Authentic, Weak and Fabricated Hadiths: What Are the Criteria?

10 September, 2020
Q Salaam, Quite often, I have seen people say a certain hadiths are authentic and certain ones aren't. I want to understand Islam better, so my question is: What makes a Hadith authentic and how do we know a hadith is authentic? And if a hadith is weak/not authentic then why does that Hadith exist? Thank you :)

Answer

Short Answer:

  • The hadith consists of two parts, the chain of transmission (isnad) and the text itself (matn). In order for a hadith to be authentic, the isnad has to meet 6 different criteria (read on to learn what they are). 
  • As for the matn, it has to be free from any defect and any aberrance.
  • If a hadith fulfills all these criteria, Muslim scholars declare it authentic. If a hadith does not meet these criteria, they declare it a weak hadith. 
  • Hadith scholars sorted out fabricated hadiths and included them in specialized books. They preserved these hadiths to remind later generations of Muslims of all the hadiths that were put in the name of the Prophet and how they sorted them out. 

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Salam dear questioner, 

Thank you for your question. 

What is hadith? 

Hadith or sunnah is what the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, did, or gave his tacit approval. Muslims use the terms hadith and sunnah interchangeably. 

Status of the Sunnah

Of the four primary sources of the Islamic law, hadith occupies the second place. Next only to the Quran. The two other sources are analogy (qiyas) and consensus (ijma`). 

The Prophet Muhammad’s mission was to deliver Allah’s message to people. As well as unfold the truth revealed in the Quran. We read in the Quran:

*{And whatever the Messenger has given you – take; and what he has forbidden you – refrain from.}* (Quran 59:7)

Muslims believe that authentic hadiths hold a very sacred position in their life, but they do not accord this sanctity to inauthentic hadiths.

Authentication of hadith

Muslims believe that Allah Himself preserved the text of the Quran. In addition to protecting it from any corruption or alteration. Likewise for hadith, early Muslims took the necessary measures to ensure the authenticity of the hadith. 

The hadith consists of two parts. The chain of transmission (isnad) and the text itself (matn). In order for a hadith to be authentic, the isnad has to meet the following criteria: 

1- The chain of narrators must be unbroken; 

2- None of the transmitters can be missing from the chain of narrators;

3- Each narrator must have heard the hadith directly from the narrator before him; 

4- Each chain must go all the way back to the Prophet or any of the Companions;

5- The narrator in a chain must be a believer in Islam and of sound character;

6- The narrator should have a strong and sound memory.

As for the matn, it has to be free from any defect and any aberrance.

Thus, if a hadith fulfills all these criteria, Muslim scholars declare it authentic. If a hadith does not meet these criteria, they declare it a weak hadith. 

Fabricated Hadiths

In fact, Hadith scholars did their best to identify the genuine hadiths from the false ones. Despite their great care, they could not ensure 100% accuracy. 

Fabrication in hadith means false attribution of hadiths to the Prophet. The process of fabrication began sometime during the middle of Uthman’s reign. It reached its peak during the ruling periods of Ali and Mu`awiyah. It even continued in later years of Muslim history until the Abbasid period. 

Reasons of Fabrication

The fabricators wanted to influence popular opinion and promote their personal interests. Hence, the political factions participated in the fabrication process by coining traditions in the Prophet’s name to support their personal positions. 

Hypocrites also fabricated traditions in most areas of Muslim’s life. One famous heretic claimed before death to have fabricated 4,000 traditions in the name of the Prophet. 

Opponents of Islam fabricated hadiths to urge Muslims not to apply the rituals of Islam such as zakah and the laws of inheritance. 

Theological issues also created a space for fabricating hadith. Supporters of each theological group convinced people by fabricating hadith in the name of the Prophet.

Traders fabricated hadiths to promote their goods. Storytellers fabricated hadiths to attract followers. 

How Muslim scholars addressed the fabrication process

On the whole, to put an end to the fabrication in hadith, early Muslim scholars developed the isnad system to investigate hadith narrators and used only reliable sources. They also compiled biographies of narrators and compiled works on genuine hadith. Finally, they wrote books on unreliable and fabricated traditions.

Investigating the life of narrators was not an easy task. Many scholars busied themselves with this delicate task. This investigation was the basis of declaring the status of narrators and whether they are trustworthy or not.  

Each work on fabrications contains detailed accounts of each fabricated hadith. In addition to how the fabricators used the names of reliable sources in their isnads.

Criteria of Fabricated Hadiths

Imam Ibn al-Qayyim provided criteria to sort out fabricated hadiths. Moreover, many scholars adapted this after him. The hadith is declared fabricated if it:

  1. contradicts the Quran;
  2. or contradicts other authenticated hadith;
  3. contradicts the basics of the Shariah;
  4. has a severe, aggravated or grievous connotation;
  5. contradicts authenticated historical facts; 
  6. has illogical connotations;
  7. contradicts reality; and
  8. does not reflect the words of the Prophet.

Why do weak or fabricated hadiths exist until this day?

As we mentioned above, Hadith scholars sorted out fabricated hadiths and included them in specialized books. Consequently, they transferred these hadiths to the next generations making it clear that they were fabricated hadiths.

Hadith scholars preserved these hadiths to remind later generations of Muslims of all the hadiths that were put in the name of the Prophet and how they sorted them out. 

And Allah knows best.

I hope this helps.

Salam and please keep in touch.

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