Ibn al-Salah: Ahad and Mutawatir


Imam Ibn al-Salah in his Muqaddimah [‘Introduction’] to the science of Prophetic narrations [`ulum al-hadith] says:[1] 

…ومن المشهور المتواتر الذي يذكره أهل الفقه وأصوله‏.‏ وأهل الحديث لا يذكرونه باسمه الخاص المشعر بمعناه الخاص، وإن كان ‏(‏الحافظ الخطيب‏)‏ قد ذكره، ففي كلامه ما يشعر بأنه اتبع فيه غير أهل الحديث، ولعل ذلك لكونه لا تشمله صناعتهم ولا يكاد يوجد في رواياتهم، فإنه‏:‏ عبارة عن الخبر الذي ينقله من يحصِّل العلم بصدقه ضرورة، ولا بد في إسناده من استمرار هذا الشرط في رواته من أوله إلى منتهاه‏.‏

 ومن سُئل عن إبراز مثال لذلك فيما يروى من الحديث أعياه تطلبه‏.‏

 وحديث‏:‏ ‏”‏إنما الأعمال بالنيات‏”‏ ليس من ذلك بسبيل، وإن نقله عدد التواتر وزيادة، لأن ذلك طرأ عليه في وسط إسناده، ولم يوجد في أوائله على ما سبق ذكره‏.‏

 نعم حديث‏:‏ ‏”‏من كذب عليَّ متعمداً فليتبوأ مقعده من النار”‏ نُراه مثالاً لذلك، فإنه نقله من الصحابة رضي الله عنهم العدد الجم، وهو في ‏(‏الصحيحين‏)‏، مروي عن جماعة منهم‏.‏

 وذكر ‏(‏أبو بكر البزار الحافظ الجليل‏)‏ في ‏(‏مسنده‏)‏ أنه رواه عن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم، نحو من أربعين رجلاً من الصحابة‏.‏

 وذكر بعض الحفاظ‏:‏ أنه رواه عنه صلى الله عليه وسلم اثنان وستون نفساً من الصحابة، وفيهم العشرة المشهود لهم بالجنة‏.‏

 قال‏:‏ وليس في الدنيا حديث اجتمع على روايته العشرة غيره، ولا يعرف حديث يُروى عن أكثر من ستين نفساً من الصحابة عن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم، إلا هذا الحديث الواحد‏.‏  

 قلت‏:‏ وبلغ بهم بعض أهل الحديث أكثر من هذا العدد، وفي بعض ذلك عدد التواتر‏.‏ ثم لم يزل عدد رواته في ازدياد وهلم جرا، على التوالي والاستمرار، والله أعلم‏.‏..


“… and one of the types of mashhur narrations is the mutawatir narration which the scholars of fiqh and usul mention although the ahl al-hadith do not mention it with this specifically designated term with its specific meaning even though al-Hafiz al-Khatib [al-Baghdadi] has mentioned [the term] and it is evident that he has adopted [much] against the scholars of hadith (ahl al-hadith) in [other matters]. That may be because it is something not included by their craft and [hadiths of this type] are almost rarely found in their narrations. So, [the mutawatir] is ‘that report which is transmitted knowledge of whose veracity reaches the level of necessity.’ This condition must persist in the chain of transmitters in the transmission from the beginning to the end. If any were to be asked to give clear examples of the hadiths narrated therein, they would be hard taxed to do so.

 And the hadith: “Actions are but by intentions…” is not an example of a [mutawatir hadith] even if it reached the numbers that correspond to the mutawatir or exceeded it. This is because [the mass number] occurred during the middle of the isnad and not the beginning as is required based on what we just mentioned [regarding the conditions of tawatur].

 The hadith: “Whoever forges a lie about me will reserve a seat for himself in the hellfire…” we do consider an example. Numerous Companions of the Prophet have transmitted this and is mentioned in the two Sahihs from a group of them.

