What is Hadith?

Hadith is the record of the words, actions, and the silent approval, of the prophet Muhammad in Islam. Hadith (حديث‎ ḥadīṯ, pl. aḥādīthأحاديثʾaḥādīṯ, literally means “talk” or “discourse”) or Athar (أثر‎, ʾAṯar, literally means “tradition”). Within Islam the authority of Hadith as a source for religious law and moral guidance ranks second only to that of the Qur’an.

In Quranic perspective, Hadith also called the vast explanation (بَيَانَهُۥ ʾbayānahu, literally means “it’s explanation.”) of the Holy Quran, for verse number 16-19 of Surah Al-Qiyama.

Hadith have been called “the backbone” of Islamic civilization, and within that religion the authority of hadith as a source for religious law and moral guidance ranks second only to that of the Quran (which Muslims hold to be the word of God revealed to his messenger Muhammad). While the number of verses pertaining to law in the Quran is relatively few, hadith give direction on everything from details of religious obligations (such as Ghusl or Wudu, ablutions for salat prayer), to the correct forms of salutations and the importance of benevolence to slaves. Thus the “great bulk” of the rules of Sharia (Islamic law) are derived from hadith, rather than the Quran.

Traditions of Muhammad Called Hadith

The books of Hadith.
Traditions of Muhammad Called Hadith

Ḥadīth is the Arabic word for things like speech, report, account, narrative. Unlike the Quran, not all Muslims believe that hadith accounts (or at least not all hadith accounts) are divine revelation. Hadith were not written down by Muhammad’s followers immediately after his death but many generations later when they were collected, collated and compiled into a great corpus of Islamic literature. Different collections of hadīth would come to differentiate the different branches of the Islamic faith. There are many modern Muslims (some of whom call themselves Quranists but many are also known as Submitters) who believe that most Hadiths are actually fabrications created in the 8th and 9th century CE, and which are falsely attributed to Muhammad.

Because some hadith include questionable and even contradictory statements, the authentication of hadith became a major field of study in Islam. In its classic form a hadith has two parts—the chain of narrators who have transmitted the report (the isnad), and the main text of the report (the matn).

In Verse number 3 of Surah Al-Jumu’ah, Allah has clearly informed, about the chaining of future generation narrator works.

The Arabic word مِنْهُمْ (ʾmin’hum) of verse number 3, that literally means “among them.” In Quranic perspective, Clearly confirm that, the genre of future generation narrators was started and amplify by the companions of Muhammad. The verse number 2 more clearly informs about Sahabah and others people.

He is the One Who raised for the illiterate ˹people˺ a messenger from among themselves—reciting to them His revelations, purifying them, and teaching them the Book and wisdom, for indeed they had previously been clearly astray—

And others among them, who have not yet joined them. And He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise.

[Surah Al-Jumu’ah, Verse number 2-3]

Individual hadith are classified by Muslim clerics and jurists into categories such as sahih (“authentic”), hasan (“good”) or da’if (“weak”). However, different groups and different scholars may classify a hadith differently.

Among scholars of Sunni Islam the term hadith may include not only the words, advice, practices, etc. of Muhammad, but also those of his companions.

Specially for verse number 100 of surah Al-Tawbah.

As for the foremost—the first of the Emigrants and the Helpers—and those who follow them in goodness, Allah is pleased with them and they are pleased with Him. And He has prepared for them Gardens under which rivers flow, to stay there for ever and ever. That is the ultimate triumph. [Surah Al-Tawbah; 100. Dr. Mustafa Khattab, the Clear Quran]

In Shia Islam, hadīth are the embodiment of the sunnah, the words and actions of Muhammad and his family the Ahl al-Bayt (The Twelve Imams and Muhammad’s daughter, Fatimah).

Etymology

In Arabic, the noun ḥadīth (حديث means “report”, “account”, or “narrative”. Its Arabic plural is aḥādīth (أحاديث). Hadith also refers to the speech of a person.

Definition

In Islamic terminology, according to Juan Campo, the term hadith refers to reports of statements or actions of Muhammad, or of his tacit approval or criticism of something said or done in his presence.

Classical hadith specialist Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani says that the intended meaning of hadith in religious tradition is something attributed to Muhammad but that is not found in the Quran.

