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Did the Prophet Say It or Not?

The Literal, Historical, and Effective Truth of Ḥadīths in


Early Sunnism
Author(s): Jonathan A. C. Brown
Source: Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 129, No. 2 (April-June 2009), pp. 259-
285
Published by: American Oriental Society
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Did theProphetSay It or Not?
The Literal,Historical,and Effective
Truthof Hadïthsin EarlySunnism
Jonathan A. C. Brown
University of Washington

INTRODUCTION

Clearly definingtheplace of prophetichadïthsin theepistemologyof SunniIslam has


provenextremelydifficult. On the one hand, Sunni hadithscholarsand legal theorists
elaboratedtwo parallelbut contrasting scales fordescribingtheircertainty thata hadlth
represented the authentic words or deeds of the Prophet. On theother hand, these Muslim
scholarsemployedhadïthsin a wide rangeof scholarlydiscoursesand homileticswith
seemingdisregard forbothof theseepistemological rankings. The scale developedbylegal
theoristsand adoptedintoSunniIslam in thelate fourth/tenth and earlyfifth/eleventhcen-
turieshas been well studied.l But whatabouttheepistemologicalscale of theformative
Partisansof Hadith(ahl al-hadith), theoriginal"Sunni"(ahl al-sunnawa-l-jamãca)scholars,
who precededthisadoption?Whatdid al-Shäfici(d. 204/820)or Ibn Hanbal (d. 241/855)
meanwhentheysaid thata hadithwas "sound"(sahih)!2 Did theymeanthattheybelieved
thattheProphethad actuallysaid thatstatement, or thathe probablyhad,or did theyonly
mean thatit was indicative of his normative precedent? Whenal-Bukhãri(d. 256/870)or al-
Tirmidhi(d. 279/892) declared a hadithto be sound or "fair"(hasan), how did thoseterms
reflecttheiropinion on thehistoricaltruthof the hadith in question?If a sahihhadithwas
an authenticated report of the Prophet,how could scholars so regularlystatethatone hadith
was "sounder"(asahh) thananother?3 How do we translatethe historicalvisionof early
Muslimscholarsintotermsthatare comprehensible in modern Western thought?4
In thisarticle,I contendthatahl al-hadithdidnotviewthehistorical of hadïths
reliability
through theepistemologicallens of laterSunnilegal theorists. Rather,theyconceivedof
soundhadïthsas providing whatI willdefineas historical Despitetheiropenobses-
certainty.
sionwiththeauthentication of hadïthsthrough theisnãd,theyfrequently employedhadïths

1. For comprehensive discussionsof thissubject,see AronZysow,"The Economyof Certainty: An Introduc-


tionto theTypologyof MuslimLegal Theory"(Ph.D. diss.,HarvardUniversity, 1984), 14-49; Wael Hallaq, "The
Authenticity of PropheticHadîth:A Pseudo-Problem," StudiaIslâmica 89 (1999): 75-90. See also BernardWeiss,
TheSearchfor God's Law (Salt Lake City:Univ.of UtahPress,1992), 259-321; MurtezaBedir,"An EarlyRe-
cIsãb. Abãnon theProphetic
sponseto al-Shãfici: Report(khabar),"IslamicLaw and Society9.3 (2002): 285-311.
2. In thisarticlesahihis translatedas "sound"forthepragmatic reasonthattranslatingit as "authentic"would
makeanydiscussionof authenticity or theauthentic beyondthistechnicalusage verydifficult. For discussionsof
thepropertranslation of sahih,see G. H. A. Juynboll, "Sahih,"Encyclopaediaof Islam,New ed.; Asma Hilali,
"Étudesurla tradition prophétique:La questionde l'authenticitédu I/VIIèmeau VI/XIIèmesiècle" (doctoraldiss.,
École Pratiquedes HautesÉtudes,2004), 19.
3. I am indebtedto David Powersforthisexcellentquestion.
4. Forthedangersof assuminguniform notionsof whatconstitutes historyacrosstimeand locales,see David
Lowenthal,ThePast is a ForeignCountry (Cambridge:CambridgeUniv.Press,1985),21 1-35. 1 am grateful to the
anonymous reviewerforJAOSforthisreference.

JournaloftheAmericanOrientalSociety129.2 (2009) 259

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260 JournaloftheAmericanOrientalSociety129.2 (2009)

thatdid notlive up to thesahlhratingbecause thescholarsfeltthatcircumstances corrob-


oratedtheirreliability.Theseahl al-hadithscholarsalso used hadithstheyknewwereunre-
liable because of theoverpowering charismaand utilityof wordsphrasedin theprophetic
to a of
idiom,turning variety euphemistic devicestoreconcilethispracticewiththeirstated
commitment to textualauthenticity.
Thetermahl al-hadith, whichI translateas Partisans
of Hadith,is certainty mercurial.The
extentto whichthetermwas actuallyused by thosescholarslaterconsideredto belongto
thatschool,andtheextentto whichthatschoolrepresented a consistentapproachto Islamic
law anddogma,arebothseriousquestions.As Melchert, Spectorsky, Lucas haveshown,
and
therewas real diversity withinthe"traditionistjurisprudent" school.5Diversity, however,
does notprecludeoverarchingcommonality, and discussingthisschool by one name or
anotheris necessaryforanycoherentdiscussionof thought in theearlyIslamicperiod.In
thisarticle,I treatas fallingunderthegeneralahl al-hadithumbrellathosescholarswho
prioritized thederivation of normsfromtexts(nusüs)above consistency in legal analogy,
selecting theseprooftextsthrough theemerging scienceof hadithcriticism (jarh wa-ta(dil).
This articlewill includeal-Shäfi%forexample,in thearenaof thePartisansof Hadithdue
to his close and symbiotic scholarlyrelationshipwithprominent traditionist
juristslikeIbn
Hanbalandtheinfluence of his workson otherprominent Partisansof Hadith(includinghis
landmark workindevelopinghadithcriticism).6 Of course,IbnHanbalandal-Shâficï differed
in theirlegal thought, and I shall certainlydistinguishbetweenthem.But hereI contend
thattheysharedcomparableviewson theepistemological and historicalvalue of hadiths.

THE PROBLEMATIC PRISM OF LEGAL THEORISTS


We risktwopitfallswhenthinking abouthow theearlySunnisviewedthehistoricalre-
of
liability hadiths. On theone hand,we mightassumea common-sense approachto his-
toricalreports one
(a pedestrian notcomplicated byhistoriographicaldebate),whichseeksa
clear"yesorno" answerto thequestion"didan eventhappenornot?"On theotherhand,we
riskmisunderstanding theframework of classicalSunniepistemology, whichhas oftenbeen
understood to consignalmostall discussionof historicalreportsto a fogof probability.

5. ChristopherMelchert,"The Traditionist- Jurisprudents and theFramingof IslamicLaw,"IslamicLaw and


Society8.3 (2001): 383-406; Susan A. Spectorsky, "Hadithin theResponsesof Ishãq b. Rãhawayh," IslamicLaw
and Society8.3 (2001): 408-3 1; ScottC. Lucas, "WherearetheLegal HadïthlA Studyof theMusannafof IbnAbi
Shayba,"IslamicLaw and Society15.3 (2008): 283-314.
6. IbnHanbal,forexample,said in a reliablyattested workthatal-Shafici "didnotbenefit fromus anyless than
we benefited fromhim":Ibn Hanbal,al-Hlal wa-ma(rifat al-rijãl,ed. Wasi Allãh cAbbãs(Beirut:al-Maktabal-
Islãmi,1408/1988),1: 469. He also encouragedIshãq b. Rãhawayhto studywithal-Shãfici: IbnAbi Hãtimal-Rãzi,
al-Jarhwa-l-ta(dïl,6 vols. (Hyderabad:Dä'iratal-Macärifal-cUthmäniyya, 1959),7: 202. Al-Shäficialso explicitly
defendsa grouphe calls ahl al-hadlthin his disputations withopponents:Muhammadb. Idrisal-Shãfici, Kitãbal-
Umm(Cairo:Dar al-Shacb,1968-),7: 256. Itis also reported thatIbnHanbalconsideredal-Shãfici tobe therenewer
of Islam(mujaddid)of thesecondcentury a.h., and it is a positionin theHanbalischoolof law thatif no hadith
can be foundon an issue,thentheopinionof al-Shãfici is proof:AbuBakrb. Nuqta,al-Taqyldli-ma(rifat ruwãtal-
sunan wa-1-masãnid, ed. Kamäl Yüsuf al-Hüt(Beirut:Dar al-Kutubal-cIlmiyya, 1408/1988),43-44. Another
prominent memberof thePartisansof Hadith,Abu Zurcaal-Räzi (d. 264/878),also heardall of al-Shäfici'sworks
fromhisfamousstudent al-Rabic(d. 270/883),andAbuZurVs student IbnAbi Hãtim(d. 327/938)wrotea bookon
thevirtuesof al-Shãfici(Ãdãbal-ShãfiHwa-manäqibuhu): Ibn Abi Hãtimal-Rãzi,al-Taqdima(Hyderabad:Dä'irat
al-Macärifal-cUthmäniyya, 1371/1952),1: 344. Al-Shäfici's Risãla providestheearliestextantelaboration of terms
of hadithcriticism:al-Shãfici,al-Risãla, ed. AhmadShäkir(Beirut:al-Maktabaal-cIlmiyya, n.d.), 369ff.I thank
AhmedEl Shamsyforhelpon thismatter.

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Brown: TheTruth
o/HadïthsinEarlySunnism 261

As laid outbyWael Hallaq andothers,classicalMuslimlegal theorists heldthatthevast


preponderance of thehadlth corpus consistedof ãhãd hadïths,namely,reportstransmitted
by a limitednumber of chainsof transmission.
Even when transmitted bysahlhisnãds,these
hadïthsweretherefore onlyprobably authenticstatements of the Prophet,accordingto the
epistemological worldview of theselegal theorists.7
To achieve certainty abouttheauthen-
ticityof anyreportemanating fromthepast,legal theorists requiredmassivecorroboration
(tawãtur)seldomif everattainedin thehadlthtradition.
Hallaq and othershavenotedthat"[c]ertainty concerning thedetailsof humanbehavior
was consideredunattainable" byMuslimscholars.8This admissionof ambiguity informed
thelegal theorists'approachesto theepistemological ratingof historicalreportsandfacili-
tatedtheremarkably diverserangeof opinionsinIslamicsubstantive law.In readingHallaq's
argument, however,we mustremember thattheseMuslimlegaltheorists of thefifth/eleventh
century werespeakingin thelanguageof pre-Islamic, NearEasternepistemology.9 Although
it is notclearif theIslamicateepistemologicalbifurcation of certainty {Him,qaf, yaqin)
and probability {zann) was directlyderivedfromNear Easternantecedents, theSunnitra-
ditiondid inherittheheritage(and abidingdisputes)of Aristotelian thought, Stoic logic,
and theskepticism of theearlyPlatonicAcademy.10
WhiletheseHellenistictraditions didnotsharea uniform divisionof certainty andprob-
ability,theydid considerwhatwe todaywouldcall epistemological certainty to be a rarity.
In hisdialogueon thenatureof thegods,Cicerorepliesto thecriticism of frustrated fellow
Romansof theleisureclass thatAcademicphilosophers obnoxiouslyrefuseto regardany-
thingas certain.Ciceroexplainsthateventrueperceptions oftencontainan elementof false-
hoodthatwe areunableto detect."Itfollows,"he says,"thatwe can attainonlyto a number
of probabletruths, whichalthoughtheycannotbe provedas certainties, yetmayappearso
clearand convincingthata wise manmaywell adoptthemas a ruleof life."11Detractors
of theskepticalAcademictradition had notunderstood that,in thepost-Aristotelian philo-
sophical world, epistemological certaintywas a rara avis in everyday life and not at all to
be expected.12

7. Hallaq, "The Authenticity of PropheticHadîth,"esp. 81.


8. Ibid.,84. See also RobertBrunschvig, "Logic and Law in Classical Islam,"in Logic in Classical Islamic
Culture,ed. G. E. von Grunebaum (Wiesbaden:OttoHarrassowitz, 1970), 13.
9. See Josephvan Ess, "The Logical Structure of IslamicTheology,"in Logic in Classical Islamic Culture,
ed. vonGrunebaum, 26-33. VanEss remindsus thatthereremainsmuchtobe studiedaboutthestateof theHellen-
istic/NearEasternphilosophical andrhetoricaltraditionsinherited bytheMuslims.Nabil Shehabystatesthatwe do
nothaveanyindependent evidencethatanyearlyMuslimjuristswerefamiliarwiththeworksof theStoics"in any
form":NabilShehaby,"StoicLogic andal-Jassãs," in TheCulturalContext ofMedievalLearning,ed. J.E. Murdoch
andE. D. Sylla (Boston:D. Reidel,[1975]), 63.
10. Indeed,thedistinction madebymatureSunnilegaltheory betweena hadîth's "probable"authenticity based
on theevident(zãhir)reliability of itsisnãdand thehadîthbeingauthentic "in itsessence"(fi nafsal-amr)seems
reminiscent of theSkepticaldistinction betweentheknowableappearancesof thingsandtheirunknowable essence.
See SextusEmpiricus's(fl.200 C.e.) OutlinesofPyrrhonism, in Greekand RomanPhilosophyafterAristotle, ed.
JasonL. Saunders(New York:The FreePress,1994), 156ff.;AbucAmrIbn al-Salãh,MuqaddimatIbnal-Salãh,ed.
^isha cAbdal-Rahmãn(Cairo: Dar al-Macärif, 1989), 152; Jalãlal-Dïn al-Suyutï,Tadrïbal-rawïfïsharhTaqrîb
al-Nawawï,ed. cAbdal-WahhäbcAbdal-Latïf,3rded. (Cairo: MaktabatDãr al-Turãth, 1426/2005),1: 62.
11. Cicero,The Natureof theGods (De NaturaDeorum),tr.Horace C. P. McGregor(New York:Penguin,
1967),74(1: 11-13).
12. The rarelyattainable of "knowledge"in Cicero'sStoic/
indissolubility Academicworldviewis describedby
SextusEmpiricus:"Knowledgeis theassuredand certaincomprehension whichcannotbe setaside by argument."
Comprehension is themorecommon,less assured"daily"formof knowing:Saunders,ed., Greekand RomanPhi-
losophyafterAristotle, 69.

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262 JournaloftheAmericanOrientalSociety129.2 (2009)

In theuniverseof Aristotelian proofs,certaintywas knowledge"thatcouldnotbe other-


wise."13It was theproductof demonstration (apodeixis),a deductionbased on premises
thatare certainand thusproducingconclusionsthatare certain.Beyondthisnarrowscope
of discourse,however,humanssubsistin a realmof probability: knowledgeof thingsthat
are "forthemostpart"(eikos),thatcouldbe otherwise.Dialecticalargumentation uses the
same mechanicsas demonstration (the syllogism and its various forms), but its premises
andthusitsresultsareonlyprobable.In rhetoric, boththeexamplesthatthespeakeremploys
andthedeductions thathe makeson thebasisof implicit premisessharedbytheaudience(an
enthymeme) on
generallyrely "things that can forthemost partbe otherwise"and arethus
14
seldomcertain. The dailylivesanddiscoursesof scholarsandlaymen,whether in speeches
or debate,arebuilton andmostoftenlimitedto probability. This is equallytrueforknowl-
edge of thepastand theinvestigation of history.
In our own discoursewe mustalso remember thatepistemologicalcertainty is notthe
"certainty" thatwe meanwhenwe speakabout"historicalreliability" or "certainty" in our
dailylives.Certainty in ourdailydiscourseis the"commonsense"certainty of ThomasReid
andthecommanding of Hume,nottheepistemological
"probability" certaintyof Descartes.15
In discussionsof pastevents,as Voltairedeclared,"historicaltruths arenothingbutproba-
bilities."16Thatdoes not,however,meanthatwe treatall knowledgeof thepastas merely
probablein theconventionalsense of theword(e.g., "It is probablethatI will go to the
store").
Itis on thispointthattheworkof Hallaq andotherson theepistemology of Muslimlegal
theoristscan be misleading.It mightlead us intothinking thattheepistemological proba-
bilitywithwhichMuslimscholarsviewedãhãd hadithsmeantthattheybelievedthatthese
hadithswereonly"probably"truein ourconventional senseof theword,andthattheyhar-
boredeffective doubtsaboutthereliabilityof thesehadiths.If thiswerethecase, however,
andMuslimscholarsall believedthatthehadithsthattheycitedin theirwritings werenever
morethan"probably"thewordsof Muhammad,whywouldtheyfindsuchevidencecom-
pellingin theirdiscussionof law and dogma?
Certainly, Hallaq emphasizestheconsensusof Sunnischolarsthatthese"probabilistic"
ãhãd hadithswereconsideredprobableenoughto carryprobativeweightin discussionsof
law andevenritual.17Butat an intuitivelevel,howcouldmembers of a scholarly community

13. See Aristotle,PosteriorAnalytics,1: ii.


14. Aristotle,Rhetoric, tr.HughLawson-Tancred (London:Penguin,1991),77 (357a).
15. See ThomasReid, An InquiryintotheHumanMind,ed. TimothyDuggan (Chicago: Univ.of Chicago
Press,1970),4ff.;David Hume,An EnquiryConcerning HumanUnderstanding, ed. AntonyFlew (Peru,111.:Open
Court,1988), 144-45.
16. Voltaire,"Vérité,"in Dictionnairephilosophique:Oeuvrescomplètes(Paris: Baudouin Frères,1829),
58: 414.
17. Hallaq, "The Authenticity of PropheticHadîth,"83. ForthelaterMuctazilite position,see Abu1-Husayn al-
Basrï,Kitãbal-Muctamad fl usülal-fiqh,ed. MuhammadHamidullahet al., 2 vols. (Damascus:Institut Françaisde
Damas, 1964),2: 570. Forwhatbecamethestanceof theAshcariorthodoxy, see AbuBakrMuhammadal-Bäqilläni,
Kitãbal-Tamhïd, ed. RichardJ.McCarthy(Beirut:LibrairieOrientale,1957),386; al-Khatibal-Baghdãdi,Kitãbal-
Faqlh wa-l-mutafaqqih, ed. cÄdilb. Yüsufal-cAzzäzi,2 vols. (Riyadh:Dar Ibn al-Jawzï,1417/1996),1: 278; Imäm
al-Haramayn al-Juwaynï and Jalälal-Dïn al-Mahallï,Sharhal-WaraqãtfíHimusül al-fiqh(Cairo: Dar al-Farfur,
1423/2002),72-73; Abu Ishäq al-Shïrâzï,al-Tabsirafïusülal-fiqh,ed. MuhammadHasan Hitü(Damascus: Dar
al-Fikr,1400/1980),315; Abu Hamid al-Ghazäli,al-MankhülmintaHlqãtal-usül,ed. MuhammadHasan Hitü
([Damascus?]:n.p.,[1970]), 252. For a similarMãlikiopinion,see Abu 1-Walïdal-Bãji,al-lshãrafi usül al-fiqh,
ed. cÃdilAhmadcAbdal-Mawjüdand CAHMuhammadcAwad(Riyadh:MaktabatNizär Mustafaal-Bãz, 1418/
1997), 207-8; and Ibn cAbdal-Barr,al-Tamhïdli-mãfl l-Muwatta*minal-macãnlwa-l-asanïd,ed. Mustafab.

