Section Two – The Importance of the Isnad and the Attention Paid to it by the Scholars of the Ahlus Sunnah

Chapter Six – Isnad (Chain of Transmission) and its Importance – Section One: Definition of Sanad and Matn (wording)
November 23, 2021
Section Three – The Rawafid and Isnad
November 23, 2021

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Section Two

The Importance of the Isnad and the Attention Paid to it by the Scholars of the Ahlus Sunnah

 

Allah subhanahu wa ta `ala has honoured the Ummah of Muhammad salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam with the knowledge of the Isnad; no civilization has shared this feat with it across the centuries. Thus, all praise is due to Allah, with his enablement it established this knowledge and nurtured it in the best of ways due to that falling under the ambit of well-wishing for Allah subhanahu wa ta `ala and his Rasul salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam. And also because it is the science through which Sahih narrations can be identified from Da`if and fabricated narrations.

Isnad holds a very prestigious position in Islam. The Qur’an has been transmitted to us with mass-transmission from Rasul Allah salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam and remains that way up to the present time. Likewise, the pristine Sunnah has been transmitted to us via consistent transmissions to Rasul Allah salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam.

Isnad is the speciality of this Ummah; it is not found in any other nation. Abu `Ali al Juba’i says:

 

خص الله تعالى هذه الأمة بثلاثة أشياء لم يعطها من قبلها: الإسناد، والأنساب، والإعراب

Allah subhanahu wa ta `ala has privileged this Ummah with three things which he did not grant any nation before it: Isnad, genealogy, and I`rab (grammar and syntax).[1]

 

And Ibn Hazm says:

 

نقل الثقة عن الثقة يبلغ به النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم مع الاتصال، نقل خصَّ الله، عزَّ وجلَّ، به المسلمين، دون سائر أهل الملل كلها.. وأما مع الإرسال والإعضال فمن هذا النوع كثير من نقل اليهود بل هو أعلى ما عندهم، إلا أنهم لا يقربون فيه من موسى كقربنا من محمد صلى الله عليه وسلم، بل يقفون بحيث يكون بينهم وبين موسى أكثر من ثلاثين عصرا، وإنما يبلغون إلى شمعون ونحوه

The transmission of a reliable person from a reliable person reaching Nabi salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam with consistency is a feat which Allah subhanahu wa ta `ala has specifically given to the Muslims with the exception of all other religions. As for transmission with Irsal (inconsistency in the tail end of the transmission) and I`dal (inconsistency in the centre where two or more links are consecutively missing), it is found in many narrations of the Jews. However, they are not as close to Musa `alayh al Salam in them as we are to Nabi salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam, rather they stop where there would be between them and Musa `alayh al Salam more than thirty generations; the furthest that they can reach is till Sham`un and his like.

 

He also says:

وأما النصارى فليس عندهم من صفة هذا النقل إلا تحريم الطلاق فقط، وأما النقل بالطريق المشتملة على كذاب، أو مجهول العين، فكثير في نقل اليهود والنصارى

As for the Christians, they do not have this type of transmission except in the issue of the impermissibility of divorce. As for transmissions which have in them a liar, or an unknown narrator, such transmissions are many in the traditions of the Jews and the Christians.

 

Likewise, he says:

 

وأما أقوال الصحابة والتابعين فلا يمكن لليهود أن يبلغوا إلى أصحاب نبي أصلا، ولا إلى تابع له، ولا يمكن للنصارى أن يصلوا إلى أعلى من شمعون وبولص

As for the statements of the Companions and their successors, it is not possible for the Jews to ever reach the companions of a Prophet, or even his successor for that matter. Likewise, the Christians cannot reach anyone beyond Sham`un and Paul.[2]

 

And Muhammad ibn Hatim ibn al Muzaffar says:

 

 إن الله أكرم هذه الأمة وشرفها وفضلها بالإسناد وليس لأحد من الأمم كلها قديمها وحديثها إسناد وإنما هي صحف في أيديهم وقد خلطوا بكتبهم أخبارهم وليس عندهم تمييز بين ما نزل من التوراة والإنجيل و بين ما ألحقوه بكتبهم من الأخبار التي أخذوا عن غير الثقات

Allah subhanahu wa ta `ala has honoured this Ummah, privileged it, and given it credence with Isnad. Not a single nation from all the nations, ancient and recent, has Isnad. All they have are scriptures wherein they have mixed their reports. And they have no way of differentiating between what was revealed in the Torah and the Injil and between what they added to them from what they took from unreliable sources.[3]

 

And Ibn Taymiyyah says:

 

