The Unreliability of the
Righteous in Hadith Narration
by Sh. G. F. Haddad

Imam Malik said: "There are four types of narrators one does not take from: An outright scoffer, even if he is the greatest narrator; an innovator who invites people to his innovation; someone who lies about people, even if I do not charge him with mendacity in hadith; and a righteous, honorable worshipper if he does not memorize what he narrates."
Malik's last clause refers to the two conditions sine qua non of the trustworthy narrator, who must possess not only moral uprightness (ʿadala) but also accuracy in transmission (dabt). The clause elucidates the paradox current among hadith scholars whereby "No-one lies more than the righteous."1

The reason for the "lies of the righteous" is that the righteous do not doubt the Muslim's attribution of a saying to his Prophet ﷺ, and so they accept it without suspicion, whereas al-Shafiʿi said: "If Malik had the slightest doubt about a hadith, he discarded the entire hadith." Dr. Nur al-Din ʿItr said: "The manner of the righteous who narrate everything indiscriminately stems from purity of heart and good opinion.
The scholars have said about such narrators: 'Lies run off their tongue without their intending it.'" There is a fundamental difference between the latter and those who deliberately forge lies or narrate forgeries passed for hadith, and who are condemned by the Prophet's ﷺ saying: "Whoever lies about me willfully, let him take now his seat in the Fire!"2

Hence the Salaf disapproved of hadith narration by unschooled story-tellers (al-qussas) and pious shaykhs (al-salihin). Yahya ibn Saʿid al-Qattan said: "We did not see, concerning the salihin, anything lie more than they do in hadith.
That is: Lies run off their tongue without their intending it." ʿAsim said: "Do not sit with the qussas."3 Ahmad disapproved of them, yet when he heard one attacking his persecutor, the Muʿtazili Ibn Abi Du'ad, Ahmad said: "How useful they [the qussas] are for the general public!"4

The scholars devoted books to the subject of the Qussas and gathered sayings for and against them. Examples are Ibn al-Jawzi's Kitab al-Qussas wa al-Mudhakkirin, al-ʿIraqi's al-Baʿith ʿala al-Ikhlas min Hawadith al-Qussas ("The Stimulant of Deliverance From the Tales of Story-Tellers"), Ibn Taymiyya's Ahadith al-Qussas, and al-Suyuti's Tahdhir al-Khawass min Akadhib al-Qussas ("Warning to the Elect Against the Lies of Story-tellers").

All the above should not obviate the fact that the free hand of the Sufi shaykhs in story-telling is based upon the priority of motivating hearts and pushing people to repent and change. Their record of success in this respect needs no illustration here, and Allah knows best.


1Cf. Ibn Rajab's Sharh ʿIlal al-Tirmidhi towards the end, and other books of mustalah. See Dr. Nur al-Din ʿItr's Usul al-Jarh wa al-Taʿdil (p. 108-109).

2A mass-narrated (mutawatir) hadith from many Companions in Bukhari and Muslim. One version narrated from Ibn ʿAbbas by Ahmad with three chains, al-Tirmidhi (hasan), and - with a sound chain - Ibn Abi Shayba in his Musannaf begins with the words: "Avoid relating my words except what you know for sure."

3Both in Muhammad Abu Zahra's book Ibn Hanbal (p. 216).

4Narrated from al-Khallal by al-Dhahabi in the Siyar (9:429).

GF Haddad ©

Footnote concerning the title:

Someone stated that "the [title] of the [text] should have been "Superiority of KNOWING/STUDYING Fiqh over KNOWING/STUDYING Hadith" and not "Superiority of Fiqh over Hadith", as the latter could create a misunderstanding...

To which the author responded:

As you already know, the article is different from what might be construed from the title. The meanings of fiqh and hadith in the title are precisely those used by the Prophet ﷺ, not the modern usage that you correctly said poses a problem. Therefore, I chose to leave them as they are and let the reader confront their own preconceptions. To repeat what the text said in substance, Fiqh in my title means the Kalaam of the Prophet ﷺ while Hadith means its Tahdith by the narrators down to us.

GF Haddad ©

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