The Science Of Hadith: Based On Classic Primers - The Importance Of Hadith
Islamic Rulings - Living Shariah Verdicts
Sheikh Abdur-Rahman ibn Yusuf
Bismillahi wal hamdulillah wassalatu wassalamu ala
Ilmul Hadith is the science of the study of hadith.
What defines "Hadith" will be mentioned later, but to
begin with I would like to emphasize that the science
of Hadith is one of many religious sciences. Just
looking at the fundamental sciences there is
Usul-Al-Quran (fundamentals of Quran), Usul Al-Hadith
(fundamentals of Hadith), Lughah (language, including
balaghah, Fasahah) and Usul al-Fiqh (the fundamentals
The science of Hadith is one that is dependent on
the science of Quran but also one that is necessary
for the proper understanding of Quran.
A point I would like to make now is that there are
people out there who question the necessity of hadith,
in fact, the Qura'niyoon claim that hadith is
irrelevant and that they will only study Quran. This
is a ludicrous claim.
Allah says in Quran: "[2:129] Our Lord! Send
amongst them a Messenger of their own, who shall
rehearse Thy Signs to them and instruct them in
Scripture and Wisdom, and sanctify them: for Thou art
the Exalted in Might, the Wise."
They keyword here being that the messenger is to
teach them the book AND impart wisdom upon them. Even
the Sahabah had problems understand some of the
language of Quran.
In Sourat Al-Hashr Allah tells us: "[59:7] So take
what the Messenger assigns to you, and deny yourselves
that which he withholds from you."
He also says: "[4:65] But no, by thy Lord, they can
have no (real) Faith, until they make thee judge in
all disputes between them, and find in their souls no
resistance against thy decisions, but accept them with
the fullest conviction."
Finally, Allah says: "[4:59] O ye who believe! obey
Allah, and obey the Messenger, and those charged with
authority among you. If ye differ in anything among
yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger, if ye
do believe in Allah and the Last Day: that is best,
and most suitable for final determination."
Overall, I believe it is blasphemy on Allah
subhanahu wa taala to believe that he sent an
irrelevant or faulty messenger. If the messenger was
irrelevant and added nothing to the religion, then why
didn't Allah send down the book in one piece? Why pass
it to us through a messenger?
Now a look at some of the terminology used in
conjunction with this science:
a) In a linguistic sense, "hadith" means a
communication or a story.
b) From a technical perspective (relative to the
science of hadith): It is the collection prophet's
deeds, statements and concessions. In addition to
this, any traditions that carry a description of the
Prophet (PBUH) and his physical appearance and
properties are considered hadith, such as
In Quran, the word hadith is used. Allah refers to
Quran as being "Ahsan Al-Hadith" (39:23) which means
the best of messages or the best of words. He also
warns "[68:44] Then leave Me alone with such as reject
this Message (hadith): by degrees shall We punish them
from directions they perceive not."
a) Hadith is often referred to as "As-Sunnah." The
word "Sunnah" is used interchangeably with the word
"Hadith" especially when we are talking about the
sources of Islamic Jurisprudence (First is Quran,
second is Hadith or Sunnah).
b) Sunnah also means the Prophet's way of life.
c) Sunnah is also a Fiqh Rank when discerning the
rulings of the different issues. Such deed is sunnah
means that it is recommended or emphasized.
The importance of hadith:
The Prophet (saaw) was a walking Quran. He was the
manifestation of Quran on earth. And the companions
were very aware of this. This is why they accompanied
him. This is why they have the title "Companions of
the Prophet (saaw)." The term "Companion" is not used
loosely. Not everyone who became a believer at the
time of the Prophet (saaw) is a companion, only those
who got to to meet him (except for one man whom the
Prophet saaw referred to him as a companion even
though he could not come and meet the prophet saaw).
The Companions of the Prophet (saaw) realized his
value and so they put an unbelievable amount of effort
to be with him and to record and cherish everything he
said and did. Omar (raa) had a deal with another
companion that they would alternate, one would go out
and work to provide for his family while the other
would stay with the prophet and record all that he
said and did. At the end of the day they would share
what they learned.
Abu Hurairah is another example. Though he became a
Muslim fairly late in the Prophet's years of
Prophethood, yet he has the most narrations of all the
Prophet's companions. It is because as soon as he
became a Muslim, he became one of Ahlu-Suffah (poor
companions who stayed at the mosque of the Prophet
saaw) and he dedicated his life to accompanying the
Prophet (saaw) and learning from him. So much so that
some companions have tested him because of his many
narrations and he passed their tests..
