The Science of Hadith – Part I



Hadith, literally an utterance, is that body of literature which deals with Prophet Muhammad (peace on him). It reports him or about him. Thus it includes his words, deeds, what he was like or was thought of by his contemporaries, before or after he was commissioned as a Prophet. It includes his resolve to do things, as well as what received his tacit approval. That is, what took place in his presence, or was brought to his notice, but he did not have anything to say by way of comment, allowing his silence to accord them approval. In short, anything that involves the Prophet (saws), directly or indirectly, is Hadith.

Accordingly, hadith can be divided into kinds such as: (a) qawli, (b) fe`li, (c) wasafi (khalqi wa khulqi), (d) hammuhu, wa (e) taqreeri.


(a) Qawli (Verbal)


Nu`man b. Bashir reported Hudhayfa as saying that the Prophet said: “At the beginning nubuwwah will reign among you until Allah wills, and then He will withdraw it. Next, it will be khilafah on the prophetic pattern. It will last until Allah wills and then Allah will withdraw it. That will be followed by a poorly managed kingship. It will last until Allah wills and then it will be withdrawn. After that it will be tyrannous kingship which will last until Allah wills and then He will withdraw it. And then it will be khilafah again on the prophetic pattern.” (The narrator added: “After that the Prophet fell silent”).

[Ahmed preserved it in his Musnad].

(b) Fe`li (Practical)


`A’isha reported: “The Prophet died with his coat of mail mortgaged to a Jew for thirty weights of barley.” (Bukhari)

(c) Wasafi (Descritptive)


(c.1) Khalqi (Physical)


On the authority of Hind b. Abi Haala, through Hasan b. `Ali, who said describing the Prophet: “He had a large head with slightly curled hair, which he parted in the middle. However, when he let it down, it never crossed the ear lobe. He was bright-coloured, with a wide forehead, eyebrows arching down.” (From a long narration in Tirmidhi’s Shamaa’il).

(c.2) Khulqi (Moral)


Anas says that there was a woman who was mentally somewhat unstable. Once she said, “Messenger of Allah. I have some work for you to attend.” He replied, “O mother of so and so, wait in one of the lanes you want to, until I am free to attend to your need.” Then he met her in one of the lanes and attended to her work. (Muslim)

(d) Hammhuhu (His resolve)


The Prophet said to `A’isha, “If your people were not so close to pagan days, I would have got the Ka`bah re-constructed on Ibrahim’s design.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

(e) Taqreeri (Tacit Approval)


Abu Waa’il reports, “They used to say (in funeral Prayers), Allahu Akbar either seven or five or four times until the time of `Umar, who got them together (for consultation). Everyone spoke out what he had seen. So he obtained their consensus over four times of Allahu Akbar, as the longest of Prayers.”

(That is, the Companions used to say Allahu Akbar in unspecified number of times during the funeral prayers, during the time of the Prophet, but he did not say to anyone that he was wrong, thus giving the practice his tacit approval).

A Few Other Kinds

Although the following types of reports are not counted as different kinds of Hadith, it might be of profit to note that sometimes the Prophet quotes others, such as, Allah, a past Prophet, an event of the past peoples, or, at least in one case, his own Companion. Of these the first has been given a technical nomenclature, that is, where he quotes Allah Himself. They are known as Hadith Qudsi. Herewith examples of all the four:

Hadith Qudsi (Sacred Tradition):

(حديث قدسي)

Abu Hurayrah reported that the Prophet said, “Allah said, ‘Son of Adam annoys Me. He curses the Times. But I am the Times. In My hands is the affair. I alternate the night and day.’”

