Types of Hadith collections (An introduction to Hadith part III )

15 Oct

Over centuries of inquiry and learning, the genres of Hadith compilation have diversified. This was due to shifts in the conditions and, consequently, necessities of society. Personally, I do not regard the advent of such classification as a form of expansion in this field. It is rather the organizing of information for various consumers. What concerns a Judge in deriving matters of the Deen does not necessarily concern the average citizen. It is thus important to learn the history and development of the various fields in Islam to give a more holistic understanding of the religion.

There are generally 11 genres of Hadith collections:

1. The Sahifah

These are the earlier collections of Hadith, written down by the companions during the lifetime of the Prophet Pbuh, or by their followers amongst the Tabi’in. Some of these collections are also considered Rasa’il (refer to no. 3).

Examples are the Sahifah of Abu Hurairah, which he taught and handed down to his student Hammam ibn Munabbih, as well as the Sahifah al-Sadiqah (as named by its author) by Abdullah ibn ‘Amr ibn Al-‘As.

2.The Ajza’ (sing. Juzu‘)

There are 2 definitions to this category. The first refers to collections of traditions passed down on the authority of a single Sahaba or Tabi’in, which were then further developed into Musnads (refer to no. 5). The second refers to a collection of Ahadith pertaining to a single subject e.g, “Intention”.

3. The Rasa’il (sing. Risalah)

Similar to the Ajza’ are the Rasa’il – except that the Rasa’il are more specific in terms of subject matter. They are collections of Ahadith pertaining to one of the following 8 topics:

  1. Aqidah (beliefs)
  2. Ahkam (law)
  3. Ascetics, Mysticism or Piety
  4. Adab (Etiquette)
  5. Tafsir
  6. Tarikh or Seerah (History)
  7. Fitan (sing. Fitnah, meaning crises)
  8. Al-Manaqib and Al-Mathalib (the virtues and flaws of people and places)

The Rasa’il are also known as Kutub (books), of which many works by As-Suyuti and Ibn Hajar belong to.

4. The Sunan

The Sunan are collections of Ahadith that pertain solely to category (ii) of Rasa’il – law. Examples of this would be the works of Abu Daud, Nasa’I and Tirmizi.

5. The Musannaf

These are collections of Ahadith that pertain to most, or all of the categories of Rasa’il. Examples of this are the books of the Shaikhayn – Bukhari and Muslim, as well as the Muwatta‘ of Imam Malik.

6. The Jami’

A more complete version of the Musannaf is the Jami’, whereby all the topics in Rasa’il are addressed in entirety. For example, Sahih Muslim is considered a Musannaf but not a Jami’ like that of Imam Bukhari, because Sahih Muslim does not include traditions relating to all chapters of the Qur’an.

There is perhaps only one collection that fulfils this criterion. Originally known as Al-Jami’ Al-Musnad Al-Sahih Al-Mukhtasar min Umur al-Rasul wa Sunanihi wa Ayyaamihi, it has been popularized with a more simple name, Sahih Bukhari.

7. The Musnad

These are Ahadith collected based on the final authorities to whom they are related. For example, the Musnads of Abu Daud Tayalisi and Ahmad ibn Hanbal. This term was later used, in a more generic sense, to describe collections of reliable and sound Ahadith. The collectors of such traditions, however differ slightly in their method of arrangement. In some, the Ahadith are arranged according to their Isnad in alphabetical order. In others, the Ahadith are arranged based on the Thiqah (reliability) of the people in the Isnad, relative to when they embraced Islam and which events they took part in with the Prophet pbuh.

8. The Mu’jam

These are collections of Ahadith arranged in alphabetical order, on various bases. For example the geographical and biographical dictionaries of Yaqut are called Mu’jam al-Buldan and Mu’jam Udaba‘ respectively. If a Musnad was arranged in alphabetical order it becomes a Mu’jam. The Ahadith in the aforementioned are arranged according to the Shuyukh they were taken from in alphabetical order, regardless of their content. Examples of this are some works by At-Tabarani, Ibrahim ibn Isma’il and Ibn Al-Qani’.

9. The Mustadrak

Mustadraks are in a sense continuations of previous works. This happens when Ahadith that conform to the criteria of a certain work but were previously not included. The initial absence of these Ahadith are merely because the original collector unknowingly missed them out. An example is the Mustadrak Al-Hakim, which is a collection of Ahadith that fulfill the criteria Bukhari and Muslim.

10. The Mustakhraj

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 Ahadith. An example is the Mustakhraj of Abu Nu’aym Isfahani, in which he collected fresh isnads to Ahadith in Sahih Bukhari and Muslim.

11. The Arba’in (p. Arba’iniyyat)

Popularized by Imam Nawawi, this genre consists a collection of 40 Hadith of special interest to the writer. Another famous compiler of the Arba’in is Shah Wali Ad-Dihlawi.

[ abridged from ]

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Posted by on October 15, 2012 in Hadith


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