Most of the time, when reading the description of weak Hadiths (Take this Hadith as an example), I read that narrator x had weak memory or narrator x was not of a sound character. I have 2 questions which I'll will try to summarise in 2 separate points so that they can be better understood & answered:

1 - How did Imam Bukhari know that a person (Asim Abdur Rahman, e.g, in the above Hadith) who existed 150 years before him had weak/strong memory or bad/good character?

The maximum Imam Bukhari would have done was to ask 50 people who were alive at his time but how do the person whom Imam Bukhari was asking knew that Asim Abdur Rahman had good memory & good character? One might say, at that time, there were no sects and Emaan was pure but there were hypocrites even at the time when Prophet() was alive & before Imam Bukhari - Mutazilah, Khaarijites, Murji'is, Jahmis, and many deviant sects had already emerged!

Again, how would Imam Bukhari know that the person whom he is currently narrating from, is not a hypocrite from inside or he is not pretending to be good from outside? And how a person who existed 150 years ago had good memory and good faith?

2 - Continuing the previous point, Imam Hanifa's school has most followers in Islamic history but we read in Imam Bukhari's books that (not verified by me, verify it yourself):

  • Imam Hanifa was a Murji'i (Tareekh-al-Kabeer, under the biography of Numan Bin Thabit)
  • When Sufyan ath-Thawri heard news about the death of Imam Abu Hanifa, he said: ‘Praise be to Allah that such a man had died as he was gradually destroying Islam. There could not be a worse person born in Islam (Tareekh-al-Sagheer).

Imam Bukhari was wrong regarding the judgement of Imam Hanifa! And this again goes back to the first point, how did Imam Bukhari know what another person was thinking inside, or that he was not pretending to be righteous, or that maybe, he thought someone is good but in reality, he was bad or vice verse (e.g Imam Hanifa), and someone who died 100 years ago had good faith/memory?

  • These are two distinct topics which should be addressed separately. Both basically have been at least addressed on the site before. – Medi1Saif Jan 7 at 18:17
  • @Medi1Saif I couldn't find any question.. There are some questions about Isnad being authentic but I am talking about a completely different matter.. And the 2nd point about Imam Hanifa is not a question rather a supporting point for the first point.. – user42664 Jan 7 at 19:25
  • The second point is to some extent not a point of hadith sciences rather then the position of al-Bukhari towards Abu Hanifa. With a bit effort and with my PC I'd be able to find a couple of relevant answers for the first question some of them are of my own, however I'd say III-AK-III (?) left us more brilliant answers with a deeper insight in hadith sciences. – Medi1Saif Jan 7 at 20:32
  • @Medi1Saif exactly.. that was Imam Bukhari's position towards Imam Hanifa and that is what I am asking that what if Imam Bukhari thought someone is truthful but in reality, he was a hypocrite & vice versa.. And how would he know that a person who existed 150 years ago had good faith/memory so that he should include him in his Sahih.. Even in his lifetime, When Bukhari was collecting Hadith, how would he know the person whom he is narrating from has good faith/memory? – user42664 Jan 7 at 20:49
  • @Medi1Saif While collecting Hadith from person x, The maximum Bukhari would have done was to ask people of the town about the character of the person x and even if the whole town had said person x has good character/memory, still how would Bukhari know that person x is not lying? – user42664 Jan 7 at 20:56
how would Imam Bukhari know that the person whom he is currently narrating from, 
is not a hypocrite from inside or he is not pretending to be good from outside?

He did not know that, but there was a good chance that he would have found out if that was the case. And this probability is adequate for accepting and acting on a narration.

When a muhaddith would study under his teachers he would spend time with them and observe their lives, dealings and deeds; and he would inquire about them from others who had been in a better position to have done so. If there was a problem with a teacher's character or memory, then there was a high probability that it would manifest itself and be noticed by someone.

Even if a narrator somehow managed to conceal something bad in their hearts then Jarh and Ta'dil is only concerned with people's visible state. When a report comes from a person whose apparent state is good, then it is acceptable. The evidence of it being acceptable is that Allah commands us to pass judgement and enforce legal punishments based on what we perceive regarding the character of those giving testimony:

