Hadith Studies




The word ‘hadith’ means news and derives from the verb ‘haddatha’  to tell, narrate.  Its plural is ‘ahadith’. In Islamic terminology it means any piece of news reaching us from the Prophet’s sws and his companion’s times.   So, unlike the popular conception it does not only mean the sayings and doings of the Prophet sws himself.  Any report coming from that early era of Islam through muslim reporters were assumed to be relevant to the duty of throwing light on Islam’s commandments, ways, manners and ethos whether it contained words and actions attributed directly to the Prophet sws or not.  So if our master Umar RA the second khalifa or Ibn Abbas RA as the most renowned interpreter of the Qur’an among his other fields of expertise said or did something that also was taken as a hadith on which to base some judgment or conclusion.  Even words by tabe’in could be taken as useful indicators for good judgement on the assumption that they had learned from the sahaba; accordingly they also found their way into Hadith. This same word ‘Hadith’ soon became the name of a new science which investigated, recoded, reported and taught the hadiths.


A scholar who specialize in the science of is called a muhaddith (pl. muhaddithin).  The Sahaba RA (companions) of the Prophet sws reported his words and acts as well as describing him and his qualities and circumstances.   But few among them put them in writing and that only in small numbers.  It appears that initially the Prophet sws discouraged the writing down of his words outside the Qur’an fearing that the two could be mixed up and confused. Later on he seems not to mind so much apparently on the grounds that the Qur’an had taken enough substance and character to be confusable with anything else.  Hadith began to be used as a basis of judgment as soon as the Prophet sws passed away however. When the question as to where to bury the Prophet sws arose Abu Bakr RA recited the hadith that “Prophet’s are buried where they die”.  Accordingly he was buried under the space where his bed was in Aisha’s RA room.  Then came the matter of the Prophet’s inheritance. Again Abu Bakr RA reported “We prophets do not leave behind any inheritance. What we leave behind is ‘sadaqa’ i.e, to be spend in charity.

Tabe’in (immediate followers of the sahaba compiled some small collections of the ‘news’ but Hadith came really into its own during the Abbasid period when the first major schools of law (fiqh) began to be evolved (132 H- 749 CE).   That does not means that hadith collections were not being compiled and disseminated before then. They were but the pursuit was not yet systematized as good as later. Among the early collectors and complilers were, according to Ibn Khallikan (an early muhaddith) was Ali RA whose compilation was named ‘Al Qatadaya’. Another was ascribed to Ibn Abbas RA. But the first regular compiler and organizer was (Ibn Shihab) al Zuhri and then Abu Bakr al Hazm both of whom were set to task by Umar b. Abdul Aziz, that most pious of all Umayyad khalifas (died 101H).  Following in the footsteps of these two first real muhaddiths we find, among many others Sufyan as Sawri (one of the early sufi masters) of Kufa, Sufyan b. Uyaina of Madina.  But the real breakthrough was made by ‘Al Muwatta’ by Imam Malik b. Anas of Medina, that same Malik (d. 178H) who is the founder of the Maliki school of law (madhab of fiqh).  It was him who arranged hadiths in their order we find in all major works now, beginning from ‘Iman and Islam’,  going to ‘Purification’ (taharat),  prayers (salat) etc. He also founded the society of muhadditheen  (ahl al hadith) the academic community of scholars researching, collecting, verifying and compiling of the ahadeeth. All imams then acquired the science of Hadith as part of their training, like Shafii (d.204H) and Ibn Hanbal (d.241H) who became the founders of the madhabs in their names. Ibn Hanbal’s (more as Ahmad his first name) own great complilation is called ‘al Musnad’ and is on par with al Muwatta. The great Abu Hanifa (d. 150H), their senior was a muhadith in his own right but was humble enough to visit Medina and study under Malik the real expert who was many years his junior.  


