An Introduction to Ahadits

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is extracted from Introduction to Ahadits by Ustadzah Zafirah Jeffrey.

The study of ahadits is one of the most extensive and excruciatingly detailed fields of study in Islam.  It emphasises greatly on verification and authenticity, and a lot of investigation has gone into the collections of ahadits that we see today.  What is generally accepted amongst the Ahl as-Sunnah wa al-Jama’ah is known as Kutub as-Sittah, the six major books of sunnah.  They are also known as Swihah as-Sittah, the “Authentic Six”.  The Kutub as-Sittah are six books containing collections of ahadits compiled by six scholars in the ninth century.  They were first formally grouped and defined by Imam ibn al-Qaysarani al-Maqdisi (r.a.) in the 11th Century.  Prior to his work, despite their importance, no one had undertaken such a task.  There was no way to search any of these books based on key words or important terms.

It was due to Imam ibn al-Qaysarani’s (r.a.) indexing efforts that Imam ibn Majah’s (r.a.) collection was allotted the same respect as the other five main canonical works.  Prior to Imam ibn al-Qaysarani’s (r.a.) inclusion of Imam ibn Majah’s (r.a.) collection, major ahadits scholars such as Imam ibn asw-Swalah (r.a.) did not hold Imam ibn Majah’s (r.a.) work in the esteem it later enjoyed.  Imam ibn al-Qaysarani’s (r.a.) index was also the first instance of formally organising our cannon based around specific books of ahadits.

In order of authenticity, the books are Swahih al-Bukhari, compiled by Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.), and includes 7,275 ahadits; Swahih Muslim, compiled by Imam Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj (r.a.), and includes 9,200 ahadits; Sunan asw-Swughra, compiled by Imam an-Nasa’i (r.a.); Sunan Abu Dawud, compiled by Imam Abu Dawud (r.a.); Jami’ at-Tirmidzi, compiled by Imam at-Tirmidzi (r.a.); and Sunan ibn Majah, compiled by Imam ibn Majah (r.a.).  These are collections of ahadits that are generally ranked as swahih.  The first two books are commonly referred to as the Swahihayn, the “Two Swahih” as an indication of their authenticity.  According to Imam ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani (r.a.), they contain approximately seven thousand ahadits altogether discounting repetitions.

All the authors of Kutub as-Sittah were Persian.  Imam Muhammad ibn Isma’il al-Bukhari (r.a.) is the author of Swahih al-Bukhari, composed over a period of sixteen years.  Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.) said that he did not record any hadits before performing wudhu’ and performing two raka’at of swalah istikharah.  Imam Muslim ibn Hajjaj an-Naishaburi (r.a.) is the author of Swahih Muslim which is second in authenticity only to that of Swahih al-Bukhari.  Imam Abu Dawud Sulayman ibn Ash’ats as-Sijistani (r.a.), a Persian but of Arab descent, authored the Sunan of his name.  Imam Muhammad ibn ‘Isa al-Tirmidzi (r.a.), the author of Jami’ at-Tirmidzi, was a student of Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.).  Imam Abu ‘Abd ar-Rahman an-Nasa'i (r.a.), was from Khurasan and a student of Imam Abu Dawud (r.a.).  Imam ibn Majah al-Qazwini (r.a.), was the student of Imam ibn Abi Shaybah (r.a.), who was a source for a quarter of his Sunan.

What most Muslims are unaware of, is that there are actually thousands of similar ahadits collections, owing to the fact that there are numerous categories of ahadits.  And there are actually more than a million ahadits.  It is stated that Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.) himself knew more than a million ahadits but verified just under 700,000 of them.  The field of ahadits grades and categorises them and thus acquired its necessary terminology, muswthalah al-hadits.  Muswthalah al-hadits is mainly studied for judicial reasons.  When the need for a new ruling on a certain matter arises, a stronger hadits is preferable to be used as a basis to the ruling.  Complimentary to this, one is required to know other fields of study in relation to jurisprudence as well fields pertaining to the study of ahadits itself.

Whether a hadits is swahih, hasan or dha’if is mainly the concern of the mujtahidun, or any council of scholars concerned with the legal provisions of Muslim society.  The average Muslim is not qualified to debate the relative technical merits of a hadits.  This also refers to the tafsir and the direct application of a hadits without understanding the context of it.  This bad habit is a fitnah against Rasulullah (s.a.w.).

