Fabrication of Hadith : Causes and Means of Elimination

Fabrication of Hadith : Causes and Means of Elimination

Shaykh Muhammad Mustafa Al-A’zami رَحِمَهُ ٱللَّٰهُ 

It is a well known fact that some people are always trying to forge valuable things such as diamonds, jewels, or works of art, etc. For Muslims, except the Qur’an, there was and is nothing more precious than the sunna of the Prophet. Therefore, from different motives and for different purposes, different kinds of people fabricated a variety of ahadith. Some of them were heretics, others were those who had lost their countries to Islam and still others illiterate, though sometimes well-intentioned, Muslims themselves.

The attribution of false statements to the Prophet may be divided into two categories:

(1.) Intentional fabrication of hadith. That is usually called hadith maudu’.
(2.) Unintentional attribution of a false hadith to the Prophet by mistake despite due care or due to carelessness. That is usually called hadith Batil.

The result in both conditions is the same, that is a statement is falsely attributed to the Prophet. Therefore scholars who collected ahadith of this sort put them together and did not make separate books for these two types. In many cases, they did not draw a line between Maudu’ and Batil even in judgment though it would have been useful to know it.


Intentional Fabrication of Hadith

1. Those who committed this great sin belong to different categories. Among them were Zindiqs who could not fight Islam openly, and took shelter under the cloak of scholarship. The Zindlqs included Mughira b. Sa’d al-Knfi and Muhammed b. Sa’id al-Shanri who was crucified for treachery. They imitated the learned scholars, fabricated ahadith and narrated them to cast doubt in people’s minds. Muhammed b. Sa’id ash-Shaml who was crucified reported from Humaid from Anas from the Prophet saying: “I am the seal of the Prophets, there will be no prophet after me unless Allah wills.” He forged this exception to support the heresy and infidelity to which he summoned people and to buttress his claim to be a prophet

However, a very important point ought to be noticed. There were a number of people who were reported to have said that they fabricated certain ahadith or so many ahadith. Their claims have been reported without giving any detail of the materials. Sometimes this statement was given by someone who was going to be punished for a certain crime. In some other cases it is attributed to a certain person that after repentance, he confessed that he fabricated so many ahadith, and he did not know what to do. Early scholars have mentioned their statements without giving any detail. In my opinion, this statement is not sufficient. After confession, we grade him as a liar. And it might be a part of a conspiracy that when that person was unable to destroy the faith of the people in the sunna of the Prophet, he used this final trick. It is unanimously held that if a man told a lie about the hadith of the Prophet, his transmission would not be accepted even after he repented. Therefore, to judge the fabrication of hadith, we cannot depend on the statement of a liar.

2. There were some weak-minded people who fabricated ahadith with good intentions in their mind. Abu ‘Umara al-MarwazI says that Abfl ‘Isma was asked, “Where did you get from ‘Ikrima from Ibn Abbas ahadith about the excellence of the Qur’an sura by sura, when ‘Ikrima’s students do not possess this?” It ought to be noticed how the scholars were making cross-references to detect the fault and falsehood. He replied, “I saw that people had turned away from the Qur’an and occupied themselves with the Fiqh of Abu Hanifa and the Maghazi of Muhammad b. Ishaq, so I forged these ahadith seeking reward in the next world.”

3. There were some storytellers who used to stand in the market places or in the mosques and used to attribute ahadith falsely to the Prophet.

Scholars mention a class of fabricators who used to fabricate for the sake of rulers. It is very remarkable that one finds only one example of this sort which has been repeated by the scholars.

4. There were certain religious men who fabricated to support their sectarian attitude, either in law or in theology, or in politics or due to their prejudice for race or country or certain people, or those who fabricated for their personal interest. These classes should be put under the category of the people who fabricated intentionally.


Unintentional Fabrication of Hadith

There are, however, other people who committed mistakes though they did not fabricate the statement itself.

1. Those who took a well-known hadith and gave it a new isnad for the sake of novelty, so that they might become a focus for learning.

2. Those scholars who committed mistakes in transmission, e,g.’ while isnad was ended with the Companion or Successors only, he erroneously attributed statements to the Prophet which were as a matter of fact the sayings of the Companions or Successors.

One ought to bear in mind that as every hadith consists of text and isnad, and every isnad contains many names which usually end with the Prophet, it was quite easy to commit a mistake of this sort where the isnad stopped one step earlier.

3. Pious people who did not take the trouble to be exact, and did not give the time and attention required for the study of hadith, and were very busy in their ‘ibadah (worship) committed many mistakes in transmitting ahadith. Yahya b. Sa’id al-Qattan, a second-century scholar, reported that “I have not seen more falsehood in anyone than in those who have a reputation for goodness.” It implies that the Muhaddithln were well aware and not impressed by apparent worship and piety.

