Seek Knowledge as Far as China… Really?

Everyone loves a catchy phrase, especially one that sends us off to the Asian tiger, China. Considering that there isn’t really any knowledge to get for English-speaking folks, either Islamic or secular in nature, perhaps China isn’t the greatest destination? (Excuse the tongue-in-cheek comment)

If there is one so-claimed hadith (Prophetic saying) that has gotten extensive coinage, I have to say it is this one. And though the message of seeking knowledge is consistent with the Prophetic teachings, unfortunately this hadith is likely not Prophetic. It is also somewhat amusing that some of the leading opponents of hadith still love to quote this one… I would call this an ironic form of poetic justice, because it really says a lot about how much these opponents actually know about the sciences of hadith!

Kudos to Hood, who has provided us with this short summarized takhrij (verification) of this not-so-Prophetic-saying.

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33 responses to “Seek Knowledge as Far as China… Really?”

  1. sonia says:

    I’m so disappointed!

    • Jeff says:

      What is wrong in leaving home ( Hijrat) for sake of knowledge. Knowledge is key to social, political, moral, ethical etc. Development of civilizations. Why MUSLIMS came to the USA?

    • robin says:

      you have to consider, in that time, China was great. they had the massive armada and vast trading network

  2. Ilm Seeker says:

    Mashallah, awesome blog! Keep it up inshallah.

    For those disappointed, follow up with a better, authentic hadith: Whoever travels in the path of knowledge, Allah will make it easy for them to walk the path to paradise.

  3. Ilm Seeker says:

    Some of the benefits and blessings of seeking knowledge can be found here, from a class by shaykh Yasir Qadhi: http://www.ilmfruits.com/blessings-of-knowledge/

  4. Philomantis says:

    Some of the “heavy hitters” amongst classical Hadîth scholars have declared this Hadîth weak, but al-Mizzî who compiled Tahthîb al-Kamâl fî Asmâ’ ar-Rijâl, who is by far the “heaviest hitter” of the scholars of grading narrators has called for caution to be exercised with this Hadîth. He has stated, “Perhaps, its status is rectified to Hasan on account of its wide circulation, ” reasoning that an outright forgery wouldn’t have reached such wide circulation amongst the Muslims.

    Likewise, al-Munâwî cites al-Dhahabî’s Talkhîs wherein he claims that it has numerous weak chains, but some are sound. However, I looked in al-Dhahabî’s Talkhîs Kîtâb al-Mawdû`ât and found that the part cited by al-Munâwî was absent. The fact that a classical work cites another classical work and that citation is no longer extant in the copies we have today is an unfortunately common evidence of the scores of “redactions” that “editors” have exercised upon these books of knowledge.

    One must understand that a Hadîth being Da`îf is not enough to say definitively that it is “not Prophetic”. Imâm Ahmad’s school necessitates appealing to Da`îf narrations (under strict prerequisites) before the application of Qîyâs (deduction), and this was one of the defining differences in his approach to jurisprudence as opposed to the approach of his beloved and respected contemporary Imâm ash-Shâfi`î.

    It would be safer and more wise to say that this Hadîth is correct in its meaning, but many scholars have declared it weak and Allah knows best.

  5. ibnabeeomar says:

    from br. hood’s blog:

    Philomantis,
    The only one far greater than all of us mentioned on this page is our Beloved Messenger – May God shed his grace on him – and he is deserving of only the best being related about him and from him.

    After looking your comments at muslimmatters, and additionally that which was mentioned in the link provided by Ibn Ajibah, this is what is seeming to me:

    1- This addition of “seek knowledge as far as China” was as I mentioned above only narrated by “al-Hasan ibn Atiyyah from Abu Atikah Tarif ibn Salman from Anas from the Prophet…”.

    That said this particular chain of the hadith, which begins with “seeking knowledge is an obligation…” and ending with the reference to china is extremely weak, in fact as mentioned before several of the narrators were accused of fabrication.

    This type of narration cannot be supported by way of Isnad, even though its meanings could be substantiated through the generalities of the Quran and Sunnah. An example of this would be the hadith “My Lord taught me character and did so perfectly…” which is weak in isnad but is supported by the texts of the Quran and Sunnah. It is incorrect to narrate it as a direct statement of the Prophet, attributing it to him directly.

    So the first part of the hadith “seeking knowledge..” is supported in meaning by the numerous other narrations, while there is nothing of substance to support in any of the other narrations concerning china. which leads me to my nest point…

    2- Al-Mizzi’s statement was concerning the first part of the hadith, which is narrated from Anas from several different chains. This applying to the portion “talabu l-ilmi faraDatin ala kulli muslim…” seems most likely in that most (if not all) other authors that related al-Mizzi’s statement applied it to the narrations that begin with this phrase, yet do not contain the reference to China in the end (for ex. al-zarkashi and al-kattani apply his statement to this portion, not the china reference).

