- ''This is a sub-article of Scientific method and hadith.
The Science of hadith
is the process that Muslim scholars use to evaluate hadith. It has been described by one hadith specialist, Jalal al-Din Abd al-al-Rahman al-Suyuti, as the science of the principles by which the conditions of both the sanad
, the chain of narration, and the matn
, the text of the hadith, are known. This science is concerned with the sanad and the matn with its objective being distinguishing the sahih
, authentic, from other than it. Ibn Hajr said the preferred definition is: knowledge of the principles by which the condition of the narrator and the narrated are determined.
The Importance of the Science of Hadith
“Certainly the science of hadith is from the best of the virtuous sciences as well as the most beneficial of the various disciplines,” said Uthman ibn Abd al-Rahman al-Shahrazuri, commonly known as Ibn al-Salah, in the introduction to his widely influential Introduction to the Science of Hadith (Ulum al-Hadith). “It is preferred by the noble from amongst men and is tended to by those scholars concerned with verifying the correct from the incorrect and those of complete scholarship; only those who are debased and lowly dislike it. It is the science most pervasive in respect to the other sciences in their various branches, in particular to jurisprudence being the most important of them.”
“The intended meaning of ‘other sciences’ here are those pertaining to religion,” explains Ibn Hajr, “Quranic exegesis, hadith, and jurisprudence. [The science of hadith] became the most pervasive due the need each of these three sciences have of it. [The need] hadith has [of its science] is apparent. As for Quranic exegesis, then the preferred manner of explaining the speech of Allah is by means of what has been accepted as a statement of His Prophet . The one looking to this is in need of distinguishing the acceptable from the unacceptable. Regarding jurisprudence, then the jurist is in need of citing as an evidence the acceptable to the exception of the later, something only possible utilizing the science of hadith.”
The classification of Hadith into Sahih (sound or authentic), Hasan (good) and Da'if (weak) was utilized early in hadith scholarship by Ali ibn al-Madini (161-234 AH). Later, al-Madini's student Muhammad al-Bukhari (810-870) authored a collection, now known as Sahih Bukhari, commonly accepted by Sunni scholars to be the most authentic collection of hadith, followed by that of his student Muslim ibn Hajjaj. Al-Bukhari's methods of testing hadiths and isnads are seen as exemplary of the developing methodology of hadith scholarship. I. A. Ahmad writes:
The Sanad and the Matn
are the primary elements of a hadith. The sanad is the information provided regarding the route by which the matn has been reached. It is so named due to the reliance of the hadith specialists upon it in determining the authenticity or weakness of a hadith. The term sanad is synonymous with the similar term isnad
. The matn is the actual wording of the hadith by which its meaning is established, or stated differently, the objective at which the sanad arrives at consisting of speech. The sanad consists of a ‘chain’ of the narrators each mentioning the one from whom they heard the hadith until mentioning the originator of matn along with the matn itself. The first people who received hadith were the Prophets's Companions; so they preserved and understood it, knowing both its generality and particulars, and then conveyed it to those after them as they were commanded. Then the generation following them, the Followers, received it and then conveyed it to those after them and so on. Thus, the Companion would say, “I heard the Prophet say such and such.” The Follower would then say, “I heard a Companion say, ‘I heard the Prophet .’” The one after the Follower would then say, “I heard someone say, ‘I heard a Companion say, ‘I heard the Prophet …’’” and so on.
The Importance of the Sanad
Much has been said about the importance of the sanad by the early religious scholars. For example, according to an early Quranic exegete, Matr al-Warraq, the verse from the Quran, “Or a remnant of knowledge,” refers to the isnad of the hadith. In addition, Abd Allah ibn al-Mubarak said, “The isnad is from the religion; were it not for the isnad anyone could say anything they wanted.” According to Ibn al-Salah the sanad was originated within the Muslim scholastic community and remains unique to it. Ibn Hazm specified this claim by adding that the connected, continuous sanad is, in fact, particular to the religion of Islam. He elaborated that the sanad was utilized by the Jewish community, however with a break in it of more than thirty generations between them and Moses. Likewise, the Christians limited their use of the sanad to the conveyance of the prohibition of divorce.
