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The Knowledge of Narrators and Its Importance
(A lecture delivered by the Shaykh, the 'Allaamah, 'Abdur Rahmaan bin Yahyah al-Mu'allimi.)

In the Name of Allaah the Most Beneficient the Most Merciful,

All praise is due to Allaah and may He send peace upon His chosen slaves.

It has been established in the minds, and there is no need to bring proofs for the fact, that knowledge is noble and virtuous, and it is the way towards man rising up-in the same sense that he rose in physique-above the beasts.

The Nobility of Knowledge:

And from that which there is no debate about, is the fact that the sciences differ in levels of this nobility. Some of them are noble and others are the most noble, and there are those that are important and those that are the most important.

Furthermore, no matter how much one imagines the sciences of philosophy, and nature, and math, and literature, and manufacturing, and other than that from the sciences of the worldly things-no matter how much they are imagined to possess nobility and virtue and a lofty rank- then they do not meet up to this knowledge- which, although it has similarities with the others in raising the intellect and brightening the minds- it is singled out from the rest in correcting the manners, and obtaining eternal happiness; and it is the knowledge of the religion.

No matter how much man excels in manufacturing and the knowledge of the worldly matters, and in making forms of comfort easier, then even if that raises him above the animals from one perspective, then it lowers him beneath them from another perspective- so long as it does not purify his manners, and as long as he does not exhibit kindness, mercy, love, pardoning, humility, truthfulness, trustworthiness, uprightness, goodness, and other than that from noble character.

Knowledge and Character

Whoever has looked at the nations and the individuals of this time, knows that it should rightfully be called the era of knowledge, however he will see that, despite this, it also deserves to be called- in looking at the diminishment of character- another name.

The earth-bound souls are dirt. Furthermore, from this dirt’s attributes, is the fact that dispraised behavior grows from it if it is not watered with the pure water of belief, and if the sun of authentic religious knowledge does not shine upon it, and if the winds of wise remembrance do not blow over it.
So whatever land is free of that water, and is shielded from the rays of that sun, and those winds are cut off from it, then its plants are as the angels (AS) said: “Shall you place in it those who will cause corruption in it and spill blood?” (Baqarah: 30)

The Sources of Islaam

The religion- and it is Islaam- has two great sources: the Book of Allaah 'Azza wa Jall, and the Sunnah of Allaah's Messenger (S).

Defining the Sunnah:

The Sunnah is an expression for what is authentically confirmed from the Prophet (S) from statements, actions, and other than that from that which: clarifies the Quraan, and explains the legislations, and teaches conduct, and other than that from the good of this life and the hereafter.

The Companions and the Sunnah:

The first to receive the Sunnah were the noble Companions. They memorized it and understood it, and they learned its generalities and its specifics, and they passed it down-as they have been ordered- to those after them.

Then it was received by the Taabi’een, and they passed it down to those after them and so on. So the Companions would say I heard Allaah's Messenger (S) say such and such, and the Taabi’i would say I heard so and so, the companion, say: I heard the Prophet (S) say. And the one after him would say: I heard so and so say I heard so and so, the companion, say: I heard the Prophet (S) say, and so on.

The Need for Guarding the Sunnah:

Whoever knows that Muhammad (S) is the seal of the Prophets, and that his legislation is the last of the legislations, and eternal life lies in following it, then he knows that mankind is more in need of guarding the Sunnah then they need food and drink.

The Obligation of Knowing the Affairs of Narrators:

Narration has been performed by narrators, who’s narrations must be accepted, as well as narrators, who’s narrations must be rejected and those who’s must be hesitated about. So how is it possible to know “what is the truth”-which was delivered by the seal of the prophets on behalf of his Lord ‘Azza wa Jall? And how is it possible to know “what is the falsehood”-which Allaah and His Messenger are free of? The only way is by knowing the affairs of the narrators.

And History is similar. Rather knowing the affairs of its narrators is more necessary, because of the extreme lack of concern in quoting it. Moreover, the knowledge of the affairs of the narrators is from the most important branches of history. So, if it is necessary to know the affairs of the narrators, then it is necessary to explain it. And that is to be accomplished by everyone who knows the affair of a narrator. He should inform of his affair so that the people will know of him. And the Ummah has fulfilled that obligation as was expected of them.

