Bismillahi Al-Rahmani Al-Rahim
The Title "Muhaddith"
Someone at my mosque claims to be a muhaddith. He has not memorized any standard hadith collections, not even Imam al-Nawawi's Forty Hadith. Is this person justified in making this claim?
al-salamu `alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu
We should assume the best regarding this brother. It may be that even though he has not memorized a hadith collection in its entirety that he still merits it. While memorizing the Forty Nawawi is standard fare even for children attending summer programs in the mosque, it is not in and of itself a condition for being a muhaddith.
There are two definitions for "muhaddith". One is someone who knows hadiths and their chain of transttions [tariq], names of narrators, and the various wordings [mutun]. This person is superior to a "musnad", who is someone who narrates hadith along with chains of transmission, whether he understands the content or simply narrates it. The other definition is based on the de facto ranks of Ahl al-Hadith: the first is "talib", the novice; next is "muhaddith", defined as anyone who bears hadiths and pays attention to aspects of its transmission and meaning; then "hafiz", defined as anyone who has memorized one hundred thousand hadiths--including their chains of transmission and their content--and has fully comprehended whatever additional knowledge needed; and so on. (See Luqat al-durur, via `Abd Allah Siraj al-Din's commentary on the Bayquniyyah, pp 21-22)
So, unless the claimant fits one of these definitions it is wrong to claim the title "muhaddith"; actually, claiming a title for oneself is wrong to begin with, even if deserved. If he truly has not memorized the Forty Nawawi, then he definitely is not a a "muhaddith" according to the second definition, since memorizing it is the first step we novices take.
Perhaps this person has absolute command of the major collections of hadith but has never memorized the Forty Nawawi itself and is being modest. But if this is not the case, then perhaps he should rethink this claim, consider how he packages himself, and make repentance if his claims do turn up being fraudulent.
False claims of accomplishment ruin it for anyone whose claim is true.
And Allah knows best.
wa al-salamu `alaykum