In the Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate the Most Merciful
We have, Without doubt, sent down the message: and we will assuredly guard it (from corruption) (Qur’an 15:9)
The promise made by Allah(SWT) in Qur’an 15:9 is obviously fulfilled in the undisputed purity of the Qur’anic text throughout the fourteen centuries since its revelation. However, what is often forgotten by many Muslims is that the divine promise also includes, by necessity, the Sunnah of the Prophet(P), because the Sunnah is the practical example of the implementation of the Qur’anic guidance, the wisdom taught to the Prophet(P) along with the scripture, and neither the Qur’an nor the Sunnah can be understood correctly without the other.
Allah(SWT) preserved the Sunnah by enabling the Companions and those after them to memorize, write down and pass on the statements of the Prophet(P), and the descriptions of his way, as well as to continue the blessings of practicing the Sunnah.
Later, as the purity of the knowledge of the Sunnah became threatened, Allah(SWT) caused the Muslim Ummah to produce individuals with exceptional memory skills and analytical expertise, who travelled tirelessly to collect thousands of narrations and distinguish the true words of prophetic wisdom from those corrupted by weak memories, from forgeries by unscrupulous liars, and from the statements of the large number of Ulama (scholars), the Companions and those who followed their way. All of this was achieved through precise attention to the words narrated, and detailed familiarity with the biographies of the thousands of reporters of hadith.
The methodology of the expert scholars of hadith in assessing the narrations and sorting out the genuine from the mistaken and fabricated, for ms the subject matter of the science of hadith. In this article a brief discussion is given of the terminology and classifications of hadith.
Components Of Hadith
A hadith is composed of three parts (see the figure [below]):
Matn (text), isnad (chain of reporters), and taraf (the part, or the beginning sentence, of the text which refers to the sayings, actions or characteristics of the Prophet(P), or his concurrence with others action). The authenticity of the hadith depends on the reliability of its reporters, and the linkage among them.
Classifications Of Hadith
A number of classifications of hadith have been made. Five of these classifications are shown in the figure [below], and are briefly described subsequently.
- According to the reference to a particular authorityFour types of hadith can be identified.
- Qudsi – Divine; a revelation from Allah(SWT); relayed with the words of the Prophet(P).
- Marfu` – elevated; a narration from the Prophet(P), e.g., I heard the Prophet(P) saying …
- Mauquf– stopped: a narration from a companion only, e.g., we were commanded to …
- Maqtu` – severed: a narration from a successor.
- According to the links of isnad – interrupted or uninterruptedSix categories can be identified.
- Musnad – supported: a hadith which is reported by a traditionalist, based on what he learned from his teacher at a time of life suitable for learning; similarly – in turn – for each teacher until the isnad reaches a well known companion, who in turn, reports from the Prophet(P).
- Muttasil – continuous: a hadith with an uninterrupted isnad which goes back only to a companion or successor.
- Mursal – hurried: if the link between the successor and the Prophet(P) is missing, e.g., when a successor says “The Prophet said…”.
- Munqati` – broken: is a hadith whose link anywhere before the successor (i.e., closer to the traditionalist recording the hadith) is missing.
- Mu`adal – perplexing: is a hadith whose reporter omits two or more consecutive reporters in the isnad.
- Mu`allaq – hanging: is a hadith whose reporter omits the whole isnad and quotes the Prophet(P) directly (i.e., the link is missing at the beginning).
- According to the number of reporters involved in each stage of isnadFive categories of hadith can be identified:
- Mutawatir – Consecutive: is a hadith which is reported by such a large number of people that they cannot be expected to agree upon a lie, all of them together.
- Ahad – isolated: is a hadith which is narrated by people whose number does not reach that of the mutawatir.It is further classified into:
- Mash’hur – famous: hadith reported by more than two reporters.
- `Aziz – rare, strong: at any stage in the isnad, only two reporters are found to narrate the hadith.
- Gharib – strange: At some stage of the isnad, only one reporter is found relating it.
- According to the nature of the text and isnad
- Munkar – denounced: is a hadith which is reported by a weak narrator, and whose narration goes against another authentic hadith.
- Mudraj – interpolated: an addition by a reporter to the text of the hadith being narrated.