This tradition was kept so closely that if the
Prophet (saaw) did something in the original
tradition, the narrators through out time have did the
exact same thing. There is a whole category of hadith
called "Al-Musalsalat" in which the narrator would say
"and then the prophet (saaw) did this.." and he would
the exact same thing the prophet (saaw) did. For
example, smile, or shake hands or entwine ones fingers
with another's fingers (tashbeek). This is how precise
these people maintained that tradition, that even if
the Prophet (saaw) would do a gesture they would be
sure to mention it and repeat it.
The need for the science of
The science of Hadith is a very specific and exact
science. The science of "Jarh wa Ta'deel" (examination
of the narrators), is one that has very specific and
clear laws and fundamentals that we will touch upon.
The ahadith (plural of hadith) of the Prophet (SAAW)
went far and wide. The Companions of the Prophet (SAAW)
went far away from Madinah. Just consider that the
army that conquered Mecca was 10,000 strong and there
were only a few thousand companions in Madinah during
the time of Omar (RAA). When you consider that each
companion probably did not narrate the hadith or
tradition to just one person but a group of students,
then you can imagine the tree getting wider and
wider.. And so the necessity of collecting this
tradition becomes apparent.
The Collection of Hadith:
The earliest collections of hadith were done by the
Companions themselves. Some Companions kept scrolls of
hadith. We know that Abu Bakr (RAA) kept a collection
Yet, most of the tradition of hadith was
transferred in spoken form. The first collection of
hadith was done by Abu Bakr ibn Hazm and was
commissioned by Omar ibn Abdul-Aziz. Following that,
many famous collections were made, the first and most
prominent is the Muwatta' of Imam Malik, this was
followed by many others such as Musnad Imam Ahmed,
Sahih Al-Bukhari, Mustadrak Al-Hakim and so forth.
Transmission of Hadith:
There are eight ways in which hadith can be
transmitted from one person to another as the scholars
of hadith have discerned:
a) Listening: The recipient of the hadith listened
to the transmitter of the hadith and memorized it from
b) Presenting: The recipient of the hadith retold
it in the presence of the transmitter and he approved
of that narration. This is particularly important in
our time. We live in the information age. There is an
abundance of information, but there is a lack of Ilm.
Because information is being transferred carelessly.
It is important to note that those who reported hadith
as transmitted from others without their permission
were known as the "Thieves of Hadith."
c) Permission: The transmitter of the hadith has
given the recipient permission to narrate ahadith from
d) Handing down: A book of hadith was given by the
transmitter to the recipient and he was allowed to
narrate from it.
e) Written: A written message was sent from the
transmitter to the recipient that contained the hadith.
f) Made known (I'lam): To inform about ahadith.
This means that the informer informs someone that the
he the [informer has the permission to transmit a
certain book of hadith on a certain scholar's
authority. Some scholars permit this while others
g) Bequest: The transmitter stated the hadith in
his bequest to the recipient.
h) Found: The recipient came upon a work by the
transmitter that contained this hadith.
This was noted down by the scholars of hadith, and
how the hadith was transmitted adds value to the
authenticity of the hadith. For example, when relating
ahadith, often you will see the authors of the books
of hadith write "Hadathana" or "Akhbarana" or
sometimes they would just write "'an folan ‘an ilan"
(word "'an" means this hadith was reported "by" so and
so). These are not random words and are not used
without consequence. For example, "Hadathana" denotes
that the teacher read to the student and the student
is reporting that, while "akhbarana" means that the
student himself read it to the teacher and was
approved of the way he memorized it.
The study of hadith:
Scholars have given the study of hadith a great
weight. They argued over how early one can start
studying it and how one can perfect it. Some said as
early as 10 years, others said 12, 15 or 20.
Incidentally, one scholar said a child can start
learning hadith as soon as he can tell the difference
between a cow and a donkey. J
As an example of how early you can begin, Imam
Shafii memorized all of Imam Malik's Muwata' when he
was only 10.
Authentication of Hadith:
Why Authenticate hadith? Why go through all the
different ranks and levels and scrutiny of each
The main reason was to preserve hadith from being
corrupted and altered by ideological and political
influence. That is, to protect hadith from
fabrication. Fabrication had many reasons, some were
political, some were simply personal interest. Still,
once the fear of people making up ahadith and
attributing them to the prophet became a real one,
scholars of religion began to dedicate themselves to
preservation of the prophetic traditions.
