View Full Version : The Science of Hadith

Ibn Masud
12-24-2012, 08:24 AM

The Science of Hadith

Based on classic primers

By Sheikh Abdur-Rahman ibn Yusuf

Bismillahi wal hamdulillah wassalatu wassalamu ala Rasoolillah,

Ilmul Hadith is the science of the study of hadith. What defines “Hadith” will be mentioned later, but to begin with I would like to emphasize that the science of Hadith is one of many religious sciences. Just looking at the fundamental sciences there is Usul-Al-Quran (fundamentals of Quran), Usul Al-Hadith (fundamentals of Hadith), Lughah (language, including balaghah, Fasahah) and Usul al-Fiqh (the fundamentals of Fiqh).

The science of Hadith is one that is dependent on the science of Quran but also one that is necessary for the proper understanding of Quran.

A point I would like to make now is that there are people out there who question the necessity of hadith, in fact, the Qura’niyoon claim that hadith is irrelevant and that they will only study Quran. This is a ludicrous claim.

Allah says in Quran: “[2:129] Our Lord! Send amongst them a Messenger of their own, who shall rehearse Thy Signs to them and instruct them in Scripture and Wisdom, and sanctify them: for Thou art the Exalted in Might, the Wise.”

They keyword here being that the messenger is to teach them the book AND impart wisdom upon them. Even the Sahabah had problems understand some of the language of Quran.

In sourat Al-Hashr Allah tells us: “[59:7] So take what the Messenger assigns to you, and deny yourselves that which he withholds from you.”

He also says: “[4:65] But no, by thy Lord, they can have no (real) Faith, until they make thee judge in all disputes between them, and find in their souls no resistance against thy decisions, but accept them with the fullest conviction.”

Finally, Allah says: “[4:59] O ye who believe! obey Allah, and obey the Messenger, and those charged with authority among you. If ye differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger, if ye do believe in Allah and the Last Day: that is best, and most suitable for final determination.”

Overall, I believe it is blasphemy on Allah subhanahu wa taala to believe that he sent an irrelevant or faulty messenger. If the messenger was irrelevant and added nothing to the religion, then why didn’t Allah send down the book in one piece? Why pass it to us through a messenger?

Now a look at some of the terminology used in conjunction with this science:


a) In a linguistic sense, “hadith” means a communication or a story.

b) From a technical perspective (relative to the science of hadith): It is the collection prophet’s deeds, statements and concessions. In addition to this, any traditions that carry a description of the Prophet (PBUH) and his physical appearance and properties are considered hadith, such as “Ash-Shama’il Al-Muhammadiyah.”

In Quran, the word hadith is used. Allah refers to Quran as being “Ahsan Al-Hadith” (39:23) which means the best of messages or the best of words. He also warns “[68:44] Then leave Me alone with such as reject this Message (hadith): by degrees shall We punish them from directions they perceive not.”


a) Hadith is often referred to as “As-Sunnah.” The word “Sunnah” is used interchangeably with the word “Hadith” especially when we are talking about the sources of Islamic Jurisprudence (First is Quran, second is Hadith or Sunnah).

b) Sunnah also means the Prophet’s way of life.

c) Sunnah is also a Fiqh Rank when discerning the rulings of the different issues. Such deed is sunnah means that it is recommended or emphasized.

The importance of hadith:

The Prophet (saaw) was a walking Quran. He was the manifestation of Quran on earth. And the companions were very aware of this. This is why they accompanied him. This is why they have the title “Companions of the Prophet (saaw).” The term “Companion” is not used loosely. Not everyone who became a believer at the time of the Prophet (saaw) is a companion, only those who got to to meet him (except for one man whom the Prophet saaw referred to him as a companion even though he could not come and meet the prophet saaw).

The Companions of the Prophet (saaw) realized his value and so they put an unbelievable amount of effort to be with him and to record and cherish everything he said and did. Omar (raa) had a deal with another companion that they would alternate, one would go out and work to provide for his family while the other would stay with the prophet and record all that he said and did. At the end of the day they would share what they learned.

Abu Hurairah is another example. Though he became a Muslim fairly late in the Prophet’s years of Prophethood, yet he has the most narrations of all the Prophet’s companions. It is because as soon as he became a Muslim, he became one of Ahlu-Suffah (poor companions who stayed at the mosque of the Prophet saaw) and he dedicated his life to accompanying the Prophet (saaw) and learning from him. So much so that some companions have tested him because of his many narrations and he passed their tests..

