Response to Allegations and Slanders

An Explanation of the Irja’ of Imam Abu Hanifah

This issue of irja’ (literally: postponement) with respect to Imam Abu Hanifah – which has unforunately become a common talking point for the denigrators of the Imam – was discussed in great detail by Imam ‘Abd al-Hayy al-Laknawi in his al-Raf’ wa l-Takmil (pp. 149-81). When the term “irja” was applied to Imam Abu Hanifah, his shuyukh and his students, it was from two groups:

1. The first are the Mu’tazilah and the Khawarij who used this term for them because they actively opposed the Mu’tazilah and the Khawarij in their belief that a major sin takes one out of faith (iman). Imam al-Shahrastani (d. 548) wrote in his work al-Milal wa l-Nihal, “[Abu Hanifah] would oppose the Qadariyyah and the Mu‘tazilah who appeared in the early period, and the Mu‘tazilah would designate all who opposed them with regards to faith “murji’”.” (quoted in al-Raf’ p. 155) The Mu’tazili and Khariji belief is that a believing perpetrator of a major sin who does not repent will forever be punished in the Fire, and this belief is opposed by the Ahl al-Sunnah. Imam al-Shahrastani also said: “The men of the murji’ah [i.e. the famous personalities who believed in irja’], as transmitted, are: al-Hasan ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, Sa‘id ibn Jubayr, Talq ibn Habib, ‘Amr ibn Murrah, Muharib ibn Dithar, Muqatil ibn Sulayman, Dharr, ‘Amr ibn Dharr, Hammad ibn Abi Sulayman, Abu Hanifah, Abu Yusuf, Muhammad ibn al-Hasan and Qudayd ibn Ja‘far. These are all imams of hadith. They did not declare the perpetrators of major sins disbelievers due to a major sin, and they did not make a judgement that they abide eternally in the Fire, as distinguished from the Khawarij and the Qadariyyah.” (quoted in al-Raf’ p. 164) Similarly al-Taftazani said in Sharh al-Maqasid: “It is well-known regarding the madhhab of the Mu‘tazilah that the perpetrator of a major sin without repentance will be made to stay eternally in the Fire, even if he lived for a hundred years upon faith and obedience. They do not distinguish between the major sin being one or many, and [whether] it occurred before the acts of obedience, after them or between them. They deem [the position of] uncertainty about punishment, and consigning the matter to Allah, forgiving if He wishes and punishing if He wishes, which is the madhhab of the people of truth, irja’, in the sense that it is postponement of the matter and uncertainty of punishment and reward. By this consideration, Abu Hanifah and others were placed amongst the murji’ah.” (quoted in al-Raf’ p. 158)

2. The second group who referred to Abu Hanifah and other fuqaha as “murji’” are themuhaddithun, like Imam al-Bukhari, who believed that works/deeds (‘amal) are included in the definition of iman and iman increases and decreases, so they referred to those who said works are not included in the definition of iman and that it does not increase and decrease in its essence “murji’ah.” Al-Laknawi offers a number of quotes from the books of Rijal to prove this, including the following: Al-’Asqalani narrated in Lisan al-Mizan in the biography of Muhammad ibn al-Hasan: Ibn ‘Adi transmitted from Ishaq ibn Rahwayh: I heard Yahya ibn Adam say: Sharik would not permit the testimony of the murji’ah. Muhammad ibn al-Hasan bore testimony before him and he rejected his testimony. He was asked about this, and he said: “I do not permit the testimony of one who says prayers are not from faith!” (quoted in al-Raf’ pp. 162-3) This is clear in showing that themuhaddithun regarded those who believed works are not included in the definition of iman asmurji’ah.

It is clear, therefore, that the reason Imam Abu Hanifah, his students and his teachers, were called“murji’ah” by the Mu’tazilah firstly and the muhaddithun later, is their belief in the following:

1. Works are not included in the definition of the essence of faith (iman)
2. Faith (iman) does not increase or decrease
3. The believing man who perpetrates a major sin and does not repent may be punished and he may be forgiven

The latter is the belief of all of the Ahl al-Sunnah. The first two is the belief of the ‘aqidah-scholars including Imam al-Tahawi (in his al-Aqidat al-Tahawiyyah), al-Maturidi, Abu Hanifah, and others, with the hadith-scholars disagreeing. However, this is only a semantic dispute as concluded by the verifying scholars, because although the muhaddithun include works in the definition of iman, if a man has no works and he is sinful, they still accept that he may be a believer (mu’min) which implies that the absence of works does not necessarily imply even according to them the absence of faith (iman). Therefore, works, in this sense, even according to the muhaddithin, are not included in iman, whereas confirmation with the heart (tasdiq bi l-qalb) is universally accepted as being fundamental to the nature and essence of iman.