إن جاءكم فاسق بنبإ فتبينوا

if there comes to you a disobedient one with information, investigate

Quran 49:6

وأشهدوا ذوي عدل منكم

And bring to witness two just men from among you

Quran 65:2

ممن ترضون من الشهداء

from those whom you accept as witnesses

Quran 2:282

  • Thank you Brother but this doesn't answer my question even 25%.. you said "only concerned with people's visible state" but what if someone apparent state was good but in reality, he was a hypocrite/liar & the Muhadith decided to narrate from him & in result, whole Ummah was destroyed because of that one narration! The Hadith of 73 sects for example! And actually, my main point was, how Bukhari/Muslim knew that a person who existed 150 years before him had good faith/memory so that they should narrate from him? Pls re-read the question, I think I've done a good job connecting my tongue & brain. – user42664 Jan 8 at 14:33
  • Even Prophet() is being told in the Quran that "When you see them, their appearance impresses you. And when they speak, you listen to their ˹impressive˺ speech. But they are ˹just˺ like ˹worthless˺ planks of wood leaned against a wall.Quran 63:4"... And similarly their are various hadiths that "in the end times, there will be scholars who will give clear talks and their prayers will be the best and they will make you look down upn you but in reality, Faith wont go down their throats and they will go out of Islam like an arrow goes out".. This is all about visible state! – user42664 Jan 8 at 14:41
  • I have answered exactly that, kindly re-read my answer. We rely on the visible state and take steps to reduce the chance of it being wrong, yet we rely on it even when there is a possibility of it being wrong. That is because we can only see and judge the visible state, a person's inner state can be known only by Allah, yet Allah has commanded people to convey and rely on other people's information regarding His religion (see e.g. 9:122 ). – UmH Jan 8 at 15:11
  • How did Imam Bukhari know the apparent state of a narrator (e.g Asim Abdur Rahman in the quoted Hadith in the question) who existed 150 years before him? – user42664 Jan 8 at 15:13
  • From those who knew him or those who knew those who knew him and so on. – UmH Jan 8 at 15:17

Some basic information

First of all you should be aware that none of the hadith scholars and authors of hadith collections compiled in their books all of the hadith they have memorized through out the time they were studying and learning.

Imam Malik as was reported had compiled his al-Muwatta' from a source of 100.000 narrations: al-Muwatta however has -depending on the riwaya- somewhere between 530 and 720 ahadith + other narrations and commentaries so that it contains at most -and by adding all different riwayaat- less than 5000 narration. It is said that when teaching al-Muwatta' imam Malik started with around 10.000 and with the time reduced this amount, by filtering weaker narratives.

As for the imams al-Bukhari and Ahmad it was reported that they had memorized 600.000 (some say less but the amount certainly is above 300.000) narration while imam al-Bukhari only compiled about 3000 of them in his Sahih while he mentioned many more in other books, imam Ahmad -who didn't intend to only compile sahih hadith- compiled around 40.000 hadith.

What do I want to say with this: When a hadith scholar chooses a hadith with a certain chain then because he came to the conclusion that this is the most trustworthy and most sane chain, by comparing both hadith content (al-Matn المتن, literally: the text, body or back) and hadith narrator chain (as-Sanad المتن, literally: the pillar, voucher, support or deed). This is a complicated and stingy investigation which I'll try to explain rather superficially -if I found examples I might add them later or simply refer to them-.

Be aware that most of the hadith scholars used to spend a lot of time with their teachers, so that they got a good impression about them. Nevertheless both are human and one may notice some human attributes in their works etc.: They are not infallible. Therefore the investigation doesn't end if one found a single statement of an earlier scholar. For example imam al-Bukhari consulted some of his teachers for a long period of time, but when it comes to compiling their hadith you may find him compiling only a few narrations or not even one in his Sahih, but some more in other books.

Further if a hadith scholar compiled a statement of a person adding the narrator chain it is up to the reader to verify it's correctness, as the author only transmitted what he has noted or heard and compiled it blunt. This is why most (if not all) original hadith compilations and also books that were compiled on the topic of 'Uloom al-Hadith usually contain a narration with the full chain. In many cases these books were addressing experts not laymen.

Books that were meant for laymen are rathher "easy readings" books like Riaydh as-Saleheen (hadith) of imam an-Nawawi or Siyar 'A'laam an-Nubala' سير أعلام النبلاء (history/biography including a qualification of narrators, mainly only biographys of well identified/known people are quoted in this book) of imam a-Dhababi etc. where the full narrator chain is mostly not mentioned and the focus is rather on the content or the information shared than on the qualification of this content and its reporter. However one must notice that none of them excludes a small quantity of da'if narrations or narrators who report some statements. But usually the author avoids sharing information that is regarded as doubtful or haram etc.: the information is useful and free from bid'ah or anything that may cause harm (in the faith and worship practices) to the person reading it.