The Prophet Reporting a past Prophet:

“Imam Ahmed recorded the following: Al‑Harith al‑Ash`ari says the Prophet (saws) said: `Allah ordered Yahya the son of Zackariyya (asws), John the Baptist of the Bible), five things that he was to practice himself, and enjoin the Israelites the same. `Isa (asws), his contemporary, felt that Yahya was procrastinating and so he said, “Look, you have been asked by Allah to practice five things and enjoin the Israelites the same. Now, either you do it yourself, or I will present them to the people.” Yahya replied: “Brother! I am afraid that if you did it, I will be punished or the earth will swallow me.” So Yahya gathered the Israelites in Bayt al‑Maqdis. When the house was full he rose up to the pulpit and addressed them. He first praised and glorified Allah. Then he said: “Allah has ordered me to observe these five things and instructed you to do the same. The first of them is that you should worship Allah alone associating none with Him. The example of a man (who associated with God) is like someone who purchased a slave with his money in gold or silver. But the slave began to work and deposit his earnings with another. Which of you will be pleased with a slave of that sort? Allah has created you, and nourishes you, therefore, serve Him associating none with Him. Second, He orders you to be attentive in Prayers, for Allah pays attention to a man in his Prayers so long as the man does not divert his attention from Allah. Therefore, do not divert your attention from Allah during your Prayers. Third, He orders you to fast, for he who fasts is like a man who carries a bag‑full of musk to a people. Everyone is refreshed by the fragrance that spreads. Indeed, the smell of the fasting man’s mouth is better with Allah than the fragrance of musk. Fourth, He orders you to give in charity. The example of a man who gives in charity is like him who has been captured by a people. They handcuff him and are ready to behead him when the man cries out, ‘Will you release me if I ransom myself?’ (They agree) and he ransoms himself with a little here and a little there until he frees himself. And fifth, He orders you to remember Him often; for he who remembers Allah often is like a man who was being given a hot chase by his enemy. (To his good luck) he found a fort and took refuge in it. A man is the safest against Satan, when he is in the remembrance of Allah.’”

The Prophet Reporting from Older Prophetic Times

On Ibn Mas`ud’s authority, the Prophet said, “Of what the people have received from the earlier Prophetic times: ‘If you have no shame, then do as you like.’” (Bukhari)

The Prophet Reporting a Companion:

Fatimah bint Qays (ra) says one day the Prophet (saws) ascended the mimber after he had done his (noon) prayers. (This was unusual because) he was not used to climbing the mimber except on a Friday. People felt concerned, so that those sitting remained sitting and those standing remained standing. He signaled them to sit down (and then said): ‘By Allah I am not here in this place to offer you a thing of profit: neither of the kind that you will be glad to receive nor the kind that you would dislike. Rather, Tamim ad-Daari came to me with some news that has robbed me my siesta because of the joy it brings me, and I thought you should share the joy of your Prophet.’

‘Listen, my cousin Tamim ad-Daari informed me that (once) in the seas the winds drove them to an island that was new to them. So they lowered their boats from the ship and landed on the shore. And lo, they found themselves facing a huge dark hairy thing.

“Who are you,” they asked him.

“I am (a she and my name is) Jassaasah”, she replied.

They said: “Tell us (about yourself).”

She said: “I am not going to tell you anything, nor am I going to ask you anything. However, since you have landed in here, go further up and talk to the man there who is anxious to learn from you and will also let you learn.”

So they went up to where he was and found him an old man, heavily chained, unhappy, and bitterly grumbling. (It was Dajjal).

“Where are you (coming) from?” He asked.

They said: “Syria.”

“What have the Arabs done?” He asked.

They said: “We are of the Arabs. Whom is it you are referring to?”

He said: “How did the man who appeared in you fare?”

They said: “He has done well. He became an enemy unto his people. But Allah gave him victory over them. Today the situation is that they are united in one God and in one religion.”

He asked: “How about the Zughar spring?”

They said: “It is doing well. They are irrigating their lands and watering their beasts therewith.”

He inquired: “And how does the orchard between `Amman and Yabsan fare?”

They replied: “It yields fruit every year.”

He asked: “And what about lake Tabariyyah?”

They said: “It is overflowing with water on all sides.”

He took a deep sigh making a loud noise and then said: “If these chains are removed, I shall not leave these lands but would stamp them with these my feet, except for Taybah. I will not be able to enter into it.”

