The Status of the Hadith on the Obligation of Seeking Knowledge

Question:

What is the status of the ḥaḍīth: “Seeking knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim male and Muslim female”? I have been told that it is fabricated but then I hear it quoted by so many scholars. Please explain.

Answer:

The ḥadīth in question is normally quoted in two different manners, one without the addition of “Muslim female” and the other with it. It is true that the addition of “Muslim female” is not found in any of the primary ḥadīth sources and is thus baseless from the perspective of wording.

As for its meaning, the ḥadīth should properly read: “Seeking knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim” and the word “Muslim” is inclusive of both males and females. In this sense, the meaning of the erroneous additional wording is sound. However, one should be careful not to quote the faulty wording nonetheless, since verbatim transmission of the prophetic tradition is incumbent upon all Muslims today.

As for the ḥadīth without the addition of “Muslim female”, a large number of scholars were of the opinion that it is ḍaʿīf and a smaller number of scholars disagreed, grading the ḥadīth ḥasan. According to Imam Laknawī, the more correct opinion according to the researchers of the science is that it is ḥasan. (Ẓafar al-Amānī, ʿAbd al-Ḥayy al-Laknawī 421)

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