Lone-Narrator Reports

Shaykh Gibril Fouad Haddad

The lone-narrator report (khabar al-wâhid) lexically means something narrated by only one person, and in hadith nomenclature, any report that does not reach the conditions of mass narration (tawâtur), whether narrated by one, two, or more narrators.1

Ahl al-Sunna concur, unlike the Mu`tazila, that the lone-narrator reports that are authenticated – “acceptable” (maqbûl) in hadith nomenclature – are obligatory to believe and put into practice. Al-Qari relates, on this point, the consensus of the Companions and the Successors.2

Where scholars differ is whether the same hadiths convey certainty of knowledge (al-`ilm al-yaqînî) or only the compelling assumption of truth (al-zann al-ghâlib). These two categories differ insofar as obligatory practice and belief based on certainty of knowledge cannot be denied except on pains of apostasy, while the denial of obligatory practice and belief based on reports compellingly assumed to be true do not constitute apostasy but constitute sin.

The scholars do concur that if one disbelieves in a sound lone-narrator report one commits a grave transgression (fisq) and is even considered misguided (dâll), but does not leave the fold of Islam.3 This is clearly unlike disbelief in a mass-transmitted report or in a verse of the Qur’an.

Ibn Khafif (d. 371) said in his Correct Islamic Doctrine (al-`Aqida al-Sahiha):

89. Lone-narrator reports (âhâd) make practice obligatory, but not knowledge (yûjib al-`amal lâ al-`ilm), while mass-narrated (mutawâtir) reports make both knowledge and practice obligatory.

The meaning of the above position is that it is obligatory to integrate the content of an accepted lone-narrator report into one’s Islamic practice and belief; however, such a report does not impose the certainty of knowledge of a mass-transmitted report.

The scholars classified the truth of acceptable reports into “definitive” (qat`î) and “assumed” (zannî). All of them agree that a mass-narrated report is qat`î al-thubût – “definitely established,” while a non-mass-narrated accepted hadith is zannî al-thubût – “assumed to be established.” However, the latter assumption carries various degrees of strength, the highest of which, according to Ibn Hajar and others, reaches definiteness.

For example, if a lone-narrated hadith is narrated in the two Sahihs, has several (non-discrepant) chains of transmission, and counts among its narrators great Imams such as Malik and al-Shafi`i, “then it would not be far-fetched to declare it definitely true, and Allah knows best.”4 At the same time Ibn Hajar warned: “All the types of non-mutawâtir hadith which we have mentioned do not result in [certainty of] knowledge regarding their veracity except to the scholar of hadith who has reached the level of expertise, knows the situations of the narrators, and is fully acquainted with the minute defects of hadith.”5

Thus certain indices or parallels (qarâ’in) raise the accepted lone-narrated hadith closer or up to the level of definitive, obligatory knowledge as already illustrated by Ibn Hajar’s words, and as stated by the scholars of usûl.6Among them are those mentioned by Ibn Hajar – the acceptance of the report by the entire Community, lack of discrepancy among its various narrations, and soundness of their chains of transmission. Examples of such hadiths are those that concern the punishment of the grave.7

All of the scholars further agree, as already stated, that a non-mass-narrated accepted hadith, although merely zannî al-thubût, possesses the following properties:

* Belief in it is obligatory (al-tasdîq bihi wâjib) * Denying it is a grave transgression (inkâruhu fisq)

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.



1Al-Qari, Sharh Sharh Nukhba al-Fikar (p. 209).
2Ibid. (p. 211).
3Al-Shafi`i, al-Risala (p. 460-461): “If one disbelieves in them [âhâd reports], we do not say to him: `Repent!'”
4Ibn Hajar, Sharh Nukhba al-Fikar (p. 232).
5Ibn Hajar, Sharh Nukhba al-Fikar (p. 230-231). The knowledge of the expert is named by by Dr. `Itr al-`ilm al-nazarî al-yaqînî ghayr al-darûrî and he places it midway between al-`ilm al-yaqînî al-qat`î al-darûrî which is absolutely binding, and `ilm ghalaba al-zann, which is relatively binding. From the inaugural lecture to the Preparatory Class of Abu al-Nur Institute, Damascus, October 1997.
6Cf. al-Ghazzali, al-Mustasfa (1:135-136); al-Amidi, al-Ihkam fi Usul al-Ahkam, Part 1, section entitled Fi Haqiqa al-Khabar al-Wahid.
7Cf. al-Sarakhsi, al-Usul (1:329-330 Bab fi Qabul Akhbar al-Ahad); al-Pazdawi, al-Usul (1:696).
8Ibn `Abd al-Barr, al-Tamhid (1:7).
9Narrated by al-Tirmidhi (hasan), Abu Dawud with a sound chain, Ahmad with two chains in the Musnad and also in Fada’il al-Sahaba (1:159 #142), and Abu Ya`la and al-Humaydi in their Musnads. It is cited in the books of Tafsir for the verse: {Yet whoso does evil or wrongs his own soul, then seeks pardon of Allah, will find Allah Forgiving, Merciful} (4:110).
10By external knowledge is meant knowledge of obligations and prohibitions as opposed to internal knowledge which concerns doctrine.
11Ibn `Abd al-Barr, al-Tamhid (1:7).
12Cf. Hasan al-Saqqaf, Sahih Sharh al-`Aqida al-Tahawiyya (p. 141-142).
13Cf. al-Ghazzali in al-Mustasfa, Ibn al-Salah in `Ulum al-Hadith, al-`Iraqi in Sharh `Ulum al-Hadith, Ibn Kathir in Mukhtasar `Ulum al-Hadith, al-Nawawi in Sharh Muqaddima Muslim, al-Qasimi in Qawa`id al-Tahdith, and the contemporary authorities such as Abu Zahra, Muhammad al-Khudari, al-Ghazzali, and al-Qaradawi, all as quoted from Samer Islambuli’s al-Ahad, al-Naskh, al-Ijma` (p. 27-30). Also see al-Khatib in al-Kifaya fi `Ilm al-Riwaya (p. 34-48) and `Abd al-Qahir al-Baghdadi in Usul al-Din (p. 12). “Any proof in the chapter of doctrine can only be from the revealed Book or the well-known sound hadiths.” Al-Kawthari, commentary on al-Subki’s al-Sayf al-Saqil (p. 173 n.).
14Al-Bayhaqi, al-Asma’ wa al-Sifat (Kawthari ed. p. 357, Hashidi ed. 2:201).
15Cf. Ibn al-Qayyim, al-Albani in his essay entitled “The Lone-Narrated Hadith is a Proof in Itself,” and those who followed them.
16From the inaugural lecture to the Preparatory Class of Abu al-Nur Institute, Damascus, October 1997.
17Siyar A`lam an-Nubala’ (10/20), Hilya (9:105), Ibn Abi Hatim’s Adab al-Shafi`i (p. 231) and others.
18Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, Al-Faqih wa al-Mutafaqqih (1:132).