Our scholars of Hadith regard verse 6 of Surah al-Hujurat to be the source for verifying the reliability or unreliability of the narrators of Hadith as a result of which the great science of rijal was born – which is one of the sciences of which Muslims are the pioneers. The verse reads:
یٰۤاَیُّہَا الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡۤا اِنۡ جَآءَکُمۡ فَاسِقٌۢ بِنَبَاٍ فَتَبَیَّنُوۡۤا اَنۡ تُصِیۡبُوۡا قَوۡمًۢا بِجَہَالَۃٍ فَتُصۡبِحُوۡا عَلٰی مَا فَعَلۡتُمۡ نٰدِمِیۡنَ .(6:49)
Believers! If a defiant person brings you a piece of news, investigate it thoroughly lest you assail someone unknowingly then regretting your action. (49:6)
This verse directs Muslims to fully investigate news given to them by a fasiq. This directive is indeed a general one, for it is essential to investigate all news likely to have far-fetched consequences. However, if someone attributes a report to the Prophet (sws), then it is even more important that it be scrutinized. The Prophet (sws) is a divinely appointed guide: each of his directives and practices is the best exemplar for the Muslims. If something is wrongly ascribed to him and it is accepted without inquiry, then this can result in loss not only in this world but in the Hereafter as well.
Though the verse only asks Muslims to investigate the news given by a fasiq, yet it is obvious that if a narrator is majhul such that neither is he known to be trustworthy nor untrustworthy, then it is essential that he too be researched. This is because there is a chance that in accepting the report of an unknown narrator that person turns out in reality to be a fasiq. Thus scholars of Hadith have always investigated majhul narrators so that their reliability or unreliability can be ascertained. If they were not able to find out the details of a narrator, they rejected him by regarding him to be majhul.
It is also evident from the verse that this investigation is essential when a fasiq gives a piece of news that has far reaching consequences. This is because the word used is نَبَأwhich is used for a piece of news that is important and has far reaching consequences. This word is not used for a common piece of news or incident. Thus in general matters of every day life there is nothing wrong in accepting the information of a fasiq.
The verse asks Muslims to investigate both the narrator and his narration since the words used are: "Believers! When a fasiq brings a piece of news to you, investigate it." It is obvious that the object of the verb فَتَبَیَّنُوۡۤاis both the narrator and his narration; in fact, that the narration is the object of the verb is even more evident. This is because it is already known that the narrator is fasiq. In the investigation of a report, just as the reliability and trustworthiness of a narrator is important, even more important is to critically evaluate the words of the report, its context and background, its accordance or discordance with other reports, its analysis in the light of reason and revelation and, most important of all, its harmony with the Book of God and related things. If only the narrator is scrutinized and all these aspects are disregarded, then it cannot be said that research has been thoroughly done. Our scholars of Hadith mostly stress on scrutinizing the narrator and do not give much importance to scrutinizing the content of the report with regard to the aspects I have just referred to. This is in spite of the fact that without researching these aspects we cannot say that the investigation is thorough. It is for this reason that our jurists have enunciated principles to scrutinize the contents of a report and this process is called darayah. The greatest share in this service is that of Imam Abu Hanifah (ra). By contributing in this regard, he has not only done a great favour to fiqh, he has also done a great service to the discipline of Hadith. Had our scholars of Hadith properly applied these principles, the great propaganda and uproar against Hadith would never have originated by mischief-mongers which opened the way to many interventions in religion by many misled sects. If God gives me the urge and time to write my proposed book on the principles of deliberation on Hadith, I will insha'Allah try to elaborate upon the value and importance of these principles.
It is evident from the above details that it is in accordance with this explicit directive of the Qur'an that our scholars of Hadith have exposed fasiq and majhul narrators. However, in these times, some well-wishers of such narrators have asserted that exposing the faults of these narrators amounts to backbiting which the Qur'an has prohibited in verse 12 of this very surah and regarded it to be equivalent to consuming the flesh of one's dead brother. In their opinion, because of a certain "strategy," the scholars of Hadith legalized this prohibition in order to save religion from the narratives of fasiq narrators. From this point, they postulated an even deeper and subtle point that none of the prohibitions of the shari'ah is eternal. Hence, the leader of an Islamic Movement (Tahrik-i Islami) has the right under the requisites of this "strategy" to legalize a prohibition. I have already humbly commented on these views in some of my articles;there is neither need nor requirement to repeat this critique here. It suffices to ask would the scholars of Hadith legalize a thing as filthy as backbiting as part of this so called "strategy" when the Qur'an has so explicitly directed to expose the fasiq and majhul narrators?
It also needs to be kept in consideration that regarding the impugning of narrators to be backbiting is the work of the exponents of tasawwuf. Since the whole edifice of tasawwuf stands on weak and baseless narratives, when the scholars of Hadith began researching into the narrators of a report, these people thought that if this work continued fearlessly the whole edifice of tasawwuf would be razed to the ground. In order to safeguard themselves from this danger, the exponents of tasawwuf started to allege that the scholars of Hadith were indulging in backbiting. This point became very popular among the circles of tasawwuf. It was adopted by some minds of the present age who dubbed it as "strategy", and, on this basis, enunciated such a principle which could disfigure the whole religion.
In the end, another thing about this verse should be kept in mind. Some scholars of Hadith and fiqh, while investigating the narratives of a fasiq person, gave importance to the practical fisq which emanated from him while disregarding the fisq of his belief and ideology. It is their opinion that if a person is guilty of some practical fisq like telling a lie or has a bad moral conduct, then his narrative and testimony shall no doubt not be accepted; however, if he has belief which can be regarded as fisq, then merely on this basis his narrative or testimony shall not be rejected. In my opinion, this view is absolutely wrong. Experience shows that the number of narratives fabricated by people having beliefs which reflect fisq are much more than those fabricated by people whose deeds reflect fisq. Their narratives are found in great numbers in books of sirah, tafsir, tasawwuf and history and have been misused by innovators and misguided sects. May God have mercy on the scholars who have given this concession to narrators having fisq in their beliefs and in this manner set this ummah on a trial which is not at all easy for the upright.
In my opinion, this division between fisq in belief and fisq in practice is meaningless. There is nothing in the Qur'an and Hadith which supports this view. The general principle stated earlier regarding fasiq people is in accordance with reason and revelation if it is applied to the people who have fisq in their beliefs: their report and testimony shall be accepted in all matters in which the report of a disbeliever is acceptable; however in important matters, in particular religious ones, their report and testimony cannot possibly be accepted.
(Translated by Dr Shehzad Saleem)
. Islahi was ultimately able to record lectures on this topic that were later published in the form of a book.Details: Amin Ahsan Islahi, Mabadi Tadabbur-i Hadith, 1st ed., Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1991.
. Amin Ahsan Islahi, Khalid Masud (ed.) Maqalat-i Islahi, 1st ed. (Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1991), 79-189.