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Brown: The Truth
ö/Hadithsin EarlySunnism 263

consistently argue,debate,and convinceone anotherwitha typeof evidenceif theyall


treatedit as onlybeingprobablytrue?18As RobertSummersputsforthclearlyin thecase
of Anglo-American law, key to thelegitimacyof any legal systemis thepeople's belief
thatitin generalcorresponds withfactualtruth,bothin itspromisedresultsandevidentiary
standards.19 Furthermore,why would a congregation of laymenat Fridayprayerbe moved
bysermonsbasedon hadithsthattheythought wereonlyprobablythewordsof theProphet?
By conflating thephilosophicalnotionof certainty(apodictic,immediateknowledge20 that
a reportis historically
true)with"certainty"in scholarlydiscourseor dailylife,we forget
thatMuslimscholarsand theiraudienceswrote,spoke,and actedas if ãhãd hadithswere
historicallycertain.
Hallaq notesthattheearlyPartisansof Hadithand laterhadithscholarsdid notconcern
themselves with"theprobable/certain dichotomy" -
as elaboratedby Sunnilegal theorists
theysimplywantedto collectreportsthatmettheirminimalrequirements for"soundness"
in orderto employthemin law.21But if theearlyPartisansof Hadithsupposedlyhad a

Ahmadal-cAlawïandMuhammadcAbdal-Kabiral-Bakri,2nded.,26 vols.([Rabat]:WizaratcUmumal-Awqafwa-
1-Shu5ün al-Islãmiyya, 1402/1982),1: 2, 8. For a Hanbalidiscussionof theschool's stance,see Abu YaclãIbn al-
Farrä' al-'Udda fl usül al-fiqh,ed. Ahmadb. cAlïSir al-Mubãrak,3 vols. (Beirut:Mu'assasat al-Risãla, 1400/
1980), 3: 861, 900. For theHanafïposition,see Muhammadb. Ahmadal-Sarakhsi,Usül al-Sarakhsl,ed. Abu 1-
Wafã5al-Afghãni, 2 vols. (Beirut:Dar al-Kutubal-cIlmiyya, 1414/1993,repr.Hyderabadedition:LajnatIhyã5al-
Macãrifal-Nucmãniyya, 1953-), 1: 321-22; cf.cAlïIbn al-Qattãnal-Fãsi,al-Iqnâ'fï masãHlal-ijmã(,ed. Hasan b.
Fawzï al-Sacïdï,2 vols.(Cairo:Dãr al-FãrOqal-Hadithiyya, 1424/2004),1: 67. The ImãmiShicial-Sharífal-Murtadã
(d. 436/1044)rejectedtheidea thatãhãd hadithswerelegallycompelling:al-Sharifal-Murtadã, "al-Mancminal-
camalbi-khabaral-wãhid,"in Masa'il al-Murtadã,ed. WafqãnMuhsinal-Kacbï(Beirut:Mu5assasatal-Balãgha,
2001), 81.
18. Certainly,theprobabilistic natureof ahad hadithscouldprovidea tempting escape in an argument forlater
Muslimscholars.Answering thequestionof howtheProphetcouldhavemarriedcA5isha, whowouldlaterbecome
a disbelieverin ImãmiShicieyes forbattlingcAli,the greatShicischolaral-Sharifal-Murtadärepliedthatthe
Prophetdidnotknowthatshewoulddo this.The onlyproofthathe didis thehadith"You willfight him[CAH]and
youwillbe inthewrong(satuqãtillnahu wa-antizãlima),"andthis"appearsonlyvia ãhãd meansthelikesof which
cannotbe considered certain."Morerecently, theSunniMuhammadZãhidal-Kawthari (d. 1952) dismissedan early
Islamicscandalsurrounding theCompanionKMlid b. al-Walidby referring to ãhãd hadithsnotyieldingcertainty
('Um).Al-Kawthari statesthatreportsthatKhãlidhad killedanotherMuslim,Malik b. Nuwayra,so thathe could
marry hiswidowwerenotreliableandãhãd, "andthisis a scholarly issuethatrequiresevidencethatyieldscertainty
(Him)":Ibn al-Jawzi,al-Muntazam fl tãrlkhal-mulükwa-l-umam, ed. MuhammadcAbdal-QãdircAtãand Mustafa
cAbdal-QãdircAtã(Beirut:Dãr al-Kutubal-cIlmiyya, 1412/1992),15: 296; MuhammadZãhidal-Kawthari, Maqãlãt
al-Kawtharl(Cairo: Dãr al-Salãm,1428/2007),342-43.
19. RobertS. Summers,"FormalLegal Truthand SubstantiveTruthin Legal Fact-Finding - TheirJustified
Divisionin Some Particular Cases," Law and 18
Philosophy (1999): 497-511, esp. 509. I thank IntisarRabb for
euidineme to thiscitation.
20. Sunnilegal theorists generallydescribedthecertainty yieldedby massivelytransmitted hadithsas "apo-
dictic"(darum),meaningthatanyonewho was presented withthisvastarrayof reportswouldknowimmediately
thatthecontentswerehistorically true.The proposition2 + 2 = 4, forexample,is apodictically true.Some Sunni
legaltheoristsandMuctazilites arguedthatthiscertaintywas actually"discursive" (nazarl)or"acquired"(muktasab)
- itwas stilltotalcertainty,
in nature butonlyaftersomeconsideration of thereportsdid thisinherein themindof
thereceiver.This debate,however,ultimately devolvedintoone of semantics.As al-Ghazãliexplained,a person
clearlycannotconcludethata massivelytransmitted reportis truewithout anyconsideration, sinceone has to weigh
thepossibilityof forgery orlyingif onlyforan instant.Thisdoes notpresenta problem, however,sincemanyprop-
ositionsthatwe considerapodicticareactuallynot.We mightthinkthat2 + 2 = 4 is apodictic,butthequalitatively
identicalproposition 556 + 556 = 1112 does takea momentto ponder;see Jonathan Brown,The Canonizationof
al-Bukhãrland Muslim(Leiden: Brill,2007), 183-93; al-Ghazãli,al-Mustasfãminusül al-fiqh,ed. Muhammad
Sulaymãnal-Ashqar(Beirut:Mu'assasatal-Risãla,1417/1997),2: 153.
21. Hallaq, "The Authenticity of PropheticHadîth,"84.

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264 JournaloftheAmericanOrientalSociety129.2 (2009)

strictlyfunctionalapproachto evidence,we mustask ourselveswhether theybelievedthat


thehadlthsthattheyactedon truly representedthewords or deeds of theProphet.If theysub-
scribedto a monotoneepistemology, how do we reconcilethiswiththeirdistinctly gradated
systemof rankingthereliability of hadïths(sahïh,hasan, and da(if)l
This articleattemptsto provideanswersto thesequestionsby investigating how early
Sunnisconceivedof hadïthsin termsof whatwe can call theirhistoricaltruth (theextentto
whichtheyrepresented the
accurately Prophet'sprecedent generalteachingsas mani-
and
festedin historical
momentsin thelifeof theearlyMuslimcommunity) as opposedto what
we can termtheirliteraltruth(whetheror nottheProphetactuallysaid a certainstatement
or performed a certainact). It will thenaddresstheeffective truthof hadïths,namely,the
power thatthe Prophet's word could wield in the Sunnitradition regardlessof its actual
authenticityor thestatedcommitment of Muslim scholarsto assuringa hadïth'sreliability.

HISTORICAL TRUTH VS. LITERAL TRUTH


Herewe mustpause to ask thequestionaboutourown notionsof historicalcertainty in
thecontextof oraltestimony anditsrecording in written form.Whatdo we meanwhenwe
say we are "certain"thata historicalfiguresaid something? If we conceiveof historical
truthhereas "whatreallyhappened,"thenwe are actuallyphrasingit as a binaryquestion
of literalcertainty. Eithera historicalpersonagesaid a specificstatement or he did not.An
act attributed to thispersoneitherhappenedor it did not.A reportis eitherliterallytrueor
it is not.Althoughwe mightthinkof historicaltruthand literaltruth in thesame way,this
notionof literaltruth has provenhighlyevasivein humanhistorical writing, whichhas been
unwilling to bend to our binaryproposition even in the modern period.22
The Gettysburg Addressof 1863 affords an excellentexamplein thecontextof hadïths,
sinceas a historicaleventit originated as a written documentperformed orallyand an oral
performance recorded aurally.Moreover, historians and the at
population largetodayare
"certain"thatAbrahamLincolngave thefamousspeech;itis bothwell knownandwell re-
cordedin itsentirety, beginningwiththeimmortal phrase"Fourscoreand sevenyearsago
ourfathers brought forthupon this continent a new nation.. . ." AlthoughmanyAmerican
schoolchildren are obligedto memorizeit word-for-word, thereis, in fact,significant am-
biguity about the literalwording of thisfamous oration. Four manuscript versions of the
speechexist,penned in Lincoln's own hand but differing in their details. We do not know
exactlywhichversionLincolnread aloud,or if he deviatedfromhis preparedremarks.23
Furthermore, thereis substantialdisagreement amongtheaccountsthatjournalists of theday
gave of what they had heard and published in their newspapers in the immediate wake of
thespeech.Did Lincolnsay "thatthe/this nationshallhave a new birth," as Lincoln'sfirst
and seconddraftsread,or "thatthisnation,underGod, shallhave a newbirth," as Lincoln
wrotein copiesof thespeechhe sentto twonewspapers?Or didhe say nothingof thesort,
as conveyedbythetextof thespeechreported in an Illinoisnewspaper?24 Even thoughwe
have access to therecordedrecollections of someonewho heardthespeech,in additionto
plentiful written evidence,we cannotbe certainof theliteraltruth of Lincoln'swords.25 As

22. The modernobsessionwithdetermining "whatactuallyhappened"is mostoftenassociatedwithLeopold


von Ranke(d. 1886). See von Ranke,SämtlicheWerke(Leipzig: Dunckerund Humblot,1868-90), 33: v-viii.
Lowenthalremindsus that"Absolute'truth'is a recentand uncommoncriterion forevaluatingaccountsof the
past":Lowenthal,ThePast is a ForeignCountry,235.
23. GaborBoritt,TheGettysburg Gospel(New York:Simonand Schuster, 2006), 113.
24. Ibid.,264, 271.
25. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyld=3602584
(lastaccessedMay 18,2008).

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Brown: TheTruth
0/HadïthsinEarlySunnism 265

thespeechdoes notexist.As an objectof historicaltruth,


an objectof literaltruth, whatwe
are "certain"of is thegistof Lincoln'smessageand itsgeneralwording.
Even in thecase of a well-documented, modernspeech,then,we can onlyachievecer-
taintyabout approximately what was said in thepast,nota binarycertainty aboutwhether
a certainphrase was spoken or not. we
Although may conceive in our own mindsof his-
toricalreportsas eitherbeing"true" or "false,"evena "true"
historically reportmightbe pos-
sessed of a markeddegreeof literalambiguity. Historical has
writing long embraced this
notionof a certaintyof approximation in
anda creativerecollection spokenhistory,although
this"grayarea" mightbe "naturally vexatiousto us."26Thucydides,whose historyof the
PeloponnesianWardealtwitheventscontemporaneous withhim,actuallyheardin person
someof thespeecheshe recordsin his History.But he admitsthat,"it was in all cases dif-
ficultto carrythemwordforwordin one's memory,so my habithas been to make the
speakerssaywhatwas in myopiniondemandedof thembythevariousoccasions,of course
adheringas closelyas possibleto thegeneralsense of whattheyreallysaid."27

CERTAINTY AND PROBABILITY AMONG THE EARLY SUNNIS


Priorto theabsorption of Muctazilite thoughtintoSunnilegal theoryin thelate fourth/
tenthcentury, thelanguageof Islamicepistemology amongthePartisansof Hadithwas still
rootedin Quranic vocabularyandearlyusage evidentin thehadithliterature. (Ilm(knowl-
edge) and yaqln(certainty)denoted both revealed
religiousknowledge and a cosmic certainty
of faith.The Qur'an warnspeople notto "followthatof whichyou have no knowledge
(Him)"(Q 17:36). The holybook describestheProphet'smessageas "thecertaintruth(al-
haqq al-yaqïn)"(Q 69:51), tellingthosewho hearit,"if you butknewit withknowledge
possessedof certainty (Himal-yaqïn),indeedyouwouldsee theblazingFire"(Q 102:5-6).
Hadïthsemploy theterm yaqlnto denotecertainty of faith,withone rarereportattributed
to theProphetstating, "I fear for
nothing my community exceptweaknessof certainty
(yaqïn)!'2*In a report
attributedto Ibn al-Muhayriz(d. ca. 101/720),thisearlyscholarasserts
a distinctionbetweenHimas thecertainknowledge contained in theQurDan, andfiqhas the
falliblehumaninvestigation of God's law.29
The wordzann, lateremployedin a positivelightby legal theoristsas probabilistic
knowledgesufficient as proofin law and ritual,was moreambiguous.In theQur5anand
earlyhadithliterature zann could have theneutralmeaningof "opinion"or "supposition,"
orthenegativeconnotation of baselessspeculationin theabsenceof trueknowledge.When
disbelieversclaimthatthereis onlythisearthlylife,theQur'anobjectsthat"theyhave no
knowledge(Him)of this;theydo butspeculate(yazunnün)"(Q 45:24). In hadïthszanncan

26. CharlesFornara,TheNatureofHistoryin AncientGreeceand Rome(Berkeleyand Los Angeles:Univ.of


CaliforniaPress,1983), 145.
27. Thucydides, ThePeloponnesianWar,tr.JohnF. Finley(New York:RandomHouse, 1951), 14. Even a de-
votedtextualcriticsuchas Erasmusstatedthatthiscreativerecollection speechesandthereconstruction
of historical
of whata figure"wouldhave said" was praiseworthy MyronP. Gilmore,Humanists
and acceptedby all historians:
and Jurists(Cambridge,Mass.: HarvardUniv.Press,1963), 95; DesideriusErasmus,Opera Omnia(Hildesheim:
Georg01ms,1961),1: 106.The Greekhistorian Polybiusdisapproved of thispractice,as didtheprominent Renais-
sance textualcritic,theFrenchhistorianandjuristFrançoisBaudouin(d. 1573); see Polybius,The Histories,7:
25a-b; Donald Kelley,FoundationsofModernHistoricalScholarship:Language,Law and Historyin theFrench
Renaissance(New York:ColumbiaUniv.Press,1970), 132.
28. Muhammadb. Ismãcilal-Bukhãri, al-Tãrikhal-kabïr,ed. MustafacAbdal-QãdircAtã,9 vols. (Beirut:Dar
al-Kutubal-cIlmiyya, 1422/2001),5: 153; Ibn Abi 1-Dunyã,Kitãbal-Yaqïn,ed. MuhammadSacidZaghlül(Beirut:
Dar al-Kutubal-cIlmiyya, 1407/1987),52. Yaqïnis also used occasionallyto refermetaphoricallyto death.
29. Sunanal-Darimi,introd.chaps.,bab karahiyatal-futya.

