The Hadith Critical Method and its Criticisms [Hadith 2 of 5]


On Paul Willilams’ site, Blogging Theology, there was a conversation in the comments section of one post about the veracity of the (early) hadith tradition (which was very interesting) begun by a chap named Graham:

الحمد لله والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله

All praise is due to ALLAH and peace and blessing upon His Messenger

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

In the Name of ALLAH, The Most Gracious, The Most Merciful


Preceding Comments

grahamA] Graham said:

1) “When did mohammed give this sermon? And what is the earliest manuscript evidence for sermon? I suspect that there are no early manuscripts supporting the historicity of this sermon.”

It doesn’t matter about the specific sermon, because what Graham was actually critiquing was the Hadith Tradition itself. And then:

2) “I suspect that there are no mansucripts supporting the historicity of this sermon and that it is purely man-made tradition that assigns it to mohammed.” And:

3) “We have practically zero fragments or manuscripts from mohammed’s lifetime – so reasonably, we can presume that this “sermon” has very little historical credibility. Likely, it is a forgery – i.e. a sermon written by an anonymous guy decades or even centuries after mohammed died and then falsely attributed to him to give it credibility.”

4) “The quran says next to nothing about mohammed’s life, that’s why muslims have to revere the man-made sunnah to give them a religious practice.”

5) “What is the manuscript evidence that makes you so sure that mohammed said these words? You have to prove the affirmative before expecting people to prove you wrong.”


B] I eventually replied:


“Hi Graham, just read through your points. You are right to query the source of this hadith (report)…

However, Graham, in terms of your general point that seems to be one of dismissing the entire Sunnah as contained within the hadith tradition because it’s ‘man-made’- needs some careful reflection. See The Hadiths Had It… Well, They Still Have It.

For example, if we applied the hadith criticism method on the New Testament (i.e. the religious book itself), all the works of St Paul would be – must be! – thrown out for starters simply because his words are not factually the words of Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) – AND because he never met the Prophet in his lifetime.

The point is, the man-made science of hadith criticism is pretty robust in identifying which words were the authentic words of the Prophet Muhammad himself (peace be upon him). And given the scale of the authentic reports left intact with us now, this is no mean feat – especially as it dwarfs the reports from all the other religious traditions who cannot boast such a genius accomplishment. All Praise be to Allah, the Most Exalted.

*dwarfs the reports from the respective prophets of all the other religious traditions.”



grahamC] Graham replied:


There are no early hadith manuscripts dating to the life of mohammed. The oldest complete manuscript of bukhari dates to the 10th century (maybe 11th, off the top of my head), so you have a gap of a few hundred years between the time of the supposed eye-witness accounts and the physical recording of them.

So, some hadiths go like this: someone overheard someone else talking to another person, saying that he heard someone else saying that his pal heard mohammed tell some other dude something important. That’s known as hearsay.

None of these people wrote down what they supposedly heard several times removed – at least we have no record of anyone writing it down – and all were dead by the time Bukhari was born, so he had no way of verifying that the hearsay he had recorded was actually witnessed by the person named.

It is called hadith “science” but there is nothing objective about it.



D] Then Flying Pir joined in:


We do have early Hadith manuscripts way before Bukhari.

1. Sahifa Hamman B. Munabbih

2. ‘Musanaf of Abdul Razzaq’ to be a source of Authentic Hadith from the 1st Century’*

3. Muwatta Imam Malik’ compiled Mid-second century AH

Graham, Could you give us any early New Testament that comes close to even Musanaf of Abdul Razzaq for your NT? Which manuscripts have you got that is dated to the first century, not parchments, but ACTUAL book?

An Excerpt from his embedded link reads: “ARE THERE ANY HADITH COLLECTIONS FROM EARLY ISLAM?

Yes there are early Hadith collections. One of the claims hurled at Muslims by Christian missionaries and Hadith-rejecters are that they say, “there are no hadiths collections from early Islam”. According to them, Hadith came into existence 250 to 300 years after the Prophet Muhammed’s (p) demise. In this article I will show evidences from non-Muslim Scholars that Hadith existed way before the dates they have brought forth.

First Century Hadith Collections

Sahifa Hamman B. Munabbih

It is well-known fact among Muslim scholars that Hammam B. Munabbih was a student of Abu Huraira. The earliest hadith collection we have extant is Sahifa b. Munabbih which was written by the student of Abu Huraira. The Books name is ‘Sahifah Hammam b.Munabbih’.

