The Solitary Report (Khabr Wāḥid) in the Ḥanafī Madhhab: Selection from an Unpublished Article

The khabar wāḥid (sometimes translated as a “solitary report”), as defined by the Ḥanafī jurists, refers to a narration that is transmitted by any number of narrators that does not reach the level of mashhūr or mutawātir. (Bazdawī 112) It may be narrated by one, two, or any other varying number of narrators at every level of the chain as long as the number does not reach the level of mashhūr.

The khabar wāḥid, or āḥād, is not necessarily a weak or strong ḥadīth, as its strength is decided by the condition of its narrators. However, regardless of the strength of its narrators and therefore the narration itself, the āḥād’s status is one that at best necessitates ʿamal (binding practice) and not ʿilm (decisive knowledge). In other words, the legal status of the āḥād is of speculative authority (dhann) and not decisive authority (qatʿ). This is the agreed-upon stance of all the Ḥanafī jurists and legal theorists. (Jaṣṣāṣ 1:551, Dabūsī 170, Sarakhsī 1:321, Bazdawī 112, Shāshī 172, Samarqandī 448, Asmandī 240-250, Khabbāzī 1:327, Ibn al-Sāʿātī 163-164, Nasafī 2:13-14, Ṣadr al-Sharīʿah 2:8, Fanārī 2:245, Mullā Khusraw 116, Bukhārī 2:678, Itqānī 5:36-37, Babirtī 4:158)

It therefore follows that the ḥadīth of Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhārī and Ṣaḥīh Muslim, despite their agreed-upon soundness, do not necessitate decisive knowledge according to the Ḥanafīs. Their stance stands in opposition to Ibn Ṣalāḥ’s claim that the ḥadīth of both books are absolutely decisive due to their universal acceptance by the Muslim scholars.[1]   

CONDITIONS OF ACCEPTANCE

That the āḥād constitute a valid legal proof in the Sharīʿah is agreed upon by all the jurists of the four legal schools. The conditions laid out for their acceptance, however, differ from school to school. The Ḥanafīs stipulate two sets of conditions for their legal validity, one set involved with the narrators of the chain of the ḥadīth and the other with its actual chain and text.

For the narrators of a ḥadīth chain, the Ḥanafīs agree with the majority of scholars in stipulating: mental competence (ʿaql), Islam, accuracy (ḍabṭ), and integrity (ʿadālah). While some jurists of the other schools add to these four conditions, the Ḥanafīs were unanimous upon the above. (Dabūsī 84, Bazdawī 163, Sarakhsī 1:345, Samarqandī 431, Khabbāzī 2:335, Ṣadr al-Sharīʿah 2:15-16, Fanārī 2:253-256, Ibn al-Humām 312, Muḥammad Shāh 64)

In stipulating mental competence/intelligence, the Ḥanafīs differentiated between perfect competence (kāmil) and limited competence (qāṣir), the deciding mark between the two being pubescence (bulūgh). For the transmission of narrations, jurists demanded perfect mental competence and pubescence, although it was not considered necessary at the time of receiving narrations. Therefore, children’s transmissions were permissible only after they had reached the age of adulthood. The exact age of pubescence was never considered necessary to specify. (Samarqandī 432, Bukhārī 2:735, Ibn Nujaym 2:86, ʿAli al-Qārī 792-795, Nasarbūrī 276, Sindī 303, Gangohī 2:32, Kashmīrī 1:174-175, Muṭīʿī 3:123)

Like intelligence, the jurists also stipulated that Islam be present only at the time of transmission. Therefore, the transmission of a believer who heard a narration before accepting Islam was acceptable as long as the narrator transmitted after becoming Muslim. (Laknawī 501, Ibn al-Humām 313, Ibn Amīr Ḥājj 2:239)

Accuracy was divided by Ḥanafīs into two types: (i) internal and (ii) external. External accuracy referred to the ability of a narrator to perfectly retain and transmit the text and meaning of a ḥadīth, while internal accuracy additionally demanded a deep cognizance of the legal implications of the ḥadith’s text. While internal accuracy was not considered a condition for a ḥadith’s acceptance, it was certainly deemed a factor in preference of apparently contradictory narrations. (Bazdawī 165-166, Sarakhsī 1:348-349, Khabbāzī 201, Nasafī in Kashf al-Asrār 2:33)