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266 JournaloftheAmericanOrientalSociety129.2 (2009)

simplymean"thought," suchas thereportof God saying,"I am withthethought (zann) of


My slave when he thinksof Me,"30 but it can also be associatedwithbeingjudgmentalof
others.One hadlthstates"Bewareof zann(here"speculation aboutothers"),forindeedzann
is thefalsestof speech."31
Thisusageof zannwas prevalent as lateas thefourth/tenthcenturyamonghadlthscholars.
The Hanafïjuristand hadlthscholarAbu Jacfar al-Tahawï(d. 321/933)explains:
Whoever narrates
a hadlth
fromtheMessenger ofGodoutofzann(bi-l-zann),
itis as ifhenar-
ratesfromhimoutofsomethingother
thanthetruth(haqq);andwhoever
narrateshadlthsfrom
himoutof somethingother
thanthetruth
is narrating
fromhimoutoffalsehood(bãtil).32
As theShaficï
juristandinfluential
legaltheorist
of BustAbuSulaymãnHamdal-Khattãbi
(d. 388/998)explainsin his commentaryon a hadlththatemployedthewordzann:
Zannis at oneendof thespectrumsupposition(husbãn)andat theotherendareknowledge
(Him)andcertainty
(yaqln).TheArabsmakezannonetimesupposition andanothertimeknowl-
edgeandcertaintyduetothetwoendsof [theword'smeaning] touchinguponthesetwoex-
tremes.
So thebeginningofknowledge is zannanditsfarthest
extentis certainty.33
The landmarkfifth/eleventh-century books of Sunnilegal theorycontendedthatãhãd
hadlthsyieldedonlyprobableknowledgesufficient forlaw,butnotthecertainty (Him)re-
quiredfortheologicaldiscussion.34Al-Khatïbal-Baghdâdï(d. 463/1071)explainedthis
positionsuccinctly:ãhãd hadlthscannotbe acceptedon questionsof theologybecause "if
one does notknowwithcertainty (yaHam) thatthereportis thewordsof theMessenger,
one is evenless certainaboutthemeaningof itscontents. But as formatters
of law thatdo
notrequireus to knowwithcertainty (Him)thattheProphetestablishedthemand commu-
nicatedthemfromGod,"thisis compellingforMuslims.35
Manyof theselegal theorists also noted,however,thatsome of theearlierPartisansof
Hadithhad affirmed thatãhãd hadlthsdid,in fact,produceepistemological We
certainty.36
mustnotallow thisdismissalby thesespokesmenfortheinstitutionalized Sunnismof the

30. Jami(al-Tirmidhl, kitabal-zuhd,bab mãjãhfl husnal-zann.


31. Jami(al-Tirmidhl, kitabal-birrwa-l-sila,bab maja'afl zannal-su*.
32. AbuJacfar Ahmadal-Tahawï,SharkMushkilal-ãthãr,ed. ShucaybArna'üt,16 vols. (Beirut:Mu'assasatal-
Risãla, 1415/1994),1: 375.
33. AbuSulaymãnHamdal-Khattâbï, Ma(ãlimal-sunan,3rded.,4 vols.(Beirut:al-Maktabaal-cIlmiyya, 1401/
1981), 1: 82.
34. AlthoughI will acceptthisclaimforthepurposesof thisarticle,therealityis muchmorecomplex.Sig-
nificant components of Sunnitheologywerebuilton ãhãd hadlths,and reconciling thiswithpost-fifth/eleventh-
century legaltheory was one of thegreatchallengesof Sunnitheologians. The mainstream solutionusedconsensus
to verify thetheologicalcontentsof thesehadlths.The HanbalïAbuNasral-Wa5ilï(d. 444/1052)simplytwistedthe
definition of massivetransmission(tawãtur)to arguethatthesetheologically orientedhadlthsactuallyyieldedepis-
temologicalcertainty. al-Ghazãli(d. 505/1111)remarks
Interestingly, thatanyhadlthwhoseauthenticity (sihha)is
knownis notãhãd. The generalcomplexity of theuse of ãhãd hadlthscan be seenin theclaimof Ibn al-Qattãnal-
Fãsí thatscholars"all believein ãhãd hadlthsin issues of belief(mu'taqadat)";Brown,The Canonizationofal-
Bukhãriand Muslim,183-93, 196-99; Ibn al-Qattãn,al-Iqnã(, 1: 67; al-Ghazãli,al-Mustasfã,1: 272.
35. al-Khatïbal-Baghdâdï,al-KifãyaflusülHirnal-riwãya,ed. AbuIshãq IbrahimMustafaal-Dimyäti, 2 vols.
(Cairo: Dar al-Hudä,1423/2003),2: 557.
36. al-Juwaynï, al-Burhãnflusülal-fiqh,ed. cAbdal-cAzïmal-Dïb,2 vols. (Cairo:Dar al-Ansär,1400/[1980]),
1: 600; al-Shïrazï,Sharhal-Luma(,ed. cAbdal-MajïdTurkï,2 vols. (Beirut:Dar al-Gharbal-Islämi,1988), 1: 552.
It was generallyconcludedby Sunnianalystsfromthefifth/eleventh century onwardthatthecertainty referredto
by thePartisansof Hadithwas discursiveor acquiredcertainty: al-Ghazãli,al-Mustasfã,1: 272; Ibn al-Farrã'al-
(Udda,3: 900; IbnHajaral-cAsqalãniandCAHb. Hasan al-Halabi,al-Nukat(alã Nuzhatal-nazarfltawdlhNukhbat
al-fikar,9thed. (Dammam:Dar Ibn al-Jawzï,1427/2006),77.

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Brown: TheTruth
o/HadïthsinEarlySunnism 267

fifth/eleventh
century,whichhad absorbedtheepistemological frameworkof Muslimratio-
to
nalists, sway us. This earlyPartisansof Hadithposition was no stance.If we
minority
considerthemostprominent Partisanof Hadithjuristsof thethird/ninth
century and those
scholarswho authoredthegreathadithcollectionsof theSunnicanon,we findthatmany
espousedthisopiniondismissedbylaterlegaltheorists.FortheseearlySunnis,reliableãhãd
hadïthswerea truerecordof theProphet'smessageanda soundbase fortheologicaltenets.
Whenal-Tirmidhi presentsa hadithdescribinghow God will takepeople's charitabledo-
nations"withHis righthand,"he explains:
More thanone scholarhas said thatthishadithand othernarrations like it dealingwithGod's
attributesand theLord Most High's descendingeverynightto thelowestheavenshave been
establishedand areto be believed.Theysay thatone shouldnotfallintoerrorconcerning them
and say "How couldthisbe?" It has beenreported thatMalik b. Anas,Sufyãnb. cUyayna,and
cAbdallãhb. al-Mubãrakall said aboutsuchhadïths,"Take themas is withoutasking'How'."
Such is thestanceof thescholarsfromthePeople of theSunnaandtheEarlyCommunity (ahl
al-sunnawa-l-jama'a)."31
Al-Tirmidhï's wordsleave littledoubtthat,in his mind,thefactthatthesetheologically
loadedhadïthshad been "established"(thabata)as beingfromtheProphetmeantthatthey
wereto be believed.Ibn Hanbalissueda similardeclarationabouthadïthsdescribinghow
thebelieverswouldsee God on theDay of Judgment: "We believein them(nvfminu biha)
andknowthattheyarethetruth (haqq)."3S had
Al-Shãficí made a similar statementin legal
matters. In thechapteron his disagreements withhis teacherMalik b. Anas (d. 179/795)in
Kitâbal-Umm,al-Shâficï explains,"if a reliablepersonnarratesfroma reliablepersonuntil
[thereport] ends up at theMessenger of God, thenthe hadithis establishedas beingfrom
theMessengerof God."39Abu BakrIbn al-Mundhir (d. 319/931)frequently beginschapters
on legal issuesin his compendium onjuridicalconsensusanddisagreement by statingwhat
hadbeen"established"(thabata,thãbit)as thesayingsof theProphet;"Itis establishedthat
theMessengerof God said, 'If a flylandsin yourdrink,pushit whollyunderthesurface
and thentakeit out,forif thereis poisonon one of itswings,on theotheris thecure."40
we knowthattheearlyPartisansof Hadithdid conceiveof different
Interestingly, levels
of knowledge.Althoughat firstglancethisepistemologicalgradationseemsto anticipate
thelaterepistemology of legal theorists,its primaryfunctionwas polemical.As earlyas

37. Jami(al-Tirmidhï, kitabal-zakat,bob maja'a fï fadl al-sadaqa; cf. kitabsifatal-janna, bab maja'afi
khulüdahl al-jannawa-ahlal-nãr.
38. Ibn al-Farra'al-(Udda,3: 900. Thereis a possibilitythatIbn Hanbal's confidence in hadïthsaboutseeing
God on theDay of Judgment stemmedfromtheirwidespreadacceptanceamongfellowscholars,as arguedby
MahmudAhmadal-Zayn,"Hadithal-ãhãd:Al-sahîhbaynal-cilmal-qãticwa-1-zann al-rãjih,"Majallatal-Ahmadiyya
3 (1420/1999):133-70.Forexample,AbuBakral-Marrûdhï narratesfromIbnHanbalthatthesehadïths,as well as
othersconcerning matters suchas theProphet'sascensionto heaven,had been "acceptedby thecommunity" (ta-
laqqathãal-ummabi-l-qabül)'Ibn Abi Yaclã,Tabaqãtal-hanãbila,ed. cAlïMuhammadcUmar,2 vols. (Cairo:Dar
al-Thaqãfaal-Dïniyya,1419/1998),1: 96. IbnQayyimal-Jawziyya (d. 751/1350)quotesIbnHanbalas saying"these
sahïhhadïths,we believein themand affirm them.All thatcomesfromtheMessengerof God witha good isnãd
we affirm.Forif we do notaffirm whattheMessengerof God brought andrejected,thenwe wouldbe refusing the
commandof God MostHighthat'WhattheMessengerhas brought you,takeit' (Q 59:7); IbnQayyimal-Jawziyya,
Kitâbal-Rüh,ed. cÃrifal-Hãjj (Beirut:Dãr Ihyã5al-cUlüm,1408/1988),111.
39. Idha haddathaal-thiqa(an al-thiqahattayantahiyaHa rasulAllah(s)fa-huwathabit(an rasulAllah(s)":
al-Umm,7: 177.
al-Shãfici,
40. Abu BakrMuhammadIbn al-Mundhir, al-Ishraf(ala madhahibal-(ulama' ed. Abu HammadSaghiral-
Ansãri(Ra5sal-Khayma:MaktabatMakkaal-Thaqãfiyya, 1425/2004),1: 144.

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268 JournaloftheAmericanOrientalSociety129.2 (2009)

thelifetimeof al-Shãfici, Partisanof Hadithscholarsweredefending theuse of hadithsin


religiousinterpretation against rationalistswho refused to admit intoconsideration anyevi-
dence not as historicallyreliable as the Qur>an.At least as theyare depictedin Sunni
polemicalliterature, somerationalists wentso faras to arguethatanyhadithwhosetruth-
fulnesswas notknownwithapodicticcertainty shouldbe classifiedas false.41
Partisanof Hadithscholarslike al-Bukhãriconfidently utilizedãhãd hadithsas thesole
and sufficientformof evidencein thechaptersof theirhadithcollectionsthatdealtwith
Sunnitheologicalstancessuchas thebelievers'visionof God uponresurrection or God lit-
erallyspeaking to theprophets on the of
Day Judgment. This relianceon hadithsin theology,
however,was ludicrousin theeyesof theirrationalist opponents.The onlyconcessionthat
Partisanof Hadithpolemicistsrealistically hopedto extractfromrationalists was therefore
thatãhãd hadithswerebothessentialto and compellingin theelaborationof Islamiclaw,
a projectdeemedworthy and necessaryby rationalists and Partisansof Hadithalike.42
Concedinga distinction betweenemployinghadithsin law and in theologyhad other
strategic benefitsas well. In his discussionof legal principlesin his Sahih,al-Bukhãriin-
cludesa sectionon howtheCompanionsdependedon one another'sreports fromtheProphet
to gaina fullpictureof God's law. Commenting on al-Bukhäri'sworkin thefifth/eleventh
century, Ibn Battãl(d. 449/1057)of Cordobaexplainedthat"thissectionrebutsa groupof
theShicis(rãfida)and Khârijïswhoclaimthattherulingsand Sunnaof theProphetwereall
transmitted fromhimby masstransmission (tawãtur)and thatitis notacceptableto act on
anything notcommunicated in thisway."43ShowingthattheSunnawas primarily madeup of
hadithswithlimitedtransmission (ãhãd) was thusperceivedbySunnischolarslikeIbnBattãl
as crucialforundermining othersectarianclaimsto a morecertainvisionof Islamiclaw.
The mostsalientdifference betweentheepistemological gradationelaboratedbytheearly
Partisansof Hadithandthatof laterSunnilegal theorists was itspurpose.In thecase of the
mostfullydevelopedPartisanof Hadithepistemology, thatof al-Shãfi%we findthathis
basic divisionof religiousknowledgereflectedfirstand foremostits intendedaudience,
whichonlysecondarily informed thedegreeof itscertainty. The "Knowledgeof theMasses"
(Himal-(ãmma)was thatinformation whoseknowledgewas incumbent uponthegenerality
of Muslimsand was also transmitted fromgeneration to generationby thecommunity as a
whole,suchas theobligationto prayfivetimesa day.The secondtypeof knowledgewas
the"Knowledgeof theSelect"(Himal-khãssa),whichconsistedof matters of religiouslaw
on whichno explicitQuranic textexistedandwhichwas thussubjectto thedeliberation of
scholars.
Parallelingthesetwolevelsof knowledge,al-Shaficï mentionstwoaccompanying levels
of reports:"Reportsof theMasses" (akhbãral-(ãmma)and"Reportsof theSelect"(akhbãr
al-khãssa).The latterweresubjectto interpretation in waysotherthantheirevidentmeaning
(ta'wil) andcouldbe interpreted in lightof analogicalreasoning. The Reportsof theMasses,

41. al-Khatïbal-Baghdâdï,al-Kifãya,1: 91.


42. See Sahihal-Bukhãri, kitabal-tawhid,bãb kalamal-rabb(azza wa-jallayawmal-qiyamama(a al-anbiyã'
bãb wujühyawma'idhnãdira;kitãbakhbãral-ãhãd,bãb maja'afï ijãzatkhabaral-wãhidal-sadüqfi l-adhãnwa-
l-salãt.. . . The legallycompellingnatureof ãhãd hadïthsremaineda cause célèbreamongSunnisforcenturies. In
thefifth/eleventh centuries
bothal-Khatïbal-Baghdâdïand Ibn cAbdal-Barrwrotetreatiseson thistopic.
43. Abu 1-HasancAlïb. Khalaf Ibn Battãl,SharhSahih al-Bukhãri,ed. Yãsir b. Ibrahim,11 vols. (Riyadh:
Maktabatal-Rushd,1423/2003),10: 384-85; cf.Sahih al-Bukhãri,kitãbal-i(tisãmbi-l-kitãb wa-l-sunna,bãb al-
hujjacalãmanqãla innaahkãmal-Nabi(s) kãnatzãhira.. . . Fora crucialdebateoverthewording of thesubchapter
title,see IbnHajaral-cAsqalanï, Fathal-bãrisharhSahihal-Bukhãri, ed. cAbdal-cAzïzb. cAbdallãh
b. Bãz andMu-
hammadFu'äd cAbdal-Bâqï, 15 vols. (Beirut:Dãr al-Kutubal-cIlmiyya, 1418/1997),13: 396-97.

