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The Superiority of

Fiqh Over Hadith

By Sh. G. F. Haddad

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Allah Most High said,

{ يُؤْتِي الْحِكْمَةَ مَن يَشَاءُ وَمَن يُؤْتَ الْحِكْمَةَ فَقَدْ أُوتِيَ خَيْرًا كَثِيرًا وَمَا يَذَّكَّرُ إِلَّا أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ}

{ He gives wisdom to whomever He will, and whoever receives wisdom receives immense good } (2:269).

The Holy Prophet ﷺ said, "He for whom Allāh desires great good, He grants him (superlative) understanding in the Religion (yufaqqihhu/yufqihhu fī al-dīn). I only distribute and it is Allāh Who gives. That group shall remain in charge of the Order of Allāh, unharmed by those who oppose them, until the coming of the Order of Allāh."1

"It may be that one carries understanding without being a person of understanding; it may be that one carries understanding to someone who possesses more understanding than he."

Imām al-Shāfiʿī apparently took from Imām Abū Hanīfa his famous statement, said: "You [the scholars of h.adīth] are the pharmacists but we [the Jurists] are the physicians." This is also reported from al-Aʿmash and Abu Sulayman Ibn Zubar and was probably proverbial. Mullā ʿAlī al-Qārī commented: "The early scholars said: The h.adīth scholar without knowledge of fiqh is like a seller of drugs who is no physician: he has them but he does not know what to do with them; and the fiqh scholar without knowledge of h.adīth is like a physician without drugs: he knows what constitutes a remedy, but does not have it available."2

Imām Ah.mad is related by his students Abū T.ālib and H.umayd ibn Zanjūyah to say: "I never saw anyone adhere more to h.adīth than al-Shāfiʿī. No one preceded him in writing down h.adīth in a book." The meaning of this is that al-Shāfiʿī possessed the intelligence of h.adīth after which Ah.mad sought, as evidenced by the latter's statement: "How rare is fiqh among those who know h.adīth!" This is a reference to the h.adīth: "It may be one carries understanding (fiqh) - meaning: memorizes the proof-texts of fiqh - without being a person of understanding (faqīh)."3 The Salaf and Khalaf elucidated this rule in many famous statements showing that, for all the exalted status of the Muh.addith, yet the Faqīh excels him:

H.adīth Misguides Those Devoid of Fiqh

Cautioning against the danger of misusing hadith to the point of committing sin, Imam Ahmad narrated from Muhammad ibn Yahya al-Qattan (d.233) that the latter said: "If one were to follow every rukhsa that is in the hadīth, he would ebcome a transgressor (fāsiq)."

* Ibn Abī Zayd al-Mālikī reports Sufyān ibn ʿUyayna as saying: "H.adīth is a pitfall (mad.illa) except for the fuqahā'," and Mālik's companion ʿAbd Allāh ibn Wahb said: "H.adīth is a pitfall except for the Ulema. Every memorizer of h.adīth that does not have an Imām in fiqh is misguided (d.āll), and if Allāh had not rescued us with Mālik and al-Layth [ibn Saʿd], we would have been misguided."4

Ibn Abī Zayd comments: "He [Sufyān] means that other than the jurists might take something in its external meaning when, in fact, it is interpreted in the light of another h.adīth or some evidence which remains hidden to him; or it may in fact consist in discarded evidence due to some other [abrogating] evidence. None can meet the responsibility of knowing this except those who deepened their learning and obtained fiqh." Imām al-Haytamī said something similar.5

Ibn Wahb is also reported to say: "I met three hundred and sixty learned people of knowledge but, without Mālik and al-Layth, I would have strayed."6

Another versions states: "Were it not for Mālik ibn Anas and al-Layth ibn Saʿd I would have perished; I used to think everything that is [authentically] related from the Prophet - Allāh bless and greet him - must be put into practice."7

Another version has: "I gathered a lot of h.adīths and they drove me to confusion. I would consult Mālik and al-Layth and they would say to me, 'take this and leave this.'"8 Ibn Wahb had compiled 120,000 narrations according to Ah.mad ibn S.ālih..9