Scholar Patricia Crone includes reports by others than Muhammad in her definition of hadith: “short reports (sometimes just a line or two) recording what an early figure, such as a companion of the prophet or Muhammad himself, said or did on a particular occasion, prefixed by a chain of transmitters”. But she adds that “nowadays, hadith almost always means hadith from Muhammad himself.”

However, according to the Shia Islam Ahlul Bayt Digital Library Project, “… when there is no clear Qur’anic statement, nor is there a Hadith upon which Muslim schools have agreed. … Shi’a … refer to Ahlul-Bayt [the family of Muhammad] for deriving the Sunnah of Prophet” — implying that while hadith is limited to the “Traditions” of Muhammad, the Shia Sunna draws on the sayings, etc. of the Ahlul-Bayt i.e. the Imams of Shia Islam.

Distinction from sunnah

The word sunnah is also used in reference to a normative custom of Muhammad or the early Muslim community.

Joseph Schacht describes hadith as providing “the documentation” of the sunnah.

Another source (Joseph A. Islam) distinguishes between the two saying:

Whereas the ‘Hadith’ is an oral communication that is allegedly derived from the Prophet or his teachings, the ‘Sunna’ (quite literally: mode of life, behaviour or example) signifies the prevailing customs of a particular community or people. … A ‘Sunna’ is a practice which has been passed on by a community from generation to generation en masse, whereas the hadith are reports collected by later compilers often centuries removed from the source. … A practice which is contained within the Hadith may well be regarded as Sunna, but it is not necessary that a Sunna would have a supporting hadith sanctioning it.

Some sources (Khaled Abou El Fadl) limit hadith to verbal reports, with the deeds of Muhammad and reports about his companions being part of the sunnah, but not hadith.

Distinction from other literature

See also: Categories of Hadith

Islamic literary classifications similar to hadith (but not sunna) are maghazi and sira. They differed from hadith in being organized “relatively chronologically” rather than by subject.

  • Sīrat (literally “way of going” or “conduct”), biographies of Muhammad, written since the middle of the eighth century. Similar writings called Maghazi (literally “raid”) preceded the Sirat-literature, focusing on military actions of Muhammad, but also included non-military aspects of his life. So there is overlap in meaning of the terms, though maghazi suggests military aspects rather than general biographical ones.

Other “traditions” of Islam related to hadith including:

  • khabar (literally news, information, pl. akhbar) may be used as a synonym for hadith, but some scholars use it to refer to traditions about Muhammad’s companions and their successors from the following generation, in contrast to hadith as defined as traditions about Muhammad himself. Another definition (by Ibn Warraq) describes them as “discrete anecdotes or reports” from early Islam which “include simple statements, utterances of authoritative scholars, saints, or statesmen, reports of events, and stories about historical events all varying in length from one line to several pages.”
  • Conversely, athar (trace, vestige) usually refers to traditions about the companions and successors, though sometimes connotes traditions about Muhammad.

    Oasis Desert Caravan Palm Trees Dunes Photomontage

    Caravan in desert

Non-prophetic hadith

Joseph Schacht quotes a hadith by Muhammad that is used “to justify reference” in Islamic law to the companions of Muhammad as religious authorities — “My companions are like lodestars.” According to Schacht, (and other scholars) in the very first generations after the death of Muhammad, use of hadith from Sahabah (“companions” of Muhammad) and Tabi‘un (“successors” of the companions) “was the rule”, while use of hadith of Muhammad himself by Muslims was “the exception”. Schacht credits Al-Shafi‘i — founder of the Shafi’i school of fiqh (or madh’hab) — with establishing the principle of the use of the hadith of Muhammad for Islamic law, and emphasizing the inferiority of hadith of anyone else, saying hadiths

“from other persons are of no account in the face of a tradition from the Prophet, whether they confirm or contradict it; if the other persons had been aware of the tradition from the Prophet, they would have followed it”.

This led to “the almost complete neglect” of traditions from Companions and others.

