Is Acting on Weak Hadiths an Innovation?

Answered by Shaykh Amjad Rasheed

Text translated by Sr. Shazia Ahmad

Questions: Why did the scholars who follow madhab allow acting on weak hadith? Isn’t this a gross innovation?

Answer: In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate

May His blessings and peace be on His Beloved Prophet, the best of creation, and his family, companions, and followers

There is some detail related to this question. What is established according to the imams is that it is not permissible to rely on weak hadiths to derive legal rulings, for in this regard, one does not act on anything other than rigorously authenticated or sound hadith.

Imam al-Nawawi, may Allah have mercy on him, said in his introduction of his work, al-Adhkar, “As for legal rulings, such as what is permissible and what isn’t, in buying and selling and marriage and divorce and the like; one does not act upon anything other than the rigorously authenticated hadith or the sound hadith, unless it is for being scrupulous in something related to legal rulings. For example, if a weak hadith has been related regarding the dislikedness of certain types of sales or marriages [s. one may act upon it to be scrupulous] for it is recommended that one avoid such things, but it is not obligatory.”

However, one who looks in the works of fiqh sometimes sees certain rulings that are seemingly built on weak hadiths, which seems to be problematic with what we have just taken. The answer is that the scholars have great differences of opinions when ruling on a hadith, as its soundness or weakness. So, whoever considered a particular hadith sound, acted upon it, and he who considered it weak, did not act upon it.

Someone who does not have a wide understanding of the Islamic sciences and isn’t aware of who considered those hadith sound, could think that one deduced a ruling from a weak hadith. Meanwhile, this person could be unaware that the scholar who deduced that ruling probably doesn’t consider that hadith to be weak., or is following the ijtihad of those hadith masters and fuqaha’ who consider that hadith sound. And this only is one issue, for there are others.

And another matter is that the scholars could deduce a ruling using legal analogy (qiyas) and other principles of legal deduction, that are established according to the ulema, with the difference of opinion amongst the ulema regarding the various methodological bases, so, once the ruling is derived from analogy, then they find a weak hadith that supports that ruling (which was based on sound evidence), and they mention it as a general support.

[f. The weak hadith is not what established the ruling, it was established, in some cases, by qiyas, or other legal bases for deriving rulings, but the ulema mention the weak hadith afterwards in order to give general support to the ruling. A weak hadith is not necessarily fabricated. All it means is that it has a certain amount of weakness such that we don’t have a level of reasonable surety that it was from the words of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. Something that we have reasonable surety of is sound and something of an even higher level of surety would make it sahih.]

And the third matter is that there are certain types of hadith that are considered weak by the hadith experts, like the mursal hadith, which means literally the hanging hadith, in which one of the generations after the Companions, transmitted a hadith from the Prophet leaving out mention of which companion narrated it. In this is a difference of opinion as to whether it is proof or not according to the fuqaha. Generally, the ulema of the hadith do not accept this as a sound hadith, because they look at the text alone. But this is differed upon by the fuqaha. [f. the Hanafis accept mursal hadith, the Malikis generally do, each with their own conditions and the Hanbalis use it more extensively.] So, some scholars permit acting upon the mursal hadith in all cases, [f. like the Hanbalis and to a certain extent the Malikis], because of the proofs they have. And our imam, Imam l-Shafi’i, permits acting upon it with conditions that he established and they are mentioned in the books of Usul (principles of jurisprudence). [The hadith itself according to the standard of hadith experts is weak. But the fuqaha have different standards of accepting and rejecting hadith, even the Shafi’is may accept mursal hadith in certain situations, the Hanafis and Malikis accept them to a certain extent, and the Hanbalis are more extensive in their acceptance of these hadith.]

[Faraz notes: The primary concern of the muhaddith (hadith specialist) is the narration of the hadith and the soundness of the text, itself. The primary concern of the fuqaha’ is the actual meaning established in the hadith and that leads to methodological differences in general between them and the hadith scholars, and more particularly within the schools of Islamic law.]

So the person who doesn’t have a wide understanding and is not aware of these differences could have doubts and things will seem confusing to him. After having written the answer above, I saw that Imam al-Nawawi, may Allah have mercy on him, mentioned in his introduction to the Majmu`, his magnificent work of comparative fiqh, an explanation about why Imam al-Shirazi, the author of al Muhadhdhab, on which Imam al-Nawawi wrote his Majmu`, accepted mursal hadith and how he uses them. Imam al-Nawawi actually gave exactly the same two answers that I gave.

The text of his answer is, “The author, [f. Imam al-Shirazi] mentions in his work al-Muhadhdhab many hadith that are mursal and he uses them as proof while it is established that it is not permitted to use them as proof in general, in the Shafi`i school. Some of those mursal hadith have been reinforced by one of the matters that have been mentioned that strengthen a mursal hadith, so it became a proof. And some of the mursal hadith, the author mentioned them for general support of an established ruling, a ruling established derived by analogy and other forms of legal reasoning.”

