Mutawaatir vs. Aahaad - Definitions
Mutawaatir refers to a hadith whose narrators in each level of its chain of transmission are so numerous that it is not possible for all of them to have conspired in falsehood - whether intentionally or mistakenly. The aahaad is a hadith that does not meet the requirement for the mutawaatir hadith.
The scholars of hadith differ over the number of narrators (from three to more than twenty) that are essential to declare a hadith to be mutawaatir.
Establishing Beliefs with aahaad?
In the past, some latecomers in knowledge (as compared to the salaf of the Sahaabah and the great scholars of Islaam) have alleged that, the hadith aahaad cannot be used to establish matters of `aqidah (beliefs) . Listed below are some replies from the scholars of hadith for all who carry such a claim.
This is an innovated statement (bid`ah) which has no basis in the Shari`ah (Islaamic Law).
This statement is itself a matter of `aqidah (belief). Based on this very principle, one would need a mutawaatir proof to establish it. However, there is no proof for it in the Qur'aan, or the authentic Sunnah - not even from among the aahaad hadiths!
If there were any such proof for this claim, it would have been known to the Companions who would have implemented it. The righteous scholars who followed them would have also known and implemented it.
This statement is in direct opposition to the method of seeking the knowledge adopted by the Companions of the Messenger (S). We find that if one of them narrates something from the Messenger (S), the other who heard it would accept it from him.
Allaah (T) said (what means):
And it is not proper that all of the believers should go out to fight. From each party [taa'ifah] of them, only a division should go forth, so that they (who are left behind) may receive instructions in religion, and that they may warn their people when they return to them, so that they may be aware. [9:122]
This address by Allaah (T) is fardh kifaayah, i.e. binding on the entire community and must be performed by at least a few of its members. Thus, someone must stay behind to teach others the religion. There is no doubt that the term religion in the above aayah includes both matters of legislation as well as creed. In this aayah Allaah uses the word taa'ifah which means one or more than one, as Ibn ul-Athir stated in an-Nihaayah. Al- Bukhaari said (in his Sahih), One man is called taa'ifah in Allaah's saying (that means):
If two parties [ta'ifataan] among the believers fight (each other)... [49:9]
So if two men fight, the meaning of this aayah applies to their situation as well. Ibn Hajar said in Fath ul- Baari, The word taa'fah means one or more than one, and is not a specific number; this is what is reported from Ibn `Abbaas and others like an-Nakh`i and Mujaahid.
Items of Belief Founded on Aahaad
Primarily, all hadiths are divided into two categories: authentic and unauthentic. So when a scholar declares, If there is an authentic hadith, it is my madthab (way and belief), he is not distinguishing between mutawaatir and ahaad hadiths.