On Hadith Authentication

How do hadith scholars grade ahadith? Do they all share the same criteria or are there different views? Have they restricted their efforts to scrutiny of the chain of narration (isnad), or did they take the content (matn) into consideration too? What should I do if I am troubled by the content of a particular hadith?


There is general agreement amongst hadith scholars on the criteria for hadith authentication. Some criteria relate to the transmission (isnad), and others to the content (matn).

Transmission Criteria

There are five principal conditions which must be satisfied for the isnad. Lack of any of these conditions generally implies weakness in the narration. (However, weakness does not necessarily imply uselessness or total rejection of the narration. There are different grades of weak narration. As in a court of law, even a dubious witness’ testimony, though not totally credible, might still cast some light on matters.) Read more

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Pluralism and Tolerance

“Why should there be more than one religion? Are all religions true? Are some truer than others? Can religion aspire to function as a positive force in the world?”[1] Thus does a leading contemporary academic identify some of the major questions posed by human curiosity. The relationship between religions is something that has long drawn the attention of theologians, scholars and historians, and in today’s global context of increased mutual awareness of and interaction between religions, the subject is of still greater practical relevance. Without detracting from this, I will assert that it behooves every individual to ponder upon such questions in the context of their own spiritual quest, and that indeed, that is ultimately the more important dimension of such enquiry.

Humility is an essential attitude in anyone claiming to be religious; so too in the seeker, and even, I proffer, in the skeptic. We must be humble before God (or at least before truth and reality, for one who has not yet acknowledged God), realizing our frailty, our own limitations of knowledge, our shortcomings and the uncertainty of our final state. We must also exhibit humility toward our fellow human beings, and not be so presumptuous as to regard ourselves as absolute judges (let alone assume the roles of judge, jury and executioner) over other individuals. Read more

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Death and the Grave

“And the agony of death comes with the Truth;  that is what you used to flee from!”  [Qur’an, 50:19]

Death is the separation of the soul from the body, and we all know that it is inevitable.  It is the event which marks our transition from this world into the Hereafter.  Whenever `Uthman (may Allah be well pleased with him) used to stand over a grave, he used to weep until his beard became soaked.  Someone said to him, “Heaven and Hell are mentioned, and you do not weep, and [yet] the grave is mentioned, and you weep, [how is this] ?”  He said, “I heard the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) say : The grave is the first stage of the Hereafter.  So, if he is saved from it, that which is after it will be easier, whereas if he is not saved from it, then that which is after it will be more severe.”  (Narrated by Tirmidhi)

Belief in the events following death is an integral part of the Islamic doctrine.  Although the existence of the Hereafter is rationally admissible, the exact details of it can only be acquired through communication from the Creator, for these events fall in the realm of the Unseen. Read more

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Jesus' Second Coming





Qur’anic Evidence


Verification of the Descent of Jesus, son of Mary (peace be upon them both)

  1. Evidence From The Qur’an

  1. Affirming Verses
    1. And he [Jesus] shall speak to mankind in the cradle and in middle age, and [he shall be] among the righteous.” Q[3:46]
    2. The wording here is significant:

      • Speaking in middle-age is not usually extraordinary in itself, unlike speaking in the cradle which is a miracle. The fact that the verse makes specific mention of his speaking in middle age (and that it is also mentioned in Q[5:110] as a favor to be recalled on the Day of Judgment) suggests that it carries some significance. Certainly, for someone to disappear from this world, remain for thousands of years in a realm wherein he does not age, and then return to continue his life and subsequently speak in middle age, is something warranting special mention.
      • He was sent to the Children of Israel (Q[3:49]), but this verse says he will speak to mankind, without further specification.
      • The verse says he will speak to them in middle age. Yet, he was only 33 or 34 years old when he was lifted up to the heavens [Reported by Ibn Katheer from Hasan al-Basri, and Sa`id ibn al-Musayyib; Ibn Abi al-Dunya has attributed this directly to the Prophet. The same age is stated by Zayd ibn Aslam, Ibn Zayd and others of the Tabi`in, and was concluded to be the strongest view by the prominent exegetes al-Tabari and Ibn Kathir], and that is not yet middle-aged (kahl).