- According to the reliability and memory of the reportersThis provides the final verdict on a hadith – four categories can be identified:
- Sahih – sound. Imam al-Shafi`i states the following requiremetts for a hadith, which is not Mutawatir, to be acceptable “each reporter should be trustworthy in his religion; he should be known to be truthtul in his narrating, to understand what he narrates, to know how a different expression can alter the meaning, and to report the wording of the hadith verbatim, not only its meaning”.
- Hasan – good: is the one where its source is known and its reporters are unambiguous.
- Da`if – weak: a hadith which fails to reach the status of Hasan. Usually, the weakness is: a) one of discontinuity in the isnad, in which case the hadith could be – according to the nature of the discontinuity – Munqati (broken), Mu`allaq (hanging), Mu`adal (perplexing), or Mursal (hurried), or b) one of the reporters having a disparaged character, such as due to his telling lies, excessive mistakes, opposition to the narration of more reliable sources, involvement in innovation, or ambiguity surrounding his person.
- Maudu`- fabricated or forged: is a hadith whose text goes against the established norms of the Prophet’s sayings, or its reporters include a liar. Fabricated hadith are also recognized by external evidence related to a discrepancy found in the dates or times of a particular incident.
Terminology pertaining to a narration’s origin
Different terms are used for the origin of a narration. These terms specify whether a narration is attributed to Muhammad, a companion, a successor or a latter historical figure.
Ibn al-Salah said: “Marfoʻ (مَرْفُوْع) refers to a narration attributed specifically to the Prophet [Muhammad]. This term does not refer to other than him unless otherwise specified. The category of marfuʻ is inclusive of narrations attributed to the Prophet regardless of their being muttasil, munqatiʻ or mursal among other categories.
According to Ibn al-Salah, “Mawquf (مَوْقُوْف) refers to a narration attributed to a companion, whether a statement of that companion, an action or otherwise.”
Ibn al-Salah defined maqtu` (مَقْطُوْع) as a narration attributed to a Tabi‘i (a successor of one of Muhammad’s companions), whether it is a statement of that successor, an action or otherwise. In spite of the linguistic similarity, it is distinct from munqatiʻ.
Terminology relating to the number of narrators in an isnad
In hadith terminology, a hadith is divided into two categories based, essentially, upon the number of narrators mentioned at each level in a particular isnād.
In hadith terminology, a hadith is divided into two categories based, essentially, upon the number of narrators mentioned at each level in a particular isnād. Consideration is given to the fewest narrators at any level of the chain of narration; thus if ten narrators convey a hadith from two others who have conveyed it from ten, it is considered ʻaziz, not mashhur.
The first category is mutawatir (مُتَواتِر meaning “successive”) narration. A successive narration is one conveyed by narrators so numerous that it is not conceivable that they have agreed upon an untruth thus being accepted as unquestionable in its veracity. The number of narrators is unspecified.A hadith is said to be mutawatir if it was reported by a significant, though unspecified, number of narrators at each level in the chain of narration, thus reaching the succeeding generation through multiple chains of narration leading back to its source. This provides confirmation that the hadith is authentically attributed to its source at a level above reasonable doubt. This is due to its being beyond historical possibility that narrators could have conspired to forge a narration. In contrast, an ahaad hadith is a narration the chain of which has not reached a number sufficient to qualify as mutawatir.