This is what relates to legal rulings, [f. establishing rulings, establishing something to be haram or permissible, establishing certain types of contracts or marriages, transactions,] as for acting upon weak hadith for virtuous deeds, the established ruling is that it is permitted as long as the hadith is not fabricated or excessively weak. Rather, acting on weak hadith for virtuous deed is recommended as mentioned in al-Adhkar.

According to the very words of Imam al-Nawawi, “The ulema have said, both the fuqaha, the hadith experts and others is that it is permitted, rather recommended to act in virtuous deeds, in acts of exhortation and warning [f. when you encourage something or warn against it]. It is permitted to act upon weak hadith as long as they are not fabricated”.

[Faraz notes: It is noteworthy to mentioned that most of the books of hadith science mention that there are three madhhabs regarding weak hadith. 1) that they can be acted upon unconditionally, 2) that they can be acted upon conditionally, 3) that they cannot be acted upon whatsoever. This is attributed to Qadi Abu Bakr bin Arabi al Maliki, and a few other scholars, including Shaykh al Awamm. Others have indicated that this is not an established position of Qadi Abu Bakr, rather it is based on a weak understanding of his words. The position of Qadi Abu Bakr which was made clear by his hadith commentaries and his work Ahkam al Qur’an and others, is the same as the rest of the scholars. So, no significant scholars of Ahl al Sunna said that it is not permitted to act on a weak hadith and this is understood from the words of Imam al-Nawawi who said, “The scholars said, both the fuqaha, the hadith experts and others”. Which scholars? The generality of scholars. And the other opinion is considered to be weak and inconsequential, just like those who say that in our times you can’t act on weak hadith; they themselves are inconsequential.]

And this acting on weak hadith is not an innovation, contrary to what the questioner asked about, because the texts of the Lawgiver and on His behalf, the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, have come with strong encouragement to increase in acts of obedience and to devote one’s time to that and have encouraged us to have fear, in certain texts and in others, to have hope. So whoever acts by a weak hadith in virtuous acts and the like has acted by the general guidance that is established in encouraging good works and virtuous deeds.

All that can be said is that the particular hadith specified something of good work and the like. So if what is understood from this weak hadith goes against what is established by sound hadith, it is agreed that one doesn’t act upon it, and what is the overwhelming situation, in hadiths that are like this, is that it is in itself excessively weak or fabricated. Though if it is not going against the sound hadith then acting upon it doesn’t take one out from acting on the texts that encourage one to do good works.

One thing remains: That which is related in such weak hadith of particular reward for particular actions. Even though we do not say that it is established by the Prophet, our good opinion of the generosity of Allah [f. which knows no limits] for the people of His love and people of His obedience make such a reward not far-fetched, rather we can hope for even more.

[Faraz notes:. From the generosity of ALLah, the Prophet said, the reward of a good deed is ten fold up to seven hundred times that reward to several multiplications thereof. And what is the difference between getting ten times a reward to multiplications of seven hundred? Seven hundred times seven hundred times seven hundred. And how? According to one’s sincerity therein and one’s devotion to Allah. In short, the position of Ahl al Sunna is that people don’t act on weak hadith in rulings. But what is a weak hadith are differed upon by the scholars of Sunni Islam, Certain hadith are considered weak by the generality of the hadith scholars although they themselves differ, but the standards of the fuqaha are somewhat different. Amongst the fuqaha, some consider them to be weak and others don’t because of differences in legal methodology, and these differences in methodology are based on sound understanding, unlike divergences from legal methodology that some contemporaries have, normally those who criticize Sunni Islam So generally, one does not act upon weak hadith to establish rulings except when they indicate precaution or recommendation. And one acts upon them in virtuous deeds and virtuous acts in encouraging and warning and when three conditions are met. First, that it not be excessively weak, secondly, that it return to a general principle within the Shariah, and virtuous deeds do return to a general principle in the Shariah, and of course this second condition presupposes that his hadith not go against anything established in the Shariah.

The third condition is that one act upon it without the firm conviction that this particular thing is established from the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. However, one is hopeful that it is established, because the hadith is not so weak that it is not from the guidance of the Prophet with certainty, so one is hopeful that it is established and is hopeful for the reward. But one cannot act upon a weak hadith while being aware that it is weak, with firm conviction that it is established. This is what the scholars have said and these three conditions were mentioned by the generality of the scholars and the fuqaha. Imam Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalani mentioned it and it is related from him by his student, al-Sakhawi, Imam Jalal al din al Suyuti has mentioned this, Mulli Ali al Qari from among the Hanafi scholars and `Abd al Hayy al Laknawi and others have mentioned this. There is general agreement regarding this, so this is the position of Ahl al-Sunna.] And all praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds.