1. American Scholar William Albert Graham who is a Professor of middle eastern studies states:” LEARN MORE >



E] Graham replied:

Bukhari’s hadith number in the thousands, these early collections number barely in the hundreds. Hadith inflation is an indication of later additions to the hadith falsely attributed to mohammed.

Hammam’s work consists of just over 100 examples of hearsay, and he was considered to have personally known at least one companion. Think about that – this guy who might have been personaly acquainted with some of the men and women who knew mohammed, could only come up with just over 100 sayings. Bukhari, after a few hundred years somehow manages to produce 7000. Sounds suspicious. LOL.

Abd ar-Razzaq as-San‘ani was not acquainted with any companions, so whatever information he received must have come to him via some anonymous sources – hardly rigourous.

Muwatta is a sad butt-wiped fragment with huge chunks missing from it.

Either way, your comment is a red herring.


F] NOTE: Another chap, who is a Quran-Only enthusiast, joins in the conversation – but his comments will be discussed in a separate post (pending). All his comments have been removed from this post for the sake of brevity and relevance to the specific issue at hand.

G] Paul Williams, then, re-posted Discover the Truth’s post about the Early Hadith Tradition (which was supplied in D, above.)

H] Graham copy and pasted his comment onto this post too (as in E, above).


3cy8wareI] Then KC entered the fray:

“Man you really are an idiot. You are so ignorant you can’t even get your numbers right!

Bukhari doesn’t even have close to 7000 hadith. Bukhari’s Sahih is a Sunan work. It is arranged by topic, and as a hadith can be applicable to multiple topics many hadith are repeated. There are also different narrations of the same hadith. The result is there are only actually ~2200 hadith in the book, but many of them appear more then once.

Muwatta has hundreds and hundreds of narrations within, and we have some manuscripts and dating to the lifetime of Imam Malik himself.

We also have the Kitab Al-Athar of Abu Hanifa, not just the Muwatta.

>Abd ar-Razzaq as-San‘ani was not acquainted with any companions, so whatever information he received must have come to him via some anonymous sources – hardly rigourous.

This is were your ignorance really shines. The Musannaf of Abd ar-Razzaq as-San‘ani is pretty rigorous and contains many accurate narrations in circulation from the Sahabah in the 1st hijri century at Mecca. Oh and Ibn Jurayj and Ibn ‘Uyayna are not “anonymous sources”.

Don’t ask me, go read secular non-Muslim academic historical critical research into the subject.

Namely “The Origins of Islamic Jurisprudence: Meccan Fiqh Before the Classical Schools” and “Analysing Muslim Traditions” both by Dr. Harald Motzki.

Some excerpts from the former:

>I think that the texts cited suffice as evidence that on the basis of ‘Ata’s responsa it is possible to defend the thesis that–until the until the opposite is proved the traditions transmitted in the Musannaf by Ibn Jurayj from ‘Ata from Ibn ‘Abbas may be regarded as reliable transmissions of the latter.

From [pg. 119-120]

>This study advances the thesis that Schacht’s premise, that portions of the isnads which extend into the first half of the second/eighth and the first/seventh century are without exception arbitrary and artificially fabricated is untenable, at least in this degree of generalization. A relative chronology of the texts based primarily on aspects of content, and a representation of the development of Islamic jurisprudence constructed upon it, do not lead to definite conclusions. The third chapter attempts to demonstrate this. The central question under consideration is this: Is it possible to find criteria which enable us to determine whether the information about the provenance of the earlier sources contained in ‘Abd al-Razzaq’s Musannaf is trustworthy or forged?

>Using the examples of two strands of sources, it is possible to show that a number of arguments, which I call criteria of authenticity, speak for the credibility of the statements of transmission which are made by the authors or compilers of these sources of the first half of the second/eighth century. The criteria of authenticity on which I fall back relate predominantly to form and not to content, such as the distribution of the texts among sources; the shares of ra’y and hadith; the ratios of traditions going back to the Prophet, the sahaba and the tabi’un; the use and the quality of chains of transmitters; the terminology of transmission; the existence of personal ra’y; divergent or contradictory comments about texts; indirect transmission found next to direct transmission; uncertainty about exact wording; the reporting of changes of opinion, of contradictions, of cases of ignorance in legal matters, and so forth.