Collections of hadith sometimes mix those of Muhammad with the reports of others. Muwatta Imam Malik is usually described as “the earliest written collection of hadith” but sayings of Muhammad are “blended with the sayings of the companions”, (822 hadith from Muhammad and 898 from others, according to the count of one edition). In Introduction to Hadith by Abd al-Hadi al-Fadli, Kitab Ali is referred to as “the first hadith book of the Ahl al-Bayt (family of Muhammad) to be written on the authority of the Prophet”. However, the acts, statements or approval of prophet Muhammad is called “Marfu hadith”, the acts, statement or approval of companions are called “mawquf (موقوف) hadith”, the acts, statement or approval of Tabi’un are called “maqtu'(مقطوع) hadith”.

Hadith and Quran

Importance of hadith complementing the Quran

The hadith literature in use today is based on spoken reports in circulation after the death of Muhammad. Unlike the Quran, hadith were not promptly written down during Muhammad’s life or immediately after his death. Hadith were evaluated and gathered into large collections during the 8th and 9th centuries, generations after the death of Muhammad, after the end of the era of the Rashidun Caliphate, over 1,000 km (620 mi) from where Muhammad lived.

“Many thousands of times” more numerous than Quranic verses, ahadith have been described as resembling layers surrounding the “core” of the Islamic belief (the Quran). Well-known, widely accepted hadith make up the narrow inner layer, with a hadith becoming less reliable and accepted with each layer stretching outward.

The reports of Muhammad’s (and sometimes companions) behavior collected by hadith compilers include details of ritual religious practice such as the five salat (obligatory Islamic prayers) that are not found in the Quran, but also everyday behavior such as table manners, dress, and posture. Hadith are also regarded by Muslims as important tools for understanding things mentioned in the Quran but not explained, a source for tafsir (commentaries written on the Quran).

Some important elements, which are today taken to be a long-held part of Islamic practice and belief are not mentioned in the Quran, but are reported in hadiths. Therefore, Muslims usually maintain that hadiths are a necessary requirement for the true and proper practice of Islam, as it gives Muslims the nuanced details of Islamic practice and belief in areas where the Quran is silent. An example are the obligatory prayers, which are commanded in the Quran, but explained in hadith.

Details of prescribed movements and words of the prayer (known as rakat’s) and how many times they are to be performed, are found in hadith. However, hadiths differ on these details and consequently salat is performed differently by different hadithist Islamic sects. Quranists, on the contrary, hold that if the Quran is silent on some matter, it is because God did not hold its detail to be of consequence; and that some hadith contradict the Quran, evidence that some hadith are a source of corruption and not a complement to the Quran.

Components, schools, types

Impact

The hadith had a profound and controversial influence on tafsir (commentaries of the Quran). The earliest commentary of the Quran known as Tafsir Ibn Abbas is sometimes attributed to the companion Ibn Abbas.

The hadith were used in forming the basis of Sharia (the religious law system forming part of the Islamic tradition), and fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). The hadith are at the root of why there is no single fiqh system, but rather a collection of parallel systems within Islam.

Much of early Islamic history available today is also based on the hadith, although it has been challenged for its lack of basis in primary source material and the internal contradictions of the secondary material available.

Compendium, The Vast impact of Hadith (Arabic: وَٱلْحِكْمَةَ ʾwal-ḥik’mata, literally means “and the wisdom”) with Quran, Allah clearly explains in The verse number 151 of Surah Al-Baqarah.

Just as We have sent among you a messenger from yourselves reciting to you Our verses and purifying you and teaching you the Book and wisdom and teaching you that which you did not know.

[Surah Al-Baqarah; verse number 151]

Muhammad sallallahu Alaihi wasallam

Muhammad sallallahu Alaihi wasallam

Types

Hadith may be hadith qudsi (sacred hadith) — which some Muslims regard as the words of God (Allah) — or hadith sharif (noble hadith), which are Muhammad’s own utterances.

According to as-Sayyid ash-Sharif al-Jurjani, the hadith qudsi differ from the Quran in that the former are “expressed in Muhammad’s words”, whereas the latter are the “direct words of God“. A hadith qudsi need not be a sahih (sound hadith), but may be da‘if or even mawdu‘.

An example of a hadith qudsi is the hadith of Abu Hurairah who said that Muhammad said:

When God decreed the Creation He pledged Himself by writing in His book which is laid down with Him: My mercy prevails over My wrath.

