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Hadith calligraphy
Sihah Sittah
Abu Dawood
Ibn Majah

Ahadith in Islamic religious use is often translated as "prophetic traditions", meaning the deeds and sayings of the Islamic prophet Muhammadsa. The ahadith were compiled from oral reports in circulation in the decades and centuries following the death of Muhammadsa. Different denominations and scholars may differ as to which individual ahadith are authentic and in fact some denominations rely upon entirely separate collections of ahadith to others.


In Arabic, the word hadith is a noun means a report, account, narrative and can refer to the speech of a person.  The Arabic plural is ahadith. A scholar of ahadith is known as a muhaddith (plural: muhadditheen).


The method prevalent among the Muslims, by which narrations were related, is that beginning from the last narrator, step by step the name of every narrator is stated whilst moving upwards, until the narration reaches the Holy Prophetsa or comes to a halt at one of his companions. A narration which reaches the Holy Prophetsa is referred to as a hadith and a narration which ceases at one of his companions are referred to as an athar . There are many forms of the two categories mentioned. Generally, the manner in which a narration was related was as follows: Person A related to me, and Person A heard from Person B, who narrates from Person C, and Person D informed Person C that in a gathering he heard the Holy Prophetsa make this statement...

- Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad, The Life & Character of the Seal of the Prophets: Vol 1


During the life of Muhammadsa

Companions of Muhammadsa would write and record his statements during his lifetime, often at his command.

Abu Hurairahra narrates that at the occasion of the Fall of Makkah, the Prophet of Allahsa made an address in which he stated ‘such and such’. A man from Yemen came forward and said: “O Messenger of Allah! Please write this address for me.” The Prophet ordered that this address be given to him in writing.

- Bukhari

Abu Hurairahra narrates that there is none among the companions of the Prophetsa who has narrated more ahadith than I except Abdullah bin Amr who was in the routine that he would write a hadith after listening to it, and I never did the same. 

- Bukhari

"You should write, because by God, nothing leaves my tongue except that it is the truth and is correct"

- Abu Dawood

Abu Hurairahra narrates that once an Ansari came to the Holy Prophetsa and said: “O Holy Prophetsa, I hear your statements, but I am unable to remember them.” The Holy Prophetsa responded: “With the assistance of your right hand write down whatever I say.”

- Tirmidhi

After Muhammadsa

After Muhammadsa passed away, his companions who had lived with him and directly learnt from him were able to maintain and pass on his traditions. Through the decades, these companions themselves passed away. The generations that followed began a scholarly analysis of the ahadith that were being passed to them. These included scholars such as Imam Abu Hanifa (born 79 years after Muhammadsa), who would analyse scriptural sources including ahadith to gain a scholarly understanding of religious law. Other scholars would collect ahadith they deemed authentic and some of these early collections survive to this day, a list of which is available in the following table:  

 Date of collector's birth: years after Muhammadsa  Title  Collector Notes 
 79 Muwatta
 Imam Malik This book is of a significantly exalted rank and some even view at as equal to Bukhari. 
 148  Musnad  Ahmad ibn Hanbal  This collection of ahadith is extremely impressive, ranking among the largest. However the standard of authenticity among the narrations is not equal to some of the others. 
 178  Sahih Bukhari
 Imam Bukhari  This is considered the most authentic of all the collections in the Sihah Sittah (the six collections considered the most trustworthy and reputable). Bukhari selected 4,000 ahadith from a storehouse of 600,000. He was greatly vigilant and without a doubt his standard is greater than all the other muhaditheen
 183  Sahih Muslim
 Imam Muslim  The rank of this book is lower than Bukhari's but ranks above all other collections in the Sihah Sittah (the six collections considered the most trustworthy and reputable). A narration which is supported by both Bukhari and Muslim is referred to as Muttafaq Alaih and considered the most authentic of ahadith.
 185  Sunan Abu Dawood
Abu Dawood 
 Ranked in the Sihah Sittah (the six collections considered the most trustworthy and reputable).
 192  Jami Imam Tirmidhi 
  Ranked in the Sihah Sittah (the six collections considered the most trustworthy and reputable).
 192  Sunan Ibn Majah
 Ibn Majah
  Ranked in the Sihah Sittah (the six collections considered the most trustworthy and reputable).
 197  Sunan Nasai
 Al Nasai
  Ranked in the Sihah Sittah (the six collections considered the most trustworthy and reputable).
 240  Mujam
Al Tabarani 
 A renowned scholarly work.
 286  Sunan Daraqutni
 Al Daraqutni  A renowned scholarly work.
 300  Mutadrak Al Hakim  Al Hakim  A renowned scholarly work.

