A Few Words on Hadiths
The Hadith Tradition is a ‘common sense science’ or a ‘common sense tradition’ and is ‘one of the biggest accomplishments in human intellectual history… in its breadth, in its depth, in its complexity and in its internal consistency.’1
In the Name of Allah, The Most Gracious, The Most Merciful
Hadiths are ‘reports’2 which are of three types:
- The Prophet’s sayings,
- The Prophet’s actions and
- The things done in the Prophet’s presence (that he didn’t object to, which means they’re condoned).3
Hadiths consist of Isnad (the chain of narrators – i.e. the list of the people who reported a report) and the Matn (the informative-content of the report – i.e. what he said).
By utilising Isnad, one could distinguish the difference between various versions of the same report. That is to say, the ‘Tradition’ (i.e. what the Prophet, peace be upon him, said) versus the ‘Narration’ (i.e. the different ways the Prophet, peace be upon him, said it).4
Through this system, we might also be able to differentiate between ‘unreliable transmission’ and ‘more reliable transmission’ of reports. Dr Brown mentions that this method in fact is ‘part of our daily lives’ in that ‘we deal with these two different types of information all the time’.5
To demonstrate the point further, he says: ‘This method is not unlike those employed by investigative reporters… If our reporter tells her editor that she has a major story about a senior political figure, the editor will ask her two questions: who is your source, and is your source corroborated?’6
A whole array of gradation formed to qualify different types of hadith as part of criticising them to derive their historicity – that is to say the truth of their utterance, and thereby their significance.
Some of the elements derived from the Hadith-criticism tradition by Muslims, include7:
1) In terms of the number of reporters:
- Mutawaatir (Consecutive): the strongest hadith
Which is likely to render a hadith: Sahih (Authentic) – see below
- Ahad: (Isolated) that includes:
i) ‘Mash’hur’ (Famous)
ii) ‘Aziz’ (Rare)
iii) ‘Gharib’ (Scarce, strange)
Such Hadiths could render a hadith: Hasan (Good), Da’if (Weak) or Maudu (Fabricated) – see below
2) In terms of the connections in the chain of the Isnad:
- ‘Musnad’ (Supported)
- ‘Muttasil’ (Continuous)
will support a Sahih (Authentic) or Hasan (Good) hadith – see below
- ‘Mursal’ (Hurried)
- ‘Mu’allaq’ (Suspended)
- ‘Munqati’ (Broken)
- ‘Mu’dal’ (Problematic)
- ‘Mudallas’ (Concealed)
- ‘Mudtarib’ (Shaky)
- ‘Shadhdh; (Anomalous)
will render a hadith, Da’if (Weak) – see below
3) In terms of the nature of the text and Isnad:
- ‘Munkar’ (Denounced)
will render a hadith, Da’if (Weak) – see below
- ‘Mudraj’ (Interpolated)
may render a hadith, Da’if (Weak) – see below
4) In terms of the memory and reliability of the transmitters:
a) Sahih: Strong hadiths. It is translated as ‘Sound’ or ‘Authentic’.
‘A sahih hadith is the one which has a continuous isnad, made up of reporters of trustworthy memory from similar authorities, and which is found to be free from any irregularities (i.e. in the text) or defects (i.e. in the isnad).’ (Ibn al-Salah)8
b) Hasan: Reports that are a grade lower than Sahih and translates as ‘Good’.
‘One with an isnad containing a reporter who is mastur (“screened”, i.e. no prominent person reported from him) but is not totally careless in his reporting, provided that a similar text is reported through another isnad as well;
One with an isnad containing a reporter who is known to be truthful and reliable, but is a degree less in his preservation/memory of hadith in comparison to the reporters of sahih ahadith.’ (Ibn al-Salah)9
c) Da’if: ‘Weak’ reports. Any problems identified (as noted above) will render a hadith ‘weak’
d) Maudu: ‘Fabricated’ hadiths. These are the lowest category of hadiths and are completely rejected.10
The point here is that the hadith tradition makes a lot of sense. It wasn’t a random, ad hoc system cobbled together on baseless foundations. That would be a completely inaccurate assessment.
The Development of the Hadith Tradition (A Brief Outline)
The hadith tradition developed organically.11
After the Prophet died, what should the people have done? They had the Qur’an, but the people began to want to know how the Prophet acted, and inquired after the things he said.
Just like how we remember things our parents told us, or what our grandparents told us. We might make notes of their words in notebooks (Sahifahs). But mainly we might have simply stored them in our memories. 12
Consider how the younger generation try to gather (collect) information of their grandparents. The parents being more familiar with the grandparents would know and remember well how they were. But the grandchildren, growing up, would want to capture all the details of this person, wanting to get as much of a full picture as possible.
Soon, what happened, then, was that collections of reports (Musannaf) were formed. An example of this is via Hassan Al Basri: people would ask him a thousand questions – and in his attempt to try and answer all these questions, he’d look to the Qur’an. Then he’d try and consider how the Prophet would have acted or thought. But also he would gather reports from his contemporaries (who were close to the Prophet – i.e. Companions, Successors). Finally, after doing those, he might refer to own opinion and judgement.