      These points, then, are an indication of the fact that Jesus has not died, and will return to this earth toward the end of the world, thereby speaking to mankind at large in his old age. The same interpretation has been reported by the exegete Ibn Jarir al-Tabari from Ibn Zayd

    3. And there is not any of the People of the Book except that he must believe in him before his death, on the Day of Resurrection he shall be a witness over them.” Q[4:159]
    4. The following are reasons for taking “his death” to refer to Jesus’ death, rather than the death of each individual of the People of the Book:

      • Context of the verse; the preceding verses are talking about Allah’s foiling of the attempt to kill Jesus (peace be upon him).
      • Taking the first pronoun (‘him’) to refer to Jesus, but the second one (‘his’) to refer to a person of the book implies ‘dispersal of pronouns’ (tashtit al-dama‘ir), which is undesirable in the Arabic language. Taking both pronouns as referring to Jesus (peace be upon him) is, in contrast, the most natural interpretation, as stated by Abu Hayyan, the linguist, in his Tafsir al-Bahr al-Muhit.
      • The verse has been explained in this way by 2 prominent Companions: Ibn `Abbas, the renowned exegete [as narrated by al-Hakim, Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, `Abd ibn Humayd, Ibn Abi Hatim, al-Faryabi and others], and Abu Hurayrah [Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Ibn Abi Shaybah, Ibn Mardawayh, Ibn Sa`d], as well as by a number of the Tabi`in : Qatadah, Ibn Zayd, Abu Malik, Hasan al-Basri [as narrated by al-Tabari].
      • The validity of this interpretation is confirmed in mutawatir ahadith (discussed further in Section B).
    5. And surely he (Jesus) is a sign of the Hour, so do not doubt concerning it.“Q[43:61]
    • Explained thus in a hadith attributed to the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), via Ibn `Abbas, as in Sahih ibn Hibban. The same interpretation is given by numerous Sahabah and Tabi`in, including Ibn `Abbas, Abu Malik, Hasan al-Basri, Mujahid, Qatadah, Suddi, Dahhak and Ibn Zayd, as recorded by al-Tabari. This was also regarded as the most natural explanation by the exegete and linguist Abu Hayyan, and was the interpretation selected by virtually every other exegete of renown, such as al-Zamakhshari, al-Razi, al-Baghawi, al-Jalal al-Muhalli, Ibn Katheer, and al-Alusi.
    • Indicated by context of the verse; the preceding verses talk about Jesus (peace be upon him).
    • Anything else gives for an awkward structure or forced interpretation.

II. Dispellation of Confusions

  1. When Allah said, ‘O Jesus! I shall mutawaffika (gather you up / cause you to die), and raise you up to Me, and purify you from those who disbelieve, . . .” Q[3:55]
  2. Bukhari reported that Ibn `Abbas said, “mutawaffika – cause you to die.”

    • Bukhari reported this without an isnad, and it is not sahih. Bukhari’s mu`allaqat (‘hanging’ reports cited without an isnad) were not subjected to his criteria of the highest authenticity. Hafiz Ibn Hajar painstakingly traced the chains of narration of the mu`allaqat in a 5 volume work Taghliq al-Ta`liq. Some of the mu`allaqat are authentic, others are not, and the one in question is not. It is narrated by Ibn Abi Hatim through his isnad: Mu`awiyah [ibn Salih], from `Ali ibn Abi Talhah, from Ibn `Abbas. `Ali ibn Abi Talhah al-Hashimi (d. 143 H) did not meet Ibn `Abbas or any others of the Sahabah, aside from the fact that his reliability is disputed.
    • In fact, “tawaffa” (the verb of “mutawaffika”) is also used in the Qur’an with the meaning of “to cause to sleep,” [Q[6:60] and Q[39:42]). This is the meaning which has been selected by the majority of exegetes, as cited by Hafiz Ibn Kathir [Mukhtasar Tafsir Ibn Kathir, vol I, p. 286]. There may be support for this view also in the Biblical accounts which speak of Jesus (peace be upon him) and the disciples going to the Mount of Olives shortly before the alleged trial and crucifixion, and the disciples being overcome by sleep. [Matt 26, Luke 22] It is conceivable that Jesus, too, was made to sleep, and then raised up in this state, such that someone else was then crucified in his place.
    • Even if the narration attributed to Ibn `Abbas were authentic, the word “wa” (“and”) does not carry connotations of temporal succession. Hence, it is conceivable that the dying referred to is that which will occur after his return.
    • Even if Jeus (peace be upon him) had died, this would not rule out his returning to the earth.