    Therefore this portion of the hadith is supported by the other narrations. This however has no bearing on the latter part about china. Hajj Gibril mentions this himself in the above link, although the manner in which he does so may be misleading to a non-specialist or someone not exposed to the science of takhrij.

    3- Hajj Gibril – May Allah guide him to what is best in this life and the next – states that his hadith is mashur, being a hadith with 5 to 9 narrators at each level of the chain.

    Upon cursory examination of the asa_ni_d containing the reference to china, there seems to be less than five at several levels of the chain back to anas, al-Bayhaqi says of this hadith that it is “shibhu mashur” (i.e. sort of) and therefore it is likely that the scholars who referred to this hadith as Mashur possibily meant the other meaning of mashur, i.e. that this is a popular hadith and is well known by the people. al-Sakhawi and al-’Ajluni including this in their books would support this, in that his book is an examination of hadith which are popular but may or may not be authentic.

    All in all the hadith seems to be extremely weak.

    And Allah knows best.

  6. The scholarly rulings which were quoted in the original article should be sufficient to prove the weakness of this Hadeeth. Not only are we certain that the prophet PBUT did not say this statement, we are also certain that none of the Sahaba did either.

    Bother Philomantis’ reply is filled with inacurate information. For someone to think that Al-Mizzi is a “heavier hitter” than earlier scholars such as Ibn Adi, Al-Bazzaar and Ibn Hibbaan is a shame, to say the least.

    There are tens of authentic Hadeeths encouraging us to seek knowledge. There were books written to compile such Hadeeths. So we are in no need of such weak Hadeeth.

    Someone who is giving a speech on the importance of seeking knowledge could still mention this statement but without attributing it to the Prophet PBUH. He/she could say: It was said … or: a wise man once said …

    So, there is no reason to be disappointed!

    • kashif says:

      The reason probably for the disappointment is that those who refer to this hadith make a point that knowledge other than shariyh is also to be sought contrary to those who discard this hadith and refuse to acknowledge that anything other than shariyah is knowledge at all.

  7. Amad says:

    jazakAllahkhair Sh. Haitham for stopping by and commenting on this.

    I’d like to introduce the Sheikh to those who don’t know him. He is the admin of the Multaqa-ahl-hadith, one of the most popular Islamic forums in Arabic on the net, with many students of knowledge and many transcripts (see this post). He is a Masters Student in at the American Islamic University (AIU).

  8. Philomantis says:

    Haitham Hamdan, jazâkullâhû khayr(an) for your response, but I’m afraid you’ve resorted to a bit of “my daddy is bigger than your daddy”. To call my opinion that al-Mizzî is one of the “heaviest hitters” in grading Hadîth narrators “a shame” is in itself ad hominem in nature and just plain untenable. His work on Rijâl is sufficient testimony to this. Also, how can 4 paragraphs be “filled with inacurate (sic) information”? Certainly, its not too lengthy for you to cite examples, is it? Please elaborate, if we could be so honored to read from you on this.

    Finally, we are not “certain” that the Prophet (sallallâhû `alayhî wa sallam) did not say this and for you to make such a statement is not consistent with the modus operandi of Hadîth scholarship…unless you can quote a single Muhaddith of repute from the classical era of Islamic scholarship who said, “The Prophet (sallallâhû `alayhî wa sallam) did not say this for an absolute fact”.

    w-Allâhu a`lam. was-salâm

  9. ِAbu Bakr says:

    – ” اطلبوا العلم ولو بالصين ”
    قال ابن عراق : (قال ابن حبان : حديث باطل لا أصل له ) .
    وقال ابن الجوزي في الموضوعات: بعد أن رواه بسنده (هذا حديث لا يصح عن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم…)

    http://www.ahlalhdeeth.com/vb/showthread.php?t=17984

  10. Philomantis says:

    لا يصح عن رسول الله (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) يعني أسانيدها ليست بصحيحة كما قيل عن كلّ أحاديث دون الأحاديث الصحيحة…والله تبارك وتعالى أعلم

  11. Philomantis says:

    I also want to make even more clear regarding what I quoted in English from al-Mizzî. His comments regarding the Hadîth’s wide circulation being a testimony in its favor appears to be speculation on his part. This can be seen from the language he used:

    ربما يصل بمجموعها إلى الحسن

    The fact that he started his sentence with “rubbamâ” meaning “perhaps” is an indication that he was speculating. I didn’t want anyone glossing over the “Perhaps” in my previous translation as this is a very important part of it.

    w-Allâhû A`lam

  12. Dear brother Philomantis,

    You said in #4: “al-Mizzî … is by far the heaviest hitter …”.