The ranks of hadith were devised by scholars of
hadith to evaluate the chain and the body of the
hadith and give it a rank that helps weed out
fabricated ahadith. It should be noted that even these
rankings are not absolute. Some scholars of hadith
were more strict than others. The scholars of hadith
themselves are ranked as "Mo'tadel" (moderate) such as
Al-Zhahabi, "Motashaddid" (strict) such as Ibn Al-Jawzi
and Ad-Daraqutani and "Mutasahil" (Lenient) such as
When determining the authenticity of a hadith, the
scholars examine the body of the hadith and the chain
of narrators. The chain is examined for two things,
frequency of narration and continuity to the prophet.
In addition to this, each narrator in the chain is
evaluated for his honesty and strength of memory.
Frequency of narration:
a) Mutawatir: A mutawatir hadith is one that is
narrated by a group of people in each level of its
chain. An example of "tawatur" is the fact that
Antarctica exists. It is something that a large group
of people saw (either in real life or satellite
photos) and then reported to a greater host of people
who then wrote it in books to the rest of us.
Mutawatir comes in two types:
1. Literally: Meaning that we have many copies of
the hadith narrated by different people but all the
exact same words. Those are very few among the
collection of prophetic tradition.
2. Contextually: This means that the hadith is
narrated by many people in each level of the chain but
not in the exact same words. There are many such
ahadith and most of them form the fundamental of
Islamic beliefs and jurisprudence.
b) Ahaad: This type constitutes the majority of the
prophetic traditions. It is the hadith that only has a
few concurrent narrators at each level in its chain of
narration. This in turn is divided into a few
subgroups. It is important to understand that in the
categories below, the number listed represent the
fewest number of concurrent narrators at any level in
the chain. So, for example if a hadith has 6 companion
narrators (that is level 1) and then 8 tabieen
narrators (level 2) and then 2 level 3 narrators and
then 12 level 4 narrators, then the width of this
hadith's chain is "2" which is the width of the chain
at level 3 because that is the narrowest that the
chain got to. So, this hadith would be Aziz (chain
width of 2) even though it is narrated by 6 Companions
and ultimately 10 people. Here are the types of Ahaad
1. Mashhoor (famous): It does not mean famous among
people, but frequently seen. This is the hadith that
has a minimum chain width of three.
2. Aziz (precious/rare): It is the hadith that has
a minimum chain width of two.
3. Gharib (stranger): It is the hadith that has a
minimal chain width of one.
4. al-Fard (single): This is of two types: (fard
mutlaq): where this particular hadith was transmitted
by that particular person only. Or (fard nisbi) this
has different meanings (1) none of the trustworthy
narrators transmitted this hadith except this person,
or (we can say) others narrated it as well but they
were not trustworthy. (2) none of the scholars from
any other region transmitted it except scholars from
Continuity of Narration:
a) Marfoo': Connected to the Prophet (SAAW). Means
the Companion narrator specifically stated that the
Prophet (SAAW) said this.
b) Hokm Al-Marfoo': Connected by reasoning. When
the Companion did not mention it is a saying of the
Prophet (SAAW) yet it is a matter that could have only
come from the Prophet (PBUH).
c) Musnad/Mutassil: Fully connected, this means
there are no missing gaps in the chain, everyone in
the chain heard it from the person directly before him
in the chain.
d) Mawqoof (stopped): the hadith is the saying of
e) Maqtoo' (cut): the hadith is the saying or
teaching of a tabi'ee (generation after the
f) Mursal: The Tabi'ee narrates that the Prophet (SAAW)
said without mentioning the Companion who told him
g) Mu'alaq (hanging): There is a discontinuity in
the chain at the beginning.
h) Munqati: There is a discontinuity in the chain
in the middle.
i) Mo'dal: There is a gap of two narrators in the
j) Mo'an'an: Narrated through the use of "'an" as
k) Musalsal: Narrated including a gesture or act by
the Prophet (SAAW) that is included in the tradition.
Ranks of Hadith:
Now we examine the different rankings of hadith
which as we said is a function of examining the
hadith's chain as well as its body.
a) Maqbool (accepted): This means the hadith is
accepted as proof in Islamic Jurisprudence. So that a
scholar of Islamic Law can hold this hadith to his
peers as proof of his point of view. This is divided
1. Sahih (correct/proper form): This is the highest
rank of authenticity and it has two sub ranks:
i. Intrinsic Sahih: Sahih because its chain and
body have passed all the necessary bars.
ii. Sahih through other means: This means the
hadith has slight flaws in its chain that should rank
it as Hassan (see below) but because of other ahadith
that may resonate the meaning the hadith is elevated
to the ranks of Sahih.
