Q&A Judgement in Yemen?

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At last Friday prayer, the Imām discussed at length a adith from the companion Mu’ādth ibn Jabal, when he was sent to Yemen and his discussion with the Prophet peace be upon him regarding how to judge cases.  Is there any value in this narration?  Is it authentically established?


The narration is quite well known and appears in several of the Sunan and Musnad collections of aḥādith.  It is also quoted in many of the legal texts.  However, it is not an authentic tradition.  Serious problems exist with it both in terms of its reported channel of transmission (isnād), as well as the reported wording of the text itself (matn).


Abu Dāwud records this narration in his Sunan within the book of judgements.

حدثنا حفص بن عمر عن شعبة عن أبي عون عن الحارث بن عمرو بن أخي المغيرة بن شعبة عن أناس من أهل حمص من أصحاب معاذ بن جبل أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم لما أراد أن يبعث معاذا إلى اليمن قال كيف تقضي إذا عرض لك قضاء قال أقضي بكتاب الله‏ قال فإن لم تجد في كتاب الله قال فبسنة رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال فإن لم تجد في سنة رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم ولا في كتاب الله قال أجتهد رأيي ولا آلو فضرب رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم صدره وقال الحمد لله الذي وفق رسول رسول الله لما يرضي رسول الله

Ḥafs ibn Umar narrated to us from Shu’ba from Abi ‘Awn from al-Ḥārith ibn ‘Amr ibn Akhi al-Mughira ibn Shu’ba from some of the people of Homs from the companions of Mu’ādth ibn Jabal, that when the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him intended to send Mu’ādth ibn Jabal to the Yemen, he asked:

How will you judge when the occasion of deciding a case arises?  He replied: I shall judge in accordance with the book of Allah. He asked: If you don’t find it in the book of Allah?  He replied: (then) with the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him.  He asked: If you don’t find it in the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah or in the book of Allah?  He replied: (by) the Ijtihād of my opinion, sparing no effort.  The Messenger of Allah peace be upon him then patted him on the chest and said: Praise be to Allah Who has helped the Messenger of the Messenger of Allah to find something which pleases the Messenger of Allah.

Tirmidhi cites the tradition in his collection within the chapters on judgements.  The text is broadly similar and the two isnāds he presents are as follows:

حدثنا هناد حدثنا وكيع عن شعبة عن أبي عون الثقفي عن الحارث بن عمرو عن رجال من أصحاب معاذ عن معاذ أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم بعث معاذا إلى اليمن فقال

Hannād narrated to us Waki’ narrated to us from Shu’ba from Abi ‘Awn al-Thaqafi from al-Ḥārith ibn ‘Amr from a man from the companions of Mu’ādth from Mu’ādth, that the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him sent Mu’ādth to Yemen.

حدثنا محمد بن بشار حدثنا محمد بن جعفر وعبد الرحمن بن مهدي قالا حدثنا شعبة عن أبي عون عن الحارث بن عمرو ابن أخ للمغيرة بن شعبة عن أناس من أهل حمص عن معاذ، عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم نحوه

Muḥammad ibn Bashār narrated to us Muḥammad ibn Ja’far and Abdur-Raḥman ibn Mahdi narrated to us, they said Shu’ba narrated to us from Abi ‘Awn from al-Ḥārith ibn ‘Amr ibn Akh al-Mughira ibn Shu’ba from some of the inhabitants of Homs, from Mu’ādth, from the Prophet peace be upon him, narrating similarly.

After this, al-Tirmidhi gives his customary comment: ‘Abu Esa said: We do not know of this ḥadith except from this pathway. To me, its isnād is not connected as a continuous report (mutaṣṣil).  Abu ‘Awn al-Thaqafi’s name is Muḥammad ibn Ubaydullah.’

