The Hadith on Innovations

Everyone has heard the following Hadith frequently recited from the pulpits of the mosques and at the beginning of speeches,

“The best speech is the speech of Allah, and the best guidance is the guidance of Muhammad ﷺ and the worst matters are those which are newly introduced and every innovation is an error and every error is in the Fire.’

This Hadith is narrated on the authority of the Companion Jabir (may Allah be pleased with him). However, in Sahih Muslim, and the Musnad of Ahmad, the hadith does not contain the last part that says, ‘and every error is in the Fire.’ This addition is considered a mistaken addition that appears in one version of the Hadith, which could be found in Sunan al-Nasa’i (from among the Six Books) and some other sources like al-Bayhaqi, but not in the versions that come from the most trustworthy chains.

Ibn Taymiyya wrote in his Fatawa,

The Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, used to say, according to a sahih hadith, during the khutbah on the day of Friday: “The best speech is the speech of Allah, and the best guidance is the guidance of Muhammad and the worst matters are those which are newly introduced and every innovation is an error,” but he did not say: “And every error is in the Fire,” for on the contrary, those who intend the truth may err from the truth although they have exerted themselves to find the right way in their quest but were incapable of it, and so will not be punished. They may do some of what they have been ordered to do and will thus have a reward for their exertion (ijtihad), whereas the mistake in which they erred from the reality of the matter is forgiven. Many of the people of ijtihad from among the salaf and the later generations have said and done things that were innovations without knowing that they were innovations, either because of weak hadiths which they thought to be sahih or because of verses from which they understood something that was not meant by them or because of a view they held on the matter about which there were texts that had not reached them. When a man fears his Lord as much as he is able to, then the following verse of the Quran applies to him: {Our Lord do not take us to task if we forget or make a mistake} (Q. 2:285). It is narrated in the Sahih that Allah said: “I have done so.”

There is another issue here, which is that this Hadith of Jabir is not on the condition of Imam Bukhari, because Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq is not on his condition (he and some other experts before him considered him a great imam of Islam but not an expert in Hadith memorisation and narration). According to Imam Bukhari, we know that such a statement was made by the Companion Ibn Mas’ud, but we cannot be certain that it was made by God’s Messenger . That is why when it came to the topic of following the guidance of God’s Messenger, Imam Bukhari narrated with an authentic chain the similar statement of Ibn Mas’ud:

Abdullah (ibn Mas’ud) said: “The best speech is the speech of Allah, and the best guidance is the guidance of Muhammad and the worst matters are those which are newly introduced, and {What you have been promised shall come to pass and you cannot escape it} (Q. 6:134).”

This narration of Ibn Mas’ud has been mistakingly also raised to a Hadith of the Prophet ﷺ in which Ibn Mas’ud is simply the narrator, but here most Hadith experts know that this is a mistake. They assume that it only comes authentically from the Prophet ﷺ himself via Jabir’s chain. But Imam Bukhari also questioned the Hadith of Jabir – he was only certain of the attribution of this saying to Ibn Mas’ud. If the Jabir Hadith is truly a mistake, and its contents come from the saying of Ibn Mas’ud, that would make sense from the point of view of its wording (matn), because it refers to God’s Messenger ﷺ in the third person, but God knows best. Either way, whether it was stated by God’s Messenger ﷺ or by his Companion Ibn Mas’ud, both versions do not include the statement that ‘every innovation is in the Fire,’ this being an incorrect addition as Ibn Taymiyya explained.


Q: I was asked how we know that Bukhari questioned the authenticity of the Jabir report, and did not simply omit it because it was not according to his criterea?

Answer: There are certainly some hadiths that are not according to Imam Bukhari’s condition which he nevertheless believed to be authentic. Some of those imam Bukhari did not include in his Book because they were not needed for his argument: there was something authentic that covered that same topic anyway (Tirmidhi gives us examples where he quotes his teacher Bukhari authenticating such hadith that are not in his book).