– Amjad.

السؤال : لماذا يجوِّز أهلُ المذاهب العمل بالحديث الضعيف ؟ أليس فيه ابتداع ؟

الجواب : في هذا الجواب تفصيل وهو : أن المقرر عند الأئمة عدمُ جواز الاعتماد على الحديث الضعيف في استنباط الأحكام إذ لا يعمل فيها إلا بالصحيح أو الحسن ، قال الإمام النووي رحمه الله في مقدمة “الأذكار” :” وأما الأحكام كالحلال والحرام والبيع والنكاح والطلاق وغير ذلك فلا يعمل فيها إلا بالحديث الصحيح أو الحسن ، إلا أن يكون في احتياط في شيء من ذلك كما إذا ورد حديث ضعيف بكراهة بعض البيوع أو الأنكحة ؛ فإن المستحب أن يتنـزه عنه ولكن لا يجب “. اهـ

لكن الناظر في كتب الفقه يجد بعض الأحكام مبنية على حديث ضعيف فقد يشكل هذا مع ما تقدم ، والجوابُ عنه : أنَّ العلماء يختلفون كثيراً في الحكم على الأحاديث تصحيحاً وتضعيفاً فمن صحح الحديث عمل به ومن ضعفه ترك العمل به ، فغير المطلع على من صحح الحديث يظن أن المستدِل به يستدل بحديث ضعيف غير ملاحظ أن ذلك المستدِل لا يسلم ضعف الحديث ، هذا أمر .

وأمرٌ آخر أن العلماء قد يستنبطون حكماً بالقياس ونحوه من الأدلة المقرر عندهم – على اختلافهم فيها – ويجدون حديثاً ضعيفاً يؤيد هذا الحكم المستنبط فيوردون الحديث استئناساً .

وأمر ثالث أن بعض أنواع الحديث الضعيف كالحديث المرسل مختلف في الاحتجاج به، فجوز بعضهم الاحتجاج به مطلقاً لأدلة عندهم ، ويحتج به إمامنا الشافعي رضي الله عنه ورحمه بشروط مقرر كموافقته لقول أكثر العلماء ، فغير المطلع على هذا الخلاف يظن يشكل عليه الأمر .

وبعد كتابة هذا الجواب رأيتُ الإمام النووي رحمه الله في مقدمة “المجموع” قد أجاب عن استدلال الإمام الشيرازي رحمه الله في المهذب بالأحاديث المرسلة بما قدمته من الأمرين الأخيرين ونصُّ عبارته :” فرع : قد استعمل المصنف في المهذب أحاديث كثيرة مرسلة واحتج بها مع أنه لا يجوز الاحتجاج بالمرسل . وجوابه : أن بعضها اعتضد بأحد الأمور المذكورة فصار حجة ، وبعضها ذكره للاستئناس ويكون اعتماده على غيره من قياس وغيره”. اهـ

هذا ما يتعلق بالأحكام ، أما العملُ بالحديث الضعيف في فضائل الأعمال فالمنصوص عليه هو الجواز ما لم يكن موضوعاً أو شديد الضعف بل ذلك مستحبٌ كما في “الأذكار” ، وعبارة الإمام النووي في مقدمة “الأذكار” :” قال العلماءُ من المحدثين والفقهاء وغيرهم : يجوز ويستحب العمل في الفضائل والترغيب والترهيب بالحديث الضعيف ما لم يكن موضوعاً “. اهـ

وليس في هذا ابتداعٌ كما استفهم عنه السائل ؛ لأن نصوص الشرع جاءت بالحث على زيادة الطاعة وصرف الأوقات لها والحث على الخوف تارة والرجاء أخرى ، فالعامل بالحديث الضعيف في الفضائل ونحوها عاملٌ بالإرشاد العام الثابت في الحث على الطاعات والفضائل ، غاية الأمر أن هذا الحديث خصص أمراً من الطاعات ونحوها فإن كان ما أفاده هذا الحديث الضعيف مخالفاً لما أفاده حديث صحيح لم يعمل به باتفاق ، والغالب على ما يكون كذلك أن يكون شديد الضعف أو موضوعاً ، وإن لم يكن مخالفاً فالعمل به لا يخرج عن العمل بالنصوص الصحيحة الحاثة على زيادة الطاعات كما مرَّ .

يبقى الكلامُ على ما يرد في هذه الأحاديث من ذكر ثوابٍ مخصوصٍ على عملٍ مخصوصٍ فإنه وإن كان لا يقطع بثبوتها لكن حُسنُ الظن بكرم الله لأحبابه وأهل طاعته لا يستبعد حصول ذلك بل يتطلع لما هو أبعد منه .