Regarding the second point, it is as articulated by al-Tahawi, “Iman is confession with the tongue and confirmation with the heart, and that everything that was revealed by Allah in the Qur’an and everything that is authentic from the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) regarding the Shari’a and explanation [of the Qur’an] is all true. Iman is one and its adherents are in its essence the same, and the superiority [of some over others] is due to taqwa and opposing desires.” (al-’Aqidat al-Tahawiyyah) Again, the dispute with the muhaddithun on this issue is a semantic dispute as all agree the believers vary, but Abu Hanifah, al-Tahawi and others say this variation is not in the essence of iman but in its branches, while others say this variation is in iman itself.

There is no doubt, therefore, that the murji’ah are two types: those of the Ahl al-Sunnah and those deviants who claimed that sins do not harm a believer and faith is sufficient for salvation, both of which Abu Hanifah rejected. This division of the murji’ah was explicitly mentioned by some of the scholars, including al-Shahrastani, Abu Shakur al-Salimi (d. 1077), and al-Birgivi (d. 981). It was even reported from Imam Abu Hanifah in his letter to ‘Uthman al-Batti.

Regarding a commonly quoted passage from Ghunyat al-Talibin by Imam ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani in which he includes the “Hanafiyya,” subscribers to the doctrine of irja’ amongst the deviant groups, al-Laknawi discusses this at great length on pages 166-81. He shows that at best this is a contradiction from al-Jilani (who is not infallible), since he refers to Imam Abu Hanifah as “Imam” and quotes his opinions as valid fiqhi opinions. Examples of this are given in page 169 of al-Raf’ wa l-Takmil. This shows al-Jilani did not believe Abu Hanifah was a deviant.

Then, al-Laknawi offers a number of responses to this text from Ghunyat al-Talibin, and he favours the following: Al-Shahrastani, while listing the murji’ah, included the sect called “Ghassaniyyah” which he describes as “the Ghassaniyyah, the companions of Ghassan ibn Aban al-Kufi who believed that faith is knowledge of Allah and His Messenger and acceptance of all that the Messenger brought, and that if a speaker were to say “I know that Allah made Hajj to the Ka‘bah obligatory but I do not know where the Ka‘bah is, and it may be in India, he is a believer.”” (quoted inal-Raf’ p. 153) In Ghunyat al-Talibin, al-Jilani uses almost the exact same description of the beliefs of “Hanafiyya” when describing their irja: “As for the Hanafiyyah, they are the companions of Abu Hanifah al-Nu‘man ibn Thabit. They believe that faith is knowledge and acceptance of Allah and His Messenger and all that he brought from His presence.” (quoted in al-Raf’ p. 167) Al-Jilani, while listing the groups of murji’ah, did not mention the Ghassaniyyah and it is known Ghassan would falsely attribute his madhhab to Abu Hanifah: Al-Shahrastani said, “It is strange that Ghassan would narrate his madhhab from Abu Hanifah and he counted him amongst the murji’ah. This is most probably a slander against him.” (quoted in al-Raf’ p. 155) Ibn Hajar al-Makki said something similar. Al-Jilani, therefore, by “Hanafiyyah” and the “companions of Abu Hanifah” most probably meant the Ghassaniyyah who claimed to follow Abu Hanifah. It is also well-known that many of those who followed Abu Hanifah in the peripheral matters of jurisprudence were Mu’tazili in creed or followed another deviant creed. Al-Jilani’s statement is therefore best understood not as referring to Abu Hanifah and his true companions/followers, but this deviant sect called the Ghassaniyyah who claimed to be followers of Abu Hanifah.


Abu Hanifah lived at a time when many new deviations were emerging, like Rafidism, Jahmism and Muqatilism, and he stood fast on the beliefs of the Ahl al-Sunnah, and condemned them in strong terms. For example, Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: al-Khallal reported to us: al-Hariri reported to us that ‘Ali ibn Muhammad al-Nakha‘i narrated to them: Muhammad ibn al-Hasan ibn Mukram narrated to us: Bishr ibn al-Walid narrated to us: I heard Abu Yusuf say: Abu Hanifah said: “Two groups of the worst of people are from Khurasan: the Jahmiyyah and the Mushabbihah(antropomorphists),” and he probably said [instead of “Mushabbihah”] “Muqatiliyyah (followers of Muqatil ibn Sulayman (d. 150 H)).” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:514-15) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf said: “Its isnad is sahih, its narrators are trustworthy (thiqat).”