Yet the Hadith which are standard reference for all muslims today begin with Imam Muhammad b.Ismail  al Bukhari (d.256H). His compilation ‘al Sahih’ (the Veracious) is universally is considered second only to the Qur’an in its reliability as a source of Islamic jurisprudence. The Sahih of Imam Muslim (d. 261H), his pupil is next to his in authority. Then come four other great collections to make the most reliable class of Hadith compilations to six:  ‘Sunan’ of Ibn Majah (d.273H), ‘Sunan of Abu Dawud (d. 275),  ‘Jami’ of (Abu Isa) Tirmizi (d.279H) and ‘Sunan’ of (Abu Abdurrahman) an-Nasai (d.303H).  So this single generation of greatest ever muhadditheen supplied us with the greatest canons of Hadith.  This six are called ‘al Kutub al Sitta’,  the Six Books. 

From then on almost all compilations were based on these six but are useful in their own ways not the least for their combining the hadiths from all six and more. Among this later group of great works are those of Taberani, Daraqutni, al Baihaqi, Ibn Hibban, as Suyuti, Haithami, Hakim, Abu Nuaym, Ibn Sa’d, Bezzar etc.  There are also hadith collections more known by their titles than the names of their authors. Among them Mishkat al Masabih, Ma’nawi, Kenz, Bidaya etc. may be mentioned. The student should be familiar with such names because if required doing research they will lead him or her direct to the sources.

Lastly many excellent modern compilations (say, as from 17 C) have been made by scholars which may be studied with profit.  One such is ‘al Taj’ which combines all ahadith in the Six Books and more.  


In a full-fledged hadith compilation like the Bukhari’s we find chapters (kitab) arranged in order of importance, like  ‘Kitab al bad al wahy ila rasulillah’  (the chapter on the beginning       of revelation to the messenger of Allah sws) followed by ‘Kitab al Iman’ (the book of faith),  ‘Kitab al ilm’ (the book of knowledge),  ‘Kitab al Wudu’ (the book of ablution)… until all devotional rituals are covered ending with ‘Kitab al Hajj’ (the book of pilgrimage).  Then more and more ‘kitabs’ follow on all imaginable subjects of law like hunting, agriculture, loans, contracts,  marriage and divorce and penalties and punishments.  Once ritual and legal subjects are exhausted then comes miscellanea like ‘Kitab at Tafsir’ (the book of interpreting the Qur’an), ‘Kitab al Riqaq’  (the book about softening of hearts),  ‘Kitab al Ta’bir’ (the book of dream interpretation and ‘Kitab al Fitan’ (the book of trials and tribulations) which prophesy the difficult days ahead after the demise of the Prophet sws etc. reaching almost ninety chapters.

Each hadith begins with a chain of the names of narrators which often ends with the Messenger of Allah sws as the source.  This chain is called ‘al isnad’.  Example of an isnad:  From Ibn Ishaq (a muhaddith and biographer of the Prophet sws viz., Sirat Rasul Allah) said: Wahb b. Qaysan, mawla (freed slave of Zubair family told me: “I heard how Abdullah b. Zubair said to Ubaid. b. Umair b. Qatada al Laithi: Tell me Ubaid, how it was when the prophecy of the messenger of Allah began when Gabriel came to him? Ubaid said- and I (Wahb) was present when he informed Abdullah b. Zubair and others who were there.  So the sequence is Ibn Ishaq, Wahb b. Qaysan (Abdullah b. Zubair also present) and Ubaid. Then follows the text of the report which is called ‘al matn’ (the text). 

Often there are more than one ahadith on any particular subject with more or less differences between them. It is up to the competent ulama then to choose the most reliable-looking or decide upon any equally valid alternatives and dismiss any unconvincing ones.   

This brings us to the classification of ahadith as regards their reliability.  To decide on it the single most important aspect was the isnad.  Two standards were to be applied to isnad, namely,  is the chain uninterrupted all the way to the Prophet sws and secondly how reliable a reporter is each name in the chain? A less important standard was the number of channels (independent chains of isnad) for the same hadith.  Let’s see these at work in the classification of ahadith.