In the Shia school of thought, there are two fundamental viewpoints of hadith: The Usuli view and the Akhbari view. The Usuli scholars stress the importance of scientific examination of hadiths using ijtihad while the Akhbari scholars take all hadiths from the four Shia books as authentic .

Components

The two major aspects of a hadith are the text of the report (the matn), which contains the actual narrative, and the chain of narrators (the isnad), which documents the route by which the report has been transmitted. The isnad was an effort to document that a hadith had actually come from Muhammad, and Muslim scholars from the eighth century until today have never ceased repeating the mantra “The isnad is part of the religion — if not for the isnad, whoever wanted could say whatever they wanted.” The isnad means literally ‘support’, and it is so named due to the reliance of the hadith specialists upon it in determining the authenticity or weakness of a hadith. The isnad consists of a chronological list of the narrators, each mentioning the one from whom they heard the hadith, until mentioning the originator of the matn along with the matn itself.

The first people to hear hadith were the companions who preserved it and then conveyed it to those after them. Then the generation following them received it, thus conveying it to those after them and so on. So a companion would say, “I heard the Prophet say such and such.” The Follower would then say, “I heard a companion say, ‘I heard the Prophet.'” The one after him would then say, “I heard someone say, ‘I heard a Companion say, ‘I heard the Prophet…”” and so on.

Different schools

Different branches of Islam refer to different collections of hadith, though the same incident may be found in hadith in different collections:

  • In the Sunni branch of Islam, the canonical hadith collections are the six books, of which Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim generally have the highest status. The other books of hadith are Sunan Abu Dawood, Jami` at-Tirmidhi, Al-Sunan al-Sughra and Sunan ibn Majah. However the Malikis, one of the four Sunni “schools of thought” (madhhabs), traditionally reject Sunan ibn Majah and assert the canonical status of Muwatta Imam Malik.
  • In the Twelver Shi’a branch of Islam, the canonical hadith collections are the Four Books: Kitab al-Kafi, Man la yahduruhu al-Faqih, Tahdhib al-Ahkam, and Al-Istibsar.
  • In the Ibadi branch of Islam, the main canonical collection is the Tartib al-Musnad. This is an expansion of the earlier Jami Sahih collection, which retains canonical status in its own right.
  • The Ismaili shia sects use the Daim al-Islam as hadith collections.
  • The Ahmadiyya sect generally rely on the Sunni canons.
  • Some minor groups, collectively known as Quranists, reject the authority of the hadith collections altogether.

In general, the difference between Shi’a and Sunni collections is that Shia give preference to hadiths credited to Muhammad’s family and close associates (Ahl al-Bayt), while Sunnis do not consider family lineage in evaluating hadith and sunnah narrated by any of twelve thousand companions of Muhammad.

History, tradition and usage

History

Traditions of the life of Muhammad and the early history of Islam were passed down mostly orally for more than a hundred years after Muhammad’s death in AD 632. Muslim historians say that Caliph Uthman ibn Affan (the third khalifa (caliph) of the Rashidun Caliphate, or third successor of Muhammad, who had formerly been Muhammad’s secretary), is generally believed to urge Muslims to record the hadith just as Muhammad suggested to some of his followers to write down his words and actions.

Uthman’s labours were cut short by his assassination, at the hands of aggrieved soldiers, in 656. No sources survive directly from this period so we are dependent on what later writers tell us about this period.

According to British historian of Arab world Alfred Guillaume, it is “certain” that “several small collections” of hadith were “assembled in Umayyad times.”

In Islamic law, the use of hadith as now understood (hadith of Muhammad with documentation, isnads, etc.) came gradually. According to scholars such as Joseph Schacht, Ignaz Goldziher, and Daniel W. Brown, early schools of Islamic jurisprudence used rulings of the Prophet’s Companions, the rulings of the Caliphs, and practices that “had gained general acceptance among the jurists of that school”. On his deathbed, Caliph Umar instructed Muslims to seek guidance from the Quran, the early Muslims (muhajirun) who emigrated to Medina with Muhammad, the Medina residents who welcomed and supported the muhajirun (the ansar), the people of the desert, and the protected communities of Jews and Christians (ahl al-dhimma).

According to the scholars Harald Motzki and Daniel W. Brown the earliest Islamic legal reasonings that have come down to us were “virtually hadith-free”, but gradually, over the course of second century A.H. “the infiltration and incorporation of Prophetic hadiths into Islamic jurisprudence” took place.

