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by Moulana Abdool Kader Hoosen

Chapter Four

The Terminology of Tirmidhi

Classification of the Traditions

Prior to discussing Tirmidhi's terminology it would be appropriate to mention the classification of Ahadith, and a few principles related to the science of Hadith, as the terminology of the traditionists is related to the classification of the traditions and principles.

The classification of Hadith into Sahih (sound), Hasan (good) and Da'if (weak) was firmly established by Ali b. al-Madini (d. 234 A.H.) and later by his student Bukhari (d. 256 A.H.), however Tirmidhi (d. 279 A.H.) was the first traditionist to base his book on this classification.

With the increase in the number of the reporters between the traditionists of a particular period and the Prophet (S.A.W.), it became necessary to define the Sahih Hadith. Shafi'i (d. 204 A.H.), the founder of one of the four schools of Jurispridence, has discussed this issue in al-Risala. In the course of discussing the Khabar Khassa (a particular type of tradition), he has specified the following conditions for the acceptance of a Hadith as Sahih:

1. Each reporter must be trustworthy.
2. He should be able to preserve the text of a Hadith
3. The Sanad should go back to the Prophet (S.A.W.) without any interruption.
4. His report must agree with those of other reliable reporters.
5. There should be no hidden defect in the text or Sanad.

As for a Sahih Hadith, there is no difference of opinion between Tirmidhi and other traditionists in its application, since the overwhelming majority of the traditionists including Tirmidhi meticulously followed the definition of Shafi'i. For this reason Tirmidhi did not define the Sahih Hadith in his 'Ilal.

Tirmidhi defined Hadith Hasan by saying that wherever he has mentioned a Hadith Hasan in his book, he meant a Hadith which does not contain a reporter accused of lying and it is not Shadh (rare) and the Hadith has been reported through more than one Sanad.

Khattabi (d. 388 A.H.), a commentator on Sunan Abu Dawwd, defined Hadith Hasan as follows: "It refers to a Hadith which is known, its reporters are famous, the majority of the scholars have accepted it as evidence and the jurists utilize it." The above definitions prove that there is a difference between Tirmidhi and the other traditionists in as much as the definition regarding Hadith Hasan is concerned. The difference according to Tirmidhi is that it is a pre-requisite to have several chains of transmitters, whilst according to the majority of the scholars, a tradition with a single chain can also be classified as Hasan.

Tirmidhi's understanding of the Gharib Hadith (weak tradition), concurs to a certain extent with that of the other traditionists. According to Tirmidhi a Hadith may be classified as Gharib for one of the following three reasons:

Firstly, a Hadith may be classified as Gharib since it is narrated from one chain only. Tirmidhi mentions as an example a tradition from Hammad b. Salama from Abu 'Usharai on the authority of his father who enquired from the Prophet (S.A.W.) whether the slaughtering of an animal is confined to the gullet and throat. The Prophet (S.A.W.) replied that stabbing the thigh will also suffice.

Secondly, a tradition can be classified as Gharib due to an addition in the text, though it will be considered a sound tradition, if that addition is reported by a reliable reporter. The example cited by Tirmidhi is a tradition narrated through the chain of Malik (d. 179 A.H.) from Nafi' (d. 117 A.H.) on the authority of Ibn 'Umar (d. 73 A.H.) who stated that the Prophet (S.A.W.) declared alms-giving at the end of Ramadan (month of fasting) obligatory upon every Muslim, male or female, whether a free person or slave from the Muslims. However, this tradition has also been narrated by Ayyub Sakhtiyani and 'Ubaid Allah b. 'Umar, without the addition "from the "Muslims", hence the above mentioned example due to the addition of "from the Muslims" in the text is classified as Gharib.

Thirdly, a tradition may be declared Gharib since it is narrated through various chains of transmitters but having within one of its chains an addition in the Sanad. According to Tirmidhi, these definitions prove that a Gharib Hadith, does not necessarily mean weak, but it might be Sahih or Hasan, as long as it comes through a single Sanad.

The Collective Terms of Tirmidhi

According to the majority of the traditionists Sahih and Gharib or Hasan, Sahih and Gharib can never be combined, whereas according to Tirmidhi they can be combined. Tirmidhi has his own method of using collective terms like Hasan Gharib, Hasan Sahih Gharib, Sahih Gharib and Hasan Sahih. It should be remembered that Tirmidhi did not explain these collective terms anywhere. However, the traditionists tried to discover how these terms were used by Tirmidhi.

