The Study of the Reporters of Hadith

(Rijal al-Hadith)
By Sheikh Suhaib Hassan
Member — The European Council for Fatwa and Research

The Study of the Reporters of Hadith
The methodology of Hadith (mustalah al-Hadith) is strongly associated with rijal al-Hadith ([the study of] the reporters of Hadith). In scrutinizing the reporters of a hadith, authenticating or disparaging remarks made by recognized experts from among the Successors and those after them, were found to be of great help. Examples of such remarks, in descending order of authentication, are:
  • Imam (leader [in Hadith]), hafiz (preserver)
  • Reliable, trustworthy
  • Makes mistakes
  • Weak
  • Abandoned (by the traditionists)
  • Liar, used to fabricate hadiths

Reporters who have been unanimously described by statements such as the first two may contribute to a sahih isnad (authentic chain of transmitters). An isnad (chain of transmitters) containing a reporter who is described by the last two statements is likely to be da`if jiddan (very weak) or mawdu` (fabricated). Reporters who are the subject of statements such as the middle two above will cause the isnad to be da`if (weak), although several of them relating the same hadith independently will often increase the rank of the hadith to the level of hasan (sound). If the remarks about a particular reporter conflict, a careful verdict has to be arrived at after in-depth analysis of, for example, the reason given for any disparagement, the weight of each type of criticism, the relative strictness or leniency of each critic, and so on.

The earliest remarks cited in the books of rijal go back to a host of Successors, followed by those after them until the period of the six canonical traditionists, a period covering the first three centuries of Islam.

Among the earliest available works in this field are Tarikh by Ibn Ma`in (d. AH 233); Tabaqat by Khalifah ibn Khayyat (d. AH 240); Tarikh by Al-Bukhari (d. AH 256); Kitab al-Jarh wat-Ta`dil by Ibn Abi Hatim (d. AH 327 AH); and Tabaqat by Muhammad ibn Sa`d (d. AH 320).

A number of traditionists made efforts specifically for the gathering of information about the reporters of the five famous collections of Hadith—those of Al-Bukhari (d. AH 256 ), Muslim (d. AH 261), Abu Dawud (d. AH 275), At-Tirmidhi (d. AH 279) and An-Nasa’i (d. AH 303)—giving authenticating and disparaging remarks in detail. The first major such work to include also the reporters of Ibn Majah (d. AH 273) is the 10-volume collection of Hafiz `Abdul-Ghani Al-Maqdisi (d. AH 600), known as Al-Kamal fi Asma’ ar-Rijal. Later, Jamal Ad-Din Abul-Hajjaj Yusuf ibn `Abdur-Rahman Al-Mizzi (d. AH 742) prepared an edited and abridged version of this work, punctuated by places and countries of origin of the reporters. He named it Tahdhib al-Kamal fi Asma’ ar-Rijal and produced it in 12 volumes. Further, one of Al-Mizzi’s gifted pupils, Shams Ad-Din Abu `Abdullah Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn `Uthman ibn Qaimaz al- Dhahabi (d. 748 AH), summarized his sheikh’s work and produced two abridgements: a longer one called Tadhhib at-Tahdhib and a shorter one called Al-Kashif fi Asma’ Rijal al-Kutub as-Sittah.

A similar effort with the work of Al-Mizzi was made by Ibn Hajar (d. AH 852), who prepared a lengthy but abridged version, with about one-third of the original omitted, entitled Tahdhib at-Tahdhib in 12 shorter volumes. Later, he abridged this further to a relatively humble two-volume work called Taqrib at-Tahdhib.

The work of Adh-Dhahabi was not left unedited; Al-Khazraji (Safi Ad-Din Ahmad ibn `Abdullah, d. after AH 923) summarized it and also made valuable additions, producing his Khulasah.

A number of similar works deal with either trustworthy reporters only—for example, Kitab at-Thiqat by Al-`Ijli (d. AH 261) and Tadhkirat al-Huffaz by Adh-Dhahabi—or with disparaged authorities only—for example, Kitab ad-Du`afa’ wa al-Matrukin by An-Nasa’i and Kitab al-Majruhin by Muhammad ibn Hibban Al-Busti (d. AH 354).

Two more works in this field which include a large number of reporters, both authenticated and disparaged, are Mizan al-I`tidal by Adh-Dhahabi and Lisan al-Mizan by Ibn Hajar.

Based on the book: An Introduction to the Science of Hadith, with the author's kind permission. Excepted, with some modifications from: http://www.ymofmd.com/hadith/Intro_Science_Hadith/asa3.htm
(1)Remarks like these are exceptions from the basic Islamic prohibition ofbackbiting (ghibah) another Muslim, even if the statement is true. Suchexceptions are allowed, even obligatory in some cases, where general benefit tothe Muslim public is at stake, such as knowing which hadiths are authentic. See,for example, Riyad as-Salihin by An-Nawawi, Chapter on Backbiting, for thejustification for certain types of backbiting from the Qur'an and Sunnah.
Sheikh Suhaib HassanAbdul Ghaffaris a member of the European Council for Fatwa and Research. He is the chairman of Masjid & Madrasah al-Tawhid Trust and Secretary of the Islamic Sharia Council ofGreat Britain.He is one of the first graduates from the Islamic University at Madinah, Saudi Arabia , where he studied under a galaxy of prominent scholars such as Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz, Muhammad Amin al-Shanqiti, Muhammad Nasiruddin al-Albani and others.

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