It was Abū ʿAbdullāh Muhammad ibn Idrīs al-Shāfiʿī (150-204 AH), known as al-Shafi’i, who emphasized the final authority of a hadith of Muhammad, so that even the Quran was “to be interpreted in the light of traditions (i.e. hadith), and not vice versa.” While traditionally the Quran is considered above the sunna in authority, Al-Shafi’i “forcefully argued” that the sunna stands “on equal footing with the Quran”, (according to scholar Daniel Brown) for (as Al-Shafi’i put it) “the command of the Prophet is the command of God.”

In 851 the rationalist Mu’tazila school of thought fell from favor in the Abbasid Caliphate. The Mu’tazila, for whom the “judge of truth … was human reason,” had clashed with traditionists who looked to the literal meaning of the Quran and hadith for truth. While the Quran had been officially compiled and approved, hadiths had not. One result was the number of hadiths began “multiplying in suspiciously direct correlation to their utility” to the quoter of the hadith (Traditionists quoted hadith warning against listening to human opinion instead of Sharia; Hanafites quoted a hadith stating that “In my community there will rise a man called Abu Hanifa [the Hanafite founder] who will be its guiding light”. In fact one agreed upon hadith warned that, “There will be forgers, liars who will bring you hadiths which neither you nor your forefathers have heard, Beware of them.” In addition the number of hadith grew enormously. While Malik ibn Anas had attributed just 1720 statements or deeds to the Muhammad, it was no longer unusual to find people who had collected a hundred times that number of hadith.

Faced with a huge corpus of miscellaneous traditions supported differing views on a variety of controversial matters—some of them flatly contradicting each other—Islamic scholars of the Abbasid sought to authenticate hadith. Scholars had to decide which hadith were to be trusted as authentic and which had been invented for political or theological purposes. To do this, they used a number of techniques which Muslims now call the science of hadith.

Shia and Sunni textual traditions

Sunni and Shia hadith collections differ because scholars from the two traditions differ as to the reliability of the narrators and transmitters. Narrators who took the side of Abu Bakr and Umar rather than Ali, in the disputes over leadership that followed the death of Muhammad, are seen as unreliable by the Shia; narrations sourced to Ali and the family of Muhammad, and to their supporters, are preferred. Sunni scholars put trust in narrators such as Aisha, whom Shia reject. Differences in hadith collections have contributed to differences in worship practices and shari’a law and have hardened the dividing line between the two traditions.

Extent and nature in the Sunni tradition

In the Sunni tradition, the number of such texts is somewhere between seven and thirteen thousand, but the number of hadiths is far greater because several isnad sharing the same text are each counted as individual hadith. If, say, ten companions record a text reporting a single incident in the life of Muhammad, hadith scholars can count this as ten hadiths. So Musnad Ahmad, for example, has over 30,000 hadiths—but this count includes texts that are repeated in order to record slight variations within the text or within the chains of narrations. Identifying the narrators of the various texts, comparing their narrations of the same texts to identify both the soundest reporting of a text and the reporters who are most sound in their reporting occupied experts of hadith throughout the 2nd century. In the 3rd century of Islam (from 225/840 to about 275/889), hadith experts composed brief works recording a selection of about two- to five-thousand such texts which they felt to have been most soundly documented or most widely referred to in the Muslim scholarly community. The 4th and 5th century saw these six works being commented on quite widely. This auxiliary literature has contributed to making their study the place of departure for any serious study of hadith. In addition, Bukhari and Muslim in particular, claimed that they were collecting only the soundest of sound hadiths. These later scholars tested their claims and agreed to them, so that today, they are considered the most reliable collections of hadith. Toward the end of the 5th century, Ibn al-Qaisarani formally standardized the Sunni canon into six pivotal works, a delineation which remains to this day.

Over the centuries, several different categories of collections came into existence. Some are more general, like the muṣannaf, the muʿjam, and the jāmiʿ, and some more specific, either characterized by the topics treated, like the sunan (restricted to legal-liturgical traditions), or by its composition, like the arbaʿīniyyāt (collections of forty hadiths).

