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Verifiable Transmission

(Isnād) and the Sects


By G F Haddad



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The Prophet of Islam (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said:

“He for whom Allah desires great good, He grants him (superlative) understanding in the Religion (yufaqqihhu/yufqihhu fīl-dīn ). I only distribute and it is Allah Who gives. That group shall remain in charge of the Order of Allah, unharmed by those who oppose them, until the coming of the Order of Allah.”



The whole text is also online at the [archive].

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Introduction

The Commander of the Believers, our liege-lord ʿUmar ibn al- Khaṭṭāb (rh) was careful to prevent the dissemination of unverified knowledge – chainless knowledge – that was to proliferate after his time. He said: “Whoever finds a book containing knowledge that he did not hear from a person of learning, let him dip it in water until its ink is diluted.”[1]

This hyperbolic ruling stresses the rigorous normative method in the conveyance of knowledge in Islam – encapsulated in Ibn al-Mubārak’s axiom on isnād – and underlines, in passing, that such conveyance is personal and both oral and written because the pedigrees of books are their unbroken chains of transmission back to their authors.


Western-Minded Anti-Traditionists and Purists

In complete contrast, today, many purportedly educated Muslims – both purists and anti-traditionists – revere bookish know- ledge and non-Muslim institutions of learning over and even at the exclusion of Islamic ones. They accredit Western titles and disciplines above the Islamic offices of learning and mashyakhas. They speak, write, read, study, teach, debate after the fashion of non-Muslims just as they may also eat, dress, marry, divorce, and die as Westerners, without a second thought other than implicit or expressed hostility at the heritage of the forerunners in the Religion of Truth (although purists have managed to trumpet the art of lip-service to “The Salaf ” into a full-fledged ideology).[2]

Their approach to learning in our time is to orphan themselves of the principles of the learned Muslims of previous generations – their spiritual foreparents as Imām al-Nawawī defined one’s Muslim teachers in al-Taqrīb wal-Taysīr li-Maʿrifati Sunan al-Bashīr al- Nadhīr ﷺ. They still have isnād – not so much to the people of the Prophetic Way and the Muslim Congregation as to the culture of the non-Muslim world and the ideas of professors, journalists, activists, news analysts, social scientists, and, at the other end of the spectrum, Marxist-Leninists, Arab revolutionaries, nationalists, and anarchists born-again as purists.

Such are the manufactured imāms that have infiltrated the ranks of Muslim leadership and pose as the very Ulema they and their followers desert and belie. The Seal and Last of all Prophets ﷺ said: “There will be, towards the end of time, Anti-Christs and arch-liars who shall discord among you.”[3] A commentator of Mishkāt al-Maṣābīḥ said: “The Prophet ﷺ meant those that will say to the people, ‘We are scholars and shaykhs and are calling you to the Religion’ whereas, in fact, they are liars and deceivers.”[4]

In another ḥadīth, ḥudhayfa (rh) asked about the trials of the ends of time:

“I said, ‘Is there, after this good, any evil, O Messenger of Allah?’ He said, ‘Yes, the evil of those who call others while standing at the gates of the Fire.’ I said, ‘Messenger of Allah! Describe them for us.’ He said, ‘They are people of our complexion saying the same exhortations we do and speaking our languages.’ I said, ‘What are your orders for me concerning them in case this hap- pens in my lifetime?’ He said, ’Stick to the Congregation of the Muslims.’ I said, ‘What if there is no Congregation?’ He said, ‘Isolate yourself from those sects even if you must chew on a tree-trunk (for food), until death comes to you while you are in that state!’[5]


Ill-Prepared Tradition-Minded Muslims

Some tradition-minded Muslims rush to the opposite extreme and emphasize supererogatory works and garb, forgetting that a servant must approach his Lord with obligatory works first – including the pursuit of necessary knowledge and truthful naṣīḥa to king and country. Their solution to what they rightly view as a corrupt form of Muslim consciousness is to promote a few ostensible facets of tradition out of many but they neglect the intellectual formation that underlies it. The reason for such neglect is either that their defense of tradition is not genuine or that they come to such defense unequipped.

