Authenticity of ‘Seek knowledge even as far as China’

Someone pointed out that the hadith ‘Seek knowledge even as far as China’ is a weak hadith (called da’if in Arabic, zaif in Farsi and Urdu). While many scholars do regard this hadith as being 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” 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.

The website Assunnah also has a helpful article on this subject. Here is the relevant excerpt.

The first to declare the “China” hadith forged seems to be Ibn al-Qaysarani (d. 507) in his Ma`rifa al-Tadhkira (p. 101 #118). This grading was kept by Ibn al-Jawzi in his Mawdu`at but rejected, among others, by al-Suyuti in al-La’ali’ (1:193), al-Mizzi, al-Dhahabi in Talkhis al-Wahiyat, al-Bajuri’s student Shams al-Din al-Qawuqji (d. 1305) in his book al-Lu’lu’ al-Marsu` (p. 40 #49), and notably by the Indian muhaddith Muhammad Taahir al-Fattani (d. 986) in his Tadhkira al-Mawdu`at (p. 17) in which he declares it hasan.

Given below is a quote from Dr. Mahatir Muhammad the former prime minister of Malaysia regarding this hadith. I would like to acknowledge that Dr. Mahatir is not a scholar of hadith but his stance on this matter seems to be different from other so I thought it would be helpful to reproduce it here.

A hadith says: “Seek knowledge even as far as China.” It was pointed out by detractors that this was just a saying of the Prophet and it was not a command from God. When they disagreed with a particular hadith, they were quick to discredit it and refused to acknowledge it as a source of Islamic teaching. But if they subscribed to it, then they would not cease to highlight it repeatedly, even if it’s authenticity is doubted. Surely seeking knowledge in China does not mean Islamic knowledge. During the Prophet’s period, China was also known to have deep knowledge in such fields as medicine, literature and paper, explosives and many others.


25 responses to “Authenticity of ‘Seek knowledge even as far as China’

  1. Pingback: Islamic Chinese Wallpapers Galore! « Islam in China·

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  4. It is a pity that Sunnis do not live by this Hadith. Israel publishes more scientific papers than the whole of the Islamic world.

    If you read the Hadith and take it seriously you cannot be a terrorist. Your jihad, and indeed the only meaningful jihad is to endeavour to make yourself wise. Do your homework, respect your teachers. None of “I don’t have to obey you are a woman” which my wife who is a teacher was confronted with just after Ramadan.

    No during Ramadan extra homework should be set.

    King Abdullah has set up a research centre on the Red Sea coast. It will be for both men and women. The King has been heavily criticised by the Saudi religious establishment. To me though he is a true Sunni, his critics are not.

  5. @ Ian Parker. I dont agree with you, sunnis does not frown at woman studying and doing research, its when the research and schooling is done on a campus where males and females mix freely that sunnis frown and object. we have no problem with females and males doing research as long as its in a controlled enviroment.

  6. Science cannot be done by people working in complete isolation. If you are going to have a “controlled environment” you might as well say goodbye to scientific progress.

    There are a number of number of other points I made that I would like to amplify. Part of the problem with the Islamic world is the fact that with a population of well over a billion publishes less than Israel (7.05 million).

    This means that an Israeli is over 100 times more productive as the average in the Islamic World. This is a lamentable statistic.

    I am sure that a lot of the resentment felt towards Israel stems from this fact and the disparity is scientific attainment is perhaps even more significant than settlements, important though these are.

    My remarks about terrorism are to do with the fact that the cure for this resentment is for the Arab world to put it bluntly “pull their socks up” not to go on killing sprees.

  7. “…

    With regard to the hadeeth mentioned, “Seek knowledge even if you have to go as far as China, for seeking knowledge is a duty on every Muslim,” Shaykh al-Albaani said in Da’eef al-Jaami’: “(It is) fabricated.” (no. 906).

    The proven hadeeth is that which was narrated by Ibn Maajah from the hadeeth of Anas ibn Maalik, who said: “The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: ‘Seeking knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim.’” (220. Classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh Sunan Ibn Maajah. What is meant by knowledge here is knowledge of sharee’ah (Islamic knowledge). Al-Thawri said: “It is the knowledge for which no person has any excuse for not knowing.” And Allaah knows best.”

    Shaykh Muhammad Saalih al-Munajjid


  8. Whatever it is , there are two very old mosques in Shanghai-Hangzhou area:

    [1] Songjiang Mosque reported built in 1341 AD and now preserved and used by a handful of Chinese Muslims …
    and a young Imam.

    You can take the Shanghai Metro till the end Terminus Songjiang Station and take Bus #12 straight into the middle of Songjiang Town.

    You may after offering prayers, partake of Noodle Soup next door ..totally Halal.

    [2] Hangzhou Phoenix Mosque circa 900Ad or earlier but what is interesting, is that Kublai Khan issued a Emperor’s Decree to rebuild the mosque after being destroyed by the previous Dynasty circa 1200 AD.

    It is just some 15-20 minutes walk from the Main Hangzhou Railway Station.

    Again, if you care to offer prayers you may once again partake of the famous Lamb Soup and Dumplings.

    Not far from the Mosque is a famous up-market Muslim Restaurant, Halal Butcher and Steam Dumpling [pau] .

  9. assalamualaykum warahmatullah.
    since “seek knowledge even as far as china” is known as fabricated hadith, please refrain from saying it was from the prophet. honestly.