>The conclusion that the texts which ‘Abd al-Razzaq’s informants claim to have received from specific people do indeed go back to them makes it possible, in turn, to extract from within these strands of sources older sources which can be dated to the first quarter of the second/ eighth century. They supply a firm and extensive textual basis for delineating the state of the development of law towards the end of the first and the beginning second/eighth century. They thus bring us back into a period in which, according to Schacht, only a few reliable traditions existed which can, however, seldom be firmly assigned to historical persons. By the same method-the determination of criteria of authenticity and forgery-it is possible, starting out from this new textual basis, to venture further back into the first/seventh century. In Islamic terminology this is the generation of the sahaba, which represents the link to the Prophet himself. There are good arguments that a number of the traditions attributed to this generation are reliable. Occasionally it is even possible to verify among them reports about the Prophet which quite probably are authentic, that is, they were really reported by one of the Prophet’s contemporaries, and their genuineness, that is, that they have a historical kernel, cannot be simply dismissed.

From [xiii-xiv in the introduction].

So even by secular non-Muslim historical critical standards one has to concede there are numerous authentic hadith.

This “Hadith growth due to fabrication” theory posited by Schacht is just no longer tenable at all.

Go read some up to date scholarship.

Not stuff from the 50s and 60s.


J] Then Omar gave a valuable pdf: ‘Studies in Hadith Methodology and Literature’ by Muhammad Mustafa A’zami: azami-hadith-lit (Click on the link).


K] My Current Response Adressing Graham’s posts


I don’t think you even looked at the link (above – i.e. This: The Hadiths Had It… Well They Still Do). Please do.

Additional Thoughts:

Issue 1: You said “we have no record of anyone writing it down.”

The earliest hadiths were recorded in the prophet’s life-time. See link via Hamza Yusuf‘s video at 0:07:58 to 0:09:10. See also ‘Hadith Literature’ by M. Z. Siddiqi, pg 80, where he explains Isnad was being used to verify hadiths by the first 50 years of the Hijrah. Indeed, extant hadith work can be found about 50 years into the first century AH beginning with the Ṣaḥīfa of Hammām b. Munabbih (already referenced above)  – which is within the Prophet’s Companions’ lifetime – and which verifies Siddiqui’s point, above. There are other extant work that follow, thereafter. The extract below, comes from ‘A Textbook of Hadith Studies: Authenicity, Compilation and Classification‘, by Kamali 2005). See:


Moreover, were there companions of the Prophet around too who could vouch for hadith reports. Yes, of course, there was. So the evidence – that is to say, the facts, demonstrate the opposite of your claim of there being ‘no record of anyone writing it down’. Yes there is.


Issue 2: I think the fact that we come from a text-based, literary culture means we either a) have no understanding of oral cultures or b) we have a superiority complex and assume the worst about oral cultures, which is presumptuous. Or c) a bit of both. And moreover, the oral culture of the Arabs differs from the rest in world history in that they – uniquely – then created a ‘science’ to verify that oral tradition vis-a-vis anything to do with the Prophet (peace be upon him), as they made the transition into a book culture – which is the ‘genius’ Professor Brown ascribes to them. One ought not to be so dismissive – which is a sign of ignorance.

Do you understand the notion of reports so extensive and from such a varied source and yet precise in isnad and matn that it must have been said beyond any reasonable doubt (this is the mutawattir category, by the way). To suggest mutawattir hadiths to be a) a lie or b) brought about by mass-conspiracy is to have us believe something that is ludicrous! See this (below) and watch from 0:02:10:

Issue 3: The hadith reporting science is – as I say – a method to ascertain the truth of reports. That was the whole point of it! In order to get at the truth of something you have to try and be as objective as possible.

Professor Blankinship – a historian (Question: Are you a historian?) said that if you doubt the Muslim record of history (which relies on the hadith tradition) – then you might as well doubt all history of all cultures. “In these arguments [by a very polemical school of ultra critical] Western historians will say: “Well if there is no material proof – it didn’t happen,”… which is kind of a dangerous, slippery slope to get on, because it would undermine the possibility of saying much that is probable about the past.” See The Holy Qur’an: the Historical Basis for its Compilation from 0:17:48 (but for an overview of this topic see from 0:14:40).


Professor Blankinship

Add to this the notion from Professor Jonathan Brown, who said the hadith tradition is a rigorous and robust system that assists us to get to the probable truth of reports ascribed to the Prophet. See An Introduction to Hadith and Hadith and the Development of Western Historical Critical Method.

