Imam Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Shaybani’s Reliability in Narrating Hadith
Imam Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Shaybani (132 – 189), who was one of the foremost students of Imam Abu Hanifah, and an undisputed authority in fiqh (jurispudence) and lughah (language), was also a hafiz (memoriser of a large number) of hadith as mentioned by al-Daraqutni and as is apparent from his works on hadith like his Muwatta’, Kitab al-Athar and Kitab al-Hujjah, all of which are in print. His reliability in hadith was transmitted from ‘Ali ibn al-Madini (d. 235) and al-Daraqutni (d. 385):
1. ‘Ali ibn al-Madini
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi narrates: ‘Ali ibn Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Maliki informed us: ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Uthman al-Saffar reported to us: Muhammad ibn ‘Imran ibn Musa al-Sayrafi narrated to us: ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Ali ibn al-Madini narrated to us from his father: “I asked him about Asad ibn ‘Amr, al-Hasan ibn Ziyad al-Lu’lu’i and Muhammad ibn al-Hasan, and he weakened Asad and al-Hasan ibn Ziyad, and said ‘Muhammad ibn al-Hasan is reliable (saduq).’” Tarikh Baghdad (Bashshar ‘Awwad ed. 2:572)
Ali ibn Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Maliki (350 – 437 H) is saduq (Tarikh Baghdad 13:584); ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Uthman ibn Muhammad al-Saffar (d. 382) is thiqah (Tarikh Baghdad 11:225-6); Muhammad ibn ‘Imran ibn Musa al-Sayrafi (d. 315) is thiqah according to Daraqutni (Tarikh Baghdad 4:226).
‘Ali ibn al-Madini was a strict (mutashaddid) critic of narrators and was not partial to the Hanafi Imams, so this statement from him strongly supports the view that Imam Muhammad is trustworthy in hadith.
Imam al-Zayla’i wrote in his Nasb al-Rayah (Muhammad ‘Awwamah ed. 1:408-9) while discussing the hadiths in favour of those who advocate raising the hands before and after ruku:
“Al-Daraqutni said in Ghara’ib Malik: ‘Malik did not mention [in his narration from Ibn ‘Umar] in al-Muwatta’ raising [the hands] before ruku’, and he mentioned it in [his narrations] outside of al-Muwatta’. Twenty individuals from the trustworthy memorisers (al-thiqat al-huffaz) narrated it. From them are: Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Shaybani, Yahya ibn Sa‘id al-Qattan, ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Mubarak, ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Mahdi, Ibn Wahb and others.’”
Al-Daraqutni refers to Muhammad ibn al-Hasan as a thiqah hafiz on par with such masters of hadith as Yahya al-Qattan, Ibn al-Mubarak and Ibn al-Mahdi. Al-Barqani (who is thiqah according to al-Khatib) narrated in his Su’alat (questions) from al-Daraqutni that he said about Muhammad ibn al-Hasan “according to me, he does not deserve rejection” (‘indi la yastahiqq al-tark).
Hence, it is established that Ibn al-Madini and al-Daraqutni believed Imam Muhammad al-Shaybani was reliable or trustworthy in the narration of hadith.
Al-Khatib narrated: Al-Hasan ibn Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Khallal narrated to me: ‘Ali ibn ‘Amr al-Hariri reported to us that Abu l-Qasim ‘Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Kas al-Nakha‘i narrated to them: ‘Abd Allah ibn al-‘Abbas al-Tayalisi narrated to us: ‘Abbas al-Duri narrated to us: I heard Yahya ibn Ma‘in say: “I wrote al-Jami‘ al-Saghir from Muhammad ibn al-Hasan.” Tarikh Baghdad (2:566)
The narrators in this chain are all thiqat. Al-Hasan ibn Muhammad ibn al-Hasan ibn ‘Ali Abu Muhammad al-Khallal (352 – 439) is thiqah according to al-Khatib (Tarikh Baghdad 8:454); ‘Ali ibn ‘Amr ibn Sahl Abu l-Husayn al-Hariri (292 – 380) is thiqah according to al-‘Atiqi (Tarikh Baghdad 13:470); ‘Ali ibn Muhammad ibn al-Husayn Abu l-Qasim al-Nakha‘i known as “Ibn Kas” (d. 324), a Hanafi, and a shaykh of al-Daraqutni and Ibn Shahin, is thiqah according to al-Khatib (Tarikh Baghdad 13:540); ‘Abd Allah ibn al-‘Abbas ibn ‘Ubayd Allah Abu Muhammad al-Tayalisi (d. 308) is thiqah according to al-Khatib (Tarikh Baghdad 11:219-20); ‘Abbas ibn Muhammad ibn Hatim al-Duri (185 – 271) is a narrator of the Four (Tirmidhi, Nasa’i, Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah) and is thiqah as mentioned in al-Taqrib.
