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The Superiority of Fiqh over Hadith PDF Print E-mail

The Superiority of Fiqh over Hadith

By Shaykh Gibril F. Haddad

{He gives wisdom to whomever He will, and whoever receives wisdom receives immense good} (2:269). "He for whom Allh desires great good, He grants him (superlative) understanding in the Religion (yufaqqihhu/yufqihhu f al-dn). I only distribute and it is Allh Who gives. That group shall remain in charge of the Order of Allh, unharmed by those who oppose them, until the coming of the Order of Allh."1

Imm al-Shfi` said: "You [the scholars of hadth] are the pharmacists but we [the jurists] are the physicians." Mull `Al al-Qr commented: "The early scholars said: The hadth scholar without knowledge of fiqh is like a seller of drugs who is no physician: he has them but he does not know what to do with them; and the fiqh scholar without knowledge of hadth is like a physician without drugs: he knows what constitutes a remedy, but does not have it available."2

Imm Ahmad is related by his students Ab Tlib and Humayd ibn Zanjyah to say: "I never saw anyone adhere more to hadth than al-Shfi`. No one preceded him in writing down hadth in a book." The meaning of this is that al-Shfi` possessed the intelligence of hadth after which Ahmad sought, as evidenced by the latter's statement: "How rare is fiqh among those who know hadth!" This is a reference to the hadth: "It may be one carries understanding (fiqh) - meaning: memorizes the proof-texts of fiqh - without being a person of understanding (faqh)."3 The Salaf and Khalaf elucidated this rule in many famous statements showing that, for all the exalted status of the Muhaddith, yet the Faqh excels him:

Hadth Misguides Those Devoid of Fiqh

* Ibn Ab Zayd al-Mlik reports Sufyn ibn `Uyayna as saying: "Hadth is a pitfall (madilla) except for the fuqah'," and Mlik's companion `Abd Allh ibn Wahb said: "Hadth is a pitfall except for the Ulema. Every memorizer of hadth that does not have an Imm in fiqh is misguided (dll), and if Allh had not rescued us with Mlik and al-Layth [ibn Sa`d], we would have been misguided."4 Ibn Ab Zayd comments: "He [Sufyn] means that other than the jurists might take something in its external meaning when, in fact, it is interpreted in the light of another hadth or some evidence which remains hidden to him; or it may in fact consist in discarded evidence due to some other [abrogating] evidence. None can meet the responsibility of knowing this except those who deepened their learning and obtained fiqh."

Imm al-Haytam said something similar.5 Ibn Wahb is also reported to say: "I met three hundred and sixty learned people of knowledge but, without Mlik and al-Layth, I would have strayed."6 Another versions states: "Were it not for Mlik ibn Anas and al-Layth ibn Sa`d I would have perished; I used to think everything that is [authentically] related from the Prophet - Allh bless and greet him - must be put into practice."7 Another version has: "I gathered a lot of hadths and they drove me to confusion. I would consult Mlik and al-Layth and they would say to me, 'take this and leave this.'"8 Ibn Wahb had compiled 120,000 narrations according to Ahmad ibn Slih..9 Hence, Ibn `Uqda replied to a man who had asked him about a certain narration: "Keep such hadths to a minimum for, truly, they are unsuitable except for those who know their interpretation. Yahy ibn Sulayman narrated from Ibn Wahb that he heard Mlik say: 'Many of these hadths are [a cause for] misguidance; some hadths were narrated by me and I wish that for each of them I had been flogged with a stick twice. I certainly no longer narrate them!'"10 By his phrase, "Many of these hadths are misguidance," Mlik means their adducing them in the wrong place and meaning, because the Sunna is wisdom and wisdom is to place each thing in its right context.11

* Ibn al-Mubrak said: "If Allh had not rescued me with Ab Hanfa and Sufyn [al-Thawr] I would have been like the rest of the common people." Al-Dhahab relates it as: "I would have been an innovator."12