Aside from ahadith, traditions were also collected in other forms by the early Muslims. Works on religious jurisprudence, or fiqh, were some of the earliest and these included Imam Malik's Muwatta (born 79 years after Muhammadsa). Other notable forms of scholarship included commentaries on the Quran (tafsir) and works on history (tarikh). In both the fields of tafsir and tarikh, one of the most renowned early scholars was Al Tabari, born 206 years after Muhammadsa. However, works such as tarikh, which were not of theological nature, were more liberally collected and are considered less reliable than works of ahadith


Methodology in collecting & analysing ahadith


The early Muslims were commanded to be extremely vigilant in accepting reports:

O ye who believe! if an unrighteous person brings you any news, ascertain the correctness of the report fully, lest you harm a people in ignorance, and then become repentant for what you have done.

- Quran 49:7

“A reason sufficient to determine an individual’s dishonesty is that he begins forwarding the narrations he hears without investigation.”

- Muslim

The early Muslims vigilantly followed these instructions and would not accept statements attributed to Muhammadsa without careful investigation and analysis:

Mahmud bin Ar-Rabi narrates that I heard from Itban bin Malik that the Prophet of Allah said: "Allah the Exalted has prohibited the fire of hell upon all those who in full sincerity and to seek the pleasure of God alone, declare that there is none worthy of worship except Allah." 

Mahmudra added: I told the above narration to some people in a gathering where Abu Ayyubra was also present. Abu Ayyubra denounced the narration and said: “By God, I cannot at all presume that the Holy Prophetsa might have said so.”

- Bukhari

Not only did the early Muslim scholars acknowledge that some statements attributed to Muhammadsa could potentially be fabricated, but they also made allowances for the fact that narrators could have weaknesses in their understanding or memory:

Abu Ishaqra narrates that on one instance, in a gathering, I was sitting with Aswad bin Yazidra. Shabira narrated that Fatimah bint Qaisra, a lady who lived during the time of the Holy Prophetsa, states that when her husband divorced her, the Holy Prophetsa did not order that she receive a house or expenses. 

At this, Aswad took a handful of small pebbles and threw them at Shabi and said, “You present such a hadith? When this hadith was presented before Hazrat Umarra, he said that we cannot ignore the Quran and practice of the Holy Prophetsa merely upon the statement of one person. We are unaware of what the actual statement was and what she understood or what the actual statement was and what she forgot.”

- Muslim

Ibn Abbasra narrates that Hazrat Umarra would relate that the Holy Prophetsa stated: “By weeping over the corpse of a person that person is subject to the punishment of God.” 

After the death of Umarra, when I mentioned this narration to Hazrat Aishara, she said: “May Allah have mercy upon Umar, by God the Prophet of Allahsa did not say that, rather he said that ‘If the kinsmen of a disbeliever weep after his death they only increase his punishment.” 

Then Hazrat Aishara said that: “The statement of the Quran is sufficient that no soul shall bear the burden of another.”

- Mishkat al-Masabih

The early scholars who prepared the ahadith collections still in use today also critically analysed the traditions before including them:

In a gathering, Abu Hurairahra mentioned that the Holy Prophetsa would state that after the use of anything which is touched [cooked] by fire, ablution becomes obligatory. Upon this, Ibn Abbasra interjected and said, “Should we then perform ablution after the use of butter or oil? Shall we perform ablution after the use of boiling water?” 

After writing this narration, Imam Tirmidhirh states that among the Muslims, “A majority of the scholars are united in the belief that ablution is not necessary after the use of something which has been prepared over fire.”