 The great Hafiz Abu Bakr al-Bazzar relates in his Musnad that this narration was related from the Prophet (saw) by approximately 40 Companions. Other Huffaz have mentioned that 62 people from the Companions have transmitted from the Prophet (saw) including the 10 who were promised Paradise. He [also] said there is no other hadith in the world that the 10 promised Paradise have agreed upon and neither is there any other hadith reported by over 60 people of the Companions except this one. I say: Some of the scholars of hadith have counted even more [Companions] than that and according to some has reached the level of mutawatir. The number of its transmitters did not cease to grow but continued with each successive generation…”


  • Linguistically, ‘tawatur’ means ‘that which follows one after the other with intervals in between ‘(i.e. ‘recurrence’). Thus the ‘mutawatir’ is ‘that which follows’ (al-mutatabi`).
  • A broader definition might be: ‘that report which has been transmitted by a large group or multitude of people (jam` ghafir) such that knowledge[2] is imparted by their statement.’[3] The group must be aware of what they report and have knowledge of what they report and not have doubts or guesses and their knowledge must be based on sense-perception and empirical observation (mushahadah) and not only istintaj (‘induction’/‘deduction’).[4]
  • This condition must prevail through the three generations (tabaqah/`usur), i.e. of the Companions, the tabi`un and the tabi`i al-tabi`in such that it precludes the possibility of a collective lie/fabrication (al-kadhb) and collusion (al-tawatu’).[5]
  • A mutawatir hadith is definitively established (qat`i al-thubut) to be from the Prophet (saw) and imparts certain knowledge (`ilman yaqiniyan).
  • Acting upon it is necessary and obligatory (wajib) in everything regardless of whether it is sunnah qawliyyah (verbal), fi`liyyah (action)[6] or sukutiyyah (tacit approval).[7]
  • There is difference over exactly how many members of a group constitute ‘knowledge’. Some say the minimum is 5, others say 12, yet others say 20, 40, 70, 300, etc…
  • There are no texts to specify the number nor can it be rationally determined so hence they cannot be considered for the definition.[8]
  • The aim and point of the mutawatir narration is to impart definitive knowledge (`ilm yaqini) not for it to have a specific number of individuals narrating. A group transmitting it is sufficient.
  • Therefore, the point from all the disagreement is that so long as a group relate it and the possibility of collusion and lying is precluded, then this suffices. It is not a question of exact numbers (`adad mu`ayyan).[9]
  • As for the extent to which collusion and lie/fabrication is precluded, this differs based on the differences in reports/transmitters, realities and contextual indications (qara’in).

Conditions of tawatur:

  • Statements have to be based on `ilm and not zann.[10]
  • The knowledge must be necessary (darurah), i.e. based on sense-perception.
  • The number of people in each group has to be kamil (i.e. ‘complete’ which is the sufficient number to remove doubt, collusion and fabrication).[11]
  • That the above conditions prevail through each stage of transmission.[12]

 Knowledge categorised into:

`Ilm = Knowledge
1. Daruri 2. Nazari
Necessary knowledge.1. Immediate to the listener without mediation of reasoning (istidlal) or deductive reasoning.2. Source knowledge. Discursive knowledge.1. Mediated through reasoning and logical proofs.2. Derived knowledge.
 From this category spring 5 other source(madarik al-`ilm/madarik al-yaqin).[13]  
  1. Al-awwaliyat = a priori truths.[14]
  2. Al-mushahadat al-batiniyyah = self knowledge.[15]
  3. Al-mahsusat al-zahiriyyah = sensory perception of the external world.[16]
  4. Tajarrubat = experimentations.[17]
  5. Mutawatirat = widely held data.[18]

 And Allah knows best.

S. Z. Chowdhury

[1] See Ibn al-Salah, al-Muqaddimat fi `Ulum al-Hadith, pp.117-119.