With the same chain, al-Khatib narrates: al-Nakha‘i said: Muhammad ibn ‘Ali ibn ‘Affan narrated to us: Yahya ibn ‘Abd al-Hamid ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Himmani narrated to us from his father: I heard Abu Hanifah say: “Jahm ibn Safwan is a kafir.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:515) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf said: “Its isnad is hasan.”

Imam Abu Hanifah’s opinion on Jahm is in fact quoted in the books of Rijal. Al-’Asqalani said inTahdhib al-Tahdhib (vol 10:281): “Muhammad ibn Sima’ah (who is thiqah according al-Saymari and saduq according to al-’Asqalani in al-Taqrib) narrated from Abu Yusuf from Abu Hanifah that he said: ‘Jahm went overboard in negation until he said: He [i.e. Allah] is nothing, and Muqatil went overboard in affirmation until He deemed Allah to be like His creation.’” Al-’Asqalani also quotes him saying: “Two disgusting opinions came to us from the east: Jahm the negator [of Allah’s attributes] and Muqatil the anthropomorphist.”

This clearly illustrates Imam Abu Hanifah’s greatness in the eyes of the scholars of Rijal, and the fact Imam Abu Hanifah stood against the distortions in ‘aqidah, of ta’til (negating Allah’s attributes) and tashbih (comparing Allah to creation) in this early period. Some of his expressions in ‘aqidahwere recorded by his students, and the most famous statement on the creed of Abu Hanifah is Imam al-Tahawi’s Bayanu ‘Aqidati Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama’ah which is probably the most well-known and accepted formulae on Muslim creed throughout the history of Sunni Islam.


Imam Abu Hanifah on the Uncreatedness of the Qur’an

Because some of the students of the companions of Imam Abu Hanifah supported and propogated the Mu’tazili doctrine of the createdness of the Qur’an, and campaigned for it during the infamousmihnah which began under the rein of caliph Abu al-’Abbas al-Ma’mun (170 – 218), some began to suspect that this was the opinion of Imam Abu Hanifah himself. In fact, in Orientalist circles, this view is still current, that Abu Hanifah originated the doctrine of the createdness of the Qur’an! But, Imam Abu Hanifah, is innocent of this heresy. In examining a few narrations from al-Khatib al-Baghdadi’s  biography of the Imam, I will show that the preponderant view amongst the companions of Abu Hanifah was that of the uncreatedness of the Qur’an, and this is in fact traced authentically to the Imam himself, while a few followers of his school strayed and adopted the Mu’tazili and Jahmi doctrine.

1. Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrated with his chain to al-Hakam ibn Bashir that he said: “I heard Sufyan ibn Sa‘id al-Thawri and al-Nu‘man ibn Thabit say: ‘The Qur’an is the uncreated speech of Allah.’” (al-Qur’an kalam Allah ghayr makhluq) (Tarikh Baghdad 15:517) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments: “Its isnad is hasan.”

This is, therefore, an authentic report establishing that Imam Abu Hanifah believed in the uncreatedness of the Qur’an in accordance with the position of the Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama’ah. This is further corroborated by Imam al-Tahawi’s transmission of the beliefs of Imam Abu Hanifah in his famous creedal formula known as al-’Aqidat al-Tahawiyyah, and by al-Fiqh al-Akbar which is either the work of Imam Abu Hanifah himself or at least accurately represents his views based on an early account from him – both of which state that the Qur’an is the uncreated speech of Allah.

2. Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrated with a chain of trustworthy narrators, besides one narrator who is unknown, that Ibn al-Mubarak came to Abu Hanifah and Abu Hanifah said to him: “What is this thing that has crept amongst you [i.e. the people of Khurasan]?” He said to him: “A man called Jahm.” He said: “What does he say?” He said: “He says the Qur’an is created.” Thereupon, Abu Hanifah said [quoting the Qur’an]: “Grave is the word that comes out of their mouths! (Qur’an 18:5).” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:517)

Although there is some question over the authenticity of this report due to the unidentifiable narrator in the chain, it is known that Abu Hanifah opposed Jahm on the issue of the attributes of Allah and he also declared him a disbeliever as shown above, so it is probable he addressed this false belief of Jahm also.

3. Al-Khatib narrated with his chain to Abu Bakr al-Marrudhi that he said: “I heard Abu ‘Abd Allah Ahmad ibn Hanbal say: ‘It is not authentic according to us that Abu Hanifah would say the Qur’an is created.’” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:517) Dr. Bashshar ‘Awwad Ma‘ruf comments: “Its isnad is sahih.”

Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal was the champion of the Ahl al-Sunnah during the period of the mihnah, and his major enemies besides the ruling elite were some scholars of the Hanafi school, in particular the judge Ahmad ibn Abi Dawud; and even as the charge that Abu Hanifah supported the state doctrine was being propogated, Imam Ahmad did not buy into this false propaganda and defended the Imam.

4. Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrated with his chain to al-Nakha‘i that he said: Muhammad ibn Shadhan al-Jawhari narrated to us: He said: I heard Sulayman al-Juzjani and Mu‘lla ibn Mansur al-Razi say: “Abu Hanifah did not speak about [the createdness of] the Qur’an, nor Abu Yusuf, nor Zufar, nor Muhammad, nor any of their companions. Only Bishr al-Marisi and Ibn Abi Dawud spoke about [the createdness of] the Qur’an, so they tarnished [the good beliefs of] the companions of Abu Hanifah.” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:518). Dr Bashshar says: “Its isnad is sahih.”

The scholars who are quoted in this report, Abu Sulayman al-Juzjani and Mu‘alla ibn Mansur, were major scholars of Hanafi jurisprudence, as known to muftis of the Hanafi school. They were authors of some Nawadir literature, and fatawa. They were also amongst the few scholars who openly opposed the view of the createdness of the Qur’an, although this was before al-Ma’mun’s inquisition.

Mu‘alla ibn Mansur al-Razi, Abu Ya‘la (150 – 211), is a narrator of hadith found in all the six famous collections of hadith. He narrated from the famous hadith-scholar Hammad ibn Zayd (98-179) as found in Sahih al-Bukhari, and he also narrated from ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Mubarak, Malik ibn Anas, al-Layth ibn Sa‘d, and from the students of Imam Abu Hanifah, Yahya ibn Zakariyya ibn Abi Za’idah, Qadi Abu Yusuf, ‘Ali ibn Mushir and Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Shaybani. Abu Zur‘ah al-Razi said: “Al-Mu‘alla was the best of the group – meaning, the champions of juristic opinion (ashab al-ra’y) – according to the people of knowledge. That was because he was ardent in his search for knowledge and he travelled and gave attention [to it]…al-Mu‘alla is reliable.” Yahya ibn Ma‘in said he is trustworthy. Yahya ibn Ma‘in narrated: “Al-Mu‘alla ibn Mansur al-Razi was one day praying, when his head was stung by a wasp, and he did not move until he completed his salah. When they looked, his head had become extremely swollen.” Al-‘Ijli said: “Trustworthy, a champion of sunnah. He was noble. They asked him to take the position of judge and he refused multiple times.” Ya‘qub ibn Shaybah said: “Trustworthy…proficeint, reliable, a jurist.” Ibn Sa‘d said: “He resided in Baghdad, sought hadith, and he was reliable, a master of hadith, opinion and jurisprudence.” Abu Hatim al-Razi said: “He was reliable in hadith and a champion of juristic opinion.” Ahmad ibn Kamil al-Qadi said: “Mu‘alla ibn Mansur was from the senior companions of Abu Yusuf and Muhammad, and from their trustworthy ones in transmission and narration.” Abu Ahmad ibn ‘Adi said: “I hope there is no harm in him because I did not find any objectionable hadith from him.” It was narrated from him that he said: “Whoever says the Qur’an is created is according to me a disbeliever.” Al-Khatib said: “He was a jurist from the champions of opinion. He took from Qadi Abu Yusuf and he was trustworthy.” (Tahdhib al-Kamal 28:291-7) Ibn Hajar al-’Asqalani wrote in al-Taqrib, “Mu’alla ibn Mansur al-Razi, Abu Ya’la, a resident of Baghdad, a trustworthy Sunni jurist, he was asked to become judge and he refused, those who claimed Ahmad accused him of lying erred.”

Regarding Abu Sulayman al-Juzjani, al-Dhahabi says: “‘Allamah Imam Abu Sulayman Musa ibn Sulayman al-Juzajani al-Hanafi, the companion of Abu Yusuf and Muhammad. He narrated from them and from Ibn al-Mubarak. Qadi Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Birti, Bishr ibn Musa, Abu Hatim al-Razi and others narrated from him. He was reliable (saduq) and dear to the scholars of hadith. Ibn Abi Hatim said: “He would anathematise those who held the Qur’an was created.” (al-Jarh wa al-Ta‘dil 8:145) It was said that al-Ma’mun offered him the position of judge and he refused, and he gave the excuse that he is not qualified for it so he excused him. He became noble in the eyes of the people due to his refusal. He authored books.” (Siyar A’lam al-Nubala 10:194 )