A hadits generally comprises an isnad, a matn and a rawi.  The term we use here is khabr which literally means news, because every hadits is generally a form of relayed news with a chain of transmitters.  The isnad is the people in the chain of narrators concerned with passing on the khabr.  The actual content of the khabr is purely what was mentioned by the Prophet (s.a.w.) and this is called the matn.  The rawi is the person who collected and reported the hadits.

There is great emphasis placed on ahadits being swahih.  This literally means “correct,” and refers to a hadits of unquestionable authenticity.  There are five requirements for a hadits to be swahih.  The chain of narration has to be continuous; no person in the chain is skipped or hidden.  The narrators must be reliable at the time of transmission.  They have to be Muslim, matured, rational and not possess any questionable or doubtful character.  This precludes notorious sinners, apostates and especially people known to have told lies of any kind.  The narration has to be precise and, if not written down prior to the transmission, this requires a strong memory.  It must not be in conflict with any other dala’il, sources of reference, namely the Qur’an and sunnah and be illogical.  There must also not be any inadequacies in the narration such as slurs or affected accents.  If a hadits does not meet these five criteria, it will be downgraded to either hasan or dha’if, depending on how many requirements it failed to fulfill.

The second tier of ahadits is hasan.  This is when every criteria for swahih is met except for the precision of the matn according to the Imam ibn Hajr (r.a.).  Because it is a midpoint between swahih and dha’if, there are slight variations as to where exactly that midpoint lies according to different muhadditsin.  This definition is the most commonly used one.  If a hasan hadits can be supported by another hasan hadits of similar content, it may be raised to swahih.  Some collections of hasan hadits include Sunan at-Tirmidzi, Sunan Abu Dawud and Sunan Daraquthni.

The final major category is dha’if.  There are many, many reasons for a hadits to be dha’if, weak.  It could be due to a questionable personality in the chain of narration, or missing narrators, or a conflict with other narrations, or simply not enough transmitters at any point of narration.  Each reason is categorised by the nature of defect, ranked according to different degrees of severity, and given respective names to identify with.  For example, a dha’if hadits may be mu’allaq, mursal, mu’dhal or munqathi’.  If a dha’if hadits is supported by other narrations with similar content, it may be upgraded to hasan.

In addition to being swahih, a hadits may be muttafaq ‘alayh, literally meaning “agreed upon.”  This is a hadits that has been collected by the Shaykhayn, Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.) and Imam Muslim (r.a.), with both narrations quoting the same matn and isnad.  If the hadits is of the same matn but taken from different chains of transmission, it is not muttafaq ‘alayh; it is instead said to be akhrajahu ash-Shaykhayn, “collected by the Shaykhayn.”

Mutawatir refers to a category of ahadits where there are many narrators at each level of transmission.  There is a difference of opinion on the minimum number of narrators for a hadits to be mutawatir, but the general opinion is ten.  There are additional requirements for a hadits to be mutawatir.  The conditions of transmission and the state of the narrators must be so that it is impossible for them to connive in misrepresenting the narration.  Also, the hadits must be something physically experienced, thus it should begin with “we heard” or “we saw” and so on.  An example of this would be Hadits Jibril.

Most of the time, when Muslims discuss ahadits, they do not fully comprehend what exactly they mention, they do not understand how the books of ahadits are reference and they have no knowledge of the sciences of ahadits.  There is much confusion and creates a fitnah against Rasulullah (s.a.w.).  When misunderstood and misused, the religion becomes difficult to accept and practice or this might cause people to reject the corpus of ahadits in their entirety.

There are generally eleven genres of ahadits collections: swahifah, ajza’, rasa’il, sunan, muswannaf, jami’, musnad, mu’jam, mustadrak, mustakhraj and arba’in.

The swahifah are the earliest collections of ahadits, written down by the companions during the lifetime of the Prophet (s.a.w.), or by their followers amongst the tabi’in.  Some of these collections are also considered rasa’il or kutub.  Examples of this include the Swahifah of Abu Hurayrah (r.a.), which he taught and handed down to his nine known student, one of whom was Shaykh Hammam ibn Munabbih (r.a.).  Shaykh Hammam ibn Munabbih (r.a.) was a scholar, from among the tabi‘in and one of the narrators of hadits.  He was the son of Munabbih ibn Kamil, a knight of Persia.  Shaykh Wahb ibn Munabbih (r.a.), the famed transmitter of ahadits as well as Judeo-Christian stories, was his brother.  Swahifah Hammam ibn Munabbih is the only example of this that survived in manuscript form.