Types of mutawatir
Hadiths can be mutawatir in both actual text and meaning:Mutawatir in wordingA hadith whose words are narrated by such a large number as is required for a mutawatir, in a manner that all the narrators are unanimous in reporting it with the same words without any substantial discrepancy.For example: “[Muhammad said:] Whoever intentionally attributes a lie against me, should prepare his seat in the Fire.” This is a mutawatir hadith in its wordings because it has a minimum of seventy-four narrators. In other words, seventy-four companions of Muhammad have reported this hadith at different occasions, all with the same words. The number of those who received this hadith from the Companions is many times greater, because each of the seventy four Companions has conveyed it to a number of his students. Thus the total number of narrators of this hadith has been increasing in each successive generation and has never been less than seventy-four. All these narrators who now are hundreds in number, report it in the same words without even a minor change. This hadith is therefore mutawatir in its wording, because it cannot be imagined reasonably that such a large number of people have colluded to coin a fallacious sentence in order to attribute it to Muhammad.Mutwatir in meaningA hadith which is not reported by multiple narrators using the same words. The words of the narrators are different. Sometimes even the reported events are not the same. But all the narrators are unanimous in reporting a basic concept, which is common in all reports. This common concept is also ranked as a mutawatir concept.For example: It is reported by such a large number of narrators that Muhammad enjoined Muslims to perform two ra’kat in Fajr, four ra’kat in Dhuhr, Asr and Esha and three ra’kat in the Maghrib prayer, yet the narrations of all the reporters who reported the number of ra’kat are not in the same words. Their words are different and even the events reported by them are different. But the common feature of all the reports is the same: the exact number of ra’kat. The hadith is thus said to be mutawatir in meaning.
The second category, ahaad (آحاد meaning “singular”) narration, refers to any hadith not classified as mutawatir. Linguistically, hadith ahad refers to a hadith narrated by only one narrator. In hadith terminology, it refers to a hadith not fulfilling all of the conditions necessary to be deemed mutawatir.Hadith ahad consists of three sub-classifications also relating to the number of narrators in the chain or chains of narration
The first category is mashhur (مَشْهُوْر). This refers to hadith conveyed by three or more narrators but not considered mutawatir.
An ʻaziz (عَزِيْز) hadith is any hadith conveyed by two narrators at every point in its isnād (chain of narrators).
A gharib (غَرِيْب) hadith is one conveyed by only one narrator. Al-Tirmidhi’s understanding of a gharib hadith, concurs to a certain extent with that of the other traditionists. According to him a hadith may be classified as gharib for one of the following three reasons:
- Firstly, a hadith may be classified as gharib since it is narrated from one chain only. Al-Tirmidhi mentions as an example a tradition from Hammad ibn Salamah from Abu ‘Usharai on the authority of his father who enquired from the Prophet whether the slaughtering of an animal is confined to the gullet and throat. The Prophet replied that stabbing the thigh will also suffice.
- Secondly, a tradition can be classified as gharib due to an addition in the text, though it will be considered a sound tradition, if that addition is reported by a reliable reporter. The example cited by al-Tirmidhi is a tradition narrated through the chain of Malik (died 179 AH) from Nafi’ (died 117 AH) on the authority of Ibn ‘Umar (died 73 AH) who stated that the Prophet declared alms-giving at the end of Ramadan obligatory upon every Muslim, male or female, whether a free person or slave from the Muslims. However, this tradition has also been narrated by Ayyub Sakhtiyani and ‘Ubaid Allah ibn ‘Umar, without the addition “from the Muslims”, hence the above-mentioned example due to the addition of “from the Muslims” in the text is classified as gharib.
- Thirdly, a tradition may be declared gharib since it is narrated through various chains of transmitters but having within one of its chains an addition in the isnād.
Terminology relating to the authenticity of a Hadith
Ibn al-Salah said,”Hadith, in the view of scholars of this discipline, fall into the divisions of ‘sound’ (ṣaḥīḥ), ‘fair’ (ḥasan), and ‘weak’ (ḍaʻīf).” While these divisions are further broken down into sub-categories each with their own terminology, the final outcome is essentially to determine whether a particular hadith is ṣaḥīḥ or ḍaʻīf.
The individual terms are numerous, with Ibn al-Salah including sixty-five in his Introduction to the Science of Hadith and then commenting: “This is the end of them, but not the end of what is possible, as this is subject to further particularization to an innumerable extent.” Al-Bulqini commented on this by saying, “We have added five more categories, making it seventy.” Ibn al-Mulaqqin counted the various types as being “more than eighty”and al-Suyuti included ninety-three in Tadrib al-Rawi. Muḥammad al-Ḥāzimī acknowledged the numerous terms, reaching almost 100 by his own count, saying: “Be aware that the science of hadith consists of numerous types reaching almost a hundred. Each type is an independent discipline in and of itself and were a student to devote his life to them he would not reach their end.”