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Brown: TheTruth
0/HadïthsinEarlySunnism 269

however,werenotsubjectto disputation, interpretation (ta'wïl) or "errorsemanatingfrom


thereport."
Although therearestriking similarities withthelaterãhãd/mutawãtir dichotomy of Sunni
legaltheory, the most salient characteristic of thesetwospeciesof reports in al-ShäfWswork
is nottheirreliability butratherthenatureof thedutiestheydescribeand theaudiences
theyaddress - dimensions absentin thedistinctions of laterlegaltheorists. Furthermore, the
uncertainty inherent in theReportsof theSelect,likethediscourseof theKnowledgeof the
Select,is morea function of interpretative ambiguity thanhistoricaluncertainty.44
The epistemological distinction thatal-Shaficï drawsthatmostcloselyresemblesthelater
contrastbetweenprobabilityand certainty arises fromhis face-to-faceencounterswith
Muslimrationalists such as Ibrahimb. cUlayya(d. 218/833).In his Risãla, al-Shãficiex-
plainsthattherearedifferent breedsof knowledge, including"comprehensive knowledgeof
boththeprimafacieandultimate aspects"(ihãtafll-zãhirwa-1-bãtin) of a thing,as opposed
to itsmere"primafacietruth"(haqqfl l-zãhir).The firstconsistsof matterson whichthe
Qur>anor Sunnahave providedclearrulingsand thathave been transmitted by themasses
generation aftergeneration. These are mattersthatall Muslimsmustknowand "on which
it can be swornthatwhathas beendeclaredpermitted by themis permissibleand whathas
beenforbidden bythemis forbidden." The secondtypeis identicalto theKnowledgeof the
Select,knownonlybylimitedhadïthstransmitted bythescholarsfromtheProphetandonly
incumbent uponthemto know.45
In hisdebatewithrationalists, al-Shaficï respondsto theobjectionsof opponentswhore-
ject theproofvalue of ãhãd hadïthsand ask himhowhe couldputreports"fromso-and-so
[or]fromso-andso" on thesamelevel as theQur5an.Al-Shãíicíreplies,"We onlygrantthis
[credence]froma perspective of comprehensive knowledge(ihãta),through thereportsof
truthful people and An
analogy." opponent warns him in asking for evidence that"I do not
acceptany[reports] if it is possible that they [thetransmitters] erred, nor will I acceptany-
thing thatI cannot swear to God byjust as I swear by His Book, which no one coulddoubt
a singlewordof."46Al-Shâficï responds that his opponentacknowledges that a Muslim judge
wouldhave someoneexecutedif two witnessestestified thathe had murderedsomeone,
eventhoughitis possiblethatthosetwowitnesseswerelyingin theirtestimony. This is, no
doubt,an affairin whichone shoulddemand"comprehensive knowledge(ihãta),"so how
does thisdiffer fromacceptinghadïthsin whichthereis a conceivablepossibilityof error
orfalsehood?His opponent, al-Shâficï explains,is willingto takea lifedue to the"apparent
truthfulness" (sidq . . . fi l-zãhir) of the witnesses,whichis exactlywhatal-Shãficisayshe
requires in hadïth transmission.47
Hereal-Shâficï is notadmitting thathe is unsureaboutthetruthfulness of whathe would
considerreliable ãhãd hadïths.He is explainingthatthe worldin whichhumanslive
and operatecannotdemandthelevel of certainty thathis opponentclaimsto require.That
superior level of certainty simply does not exist for men."OnlyGod knowstheunseen,"he
If are
explains.48 you willing to take a lifebased on a typeof evidence,thensurelythatevi-
dencemustconveyall thecertainty you could require.Despitetheimportance and seeming

44. al-Shãfi%al-Risãla,357-59; cf.Wael Hallaq, A HistoryofIslamicLegal Theories(Cambridge:Cambridge


Univ.Press,1997),26-27.
45. al-Shäfi%al-Risãla,478-79.
46. al-Shãfi%al-Umm,7: 250.
47. Ibid.,7: 252-53.
48. Ibid.,7: 252.

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270 JournaloftheAmericanOrientalSociety129.2 (2009)

requirement forcomprehensive certainty(ihãta) in bothcases, scholarsmake due with


apparent truth.
Al-Shaficï's supremeconfidence in thecertainty providedbyreports is underscored in his
statement in theUmmthata witnesscan onlytestify based on "whathe has knowledgeof."
The witness'sknowledge,he elaborates,can be of threetypes:(1) whathe saw directly,
(2) whathe hearddirectly, and (3) affairsthat"havebeenwidelytransmitted in reportsbut
mostof whichwerenotactuallywitnessed[bythewitnessesin question]butknowledgeof
whichis establishedin theheart."49 In thisstatement al-Shãficiaffirms thata witnessmust
be as sureof his testimony as he is of his sensoryperception or of widelyacceptedreports
abouteventsthatoccurredin thepast.He doubtssucha witness'scertainty no morethanhe
doubtssenseperception or reliabletransmission.
The inabilityof thejudge to knowtheultimatetruthof guiltor innocencein a case he
is adjudicatingis represented in a prophetic reportcitedby thePartisansof Hadith:"I am
buta man,anditmaybe thatone of youwillbe moreeloquentin yourproofthantheother.
So whatever I portionoutto youfromthatdue to yourbrother, I portionoutto youa portion
of Hellfire."50 A laterversionof thishadith,foundonlyin thenotoriously unreliablehadith
collectionFirdawsal-akhbãrof Shirawayh b. Shahrudãr al-Daylamï(d. 509/1115),embodies
theeditorialvoice of thePartisansof Hadith.Itimpliesthattheoutwardcertainty attainable
bythejudge (eventheProphet)is theonlycertainty thatpeoplecan hopeforwithout divine
omniscience:"I am buta man,and I do notknowtheunseen(ghayb).. . ."51
We finda clearrejection of thenotionthatãhãd hadithsdo notyieldthecertainty required
in dailylifefromIbn Hanbal.The Hanbalilegal theorist of BaghdadIbn al-Farrã5 (d. 458/
1066) citesIbn Hanbal's studentAbu Bakr al-Marrüdhi (d. 275/888-89)as sayingto his
teacher,"Here is someonewho says thata hadithis compellingin law butdoes notyield
knowledge(Him).99 Ibn Hanbal rejectsthis,scoffing "I have no idea whatthisis" (mã adri
mã hãdhã). Ibn al-Farrã5 interprets thisas meaningthatIbn Hanbaltreatedepistemological
certainty (Him)and legallycompellingprobability identically.52
Herewe mustaddressa potential objection.Al-Shaficï's opponent'schoiceto mention the
Qm°anraisesan important question.If we maintain thatal-Shãfici heldthatthecertainty pro-
videdby reliableãhãd hadithswas, in fact,thehighestformof historicalreliability avail-
able to a scholar,whataboutthereliability of theQur5an,whichlaterSunnilegal theorists
classifiedas mutawãtir and thusepistemologically certainin itshistoricalattribution to the
Prophet?53
Herewe mustcontendthatin itsindividualrulingsand specifictextualdetails,Partisan
of Hadithscholarsdid nottreattheQur5anas categorically epistemologically superiorto re-
liablehadiths.In itsinterpretive authority, earlyproto-Sunnis andmanylaterSunnischolars
explicitlysubordinated theQur'anto theSunna,whichtheydeclared"ruledovertheBook

49. Ibid.,7: 82-83. 1 thankAhmedEl Shamsyforthiscitation.


50. al-Muwatta,kitãbal-aqdiya,bab al-targhlbHa l-qadã' bi-l-haqq;Sahihal-Bukhari, kitabal-mazalim,bãb
ithmmankhãsamaflbãtilwa-huwayaHamuhu;SahihMuslim,kitãbal-aqdiya,bãb al-hukmbi-1-zãhir wa-l-lahn
bi-l-hujja;MusnadAhmadb. Hanbal, 2: 322, 6: 308, 320; Ibn Hajar,Fathal-bãri,13: 216ff.
51. Shirawayhb. Shahrudãral-Daylamï,al-Firdawsbi-ma'thür al-khitãb,2 vols. (Beirut:Dar al-Fikr,1418/
1997), 1:201.
52. Ibn al-Farrä5,
al-(Udda,3: 899-900.
53. See, e.g.,Badral-DïnMuhammadal-Zarkashï, al-Bahral-muhitfi usülal-fiqh,ed. MuhammadMuhammad
Tämir,4 vols. (Beirut:Dar al-Kutubal-cIlmiyya,
1428/2007),3: 317.

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ö/Hadithsin EarlySunnism
Brown: TheTruth 271

of God" andnotvice versa.54In addition, in termsof theirscale of transmission,


readingsof
theQur'anwerenotalwaysacceptedas canonicalorauthentic becausetheyhadmetthetech-
nicalrequirements of legal theorists
formassivetransmission (tawãtur)butsimplybecause
theyhad some isnãd support and had become widelyaccepted.55
For ourpurposes,unlessitcan be proventhatPartisanof Hadithscholarsin facttreated
thedetailedwordingof Quranic versesas inherently morehistorically reliablethansahlh
hadlths,thedeclaration of legaltheoristsof thefifth/eleventhcentury thattheQur'anis mu-
tawãtirthushas no bearingon theepistemologicalworldviewof al-Shãficior his cohort.
Al-Shãficidistinguishesbetweenthestrengths of proof(hujja) providedby"an explicittext
(nass bayyin)fromtheBook [of God] or an agreed-upon prophetic precedent (sunna),which
no one coulddoubt,"on theone hand,and a prophetic precedent "froma reportof theElect
aboutwhichthereportcoulddiffer," on theother.56But,again,thequestionhereis notone
of historical butrather
reliability of interpretiveexplicitnessandconsensuson themeaning
of a texton theone hand,and ambiguity and disagreement on theother.

SAHIH, LITERAL TRUTH, AND HISTORICAL TRUTH


The notionof a hadithbeing"sound"(sahlh) or "established"(thabata)(thetwoterms
areused interchangeably in thethird/ninth century)is difficultto defineexactly.Neitheral-
BukhãrinorMuslim(d. 261/875),theauthorsof thereveredSahlhayn,lefta description of
his requirements fora soundhadith.The earliestsurviving definitionof sahlhfromsome-
one who authoreda sahlh collectioncomes fromal-Bukhari'sand Muslim's student, Ibn
31
Khuzayma(d. 1/923), who notes in theintroductionto his that
collection he onlyincludes
hadlths"thatan upstanding ((adl) transmitternarratesfromanotherupstanding transmitter
continuously to [theProphet]withoutany break in theisnãd nor anyimpugning of there-
ports'transmitters."57
This dovetailswithwhatthegeneration of al-Bukhari'sand Muslim'steachershad re-
portedlymaintained. Whenasked to describewhatsortof hadithcan be deemed"estab-
lished"fromtheProphetandbe compellingproof(hujja), theMeccan al-Humaydï(d. 219/
834) repliesthatit mustbe "solidlyestablished(thãbit)fromtheMessengerof God, with

54. Jãyatal-sunnaqadiyat°n to Yahya


(ala l-kitabwa-laysaal-kitabqadiy""(ala l-sunna.Thisquoteis attributed
b. Abi Kathirandal-Awzãci.See Sunanal-Darimï,introd. chaps.,bãb al-sunnaqãdiya(alã kitãbAllah',Muhammad
b. Nasral-Marwazï,al-Sunna,ed. cAbdallãhb. Muhammadal-Basiri(Riyadh:Dar al-cÄsima,1422/2001),106-7;
al-Häkimal-Naysäbüri, Ma'rifat(ulümal-hadïth,2nd ed. (Hyderabad:Dã5iratal-Macãrifal-cUthmãniyya, 1385/
1966),82; al-Khatibal-Baghdãdi,al-Kifãya,1: 81; al-Zarkashi, al-Bahral-muhlt, 3: 239.
55. See IntisarKabb, JNon-Canonical Readingsor tne Quran: Recognitionand Autnenticity (tne Himsi
Reading),"Journalof QuranicStudies8.4 (2006): 105ff.;AhmadcAlïal-Imãm,VariantReadingsof theQur'an
(Herndon,Va.: International Institute of IslamicThought,1998), 121. Ibn Hajar al-cAsqalãniattributesa similar
opinionto Abu Shãmaal-Maqdisi(d. 665/1267)and al-Baghawï(d. 516/1122): Ibn Hajar,Fathal-bãrl,9: 39. This
was pointedoutbythelaterMuslimanalystal-Shawkãni(d. 1834),whostatedthattheclaimof Sunnilegaltheorists
thattheQur'anis entirely mutawãtir in all itsversesacrossthesevencanonical.readingsis a claimdevoidof "even
a hintof knowledge, forindeedeach one of thesereadingshas beentransmitted via ãhãd means,as anyonewhois
familiar withtheisnãdsof those[seven]readersfortheirtransmissions [of theQur'an]knows":Muhammadb. CAH
al-Shawkãni, Irshãdal-fuhülilã tahqïqHimal-usul,ed. MuhammadSacidal-Badri(Beirut:Mu'assasatal-Kutubal-
Thaqãfiyya, 1412/1992),62-63.
56. a'-Shãfi%al-Risãla,460-61.
57. Abu BakrMuhammadb. Ishãq b. Khuzayma,Sahlh Ibn Khuzayma,ed. MuhammadMustafaal-Aczami,
5 vols. (Beirut:al-Maktabal-Islämi,[1970?], 1: 3.

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272 JournaloftheAmericanOrientalSociety129.2 (2009)

a contiguousisnãd withno breaks,all throughknowntransmitters." Al-Bukhari'sand


Muslim'sgreatrivalMuhammadb. Yahyãal-Dhuhlïof Naysäbür(d. 258/873)agreedthat
"a hadithis notestablishedas beingfromtheProphetuntila reliabletransmitter narrates it
fromanotherreliabletransmitter tillthereportends withtheProphetin thatway,withno
unknownor criticizedtransmitter."58
Partisanof Hadithscholarsof thethird/ninth century describedsomehadlthsas "widely
transmitted"(tawãtara),having "become manifest" (tazãhara)or "wellknown"(ishtahara).
Thiswouldseemto be themostreliableformof transmitted material.Theseterms, however,
weremerelycomparative descriptions of the extent to which a reporthadbeencorroborated
as opposedto a contradictory and uncorroborated report.The "widespreadtransmission"
of
(tazãhur,tawãtur) reports was the term used by Partisan of Hadithscholarsto denotere-
portsthat communicated a common idea in sufficient number andreliability thatan isolated
conflictingreport could be assumed to be an error by dint of its contrary meaning.59
Thesetermsdidnotestablishan epistemological class of reportsdistinctand superiorto
sahlh or thãbithadïths.Earlyhadithcriticscould thuscall a widelyacceptedhadithboth
"sound"and "well known"(sahlhmashhür)whencomparingit to less solid or anomalous
reports.AmongtheearlyPartisans of Hadith,thisconceptof broadcorroboration onlysuper-
cededa normalsoundhadithif thatone hadithclashedwithorcontradicted a "widespread"
or "well-known" hadith.In theabsenceof anyoverwhelming bodyof widelytransmitted
hadlthsthatdisagreedwithit, a singlehadithwas in no way lackingin epistemological
strength.Ibn al-Farrã5concedesthateven an ãhãd hadithcan yieldcertainty if nothingthe
Prophetsaid can be provento contradict it.He citesa reportthatIbn Hanbal's sonheardhis
fathersay:"If a hadithcomeswitha sahlhisnãd,we saythatitis theSunnaif thereis nothing
contradictingor resistingit."60
At theveryleast,Ibn Hanbal's,al-Shaficï's, and al-Tirmidhï's aforementioned statements
demonstrate thattheybelievedthata hadith"thatwas madesoundor established" bychains
of transmission fromtheProphettrulyrepresented itemsof historicaltruth. In otherwords,
theydocumented elementsof histeachingsoreventsin hislife.Al-Shãficí's rationalistoppo-
nent,however,had madea morespecificdemand,saying"I will notacceptanything thatI
cannotswearto God byjust as I swearby His Book, whichno one could doubta single
wordof."61The opponentdemandedliteraltruth. We find,however,thatal-Shaficï is only
willingto makethisclaimin thecase of theKnowledgeof theMasses. His explanationof
thistypeof knowledge, however,makesitclearthatthiscertainty does notpertainto thelit-
eraltruthof specificstatements attributed toMuhammad;itconcernsthecertainty that"what
has been declaredpermitted by [thesereports]is permissibleand whathas been forbidden
by themis forbidden." Al-Shãfici'sstatement is thusdirectedmoreat theunequivocalness
of thesehadlths9legal contentsthantheirliteralauthenticity.
This focuson thecertainty of a hadithrevolvingarounda certainty abouttheimportof
itscontentsas opposedto itsliteraltruthappearsin anotherstatement of Ibn Hanbal.This
opinionseemsto contradict Ibn Hanbal'searlierstatement thatãhãd hadlthsyieldcertainty,
and it thuscaused greatconsternation amonglaterHanbalïcommentators trying to isolate
thedefinitive stanceof theirschool's founder.Ibn al-Farrã5 statesthathe saw in thebook

58. al-Khatibal-Baghdãdi,al-Kifãya,1: 93, 103-4.


59. See JonathanBrown,"How We Know EarlyHadithCriticsDid Main Criticismand WhyIt's So Hardto
Find,"IslamicLaw and Society15.2 (2008): 158, 163.
60. Ibn al-Farrã5,
al-(Udda,3: 898, 901; cf.al-Zarkashï,
al-Bahral-muhït,
3: 324.
61. al-Shãfi%al-Umm,7: 250.

