Amidst some recent discussions relating to the traditions upon Ṭā’un (plague, contagion), there is one that raises a niche question regarding the isnād – or channel of transmission. Out of the six commonly known books of ḥadith, only Ibn Mājah cites this in his collection of Sunan, with ‘Aṭā ibn Abi Rabāḥ narrating upon the authority of Abdullah ibn Umar:
حدثنا محمود بن خالد الدمشقي حدثنا سليمان بن عبد الرحمن أبو أيوب عن ابن أبي مالك عن أبيه عن عطاء بن أبي رباح عن عبد الله بن عمر، قال أقبل علينا رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم فقال يا معشر المهاجرين خمس إذا ابتليتم بهن وأعوذ بالله أن تدركوهن لم تظهر الفاحشة في قوم قط حتى يعلنوا بها إلا فشا فيهم الطاعون والأوجاع التي لم تكن مضت في أسلافهم الذين مضوا. ولم ينقصوا المكيال والميزان إلا أخذوا بالسنين وشدة المؤنة وجور السلطان عليهم. ولم يمنعوا زكاة أموالهم إلا منعوا القطر من السماء ولولا البهائم لم يمطروا ولم ينقضوا عهد الله وعهد رسوله إلا سلط الله عليهم عدوا من غيرهم فأخذوا بعض ما في أيديهم . وما لم تحكم أئمتهم بكتاب الله ويتخيروا مما أنزل الله إلا جعل الله بأسهم بينهم
Maḥmud ibn Khālid al-Dimishqi narrated to us Sulaymān ibn Abdur-Raḥman Abu Ayub narrated to us from Ibn Abi Mālik from his father from ‘Aṭā ibn Abi Rabāḥ from Abdullah ibn Umar, he said: The Messenger of Allah peace be upon turned to us and said: O Muhājirun, there are five things with which you will be tested, and I seek refuge with Allah lest you live to see them: al-Fāḥisha never appears among a people to such an extent that they commit it openly, but Ṭā’un (plague, contagion) that were never known among the predecessors will spread among them. They do not cheat in weights and measures but they will be stricken with famine, severe calamity and the oppression of their rulers. They do not withhold the Zakāh of their wealth, but rain will be withheld from the sky, and were it not for the animals, no rain would fall on them. They do not break their covenant with Allah and His Messenger, but Allah will enable their enemies to overpower them and take some of what is in their hands. Unless their leaders rule according to the Book of Allah and seek all good from that which Allah has revealed, Allah will cause them to fight one another.
Immediately from this isnād it is noted that the narrator Ibn Abi Mālik is weak (ḍaef). In Siyar ‘Alam al-Nubulā’, al-Dhahabi says that Ibn Abi Mālik’s name is Khālid ibn Yazeed ibn Abdur-Raḥman Ibn Abi Mālik al-Hamdāni. While his father is considered trustworthy (thiqa), he has been classed as ḍaef, for example by al-Dāraquṭni and Ibn Ma’in. Further to this, the key question invariably arises concerning the higher portion of the isnād, namely ‘Aṭā ibn Abi Rabāḥ narrating from Abdullah ibn Umar.
A scholar of the highest repute, the veracity of ‘Aṭā ibn Abi Rabāḥ is well established. Resident and Imām in Mecca, there is a slight difference over when he is said to have passed away. Some scholars attribute this to 114AH (732 CE), others in the year 115. In al-Ṭabaqāt al-Kubra of Muḥammad ibn Sa’d records:
أخبرنا معن بن عيسى قال حدثنا عبد الله بن المؤمل عن عطاء أنه كان يعلم الكتاب قالوا وكان ثقة فقيها عالما كثير الحديث
Ma’n ibn Esa reported to us from Abdullah ibn Mu’ammil about ‘Aṭā, that he used to teach the book. They said he was trustworthy (thiqa), a knowledgeable faqih with many ḥadith.
أخبرنا محمد بن الفضيل بن غزوان قال حدثنا أسلم المنقري قال كنت جالسا مع أبي جعفر إذ مر عليه عطاء بن أبي رباح فقال ما بقي على ظهر الأرض أحد أعلم بمناسك الحج من عطاء بن أبي رباح
Muḥammad ibn al-Fuḍayl ibn Ghazwān reported to us he said Aslam al-Minqari narrated to us, he said, I was sitting with Abu Ja’far when ‘Aṭā ibn Abi Rabāḥ passed by and he said: ‘No one remains on the surface of the earth who has better knowledge of the rites of Ḥajj than ‘Aṭā ibn Abi Rabāḥ.’