The Imms of Hadth Defer to the Imms of Fiqh

* Imm Ahmad's teacher, Yahy ibn Sa`d al-Qattn, despite his foremost status as the Master of hadth Masters and expert in narrator - recommendation and discreditation, would not venture to extract legal rulings from the evidence but followed in this the fiqh of Ab Hanfa as he explicitly declared: "We do not belie Allh. We never heard better than the juridical opinion (ra') of Ab Hanfa, and we followed most of his positions."13 Similarly, Muhammad ibn `Abd Allh ibn `Abd al-Hakam said: "If it were not for al-Shfi` I would not have known how to reply to anyone. Because of him I know what I know."14 As for Muhammad ibn Yahy al-Dhuhl (d. 258) of Khursn, whom Ab Zur`a ranked above Imm Muslim and who is considered an Amr al-Mu'minn f al-Hadth ("Commander of the Faithful in the Science of Hadth"), he never considered himself a non-muqallid but said: "I have made Ahmad ibn Hanbal an Imm in all that stands between me and my Lord."15 Mis`ar ibn Kidm said the same with regard to Imm Ab Hanfa.16

Knowledge Is Not Memorization but a Light

* Fiqh is the context of Mlik's statement: "Wisdom and knowledge are a light by which Allh guides whomever He pleases; it does not consist in knowing many things"17 and al-Shfi`'s: "Knowledge is what benefits. Knowledge is not what one has memorized."18 Similarly, al-Dhahab defined knowledge in Islm (al-`ilm) as "Not the profusion of narration, but a light which Allh casts into the heart. Its condition is followership (ittib`) and the flight away from egotism (haw) and innovation."19 All this elucidates al-Hasan al-Basr report that the Prophet - Allh bless and greet him - said: "The purpose and energy of the Ulema is towards addressing needs while the purpose and energy of fools is to narrate" (himmat al-`ulam' al-ri`ya wa himmat al-sufah' al-riwya).20

The Hadth of the Jurists is Preferable to That of the Non-Jurists

* Wak` preferred long-chained narrations through the fuqah' to short-chained ones through non-fuqah' and said: "The hadth current among the jurists is better than the hadth that is current among the hadth scholars."21 This is a foundational rule in the School of Imm Ab Hanfa. Like Yahy al-Qattn, Wak` did not make ijtihd but followed the positions of Ab Hanfa.22

* Al-A`mash (Ab Muhammad Sulaymn ibn Mahrn al-Asad the Tbi` 61/-148) also said: "The hadth that jurists circulate among themselves is better than that which hadth narrators circulate among themselves."23

* Ibn Rajab said that Ab Dwd in his Sunan was more concerned with the
jurisprudence of the hadth than with its chains of transmission.24

Knowing the Hadth is Different From Practicing It

* Sufyn al-Thawr used to say to the hadth scholars: "Come forward, O weak ones!"25 He also said: "If hadth were a good thing it would have vanished just as all goodness has vanished," and "Pursuing the study of hadth is not part of the preparation for death, but a disease that preoccupies people." Al-Dhahab commented: "He said this verbatim. He is right in what he said because pursuing the study of hadth is other than the hadth itself."26

Understanding the Hadth is Superior to Knowing It

* Sufyn also said: "The explanation (tafsr) of the hadth is better than the hadth."27 Another wording has: "The explanation of the hadth is better than its audition."28 Ab `Al al-Naysabr said: "We consider understanding superior to memorization."29

* Ishq ibn Rhyah said: "I would sit in Iraq with Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Yahy ibn Ma`n, and our companions, rehearsing the narrations from one, two, three routes of transmission ... But when I said: What is its intent? What is its explanation? What is its fiqh? They would all remain mute except Ahmad ibn Hanbal."30

* The perspicuity and fiqh of Ab Thawr among the hadth Masters is famous. A woman stood by a gathering of scholars of hadth comprising Yahy ibn Ma`n, Ab Khaythama, Khalaf ibn Salim, and others. She heard them saying: "The Prophet - Allh bless and greet him - said," and "So-and-so narrated," and "No one other than So-and-so narrated," etc. Whereupon she asked them: "Can a woman in her menses wash the dead?" for that was her occupation. No one in the entire gathering could answer her, and they began to look at one another. Ab Thawr arrived, and they referred her to him. She asked him the same question and he said: "Yes, she can wash the dead, as per the hadth of al-Qsim from `A'isha: 'Your menses are not in your hand,'31 and her narration whereby she would scrub the Prophet's - Allh bless and greet him - hair at a time she was menstruating.32 If the head of the living can be washed [by a woman in her menses], then a fortiori the dead!" Hearing this, the hadth scholars said: "Right! So-and-so narrated it, and So-and-so told us, and we know it from such - and - such a chain," and they plunged back into the narrations and chains of transmission. The woman said: "Where were you all until now?"33