Al-Khatib described him as: “Musa ibn Sulayman, Abu Sulayman al-Juzjani. He heard ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Mubarak, ‘Amr ibn Jumay‘ and Abu Yusuf and Muhammad ibn al-Hasan, the two companions of Abu Hanifah. He was a faqih with insight into juristic opinion. He adopted the methodology of the Sunnah regarding the Qur’an [i.e. that it is uncreated]. He lived in Baghdad and narrated therein. ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Hasan al-Hashimi, Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Isa al-Birti and Bishr ibn Musa al-Asadi narrated from him. Ibn Abi Hatim said: ‘My father wrote from him and he said he was reliable.’” (Tarikh Baghdad 15:26-7)

Abu Sulayman al-Juzjani and Mu’alla ibn Mansur were of course more aware of the views of their teachers and their grand-teacher than others.

Therefore, although Bishr ibn Ghiyath al-Marisi (140 – 218) and Ahmad ibn Abi Dawud (full name: Ahmad ibn Faraj ibn Hariz) (160 – 240) stood as proponents of the Mu’tazili doctrine while claiming to belong to the Hanafi school, true followers of the madhhab opposed them, and clarified the position of their teachers and the teacher of their teachers. “Bishr” in Arabic means “joy” and “Ahmad” means “the most praised.” Based on this, Imam al-Dhahabi wrote under the biography of Bishr al-Marisi: “He was the bishr (joy) of evil while Bishr [ibn al-Harith] al-Hafi [the famous ascetic] (152 – 227) was the bishr of goodness, just as Ahmad ibn Hanbal was the ahmad (the most praised one) in the Sunnah and Ahmad ibn Abi Dawud was the ahmad in bid’ah.” (Siyar A’lam al-Nubala 10:202)


Regarding Unacceptable Jarh (Narrator Criticism)

Shaykh ʿAbd al-Hayy al-Laknawi

Translated by Ali Godil

[Translator’s note: ʿAllamah ʿAbd al-Hayy Laknawi wrote this treatise more than one hundred years ago in the context of some ʿulama, particularly those of the ‘ahle hadis’ movement, using the statements of the early hadith scholars to disparage and declare unreliable certain great imams. This topic is even more poignant in our modern context, because although such discussions were largely limited to scholars and students of knowledge in the past, now every Tom, Dick, and Harry with a broadband connection, upon reading an article, listening to a lecture, or attending a weekend crash course on ʿulum al hadith deems himself worthy of declaring an imam like Abu Hanifah to be an unreliable narrator.

As the author so effectively displays, this brashness in passing judgment on great figures in Islamic history stems largely from a lack of precision in understanding the hadith sciences. As in every science, the rules have certain conditions and nuances, and it is not enough to simply read a book on one’s own and take a maxim like “jarh mufassar is given preference over taʿdil” and unleash one’s pen on the imams. Rather, this is a complex field that requires training at the hands of a master. As the old adage goes, ‘A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.’

Due to the above, I felt that the following chapter would be particularly relevant to our context and would perhaps deter certain bold individuals from making their tongues and their pens a means of their own destruction. The footnotes are generally summarized from the comments of the erudite scholar, ʿAbd al-Fattah Abu Ghuddah’s comments on the same text. I only chose to include comments that I felt were essential to understanding the text. For more information, please refer to the original Arabic text referenced at the end of this article.]

Any narrator criticism (jarh) that is issued due to partisanship or enmity is dismissed.[1] In light of this principle, Imam Malik’s statement regarding Muhammad ibn Ishaq, the [famous historian and] author of al-Maghazi, that he is a dajjal (liar)[2] from amongst the dajjals, is not accepted, since it stemmed from clear personal animosity. In fact, most scholars affirmed that he was hasan al-hadith (a reliable narrator whose hadith would not quite be at the level of sahih) and the imams of hadith relied on his narrations.[3] I have dealt with this issue more thoroughly in my treatise, Imam al-Kalam Fi Ma Yataʿallaqu bi ‘l-Qira’ah Khalf al-Imam. Likewise, al-Nasa’i’s criticism of Ahmad ibn Salih al-Misri[4], al-Thawri’s criticism of Abu Hanifah al-Kufi, ibn Maʿin’s criticism of al-Shafiʿi [5], Ahmad’s criticism of al-Harith al-Muhasibi [6], and ibn Mandah’s criticism of Abu Nuʿaym al-Asbahani [7] are not accepted due to the same reason. There are many similar examples in the famous books of this discipline.