The practice of paying particular attention to the sanad can be traced to the generation following that of the Companions based upon the statement of Muhammad ibn Sirin, “They did not previously inquire about the isnad. However, after the turmoil occurred they would say, ‘Name for us your narrators.’ So the people of the Sunnah would have their hadith accepted and the people of innovation would not.” Those who were not given to require a sanad were, in the stronger of two opinions, the Companions of the Prophet, while others, such as al-Qurtubi, include the older of the Followers as well. This is due to the Companions all being considered upright, trustworthy transmitters of hadith such that a mursal hadith narrated by a Companion is acceptable, as the elided narrator, being a Companion, is known to be acceptable. Al-Khateeb al-Bagdadi, stating likewise, cited various evidences for this, from them, the Quranic verse, “And you were the best nation brought about to mankind.” The fitnah referred to is the conflicting ideologies of the Khawarij (or Kharijites) and extreme Shias that had emerged at the time of the third khalifa's (Caliph Uthman ibn Affan (ra)), assassination and the social unrest of the Khawarij in opposition to the succeeding rulers, Ali and Muawiyah. The death of Uthman was in the year 35 after the migration.
Ilm ar-Rijal is the "science of biography
". It relates to detailed study of the narrators who make up the sanad
. “The first to speak regarding the condition of a narrator was the Quran, then the Prophet and then His Companions. The verses are numerous that praise the Companions and criticize the hypocrites, both as a group and specific individuals from amongst them – as well as criticism of specific individuals other than the hypocrites. The most well known of these is a verse of the Quran stating, “Oh you who believe, if a wrongdoer should approach you conveying information, then verify that so as not to fall into ignorance thus regretting what you have done.” While this verse was revealed regarding a particular individual, it is a general principle.” The earliest remarks cited in the books of Rijal go back to a host of Followers
, followed by those after them
until the period of the Sahah Sattah
, a period covering the first
to the third centuries AH
Comments about individual narators can include :
- "Imam (leader), Hafiz (preserver)."
- "Reliable, trustworthy."
- "Makes mistakes."
- "Abandoned (by the traditionists)."
- "Liar, used to fabricate ahadith."
This resulted in individual verdicts on each of the Narrators of Hadith.
Sunni scholars regard affiliation to some extreme Shia and Qadariya sects as sometimes reducing a narrator's reliability, due to these sects' alleged propensity for fabricating hadith; Kharijites are seen as less likely to fabricate. However, they generally accept these narrators too as long as they were not engaged in actively spreading their views. Shi'a scholars, in turn, doubt the impartiality of the Sunni scholars, and privilege narrators known to have followed Ali and his descendants.
The most common historical method
used in the science of hadith consists of a careful examination of the isnad
, or chain of transmission. Each hadith is accompanied by an isnad: A heard it from B who heard it from C who heard it from a companion of Muhammad
. Isnads are carefully scrutinized to see if the chain is possible (for example, making sure that all transmitters and transmittees were known to be alive and living in the same area at the time of transmission) and if the transmitters are reliable. The scholars reject as unreliable people reported to have lied (at any point), as well as people reputed to be heedless (and thus likely to misunderstand the saying).
Hadith that were not thrown out as having been fabricated (maudu') were usually sorted into three categories:
- "authentic" (sahih, the best category)
- "fair" (hasan, the middle category)
- "weak" (da'if)
Some of the hadith were further distinguished by later scholars as mutawatir, or successive. The sayings or events reported in these hadith were attested by so many witnesses, albeit through different isnads, that it was thought inconceivable that these hadith could be forgeries.
Shi'a Muslims also believe that training is required to evaluate hadith. In religious matters, lay Shi'a usually defer to the Shi'a clergy with the proper training, the mujtahid and marja.
Patricia Crone a skeptic of established Islamic history has stated:
"One of the biggest problems with the method of authentication by isnads is early traditionists were still developing the conventions of the isnad. They either gave no isnads, or gave isnads that were sketchy or deficient by later standards. Scholars who adhered strictly to the latest standards might find themselves rejecting or deprecating what was in fact the very earliest historical material, while accepting later, fabricated traditions that clothed themselves with impeccable
isnads". (Roman, provincial and Islamic Law, Patricia Crone, pp. 23-34 of the paperback edition)
For more clarification here is a modern scholar's view; Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a Senior Lecturer and an Islamic Scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada:
"The fundamental Islamic sources such as the Qur'an and the core traditions of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) have been fully preserved intact. This can be demonstrated easily by referring to the sound historical methodologies in verifying the sources.
