According to the Methodology of the Hadīth Scholars

By Shaykh Shākir Fayyād

With com­ments by Shaykh ‘Abd al-Fat­tāh Abū Ghud­dah

[Translator’s Pref­ace: the fol­low­ing is a sum­ma­ry by Shaykh ‘Abd al-Fat­tāh Abū Ghud­dah of a book which ana­lyzesimages (1) the alle­ga­tion of weak mem­o­ry lev­eled against Imām Abū Hanī­fah. In this study, the author uses the method­ol­o­gy of the Hadīth schol­ars them­selves, some of whom are report­ed to have made the above claim against the Imām. This arti­cle was trans­lat­ed from Shaykh ‘Abd al-Fattāh’s foot­notes on Mabādī ‘Ilm al-Hadīth wa Usūluhū of Mawlānā Shab­bīr Ahmad al-‘Uthmānī (pp.237–240) – Muntasir Zaman]

More than twen­ty years ago, I came across an impor­tant and lengthy trea­tise enti­tled “Abū Hanī­fah bayn al-Jarh wa al-Ta‘dīl” by Ustādh Shākir Dhīb Fayyād from Jor­dan who at the time was a stu­dent at King Abdu­lazīz Uni­ver­si­ty. This trea­tise was a Master’s dis­ser­ta­tion in the afore­men­tioned uni­ver­si­ty under the super­vi­sion of Shaykh Muham­mad al-Sādiq ‘Arjūn (Allah have mer­cy upon him) in the year 1396 AH.

The author writes in the intro­duc­tion:

Despite the clear pres­ence of these skills -that is, the skills to exer­cise ijti­hād- in Imām Abū Hanī­fah, there is an impor­tant skill that became an issue of con­tention and dis­pute among many schol­ars, the ear­ly, lat­ter day, and con­tem­po­rary among them. This skill relates to the reten­tion of Abū Hanī­fah of the Prophet’s Hadīth. Some lead­ing schol­ars of al-Jarh wa al-Ta‘dīl accused him of poor mem­o­ry, and many after­wards fol­lowed them in this. Con­verse­ly, oth­er lead­ing schol­ars of the sci­ence have praised him and con­sid­ered him reli­able; thus, the sup­port­ers of Imām Abū Hanī­fah and his adher­ents fol­lowed them and defend­ed their Imām.

He men­tions the state­ments of the ear­ly schol­ars, lat­ter-day schol­ars, and con­tem­po­rary schol­ars in crit­i­ciz­ing and accred­it­ing him in lat­er sec­tions of the trea­tise. [The author fur­ther writes:]

Thus, I intend­ed to research this top­ic, far from the approach of both groups, far from fanati­cism in sup­port of him or against him, and tread­ing there­by the method­ol­o­gy of the Hadīth schol­ars. The Hadīth schol­ars have sev­er­al meth­ods to assess nar­ra­tors in terms of crit­i­cism and accred­i­ta­tion. Among these meth­ods -and per­haps the most inte­gral- is the analy­ses of a transmitter’s nar­ra­tions in rela­tion to the nar­ra­tions of oth­ers: if his mem­o­ry and reten­tion is pre­dom­i­nant, then he is reli­able, and if poor mem­o­ry is pre­dom­i­nant, then he is weak. In Sharh Nukhbat al-Fikar (p.25), Ibn Hajar writes, “Next is poor mem­o­ry -and that is the tenth cause of crit­i­cism- and intend­ed there­by is that nar­ra­tor whose [per­cent­age of] being cor­rect does not exceed his errors.”

The method­ol­o­gy I have adopt­ed can be sum­ma­rized as fol­lows: I col­lect­ed the nar­ra­tions of Abū Hanī­fah from the author­i­ta­tive works and then ana­lyzed them with the nar­ra­tions of oth­ers. These nar­ra­tions can be cat­e­go­rized into three types: (1) nar­ra­tions where­in he was cor­rob­o­rat­ed and was cor­rect, (2) nar­ra­tions where­in he erred and con­flict­ed with oth­ers, (3) and nar­ra­tions he alone trans­mit­ted, for which there are nei­ther sup­port­ing nar­ra­tions to strength­en them or con­flict­ing nar­ra­tions.

This [study] was con­duct­ed on Prophet­ic nar­ra­tions with con­tin­u­ous chains of trans­mis­sion. As for mur­sal reports or reports with bro­ken chains or with unknown nar­ra­tors or liars not suit­able for con­sid­er­a­tion, I did not study the sta­tus of their trans­mit­ters. I was able to locate sev­en­ty-two Prophet­ic nar­ra­tions with con­tin­u­ous chains, among which six­ty-five were cor­rob­o­rat­ed, six were in con­flict [with oth­er nar­ra­tions], and only one he was alone in trans­mit­ting, for which I did not find sup­port­ing or con­flict­ing [nar­ra­tions].