Due to the above, the scholars stated, “The criticism of one’s peer is not accepted.” That is, if it is not supported by any evidence, because contemporaries are often plagued by personal animosity. [8]

It would be appropriate to cite relevant passages from the writings of the great hadith critics (nuqqad) in order to dispel the attacks of certain corrupt individuals. As a result of their lack of mastery of the fundamental rules and principles elucidated in the books of the Islamic sciences, many such individuals ended up causing corruption in the religion, brought destruction upon themselves and others through their unjust criticism of the imams of the religion, and they fell into misguidance and led others astray through their defamation of some of the senior scholars amongst the righteous predecessors (salaf) as well as some of greatest scholars of the latter period of Islamic history (khalaf). A number of the scholars of our time, although otherwise known for praiseworthy traits, have been afflicted with this calamity, and the masses emulate them in this regard, further exacerbating the problem. Although Allah had granted them the opportunity to study the books of history and rijal (biographical dictionaries), he did not give them the tawfiq to become firmly grounded in the principles laid out by the hadith critics. This lead to their recklessness, haste, negligence, and belligerence, directing criticism towards the trustworthy imams whose eminence has long been established, based on the statements of their contemporaries, adversaries, enemies, detractors, or those who opposed them merely due to obstinacy or bigotry.

Therefore, an intelligent person should be wary of being deceived by such recklessness and from being included amongst the “greatest losers in regard to their works; those whose effort goes astray in the life of this world, while they reckon they are doing good work.” [9]

Al-Dhahabi states in Siyar Aʿlam al-Nubala’ regarding the great exegete, Abu ʿAbd-Allah Muhammad b. Hatim al-Baghdadi (d. 235 AH):

ibn ʿAdi and al-Daraqutni declared him trustworthy. Abu Hafs al-Fallas stated regarding him, ‘He is nothing.’ (laysa bi shay,’ meaning he is unreliable) I say: This is from the speech of peers, which is not to be given any heed, for the man is a highly reliable narrator (thabt hujjah).

He mentions under the biographical entry of Abu Bakr b. Abu Dawud al-Sijistani (d. 316 AH) in his book Tadhkirat al-Huffaz, after mentioning his being declared trustworthy (thiqah) by a group of reliable hadith scholars and his being declared weak by ibn Saʿid and some other scholars:

I say: It is not befitting to accept ibn Saʿid’s statement regarding him, just as we do not give any consideration to his (al-Sijistani’s) declaring ibn Saʿid a liar. Likewise, ibn Jarir’s speech against him is not given any heed. This is due to the fact that there was clear enmity between them, so avoid the speech of contemporaries against one another.

Under the biographical entry of ʿAffan al-Saffar in al-Mizan:

The speech of contemporaries and peers requires deep reflection and careful deliberation.

Under the biographical entry of Abu al-Zinad ʿAbd-Allah b. Dhakwan:

Rabiʿah states regarding him, ‘He is not trustworthy.’ I say: Rabiʿah’s statement concerning him should be dismissed due to the clear enmity between them.

Under the biographical entry of Muhammad b. Ishaq b. Yahya, Abu ʿAbd-Allah, known as ibn Mandah al-Asbahani:

Hafiz Abu Nuʿaym directed harsh language and accusations towards him when criticizing him as a result of personal animosity between them. This is not given any consideration, due to major disputes between them, for ibn Mandah also went to excess in speaking against Abu Nuʿaym.

Under the biographical entry of Hafiz Abu Nuʿaym Ahmad b. ʿAbd-Allah al-Asfahani:

The speech of ibn Mandah regarding Abu Nuʿaym is dreadful, and I do not like relating it, nor do I accept the speech of either one of them regarding the other. They are both acceptable narrators (maqbul) according to me. I do not know them to have any fault greater than narrating fabricated hadiths while remaining silent about them. [10]

I read in the handwriting of Hafiz Yusuf b. Ahmad al-Shirazi:

I read in the handwriting of Tahir al-Maqdisi:

‘May Allah distress Abu Nuʿaym for speaking against Abu ʿAbd-Allah ibn Mandah, while people have reached a consensus regarding his status as an imam.’

I say: The speech of peers against one another is not given any attention, especially if it becomes clear that it is a result of personal animosity, partisanship against a particular school of thought, or envy. None is free of this trait except those whom Allah protects, and I am not aware of any era whose people were free of this trait save the prophets and the siddiqin. If I wished, I could compile many volumes expounding upon this topic. [11]

The author of Fath al-Mughith states:

ibn ʿAbd al-Barr dedicated an entire chapter to discussing the speech of contemporaries against one another in his Jamiʿ.[12] He viewed that the criticism of the people of knowledge is not accepted except when there is clear evidence for it. If such criticism is coupled with any sort of personal animosity, then it is even less worthy of being accepted.

