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Template:Islam Hadith (Template:Lang-ar, Arabic pl. ahadith; in English academic usage, hadith is often both singular and plural) are traditions relating to the sayings and doings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and his companions, or sahaba. Hadith collections are regarded as important tools for determining the Sunnah, or Muslim way of life, by all traditional schools of jurisprudence.


Types of hadith

Muslim scholars classify hadith relating to Muhammad as follows:

  • What Muhammad said (qawl)
  • What Muhammad did (fi'l)
  • What Muhammad approved (taqrir) in others' actions.

There are also hadith relating to the sayings and doings of the companions, but they may not have the same weight as those about Muhammad.

Western scholars note that there is a great overlap between the records of early Islamic traditions. Accounts of early Islam are also to be found in:

  • sira (histories, especially biographies of Muhammad)
  • tafsir (commentary on the Qur'an)
  • fiqh (legal reasoning)

Some of these accounts are also found as hadith; some aren't. For a Western historian, these are all simply historical sources; for the Muslim scholar, hadith have a special status citing sura Al-A'raf 157:

Those who follow the messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own (scriptures),- in the law and the Gospel;- for he commands them what is just and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as lawful what is good (and pure) and prohibits them from what is bad (and impure); He releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them. So it is those who believe in him, honour him, help him, and follow the light which is sent down with him,- it is they who will prosper. (Yusuf Ali translation)

They take this and other Qur'anic verses to require Muslims to follow authentic hadith.

How are hadith collections viewed?

The overwhelming majority of Muslims consider hadiths to be essential supplements to and clarifications of the Qur'an, Islam's holy book.

  • In the matter of what is called fiqh, or Islamic jurisprudence, the Qur'an contains many rules for the behavior expected of Muslims. However, there are many matters of concern, both religious and practical, on which there are no specific Quranic rules. Muslims believe that they can look at the way of life, or sunnah, of Muhammad and his companions to discover what to imitate and what to avoid.
  • In the matter of what is called tafsir, or exposition of the meaning of the Qur'an, Muslim scholars believe that it is useful to know how Muhammad or his companions explained the revelations, or upon what occasion Muhammad received them. Sometimes this will clarify a passage that otherwise seems obscure.
  • Hadith are a source for Islamic history and biography.
  • For the vast majority of devout Muslims, authentic hadith are also a source of religious inspiration.

A very small proportion of the global Muslim poplulation, such as Rashad Khalifa's sect, advocate following the "Qur'an alone" and claim that hadiths are unnecessary to supplement a complete book, often arguing that hadiths lead believers away from submission to God by adding another source of law. Muslims who advocate following the "Qur'an alone" viewpoint are regarded as apostates or sinners by mainstream Muslim scholars, and by the vast majority of Muslims.

Those who deny any authority to hadith collections have argued that an undue preoccupation with these traditions may even lead to the grave sin of shirk, or setting up an idol to compete with God. Mainstream Muslims argue in turn that many Qur'anic instructions are impossible to fulfill without guidance from the ahadith. (The Qur'an does not, for example, specify how many prayer cycles constitute fulfillment of each of the daily prayers. See salat.)

Value of hadith compared to the value of the Qur'an

Muslims who accept hadith believe that trusted hadith are in most cases the words of Muhammad and not the word of God, like the Qur'an. Hadith Qudsi form a partial exception; this small minority of hadith purports to express words spoken by God to Muhammad but not included in the Qur'an, or the sense of them.

While both hadith and Qur'an have been translated, most Muslims believe that translations of the Qur'an are inherently deficient, amounting to little more than a commentary upon the text. There is no such belief regarding hadith. Practicing Muslims cleanse themselves (wudu) and pray before reading or reciting the Qur'an; there is no such requirement for reading or reciting hadith. Even for Muslims who accept the hadith, they are clearly of inferior rank.

