What is the Hadith? (Part I)
After reading the previous article (What is the Hadith? Part I), you know: the Qur’an is not the sole source of guidance for the Muslim, the hadith literature contains commands practiced by Muslims that are not found in the Qur’an and there are 6 recognized sets of hadith literate in Sunni Islam. This article will show that of the 6 recognized Sunni hadith; not all hadith sets are equal and within each hadith set, not all hadiths are equal and how modern Muslims react to hadith literature.
Of the six recognized Sunni hadith sets, there are two which stand far above the other 4 hadith sets. The hadith sets of Sahih Al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim are given higher respect and credibility than the other 4 hadith sets. Notice the title in these two sets starts with “Sahih.” This Arabic word means “most reliable” or “sound.” When you see the hadith set of “Sahih al-Bukhari” it means this is the hadith set of Iman Bukhari and it has been given the status of being very reliable (Sahih). This pattern repeats with the hadith set of Sahih Muslim and means the hadith set complied by Muslim is recognized as Sahih. Most Muslims you will encounter will not likely have these hadith sets nor have they read any of these volumes. However, most Muslims know of these sets and recognizes that because they are Sahih they are preeminent among all hadith sets.
The remaining 4 hadith sets are not held is as high esteem, but they contain individual hadith just as reliable as those found in Sahih Al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim and they contain iondividual hadith quotes that are rejected by the Muslim community. In these 4 sets, unlike the Sahih hadiths of Al-Bukhari and Muslim, you will find a rating following each hadith statement. Each hadith will contain one of 4 ratings: Sound (Sahih), Weak (Da'if), Hasan (Good) and Maudu (Fabricated). It is important to note that in the sets of Sahih Al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim there are no individual hadith ratings. All hadith in these two sets are Sahih as the titles of these sets (Sahih Al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim) demonstrate. Therefore, all hadith in Sahih Al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim are reliable and sound.
Let’s look at examples in the different hadith sets for each of the 4 hadith ratings. Below is a single hadith from Sunan Abu Dawud (Volume 1, hadith #7) that is rated Sahih:
Abdur-Rahman bin Yazid reported that someone said to Salman Al-Farsi: "Has your Prophet taught you everything, even how to defecate?" He replied, "Yes! He prohibited us from facing the Qiblah while defecating or urinating, and from cleansing ourselves with our right hands, and from cleansing ourselves with less than three stones or with dung or bones." (Sahih)1
This is an example of a weak (Da’if) hadith in the set of Jami at-Tirmindhi (Volume 2, hadith #801):
Al-Hasan bin 'All narrated that the Messenger of Allah said: "The gift for the fasting person is (fragrant) oil and a censer." (Da'if)2
This is an example of a good (Hasan) hadith in the set of Sunan Ibn Majah (Volume 4, hadith 3701):
Asma bint Yazid said: "The Messenger of Allah passed by us, among (a group of) women, and he greeted us with (the greeting of) peace." (Hasan)3
Lastly, this is an example of a fabricated (Maudu) hadith in the hadith set of Sunan Ibn Majah (Volume 5, hadith 4313):
It was narrated from 'Uthmin bin 'Affin that the Messenger of Allah said: "Three will intercede on the Day of Resurrection: The Prophets, then the scholars, then the martyrs." (Maudu).4
How do Muslims react to Christians when the Christian quotes the hadith literature? The most common response today is for the Muslim to put as much distance between the hadith literature and themselves as they can. Muslims typically begin speaking disparagingly of the hadith and question any hadith brought up with skepticism and many like to say they only believe the Qur’an, not additional books. If the latter part of the previous sentence were true, the Muslim faces a quandy as they try to explain the source for the command to pray five times a day, as well as other religious knowledge only found in the hadith, not the Qur’an. It is recognized there is a “Qur’an only” movement, but that movement is exceedingly small and not influential.
However, new converts to Islam are not taught to criticize or view with skepticism the hadith literature, it is quite the opposite. New converts are often freely given books to explain their new faith and two books remain popular. Each have been in print many years and both are still available for sale on popular Islamic web sites or given freely to the new convert. In the book titled “Islam in Focus”5, it says the following on page 21 about the hadith literature:
“His interpretations and practices produces what is known as the Tradition of Muhammad. They are considered the Second Source, namely the Qur’an, which is the Standard Criterion.”
The hadith are considered the “Second Source,” which is hardly criticism of the hadith literature. The second book given to new converts (Introduction to Islam)6 also conveys a positive and approving message regarding the hadith literature. On page 16 is the section titled “Islamic Teachings” where it says the following about the hadith:
“The teachings of Islam are based primarily on what the Prophet Muhammad said or did. He himself dictated certain texts to his scribes, which we call the Qur’an; others were compiled by his companions, mostly on their private initiative, and these we call the hadith.”
Then it says on page 23:
“The importance of the Hadith is increased for the Muslims by the fact that the Prophet Muhammad not only taught, but also took the opportunity of putting his teachings into practice in all the important affairs of life.”
The hadith literature in these two previous quotes tells the new convert the importance of the hadith in conveying what Muhammad said and did as well showing how Muhammad practiced his Islamic faith. Today’s Muslims will often criticize the hadith when confronted with uncomfortable quotes, but Islamic literature does not teach criticism, rather it teaches the hadith are to be respected, modeled and used as a source of learning.
In summary, every hadith in the sets of Sahih Al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim are equal in their status (Sahih) which is why none of these hadiths are individually rated, but hadiths in the remaining 4 hadith sets have a variety of ratings: Sound (Sahih), Weak (Da'if), Hasan (Good) and Maudu (Fabricated). Modern Muslims will often reject challenging and uncomfortable hadith quotes, but current mainstream Sunni Islamic literature encourages the new convert to learn from and respect the hadith literature.
- Qadhi, Yaser. , trans. English Translation of Sunan Abu Dawud. 5-Vols. Riyadh: Darussalam, 2008
- Khaliyl, Abd. , trans. English Translation of Jami At-Tirmidhi. 6-Vols. Riyadh: Darussalam, 2007
- Al-Khattab, Nasiruddin. , trans. English Translation of Sunan Ibn Majah. 5-Vols. Riyadh: Darussalam, 2007
- Abdalati, Hammudah, Islam in Focus. Indianapolis: The Department of Islamic Affairs-The Ministry AWQAF and Islamic Affairs-State of Qatar, 1975
- Hamidullah, Muhammad. Introduction to Islam. Paris: Centre Culturel Islamique, 1969