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Brown: TheTruth
0/HadithsinEarlySunnism 273

Ma(anï l-hadlth,compiledby Ibn Hanbal's studentIbn al-Athram (d. 261/875),thatIbn


Hanbalsaid,"If a hadlthcomesfromtheProphetvia a sahlhisnãdand containsa rulingor
obligation,I act accordingto that,and I professit by God Most High,and I do nottestify
thattheProphetsaid it."In thiscase,Ibn al-Farrã5 explainsthatIbnHanbal"was explicitthat
it does notyieldepistemological certainty(qat*)."62
How can Ibn Hanbal statethatãhãd hadithsfromtheProphetare "truth"and dismiss
thosewhosay thattheydo notyieldcertainty, on theone hand,and yetrefuseto swearthat
theProphetsaid sucha report, on theother?If al-Shaficï believedthatãhãd hadithswereas
reliablea pieceof historical evidenceas one couldhopefor,whydidhe nottellhisopponent
thathe could swearto God by them?
Returning to thelessonslearnedfromtheGettysburg Addressand Thucydides,we find
thatthe Muslimhadlthcriticsof the second/eighth and third/ninth centurieswere emi-
nentlyawareof boththeliteralambiguity inherent in even a "historicallytrue"reportand
thecreativecomponent of transmitting
thewordsof theProphet.The canonicalSunnihadlth
collectionscontainchapterswithreportsdescribingthe seriousnessof falselyattributing
wordsto theProphetand underscoring thecultof authenticity thatlay at theheartof the
Sunnitradition.63 One suchhadlthtransmits: "Whoevernarratesfromme a hadlththathe
sees is a lie (kadhib),thenhe is amongtheliars."Al-Tirmidhi askedhisteacher,thefamous
hadlthcollectorcAbdallãhal-Dãrimí(d. 255/869),whethera scholarwho narratesa hadlth
thathe knowscontainssometrivialtextualuncertainties wouldbe subsumedbythatthreat.
Al-Darimïrepliedthatthiswarningonlyaddressesthosepeople who narratea hadlththat
has no basis (àsl) as beingfromtheProphet,notthosewho narrateversionsof a hadlth
withminordifferences in transmission.64
The notionof a hadlthhavinga "basis" or asl was centralto hadlthcriticismand trans-
mission.The basis of a hadlthwas thetheoretical urtextof thereportas narrated fromthe
Prophet, althoughin itsvariousnarrations itcouldmanifest itselfin manypermutations. As
Asma Hilali explains,it is themeaningor eventdescribedby thehadlththat"preexistsits
transmission."65 Thebasisof a hadlthwas usuallyassociatedwitha certainCompanion, who
was assumedto have heardtheProphetspeakor observedhimact on thatoccasion.

62. Idhaja'a al-hadïth(an al-nabï(s) bi-isnadsahïhflhihukmawfard'amiltubi-l-hukm wa-l-fard wa-adantu


Allãhtacãlabihi,wa-lãashhaduanna al-nabï(s) qãla dhãlika:Ibnal-Farrã5 providestheisnãdforthetransmission
of thisbookfromIbn al-Athram: itwas writtenin thehandof Abu Hafsal-cUkbari fromIbn al-Athram' s copyand
transmitted toIbn al-Farrã5byAbuHafscUmarb. Badr:Ibn al-Farrã5, al-cUdda,3: 898. Ibn al-Farrã5andlaterHan-
balïssuchas IbnTaymiyya spilleda greatdealof inkstrugglingtoreconcilethetwopositionsattributed toIbnHanbal
on theepistemological yieldof ãhãd hadiths.Ibnal-Qayyimattempted todismissIbnal-Athram' s narrationfromIbn
Hanbalbecauseitimpededhis argument thatIbnHanbalhadbelievedthatãhãd hadithsyieldedcertainty andwere
thussufficientto establishtheologicaltenetssuchas God's descentduringthenightto thelowestheavens.Ibn al-
Qayyimarguesthatthenarration of Ibn al-Athram is notcorroborated by anyotherof Ibn Hanbal's students and
doubtswhether Ibn al-Farrã5had actuallyheardthetextsthrough audition(samãc).Interestingly, Ibn al-Qayyimin-
terpretsthetextsof al-Shäfi cïmentioned above as indicatingthatal-Shaf^ialso believedthatãhãd hadïthsprovided
Him:Ibn Qayyimal-Jawziyya, Mukhtasaral-SawãHqal-mursala,2 vols,in 1 (Cairo: Matbacatal-Madanï,[n.d.]),
365, 370-72. Interestingly, Ibn Hanbal's studentAbu Bakral-Marrûdhï reportedthathis teacherdislikedIbn al-
Athram's posinglegalanddoctrinal questions(masã>il)tohim;see IbnHanbal,al-(Ilal wa-macrifat al-rijãl,ed. Wasï
AllãhMuhammad cAbbãs(Mumbai:al-Dãral-Salafiyya, 1408/1988),174;cAlã>al-DïnAbu1-HasancAlïal-Mardâwï,
al-Tahbirsharhal-Tahrïr, ed. cAwadb. Muhammadal-Qarnï(Riyadh:Maktabatal-Rushd,1421/2000),4: 1808-10.
63. See, forexample,Sahïh Muslim,muqaddima,bob al-nahyζαηal-hadïthbi-kullma samica' Sunan Ibn
Mãja, muqaddima,bãb manhaddathacanrasülAllãh hadïthan yarã annahukadhib.. . .
64. Jãmi(al-Tirmidhï, kitabal-(ilm,bãb maja'a fï-manrawa hadïthan wa-huwayara annahukadhib.
65. Asma Hilali,"cAbdal-Rahmanal-Ramahurmuzï (m. 360/971)à l'originede la réflexion surl'authenticité
du hadït,"AnnalesIslamologiques39 (2005): 134.

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274 JournaloftheAmericanOrientalSociety129.2 (2009)

Sometimeshadlthcriticscould decide thata hadlthhad absolutelyno basis fromthe


Prophetwhatsoever.ExamplesincludethereportsthatGod createdHimselffromhorse
sweat,that"[t]heir[women's]brainsarein theircrotches"('uqüluhunnafl furüjihinna), or
thattheProphetwipedhis peniswithdustafterurinating.66
If a hadlthdid have some basis fromtheProphet,however,therewas a wide rangeof
acceptablepermutations thatit could take,no doubttheresultof thevagariesof transmis-
sion.Therewas stillroomforsubstantial variation in boththechainof transmission andtext
of thereport, evenin thecase of a hadlththatcriticsconcludedwas sahlh.Al-Bukhãn,for
example,includesin his famousSahlhthreenarrations of a well-known hadlthtransmitted
fromtheProphetbytheCompanionAnas b. Malik.The firsttransmission reads:"Aidyour
brother whether he is wrongingor beingwronged."The secondand thirdversionsinclude
thesubstantial additionof an explanationfromtheProphet.Helpingone's brother whenhe
"is wronging" is to advisehimto cease hisiniquitous behavior.67All theseversionsrepresent
thesamebasic tradition, however,and all theversionsare sound,accordingto al-Bukharï.
Like thevariancesin theGettysburg Address,al-Bukhari's decisionthatthehadlthwas sahlh
meantthathe was surethattheProphethad said thoseapproximate words.68
Like Thucydidesrecounting historicalspeeches,earlyMuslimhadlthtransmitters often
substitutedeitherthegistof a statement bytheProphetortheirownrecreations forhisliteral
words.The practiceof transmitting thegeneralmeaningsof a hadlth(al-riwãyabi-l-ma'na)
was widelyacceptedamonghadlthtransmitters of thesecond/eighth andthird/ninthcenturies
and was eventuallyacceptedunanimously in latermanualsof thehadlthsciences,suchas
thoseof al-Khatïbal-Baghdâdïand Ibn al-Salãh (d. 643/1245).Earlyproponents of trans-
mitting thegistof theProphet'swordsclaimedthattheCompanionWãthilab. Asqac had
admitted thatsometimestheCompanionseven confusedtheexactwordingof theQur5an,
whichwas well knownand well preserved.So how,Wãthilaasked,could one expectany
less inthecase of a reportthattheProphethadsaidjustonce?ΑΙ-Hasanal-Basrï(d. 110/728)
is reportedto have said, "If we onlynarrated to you whatwe could repeatwordforword,
we wouldonlynarrate twohadlths.Butif whatwe narrate generally communicates whatthe
hadlthprohibits or allows thenthereis no problem."69

66. Ibn Qutaybaal-Dïnawarï,Ta'wll mukhtalif al-hadlth,ed. MuhammadZuhrîal-Najjar(Beirut:Dãr al-Jïl,


1393/1973),75-76; Shamsal-Dïn al-Sakhãwi,al-Maqãsid al-hasana,ed. MuhammadcUthmän al-Khisht(Beirut:
Dar al-Kitäbal-cArabï,1425/2004),292; Mullã cAlïQãri, al-Asrãral-marß'a fi l-akhbãral-mawdü'a,ed. Mu-
hammadLutfïal-Sabbägh,2nd ed. (Beirut:al-Maktabal-Islämi,1406/1986),246; Ismãcilb. Ahmadal-cAjlüni,
Kashfal-khafã,ed. Ahmadal-Qaläsh,2 vols. (Cairo: Dãr al-Turãth, [n.d.]),2: 81; Ibn Abï Hãtimal-Rãzi,ΊΜ al-
hadïth,ed. Sacd'Abdallahal-Humayyid and KhälidcAbdal-Rahmänal-Juraysi, 7 vols. (Riyadh:Matãbical-Hamïd,
1427/2006),1: 542. For anotherexcellentexampleof a hadlththathas no asl fromtheProphet,see ibid.,5: 267:
"God does notpunishfromamongHis slaves exceptthestrident rebelwho rebelsagainstGod and refusesto say
There is no god butGod' (innaAllahcazza wa-jalla Ian yu'adhdhiba.. .)." AbuZurcaal-Rãzirefusedto narrate it.
67. Sahlhal-Bukharl, kitäbal-mazalim,bab acinakhaka',kitabal-ikrah,bab 7.
68. The Sunanof al-Nasa'i seemsto have a specificfocuson thedifferent versionsof hadlthurtexts. The most
glaringexampleis in thekitãbal-nahl,whichconsistsof onlyone subchapter entirely devotedto differentversions
of a reportfromal-Nucmän b. Bashirabouthis father bequeathing hima slave.
69. SomeearlyMuslimscholarsinsistedon repeating hadlthsexactlyas theyheardthem.IbnSirin(d. 110/728)
evenreportedly repeatedgrammatical errorsin hadlthshe heard:al-Khatïbal-Baghdâdï,al-Jãmi(li-akhläqal-rãwl
wa-ãdãbal-sãmic,ed. MuhammadRifcatSacïd,2 vols. (Mansoura,Egypt:Dar al-Wafã5, 1422/2002),2: 71, 78-79;
cf.Jãmical-Tirmidhl, kitäbal-Hlal.One Companionreported thatwhentheProphet"reciteda hadlth?he would
repeatit threetimes:Sunan Abl Dãwãd, kitãbal-(ilm,bãb takrlral-hadlth.Interestingly, al-Qadï cIyädb. Müsä
(d. 544/1149) statedthatlaxityin hadlthtransmissionled "masteranalysts"{muhaqqiqün)in thefifth/eleventh cen-
turyto "close thedoorof riwãyabi-l-macnã"'al-QãdicIyãd,Mashãriqal-anwãrcalã sihãhal-ãthãr,éd. Balcamshï
AhmadYagan,2 vols. ([Rabat]:Wizãratal-Awqãfwa-l-Shu5ün al-Islãmiyya, 1402/1982),1: 23.

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Brown: TheTruth inEarlySunnism
6>/Hadïths 275

Here we finda simpleexplanationfortheseemingcontradiction betweenIbn Hanbal's


twostatements aboutthecertainty yieldedby ãhãd hadïths as well as al-Shaficï'sreticence
to assurehis interlocutorsthattheycould swearto God by theirliteraltruth. Even a sahlh
hadith,whichso indubitably theteachingsof theProphetthatitcouldbe taken
represented
as thebasis forlaw and theologyin theeyes of thePartisansof Hadith,did notassuredly
represent Muhammad'sliteralwords.It was onlya permutation of an authenticurtext, with
a strong thatitwasjustthegistof hiswords.Muslimhadithcriticsweresensitive
possibility
to thisliteralambiguity. As Ibn Taymiyya(d. 728/1328)wouldlateradmit,even themost
authentic hadithscan differon details.Commenting on a hadithin whichtheProphetbuys
a camel fromhis CompanionJãbir,Ibn Taymiyyastates,"whoeverlooks at theseisnãds
knowswithcertainty thatthehadithis sahlh,evenif thenarrations disagreeon theprice."70

HOW CAN ONE SAHÏH HADITH BE MORE SAHlH (ASAHH) THAN ANOTHER?

Bridgingtheworldsof fifth/eleventh-century Sunni legal theoryand thepre-Ashcan


Partisansof Hadith,al-Khatïbal-Baghdâdïmadea statement significantforourdiscussion:
no report thatyieldsepistemological certainty(cilm)can be more certainthananother,"since
all thingsknownwithcertainty areknownin thesamemanner."71 In otherwords,if we are
certainof theliteralwordingof theGettysburg Address,we cannotacceptanotherversion
of it as also certain.This idea makessense in a binaryconceptionof literaltruth.It does
not,however,reflect thenatureof historicalcertainty northemannerin whichPartisanof
Hadithcriticsevaluatedand ratedhadiths.
Havingsuggestedthathadithcriticsdeclareda hadithto be soundwhentheywerecertain
thattheurtext of thereportrepresented theProphet'swordsordeeds,we can easilyanticipate
how one narration could be sounder(asahh) thananother.Third/ninth- and fourth/tenth-
century hadithcriticsemployedtheterm"sounder"to rankthevariationsof an urtext.
This oftenhad nothingto do withthewordingor implications of thehadith,butrather
withtheexhaustingly technicalquestionof whichnarration consistedof morerespected
transmitters or enjoyedmorecorroboration.72 Ibn Abï Hãtimal-Rãzi(d. 327/938)notesthat
his fatherand leadingteacherAbu Hãtimal-Rãzi (d. 277/890)said thatthenarration of a
hadithfromSufyãnal-Thawrî - Muhäribb. Dithãr - Sulaymãnb. Burayda,thattheProphet
prayedfiveprayerswithoutrenewinghis ritualpurity, was sounder(asahh) thananother
versionwiththesame textbutwiththenarration Sulaymãnb. Buraydafromhis father -
theProphet.73 Abu Hãtimandhis colleagueAbu Zurcaal-Rãzi (d. 264/878)concludedthat
thenarration of anotherhadiththrough Sufyãnal-Thawrî(d. 161/778)was sounderthanthe
same narration of thathadiththrough his contemporary Shucbab. al-Hajjãj (d. 160/776),
because Sufyãnis consideredmorereliableand his versionis morecorroborated.74
Sometimesa criticcouldnotdistinguish betweentwosahlhversions.Al-Tirmidhï asked
al-Bukharî whichreportstating thattheProphetworea redrobe(hullahamrãy)was sounder,

70. Ibn Taymiyya, Majmu'atal-fatawa,éd. SayyidHusaynal-cAffanï and KhayrïSacïd(Cairo: al-Maktabaal-


Tawfiqiyya, [n.d.]),3: 198-99.
71. al-Khatïbal-Baghdâdï,al-Kifãya,2: 560.
72. Formoreon thenatureof thesetechnicalcomparisons, see Jonathan Brown,"Criticism of theProto-Hadïth
Canon:Al-Dâraqutnï'sAdjustment of theSahihayn"JournalofIslamicStudies15.1 (2004); 21ff.
73. Ibn Abï Hãtim,al-(Ilal, 1: 623-24.
74. Ibid.,6: 656-57. For moreexamples,cf. ibid.,2: 43-44, 4: 711; 6: 556-58. See also Sunan Abï Dawüd,
kitãbal-salãt,bãbfl i(tizãlal-nisãyfl l-masãjid(an al-rijãl;kitãbal-salãt,bãb al-adhãnqabla dukhülal-waqt;kitãb
al-adab,bãb mã)ãyaf' l-rajulyuhillual-rajulqad ightãbahu.

