The Different Classes (al-tabaqat) of the Narrators According to al-Hafiz ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani (773-852 AH)
By: S. Z. Chowdhury
In effect, the classification given by Imam ibn Hajar is threefold consisting of the time corresponding to the Companions (= sahabi, first generation), their successors (= tabi‘i, second generation) and the successors to the successors (= tabi‘i al-tabi‘i, third generation).
- al-sahabi: The Companions.
- kubbar al-tabi‘in: The major and senior Successors, e.g. ibn al-Musayyab.
- al-wastiy min al-tabi‘in: The upper-middle category. The generation relative to the milieu of the Successors, e.g. Hasan al-Basri and ibn Sirin.
- tabaqah taliha: The lower middle category. The generation that follows the 3rd where the great portion of their narrations (jullu riwayatihim) are from the major Successors (not the Companions), e.g. al-Zuhri and Qatadah.
- al-tabaqah al-sughrah: The junior category. The generation of the Successors who were juniors as well as young and possibly saw one or two of the Companions but it is not definitively established whether some of them actually heard from the Companions (lam yathbut li-ba‘dihim al-sama‘ min al-sahabah), e.g. al-A‘mash.
- tabaqah ‘asaru al–khamisah: The generation contemporaneous with the 5th with the exception that it is not a proven fact whether some or all of them actually met one of the Companions (lam yathbut lahum liqa’ ahadin min al-sahabah), e.g. ibn Jurayj.
- tabaqah kubbar atibba‘ al-tabi‘in: The senior and major 2nd wave of successors, e.g. Malik & Sufyan al-Thawri.
- al-tabaqah al-wastiy: The upper-middle category. The generation relative to the 7th e.g. ibn ‘Uyaynah and ibn ‘Ulayyah.
- al-tabaqah al-sughrah atibba‘ al-tabi‘in: The generation of the 2nd wave of successors who were juniors and small, e.g. Zayd b. Harun, al-Shafi‘i, Abu Dawud al-Tayalisi & ‘Abd al-Razzaq.
10. kubbar al-akhidhin: Leading recipients. That generation containing the major recipients of narrations and knowledge from the 2nd wave of successors including from those who did not actually meet the Successors (mimman lam yaliq al-tabi‘in), e.g. Ahmad b. Hanbal.
11. al-tabaqah al-wastiy: The Upper-middle of the 10th category. The generation relative to the 10th, e.g. al-Dhuhli & al-Bukhari.
12. sughar al-akhidhin: Those who took from those of the 10th and 11th e.g. al-Tirmidhi.
Lit. ‘layer’, ‘stratum’, ‘floor’, ‘class’ and ‘category.’
A mode of expression regarding those who are close in terms of age (al-sinn) and encounter (al-liqa’) to the Prophet (SAW).
- al-Muqni‘, ibn al-Mulaqqin, 2:668.
- Fath al-Mughith, al-Sakhawi, 3:387.
- Tadrib al-Rawi, al-Suyuti, 2:332.
- al-Yuwaqit wa ’l-Durar, al-Munawi, 2:607-608.
- Tawdih al-Afkar, al-San‘ani, 1:503.
- Qaffu al-Athar, ibn al-Hanbali, p.115.
- ‘Ulum al-Hadith, ibn al-Salah, pp.272 & 357.
- al-Taqyid wa ’l-Idah, al-‘Iraqi, p.466.
The Different Ranks (al-maratib) of the Hadith Narrators According to Hafiz ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani
- The companions (al-sahabah): And all that was declared with respect to their honour and dignity (fa-usarrahu bi-dhalika ’l-sharfihim).
- Those whose praises and tributes were affirmed and acknowledged (man ukkida madhuhu): whether it was because of their actions (af‘al) attested to by the people who perhaps saw them or because of the refinement in their character (bi-takrir al-sifah) characterised by such terms as “thiqah thiqah” (absolutely trustworthy) or “thiqah hafiz” (trustworthy and retentive).
- Those who were described with a single expression (man ufrida bi-sifah): such as “thiqah” (trustworthy), “mutqin” (firm), “thabt” (established, i.e. proven record) or “‘adl” (just or upright).
- Those who slightly fall short of the 3rd rank (man qasura ‘an darajah al-thalithah qalilan): indicated by such expressions as “saduq” (truthful), “la ba’sa bihi” (no objections) or “laysa bihi ba’s” (there are no faults with him/her).
- Those who slightly fall short of the 4th rank (man qasura ‘an darajah al-rabi‘ah qalilan): characterised with such terms as “saduq sayyi’ al-hifz” (truthful but poor in memory), “saduq yahim” (truthful but prone to making mistakes), “lahu awham” (he has conjecture, imagination and prejudice) and “yukhti’” (commits errors). This also includes those who changed their doctrinal inclinations towards the end or during their lives e.g. relinquishing their previous unlawfully innovated beliefs whether of the errant Shi‘i, al-Qadariyyah, Murji’ites, etc.
- Those who were not known to have narrated ahadith except little (man laysa lahu min al-hadith illa ’l-qalil): It is not proven that their narrations are discarded (lam yuthbit fihi ma yutraku hadithuhu min ajlihi). They are indicated by such expressions as “maqbul” (accepted) or “layyin al-hadith” (of little weight in narrations).
- Those from whom one or more person had narrated and was not verified (man rawa ‘anhu aktharu min wahid wa lam yuwaththiq). They are characterised by such terms as “mastur” (hidden) and “majhul al-hal” (whose integrity is unknown but there is nothing negative attributed to them).
- Those who have no recognised, proven or demonstrable verification (lam yujad fihi tawthiq al-mu‘tabar): rather, there is explicit mention of weakness (wujida fihi itlaq al-du‘f) even if the weakness is not fully explained. They are labelled with the description “da‘if” (weak).
- Those from whom no more than one person had narrated and was not verified or has little credit to his name (man lam yarwi ‘anhu ghayr wahid wa lam yuwaththiq): they are characterised with the term “majhul” (completely unknown or obscure).
- Those who have no definitive credit to their name (man lam yuwaththiq al-battah): they are weakened with discrediting remarks such as “matruk” (discarded or abandoned), “matruk al-hadith” (rejected in narration) and “wahi al-hadith” (reckless or careless in narrations).
- Those who are accused of lying (man uttuhima bi ’l-kadhb).
- Those who are declared to be liars and forgers (man atlaqa ‘alayhi ism al-kadhb wa ’l-wad‘).
And Allah knows best.
 See the Introduction to Taqrib al-Tahdhib, of ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, p.18.
 See Ahmad b. ‘Ali b. Muhammad b. Muhammad b. ‘Ali b. Ahmad, Abu ’l-Fadl al-Kinani al-‘Asqalani al-Masri al-Qahiri al-Shafi‘i, known by the name ibn Hajar. See his introduction to the Taqrib al-Tahdhib, pp.17-18.