Usually if you check a narrator chain -as a layman- you will find something like:

Abu Yusuf has narrated from 'Abdullah ibn Sa'id who heard Muhammad ibn al-Qassim who heard abu Hurrairah ...This is just an example from my own imagination if you found a similar narrator chain by coincidence it was unintended

I guess that in the first hijri century there were much more than one single person named Muhammad ibn al-Qassim (note this is just an example) and we could go on this way with any other narrator in the chain unless the muhaddith adds some extra information that may help better identifying a narrator.

I wonder how and to what extent the scholars of al-Jarh wa a-Ta'adil actually are certain that Abu Yusuf (for example refers to the student of Abu Hanifa) or 'Abdullah ibn Sa'id (for example refers to "the muhaddith from Yemen" not the one from "Khorassan").
I'd guess usually a Muhaddith referring to Abu Yusuf the student of abu Hanifa would have added the attribute "the qadi" to be more precise.

My question is how can scholars of al-Jarh wa a-Ta'adil identify a narrator and what would they do if there could be more than one option according the given facts (methodology)?


They cross check the students and teachers of the people above and below the chain to identify the exact identity of the narrator in question, because it is less likely that people with the same name will also have the same students and teachers.

Lets take a very simplified example, a chain is like this:

A narrated from B who narrated from C who narrated from D

Where the identity of C is ambiguous, and it could be be one of:

C bin X
C bin Y
C bin Z

They will check the known students of D, whether a person with the name C is present in them. For example lets assume that the known students of D include:

U bin W
C bin Y
V bin M
C bin X

Next then they will check the known teachers of B, whether a person named C is mentioned in them. For example lets assume that the known teachers of B include:

O bin L
C bin X
E bin R

The person who will be present in both would be the identity of the narrator.
In our example, C is most likely: C bin X.

I heard this explained in an unrelated lecture where a certain hadith came up whose narrators were ambiguous. If it is helpful to someone then alright, otherwise someone else will come along and give a better answer.

  • Salam and welcome to IslamSE the Q&A site about Islam. To learn more about our site and model consider taking the tour and checking our help center. As for your answer thanks for the effort, but I'm looking for quotations from credible sources. And why many hadith scholars after checking these chains still consider such a person "C" as unknown even if this person was quoted in reliable sources? How can they know all the students or teachers of C? – Medi1Saif Oct 5 '18 at 9:01

As the other post gives a simple example on the methodology here a bit more about the necessity of this science and how scholars describe it.

Imam Sufyan a-Thawri has given a simple explanation on how one verifies a narrator saying:
All translations in this post are my tranlation from Arabic take them carefully!

قال سفيان الثوري : لما استعمل الرواة الكذب استعملنا لهم التاريخ (See for example in ibn 'Asakirs Tareekh Dimashq تاريخ دمشق)
Sufyan a-Tharwi said: When the narrators start using lies we started using history against them.

This statement means that the scholars of hadith used all accesible information about a narrator, birth place, birth date, date of death, tribe, parents name, biography, teachers, students, mates to verify whether or not there was a meeting between a narator and the person he narrated from.

Similar statement came from other scholars:

سمعت حسان بن زيد ، يقول : لم نستعن على الكذابين بمثل التاريخ نقول للشيخ : سنة كم ولدت ؟ فإذا أقر بمولده عرفنا صدقه من كذبه . (Same source as above see here)
Hassan ibn Zayd said: we didn't rely on anything against the liars more than on the history, we asked the sheiekh: when were you born? If he approaved it we knew his truth or lie.

This statement shows that history in this context in first place seems to refer to the date of birth of a narrator.

There is also the statement of imam as-Sakhawi أبو عبد الله محمد بن عبد الرحمن السخاوي in his commentary called Fath al-Mughith on the poem of the imam and hadifh al-'Iraqi called al-Alfiyah (see here) in the chapter abou the history/biography (dates of birth) of the narrators:

تواريخ الرواة والوفيات فنٌّ عظيم الوقع من الدين، قديم النفع به للمسلمين، لا يُستغنى عنه.
The histories (date of births) of the narrators and their date of death are an art with a great impact on the religion, it is of old benefit (and use) for the Muslims and one cannot dispense with it.

So for knowing or identifying a rawy (narrator) we need to check his biography. Therefore we find that most hadith scholars have also been known as authors of biographies or history books.

Hadith scholars therefore compiled special books covering names of narrators and all possible indicators to identify them: Place of birth, place of work, date of birth, date of death, names, surnames, kunyahs, etc. this helps to identify a narrator.

In Imam a-Dhahabi's Siyar 'Alam an-Nubala' سير أعلام النبلاء (the biographies of the Knowlegdable of the nobles) for example we often find among the information presented: The full name inculding fathers and grandfathers name if avalable, mothers name if available etc. we also find the names of the teachers, the names of the students, some quotes or statements of the person presented and some quotes of poeple who witnessed him/her etc. and quotes of hadith narrations of the person if it was a muahaddith.

Based on this information one can start investigating.

There are many other books like the three Tarikh's (Histories) of imam al-Bukhari, many scholars have even listed weak narrators in boooks entitled a-Do'afaa' etc.. Also among the boooks one could rely on you may find al-Mizzi's يوسف بن عبدالرحمن المزي‎ Tahdyb al-Kamal تهذيب الكمال, ibn Sa'ads ابن سعد at-Tabaqaat al-Kubra (The great classes) one of the earliest classifications of narrators based on categories (sahabah/companions, tabi'yn/followers, tabi' at-Tabi'yn/the followers of the followers, the imams etc.), imam an-Nasa-i had also a book called at-Tabaqaat.

From the above it is clear that this is primarily a matter of Ijtihad and it is not an easy matter. As much of these information might not be available for any of the narrators. And often one can't confirm a meeting between a narrator and another even if they lived at the same time.

My major source is beside this fatwa and this article on islamweb -both in Arabic language-.

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