The First to Speak About the Affairs of the Narrators:

The first to speak about the affairs of the narrators was the Quraan, then the Prophet (S), then the Companions. And the verses about the praise of the Companions, in a general sense, are many just as the verses for the censure of the hypocrites, in a general sense, are many. And there have come verses praising individuals from the Companions-as is known to those who write the books of virtues- just as there are verses clarifying the hypocrisy of some individuals and verses that censure others. And the most famous of those is the statement of Allaah (T): “If a sinful person comes to you with news then seek clarification,” (al-Hujuraat: 6). It was revealed about a specific man, as is discussed in its proper place, and despite this it is a general principle.

The Hadeeths of Virtues:

Many hadeeths praising the Companions in general have been authentically confirmed from the Prophet (S), as have those that praise individuals from them, as is known from the books of virtues. And there are other reports censuring some groups in general like the Khawaarij, as well as those that specify hypocrites and censure individuals, like Uyaynah bin Hisn, and al-Hakm bin Abu al-Aas. Furthermore, many reports have been authentically confirmed from the Companions about the praise of some of the Taabi’een, just as they are reports that censure individuals from them.

The Taabi’een and al-Jarh wat Ta'deel (i.e. Censure and Praise)

As for the Taabi’een, then their statements of ta’deel (praise) are many, and there are no statements of jarh (censure) narrated from them, except for very little. And that is because of their being so close to the shining lamp- may the choicest of salaah and peace be bestowed upon him and his family. Therefore, none of the Muslims would approach lying about Allaah and His Messenger. Furthermore, the majority of those who are weakened from the Taabi’een were only weakened due to a madh-hab like the Khawaarij or due to their weak memory or their not being known.

Then there came the era of the Atbaa’ at-Taabi’een, and those after them. So the weak people were many, as were those who were careless, and the liars and the heretics. Therefore, the Imams began clarifying the affairs of the narrators and rejecting that which is not authentic. So there was no land from the lands of the Muslims except there was a group of the Imams testing the narrators, and researching the affair of their narrations, and following after their actions and their places of residence, and they would announce to the people their judgments about them.

The Books of Narrators:

This continued until the tenth generation, such that you will not find a book of hadeeth that contains the name of a narrator except that you will find in the books of narrators the explanation of his situation. And this is the fulfillment of the Godly oath. It was said to ibn al-Mubaarak: ‘Are these hadeeths made up??’ He said: ‘The well-grounded scholars live for them.’ And he recited Allaahs (Subhaanuhu wa Taaala) statement: “Indeed We have revealed the Remembrance and We shall protect it."

Traveling to Verify Knowledge

The struggling of the Imams is a sign (i.e. miracle) from the many signs. From the examples of this is that al-Iraaqi said in Sharh Muqadimah ibn Salaah: It is reported from Muammil that he said: 'A shaykh narrated to me this hadeeth-meaning the hadeeth of the virtues of the Qur'aan chapter by chapter- so I said to the shaykh: 'Who narrated this to you?' He said: 'A man narrated it to me in Madaain and he is alive.' So I traveled to him and I said: 'Who narrated this to you?' He said: 'A shaykh in Waasit narrated it to me and he is alive.' So I traveled to him. He said: 'A shaykh narrated it to me in Basrah'. So I went to him and he said: 'A shaykh narrated it to me in Baghdaad.' So I went to him, and he took me by the hand and took me into a house. In it was a group of Sufis and with them was a shaykh. So he said: 'This shaykh narrated it to me.' I said: 'Oh shaykh who narrated this to you?' He said: 'No one narrated it to me but I saw the people had abandoned the Qur'aan, so I made this hadeeth for them so that their hearts would turn to the Quraan.'' And it is possible this man traveled for three months to verify the narration of this one hadeeth.

The Different Means of Testing the Narrators:

The imams have different means of testing the narrators. From them is looking into the situation of the narrator in his guarding over his acts of obedience and staying away from sins, and by asking the people who know about him.

Al-Hasan bin Saalih bin Yahyah said: If we wanted to write from a narrator we would ask about him until it was said: 'Do you want to marry him to someone??'

