A common misconception is that weak hadith have no value in Islam, this is an incorrect presumption on the part of many well meaning Muslims who have unwittingly bought into the ‘Sahih only’ mindset pushed by the Salafi movement, at its head being Sheikh Nasir al-Albani (May Allah Most High have mercy on him).
Inshallah I hope to post more on this subject, Allah willing, in the future. The point of this post is to acquaint Muslims with the traditional position of orthodoxy that in fact acting on weak hadith in the realms of virtuous actions is permissible, and that the claims of some in the Salafi movement that there are a large number of scholars who disagree with this is not accurate. A discussion of some of the great Imams whose names are usually cited by the Salafi school to support their claims are cited below:
Acting on weak hadith in Fadail al-Amal according to Imam al-Bukhari, Muslim, Yahya Ibn Maeen, Abu Bakr Ibn al-Arabi, Abu Shamah al-Maqdisi and al-Shawkani
From ‘al-Tarif bi-Awham’ (1/98+)
The acting on weak hadith in fadail al-amal (virtuous actions) is well known as being recommended according to the vast majority of the scholars of Ahl al-sunnah wal-jamah, those wishing to see further details in regard to the statements of the scholars are referred to ‘Qawaid fi Ulum al-Hadith’ of Allamah al-Uthmani with the notes of Sheikh Abu Ghuddah.
However some people who oppose the acting upon weak hadith in fadail claim that this is also the view of the above named Imams, this is however incorrect. The following are notes taken from Sheikh Mahmud Saeed Mamduh’s landmark book, which is a study of Sheikh al-Albani’s methodology in hadith, and hadith gradings.
Imam al-Bukhari’s compilation of Adab al-Mufrad which contains weak hadith is the clearest proof that he permits the acting upon weak hadith in the matters of fadail, and this practice of al-Bukhari was following in the footsteps of his Shaikh Imam Ahmad in his book ‘al-Zuhd’ and before him Ibn al-Mubarak in the book ‘al-Zuhd’ and other scholars.
Also Hafidh ibn Hajar said in ‘al-Fath’ [p441] regarding a narrator: ‘he was not strict (meaning al-Bukhari) regarding him because it is from the hadith of al-Targhib wal-Tarhib’.
Imam Muslim criteria for reporting Sahih hadith only was specific to his book Sahih Muslim as no Hafidh has left the narrating from the weak narrators, not even Imam Muslim for he says in the introduction to his ‘Sahih’ [1/4]:
“The narrations (akhbar) are sub-divided into 3 categories:
First: that which the precise Huffadh narrate
Second: that which the hidden/unknown narrators (masturoon) and those at an intermediary level in memorisation and precision narrate
Third: that which the weak and abandoned narrate.”
Rather Imam Muslim narrates from a number from the third category in the follow up narrations and witness narrations in his Sahih. To conclude that which Imam Muslim is referring to in the introduction to his Sahih is not to be applied generally.
Yahya Ibn Maeen:
There are different opinions narrated from him regarding this issue, Ibn Sayyid al-Nas in Uyun al-Athar (1/65) narrates prohibition. However al-Khatib in al-Kifayah (p.213) reports permissibility (permissibility here means recommended as was stated by Ibn al-Salah), and al-Sakhawi in Fath al-Mugith [1/322] also narrates permissibility from Ibn Maeen. Sheikh Ahmad bin Muhammad Nur Saif in the introduction to Tarikh Ibn Maeen [1/107] provides example from Ibn Maeen of his use of weak hadith in matters of fadail which show that Hafidh’s al-Sakhawi and al-Khatib are correct in their attributing permissibilty to Ibn Maeen.
Abu Bakr Ibn al-Arabi:
There is no clear explicit statement from him which condemns the use of weak hadith in fadail. Rather he is a Hafidh upon the methodology of the fuqaha and is a follower of the Maliki madhab in acting upon mursal narrations which are weak according to the muhaddithin, see al-Aaridah [1/13, 2/237]
However in his commentary of Jami al-Tirmidhi there is a clear statement which permits the use of weak hadith in fadail, see Kitab al-Adab [10/205].
Abd al-Rahman bin Shamah al-Maqdisi
Those who claim that he did not regard as permissible the use of daeef hadith in the area of fadail have not understood his words. What he criticised in the statement that some people quote from him is the censure of the one who narrates fabricated hadith and is silent regarding them, even if they are from the greatest of huffadh.
This was explained by Allamah Shabbir Ahmad al-Uthmani in his Muqaddimah Fath al-Mulhim’(1/58) who said:
“There is not in this statement which is quoted from Imam Abu Shamah a censure of the use of weak narrations in fadail al-amal, rather he may Allah have mercy upon him censured Ibn Asakirs narration and citing of condemned hadith (al-ahadith al-munkirah) without stating their weakness and being condemned, along with his being a great muhaddith and hafidh.”
Ibn Taymiyyah himself used weak hadith in the area of fadail as can bee seen in his work Kalim al-Tayyib for if he wished to have limited himself in his book to Sahih hadith only he could have done so.
There is a statement stating the prohibition of using weak hadith in fadail from al-Shawkani in Fawaid al-Majmuah [p.283] but this is not taken in to account as he said in Nayl al-Awtar [3/68]:
“The aforementioned verses and hadith in the chapter are evidence of the validity of offering abundant prayer between Maghrib and Isha, and the hadith even though most of them are weak they are strengthened by their collective number, not least (in the area of) fadail al-amal.”
Those that have knowledge of al-Shawkani’s methodology in his Tuhfah al-Dhakirin will realise that he is in favour of the use of weak hadith in fadail.
From the above verification it will be realised that the vast majority of the Imams held the view of the permissibility of the use of weak hadith in fadail al-amal. Those wishing to see the full discussion which these notes are based on are referred to Sheikh Mamduh’s Tarif bi Awham [1/98-103].