As Imām Sufyān al-Thawrī (rh) said, “The chain of transmission (al-isnād ) is the weapon of the believer. Whoever has no weapon, how can he fight?”[6] So they leave the long-term formative work to others but aspire to claim its fame and receive credit for it anyway. They might even oppose those that are better prepared when they should aid them or learn from them.“ There is no rarer zuhd than the renouncing of leadership!” (Sufyān again) All of the above shares the trappings of sectarianism and deviation.[7]


The Resulting Salad

In such a context thrive the modern types of false teaching, this one in the name of tradition, that one in the name of reform, the third one in the name of purism. The Law-bending Sufis and perennialists invoke tradition (or claim to). The tie-clad Muʿtazilīs and other hybrid or anti-traditional havana-puffing dāʿīs that curse the Awliyā and worship Mammon, invoke reform on the theme of a return to caliphate, or to the gold dinar, or on keeping a kennel at home and praying behind one’s wife.[8] The less nescient but hypocritical, corrupt-to-the-bone purists invoke “The Salaf ” to justify the self-immolating murder of civilians. Such types have now replaced the murabbī in the education of the character and the ʿālim in the education of the mind – to Allah we belong and to Him we return!

But if “Every Community has its Zoroastrians, every Community has its Jews, and every Community has its Christians,”[9] it remains also true that “There shall not cease to be a group in my Community who shall always overcome and stand for truth until the end of time.”[10]

The Prophet ﷺ declared that victorious group invulnerable to the wrong of their enemies when he said, in another narration: “That group shall remain in charge of the Command of Allah, unharmed by those that oppose them, until the coming of the Command of Allah!”[11] In the chapter of his Ṣaḥīḥ in which he cites this ḥadīth, Imām al-Bukhārī states: “These are the People of Knowledge” in the sense, of course, of traditional Sunni knowledge of the Companion-fiqh-based Schools of Law and not the orphaned, newfangled knowledge of the sects. The Prophet ﷺ also said, in praise of the latter-day generations (al-Khalaf):

“From every succeeding generation its upright folk shall carry this knowledge in turn. They shall repeal from it the distortions of the extremists (taḥrīf al-ghālīn), the misinterpretations of the ignorant (ta’wīl al-jāhilīn), and the pretenses of the liars (intiḥāl al-mubṭilīn).”

This is an authentic narration graded ḥasan gharīb ṣaḥīḥ by al- ʿAlā’ī in Bughyat al-Multamis and ṣaḥīḥ according to Aḥmad, Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr (per Ibn Kathīr and al-Ṣanʿānī), and Ibn al-Wazīr but ḍaʿīf muʿḍal according to others.[12]

Narrated:

1– from Abū Hurayra (rh) by al-Ṭabarānī with two chains, one of which is fair, and by al-Khaṭīb in Sharaf Aṣḥāb al-ḥadīth and al- Jāmiʿ with a very weak chain because of Maslama ibn ʿAlī;[13]

2– from Abū Umāma (rh) by al-ʿUqaylī with a weak chain;[14]

3– from Usāma ibn Zayd (rh) by al-Khaṭīb;[15]

4– from Abū Hurayra and ʿAbd Allah ibn ʿUmar y by al-Bazzār, Tammām al-Rāzī, IbnʿAbd al-Barr, and al-ʿUqaylī (the latter two stating “ibnʿAmr”) with very weak chains because of ʿUmar ibn Khālid who is discarded as a narrator (matrūk) as indicated by al-Haythamī;[16]

5– from ʿAbd Allah ibn Masʿūd (rh) – the first sentence only, and with “inherit” instead of “carry” – by al-Khaṭīb;[17]