Aside from the Sunan collections of Abu Dāwud and al-Tirmidhi, the narration also appears in several other collections of ḥadith, notably:

  • Musnad Aḥmad [Vol. 5, no. 22114 and 22153]
  • Musnad Abu Dāwud al-Ṭayālisi [Vol. 1, no. 560]
  • al-Sunan al-Kubra, Bayhaqy [Vol. 10, 20339 and 20340]
  • al-Mu’jam al-Kabir, al-Ṭabarāni [Vol. 20, no. 362]
  • Muṣṣanaf Ibn Abi Shayba [Vol. 7, no. 59]


Only al-Ṭabarāni seems to have an isnād stating ‘al-Ḥārith ibn ‘Amr ibn Akh al-Mughira ibn Shu’ba from (‘an) Mu’ādth ibn Jabal,’ which is mistaken.  All other reported channels of transmission are via al-Ḥārith ibn ‘Amr, either narrating from ‘some of the inhabitants of Homs’ from Mu’ādth or ‘from a man from the companions’ of Mu’ādth purportedly narrating from Mu’ādth.

Criticism of the chain of narration

It is quite clear that the narration is not properly connected as al-Tirmidhi mentioned, the channel of transmission resting upon a series of unknown narrators.  Therefore, it is not an established authentic (Ṣaḥīḥ) narration.

Modern scholars have reiterated this position.  For example, in his commentary upon Musnad Aḥmad, Shu’ayb al-Arnā’uṭ states of the two traditions cited: ‘Its isnād is weak (ḍaef) due to the anonymity of “the companions of Mu’ādth” and the unknown status of al-Ḥārith ibn ‘Amr.’  Classical scholars were readily familiar with the significant problems the transmission for this tradition presents.  In al-Tārikh al-Kabir [Vol. 2, no. 2449, p. 277], al-Bukhāri said: ‘al-Ḥārith ibn ‘Amr ibn Akhi al-Mughira ibn Shu’ba al-Thaqafi from the companions of Mu’ādth, from Mu’ādth; Abu ‘Awn narrating from him.  It is not authentic, it is not known by other than this (sic. line of reporting); mursal.’  As lucidly explained elsewhere, the mursal by its very nature is considered weak (ḍaef) and cannot can be utilised as proof on its own.  In al-Mualla [Vol. 1, p. 82], Ibn Ḥazm argues similarly to that of Bukhāri, where he writes:

In the adith of Mu’ādth ibn Jabal concerning ‘Ijtihād by opinion (ra’i), and I shall spare no effort,’ this is not authentic, because no one narrates this except the only one reporting it, al-Ḥārith ibn ‘Amr, and he is unknown (majhul).  We do not know (of the identity) of the men from the people of Homs (Syria), as he did not name them (in the reporting) from Mu’ādth.

Ibn Ḥazm sets out greater reasoning for rejection in al-Iḥkhām fi Uṣul al-Aḥkām [Vol. 2, p. 435], arguing that the narration is completely fallen (sāqiṭ) as it is cited only from this line of transmission, from an unknown narrator who is narrating from an unknown group of people.  Hence, it is not lawful that such narrations can be taken

In al-‘Ilal al-Mutanāhiya, Ibn al-Jawzi says: This adith is not authentic, even if all the jurists mention it in their books and rely on it.’  An example of its usage by the legal jurists, purportedly to show evidence from the Sunnah establishing analogy (qiyās), can be seen from al-Amidi in his work al-Iḥkhām [Vol. 4, p. 32], where the tradition of Mu’ādth is one of five Prophetic traditions he presents.  Ibn al-Jawzi also reiterates that al-Ḥārith ibn ‘Amr is unknown (majhul) as are the alleged ‘companions from the people of Homs’ that he is supposed to have narrated this from [cited by al-Ḥāfiz in Talkhīṣ al-ḥabīr fī takhrīj aḥādīth, Vol. 4, no. 2557, p. 337].  The entry for al-Ḥārith ibn ‘Amr as unknown (majhul), is also found in al-Taqreeb [Vol. 1, no. 1042, p. 176] by al-Ḥāfiz.

