By Shah Waliullah al-Muhaddith al-Dahlawi
Translated by Marcia K. Hermansen
Be informed that there it no way for us to [obtain] knowledge of the divine laws and the rulings except through the report of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), in contrast to the case of the beneficial purposes, for these may be understood through experience, true reflection, surmisal, and so on. There is also no way for us to have knowledge of the sayings of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) except by receiving reports which go back to him by successive links and transmission, whether they are in his words; or they are interrupted hadiths (mawquf) whose transmission was verified by a group of the Companions and the Successors, in so far as they were remote from taking the initiative to decide on something like that if there were not a proof text or sign from the law-giver. An example of this is transmitting an indication (dalalah) from him.
In our time there is no way to receive these reports except to follow the literature written in the science of hadith, for today there is not to be found any report which is reliable unless it is written down. The books about hadith are of different ranks and at various levels and it is necessary to exercise care in recognizing their ranks.
We hold that these collections are of four ranks with respect to accuracy and repute.
 This is because the highest types of hadiths, as you learned in what preceded – are those confirmed from the beginning by many reports (tawtur), and the community agreed to accept them and to act on them.
 Next are those which are well known and transmitted abundantly through numerous lines (mustafid). There remains no doubt worth considering regarding them, and the majority of the legal scholars of the garrison towns agreed on them, and in particular the learned scholars of the two sacred cities did not disagree with them, for Makkah and Madinah were the location of the rightly-guided caliphs in the first generations and were frequented by the itinerant learned scholars generation after generation, so that it was unlikely that an obvious error would be accepted by them, or that it would become well-known and implemented within a large area and be reported by a large body of the Companions and the Successors.
The third group of hadith are the ones whose chain of reporters is sound or good, and is testified to by the scholars of the hadith, and they are not abandoned sayings which no one of the community holds to be true. Continue reading