Q&A: Knowledge to show off and argue?

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This narration is being circulated via a messaging group, and I wanted to know what is the status regarding its authenticity: ‘Ibn Umar narrated from the Prophet peace be upon him that he said: Whoever seeks knowledge to argue with the foolish, or to show off before the scholars, or to attract people’s attention, will be in hell.’ [Ibn Mājah]


  • There are several Prophetic traditions (aḥādith) reported with this wording that appear in the collection of Sunan by Ibn Mājah. Each of the traditions, as will be detailed, cannot reasonably be judged as authentic beyond reasonable doubt (Ṣaḥīḥ). In fact, for each narration there is one or more very problematic narrators and they are all weak (ḍaef) individually as well as collectively.
  • When looking at the narrators making up the channel of transmission (isnād), due regard must be given to the scholarly works which relate to the analysis, criticism and potential discrediting of narrators.
  • Other authentic evidences that can be referred to which speak against the reprehensible characteristics of ostentation, showing off, excessive disputation as well as the requirements of sincerity in action and intention. There may well be a political slant to the circulation of these traditions, particularly since it carries the phrase ‘show off before the scholars.’


Within the six-well known books of ḥadith (Bukhāri, Muslim, Nasā’i, Abu Dāwud, Tirmidhi and Ibn Mājah), there are five Prophetic traditions (aḥādith) that are purportedly narrated on the authority of five different companions which carry this or very similar wording. Four of these ḥadith appear in the Sunan of Ibn Mājah; the fifth, in the collection of Sunan by al-Tirmidhi. Each of these traditions will be considered in turn. The other famous scholars of the six-works do not cite these traditions.

Some of the disconnected (mursal) traditions that appear in the wider collections which carry similar wording, are not going to be detailed. These include, that which is attributed to Makḥul, as cited in the Muṣṣanaf of Abu Bakr ibn Abi Shayba and in the Musnad of al-Dārimi, as well as that of Ibn Jurayj as recorded by al-Ḥākim. These traditions are not connected to the Prophet peace be upon him as they are missing the companion as narrator.

Hadith of Ibn Umar

حدثنا هشام بن عمار حدثنا حماد بن عبد الرحمن حدثنا أبو كرب الأزدي عن نافع، عن ابن عمر عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال من طلب العلم ليماري به السفهاء أو ليباهي به العلماء أو ليصرف وجوه الناس إليه فهو في النار

Hishām ibn ‘Ammār narrated to us Ḥammād ibn Abdur-Raḥman narrated to us Abu Karib al-Azdi narrated to us from Nafi’ from Ibn Umar from the Prophet peace be upon him, he said:

Whoever seeks knowledge to argue with the foolish, or to show off before the scholars, or to attract people’s attention, will be in the fire. [Sunan Ibn Mājah]

The isnād outlined in this narration is unusual in that it is not a well-established line of reporting through Nafi’ to Ibn Umar.  Channels that are the strongest are very well known, such as: Mālik / Nafi’ / Ibn Umar or Ubaydullah / Nafi’ / Ibn Umar.  Indeed, those established lines noticeably, do not report this tradition. Two of the narrators in the isnād are problematic.  Regarding the first, Ḥammād ibn Abdur-Raḥman, al-Dhahabi records that he is ḍaef [al-Kāshif fī Maʻrifah, Vol. 1, no. 1231, p. 252].  Al-Mizzi though, records in Tahdhib al-Kamal fi Asmā’ al-Rijāl, [Vol. 3, no. 1485 p. 124] the following statements regarding this narrator:

  • Abu Zur’a said: ‘he narrates aḥādith which are disclaimed (munkar).’
  • Abu Ḥātim said: ‘Shaykh, unknown (majhul) – munkar al-ḥadith, ḍaef al-ḥadith.’

The second narrator, Abu Karib al-Azdi has also attracted negative comments. In his work al-Majruhin, Ibn Ḥibbān says: ‘Abu Karib al-Azdi narrates from Nafi’ what are not from his ḥadith. Ḥammād ibn Abdur-Raḥman narrates from him, al-Azdi. It is not permissible to invoke him if he is alone.’ Al-Dhahabi seems to also share the view that this narrator is unknown, majhul [al-Kāshif fī Maʻrifah, Vol. 3, no. 347, p. 371].