Taj al-Din al-Subki states in his Tabaqat al-Shafiʿiyyah:

It would behoove you, oh seeker of guidance, to observe proper etiquette with the past imams and not to pay any attention to their criticisms against one another unless they are supported with clear proof. Therefore, if you are able to give an alternate explanation or interpret the criticism in a more favorable manner, then do so. If that is not possible, then disregard it and move on, for you were not created for this purpose. Busy yourself with that which concerns you and leave that which does not. A student of knowledge remains noble until he delves into the problems that arose between the early scholars. You must beware of devoting your attention to the disputes that took place between Abu Hanifah and Sufiyan al-Thawri, Malik and ibn Abi Dhi’b, Ahmad b. Salih and al-Nasa’i, Ahmad b. Hanbal and al-Harith al-Muhasibi, etc., all the way until the time of al-ʿIzz b. ʿAbd al-Salam and al-Taqi b. al-Salah. If you occupy yourself with such matters, then I fear for your ruin, for those men are from amongst the most eminent of imams. Their statements have proper interpretations, some of which we may not have properly understood, so our only responsibility is to ask Allah to be pleased with them and remain silent about what occurred between them, just as is done regarding the disputes that took place amongst the Sahabah, may Allah be pleased with them.

He further states:

One must be careful not to understand the maxim ‘narrator criticism (jarh) is given precedence over accreditation (taʿdil)’ in an absolute, unrestricted sense. Rather, the preponderant opinion is that when it comes to a scholar whose status as an imam and whose integrity is already well-established, whose supporters are many and detractors are few, and for whom there is some evidence to indicate that his criticism stemmed from sectarian partisanship or something similar, such criticism is not given any credence.

He further states:

We have mentioned that a person’s criticism is not accepted, even if he explained the reasoning behind it (i.e. jarh mufassar), if it is directed towards a scholar whose good deeds far outweigh his misdeeds, whose supporters are far more prevalent than his detractors, and those who testify to his character are far more prevalent than those who criticize him, if there is an indication that there is an unacceptable motive behind this criticism, such as sectarian partisanship, worldly competition, or another such reason, as often occurs between peers. Therefore, one should not entertain the speech of al-Thawri against Abu Hanifah, ibn Abi Dhi’b and others against Malik, ibn Maʿin against al-Shafiʿi, al-Nasa’i against Ahmad b. Salih, etc. If we gave preference to criticism over praise without any restriction, than no imam would remain untouched, because there is not as single imam that has not been criticized or attacked.

Ibn Hajar al-Haytami states in the thirty-ninth chapter of al-Khayrat al-Hisan fi Manaqib al-Nuʿman, in response to the narrations al-Khatib al-Baghdadi cited in his Tarikh Baghdad attacking Abu Hanifah:

Know that al-Khatib’s only intention in citing such reports was to gather everything that was said regarding the man, as is the habit of historians, and he did not intend to belittle him nor to diminish his status, as is evidenced by his first mentioning the speech in his favor as well has his virtues at length, then subsequently making mention of the speech of his detractors against him.[13] Another evidence for this assertion is that the majority of the chains of narration he mentioned regarding the dispraise of Abu Hanifah are not free of criticized or unknown (majhul) narrators, and by consensus, it is not permissible to impugn the honor of an ordinary Muslim through such narrations, let alone an imam of the Muslims. If one were to assume that the criticism directed towards Abu Hanifah cited by al-Khatib is in fact authentically ascribed to those scholars, it is still not given any consideration, because even if the criticism came from those who were not contemporaries of the imam, they were merely following what the imam’s adversaries stated or wrote before them. Similarly, the criticism is not entertained if it came from his peers, because, as was mentioned previously, the speech of peers against one another is not accepted. This principle was proclaimed by Hafidh al-Dhahabi and Hafidh ibn Hajar as well.

A Useful Piece of Information:

The scholars have proclaimed that the speech of an individual against his contemporary is not accepted. However, this rule is restricted to criticism that is issued without any proof or evidence and stems from bigotry or personal enmity. Otherwise, it is undoubtedly accepted. Keep this rule in mind, for it will benefit you in this world and the Hereafter.[14]


1 Such as mutual envy, creedal differences (including the controversies surrounding the Qur’an’s being uncreated or its being pre-eternal, actions being created or uncreated, etc.), difference in legal schools, being inclined towards Sufism or opposed to it, etc. What is meant by enmity in this context is beyond merely opining that another person has fallen into error or some sort of reprehensible innovation. If even criticism issued by two people who belong to the same school of thought in creed and law but have a personal dispute is not accepted, then a fortiori, that which is issued by people differing in creed is not valid.

