On The Transmitters Of Isra'iliyyat (Judeo-Christian Material)

M S M Saifullah, Muhammad Ghoniem, Abu Hudhayfah & Khalid al-Khazraji

© Islamic Awareness, All Rights Reserved.

First Composed: 17th August 2000

Last Modified: 17th August 2000


Assalamu-`alaykum wa rahamatullahi wa barakatuhu:

1. Introduction

This document deals with clarifying some of the misconceptions which are held by both Muslims and non-Muslims concerning the transmitters of isra'iliyyat or Judeo-Christian material into the Qur'anic exegesis or tafsir. The misconception is that the transmitters of isra'iliyyat narrations are 'fabricators' of hadith and are considered as 'untrustworthy.'

We will first deal with the conditions of acceptance of isra'iliyyat narrations in the Islamic literature. Then we will focus on the reliability of narrators such as Wahb Ibn Munabbih and Ka`b al-Ahbar, who had transmitted many isra'iliyyat narrations into Islamic literature.

We will also deal with some of the statements made by the Christian missionary Shamoun concerning Wahb Ibn Munabbih and Ka`b al-Ahbar.

Furthermore, Saifullah does not apply his method of criticism consistently. In one of his articles, he cites the hadith collection of Wahb b. Munabbih to prove that there were early records of Islamic traditions.

2. Wahb Or Hammam?

According to the Christian missionary Shamoun:

In one of his articles, he cites the hadith collection of Wahb b. Munabbih to prove that there were early records of Islamic traditions.

Well, if one simply follows that link and read it is clear that we are talking about Hammam Ibn Munabbih, the brother of Wahb Ibn Munabbih. The Christian missionary confused himself with the names. Hammam Ibn Munabbih wrote his Sahifa which comprises of 138 ahadith and his collection is believed to be mid-first century AH/seventh century CE.

3. Isra'iliyat: Its Narrators & Rules Of Accepting The Narrations

The first and foremost issue is to know the basis of acceptance of isra'iliyyat by the hadith scholars. The scholars distinguish three kinds of the isra'iliyyat:

These set of rules are applied by hadith scholars when dealing with isra'iliyyat material. These rules are based on the hadith of the Prophet(P) recorded in various hadith collections. From the above, one can conclude that it is of little consequence whether Wahb, Ka`b or anyone else is narrating the isra'iliyyat material from them or anyone else since the same set of rules applies to everyone narrating such traditions. It does not exclude even Ibn `Abbas who also had transmitted isra'iliyyat traditions through Wahb, Ka`b and others.

Keeping the above in mind, let us now proceed further with the arguments. We read:

Yet, Saifullah conveniently fails to mention that Wahb also included material from the Jews.

Wahb transmitted both isra'iliyyat and Islamic traditions. Does transmitting isra'iliyyat traditions along with Islamic traditions make any transmitter untrustworthy? Or is he branded as a fabricator or a liar? The above set of rules does not say so. But according to the missionary:

This has led prominent Muslims to doubt Wahb's credibility as a compiler of hadith.

In the current discussion, we are dealing with Wahb, the transmitter of hadith and isra'iliyyat traditions, not the compiler of hadith. This distinction should be made clearer for those who are confused. The scholars of the hadith had criticized the isra'iliyyat traditions transmitted by him.

What we do is a simple exercise of going through the books that deal with the transmitters of hadith compiled by the famous hadith scholars of the past. This study in the hadith sciences is known as Rijal al-Hadith (the study of the reporters of hadith). This would enable us to check the reliability of Wahb Ibn Munabbih and Ka`b al-Ahbar as the transmitters of hadith. We have also included Hammam Ibn Munabbih for the sake of completeness of the argument.

Wahb Ibn Munabbih

Concerning Wahb, al-Hafidh Ibn Hajar (d. 852 AH) said:

126 - Wahb Ibn Munabbih Ibn Kamil al-Yamani, the father of `Abdallah al-Abnawi. He is trustworthy [thiqah]...[1]

Ibn Hajar places him in category three of hadith narrators who come immediately after category two, which includes extremely precise and firmly established hadith narrators, and after category one which is reserved purely for the Companions of the Prophet(P).