* Ibn `Abd al-Barr cites Imm Ahmad as saying: "From where does Yahy ibn Ma`n know al-Shfi`? He does not know al-Shfi` nor has any idea what al-Shfi` says!"34 Ibn Rhyah similarly conceded defeat before al-Shfi`'s jurisprudence although himself reputed for fiqh.35

Most Hadth Scholars Do Not Possess Intelligence of the Hadth

* `Abd al-Razzq al-San`n, Sufyn's contemporary, was the teacher of the pillars of hadth memorization in their time - Ahmad, Ibn Rhyah, Ibn Ma`n, and Muhammad ibn Yahy al-Dhuhl. Yet when Muhammad ibn Yazd al-Mustaml asked Ahmad: "Did he [`Abd al-Razzq] possess fiqh?" Ahmad replied: "How rare is fiqh among those who know hadth!"36

* Anas ibn Srn said: "I came to Kfa and found in it 4,000 persons pursuing hadth and 400 persons who had obtained fiqh."37

* Ibn `Abd al-Salm said: "The majority of hadth scholars are ignorant in fiqh."38 A majority of 90% according to Anas ibn Srn - among the Salaf!

* Al-Dhahab said: "The majority of the hadth scholars have no understanding, no diligence in the actual knowledge of hadth, and no fear of Allh regarding it."39 All of the authorities al-Dhahab listed as "those who are imitated in Islm" are Jurisprudents and not merely hadth masters.

* Al-Sakhw in his biography of Ibn H.ajar entitled al-Jawhir wa al-Durar relates similar views:

Al-Friq said: "One who knows chains of hadth but not the legal rulings derived from them cannot be counted among the Scholars of the Law." His student Ibn Ab `Asrn (d. 585) also followed this view in his book al-Intisr.40

Not Every Sound Hadth Forms Evidence

* Ibrhm al-Nakha` said: "Truly, I hear a hadth, then I see what part of it applies. I apply it and leave the rest."41 Shaykh Muhammad `Awwma said: "Meaning, what is recognized by the authorities is retained while anything odd (gharb), anomalous (shdhdh), or condemned (munkar) is put aside." Yazd ibn Ab Habb said: "When you hear a hadth, proclaim it; if it is recognized, [keep it,] otherwise, leave it."42

* Ibn Ab Layl said: "A man does not understand hadth until he knows what to take from it and what to leave."43

* `Abd al-Rahmn ibn Mahd, the Commander of the believers in Hadth, said: "It is impermissible for someone to be an Imm [i.e. to be imitated] until he knows what is sound and what is unsound and until he does not take everything [sound] as evidence, and until he knows the correct way to infer knowledge [in the Religion]."44

* Al-Shfi` narrated that Mlik ibn Anas was told: "Ibn `Uyayna narrates from al-Zuhr things you do not have!" He replied: "Why, should I narrate every single hadth I heard? Only if I wanted to misguide people!"45

Shaykh `Abd al-Fatth Ab Ghudda mentioned some of the above examples and commented: "If the likes of Yahy al-Qattn, Wak` ibn al-Jarrh., `Abd al-Razzq, Yahy ibn Ma`n, and those who compare with them, did not dare enter into ijtihd and fiqh, then how rash are the claimants to ijtihd in our time! On top of it, they call the Salaf ignorant without the least shame nor modesty! Allh is our refuge from failure."46

BLESSINGS AND PEACE ON THE PROPHET, his Family, his Companions, the Four Imms, and those who imitate them until the Day of Judgment.


1. Hadth of the Prophet - Allh bless and greet him - narrated from Mu`wiya by al-Bukhr and Muslim.

2. Al-Qr, Mu`taqad Ab Hanfata al-Imm f Abaway al-Rasl `Alayhi al-Salt wa al-Salm (p. 42).

3. A nearly-mass-narrated (mashhr) sound hadth of the Prophet - Allh bless and greet him - reported from several Companions by al-Tirmidh, Ab Dwd, Ibn Mjah, and Ahmad.