This tradition was kept so closely that if the Prophet (saaw) did something in the original tradition, the narrators through out time have did the exact same thing. There is a whole category of hadith called “Al-Musalsalat” in which the narrator would say “and then the prophet (saaw) did this..” and he would the exact same thing the prophet (saaw) did. For example, smile, or shake hands or entwine ones fingers with another’s fingers (tashbeek). This is how precise these people maintained that tradition, that even if the Prophet (saaw) would do a gesture they would be sure to mention it and repeat it.

The need for the science of hadith:

The science of Hadith is a very specific and exact science. The science of “Jarh wa Ta’deel” (examination of the narrators), is one that has very specific and clear laws and fundamentals that we will touch upon.

The ahadith (plural of hadith) of the Prophet (SAAW) went far and wide. The Companions of the Prophet (SAAW) went far away from Madinah. Just consider that the army that conquered Mecca was 10,000 strong and there were only a few thousand companions in Madinah during the time of Omar (RAA). When you consider that each companion probably did not narrate the hadith or tradition to just one person but a group of students, then you can imagine the tree getting wider and wider.. And so the necessity of collecting this tradition becomes apparent.

The Collection of Hadith:

The earliest collections of hadith were done by the Companions themselves. Some Companions kept scrolls of hadith. We know that Abu Bakr (RAA) kept a collection of hadith.

Yet, most of the tradition of hadith was transferred in spoken form. The first collection of hadith was done by Abu Bakr ibn Hazm and was commissioned by Omar ibn Abdul-Aziz. Following that, many famous collections were made, the first and most prominent is the Muwatta’ of Imam Malik, this was followed by many others such as Musnad Imam Ahmed, Sahih Al-Bukhari, Mustadrak Al-Hakim and so forth.

Transmission of Hadith:

There are eight ways in which hadith can be transmitted from one person to another as the scholars of hadith have discerned:

a) Listening: The recipient of the hadith listened to the transmitter of the hadith and memorized it from him/her.

b) Presenting: The recipient of the hadith retold it in the presence of the transmitter and he approved of that narration. This is particularly important in our time. We live in the information age. There is an abundance of information, but there is a lack of Ilm. Because information is being transferred carelessly. It is important to note that those who reported hadith as transmitted from others without their permission were known as the “Thieves of Hadith.”

c) Permission: The transmitter of the hadith has given the recipient permission to narrate ahadith from him.

d) Handing down: A book of hadith was given by the transmitter to the recipient and he was allowed to narrate from it.

e) Written: A written message was sent from the transmitter to the recipient that contained the hadith.

f) Made known (I’lam): To inform about ahadith. This means that the informer informs someone that the he the [informer has the permission to transmit a certain book of hadith on a certain scholar’s authority. Some scholars permit this while others reject it.

g) Bequest: The transmitter stated the hadith in his bequest to the recipient.

h) Found: The recipient came upon a work by the transmitter that contained this hadith.

This was noted down by the scholars of hadith, and how the hadith was transmitted adds value to the authenticity of the hadith. For example, when relating ahadith, often you will see the authors of the books of hadith write “Hadathana” or “Akhbarana” or sometimes they would just write “’an folan ‘an ilan” (word “’an” means this hadith was reported “by” so and so). These are not random words and are not used without consequence. For example, “Hadathana” denotes that the teacher read to the student and the student is reporting that, while “akhbarana” means that the student himself read it to the teacher and was approved of the way he memorized it.

The study of hadith:

Scholars have given the study of hadith a great weight. They argued over how early one can start studying it and how one can perfect it. Some said as early as 10 years, others said 12, 15 or 20. Incidentally, one scholar said a child can start learning hadith as soon as he can tell the difference between a cow and a donkey. J

As an example of how early you can begin, Imam Shafii memorized all of Imam Malik’s Muwata’ when he was only 10.

Authentication of Hadith:

Why Authenticate hadith? Why go through all the different ranks and levels and scrutiny of each narrator?

The main reason was to preserve hadith from being corrupted and altered by ideological and political influence. That is, to protect hadith from fabrication. Fabrication had many reasons, some were political, some were simply personal interest. Still, once the fear of people making up ahadith and attributing them to the prophet became a real one, scholars of religion began to dedicate themselves to preservation of the prophetic traditions.