While the status of ‘Aṭā as a narrator, scholar and Imām is not in question, some previous authorities have doubted whether he did actually hear directly from Ibn Umar. For example, in Tahzib al-Tahzib [Vol. 7, no. 6385], Ibn Ḥajar writes: ‘In (his work) al-Marāseel, Ibn Abi Ḥātim said Aḥmad bin Ḥanbal said, ‘Aṭā did not hear from Ibn Umar.’ Ibn Abi Ḥātim also has a comment that he did see him, which doesn’t seem to be a matter of dispute. While the vast majority of traditions he reports come from other companions, such as Ibn ‘Abbās and Jābir, there is nothing necessarily to preclude him from hearing traditions from Abdullah ibn Umar, albeit even if they are very few. He lived at the same time as Ibn Umar and authorities in ḥadith broadly do seem to concur that he did meet him. More importantly, ‘Aṭā ibn Abi Rabāḥ is not known, neither has it been proven beyond reasonable doubt, that he has or has been accused of misrepresentation in reporting (tadlees).
Variants of this tradition are reported in the wider corpus of aḥādith, with some additional wording, though carrying essentially the same reported meaning as set out in the Sunan of Ibn Mājah. For example, al-Ḥākim has the tradition in al-Mustadrak [Vol. 4, no. 8688, pp. 712/713] via the isnād:
حدثنا علي بن حمشاذ العدل ثنا أبو الجماهر محمد بن عثمان الدمشقي حدثني الهيثم بن حميد أخبرني أبو معبد حفص بن غيلان عن عطاء بن أبي رباح قال كنت مع عبد الله بن عمر فأتاه فتى يسأله عن إسدال العمامة فقال ابن عمر
Ali ibn Ḥamshadth al-‘Adl narrated to us al-Jumāhir Muḥammad ibn Uthmān al-Dimishqi narrated to us al-Haytham ibn Ḥumayd narrated to me Abu Ma’bad Ḥafs ibn Ghaylān reported to me from ‘Aṭā ibn Abi Rabāḥ he said I was with Abdullah ibn Umar, a youth asked him in relation to the head-dressing, so Ibn Umar said (etc).
After which al-Ḥākim comments: ‘This ḥadith has a Ṣaḥīḥ isnād, but they [sic, Bukhāri and Muslim] did not bring this forth.’ In Mu’jam al-Awsaṭ [Vol. 5, pp. 61/62, no. 4671] al-Ṭabarāni records the tradition via the following isnād with some additional wording:
حدثنا أبو زرعة قال حدثنا أبو الجماهر قال حدثنا الهيثم بن حميد قال حدثني حفص بن غيلان عن عطاء بن أبي رباح قال كنت عند عبد الله بن عمر فقال كنت عاشر عشرة في مسجد رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم أبو بكر وعمر وعثمان وعلي وابن مسعود وابن جبل وحذيفة وابن عوف وأبو سعيد الخدري وأنا فجاء فتى من الأنصار فسلم ثم جلس فقال يا رسول الله أي المؤمنين أفضل فقال أحسنهم خلقا قال فأي المؤمنين أكيس قال أكثرهم للموت ذكرا وأحسنهم استعدادا قبل ان ينزل به أولئك هم الكياس ثم سكت الفتى فاقبل علينا النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم فقال يا معشر المهاجرين خصال خمس ان ابتليتم بهن ونزلن بكم وأعوذ بالله ان تدركوهن لم تظهر الفاحشة في قوم قط حتى يعلنوا بها إلا ظهر فيهم الطاعون والأوجاع التي لم تكن مضت في أسلافهم الذين مضوا ولن ينقصوا المكيال والميزان إلا اخذوا بالسنين وشدة المؤنة وجور السلطان عليهم ولم يمنعوا زكاة أموالهم إلا منعوا القطر من السماء ولولا البهائم لم يمطروا ولن ينقضوا عهد الله ورسوله الا سلط الله عليهم عدوهم ثم غزوهم واخذوا بعض ما كان في أيديهم وما لم يحكموا بكتاب الله إلا جعل الله بأسهم بينهم
Abu Zura’ narrated to us Abu Jumāhir narrated to us he said al-Haytham ibn Ḥumayd narrated to us Ḥafs ibn Ghaylān narrated to me from ‘Aṭā ibn Abi Rabāḥ he said I was with Abdullah ibn Umar when he said I was the tenth of ten in the mosque of the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him – I and Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthmān, Ali, Ibn Mas’ud, Ibn Jabal, Ḥudhayfa, Ibn ‘Auf and Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri. A youth from Al-Ansār came forth, so he greeted him, then sat down. He said: O Messenger of Allah, which of the believers is best? He said: He who has the best manners among them. He said: ‘Which of them is wisest?’ He said: The one who remembers death the most and is best in preparing for it before it descends upon him – those are the wisest. Then the youth was silent, and the Prophet peace be upon him came to us and said: O Muhājirun, there are five characteristic if you are afflicted by them and they descend upon you, and I seek refuge with Allah that you recognise them as such lest you see them: al-Fāḥisha never appears among a people to such an extent that they commit it openly, but plagues and diseases that were never known among their predecessors will spread among them. They do not cheat in weights and measures but they will be stricken with famine, severe calamity and the oppression of their rulers. They do not withhold the Zakāh of their wealth, but rain will be withheld from the sky, and were it not for the animals, no rain would fall on them. They do not break their covenant with Allah and His Messenger, but Allah will enable their enemies to overpower them and take some of what is in their hands. Unless their leaders rule according to the Book of Allah and seek all good from that which Allah has revealed, Allah will cause them to fight one another.