And from them is that the narrator would narrate hadeeths from a shaykh that is alive, so then they would ask the shaykh about those hadeeths. An example is the statement of Shu'bah: Al-Hasan bin Umaarah said that al-Hakm narrated to us, from Yahyah bin al-Jazzaar from 'Ali, seven hadeeths. So I asked al-Hakm about them and he said: 'I have not heard anything of them.'

And from them is that a narrator would narrate from a shaykh that is dead, so it would be said to the narrator: 'When were you born?' 'And when did you meet the shaykh?' 'And where did you meet him?' Then whatever he said would be compared with what is known about the death of the shaykh he narrated from and his place of residence and his history of traveling. An example of this is what has been narrated from 'Ufayr bin Madaan that 'Umar bin Musaa bin Wajeeh narrated from Khaalid bin Ma'daan. 'Ufayr said: I said to him: 'What year did you meet him?' He said: 'The year one-hundred and fifty-eight during the battles of Armeeniyah.' I said: 'Fear Allaah Oh shaykh, do not lie. Khaalid died in the year one-hundred and fifty-four, and Ill add to that that he did not participate in the battles of Armeeniyah.'

And from them is that they would hear some hadeeths from a narrator which he narrated from different shaykhs which have died. So then they would compare those hadeeths to what the thiqaat (trustworthy narrators) narrated from those shaykhs. Then they would look and see if this narrator was alone in narrating something, or if he opposed others, or if he added or deleted. So they would then say, in making jarh: 'He is singled out in narrating from the thiqaat that which he is not followed up in,' and 'His hadeeths contain oddities,' and 'He makes mistakes and opposes others,' and similar to that.

The Memory of the People of Hadeeth

And from these methods is that they would hear many hadeeths from a narrator, so they would memorize them or write them, then ask about them after a period of time. Sometimes they would repeat the question many times to see if anything changed or if anything was switched or deleted.

One of the leaders called Abu Hurayrah and asked him to narrate- and the leader had hidden a scribe in a place where Abu Hurayrah could not see him. So Abu Hurayrah began to narrate and the scribe wrote. Then after a year the leader called Abu Hurayrah, and he had a man look at the scroll, and he asked Abu Hurayrah about those hadeeths. So he began to narrate while the man looked at the scroll, and he did not add, or delete, or move anything.

And one of the khaleefahs asked ibn Shihaab az-Zuhri to narrate to one of his sons, and he called for a scribe. So he narrated to him four-hundred hadeeths. Then the khaleefah said to az-Zuhri after some time: 'That scroll has been lost.' So he called for a scribe and he narrated to him. Then he compared the second scroll with the first, and nothing was different.

Many times they would take so much caution that it was said to Shu'bah: 'Why did you leave the hadeeths of so and so?' He said: 'I saw him riding a mule.' Jareer said: 'I saw Simaak bin Harb urinate while standing so I did not write from him.' It was said to al-Hakm bin Utaybah: 'Why dont you narrate from Zaadhaan?' He said: 'He spoke a lot.'

Mixing With the Leaders

Furthermore, they would censure those who mixed with the leaders, or took their gifts, or magnified them. Rather, sometimes they would go very far with that as occurred with Muhammad bin Bishr az-Zanbari al-Misri, despite his great knowledge. He would narrate hadeeths to the people of his land and one day the king left for battle, so az-Zanbari began to cheer him on. So when he left, and then sat, on Jumu'ah, in his usual place, the people of hadeeth went to him and removed him from his spot, and they censured him and were harsh with him, and they tore up his narrations. Then ibn Yunus mentioned him in Taareekh Misr and said: 'He did not resemble the people of knowledge.'

