Dealing with Weak (Dhaeef) Hadith


Aiy ya ya! So I thought things were back to normal. Once we got back home, all of us caught my hubby’s sickness – even my in laws! All still recuperating, and me from something a little more as well.

I mentioned earlier in my post of An-Nawawi’s introduction how the author goes into mui detail about dealing with weak hadith. Weak – or dhaeef – hadith cause a great deal of confusion.

It should be noted that there does not seem to be any support for Al-Nawawi’s statement: “The scholars agree that it is permissible to act in accord with weak hadith that state the virtuous deeds.”

I had wanted to do a short post about the grades of hadith before discussing weak hadith in detail, but unfortunately I could not find my notes on the Sciences of Hadith. Even though it’s been a few months since we’ve moved, our study area is still a mess. If I do manage to find it any time soon, inshaAllah I’ll put that up later.

Weak Hadith

There is a difference of opinion among the scholars concerning the relating and acting in accordance with weak hadith. There are basically three different opinions which we will discuss.

I. Weak Hadith may be used Without Any Restriction

Most commonly attributed to: Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal and his close student, Abu Dawood.

The opinion states: weak hadith may be used without any restriction. There are just two conditions the hadith must meet: it cannot be very weak, and there can be no other acceptable and contradictory text on the topic.

Imam Ahmad preferred weak hadith to one’s individual opinion and analogy (qiyaas).

According to Ibn Taymiyyah and others, before At Tirmidhi (and Imam Ahmad was before him), hadith were only classified as sahih or dhaeef. Dhaeef had many different levels. Amongst them were some which were close to, but not of the level of, sahih. So, essentially, the meaning of dhaeef then was not the meaning of dhaeef now.

Considering all of the above, Imam Ahmad’s statements cannot be used as evidence that he himself ever accepted or acted on the basis of what are today called dhaeef (weak) hadith.

Just because Abu Dawood recorded weak hadith when he couldn’t find stronger evidences doesn’t necessarily imply that he meant such hadith are to be considered proof or acted upon.

This entire section pretty much seemed to dismantle the attribution of this opinion to Abu Dawood and Imam Ahmad.

II. Conditional Application of Weak Hadith

This view definitely seems to be the view of the majority of the scholars from the 3rd or 4th century until  modern times.

It is a very crucial point, however, to note that the scholars are referring to using weak hadith only for encouraging good deeds and scaring us off of bad ones. These rulings and opinions do NOT apply to using weak hadith for shari’ah or regarding ‘aqeedah. Weak hadith are not considered acceptable evidence in Islamic law.

With that said, the scholars that support this opinion lay down the following conditions for the hadith (according to Ibn Hajr):

  1. It should not be a very weak hadith. It should only have minor defects.
  2. The hadith is taken as subservient to the confirmed sources (Qur’an and Sunnah). Therefore, it cannot be used to establish something that has no basis in the confirmed sources.
  3. The good deed should be done out of safety and a hope for reward, without expecting the particular reward stated in the hadith.
  4. Subhi al-Saalih (a scholar who recently passed away) adds: it should not contradict anything stronger than it.
  5. Ibn Hajr also adds that the deed should not be done publicly, so that other Muslims think it is something sanctioned in the authentic Sunnah.

The evidence that is usually used for this view is that there is a consensus of the scholars on this matter.

The author states that the only logical arguement that he could find for this opinion was a statement by al-Haitami:

If the hadith is actually sahih, then you have fulfilled its right in acting according to it. Otherwise [if it is not sahih], then acting upon it has not brought about any harm in the sense of permitting something, prohibiting something, or violation of rights, even of anybody else.

Critique for this View

The first point is that there is not a consensus of the scholars regarding this opinion. The author goes on to quote scholars who did not agree with this opinion.

Also, remember how we said the old scholars did not use the term “dhaeef” as we do today? For them, hadith were either sahih or dhaeef. Therefore, the dhaeef back then would be the equivalent of at-Tirmidhi’s hasan. So there seems to be a misunderstanding in the terminology that the scholars used.

Let’s take a look at the conditions laid down for these hadith:

  • This condition is very rarely met. Also, is it not easy to distinguish a weak hadith from a very weak one.
  • It is difficult for the scholars to tell if the topic is not related at all to ‘aqidah (creed) or law.
  • It is also very difficult to tell if there is some source for the described act in the confirmed sources.

A Plethora of Negative Aspects

Another major problem with this view is that it is simply not being put into practice in the manner that the scholars have stated. In turn, another negative aspect arises, which is quoting fabricated hadith. Because people are not careful in distinguishing a hadith that is weak from one that is fabricated.

This opinion also makes people lax about narrating hadith. Many of the sahabah used to shake and sweat when narrating hadith! We should feel the same sense of responsibility when attributing something to the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.

All of that said, if someone does follow this opinion – then they must meet the conditions that the scholars set down for it. (Otherwise, you wouldn’t really be following the opinion, would you? 😉 )

III. Non Application of Weak Hadith

As you may have guessed, the author seems to favor this opinion 😉

There are many scholars who have supported this view, amongst them here are some names that my illiterate mind recognized 😀 al-Bukhaari, Muslim, ibn Habbaan, Sideeq Hasan Khan, ibn Hazm, Ibn ‘Uthaymeen and many others.

The arguements in supporting this view follow.

There are enough authentic reports that we do not need to reach into weak or doubtful ones.

You may possibly be exposing yourself to Allah’s punishment narrating something about Allah and His Messenger concerning which you have no knowledge.

There are numerous dangers of claiming something to have been said by the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. For example, the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said: “Whoever falsely attributes something to me shall take his seat in the Fire.” (al-Bukhari) Also, in none of the hadith telling of the dangers did it state that it had to be intentional.

The companions were very aware of this. Some of them would perspire when narrating something from the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, out of fear that they would make the slightest mistake.

If the scholars of hadith declare a hadith to be weak, it means that, according to their researc and the evidence to them, there is no reliable or preponderance of the evidence to demonstrate the Messenger made that statement. In fact, most likely it has not been preserved properly. Had there been strong reason to accept it, even if it were through weak chains, it would be graded hasan lighairithi at the very least.

Also, we should remember that Allah said that He will preserve the Sunnah. Obviously, the preservation of the Sunnah would imply that Allah would preserve it in such a way that Muslim scholars could distinguish what is preserved from what is not preserved.

There seems to be little doubt that this opinion is the strongest, and it is definitely the safest. Opinion 1 has no basis and it is not the opinion of those it is attributed to. Opinion 2 has no strong evidence and is full of both theoretical and practical problems.

Be careful about narrating hadith from the Prophet. It is part of having proper love and respect for the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. We can often catch ourselves saying, “I heard a hadith…” or “I think the hadith says…” Just a reminder to myself and others to be more careful when attributing something to the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.

This entry was posted in Hadith, Islam and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Dealing with Weak (Dhaeef) Hadith

  1. Mwanakombo says:

    The topic is very important ,have learned about the dhaif. bt what is the meaning of grading of hadith.please help me

  2. Pingback: Imam Ahmad’s stance on weak hadeeth – Ummu Faiha

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