6–9– From a number of other Companions – Abū al-Dardā’, ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib, Jābir ibn Samura, and Muʿādh ibn Jabal y – through weak chains as stated by Abū Nuʿaym followed by al- ʿIrāqī and al-Qārī.[18]

10– mursal from the Tābiʿī Abū ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Ibrāhīm ibn ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-ʿUdhrī by al-Bayhaqī, Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, Ibn Abī ḥātim, Ibn ḥibbān, and al-Khaṭīb. The latter narrates that Imām Aḥmad declared it sound (ṣaḥīḥ), a grading faulted by Yaḥyā ibn Saʿīd al-Qaṭṭān as cited by Ibn ʿAdī from al-Khallāl’s ʿIlal. Ibn ʿAdī then cites a chain of trustworthy narrators for it. Al-Dhahabī in the Mīzān states that Muʿān ibn Rifāʿa (who reports from al-ʿUdhrī) is not reliable (Ibn ḥajar grades him layyin) but in al-Mughnī states that Ibn al-Madīnī declared him trustworthy as did Aḥmad, as also reported by al-Khaṭīb. Al- ʿIrāqī said: “This narration is missing al least two narrators (muʿḍal) or missing the Companion-link (mursal). And this Ibrāhīm, who related it without naming the Companion, is not known to relate any narration other than this.”[19]

In view of al-Ṭabarānī’s fair chain, IbnʿAdī’s chain of reliable transmitters, Aḥmad and Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr’s grading of ṣaḥīḥ, al- ʿAlā’ī’s similar grading, the number of Companions related to narrate it, and the widespread acceptance of this narration among the Masters, the correct grading appears is that of “sound” (ṣaḥīḥ) and Allah knows best.[20]

Imām Jamāl al-Dīn al-ḥubayshī (712–782) said: “This narration is a proof that the Ulema of Ahl al-Sunna are all upright and there is no higher honor than the recommendation of the Prophet ﷺ himself!”[21]

May Allah Most High continue to raise their honor here and hereafter and bring the scheming of their detractors to nothing!

Footnotes


  1. Narrated by al-Khaṭīb, al-Kifāya (p. 352), al-Sakhāwī, Fatḥ al-Mughīth (2:153).  ↩

  2. “Qur’ān-only,” feminists, Mawdūdists, and other “downgraded” neo-Muʿtazilites such as the Californian Khālid Abū al-Faḍl and, at opposite extremes, the Quṭbian Ḥizb al-Taḥrīr, Muhājirūn, Ikhwānīs, and other Islamists. They are all one in their modernist reformism and fluid reinterpretations of the Qur’ān and Sunna.  ↩

  3. Narrated from Abū Hurayra by Muslim and Aḥmad.  ↩

  4. As cited in the introduction of Misbāḥ al-Anām by al-ḥabīb ʿAlawī ibn Aḥmad al-Ḥaddād.  ↩

  5. Narrated from Ḥudhayfa ibn al-Yamān by al-Bukhārī and Muslim.  ↩

  6. Cf. Ibn Rajab, Sharḥ ʿIlal al-Tirmidhī (ʿItr ed. 1:56–62).  ↩

  7. As do the pseudo-Sufi mudhabdhabūn who are alternately traditional and anti-traditional depending on convenience but positively adore the West and bow to the darkest sides of its ethos, such as the Scottish Hitler-eulogizing ex-actor who calls himself “Shaykh Dr. ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Murābiṭ” cf. https://www.livingislam.org/ir/ez/dc/sdph_e.html  ↩

  8. Cf. Teresa Watanabe’s 2002 New York Times article on Khalid Aboul Fadl and On the fitna of women, by Sh. G. F. Haddad. Self-named “Progressives” also promote sexual permissiveness, usurious banking laws in the name of free trade, making teetotalism optional, and other endeavors to Judeo-Christianize Islam.  ↩