They would only allow this behavior from those who had reached a noble status such that it was known that he only mixes with the leaders that he may order them with good and forbid them from evil, and to keep them from falsehood as much as possible, like az-Zuhri and Rajaa' bin Hayaah. And ash-Shaafii narrated that Sulaymaan bin Yasaar entered upon Hishaam bin 'Abdul Malik so he said to him: 'Oh Sulaymaan, who is the one who took upon himself the greater portion?' Meaning in Allaahs (Ta'aala) statement: "And he who took upon himself the greater portion from them, then he shall have a great punishment." (an-Noor: 11) He said: ''Abdullaah bin Ubay.' He said: 'You have lied. He is so and so.' He said: 'The Ameer al-Mu'mineen knows best what he says.' Then az-Zuhri entered and he said: 'Oh ibn Shihaab who is the one who took upon himself the greater portion?' He said: 'Ibn Ubay.' He said: 'You have lied, he is so and so.' So az-Zuhri said to Hishaam: 'I am lying? You have no father! By Allaah if a caller from the heavens said: Allaah has made lying permissible, I still would not lie. 'Urwah narrated to me from Sa'id and 'Ubayd Allaah and 'Alqamah from Aaishah that the one who took upon himself the greater portion is 'Abdullaah bin Ubay.' And he mentioned the entire story. And there is found therein Hishaam's humility before az-Zuhri and his seeking after his pleasure.

And another story has come about az-Zuhri which is similar to this one regarding al-Waleed bin 'Abdul Malik. In it al-Waleed said to him: 'Oh Abu Bakr! Who is it thattook upon himself the greater portion was not it so and so?' az-Zuhri said: 'No!' So al-Waleed banged his fists on the pillow and said: 'So then who? So then who?' Until he repeated that many times. Az-Zuhri said: 'It is 'Abdullaah bin Ubay.' Furthermore, in the response of Sulaymaan to Hishaam is a delicate point, in that he did not say: 'The Ameer al-Mumineen knows best,' and then remain quiet. Rather he said: 'He knows best what he says.' Which means: he knows best what he himself says, not that he knows the reality of the situation. However the scenario was not one that called for such a response, and it is for this reason that Allaah (Ta'aala) raised up az-Zuhri and granted him the ability to said what he said. And his statement to Hishaam-and he was the king- 'You have no father,' was a huge offense.

The Piety of the People of Hadeeth

Furthermore, they had a significant deal of piety and lack of decietfulness, such that Zayd ibn Abu Aneesah said: 'My brother Yahyah lies.'

And Jareer bin 'Abdul Hameed was asked about his brother Anas so he said: 'He heard from Hishaam bin 'Urwah, but he would lie in his conversations with people so nothing should be written from him.'

And 'Ali ibn al-Madeeni narrated from his father then he said: 'And the hadeeths of the shaykh contain what they contain.' Abu Dawood said: 'My son 'Abdullaah is a liar.'

And Imaam Abu Bakr as-Sibghi would forbid from listening to his brother Muhammad bin Ishaaq.

The Scholars of the Salaf Protecting the Biographies of the Narrators

It was considered that a man was not to be called an 'Aalim until he knew the situations of the narrators of hadeeth. In Tadreeb ar-Raawi ar-Rafaa'i, and others, said: 'When the scholars are spoken of then those who heard the hadeeth without having knowledge of their routes and the names of the narrators do not enter in to that.' And az-Zurkashi said: 'As for the Fuqahaa then the word Muhaddith is not used with them except for the person who has memorized the texts of the hadeeths, and knows the trustworthiness of their narrators and how they have been censured.' At-Taaj as-Subki said: 'The Muhaddith is only the one who knows the asaaneed and the 'ilal and the names of the narrators.' And al-Mizzi mentioned that he was asked about the one deserving of the word al-Haafidh so he said: 'At the very least, the narrators that he knows, along with their biographies and situations and lands of residence, are more than those he doesn't know; such that the ruling is placed based on what is more.'

So the 'Aalim knew the situations of those he met, either by testing their situation himself, or by the thiqaat informing him, and he knew the situations of those who preceded him by the information of the thiqaat, or by the thiqaat informing from the thiqaat and so on. And he would memorize all of that as he memorizes the hadeeths with their asaaneed. It was to such an extent that one of them would memorize thousands, and some of them would memorize tens of thousands, and some of them would memorize hundreds of thousands of hadeeths with their asaaneed. Similarly they would memorize the biographies of the narrators with their asaaneed. So one of them would say so and so narrated to me that he heard so and so say: so and so said: 'Do not write from so and so, because he is a liar,' and so on.



translation by Umar al-Mizzi