Muslim scholars of Hadith, the following signs were considered indicators of the occurrence of fabrication:

  • Disproportionately high rewards for small, good deeds or disproportionately severe punishments for ordinary sins
  • Laudation of persons, tribes, and particular places
  • Detailed prophecies of future events with dates
  • Remarks by the Prophet that do not match his prophetical position, or expressions that may not be suitable for him (Siddiqi 201, Shabbir 83-4)
  • Non-Arabic style or structure
  • Fanciful statements that the Prophet could not have made
  • Statements claimed to have been made by the Prophet in the presence of many Companions, but which are not reported by any of them
  • Phraseology that resembles that of the Sufi masters (Ibn Al-Qayyim 50-100)

Means of Eliminating Fabrication

Examining the character of the narrator. 

In order to be considered reliable, Hadith transmitters must possess personal integrity and must be able to provide flawless isnads for their hadiths.

Making a textual comparison. 

This method was applied to make cross comparisons between the hadiths, for example, comparing the hadiths of different students of the same scholar. In Ibn Hibban’s Al-Majruhin there is an interesting example to illustrate a good practice of this method. Ibn Ma`in went to `Affan, a student of Hammad ibn Salamah, to hear from him the books of Hammad. `Affan asked Ibn Ma`in whether he heard those books from any other students of Hammad or not.

Ibn Ma`in replied, “I have heard these books from seventeen students of Hammad before coming to you.” `Affan said, “By Allah I am not going to read these books to you.” Ibn Ma`in answered that by spending a few dirhams he would go to Basrah and hear them from another student of Hammad.

He went to Basrah to Musa ibn Isma`il, another pupil of Hammad. Musa asked him, “Have you not heard these books from anybody else?” He said, “I have heard them completely from seventeen students of Hammad and you are the eighteenth one.” Musa asked him what he was going to do with all these readings and Ibn Ma`in replied, “Hammad ibn Salama committed mistakes and his students added more mistakes to his.

So, I want to distinguish between the mistakes of Hammad and those of his students. If I find all the students of Hammad committing a certain mistake unanimously, then the source of the mistake is Hammad. If I find the majority of Hammad’s students say something, and some of them go against them, then this mistake was committed by that particular student of Hammad. In this way I make a distinction between the mistakes of Hammad and those of his students.”

Comparing the statements of a single scholar at different times. 

This method of criticism was applied to check whether the transmitter added something to the hadith or if it remained the same as he transmitted it before. `A’ishah asked `Urwah to go to `Abdullah ibn `Umar and ask him about a hadith of the Prophet.

Following `A’ishah’s request `Urwah met `Abdullah ibn `Umar and asked him about the hadith of the Prophet. `Abdullah ibn `Umar reported to `Urwah the hadith about how knowledge will be taken away from earth. `Urwah returned to `A’ishah and narrated this hadith to her. She was discontented about this hadith.

After one year or so, she said to `Urwah, “`Abdullah ibn `Umar has come back, go to him and ask him about hadiths of the Prophet and ask him about this particular hadith.” `Urwah went and asked about this hadith.

He came back to `A’ishah and told her that `Abdullah ibn `Umar had repeated the same hadith once again. Upon this `A’ishah said, “I think he must be correct, as he has not added anything to it and neither has he shortened it” (A`zami 55).

Comparing written documents with a hadith transmitted from memory. 

According to the Hadith scholars (muhaddithun), the information gained from books is more authentic and accurate than what is based on one’s memory. Once Sufyan transmitted a hadith from Ibn Mas`ud with regard to raising one’s hand while beginning ruku`(bowing).

Yahya ibn Aadam said that he checked the book of `Abdullah ibn Idris and did not find this hadith. Commenting on this, Al-Bukhari said, “This is correct, because the book is more accurate in the eyes of scholars, for example.

A man sometimes narrates a hadith and then goes through the books. In the case of difference, the version in the book will be accepted as accurate” (A`zami 56).

Comparing the hadith with related verses of the Qur’an and other hadiths.

Literature on Fabricated Hadiths (Al-Mawdu`at):

Early works on fabricated hadiths include the following:

Tadhkirat al-Mawdu`at by Abu Al-Fadl Muhammad ibn Tahir Al-Maqdisi

Al-Mawdu`at min Al-Ahadith Al-Marfu`at by Abu `Abdullah Al-Jawzaqani, also called Al-Abatil

Al-Mawdu`at Al-Kubra of Ibn Al-Jawzi. Later it was abridged by As-Suyuti in his

Al-La’ali’ Al-Masnu`a fi Al-Ahadith Al-Mawdu`a and by Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Salim As-Saffarini in his Ad-Durar Al-Masnu`at fi Al-Ahadith Al-Mawdu`at

Tahdhir Al-Khawas min Akadhib Al-Qussas by As-Suyuti

Al-Mughni `n Al-Hifz wa Al-Kitab by `Umar ibn Badr Al-Mawsili

Ahadith Al-Qussas by Ibn Taymiyyah

Al-Manar Al-Munif fi As-Sahih wa Ad-Da`if by Ibn Al-Qayim

Tanzih Ash-Shari`a Al-Marfu`a `an Al-Ahadith Ash-Shani`a al-Mawdu`a by Ibn `Arraq Al-Kinani

Tadhkirat Al-Mawdu`at by Muhammad Tahir Al-Fatani

Al-Asrar Al-Marfu`ah fi Al-Akhbar Al-Mawdu`a by `Ali Al-Qari

Al-Fawa’id Al-Majmu`a fi Al-Ahadith Al-Mawdu`at by Ash-Shawkani (Nasr 112-14) To these sources one can add the contemporary study of Al-Albani titled Silsilat Al-Ahadith Ad-Da`ifa wa Al-Mawdu`a.

Allah knows Best.


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