علم الإسناد والرواية مما خص الله به أمة محمد صلى الله عليه وسلم، وجعله سُلَّماً إلى الدراية، فأهل الكتاب لا إسناد لهم يأثرون به المنقولات، وهكذا المبتدعون من هذه الأُمَّة أهل الضلالات، وإنما الإسناد لِمَنْ أعظم الله عليه المِنَّة، أهل الإسلام والسُّنَّة، يُفرقون به بين الصحيح والسقيم، والمُعْوَجِّ والقويم، وغيرهم من أهل البدع والكفار إنما عندهم منقولات يأثرونها بغير إسناد، وعليها من دينهم الاعتماد، وهم لا يعرفون فيها الحق من الباطل، ولا الحالي من العاطل

وأما هذه الأمة المرحومة، وأصحاب هذه الإمة المعصومة، فإن أهل العلم منهم والدين، هم من أمرهم على يقين، فظهر لهم الصدق من المين، كما يظهر لصبح لذي عينين، عصمهم الله أن يجمعوا على خطأ في دين الله معقول أو منقول، وأمرهم إذا تنازعوا في شيء أن يردوه إلى الله والرسول كما قال تعالى: يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُوا الرَّسُولَ وَأُولِي الْأَمْرِ مِنكُمْ ۖ فَإِن تَنَازَعْتُمْ فِي شَيْءٍ فَرُدُّوهُ إِلَى اللَّهِ وَالرَّسُولِ إِن كُنتُمْ تُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ خَيْرٌ وَأَحْسَنُ تَأْوِيلًا

The science of Isnad and transmission is a feat which Allah subhanahu wa ta `ala has granted the Ummah of Muhammad salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam specifically and which he has made an avenue to comprehension. Hence, the People of the Book have no Isnad in what they transmit of their reports. Likewise, is the case of the deviant innovators of this ummah. Thus, Isnad is only the privilege of those upon whom the favour of Allah subhanahu wa ta `ala is great, i.e. the people of Islam and the people of the Sunnah. Through it they differentiate between the authentic and the lacklustre, and between the crooked and the straight. As for the innovators, and the disbelievers, they have reports which they transmit without any Isnad, whilst upon them is their reliance in their creed. Thus, they cannot know the truth from the falsehood, nor the adorned (with jewellery) from the one empty of it.

As for this graced Ummah, and the followers of this infallible nation, its scholars and its pious are upon complete conviction in their matter. For the truth is clear to them from the falsehood, as the morning is clear to anyone with two eyes. Allah subhanahu wa ta `ala has protected them from concurring upon error in the Din of Allah subhanahu wa ta `ala, in its reason-based and revelation-based matters. And Allah subhanahu wa ta `ala has ordered them at the time of conflict to refer the matter to him and to his Rasul salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam, as in the verse, “O you who believe, obey Allah, and obey the messenger and the people of authority among you. And if you disagree over anything, refer it to Allah subhanahu wa ta `ala and to the messenger, if you should believe in Allah and the last day. This is the best way and best in result.”[4]

 

Furthermore, hereunder are some evidences of the importance lent by this Ummah to Isnad, and the transmitters of the Isnad:

`Abdullah ibn al Mubarak said:

الإسناد من الدين، لو لا الإسناد لقال من شاء ما شاء

Isnad is from the Din, if there was no Isnad, whoever wanted could say whatever he wanted.[5]

 

And he also said:

بيننا وبين القوم قوائم

Between us and the innovators are pillars, referring to the Isnad.[6]

 

And Muhammad ibn Sirin said:

إن هذا العلم دين فانظروا عمن تأخذون دينكم

This knowledge is Din, so see from whom you take your Din.[7]

 

And he also said:

 

لم يكونوا يسألون عن الإسناد، فلما وقعت الفتنة قالوا: سموا لنا رجالكم، فينظر إلى أهل السنة فيؤخذ من حديثهم، وينظر إلى أهل البدع فلا يؤخذ حديثهم

They would not ask regarding the Isnad, but when the Fitnah (trial, the assassination of `Uthman radiya Llahu `anhu) occurred they said, “Name for us your men.” Thus, the Ahlus Sunnah would be seen and their narrations would be accepted, and the innovators would be identified and their narrations would be avoided.[8]

 

And Abu al Zinad narrates from his father:

أدركت بالمدينة مائة كلهم مأمون، ما يؤخذ عنهم الحديث، يقال: ليس من أهله

In Madinah I met a hundred people, each one of them was reliable, but hadith was not taken from them. For it was said, “He is not from its people.”[9]

 