And then there was the Swahifah asw-Swadiqah.  ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr ibn al-‘Aasw (r.a.), the son of ‘Amr ibn al-‘Aasw (r.a.), was a companion of the Prophet (s.a.w.).  He was the author of Swahifah asw-Swadiqah, an ahadits compilation which recorded about one thousand narrations.  He embraced Islam in 7 AH, a year before his father.  The Prophet (s.a.w.) used to show preference to ‘Abdullah (r.a.) due to his knowledge.  He was one of the first companions to write down the ahadits, after receiving permission from the Prophet (s.a.w.) to do so.  Abu Hurayrah (r.a.) used to say that ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr (r.a.) was more knowledgeable than him.

Swahifah asw-Swadiqah remained in his family and was used by his grandson, Imam ‘Amr ibn Suhayb (r.a.).  Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (r.a.) incorporated the entire work of ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr (r.a.) into his Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal.

The second type of ahadits compilation is the ajza’.  Singularly, it is a juzu’.  There are two definitions to this category.  The first refers to collections of traditions passed down on the authority of a single swahabah or tabi’in, which were then further developed into masanid.  The second definition refers to a collection of ahadits pertaining to a single subject.

The risalah or kilab is similar to a juzu’.  However, the rasa’il are more specific in terms of subject matter.  They are collections of ahadits pertaining to one of eight topics.  They are belief and dogma, ‘aqidah; legal rulings, ahkam, piety, ascetism and taswawwuf, ruqaq; etiquette, adab; exegesis and commentary of the Qur’an, tafsir; history, tarikh and sirah; crisises fitan; and, appreciation and denunciation of persons, places and events, manaqib and matsalib.  The rasa’il are also known as kutub.  Many of the works of such scholars as Imam Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuthi (r.a.) and Imam ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani (r.a.) belong to this category.

A risalah of ahkam is also known as a sunan and include all the subjects of fiqh from thaharah to wasayahTarikh and siyar, are historical and biographical matters which include cosmology, ancient history, and the lives of the prophets, the Prophet (s.a.w.), of his swahabah and tabi’un.

The sunan are collections of ahadits that pertain solely to one category of rasa’ilshari’ah.  Examples of this would be the works of Imam Abu Dawud (r.a.), Imam an-Nasa’i (r.a.) and Imam at-Tirmidzi (r.a.).

The muswannaf are large collections of ahadits that pertain to most, or all of the categories of rasa’il.  The ahadits are put together and arranged in various books or chapters, each dealing with its particular topic.  Examples of this are the books of the Shaykhayn, Swahih al-Bukhari and Swahih Muslim, as well as al-Muwaththa’ of Imam Malik (r.a.). 

The jami’ are more complete versions of the muswannaf, whereby all the topics in rasa’il are addressed in their entirety.  For example, Swahih Muslim is considered a muswannaf but not a jami’ like that of Imam al-Bukhari’s (r.a.) Swahih, because Swahih Muslim does not include traditions relating to all chapters of the Qur’an.  There was, originally, only one known collection that epitomises this criterion.  It is originally known as al-Jami’ al-Musnad asw-Swahih al-Mukhtaswar min Umur ar-Rasul wa Sunanihi wa Ayyaamihi; it is better known as Swahih al-Bukhari.  Imam at-Tirmidzi’s (r.a.) Jami’ also fulfills this criteria.

A musnad consists of  ahadits collected based on the final authorities to whom they are related.  The term “musnad,” meaning supported, was originally used for such traditions that were supported by a complete, uninterrupted isnad, going back to a companion who was directly associated with the Prophet (s.a.w.).  But the term was later expanded in use to include any reliable and authoritative ahadits.  In this sense, the term may also used for all reliable works in ahadits literature.  This would then include works such as  Sunan ad-Darimi, and Swahih al-Bukhari.

