An Explanation of the Principle, “Jarh is Given Precedence over Ta‘dīl”

by Mawlānā ‘Abdul Hayy al-Laknawī

When Jarh (narrator-criticism) and Ta‘dīl (narrator-accreditation) conflict with regards to a single narrator[1], in that some have criticised him and others have accredited him[2], then there are three views about this:

The first is that the Jarh is given precedence unconditionally, even if the Mu‘addils (issuers of Ta‘dīl) are more numerous. Al-Khatīb related this from the majority of the scholars, and Ibn al-Salāh, Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī, al-Āmidī and other Usūlīs considered it correct, because the Jārih (issuer of Jarh) has greater knowledge which the Mu‘addil did not comprehend, and because the Jārih concedes to the Mu‘addil that which he reported of his apparent condition, except that he is explaining a concealed matter hidden to the Mu‘addil.

The second is if the number of Mu‘addils is more, Ta‘dīl will be given precedence, which Al-Khatīb related in al-Kifāyah as well as the author of al-Mahsūl, because the large number of Mu‘addils strengthens their case and the small number of Jārihs weakens their report. Al-Khatīb said: “This is an error from the one who supposed it, because even if the Mu‘addils are numerous, they did not express negation of what the Jārihs reported, and were they to express that, it would be a false testimony of negation.”

The third is that the Jarh and Ta‘dīl conflict, so neither of them will be preponderant except by something that makes it preponderant. Ibn al-Hājib related this.

This is how al-‘Irāqī explained it in Sharh al-Alfiyyah and al-Suyūtī in al-Tadrīb and others.

I say:

The foot of many of the scholars of our age has slipped with regards to what has been established by the verifying scholars that “Jarh is given precedence over Ta‘dīl,” due to their ignorance of the conditions and qualifications [of this principle], as a result of their false supposition that Jarh unconditionally – whichever Jarh it may be, from whichever Jārih it may be, with regards to whichever narrator it may be – is given precedence over Ta‘dīl unconditionally – whichever Ta‘dīl it may be from whichever Mu‘addil it may be with regards to whichever narrator it may be.

The matter is not as they suppose.

In fact, the principle of giving precedence to Jarh over Ta‘dīl is limited to when the Jarh is explained (mufassar)[3], as unexplained (mubham) Jarh is absolutely unacceptable in the correct view, so it cannot oppose Ta‘dīl even when it (i.e. Ta‘dīl) is unexplained.

This is proven by [the fact] that the Usūlīs discuss the issue of unexplained Jarh and they give preference to [the view of] the unacceptability of unexplained [Jarh], and shortly after or shortly before that they mention the principle of Jarh conflicting with Ta‘dīl and the precedence of Jarh over Ta‘dīl. This proves that their intent in this discussion is explained Jarh, not unexplained, since there is no sense to a conflict between the unacceptable and acceptable in the view of sensible people.

This is supported by:

The statement of al-Suyūtī in Tadrīb al-Rāwī:

When an explained Jarh and Ta‘dīl combine in a narrator, Jarh is given precedence, even if the number of Mu‘addils is more. This is most correct in the view of the jurists and Usūlīs.

And the statement of Hāfiz Ibn Hajar in Nukhbat al-Fikar and its commentary Nuzhat al-Nazar:

Jarh is given precedence over Ta‘dīl. A group have expressed this unconditionally, but its [true] context is in making a distinction, which is that it [i.e. the Jarh] emerged in an explained manner from one who is knowledgeable of its causes, because if it was unexplained it will not discredit the one whose reliability is established [via Ta‘dīl]. And if it was to emerge from one who is not knowledgeable of its causes, it will also not be considered. If [the narrator] has no Ta‘dīl, it [i.e. Jarh] will be accepted [even if] the cause is unexplained. [4]

And the statement of al-Sindī in Sharh Sharh Nukhbat al-Fikar called Im‘ān al-Nazar:

Here there are two principles: First, when Jarh and Ta‘dīl conflict, Jarh will be given precedence. It was said: If the Mu‘addils are more numerous, Ta‘dīl will be given precedence. And it was said: Neither of them will be given preference except with something that makes it preponderant. Second, the majority of the Huffāz adopt the view of accepting Ta‘dīl without mention of the cause, and the rejection of Jarh except with mention of the cause. The reverse has been opined, and it was said: the cause of both of them must be explained. The author [Hāfiz Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalānī] gave preference in both principles to the first view and he built one principle on the other, the outcome of which is: Jarh being given precedence over Ta‘dīl is restricted to when it is explained. Hence, it is understood from his speech that when Jarh is not explained, Ta‘dīl will be given precedence.