An example to explain the methodology

Let's try to explain it: A hadith Scholar has at hands a hadith report with different chains: Students (A, B, C) -> Scholar X -> Tabi'iy -> Sahabi (reported from the prophet).
Let's assume that the hadith scholar already qualified the level of trust for the Tabi'iy and the person I've called "Scholar X", by comparing narratives with mainly the same content of the hadith as it was reported by the Tabi'iy and found out that "Scholar X" used similar wordings as most or let's say better the majority of his mates and the content of his reports is not questionable neither from accordance to qur'an, other reports that were qualified as sahih and has no linguistic issues if all of this apply he would come to the conclusion that "Scholar X" is trustworthy.
Now he might start checking the students let's say that Student A was the first to study hadith from his teacher and he began his studies around the year 160 a.H. (all this needs to be checked by the hadith scholar) and he remained studying for at least 2 or 3 years, let's say that Student B started his studies in the year 162 a.H. (the hadith scholar may check whether he met A etc. too) and he was impressed from this teacher and decided to follow him for at least one decade while Student C only met his teacher more than 10 or more years later. Now if the reports of our hadith report from the Students A, B and C matches one could conclude that our Scholar X had a good memory (at least until the time Student C consulted him), if there was mismatch between the Students A and B (and C) one may check the memorization abilities of the students if only Student C's report mismatches the other reports one may come to the conclusion that our Scholar became a bad memory in later ages.
This is just a simple example and each conclusion must be checked and re-checked by comparison between reports of the same content and light deviations in the chain.

Additionally a scholar may also consult conclusions from earlier scholars if he trusted them.

Statements about the methodology

An early statement can be found in Sahih Muslim:

علامة المُنكَر في حديث المُحَدِّث: إذا ما عُرِضَتْ روايتُه للحديث على رواية غيره من أهل الحفظ والرضا، خالفتْ روايتُه روايتَهم، أو لم تكد توافقها، فإذا كان الأغلب من حديثه كذلك، كان مهجورَ الحديث، غير مقبوله، ولا مستعمله
An indication of Munkar in the narration of a Muhaddith is when his transmission differs with the transmission of a Muhaddith from the people of memorization and acceptance, or does not agree with it when the two are compared. When the majority of a person’s narrations are like that, he is abandoned [Mahjūr] in Ḥadīth, and not accepted in it, and his narrations are not acted upon.

فمن هذا الضرب من المحدثين عبد اللَّه بن محرر ويحيى بن أبي أنيسة والجراح بن المنهال أبو العطوف وعباد بن كثير وحسين بن عبد اللَّه بن ضميرة وعمر بن صهبان ومن نحا نحوهم في رواية المنكر من الحديث. فلسنا نعرج على حديثهم ولا نتشاغل به.
The following are those Muhaddithīn who are among this group: Abd Allah ibn Muharrar, Yahyā bin Abī Unaysah, Al-Jarrāh bin ul-Minhāl Abūl-Atūf, Abbād bin Kathīr, Husayn bin Abd Illah ibn Ḍumayrah, Umar bin Suhbān, and those of the same type in terms of transmission of Munkar Ḥadīth. We did not pause upon their narrations or preoccupy ourselves with them due to the ruling of Ahl ul-Ilm.
(Source the introduction of Sahih Muslim)

A-Dhahabi said:

اعلم أنَّ أكثَرَ المُتَكَلَّمِ فيهم، ما ضَعَّفَهُم الحُفَّاظُ إلا لمخالفتهم للأَثْبَات
Know that the most talked about them (criticized), where not declared as weak by the hufadh, but for their contradiction to more reliable. (A-Dhahabi in his al-Muqidah المُوْقِظَةُ -see below 19- المضطرب والمُعَلَّل-)

About abu Hanifa in Jarh wa-Ta'adil

Mainly abu Hanifa is not regarded as a the best source of hadith, some (trustworthy) scholars reported about him being unaware of certain sunnah acts, others had issues with the fact that he rejected ahaad hadith, this mainly was the same issue some scholars had with imam Malik, however what speaks for Malik is his good memory and he lived long enough to teach people and had a high sanad.
Another point that is often quoted is abu Hanifa's definition of iman: it is constant and can't grow or change which is the majority view and scholars concluded that he made a difference between uttering and acting in the matter of faith (iman). It is said that al-Bukhari only quoted from people who held the majority view in his Sahih (needs to be verified). Scholars considered fiqh scholars who hold this definition as murji' in fiqh which is different from murjiah.
Among the best hadith scholars abu Hanifa consulted were Hammad ibn Sulayman and 'Ata' ibn abi Rabah (if he really met him as some reports doubt it) among others.

Also note that scholars of Jarh and Ta'adeel might not have left out any hadith scholar from a kind of criticism, this is not because they want to defame a person, but rather due to the importance of sanity of reports from the perspective of statements like: This knowledge/science is a religion (see Did Imam Malik describe the hadith sciences as "this science is a religion"?).