Hence, Ibn ʿUqda replied to a man who had asked him about a certain narration: "Keep such h.adīths to a minimum for, truly, they are unsuitable except for those who know their interpretation. Yah.yā ibn Sulayman narrated from Ibn Wahb that he heard Mālik say: 'Many of these h.adīths are [a cause for] misguidance; some h.adīths were narrated by me and I wish that for each of them I had been flogged with a stick twice. I certainly no longer narrate them!'"10

By his phrase, "Many of these h.adīths are misguidance," Mālik means their adducing them in the wrong place and meaning, because the Sunna is wisdom and wisdom is to place each thing in its right context.11 An example of this is al-Shāfiʿī's report that Mālik regretted including in the Muwatta the hadith of the pond in which the Prophet ﷺ is told, "You do not know what they did after you" because of the inevitable abuse at the hands of Shīʿīs (or shīʿified Sunnis such as the Ghumārī school and others in our time).

* Ibn al-Mubārak said: "If Allāh had not rescued me with Abū H.anīfa and Sufyān [al-Thawrī] I would have been like the rest of the common people." Al-Dhahabī relates it as: "I would have been an innovator."12

The Imāms of H.adīth Defer to the Imāms of Fiqh

* Imām Ah.mad's teacher, Yah.yā ibn Saʿīd al-Qat.t.ān, despite his foremost status as the Master of h.adīth Masters and expert in narrator-recommendation and discreditation, would not venture to extract legal rulings from the evidence but followed in this the fiqh of Abū H.anīfa as he explicitly declared: "We do not belie Allāh. We never heard better than the juridical opinion (ra'ī) of Abū H.anīfa, and we followed most of his positions."13

Similarly, Muh.ammad ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn ʿAbd al-H.akam said: "If it were not for al-Shāfiʿī I would not have known how to reply to anyone. Because of him I know what I know."14 As for Muh.ammad ibn Yah.yā al-Dhuhlī (d. 258) of Khurāsān, whom Abū Zurʿa ranked above Imām Muslim and who is considered an Amīr al-Mu'minīn fī al-H.adīth ("Commander of the Faithful in the Science of H.adīth"), he never considered himself a non-muqallid but said: "I have made Ah.mad ibn H.anbal an Imām in all that stands between me and my Lord."15 Misʿar ibn Kidām said the same with regard to Imām Abū H.anīfa.16

Knowledge Is Not Memorization but a Light

Fiqh is the context of many statements of the Imāms on knowledge consisting in wisdom, benefit, deeds, and light rather than learning and memorization as we already mentioned. Mālik said: "Wisdom and knowledge are a light by which Allāh guides whomever He pleases; it does not consist in knowing many things"17. Al-Shāfiʿī: "Knowledge is what benefits. Knowledge is not what one has memorized."18

Al-Dhahabī: "[Knowledge (al-ʿilm) is "not the profusion of narration, but a light which Allāh casts into the heart. Its condition is followership (ittibāʿ) and the flight away from egotism (hawā) and innovation."19

Al-Khatīb in his brief Iqtidā' al-ʿIlm al-ʿAmal ("Learning Necessitates Deeds") narrates many statements to this effect from Ibn Masʿūd, Abū Hurayra, Abū al-Dardā, Abū Qilāba, al-Zuhrī, al-Tustarī, Ibn ʿUyayna, and otherrs of the Salaf. This Islamic understanding of knowledge elucidates al-H.asan al-Bas.rī report that the Prophet ﷺ said: "The energy of the Ulema is care and help while the energy of fools is to quote" (himmat al-ʿulamā' al-riʿāya wa himmat al-sufahā' al-riwāya).20 and the statement of the ʿAbbāsī Caliph ʿAbd Allah ibn Muʿtazz (249-296): "The learning of the hypocrite consists in his discourse while the learning of the Believer consists in his deed."