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276 JournaloftheAmericanOrientalSociety129.2 (2009)

theone narrated byAbuIshãq al-SabïcïfromtheCompanionJãbirb. Samuraor theone that


AbuIshãq narrated fromtheCompanional-Barä'b. cÄzib.Al-Bukhäri repliedonlythatboth
weresound.75
Of course,thequestionof whichvariationof a hadlthwas "sounder"couldhave major
legal or dogmaticconsequences.Al-Shâficïhad said that,as a principle,no two authentic
hadithscouldtrulycontradict one another,
sincetheProphet'sSunnamustbe internally con-
sistent.If twohadithsseemto clash,theneitherone abrogatedtheother,or,if therewas no
indicationof abrogation, thejuristshouldchoose themorereliable(athbaf)report.76 Two
leading hadlth al-Bukhârï
critics, and Abu Zurca for
al-Râzï, example,reject one narration
of a hadlth(Salama b. Kuhayl- Hujrb. al-cAnbas-cAlqamab. Wä'il- Wä'il b. Hujr- the
Prophet)thatdescribestheProphetsaying"Amen"silentlyafterrecitingtheQurDanin his
prayerin favorof anotherversion(Salama b. Kuhayl- Hujrb. al-cAnbas - Wa5ilb. Hujr-
theProphet)describinghimsayingit outloud. Al-Bukhãríand Abu Zurcaexplainthatthe
secondisnã d is "moresound"thanthefirst becausethefirst isnãdincorrectlyaddscAlqama
b. Wä'il intothechain,a factnotcorroborated by othernarrations of thehadlth.11
In thecase of twocontrasting reportsbeingon thesamelevel of reliability, in-
al-Shãfici
structsscholarsto taketheone closestto theQur'anand theProphet'sSunnain general.78
We findan instanceof themeaningof one versionof a hadlthrendering it sounderthan
anotherin al-Tirmidhï's Jãmi(.Al-Tirmidhï narratesa numberof versionsof a hadlthfrom
al-Acmash - Abu Sãlih- Abu Hurayrareporting thattheProphetsaid: "Whoeverkillshim-
selfwillbe in hellfireeternally."He thenintroduces a versionof thesamehadlthfromAbu
1-Zinãd- al-Acraj - Abu Hurayrawhichdoes notincludethephrasethata suicidewill be
punishedeternally. Al-Tirmidhï notesthatthisversion"is sounderbecause therearenarra-
tionsthatmonotheists (ahl al-tawhld)arepunishedin hellfire[fora time]butthenwill exit
it,and it is notmentioned thattheyare thereeternally."79

ARE NON-"AUTHENTIC" HADITHS HISTORICALLY TRUE?


HOW NON-SAHÏH HADITHS FUNCTIONED IN LAW
The hadithsfromwhichIslamiclaw was deriveddidnotfallprimarily in thesahlhcate-
gory.ThroughIbn Hanbal,al-Bukhãri,and Muslim,Partisanof Hadithscholarsgradedre-
portseitheras "sound/established" or "weak/sickly"
(sahlh/thãbit) (da'lf/saqlm) in termsof
themake-upof theirisnãds,and"well-known" (mashhür)or"unaccepted" (munkar)interms
80If
of theircorroboration. theycouldfindno hadithsthatlivedup to theirrequirements for
however,Partisanof Hadithjuristslike Ibn Hanbal or his studentAbu Däwüd
reliability,
(d. 275/889)turnedto weakerhadiths}1Ibn Hanbalis famouslyquotedas saying,"A weak
hadlthis dearerto me thantheuse of independent reason(ra'y)."82

75. Jami(al-Tirmidhl,kitabal-adab, bab maja'afl l-rukhsafllubsal-humrali-l-rijal.


76. al-Shãfi%al-Umm,7: 177.
77. Jãmi(al-Tirmidhi,kitãbal-salãt,bãb mãjãhfi l-ta'min.
78. al-Shãfi%al-Umm,7: 177.
79. Jami(al-Tirmidhi,kitabal-tibb,bãb mãjãyafi-manqatala nafsahubi-summ aw ghayrihi.
80. SahlhMuslim,muqaddima,introduction.
8 1. AbuDawud,forexample,notedthat(althoughhis teacherIbnHanbalandhisteacheral-Shafi cibeforehim
had demonstratedtheunreliability
of mursalhadiths)he wouldincludemursalreportsas proofin his Sunanif no
sahlhhadithscouldbe foundon a topic:AbuDawud al-Sijistãni,
"Risãlailã ahlMakkafïwasfSunanihi," in Thalãth
rasãyilfl(ulümmustalahal-hadlth,ed. cAbdal-FattähAbu Ghudda,2nded. (Beirut:Dar al-Bashä'iral-Islämiyya,
1426/2005),33.
82. IbnHajar,Fathal-bãrl,13: 358-59 (la takãdutanzuruahad nazarafl l-ra'yillä wa-flqalbihidaghal. . . .)
Foran earlierpermutation
of thisquote,see al-Khatibal-Baghdãdí,TãrlkhBaghdad,ed. MustafacAbdal-QãdircAtã

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Brown: The Truth
ö/HadithsinEarlySunnism 277

If thesescholarsaccepteda hadlthas trueprovidedtheyknewthatitsurtext authentically


represented theProphet'steachings, whatdid theythinkaboutthehistorical truthof hadlths
thatdid notlive up to thatstandard?How did theseSunnischolars,who declaredthatthe
preservation of theProphet'sauthenticSunnawas paramount, reconcilethiscommitment
withusingnon-sahlhhadlthsas evidence?
First,a juristfromthePartisansof Hadithcould accepta weak hadlthas a historically
accuraterepresentationof theProphet'sSunnaif itwas buttressed substantially bytheprac-
ticeof Muslimscholars.83 Herewe mustremember thatdeclaringa hadith"weak"was pri-
marilyan indictment of itsisnãdandthetransmitters thatconstituted it.84If thetextof the
hadlthwerebolsteredby othermeans, eitherby otherchains of transmission orbypractice,
a flawin its isnãdbecamemoot.
Although thePartisansof Hadithregularly chastisedthosescholarswhomtheydisdained
as Partisansof Reason (ahl al-rayy)foracceptinghadlthswithflawssuch as interrupted
isnãdsor unknowntransmitters if thesehadlthswereseen as representing local practice,85
thePartisansof Hadithwereguiltyof thesamepractice.Ibn Hanbal,forexample,actedon
thehadlth"People arepeersexceptforthechamberlain, thecupper,and thesweeper,"dis-
favoring theseprofessions whenconsidering theirtestimony in courtormarriage. His student
Muhannãb. Yahyã(d. 248/862-63)askedhim,"You act on thisbutyou declareit weak?,"
to whichhis teacherreplied,"We onlydeclareits isnãd weak,butit is actedon (al-'amal
<alayhi)r*6
In suchcases, we cannotdiscernexactlywhatthePartisansof Hadithconceivedof as
beingthedrivingevidencebehindthelegal ruling:thehadlthor practice.In thechapteron
facingtheimamwhenhe is givingthesermonat Fridayprayer,al-Tirmidhï statesthatthere
are no sahlh hadlthsto thiseffect.He adds,however,that"thescholarsamongtheCom-
panionsandthosewhocame afterthemhave actedaccordingto thishadlth - theypreferred
to face theimamwhenhe begins speaking.This is the stanceof Sufyãnal-Thawrï,al-
Shaficï,Ahmadb. Hanbal,and Ishãq b. Rãhawayh."87 In thiscase, al-Tirmidhï appearsto

(Beirut:Dãr al-Kutubal-cIlmiyya, 1417/1997),13: 420 (da(lf al-hadlthkhayrminm'y Abi Hanïfa);Ibn al-Jawzï,


Kitãbal-Mawdü'ät,ed. cAbdal-RahmänMuhammadcUthmän, 3 vols. (Medina:al-Maktabaal-Salafiyya, 1386-88/
1966-68), 1: 34-35; al-Husaynb. Ibrahimal-Jüzaqäni, al-Abãtllwa-l-manãklr wa-1-sihãh
wa-1-mashãhlr, ed. Mu-
hammadHasan Muhammad(Beirut:Dar al-Kutubal-cIlmiyya,1422/2001),76 (attributed to Sharïkal-Nakhacï
[d. 187/803]).
83. Here we findan interesting methodsof Eusebius(d. ca. 340 c.e.) in his
parallelin thehistorical-critical
ecclesiasticalhistory,wherehe considerstheuse by theearlyChristian community of certainwritings,suchas the
dubiousepistlesof JamesandJude,to be evidenceof theiracceptability as legitimate
scripture:Eusebius,TheHis-
toryoftheChurch,tr.G. A. Williamson,ed AndrewLouth(London:Penguin,1989),61.
84. Hadlthscouldalso be dismissedas munkar, butthisreferred
to a lackof corroboration as opposedto a strict
weaknessin theisnãd.As al-Dhahabinotes,if a transmitter was respectedenoughhe couldtransmit an uncorrob-
oratedhadlth,whichwouldbe acceptedas "solitarybutsound"{sahlhgharib).An uncorroborated hadlthnarrated
bya transmitter whodidnotmeetthislevelof confidence wouldbe rejectedas munkar. See al-Dhahabi,Mlzãnal-
i(tidãlflnaqd al-rijãl,ed. cAliMuhammadal-Bijãwi,4 vols. (Beirut:Dãr al-Macrifa, [n.d.],repr.of 1963-64 Cairo
cIsãal-Bãbial-Halabiedition,citationsareto theBeirutedition),3: 140-41; Brown,"How We KnowEarlyHadith
Critics,"174-75.
85. Forexamplesof suchattackson theahl al-ra?y,see SahlhMuslim,muqaddima, bab sihhatihtijãjbi-l-hadlth
al-mu(an(an(anti-mursal); Abu DãwOd,"Risãla ilã ahl Makka,"35; al-Khattãbi, Ma(ãlim al-sunan,1: 3-4; Abu
Bakral-Bayhaqi,Ma'rifatal-sunanwa-1-ãthãr, ed. cAbdal-MuctïAmïnQalcajï,15 vols. (Cairo andAleppo:Dãr al-
Wa% 1412/1991),1: 219-20; Ibn cAbdal-Barr,Kitãbal-Tamhid,1: 4-5; Muhammadb. Tâhiral-Maqdisi,Shurût
al-a^immaal-sitta,ed. MuhammadZãhid al-Kawthari (Cairo: Maktabatal-Qudsi,1357/1938),13; al-Jüzaqäni, al-
Abãtll,74.
86. Ibn al-Farrã5,al-'Udda, 3: 938.
87. Jãmi(al-Tirmidhl, kitãbal-salãt,bãb mãjã'a/1 istiqbãlal-imamidha khataba.

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278 JournaloftheAmericanOrientalSociety129.2 (2009)

be includinga hadïthin thechaptermerelyto embodythepracticeof theearlyMuslim


community in theformof a propheticstatement, despitethefactthatthehadïthhas no re-
liable isnãd.
Second,theflawsthatdisqualifieda hadïthfromthesahïhratingoutlinedabove did not
necessarilyexcludeit frombeinga reliableindicationof theProphet'sSunna as received
bytheearlycommunity, especiallyif othernarrationsof thehadïthsecondedit.The flaws
in an isnãd thatcould disqualifyit froma sahïhratingincluded:(1) an interruption in the
isnãd, in whichcase one could not know who transmittedthe reportat a certain pointand
whatchangesmighthavebeen introduced; a
(2) questionable transmitter in theisnãd,who
could errin accuratelycitinghis sourcesor in thenatureof his isnãdin general;and (3) a
weaktransmitter, whocouldconfusethewordsof a scholarortransmitter withthoseof the
Prophet. None of theseinvolvedtheblatantmisrepresentation of theProphet'sSunna,which
constituted theworstlevel of unreliabilityin a hadïth.
The "weak"hadïthsthatIbnHanbalandotherPartisans of Hadithcouldemployif needed
werenotbelievedto be flagrant forgeries.Theyconstituted an echelonof reportsthatwere
oftenimpugnedbysomecriticsbutupheldas reliablebyothers.88 As thetwogreatHanbalï
analystsIbn al-Jawzi(d. 597/1201)andIbn Taymiyyaargued,theseusable "weak"hadïths
werewhatwouldlaterbe called fair(hasan) reportsafteral-Tirmidhi introduced thatterm
intotechnicalusage.89Al-Khattãbi remarked thatthe"fair"categorysubsumesmostof the
hadïthsused byjurists.90
As al-Tirmidhï notedin hisdefinitionof a hasanhadïth,itis "everyhadïththatis narrated
and does nothave in itsisnãd someonewho is accusedof forgery (kadhib),and thehadïth

88. al-Bayhaqï,DalãHl al-nubuwwa, ed. cAbdal-MuctiQalcajï(Beirut:Dãr al-Kutubal-cIlmiyya, 1405/1985),


1: 37; Ibn al-Jawzi,al-Mawdü'ät,1: 34-35.
89. Ibn al-Jawzïdescribesthesehadïthsas "havingsome slightor probableweakness,theseare thehasan
hadïthsthatare suitableforactingon in law. And Ahmadb. Hanbal putweak hadïthsbeforeindependent legal
reasoning(qiyãs)."Ibn Taymiyya explainsthatscholarsof Ibn Hanbal's generation used twocategoriesforrating
hadïths:sahïhandda(ïf.The da(ïf,however,was of twotypes:weakbutnotso weakthatone couldnotincludeit
as evidencein law (thesearereports thatIbnHanbalcriticizedwithlightphrasessuchas/z7i/ lïn,fïhida(f andwere
equivalentto al-Tirmidhi's hasangrade);andso unreliable thattheycouldbe blatantforgeriesandmustbe setaside:
Ibn al-Jawzi,al-Mawdu(ãt,1: 34-35; IbnTaymiyya, Majmïfatal-fatãwã,18: 23. Therehas beensomedebateover
whether or notal-Tirmidhi was reallythefirstscholarto use thetermhasan as an intermediary termbetweenda'if
andsahïh.ModernMuslimscholarssuchas cAbdal-FattãhAbu Ghudda(d. 1997) andMuhammadcAwwãma point
to usages of thetermby al-Tirmidhi's teacheral-Bukhãriand his teachercAlib. al-Madini(d. 234/849).I thinkit
is debatablewhether theseusagesqualifyas technical, however,and al-Tirmidhi was thefirst
certainly to providea
technicaldefinition fortheterm;see cAbdal-FattãhAbu Ghudda,al-Fawä'id al-mustamadda fï <ulümmustalahal-
hadïth,ed. Mãjid al-Darwish(Beirut:Dãr al-Bashä5ir al-Islämiyya,1426/2005),139-51; cf.cAlïb. al-Madïnï,al-
Hlal, ed. Hassäm MuhammadAbu Qurays(Kuwait:Gharâs,1423/2002),237. Discussionsof whatal-Tirmidhi
meantwhenhe describeda hadïthwithcompoundand sometimesseeminglycontradictory terms,suchas hasan
sahïhor hasan gharïb,have also beenlegion.For a usefulsample,see Ibn KathirandAhmadShäkir,al-Bä(ithal-
hathïth sharhIkhtisãr(ulümal-hadïth(Cairo: MaktabatDãr al-Turãth, 1423/2003),37; al-Suyüti,Tadrïbal-rawï,
1: 126; al-Kawtharï, Maqãlãt, 236; cAbdallãhal-Ghumãri, Afdalmaqulfïmanãqibafdalrasül(Cairo:Maktabatal-
Qãhira,1426/2005),10; Khaldûnal-Ahdab,Asbãb ikhtilãf al-muhaddithïn, 2 vols. (Jedda:Dar Kunüz al-cIlm,
1422/2001),2: 695-96; JamesRobson,"Varietiesof theHasan Tradition," JournalofSemiticStudies6.1 (1961):
47-61. Severalprominent hadithscholars,includingIbnDihya(d. 633/1235),al-Dhahabï,al-Kawtharï, andAhmad
al-Ghumãri (d. 1960) haveconcludedthatal-Tirmidhï was veryliberalin ratinghadïthsas hasan andthatmanyof
thosehe so describedare actuallyunreliable.See Jamalal-Dïn al-Zaylacï,Nasb al-rãya,4 vols. (Cairo: Dãr Ihyã5
al-Turãth al-cArabï,1407/1987), 2: 217-18; al-Dhahabï,Mïzânal-i<tidãl,4: 416; al-Kawtharï,
Maqãlãt,235; Ahmad
b. al-Siddïqal-Ghumäri, al-Mudawïli-Hlalal-Jãmi(al-saghïrwa-sharhayy al-Munawï,6 vols. ([Cairo]: Dãr al-
Kutub,1996), 1: 10.
90. al-Khattabï, Ma'alim al-sunan,1: 6.

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Brown: TheTruth
o/HadïthsinEarlySunnism 279

does notdiffer withmorecorroborated evidence(shãdhdh),and is narratedvia morethan


one chainof transmission (wajh)"91 The flawsthatdisqualifiedsuchhadlthsfroma sahlh
ratingwere minor and could be compensated forbycorroborating narrations, as opposedto
irreparablefailings such as thepresence of a known forgerin the isnãd. Transmitters known
forminorflawsincludedLayth b. Abï Sulaym(d. 143/760-61), Ibn Abï Laylã (d. 148/765-
66), or Ibn Lahïca(d. 174/790),who wereused regularly in thesix canonicalSunnihadith
collectionsdespitehavingbeenimpugnedas transmitters.92 As Abu Däwüd notes,versions
of a hadithin hisSunanmighthavebreaksin theirisnãds,buthe includedthembecausehe
knowsthehadithhas completeisnãdsthrough otherscholars.93
As a result,evenif sucha weakreportcouldnotbe takenon itsown as an authenticated
statement of Muhammadaccordingto theknownsahlhcriteria, itmightstillaccuratelyre-
flectthepracticeof theearly,righteous Muslimcommunity. Since criticsbelievedthatthe
transmitters of thesemildlyweakhadlthswerenotso disingenuous as to intentionally
forge
materialand attribute it to theProphet,theworstcase scenarioforsucha hadithwouldbe
thatthetransmitter hadunwittingly attributed thestatementof a Companionor another early
Muslimto theProphet.This is thecase withIsmâcïlb. Muslimal-Makkï(d. ca. 150/767),
whomistooktheCompanionJundub'swords"The punishment forthesorcereris a blow of
thesword"as a prophetic hadith.94 Buttheopinionsof theCompanionsandthetwofollow-
inggenerations of Muslimswerehighlyesteemedby formative juristssuchas Malik,Abu
Hanïfa,al-Shãfici, and Ibn Hanbal,and theirrulingsinformed thebodies of law thatthese
juristselaborated.Ibn Hanbal's andhis cohorts'willingnessto acceptsucha possibility by
admitting a weak hadith as evidence thus did not involve betraying their vision forthe
sourcesof Islamiclaw.