Hadith of Jabir

حدثنا محمد بن يحيى حدثنا ابن أبي مريم أنبأنا يحيى بن أيوب عن ابن جريج عن أبي الزبير عن جابر بن عبد الله أن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال لا تعلموا العلم لتباهوا به العلماء ولا لتماروا به السفهاء ولا تخيروا به المجالس فمن فعل ذلك فالنار النار ‏

Muḥammad ibn Yaḥya narrated to us Ibn Abi Maryam narrated to us Yaḥya ibn Ayub reports from Ibn Jurayj from Abu Zubayr from Jābir ibn Abdullah that the Prophet peace be upon him said:

Do not seek knowledge to show off in front of the scholars, or to argue with the foolish, and do not choose the best seat in a gathering, due to it for whoever does that, the fire, the fire. [Sunan Ibn Mājah]

Al-Rahji notes in his commentary [Sharḥ Sunan Ibn Mājah] that the ḥadith is ḍaef ostensibly because of the presence of Abu Zubayr as he has issues related to misrepresenting (mudallis).  He also notes that for some, the ḥadith could have evidence which would enable it to be elevated to ḥasan li-ghayrihi.  The difficulty with this proposition, is that all the other channels of transmission with this or similar wording are also ḍaef.  While the reported textual wording (matn) doesn’t immediately appear problematic in and of itself, there is authentically reported Sunnah against the bad behaviour of showing off, arrogance and other reprehensible characteristics of a similar type.

Indeed, the obvious problem with this narration is the high part of the isnād and the issue of misrepresentation (tadlees) from Abu Zubayr al-Makki.  It may well be the case that there is a missing intermediary between Abu Zubayr and Jābir, who he has dropped.  This is despite the fact that we know Abu Zubayr did take ḥadith from Jābir.   Further compounding this problem, is the narrator Ibn Jurayj reporting from Abu Zubayr with ‘an (‘from,’ عن).  Here also there may be an issue of tadlees with the likelihood of a missing narrator between the two.  It has not been possible to determine other channels which establish with clarity that Abu Zubayr has actually heard this directly from Jābir or that Ibn Jurayj has heard this from Abu Zubayr and that there are not any missing intermediaries.  Overall, this has the effect of substantially weakening the ḥadith.

Hadith of Hudhayfah

حدثنا أحمد بن عاصم العباداني حدثنا بشير بن ميمون قال سمعت أشعث بن سوار عن ابن سيرين عن حذيفة قال سمعت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول لا تعلموا العلم لتباهوا به العلماء أو لتماروا به السفهاء أو لتصرفوا وجوه الناس إليكم فمن فعل ذلك فهو في النار 

Aḥmad ibn ‘Aāṣim al-‘Ibbadāni narrated to us Basheer ibn Maymun narrated to us he said I heard Ash’ath ibn Sa’wār from Ibn Sireen from Ḥudhayfah, he said I heard the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him saying:

Do not acquire knowledge to show off before the scholars, or to argue with the foolish, or to attract people’s attention, for whoever does that will be in the fire. [Sunan Ibn Mājah]

This narration is very weak – ḍaef jiddan; two of the narrators in this isnād in sequence are problematic, namely, Basheer ibn Maymun and Ash’ath ibn Sa’wār.  Regarding Basheer ibn Maymun, in Tahdhib, [Vol. 4, no. 729, p. 180] al-Mizzi cites the following judgement on this narrator from several leading authorities, namely:

  • Ali ibn al-Madini and Abu Zur’a said: ḍaef
  • Al-Bukhāri said: munkar al-ḥadith
  • Abu Ḥātim said: ‘Ḍaef in ḥadith, his narrations are generally munkar, write that his ḥadith are ḍaef.’
  • Al-Dāraquṭni said: discarded (matruk) in ḥadith
  • Aḥmad ibn ‘Adi said: ‘He narrated aḥādith that no one followed him in; and he is very weak (ḍaef jiddan) like what has been mentioned by Aḥmad, al-Bukhāri, al-Nasā’i and other than them.’

Writing in Tahdhib al-Tahdhib [Vol. 1, no. 869, pp. 469/470], Ibn Ḥajar offers a similar summary. Abu Nu’aym al-Aṣbahāni cites the view of Yaḥya ibn Ma’in in his book, al-Ḍu’afā’ [p. 67, no. 32] that he has many munkar narrations and not to write his ḥadith.

