A great post from Shaykh Hamza on the SP Blog:
Ibn Wahb said, “Had Allah not rescued me through Malik and Layth, I would have gone astray.” He was asked, “How come?” to which he replied, “I heard many, many hadiths (akthartu min al-hadith) and that confused me. I then presented [the hadiths that confused me] to Malik and Layth, and they would tell me, “Accept this one and ignore that one.”” (Athar al-Hadith al-Sharif, 3rd ed., p. 58, quoted from Qadi `Iyad’s Tartib al-Madarik)
The Malik mentioned in this quote is the famous Medinan faqih and muhaddith, Imam Malik b. Anas (eponymn of of the Maliki school), and the Layth is the famous Egyptian faqih and muhaddith, Layth b. Sa`d (a mujtahid imam in his own right whose knowledge was lost because of lack of students).
Hadith literature is a double-edged sword. For top-notch scholars who are steeped in both hadith and fiqh, it is a goldmine of guidance from the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace); for non-scholars who “go it alone”, it is a minefield waiting to lead them astray.
Proof isn’t hard to come by: just do a survey of the websites that talk about Islam and you will find a confusing array of conflicting opinions, all clinging to hadiths as their justification. A single hadith is a snippet, a snapshot, a moment out of the 23-year period of divine revelation. Putting this snapshot into its proper context is not an easy task, especially when there are thousands and thousands of snapshots, some real, some forged; some clear, some fuzzy.
Shaykh Muhammad `Awwamah’s book shows the complexity of interpreting hadith, and that the reason why the great jurists differed in their conclusions are more complex than simply, “he wasn’t aware of the hadith,” or, (worse still) “he ignored this hadith and decided to invent his own opinion instead.”
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