  10. Pingback: Prophet Muhammad(PBUH) said Seek Knowledge Even in China & its meaning to Pakistan - Page 2·

  11. Salam,
    Ian Parker is right in a way on Muslim not doing enough on Knowledge development. A.G what do you mean by Sharee’ah knowledge? Which knowledge is not Sharee’ah? Is it going to the moon? or Biological science? Or Compuer Technology? What knowledge/science has GOD(SWA) has not alluded to in the Quran. Muslim should wake up and stop killing Islam in the name of some outdated ethics and sayin.
    Ma Asalam. Abdul-Kadir

  12. @ian , You are right in a way but remember the Western Empire as it is today was built on the backs of Islamic research and development( westerners would still be washing once a year). Islam has given to the world much more then it has taken, that is a proven fact. As for Israel, well it owes it`s existence to the western imperialist and is, as a matter of fact, a late-comer to contributing to World Development.
    The Arabs as we have them today, as you said, and you are right in saying it, has really fallen behind when it comes to contributing to world science. They are however not the ideal representatives’ of Islam at this time, as they are struggling with reforms which History has proven every great nation of the past had to undergo.
    I do agree with you, the Arab world has to pull its socks up, but at the same time I would like remind you and those reading this thread that The Arabs are not the only Muslims in the world, in-fact they are quickly becoming the minority if we should take in to consideration the rate Islam is growing globally!

  13. @shabbir We muslims had a great academic past but we’re far from it now. Let’s stop living in the past and realize our pathetic state today.

  14. Thanks for this good blog.

    Most respected specialized Hadith scholars said they have not heard of this saying as Hadith, which means it is not even Da’if. If you choose not ask specialists, make sure to go an electrician next time you get sick. People, it is not about www links, knowledge must be taken by those who have it, so lets not attribute this saying to the prophet PBUH just because it sounds cool.

    It is a good saying anyway, and it is common in the Islamic world, so lets attribute it to our culture.

  15. These simple words have empowered Chinese Muslims for centuries. Even when their emperors/the mongols/government was persecuting them, they took great pride in these simple words.
    I’m from Indonesia, we have more Muslims than the whole of Arabia combined. And when my people were walking around bare-chested, a massive fleet of ships from China, unlike any the world had ever seen, led by a Chinese Muslim, Admiral Zheng He, came to our shores. With it he brought the teachings of Islam and a message of peace from the Emperor of China. All because of those simple words.
    Now I’m in China, doing my master’s, seeking knowledge. Knowledge that I will apply in the name of Islam. Thus, bringing the light of knowledge to Muslims inshallah.

    Now you wanna take this away from them? Some Muslims you are.

    I acknowledge this hadith is probably weak. Probably the Prophet (pbuh) didn’t say it in front of a large crowd that could confirm this hadith. But didn’t he go to many business trips prior to his Revelation days? Didn’t he meet many people from many nationalities in the markets of Syria? Couldn’t these people tell him of the stories of exotic lands like India and China? Couldn’t these people tell him that when the Arabs were killing each other, burying their infant children, persecuting women and the weak, the Chinese were developing the concept of paper money, gun powder, compass, and printing?

    Don’t argue over the small things. This hadith is weak? So be it. These simple words, whomever’s mouth they came out from, have empowered millions for centuries to be better. What have yours done?

    Wallahu alam. And Allah knows best.

  16. Assalamualaikum wrb, One prominent contemporary sheikh declared this false BUT suyuti considered this hasan (sound) and others follow this opinion anyway the sentiment is correct and as Br Ershad says why argue these things for Allah knows best.

    As to Parker who suggests more focus on knowledge “will stop arabs going on killing sprees” and then goes on to suggest that Israelis are learned either he is wrong about the connection between knowledge and pacifism or he is wrong about Israelis being learned (or perhaps both)… because Israelis also go on killing sprees. He should pursue knowledge himself e.g. logic and objectivity.

  17. Dungan nationality is originated from Arab and Persian merchants and preachers of 7th-10th centuries who came to China and were given the best women of the ruling dynasty of those days for their bravery and wise advices they gave to the Emperor. Later, they have formed a dungan people community which was very traditionally Islamic. By the way, Dungans are still very conservative. The language is close to the Chinese Mandarin dialect with the great influence of Arabic, Persian and Turkic and Russian words. The name of the nationality, both in Turkic (dungan) and Chinese (hui) has a meaning of “A nation that will sooner or later go back to their roots…”.

    Lots of Dungans are living in ex-Soviet countries. Their surnames can differentiate from the culture they are living in. In post Soviat countries, their language is written both in Russian and Arabic scripts… The culture is a mix of Muslim with chinese influence… Though Dungan people like to emulate to the Arabic culture and Sunna of Prophet Muhammed (Salaalahu Aleihi Wa Salam). Thus, Prophet (pbuh) said: “Seek for knowledge even if you need to go as far as to China”.

  18. China” is a code. A “blind for the blind. when a true (sheik) teacher leaves his disciples often his teachings are distorted or even lost like those of Jesus and Mohhamed. “…if you are looking for the lamp you have to take your eyes off the cushion”.

  19. There is a lot of Chinese philosophy in the Koran. If you are seeking to convert the Chinese, telling them the Koran is a synthesis of Chinese philosophy would be more effective than saying that the Koran is better than Chinese philosophy. Just saying.

  20. If there’s no valid argument for attributing a baseless narration to the Prophet (peace be upon him), if there’s a valid reason to doubt that he said it. it’s invalidated and a perjury.

    Just because it’s true that iron is denser than wood, one cannot say that the Prophet pbuh said so just based on the fact that iron is denser than wood.

    However if one finds a prophecy attributed to the prophet pbuh with a weak chain of narration, inconceivable and beyond comprehension at the time, yet coming to pass 1400 years later, then there’s a logical and sound reason for not dismissing it off hand, neither is there any valid reason to say that he pbuh definitely said it.
    One can use their God given faculties of reasoning to reflect upon it and try and deduce how valid it is.

    Know what i mean?

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