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Authenticating Hadith (Sayings of the Prophet) – An Overview

Sunnah and it’s roles

The Sunnah (traditions) of the Prophet SAWS, along with Quran, is the cornerstone of the teachings of Islam. Among majority of the scholars, the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad SAWS is defined as the sayings (Hadith Qauli or the verbal order), actions (Hadith Fa’lee or the action) or approval of actions (Hadith Taqreeri) that are related to the beliefs as well as rulings of the Islamic faith – both in terms of rituals as well as daily life actions. The Sunnah has one of three roles when it comes to a ruling.

  1. It emphasizes what is mentioned in Quran. e.g., the emphasis in many aHadith (Plural of Hadith) on the importance of prayers similar to what is mentioned in the Quran;
  2. It explains what has come as a ruling in Quran. e.g., the number of daily prayers and the number of rakaa’h in each prayer.
  3. It initiates a ruling that is binding upon the followers of the religion of Islam. e.g., forbidding eating the flesh of donkey.

Throughout the history, people attacking the validity of Islam as well as some who believed in Islam have questioned the authenticity of the traditions and sayings of the Prophet SAWS. Some of the points that they raise are:

  • Accuracy of the text being narrated
  • Forgetfulness of the narrators
  • Deceit on part of the narrators

Eid Mubarak for Eid Al-Fitr after Ramadan and fasting

Establishing the Science of Sunnah and Hadeeth

To answer the questions raised above, one would need to visit the history of the development of this science. Islamic scholars have been concerned and involved with the authenticity of Hadith from the days of the Prophet SAWS. The Prophet in the beginning of the days of revelation would ask the companions not to write down his sayings. Some of the reasons for this were the following:

  • The companions would confuse the verses of the Quran with his sayings as they had yet to memorize the Quran
  • They might leave the teachings of Quran and emphasize more on the Sunnah
  • The original list of companions was small and the Arabs were known to have a very sharp memory

Later, as time passed, the Prophet SAWS allowed the companions to write down his sayings on different media such as skins, rocks, etc. The Prophet SAWS personally vouched for the truthfulness of his companions and as one of the companions himself described:

We were a nation where no one would lie to each other. But when the Prophet SAWS passed away and lying became more prevalent, we would ask the narrator to name the source from where he was quoting the Hadith

The companions of the Prophet SAWS would be very careful in narrating a Hadith and many would refuse to do so for many reasons including:

  • The fear of accidentally falsifying the Hadith – Abu Bakar once said: “Which sky will cover me and which earth will refuge me if I say something in this religion which is not true” (i.e. what if I make a mistake and people start following it)
  • Fear of forgetting the text – When one of the companions was asked to narrate a hadeeth, he said: “We grew and we forgot and the Hadith of the Prophet SAWS is difficult” (i.e. its memorization)

Encyclopedia of Islam in the United States [Two Volumes]

Science of the narrators (Ilm Alrijaal)

As the companions started to pass away, the era of Tabi’een (generation after companions that never saw the Prophet SAWS) began. During this time, the scholars became very careful in narrating the traditions and the scholars would emphasize on naming the source before accepting any narration of hadeeth. Many scholars of this generation were known to travel many miles and take on arduous journeys to even collect one Hadith from the companions of the Prophet SAWS. When a person would narrate a Hadith, some of the steps that scholars would take to establish the authenticity of the Hadith would include the following.

  1. They would review the history of the narrator to ensure that he did not have a history of lying.
  2. Some of the scholars would ask the narrator of their source and then would travel themselves to confirm the source and thus the authenticity of the Hadith.
  3. They would evaluate the text against the verses of the Quran as well as other Ahadith to ensure that it did not violate any other established text.