    But when you referenced this statement in #8, you said: “al-Mizzî is one of the heaviest hitters”.

    The difference between the two statements is clear. You can not be trusted in referencing your own quotations!

    I take great issue with your first statement, and still consider it shameful!

    Another contradiction is that you asked me to “quote a single Muhaddith of repute from the classical era of Islamic scholarship”.

    It is strange that someone like you says this. You believe that al-Mizzi, who lived nowhere near the classical era (d. 742), is “by far the heaviest hitter”!

    Heavier than al-Bazzaar (d. 292), Ibn Hibbaan (d. 354), and Ibn Adi (d. 364), who lived during the classical era, and all three unauthenticated the Hadeeth.

    There are other problems in your posts with regards to: the contributions of Imam al-Mizzi, the relationship between Ilm al-Rijaal and the authentication of a Hadeeth, Imam Ahmad’s school … etc.

    I’m sorry to say that your thinking process is not yet scientific enough to be a good student of Hadeeth!

    Wallahu A’lam.

  13. philomantis says:

    Haitham, I find it very unfortunate that you find it necessary to behave this way, but it is, alas, of no surprise to me at all. If, in fact, I believe that al-Mizzî is the greatest scholar in the area of `Ilm ar-Rijâl this is hardly something “shameful”! You have not addressed a single point, but only said there are “problems” without citing a single one.

    If you want to discuss this matter like in a mature manner by addressing the evidences then I would enjoy such a discussion. Brother Hood has done this eloquently and thoroughly and it is a testimony to the fact that he is of another league altogether (وفقه الله).

    I make it a policy not to sully myself with pejorative laden disputation so I’ll have to leave discussion with you and wish you well. was-salâm

  14. Moiez says:

    Where is the Hadith?

  15. nuqtah says:

    Jzak Allahu khair sidi philomantis for maintaining proper decorum!

  16. Abu h says:

    I think Brother haitham only say that brother philomontos’s statement about Mizzi is shameful in the sense of hadith literature, not attacking him personaly.

    And Brother haitham also provided some proofs, because Brother philomontis forgot the classical scholars, and used later scholars for his argument, in this sense.

    Also, what was arabic translation for what Brother abu bakr said?

  17. ibnabeeomar says:

    “what was arabic translation for what Brother abu bakr said?”

    to summarize:

    ibn hibbaan said the hadith is baatil, and ibn al-jawzi mentioned this hadith in al-mawdoo’at (ie book of fabricated hadiths) and said that this hadith is not authentically related from the prophet (saw)..

  18. ِAbu Bakr says:

    Al-Mizzi’s work is primarily a compilation of the statements of the earlier Imams of Rijal. These Imams, amongst whom are ibn ‘Adi, ibn Hibban, and many others such as al-Bukhari, Abu Hatim, and Abu Zur’ah did not merely compile the statements of scholars concerning the narrators to reach a conclusion as to his status. They compiled the narrations of each narrator and compared their narrations with the narrations of their peers to distinguish mistakes from correct narrations.

    To illustrate, Imam Yahya b. Ma’in gathered the hadiths of Hammad b. Salamah, one of the important classical narrators from 18 different routes. Upon being asked the reason for doing so, he said, “I found mistakes in the narrations of Hammad so I wanted to distinguish his mistakes from the mistakes of his students.”

    This is something very difficult for later scholars, if for no other reason, because they did not have access to the sheer volume of narrations that the earlier scholars did. This, by far, makes them the “heaviest hitters” in the field of Rijal.

  19. Husam says:

    Wahhabis have it in their best interest to exclude China, since they want everyone to gain knowledge in Najd. Everything has to center around Saudi Arabia, otherwise it _must_ be a fake hadith! lol

  20. ibn abi 'Abdirrahman says:

    Brother Husam,

    your statement makes no sense at all. Many past and contemporary Salafi scholars are from ASh Shaam and not An Najd. Ibn Qayyim, Ibn Taimiyyah, Al Albaani and many more are all from Ash Shaam.

  21. […] weak, there is also a different opinion on this matter. There was a debate on this hadith in the comments section of the the muslimmatters blog earlier this years. He is a relevant excerpt from the comments. Some of the “heavy hitters” […]

  22. R.S says:

    Why is it that the best hadiths are always considered weak while the stupid ones which doesn’t make any sense considered authentic. hmm..

