There is a ḥadīth that divides Ramadan into three periods. Is this ḥadīth authentic?
After a detailed analysis of all the corroboratory chains of the ḥadīth in question, it can be concluded that it is of a weak (ḍaʿīf) nature. The weakness of the narration, however, is not of such severity as to render it baseless. Narrations of this type can be used for the purpose of encouragement and relation of virtue according to the opinion of the vast majority of ḥadīth scholars.
The report in question has been narrated in a number of primary authoritative ḥadīth collections, namely Ṣaḥīḥ Ibn Khuzaymah (ḥadīth 1887) with one chain, Bayhaqī’s Shuʿab al-Īmān (ḥadīth 3608) with numerous chains, and in brief in al-Thawāb of Abu ’l-Shaykh Ibn Ḥayyān. In secondary ḥadīth sources, this narration has been mentioned in full in al-Mundhirī’s al-Targhīb wa ’l-Tarhīb (ḥadīth 1462).
The full text of the ḥadīth is as follows:
“Salmān reports: ‘On the last day of Shaʿbān, the Messenger of Allah (upon him blessings and peace) addressed us and said: “O People, there comes upon you now a great month, a most blessed month, in which lies a night greater in worth than one thousand months. It is a month in which Allah has made compulsory that the fasting should be observed by day; and He has made the tarāwīḥ by night a sunnah. Whosoever tries drawing nearer to Allāh by performing any virtuous deed in this month, for him shall be such reward as if he had performed a farḍ (obligatory observance) in any other time of the year. And whoever performs a farḍ for him shall be the reward of seventy farḍ in any other time of the year. This is indeed the month of patience, and the reward for true patience is Jannah (Paradise); it is the month of sympathy with one’s fellowmen; it is the month wherein a true believer’s rizq (sustenance) is increased. Whosoever feeds a fasting person in order to break the fast (at sunset), for him there shall be forgiveness of his sins and emancipation from the fire of Jahannam (Hell), and for him shall be the same reward as for him (whom he fed), without that person’s reward being diminished in the least.”
Thereupon we said: ‘O Messenger of Allāh, not all of us possess the means whereby we can provide enough for a fasting person to break his fast” The Messenger of Allah (upon him blessings and peace) replied: “Allah grants this same reward to him who gives a fasting person a single date or a drink of water or a sip of milk to break the fast. This is a month, the first part of which brings Allah’s mercy, the middle of which brings His forgiveness and the last part of which brings emancipation from the fire of Jahannum (Hell). Whosoever lessens the burden of his servants (bondsmen) in this month, Allāh will forgive him and free him from the fire of Jahannam.”
“And in this month, four things you should endeavor to perform in great number, two of which shall be to please your Lord, while the other two shall be those without which you cannot make do. Those which shall be to please your Lord, are that you should in great quantity recite the kalimah ṭayyibah: Lā ilāha illa Allāh, and make much istighfār (beg Allah’s forgiveness with Astaghfirullāh). And as for those two without which you cannot make do, you should ask Allāh for entry into paradise and seek refuge with Him from the fire of Jahannam.”
“And whoever gave a person who fasted water to drink Allāh shall grant him a drink from my fountain, such a drink where after he shall never again feel thirsty until he enters Jannah.”
Status of the Chains:
The narration in question has been mentioned with a few different chains in the canonical collections of prophetic tradition. Most of the chains are problematic, containing narrators of highly unreliable status. The severity of the weakness of such narrators does not allow for the transmission of such chains even in the case of fadāʾil (virtuous acts).
One such chain includes Yūsuf ibn Ziyād who is considered “very weak”. If his chain alone was considered then the ḥadīth would not be valid for narration. Similar is the case of Iyās ibn ʿAbd al-Ghaffār, who is majhūl (unknown), and Abān ibn ʿAyyāsh, who is matruk (abandoned), as well as any chains that contain them.
Iyās ibn ʿAbd al-Ghaffār’s narration on the authority of ʿAlī ibn Zayd is mentioned in Bayhaqī’s Shuʿab al-Īmān. Regarding Iyās, Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Ḥajar states: “I do not know him.”
One chain of this ḥadīth, mentioned by Imam Muḥamilī in his Amālī, however, is free of major flaws and is afflicted only with the presence of ʿAlī ibn Zayd ibn Judʿān and ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz ibn ʿAbd Allāh al-Judʿānī. (Amālī 1:299)
This is the strongest of all the chains of this particular ḥadīth. Let us now analyze the two apparently weak narrators of the chain in order to determine the strength of the chain and the validity of narrating the ḥadīth.
‘Alī ibn Zayd ibn Judʿān:
His full name is ʿAlī ibn Zayd ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn Abū Mulaykatah (whose name is Zuhayr ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn Judʿān ibn ʿAmr ibn Kaʿb ibn Saʿd bin Taym ibn Murrah al-Qurashī al-Taymī).
He relates ḥadīth from Anas bin Mālik al-Ansārī, Aws bin Khālid, Ḥasan al-Baṣrī, Zurārah ibn Awfā, Saʿīd ibn Jubayr, Saʿīd ibn al-Musayyib, and ʿUrwah ibn al-Zubayr amongst others.
