Difference between Ahadith Narrations & Historical Reports

[By Mufti Shafi’i Uthmani (rahimahullah)]

In Islam, the level of belief and reliance that is placed on the Qur’aan and Mutawatir Ahadith, that level of belief has not been placed upon the general Ahadith. The rank of the statement of the Sahaba (radhiyallahu anhum) is not that of the Hadith of Rasulullah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam). Similarily, the rank of the belief and reliance on  historical narrations is not the same as that of the Qur’aan, Sunnah or the statements of the Sahaba (radhiyallahu anhum) proven through an authentic chain of narration.

If a Hadith is found to be in (apparent) contradiction to the text of the Qur’aan, then it will be compulsory to interpret it (make ta’wil) and if the interpretation is not understood then it compulsory to leave that Hadith out. Similarily, if a historical narration contradicts anything proven in the Qur’aan and the Sunnah, then it will be left out or it will be compulsory to  interpret it, no matter how reliable and dependable that narration is in historical terms.

This grading of reliability and dependability does not lower the honour and importance of a science, but it enchances the Shariah and the honour of its laws, such that the highest level of reliability and dependability will be necessary in order to prove them.


It is sufficient to gauge the importance of history in Islam from the fact that history and stories is one of the five important sciences of the Noble Qur’aan. The Noble Qur’aan gives special importance to explaining the good and bad conditions of the days of before and after past nations. However, the Noble Qur’aan has a unique style of explaining history and stories. Instead of mentioning the story in sequence, it divides the story, and narrates it together with other subjects. Also, the story is not mentioned just in one place, but the Qur’aan repeates the story in various places.

Through this unique method, the importance of history as well as its objective is clarified, i.e the lessons behind each incident. Islam has taught special etiquettes in the writing of history, and has also stated that history, merely as a subject, has no real value. History becomes valuable only when one takes lesson from it.

After pondering over the treasure of Ahadith and Sirah of Rasulullah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) one shall find the entire treasure to be a history of the speech and actions of Rasulullah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam). When people began narrating incorrectly and fabricating Ahadith, then the need arose for the history of narrators to be known, in order to protect the Ahadith. The Imam’s of Ahadith placed great importance upon this. Sufyan Thawri (rahimahullah) said that when narrators began to lie, we used history to oppose them.

That part of history, which deals with narrators of Ahadith, (regarding whether they are reliable or not) has been given great importance in the science of Hadith. It even received a separate name, i.e Asma’ ur Rijal (The names of narrators).

The scholars of the Ummah that have objected and classified the criticism of narrators to be backbiting, their objection was only in the case where the criticism went beyond the limits of the Shariah; where finding fault and disgracing the person without need and necessity became the objective; or where there was no justice and balance exercised in the grading of a narrator.

Just as the Muhaddithin felt the need to scrutinize the narrators, at the same time they placed a number of necessary conditions in order to keep this work within the limits of the Shariah. This has been explained in detail by Hafidh Abdur Rahman Sakhawi (rahimahullah) in his book- Al-A’lam bil taubeeq liman zim al-tareeq.

In this book he has mentioned that the first condition for levelling criticism is that the intention of the criticizer be correct. The intention should never be to show a fault of a narrator or to disgrace him, but rather the objective should be well-wishing and the protection of the Ahadith.

Secondly, this work should only be done regarding that person who has a link to the narration of a Hadith; or in the case where one would be saved from harm due to the criticism levelled. If this is not the motive, then remember, it is no work of Deen to make spreading the faults of someone a past-time.

Thirdly, a scholar should only suffice a minimum required in this particular field, which is that a particular narrator is weak, unreliable or he fabricates narrations. Extra words that point out a fault should be avoided. Whatever is said must only be said after thorough investigation and research.

In summary; that part of history that deals with the protection of Ahadith i.e criticizing the narrators, jarh and ta’dil, explaining their biographies, etc, forms the part of those necessary sciences upon which the preservation of the Ahadith of Rasulullah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) depends.

As for that part of history, which has generally been referred to as ‘history’, which discusses all major events which occurred rrom the time the universe was created until present times, the incidents of the Ambiya (alayhimussalaam), the lives of rulers and kings, the revolutions in the world, wars, victories, etc, these incidents, have been narrated from generation to generation and some have come down in book form. Before Islam, this was nothing but a collection of stories, incidents and tales, which had no verification and none ever bothered regarding checking its authenticity.

Islam was the first to make clarification and research into the authenticity of the narration necessary. The Noble Qur’aan says:

“If a sinful person brings you a report, verify its correctness”.

Those who recorded the teachings of Rasulullah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam), his speech and actions adopted this special method and made more than one science through which the Hadith of Rasulullah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) was protected. Principles were also formulated for the other matters that were narrated. In the general history of the world that the Muslims compiled, these principles were considered as far as possible.