The term Hasan Gharib can be combined according to the majority of traditionists, since Hasan is related to the uprighteousness of the transmitters and Gharib implies that he is alone in transmitting a tradition. Tirmidhi implies that this Hadith has many chains of transmission, therefore it is considered as Hasan, but since the text or Sanad consists of an addition, it is classified as Gharib.

Hasan Sahih Gharrib as applied by Tirmidhi implies that the Hadith is Hasan, since it has several chains of transmitters, it is Sahih as the chains are authentic and it is Gharib in the manner in which Tirmidhi has narrated it.

Sahih Gharib implies that the Hadith is authentic but the Sanad is single. As previously mentioned Tirmidhi does not consider it a pre-requisite that an authentic Hadith must have several chains of transmitters.

The term Hasan Sahih has caused great confusion among the traditionists, since hasan is definitely lower in rank than Sahih, then how can the two classifications be combined?

Ibn Hajar (d. 852 A.H.), a commentator on Sahih Bukhari, said that the particle 'AW’ is omitted, hence, according to him the Hadith will be Hasan or Sahih. Ibn Salah (d. 642 A.H.), the author of Muqaddama ibn Salah, said that when a Hadith is reported with two Isnad (chains), one should be considered as Hasan and the other as Sahih. Ibn Kathir (d. 774 A.H.) has objected to she answer of Ibn Salah, and said that some traditionists say the collective term refers to the Isnad, but Tirmidhi states in certain places, "This Hadith is Hasan Sahih Gharib, we do not know it except in this way". Ibn Kathir's said that the best answer to solve this problem is, Tirmidhi has coined a new term for a Hadith which is between Sahih and Hasan. When he (Tirmidhi) says Hasan Sahih, he implies that this Hadith is higher in rank than Hasan and lower than Sahih. Ibn Daqiq al-'Id (d. 702 A.H.), a commentator on Nawawi's (d. 676A.H.) forty Hadith, said that the relationship between a Sahih and Hasan tradition is not that of antonyms, on the contrary they belong to the same category, although Hasan will be considered inferior to Sahih, therefore they can be combined. The last explanation is accepted by most of the traditionists.

Principles of Hadith

1. On several occasions a reporter is criticized by certain scholars and praised by others. Moulana 'Abd al-Hay (d. 1304 A.H.) has solved this problem in detail in his work entitled Al-Ajwiba al-Fadila. The summary of which is as follows:

The first method of solving the problem is; if a certain critic is lenient and the other cautious, then preference should be given to the scholar who is cautious. An example of it is, if Hakim (d. 305 A.H.) states that a transmitter is authentic and Dhahabi (d. 748A.H.) is of the opinion that he is weak, then preference will be given to Dhahabi, as Hakim is famous for his leniency.

Likewise, if Ibn Hibban (d. 354 A.H.) states that a certain transmitter is reliable, whilst the other traditionists consider him to be unreliable, Ibn Hibban's verdict will be rejected as he has included many unknown reporters in his work "The book of the Reliable".

The second method will be to investigate which scholars criticized the transmitters and which spoke favourably of them. For example, if there are two traditionists, one being critical and the other moderate, preference will be given to the one who is moderate. For example Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 598 A.H.) is usually critical and Ibn Hajar (d. 852 A.H.) is moderate, thus preference will be given to Ibn Hajar.

2. If a particular tradition is weak, but substantiated with the practice of the companions of the Prophet (S.A.W.) and the successors, then that tradition will be acceptable to the jurists. For example, the Prophet (S.A.W.) is reported to have said, "The murderer will not inherit (from the murdered person)". This tradition is weak in respect of its chain of transmitters, but acceptable to the jurists as it was accepted and practised upon by the companions.

3. Ibn Salah said that after the fifth century (A.H.), nobody has the prerogative to pass any disparaging or authenticating remarks regarding the traditions or reporters. This opinion is erroneous since the majority of the traditionists hold that the science of disparaging or authenticating is not restricted to any epoch. Ibn Hajar (d. 852 A.H.) and 'Iraqi (d. 806 A.H.) were prominent scholars who made great contributions in the field of passing remarks concerning the traditions or transmitters, in spite of their being born after the fifth or sixth century. Tirmidhi mentions a principle of Hadith by stating that whosoever reports a tradition in which he memorized the chain of reporters, it will be acceptable even if he narrates the tradition in his own words provided that he does not change the meaning of the tradition.