The H.adīth of the Jurists is Preferable to That of the Non-Jurists

Wakīʿ ibn al-Jarrāh preferred long-chained narrations through the fuqahā' to short-chained ones through non-fuqahā' and said: "The h.adīth current among the jurists is better than the h.adīth that is current among the h.adīth scholars."21 This is a foundational rule in the H.anīfī School, which like Yah.yā al-Qat.t.ān, Wakīʿ followed.22

Al-Aʿmash (Abū Muh.ammad Sulaymān ibn Mahrān al-Asadī the Tābiʿī 61/-148) also said: "The h.adīth that jurists circulate among themselves is better than that which h.adīth narrators circulate among themselves."23

Ibn Rajab said that Abū Dāwūd in his Sunan was more concerned with the jurisprudence of the h.adīth than with its chains of transmission.24

This is also the case with al-Bukhārī's Sahīh while Muslim, Ibn Mājah, and al-Nasā'ī focussed on the benefits of its transmission chains and text variants - Muslim being the most thorough and reliable in these regards. Al-Tirmidhī gave equal weight to the fiqh of the hadīth and the study of its transmission although Abū Dāwūd is somewhat stricter in hadīth authentification while al-Nasā'ī surpasses them both.

Knowing the H.adīth is Different From Practicing It

Sufyān al-Thawrī used to say to the h.adīth scholars: "Come forward, O weak ones!"25 He also said: "If h.adīth were a good thing it would have vanished just as all goodness has vanished," and "Pursuing the study of h.adīth is not part of the preparation for death, but a disease that preoccupies people." Al-Dhahabī commented: "He said this verbatim. He is right in what he said because pursuing the study of h.adīth is other than the h.adīth itself."26

Understanding the H.adīth is Superior to Knowing It

Ish.āq ibn Rāhūyah said: "I would sit in Iraq with Ah.mad ibn H.anbal, Yah.yā ibn Maʿīn, and our companions, rehearsing the narrations from one, two, three routes of transmission... But when I said: What is its intent? What is its explanation? What is its fiqh? They would all remain mute except Ah.mad ibn H.anbal."30

Sufyān al-Thawrī said: "The explanation (tafsīr) of the h.adīth is better than the h.adīth."27 Another wording has: "The explanation of the h.adīth is better than its audition."28

Abū ʿAlī al-Naysabūrī said: "We consider understanding superior to memorization."29

Ibn Mahdī regretted not having written, after every hadīth he had recorded, its explanation.

The perspicuity and fiqh of Abū Thawr among the h.adīth Masters is famous. A woman stood by a gathering of scholars of h.adīth comprising Yah.yā ibn Maʿīn, Abū Khaythama, Khalaf ibn Salim, and others. She heard them saying: "The Prophet ﷺ said," and "So-and-so narrated," and "No one other than So-and-so narrated," etc. Whereupon she asked them: "Can a woman in her menses wash the dead?" for that was her occupation. No one in the entire gathering could answer her, and they began to look at one another.

Abū Thawr arrived, and they referred her to him. She asked him the same question and he said: "Yes, she can wash the dead, as per the h.adīth of al-Qāsim from ʿA'isha: 'Your menses are not in your hand,'31 and her narration whereby she would scrub the Prophet's ﷺ hair at a time she was menstruating.32 If the head of the living can be washed [by a woman in her menses], then a fortiori the dead!"

Hearing this, the h.adīth scholars said: "Right! So-and-so narrated it, and So-and-so told us, and we know it from such-and-such a chain," and they plunged back into the narrations and chains of transmission.

The woman said: "Where were you all until now?"33

Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr cites Imām Ah.mad as saying: "From where does Yah.yā ibn Maʿīn know al-Shāfiʿī? He does not know al-Shāfiʿī nor has any idea what al-Shāfiʿī says!"34 Ibn Rāhūyah similarly conceded defeat before al-Shāfiʿī's jurisprudence although himself reputed for fiqh.35

Most H.adīth Scholars Do Not Possess Intelligence of the H.adīth

* ʿAbd al-Razzāq al-S.anʿānī, Sufyān's contemporary, was the teacher of the pillars of h.adīth memorization in their time - Ah.mad, Ibn Rāhūyah, Ibn Maʿīn, and Muh.ammad ibn Yah.yā al-Dhuhlī. Yet when Muh.ammad ibn Yazīd al-Mustamlī asked Ah.mad: "Did he [ʿAbd al-Razzāq] possess fiqh?" Ah.mad replied: "How rare is fiqh among those who know h.adīth!"36

Anas ibn Sīrīn said: "I came to Kūfa and found in it 4,000 persons pursuing h.adīth and 400 persons who had obtained fiqh."37

Sufyān al-Thawrī: "Knowledge in our view is only the dispensation of a trustworthy learned perrson. As for strtictness, anyone can be strict!"