One example of proof? The hadiths record the compilation process of the Qur’an. After the find of the Birmingham Qur’an, scientific analysis has demonstrated it to have been composed within the time-frame of the traditional Muslim account of its compilation. That is to say, the ultra-radical Western notions of its being constructed lateri (which was purely conjecture despite all the claims to empirical science) is now – finally – dead as a dodo (pending post).


Issue 4: You mention flippantly that the hadith tradition is ‘someone said something about something that someone else said… etc…” Wrong. They weren’t an anonymous ‘someone’. They were specific, known companions and successors. Some companions were of impeccable character. Others had phenomenal memory. Some were both. And of those hadiths that one might doubt, whether in terms of isnad or matn, such hadiths would be relegated to ‘less authenticated’ categories by scholars and their schools. See my post, above, for a brief overview. Moreover, when Tom Holland attempted to explain how the method of Isnad may have been copied over from the Jewish Talmudic tradition, (listen to this from 0:06:55 onwards) Professor Brown annihilated this argument with ‘that’s just not true,’ and demonstrated how the Muslim versions had long chains of transmission with specific [known] individuals going back to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and not merely identifying a rabbi or two that were somehow linked (over hundreds of years) to Prophet Moses (peace be upon him). Professor Brown also explained how the Talmudic tradition of (trying to) cite transmission occured after the Muslim experience.

Have you memorised the entire qur’an? I haven’t, but I know loads of people who have – word for word. It is possible. Even now, amongst text-based peoples. Imagine the scope in the past! Moreover, the community and families were close-knit, then. You’re looking at this issue with 21st century eyes as if each person was a random person and no-one knew anyone, as in an atomised society of nowadays. Those involved in the hadith sciences researched and compiled histories of the lives of each Companion and Successor that were in the chain of narration per hadith. So a Biographical tradition developed. We now know who each person is in the Isnad (chains of transmission). They are not random ‘someones’.


Issue 5: We don’t need to wait for Bukhari to know if there were any hadiths (see Issue 1). Bukhari was simply the most rigorous in his testing methods of hadith-criticism to gauge their authenticity. His simply confirms the soundness of hadiths that may just as well have been considered ‘authentic’ by previous hadith compilers in their respective collections. See my hadith post for a brief overview of other hadith compilations that precedes Bukhari.


Issue 6: ‘Hearsay’ is: ‘information received from other people which cannot be substantiated; rumour.’ But you realise that the hadith science is precisely the attempt at substantiating the information to distinguish hearsay from facts. Which means… the hadiths that are sahih (authenticated – corroborated) is like the opposite of er… ‘hearsay’. So…

It is called hadith “science” because there is everything (humanly) objective about it (i.e. the effort to be neutral. And the notion of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, as in the weighing out of testimonials in a court-case – but of course the context here differs; this is about historical data and hadiths do possess historical value).


Issue 7: And please don’t confuse ‘science’ to only deal with purely ’empirical truth’. There are other ‘scientific’ methods to gauge the truth of something. (i.e. historical truth, experiential truth amongst others.) Note: Muslims developed the modern scientific methodii, so we know what a ‘science’ is. Nor do we presume that non-Muslims don’t.







i Tom Holland comes to mind, who drew on the discredited notions of ‘Hagarism’ of Patricia Crone. She currently acknowledges her error too. (See Critiquing the Critique of Early Islamic History.)

ii See ‘Functioning Mechanical Gears Seen in Nature for the First Time‘ in section C, point 3.


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.


Filed under hadith, Islam

8 responses to “The Hadith Critical Method and its Criticisms [Hadith 2 of 5]

  1. Reblogged this on Blogging Theology and commented:
    A must read!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Really good refutation , Barakallahu fiik

    Liked by 1 person

  3. pristine8

    Sharing my humble opinion.
    There are some few hadiths from early islam(not the time of the prophet) but still bukhari and abu dawod tirmdhi etc are the books that sunnis follow. The sahabas are just normal people they were not prophets and they have no revelations sent to them. The prophet himself had only only the quran as revelation this is a fact from the Quran. There is no proof for the validity of the hadith except that “someone said that a companion said it ” or because the fabricated hadith is widespread or many people said it. So truth here is determined by the number of people which is logically wrong. The majority tend to be wrong according to the Quran. The Quran also doesn’t allow any hadith to be followed with it. Imagine the scenario God sent a complete clear preserved book and said that if the seas were ink my words will not end, humans started to write endless other books.


    • Wa alaikum as salaam,

      1) ‘There are some few hadiths from early islam(not the time of the prophet) but still bukhari and abu dawod tirmdhi etc are the books that sunnis follow.’