The first two actions came to be known as Ilm Alrijaal or the science of the narrators. During this time, they started documenting both the Ahadith as well as the science of narrators. The documenting of Hadith would consist of documenting the actual text along with the whole chain of narrations. A sample Hadith would look something like:

“On the authority of person X, who heard from the companion Y that the Prophet SAWS said ‘text goes here’ “

Merely documenting the text would not guarantee the authenticity of the Hadith. Rather, it would document what the narrator collected and would leave the judgment to the reader. The readers would present this to established scholars of the time who would comment on the authenticity as they would have already spent a lifetime in this effort and would be fully knowledgeable of the science of narrators. Any text without the narrations would not be looked at and simply discarded when it came to passing a ruling.

The science of narrators consisted of documenting the names of the narrators and their attributes. An example would look like:

“Person X: Dependable, truthful as described by person A, person B, person C

Person Y: Falsifier, liar known for his deceit as described by his actions and W, K, L”

Hadith and Prophet’s Saying on delaying salat due to excessive heat – Sahih Bukhari

While Islam forbids backbiting, the scholars would not consider this as such. They maintained that the people have a right to know the authenticity of the narrator to be able to judge the Hadith.

The science of narrations and the narrators continued on this trend until scholars like Bukahri, Muslim, Ibn Hibban, Hakim, Ibn Majah, Nasai, etc. took upon themselves to compile these Ahadith into books. The scholars took various routes to these compilations such as:

  • Compile only the Sahih (Authentic) Ahadith. Examples would be Bukhari, Muslim and Hakim. While all these scholars strived to compile the authentic Ahadith, they were still reviewed by the contemporary scholars as well as scholars after them. While all the past and contemporary scholars of Ahadith agree upon the authenticity of Bukahri and Muslim, they did not grant the same status to other books such as Sahih Ibn Hibban and wrote commentaries on the Ahadith contained in those books.
  • Compile the sayings that were related only to jurisprudence. Such a book would only include the sayings related to rituals of worship and daily life without including the sayings related to the Islamic creed (Aqeedah). Such books would not comment on the authenticity but rather give the full narrations including the chain of narration. The authenticity of those narrations were left to the established authorities such as Bukhari, Muslim and others after them.

The above list is not meant to be exhaustive by any means as the students of this science spend many years trying to master these concepts.

Taxonomy and classes of Ahadith

Before concluding this piece of writing, it will be beneficial to list the taxonomy of Ahadith that have been compiled. Please note that only the most famous types are listed below.

Sahih: This is a Hadi
th which has a chain of narration that is composed of trusted narrators and the text of the Hadith is unqualified (Example of qualifications would be the ruling in the text being revoked by a later ruling such as the fasting of the tenth of Muharram used to be mandatory but later became voluntary when the fasting during the month of Ramadhan was mandated).

Hasan: This is similar to above, but the chain of narration is not quite as pristine.

Note: Any rulings contained in Ahadith that fall under the above two categories are considered as binding upon the Muslims by many scholars.

Mauquf: Such a narration is by the companion and not by the Prophet SAWS.

Mawdu: Such a narration is a falsified account due to either false text and / or one or more narrators who has been known to falsify narrations.

Mursal: This is a narration in which the Tabi’ee (generation after the companion) narrates a Hadith directly from the Prophet SAWS without mentioning the companion.

Maqtu: This is a narration in which there is a break in the chain of the narration. Since the era of existence and the dates of deaths of various narrators is known in the science of narrators, scholars can easily point out the missing links in the narrations.

Read Surah Al Insan Quran Recitation by Omar Hisham Al Arabi

The above Ahadith (with the exception of Sahih and Hasan) are not considered binding in determining a religious ruling and the scholars would not decide anything based on them.

The science of Hadith authentication is very comprehensive and includes numerous checks and balances. This post was meant to provide only an overview.

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21 comments… add one
  • abdulazeez

    This infomation was very valuable and very informative.

  • ALI NGOTA

    The information is useful for beginners. For advanced, the reader should read more especially the historical background with regard to the Prophet’s ( SAW) Companions views on Haddith collection after HIS death.

  • Mohamed Tajudeen

    Very useful.

