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irsyad al hadith 409


Is there a hadith by the Prophet PBUH stating: “Uttering I don’t know’ is part of knowledge” when one is asked on things he does not know?

لَا أَدْرِي نِصْفُ الْعِلْمِ

“Uttering ‘I don’t know’ is part of knowledge”


Alhamdulillah, praise and thanks to Allah for the countless blessings He has blessed us all with. Blessings and salutations to the Prophet Muhammad PBUH, his wives, his family, companions and all those that follow his teachings to the day of judgement.

According to the question asked, those words is not a hadith of the Prophet PBUH. However, it is a statement of one of the companions which is Abu al-Darda’ RA as recorded by Ibn Abd al-Bar. [Refer: al-Intiqa’ fi Fadhail al-Thalathah, 38]

In Sunan al-Darimi, it is narrated that this statement is linked to al-Sya’bi who is one of the tabi’in with a sahih sanad. Yahya bin Hammad reported to us that Abu ‘Awanah, from Mughirah, from al-Sya’bi said:

لَا أَدْرِي نِصْفُ الْعِلْمِ

“Uttering ‘I don’t know’ is part of knowledge”

[Narrated by al-Darimi (186), 1/276]

Our religion emphasizes the importance of amanah especially in delivering religious teachings. Hence, the attribute of amanah is one of the obligatory attributes of a prophet or an apostle. This shows that delivering religious teachings is not an easy task as it is one of the missions of the prophets and apostles. A man should have amanah in delivering religious teachings within his capabilities. However, when there is any issue that he does not know the answer, then he must be honest and not simply answering the question without knowledge. This is because there are hadiths which state the effects of giving answers or opinions not based on knowledge. Among them are:

  • On a hadith narrated by Abu Hurayrah, The Prophet (ﷺ) said:

مَنْ أُفْتِيَ بِغَيْرِ عِلْمٍ كَانَ إِثْمُهُ عَلَى مَنْ أَفْتَاهُ

“If anyone is given a legal decision ignorantly, the sin rests on the one who gave it.”

Sunan Abi Dawud (3657) [Syaikh Syu’aib al-Arna’outh view this hadith as hassan and all narrators of this sanad is thiqah]

In ‘Aun al-Ma’bud, it is stated that errors in issuing fatwa (which is sinful) stated in this hadith means errors happened not due to differences in method of ijtihad. [Refer: ‘Aun al-Ma’bud, 10/65]. This is because, mistakes in doing ijtihad makes a mujtahid be rewarded according to a hadith narrated by Abu Dawud, al-Tirmizi and Ibn Majah in their sunan. The reward is due to his effort in issuing the ruling although he mistakenly issues the fatwa in that matter.

Ibn Hamdan stated in his book that whoever issues a fatwa while not being eligible to do so, without any dharurat (to issue a fatwa), hence he is among the sinners. [Sifat al-Fatwa wa al-Mufti wa al-Mustafti, 59]

One of the examples to be shared pertaining this matter is the story of Imam Malik when he was asked on some questions by his students.

سُئِلَ عَنْ ثَمَانِيَةٍ وَأَرْبَعِينَ مَسْأَلَةً فَقَالَ فِي ثِنْتَيْنِ وَثَلَاثِينَ مِنْهَا: لَا أَدْرِي

“He was asked (Imam Malik) with 48 questions, and he answered 32 of them with ‘I don’t know’” [Refer: Syarah al-Zurqani ‘ala al-Muwatta’, 1/54]

This story shows us that a great Imam during his time who is famously known by Imam Dar al-Hijrah was not being shy in stating that he does not know the answer on certain issues. Meanwhile, today’s atmosphere is totally the opposite where many religious speakers are so bold in answering questions given to them without knowledge. The major negative effects of this act are disarray in society and the rise of fitnah.


To conclude, the statement is not from the Prophet PBUH, but was uttered by the generation after the Prophet PBUH among the companions as well as tabi’in. Henceforth, every person intending to deliver religious teachings shall provide himself with enough knowledge. They are also advised to have amanah and are not shy to say ‘I don’t know’ in things they don’t know or are uncertain about. This is a praised act shown by the Salaf al-Soleh in the early centuries as what is done by Imam Malik bin Anas. To end, may Allah SWT give us strength and understanding in this religion for us to deliver and spread it to the world. Ameen.

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