4. Scholars who learned ahadith from certain shaikhs, and later dis- covered that there were some other ahadith transmitted by the same shaikhs which they had missed. Instead of being content with what they learned directly from the authorities or being precise about differentiating what they learned directly and what they did indirectly, they transmitted all, pretending that they learned them.

5. Those who learned books from authorities but did not copy what they learned at that time. When they grew old and were asked ahadith by students, their ignorance and desire to appear scholars lead them to transmit ahadith from copies of the same book which they acquired, but it did not contain notes certifying their learning. It seems that in the 4th century this sort of mistake was common. It ought to be noted that scholars did not allow the transmission of ahadith from a book, say for example Sahih of Bukhari, other than the copy which one read to the Shaikh with the chain going back to the author. Then it had to contain a note that a certain student studied it under a certain Shaikh or that the Shaikh permitted him to transmit this book because it was quite possible that two copies of the same work may differ. There is another opinion, a milder one, that a very famous book like Sahih of Bukharl, copies of which were and are very common, may be transmitted if the scholar thinks that the copy in hand, even though it does not contain a note of learning, is similar to one from which he had learned. However, early scholars did not agree with this, and in some similar cases, they labeled the scholar a liar. 

6. People lacked the necessary qualifications for the teaching of hadith, that is a sharp memory, alertness or a correct book. Then a student came and read al\ddith to them which were not transmitted by them but they ignorantly confirmed them. It ought to be noticed that many times students used to do this trick on their teachers to test the knowledge of their teacher. If they found that the teacher was alert and did not fall in their trap they learned from him.

7. Scholars who traveled in search of hadith and were recognized muhaddithin, but lost their books. Later on when they taught students they used copies other than their own, without bearing in mind that there might be some differences between two copies of the same work. Or they transmitted from their defective memories. On this account, they resorted to guesswork (takhmin) . No doubt the value of what they taught depended on whether their book was sound or not.


Means for Detection of Fabrication in Hadith

Scholars who spent a great deal of their lives with the ahadith of the Prophet developed a sense which they could use instantly in detecting an error. Their example was like that of a man who lived with a beloved friend for scores of years, knew him very well in every situation and so could easily say which statement belonged to him and which not. Similarly, a literary critic who studies a poet for a long time and becomes fully acquainted with his style can, on the basis of his perception and personal experience, easily detect a poem that does not belong to the poet. However, Muhaddithin did not depend solely on personal experience as it may be counted a form of subjective criticism. In short, if a hadith was not transmitted by any trustworthy scholar, and there was a liar or a person accused of lying in the chain of transmission it was said to have been fabricated by that person.

However, scholars laid down certain rules according to which one could reach conclusions about the spuriousness or genuineness of ahadith even without going into a detailed study of isnad. Here is a summary of the method described by Ibn al-Qayyim.

Ibn al-Qayyim’s description of general rules about the rejection of hadith are as follows:

  • If the hadith contains an exaggerated statement that the Prophet could not have made. For example, a false hadith attributed to the Prophet that when one pronounces ‘La ildha ill Allah’ God creates from this sentence a bird with seventy thousand tongues.
  • Experiment rejects it.
  • Ridiculous kind of attribution. Contradicts a well-known Sunna.
  • Attributes a statement to the Prophet which was supposed to have been made in the presence of a thousand Companions but all of them supposedly concealed it.
  • The statement has no resemblance to other statements of the Prophet.
  • Sounds like the saying of mystics or medical practitioners.
  • Contradicts the clear and obvious meanings of the Qur’an.
  • Inadequate in its style.


Besides these general rules, the entire system of isnad was applied to detect the fabrication.

Scholars had knowledge of almost all the narrators, how many ahadith they transmitted, how many of these were confirmed by other narrators throughout the Muslim world and how many of them have not been confirmed by other narrators. For this purpose, they used the term La Yutaba’u.

In many cases even if a hadith was well known and authentic but the scholars suspected that a certain narrator who transmitted the hadith had not received it through proper channel, they would check the ink and the paper to see whether it was a new writing or an old one.

These are some of the tests which were applied by scholars prior to, or if they did not use it, instead of isnad criticism.


Literature on Spurious Ahadith

The early scholars did not merely compile works on spurious ahadith. They also noted such ahadith in the books of ‘Hal, biographies or histories etc. It seems that the first scholar who devoted his book totally to this purpose was Husain b. Ibrahim al-Jauzaqani (d.543) . Later on a great number of books were compiled on the subject. The most useful one for a layman is that of Shaukani called al-Fawai’d al-Majmu’ah Fi al-Ahadith al-Maudu’ah, edited by Mu’allimi Yamani.


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