    Have you not seen those who came out of their homes in thousands, fearing death? Allah said to them, ‘Die!’ and then He brought them to life.” Q[2:243]

    Or, like he who passed by a city while it was lying in ruin; he said, ‘How will Allah give life to this after its death?’ Then, Allah caused him to die for a hundred years, and then brought him to life.” Q [2:259]

    And I give life to the dead, by Allah’s leave.” Q[3:49]

  3. We have not given immortality to any mortal before you.” Q[21:34]
  4. This is irrelevant here, for immortality (al-khuld) means to remain in a place forever, never leaving it.

B. Evidence From The Sunnah

Ahadith can be classified into two categories: ahad and mutawatir. Ahad narrations are those which are narrated only by one person, or a couple of people, in one or more generations (since a chain is only as strong as its weakest link), from the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his Household) until ahadith were systematically compiled into books. If uncorroborated by other evidence, an ahad narration typically does not convey certain knowledge, since there is a possibility that a mistake or lie was introduced by a narrator somewhere in the chain. Admittedly, if the isnad (chain of narration) of the ahad hadith is found to be reliable or authentic (sahih) , then the probability of error becomes small, even negligible.

A mutawatir narration, on the other hand, is one which is narrated by ‘a multitude’ in each generation, i.e. by numerous people in each generation. Multiple chains of transmission corroborate one another, and when they reach a certain threshold (which is the case for a mutawatir hadith), they convey absolute certainty that the contents of the hadith in question indeed trace back reliably to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). This is because it is not conceivable for so many people in each generation all to make a mistake, or all to forget in the same way, or all to collude to lie.

The ahadith about the descent of the Messiah, Jesus, Son of Mary (peace be upon them both) at the end of time are mutawatir. They have been narrated from 27 or 28 of the Sahabah from the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his Household). Shaykh `Abdullah al-Ghumari has painstakingly traced the names of these Sahabah, as well as the names of the Tabi`in who narrated the ahadith in question from them, and so on and so on, until the 6th generation after the Prophet, in which the books of hadith were compiled. He notes that ahadith on this subject have been recorded by

[See: Ghumari, `Aqidat Ahl al-Islam fi Nuzul `Isa `alayhis-salam, pp. 7-11]

One need only open any of the common books of hadith, or do a search on any of the searcheable databases, to realize the dissemination of these ahadith. For example, a topic-based search on Sakhr’s “Mawsu`at al-Hadith al-Sharif” CD turns up 61 related ahadith in the 9 books covered. These are narrated from 12 different initial narrators. 15 of these hadith are in Bukhari and/or Muslim.

Among the experts in Islamic sciences, who have specifically referred to these ahadith being mutawatir, are the following:

We may also note that the belief in the Descent of Jesus, son of Mary, at the End of Time has been held since the time of the Sahabah, and moreover included by numerous scholars in their statements, treatises and expositions of Islamic doctrine. Shaykh al-Ghumari [op. cit. pp 16-30, and also in Iqamat al-Burhan `ala Nuzul `Isa fi Akhir al-Zaman, 110-124] once again (may Allah reward him well), has diligently compiled a list of individuals from the generations of the Sahabah and onwards who stated or documented this belief. Among the scholars who documented the belief, and whose treatise has been unanimously approved by Muslim scholars of doctrine (with the exception of a handful of points, this one not being among them) was Imam Abu Ja`far Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Tahawi (d. 321 H). The belief is shared not only by the common Sunni schools of doctrine (Ash`aris, Maturidis, Hanbalis, Zahiris) but also by the Shi`ites. It is also known that many scholars from the above schools do not include an item as a point of doctrine unless the evidence for it is compelling, i.e. mutawatir.

The ahadith about the emergence of the Charlatan, the False Messiah, are similarly mutawatir. One who peruses Hafiz Ibn Kathir’s “Al-Nihayah,” will be fully convinced of this, for well over fifty pages of the book [pp. 92-149] are full of only a selection (almost 100) of these narrations.