THE COMPELLING POWER OF THE PROPHET'S NAME!


THE EFFECTIVE TRUTH OF WEAK HADÏTHS
To limitan analysisof theepistemologicalpowerof hadlthsto thequestionof their
authenticityin theeyes of Muslim scholarsis to miss an essentialaspect of theuse of
Whilethestatedcommitment
hadlthsin theearlySunnitradition. of theulamato safeguard
theauthenticityof theSunnaandthehadithcorpusmustcertainly be heeded,we mustalso
examinetheeffective truthof howtheyemployedhadlthswhoseauthenticity theydoubted
or denied.
Here I borrowthenotionof "effective truth"fromMachiavelli'sThe Prince,in which
theFlorentinetheoristcommitshimselfto representingtheideal stateandtheproperduties
of a prince"as theyare in an effectivetruth(yeritàeffettuale),ratherthanas theyare

91. Jarni*
al-Tirmidhl, kitabal-Hlal.I am translating instead
shadhdhin thismanner,as definedby al-Shaficï,
givenby al-Hãkimal-Naysäbüri
of thedefinition (d. 405/1014),becauseal-Tirmidhïwas heavilyinfluencedby al-
Shâficïandal-Hãkim's definitionof shãdhdhas an uncorroborated chainof transmissionwouldbe redundant given
thefollowingclause in al-Tirmidhl'stext:Ibn cAdï,al-Kãmil,1: 124; al-Hãkim,Ma'rifat(ulümal-hadïth,148.
92. Laythb. Abï Sulaymwas used in theSix Books. Ibn Abï Layla was used in thebooks of Abu Dawud,
al-Nasa^ï,and Ibn Mãja. Ibn Lahïcawas used in thebooks of Muslim,Abu Däwüd, al-Tirmidhï,
al-Tirmidhï, and
Tahdhlbal-tahdhlb,
IbnMãja; see Ibn Hajar al-cAsqalanï, ed. MustafacAbdal-QãdircAtä(Beirut:Dãr al-Kutubal-
see al-Dhahabï,al-
cIlmiyya,1415/1994),8: 405-7, 5: 331ff.,9: 260-61. For moreon thislevel of transmitters,
Müqizafl Himmustalahal-hadïth,ed. cAbdal-FattãhAbu Ghudda(Cairo: Dãr al-Salãm,1421/2000),33.
93. Abu Dãwud,"Risäla ilã ahl Makka,"51.
94. Jami al-Tirmidhl, kitabal-hudud,bab majaafï hadd al-sahir;al-Hakim,al-Mustadrakala l-Sahihayn
(Hyderabad:Da'iratal-Macärifal-Nizämiyya, 1334/[1915-16]),4: 360; al-Ghumãrí,al-Mudãwi,3: 395-96.

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280 JournaloftheAmericanOrientalSociety129.2 (2009)

imagined."95 Forexample,a country mayprofessa commitment to freedom orhumanrights,


buttheeffective truthof itspoliciesmaybothwhollybelie thesestancesand provehighly
effectual in advancingthatcountry'snationalinterests. We can applythisnotionof effec-
tivetruth to thehadlthtraditionas a usefulheuristicdevice,sinceitdenotesbothrealityas
it existsdistinctfromrhetoricas well as truthin action- truth thatworks.
In thecase of theeffective truthof hadithsin theSunnitradition, twofactorsunrelated
to historicalreliabilityor authentication
affected theconductof scholars.The firstwas the
overwhelming charismaof materialphrasedin theProphet'swords,andthesecondwas the
paternalistic of theulamain guidingtheMuslimmasses.
role
Ibn Hanbal's policyof heedingweak hadithsoverindependent legal reasoningwas not
due simplyto his prioritization of revealedknowledgeoverhumanjudgment.It stemmed
fromtheintimidating powerof knowledgephrasedin theprophetic idiom.Wordsphrasedin
theformula "The Messengerof God said . . ." carriedfarmorecompelling authoritythanwas
grantedto thembyevaluationsof theirauthenticity.96 Whenan opponenttellsIbn al-Farrä5
thatprudentcaution(hidhr)in derivingGod's law wouldbe to act onlyon reliablelegal
proofs(dalll), Ibn al-Farrã5counters,"If peoplesaythattheMessengerof God said, 'Who-
everdoes such-and-such willbe burnedbyhellfire, or whoeverdoes such-and-such willbe
burnedbyhellfire,' whatwouldbe prudently cautiouswouldbe to acceptthehadlthand act
on whatwas reported."97 To takean illuminating examplefroma periodmuchlaterthan
thatunderstudyhere,thefourteenth-century EgyptianMâlikï scholarIbn al-Hãjj (d. 737/
1336) recountedhow he had ignoreda hadlthwarningagainstcuttingone's fingernails on
Wednesdaybecause it causes leprosy.He was subsequently afflictedby leprosy.Whenthe
Prophetappearedto himin a dream,thescholaraskedhimwhyhe was beingpunished,as
he had analyzedthe hadlthand concludedthatit was not reliable{lam yasihha). The
Prophetreplied,"It sufficesyou to have heardit."The scholarrepentedand was curedby
theProphetin his dream.98
Althoughthe Sunni traditionhas prideditselfon the preservationof the Prophet's
authentic Sunna,its scienceof hadlthcriticism, and "Fendingofflies fromtheMessenger
of God,"thedefaultpositionof Sunnischolarstowardshadlthhas ironicallybeen one of
credulity. In thethird/ninth and fourth/tenth centuries(and beyond),collectionsdevoted
to sahlhor even hasan hadithswerethehistoricalexceptionratherthantherule.The vast
majority of hadlthcollectionsmadeno pretenseof guaranteeing thereliabilityof theircon-
tents,andyettheywereregularly drawnon as sourcesbyjurists.Muslimscholarsholdthat
Ibn Hanbal had claimedabouthis famousMusnad,"I collectedand siftedthisbook from
morethan750,000 [narrations], so whateverhadithsfromtheMessengertheMuslimsdis-

95. Niccolò Machiavelli,//Principe(Rome: Solemo Editrice,2006), 215 (beginning of chapter15).


96. It is also possiblethatit is notthecompellingpowerof theprophetic idiomthathas made attributions to
Muhammadde factocompelling, butratherpeople'sdefaultcredulityin general.ThomasReidnotedman's"natural
credulity,"andHumeobservedthat,due to social pressuresandnecessities, menhave "commonly an inclination
to
truthanda principle of probity":Reid,209-10; Hume,145-46. WilliamJamescontended thatpeoplebelievethings
tobe trueuntiltheyareprovenfalse,suchthat"[a]s a rulewe believeas muchas we can. We wouldbelieveevery-
thingif we onlycould."Jamesrefersto thisphenomenon as "Primitive
Credulity,"borrowing thetermfromJosiah
Royce:WilliamJames,PrinciplesofPsychology, 2 vols. (New York:HenryHoltand Co., 1890), 2: 288-89, 299,
318-19.
97. Ibn al-Farrã5, al-<Udda,3: 873.
98. MuhammadcAbdal-Ra5ufal-Munãwi,Fayd al-qadlrsharkal-Jamical-saghir,ed. AhmadcAbdal-Salam,
6 vols. (Beirut:Dar al-Kutubal-cIlmiyya, 1415/1994),1: 62.

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Brown: The Truth
o/HadithsinEarlySunnism 281

agreeon,letthemreferto it.If theydo notfinditthere,thenitis nota proof(hujja). If they


do, [thenit is]."99
YetIbn Hanbalhimselfidentified unreliablehadïthsin hisMusnad,100 andtheworkcon-
tainsnumerous hadïthsthatgenerations
of Muslimhadithscholarshaveconsidered forgeries.
Theseincludethereport"Ashkalonis one of thetwoqueens,fromwhichGod willresurrect
seventythousandsouls on theDay of Judgment freeof account"and thehadiththatan
animalate partof a crucialearlycopy of theQur'an and lefttherevelationpermanently
101
truncated. Al-Daylamïopenedhis Firdawsal-akhbãrby bemoaninghow thepeople of
histimeno longer"knowauthentic fromunreliablehadïths"andhad becomeobsessedwith
102He then
theforgedhadïthspropagatedby storytellers. packedhis collectionwitha body
of hadïthsso problematic thatal-Suyûtï,
hardlya stringent critic,statedthatanything found
103
onlyin theworkwas de factounreliable.
This dissonancebetweena statedcommitment to authenticityand therampant collection
of unreliablehadïthshas been mitigated by elaboratenotionsof due diligence.Al-Khatib
al-Baghdâdïstatesthatas longas one providedtheisnãdone couldnarrate dubioushadïths,
providedthat one "disassociateoneself fromresponsibility for it {al-barãyamin al-
cuhda)"m We evenfindthisnotionof placingtheburdenof responsibility on theisnãdin
theUsülal-kafïof theImâmïShiciMuhammadb. Yacqübal-Kulaynï(d. 329/939),whocites
cAlïas saying,"If you narratea hadiththenprovidetheisnãd of thepersonwho toldit to
you.For if thehadithis true,thenthecreditis yours,andif itis a lie thentheburdenis on
105
yoursource."

99. IbnNuqta,al-Taqyïdli-ma(rifat ruwatal-sunanwa-l-masanld, 161; Shamsal-Dïnal-Dhahabï,Siyaraclam


al-nubalã' ed. ShucaybArnä'ütet al, 3rded. (Beirut:Mu'assasatal-Risãla,1412-1419/1992-1998),11: 329. Ibn
Hajaral-cAsqalãniclaimedthatthereareno clearlyforgedhadïthsin Ibn Hanbal's Musnadand thatanyweaknar-
rationswereincludedonlytobolsterother,authentic versionsof thehadithinquestion:IbnHajar,Ta(jïlal-manfa'a
bi-zawa'idrijãlal-a'immaal-(ashara(Hyderabad:Da'iratal-Macãrif al-Nizämiyya, 1324/1906), 6. ShãhWalï Allah
(d. 1762) said thateverythingin theMusnadhas "a basis (asl)" withtheProphet,and al-Suyûtïsaid thatall the
book'shadïthsareadmissible(maqbül)in one realmof scholarly discourseoranother:ShãhWalï Allahal-Dihlawï,
al-Insãffíbayãn asbãb al-ikhtilãf, ed. cAbdal-FattãhAbu Ghudda(Beirut:Dãr al-Nara5is,1403/1983),49; al-
Suyûtï,Jamcal-jawãmi(al-ma'rüfbi-l-Jãmi(al-kabïr,29 vols. ([Cairo]: Majmacal-Buhüthal-Islãmiyya,1390/
1970), 1: 3-4; cAbdal-Wahhãbal-Shacrãni, Kashfal-ghumma(anjamf al-umma(Cairo: Maktabatal-Kãstiliyya,
1281/[1864]),1: 12.
100. Ibn Hanbalis reported as sayingthatnoneof thetwenty-eight narrations of thefamoushadithin which
theProphettellscAmmãr b. Yãsirthathe willbe killedbytherebelliousparty(al-fi'aal-bãghiya),severalof which
he includesin hisMusnad,is correct;see Muwaffaqal-DïnIbnQudãma,al-Muntakhab minal-cilalli-1-Khallãl,
ed.
AbuMucãdhTãriqb. cAwadAllãh (Riyadh:Dãr al-Rãya,1419/1997),222.
101. Forthefirst see MusnadAhmad,3: 225; Ibnal-Jawzï,
report, al-MawdWãt, 2: 35; Ibnal-Qayyim, al-Manãr
al-muniffi l-sahihwa-l da% ed. cAbdal-FattähAbu Ghudda,11thed. (Beirut:Maktabal-Matbucãt al-Islãmiyya,
1325/2004),117; cAlïb. MuhammadIbn cArrãq, Tanzïhal-sharfaal-marßcacanal-akhbãral-shani(aal-mawdü'a
(Cairo:Maktabatal-Qãhira,[1964]),2: 49; Mulla CAHQãri,al-Asrãral-marfü(a, 246; al-Shawkanï, al-FawãHdal-
majmïfafïal-ahãdithal-mawdü(a,ed. cAbdal-Rahmänb. Yahyãal-Mucallimï, 2nded. (Beirut:al-Maktabal-Islamï,
1392/1972-73),429-30. For the second,see MusnadIbn Hanbal, 6: 269; al-Jûzaqanï,al-Abãtil,274. See also
HosseinModarressi, "EarlyDebatesontheIntegrity of theQur5ãn:A BriefSurvey," StudiaIslâmica11 (1993): 5-39.
102. al-Daylamï,Firdawsal-akhbãr,1: 26.
103. al-Suyûtï,Jam(al-jawãmi(,1: 3-4.
104. al-Khatïbal-Baghdâdï,al-Jãmi*li-ikhtilãf,2: 139-40. This notionis foundearlierin Ibrahimb. Yacq0b
al-JOzajãni,Ahwãlal-rijãl,ed. Subhïal-Badrîal-Samarra'ï(Beirut:Mu'assasatal-Risäla,1405/1985),210.
105. Muhammadb. Yacqubal-Kulaynï,Usul al-kafï,ed. MuhammadJacfarShams al-Dïn (Beirut:Dar al-
Tacäruf,1419/1998),1: 104. cAbdal-Karïmal-Samcânï(d. 562/1166)liststhisreportas a prophetichadïth;Ibn
Abu 1-HasancAbdal-Karïmal-Samcânï,Adab al-imlã*wa-l-istimlãy
Hajarcalls it a forgery: (Beirut:Dãr al-Kutub
al-cIlmiyya,1401/1981),5; Ibn Hajar al-cAsqalãni,Lisãn al-mizãn,1 vols. (Beirut:Dar al-Fikr,[n.d.]),6: 22.

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282 JournaloftheAmericanOrientalSociety129.2 (2009)

Respondingto criticismsthatcompilersof hugeanduncritical musnadslikeal-Tabarânï


(d. 360/971)had included patentforgeries in the hadlthcollections,pillarsof late Sunni
hadlthscholarshipsuchas Zayn al-Dïn al-cIrãqi(d. 806/1404)and Ibn Hajar al-cAsqalânï
(d. 852/1449)explainthatthemastercollectorswho workedafterthe800s ce. feltthat"if
theyprovidedthehadlthwithitsisnãdtheybelievedtheyhadrelievedthemselves fromthe
its
[for status].
responsibility . . ."106Criticslikeal-Dhahabï (d. 748/1348) notedthatthiswas
a particularly
glaringpractice in the works of al-Khatïbal-Baghdâdï and Ibn Manda (d. 395/
1004-5), whom al-Dhahabï notes filledtheirvarious writingswith countlessforgedhadiths
withoutalertingthereaderto theirfalsity. 107
Not all Muslimscholarsapprovedof thispractice.Ibn al-Jawzïrails againstal-Khatïb
al-Baghdâdïforwhathe Sees as his use of unreliablehadithsto indulgean excessivechau-
vinismforhis Shâficïschoolof law. Ibn al-Jawzïfumes:
Thereis in al-Khatïb'
s using[weakhadiths] as evidenceandremaining silentas to thecriti-
cismsofthemanimpudence towardsthescholars oftransmission,
evident partisan chauvinism
anda dearth
(casabiyya), - forheknowsthatthehadlth
of piety is false.. . . Has henotheard
theauthentichadlthfrom theMessenger of God,'Whoever narrates
from mea hadlth thathe
knowsis false,thenheis amongtheliars'?Is henotlikesomeone whopayswitha counterfeit
coinandconcealsthat?Forindeedmostpeoplecannot a forgery
distinguish from anauthentic
so ifa master
[hadlth], hadlth scholar
(muhaddith a hadlth,
hãfiz)presents itdoesnotoccurto
people'sheartsbutthathehasuseditas proofbecauseitis authentic.108
The secondtechniqueforreconcilinga commitment to authenticity
withthecitationof
inauthenticor dubioushadithsinvolvedthephrasingof thatcitation.The earliestknown
explicitdiscussionof thispracticecomesfromtheMuctazilite Shâficïscholaral-Qâdï cAbd
al-Jabbãr(d. 415/1024),who statedthatif one wantsto citea hadlththatis unreliableone
shouldnotsay "theProphetsaid . . ." butrather"ithas been narrated
fromtheProphet."109
As Ibn al-Salãhexplainedin his Introductionto thehadlthsciences,if a scholarwishesto
quotetheProphetbutthehadlthis notreliable,thenthephrase"theProphetsaid . . ." sug-
gestshis certaintythatMuhammadhad indeed spokenthosewords.Rather,the scholar
shouldintroducethehadlthwithmoreambiguousphrasessuch as "it has been narrated
fromtheProphet.. . ." Ibn al-Salãh,and thearrayof Sunnischolarswho upheldthisposi-
tion,explainthat"thisis therulingfor[citinghadiths]aboutwhose reliability or unreli-
abilityone has some doubt."110