There are also some hadiths not according to his condition, but that he did believe were authentic, which Imam Bukhari thought would really help his argument. In this case, he might quote it as a mu’allaq hadith (omitting its chain), because he cannot narrate it as part of his book, but wanted to point us to it for the sake of assissting his argument; such a hadith will be quoted above an authentic hadith he narrates fully, which can also support his argument, even if in a less direct way, or it might add another useful point of fiqh to the hadith he narrates. For example, Aishah’s hadith (which is in Sahih Muslim) that ‘The Prophet ﷺ used to do dhikr of Allah in all of his states (at all times),’ was quoted by Bukhari twice. In the section on menstruating women being able to perform all the rites of Hajj except the tawaf (which requires being in a state of wudu) he said, ‘And the Prophet ﷺ used to do dhikr of Allah in all of his states’ (meaning even in a state of janaba). Imam Bukhari quoted this hadith (without a chain), as well as the opinions of many Companions and Followers, to make the additional point that women can also recite the Qur’an while menstruating. In a different section, when wanting to show that the person doing adhan does not need to be in a state of wudu, he quoted this again: ‘Aishah said: The Prophet ﷺ used to do dhikr of Allah in all of his states.’

If Imam Bukhari believed the hadith of Jabir was likely to be authentic, he could have done the same here. However, he instead said, ‘Abdullah (ibn Mas’ud) said…’ and attributed the saying to Ibn Mas’ud, which shows he most likely believed these words originated from him and wanted to teach us this.

Now you might ask: here you are saying that Imam Bukhari is quoting some mu’allaq hadith in his book, fully believing in its authenticity (like the hadith of Aishah on dhikr at all times and in all states). How is the Hadith of Instruments different? The answer is that Imam Bukhari’s way is when he does ta’liq to someone confidently (meaning, ‘So-and-so said’ rather than ‘It has been related from so-and-so’) while omitting the chain to that person, then imam Bukhari is guaranteeing the authenticity of the chain up to that person, but not necessarily to the Prophet ﷺ or even someone else in between. So with the Hadith of Instruments, Imam Bukhari does ta’liq from his very own shaykh because he knows this hadith comes from his shaykh, in fact he almost certainly heard it from his shaykh; he then quotes the full chain which has weakness much higher up, meaning the hadith cannot be attributed with confidence to the God’s Messenger ﷺ. Sometimes Imam Bukhari will omit the chain all the way up to the weak person, or might, like with the Hadith of Instruments, start the chain from the beginning. The person he starts the chain with is not necessarily the problem, but he is certain the Hadith at least reaches up to that person and is not problematic because of a later narrator below him. So Imam Bukhari’s ta’liq of the hadith of Aishah, omitting everyone before Aishah, means he is certain it reaches Aishah. The ta’liq of the Hadith of Instruments is explained in the link provided here.

2 thoughts on “The Hadith on Innovations

  1. Salam ‘Alaykum,
    I have a question about what you wrote here:
    “But Imam Bukhari also questioned the Hadith of Jabir – he was only certain of the attribution of this saying to Ibn Mas’ud.”
    I think you have made it clear that the hadith of Jabir does not meet the criteria that Imam Bukhari set himself for his book. But does it follow that he questioned or doubted the hadith of Jabir?
    After all, someone can set themselves an even more stringent standard of proof than Imam Bukhari in compiling a book e.g. someone might set out to compile a book that contains only the hadiths narrated by Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim that are also mutawatir; that is a pretty strict standard, and not everything in Bukhari would meet it; but such a person would not necessarily be doubtful of the hadiths of Bukhari that did not meet this very stringent standard.
    Wa al-Salam.

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    1. Wa alaykum assalam! Nice to hear from you again and thanks for the question. You’re absolutely right that simply not having the hadith does not indicate that on its own, but I didn’t fully explain my point, only indirectly hinting at it, because I was hoping to avoid a lengthy digression that would lead to having to comment on the earlier unrelated discusson of the Hadith of Instruments. But your Q encouraged me to not be lazy or scared to add more content/complication, so I have added the necessary discussion at the bottom as a note in smaller font.

      Like

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