And al Awza`i narrates from Sulaiman ibn Musa, “I met Tawus and said to him, “So and so narrated such and such to me.” He replied with the following:

إن كان صاحبك مليا فخذ عنه

If your narrator is full (of knowledge and piety), then narrate from him.[10]

 

And Abu `Abdullah al Hakim says:

 

لو لا الإسناد وطلب هذه الطائفة له، وكثرة مواظبتهم على حفظه، لدرس منار الإسلام، ولتمكن أهل الإلحاد والبدع منه بوضع الأحاديث، وقلب الأسانيد، فإن الأخبار إذا تعرت عن وجود الأسانيد فيها كانت بترا

Had it not been for Isnad, and this group seeking it, and it consistently memorising it, the lamp post of Islam would have vanished, and the heretics and innovators would have succeeded in forging narrations and altering Asanid. For narrations, when they are void of Asanid are incomplete.[11]

 

These are but a few excerpts from the copious statements of the Ahlus Sunnah, which if all enumerated, the discussion would become extremely lengthy.

Nonetheless, the hadith scholars of the Ahlus Sunnah played a pivotal role in introducing criteria and laws through which the Asanid could be studied in the transmission of the hadith of Nabi salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam, in terms of their consistency and inconsistency. They have, thus, discussed these criteria at length in the sciences of hadith under specific topics like: Muttasil, Musnad, Mu`an`an, Mu’annan, Musalsal, `Ali, Nazil, and Mazid fi Muttasil al Asanid. And in terms of the inconsistency in the chain, they discussed the following: Munqati`, Mursal, Mu`allaq, Mu`dal, Mudallas, and Mursal Khafi.[12]

This science progressed so much, and the importance lent to increase, to such an extent, that books of narrations were written as per the Masanid. These are books of hadith wherein the Isnad of each Sahabi is separately enlisted from that of the others, irrespective of whether it is Sahih, or Hassan, or Da`if.

Likewise, they paid so much of attention to the Isnad that they authored books to specifically record the transmissions of single narrations, like the transmissions of the hadith: ‘For Allah there are ninety-nine names…’ recorded by Abu Nuaim al Asfahani, amongst many other books.

They also painstakingly noted the most authentic Asanid, and they deemed knowing them to be from the sciences of hadith. Hence, they searched for the most authentic Asanid of the Ahlul Bayt, of Abu Bakr, Ibn `Umar, Aisha radiya Llahu `anhum, and many others. Also, the most authentic Asanid of the people of Makkah and that of the people of Madinah. They also investigated the weakest Asanid and recorded them. Likewise, they authored huge books detailing the narrator-biographies wherefrom an entire science was born which is known as the science of Rijal (transmitters).[13] This is such a vast science that an entire lifetime can be spent in acquiring it. To explain, included in the books of this science are the following: books about the Sahabah radiya Llahu `anhum, books detailing the various generations, books of Jarh and Ta`dil (impugning and approbating narrators), books about names of these narrators, their agnomens and titles, books of Mu’talif and Mukhtalif (i.e. names which hold an identical word structure but are pronounced differently), books of Muttafiq and Muftariq (identical names held by disparate narrators), books detailing the dates of death of the narrators, etc. All of these books very clearly confirm the efforts invested by the scholars in studying the hadith, and they establish the importance of Isnad and its sciences according to them.

May Allah subhanahu wa ta `ala reward the scholars of the Ahlus Sunnah with the best of rewards.

So, in conclusion, the Ahlus Sunnah had since the first century realised the importance of the Isnad; they cherished this bounty fully and worked tirelessly to preserve the Asanid and pass them on, and they condemned those who were negligent or who fell short in preserving them. Hence, the benefit of their efforts proved to be tremendous as they bore ripe results.

 

NEXT⇒ Section Three – The Rawafid and Isnad


[1] Tadrib al Rawi, 2/160.

[2] Al Fisal fi al Milal wa al Nihal, 2/69, 70; Tadrib al Rawi, 2/159.

[3] Fath al Mughith, 3/3.

[4] Majmu` al Fatawa, 1/9. The verse cited appear in: Surah al Nisa’: 59.

[5] Muqaddimah Sahih Muslim, 1/12; al Muhaddith al Fasil, p 209.

[6] Ibid., 1/12.

[7] Ibid., 1/12.

[8] Ibid., 1/12.

[9] Ibid., 1/12.

[10] Ibid., 1/12.

[11] Ma`rifah `Ulum al Hadith, p. 40.

[12] Refer for the definitions of these categories to the books of sciences of hadith.

[13] Discussion regarding them will come ahead.

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