by Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi | Translated and Abridged, with slight modifications, by Suha Abu Shakra
Many preachers, reformers, and scholars frequently use ahadith (pl. of hadith) known even to novice students of knowledge as being weak. When critiqued, such people claim that weak hadith can be referred to when encouraging virtuous deeds, deterring people from doing wrong and encouraging them to do what is right. What is the legal opinion on this?
The practice of citing weak ahadith to encourage virtuous deeds (fadā`il al-a`māl) has become so widespread that some people assume that this practice is agreed upon by hadith scholars. This notion is undoubtedly flawed, however, because a large number of hadith researchers affirmed that weak hadith should not be used to promote virtuous deeds nor any other category of good deeds.
It must also be noted that those who do allow for the use of weak hadith in fadā`il al-a`māl place important conditions on their use so they are not held at the same status as authentic narrations. Also, scholars who have a deep-rooted understanding of Islamic law (Sharī`ah) should never need to resort to using weak ahadith because the wealth of authentic ahadith is more than sufficient.
Regarding the opinion that permits the use of weak hadith, Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi makes the following points:
First: This opinion is not agreed upon amongst hadith scholars, as there are a number of well-respected scholars who reject the application of weak hadith in fadā`il al-a`māl or any other field of Islamic practice. These include Yahya Ibn Mu`īn, and a number of other scholars; it appears to also be the opinion of Imam Al-Bukhari, who employed very strict criteria for accepting hadith. Imam Muslim, who held the same opinion, actually condemned narrators of weak and rejected ahadith in the introduction to his Sahih, and censured them for abandoning authentic narrations. This is also the opinion that al-Qādi Abu Bakr Ibn Al-`Arabi, and Abu-Shama (the former heads of the Maliki and Shafi’i juristic schools of thought), leaned towards; it was also the opinion of Ibn Hazm, and others.
Second: If the meaning sought to be conveyed can be extracted from authentic or acceptable ahadith, then it is pointless to cite weak ahadith. Allah has sufficed us with what is superior so we don’t need that which is deficient; and rarely do we find a religious, moral, or instructional meaning that is not addressed by authentic or acceptable narrations. Yet, some people find it easier to use weak hadith unreservedly because they lack the drive to search for and review authentic narrations, and because of their limited scope of knowledge.
Third: Weak hadith should not be attributed to the Prophet ﷺ using definitive terms. The author of Al-Taqrīb said in his explanation: “If you narrate a weak hadith without the chain of transmitters, don’t say, ‘The Prophet ﷺ said such and such,’ or use similar definitive language, but rather, [say] that such and such was narrated about him, or that such and such reached us about him… or similar passive forms of narration…” Thus, the practice of many preachers and orators who begin a weak hadith by saying, “The Prophet said,” is unacceptable and rejected.
Fourth: Muslim scholars who permitted the use of weak hadith to promote good and warn against evil did not leave the door wide open to allow citing every weak hadith. Rather, they placed three conditions that regulate the use of weak hadith:
- That the hadith not be very weak.
- That the hadith be within the scope of an authentic legal principle that is applied and accepted in either the Qur’an or Sunnah.
- That its weakness, not authenticity, be realized when applying it.
Thus, none of the Muslim scholars permitted the narration of weak ahadith indiscriminately, but rather, stipulated those three conditions. We also cannot overlook the most important condition of all; the hadith should address fadā`il al-a`māl and not lead to a legal ruling.
In my opinion, there should be two more conditions added to the list above:
- That it not include exaggeration or embellishment such that it defies logic, Islamic law or rules of the Arabic language. Hadith scholars have stated clearly that a weak hadith can be recognized through clues in the narrators or the narration.
- That it not contradict another piece of legal evidence that is stronger than it.
Allah knows best.