Extent and nature in the Shia tradition

Shi’a Muslims seldom if ever use the six major hadith collections followed by the Sunni, as they do not trust many of the Sunni narrators and transmitters. They have their own extensive hadith literature. The best-known hadith collections are The Four Books, which were compiled by three authors who are known as the ‘Three Muhammads’. The Four Books are: Kitab al-Kafi by Muhammad ibn Ya’qub al-Kulayni al-Razi (329 AH), Man la yahduruhu al-Faqih by Muhammad ibn Babuya and Al-Tahdhib and Al-Istibsar both by Shaykh Muhammad Tusi. Shi’a clerics also make use of extensive collections and commentaries by later authors.

Unlike Sunnis, the majority of Shia do not consider any of their hadith collections to be sahih (authentic) in their entirety. Therefore, every individual hadith in a specific collection must be investigated separately to determine its authenticity. However, the Akhbari school does take all hadith from the four books as authentic.

The importance of hadith in the Shia school of thought is well documented. This can be captured by Ali ibn Abi Talib, cousin of Muhammad, when he narrated that “Whoever of our Shia (followers) knows our Shariah and takes out the weak of our followers from the darkness of ignorance to the light of knowledge (Hadith) which we (Ahl al-Bayt) have gifted to them, he on the day of judgement will come with a crown on his head. It will shine among the people gathered on the plain of resurrection.” Hassan al-Askari, a descendant of Muhammad, gave support to this narration, stating “Whoever he had taken out in the worldly life from the darkness of ignorance can hold to his light to be taken out of the darkness of the plain of resurrection to the garden (paradise). Then all those whomever he had taught in the worldly life anything of goodness, or had opened from his heart a lock of ignorance or had removed his doubts will come out.”

Regarding the importance of maintaining accuracy in recording hadith, it has been documented that Muhammad al-Baqir, the great grandson of Muhammad, has said that “Holding back in a doubtful issue is better than entering destruction. Your not narrating a Hadith is better than you narrating a Hadith in which you have not studied thoroughly. On every truth, there is a reality. Above every right thing, there is a light. Whatever agrees with the book of Allah you must take it and whatever disagrees you must leave it alone.” Al-Baqir also emphasized the selfless devotion of Ahl al-Bayt to preserving the traditions of Muhammad through his conversation with Jabir ibn Abd Allah, an old companion of Muhammad. He (Al-Baqir) said, “Oh Jabir, had we spoken to you from our opinions and desires, we would be counted among those who are destroyed. We speak to you of the hadith which we treasure from the Messenger of Allah, Oh Allah grant compensation to Muhammad and his family worthy of their services to your cause, just as they treasure their gold and silver.” Further, it has been narrated that Ja’far al-Sadiq, the son of al-Baqir, has said the following regarding hadith: “You must write it down; you will not memorize until you write it down.”

Modern usage

The mainstream sects consider hadith to be essential supplements to, and clarifications of, the Quran, Islam’s holy book, as well as for clarifying issues pertaining to Islamic jurisprudence. Ibn al-Salah, a hadith specialist, described the relationship between hadith and other aspect of the religion by saying: “It is the science most pervasive in respect to the other sciences in their various branches, in particular to jurisprudence being the most important of them.” “The intended meaning of ‘other sciences’ here are those pertaining to religion,” explains Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, “Quranic exegesis, hadith, and jurisprudence. The science of hadith became the most pervasive due to the need displayed by each of these three sciences. The need hadith has of its science is apparent. As for Quranic exegesis, then the preferred manner of explaining the speech of God is by means of what has been accepted as a statement of Muhammad. The one looking to this is in need of distinguishing the acceptable from the unacceptable. Regarding jurisprudence, then the jurist is in need of citing as an evidence the acceptable to the exception of the later, something only possible utilizing the science of hadith.”

Studies and authentication

Main article: Hadith studies

According to Bernard Lewis, “in the early Islamic centuries there could be no better way of promoting a cause, an opinion, or a faction than to cite an appropriate action or utterance of the Prophet.” To fight these forgeries, the elaborate science of hadith studies was devised to authenticate hadith known as ilm al jarh or ilm al dirayah

Hadith studies use a number of methods of evaluation developed by early Muslim scholars in determining the veracity of reports attributed to Muhammad. This is achieved by

  • the individual narrators involved in its transmission,
  • the scale of the report’s transmission,
  • analyzing the text of the report, and
  • the routes through which the report was transmitted.