According to al-`Ijli (d. 261H), Wahb is:

A successor, thiqah....[2]

The editor of this edition placed a footnote to al-`Ijli's comment saying:

He is also declared thiqah by Abu Zur`ah, al-Nasa'i, Ibn Hibban and others.[3]

Imam al-Suyuti (d. 911H) includes him in his book of hadith memorisers.[4]

Many of the hadith scholars have recorded his hadith, including al-Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud and al-Tirmidhi.

To summarize the views of various hadith specialists on Wahb, let us consider the following quote:

The translation of which is:

If we examine what the scholars and critics said concerning Wahb, we would be convinced that he was above the defamation made against him, innocent from any accusation that would scratch his fairness and honesty. Al-Dhahabi said: He was trustworthy and honest and transmitted a lot from the books of isra'iliyyat. Al-`Ijli said: Trustworthy and a successor, he was appointed in the Court of San`a'. Ibn Hajar said: Wahb Ibn Munabbih of San`a' was a successor. He was trusted by the public of scholars except al-Fallas who said: He is weak, what led him to this stance is that [Wahb] was suspected of having a controversed opinion regarding Qadar [i.e., predestination]. An-Nasa'i and Abu Zur`ah said: He was trustworthy. Ibn Hibban has mentioned him in his book of trustworthy narrators. Al-Bukhari himself used to rely on him and trusted him. We can find in al-Bukhari one report from him through his brother Hammam from Abu Huraira concerning the writing of hadith....[5]

So the conclusion here is that Wahb is consider to be a thiqah even though he transmitted isra'iliyyat traditions along with the Islamic ones. The scholars have rejected the isra'iliyyat traditions which do not satisfy the criteria as listed above.

Ka`b al-Ahbar

Muslim, Abu Dawud and al-Tirmidhi have recorded his hadith.

Al-Hafidh Ibn Hajar said:

53 - Ka`b Ibn Mati` al-Himyari, Abu Ishaq, known as Ka`b al-Ahbar, is trustworthy [thiqah]. He belongs to the 2nd [tabaqah]. He lived during both Jahiliyyah and Islam. He lived in Yemen before he moved to Sham [~Syria]. He died during the Caliphate of `Uthman exceeding 100 years of age. None of his reports are in al-Bukhari. He has one narration in Muslim from Abu Huraira from him on the authority of al-A`mash from Abu Salih.[6]

And he places him in the second category of hadith narrators.

Hammam Ibn Munabbih

Al-Hafidh Ibn Hajar said:

110 - Hammam Ibn Munabbih Ibn Kamil al-San`ani, Abu `Utbah, the brother of Wahb, trustworthy [thiqah]....[7]

And he places him in category four which is a category of narrators that just falls below the status of those in category three.

Al-`Ijli said:

....thiqah, a successor.[8]

The editor of this edition placed a footnote to al-`Ijli's comment saying:

There is agreement on the fact that he is thiqah, his hadith are in the six books [i.e., al-Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, al-Tirmidhi, an-Nasa'i, Ibn Majah].[9]

4. Conclusions

The above discussion is self-explanatory. The obvious conclusion is that each hadith is discussed on the basis of its strengths and weaknesses; whether in chain of narrators (isnad) or the text (matn). We find that Wahb Ibn Munabbih and Ka`b al-Ahbar are considered as trustworthy narrators of hadith because they transmitted the Islamic traditions faithfully along with isra'iliyyat traditions. Just because they had also transmitted isra'iliyyat traditions along with the Islamic ones does not make them 'untrustworthy' or 'fabricators' of hadith because they did not attribute these isra'iliyyat traditions to the Prophet(P). Muslim scholars have rejected the isra'iliyyat traditions on the basis that they do not satisfy the critieria of truthfulness according to the above set of rules.

In a response to an accusation against Ka`b al-Ahbar, Wahb Ibn Munabbih, and others who had knowledge in the previous books and transmitted it in the Islamic literature, Dr. Muhammad Husayn al-Dhahabi says:

As for his saying [i.e., the critic]: "In general they [Ka`b and the others] introduced to the Muslim's creed and knowledge a lot of what had left bad affects." If [the critic] wanted to put the blame of the bad affects upon Ka`b and the others then we don't agree on this, because whatever Ka`b and the others narrated from the People of the Book they didn't say it is from the Prophet, peace be upon him, and [thus] they didn't lie to Muslims about it, but they were only reporting it as the Israelite tradition which existed in their own books. We are not obliged to believe anything of it nor we are requested to trust it...."[10]

That actually sums up the whole case rather nicely.