  23. Abu Bakr says:

    If it is an authentic hadith, then please tell us its isnad and which major works of hadith it is reported

  24. Ismail sini says:

    It was said that sahaba Saad ibn waqqas was buried in China.I guess someone will doubte this.Whether you can verify this,if you can find results in Shaykh Ibn Ibn Taimiyyah’s works,it would be highly appreciated.But if you really can find the results in the works of Al Albaani,maybe most chinese muslim would be doubtful.

  25. TuhfaSino says:

    Interesting!

    Maybe we should focus on the reason for the widespread of this narration (I won’t call it hadith) and learn something from it.

    It basically contained the essential ingredients of a viral campaign: to show off.

    So, Chinese Muslims use this narration to their advantage, and non-Chinese Muslims use it too to show off that Islam is inclusive.

    Also, China as a destination of knowledge and civilization is another good point to make this narration spread. Just like quoting, hey do you know our prophet (SAW) said, “Seek knowledge even in Harvard or Oxford.”

    So, brothers and sisters, as with many other discussions about religion or politics, try to be nice and save your opponent face.

    IMHO, most of the people who quote this narration don’t want to declare it as unauthentic, (maybe it’s not as much as asking a priest to say trinity is wrong, but more like retracting the thing they showed off for years)… suddenly they are no longer cool, suddenly their PR slogan is attacked… Again, I’m not talking about scholars, I’m talking about regular people who blindly copy/pasting their favorite opinion just because that fits their comfort zone.

    As for authenticity: Was the word “China” or “Seen” known to Arabs at the time of the Prophet (SAW)? Check some old maps and you will be surprised.

    May Allah reward all of you and gather us again in Jannah

    Your Chinese brother who of the opinion that we shouldn’t attribute this narration to the Prophet (SAW) when we have so much doubts

  26. Sharif says:

    It doesn’t even sound like a hadith of the prophet (saw).

  27. Suhail says:

    what is this have to do with chinese and non chinese muslims. It has only to do with the authenticity of this narration.

  28. […] weak, there is also a different opinion on this matter. There was a debate on this hadith in the comments section of the the muslimmatters blog earlier this years. He is a relevant excerpt from the comments. Some of the “heavy hitters” […]

  29. THREE HADITH ON CHINA, INDIA, TURKEY

    Ancient China and India were respectively known to the Arabs as As-Sin and Al-Hind respectively, with whom they had trade connection both on land and sea-routes, mainly on silk-routes. There were sea-silk routes too.
    About the need to go to China even, to educate is a genuine hadith and it is much popular among the Arabs and Persians to abouth this hadith of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and they really believe it is shahi/genuine hadith. Look:

    Mohd. Sharif Khan, 1986, Islamic Education, New Delhi: Ashish Publishing House, page, 15- quoted the hadith on the authority/ reference of Ibn Adi (925 AD) and Abul Fazl Baihaqi that :

    “Obtain Knowlwdge even if in China”
    (Ibn Adi & Behaqi).

    It will be a great disservice if you, in lack of knowledge and research, try to discredit this hadith. Prophet (pbuh) only stressed on secular education, which is much essential to know the Holy Quran in letter and spirit. Some Anogo-American, and European authours try to discredit this hadith, thus trying to belittle the all round achievement of early Chinese education. We also find a hadith that “Heaven smells from the East (India?)”.

    Another Hadith: “Learn the language of the Turks, for they will have a long reign” (Muhammad al-Kashghari, 940 AD).
    (see the “Bulletin of the School of African and Oriental Studies”, University of London London, vol XLI, part
    1, 1986, page 69).

    see the Seljuk Turk who arose out of Abbasid Empire/Baghdad of the Turks in c. 1056 AD from whom the Ottoman Empire (1299-1924 AD) sprung up which ruled much of SE Europe, N. Africa, Arabia, ex-Ummayad and ex-Abbasid domains.

    Don’t be surprised by such Hadith. The Rashidi Khalifs ruled in 632-661 AD only, Ummayad in 661-750 only and Abbasid in 750-1258 AD only. Take the single example, Ottoman/Usman Empire that ruled for more than 600 years, when Musatafa Kamal Pasha abolished the Caliphate in 1924. Even today, Turkish role in Islamic Affairs is paramount. Its Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was recently conferred the Arab Nobel Prize for Service to Islam by king Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Even OIC General Secretary is Ecmeleddin Ishanoglu, a Turk. How true the latter Hadith is which the Prophet spelt out in his lifetime!!!!!

  30. […] Originally Posted by Aeon Allah said to go even to China for knowledge. This is 100% wrong. The word China was never used by Allah or Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Check this: Seek Knowledge as Far as China… Really? | MuslimMatters.org […]

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