Hujjat al-Islām al-Ghazālī in al-Mustasfā and Imām Ibn Qudāma in Rawdat al-Nāzir both said that an ʿālim may be an Imām in a particular science and an uneducated common person in another.

Ibn ʿAbd al-Salām said: "Most h.adīth scholars are ignorant in fiqh."38 A majority of 90% according to Anas ibn Sīrīn - among the Salaf!

Al-Dhahabī said: "The majority of the h.adīth scholars have no understanding, no diligence in the actual knowledge of h.adīth, and no fear of Allāh regarding it."39 All of the authorities al-Dhahabī listed as "those who are imitated in Islām" are Jurisprudents and not merely h.adīth masters.

Al-Sakhāwī in his biography of Ibn H.ajar entitled al-Jawāhir wa al-Durar fi Tarjamat Shaykh al-Islām Ibn Hajr states that al-Fāriqī said: "One who knows chains of h.adīth but not the legal rulings derived from them cannot be counted among the Scholars of the Law." His student Ibn Abī ʿAs.rūn (d. 585) also followed this view in his book al-Intis.ār.40

Not Every Sound Hadīth Forms Evidence

Ibrāhīm al-Nakhaʿī said: "Truly, I hear a h.adīth, then I see what part of it applies. I apply it and leave the rest."41 Shaykh Muh.ammad ʿAwwāma said: "Meaning, what is recognized by the authorities is retained while anything odd (gharīb), anomalous (shādhdh), or condemned (munkar) is put aside."

Yazīd ibn Abī H.abīb said: "When you hear a h.adīth, proclaim it; if it is recognized, [keep it,] otherwise, leave it."42

Ibn Abī Laylā said: "A man does not understand h.adīth until he knows what to take from it and what to leave."43

ʿAbd al-Rah.mān ibn Mahdī, the Commander of the believers in H.adīth, said: "It is impermissible for someone to be an Imām [i.e. to be imitated] until he knows what is sound and what is unsound and until he does not take everything [sound] as evidence, and until he knows the correct way to infer knowledge [in the Religion]."44

Al-Shāfiʿī narrated that Mālik ibn Anas was told: "Ibn ʿUyayna narrates from al-Zuhrī things you do not have!" He replied: "Why, should I narrate every single h.adīth I heard? Only if I wanted to misguide people!"45

Shaykh ʿAbd al-Fattāh. Abū Ghudda mentioned some of the above examples and commented: "If the likes of Yah.yā al-Qat.t.ān, Wakīʿ ibn al-Jarrāh., ʿAbd al-Razzāq, Yah.yā ibn Maʿīn, and those who compare with them, did not dare enter into ijtihād and fiqh, then how rash are the claimants to ijtihād in our time! On top of it, they call the Salaf ignorant without the least shame nor modesty! Allāh is our refuge from failure."46

The blessings and peace of Allah on the Prophet ﷺ
his Family and his Companions!


1H.adīth of the Prophet ﷺ narrated from Muʿāwiya by al-Bukhārī and Muslim.

2Al-Qārī, Muʿtaqad Abī H.anīfata al-Imām fī Abaway al-Rasūl ʿAlayhi al-S.alāt wa al-Salām (p. 42).

3A nearly-mass-narrated (mashhūr) sound h.adīth of the Prophet - Allāh bless and greet him - reported from several Companions by al-Tirmidhī, Abū Dāwūd, Ibn Mājah, and Ah.mad.

4Ibn Abī H.ātim in the introduction of al-Jarh. wa al-Taʿdīl (p. 22-23); Ibn Abī Zayd, al-Jāmiʿ fī al-Sunan (p. 118-119); Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, al-Intiqā' (p. 61); al-Dhahabī. See Shaykh ʿAbd al-Fattah Abū Ghudda's comments on this statement in his notes on al-Lacknawī's al-Rafʿ wa al-Takmil (2nd ed. p. 368-369, 3rd ed. p. 90-91).

