Rafed English

Ibn Khaldun and the Traditions about the Mahdi

The Objection Raised by One of the Authors:

Dr. Fahimi: The author of the book entitled: Al-Mahdiyya fi al-islam writes:

Muhammad bin Isma’il Bukhari and Muslim bin Hajjaj Nishaburi the compilers of the two most authentic books of the Sunni hadith who recorded these traditions meticulously and with extreme caution in verifying their reliability have not included traditions about the Mahdi in their Sihah. Rather these traditions are part of the compilations of Sunan of Abu Dawud Ibn Majah Tirmidhi Nasa’i and Musnad of Ahmad b. Hanbal. These compilers were not careful in selecting traditions and their hadith-reports were regarded by scholars like Ibn Khaldun as weak and unacceptable. [21]

Ibn Khaldun and the Traditions about the Mahdi:

Mr. Hoshyar: To elaborate on the topic of the reliability of the hadith on the Mahdi let us cite Ibn Khaldun’s opinion on the matter in full:

It has been well known (and generally accepted) by all Muslims in every epoch that at the end of time a man from the family (of the Prophet) will without fail make his appearance strengthen Islam and make justice triumph. Muslims will follow him and he will gain domination over the Muslim realm. He will be called the Mahdi....Such traditions have been found among the traditions that religious leaders have published. They have been critically discussed by those who disapprove of them and have been often refuted by means of certain traditions. [22]

This was the summary of the opinions held by Ibn Khaldun. He then proceeds to mention the transmitters of these hadith and critically evaluate their reliability or lack thereof as held by the scholars of transmitted sciences. Let us respond to some points raised by Ibn Khaldun:

1. Uninterrupted Transmission (tawatur) of the Traditions

Numerous Sunni scholars have recognized the traditions about the Mahdi to have been uninterruptedly transmitted. They have in fact transmitted them uninterruptedly from other sources without raising objections to them. Among these scholars are Ibn Hajar Haythami in al-Sawa’iq al-muharriqa; Shablanji in Nur al-absar; Ibn Sabbagh in al-Fusul al-muhimma; Muhammad al-Saban in As’af al-raghibin; Kanji Shafi’i in al-Bayan; and so on. Such an uninterrupted transmission of these traditions compensates for the weakness found in their chain of transmission.

According to ’Asqalani a tradition that is reported in every generation uninterruptedly leads to establish its veracity and an action taken based upon it is not subject to dispute.[23]

A similar opinion is held by Seyyed Ahmad Shaykh al-Islam and the Shafi’ite Mufti who writes that the traditions about the Mahdi are numerous and mutawatir. Among these some are sound (sahih) others are good (Hassan) and still others are weak (da’if). However he says the majorities are weak traditions and since they are numerous and their reporters are also in large number some go towards strengthening the others and lead to their acceptance as reliable. [24]

Among those who narrate the hadith about the Mahdi are a group of prominent companions of the Prophet. These include: Abd al-Rahman bin Awf, Abu Sa’id al-Khudari, Qays bin Jabir, Ibn Abbas, Jabir Ibn Mas’ud, Ali bin Abi Talib, Abu Hurayra Thawban, Salman Faris,i Hudhayfa Anas b. Malik, Umm Salma, and others. Among the Sunni authors who have included these traditions in their books are: Abu Dawud Ahmad bin Hanbal Tirmidhi Ibn Majah Nasa’i Tabrani Abu Nu’aym Isfahani and numerous other compilers of the hadith.

2. Weak Transmission Is Not an Issue in All Places:

It is important to state that most of the persons who are recognized as being weak in their transmission and are mentioned by Ibn Khaldun have also been accredited by others. In fact even Ibn Khaldun mentions some of them. Moreover the weakening of the transmission of a hadith does not have absolute preponderance over its being approved as reliable because special characterization is a subjective matter. Whereas a certain characteristic of a tradition might render it a weak tradition in accord with one researcher another investigator might find quite the opposite. Hence the opinion of the former can be accepted only if the reason for rendering a tradition weak is made clear.

In his Lisan al-mizan Asqalani says: The weakening of the tradition assumes preponderance over its accreditation when the reason for doing so is made explicit. Otherwise the opinion of the person rendering the tradition weak has no value.

Abu Bakr Ahmad bin Ali al-Baghdadi writes: It must be pointed out that as for the traditions accepted and used as evidence by Bukhari Muslim and Abu Dawud although some of their transmitters have been criticized and have been declared unreliable the reason for their criticism and unreliability has not been well established and proven by them. Moreover he says if weakness and reliability of a tradition are of equal weight then its weakening is preponderant.

However if weakness is less obvious than reliability then there could be varying opinions about that tradition.

The best way to resolve this problem of authenticating a tradition is to say that if the reason for weakness is mentioned and if that reason is convincing then weakness has preponderance over reliability. But if the reason is not mentioned then reliability has preponderance over weakness. [25]

To be sure we can not generalize and state with absolute certainty that in all places of dispute over the reliability of a tradition its being regarded as weak has preponderance over its being considered as reliable. If all points of weakness are made effective then there would be very few traditions that would be spared from criticism. It is therefore important that in such cases careful analysis and rational evaluation are carried out to clarify the truth.

Note: This time we will work on just ten parts of this useful book but as always accompany us for other parts of this book in  future.

(21). al-Mahdiyya fi al-islam p. 69.

(22). Ibn Khaldun al-Muqaddimah p. 311.

(23). Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani Nuzhat al-nazar p. 12.

(24). Futuhat al-islamiyya Mecca edition Vol. 2 p. 250.

(25). Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani Lisan al-mizan Vol. 1 p. 25.

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