2. Hassan (good/well): Like wise it can also be
divided into intrinsic Hassan and Hassan through other
means which may be a weak hadith originally.
b) Mardood (rejected): This denotes the ahadith
that have serious flaws in their chain or body that
prevent them from being a proof in Jurisprudence and
law. They are divided into two types:
1. Da'eef (weak): This is ahadith that has flaws in
its chain that cannot be reconciled. This does not
necessarily mean the hadith is not true or that it is
fabricated. It basically means that this hadith
through this chain cannot be taken reliably to be the
words of the Prophet (SAAW).
2. Mawdoo' (fabricated): This is a hadith that has
an obvious taint of fabrication into its chain or
Here is a list of the criteria for qualifying a
hadith as Sahih:
a) No contradictions with Quran or other well
established Sahih hadith.
b) Continuity of the chain of narrators.
c) No Ellah (defects). And there has been many
works on the "Defects of hadith" by prominent scholars
like At-Termizhi and Ad-Daraqutani.
d) And every narrator in the chain had to be Adil
(Righteous), Truthful and Dabit (of strong memory).
If a sahih hadith fails some of these conditions,
it is degraded into the rank of Hassan. Some flaws
though would bring the hadith down to the rank of
I would like to interject here a note on the usage
of Da'eef hadith. Some people treat Da'eef hadith
nowadays as if it is useful. When someone says a
hadith they say "Oh, I heard it is Da'eef" as if that
somehow makes the hadith void. This is an incorrect
approach, if hadith da'eef was useless, then why did
all those scholars of hadith maintain it for 1400
hundred years? Why not just take it out? Da'eef has
many uses in our life and it is well established that
you can follow weak hadith in Fadha'il (moral
encouragement/spirituality). There are works by great
scholars of hadith on how and when to use Da'eef
hadith. In fact, sometimes a Da'eef hadith can be used
in Jurisprudence and taken as text. An example of this
is the Prophet's hadith that "there is no bequest for
an heir" meaning that you cannot bequest part of your
estate to someone who will inherit you naturally. This
is a Da'eef hadith yet one that has been used by
scholars of inheritance because it has been so widely
accepted and practiced.
Terminology of the scholars of
Just so that can get a picture of the amount of
work and dedication these scholars put into their
work, let us look at the titles and ranks they hold:
A scholar who is called a "Hujjah" of hadith is one
who memorizes at least 300,000 ahadith. A Hafiz is one
who memorizes 100,000. A Hakim is one who memorizes
all of the known ahadith.
If you find these numbers amazing. Consider this..
Imam Ahmad memorized one thousand thousand ahadith
(not a type, that is one million). He said of them he
knew 700,000+ that were Sahih. Abu Zar'a Ar-Razi
memorized 700,00 ahadith. Muslim memorized 140,000 on
Tafseer (explanation of Quran) and 300,000 ahadith in
total. Imam Bukhari memorized 100,000 Sahih hadith and
200,000 that were not Sahih.
A final point to think about is that despite all
their work, the scholars of hadith are still scholars
of hadith. Being a scholar of hadith does not
automatically make one a scholar of Fiqh (Islamic
Jurisprudence). An obvious example of this is Al-Amash
who was one of the greatest scholars of hadith in the
time of Imam Abu Hanifah. And when he was asked on a
certain matter he said he knew no hadith on this
matter. Yet Abu Hanifah gave a fatwah on this matter
based on a hadith that he proclaimed that he heard
from al-Amash. When Al-Amash inquired from Imam Abu
Hanifah, the Imam explained to him how he used one of
the ahadith that Al-Amash told him to view this and
Al-Amash said "We (the scholars of hadith) are like
the Pharmacists and you (the scholars of Fiqh) are
like the Doctors."
Question: Is there a certain science behind the
naming of the books of hadith as Sahih Bukhari or
Musnad Ahmad and so forth?
Answer: Yes, there is actually very specific
terminology for naming books of hadith:
a) Sahih: Means the book only contains Sahih
ahadith. Examples of this would be Sahih Al-Bukhari.
b) Sunan: Means the book is ordered in the ordering
of the books of fiqh (that is, it begins with Taharah
"purity" and then Prayer, fasting, charity…).
c) Al-Jami': Means the book contains eight specific
chapters in its index. Those include Seerah (life of
the Prophet SAAW) and Tafseer (explanation of Quran).
d) Musnad: Means the book is indexed by the Sahabah
(i.e. one chapter for ahadith narrated by Aysha, then
one for ahadith narrated by Omar and so forth).
e) Mustadrak: A continuation of a work by a
previous scholar. An example would be a scholar who
would try to collect all the sahih hadith on Seerah.
And then a later scholar would write a book that would
append ahadith he believes the original author omitted
or did not know about.