His ḥādīth have been narrated by Imāms Muslim, Abū Dawūd, Tirmidhī, Ibn Mājah, Nisāʾī, and Bukhārī (al-Adab al-Mufrad) in their respective collections.
Sāliḥ ibn Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal relates on the authority of his father that he said: “He is not strong. Sometimes, people narrate on his authority.”
Muʿāwiyah ibn Ṣāliḥ stated on the authority of Yaḥyā ibn Maʿīn: “He is weak.” He is also reported to have said regarding him, on different occasions: “He is not of [reliable] status,” “He is weak in everything,” “He is nothing,” “He is not evidence,” but also “ʿAlī ibn Zayd is more beloved to me than Ibn ʿAqīl and ʿĀsim ibn ʿUbayd Allāh.”
Aḥmad ibn ʿAbd Allāh al-ʿUjalī stated: “His ḥadīth can be recorded, but he is not strong.”
Yaʿqūb ibn Shaybah stated: “He is reliable (thiqah) and trustworthy in ḥadīth, but he is slightly towards laxness (līn).”
Tirmidhī said: “He is trustworthy (sadūq), except that sometimes he raises a ḥadīth that was raised by someone else.”
Nisā’ī stated: “He is weak.”
Ibn Khuzaymah commented: “I do not rely upon him because of his weak memory.”
Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Ḥajar states: “[The status of this ḥadīth] revolves around ʿAlī ibn Zayd ibn Judʿān, who is weak (ḍaʿīf).” (al-Atrāf)
In short, the statements of the imāms on this narrator’s status are numerous are inconsistent, varying from Ḥāfiẓ’s declaration of weakness to Ibn Shaybah’s declaration of reliability.
Although many have cast aspersions on the strength of ʿAlī ibn Zayd as a narrator, in truth he is, in shā Allāh, fair (ḥasan) in narrating ḥadīth. At worst, he is slightly weak. Essentially, the problem scholars of ḥadīth had with him was his memory and not with his integrity and truthfulness. Shaykh Muḥammad ʿAwwāmah discusses him in his footnotes on al-Kāshif and has mentioned ḥadīths in which he is a narrator and where Imam Tirmidhī has ruled the ḥadīth to be ḥasan ṣaḥīḥ (fair and sound).
ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz ibn ʿAbd Allāh al-Judʿānī:
While Ibn ʿAdī says that he is not supported by most of what he narrates, it does not seem that he is very weak. In short, Ḥafiẓ Ibn Ḥajar concludes regarding him that when ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz mentions having heard a narration directly from his shaykh (teacher) then it is appropriate to relate his ḥadīth. In the case of the chain mentioned above, he does mention having heard the narration directly, so the chain is relatively free from aspersion and is strong enough to corroborate the other narrations. When looked at in their entirety, the numerous chains of this ḥadīth certainly raise themselves to the status where they can be mentioned without problem in respect to virtues and encouragement.
After mentioning the ḥadīth in his Faḍāʾil Ramaḍān, Shaykh al-Ḥadīth Muḥammad Zakariyyā al-Kāndhalwī’s summarizes the statements of the scholars of the past regarding the narration and states:
“Ibn Khuzaymah narrates it in his Ṣaḥīḥ and said ‘if the hadith is authentic…’. Bayhaqī narrates it also, as well as Abū Shaykh Ibn Ḥayyān in al-Thawāb concisely. In their chains there is ʿAlī bin Zayd bin Judʿān.
Ibn Khuzaymah and Bayhaqī also relate concisely (bi ikhtiṣār) on [ʿAlī ibn Zayd’s] authority from the ḥadīth of Abū Hurayrah. In its chain is Kathīr bin Zayd. In this manner it is mentioned in al-Targhīb pg. 203.
I [Zakariyyā] say: A party has declared him weak. Tirmidhī states that he is ṣadūq (veracious, honest) and has even authenticated a hadith of his which relates to greeting (salām). He has also declared sound (ḥasan) a number of [his] aḥādīth. Many have declared him weak (ḍaʿīf), like Nisā’ī and others. Ibn Maʿīn stated: [He is] trustworthy (thiqah). Ibn ʿAdī stated: I do not see any problem with his ḥadīth. Ibn Khuzaymah has narrated on his authority in his Ṣaḥīḥ. Similarly, [he has been mentioned] in the Rijāl al-Mundhirī pg. 704. ʿAynī, however, said: the narration is munkar (unfamiliar), so reflect.” (Faḍā’il Ramaḍān 8)
The ḥadīth, therefore, is at worst slightly ḍaʿīf (weak), and because it has been narrated regarding faḍāʾil (virtues and merits) it can be accepted in this case. It should be noted here also that those people who have made it a habit to discourage the practice of relating weak narrations in discourses to the extent that speeches and orations are sometime rudely interrupted by them should reflect over the status of what they are objecting to before they cause fitnah amongst the masses. There is a prophetic method to discouraging the wrong, and hasty conclusions regarding narrations based upon isolated opinions of certain scholars should not entice individuals to give up wisdom and resort to disrespect and insolence when confronting fellow believers.
And Allāh knows best.