The remainder of the tradition recounts the Prophet peace be upon him appointing Abdur-Raḥman ibn ‘Auf for an expedition, with Biāl as the standard bearer. It then concludes with the following wording:
ثم قال خذ ابن عوف فاغزوا جميعا في سبيل الله قاتلوا من كفر بالله لا تغدروا ولا تمثلوا فهذا عهد الله وسنة نبيكم فيكم
Then he said: Take Ibn ‘Auf and fight in the way of Allah all of you; fight those who disbelieve in Allah; do not steal from the booty, and do not act treacherously. This is the covenant of Allah and the Sunnah of your Prophet amongst you.
Similar wording is reported in the traditions narrated on the authority of Sulaymān ibn Buraydah, as found in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim and other collections of Sunan like that of Abu Dāwud and al-Tirmidhi.
After also mentioning this tradition in Majmu’ al-Zawā’id, al-Haythami comments: ‘It is narrated by al-Ṭabarāni and its isnād is ḥasan.’ The version that al-Ṭabarāni has in Mu’jam al-Awsaṭ seems to also subsume the wording at the beginning of another tradition that is cited separately in the Sunan of Ibn Mājah:
حدثنا الزبير بن بكار حدثنا أنس بن عياض حدثنا نافع بن عبد الله عن فروة بن قيس عن عطاء بن أبي رباح عن ابن عمر أنه قال: كنت مع رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم فجاءه رجل من الأنصار فسلم على النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم ثم قال: يا رسول الله أى المؤمنين أفضل قال أحسنهم خلقا قال فأى المؤمنين أكيس قال أكثرهم للموت ذكرا وأحسنهم لما بعده استعدادا أولئك الأكياس
Zubayr ibn Bakkār narrated to us Anas ibn ‘Ayyad narrated to us Nāfi’ ibn Abdullah narrated to us from Farwah ibn Qays from ‘Aṭā ibn Abi Rabāḥ from Ibn Umar, that he said: I was with the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him and a man from among the Ansar came to him and greeted the Prophet peace be upon him. Then he said: O Messenger of Allah, which of the believers is best? He said: He who has the best manners among them. He said: which of them is wisest? He said: The one who remembers death the most and is best in preparing for it; those are the wisest.
The most obvious problem though with the isnād that Ibn Mājah brings here, is the narrator Nāfi’ ibn Abdullah. In Taqrib al-Tahzib, (no. 7075, p. 558) Ibn Ḥajar notes that he is unknown (majhul).
In the Musnad al-Shāmi’een, which has a better isnād than that in al-Awsaṭ, al-Ṭabarāni records the tradition, with an explicit mention of ‘Aṭā ibn Abi Rabāḥ hearing directly from Abdullah ibn Umar:
حدثنا أبو زرعة ثنا أبو الجماهر ح وحدثنا أبو عبد الملك الدمشقي ثنا محمد بن عائذ ثنا الهيثم بن حميد حدثني أبو معيد عن عطاء أنه سمع بن عمر يحدث أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال
Abu Zura’ narrated to us Abu Jumāhir narrated to us, ḥawala, Abu ‘Abd al-Malik al-Dimishqi narrated to us Muḥammad ibn ‘Aāi’dth narrated to us al-Haytham ibn Ḥumayd narrated to us Abu Mu’eed narrated to me from ‘Aṭā (ibn Abi Rabāḥ) that he heard Ibn Umar narrate that the Prophet peace be upon him said.
Although there doesn’t appear to be any isnād in the Ṣaḥīḥayn mentioning ‘Aṭā ibn Abi Rabāḥ narrating from Abdullah ibn Umar, Bukhāri doesn’t appear to challenge whether he actually heard from him. In Tārikh al-Kabir [Vol. 6, p. 9070], he records ‘Aṭā as having heard from Abu Hurayrah, Ibn ‘Abbās, Abu Sa’eed and Ibn Umar; al-Dhahabi also records similarly in Siyar ‘Alam al-Nubulā’.
And with Allah the exalted is all tawfeeq.