Is the False Messiah mentioned in the Qur’an? Certainly, he is not mentioned directly, and there could be various reasons for this. Perhaps it is because the mention (even though inexplicit) of the return of the True Messiah, who will slay the charlatan, removes the need to mention the Dajjal. Or, perhaps the omission is a subtle allusion to Dajjal’s insignificance before Allah. Or, perhaps he is mentioned indirectly, in Q[40:57], as opined by al-Baghawi. Of course, it is not necessary for every detail of religious teaching to be mentioned in the Qur’an, nor even to be alluded to. The sunnah is the counterpart of the Qur’an, reinforcing, clarifying, expounding, specifying, detailing and supplementing the information in the Qur’an. Religious teaching gleaned from the authentic ahadith is just as authoritative as that from the Qur’an, especially in the case of mutawatir ahadith.

May Allah grant us the courage to learn about and implement the sunnah of our Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his Household) in all aspects of our lives.

And in closing, we praise Allah, Sustainer of the Universe.


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2 – Angels

Prelude: Belief in the Unseen
Our five senses are powerful means for discovering, observing and experiencing the world we live in. Yet, just as we know that a blind man’s inability to see does not disprove the existence of light, it would be presumptuous for us to insist that nothing exists outside of what we can perceive by our senses. Indeed, our minds can conceive the hypothetical existence of other dimensions and worlds in parallel with our own, or beyond it. Advances in human technology demonstrate to us that human knowledge is limited, and thus give us further reason to be humble. A clear, filtered glass of water may actually contain millions of microscopic organisms, which we can only see through a microscope. A dark room might actually contain infrared light, X-rays, radio waves or electromagnetic fields that are invisible to us, yet quite real. The very existence of matter is based on the arrangements and precise roles of countless subatomic particles.

Belief in the angels is the second pillar of faith.

“The Messenger believes in that which has been revealed to him from his Lord, and [so do] the believers.  All believe in Allah, His angels and His messengers.” [Qur’an, 2:285]

Muslim belief in angels is based only on authentic scriptural knowledge. Superstition, fantasy and supernatural speculation are unreliable sources of objective knowledge, and hence are not relied upon for matters of belief. Read more

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6b – Belief in Qadar (II)

4. Practical Applications of the Belief in Destiny


4.1 Thankfulness in times of prosperity and well-being


The Muslim should always be thankful to Allah, for he owes all his favors to Him. We should be thankful in the good times such that we do not become arrogant and conceited. We should realize that any success we attain is from Allah, Who could withdraw it whenever He wills. We should not, therefore, be like Qarun, the evil kinsman of Prophet Moses `alayhis-salam, who had been given immense wealth, but claimed the credit for himself. “He said, ‘I have only been given it only because of knowledge which I possess.’ Did he not know that Allah has destroyed before him generations who were mightier than him in power, and greater in number?” [(28) Al-Qasas, 78]

Qarun attributed his wealth to knowledge : either religious knowledge – for it is said that he had memorized the Torah – or worldly knowledge, such as that of trade and commerce. He thus failed the test, for even if the wealth were a partial reward for piety, then in order to remain in the favor of Allah, he should have been thankful to Him and spent the money in good causes such as feeding the poor, helping the needy and working for justice. And, even if he had obtained the money through some worldly business expertise, he overlooked the fact that that was only a means, and that in fact the means themselves could not have been obtained, maintained and exercised without the will and grace of Allah.

“Then, when affliction smites man, he cries out to Us, then when We have removed it, as a favor from Us, he says, ‘I have only been given it based on knowledge.’ Nay! It is a test, but most of them do not know. Those before them said [the same], but all they earned did not avail them [aught].” [(39) Al-Zumar, 49-50] Read more

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6a – Belief in Qadar (I)

1. Essentiality of the belief in destiny
The sixth pillar of faith is to believe in destiny, that the good of it and the bad of it is all from Allah. Allah, the Exalted, is the creator, Lord and sustainer of everything in existence. Neither good nor evil comes into being without His leave and knowledge. We do not say, as some religions do, that Allah is Lord of good, but Satan is in charge of the evil.
[We return shortly to the problem of how to reconcile the existence of evil with omnipotence of God.]
(NOTE: Qadar is sometimes translated as ‘destiny,’ and I am using this translation in this article, for easier reading, with the disclaimer that some people’s conceptions of destiny might not be compatible with the correct belief in qadar.)