Hadith accepted by Sunni Islam

The Sunni canon of hadith took its final form four to five centuries after the death of Muhammad. Later scholars may have debated the authenticity of particular hadith but the authority of the canon as a whole was not questioned. This canon includes:

  1. al-Bukhari (d. 870) included 7275 hadiths
  2. Muslim b. al-Hajjaj (d. 875) included 9200.
  3. Abu Da'ud (d. 888)
  4. al-Tirmidhi (d. 892)
  5. al-Nasa'i (d. 915)
  6. Ibn Maja (d. 886).

al-Bukhari and Muslim are usually considered the most reliable of these collections. There is some debate over whether the sixth member of this canon should be Ibn Maja or the Muwatta of Imam Malik, which is the earliest hadith canon but predates much of the methodology developed by the classic hadith scholars.

Adherents of some contemporary Sunni movements, both Salafis and liberals, tend to base their arguments solely upon al-Bukhari and Muslim, and disregard all the weaker collections, as well as the four legal schools (madhhab) based in part upon these collections. More traditional Muslims accept the legal schools and value all the collections.

All of these collections are organized by topic, so that the scholar or layperson seeking guidance on a particular subject can easily find the information.

Hadith accepted by Shi'a Islam

Shi'a Muslims feel that hadith transmitted through scholars or collectors who rejected Ali ibn Abi Talib and his descendents are less reliable than hadith transmitted by those who remained true to Ali. They accept many of the Sunni hadith, but reject others. There is no one canonical hadith collection recognized by all Shi'a sects or teachers.

Hadith accepted by Ibadi Islam

Ibadi Islam (centered primarily in the Arabian kingdom of Oman) accepts many Sunni hadith, while rejecting others, and accepts some hadith not accepted by Sunnis. Ibadi jurisprudence is based only on the hadith accepted by Ibadis, which are far less numerous than those accepted by Sunnis. Several of Ibadism's founding figures - in particular Jabir ibn Zayd - were noted for their hadith research, and Jabir ibn Zayd is accepted as a reliable narrator by Sunni scholars as well as Ibadi ones. The principal hadith collection accepted by Ibadis is al-Jami'i al-Sahih (http://www.islamfact.com/books-htm/ibadi/39.htm), also called Musnad al-Rabi ibn Habib, as rearranged by Abu Ya'qub Yusuf b. Ibrahim al-Warijlani. A large proportion of its narrations are via Jabir ibn Zaid or Abu Yaqub; most are reported by Sunnis, while several are not. The total number of hadith it contains is 1005, and an Ibadi tradition recounted by al-Rabi has it that there are only 4000 authentic Prophetic hadith. The rules used for determining the reliability of a hadith are given by Abu Ya'qub al-Warijlani, and are largely similar to those used by Sunnis; they criticise some of the companions (sahaba), believing that some were corrputed after the reign of the first two caliphs. The Ibadi jurists accept hadith narrating the words of Muhammad's companions as a third basis for legal rulings, alongside the Qur'an and hadith relating Muhammad's words.

How hadith were collected and evaluated

Traditions regarding the life of Muhammad and the early history of Islam were passed down orally for more than a hundred years after the death of Muhammad in 632.

Muslim historians say that it was the caliph Uthman (the third caliph, or successor of Muhammad, who had formerly been Muhammad's secretary), who first urged Muslims both to write down the Qur'an in a fixed form, and to write down the hadith. Uthman's labors were cut short by his assassination, at the hands of aggrieved soldiers, in 656.

The Muslim community (ummah) then fell into a prolonged civil war, termed the Fitna by Muslim historians. After the fourth caliph, Ali ibn Abi Talib, was assassinated, control of the Islamic empire was seized by the Umayyad dynasty in 661. Ummayad rule was interrupted by a second civil war (the Second Fitna), re-established, then ended in 758, when the Abbasid dynasty seized the caliphate, to hold it, at least in name, until 1258.

Muslim historians say that hadith collection and evaluation continued during the first Fitna and the Umayyad period. However, much of this activity was presumably oral transmission from early Muslims to later collectors, or from teachers to students. If any of these early scholars committed any of these collections to writing, they have not survived. The histories and hadith collections we possess today were written down at the start of the Abbasid period, more than one hundred years after the death of Muhammad.