And the words and deeds of everyone should conform to the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Messenger, and that should the opinion of a certain scholar be contradictory to the Sunnah of the Messenger, one should abandon that opinion when he becomes aware of the contradiction and should obey the Sunnah of the Prophet; for if one does not do so he is not excused.

al-Shāfi’i, al-Risālah

Criticism of the reported text

Ibn Ḥazm provides a scathing criticism of the reported text (matn) of this narration in al-Iḥkhām fi Usul al-Aḥkām [Vol. 2, pp. 435/436].  He describes the narration as a manifest lie as well as being an outright fabrication, because it is directly at odds with clearly established evidences, notably the following Qur’ānic verses:

اليوم أكملت لكم دينكم

This day have I perfected your Deen for you [5: 3]

ما فرطنا في لكتاب من شيء

We have not neglected anything in the Book [6: 38]

ونزلنا عليك الكتاب تبيانا لكل شيء

And We have revealed the Book to you explaining clearly everything [16: 89]

لتبين للناس ما نزل إليهم

To make clear to mankind what has been revealed to them [16: 44]

He asks, how can such a narration which purportedly has the Messenger of Allah stating if you don’t find the guidance in the book of Allah and the Sunnah, be correct when the clearly established texts expressly state otherwise?  Pronouncing judgment in Deen by opinion and claiming guidance cannot be found in the Book and the Sunnah – all of which Ibn Ḥazm declares as being a manifest lie without any doubt.  After this he partially quotes from the authentic tradition as found in Bukhāri and Muslim, where the people will take as leaders the ignorant, who when consulted will give verdict without knowledge.  It is presented here in full:

حدثنا إسماعيل بن أبي أويس قال حدثني مالك عن هشام بن عروة عن أبيه عن عبد الله بن عمرو بن العاص قال سمعت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول إن الله لا يقبض العلم انتزاعا، ينتزعه من العباد ولكن يقبض العلم بقبض العلماء، حتى إذا لم يبق عالما، اتخذ الناس رءوسا جهالا فسئلوا، فأفتوا بغير علم، فضلوا وأضلوا

Ismā’il ibn Abi Uways narrated to us he said Mālik narrated to me from Hishām ibn ‘Urwa from his father from Abdullah ibn ‘Amr ibn al-Aāṣ, he said I heard the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him saying:

Indeed, Allah does not take away knowledge by snatching it from the people but he takes it away by the death of the ulemā’, till when none remains, people will take as their leaders the ignorant who when consulted will give their judgment without knowledge. So, they will go astray and will lead the people astray.

Ibn Ḥazm also asserts the text of the Qur’ānic verse at 4: 59 which requires referral back to Allah and His Messenger where any dispute arises.  This is followed by a partial rendering of the authentic narration of ‘Auf ibn Mālik [quoted in full in al-Mualla Vol. 1, p. 82] about the people most in fitna are those who compare things to their opinion making the lawful unlawful and vice versa.  In the round, the evidences Ibn Ḥazm marshals provide compelling reasoning to show the narration is inauthentic by way of its reported text.

Concluding remarks

It should be readily evident that the adith under consideration here, purportedly from the companion Mu’ādth ibn Jabal, may Allah be pleased with him, is not authentic at all.  Consequently, it falls altogether.  Fortunately, we have the firm assurance already that revelation consists of both the Qur’ān and the Prophetic Sunnah and that the dhikr is protected.  Many scholarly works have outlined just how the Prophetic Sunnah provides detailed exposition to many injunctions that are found within the Qur’ānic text, whether they be from the classical period, like al-Risālah by al-Shāfi’i, or from the modern period, as lucidly covered in the Book of Taweed.  Chapters detailing the ruling of basic permissibility are also worth reviewing as any underlying notion of the revelation being incomplete with gaps that need to be filled by the use of extra-textual additions becomes convincingly dispelled.

With regards to the notion of ijtihād in its specific technical sense – deriving a legal provision or ruling from the detailed textual evidences, there are other authentic traditions which establish this firmly, so the faulty tradition attributed to Mu’ādth ibn Jabal does not add substantive value.

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