Hadith Ranking:

The ranks of hadith were devised by scholars of hadith to evaluate the chain and the body of the hadith and give it a rank that helps weed out fabricated ahadith. It should be noted that even these rankings are not absolute. Some scholars of hadith were more strict than others. The scholars of hadith themselves are ranked as “Mo’tadel” (moderate) such as Al-Zhahabi, “Motashaddid” (strict) such as Ibn Al-Jawzi and Ad-Daraqutani and “Mutasahil” (Lenient) such as Al-Hakim.

When determining the authenticity of a hadith, the scholars examine the body of the hadith and the chain of narrators. The chain is examined for two things, frequency of narration and continuity to the prophet. In addition to this, each narrator in the chain is evaluated for his honesty and strength of memory.

Frequency of narration:

a) Mutawatir: A mutawatir hadith is one that is narrated by a group of people in each level of its chain. An example of “tawatur” is the fact that Antarctica exists. It is something that a large group of people saw (either in real life or satellite photos) and then reported to a greater host of people who then wrote it in books to the rest of us. Mutawatir comes in two types:

1. Literally: Meaning that we have many copies of the hadith narrated by different people but all the exact same words. Those are very few among the collection of prophetic tradition.

2. Contextually: This means that the hadith is narrated by many people in each level of the chain but not in the exact same words. There are many such ahadith and most of them form the fundamental of Islamic beliefs and jurisprudence.

b) Ahaad: This type constitutes the majority of the prophetic traditions. It is the hadith that only has a few concurrent narrators at each level in its chain of narration. This in turn is divided into a few subgroups. It is important to understand that in the categories below, the number listed represent the fewest number of concurrent narrators at any level in the chain. So, for example if a hadith has 6 companion narrators (that is level 1) and then 8 tabieen narrators (level 2) and then 2 level 3 narrators and then 12 level 4 narrators, then the width of this hadith’s chain is “2” which is the width of the chain at level 3 because that is the narrowest that the chain got to. So, this hadith would be Aziz (chain width of 2) even though it is narrated by 6 Companions and ultimately 10 people. Here are the types of Ahaad hadith:

1. Mashhoor (famous): It does not mean famous among people, but frequently seen. This is the hadith that has a minimum chain width of three.

2. Aziz (precious/rare): It is the hadith that has a minimum chain width of two.

3. Gharib (stranger): It is the hadith that has a minimal chain width of one.

4. al-Fard (single): This is of two types: (fard mutlaq): where this particular hadith was transmitted by that particular person only. Or (fard nisbi) this has different meanings (1) none of the trustworthy narrators transmitted this hadith except this person, or (we can say) others narrated it as well but they were not trustworthy. (2) none of the scholars from any other region transmitted it except scholars from one region.

Continuity of Narration:

a) Marfoo’: Connected to the Prophet (SAAW). Means the Companion narrator specifically stated that the Prophet (SAAW) said this.

b) Hokm Al-Marfoo’: Connected by reasoning. When the Companion did not mention it is a saying of the Prophet (SAAW) yet it is a matter that could have only come from the Prophet (PBUH).

c) Musnad/Mutassil: Fully connected, this means there are no missing gaps in the chain, everyone in the chain heard it from the person directly before him in the chain.

d) Mawqoof (stopped): the hadith is the saying of the Companion.

e) Maqtoo’ (cut): the hadith is the saying or teaching of a tabi’ee (generation after the Companions).

f) Mursal: The Tabi’ee narrates that the Prophet (SAAW) said without mentioning the Companion who told him this.

g) Mu’alaq (hanging): There is a discontinuity in the chain at the beginning.

h) Munqati: There is a discontinuity in the chain in the middle.

i) Mo’dal: There is a gap of two narrators in the chain.

j) Mo’an’an: Narrated through the use of “’an” as explained before.

k) Musalsal: Narrated including a gesture or act by the Prophet (SAAW) that is included in the tradition.

Ranks of Hadith:

Now we examine the different rankings of hadith which as we said is a function of examining the hadith’s chain as well as its body.

a) Maqbool (accepted): This means the hadith is accepted as proof in Islamic Jurisprudence. So that a scholar of Islamic Law can hold this hadith to his peers as proof of his point of view. This is divided into:

1. Sahih (correct/proper form): This is the highest rank of authenticity and it has two sub ranks:

i. Intrinsic Sahih: Sahih because its chain and body have passed all the necessary bars.

ii. Sahih through other means: This means the hadith has slight flaws in its chain that should rank it as Hassan (see below) but because of other ahadith that may resonate the meaning the hadith is elevated to the ranks of Sahih.