  9. Narrated from Sahl ibn Saʿd al-Saʿīdī by al-Ṭabarānī in al-Awsaṭ (9:93 §9223).  ↩

  10. A mass-transmitted ḥadīth cf. al-Kattānī in Naẓm al-Mutanāthir (p. 141).  ↩

  11. From Muʿāwiya in al-Bukhārī and Muslim as well as from Abū Hurayra and Ibn ʿAbbās: “He for whom Allah desires great good, He grants him (superlative) understanding in the Religion (yufaqqihhu/yufqihhu fīl-dīn). I only distribute and it is Allah Who gives. That group shall remain in charge of the Order of Allah, unharmed by those who oppose them, until the coming of the Order of Allah.” The scholars have explained that the first command in the ḥadīth is Law and Religion, while the second is the Day of Resurrection and Judgment.  ↩

  12. Al-ʿAlā’ī, Bughyat al-Multamis (p. 34–35), Ibn Kathīr, Bidāya (1993 Turāth ed. 10:371), al-Ṣanʿānī, Thamarāt al-Naẓar (p. 144), Ibn al-Wazīr, ʿAwāṣim (1:312), Ibn al-Mulaqqin, Muqniʿ (1:246), ʿAbd al-ḥaqq al-Ishbīlī, al-Aḥkām al-Wusṭā (1:121), Ibn Kathīr, Ikhtiṣār ʿUlūm al-Ḥadīth, al-ʿIrāqī, Taqyīd (p. 116), and al- Bulqīnī, Maḥāsin al-Iṣṭilāḥ (p. 219).  ↩

  13. Al-Ṭabarānī, Musnad al-Shāmiyyīn (1:344) and al-Khaṭīb, Sharaf Aṣḥāb al- ḥadīth (p. 28 §52) and al-Jāmiʿ (1991 ed. 1:193 §137=1983 ed. 1:128).  ↩

  14. Al-ʿUqaylī, Ḍuʿafā’ (1:9).  ↩

  15. Al-Khaṭīb, Sharaf Aṣḥāb al-Ḥadīth (p. 28 §53).  ↩

  16. Ibn ḥajar, Mukhtaṣar Musnad al-Bazzār (1:122 §86), Tammām al-Rāzī, Fawā’id (1:350), Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, Tamhīd (1:59), al-ʿUqaylī, Ḍuʿafā’ (1:10), al- Haythamī (1:140).  ↩

  17. In Sharaf Aṣḥāb al-Ḥadīth (p. 28 §54).  ↩

  18. Al-Qārī, Mirqāt (1994 ed. 1:509 §248), al-Arna’ūṭ, notes on al-Ṭaḥāwī’s Sharḥ Mushkil al-āthār (10:18 §3884).  ↩

  19. Al-Bayhaqī, al-Sunan al-Kubrā (10:209 §20685–20686) and Shuʿab al-īmān (10:209), Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, Tamhīd (1:59), Ibn Abī Ḥātim, al-Jarḥ wal-Taʿdīl (2:17), Ibn Ḥibbān, Thiqāt (4:10), al-Khaṭīb, Sharaf Aṣḥāb al-Ḥadīth (p. 28–29 §52–56), Ibn ʿAdī, Kāmil (1:153), al-Dhahabī, Mīzān (1:45 §137), Mughnī (2:308 §6309), Ibn ḥajar, Taqrīb (§6747), al-ʿIrāqī, Taqyīd (p. 116) and Tabṣira (1:298).  ↩

  20. Cf. also al-Harawī’s Dhamm al-Kalām (3:294–330), al-Bidāya (Turāth ed. 6:287= al-Maʿārif ed. 6:258), al-Iṣāba (1:225), Tadrīb al-Rāwī (1997 ed. 2:356–357= 2:302–303) and Kashf al-Khafā’ (§143). This is the very first ḥadīth the writer heard the late Shaykh Abd al-Qādir al-Arna’ūṭ narrate, in his study in Damascus.  ↩

  21. Al-Ḥubayshī, Nashr Ṭay al-Taʿrīf fī Faḍl ḥamalat al-ʿIlm al-Sharīf (p. 40)  ↩



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