2 To better understand this and other terms used to describe a narrator’s reliability, please refer to the chapter entitled Alfaz al-Jarh wa Taʿdil wa Maratibuha in Dr. Nur al-Din ʿItr’s Manhaj al-Naqd.

3 – al-Zaylaʻi mentions in his Nasb al-Rayah that the majority of hadith scholars view ibn Ishaq as a reliable narrator, including ʿAbd-Allah ibn Mubarak (who referred to him as thiqah thiqah thiqah) and al-Bukhari. (see Juz al-Qira’ah Khalf al-Imam)

– Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr mentions in Jamiʿ Bayan al-ʿIlm that perhaps the reason for Malik viewing ibn Ishaq as a liar was the attribution of tashayyuʿ (Shiite leanings) and the rejection of Divine predestination to him. He also mentions in al-Intiqa’ that it may have been due to ibn Ishaq’s inaccurate claims regarding the lineage of Malik.

Hafiz al-Mundhiri declares ibn Ishaq to be reliable near the end of his al-Targhib wa al-Tarhib.

– Ibn al-Qayyim includes a long discussion in which he attempts to prove that ibn Ishaq was a reliable narrator and that the criticism against him is rejected in his Tahdhib Mukhtasar Sunan Abi Dawud.

al-Dhahabi discusses this issue in great detail under ibn Ishaq’s biographical entry in his Mizan al-Iʿtidal and concludes that he was hasan al-hadith.

4 Ibn Hajar mentions in his biographical entry in al-Hady al-Sari that the reason al-Nasa’i had a poor opinion of Ahmad ibn Salih al-Misri was that the latter refused to narrate hadith to him when he travelled to Egypt.

5 According to al-Subki, the preponderant opinion regarding ibn Maʿins statement that al-Shafʿi is not a reliable narrator (thiqah) is that he was referring to his nephew, Ibrahim ibn Muhammad al-Shafiʿi. This is evidenced by the fact that ibn Maʿin referred to al-Shafiʿi as an imam and reliable narrator elsewhere (Muhammad b. Idris al-Shafiʿi: imam, hadhiq, thiqah). In any case, assuming that the statement is authentically ascribed to ibn Maʿin and does in fact refer to al-Shafiʿi the imam and not his nephew, then it would be dismissed as an error. (See Arbaʿu Rasa’il fi ʿUlum al-Hadith, edited and compiled by Abu Ghuddah)

6 This stemmed from their different inclinations in that al-Muhasibi was a Sufi and mutakallim (scholastic theologian) Ahmad was a muhaddith and hence, naturally averse to scholastic theology. (see Abu Ghuddah’s comments in his edition of Risalat al-Mustarshidin for more detail)

7 See al-Dhahabi’s comments on this issue later in this paper.

8 At times, being a contemporary can actually lead to bias in favor of the narrator; for instance, if both individuals in question are friends or are natives of the same country and happen to meet in a foreign land, they will naturally have an affinity towards one another and be less prone to noticing each other’s faults.

9 Surat al-Kahf (103-104)

10 This is a very serious matter, because a person may be under the impression that the hadith is not fabricated, because if it were fabricated, then surely, imam xyz would not remain silent regarding it. Due to the hadith related in Musnad Imam Ahmad on the authority of Mughirah b. Shuʿbah, that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, ‘Whoever narrates a hadith that he believes to be false is amongst the liars,’ the scholars of hadith have stated that it is not permissible to narrate a fabricated hadith unless it is done for the purpose of pointing out that it is not authentic.

11 To put things into perspective, the reader should be aware of al-Dhahabi’s encyclopedic knowledge of ʿilm al-rijal. His expertise was such that Hafiz ibn Hajar would supplicate to Allah upon drinking Zamzam water to attain his rank.

12 i.e. Jamiʿ Bayan al-ʿIlm wa Fadlih

13 However, al-Khatib al-Baghdadi explicitly mentioned that when there are differing reports dealing with the status of a particular narrator, then the reports that he mentions last represent what he deems to be the preponderant opinion regarding said narrator, so this excuse does not hold. (see al-Khatib’s biographical entry in al-Dhabi’s Tadhkirat al-Huffaz)   

14 Al-Laknawi, ʿAbd Al-Hayy. Al-Rafʿ Wa Al-Takmil. 8th ed. Beirut: Maktab Al-Matbuʿat Al-Islamiyyah, 2004. Print.

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