What is al-jarh wa al-ta`dîl and how is it carried out?
Sheikh Muhammad al-Qannâs
Eminent scholars developed this discipline in order to protect the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him) from corruption. They used these expressions as tools for evaluating the chains of transmission for various hadîth.
The phrase al-jarh wa al-ta`dîl refers to a systematic approach to critiquing a narrator’s position as a narrator.
Al-Jarh literally means “to injure”. It refers to a series of expressions that are used to express some deficiency in the narrations of a narrator. Sometimes the narrator may be criticized for being a liar, a fabricator of hadîth, having a poor memory, or being unknown.
Al-Ta`dîl is the opposite. It is a description of the narrator as being acceptable. It includes descriptions such as: skilled and trustworthy, emphatically trustworthy, trustworthy, just, truthful, and acceptable.
There are two broad conditions that must be fulfilled by a narrator in order for him to be acceptable. He must be trustworthy and accurate. For a narrator to be found wanting in either of these two conditions is a serious deficiency.
The meaning of trustworthiness is that the narrator fears Allah and is of good character.
Fearing Allah means that he avoids polytheism, innovation, and sin.
Goodness of character means that he is of good behavior and conducts himself in a decent and proper manner according to the customs of people. The specific details of this assessment will vary from time to time and from country to country.
There are two kinds of accuracy: accuracy in memory and accuracy in writing. Accuracy in memory means the narrator has an accurate recall and can memorize and later confirm what he hears from his personal knowledge. The narrator, moreover, should know the subtleties of meaning if he narrates hadîth by their meanings and not by their literal wording.
Accuracy in writing means the narrator records and preserves the hadîth in writing until he narrates them perfectly to others.
The proof for the permissibility of engaging in al-jarh wa al-ta`dîl is Allah’s saying: “O ye who believe! If a sinner comes to you with any news, ascertain the truth, lest ye harm people unwittingly.” [Sûrah al-Hujurât: 6]
The verse commands us to verify the news brought to us by a sinner. This requires from us to assess the character of those from whom we take information, especially when that information refers to a matter as weighty as our religion.
Proof that we have to ascertaining the narrator’s accuracy is found in the statement of the Prophet (peace be upon him): “May Allah honor a person who hears my speech, understands it, commits it to memory it then he reports it to others as it is. For it may happen that a person who possesses knowledge will convey it to someone who will have a greater understanding of it than he has.” [Sunan al-Tirmidhî]
The Prophet’s saying: ‘…commits it to memory…’ shows the importance of memorizing the hadîth or preserving it in writing.
His saying ‘…reports it to others as it is…’ refers to the need for accuracy and proper understanding in conveying that information to others.
Criticizing a narrator is not an act of backbiting. It was related that a man came seeking an audience with the Prophet (peace be upon him). When the Prophet (peace be upon him) saw him he said: “Let him come in; he is a bad member of the clan.”
When the man sat, the Prophet (peace be upon him) received him with a smile and spoke to him nicely. When the man left, `Aishah said: “O Messenger of Allah when you saw the man you said something, then you smiled to him and talked nicely to him.”
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Have you known me to be discourteous? The evilest grade of a man on the day of Judgment is the one who is abandoned by people to avoid his evil.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî]
In this hadîth the Prophet (peace be upon him) only spoke ill of this man for a legitimate reason. He wanted to warn others of that man’s wicked behavior. He received him pleasantly as a matter of courtesy.
The trustworthiness of a narrator is known by his good reputation among people for being truthful, honest and good and for being a person of knowledge. This applies to people like Ahmad, Mâlik, al-Shâfi`î, and others.
The other way of knowing who is trustworthy is by way of recommendation from one of the prominent scholars in the field. These scholars know the trustworthiness of a narrator by knowing something about his biography. Often they would also conduct a deep and comparative study of the corpus of that narrator’s hadîth.
The accuracy of the narrator is known by comparing his narrations with others who narrated from the same teacher. The narrator will be deemed accurate if his narrations comply with those of others.
There are many scholars who were specialized in the discipline of al-jarh wal ta`dîl; among the most famous of these were: Ahmad b. Hanbal, Yahyâ b. Ma`în, `Alî b. al-Madînî, and al-Bukhârî.
Source: Islam Today
-- Al Arabiya Digital