      There is value in the early community of believers. See

      2) ‘The sahabas are just normal people they were not prophets and they have no revelations sent to them.’

      They had the Qur’an sent to them via the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the Prophet, himself, was described by ‘Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) as the ‘Walking Qur’an’ – so he too (that is to say, his words and example) was another ‘revelation’.

      Supporting Evidence: “And indeed, [O Muhammad], you guide to a straight path.” (Ash-Shuraa 42:52) and “And remember what is recited in your houses of the verses ofAllah and Wisdom. Indeed, Allah is ever subtle and acquainted [with all things].” (Qur’an, Al-Ahzab 33:34)

      3) ‘There is no proof for the validity of the hadith except that “someone said that a companion said it”’

      A) hadiths are valid based on what has been said above and in a previous message to you (
      B) MOreover, it was not a ‘someone’- these are known people. This means we know their character. Most of these companions had impeccable character, which is why we respect them. It was not a random stranger quoting something the prophet (peace be upon him) said. If it was, it would be discounted entirely, most probably.

      4. ‘or because the fabricated hadith is widespread or many people said it.’
      We know about all the fabricated hadiths because of the early Muslims scholars that analysed them all and scrutinised their content, (matn) and their chain of narrations (isnad). The ones we rely on the most are in the authentic collection (sahih). The fabricated ones are not used at all by genuine Muslims.

      5. ‘So truth here is determined by the number of people which is logically wrong.’
      Your statement is unclear. But, no, there was not just one category considered to decide the authenticity of a hadith. There are many factors. You are simplifying the hadith-criticism tradition and then saying its too simple and must be rejected.

      6. ‘The majority tend to be wrong according to the Quran.’
      The majority tend to be wrong because they do not follow Qur’an and Sunnah. They become more impressed by their own hawa (desire and opinion).
      “Have you seen he who has taken as his ilah (god) his [own] hawa (desire and opinion), and Allah has sent him astray due to knowledge and has set a seal upon his hearing and his heart and put over his vision a veil? So who will guide him after Allah? Then will you not be reminded?” (Qur’an, Al-Jathiya 45:23)

      7. ‘The Quran also doesn’t allow any hadith to be followed with it. Imagine the scenario God sent a complete clear preserved book and said that if the seas were ink my words will not end, humans started to write endless other books.’
      Yes, the Qu’ran is clear (mubeen) and preserved
      The hadiths are not books written to solely explain the Qur’an. They are historical testimony to the Prophet’s words (peace be upon him). And the Qur’an tells us – orders us – to follow both the Qur’an and the Prophet (peace be upon him). The Qur’an tells us what to do (i.e. establish salah – see 6:72), whilst the example of the prophet, peace be upon him (via hadiths) shows us how.

      Wa salaam.


      • pristine8

        Lets start asking some real questions.
        How do we know the real campanions from the fake comapanions ?
        Who has the authority to claim that these are true campanions and these are false ones ?
        How do we know that the campanions of the prophet are trustworthy? according to the Quran many hypocrites were around him.
        How do we know that the people who relate from the campanions are trustworthy?
        Who has the authority to claim that these are trustworthy and these are not and based on what ?
        How do we know that the people who relate form the people who relate from the campanions are trustworthy….
        The questions are endless.
        But i guess all these people have amazing characters and there are no liars, how did we know it ?
        Because someone said that that person is trustworthy, based on what ? Based on  someone else’s sayings about his life.
        You see the whole argument for belief in the hadith is that:

        -1 Someone said that that person is trustworthy based on unproven tales or sayings from other people on his life by people considered trustworthy based on unproven tales …
        -2 Many people have said the same thing therefore that thing is true.

        If the sayings of the prophet are so important for the later generations, why didn’t the prophet write a preserved book called “The hadith of the prophet”?
        According to the Quran he can write.
        He would be avoiding endless fabrications and only his word will be transmited.
        You see there wouldnt be all this mess people saying form here that one from there…
        This is just my critic for the hadith science.
        My real argument is that according to the Quran:
        -The prophet was never autorised to utter sayings other than the Quran.[Al Haqqah 40-46].
        -The prophet had only the Quran as revelation. [Al Anam 19].
        -The Quran is complete, preserved and clear and doesn’t need any book to make it clear.


      • AsSalaamu alaikum, I’ve replied to your post, here:

        JazakAllahu khairan.


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