The scholars of the Abbasid period were faced with an huge corpus of miscellaneous traditions, some of them flatly contradicting each other. Many of these traditions supported differing views on a variety of controversial matters. Scholars had to decide which hadith were to be trusted as authentic narrations and which had been invented for various political or theological purposes. For this purpose, they used a number of techniques which Muslims now call the “science of hadith” (http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/fundamentals/hadithsunnah/scienceofhadith/atit.html).

The commonest technique consisted of a careful examination of the isnad, or chain of transmission. Each hadith was accompanied by an isnad: A heard it from B who heard it from C who heard it from a companion of Muhammad. Isnads were carefully scrutinized to see if the chain was possible (for example, making sure that all transmitters and transmittees were known to be alive and living in the same area at the time of transmission) and if the transmitters were reliable. The scholars rejected as unreliable people reported to have lied (at any point), as well as people reputed to be stupid (and thus likely to misunderstand the saying), and sometimes ascetics (in Imam Malik's words, "an ascetic who doesn't know what he is narrating".) Sunni scholars regard affiliation to some extreme Shia ("Rafidi") and Qadariya sects as sometimes reducing a narrator's reliability, due to these sects' alleged propensity for fabricating hadith; Kharijites are seen as less likely to fabricate. However, they generally accept these narrators too as long as they were not engaged in actively spreading their views. Shi'a scholars, conversely, doubt the impartiality of the Sunni scholars, and privilege narrators known to have followed Ali and his descendants.

Hadith that were not thrown out as clearly spurious were usually sorted into three categories:

  • "genuine" (sahih, the best category)
  • "fair" (hasan, the middle category)
  • "weak" (da'if).

Most contemporary Muslims are strongly convinced that these early collectors were scrupulous and exact, and that the hadith are indeed reliable accounts of the actions of Muhammad and his companions.

Western academic views of hadith

Early Western exploration of Islam consisted primarily of translation of the Qur'an and a few histories, often supplemented with disparaging commentary. In the nineteenth century, scholars made greater attempts at impartiality, and translated and commented upon a greater variety of texts. By the beginning of the twentieth centuries, Western scholars of Islam started to critically engage with the Islamic texts, subjecting them to the same agnostic, searching scrutiny that had previously been applied to Christian texts (see higher criticism). Ignaz Goldziher is the best known of these turn-of-the-century iconclasts, who also included D.S. Margoliuth, Henri Lammens, and Leone Caetani. Goldziher writes, in his Muslim Studies,

... it is not surprising that, among the hotly debated controversial issues of Islam, whether political or doctrinal, there is not one in which the champions of the various views are unable to cite a number of traditions, all equipped with imposing isnads.

The next generations of Western scholars were also sceptics, on the whole: Joseph Schacht, in his Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence (1959), argued that isnads going back to Muhammad were in fact more likely to be spurious than isnads going back to the companions. John Wansbrough, in the 1970s, and his students Patricia Crone and Michael Cook were even more sweeping in their dismissal of Muslim tradition, arguing that even the Qur'an was likely to have been collected later than claimed.

Contemporary Western scholars of hadith include:

  • Herbert Berg, The Development of Exegesis in Early Islam (2000)
  • Fred M. Donner, Narratives of Islamic Origins (1998)
  • Wilferd Madelung, Succession to Muhammad (1997)

It should be noted that Madelung has immersed himself in the hadith literature and has made his own selection and evaluation of tradition. Having done this, he is much more willing to trust hadith than many of his contemporaries.

Bridges between Muslim and Western scholars

Currently there is little communication between the world of Muslim hadith scholarship and Western academia. Muslim scholars reject the Westerners as Orientalists who are hostile to religion in general and Islam in particular. Western academics tend to dismiss Muslim scholars as irrelevant, bound as they are to millenia-old hadith evaluations that the Westerners regard as inherently flawed, since the evaluations were done with an eye to faith and using antique methods.

However, some Muslim scholars have undergone the full Western academic training and found themselves mediating between these two very different worlds. Notable among these was Fazlur Rahman (1911-1988) who argued that while the isnads of the hadith may often be spurious, the content, the matn, can still be used to understand how Islam can be lived in the modern world.

See also

External links

de:Hadith fr:Hadith he:חדית' id:Hadits nl:Hadith ja:ハディース pl:Hadis pt:Hadith


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