[2] Knowledge and certainty for usulis are correlative concepts. It is defined as “…that which human beings are compelled to [accept] without rejecting and hence is necessary (daruriyyan) because it does not require any form of derivation (nazar), i.e. the mutawatir report imparts certainty (yufidu ’l-yaqin)…” See al-Nabhani, al-Shakhsiyyah al-Islamiyyah, 1:332. Thus:

 S knows that P if and only if:

 (i) P.

(ii) S is certain of P

[3] al-Nabhani, al-Shakhsiyyah al-Islamiyyah, 3:81-83.

[4] al-Nabhani, al-Shakhsiyyah al-Islamiyyah, 3:82. Cf. al-Ghazzali, al-Mustasfa min `Ilm al-Usul, 1:132-140.

[5] al-Nabhani, al-Shakhsiyyah al-Islamiyyah, 3:82.

[6] E.g. praying, how to pray, fasting, how to fast, etc.

[7] al-Nabhani, al-Shakhsiyyah al-Islamiyyah, 3:82

[8] al-Nabhani, al-Shakhsiyyah al-Islamiyyah, 3:82.

[9] See al-Nabhani, al-Shakhsiyyah al-Islamiyyah, 3:83 and al-Ghazzali, al-Mustasfa min `Ilm al-Usul, 1:138-139.

[10] See al-Ghazzali, al-Mustasfa, 1:134.

[11] See al-Ghazzali, al-Mustasfa, 1:134.

[12] Cf. also al-Ghazzali, al-Mustasfa, 1:138. See al-Nabhani, al-Shakhsiyyah al-Islamiyyah, 1:332.

[13] See al-Ghazzali, al-Mustasfa, 1:44-46.

[14] Such as the laws of logic, that If P > Q and Q > R, then necessarily P is > Q, the sum is greater than its parts, etc.

[15] The fact that I am aware of my body, that I have introspective access to my thoughts, the fact that I feel hunger, thirst, etc.

[16] I am aware of objects external to me extended in space, the snow is white, the Sun shines, etc.

[17] Wine intoxicates, fire burns when in contact with cotton, etc.

[18] Such as historical figures like Shafi`i existed, Mecca exists, etc. See al-Ghazzali, al-Mustasfa, 1:132-134. A rational proof results in certain knowledge if it is based on premises known intuitively or necessarily to be true. Six varieties of necessary premises are usually listed although al-Jurjani following al-Iji in al-Mawaqif and al-Amidi in his Abkar al-Afkar lists seven. The six usually given are the following: 

  1. Awwaliyat: first principles or axioms, such as the statement that the whole is greater than any of its parts.
  2. Qadaya qiyasatuha ma`aha: which are propositions containing their own syllogisms, such as the statement that four is an even number
  3. Mushahadat: or sense perceptions, such as the statement that this fire burns.
  4. Mutawatirat: which are historical or geographical facts known through tawatur transmission, that is, facts transmitted by a sufficient number of witnesses such that it would be impossible to suppose that they were all lying.
  5. Mujarrabat: or facts known through experimentation, such as the statement that scammony is a laxative.
  6. Hadsiyat: or acute guesses, as for example, the statement that the light of the moon is derived from that of the sun.
  7. Al-wahmiyat fi al-mahsusat: or estimations or preconceptions with respect to objects of sense, such as the proposition that every body can be pointed to and is in a direction. See al-Razi, Qutb al Din, Sharh al-Risalah al-Shamsiyyah, 2:240; al-Isfahani, Matali` al-Anzar pp. 26-7; al-Taftazani, Sharh al-Maqasid, 1:19; al-Jurjani, Sharh al-Mawaqif, 1:123, 2:36 and al-Amidi, Abkar al-Afkar, fols. 17b-18a. It should be noted that these six premises are derived from Ibn Sina (Avicenna). See his al-Isharat wa ’l-Tanbihat, I, 213-219; al-Shifa’, al-Mantiq, al-Burhan, pp. 63-64; and al-Najah, pp. 61-66.

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