The Muwatta of Malik is cited as an example of Musannaf,
Musannafs were very localised, and organised topically. Scholars took their hadiths to different localities. But they didn’t used to mix across localities. The mixing and traveling happened later, in the 800s CE.
In the 800s CE, people began to travel. They began to collect all the hadiths together. How would you organise these hadiths now? They were organised by isnad (i.e. this chapter were all the hadiths by Abu Bakr, and this, by Umar, etc.) All the hadith collections in this period became solely focussed on Prophetic hadiths. This was the beginning of Musnad collections.13
An example would be the Musnad of Ibn Hanbal.
The next stage was the Sunnah and Sahih movement. Scholars combined the musannaf and musnad into one, topically organised, collection.14
The example given were the massive works of the famous Bukhari and Muslim.
The Historical Reliability of the Hadith Tradition.
The use of isnad to critically verify reports began to be constructed from the ‘middle of the first century of Islam.’15 Indeed, ‘there is little doubt… that the period fixed for [the first appearance of the Isnad system confirmed by Horovitz, Robson and Abbott – Western scholars on hadith] is very close to what is claimed by the early [Muslim] traditionists themselves.’16
‘The Muslims came to consider the isnad as an indispensable part of the hadiths. They developed it, gave it a firm foundation by introducing the chronological method, assembling biographies of the transmitters [so we know who the people were that were in the chain of transmitters], and by establishing various canons for determining the value of its different classes.’ Moreover, ‘the Muslims not only gave a scientific form and basis to the system of isnad, but also tried to make a comparative study of various isnads deployed… [to establish] their relative value.’17
Indeed, the value of the tradition is not only its attempt to record the saying and actions of the Prophet, peace be upon him, on such a gargantuan scale, but it was also a critical enterprise – of trying to determine the veracity of each hadith in order to determine their historical validity and truth. As such it was also a tradition that developed techniques of hadith criticism.
The rise of Western hegemony offers a different challenge to the hadith tradition. Given that the West has ‘its own tradition with its own assumptions’, the manner in which the West talks about the Islamic tradition there is a default understanding that lies under the radar so to speak: that ‘what it really assumes is that God does not directly interfere in historical events, that Muhammad was just a man [i.e. not really a Prophet] and that there are real doubts about historical reliability of the entire hadith corpus.’18 (For a brief outline of the Western Historical Critical Method, please read this pending post).
Nevertheless, this critical evaluation by a separate Western tradition is a good thing as it should be understood ‘as part of a larger human endeavour to expand all areas of knowledge’.19 Indeed, it might be that through this process, the whole Western tradition may very well find itself at the centre of analysis, and its very foundations being critically evaluated too by that very same Islamic tradition. This process, therefore, should be seen to be equally a good thing for the West as part of that same great human endeavour for knowledge.
What we ought to acknowledge is that ‘the Western criticism of the hadith tradition can be viewed as an act of domination in which one world-view asserts its power over another by dictating terms by which ‘knowledge’ and ‘truth’ are established. From this perspective, one could ask why the ‘light’ that Western scholars shed on hadiths is necessarily more valuable to ‘the advancement of human understanding’ than what the Muslim hadith tradition has already offered. As the like of Edward Said have shown, knowledge is power, and studying an object is an act of establishing control over it… Western discussions about the reliability of the hadith tradition are thus not neutral, and their influence extends beyond the lofty halls of academia… Any attitude to [the hadith tradition’s] authenticity are necessarily based more on our critical worldview than on empirical fact.’20 And this is the material point (the pun is intended). How do we bypass ‘our critical worldview’ (if indeed we are bound [trapped?] by it) in the bid for Truth? (Pending post)
The traditional hadith tradition is reasonable and reliable. Knowing one or two hadiths, or learning via Google and criticising the system wholesale is not sufficient, because it is a science, and this implies that its methods and systems must be rigorously learnt and understood. Those arguing against the Hadith tradition from the ‘Western-criticism’ school [is fine – but they] need to first comprehend the fragility of their own truth-claims.
Regardless, there is a lot of history to be learnt about the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the Islamic tradition via the hadiths, which are an indispensable means to him, in shaa Allah.
For a Follow-up discussion, check out: The Hadith Critical Method and its Criticisms.’
سبحان ربك رب العزة عما يصفون وسلام على المرسلين والحمد لله رب العالمين والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله محمد وعلى اله وصحبه أجمعين
Exalted be your Lord, the Lord of Glory, above what they attribute to Him, and peace be upon the Messengers, and all praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Universe. And the peace and blessing upon prophet Mohammed and his relatives and all his companions.
1https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZlEtV0rDPA from 00:01:03
2Hadith Literature by M Z Siddiqi, pg 1
3https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZlEtV0rDPA from 00:02:45
6Introduction to Hadiths by Dr Jonathan A. C. Brown, page 67 (Kindle edition)
11https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZlEtV0rDPA from 00:27:20
14 Ibid, 00: 41:14
15Hadith Literature by M Z Siddiqi, pg 80.
17Ibid, pg 80-81
18 Introduction to Hadiths by Dr Jonathan A. C. Brown, page 197 (Kindle edition)
19 Ibid, pg 198