IN PAST ARTICLES, we discussed the obvious breaks in the chain of narrations and their effects on the ḥadîth. Now we turn to the kinds of breaks in the chain that are hidden and can only be discovered after scrutiny and comparison.
‘Madallas’, linguistically, means a product that has a hidden flaw. Mudallas comes from the masdar, or verbal noun, ‘dalas,’ which refers to a situation in which there is mostly darkness but some light, as opposed to one of pitch-black darkness.
Terminologically, tadlîs is the act of hiding a discontinuity in the chain of a report’s narrators.
The Categories of Tadlis
Tadlîs has three main categories: Tadlîs Al-Isnâd (The Hiding of a Narrator), Tadlîs Al-Taswiyah (The Omission of Narrators (anywhere in the chain in order to remove weak narrators)), and Tadlîs Al-Shuyûkh (The Intentional Hiding of the Identity of One’s Shaykh).
The scholars of ḥadîth have defined this kind of tadlîs with a number of definitions. Perhaps the definition of Al-Bazzâr is the best: A transmitter (râwy) narrates on the authority of someone (his principal shaykh), from whom he has heard at least one other ḥadîth. Yet he narrates another ḥadîth which he did not hear directly from him, omitting the narrator-link between him and his shaykh.
The reason this is misleading is that the assumption is that someone who has directly heard a ḥadîth from his shaykh does not have any link between him and his shaykh. In this narration, he uses key phrases such as “on the authority of so and so” or “So and so said.” These words imply he has heard it directly from his shaykh, but do not explicitly state that he did so. The mudallis (one who does this) avoids using terms such as, “I heard” or “So and so told me,” so that he would not become a liar. Moreover, the mudallis may omit one or more narrators between him and his shaykh.
An example of this is the ḥadîth narrated by Al-Ḥâkim wherein it is mentioned that Ibn ʿUyaynah narrated a ḥadîth on the authority of Al-Zuhri (and it is established that Ibn ʿUyaynah has heard directly some a ḥadîth from Al-Zuhri). Then it was asked of Ibn ʿUyaynah: “Have you heard this ḥadîth from Al-Zuhri directly?” He replied: “No. Nor did I hear it from someone who heard it from Al-Zuhri. ʿAbd Al-Razzâq told me on the authority of Maʿmar, on the authority of Al-Zuhri.”
In this example, Ibn ʿUyayanah omitted two narrators between him and Al-Zuhri, using the technical Arabic narration term ʿann, which translates “on the authority of,” which implies that he heard the ḥadîth directly from Al-Zuhri, from whom he has heard other a ḥadîth directly. This eases one’s assumption that he heard this ḥadîth directly from Al-Zuhri, which he did not. Yet he does not say: “Al-Zuhri told me,” which technically avoids any untruth in his statement.
Linguistically, the Arabic word ‘taswiyah’ means to make something “flat” or “even.” Terminologically, it means to omit a weak narrator somewhere in the chain who comes between two reliable and trustworthy narrators. The chain of narrators is thus being “flattened” or “evened out.” It is necessary that the two trustworthy narrators whom the omission falls in between have met each other. This is because tadlîs is hiding something, and the people who study narrations are expected to know who met whom. Hence, if someone narrates a ḥadîth, and in the chain of narration there is a narrator who narrates on the authority of someone who he is not known to have met, it is expected that the mu ḥaddith will not be confused by this and will know that there is an omission. Hence, tadlîs is said to apply only in the case of reports wherein omission occurs between two reliable and trustworthy narrators who are known to have met each other.
Tadlîs Al-Taswiyah is the worst kind of tadlîs because for someone who is studying a chain of narrators it is the most difficult to perceive, since the omission occurs between two trustworthy narrators. The person scrutinizing the chain of narrators may not necessarily know that the one who omitted the narrator was someone who came later on in the chain of transmitters. Thus, he would assume that the trustworthy reporter had not omitted anyone.
The two people most famous for Tadlîs Al-Taswîyah were Baqîyah ibn Al-Walîd and Al-Walîd ibn Muslim.
An example of this is the ḥadîth narrated by Ibn Abî Ḥâtim in his book Al-ʿIlal, in which Baqîyah says: “Abû Wahb told me on the authority of Nâfiʿ, on the authority of Ibn ʿUmar…,” and then he proceeds to narrate the ḥadîth. However, Ibn Rahawayh, one of the links of this chain of transmitters, omitted a narrator between Abû Wahb and Nâfiʿ. The complete chain of narration is as follows: Abû Wahb on the authority of Is ḥâq on the authority of Nâfiʿon the authority of Ibn ʿUmar. Thus, Ibn Rahawayh omitted Is ḥâq, who is weak, whereas Baqîyah and Nâfiʿare both trustworthy and reliable. Moreover, Baqîyah did not omit the person directly above him in the chain, so this falls in the category of Tadlîs Al-Taswiyah.
Tadlîs Al-Shuyûkh occurs when a narrator transmits a ḥadîth on the authority of his shaykh, which he has heard from him, but he gives him a name, kunya (nickname), nisba (attribution, such as his association with a place, Al-Baghdâdi, the man of Bagdad), or a description that he is not known by, in which case for all practical purposes he remains unidentified.
The explanation of this is that the mudallis narrator (the one who is covering or hiding one of the narrators in a chain of narration), although he has not technically omitted anything from the chain of narrations, has hidden one of the narrators.
So, for example, if the shaykh’s name was Ma ḥmûd ibn A ḥmad Al-Ta ḥân, his kunya is Abû Ḥafs and his nisba is Al-Ta ḥân, and his qualifying description is that his beard is white. So the mudallis would say: “Ibn A ḥmad told me,” or “Abû Suhayl,” or “Ma ḥmûd Al-Ḥalabi,” or “He of the white beard.” He is not lying because the shaykh is Ibn A ḥmad. Or, he may have a son named Suhayl. Or, he really is from the town of Ḥalab. Or, he really does have a white beard. Yet, the shaykh is not known when he is referred to by these names. So identifying the shaykh in this way is a kind of hiding or covering up of his true identity. This is done when there is discrepancy of the narrating shaykh such as weakness, or that the narrating shaykh is younger than the one coming after him, or other reasons, and the mudallis is doing this because he wants his report of this ḥadîth to be taken as strong or accepted.
An example of this is when Abû Bakr ibn Mujâhid says: “ʿAbdullâh ibn Abî ʿAbdillâh told us such and such…,” and he really means Abû Dâwûd [a widely known and extremely strong and reliable narrator], whose identity for some reason he is concealing.
 This science may seem distant and theoretical to us. For the people actually narrating ḥadîth, there were real pressures that caused these kinds of behaviors. These pressures grew out of an understanding of the weightiness of the Sunnah; the meritorious prestige of being associated with the Prophet ﷺ; the desire for good deeds by way of one’s narration reaching people, according them a share in its reward; knowledge that the narrators names would be preserved for the whole community of Muslims to see after them; and awareness that narrators would be adjudged by us in this world and Allah in the Hereafter. This created a pressure and intensity in the field that explains why phenomena like these would occur.