Finally, if the Christian missionary Shamoun can't distinguish between Wahb and Hammam and a major difference between a compiler and a transmitter of hadith, he has no right to comment on the hadith literature itself.

And Allah knows best!


Appendix

Al-Fallas & Wahb's Qadar Controversy

Here we deal with the issue of Wahb's alleged subscription to Qadariyyah. The material below is (translation from Arabic to English) taken from Al-Isra'iliyyat wal Mawdu'at fi Kutub al-Tafsir by Dr. Muhammad Ibn Muhammad Abu Shahbah, Professor of Qur'anic Sciences and Hadith at the University of al-Azhar and University of Umm al-Qura, 4th edition, Maktabat as-Sunnah, Cairo 1408 A.H., pp. 105.

The translation of which is:

Wahb Ibn Munabbih as-San`ani al-Yamani [i.e., from San`a', Yemen], he is among the righteous successors. Born in the end of `Uthman's caliphate, he narrated from Abu Hurayrah and Abu Sa`id al-Khudri and `Abdullah Ibn `Abbas and `Abdullah Ibn `Umar and others. Narrated from him, `Amr Ibn Dinar al-Makki and `Awf Ibn Abi Jamilah al-`Abdari and his two sons `Abdullah and `Abd al-Rahman and others. Al-Bukhari and Muslim and Abu Dawud and al-Tirmidhi and al-Nasa'i reported from him. He died in San`a' in 110 A.H.

The jumhur [i.e., the majority of the scholars] trusted him except al-Fallas who said: He is weak. He was suspected of having a controversed opinion regarding Qadar [more precisely that man creates his own actions when the choice is up to him] and he composed a book in this respect but in authentic reports he [Wahb] withdrew what he said in it. Hammad Ibn Salamah said that Abu Sinan said: I heard Wahb Ibn Munabbih say: "I used to have a stance regarding Qadar until I read some seventy books of the "Books of the Prophets". "Anyone who ascribes to himself any part of the will has commited kufr. Therefore, I gave up my stance" [see Fath al-Bari, Volume 2 p. 171, Edition of Munir]. And I never saw anyone accuse him of fabrication or lying except some people in later generations [muta'akhkhirun] as stated previously. He used to report massively from the books of ahl al-Kitab and it seems that he used to trust their books very much and their wisdom and tales. In the beginning of his career, Ibn Kathir has reported from him many reports full of wisdom and many teachings and stories that would cover some twenty parchments almost devoid of outrageous accounts. He also reported from him many accounts in his tafsir most of which are among the isra'iliyyat.

We do not deny that because of him [Wahb] the books of tafsir include isra'iliyyat and many false stories, but what we deny is [the accusation] that it would be him who fabricated them on purpose even though we do not discharge him of his responsibility for being one of the means that conveyed these stories to the Muslims and stuck them into the tafsir while the Qur'an is innocent from them and we wish he hadn't done so.


References

[1] Ahmad Ibn `Ali Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalani, Taqrib al-Tahdhib, Volume II, 1960, Al-Maktabat al-`Ilmiyyah: Al-Madinah, p. 339.

[2] Ahmad Ibn `Abdullah Ibn Salih Abu al-Hassan al-`Ijli, Tarikh al-Thiqat, 1984 Edition, Dar al-Kutub al-`Ilmiyyah, Beirut (Lebanon), p. 467, No. 1786.

[3] ibid.

[4] Jalal al-din `Abd al-Rahman al-Suyuti, Tabaqat al-Huffadh, 1983 Edition, Dar al-Kutub al-`Ilmiyyah, Beirut (Lebanon), p. 48, No. 92.

[5] Muhammad Husayn al-Dhahabi, Al-Tafsir wa 'l-Mufassirun, Dar al-Qalam, Beirut, Volume I, pp. 199.

[6] Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalani, Taqrib al-Tahdhib, Op Cit., p. 135.

[7] ibid., p. 321.

[8] Al-`Ijli, Tarikh al-Thiqat, Op Cit., p. 461, no. 1750.

[9] ibid.

[10] Al-Dhahabi, Al-Tafsir wa 'l-Mufassirun, Op Cit., p. 192.

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