Similarly, integrity was divided by Ḥanafīs into two types: (i) internal and (ii) external. In the nomenclature of the Ḥanafīs, external integrity referred to the integrity that is established by an apparent declaration of Islam accompanied by a sound mind. Further, internal integrity referred to a type of integrity whose reality could only be realized by Allah. Scholars, therefore, worked around this problem in identifying internal integrity by sufficing with the presence of general piety in a narrator, more specifically defined as the dominance of religious inclination over base whims and desires. If, therefore, a narrator’s actions did not reflect a purposeful and ill-intended inclination towards the impermissible, they would be considered upright (ʿādil) until proven otherwise. (Dabūsī 185-186, Bazdawī 166, Sarakhsī 1:350-351, Khabbāzī 200, Nasafī 2:35-36)

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[1] Ibn Ṣalāḥ is not alone in this claim nor the first to propose it. In fact, Ḥāfiẓ Muḥammad ibn Ṭāhir al-Maqdisī (d. 507AH) and Abu ʾl-Naṣr ʿAbd al-Raḥīm al-Baghdādī (d. 574AH) are said to have held the same view before him. See Ibn Ḥajar’s Nukat 1:379-380, Sanʿāni 1:123, Ibn Amīr Ḥājj 2:268. A detailed analysis of the scholars who agreed with this view as well as those who opposed it along with their respective evidences shall be left for a separate paper.

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6 thoughts on “The Solitary Report (Khabr Wāḥid) in the Ḥanafī Madhhab: Selection from an Unpublished Article

  1. Muslim Answers says:

    Salam Alaykum Shaykh Bilal,

    What would you say to the claim that the later-day Hanafis have strayed from the path of the earlier Hanafis and have taken on a Shafii, even Salafi-like, approach to Ahadeeth (in their Mustalah that is) while the earlier Hanafis would have been more cautious in accepting any Ahad Hadeeth, even if it was in Bukhari and Muslim? [this is a view propagated by certain quarters, but is vehemently argued over as far as I can see].

  2. Muslim Answers says:

    Salam alaykum,

    To elaborate examples of how this work out according to the claim of the institution in question, it is as follows:

    In terms of Fiqh, we have the ruling of killing the male apostate. But, the Qur’an is not clear-cut on this issue, and the Ahaadeeth do not come to the level of the Qur’an in terms of certainty (i.e. being Mashur or Mutawaatir), and in fact the narrations the matter is ambiguous, no Hanafi should support death for a male apostate without other conditions such as rebelling against the Muslim Ummah, etc. This is because the Qur’an is clear on not taking life without just cause, but neither the Quran nor any other of the texts of Islam are definitive in this respect, so we cannot kill anyone on such dubious grounds.

    Or in terms of Aqeedah, we know that the Quran quotes the disbelievers when they called Muhammad (SAW) as a person under the influence of magic. Thus, even though we find the narration in Bukhari of the Prophet (SAW) having been bewitched by a Jew, we must necessarily reject this tradition, since it is solitary and goes directly against the Quran and puts all of Islam in doubt if taken as correct (something like the Gharaaneeq incident, it has to be thrown out of consideration).

    These are some of the examples but of course there are others.

  3. Bilal Ali says:

    It’s a bold claim to make. There was certainly a tatbiqi strain within the usul literature that reconciled the Hanafi and Shafi’i methodologies. One would have to look at specific examples used to support this claim in detail. Also, one would have to look at the early Hanafi legal arguments found in the works of Imam Muhammad, Tahawi, Jassas, etc…

  4. Bilal Ali says:

    On the specific issues you brought up, I could not comment without a good amount of research that won’t be possible in the immediate future.

  5. Bilal Ali says:

    It is worth your time to look at Tahawi’s Mushkil Al Athar and Sharh Ma’ani Al-Athar to identify some of the ways early Hanafis dealt with apparent contradictions in the texts.

  6. Muslim Answers says:

    The “quarters” in question are apparently teaching the book قفو الاثر as the manual of Hanafi Mustalah, rather than a well-known text such as the Bayquniyyah (which is claimed to be too much towards the Shafii’ methodology).

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