4. Ibn Ab Htim in the introduction of al-Jarh. wa al-Ta`dl (p. 22-23); Ibn Ab Zayd, al-Jmi` f al-Sunan (p. 118-119); Ibn `Abd al-Barr, al-Intiq' (p. 61); al-Dhahab. See Shaykh `Abd al-Fattah Ab Ghudda's comments on this statement in his notes on al-Lacknaw's al-Raf` wa al-Takmil (2nd ed. p. 368 - 369, 3rd ed. p. 90-91).

5. In al-Fatw al-Hadthiyya (p. 283).

6. Narrated by Ibn Hibbn in the introduction to al-Majrhn (1:42). He then narrates from Ibn Wahb a similar statement where he adds the names of `Amr ibn al-Hrith and Ibn Mjishn.

7. Narrated by Ibn `Askir and al-Bayhaq cf. Ibn Rajab, Sharh. al-`Ilal (1:413) and `Awwma (p. 76).

8. Narrated by Qd `Iyd.. in Tartb al-Madrik (2:427).

9. In Ibn al-Subk, Tabaqt al-Shfi`iyya al-Kubr (2:128).

10. Narrated by al-Khatb, al-Faqh wal-Mutafaqqih (2:80).

11. Shaykh Ism`l al-Ans.r as quoted by `Awwma, Athar (p. 77).

12. Ibn Hajar, Tahdhb al-Tahdhb (10:449-452 #817) and al-Dhahab's Manqib Ab Hanfa.

13. Narrated by al-Dhahab in Tadhkirat al-Huffz. (1:307) and Ibn Hajar in Tahdhb al-Tahdhb (10:450).

14. Narrated by Ibn `Abd al-Barr in al-Intiq' (p. 124).

15. Narrated by al-Dhahab in the Siyar (10:205).

16. Cf. Ibn Ab al-Waf, last page of the Karachi edition of al-Jawhir al-Mudiyya.

17. In Ibn `Abd al-Barr, Jmi` Bayn al-`Ilm (1:83-84), al-Qd `Iyd.., Tartb al-Madrik (2:62), al-Shtib, al-Muwfaqt (4:97-98).

18. "The Knowledge That Benefits is That Whose Rays Expand in the Breast and Whose Veil is Lifted in the Heart." Ibn `At' Allh, Hikam (#213).

19. Siyar (10:642).

20. Narrated mursal from al-Hasan by Ibn `Askir in his Trkh and al-Khatb in al-Jmi` li Akhlq al-Rw (1983 ed. 1:88 #27) cf. al-Jmi` al-Saghr (#9598) and Kanz (#29337).

21. Cited by al-Dhahab in the Siyar (al-Arna't. ed. 9:158, 12:328-329).

22. Cf. al-Dhahab, Tadhkirat al-Huffz. (1:307) and Ibn H.ajar in Tahdhb al-Tahdhb (11:126-127).

23. In al-Sakhw, al-Jawhir wa al-Durar (p. 21).

24. Ibn Rajab, Sharh. `Ilal al-Tirmidh (1:411).

25. Cited from Zayd ibn Ab al-Zarqa' by al-Dhahab, Siyar (al-Arna't. ed. 7:275).

26. Al-Sakhw, al-Jawhir wa al-Durar (p. 20-23).

27. Narrated by al-Haraw al-Ans.r in Dhamm al-Kalm (4:139 #907).

28. In Ibn `Abd al-Barr, Jmi` Bayn al-`Ilm (2:175).

29. In al-Dhahab, Tadhkirat al-Huffz. (2:776).

30. Narrated by Ibn Ab H.tim in the introduction to his al-Jarh wa al-Ta`dl (p. 293), Ibn al-Jawz in Manqib al-Imm Ahmad (p. 63), and al-Dhahab in Trkh al-Islm (chapter on Ahmad).

