Imaam Abu Muhammad Al-Hasan b. `Alee b. Khalaf al-Barbahaaree (died 329H, rahimahullaah) stated in his Sharhus-Sunnah (point 153):
Testing people is an innovation in Islaam. However as for today, then one is tested with the Sunnah due his saying: “Indeed this knowledge is Religion, so look from whom you take your Religion.” And due to his saying: “Do not accept hadeeth except from the one whose witness you would accept.” So look, and so if he is a person of Sunnah and he has knowledge and is truthful, then write from him (i.e. his knowledge) and if not, then leave him.
والمحنة في الإسلام بدعة وأما اليوم فيمتحن بالسنة لقوله إن هذا العلم دين فانظروا ممن تأخذون دينكم ولا تقبلوا الحديث الا ممن تقبلون شهادته فانظر إن كان صاحب سنة له معرفة صدوق كتبت عنه وإلا تركته .
Shaikh Saalih al-Fawzaan (hafidhahullaah) commenting upon this stated in It-haaf al-Qaaree (vol. 2, p. 241):
His saying: “Testing people is an innovation in Islaam. However as for our times then one is tested with the Sunnah.” The origin in Islaam is to have good thoughts regarding a person so long as there has not emanated from him that opposes that. So this is a principle. So the author is saying: So long as he is a Muslim and there is nothing that has become apparent from him except good, then we in turn accept from him that good – and this applies even to the hypocrite. The Messenger (salallaahu `alaihi wassallam) accepted the outward behaviour of the hypocrites, and he left their hidden and concealed affairs to Allaah (subhaanahu wa ta`aalaa). So long as nothing becomes apparent from a person, then you are to have good thoughts of him. However, if hatred of the Sunnah and towards the people of Sunnah becomes apparent from a person, then be aware of him. This is the meaning of: “Testing people is an innovation in Islaam,” meaning: Any Muslim from whom evil is not apparent, then do not test him.
“As for today.” Meaning: In his time it became such that a person would be questioned and tested because of the numerous misguided sects that ascribed to Islaam – so it is necessary to know who is upon the Sunnah and one is not deceived by the one who ascribes himself to Islaam [whilst being from the sects of misguidance].
So the one who love Ahlus-Sunnah, then this is a proof that he from the people of goodness, and the one who loves Ahlul-Bid’ah, then this is a proof that he is from the people of evil.
His saying: “Indeed this knowledge is Religion, so look from whom you take your Religion.” So seeking knowledge takes place at the hands of the Scholars of Ahlus-Sunnah, and not at the hands of Ahlul-Bid’ah.
His saying: “Do not accept hadeeth except from the one whose witness you would accept.” Meaning: Do not accept from the narrators of hadeeth except from the one whose witness you would accept in front of a judge because the weak narrators have become numerous, and lying whilst narrating has become plentiful. And this is the duty of the one who is acquainted with the Science of Hadeeth. As for the one who is not, then he returns back to the authentic books of Sunnah.
His saying: “So look, and so if he is a person of Sunnah and he has knowledge and is truthful, then write from him (i.e. his knowledge) and if not, then leave him.” This is a clarification of his saying: “Indeed this knowledge is Religion.” Look to whom you are taking knowledge from, and from whom you are narrating hadeeth. So if you see that he is a person of Sunnah and steadfast (istiqaamah), then write hadeeth from him and narrate hadeeth from him. And if he is opposite to this, then do not take hadeeth from him because there are those who narrate from the Messenger of Allaah (salallaahu `alaihi wassallam) whilst they are liars, and fabricators of hadeeth. So this is from the aspect of narrating hadeeth with the chains of narration. And as for citing hadeeth, then one should return the authentic books of hadeeth.
(End of the commentary of Shaikh al-Fawzaan)
My Additional Notes:
i). Ibn ‘Abbās (radhiyallāhu `anhumaa) was asked regarding the mode that the testing of the women Companions took place. He answered:
“They were examined by them swearing that: By Allaah, I did not leave due to any hatred of my husband. By Allāh, I did not leave due to me desire of one land over another. By Allaah I did not leave due to my seeking the worldly affairs. By Allaah, I did not leave except due to love of Allaah and His Messenger.”
Narrated from Mujāhid, Qataadah, ‘Ikrimah and Bukair – reported by Ibn Jareer (26/68), edition: al-Baabee al-Halabee, 1373H.
ii). From Mu’āwiyah bin al-Hakam as-Sulamee who said:
I used to have a slave girl, who used to look after my sheep in the region of Uhud and al-Jawāniyyah. She went out one day and a wolf took one of the sheep from her. I am a man from the children of Ādam, so I get upset just as they get upset. So I gave her a slap, so when I came to Allāh’s Messenger (salallāhu `alaihi wassallam) he regarded it to be a serious affair. I said: “O Messenger of Allāh! Should I not free her?” He replied: “Bring her to me.” So I brought her to him. He said to her: “Where is Allāh?” She replied: “Above the sky.” He then asked: “Who am I?” She said: “You are the Messenger of Allāh.” So he said: “Now free her for indeed she is a believer.”
Reported by Muslim, Book of Mosques (537). Abu Dāwood, Book of Prayer (930), Book of Imān and Nudhoor (3282). Mālik in al-Muwatta (1511). Ahmad (27718, 27720) from the hadeeth of Mu’aawiyah. Reported by Ahmad (7846) and Abu Dāwood (3284) from the hadeeth of Abu Hurairah (radhiyallāhu ‘anhu).
iii). Adh-Dhahabee said that Mahdee bin Hilāl said:
I entered upon Sulaimān at-Taimee and I found with him Hammād bin Zaid, Zaid bin Zurai`, Bishr bin al-Mufaddal and other companions of ours from the people of Basrah.