Ṣaḥīḥ (صَحِيْح) may be translated as “authentic”or “sound.” Ibn Hajar defines a hadith that is ṣaḥīḥ lidhātihi (“ṣaḥīḥ in and of itself”) as a singular narration (ahaad; ) conveyed by a trustworthy, completely competent person, either in his ability to memorize or to preserve what he wrote, with a muttaṣil (“connected”) isnād (“chain of narration”) that contains neither a serious concealed flaw (ʻillah)علة nor irregularity (shādhdh). He then defines a hadith that is ṣaḥīḥ lighairihi (“ṣaḥīḥ due to external factors”) as a hadith “with something, such as numerous chains of narration, strengthening it.”
Ibn Hajar’s definitions indicate that there are five conditions to be met for a particular hadith to be considered ṣaḥīḥ:
- Each narrator in the chain of narration must be trustworthy;
- Each narrator must be reliable in his ability to preserve that narration, be it in his ability to memorize to the extent that he can recall it as he heard it, or, that he has written it as he heard it and has preserved that written document unchanged;
- The isnād must be connected (muttasil) insofar as it is at least possible for each narrator in the chain to have received the hadith from a predecessor;
- The hadith, including its isnād, is free of ʻillah (hidden detrimental flaw or flaws, e.g. the establishment that two narrators, although contemporaries, could not have shared the hadith, thereby breaking the isnād.)
- The hadith is free of irregularity, meaning that it does not contradict another hadith already established (accepted).
A number of books were authored in which the author stipulated the inclusion of ṣaḥīḥ hadith alone.
According to Sunni Islam, which reflects the beliefs followed by 80–90% of adherents of Islam worldwide,this was only achieved by the first two books in the following list:
- Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī. Considered the most authentic book after the Quran.
- Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim. Considered the next most authentic book after Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī.
- Ṣaḥīḥ ibn Khuzaymah. Al-Suyuti was of the opinion that Ṣaḥīḥ Ibn Khuzaymah was at a higher level of authenticity than Ṣaḥīḥ Ibn Ḥibbān.
- Ṣaḥīḥ Ibn Ḥibbān. Al-Suyuti also concluded that Ṣaḥīḥ Ibn Ḥibbān was more authentic than Al-Mustadrak alaa al-Ṣaḥīḥain.
- al-Mustadrak ʻalā al-Ṣaḥīḥayn, by Hakim al-Nishaburi.
- Al-Āhādith al-Jiyād al-Mukhtārah min mā laysa fī Ṣaḥīḥain by Ḍiyāʼ al-Dīn al-Maqdisī, authenticity considered.
Different branches of Islam refer to different collections of hadiths or give preference to different ones.
Ḥasan (حَسَن meaning “good”) is used to describe hadith whose authenticity is not as well-established as that of ṣaḥīḥ hadith, but sufficient for use as supporting evidence.
Ibn Hajar defines a hadith that is ḥasan lithatihi – “ḥasan in and of itself” – with the same definition a ṣaḥīḥ hadith except that the competence of one of its narrators is less than complete; while a hadith that is ḥasan ligharihi (“ḥasan due to external factors”) is determined to be ḥasan due to corroborating factors such as numerous chains of narration. He states that it is then comparable to a ṣaḥīḥ hadith in its religious authority. A ḥasan hadith may rise to the level of being ṣaḥīḥ if it is supported by numerous isnād (chains of narration); in this case that hadith would be ḥasan lithatihi (“ḥasan in and of itself”) but, once coupled with other supporting chains, becomes ṣaḥīḥ ligharihi (“ṣaḥīḥ due to external factors”).
The early scholar of hadith, Muhammad ibn Abdullah al-Hakim, defines a musnad (مُسْنَد meaning “supported”) hadith as:
A hadith which a reports from his shaikh whom he has apparently heard hadith from at an age conducive to thascholar of haditht, and likewise each shaikh having heard from his shaikh until the isnād reaches a well known Companion, and then the Messenger of Allah. An example of that is:
Abu ‘Amr ‘Uthman ibn Ahmad al-Samak narrated to us in Baghdad: al-Ḥasan ibn Mukarram narrated to us: ʻUthman ibn ‘Umar narrated to us: Yunus informed us from al-Zuhri from ʻAbdullah ibn Kaʻb ibn Mālik from his father Ka’b ibn Malik who sought from ibn Abi Hadrad payment of a debt the latter owed the former while in the mosque. Their voices became raised to the extent that they were heard by the Messenger of Allah. He exited only by lifting the curtain of his apartment and said, “O Kaʻb! Relieve him of his debt,” gesturing to him in way indicating by half. So he Kaʻb said, “Yes,” and the man paid him.
