Classification of Hadith
According to Manner of Reporting*
By Sheikh Suhaib Hassan**
August 21, 2005
Different ways of reporting—for example, “he narrated to us,” “he informed us,” “I heard,” and “on the authority of”—are used by the reporters of hadith. The first three indicate that the reporter personally heard from his sheikh; whereas the fourth mode can denote either hearing in person or through another reporter.
In this classification of hadith falls the discussion about mudallas (concealed) and musalsal (uniformly-linked) hadiths.
Mudallas Hadith and Tadlis
A mudallas (concealed) hadith is one that is weak due to the uncertainty caused by tadlis. Tadlis (concealing) refers to an isnad (chain of transmission) where a reporter has concealed the identity of his sheikh. Ibn As-Salah describes two types of tadlis:
1. Tadlis Al-Isnad (concealing in the chain of transmission): A person reports from his sheikh whom he met, what he did not hear from him, or from a contemporary of his whom he did not meet, in such a way as to create the impression that he heard the hadith in person. A mudallis (one who practices tadlis) here usually uses the mode “on the authority of” or “he said” to conceal the truth about the isnad.
2. Tadlis Ash-Shuyukh (concealing the sheikh’s name): The reporter does mention his sheikh by name, but uses a less well-known name, by-name, nickname etc., in order not to disclose his sheikh’s identity. (Al-`Iraqi 96)
In his notes on Muqaddimat Ibn As-Salah, Al-`Iraqi added a third type of tadlis:
3. Tadlis At-Taswiyah: To explain it, let us assume an isnad that contains a trustworthy sheikh reporting from a weak authority, who in turn reports from another trustworthy sheikh. Now the reporter of this isnad omits the intermediate weak authority, leaving it apparently consisting of reliable authorities. He plainly shows that he heard it from his sheikh but he uses the mode “on the authority of” to link his immediate sheikh with the next trustworthy one. To an average student, this isnad seems free of any doubt or discrepancy. This is known to have been practiced by Baqiyah ibn Al-Walid, Walid ibn Muslim, Al-A`mash, and Ath-Thauri. It is said to be the worst among the three kinds of tadlis.
In his essay Tabaqat Al-Mudallisin, Ibn Hajar classified those who practiced tadlis into five categories:
1. Those who are known to do it rarely, such as Yahya ibn Sa`id Al-Ansari.
2. Those who are accepted by the traditionists, either because of their good reputation and relatively few cases of tadlis, for example, Sufyan Ath-Thauri (d. AH 161), or because they reported from authentic authorities only, such as Sufyan ibn `Uyainah (d. AH 198).
3. Those who practiced it a great deal, so some traditionists have accepted such hadiths from them that were reported with a clear mention of being heard directly. Among these are Abu Az-Zubair Al-Makki, whose hadiths narrated from the Companion Jabir ibn `Abdullah have been collected in Sahih Muslim. Opinions differ regarding whether they are acceptable or not.
4. Those who practiced it a great deal, and all the traditionists agree that their hadiths are to be rejected unless they clearly admit of their hearing, such as by saying “I heard.” an example of this category is Baqiyah ibn Al-Walid.
5. Those who are disparaged due to another reason apart from tadlis; their hadiths are rejected, even though they admit of hearing them directly. Exempted from them are reporters such as Ibn Lahi`ah, the famous Egyptian judge, whose weakness is found to be of a lesser degree. Ibn Hajar gives the names of 152 such reporters (Al-`Asqalani 7f).
Tadlis, especially of those in the last three categories, is so disliked that Shu`bah (d. AH 170) said “Tadlis is the brother of lying” and “To commit adultery is more favorable to me than to report by way of tadlis” (Al-`Iraqi 98).
A musalsal (uniformly-linked) isnad is one in which all the reporters, as well as the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), use the same mode of transmission such as “on the authority of,” “he narrated to us,” repeat any other additional statement or remark, or act in a particular manner while narrating the hadith.
Al-Hakim (30–34) gives eight examples of such isnads, each having a different characteristic repeated feature:
1. the expression “I heard”
2. the expression “stand and pour water for me so that I may illustrate the way my sheikh performed ablution”
3. the expression “he narrated to us”
4. the expression “he commanded me”
5. holding one’s beard
6. illustrating by counting on five fingers
7. the expression “I testify that”
8. interlocking the fingers
Knowledge of musalsal helps in discounting the possibility of tadlis.
To understand how the quality of being musalsal rules out the possibility of tadlis, we cite the isnad of one of the above examples, “interlocking the fingers,” in detail:
Al-Hakim said, Ahmad ibn Al-Husain Al-Muqri’ interlocked my fingers and said, Abu `Umar ibn Al-Hasan As-San`ani interlocked my fingers and said, my father interlocked my fingers and said, Ibrahim ibn Abi Yahia interlocked my fingers and said, Safwan Ibn Salim interlocked my fingers and said, Ayub ibn Khalid Al-Ansari interlocked my fingers and said, `Abdullah ibn Rafi` interlocked my fingers and said, Abu Hurairah interlocked my fingers and said, Abul-Qasim (the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him) interlocked my fingers and said, “Allah created the Earth on Saturday…”
In the above example, every reporter in the chain of transmission declares that his teacher or sheikh interlocked the reporter’s fingers. This makes it clear that none of the reporters of this hadith is missing or concealed from isnad by way of tadlis.
Al-`Asqalani, Ibn Hajar. Tabaqat al-Mudallisin. Cairo, 1322.
Al-`Iraqi, Zain Ad-Din. At-Taqyid wa al-Idah Sharh Muqaddimat Ibn As-Salah. Madinah: Al-Maktabah Al-Salafiyah, 1389/1969.
Al-Hakim, Muhammad ibn `Abdullah. Ma`rifat `Ulum al-Hadith. Ed. Mu`zzam Husain. Cairo, 1937.
* Based on the book An Introduction to the Science of Hadith, with the author’s kind permission. Excerpted, with some modifications, from: http://www.ymofmd.com/hadith/Intro_S...adith/asb4.htm
** Sheikh Suhaib Hassan is a member of the European Council for Fatwa and Research.