Q&A - Mutawatir Hadith (number of narrators)
Bismillah al-Rahman al-Raheem
Answers to Questions
Question: Why do we say that the Mutawatir Hadith is the one narrated by at least five persons whose collusion on a lie is impracticable, whilst there is disagreement on the acceptable number amongst the scholars? Some of them say three and others say four; this issue is the subject of a disagreement, i.e. it is not a Mutawatir issue. Furthermore, how do we explain accepting the testimony of only two persons from among the Sahaba to ascertain the conclusiveness of the Qur’an, knowing that it is part of the decisive issues, i.e. part of the Aqeedah?Answer: al-Tawatur linguistically means successiveness; and terminologically, it means the transmitting of a group on the authority of another group whose collusion on a lie is impracticable. Hence, the Mutawatir report is the reporting of a group whose number has reached a multitude through which cognisance has been established through their saying. Cognisance is not occasioned through the saying of this group unless they are mindful of what they report and are not merely making insinuations. Their cognisance must also be based on hearing and sighting i.e. on sensation, and not on evidence obtained through deduction. They must also be a group that fulfils these prerequisites in the generations of the Sahaba, the Tabi’een and Tabi’ee al-Tabi’een; and both ends of the report must be on a par with its middle part.
A disagreement has occurred on the adequate and accepted number of reporters of the Mutawatir; the party has adopted that the boundary of Tawatur stipulates that the report is transmitted by a group of persons whose saying occasions a conclusive substantiation. As for the boundary that renders the saying of the group of persons a conclusive substantiation, it should not be less than five. This is an understanding of a legislative aspect related to the witnesses whose testimony is accepted, in view of the fact that five witnesses is the maximum number stipulated by Shari’ah in the testimony of adultery. Shari’ah has also stipulated uprightness for the witnesses of adultery, whereas uprightness is not a prerequisite for the narrators of the Mutawatir Hadith. Hence the boundary of the group of persons must not be less than five. This is an understanding based on the outweighing of an opinion related to the boundary of the group of persons whose saying does occasion a conclusive substantiation.
Nonetheless, the fulfilment of this number of persons who fit the description of a group and whose saying occasions a conclusive substantiation is not sufficient to judge the Hadith as Mutawatir. Other prerequisites must be fulfilled, namely the impracticability of their colluding on a lie in addition to their transmitting being derived from their peers from start to finish and also being based at the end of the chain of transmission on sensation, such as hearing and the like and not on what was established through sheer reason.
As for two Sahaba being sufficent in the authentication of the Qur’an, this is related to the compilation of the Qur’an, not its transmission. What is conclusive and decisive is that the transmitting process was effectuated in a collective manner that fulfilled all the exigencies of Tawatur. When the verses of the holy Qur’an descended upon the Messenger of Allah (saw), the Messenger (saw) would summon the writers of the Revelation to write it down, and he (saw) used to recite the verses to a number of Muslims whose saying occasioned a conclusive substantiation. The Messenger of Allah (saw) would also recite the verses of the holy Qur’an to the Muslims who would approach him or observe Salat with him. Hence, the reality of reciting the Qur’an is that it was never recited to a single person, but rather to a group of Muslims; thus the number of those who would hear it would fulfil the prerequisites of Tawatur.Therefore, the reality was that the holy Qur’an was recited to those whose saying would occasion a conclusive substantiation.
As for the compiling of the holy Qur’an, which is the issue that stipulated the presence of two witnesses, this is different to its transmitting because the transmitting involved hearing the holy Qur’an directly from the Messenger of Allah (saw). This was not related to the issue of whether the verses were Qur’an or not, but rather related to their positioning in relation to each other and –in relation to their length. Hence, the issue of compiling the holy Qur’an is other than the issue of transmitting it.