To clarify this example I have given: my having heard from Ibn al-Samak is apparent, his having heard from al-Ḥasan ibn al-Mukarram is apparent, likewise Hasan having heard from ‘Uthman ibn ‘Umar and ‘Uthman ibn ‘Umar from Yunus ibn Yazid – this being an elevated chain for ‘Uthman. Yunus was known [for having heard from] al-Zuhri, as was al-Zuhri from the sons of Ka’b ibn Malik, and the sons of Ka’b ibn Malik from their father and Ka’b from the Messenger as he was known for being a Companion. This example I have made applies to thousands of hadith, citing just this one hadith regarding the generality [of this category]
Musnad format of hadith collection
A musnad hadith should not be confused with the type of hadith collection similarly termed musannaf, which is arranged according to the name of the companion narrating each hadith. For example, a musnad might begin by listing a number of the hadith, complete with their respective sanads, of Abu Bakr, and then listing a number of hadith from Umar, and then Uthman ibn Affan and so on. Individual compilers of this type of collection may vary in their method of arranging those Companions whose hadith they were collecting. An example of this type of book is the Musnad of Ahmad.
Muttaṣil (مُتَّصِل) refers to a continuous chain of narration in which each narrator has heard that narration from his teacher.
Ḍaʻīf (ضَعِيْف) is the categorization of a hadith as “weak”. Ibn Hajar described the cause of a hadith being classified as weak as “either due to discontinuity in the chain of narrators or due to some criticism of a narrator.”This discontinuity refers to the omission of a narrator occurring at different positions within the isnād and is referred to using specific terminology accordingly as discussed below.
Categories of discontinuity
Discontinuity in the beginning of the isnād, from the end of the collector of that hadith, is referred to as muʻallaq (مُعَلَّق meaning “suspended”). Muʻallaq refers to the omission of one or more narrators. It also refers to the omission of the entire isnād, for example, (an author) saying only: “The Prophet said…” In addition, this includes the omission of the isnād except for the companion, or the companion and successor together.
Mursal (مُرْسَل meaning “sent or transmitted”): if the narrator between the Successor and Muhammad is omitted from a given isnād, the hadith is mursal, e.g., when a Successor says, “The Prophet said …” Since Sunnis believe in the uprightness of all Sahaba, they do not view it as a necessary problem if a Successor does not mention what Sahaba he received the hadith from. This means that if a hadith has an acceptable chain all the way to a Successor, and the successor attributes it to an unspecified companion, the isnād is considered acceptable. There are, however, different views in some cases: If the Successor is a young one and it is probable that he omitted an elder Successor who in turn reported from a companion. The opinion held by Imam Malik and all Maliki jurists is that the mursal of a trustworthy person is valid, just like a musnad hadith. This view has been developed to such an extreme that to some of them, the mursal is even better than the musnad, based on the following reasoning: “The one who reports a musnad hadith leaves you with the names of the reporters for further investigation and scrutiny, whereas the one who narrates by way of irsal (the absence of the link between the successor and the Prophet), being a knowledgeable and trustworthy person himself, has already done so and found the hadith to be sound. In fact, he saves you from further research.”Others reject the mursal of a younger Successor.
Muʻḍal (مُعْضَل meaning “problematic”) describes the omission of two or more consecutive narrators from the isnād.
A hadith described as munqaṭiʻ (مُنْقَطِع meaning “disconnected”) is one in which the chain of people reporting the hadith (the isnād) is disconnected at any point.The isnād of a hadith that appears to be muttaṣil but one of the reporters is known to have never heard hadith from his immediate authority, even though they lived at the same time, is munqaṭiʻ. It is also applied when someone says “A man told me…”.