Muslims were the ones who accorded history the standing of being a proper and reliable science. Muslims taught the world to write history and to verify it. The scholars of the Ummah had scrutinized the narrations of the incidents of the Ambiya (alayhimussalaam) and then the Ahadith. Not only did they separate the truth from the falsehood, but also they established stages from highest to lowest in the true and reliable narrations.

They separated the part of history that deals with the Ahadith i.e. Asma’ ur Rijal and made it a part of the science of Ahadith. They also paid special attention to writing general history, the history of countries and kings, the history of  various parts of the world and its Geography.

There are great Imams of Hadith and Tafsir, scholars and jurists, etc, who have written regarding the history of Ummah. Thousands of small and big books were written, from which it is proven that this history also has a status in Islam.

In the first 40 pages of his book, Hafidh Abdur Rahman Sakhawi (rahimahullah) has made mention of the virtues and benefits of history in detail, in the light of the statements of the scholars and wise men. The greatest and most comprehensive benefit is to derive lesson; to realize the temporary nature of this world by pondering over the rise and fall of nations, to create consciousness of the great power of Allah Ta’ala and to become aware of His bounties and blessings through the biographies of the Ambiya (alayhimussalaam) and the pious; and to inculcate  within one the importance of staying away from disbelief and sin, by taking lesson from the evil end of the disbelievers and sinners. 

Despite this science having so many benefits and virtues, none have ever accorded this science the status that the beliefs of Islam and laws could be drawn from it. No one ever accorded it such a status that historical reports could be used as proof  in the laws of halaal and haraam. Historical reports are not regarded as effective in those laws for which there is a need for Shar’i proof. In addition, there is no path for historical reports to create doubt in any of the laws that have been proven from the Qur’aan, Sunnah, Ijma’ or Qiyaas.

The reason for this is that, although Islamic history is not  baseless tales, without a chain of narration, however two matters cannot be overlooked when studying history and when using it for one’s objective. Those who overlook these two matters will use history incorrectly and will fall into the trap of many deviated groups.

The first matter is that the Ahadith of Rasulullah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) i.e. his speech or actions which the Sahaba (radhiyallahu anhum) have heard or seen, was a trust which they understood had to be conveyed to the Ummah. They thus paid special attention to every utterance and actions of Rasulullah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) and ensured that it remained preserved in their minds and hearts, as far as possible.

Besides this, the intense love that the Sahaba (radhiyallahu anhum) had for Rasulullah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) was such that they were not even prepared to let the water he (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) used for wudhu fall to the ground, they would rub it on their faces and chests. When they would protect the hair that separated from the body of Rasulullah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) and his old clothing more than their own lives, how could it ever be fathomed that they would not give due importance to protecting the Ahadith of Rasulullah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam)?

The immense love of the Sahaba (radhiyallahu anhum) spurred them to protect his (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) every word and to care for his every hadith, more than even their own lives. Almighty Allah, for the protection of the words of His beloved Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) created a most noble group, possessing angelic qualities, numbering more than a hundred thousand, all with one mission i.e to ensure the protection and propagation of the speech and actions of the single personality, Rasulullah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam).

This privilege was not accorded to anyone before Rasulullah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam). Even if one were amongst the greatest of kings, then too no one would ever have the concern to listen to every word of his, attentively, remember it, and then propagate it to others. The incidents of kings, conditions of countries and places, and the changes of time are definitely studied and heard with interest, but who has the concern to remember them properly and propagate them as well? Therefore, historical incidents and narrations can never have the same status as that of a Ahadith!.

Rasulullah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) was commanded to propagate the Qur’aan and the teachings of Risalat (known as the Ahadith) throughout the world, and to the coming generations, until the Final Hour. For this purpose, Allah Almighty blesses him with such Companions, who were filled with his love and honour. Together with this, Rasulullah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) made it the obligation of every Sahabi (radhiyallahu anhu) to convey whatever aspect of Deen they heard or saw from Rasulullah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) to the Ummah.

Then too, the danger remained, that when propagating a law, or when narrating from one person to the next, it could easily happen that a mis-quote would occur or that a man could misunderstand a statement and narrate it according to his misunderstanding. To ward off this danger, He (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) issued a stern warning to the narrators of his Ahadith, that they were to exercise the utmost caution possible when narrating his words and actions, Rasulullah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) would constantly repeat the following: he who wilfully attributes something false to me should prepare his abode in the fire

This severe warning made the Sahaba (radhiyallahu anhum) and the scholars of Hadith that came later so cautious in the narration of Hadith, that as long as a Hadith was not proven with very steong research, they stayed away from attributing it to him (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) The scholars that followed and arranged the Ahadith in chapters and sections, selected only a few thousand Ahadith, after great research, from the hundreds of thousands that they learnt.