On the basis of these criteria, various classifications were devised for hadith. The earliest comprehensive work in hadith studies was Abu Muhammad al-Ramahurmuzi’s al-Muhaddith al-Fasil, while another significant work was al-Hakim al-Naysaburi’s Ma‘rifat ‘ulum al-hadith. Ibn al-Salah’s  Ulum al-hadith is considered the standard classical reference on hadith studies. Some schools of Hadith methodology apply as many as sixteen separate tests.

Biographical evaluation

Main article: Biographical evaluation

Biographical analysis (‘ilm al-rijāl, lit. “science of people”, also “science of Asma Al-Rijal or ‘ilm al-jarḥ wa al-taʻdīl (“science of discrediting and accrediting”), in which details about the transmitter are scrutinized. This includes analyzing their date and place of birth; familial connections; teachers and students; religiosity; moral behaviour; literary output; their travels; as well as their date of death. Based upon these criteria, the reliability (thiqāt) of the transmitter is assessed. Also determined is whether the individual was actually able to transmit the report, which is deduced from their contemporaneity and geographical proximity with the other transmitters in the chain. Examples of biographical dictionaries include: Abd al-Ghani al-Maqdisi’s Al-Kamal fi Asma’ al-Rijal, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani’s Tahdhīb al-Tahdhīb and al-Dhahabi’s Tadhkirat al-huffaz.

Scale of transmission

Hadith on matters of importance needed to come through a number of independent chains, this was known as the scale of transmission. Reports that passed through many reliable transmitters in many isnad up until their collection and transcription are known as mutawātir. These reports are considered the most authoritative as they pass through so many different routes that collusion between all of the transmitters becomes an impossibility. Reports not meeting this standard are known as aahad, and are of several different types.

Analyzing text

According to Muhammad Shafi, Hadith whose isnad has been scrutinized then have their text or matn examined for

  • contradiction of the Quran
  • contradiction of reliable hadith
  • making sense, being logical
  • being a report about the importance of an individual (or individuals) which is transmitted only through their supporters or family, and which is not supported by reports from other independent channels.

However, Joseph Schacht states that the “whole technical criticism of traditions … is mainly based on criticism of isnads”, which he (and others) believe to be ineffective in eliminating fraudulent hadith.

Terminology: admissible and inadmissible hadiths

Main article: Hadith terminology

Having been evaluated, hadith may be categorized. Two categories are:

  • ṣaḥīḥ (sound, authentic),
  • ḍaʿīf (weak);

Other classifications include:

  • ḥasan (good), which refers to an otherwise ṣaḥīḥ report suffering from minor deficiency, or a weak report strengthened due to numerous other corroborating reports;
  • mawḍūʿ (fabricated),
  • munkar (denounced) which is a report that is rejected due to the presence of an unreliable transmitter contradicting another more reliable narrator.

Both sahīh and hasan reports are considered acceptable for usage in Islamic legal discourse.

Criticism

Critics have complained that, contrary to the description above where the matn is scrutinized, the process of authenticating hadith “was confined to a careful examination of the chain of transmitters who narrated the report and not report itself. ‘Provided the chain was uninterrupted and its individual links deemed trustworthy persons, the Hadith was accepted as binding law. There could, by the terms of the religious faith itself, be no questioning of the content of the report; for this was the substance of divine revelation and therefore not susceptible to any form of legal or historical criticism,'” according to scholar N.J. Coulson.

Criticism

Main article: Criticism of Hadith

The major points of intra-Muslim criticism of the hadith literature is based in questions regarding its authenticity. However, Muslim criticism of hadith is also based on theological and philosophical Islamic grounds of argument and critique.

With regard to clarity, Imam Ali al-Ridha has narrated that “In our Hadith there are Mutashabih (unclear ones) like those in al-Quran as well as Muhkam (clear ones) like those of al-Quran. You must refer the unclear ones to the clear ones.”.

Muslim scholars have a long history of questioning the hadith literature throughout Islamic history. Western academics also became active in the field later, starting in 1890, but much more often since 1950.

See also

Bibliography

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

3 Responses

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