- Tirmidhi

In the above statement, the muhaddith Tirmidhi presents a tradition, admitting that the companions of the Muhammadsa held differences of opinion on its veracity and interpretation and that among the Muslim scholars the majority agree with Ibn Abbas, while others may agree with Abu Hurairah. 

The best collectors were so meticulous in analysing ahadith that they would only deem a very small number certain and authentic enough to include in their collections. It is recorded that a teacher of Imam Bukhari named Yahya bin Main possessed 600,000 ahadith in his personal collection. As such, Bukhari had at least 600,000 traditions available to him, yet only deemed 4,000 worthy of inclusion in his final collection. 

Testing a hadith's chain of narration

Each hadith collected by the early scholars was expected to contain a a complete chain of narration which linked the final narrator directly to Muhammadsa. The muhaddithin would test the chain by the following method: 

1. The narrator should be well-known.

2. The narrator should be truthful in speech and honest.

3. The narrator should possess the ability to comprehend and rationalise.

4. The narrator should possess a sound memory.

5. The narrator should not be one to habitually exaggerate, summarize or sway original reports in any way.

6. The narrator should not have a personal interest in the narration that is related, lest one may categorise the narrator as biased.

7. The encounter of two narrators who come after one another must be acceptable, based on their time periods and circumstances.

8. All the links of the narration should be fully preserved and no narrator should be missing from the top, middle or bottom.

9. As per the above mentioned characteristics, the solidity of any narration increases with an increase in the credibility and trustworthiness of its narrators.

10. In the same manner, the strength and authenticity of a narration multiplies as the number of credible narrators increases

Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad, The Life & Character of the Seal of the Prophets

Testing a hadith's content

Each hadith attributed to Muhammadsa would be tested for its authenticity by the muhaddithin using the following methods:

1. The narration should not be contradictory to any reliable and authentic historical record. In accordance with this principle any narration which contradicts the Holy Quran, must be disregarded.

2. The narration should not clash with any evidently proven fact.

3. The narration should not be contradictory to any narration of greater authenticity.

4. The narration should not be of an incident which, if true, should have a greater number of people to testify to it, yet only one narrator is existent.

5. The narration should not have such elements as can be negated or considered ambiguous by common sense.

Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad, The Life & Character of the Seal of the Prophets

Relationship between the Quran and ahadith

If we come across a hadith which is opposed to the text of the Holy Quran, and it cannot be interpreted in any other way, we would reject it as spurious, inasmuch as God, the Glorious, has said: "In what word, then, after rejecting that of Allah and His Signs will they believe?" (Quran 45:7) This means that if the Holy Quran is conclusive and positive about a matter and its meaning is clear, a believer should not accept a hadith which is clearly opposed to it. To the same effect is the verse: "In what thing will they believe thereafter?" (Quran 7:186) According to these verses a believer must accept the Book of Allah without condition and should accept a hadith conditionally. This is my stand.

Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Al Haq Mubahitha Ludhiana

Shia and Sunni textual traditions

Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, and his caliphs have placed great emphasis on the ahadith texts traditionally associated with the Sunni branch of Islam:

Bukhari ranks as the first. All its ahadith which are not opposed to the Holy Quran are in our view authoritative. Next comes Sahih Muslim. We accept its authority subject to the condition that it should not be opposed to the Holy Quran and Sahih Bukhari. Next to them are the compilations of Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Muwatta of Imam Malik, Nassai, Abu Dawood and Daraqutni, which we regard as authoritative so long as they are not opposed to the Holy Quran and Bukhari and Muslim.

Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Arya Dharam

However, Ahmadi Muslim scholars have also accepted and quoted numerous ahadith from ahadith texts traditionally associated with the Shia branch of Islam. The fourth caliph and global head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, presented ahadith from the Shia collection Bihar al-Anwar by Allamah Muhammad Baqir Majlisi in his book Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge & Truth

Response to criticism of hadith

If it were true that with the exception of the Holy Quran all other sources are false, imposture, conjectures and imagination, then little would be left of Islam for all the details of our faith have come down to us through ahadith. Our Prayer services have been made obligatory by the Holy Quran, but it is nowhere laid down in the Quran that the Dawn Prayer comprises two obligatory rakat...In the same way, we have to depend upon ahadith to discover the details of zakat. There are thousands of details relating to worship and dealings and covenants which are derived from the same source. 

