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 Introduction | Classification of Hadith | Sunnah and Hadith

  

Introduction

 

The Muslims are agreed that the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) is the second of the two revealed fundamental sources of Islam, after the Glorious Qur'an. The authentic Sunnah is contained within the vast body of Hadith literature.

 

A hadith (pl. ahadith) is composed of two parts: the matn (text) and the isnad (chain of reporters). A text may seem to be logical and reasonable but it needs an authentic isnad with reliable reporters to be acceptable; 'Abdullah b. al-Mubarak (d. 181 AH), one of the illustrious teachers of Imam al-Bukhari, said, "The isnad is part of the religion: had it not been for the isnad, whoever wished to would have said whatever he liked."

 

During the lifetime of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) and after his death, his Companions (Sahabah) used to refer to him directly, when quoting his sayings. The Successors (Tabi'un) followed suit; some of them used to quote the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) through the Companions while others would omit the intermediate authority - such a hadith was later known as mursal. It was found that the missing link between the Successor and the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) might be one person, i.e. a Companion, or two people, the extra person being an older Successor who heard the hadith from the Companion. This is an example of how the need for the verification of each isnad arose; Imam Malik (d. 179) said, "The first one to utilise the isnad was Ibn Shihab al- Zuhri" (d. 124).

 

The other more important reason was the deliberate fabrication of ahadith by various sects which appeared amongst the Muslims, in order to support their views (see later, under discussion of maudu' ahadith). Ibn Sirin (d. 110), a Successor, said, "They would not ask about the isnad. But when the fitnah (trouble, turmoil, esp. civil war) happened, they said: Name to us your men. So the narrations of the Ahl al-Sunnah (Adherents to the Sunnah) would be accepted, while those of the Ahl al-Bid'ah (Adherents to Innovation) would not be accepted.

 

Classification of Hadith

 

Mustalah books speak of a number of classes of hadith in accordance with their status. The following broad classifications can be made, each of which is explained in the later sections:

  • According to the reference to a particular authority, e.g. the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), a Companion, or a Successor; such ahadith are called marfu' (elevated), mauquf (stopped) and maqtu' (severed) respectively .

  • According to the links in the isnad, i.e. whether the chain of reporters is interrupted or uninterrupted, e.g. musnad (supported), muttasil (continuous), munqati' (broken), mu'allaq (hanging), mu'dal (perplexing) and mursal (hurried).

  • According to the number of reporters involved in each stage of the isnad, e.g. mutawatir (consecutive) and ahad (isolated), the latter being divided into gharib (scarce, strange), 'aziz (rare, strong), and mashhur (famous).

  • According to the manner in which the hadith has been reported, such as using the (Arabic) words 'an ("on the authority of"), haddathana ("he narrated to us"), akhbarana (- "he informed us") or sami'tu ("I heard"). In this category falls the discussion about mudallas (concealed) and musalsal (uniformly-linked) ahadith. [Note: In the quotation of isnads in the remainder of this book, the first mode of narration mentioned above will be represented with a single broken line thus: ---. The three remaining modes of narration mentioned above, which all strongly indicate a clear, direct transmission of the hadith, are represented by a double line thus: ===.]

  • According to the nature of the matn and isnad, e.g. an addition by a reliable reporter, known as ziyadatu thiqah, or opposition by a lesser authority to a more reliable one, known as shadhdh (irregular). In some cases, a text containing a vulgar expression, unreasonable remark or obviously-erroneous statement is rejected by the traditionists outright without consideration of the isnad: such a hadith is known as munkar (denounced). If an expression or statement is proved to be an addition by a reporter to the text, it is declared as mudraj (interpolated).

  • According to a hidden defect found in the isnad or text of a hadith. Although this could be included in some of the previous categories, a hadith mu'allal (defective hadith) is worthy to be explained separately. The defect can be caused in many ways; e.g. two types of hadith mu'allal are known as maqlub (overturned) and mudtarib (shaky).

  • According to the reliability and memory of the reporters; the final judgment on a hadith depends crucially on this factor: verdicts such as sahih (sound), hasan (good), da'if (weak) and maudu' (fabricated, forged) rest mainly upon the nature of the reporters in the isnad.

Sunnah and Hadith

 

In Islam, the Arabic word sunnah has come to denote the way Prophet Muhammad (saws) lived his life. The Sunnah is the second source of Islamic jurisprudence, the first being the Quran. Both sources are indispensable; one cannot practice Islam without consulting both of them. The Arabic word hadith (pl. ahadith) is very similar to Sunnah, but not identical. A hadith is a narration from the life of the Prophet (saws) and what he approved - as opposed to his life itself, which is the Sunnah as already mentioned.

 

In M. M. Azami's Studies in Hadith Methodology and Literature, the following precise definition of a hadith is given,

 

According to Muhaddithiin [scholars of hadith -ed.] it stands for 'what was transmitted on the authority of the Prophet, his deeds, sayings, tacit approval, or description of his sifaat (features) meaning his physical appearance. However, physical appearance of the Prophet is not included in the definition used by the jurists.'

Thus hadith literature means the literature which consists of the narrations of the life of the Prophet and the things approved by him. However, the term was used sometimes in much broader sense to cover the narrations about the Companions [of the Prophet -ed.] and Successors [to the Companions -ed.] as well.

The explosion of Islam in the 7th and 8th centuries confronted Islamic scholars with a daunting task: to preserve the knowledge of the Sunnah of the Prophet (saws). Hence the science of hadith evaluation was born. We recommend that you read the "Introduction to the Science of Hadith" below to understand the tremendous efforts that were required to sift the true reports from the false reports. The success of the early scholars is also captured below by some collections of hadith.

 

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