Maududi expounds his views extensively on hadith and the science of hadith verification in his book Tafhimaat (vol.1, p.359–362 / Islamic Publications Limited, Lahore 2000 CE). Under the heading, ‘Maslak-e-Eitidaal (The Moderate Position)’, he says,
“…Rather our intention is to clarify that those (the Muhadditheen) who have criticized or praised individuals were after all human. They too had human weaknesses. Is it necessary that those whom they have declared as trustworthy were trustworthy beyond doubt and trustworthy in all their narrations… Moreover, to accurately ascertain each individual’s memory, good intention and self-restrain, etc., is further difficult…
It is due to this and similar reasons that the knowledge of isnad, Jarh and Ta’deel cannot be considered correct in its entirety. This material is reliable to the extent that it helps in the research of Prophet’s Sunnah and Aathaar and it may be given due consideration, but it is not of the status that it may be relied upon completely.”
On page, 356-57 he writes,
“The first thing that is examined in judging a narration is the status of the narrators. In this regard, each and every narrator is examined through various manners, whether he is a liar, careless in narrating narrations, sinner or heretic, dubious or weak in his memory, whether his condition is unknown or his condition is known. By all these conditions the status of the narrators were examined by the Muhadditheen, and they thus presented a glorious collection on Asmaa’ ar-Rijaal (the study of the narrators) which are beyond doubt invaluable. But what amongst this is not prone to mistakes? Firstly, it is difficult to accurately know the biography of the narrators, their memory and their other inner qualities. Secondly, those people themselves who formed an opinion about them were not free from human weaknesses. Nafs (desires) accompany everyone and there is a strong possibility that personal opinions interfered in forming an opinion, good or bad, about individuals… ”
Firstly: The science of hadith and isnads (chains of narrators) is one of the special characteristics of this ummah. No other nation paid attention as this ummah did to the chains of narration through which their books and their religion were transmitted. This is why the texts of other nations were subjected to distortions and fabrications, and it became impossible for them to know the pure religion and to find out about the stories of the Prophets in a sound and authenticated manner.
The scholars of hadith have striven hard and reached a prominent position in that field, as Allah has honoured them with efforts to preserve His religion and the Sunnah of His Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam)
Muhammad ibn Haatim ibn al-Muzaffar (rahimahullah) said,
“Allah has honoured this ummah and favoured it over others by blessing it with the isnaad. No other nation has this blessing, and they do not distinguish between that which was revealed in the Tawrah and Injeel and was brought by their Prophets, and that which was added to their books of narrations transmitted from inauthentic sources. This ummah narrates hadith from a trustworthy individual who was known at his own time for sincerity and honesty, from another of similar character, and so on until the end of the chain of narrators. Then they researched very carefully to find out who had the stronger memory and was more precise, and who spent more time with the one from whom the report was transmitted, and who spent less time, then they would write down the hadith from more than twenty chains of narration, so that they could be sure that they had eliminated any mistake or error from it, and they wrote it exactly as it was narrated. This is one of the greatest blessings that Allah has bestowed upon this ummah. We ask Allah to inspire us to thank Him for this blessing and we ask Him to make us steadfast and to guide us to that which will bring us closer to Him and make us adhere to obedience to Him.” [End quote from Sharaf Ashaab al-Hadith (40)]
Secondly: They are the best people who strove the most to ensure that their judgement and transmission of hadith was done on the basis of honesty and sincerity, and they were the ones who strove the most to avoid errors and mistakes to the extent that they set the highest example of fairness and avoiding favoritism when it comes to preserving the religion of Allah.
So we see ‘Ali ibn al-Madini ruling that his father was da’eef (weak), and he knew that this ruling regarding his father would guarantee an end to his position as a scholar, but that did not prevent him from stating his opinion concerning him.