In his "short biography of abu Hanifa" imam a-Dhahabi quoted some favorable statements from certain scholars, I've added in brackets an overall qualification about them based on what I could find in Siyar 'alaam an-Nubala' itself and elsewhere:

قال محمد بن سعد العوفي : سمعت يحيى بن معين يقول : كان أبو حنيفة ثقة لا يحدث بالحديث إلا بما يحفظه ، ولا يحدث بما لا يحفظ . Muhammad ibn Sa'ad al-U'awfi said (he is considered as da'if and a narrator of rejected hadith) said: I've heard Yahya ibn Ma'iyn saying: Abu Hanifa was trustworthy thiqah narrator that did not narrate hadith except with what he memorizes, and does not narrate what he does not memorize.
وقال صالح بن محمد : سمعت يحيى بن معين يقول : كان أبو حنيفة ثقة في الحديث ،
Salih ibn Muhammad from Baghdad (trustworthy and student of ibn Ma'iyn) said: I've heard Yahya ibn Ma'iyn: abu Hanifa was trustworthy thiqah in hadith.
وروى أحمد بن محمد بن القاسم بن محرز ، عن ابن معين : كان أبو حنيفة لا بأس به . وقال مرة : هو عندنا من أهل الصدق ، ولم يتهم بالكذب .
And Ahamd ibn Muhammad ibn al-Qassim ibn Muhriz (narrator of the Tareekh -history- of ibn Ma'yn and rather unknown narrator!) reported from ibn Ma'yn: Abu Hanifa was nothing wrong laa ba'sa bihi (in hadith). He once said: He is among the people of truth, and he has not been accused of lying.
(Imam a-Dhahbi Siyar 'alam an-Nubala')

In his book on Jarh wa Ta'adeel Mizan al-'Itidaal ميزان الاعتدال a-Dhahabi wrote a rather objective short (which sounds unfavorable) note -as is the case in books on Jarh wa Ta'adeel-:

9092 - النعمان بن ثابت بن زوطى، أبو حنيفة الكوفي. An-NU'maan ibn Thabit ibn Zoota, abu Hanifa from al-Kufa.

إمام أهل الرأى. The leader of the people of Ra'y.

ضعفه النسائي من جهة حفظه، وابن عدي، وآخرون. An-Nassa'y declared him as da'if from the perspective of his memorization, and so did ibn 'Ady and others.

وترجم له الخطيب في فصلين من تاريخه، واستوفى كلام الفريقين معدليه ومضعفيه. Al-Khateeb (al-Baghdadi) dedicated him a bioghraphy in two chapters in his history, and cited all statements of both sides those who consider him trustworthy and those who consider him weak.

He also mentioned in Diawan al-Du'afaa'wa-l-Matrookeen ديوان الضعفاء والمتروكين:

النعمان: الإمام رحمه الله، قال ابن عدي: عامة ما يرويه غلط وتصحيف وزيادات، وله أحاديث صالحة، وقال النسائي: ليس بالقوي في الحديث، كثير الغلط على قلة روايته، وقال ابن معين: لا يكتب حديثه.
An-Nu'maan may Allah have mercy on him. Ibn 'Aday said: What he narrates is generally wrong, corrections and increases, but he has sane hadiths. Al-Nasaa’i said: He is not strong in the hadith, he has many errors compared to his low amount of narrations. And ibn Ma'yn said: his hadith shouldn't be written down.

On the other hand except with a handful exceptions and narratives imam abu Hanifa's hadith was not quoted in any of the six books.
A contemporary scholar has discussed and compiled all statements of Jarah and Ta'adeel about abu Hanifa and add and verified the qualification of those who reported or made such a qualification in a book called: نشر الصحيفة في ذكر الصحيح من أقوال أئمة الجرح والتعديل في أبي حنيفة where he quoted 77 authors of statements positive and negative. Most of these reports come to the conclusion that abu Hanifa is ranged somewhere between sadooq and da'if al-Hadith, which means he mainly has no high quality (linguistic errors, maybe paraphrasing reports: incorrectness of the statement etc.) nor high sanad or at least he had some flaws in the hadith he memorized, many scholars spoke about his memorization and erroneous quotation of hadith.

Just to clarify tiqah, mutqin, tabth are describing the highest level of trust and memorization and excellence: the hadith of such a person can be written with high confidence. sadooq or laa ba'sa bihi is the second one or at least a lower level trust. Anything below is rather a negative. But be aware that scholars may have different definitions or classification a standardization only started with the efforts of ibn Salah.

See also: Is there a scale or classification for scholars and their qualification of hadith narrators?

Further sources used in this post -Arabic sources-:

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