A hadith is MUTTASIL (or ‘mawsul’)   when the chain is complete (uninterrupted) up to the Prophet’s person sws. 

A muttasil hadith is MUSNAD when the quality of chain (trustwortiness of all) is high.
A hadith reported over several musnad quality chains is called MUTAWATIR which is the highest quality hadith.  The hadith about the splitting of the moon is one.

A hadith is MAKTU if the chain stops with a tabei who is the sayer of the text without ascribing it to higher up.  When he says he heard from sahaba without naming any it becomes MURSEL.

It is MAWQUF when a companion is the sayer and MARFU when the Prophet sws is quoted. 

It is MU’DEL when two or more links are absent and ALIL when there is an obscurity either in the isnad or the text.

It is SAHIH when sufficiently authenticated and HASEN when not so well authenticated (yet not bad either) but still favourably regarded due to certain merits like conformity with the Qur’an or at least non-contradiction.

It is ZAIF when transmission is defective and SHAZZ which conflicts with a SAHIH.
It is GHARIB when reported by one man and AZIZ when by two or three.

It is MUDELLES when the reporter attempts to strengthen the isnad by trickery

It is MUDREC when something is interpolated in it and MAWDU’ when it is faked etc.
Lastly we must mention a special category of Hadith called ‘Hadith al Qudsi” which means hadith whose sense comes from Allah but wording belongs to the Prophet.

There are quite a few more other categories but the above should be enough for beginners.


Early muhaddithin did all the footwork for the collection of ahadith and for their followers the remaining task has been incorporating into their works a selection of ahadith from early masters.

Muhaddithin like Bukhari travelled and studied extensively tracing ahadith and tracking down any surviving transmitters, speaking to them to verify their reports and investigating the qualities like good memory and intelligence and character like honesty and piety of all names in the chain as far as they could reach.  They then compared various ahadith as to quality of isnad,  presence or absence of obscure or dubious elements, conformity to the Qur’an as well as to higher regarded other ahadith and of course historical facts and commonsense. In the process majority of ahadith had to be labelled from unreliable to downright piously faked and maliciously faked. The remaining accepted ahadith is such a small proportion of the amount circulated that they deserve quite a high degree of respect and most are employed with peace of mind in elucidating points of Law (Sharia) as well as facts of history. No other religious civilization achieved anything even as remotely glorious as the science and body of Hadith muslim savants produced which success must be credited to its ultimate source the Messenger of Allah sws.  It is one of his greatest posthumous miracles that this holy science was founded and consolidated.