Al-Khateeb al-Baghdaadi (rahimahullah) said,
“None of the people of hadith should show any favoritism with regard to the science of hadith, whether it is to his father or his son. ‘Ali ibn ‘Abd-Allaah al-Madini, who was a prominent scholar of hadith in his time, never narrated even a letter to suggest that his father was strong in hadith, rather what was narrated from him was the opposite of that.” [End quote from Sharaf Ashaab al-Hadith (41)]
Ibn Hibbaan said in al-Majrooheen (2/15),
“Ali ibn al-Madini was asked about his father and he said, ‘Ask someone else. They said, ‘We asked you. He paused then he raised his head and said, This has to do with religion; my father is da’eef (weak).”
Yahya ibn Ma’een (rahimahullah) spoke about a friend of his whom he loved, and al-Husayn ibn Hibbaan narrated that he said of Muhammad ibn Saleem al-Qaadi,
“By Allah, he is our friend, and he is dear to us, but there is no way to praise him and I do not recommend anyone to narrate from him or encourage others to do so.” and he said, “By Allaah, he heard a great deal and he is well known, but he does not limit himself to what he heard, rather he includes things that he did not hear.” I said to him, “Should he be narrated from?” He said, “No.” [See, Tareekh Baghdaad (5/325)]
Jareer ibn ‘Abd al-Hameed said concerning his brother Anas, “He should not be narrated from. He tells lies when he talks to people.” [Al-Jarh wal-Ta’deel (2/289)]
Imam al-Bukhari (rahimahullah) narrated a great deal in his Sahih from his Shaykh, Muhammad ibn Yahya al-Dhuhali in spite of the harm that he was subjected to as a result of a misunderstanding between him and the Shaykh who forsook him. But that enmity did not prevent him from accepting and narrating his hadith.
They would accept hadith from those who held different opinions and beliefs to their own – if it was proven that (the narrator) was honest and sincere. The fact that a narrator was a follower of bid’ah did not prevent them from judging him on the basis of fairness, because they paid heed to the Words of Allah, “O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allaah as just witnesses; and let not the enmity and hatred of others make you avoid justice. Be just, that is nearer to piety, and fear Allah. Verily, Allaah is Well Acquainted with what you do.” [Surah al-Maidah 5:8]
Yahya ibn Ma’een (rahimahullah) was asked about Sa’eed ibn Khuthaym and he said,
“He is a Kufi and there is nothing wrong with him; he is trustworthy.”
It was said to Yahya, “Is he Shi’i?”
He said, “A trustworthy Shi’i, a trustworthy Qadari.” [Tahdheeb al-Kamaal (10/414)]
Abbaad ibn Ya’qoob al-Rawaajini al-Kufi was a fanatical Shi’i, but despite that Ibn Khuzaymah said in his Sahih (2/376), “The one who is trustworthy in his narration but dubious in his religious commitment, ‘Abbaad ibn Ya’qoob, told us… ”
Thirdly: Just as they understood the seriousness of tarnishing people’s honour unlawfully, they also understood the seriousness of speaking badly about any of the narrators, because it could affect the issue of accepting or rejecting the hadith of the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) from them. Muhammad ibn Sireen (rahimahullah) said, “This knowledge is the (foundation of) religion, so watch from whom you learn your religion.” [Narrated by Muslim in the Introduction to his Sahih]
Ibn Daqeeq al-‘Eid said,
“The honour of the Muslims is a pit of Hellfire. Two groups are standing at the edge of this pit; the muhadditheen and the judges.” [See: Tadreeb al-Raawi (2/369)]
Such great piety and awareness must inevitably have a great effect of fairness and seeking to be right when judging narrators. This is what was stipulated by the scholars for everyone who wants to examine narrators and pass judgement concerning them.
Al-Dhahabi said in al-Mooqizah (82),
“Judging narrators requires a great deal of piety and freedom from whims and desires and bias, along with complete experience in the science of hadeeth and the faults and narrators thereof.”
Al-Mu’allimi (rahimahullah) said in al-Tankeel (1/54),
“The imams of hadith are knowledgeable and careful, andthey strive to avoid mistakes, but they differ with regard to that.”
