[caution: this article contains many Arabic terms.]
The study of Hadith is one of the most extensive and excruciatingly detailed fields of study in Islam. It emphasizes greatly on verification and authenticity, and a lot of investigation has gone into the collections of Hadith that we see today. What is generally accepted amongst the Ahlus-Sunnah wal Jamaah are the Sunan Sittah (the 6 books of Sunnah, also known as Kutub as-Sihah), which comprises the Hadith collections of Imam Bukhari, Imam Muslim, Imam Nasa’i, Imam Abu Daud, Imam Ibn Majah and Imam Tirmidzi. These are collections of what are generally ranked as Sahih.
What most Muslims are unaware of, is that there are actually thousands of similar Hadith collections, owing to the fact that there are numerous categories of Hadith. This is also known as Mustalah al-Hadith (the categories of Hadith) which is mainly studied for judicial reasons. When the need for a new ruling on a certain matter arises, a stronger Hadith is preferable to be used as a basis to the ruling. Of course, complimentary to this, one is required to know other fields of study in relation to jurisprudence (e.g Usul al-Fiqh, Hadith al-Ahkam, Tarikh at-Tashri’ and so on) as well as other fields pertaining to the study of Hadith itself (e.g Ma’rifah al-Sahabah, al Nasikh wal Mansukh, Tabaqah at-Tabi’in to name a few).
Suffice to say, whether a Hadith is Sahih, Hasan or Dha’eef is mainly the concern of the Mujtahidun, or any council that’s concerned with the legal provisions of the Muslim society. For the general public (like you and I) to fuss over such matters, we will first have to study in-depth the above fields (as well as a long list of other subjects that were not mentioned) and master them.
Of course, it is always useful to know the basic, technical terms used in this field – purely for personal understanding and development. Some commonly used terms in relation to Hadith are as follows: –
Firstly, a Hadith generally comprises an Isnad (الإِسْنَاد ), a Matn (مَتْن ) and a Rawi(رَاوٍ ) .
The term I will be using here is Khabr (literally meaning news), because every Hadith is generally a form of relayed news via a chain of transmitters. For example, we may have:
حدثنا عثمان بن أبي شيبة, ثنا معاوية بن هشام, ثنا سفيان, عن أسامة بن زيد, عن عثمان بن عروة, عن عروة, عن عائشة, قالت: قال رسول الله (صلى الله عليه و سلم): ((إنّ الله و ملائكته يصلون على ميامن الصفوف)) – رواه ابن ماجه
We were informed by ‘Uthman ibn Abi Shaybah, followed by Mu’awiyyah ibn Hisham, followed by Sufyan, from Usamah ibn Zayd, from ‘Uthman ibn ‘Urwah, from ‘Urwah, from ‘Aishah, who said, the Prophet (Pbuh) said, “verily Allah and His Angels send their blessings upon the dextropositioned rows” –Reported by Ibn Majah
The names ‘Uthman ibn Abi Shaybah, all the way to ‘Aishah, are what we call the Isnad. These are 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 (pbuh) – “verily Allah … dextropositioned rows” – and this is called the Matn. The Rawi, on the other hand, is the person who collected and reported the Hadith, which is in this case, Ibn Majah.
There are also some very commonly used terms we encounter when reading Hadith, such as:
Sahih (صحيح )
This literally means correct, and is a Hadith of unquestionable authenticity. There are 5 requirements for a Hadith to be Sahih:
- The chain of narration has to be continuous, i.e, no person in the chain is skipped or hidden.
- The condition of the narrators must be stable at the time of transmission. Meaning, they have to be Muslim, matured, rational and not possess any questionable or doubtful character (e.g notorious sinners or apostates)
- 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 Daleel (source of reference, namely the Qur’an and Sunnah)
- There must not be any inadequacies in the narration (e.g slurs or imposed accents)
If a Hadith does not meet these 5 criteria, it will fall under either Hassan or Dha’eef, depending on how many requirements it fails to fulfil.
Hasan (حسن )
This is the second tier of Hadith, whereby every criteria of Sahih is met except for (c.) the matter of precision (according to the Muhaddith Ibn Hajr). However, because it is a midpoint between Sahih and Dha’eef, there are slight variations as to where exactly that midpoint lies. This definition is the most commonly used one. If a Hasan Hadeeth can be backed by another Hasan Hadeeth of similar content, it may be raised to Sahih.
Some collections of Hasan Hadith include Sunan Tirmidzi, Sunan Abi Daud and Sunan Daraqutni.
Dha’eef ( ضعيف )
There are many, many reasons for a Hadith to be Dha’eef (literally meaning 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, and so forth. Each reason is categorized by the nature of defect, ranked according to different degrees of severity, and given respective names to identify with. For example Mu’allaq, Mursal, Mu’dhal and Munqati’ are all used to describe different scenarios in which narrators are missing from the chain.
It should be noted here, however – that if under certain conditions a Dha’eef Hadith is backed by other narrations with similar content, it may be raised to Hasan.
Muttafaq ‘Alaih (مُتَّفَق عَلَيه )
Literally meaning “agreed upon”, this is a Hadith that has been collected by the Shaykhain (the two Shaykhs, namely Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim), with both narrations quoting the same Matn (content) and Isnad (chain of narrators), and both narrations collected as Sahih. If the Hadith is of the same Matn but taken from different chains of transmission, it is not Muttafaq ‘alaih, it is instead said to be akhrajahu ash-shaykhain (collected by the Shaykhain).
Mutawatir (مُتَوَاتِر )
This is a category of Hadith whereby there are many narrators at each level of transmission. There has been a difference of opinion of the minimum number of narrators for a Hadith to be Mutawatir, but the general opinion is 10. There are also other requirements for a Hadith to be Mutawatir. For example, 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 Hadith must be something physically experienced, thus it should begin with “we heard…” or “we saw…” and so on. A popular example of this would be Hadith Jibreel.
And Allah knows.
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