After men­tion­ing the above sta­tis­tics and the three types of Abū Hanīfah’s nar­ra­tions, he con­cludes the trea­tise say­ing:

It is worth not­ing that a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of the cor­rob­o­rat­ed nar­ra­tions have weak trans­mit­ters [in their chains], either from his teach­ers or his teach­ers’ teach­ers. Since their weak­ness was tol­er­a­ble, I searched the var­i­ous routes of their nar­ra­tions for sup­port­ing reports. I felt -and I con­tin­ue to feel- that by locat­ing sup­port­ing reports the likes of these nar­ra­tions will gain strength due to the mul­ti­plic­i­ty of routes and can be used as proof. The nar­ra­tions that were in con­flict were six: two were con­flicts in the text, and four were con­flicts in the chains of trans­mis­sion. [From the con­flicts in the chains:] In the first, he nar­rat­ed it as a Prophet­ic nar­ra­tion with a con­tin­u­ous chain while oth­ers nar­rat­ed it as mur­sal. In the sec­ond, he nar­rat­ed it as a Prophet­ic nar­ra­tion while oth­ers nar­rat­ed it as a Com­pan­ion nar­ra­tion. In the third and fourth, he dif­fered with oth­ers in the chain of his two teach­ers, and then he nar­rat­ed them from both his teach­ers with one chain while oth­ers nar­rat­ed them from the same teacher but via a dif­fer­ent chain. Nar­rat­ing such a num­ber of hadiths dis­proves what is men­tioned in Muqad­di­mat Ibn Khaldūn: “it is said that the nar­ra­tions of Abū Hanī­fah are sev­en­teen.”

When we con­sid­er the state­ment of Ibn Hajar regard­ing poor mem­o­ry, we will find what was attrib­uted to Abū Hanī­fah, that is, poor mem­o­ry, is negat­ed from the ven­er­at­ed Imām (Allah have mer­cy upon him). Ibn Hajar said, “Next is poor mem­o­ry -and that is the tenth cause of crit­i­cism- and intend­ed there­by is that nar­ra­tor whose [per­cent­age of being] cor­rect does not exceed his errors.” As we have seen in this study with clear proofs, Imām Abū Hanīfah’s [per­cent­age of] being cor­rect exceed­ed his errors. And all praise is For Allah the Lord of the worlds.

Thus, the claim that Imām Abū Hanī­fah had weak mem­o­ry has fall­en apart accord­ing to the prin­ci­ples of the claimants them­selves. This is with­out con­sid­er­ing the accred­i­ta­tion of those who regard­ed Imām Abū Hanī­fah as reli­able from the emi­nent schol­ars whose lead­er­ship is accept­ed, such as Shu‘bah ibn al-Hajjāj, Ibn al-Mubārak, Yahyā ibn Sa‘īd al-Qat­tān, ‘Alī ibn al-Madīnī, Yahyā ibn Ma‘īn, Abū Dāwūd the com­pil­er of al-Sunan, and oth­ers whose state­ments will be men­tioned on page 451 under the head­ing “al-Imām al-A‘żam Abū Hanīfah al-Nu‘mān.”

It is worth men­tion­ing at this junc­ture what will come on page 521 under the head­ing “Sifat Riwāy­at al-Hadīth wa Adā’īhī.” The author al-‘Uthmānī (Allah have mer­cy upon him) quot­ed Hafiż al-Suyūtī and Hāfiż Ibn Hajar as fol­lows:

A group was extreme in trans­mis­sion so they exceed­ed the bounds, and a group was lenient so they were lax. Some of those who adopt­ed extreme mea­sures said: there is no proof save what a nar­ra­tor trans­mits from his mem­o­ry in detail from the time he heard it until he imparts it. This is relat­ed from Abū Hanī­fah, Mālik, and Abū Bakr al-Say­dalānī al-Shāfī‘ī. Hāfiż Ibn Hajar said, ‘As a result, the nar­ra­tions of those who held this opin­ion were few in num­ber although in fact they knew many nar­ra­tions. And this is the appar­ent mean­ing of the state­ment of ‘Umar ibn al-Khat­tāb…’

When this is kept in mind in respect to the trans­mis­sion and nar­ra­tions of Abū Hanī­fah, the rea­son for his nar­ra­tions being few becomes clear in rela­tion to those who nar­rat­ed more than him among those who did not lay out such con­di­tions to impart hadith.