Fourthly: Yes, none of them is infallible and it is possible that there may be mistakes in what some of them say. It is also possible that the cause of some of these mistakes may be love or hate for someone. Some things of that nature did indeed happen, for no human being can be entirely free of that. But that should not be a reason for doubting all of their judgements, and this is for the following reasons:
1 – Because these are a few mistakes when compared with the great legacy that the leading scholars of hadith and al-jarh wa’l-ta’deel have left behind, the vast majority of which is based on honesty and fairness, so it is unfair to overlook that because of a few mistakes.
2 – Because the scholars highlighted these mistakes and pointed them out in their comments. Whatever the motive was, whether it was enmity, envy or a difference of madhhab, they would reject unfair judgements and would issue fair judgements concerning a specific narrator.
Hence none of the scholars accepted the view of Imam Malik (rahmatullah alayh) concerning Muhammad ibn Ishaaq, the author of al-Maghaazi, that he was one of the fabricators, when they realized that this statement was based on resentment and personal reasons; rather they judged him as “hasan al-hadith” (i.e., a good narrator) and the leading scholars of hadith used his reports as evidence. And they did not accept the view of al-Nasaa’i concerning Ahmad ibn Salih al-Masri, or the view of Rabi’ah concerning Abu’l-Zinnaad ‘Abd-Allaah ibn Dhakwaan. [See, al-Raf’ wa’l-Takmeel (409-432)].
Abu Hatim al-Raazi (rahimahullah) said,
“There has never been in any nation since Allah created Adam (alayhissalaam), safekeepers who preserve the legacy of the Messengers except in this ummah. A man said to him, “O Abu Hatim, perhaps there were narrations which have no basis and are not sound?” He said, “Their scholars will recognize the sound from the unsound. So they preserved this science (of hadeeth) so that the people who came after them were able to distinguish between reports and preserve them.” Then he said. “May Allah have mercy on Abu Zur’ah; by Allah he strove very hard to preserve the legacy of the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam).” [Sharaf Ashaab al-Hadith (43)]
You should understand that Allah has preserved this religion by His grace and blessing and that the Sunnah has been preserved as Allah guaranteed to preserve His religion. So it is not possible for the scholars to unanimously agree to authenticate a weak narrator or to criticize or condemn a sound narrator. Rather you will inevitably find that truthfulness and fairness are very apparent in the views of the majority of scholars and in most issues of religion.
Imam al-Dhahabi (rahimahullah) said in al-Mooqizah (84),
“The same Imam may be more generous or more kind with regard to a report that is in accordance with his madhhab or the madhhab of his Shaykh than with regard to other reports that say the opposite. But it is only the Prophets who are infallible. But this religion is supported and protected by Allah, may He be exalted, and its scholars will never agree on misguidance, either deliberately or by mistake. So no two scholars will agree on classing a weak narrator as sound, or a sound narrator as weak. Rather their differences will be with regard to how strong or weak a narrator is. The one who passes such judgements speaks on the basis of his own effort, strength and knowledge. If it so happens that he makes a mistake in judging, then he will have a single reward. And Allah is the source of strength.”
Ibn Kathir (rahimahullah) said in al-Baa’ith al-Hatheeth (1/11),
“As for the words of these imams who took on this task (of examining hadith), they should be accepted without questioning or mentioning the reason because of their knowledge of it and their deep understanding of this field and because of their being known to be fair, religiously committed, experienced and sincere, especially if they agree unanimously that a narrator is weak, or matrook (to be ignored) or a liar and so on. The skilled muhaddith will not hesitate to agree with them when they take a decision of that nature because of their honesty, trustworthiness and sincerity. Hence al-Shafi’i (rahimahullah) said in many instances when commenting on Ahadith, “None of the scholars would regard this hadith as sound,” so he would reject it and not quote it as evidence on that basis.”
Finally, one should be content with the blessing that Allah has bestowed upon this ummah by means of this noble branch of knowledge, and do not get carried away with doubts about the sahih ahadith. Reason dictates that we should not reject the efforts of thousands of sincere scholars throughout the centuries on the basis of a few mistakes here and there. To appreciate the science of Hadith verification, one must strive to read the numerous books on the subject, and one cannot help but be astonished by the huge efforts that were put into verifying a single hadith.
Even the Orientalist Margoliouth said, “The Muslims may boast about their science of hadith.”