Technically, however, it is used only for those collections of ahadits arranged according to the names of the final authorities by whom they are related, irrespective of their subject matter.  For example, the Masanid of Imam Abu Dawud ath-Thayalisi (r.a.), Imam Ahmad ibn Abi Shaybah (r.a.), Imam Abu Kaytsama (r.a.) and Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (r.a.).  The collectors of such traditions differed slightly in their method of arrangement.  In some, the ahadits are arranged according to their isnad in alphabetical order.  In others, the ahadits are arranged based on the tsiqah, reliability, of the people in the isnad.  This relative to when they embraced Islam and which events they took part in with the Prophet (s.a.w.).  Some are even arranged according to the affinity of their tribe to the Prophet (s.a.w.).

There are, however, certain masanid which are divided into chapters devoted to various subjects, and in each chapter, the ahadits are arranged according to the original authorities, swahabah, by whom they were related.  This format is followed by Imam Abu Ya’la (r.a.) and Imam Abu ‘Abd ar-Rahman (r.a.).  These works combine the characteristics of a musnad and a muswannaf.

Some of the musnad compilers tried to collect together all the available ahadits reported by the various swahabah.  Musnad ibn an-Najjar is said to have contained the ahadits related by all the swahabah.  Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal contains more than 30,000 ahadits reported by about 700 swahabah.  Musnad Abu ‘Abd ar-Rahman is reported by Shaykh Khatifah (r.a.) on the authority of Imam ibn Hazm (r.a.) to have contained traditions related by 1,300 swahabah.  There are, however, many masanid which are devoted to ahadits related either by a special group of swahabah or by one single swahabi only.

The mu’jam is a collection of ahadits arranged in alphabetical order, on various criteria.  For example, the geographical and biographical dictionaries of Imam Yaqut (r.a.) are called Mu’jam al-Buldan and Mu’jam Udaba’ respectively.  If a musnad were to be arranged in alphabetical order, it would become a mu’jam.  Some masanid are arranged under the names of the swahabah in alphabetical order and are known as mu’jam asw-swahabah.  But according to the muhadditsin, the term is used technically only for such collections of ahadits arranged, not according to the swahabah who reported them, but according to the muhaddits from whom the compiler himself received them from.  The names of such muhaddits are arranged alphabetically, and all the ahadits received from each muhaddits are then collected together, irrespective of their contents or subject matter.  Examples of this are some works by Imam ath-Thabarani (r.a.), Imam Ibrahim ibn Isma’il (r.a.) and Imam ibn al-Qani’ (r.a.).  The largest collection of ahadits by Imam ath-Thabarani (r.a.) is, in reality, a musnad, not a mu’jam since it is a mu’jam asw-swahabah, not a mu’jam ash-shuyukh.

A mustadrak are continuations of previous works.  This happens when there ahadits that meet to the criteria of a certain work but were previously not included.  The initial absence of these ahadits may be because the original collector missed them out, did not know of them or could not verify them for some reason.  These ahadits would then be collected into a mustadarak.  An example is Mustadrak al-Hakim, which is a collection of ahadits that fulfill the criteria of Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.) and Imam Muslim (r.a.).

Similar to the mustadrak, the mustakhraj is another form of expansion to already established collections.  This is when a later compiler finds new chains to previously recorded ahadits.  An example is the Mustakhraj Abu Nu’aym al-Isfahani, in which he collected fresh asanid to ahadits in Swahih al-Bukhari and Swahih Muslim.

The arba’iniyyat, as the name shows, are collections of forty ahadits relating to one or more subjects which may have appeared to be of special interest to the compiler.  This genre was popularised by Imam an-Nawawi (r.a.).  Another famous compiler of the arba’in is Shah Wali’ullah ad-Dihlawi (r.a.).

Of all these eleven classes of ahadits collections of ahadits, the swahifah, as their description shows, were the earliest in origin.  The ma’ajim, the mustadrakat, the mustakrajat and the arba’iniyyat came later.  The ajza’ and the rasa’il are also later developments.  The muswannafat and the masanid works are advancements on the swahifah.  The sunan and the jami’at, came after the muswannafat and the masanid but before the rest.  The development of the ahadits literature were influenced by the needs of the time.  Initially, there was an emphasis on collection, and then categorisation for practical application, and finally, belatedly, there grew an emphasis on verification due to the then growing prevalence of mawdhu’, forged, ahadits.

