What is the difference between the Mutawatir and Ahad hadith?
Question Number: 3038
Peace be upon you and Allah’s mercy and blessings
May Allah bless our scholars in the Shariah Committee, and may Allah make your feet firm on the truth, need your prayer for sincerity in seeking knowledge. After:
I hope that you can explain the difference between hadith mutawatir and hadith ahad with a mention of the differences and similarities between them may Allah bless you and benefit us with you.
Questioner: Abu saber
And peace, mercy and blessings of Allah be upon you too.
May Allah for whose sake you love us love you as well and we ask Allah for guidance, persistence, honesty and sincerity in seeking the pleasure of Allah, and may Allah make it easy for you and us to learn what benefits and to implement it.
In the name of Allah the Merciful, Praise be to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon the Messenger of Allah the trustworthy, and his family and companions and followers; Afterwards …
The later generations have classified hadith based on the number of its chains and ways of reaching us into two parts:
First: It is the Mutawaatir hadith, which is: What is narrated by a huge number in each layer of its isnaad (chain), such that anybody who sees these chains would be convinced of the impossibility of collusion of all these people upon lie or error; it therefore suffices to stand on this number of chains in terms of health or weakness.
And no doubt that certain conditions must be fulfilled for an hadith to be graded as Mutawaatir; namely:
~That it is narrated by many. There is however disagreement on the minimum abundance on several statements.
~That there is such abundance in all the layers of isnaad, from the companions and Taabiuun and followers of Taabiun and others after them.
~That it is normally impossible for them to be complicit in a lie.
And the Mutawaatir is of two sections:
1. Verbal mutawaatir: it is the one which the narrators agreed on its wordings in the sentence. And example is the hadith:
“whosoever deliberately lies against me, let him take his seat in the fire.”
This hadith was narrated by a legion of companions with almost the same words, and narrators transmitted it from each other in the same abundance in each layer of the isnaad.
2. Meaning only Mutawaatir: It is that which the narrators agreed on the meaning of it, but each hadith has its own unique wordings.
Example: raising of the hands during supplication.
It was reported in many ahadith with different contents and in different occasions, and some of it are hadith of words while some are actions, but collectively agreed on mentioning the lifting of the Prophet’s -peace be upon him- hands during supplication, so, this part became a Mutawaatir hadith in terms of meaning and not in terms of wordings.
The second part:
This is the Ahaad hadith.
It is in short, what did not meet the conditions of Mutawaatir.
If a Mutawaatir hadith should lack any of the previous conditions, it becomes Ahaad hadith.
If no large number of narrators should narrate it in each layer; This is an Ahaad hadith.
And if those multitude are present in all levels except one level; It is also a Ahaad hadith.
If the hadith was narrated by many but it is normal that they can collide upon falsehood, like if it is narrated by a Matrook (an abandoned narrator), or they are from one country and could have taken from each other; It is regarded as hadith Ahaad.
From the foregoing it is clear that the distinctive difference between the Mutawaatir and Ahaad is concentrated on two things; namely:
~The Mutawaatir is required to be narrated by many, unlike the Ahaad.
~The Mutawaatir is required to be abundant in each layer of the isnaad, while the Ahaad types do not.
We should point out an important issue:
It is that the division of hadith into Mutawaatir and Ahaad is a division by the latecomers, they derived that from Ilmul kalaam (logic), where the Ahlul Kalaam – especially the Mu’tazilahs – classified hadith into Mutawaatir reports which serves as knowledge of certainty, and Ahaad reports which serves as conjecture, they took in the issues of Aqeedah, the Mutawaatir ahaadeeth and left the Ahaad ones because it “does not serve for certainty”, but they used it for rulings only.
This division contradicts what the Salaf were upon, may Allah be pleased with them, for they were taking the ahaad also in the issues of aqeedah, and the first to enter this division in the science of Hadeeth – as we know – is the Imam al-Faqih al-Khateeb al-Baghdadi in the fifth century AH, and he had derived that from his Ash’ari (a deviant sect) Sheikhs in his time especially students of the Ash’ari Imaam the famous Imam Al-Baqlaani.
This division does not benefit us we the people of Sunnah in terms of hadith implementation; because we work with both, in the beliefs and rulings and other areas, but it only benefits us only in terms of weighting when their is a conflict (contradiction) and the two can not be reconciled.
This; and Allah knows best, and he is the source of strength.
Answered by a member of the Shariah Committee:
Sheikh Abu al-Walid al- Maqdisi
Minbar Tawheed & Jihad Q&A