  • Dr. Issa B.A.

    The information is quite explicit and highly educative.

  • Fazal

    AssalamualaiukumWarah matullaiwabarakatuh,
    The above given information is very beneficial.
    May Allah show us the straight path of islam, the path on which Allah has bestowed his mercy, not the path on which his punishment is there. Aameen

  • Sulayman Aliyu

    There can never be a comprehensive summary of Ilm Alhadith like this one. What a summary! Jazakumul Lah.

  • Hussain Habeeb

    very beneficial.

  • Marquis

    I think this article was very informative.

  • asalam o alakum . VERY GOOD INFORMATION . THANK U VERY MUCH.

  • Mahaboob Basha Shaik

    Thank you for providing a useful information regarding classification of Ahadith and about sunnah.

    In my view, If a Hadith is narrated on one issue by all the classes of Ahadith, we have to give preference to Sahih First such as Al-Sahih Bukhari, Al-Sahih Muslim then to Hasan.

    Allah knows the best.

    Jazakumullahi Khairan Kaseeran….

  • Alhaji umar

    Thank you for the enlightenment on the science of the Ahadith.

    Even the westerners know that there is a science in Islam that is very comprehensive, and that is the science of the Ahadith, due to all those conditions to be fulfilled to be able to qualify ahadith.

    Thank you once again, may Allah help you in all your work for the humanity.

    Bissalam.
    Umar

  • Salah

    Although the above mentioned information are correct, we should not take them for granted. The article does not cites its resources.
    Salaam

  • FAZELA

    This article is very interesting and also informative.

  • nada

    Assalamualaykum….masha allah very informative and very enlightening.!!

  • it is very impotrant information and Valuable for every one

  • Anonymous

    What does one do when he is following something all his life and then finds out something contrary to the fact,does he just except it research it or stay with his path which may have been his pillar of faith,or must we view his as pillar of falsehood…look for more more chain of narration that agree with his pillar….or wake up and smell who’s coffee ????????

    • Cassandra

      I’m going through that right now in my life. A lot of what I was taught concerning the Christian viewpoint that Jesus had to die and that he was a sacrifice to the sins of mankind, is becoming more and more apparent to me as a false ideology. I’m reading my Bible and the old testament in Psalm teaches that God did forgive the sins of people who would sincerely ask forgiveness. So then why did Jesus have to die for us to be forgiven when all we had to do was ask? There are much more things about that situation that doesn’t make sense anymore, so I’m looking towards the Islamic faith for more insight while reading the Bible and other Jewish texts. Always look for answers. We are given a lifetime to search and find the truths that bring us to God. It is our most worthwhile thing to do and we will become happier people in the process. Good luck on finding what it is you need!

  • AUDU MUHAMMAD NURU

    ASSALAIKUM RARAHMATULLAHI TA’ALAH WABARAKATAHU.
    The importance of this article stems from the categorisation of the traditions(ahadiths), through which our muslim brothers, sisters and those who want to become musltims get clear and guides.
    May ALLAH (SWA)reward you for this piece(ameen).

  • shukran, now i know the distinctions!!!!!! i can now differentiate one hadith from the other depending on where it belongs….

  • sadia

    great. and informative pessage………. written comprehensively thanks…jzk

  • Cassandra

    I’m new to learning about the Islamic faith and I had heard about the Hadith from listening to Islamic sermons on youtube. I am very impressed with the fact that your scholars took so much time and consideration to making sure that all the teachings were true teachings. Coming from a Christian background I look at the teachings of Paul in the new testament and get upset and angry with the fact that I see so many contradictions to what he says compared to Jesus, the other disciples, and often times himself. He even misquotes old scriptures to make new use of them to push his points. People look over the fact that he never was taught by Jesus yet he dominates the new testament completely. I want only to draw closer to God with truths, not lies and I’m thankful for the direction God is taking me in my life. This website is proven once again to be very helpful, thank you!

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