Other types of weakness
Munkar (مُنْكَر meaning “denounced”) – According to Ibn Hajar, if a narration which goes against another authentic hadith is reported by a weak narrator, it is known as munkar. Traditionists as late as Ahmad used to simply label any hadith of a weak reporter as munkar.
Shādhdh (شاذّ meaning “anomalous”) — According to al-Shafi’i, a shādhdh hadith is one which is reported by a trustworthy person who contradicts the narration of a person more reliable than he is. It does not include a hadith which is unique in its matn and is not narrated by someone else.
Muḍṭarib (مُضْطَرِب meaning “shaky”) – According to Ibn Kathir, if reporters disagree about a particular shaikh, or about some other points in the isnād or the matn, in such a way that none of the opinions can be preferred over the others, and thus there is irreconcilable uncertainty, such a hadith is called muḍṭarib.
An example is the following hadith attributed to Abu Bakr:
“O Messenger of Allah! I see you getting older?” He (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) replied, “What made me old are Surah Hud and its sister surahs.”
The hadith scholar Al-Daraqutni commented: “This is an example of a muḍṭarib hadith. It is reported through Abu Ishaq, but as many as ten different opinions are held regarding this isnād. Some report it as mursal, others as muttasil; some take it as a narration of Abu Bakr, others as one of Sa’d or ʻA’ishah. Since all these reports are comparable in weight, it is difficult to prefer one above another. Hence, the hadith is termed as muḍṭarib.”
A hadith that is mawḍūʻ (مَوْضُوْع) is one determined to be fabricated and cannot be attributed to its origin. Al-Dhahabi defines mawḍūʻ as a hadith of which the text contradicts established norms of the Prophet’s sayings or of which the reporters include a liar.
Recognizing fabricated hadith
- Some of these hadith were known to be spurious by the confession of their inventors. For example, Muhammad ibn Sa`id al-Maslub used to say, “It is not wrong to fabricate an isnād for a sound statement.” Another notorious inventor, ʻAbd al-Karim Abu ‘l-Auja, who was killed and crucified by Muhammad ibn Sulaiman ibn ʻAli, governor of Basra, admitted that he had fabricated four thousand hadith declaring lawful the prohibited and vice versa.
- Mawḍūʻ narrations are also recognised by external evidence related to a discrepancy found in the dates or times of a particular incident. For example, when the second caliph, Umar ibn al-Khattab decided to expel the Jews from Khaybar, some Jewish dignitaries brought a document to Umar attempting to prove that the Prophet had intended that they stay there by exempting them from the jizya (tax on non-Muslims under the rule of Muslims); the document carried the witness of two companions, Sa’d ibn Mua’dh and Mu’awiyah ibn Abi Sufyan. Umar rejected the document outright, knowing that it was fabricated because the conquest of Khaybar took place in 6 AH, whereas Sa’d ibn Mua’dh died in 5 AH just after the Battle of the Trench, and Mu’awiyah embraced Islam in 8 AH, after the conquest of Mecca.
Causes of fabrication
There are several factors which may motivate an individual to fabricate a narration:
- political differences;
- factions based on issues of creed;
- fabrications by heretics;
- fabrications by story-tellers;
- fabrications by ignorant ascetics;
- prejudice in favour of town, race or a particular leader;
- inventions for personal motives;
- the desire to promote proverbs into hadith;
- fabrications to psychologically destroy initiative and ingenuity;
- fabrications to lower the standing of the last Messenger;
- fabrications to create convolutions in Islam and induce a chronic feeling of guilt in the Muslim mind;
- fabrications to establish Hadith literature as a source of religion through Hadith itself;
- fabrications to cast doubts on the text of Quran.
A number of hadith specialists have collected fabricated hadith separately in order to distinguish them from other hadith.Examples include:
- Al-Maudu`at by Abul-Faraj Ibn Al-Jawzi.
- Kitab al-Abatil by al-Jauraqany.
- Al-La’ali al- Masnu’ah fi ‘l-Ahadith al-Mawduʻah by al-Suyuti.
- Al-Mawduʻat by Ali al-Qari.
- Al-Fawaid al-Majmu’ah fi al-Ahaadeeth al-Mawdu’ah by Muhammad ash-Shawkani.