Is the hadith “seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim” authentic?
Classification: Hasan (Sound)
طَلَبُ الْعِلْمِ فَرِيضَةٌ عَلَى كُلِّ مُسْلِمٍ
“Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim.”
This hadith has been narrated in many books with varying chains of narration. In the Sunan of Ibn Majah, it is hadith number 224. In the Musnad of al-Bazar, it has been narrated multiple times – hadith number 94, 6746 and 7478 with varying chains. Imam Tabarani narrates it nine times in his Al Mo’jam al-Awsat with variant chains of narration, then twice in his al-Mo’jam as-Sagheer and then also once in his al-Mo’jam al-Kabeer, as well as in other books. Imam al-Bayhaqi narrates it five times in his Shuab al-Emaan and he narrates it in other books too. Imam Abu Ya’la narrates it in his Musnad, three times with variant chains of narration. These are just some of the chains of narration and some of the books that have recorded them for this particular hadith.
So as we can see this hadith has been narrated in many books with variant chains of narration. It is correct to say that many of these chains of narration are weak or very weak or weaker still, and that is why we find a lot of classical scholars referring to this hadith as being weak or even very weak. However, when looking at a hadith like this that has so many variant chains of narration, the hadith scholars will ultimately collate the various chains and try to give verdict of authenticity based on the totality of the chains of narration. This requires an immense amount of research on the part of the hadith scholar and can only reliably be done by someone with great expertise in the field. This was done by a number of classical scholars and after doing so, they concluded that the hadith, when considered with all of its chains of narrations, is actually Hasan.
Amongst the scholars that analysed the various chains of narrations was Imam al-Suyuti. In his book, al-Durar al-Manthorah, he said:
حديث) “طَلَبُ الْعِلْمِ فَرِيضَةٌ عَلَى كلِّ مُسْلِمٍ وَمُسْلِمَةٍ” رُوي من حديث أنس وجابر وابن عمر وابن عباس وعليّ وأبي سعيد، وفي كل طرقه مقال، وأجودها طريق قتادة، وثابت عن أنس وطريق مجاهد عن ابن عمر، وأخرجه ابن ماجه عن كثير بن شنظير، عن محمد بن سيرين، عن أنس، وكثير مختلف فيه، فالحديث حسنImam al-Suyuti, al-Durar al-Manthorah, p141
“The hadith ‘seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim’ has been narrated from Anas, Jaabir, Ibn Umar, Ibn Abaas, Ali and Abi Saeed (Al Khudri) (may Allah be pleased with all of them). In all of the narrations, there is some concern. The best of the chains of narration is the chain of Qatadah and also the chain of Thabit from Anas and the chain of Mujahid from Ibn Umar. And Ibn Majah narrated it with the chain of Kathir Ibn Shandheer from Mohammed Ibn Sereen from Anas. And Kathir is differed over regarding his authenticity rating. Thus the hadith is Hasan.”
After this Imam Suyuti looked at the various weaknesses in the various chains and mentioned the opinions of different scholars regarding these chains and at the end of this long discussion he quoted Imam Al-Mizi:
وقال المزي: هذا الحديث رُوي من طرق تبلغ رتبة الحسنImam al-Suyuti, al-Durar al-Manthorah, p141
“This hadith has a number of chains of narration and it reaches the level of being a Hasan hadith.”
Imam Suyuti also quoted Imam Al-Mizi saying that the chains of narration collectively raise to the level of Hasan, in his Thadreeb Al Raw (Vol. 2, p622). Many other scholars have quoted Imam Al-Mizi too, amongst them Imam Al-Ajluni in his Kashf Al-Khafa (Vol. 2, p49) and Imam Al-Manwi in his Faid Al-Kadeer (Vol. 4, p267) & Al-Yowaqeet (Vol. 1, p277).
Imam Zarkashi also mentioned that this hadith is Hasan in his Al-Laali Al-Manthura (p42) also known as Ad-Thadhkirah.
So there is no doubt that Imam Al-Mizi and others who considering this hadith to be Hasan have used the well known principle in the Science of Hadith of weaker narrations coming together to strengthen one and other, in order to give the Hadith an authenticity rating that is higher than any individual narration. So even if all the individual narrations of this Hadith were weak, this principle has clearly been applied by major authorities of Hadith and the Hadith has been considered Hasan.