The Prophet (saws) then said: `This is the point of my joy. This is Taybah. By Him in whose Hands is my life, there is not a narrow or wide road leading to this (city, Madinah) nor a valley nor a mountain but an angel stands in guard over it with an unsheathed sword – until the Day of Judgment.’ (Recorded by Tirmidhi)

Matn and Sanad

The above was with the “text” as the main concern. But Hadith also consists of a feature that is unique to it, with no example in any other literature, religious or secular: it is the chain of narrators (sanad). Every hadith is composed of two parts: the text (matn in Arabic), and a chain of narrators (sanad). In other words, “what is it that is being reported” and, “who are the people who reported it from generation to generation, (until it was documented).” That is, the chain is counted until the hadith in question was recorded by one of the Hadith collectors. For example, Bukhari recorded in one of his books called “Al-Jami` al-Sahih:”

Abu al-Yamaan narrated to us, (that) we were given the report by Shu`ayb, who quoted Zuhri who said: I was told by Humayd b. `Abdul Rahman that Abu Hurayrah said: “The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘Times will come closer, deeds will decline, parsimony will be placed (in the hearts), and haraj will increase.’ They asked, ‘What is haraj?’ He repied, ‘Killing, killing.’”

In this report the first part is sanad (chain of narrators) viz., “Abu al-Yaman narrated to us, (that) we were given the report by Shu`ayb, who quoted Zuhri who said: I was told by Humayd b. `Abdul Rahman that Abu Hurayrah said: “The Prophet, peace be upon him, said”; while the rest is matn (text) viz., ‘Times will come closer, deeds will decline, parsimony will be placed (in the hearts), and haraj will increase.’ They asked, ‘What is haraj?’ He repied, ‘Killing, killing.’

In most cases, two other fearures go with the Hadith apart from matn and sanad. They are (a) the Hadith collector’s name, or reference to his work, and (b) status of the hadith with reference to its authenticity. For example, the following:

حدثنا أحمد بن محمد بن موسى، أخبرنا عبد اللّه بن المبارك، أخبرنا ليث بن سعد وابن لهيعة عن قيس بن الحجاج، قال حدثنا عبد اللّه بن عبد الرحمن، أخبرنا أبو الوليد، أخبرنا ليث عن سعد حدثني قيس بن الحجاج المعنى واحد عن حنش الصنعاني، عن ابن عباس قال: “كنت خلف النبي صلى اللّه عليه وسلم يوما، فقال يا غلام، اني أعلمك كلمات: احفظ اللّه يحفظك، احفظ اللّه تجده تجاهك،إذا سألت فاسأل اللّه، وإذا وإذا استعنت فاستعن باللّه، واعلم أن الأمة لو اجتمعت على أن ينفعوك بشيئ لم ينفعوك بشيء إلا قد كتبه لك، وان اجتمعوا على أن يضروك بشيء لم يضروك إلا بشيء قد كتبه اللّه عليك، رفعت الأقلام وجفت الصحف”. (الترمذي) و قال: هذا حديث حسن صحيح.‏

I.e., “Ahmed b. Muhammad b. Musa reported to us, to whom `Abdullah ibn Mubarak reported, to whom Layth b. Sa`d said, and Ibn Lehi`ah reported through Qays b. al-Hajjaj, who said that `Abdullah b. `Abd al-Rahman said, that Abu al-Waleed reported to him, that Layth said that Sa`d that Qays b. al-Hajjaj said (something of similar meaning) through Hanash al-San`aani, through Ibn `Abbas who said, “Once I was behind the Prophet (on a mount) when he said, ‘Young man. I will teach you a few words: Remember Allah, He will take care of you. Remember Allah, you will find Him before you. When you ask, ask Allah. When you seek help, seek Allah’s help. And know that if mankind united over advantage of any kind to you, they will not be able to benefit you by aught except for what Allah has written for you. And, if they united over a harm of any kind to you, they will not be able to harm you by aught, save for what Allah has written it upon you. The Pens have been lifted, and the scrolls gone dry.”

Tirmidhi, who said, “This is a Hasan-Sahih narration.”

In the above report, apart from matn and sanad, we also have the name of the Hadith Collector who documented it, viz., Tirmidhi, as well as his remark about how he judged the report from the point of view of its trustworthiness saying, “This is a Hasan-Sahih narration.” That is, through one chain of narration the report is Hasan (a little weak), but through another it is Sahih, i.e., fully trustworthy.

(It might also be noted in the above that Tirmidhi combined two asnaad, i.e., two chains of narrations).


(To be continued)

Source: Young Muslim Digest, Editorial, May-2005

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