5In al-Fatāwā al-H.adīthiyya (p. 283).

6Narrated by Ibn H.ibbān in the introduction to al-Majrūh.īn (1:42). He then narrates from Ibn Wahb a similar statement where he adds the names of ʿAmr ibn al-H.ārith and Ibn Mājishūn.

7Narrated by Ibn ʿAsākir and al-Bayhaqī cf. Ibn Rajab, Sharh. al-ʿIlal (1:413) and ʿAwwāma (p. 76).

8Narrated by Qād.ī ʿIyād.. in Tartīb al-Madārik (2:427).

9In Ibn al-Subkī, T.abaqāt al-Shāfiʿiyya al-Kubrā (2:128).

10Narrated by al-Khat.īb, al-Faqīh wal-Mutafaqqih (2:80).

11Shaykh Ismāʿīl al-Ans.ārī as quoted by ʿAwwāma, Athar (p. 77).

12Ibn H.ajar, Tahdhīb al-Tahdhīb (10:449-452 #817) and al-Dhahabī's Manāqib Abī H.anīfa.

13Narrated by al-Dhahabī in Tadhkirat al-H.uffāz. (1:307) and Ibn H.ajar in Tahdhīb al-Tahdhīb (10:450).

14Narrated by Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr in al-Intiqā' (p. 124).

15Narrated by al-Dhahabī in the Siyar (10:205).

16Cf. Ibn Abī al-Wafā, last page of the Karachi edition of al-Jawāhir al-Mud.iyya.

17In Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, Jāmiʿ Bayān al-ʿIlm (1:83-84), al-Qād.ī ʿIyād.., Tartīb al-Madārik (2:62), al-Shāt.ibī, al-Muwāfaqāt (4:97-98).

18"The Knowledge That Benefits is That Whose Rays Expand in the Breast and Whose Veil is Lifted in the Heart." Ibn ʿAt.ā' Allāh, H.ikam (#213).

19Siyar (10:642).

20Narrated mursal from al-H.asan by Ibn ʿAsākir in his Tārīkh and al-Khat.īb in al-Jāmiʿ li Akhlāq al-Rāwī (1983 ed. 1:88 #27) cf. al-Jāmiʿ al-S.aghīr (#9598) and Kanz (#29337).

21Cited by al-Dhahabī in the Siyar (al-Arna'ūt. ed. 9:158, 12:328-329).

22Cf. al-Dhahabī, Tadhkirat al-H.uffāz. (1:307) and Ibn H.ajar in Tahdhīb al-Tahdhīb (11:126-127).

23In al-Sakhāwī, al-Jawāhir wa al-Durar (p. 21).

24Ibn Rajab, Sharh. ʿIlal al-Tirmidhī (1:411).

25Cited from Zayd ibn Abī al-Zarqa' by al-Dhahabī, Siyar (al-Arna'ūt. ed. 7:275).

26Al-Sakhāwī, al-Jawāhir wa al-Durar (p. 20-23).

27Narrated by al-Harawī al-Ans.ārī in Dhamm al-Kalām (4:139 #907).

28In Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, Jāmiʿ Bayān al-ʿIlm (2:175).

29In al-Dhahabī, Tadhkirat al-H.uffāz. (2:776).

30Narrated by Ibn Abī H.ātim in the introduction to his al-Jarh. wa al-Taʿdīl (p. 293), Ibn al-Jawzī in Manāqib al-Imām Ah.mad (p. 63), and al-Dhahabī in Tārīkh al-Islām (chapter on Ah.mad).

31In Muslim and the Four Sunan.

32In al-Bukhārī and Muslim.

33Ibn al-Subkī in T.abaqāt al-Shāfiʿiyya, al-Sakhāwī in his introduction to al-Jawāhir wa al-Durar, and al-Haytamī in his Fatāwā H.adīthiyya (p. 283). Something similar is narrated of Ah.mad by Ibn Rajab in his Dhayl T.abaqāt al-H.anābila (1:131) and al-ʿUlaymī in al-Manhaj al-Ah.mad (2:208).

34Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, Jāmiʿ Bayān al-ʿIlm (2:160).