This principle is exemplified by the following incident of Ibn Sirin (d.110A.H.) wherein he States, "I heard a tradition from ten persons and the words were different but the meaning was the same". According to Mujahid (d.104 A.H.), decreasing the words of a tradition is admissible whilst increasing thereof is not. Sufyan Thawri (d. 161 A.H.) is reported to have said that he does not narrate a Hadith in its entirety but only the meaning of the tradition.

Various other terms used by Tirmidhi

1. One of the terms used excessively by Tirmidhi is;

"Haadha al-Hadith asahh shay’in fee haadha al-Baab"
(This Hadith is the most authentic in this chapter).

The question that arises is, whether the decree given by Tirmidhi is correct in all instances or not? Nawawi (d.676 A.H.), a commentator on Sahih Muslim, said that the decree does not necessitate that these Ahadith must be Sahih, since it is customary for the traditionists to say, "these Ahaadith are the most authentic that have appeared in these chapters", although the traditions are weak. They imply that these traditions are the most preferred, irrespective of them being sound or weak.

2. Occasionally, when evaluating a reporter, Tirmidhi comments

"Dhaahib al-Hadith"

which implies that the reporter has not preserved the text of the Hadith.

3. He also mentions

"Laysa isnaadihi bi al-Qawiyy"

which implies that this padicular Isnad is not strong.

4. Many a time Tirmidhi says;

"Fee Isnaadihi Maqaal"

which connotes the traditionists have used disparaging remarks for certain reporters in the Isnad.

5. Sometimes he says;

"Haadhaa Hadeeth jayyid"

which connotes this is a sound Hadith. It should be borne in mind that according to the majority of the scholars including Tirmidhi, there is no difference between Hadith Jayyid and Hadith Sahih.

6. Occasionally, when evaluating an Isnad, Tirmidhi says;

"Haadhaa Hadeeth mudhtarib"

which means there is a certain amount of confusion in the Hadith. The confusion can occur either in the text of the Hadith or in the Isrnad, or in both the text and Isnad.

7. He also mentions

"Haadhaa shaykh laysa bi-dhaalik"

which refers to Harith b. Wajih. 'Allamah Tibi (d. 743 A.H.), a commentator on Mishkat al-Masabih, said that he was a traditionist of weak memory.

8. When mentioning the decrees of the jurists, on several occasions Tirmidhi says,

"Huwa qawlu ba’adh ahl al-Koofa"

It should be remembered that Tirmidhi mentioned Abu Hanifa's name only once in his Jami' when mentioning the verdicts of the various jurists. The reason being that Tirmidhi never received a reliable chain of narrators to mention the decrees of Abu Hanifa. Therefore, when referring to Abu Hanifa he said "some people of Kufa".

Tirmidhi also mentions an appraisal of Jabir al-J'ufi by Abu Hanifa and Waki’ in his 'Ilal. Both these eminent jurists are divided in their opinion with regard to Jabir al-J'ufi. Abu Hanifa considers Jabir as a most dishonest person whilst Waki' regards him as the major source of traditions in Kufa. Ibn Rajab, a commentator on the 'Ilal of Tirmidhi, declares Waki’s opinion of Jabir to be incorrect.

9. Another term used in several places by Tirmidhi is;


which does not always mean abominable as usually understood, instead it refers to something which is unlawful in Islam.

10. Occasionally, when evaluating a tradition, Tirmidhi says;

"Wa laa yasihh an an-Nabiyy Sallallaahu Alayhi wasallam fee haadha al-Baab shay’in"

which means that this chapter does not contain any authentic traditions. The above mentioned verdict is Tirmidhi's opinion. That is, occasionally Tirmidhi decrees there is no authentic tradition in a chapter. His opinion is not always correct as other reputed traditionists have authentic traditions.

The terminology of Tirmidhi, which is peculiar to him, is highlighted in chapter five, through a discussion of four selected Ahadith from the Jami'.

Tirmidhi ... Home

Tirmidhi ... Chapter Five

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Last modified: July 18, 2001