Among some so-called ‘modernists’ there is some unease about admitting the Hadith as a vital adjunct to the Qur’an in deriving rules of Law.  They seem so eager to please the often fanatically Christian or basically anti-religious Western critics that they do not stop short of bending the Qur’an as well as submitting the Hadith to too harsh criticism with a view to reduce its prestige if not to discard it outright. Mind you,  the very same dismissers of Hadith will jump with glee when they meet a hadith which seems to help their case whatever that hadith’s quality as to reliability. In other words they tend to dismiss the strongest ahadith if they happen to frustrate their overall aim of castrating Islamic Law until it becomes a copy of the secular while they cring to weakest ahadith if it seems to support or can be made to support their case with some massage.  For example it has been brought to our attention that a recent sensation of a modernist alim in a muslim country has belittled the importance of salat,  saying in effect that it wasn’t a real obligation.  He based his claim on an alleged hadith attributed to the person of Ali RA: “Allah will punish nobody because of failure in salat”.  Which saying smacks of the attitude of some heretical sects among muslims which sprang up since the birth of Shiism (i.e., not mainstream) which sects are notorious deserters of all Islamic Law without openly admitting to not being muslims at all.  They were the fruits of reluctance on the part of some conquered peoples during Islam’s period of fast expansion who wanted the best of two worlds, namely,  enjoy the benefits due to muslims (like no ‘jizya’ or poll tax) as well as the comforts, indulgences and debaucheries of primitive old religion, consumption of alcohol being the star benefit.   Indeed even the Qur’an does not escape their ‘massage and fit’ effort.  For example, to rule out polygamy, they overspecify the clause “if you cannot treat your wives equally then (marry) one only” in the verse limiting polygamy to a maximum of four wives ().  They forget that ‘treating all equally well’  isn’t meant in an absolute but approximate sense as proven by very many sahabas’ marrying polygamously under the nose of the Messenger of Allah sws who would have to prohibit them from doing so had Allah really meant absolute equality.  What such silly modernists don’t also understand that polygamy is the lesser of two evils, namely having access simultaneously to more than one woman with legally binding equal responsibility (polygamy) or without (taking on mistresses on top of married wife) which is at least as common among prosperous or too amorous non-muslim men as among polygamy among  muslims.  Additionally non-muslims (or impious muslims) resort to casual paid or unpaid sex thereby risking and often damaging their and their wives’ health.  In many muslim countries now AIDS contracted by wives and their babies from promiscuous husbands is becoming a serious matter.  Yet all these fail to impress either the westerners or their muslim admirers. What is important for the latter is a pat on the shoulder from their western sahibs and memsahibs (oh, their censorious blue eyes and the platonic promise!) and not the wisdom their Almighty and All-wise Creator provided as optimal good with minimal evil.   That of course does not mean that we are happy with men’s marrying more than one woman for prurient reasons and/or at the expense of their first wife whose feelings must be very seriously respected to start with.  Polygamy is tolerable only when a surplus of marriageable women exist who are prepared to be other than only wife for whatever reason and to whom the until recently only wife will not object too strongly again for whatever reason.  We do not expect this to be the case in modern societies and therefore see polygamy as a rare exeception among pious muslims (impious can do anything including fornication and rape) who somehow can juggle the connections into place-  a condition less painful and harmful than multiple unmarried relationships with all the health and social risks.  

