Lone-Narrator Reports

Beyond the above, the scholars disagreed on the point brought up by Ibn Khafif. Some have held that we are obliged only to assume as true accepted lone-narrator reports, although they do make belief and practice obligatory since such assumption is compelling (yufîd al-zann al-ghâlib) and thus precludes doubt. This is the position of Ibn Khafif and the Ash`aris, in conformity with the vast majority (al-jumhûr) of Ahl al-Sunna as stated by Ibn `Abd al-Barr:

What the majority of the people of knowledge believe is as follows: Some hold that the lone-narrated hadith make practice obligatory but not knowledge (yûjib al-`amal dûna al-`ilm). This is the position of al-Shafi`i and the vast majority of the jurists and the scholars of principles. To them, the lone-narrated hadith does not make knowledge obligatory except on oath, providing definite preclusion of falsehood, and if there is no disagreement concerning it.8

An illustration for the acceptance of lone-narrated hadiths on provision of oath is given by `Ali ibn Abi Talib – Allah be well-pleased with him: “When I heard something from the Messenger of Allah, Allah would benefit me with it as He wished; but when Someone other than him narrated it to me, I would make him swear to it; if he took an oath, I would believe him.”9 Ibn `Abd al-Barr goes on to say that part of the scholars of hadith and some of the scholars of principles consider that lone-narrated hadiths make both external knowledge10 and practice obligatory. He concludes: “Our position is that they make practice obligatory but not knowledge… and that is the position of most jurists and hadith scholars.”11 It is also the position of al-Bukhari and Ahmad12 as well as later scholars including al-Kawthari.13 Their position on doctrinal matters conveyed by âhâd reports is given by al-Bayhaqi:

The perspicuous scholars (ahl al-nazar) among our [Ash`ari or Shafi`i] companions relinquish the use of lone-narrated reports as proofs in the divine Attributes if such reports do not have a foundation in the Qur’an or in scholarly consensus. Instead, they interpret them figuratively.14

Others dissented, such as Ibn al-Qayyim and, lately, al-Albani, claiming that not only are âhâd-based belief and practice obligatory, but we are also obliged to know them as definitely true (yufîd al-`ilm al-qat`î) and they consider them part of obligatory doctrinal knowledge.15

The position that sound âhâd impart definitive knowledge is a weak position since it blurs the unanimous, vital distinction between mutawâtir and Qur’anic reports on the one hand, and all other reports. An additional inconsistency of that position is its contradictory labeling of lone-narrated reports as “assumed” in the veracity of their transmission chains and yet “definitive” in the knowledge they impart. Some have reacted to these errors with another weak stand which consists in dismissing any and all lone-narrator reports as something one is free to reject, especially in the chapter of doctrine. Hence Dr. Nur al-Din `Itr characterized these contemporary positions with regard to âhâd hadiths as straddling two extremes: “Some exaggerate in accepting the sound lone-narrated hadith to the point that they seem to think none but they put it into practice, while others exaggerate to the point that they seem to consider the lone-narrated hadith as nothing binding.”16

Finally, the Consensus of the scholarly Community of Ahl al-Sunna take precedence over the lone-narrated hadith in the hierarchy of juridical sources in the Religion. Al-Shafi`i said: “Consensus is greater than an lone-narrated hadith.”17 Al-Khatib explained: “This means that when a consensus is opposed by a lone-narrated hadith, the latter cannot be cited as proof.18 And Allah is Most Knowing.

 

NOTES

1Al-Qari, Sharh Sharh Nukhba al-Fikar (p. 209).

2Ibid. (p. 211).

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