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What is Hadith?

By Jessica Hobby
Updated May 23, 2024
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Hadith is the collection of the Prophet Muhammad’s statements and actions coupled with the statements and actions of his companions. They are believed to have been collected beginning 150 years after Muhammad’s death in 632 C.E., and it is the basis of jurisprudence for Islamic or Sharia law. To begin to understand Islam, one must understand what parts make up a hadith, how it is classified, and how it is legitimized to mold Sharia.

There are two parts to hadith. The first part is matn, which is the specific content or text of the statements and actions of Muhammad and his companions. The second part is isnad, which is the record of the chain of transmitters all the way back to Muhammad, similar to a family tree. Although an isnad containing Muhammad’s bloodline carries more weight, one does not have to be related to Muhammad to be a transmitter.

Muslims classify hadith in four different categories. The first three categories refer specifically to Muhammad. Awl are the transmissions of Muhammad’s statements, fi'liare the transmission of Muhammad’s deeds or actions, and taqrir are the actions or deeds of the Prophet’s companions or others that Muhammad has approved of. The fourth category of classification is qudsi, which are the Prophet’s words, inspired by Allah, that are not recorded in the Qur'an.

Once a hadith undergoes critical analysis, it becomes authenticated, lending legitimacy to Sharia by offering legal proof. The process begins when Muslim scholars complete a thorough examination of the isnad. They look for information about the transmitters and the transmissions and examine the matn in historical context. Once the analysis is complete, the hadith is given a rating as sahih (authentic), hasan (good), da’if (weak), and mawdu or batil (forged). If a hadith is found to be sahih or hasan, it is admissible as Sharia.

In addition to offering legal proof for Sharia, the authentication and interpretation of hadith has had significant influences on the different sects of Islam. Each sect of Islam views different collections to be the legitimate one. They decide which sayings to trust and which are unreliable. Hadith is also examined against the Qur'an and any statement that conflicts with the Qur'an is thrown out.

Muslims consider the Qur'an the Divine Word of Allah, and it is above all else in Islam. Hadith is second with believers trusting the words and deeds of Muhammad, so it helps to provide supplementation and clarification to the Qur'an. It provides to Muslims a window to look at the Prophet’s way of life and offer examples of what he did or said so they may follow in his footsteps.

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Discussion Comments
By anon333828 — On May 08, 2013

@Post 3:

The determining of the reliability of Hadith is a science in itself is known as 'Uloom Al Hadith.' Shortly after the death of the Prophet (Peace be upon him), various Hadith collectors began to compile all the Hadith into Hadith collections - the most famous of which are Bukhari and Muslim. The aforementioned are particularly renowned due to the rigorous process they followed when deciding which Hadith to include in their collections. For example, Bukhari collected over 300,000 Hadith, but included only 2,602 in his collection known as the Sahih al Bukhari.

When considering which Hadith to include the chain of transmission (i.e the narrators who passed the Hadith down from one to another until it was heard by the Hadith collector), it was thoroughly scrutinized and assessed to determine its reliability. This assessing of the reliability of narrators became a science within itself known as 'Asma Al Rijaal' (Names of the Men) with books compiled detailing the thousands of Hadith narrators, their biographies, character, and therefore reliability as trusted narrators.

When considering the reliability of a narrator things which were looked at included:

1. Whether the narrator is trustworthy, honest, and upright

2. Whether they suffered from weak memory or other such factors which could affect the quality of their transmission

3. Whether the person can be vouched for by others for his/her reliability/good character

4. Whether their are other narrations which back-up/strengthen a particular narration.

Among other things.

So fortunately Muslims today have Hadith books which were compiled within a few generations of the passing away of the Prophet (PBUH) so they don't continuously need to assess chains of narrations. They just read the Hadith books, although there are still some scholars around who are able to inform you of the chain of narration right up to the person who they heard the Hadith from, coming from all the way since the time of the Prophet!

There is much more to the science of Hadith and the various classifications and this is just a very, very basic overview so if you want to find out more, reading some books on 'Uloom al Hadith,' or 'Sahih al Bukhari' would be a good start. Hope that answered your question.

By anon333824 — On May 08, 2013

@Post 5....

Your comments reek of your ignorance on this matter.

He killed thousands of people? Name one...

He never had 14 wives in his whole lifetime, never mind all at once.

And Amina was the name of his mother - not his wife.

Perhaps Jesus is to blame for the atrocities committed by Christian Hitler. Or Moses and Abraham for the killings by Zionists? Or is God responsible because he created us?

I just don't understand why you have to have the double standards. And why comment on this when you are clearly completely ignorant of the matter. If you really want to be able to comment - I suggest to make an effort to educate yourself about it first rather than being a keyboard jockey and making a complete joke of yourself.

I do hope ignorant people like yourself will stop being so stupid and realize their opinion does not hold even an atom of value to anyone with sense.

By anon322363 — On Feb 27, 2013

So all Muslims are actually aiming to act and live as Mohammad did.

Perhaps that's why there is so much Muslim terrorism today, as Mohammad himself was a warlord who mercilessly massacred thousands of innocent people.

It also explains why there is so much abuse of women in Islam as Mohammad had 14 wives at one time. He also got married to six year old Amina when he was 49 years old.

It also explains all the bloodshed and intolerance in the Egypt, Syria and other Muslim countries.

I do hope that one the beautiful Arab people will stop following the example of this Mohammad.

By anon278906 — On Jul 10, 2012

Islam as a whole needs to change to humanity. First they should be human then something else.

By bear78 — On May 01, 2011

@simrin- I know it all sounds a bit complicated. I felt the same until my teacher explained it to me. This is how he described it to work:

If someone came up and said "oh, I heard the Prophet say this and this," he needed to have several witnesses who could support his claim. Only when there were witnesses, could it be considered as a strong hadith.

Over the years, people passed the hadith to someone else, and that person to another and so forth. When someone states a hadith, they also need to give the list of all the people who passed it on. It says something like "F heard from E, who heard from D, who heard from C, who heard from B, who heard from A." People should always check for this chain to make sure they are given a strong hadith.

By SteamLouis — On Apr 29, 2011

Are there any hadiths right now that are waiting to be authenticated?

It has been such a long time since Muhammad has died, how can they possibly determine whether it is reliable or not?

By fify — On Apr 28, 2011

Hadith is very important for Muslims. We don't need the hadith per se to follow the path that God wants us to. All the very important information is in the Qur'an, it describes what the Islamic way of life should be.

But as Muslims, sometimes we are not sure about a specific topic. We don't know if we are doing the right thing because it is not mentioned in the Qur'an. When this happens, we can go to the hadith to learn what the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his family and friends have done in a similar situation. It helps direct us in the right way and clears any confusion.

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