It is known that a Muslim should work according the authentic hadiths of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). However, in case of conflict between scholars in verifying the authenticity of a given hadith, a Muslim is required to check the most preponderant opinion and follow it, that is, if he is academically qualified to do so. If he is not a scholar, he has to resort to a qualified scholar to help him know the most correct opinion.

Sheikh M. S. Al-Munajjid, a prominent Saudi Muslim lecturer and author, states, Differences among scholars over the authentication of hadiths are similar to their differences concerning fiqh issues. That is because the classification of hadiths as authentic or unauthentic is subject to ijtihad and scholars vary in their knowledge of narrators and the isnads</i&gt ;(chains of narrators) of a given hadith. What one knows about the conditions of a narrator may be unknown to others, and what one finds as corroborating reports may not be available to another. Therefore, for these reasons their rulings on a particular hadith may differ. Sometimes they all find the biography of a narrator and the chains of narrators of a hadith, but they vary on the rulings as to whether it is authentic or unauthentic according to their own ijtihad with regard to evaluating the narrator and according to their view whether the hadith is free of any problems.

Explaining the reasons for differences of opinion among the scholars, Sheikh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah, said:

Among the reasons for scholars’ differences is believing that a particular hadith is weak on the basis of ijtihad, while others disagree with him. This is despite the existence of other chains of narrators and regardless of whether he or someone else was correct, or both of th em were correct according to those who say that every mujtahid is correct.

There are several reasons for this, including:

– One may believe the narrator of a hadith to be weak while the other believes him to be trustworthy. Knowledge of narrators is a vast science. The correct one may be he who believed him to be weak, because he came across a discrediting reason. Correctness could also be on the side of the other one because he knew that this very reason was not sufficient to regard him as weak, either because that reason itself is not a discrediting one or because he had an excuse for such a reason that prevents him from being discredited.

This is a vast field. Consensus and differences among scholars who study narrators and their conditions are just the same as those among other scholars in their own fields.

– Moreover, one may not believe that the narrator heard the hadith from the one from whom he narrated it, while someone else believes that he did hear it for some reasons which necessitate that.

– Furthermore, the narrator may have been through two phases: one when he was sound and credible and the other when there was confusion in his narrations, such as if he became mentally confused or his books were burned or lost. Hence, what he narrated when he was sound and credible is sahih and what he narrated when he became confused is da`if. Accordingly, he (the scholar) may not have known to which of the two phases this hadith belongs, whereas another scholar may know that he narrated this particular hadith when he was sound and credible.

– In addition, the narrator may have forgotten this particular hadith and did not remember narrating it afterwards, or he might have denied having narrated it. So, he (the scholar) may believe this to be a cause for neglecting the hadith, while another scholar may view that this kind of narration is valid and may be quoted as evidence. This issue is well-known … and there are other reasons too.  (Majmu` al-Fatawa (20/240-242))

The Muslim’s attitude towards these differences which occur among scholars with regard to whether a hadith is sahih of da`if, is the same as that towards their differences of opinion in fiqh issues. If the person is qualified to distinguish between their opinions, he may decide which of the two rulings concerning one hadith is correct; but if he is not qualified to do so, then he should follow the opinion of a scholar (taqlid) and he should accept the verdict of the one whom he thinks is more religiously committed and has greater knowledge concerning this matter.

It is noteworthy that one should not be deceived by the fact that a particular scholar is specialized in the principles of jurisprudence or a mufasir; rather, the one whose verdict of sahih or da`if is to be followed, should be prominent in the science of hadith. Consequently, if the hadith is sahih according to that scholar and he follows him in this regard, and it contains a fiqhruling, then he must act upon it.