106. Zayn al-Dïn cAbdal-Rahlmal-cIraqï,al-Tabsirawa-l-tadhkira, 3 vols, in 2 (Beirut:Dar al-Kutubal-


cIlmiyya, of the1353/[1935]Fez edition,ed. Muhammadb. al-Husaynal-cIraqïal-Husaynï),1: 272;
[n.d.]),reprint
al-cIrãqiimplicitly condonesthispracticeas well,see ibid.,1: 290; Ibn Hajar,Lisaital-mïzân,3: 75.
107. al-Dhahabï, Mizãn al-i(tidãl, 1: 111; cf. al-Zarkashï, al-Tadhkirafi l-ahadïth al-mushtahira, ed. Mustafa
cAbdal-QãdircAtã(Beirut:Dar al-Kutubal-cIlmiyya, 1406/1986),163.Al-Khatïbal-Baghdâdïdefendstherecording
of hadithsfromunreliablesourcesforthepurposeof elucidating theirerrors,buthe does notalwaysdo so in the
Tãrikh(1: 67). Forexamplesof hadithsthatMuslimscholarsconsideredforgedbutthatal-Khatïbal-Baghdâdïnar-
ratedwithoutanywarning, see his TãrikhBaghdad,2: 358; 10: 29; 11: 213, 251.
108. Ibn al-Jawzï,al-Tahqïqfïahãdithal-khilãf, ed. MascadcAbdal-Hamïdal-Sàcdanïand MuhammadFãris,
2 vols. (Beirut:Dãr al-Kutubal-cIlmiyya, 1994), 1: 464; cf.idem,al-Muntazam,16: 133; cf.Abu ShãmacAbdal-
Rahmãnal-Maqdisï,al-BãHth(alã inkãral-bida( wa-l-hawãdith, ed. cUthmãn AhmadcAnbar(Cairo: Dãr al-Hudã,
1978),75.
109. al-QãdicAbdal-Jabbãr, Fadl al-iHizãl,ed. FuDãdSayyid(Tunis:al-Däral-Tunisiyya, 1393/1974),186.
110. Ibn al-Salah,Muqaddima,287; Ibn Kathïr,al-BãHthal-hathith, 75; al-cIrãqi,al-Tabsirawa-l-tadhkira,
1: 290; Shamsal-Dïnal-Sakhâwï,Fathal-mughith, ed. cAlïHusayncAlï,5 vols. (Cairo: Maktabatal-Sunna,1424/
2003), 1: 349; al-Suyûtï,Tadrïbal-rawï,1: 229; MuhammadMahfQzal-Turmusï (d. ca. 1911),Manhaj dhawïal-
nazar sharhmanzümat Himal-athar(Cairo: MatbacatMustafaal-Babïal-Halabï,1407/1985),117.

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Brown: TheTruth HadïthsinEarlySunnism
6>/ 283

Ibn al-Jawzi'sconcernoverhow trusting themassesare of a scholar'susage of hadïths


andthepedagogicalimplications of ambiguousphrasing alertus to theseconddriving factor
in theuse of unreliable hadïthsby early Sunni scholars:exhorting the masses to pietyand
in
properreligion.The roleof theulama controlling whatreligiousinformation reachedthe
massesfortheirownbenefit was well establishedby thethird/ninth century.111As al-Shaficï
described, thescholarsweretheelectresponsible forguidingthemasses.Al-Bukhari's Sahlh
features a well-known quoteof cAlïordering thelearnedto "narrate to thepeoplewhatthey
can acceptandleave outwhattheywouldreject,fordo youwishthatGod and His Prophet
be disbelieved?"112
Not onlywerescholarsable to controlwhatinformation reachedthemasses,theycould
also employmaterialof exceedinglydubiousreliabilityin theirexhortatory preaching.
Partisanof Hadithscholarsacceptedhasan-gradehadïthsin law because theirquestion-
able chainsof transmission weremitigated by corroborating narrations or practice.These
scholarsdroppedtheirauthenticity requirements acrosstheboard,however,fortopicssuch
as manners(adab, raqa'iq) or exhortatory (targhïb)and dissuasive(tarhïb)homiletics.113
In thesefields,criticsdidnotfeela needto searchforcorroboration or strongisnãds.In the
chapterof al-Tirmidhï's Jãmi(thatdeals withinheritance law, the authornotesthatonly
7% of thehadïthshe listshave limitedcorroboration (gharïb).In his chapteron manners
andproperbehavior(birrwa-sila),al-Tirmidhï notesthat35% of his hadïthshave limited
corroboration.
Al-Hãkimal-Naysäbüri quotestheformative hadithcriticcAbdal-Rahmãnb. Mahdï(d.
198/814)as stating:
If reports
arerelated
tousfrom theProphet concerning
rulingsandwhatis licitandprohibited,
weareseverewiththeisnãdsandwecriticize Butifwearetoldreports
thetransmitters. dealing
of actions(fada'ilal-a'mal),their
withthevirtues rewards
andpunishments [intheafterlife],
orpiousinvocations,
things
permissible we arelaxwiththeisnãds.114
cAbdal-Rahmãnb. Mahdï's famousstudentIbn Hanbal is quotedas advocatingthesame
policy.115Partisanof Hadithscholarsdid notas a policyadvocateusinghadïthstheyknew
wereforgedforsuch purposesor espouse a relianceon provenliars. As Ibn Abï Hãtim
explains,thelacklustermaterialused forinstilling"goodlymanners"(al-ãdãb al-jamïla,
raqa'iq) and "exhortatorypreaching"(mawa'iz,targhïbwa-tarhïb)stillhad to come from
transmitterswhowere"sincere"(sadüq), althoughtheymighterrfrequently. Of course,no
suchmaterialcouldbe used in law.116

111. See Jonathan Brown,"The Last Days of al-GhazzaliandtheTripartite Divisionof theSufiWorld,"Muslim


World96.1 (2006): 97ff.
112. Haddithual-nasbi-maycfrifün wa-da(uma yunkirun, a-tuhibbun an yukdhabaAllahwa-rasuluhu: Sahlh
al-Bukhãrl, kitãbal-cilm,bãb mankhassabi-l-Hlm qawmandünqawmkarãhaf"an lã yafhamü;al-Dhahabï,Tadh-
kiratal-huffãz,ed. ZakariyyãcUmayrãt, 4 vols,in 2 (Beirut:Dar al-Kutubal-cIlmiyya, 1419/1998),1: 15. Cf.Sahlh
Muslim,muqaddima,bãbfi l-tahdhir minal-kadhib(alä rasülAllah.
113. See J.Robson,"Hadith:Criticism of Hadith,"El2, 3.
114. al-Häkimal-Naysäbüri, al-Mustadrak, 1: 490-91 (kitãbal-du(ãywa-l-takblr); al-Khatibal-Baghdãdi,al-
Jämi(,2: 134. Sufyänal-Thawriis attributed witha similarstatement in Ibn cAdi,al-Kãmil,1: 160.
115. al-Khatibal-Baghdãdi, al-Kifãya,1: 399. The relatively forthisquotefromIbnHanbalare
lateattestations
corroborated byhistreatment of certaintransmitters in hisHlalandrijãlworks.Forexample,IbnHanbalsaid of al-
Nadrb. IsmãcilAbu 1-Mughira al-Bajali that"we've written [hadlths]fromhim,buthe is notstrong.His hadlths
are considered, butonlyin raqa*iq' Ibn Hanbal,al-(Ilal wa-ma'rifat al-rijãl,126; al-Khatibal-Baghdãdi,Tãrlkh
Baghdad,13: 436.
116. Ibn Abi Hãtim,al-Taqdima,1: 6; idem,al-Jarhwa-l-ta(dll,2: 30-31.

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284 JournaloftheAmericanOrientalSociety129.2 (2009)

The earlySunnis'use of unreliablehadlthsforsuchmatters seemedreasonabletothem -


thesereports didnotdirectly
affect
thecoredisciplinesof law ordogmaandreinforced values
theybelievedwere alreadyestablishedby theQur^anand reliablehadlths.Nonetheless,
admitting unreliablematerialwas a slipperyslope to usingreportsone knewwereforged.
As a result,tensionoverprioritizingpedagogicalutilityoverauthenticity inevitablyarose.
The earlyHanbalïsynthesist AbuBakral-Khallãl(d. 311/923)recordedthatHanbalb. Ishãq
(d. 273/884)askedhis uncle,Ibn Hanbal,aboutthestorytellers (al-qussãs) in themosques
of Baghdad.Ibn Hanbalreplied:
Thestorytellers
aretheoneswhowouldtalkaboutHeavenandHell,making peoplefearful
of
[Hell].Theyhavegoodintentions inhadïths.
andaretruthful Butas forthosewhostarted
forging
reports thatI cannot
andhadlths, permit.
AndAbucAbdallãh [IbnHanbal]added:Butsupposethattheignorant peopleorthosewho
donotknowbetter might hearthesestorytellers,
perhaps
theymight benefit
from whattheyhear
ordesistfromsomething [bad]theyweredoing?
Itwasas ifAbucAbdallãh [IbnHanbal]didnotwanttopreventthemfrom that.IbnHanbal
added:Perhapstheycoulduse authentic
hadlths(rubbamãjä'ü bi-ahãdlthsihãh).111
Ibn Hanbalis represented as fallingdeeperintovacillationin anotherreportrecordedbyal-
Khallãl.He narratesthatIbn Hanbalpassed by a mosquewherea storyteller was invoking
forgedreportsto cursehereticalMuslimsand "preachtheSunna."Ibn Hanbal could only
remark, "How usefulthey[thesepreachers]areto themasses,evenif themassof whatthey
narrateis untrue."118
Here we mustconsiderhow the masses of Muslimswho attendedFridaysermonsor
preachingsessions receivedthe hadlthsthatscholarsor preacherscited. Unfortunately,
hereourdatacomefromtheperiodsubsequentto theformative third/ninth century,and,of
course,we have onlytheulama's perspective. Al-Khatïbal-Baghdâdï,himselfa preacher,
feltthatthemasseswouldacceptanything. He explainsthat"thecause forthestorytellers
(qussãs) tellingfantastic talesis theirawarenessof theshortcomings and ignoranceof the
masses.. . ."119Ibn al-Jawzïbemoanedhow ignorantscholarsgivingFridaysermonsor
Sufipreacherswouldwreakhavocwiththeproperbeliefsof theimpressionable population
of Baghdad,"thoseignorant masseswho are effectively cattle(fl Hdãdal-bahãyim)rThe
"
people who hearthesepreachersaccepttheirwordsblindly,saying 'The scholarso-and-
so said . . . ,' forthescholarin theeyes of themassesis whoeverascendsthepulpit."120
Even whenpreachersreliedon well-knowncollectionsof hadlths,mostsuch books
offered no assuranceof authenticity. The hadlthcollectionon whichal-Daylamïhad based
his notoriousFirdawsal-akhbãr,theequallyunreliableShihãbal-akhbãrof theEgyptian
Muhammadb. Salama al-Qudãci(d. 454/1062),was widelytransmitted in Iranin theMiddle
Period.Althoughit wouldbe centuriesbeforea commentary was written on theSahlhayn
in theaccessiblelanguageof Persian,a commentary in thecolloquialwas composedforthe
Shihãbal-akhbãrwithindecades of its author'sdeath.121

117. al-Khatïbal-Baghdâdï,TãrikhBaghdad,9: 456; Ibn al-Jawzï,Kitãb al-Qussãs wa-l-mudhakkirln, ed.


MerlinSwartz(Beirut:Dar El-Machreq,1986), 19. In Swartz'seditedtext,he readsHanbalb. Ishäq's conclusion
as "IbnHanbaldid notwantthemto be stopped"(kãna Abu 'Abdallahkarihaan yumna'ü).
1lö. Ma anjarahumli-l-ammawa-ιηkana Kammat ma yuhaddithun bihikadhitr": Abu Tahb al-Makkï,Qui
al-qulüb,2 vols,in 1 (Cairo: Matbacatal-Anwãral-Muhammadiyya, [n.d.]),1: 151.
119. al-Khatïbal-Baghdâdï,al-Jâmi' 2: 199.
120. Ibn al-Jawzï,Kitãbal-Qussãs, 109.
121. cAbdal-Karîmb. Muhammadal-Rãfi%al-TadwïnfïakhbãrQazwïn,ed. cAzïzAllãh al-cUtãridi, 4 vols.
(Beirut:Dar al-Kutubal-cIlmiyya, 1987), 4: 178. For al-Suyûtï'sdismissalof thereliabilityof theMusnad al-
Shihãb,see hisJam*al-jawãmi* ', 1: 3-4.

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Brown: TheTruth
0/Hadithsin EarlySunnism 285

CONCLUSION

Lookingback at theearlySunnitradition, I have identified threepointson whichmis-


understandings can lead us astray.First,we can mistakenly conflatetheepistemological
certainty describedbySunnilegaltheorists (and Post-Aristotelian philosophers of theStoic
andskepticalAcademictraditions beforethem)withthehistoricalandoperativesuretythat
passes forcertainty in everydaylifeand work.For thePartisansof Hadithin thesecond/
eighthandthird/ninth centuries, thisoperative certainty was theonlycertainty theyknew,and
reliableãhãd hadithswerea dependablemeansof attaining it.
Partisanof Hadithscholarssuchas al-Shãficidid subscribeto a gradatedepistemology
forhadiths,butthiswas notan anticipation of theãhãd/tawãtur-zann/(ilm distinction of
laterlegaltheorists. Farfromindicating anydoubtaboutthereliability of ãhãd hadïths,any
admissionof higherlevels of historicalcertainty beyondthatestablishedby reliableãhãd
hadïthswas indulgedin forpolemicalpurposes.Furthermore, thevariousepistemological
levels of hadïthsconcernedtheirintendedaudiencesor degreesof interpretive ambiguity
morethantheirhistoricalreliability.
Second,we can conceiveof certainty abouteventsin thepastin a binarymanner - either
someonesaida statement orhe didnot- when,eveninthemodernperiod,thewriting of oral
history has been an activitygenerally unable to achieve more than an approximate record
of humanwords.Even thisact of recordinghas ofteninvolveda creativecomponentthat
further distancesus fromknowingtheliteraltruthof thepast.This understanding of his-
toricalwriting explains the admission of al-Shâficï and Ibn Hanbal that,although hadith
a
might be an entirelyauthentic representation of the Prophet'steachings, couldnotswear
one
thathe had actuallysaid thosewords.
It also explainshow a scholarlycommunity professedly obsessedwiththeauthenticity of
reports attributedto Muhammad allowed acting on hadiths that did notlive up to therequire-
mentsof soundness(sihha). The weak isnãds of thehadiths(whichwould laterbe sub-
sumedunderthe"fair"[hasan] class) to whichIbn Hanbal or Abu Däwüd resortedif they
could findno soundhadiths,werecompensatedforby corroborating isnãds or buttressed
by communal practice.
Finally,we mayforget thattheSunnicultof authenticity didnottrumptheeffective truth
of statements phrased as the Prophet's words. The charisma and pedagogical value of the
prophetic idiomweretoo powerful and too useful to circumscribe completely with require-
mentsforhistoricalreliability. In matters thattheyconsideredtangential to thepurviewof
Islamiclaw,suchas manners, etiquette,andhomiletics, Partisanof HadithscholarslikeIbn
Hanbaleffectively had no compunction aboutsettingaside therequirements forhadithau-
thenticity andevenacceptedknownforgeries. Whether through placingtheresponsibility for
suchunreliablereports orforgeries on a chainof transmitters oreuphemizing themthrough
ambiguouscitation,Sunni scholarsmade roomfordubioushadïthsin theirpedagogical
activities.
Thereis a temptation to believethatSunnischolarsall understood thatthevastmajority
of hadiths, thosewithlimitedtransmission (ãhãd), wereonlyprobablyaccuratereports of the
Prophet'swordsand deeds.AlthoughthiswouldacquitSunnischolarsof Westernaccusa-
tionsof historicalgullibility, itwouldleave us withtheungainlyand inaccurateimageof a
scholarly community fervently employing hadïthsin legal debates,theologicaltreatises, and
preachingall thewhileharboring constantdoubtabouttheirauthenticity. The categoryof
epistemological certainty, whichSunnilegal theorists had embracedwhentheyadoptedthe
tradition of Near Easternrationalism, was theultimatelevel of knowledge.But even for
philosophers it was nottheepistemological currency in whichdailyclaimsto truthor cer-
taintyabouthistoricaleventswereconducted.

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