If there are a number of weak Hadith, can they strengthen each other?

Quran

Hadith

Islamic Text

This is possible in the right circumstances, and a determination will be made by Hadith experts.

Some Muslims treat weak Hadith in the same way as fabricated or very weak narrations, this approach contradicts the view of the Imams of Ahl al-Sunnah. It is not permitted for later Muslims to contradict the methodology established by the rightly guided Imams of the past, rather we are instructed to follow the way of the early Muslims.

عِمْرَانَ بْنَ حُصَيْنٍ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُمَا، قَالَ: قَالَ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ: «خَيْرُكُمْ قَرْنِي، ثُمَّ الَّذِينَ يَلُونَهُمْ، ثُمَّ الَّذِينَ يَلُونَهُمْ

Imran ibn Husayn said that the Messenger of Allah said, “The best of my community are my generation and then those who come after them and then those who come after them.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, 2651).

Many such people also reject the concept of weak Hadith strengthening each other, once again this contradicts the methodology of the Imams of this science. Rather the Imams on Ahl Sunnah said it is possible for multiple narrations of a weak Hadith to strengthen it, however there are conditions and considerations.

إذا روي الحديث من وجوه ضعيفة لا يلزم أن يحصل من مجموعها حسن، بل ما كان ضعفه لضعف حفظ راويه الصدوق الأمين زال بمجيئه من وجه آخر وصار حسناً، وكذا إذا كان ضعفه بالإرسال زال بمجيئه من وجه آخر، وأما الضعف لفسق الراوي فلا يؤثر فيه موافقة غيره، والله أعلم. (التقريب والتيسير لمعرفة سنن البشير النذير في أصول الحديث)

If a Hadith is narrated with a number of weak chains, it is not necessary that it acquire the status of being Hasan due to them coming together (and strengthening each other). Rather, a Hadith that is weak due to weakness in the memory of a truthful, trustworthy narrator will have the weakness removed when it is narrated through another chain, and thus become Hasan. Likewise, if the weakness was due to being Mursal, it will be removed when it is narrated through another chain. As for the weakness (of a Hadith) due to a narrator’s immorality, the support of other narrations does not affect it, and Allah (Most High) knows best. (Imam Nawawi, al-Taqreeb).

وَمَتَى تُوبِعَ سَيِّئُ الحِفْظِ بِمُعْتَبَرٍ، وَكَذَا المَسْتُورُ، والمُرْسَلُ، وَالمُدَلَّسُ؛ صَارَ حَدِيثُهُمْ حَسَنًا لاَ لِذَاتِهِ؛ بَلْ بِالمَجْمُوعِ.( نخبة الفكر)

And when a narrator with weakness in his memory is supported by another narration, likewise an unknown narrator, a Mursal narration, or the inconclusive narration, the narration becomes Hasan. Although it is not Hasan in itself, rather it is due to the convergence of the narrations. (Imam Ibn Hajr al-Asqalaani, Nukhbatu al-Fikr).

لَيْسَ كُلُّ ضَعْفٍ فِي الْحَدِيثِ يَزُولُ بِمَجِيئِهِ مِنْ وُجُوهٍ، بَلْ ذَلِكَ يَتَفَاوَتُ
فَمِنْهُ ضَعْفٌ يُزِيلُهُ ذَلِكَ بِأَنْ يَكُونَ ضَعْفُهُ نَاشِئًا مِنْ ضَعْفِ حِفْظِ رَاوِيهِ، مَعَ كَوْنِهِ مِنْ أَهْلِ الصِّدْقِ وَالدِّيَانَةِ. فَإِذَا رَأَيْنَا مَا رَوَاهُ قَدْ جَاءَ مِنْ وَجْهٍ آخَرَ عَرَفْنَا أَنَّهُ مِمَّا قَدْ حَفِظَهُ، وَلَمْ يَخْتَلَّ فِيهِ ضَبْطُهُ لَهُ. وَكَذَلِكَ إِذَا كَانَ ضَعْفُهُ مِنْ حَيْثُ الْإِرْسَالُ زَالَ بِنَحْوِ ذَلِكَ، كَمَا فِي الْمُرْسَلِ الَّذِي يُرْسِلُهُ إِمَامٌ حَافِظٌ، إِذْ فِيهِ ضَعْفٌ قَلِيلٌ، يَزُولُ بِرِوَايَتِهِ مِنْ وَجْهٍ آخَرَ.
وَمِنْ ذَلِكَ ضَعْفٌ لَا يَزُولُ بِنَحْوِ ذَلِكَ، لِقُوَّةٍ الضَّعْفِ وَتَقَاعُدِ هَذَا الْجَابِرِ عَنْ جَبْرِهِ وَمُقَاوَمَتِهِ. وَذَلِكَ كَالضَّعْفِ الَّذِي يَنْشَأُ مِنْ كَوْنِ الرَّاوِي مُتَّهَمًا بِالْكَذِبِ، أَوْ كَوْنِ الْحَدِيثِ شَاذًّا. (معرفة أنواع علوم الحديث)

Not every weakness is removed by the narration being supported by another, rather it differs (in different circumstances). The weakness is removed if it is caused by weakness in the memory of the narrator, whilst he is from the people of truth and piety. So if we see that his narration has been supported by another narration, we realise that he has indeed narrated accurately (despite the weakness in his memory), and accuracy was not lacking in his narration (of this Hadith). This is also the case if the weakness was due to it being Mursal, it (weakness) is removed by it (a supporting narration). Likewise, the Mursal narration of a great Imam, has slight weakness, and it is removed by another narration (supporting it).

At times weakness is not removed by another narration, due to the severity of the weakness, or the inability of the other narration to provide sufficient strength (to elevate it) or to combat the weakness. For example, a narration that is weak due to the narrator being accused of lying, or the Hadith being Shadh (contradicting a stronger narration). (Imam Ibn Salah, al-Muqadimah).  

These are just a few references to great Imams of the science of Hadith. There are many other statements made by the Imams of this science that prove beyond doubt that weak Hadith may well be strengthened by other narrations.

There may be many terms used in this answer that the reader is unfamiliar with, which is why it is important to study the Islamic sciences comprehensively and not rely on questions and answers (Q&As) to learn the Deen. Rather Q&As are used to supplement formal learning and not replace it.

And Allah (Most High) Knows Best.

– Answered by Shaykh Noorud-deen (28.01.2021)

See also:

Using weak Hadith

Is it sufficient to learn the Deen through Q&A only?