35Ish.āq ibn Ibrāhīm ibn Makhlad, known as Ish.āq ibn Rāhūyah or Rāhawayh, Abū Yaʿqūb al-Tamīmī al-Marwazī al-Hanzali (d. 238), one of the major h.adīth Masters. Abū Qudāma considered him greater than Imām Ah.mad in memorization of h.adīth, a remarkable assessment considering Ah.mad's knowledge of 700,000 to a million narrations according to his son ʿAbd Allāh's and Abū Zurʿa al-Rāzī's estimations. He once said of himself: "I never wrote anything except I memorized it, and I can now see before me more than 70,000 h.adīths in my book"; "I know the place of 100,000 h.adīths as if I were looking at them, and I memorize 70,000 of them by heart - all sound (s.ah.īh.a) - and 4,000 falsified ones." [Narrated by al-Khat.īb in al-Jāmiʿ li Akhlāq al-Rāwī (2:380-381 #1832-1833).]

He did not reach the same stature in fiqh. Al-Bayhaqī and others narrate that he unsuccessfully debated al-Shāfiʿī on a legal question, as a result of which the latter disapproved of his title as the "jurisprudent of Khurāsān." To a Jahmī scholar who said: "I disbelieve in a Lord that descends from one heaven to another heaven," Ibn Rāhūyah replied: "I believe in a Lord that does what He wishes." [Narrated by al-Dhahabī who identifies the scholar as Ibrāhīm ibn (Hishām) Abī S.ālih. in Mukhtas.ar al-ʿUluw (p. 191 #234).] Al-Bayhaqī comments: "Ish.āq ibn Ibrāhīm al-Hanzali made it clear, in this report, that he considers the Descent (al-nuzūl) one of the Attributes of Action (min s.ifāt al-fīʿl). Secondly, he spoke of a descent without ʿhow'. This proves he did not hold displacement (al-intiqāl) and movement from one place to another (al-zawāl) concerning it." [See post titled, "The ʿDescent' of Allāh Most High".] Sources: Ibn Abī Yaʿlā, T.abaqāt al-H.anābila (1:6, 1:184); al-Bayhaqī, Manāqib al-Shāfiʿī (1:213) and al-Asmā' wa al-S.ifāt (2:375-376 #951); al-Dhahabī, Siyar (9:558 #1877); Ibn al-Subkī, T.abaqāt al-Shāfiʿiyya al-Kubrā (2:89-90, 9:81).

36Narrated by Abū Yaʿlā in T.abaqāt al-H.anābila (1:329) and cited by Shaykh Abū Ghudda in his introduction to Muh.ammad al-Shaybānī's Muwat.t.a' and his short masterpiece al-Isnād min al-Dīn (p. 68).

37Narrated by al-Rāmahurmuzī in al-Muh.addith al-Fās.il (p. 560).

38Ibn ʿAbd al-Salām, al-Fatāwā al-Maws.iliyya (p. 132-134).

39In al-Sakhāwī, al-Jawāhir wa al-Durar (p. 18).

40Al-Sakhāwī, al-Jawāhir wa al-Durar (p. 20-23).

41Narrated from Ibn Abī Khaythama by Abū Nuʿaym in the H.ilya (4:225) and Ibn Rajab in Sharh. ʿIlal al-Tirmidhī (1:413).

42In Ibn Rajab, Sharh. ʿIlal al-Tirmidhī (1:413).

43In Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, Jāmiʿ Bayān al-ʿIlm (2:130).

44Narrated by Abū Nuʿaym in the H.ilya (9:3).

45Narrated by al-Khat.īb in al-Jāmiʿ li Akhlāq al-Rāwī (2:109).

46Abū Ghudda, al-Isnād min al-Dīn (p. 68). He means by his remarks al-Albānī and others of his ilk. Abū Ghudda's student, Shaykh Muh.ammad ʿAwwāma, listed several examples of this rule of the Salaf in his Athar al-H.adīth al-Sharīf fī Ikhtilāf al-A'immat al-Fuqahā' ("The Mark of the Noble H.adīth in the Differences of the Imāms of Jurisprudence").

Hajj Gibril
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