Salam (Peace) Dear Dana,
Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.
According to Muslims, the main sources of legislation are the Quran—which Muslims believe is the word of God—and the Sunnah, or Hadith (sayings, deeds, and tacit approvals) of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
The Quran is well-protected and preserved as Allah (God) promised to protect it against any corruption or alteration.
What is a “Fabricated Hadith“?
With regard to the issue of fabrication in the hadiths of Prophet Muhammad, let’s first define what a fabricated hadith is.
A fabricated hadith is a saying which is falsely ascribed to the Prophet while in fact he did not pronounce it. It is not permissible to narrate such hadiths.
Most of the fabricated hadiths were introduced in Muslim literature by the fabricators themselves.
They forged the statements and invented the chain of transmission (called isnad) from their own imagination.
But When Did It Begin?
As for the beginning of fabrication, it is very difficult to determine the beginning of the fabrication of hadiths.
Some scholars maintain that the fabrication of hadith took place during the lifetime of the Prophet.
Other scholars view that the fabrication started during the caliphate of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the Prophet’s cousin.
Another group of scholars say that the fabrication was introduced in hadith literature during the caliphate of the third Caliph Uthman ibn Affan.
Two Kinds of Fabricated Hadiths
The fabricated hadiths can be divided into two categories:
- Intentionally fabricated hadith, which is called hadith mawdu (invented or fabricated hadith)
- Unintentionally fabricated hadith, which is referred to as hadith batil (invalid hadith)
Some of the causes of intentional fabrication include: fabrication by heretics, political differences, favor seekers, storytellers, human frailties, ignorant ascetics, and the prejudice of the fabricator for his or her own town, race, or imam.
Some of the causes of unintentional fabrication include: novelty, mistakes, inaccuracy, indirect transmission, failure to copy, lack of qualification, and lost books.
Signs of Fabrication in Hadiths
On the basis of the methods of textual criticism developed by Muslim scholars of Hadith, the following signs were considered indicators of the occurrence of fabrication:
1- Disproportionately high rewards for small good deeds, or disproportionately severe punishments for ordinary sins
2- Lauding of persons, tribes, and particular places
3- Detailed prophecies of future events with dates
4- Remarks by the Prophet that do not match his prophetical position, or expressions that may not be suitable for him
5- Non-Arabic style or grammatical structure
6- Fanciful statements that the Prophet could not have made
7- Statements claimed to have been made by the Prophet in the presence of many Companions, but which are not reported by any of them
8- Phraseology that resembles that of the Sufi masters.
Means of Eliminating Fabrication
Some of the means of eliminating fabrication include:
- Examining the character of the narrator. In order to be considered reliable, Hadith transmitters must possess personal integrity and must be able to provide flawless chains of transmission for their hadiths.
- Making a textual comparison. This method was applied to make cross comparisons between the hadiths, for example, comparing the hadiths of different students of the same scholar.
- Comparing the statements of a single scholar at different times. This method of criticism was applied to check whether the transmitter added something to the hadith or if it remained the same as he transmitted it before.
- Comparing written documents with a hadith transmitted from memory.
- Comparing the hadith with related verses of the Quran and other hadiths.
According to the hadith scholars, the information gained from books is more authentic and accurate than what is based on one’s memory.
I hope this answers your question. Please keep in touch.
(From AboutIslam’s archives)