As for Ash’ath ibn Sa’wār, Ibn Sa’d notes in al-Tabaqāt al-Kubra [Vol. 6, no. 3768] that he was ḍaef in ḥadith. In Tahdhib al-Tahdhib [Vol. 1, no. 645, pp. 353/354], Ibn Ḥajar has similarly, but also records that al-Dāraquṭni and Nasā’i graded him as weak, and that Ibn Ḥibbān said: ‘(He has) nasty errors and a great many illusions.’

Hadith of Abu Hurayrah

حدثنا محمد بن إسماعيل أنبأنا وهب بن إسماعيل الأسدي حدثنا عبد الله بن سعيد المقبري عن جده، عن أبي هريرة، قال قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم من تعلم العلم ليباهي به العلماء ويماري به السفهاء ويصرف به وجوه الناس إليه أدخله الله جهنم

Muḥammad ibn Ismā’il narrated to us Wahb ibn Ismā’il al-Asdi reports Abdullah ibn Sa’eed al-Maqburi narrated to us from his grandfather from Abu Hurayrah he said the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him said:

Whoever seeks knowledge to argue with the foolish, or to show off before the scholars, or to attract people’s attention, Allah will admit him to hell. [Sunan Ibn Mājah]

The problematic narrator in this isnād is Abdullah ibn Sa’eed al-Maqburi. In Tahdhib al-Tahdhib [Vol. 5, no. 412, pp. 237/238], Ibn Ḥajar records:

  • Al-Nasā’i said: ‘He is not trustworthy, leave him,’
  • Al-Dārimi said from Ibn Ma’in: ‘He is nothing.’ Another statement recorded from Ibn Ma’in purports to have him say he is ḍaef.
  • Abu Ḥātim said: ‘He is not strong.’

For al-Dāraquṭni, he records the designation of matruk against this narrator in al-Ḍu’afā’ wal’-Matrukin [no. 310, p. 112].

Hadith of Ka’b ibn Malik

حدثنا أبو الأشعث أحمد بن المقدام العجلي البصري حدثنا أمية بن خالد حدثنا إسحق بن يحيى بن طلحة حدثني ابن كعب بن مالك عن أبيه قال سمعت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول من طلب العلم ليجاري به العلماء أو ليماري به السفهاء أو يصرف به وجوه الناس إليه أدخله الله النار 

Abul’Ash’ath, Aḥmad ibn al-Miqdām al-‘Ijli al-Basri narrated to us Umaya ibn Khālid narrated to us Isḥāq ibn Yaḥya ibn Ṭalḥa narrated to us Ibn Ka’b ibn Mālik narrated to me from his father, he said I heard the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him saying:

Whoever seeks knowledge to contend with the scholars, or to use it to argue with the fools, and to have people’s faces turn towards him, then he shall be admitted to the fire. [Tirmidhi]

Differing slightly by collection, this narration appears in the Sunan of al-Tirmidhi. After citing this, Abu Esa al-Tirmidhi says: ‘This ḥadith is gharib, we do not know of it except from this route. Isḥāq ibn Yaḥya ibn Ṭalḥa is not that strong according to them (sic. the scholars of ḥadith), he was criticized due to his memory.’ Ibn Ḥajar provides some additional confirmation of this in al-Tahdhib al-Tahdhib [Vol. 1, no. 479 pp. 254/255], noting a statement from Bukhāri that he was spoken about regarding the issue of his memorisation.  Ibn Ḥajar also notes:

  • Abu Ḥātim said: ‘ḍaef in ḥadith, he isn’t that strong,’ and
  • Abdullah ibn Aḥmad said from his father: matruk al-ḥadith.

Al-Mizzi records similar statements in Tahdhib [Vol. 2, no. 389 pp. 489/491].  Given the short analysis presented thus far, it does not appear that these reported traditions can reasonably be judged to be Ṣaḥīḥ. Rather, they are ḍaef and some are ḍaef jiddan.

The Deen of Islam is not built upon conjecture or hearsay. Rather, the Deen of Islam is derived from the texts of revelation: namely, the noble Qur’ān and the correct genuine aḥādith that are established by way of transmission from trustworthy narrators one from another until they reach the Prophet (peace be upon him).

And Allah knows best.

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