There is a basic distinction between Islam and other religions in this regard: Islam is singularly unique among the world religions in the fact that in order to preserve the sources of their religion, the Muslims invented a scientific methodology based on precise rules for gathering data and verifying them.
As it has been said, 'Isnad or documentation is part of Islamic religion, and if it had not been for isnad, everybody would have said whatever he wanted.'
So, there is no comparison between the sources of Islam and those of other religions in this respect, as you will never find anything comparable to the many sciences Muslims invented for this noble task of preserving the sources of Islam. By virtue of such sciences, you can scrutinize and verify every report in the sources.
In this context, it should be added that the process of recording Hadith started as early as the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). Actually, many Companions recorded hadiths, and, `Abdullah ibn `Amr, for example, was permitted and even encouraged by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) to write down Hadith. In addition, some 50 Companions and many Successors are said to have possessed manuscripts (sahifah, Arabic plural suhuf), which was used as a term to designate compendia of Hadith that emerged during the century before the formation of the classical collections. For more elaboration, you can read about the stages of recording Hadith."
A Concise History of Sunni Literature Pertaining to the Science of Hadith
As in any Islamic discipline there is a rich history of literature describing the principles and fine points of the science of hadith. Ibn Hajr provides a summation of this development with the following: “Works authored in the terminology of the people of hadeeth have become plentiful from the Imaams both old and contemporary:
- From the first of those who authored a work on this subject is the Judge, Aboo Muhammad ar-Ramahurmuzee in his book, ‘al-Muhaddith al-Faasil,’ however, it was not comprehensive.
- And al-Haakim, Aboo Abd Allah an-Naysaabooree, however, it was neither refined nor well arranged.
- And following him, Aboo Nu’aym al-Asbahaanee, who wrote a mustakhraj upon the book of the later, (compiling the same narrations al-Hakim cited using his own sanads.) However, some things remain in need of correction.
- And then came al-Khateeb Aboo Bakr al-Bagdaadee, authoring works in the various disciplines of the science of hadith a book entitled ‘al-Kifaayah’ and in its etiquettes a book entitled ‘al-Jaami’ee Li’Aadaab ash-Sheikh wa as-Saami’. Scarce is the discipline from the disciplines of the science of hadeeth that he has not written an individual book regarding, as al-Haafith Aboo Bakr ibn Nuqtah said: “Every objective person knows that the scholars of hadeeth coming after al-Khateeb are indebted to his works.” After them came others, following al-Khateeb, taking their share from this science :
- al-Qaadee ‘Eyaad compiled a concise book naming it ‘al-Ilmaa’.’
- Aboo Hafs al-Mayyaanajiyy a work giving it the title ‘Ma Laa yasu al-Muhaddith Jahluhu’ or ‘That Which a Hadeeth Scholar is Not Allowed Ignorance Of.’ There are numerous examples of this which have gained popularity and were expanded upon seeking to make plentiful the knowledge relating to these books and others abridged making easy their understanding.
- This was prior to the coming of the memorizer and jurist Taqiyy ad-Deen Aboo ‘Amrin ‘Uthmaan ibn as-Salaah ‘Abd ar-Rahmaan ash-Shahruzuuree, who settled in Damascus. He gathered, at the time he had become a teacher of hadith at the Ashrafiyyah school, his well known book, editing the various disciplines mentioned in it. He dictated it piecemeal and, as a result, did not succeed in providing it with an appropriate order. He occupied himself with the various works of al-Khateeb, gathering his assorted studies, adding to them from other sources the essence of their benefits. So he combined in his book what had been spread throughout books other than it. It is due to this that people have focused their attention upon it, following its example. Innumerable are those who rendered his book into poetry, abridged it, sought to complete what had been left out of it or left out any extraneous information; as well as those who opposed him in some aspect of his work or supported him.