2. Hassan (good/well): Like wise it can also be divided into intrinsic Hassan and Hassan through other means which may be a weak hadith originally.

b) Mardood (rejected): This denotes the ahadith that have serious flaws in their chain or body that prevent them from being a proof in Jurisprudence and law. They are divided into two types:

1. Da’eef (weak): This is ahadith that has flaws in its chain that cannot be reconciled. This does not necessarily mean the hadith is not true or that it is fabricated. It basically means that this hadith through this chain cannot be taken reliably to be the words of the Prophet (SAAW).

2. Mawdoo’ (fabricated): This is a hadith that has an obvious taint of fabrication into its chain or body.

Here is a list of the criteria for qualifying a hadith as Sahih:

a) No contradictions with Quran or other well established Sahih hadith.

b) Continuity of the chain of narrators.

c) No Ellah (defects). And there has been many works on the “Defects of hadith” by prominent scholars like At-Termizhi and Ad-Daraqutani.

d) And every narrator in the chain had to be Adil (Righteous), Truthful and Dabit (of strong memory).

If a sahih hadith fails some of these conditions, it is degraded into the rank of Hassan. Some flaws though would bring the hadith down to the rank of Da’eef.

I would like to interject here a note on the usage of Da’eef hadith. Some people treat Da’eef hadith nowadays as if it is useful. When someone says a hadith they say “Oh, I heard it is Da’eef” as if that somehow makes the hadith void. This is an incorrect approach, if hadith da’eef was useless, then why did all those scholars of hadith maintain it for 1400 hundred years? Why not just take it out? Da’eef has many uses in our life and it is well established that you can follow weak hadith in Fadha’il (moral encouragement/spirituality). There are works by great scholars of hadith on how and when to use Da’eef hadith. In fact, sometimes a Da’eef hadith can be used in Jurisprudence and taken as text. An example of this is the Prophet’s hadith that “there is no bequest for an heir” meaning that you cannot bequest part of your estate to someone who will inherit you naturally. This is a Da’eef hadith yet one that has been used by scholars of inheritance because it has been so widely accepted and practiced.

Terminology of the scholars of hadith:

Just so that can get a picture of the amount of work and dedication these scholars put into their work, let us look at the titles and ranks they hold:

A scholar who is called a “Hujjah” of hadith is one who memorizes at least 300,000 ahadith. A Hafiz is one who memorizes 100,000. A Hakim is one who memorizes all of the known ahadith.

If you find these numbers amazing. Consider this.. Imam Ahmad memorized one thousand thousand ahadith (not a type, that is one million). He said of them he knew 700,000+ that were Sahih. Abu Zar’a Ar-Razi memorized 700,00 ahadith. Muslim memorized 140,000 on Tafseer (explanation of Quran) and 300,000 ahadith in total. Imam Bukhari memorized 100,000 Sahih hadith and 200,000 that were not Sahih.

A final point to think about is that despite all their work, the scholars of hadith are still scholars of hadith. Being a scholar of hadith does not automatically make one a scholar of Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence). An obvious example of this is Al-Amash who was one of the greatest scholars of hadith in the time of Imam Abu Hanifah. And when he was asked on a certain matter he said he knew no hadith on this matter. Yet Abu Hanifah gave a fatwah on this matter based on a hadith that he proclaimed that he heard from al-Amash. When Al-Amash inquired from Imam Abu Hanifah, the Imam explained to him how he used one of the ahadith that Al-Amash told him to view this and Al-Amash said “We (the scholars of hadith) are like the Pharmacists and you (the scholars of Fiqh) are like the Doctors.”

Question: Is there a certain science behind the naming of the books of hadith as Sahih Bukhari or Musnad Ahmad and so forth?

Answer: Yes, there is actually very specific terminology for naming books of hadith:

a) Sahih: Means the book only contains Sahih ahadith. Examples of this would be Sahih Al-Bukhari.

b) Sunan: Means the book is ordered in the ordering of the books of fiqh (that is, it begins with Taharah “purity” and then Prayer, fasting, charity…).

c) Al-Jami’: Means the book contains eight specific chapters in its index. Those include Seerah (life of the Prophet SAAW) and Tafseer (explanation of Quran).

d) Musnad: Means the book is indexed by the Sahabah (i.e. one chapter for ahadith narrated by Aysha, then one for ahadith narrated by Omar and so forth).

e) Mustadrak: A continuation of a work by a previous scholar. An example would be a scholar who would try to collect all the sahih hadith on Seerah. And then a later scholar would write a book that would append ahadith he believes the original author omitted or did not know about.

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