It would be best for a Muslim to have even the vaguest idea of what a hadits is in order to understand how it is applied, though this does not automatically make him a scholar.  This is an error that many of us make and few are aware of.  In order to understand the requirements of the ahadits, one must understand the history of the Muslim oral tradition; the conditions in which it thrived, as well as its developments over the centuries.  The demand for precision and authenticity rose to a critical height as Islam spread over wide expanses of cultures, ethnicities and former beliefs.

According to the muhadditsin, the history of the Muslim oral tradition is generally divided into seven eras.  Each era has a certain nature of development.  For example, the collections of Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.) and Imam Muslim (r.a.) did not appear until the 3rd era, which is roughly three to four centuries after the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) passing.  This is because they were dependent on the developments of the preceding era, where the foundations of ‘ulum al-hadits were laid down.  The Shaykhayn could not develop without al-jarh wa at-ta’dil and ‘ilal al-hadits, for example.  al-Jarh wa at-Ta’dil literally means “discrediting and accrediting.”  It is also known as ‘ilm ar-rijal, “knowledge of men.”  This is a form of biographical evaluation used in discerning authenticity.  ‘Ilal al-hadits literally means “flaws in hadits,” a field first established by Imam az-Zuhri (r.a.), a renowned collector of sirah.  The development of these two fields are credited to scholars such as Imam Shuhbah ibn al-Hajjaj (r.a.), Imam Sufyan ats-Tsawri (r.a.), Imam ‘Abd ar-Rahman ibn Mahdi (r.a.) and Imam az-Zuhri (r.a.).  It is also in this second era that Imam ash-Shafi’i (r.a.) wrote his famous treatise on uswul al-fiqh, ar-Risalah, in which he also explained various conditions of accepting ahadits.

The first era and the foundation of ahadits, began with the death of the Prophet (s.a.w.) until the end of the reign of the Khulafah ar-Rashidin.  The swahabah were all extremely cautious about expressively attributing anything to the Prophet (s.a.w.).  Because all of them have had direct experience with the Prophet (s.a.w.) himself, their actions could be justified and directly traced back to him, where it mattered.  Where narrations were required, the companions were very strict and highly skeptical about ahadits that they have never heard of before since they spent the most time with the Prophet (s.a.w.).  In such a situation, they would require an oath or a witness to verify that the narration was true, even if it was between the four khulafah themselves.  An example of such scrupulousness was when ‘Ali (k.w.) accepted Abu Bakr’s (r.a.) oath on the hadits, “Whomsoever performs wudhu’ and then proceeds to perform two raka’at, Allah will Forgive his sins”.  This does not, in any way, allude to any inadequacy on Abu Bakr’s (r.a.) part.  It only exemplifies the strictness of the swahabah with regards ahadits.  The ones who were most stringent were the khulafah themselves.

Relating to this, it should also be noted that not all ahadits are meant for the general public.  The Prophet (s.a.w.) in his wisdom, gave specific advice to specific people.  This means that one’s state, faith and piety are all precursors to the level of knowledge on which such advice is given.  This is most common amongst the gharib ahadits, ahadits with only a single narrator at the point of origin.  An example of this is the hadits narrated by Mu’adz ibn Jabal (s.a.w.), whom the Prophet (s.a.w.) told, “Whoever proclaims ‘laa ilaha illa Allah’ with a sincere heart, Allah will Prevent him from falling into the Fire”.  Mu’adz (r.a.) then asked the Prophet (s.a.w.) for permission to tell the rest and the Prophet (s.a.w.) forbade him from so for fear that it might be misunderstood, and people would neglect their deeds upon hearing it.

The ahadits collected by the dedication and love of the Prophet (s.a.w.) of many generations of Muslims all over the Muslims world, from many different schools of thought, have been a subject of study of scholars and a source of inspiration up to the present time.  The ahadits, together with the Qur’an, serve the ummah as the primary basis of their social structure and theological thought.  It is from these twin foundations that the various Islamic sciences developed.  The efforts of many modernist reformers have failed because they ignored the Qur'an and the ahadits, just as some medieval sects became extinct because they had ignored their importance.


Popular posts from this blog

In Saudi Arabia, Mawlid is Bid'ah, the King's Birthday is Fine

Singapore Bans Ismail Menk from Entry

Some Depictions of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) in Art