He (Sulaimān at-Taimee) would not narrate a thing to anyone until he had examined them, so he would say: “Is fornication from the Pre-Decree?” So if he responded with: “Yes.” Then he (Sulaimān) would say: “Then swear by Allāh that this is your Religion by which you worship Allāh.” So if he swore by Allāh upon that, he would narrate to him five ahaadeeth.
Sulaimān bin Tarkhān at-Taimee died 143AH (rahimahullāh). See Siyar A`lām an-Nubalā (6/200), Tadhkiratul-Huffādh (1/150).
Al-`Ajalee – a Tābi`ee, trustworthy (thiqah) – said that Ash-Sha`bee said: “I have never seen anyone more truthful than Sulaimān at-Taimee.”
Yahyah bin Sa’eed said: “We hold at-Taimee to be from Ahlul-Hadeeth.” See Tahdheeb al-Kamāl (2824), Tahdheed at-Tahdheeb (14712).
iv). Al-Hākim stated that I heard Abu Sa`eed bin Abī Bakr (rahimahullāh) say:
When the affair of the Kullābiyyah (i.e. those who negate the Attributes of Allāh by false interpretation) struck the town of Naisaaboor, Abul-‘Abbās as-Sirāj used to test the children of the people – he would refuse to narrate ahaadeeth to the children of the Kullābiyyah. So on an occassion he stood me up in a gathering and said: “Say: I free myself before Allāh, the Most High, from the Kullābiyyah.” So I said: “If I say that, my father will not feed me bread!” So he starting laughing and said: “Leave this one alone.”
See Siyar A`lām an-Nubalā (14/395).
Muhammad bin Is-hāq as-Sirāj, he was the Shaikhul-Islām, Muhaddith (a scholar of hadeeth) of Khurasān – the author of al-Musnad al-Kabeer. Ibn Abī Hātim (rahimahullāh) said: “Sudooq, thiqah (truthful, trustworthy).” He listened to knowledge from Ishāq bin Rāhawayah (died 238H), Qutaibah bin Sa’eed and others. Imām al-Bukhāree (died 256H) and Muslim narrated from him. He died 313H. See Siyar A’lām an-Nubalā (14/388), Tarīkh Baghdād (1/248), al-Jarh wat-Ta’deel (7/196), Tadhkiratul-Huffādh (2/731).
v). Muhammad bin Sireen (rahimahullaah) said:
“They (i.e. the scholars of Hadeeth) did used to ask about the chain of narration (isnād). But when the fitnah occurred, they would question by asking: “Name us your men?” So they would look towards ahlus-Sunnah and take their hadeeth – and they would look towards ahlul-Bid’ah and not accept their hadeeth.”
“Muqaddimah Saheeh Muslim” (1/14).
vi). Muhammad bin Sireen also said:
“Indeed this knowledge is Religion, so a man must look from who he is taking his Religion.”
Reported by ad-Dārimee (419, 424, 429) with an authentic chain of narration.
And he was al-Imām Abu Bakr al-Ansāree, Muhammad bin Sireen, the freed slave of Anas bin Mālik (radhiyallāhu ‘anhu). He was a faqeeh (a scholar of jurisprudence), an-‘Ālim, narrating hadeeth plentifully – his immense scholarship is agreed upon. He died in 110H. Tahdheeb at-Tahdheeb (9/214, no. 336).
vii). Ahmad bin Yoonus said:
I saw Zuhair bin Mu’āwiyah come to Zā’idah bin Qudāmah, so he spoke to him concerning a man who narrated to him. So Zā’idah said: “Is he from ahlus-Sunnah?” Zuhair replied: “I do not know him to be upon bid’ah.”
So Zā’idah repeated: “Is he from ahlus-Sunnah?” Zuhair asked: “Since when have the people started to be judged like this?”
So Zā’idah said: “Since they started to rejoice and gloat at the misfortune of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, may Allāh be pleased with them both.”
He was Zā’idah bin Qudāmah ath-Thaqafee, Abu as-Salt al-Koofee.
“Zā’idah would not narrate hadeeth to a Qadaree (a denier of Allāh’s pre-decree) or any person of innovation, if he knew him to be upon that.”
Al-‘Ajalee said: “He was trustworthy (thiqah). He would not narrate to anyone until he had asked regarding him. So if he turned out to be a person of Sunnah, he would narrate to him, otherwise he would not.”
Abu Hātim said: “He was trustworthy, a person of Sunnah. Died 212H”
See Siyar A’lām an-Nubalā (7/377), Tahdheeb al-Kamāl (2167), Tahdheeb at-Tahdheeb (3/307).
viii). Testing those from whom there is nothing apparent and manifest of deviation is not correct. Testing those from whom opposition of the `aqeedah is apparent or something has emanated from that causes doubt is permissible (and even desirable).
ix). Shaikhul-Islām Ibn Taymiyyah (died 728H) said:
“Ibn Abee Hātim narrated that Hishām bin ‘Ubaidillāh ar-Rāzee, the companion of Muhammad bin al-Hasan, the Judge of ar-Rayy imprisoned a man due to his Tajahhum (i.e. his denial of the Attributes of Allāh). He then repented from that. So he was brought to Hishām so that he may be freed. So Hishām said: “All praise is due to Allāh for this repentance.” And then he examined him and said: “Do you testify that Allāh is over His Throne, distinct and separate from His creation?” So the man responded: “I testify that Allāh is over His Throne, however I do not know about Him being separate from His creation!” Hishām stated: “Put him back in prison – he has not repented!”
Majmoo’ al-Fatawa (5/49).
Hishām bin ‘Ubaidillāh ar-Rāzee, the Faqeeh (Jurist). He was one of the Imāms of the Sunnah. Died 221H.
Abu Khadeejah `Abdul-Waahid.