Besides, the principal source of Islamic history is ahadith. If ahadith are not to be relied upon you cannot take it as certain that Abu Bakrra, Umarra, Uthmanra and Alira were the companions of the Holy Prophetsa, who became his successors in that order and died in that order. If ahadith are not to be relied upon, we cannot be certain about the existence of these great personalities and it might be possible that all these names are fictitious and that there was no Abu Bakr, no Umar, no Uthman and no Ali...

In the same way, shall we deny that the name of the father of the Holy Prophetsa was Abdullah, and the name of his mother was Aminah, and the name of his grandfather was Abdul Muttalib and that he used to withdraw to cave Hira for worship and that some of his companions migrated to Abyssinia, and that for ten years after his advent, the Holy Prophetsa resided in Mecca and that thereafter there were all those battles that are not even mentioned in the Quran, simply because these facts are established by ahadith and the ahadith amount to nothing? Were that so, it would not be possible for the Muslims to relate any portion of the biography of the Holy Prophetsa. It should be observed that the events of the life of our lord and master, what kind of life he led in Mecca before his advent, and in what year he called people to his Prophethood, and in what order people embraced Islam, and how were they persecuted by the disbelievers in the ten Meccan years, and how the wars began, and in which of them the Holy Prophetsa took part himself, and to what regions the rule of Islam had extended in his lifetime, and whether he addressed letters to the rulers of the time, inviting them to Islam, and if he did so, what was their response, and after his death what were the victories achieved during the time of Hazrat Abu Bakrra, and what difficulties he had to contend with, and what countries were conquered in the time of Hazrat Umar, all these matters are known through ahadith and the statements of the companions of the Holy Prophetsa

If the ahadith amount to nothing, it would not only be difficult but would be impossible to discover the events of those times and in such a case the opponents of Islam would be free to invent whatever they like concerning the events of the life of the Holy Prophetsa and of the lives of his companions. We would thus afford to the enemies of Islam a great opportunity of making baseless attacks against Islam and we would have to confess that all the events related in the ahadith are baseless and imaginary, so much so, that even the names of the companions of the Holy Prophetsa are not known. The true and correct position is that we must accept whatever is stated in the ahadith unless it should be opposed to the Quran in clear terms. It is admitted that it is natural for man to tell the truth and that recourse is had to falsehood under some compulsion, for falsehood is unnatural...

This is a serious mistake which has drawn the followers of nature in this age far away from Islam. They imagine that all Islamic practices and worship and biographies and history in connection with which reference is made to ahadith, are established only on the basis of a few ahadith. This is a clear error. The practice which the Holy Prophetsa had established with his own hands, had become so common among millions of people that even if there had been no trace of the compilers of ahadith, no harm would have been done. Everyone has to admit that the Holy Teacher and Prophetsa had not so confined his teaching as to train only a few people in it and to leave all others unaware of it. Had that been so, Islam would have been so corrupted that it could not have been reformed through the efforts of any compiler of hadith. The Imams of ahadith have compiled thousands of ahadith relating to religious instruction, yet there is no hadith which was not being acted upon before its being recorded and which was not known to the world. If there is any teaching, or event, or doctrine the foundation of which has only been laid by the Imams of hadith on the basis of some report and no sign of it is discoverable in practice, nor is it mentioned in the Holy Quran, then without doubt such a report which became known a century and a half later, would absolutely lack certainty and would deserve whatever condemnation might be directed at it. Such ahadith have no great relationship with faith in the history of Islam. If you look with care you will find that the Imams of ahadith have very seldom mentioned ahadith no trace of which is found in practice. It is, therefore, not true, as some ignorant ones imagine, that the world has learnt of the hundreds of matters relating to the faith, even fasting and prayer services, only from the ahadith compiled by Bukhari and Muslim and others. Were the Muslims without faith for a century and a half? Did they not perform the prayer services? Did they not pay zakat? Did they not perform the Pilgrimage? Were they unaware of the Islamic doctrines that are mentioned in the ahadith? Certainly not.

- Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Shahadatul Quran

See also