In hadith literature people forget an important aspect the aspect that determines the authenticity of a narration, its wording and its validity, called the Isnaad or Sanad (singular) all teachers who teach hadith, or any book (like Hidayah in fiqh, books on tasawwuf, tafseer etc) will have a Sanad (a chain of narration) that goes all the way back to the person who wrote the book and then in many cases to the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) . Insha’Allah the article below taken from daruliftaa.com will shed more light on the matter.

Isnad (chain of transmission)

Allah Almighty has honoured the Ummah of the best of creation, our master Muhammad (Allah bless him & give him peace) with many special characteristics that were not given to any other nation before us.

From among these favours is the unrivalled and unique feature of Isnad in relating the various sciences of Islamic knowledge. Isnad was regarded by the early Muslims (salaf) as the first and primary condition in relating any aspect of Shariah even if it was merely relating one word.

With this, Allah Most High fulfilled his promise of preserving the Deen which includes the book of Allah, Sunnah of the beloved of Allah and the various Islamic sciences that are indispensable in understanding the former two.

Allah Most High says:

“We have without doubt, sent down the Message; and we will assuredly guard it.” (Surah al-Hijr, V.9)

The “message” here refers to the book of Allah and also the Sunnah of his blessed Messenger (Allah bless him & give him peace), for whatever the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) says is from Allah Almighty, as Allah Most High says:

“Nor does he (the Messenger of Allah) say (aught) of (his own) desire. It is no less than revelation (wahi) sent down to him.” (al-Najm, V. 3-4)

The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) explained both verbally and practically the contents of the book of Allah. The Qur’an is quite ambiguous and limited in stating the laws of Shariah, and the Messenger of Allah’s (Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) duty was to explain these injunctions.

Allah Most High says to his Messenger (Allah bless him & give him peace):

“And We have sent down unto you the Message (Qur’an); that you may explain clearly to men what is sent for them.” (al-Nahl, V. 44)

So the promise of preserving the Deen is not restricted to the Qur’an, rather it encompasses the Sunnah and also the Companion’s (Allah be pleased with them all) understanding of the Sunnah and the understanding of those who took from them.

Isnad is a unique feature of the Messenger of Allah’s (Allah bless him & give him peace) Ummah. No other nation, religion or community can claim or boast to have such rigorous analysis of the various aspects of their faith.

Early Muslim scholars examined and analysed each and every statement that came to them, whether it was the statement of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), his companions (Allah be pleased with them all) or anyone else. They studied the life and character of those who were part of the transmitting chain (isnad) in the strictest way possible.

Thus, the Ummah witnessed an amazing introduction of the “science of studying the reporters of Hadith” (rijal al-Hadith) which was unprecedented and is unrivalled till today. The recording of the names, dates of birth, dates of demise, qualities and characteristics of thousands and thousands of people is something that only Muslims possess.

Books such as, Tahzib al-Kamal by al-Mizzi, Tahzib al-Tahzib by Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Mizan al-I’tidal by Dhahabi and Lisan al-Mizan by Ibn Hajar are just some examples of this amazing phenomenon. There are also books that are dedicated to preserving the biographies of the Sahaba, such as Tabqat of Ibn Sa’d, al-Isti’ab by Ibn Abd al-Barr, Usd al-Ghaba by Ibn al-Athir and al-Isaba by Ibn Hajar, in which the biographies of approximately ten thousand companions (Allah be pleased with them all) have been covered.

Imam Abd Allah ibn al-Mubarak (Allah be pleased with him) said:

“Isnad is part of religion (deen), and if it was not for Isnad, one would have said whatever one desired. When it is said (to the one who speaks without an Isnad): “Who informed you? He remains silent and bewildered.” (See: Introduction to Sahih Muslim, 1/87, al-Jami’ li akhlaq al-rawi wa adab al-sami’ and others)

He (Abd Allah ibn al-Mubarak) also stated:

“The one who seeks matters of his deen without an Isnad is similar to the one who climbs to the roof without a ladder.”

Sufyan al-Thawri (Allah have mercy on him) said:
“Isnad is the weapon of a believer. When one does not possess a weapon, then with what will he combat?.”

Sayyiduna Imam Shafi’i (Allah have mercy on him) says:

“The example of the one who seeks Hadith without an Isnad is of a person who gathers wood in the night. He carries a bundle of sticks not knowing that there is a snake in it.” (m, meaning, he gathers and collects all types of narrations, the genuine and spurious, ).

Baqiyya ibn al-Walid (Allah have mercy on him) once related to Hammad ibn Zaid (Allah have mercy on him) certain narrations that were void of Isnad. So Hammad said: “If only they had wings.”

Imam Ibn Taymiyya (Allah have mercy on him) states:

“Isnad is a unique feature of this Ummah and Islam. Then from among the Muslims, it is a speciality of the Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama’ah.”

(The above statements have been recorded by Shaykh Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghudda (Allah have mercy on him) in his excellent work, al-Isnad min al-Din P. 18-20)

These and many other similar statements of the predecessors imply that the early Muslims held Isnad to be indispensable in order to acquire Knowledge. So much so, that in order to relate even one word in their books, they would mention a whole chain of transmission that covered three or four lines.

Isnad was not only mentioned in order to narrate Prophetic traditions (hadith), rather, it was related for every form of knowledge, such as the exegesis (tafsir) of the Qur’an, stories of the pious and worshippers, incidents of history, etc.

After the Prophetic traditions were gathered in the great compilations, such as Sahih al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim and others, and other compilations in various other Islamic sciences, it was not deemed necessary to relate every statement with a chain of transmission going back to its original authority. Rather, it was sufficient to have an Isnad or Sanad going back to the author. The Isnad of the author going back to the original authority would be mentioned in his book.

Till this very day, we have scholars from around the globe relating Prophetic traditions and other branches of Islamic knowledge with a chain that goes all the way back to the authors of the respective books.

The six major books of Hadith are generally taught with an Isnad that goes back to their authors, and from them to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace). Many scholars are seen to travel and make distant journeys in order to acquire Ijazah and a higher form of Isnad.

In terms of Isnad with regards to prophetic traditions (hadith), the scholars of the Indian subcontinent are (perhaps) at the forefront. The science of Hadith is given special attention there and almost every student that studies in the various Islamic institutions (Dar al-Ulooms) is blessed with an Isnad in each of the major books of Hadith. Even major Arab scholars are seen to travel to Indo/Pak in order to acquire Ijazah and Isnad from the great Hadith masters.

In terms of other branches of knowledge, such as the science of Tajweed, Fiqh, etc, we see the Arab scholars at the forefront in relating and teaching the various books with Isnad. Major scholars in Syria and elsewhere have a chain in the recitation and memorization of the Qur’an that goes back to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) via the angel Jibril to Allah Almighty Himself.

The major books in Hanafi Fiqh (and other Madhhabs) are taught with a Isnad/Sanad going back to their authors and to Sayyiduna Imam Abu Hanifa (Allah be pleased with him) himself. Books in other sciences are also taught and related in a similar manner.

In conclusion, Isnad (or Sanad) is a unique feature with which our Ummah has been blessed. It has always been regarded to be indispensable in teaching and seeking knowledge. Scholars mention, that even today, one should acquire knowledge from a scholar who has an Isnad or at least a teacher who he studied with. Having a complete chain of transmission is not a pre-requisite for teaching. However, what is necessary, is that the one from whom one takes his/her knowledge, is amongst those who studied by other shuyukh. This is discussed further in the following section.

Click here to listen to the chain of narration of Shaykh Abu Yusuf Riyad ul Haq

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