So much the detour.  Returning to the plight of some misguided modernists. Given this drive to close the gap between Islamic Law and the Western at the expense of the former Hadith was found to be the main obstacle. Not that all ahadith used in the derivation of the various schools of Islamic Law were blameless. Had there been any concensus as to the absolute authenticity and contextual applicability of all ahadith used in ‘Fiqh’ (Islamic jurisprudence and law making and legal judgment) we wouldn’t have hundreds of mazhabs over the first few centuries of Islam of which only five survived to our less confusion (four sunni and one shia). Had they confined themselves to criticising these surviving mazhabs on minor points and coming up with better alternatives more in line with today’s needs they could be doing a good service.  In fact ulama all over the centuries to this day never stopped issuing fatwas on perhaps millions of minor points despite the claim that ‘the gates of ijtihad (rule derivation) is closed’.  For example the Azhar fatwa that necessary ‘injection of medicine’ does not invalidate a fast must be welcome because it is a ‘rahmat’ for tens of millions of modern muslims who are faced with the prospect of never fasting after contracting an illness which makes day time injections of medicine mandatory.  Fasting is patience with hunger and thirst for Allah’s sake and an injected painkiller or else will neither quench thirst nor ally hunger but only help the poor suffering muslim relax.  Our humble opinion is that where the Qur’an and Hadith is silent and no strong analogy can be made to suspect (nobody could be sure) a haram in something unknown at the time of the Prophet sws we should have licence to do it. For example Allah explains the ban on wine for its distortion of the mind and leading to evil.  From that we can conclude that all mind-distorting and harm-facilitating substances and methods must be haram, e.g modern hard drugs, malicious brain-washing, misguided meditation or indoctrination etc.  In fact there is a hadith to make this mandatory.  He sws said “Kullu musakkirin haram”, i.e., all mind-distorters are unlawful. But legitimate medical treatments avoiding the oral path should be no problem. If the objection to the effect that the water in an injection was water entering from the outside and therefore an invalidater of fasting what about taking a bath.  We can prove scientifically that the dry skin can retain  by instant absorption half a liter of (one pint) of water when wetted despite drying it with a towel afterwards at least again half of which may find its way into the bloodstream through the subcutaneous capillaries networking the true skin only a millimetre or so deep.  Here we find a glass of water taken in by bathing as compared with a spoonful or two through injection! Yet the Prophet did not ban bathing and even swimming for hours in a freshwater body while fasting. In the swimming case a lot of the thirst could be relieved in fact.   Lastly Allah swt admonished against asking too many questions about things Allah in His mercy kept quiet about and warned that if He was provoked into disclosing a judgment on such we could well be greatly inconvenienced and even blaspheme in protest.  Read if you wish “O believers, while the Qur’an is being sent down do not ask about things which if disclosed to you could upset you.  Such (unmentioned) things Allah made you exempt from. Allah pardons and does not make haste to hit you.  A nation before you had asked such questions and ended up as unbelievers as a result” (5: 101-2).  Again a hadith describes the Prophet as “The Prophet sws banned wasting wealth and asking too many questions”.  Again the Prophet sws said, referring to the command by Allah to jews to sacrifice a cow as pre-requisite to help sort out a murder case whose culprit was unknown (2: 67-71) “Had they just sacrificed the first cow that came their way it would satisfy Allah but they insread kept asking too many questions each making it harder to find a suitable cow.   Many classical jurists (fuqaha) also was tempted to taking this barren path into a wilderness.  Our many classical fiqh books are full of thousands of imaginary situations with far fetched imaginary questions and their answers reached by tortuous speculations none of which agrees with others.  The hair-splitting by so many unenlightened ones among ulama is perhaps behind the overgrowth and stagnation of Islamic Law we landed up with eventually.  We have seen questions like, for example if a stick or pebble disappears into the anus whether the fasting was annulled or not!    Some said it is annulled because it was taken inside the body while others said it wasn’t annulled because it had no food value. Had they taken the advice on board to the effect that what Allah and His Prophet did not mention should normally be ignored and regarded as lawful or at least forgiven in advance no such debates would ensue.  Which brings us to this: When both the Qur’an and the Hadith is silent on a point which is not terribly important anyhow and no convincing analogies can be drawn upon to pass a sound judgment on it that point should be kept unmentioned or ignored.


As already mentioned the best and ideal source of a hadith is the person of the Mesenger of Allah sws.  Everything else equal a report directly attributed to the Prophet sws has highest acceptability.   Farther away from the person of the Prophet sws a hadith less acceptable it is regarded.  Overall there are a long list of principles in grading hadiths according to their reliability. The more important are as follows (in order of reliability)

  1. It is explicitly attributed to the Prophet 
  2. The direct reporter from the Prophet must have stated that he was present when the Prophet said or did it   
  3. Each person in the chain must have stated that he heard it personally from the one higher up  
  4. On scrutiny the generation/age gap between any two adjadent narrators must be reasonable.  For example if B could not have been yet born when claims to have heard it from A it must be discredited 
  5. Generally the report must fit historical fact   
  6. Generally the report must fit universal practice by the bulk of muslims based on far stronger reports  e.g if one says that salat the Prophet institued salat only 3 times a day he is rejected no matter what chain he may boast of  
  7. A report flying in the face of the Qur’an or stronger reports (hadiths) or commonsense is rejected  
  8. A report with impious claims or implications cannot be true 
  9. Suspected liars in a chain weakens a report 
  10. Proven liars, especially with an axe to grind weakens a report further 
  11. Any members of a chain with known to have had a bad memory weakens 
  12. A member of a link known for ignorance or weak mind weakens 
  13. The report by one known having committed a sin which disqualifies him from giving testimony (e.g slandering a chaste woman) is weakened 14. A well-known fasiq (habitual great sinner) weakens etc.

The top number is from Abu Huaraira RA who is responsible for more than 2000 ahadith with about 800 in Bukhari alone. The reason for his profuse contribution is that although he was with the Prophet sws for the last 3 years (joined before the expedition against Khaibar) of Prophet’s sws life he constantly shadowed him, had a phenomenal memory and lived until 59 H (almost half a century after the Prophet sws and therefore both tabiin and tabai tabiin could meet and learn from him in their hundreds. 