“Say : Praise be to Allah Who has not taken a son, nor has He any partner in sovereignty.” [(17) Al-Isra, 111]
“Glory be to He in Whose Hand is sovereignty, and He has power over all things.” [(67) Al-Mulk, 1] Read more

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4b – Prophet Muhammad

“Whoever saw him for the first time was awed by him, and whoever mingled with him and got to know him loved him.” Thus was the Prophet Muhammad described by one of his close companions. Even today, some 1,400 years later, one who comes to know of the Prophet cannot fail to be impressed by this man who, from humble beginnings and in the face of persecution, brought about such a profound change in the world. Today, over a billion people, spanning scores of nationalities, colors and languages, consider themselves followers of his religion, and uphold the system of spiritual devotion and morals taught by him. All this is the fruit of the simple message that was the core of his preaching, “There is no god but God.” Surely, everyone ought to be acquainted with his life and teachings.

Birth and Early Youth

Allah’s final prophet and messenger, Muhammad, was born in the sixth century after Christ (ca. 570 C.E.) in the Arabian city of Makkah, among the Arab tribe of Quraysh. The Arabs as a whole trace their bloodline to Abraham’s son Ishmael. Quraysh was an especially prestigious tribe, for they were in charge of the holy sanctuary of the Ka`bah, which had been built by Abraham and Ishmael. However, the pure monotheism of Abraham had by now degenerated into idolatry. People from all over Arabia would still make pilgrimage to the Ka`bah, but for idolatrous worship.

Muhammad’s father, `Abdullah, had died before he was born, and his mother, Aaminah, died when he was just six years old. His grandfather, `Abdul-Muttalib took care of him for the next two years. When `Abdul-Muttalib, too, died, the eight-year old Muhammad passed into the custody of his paternal uncle, Abu Talib. He thus grew up as an orphan. The Makkan society was not particularly literate, and he did not receive an education. In his early youth, he worked as a shepherd, and later became an employee of a prosperous trader-woman named Khadijah. The young Muhammad came to earn a reputation for honesty and trustworthiness, and was nicknamed Al-Amin (The Trustworthy) by his people. The wealthy Khadijah was so impressed by him that she asked to marry him. He accepted, although she was 40 years old and so 15 years his senior. The marriage lasted twenty-five years, until Khadijah’s death, and he did not marry any other women during this time. Read more

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4a – The Messengers

Prelude: Human Messengers

Allah, in His wisdom and mercy, sent us messengers to direct us to what is beneficial.  These messengers were men at various times and in various communities whom Allah inspired with guidance for their people.  It is a blessing that they were human beings, like us, such that people could relate to them and interact with them. If the prophets and messengers had instead been angels (see: Qur’an, 6:9, 17:95), the same benefit could not have been accomplished.

“Certainly did Allah confer [great] favor upon the believers when He sent among them a Messenger from themselves, reciting to them His verses and purifying them and teaching them the Book and wisdom, although they had been before in manifest error.” [Qur’an, 3:164]

Messengers direct us to what is beneficial, remind us, and provide a basis for regulating public life. They convey and explain, guide and warn, and typically also cultivate and lead a society. (Q[4:165]) One who wishes to draw nearer to Allah should therefore follow the prophets and those who emulate their way.  In general, all the messengers are examples for us to follow[1]:

“They (the prophets) are those whom Allah has guided, so follow their guidance.” [Qur’an, 6:91] Read more

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5f – Heaven and Hell

Heaven and Hell

Heaven and Hell have both been created and are currently in existence, as evidenced by verses of the Qur’an.

“It (Heaven) has been prepared for the pious.” [Qur’an, 3:133]

“Guard yourselves against the fire which has been prepared for the disbelievers.”  [Qur’an, 3:131]

Heaven

There are different levels in Heaven.

“And for each, there are ranks based on what they did.”  [Qur’an, 6:132]

“Those who believe, and whose offspring follow them in faith, We shall unite their offspring with them, and We shall not cause decrease the reward of their deeds at all.” [Qur’an, 52:21]  Ibn `Abbas said, “Allah will elevate the offspring of the believer, even if they were beneath him in deeds, in order that his eye might delight in them.” [Narrated by Tabari and Bazzar] Read more

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