And the statement of al-Sakhāwī in Sharh al-Alfiyyah:

The principle of Jarh having precedence over Ta‘dīl ought to be qualified by [the condition] that they are both explained. When they conflict without explanation [of either of them], Ta‘dīl will be given precedence. Al-Mizzī and others stated this.

And the statement of al-Nawawī in Sharh Sahīh Muslim:

Critics have objected to [Imām] Muslim for his transmission in his Sahīh from a group of weak narrators. There is no blame on him for [doing] that. Its answer is from [a number of] angles, mentioned by Ibn al-Salāh. One of them is that that is with regards one who is weak according to others and trustworthy according to him.

It will not be said, “Jarh is given precedence over Ta‘dīl”, because that is in the [situation] when Jarh is established with an explained cause, as otherwise Jarh will not be accepted when it is not so.

And the statement of Hāfiz Ibn Hajar in the introduction to Lisān al-Mīzān:

When the scholars differ over the Jarh of a man and his Ta‘dīl, the right [approach] is to make distinctions. When the case is such, if the Jarh is explained, it will be accepted. Otherwise, Ta‘dīl will be acted upon. As for one who is not known, and nothing is known about him besides the statement of an imām from the imāms of hadīth that he is weak or abandoned and the like of that, the [correct] view is what he said, and we will not demand an explanation of that from him. Hence, the subject of their statement that Jarh will not be accepted except [when it is] explained is with regards to the one who is differed upon in terms of his accreditation and criticism.

The upshot is:

That which the words of the trustworthy ones indicate, and which the statements of the firm ones attest, is that if there is unexplained Ta‘dīl and Jarh with respect to one narrator, Ta‘dīl will be given precedence. And likewise, if there is unexplained Jarh and explained Ta‘dīl, Ta‘dīl will be given precedence. Giving precedence to Jarh is only when it is explained, regardless of whether the Ta‘dīl is unexplained or explained. Preserve this for it will save you from slipping and from confusion, and will protect you from humiliation and argumentation.

Al-Raf‘ wa l-Takmīl fi l-Jarh wa l-Ta‘dīl, Maktabah Ibn Taymiyyah, pp. 54-9

[1] Meaning, in such a way that it is not possible to reconcile between them. When it is possible to reconcile between them, then there is no real conflict. For example, if the Jarh of a narrator was due to poor memory that he suffered at the end of his life, while his Ta‘dīl was based on his reliability before that, his narrations before old age will be accepted and his narrations after old age will not be accepted. In this example there is no real conflict between the Jarh and the Ta‘dīl.

[2] If on the other hand the Jarh and Ta‘dīl are from the same scholar, then his final word on the narrator will be the one that is considered.

 [3] Jarh may be unexplained (Mubham) or explained (Mufassar). Examples of Jarh Mubham (unexplained Jarh) are: “weak”, “unacceptable” and “unknown.” Examples of Jarh Mufassar (explained Jarh) are: “liar,” “one with poor memory” and “frequently erring”.

 [4] Based on this and other passages, the correct view can be summarised in the following rule of thumb: “Jarh Mufassar is given precedence over Ta‘dīl Mubham, which is given precedence over Jarh Mubham, which is given precedence over the absence of Ta‘dīl.”

 In other words, for a narrator whose Ta‘dīl was made, Jarh will only be accepted when it is Mufassar (explained). If it is not Mufassar, it will be rejected. If there is no Ta‘dīl of the narrator, Jarh will be accepted regardless of it being Mufassar or Mubham (unexplained).

Mawlana Zameelur Rahman

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