In tadrib ur Rawi, p.12, Allama Suyuti (rahimahullah) has written,

Imam Bukhari (rahimahullah) said that he chose (the ahadith of) Sahih Bukhari from a hundred thousand authentic (sahih) and two hundred thousand unauthentic (ghayr sahih) Ahadith that he knew from memory. Subsequently, in Sahih Bukhari, there are four thousand unrepeated Ahadith.

Imam Muslim (rahimahullah) said that he chose from three hundred thousand Ahadith when writing his sahih, in which there are only four thousand unrepeated Ahadith.

Imam Abu Dawud (rahimahullah) says that from five hundred thousand Ahadith of Rasulullah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) he selected for his Sunan only four thousand Ahadith.

Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (rahimahullah) says that he chose the Ahadith of Musnad Ahmad from seven hundred and fifty thousand Ahadith.

In this way, through natural means and in the shade of the wise administration of Rasulullah  (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam), that Ahadith of Rasulullah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) was gathered in a unique, divinely aided method and it became the second proof of the shariah after the Qur’aan.


This is because, firstly, there was no reason for people to give importance to remembering general incidents and events and then convey them to the people; exactly as they hear.

Secondly, if the historians had to judge and scrutinize historical reports and record them with the strict research the hadith narrations require, and only if three or four thousand were chosen from four hundred thousand in Ahadith, then in historical narrations, not even four hundred would have remained! Ninety-nine percent of historical narrations would be forgotten and obliterated and worldly and religious benefits attached to them would have been lost.

This is the reason why the books of the Imams of Ahadith alone have the status of being principle, reliable works. The narrators that have been classified as weak in the field of Ahadith, when it comes to history, these narrators are also accomodated and their narrations are given consideration.

Waqidi’ and Sayf ibn ‘Umar have been classified as weak in narrating hadith. In fact, they have been severely criticized. However, when it comes to history, the imams of Hadith do not find any problem in narrating from them.

In the science of history, all types of narrations are gathered in each chapter, without any real research or inquiry regarding its strength. Scholars who are taken to be leaders in inquiry, research and investigation in the sciences of Qur’aan and Sunnah, when they write a book in the field of history, then although they do not give place to baseless stories and tales, however, they do not over-exert themselves in researching the lives of the narrators and checking the criticism levelled against them, as they would gave done, had it been Ahadith that were being narrated.

Had these scholars exercised such caution in history as they did when it comes to the science of Ahadith, then ninety-nine percent of history would have been lost from the world. The world then have been deprived of the benefits, lessons, wisdoms, etc, that are linked to this science.

Also, since no Shar’i law was ever going to be extracted from the books of history, no real need for such caution and research was ever felt. That is why the imams of Jarh and Ta’deel (scholars who were famous in describing narrators) also adopted a wide, accepting stance in the field of history. The famous imam of Hadith and Usul al Hadith, Imam ibn Salah (rahimahullah) states in his book Ulum al Hadith:

The aspect dominant among the historians that they gather many narrations in which, authentic, unauthentic, and all types of narrations are mixed.

Allamah ibn Kathir (rahimahullah) was a famous Imam and a well-known researcher. He had an outstanding quality of researching and investigating narrations. However, when this same luminary writes his history work, Al Bidayah Wan Nihayah, then this level of inquiry and investigation does not remain, in fact, he himself attested to this fact, with the following statement, regarding some of the historical narrations in his book:

“I myself have doubt about their authenticity. However, since Ibn Jarir al Tabari (rahimahullah) and others have transmitted these narrations before me, I had thus merely followed suit. Had they not mentioned these narrations, I would have not recorded it in my book.”

It is quite apparent that in the search of a Hadith, he would have never that despite doubting its authenticity, just because some previous author had mentioned it that is why he wrote it.

This is despite the fact that ibn Kathir (rahimahullah) has refuted many narrations of Tabari (rahimahullah) and criticized them in Al Bidayah Wan Nihayah. All these points testify to the fact that in the field of history, those who criticize some narrations, they too have regarded it appropriate to gather as many narrations as possible regarding an incident, under one chapter, despite it being weak or even possibly fabricated.

This is not the co-incidental error of any individual, but this is the line of thinking of all the imams of science of history, that it is no fault to mention weak, unreliable narrations in the science of history without criticizing them. The reason for this is that they understood well that beliefs and laws of the shariah are not proven through history. Rather, its purpose is that man takes lessons from it and learns from the errors of those who had already slipped.

If a person desires using these narrations as proof for a ruling that deals with Islamic beliefs or practical deeds, then it is his responsibility to adopt the same laws for scrutinizing the details of each and every narrator, as is necessary in the narration of Hadith.

Without knowing this, how could it ever be permissible to draw rulings from historical narrations, just on the basis of a narration been found in the history book  of some reliable Imam of Hadith!

[Taken from the book Maqaam e Sahaba]


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