The Arabic word hadith basically means ‘an item of news, conversation, a tale, a story or a report,’ whether historical or legendary, true or false, relating to the present or the past. Its secondary meaning as an adjective is ‘new’ as opposed to qadeem, ‘old’. However, like other Arabic words (e.g. salaah, zakaah), its meaning changed in Islaam. From the time of the Prophet, his stories and communications dominated all other forms of communication. Consequently, the term hadith began to be used almost exclusively for reports that spoke of his actions and sayings.
A hadith (pl. ahadith) is composed of two parts: the matn (text) and the Isnad (chain of reporters). A text may seem to be logical and reasonable but it needs an authentic Isnad with reliable reporters to be acceptable; ‘Abdullah b. al-Mubarak (d. 181 AH) is reported to have said, “The isnad is part of the religion: had it not been for the isnad, whoever wished to would have said whatever he liked.”
During the lifetime of the Prophet (ṣalla Allaahu ‘alaehi wa-sallam) and after his death, his Companions (Sahabah) used to refer to him when quoting his sayings. The Successors (Tabi’un) followed suit; some of them used to quote the Prophet (ṣalla Allaahu ‘alaehi wa-sallam) through the Companions while others would omit the intermediate authority – such a hadith was known as mursal (loose). It was found that the missing link between the Successor and the Prophet (ṣalla Allaahu ‘alaehi wa-sallam) might be one person, i.e. a Companion, or two persons, the extra person being an older Successor who heard the hadith from the Companion. This is an example of how the need for the verification of each isnad arose. Malik (d. 179) said, “The first one to utilise the isnad was Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri” (d. 124 AH).
Mustalah al-Hadith and Rijal
As time passed, more reporters were involved in each isnad, and so the situation demanded strict discipline in the acceptance of ahadith; the rules regulating this discipline are known as Mustalah al-Hadith (the Science of Hadith).
Mustalah books speak of a number of classes of hadith in accordance with their status. The following classifications can be made, each of which is explained later:
- According to the reference to a particular authority, e.g. the Prophet (ṣalla Allaahu ‘alaehi wa-sallam), a Companion, or a Successor; such ahadith are called marfu’ (elevated), mauquf (delayed) and maqtu’ (severed) respectively .
- According to the nature of the chain of reporters, i.e. whether interrupted or uninterrupted, e.g. musnad (supported), muttasil (continuous), munqati” (broken), mu’allaq (suspended), mu’dal (perplexing) and mursal (loose).
- According to the number of reporters involved in each isnad, e.g. mutawatir (consecutive) and ahad (isolated), the latter being divided into gharib (rare), ‘aziz (scarce), and mash-hur (widespread) .
- According to the way in which a saying has been reported such as using the words ‘an (-“on the authority of”), haddathana (-“he narrated to us”), akhbarana (-“he informed us”) or sami’tu (“I heard”). In this category falls the discussion about mudallas (concealed) and musalsal (connected) ahadith.
- According to the nature of the matn and isnad, e.g. an addition by a reliable reporter, known as ziyadah thiqa, or opposition by a lesser authority to a more reliable one, known as shadh (aloof). In some cases a text containing a vulgar expression, unreasonable remark or an apparently erroneous statement is rejected by the traditionists outright without consideration of the isnad. Such a hadith is known as munkar (denounced). If an expression or statement is proved to be an addition by a reporter to the text, it is declared as mudraj (added).
- According to a hidden defect found in the isnad or text of a hadith. Although it could be included in some of the previous categories, hadith mu’allal (defective hadith) is worthy to be explained separately. The defect can be caused in many ways; e.g. two types of hadith mu’allal are known as maqlub (overturned) and mudtarib (shaky).
- According to the reliability and memory of the reporters; the final verdict on a hadith depends mainly on this classification: verdicts such as sahih (sound), hasan (good), da’if (weak) and maudu’ (fabricated) rest mainly upon the nature of the reporters in the isnad.
Musatalah al-hadith is strongly associated with Rijal al-hadith (the study of the reporters of hadith). In scrutinising the reporters of a hadith, authenticating or disparaging remarks made by recognised experts, whether among the Successors or those after them, were found to be of great help. The earliest remarks cited in the books of Rijal go back to a host of Successors and those after during the first three centuries of Islam. A list of such names is provided by the author in his thesis, Criticism of Hadith among Muslims with reference to Sunan lbn Maja, at the end of chapters IV, V and VI. Among the earliest available works in this field are Tarikh of Ibn Ma’in (d. 233), Tabaqat of Khalifa b. Khayyat (d. 240), Tarikh of Bukhari (d. 256), Kitab al-Jarh wa al-Ta’dil of Ibn Abi Hatim (d. 327) and Tabaqat of Muhammad b. Sa’d al-Zuhri (d. 320).
A number of traditionists made efforts specifically for the gathering of information about the reporters of the five famous collections of hadith: those of Bukhari (d. 256), Muslim (d. 261), Abu Dawud (d. 275), Tirmidhi (d. 279) and Nasa’i (d. 303), giving authenticating and disparaging remarks in detail. The first major such work to include also the reporters of Ibn Maja (d. 273) is the ten-volume collection of al-Hafiz ‘Abd al-Ghani al-Maqdisi (d. 600), known as Al-Kamal fi Asma’ al-Rijal. Later, Jamal al-Din ‘Abd al-Hajjaj Yusuf b. ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Mizzi (d. 742) prepared an edited and abridged version of this work, but made a number of additions and punctuation of the names by names, places and countries of origin of the reporters. He named it Tahdhib al-Kamal fi Asma’ al-Rijal and produced it in twelve volumes. Further, one of al-Mizzi’s gifted pupils, Shams al-Din Abu ‘Abdullah Muhammad b. Ahmad b. ‘Uthman b. Qa’imaz al-Dhahabi (d. 748), summarised his shaikh’s work and produced two abridgements: a longer one called Tadhhib al-Tahdhib and a shorter one called Al-Kashif fi Asma’ Rijal al-Kutub al-Sitta.
Importance of Hadeeth
Revelation The Prophet’s sayings and actions were primarily based on revelation from Allaah and, as such, must be considered a fundamental source of guidance second only to the Qur’aan. Allaah in the Qur’aan said concerning the Prophet (s):
“(Muhammad) does not speak from his desires; indeed, what he says is revelation.”
(Soorah an-Najm, 53: 3-4)
Therefore, the hadeeth represents a personal source of divine guidance which Allaah granted His Prophet (s) which was similar in its nature to the Qur’aan itself. The Prophet (s) reiterated this point in one of his recorded statements,
“Indeed, I was given the Qur’aan and something similar to it along with it.”
(Sunan Abu Daud)