Yahya ibn Ma’in who was over thirty when Imam Muhammad died narrated al-Jam’i al-Saghir on fiqh from him. This is why the narration from him as mentioned in al-Du’afa by al-‘Uqayli that Imam Muhammad was a “liar” (kadhdhab), although with an authentic chain, its matn is doubtful as it is very unlikely that Ibn Ma’in would narrate from somebody he believed to be a liar as pointed out by al-Kawthari in Ta’nib al-Khatib. The narrations from Abu Yusuf and Malik saying they believed Imam Muhammad a liar as narrated by al-Khatib have chains that are weak or fabricated. There are other narrations from Ibn Ma’in indicating he believed Imam Muhammad was weak in hadith, but such criticism from contemporaries are rejected.
However, it is authentically reported from Ahmad ibn Hanbal and al-Nasa’i that they believed Imam Muhammad was weak in hadith. Their crticism (jarh) however is unexplained (ghayr mufassar) and ambiguous (mubham) and therefore will not be given precedence over what was said by al-Madini and al-Daraqutni. Moreover, it is well-known Imam Ahmad was biased against Abu Hanifah and his companions as mentioned by Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr (al-Intiqa, p. 179) and as is clear from his statements about them, so his criticism of them will not be accepted. Al-Nasa’i is also known to be strict in his criticism of narrators, so his assessment against a narrator is suspect while his assessment in favour of a narrator is reliable.
Imam al-Dhahabi after mentioning al-Nasa’i’s weakening of Imam Muhammad, he said “he was from the oceans of knowledge and strong in his narrations from Malik.” (Lisan al-Mizan 7:61) Imam Muhammad said: “I stood at the door of Malik for three and some years and I heard seven hundred hadiths directly from him.” Narrated with an authentic chain in Tarikh Bagdad (2:562) from al-Husayn ibn ‘Ali al-Tanajiri (351 – 439) who is thiqah, from the famous Ibn Shahin (297 – 385) who is thiqah from ‘Abd Allah ibn Muhammad ib Ziyad (d. 324) who is thiqah from Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam (182 – 268) who is thiqah (as mentioned in al-Taqrib) from Imam al-Shafi‘i from Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Shaybani.
While he spent three years with Malik, Imam Muhammad spent over five years with Abu Hanifah, and even longer with Imam Abu Yusuf, which means that according to al-Dhahabi, his narrations from them should also be strong.
Based on al-Madini’s and al-Daraqutni’s unequivocal statements in support of Imam Muhammad’s reliability in narrating hadith, and the ambiguous nature of the statements of those who criticised him like Ahmad and al-Nasa’i, and based on the principles of narrator-criticism, Imam Muhammad is either saduq (reliable) or thiqah (trustworthy) in the narration of hadith, particularly when he narrates from Abu Yusuf, Abu Hanifah or Malik.
2. Shu’ayb al-Arna’ut: Muhammad bin al-Hasan is trustworthy
Here are two excerpts from Shaykh Shu’ayb al-Arna’ut’s research on Sharh Mushkil al-Athar of Imam Abu Ja’far at-Tahawi. He counted Imam Muhammad bin al-Hasan ash-Shaybani as trustworthy (thiqah).
2282: Ahmad bin Dawud – Isma’il bin Salim – Muhammad bin al-Hasan– Abu Hanifa – ‘Ata bin Abi Rabah – Abu Huraira: The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said: “When the star (Pleiades) appears blight is raised from all lands.”  Its isnaad are sahih and narrators are reliable …
Al-Arna’ut, Shu’ayb (editor), at-Tahawi’s Sharh Mushkil al-Athar, (Beirut: Mo’assasat ar-Resalah, 1994) vol.6 p.53
Al-Arna’ut, Shu’ayb (editor), at-Tahawi’s Sharh Mushkil al-Athar, (Beirut: Mo’assasat ar-Resalah, 1994) vol.14 p.143