31. In Muslim and the Four Sunan.

32. In al-Bukhr and Muslim.

33. Ibn al-Subk in Tabaqt al-Shfi`iyya, al-Sakhw in his introduction to al - Jawhir wa al-Durar, and al-Haytam in his Fatw Hadthiyya (p. 283). Something similar is narrated of Ahmad by Ibn Rajab in his Dhayl Tabaqt al-Hanbila (1:131) and al-`Ulaym in al-Manhaj al-Ahmad (2:208).

34. Ibn `Abd al-Barr, Jmi` Bayn al-`Ilm (2:160).

35. Ishq ibn Ibrhm ibn Makhlad, known as Ishq ibn Rhyah or Rhawayh, Ab Ya`qb al-Tamm al-Marwaz al-Hanzali (d. 238), one of the major hadth Masters. Ab Qudma considered him greater than Imm Ahmad in memorization of hadth, a remarkable assessment considering Ahmad's knowledge of 700,000 to a million narrations according to his son `Abd Allh's and Ab Zur`a al-Rz's estimations. He once said of himself: "I never wrote anything except I memorized it, and I can now see before me more than 70,000 hadths in my book"; "I know the place of 100,000 hadths as if I were looking at them, and I memorize 70,000 of them by heart - all sound (sahha) - and 4,000 falsified ones." [Narrated by al-Khatb in al-Jmi` li Akhlq al-Rw (2:380-381 #1832-1833).] He did not reach the same stature in fiqh. Al-Bayhaq and others narrate that he unsuccessfully debated al-Shfi` on a legal question, as a result of which the latter disapproved of his title as the "jurisprudent of Khursn." To a Jahm scholar who said: "I disbelieve in a Lord that descends from one heaven to another heaven," Ibn Rhyah replied: "I believe in a Lord that does what He wishes." [Narrated by al-Dhahab who identifies the scholar as Ibrhm ibn (Hishm) Ab Slih. in Mukhtasar al-`Uluw (p. 191 #234).] Al-Bayhaq comments: "Ishq ibn Ibrhm al-Hanzali made it clear, in this report, that he considers the Descent (al-nuzl) one of the Attributes of Action (min sift al-f`l). Secondly, he spoke of a descent without `how'. This proves he did not hold displacement (al-intiql) and movement from one place to another (al-zawl) concerning it." [See post titled, "The `Descent' of Allh Most High".] Sources: Ibn Ab Ya`l, Tabaqt al-Hanbila (1:6, 1:184); al-Bayhaq, Manqib al-Shfi` (1:213) and al-Asm' wa al-Sift (2:375-376 #951); al-Dhahab, Siyar (9:558 #1877); Ibn al-Subk, Tabaqt al-Shfi`iyya al-Kubr (2:89-90, 9:81).

36. Narrated by Ab Ya`l in Tabaqt al-Hanbila (1:329) and cited by Shaykh Ab Ghudda in his introduction to Muhammad al-Shaybn's Muwatta' and his short masterpiece al-Isnd min al-Dn (p. 68).

37. Narrated by al-Rmahurmuz in al-Muh.addith al-Fsil (p. 560).

38. Ibn `Abd al-Salm, al-Fatw al-Mawsiliyya (p. 132-134).

39. In al-Sakhw, al-Jawhir wa al-Durar (p. 18).

40. Al-Sakhw, al-Jawhir wa al-Durar (p. 20-23).

41. Narrated from Ibn Ab Khaythama by Ab Nu`aym in the Hilya (4:225) and Ibn Rajab in Sharh. `Ilal al-Tirmidh (1:413).

42. In Ibn Rajab, Sharh. `Ilal al-Tirmidh (1:413).

43. In Ibn `Abd al-Barr, Jmi` Bayn al-`Ilm (2:130).

44. Narrated by Ab Nu`aym in the Hilya (9:3).

45. Narrated by al-Khatb in al-Jmi` li Akhlq al-Rw (2:109).

46. Ab Ghudda, al-Isnd min al-Dn (p. 68). He means by his remarks al-Albn and others of his ilk. Ab Ghudda's student, Shaykh Muhammad `Awwma, listed several examples of this rule of the Salaf in his Athar al-Hadth al-Sharf f Ikhtilf al-A'immat al-Fuqah' ("The Mark of the Noble Hadth in the Differences of the Imms of Jurisprudence").

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