Second most prolific is Abdullah ibn Abbas (R. Anhuma), then ibn Umar (R. Anhuma). Then come Jaber, Anas and Ayesha the mother of believers (R. Anhum). Many other sahaba follow with various numbers to their credit. All top reporters had long lives like Abu Huraiara. For example Anas b. Malik RA died at 110 years of age at 100 H.  Furthermore and more than Abu Huraira he was with the Prophet sws beginning with his career as his personal servant at age ten given to the Prophet sws by Ummu Anas RA soon after the Hijra as her contribution towards helping Islam through helping the Prophet sws


When swords were unsheathed to decide worldly issues among the various muslim factions as from the last days of Uthman RA the third of Khulafa al Rashidin a tendency gained momentum among the less pious muslims with a political axe to grind to fabricate ahadith in order to support their claims.  This unfortunate trend became particularly extensive and vicious with the caliphate of Yazid b. Muawia the second Umayyad caliph. The Umayyad felt they had to shore up their pious defences in order to discredit the sons and grandsons of Ali RA on the one hand and enhance the prestige of Syria against that of Mecca and Medina on the other. As a result their agents for report fabrication began to weave their myths as necessary.  Some naïve ulama have always defended that because the Prophet sws was reported to have said “One who invents a hadith from me let him get ready for his seat in Hell” and therefore no muslim could dare to risk that.  That was that- naïve.  Those who could kill the Prophet’s sws near and dear as well as many saintly sahaba for the sake of the lowly world could not desist from inventing hadith as well.  So most muhaddithin took this matter very seriously and tried to identify and eliminate thousands of ahadith they strongly suspected for being politically motivated fabrications.  In some of these the Umayyad family enjoys a substantial facelift while Ali and sons are demonised. The last category has practically all been eliminated.  For their part some Shia went too far in magnifying Ali and at the same time subverting Abu Bakr and Umar and Uthman (R Anhum) increasing rapidly in that order.  Abu Bakr RA becomes a petty and dubious companion guilty of some grudge against Ali and clan, in spite his (Abu Bakr’s) seniority and unmatched closeness (i.e., his steadily best friend without being from the family and being a peer in age) to the Prophet sws  not worth his fame among sunnis, Umar is particularly hated and Uthman put beyond pale altogether.  These are followed by fabrications putting Syria almost on par with Mecca and Medina in holiness.  Some unsuspecting ulama seem to have accepted these in good faith but after the demise of the Umayyads they became harmless irrelevance.

Next come in importance almost certainly fabricated Shia ahadith about Alid imams and their infallible status.  However these are ignored by sunni ulama and generally unknown about sunni public. 

But ulama is of the opinion that fabrications did not stop at the politically motivated kind. Mazhab members fabricated ahadith to glorify their imams (e.g. Abu Hanifa), sufi tariqats to glorify their sheikhs, especially their founders (e.g Abdul Qadir Gilani) and too anxious devouts fabricated ahadith to make many voluntary or even innovated devotions and rituals irresistible.  These more or less harmless pious fabrications have been usually spared criticism by ulama seeing that they make their believers happier counting their spiritual blessings and also even more joyfully worshipping for them. Additionally attacking these on technical grounds could create more problems (like bitterness on the part of well-meaning partisans and possible resultant fitna) than it could solve.


The above gives a brief and essential grounding in Hadith for grown-up amateurs/non-professionals which our students are.  Like in the Qur’anic Studies course which preceded this course,  a lot of practical work will be done face to face within the Academy,  using Hadith collections in our library.  Distance learning students are recommended to supplement their studies by attending any local mosques where such practical lessons in Qur’an and Hadith are on offer.  All students may later be required to do project work like collecting a number of ahadith on the basis of certain criteria (like subject matter, e.g salat) or category (mutawatir, weak etc) presenting the results in academically acceptable format.

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