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Introduction to Hadith Studies
Thu, Fri 10:15-11:30
Iftikhar Zaman
Email Address:
Winter 2005
Office Hours: Thu 11:45-1:15, 1:45-3:15
Office: SS287
Course Description: The controversy over the "sources" of early Islamic history
(the first three centuries of Islam) is one of the most celebrated in the field.
"Sources" refers primarily and in the first instance to "hadith"—texts about the
Prophet. Hadith and evaluating hadith provided a dominant model for all kinds
of knowledge among Muslims at least for the first few centuries of Islam and
arguably, up until the early 20th century when Muslims had to first encounter
the West as equals on the intellectual plane. This course reviews the literature
on evaluating the authenticity of hadiths in the tradition of Islamic
scholarship. As a counterpoint, we will take a brief look at recent attempts by
Western scholars to revaluate the hadith literature.
Course Objectives and Approach: The methods of classical Muslim scholars to
judge the reliability of hadiths are complex. At the same time, whoever takes
even a few steps in the study of Islam (whether in Islamic history, or debates
on what Islam should be) has to deal with hadith. Impatient with the classical
methods, lacking the time and training to come to a considered stance on the
hadith material, the student of Islamics faces a bewildering array of
methodological choices on how to interpret hadith with almost no preparation.
There are some features in the hadith literature the study of which has led
modern Western scholars to the network of concerns that dominate discussion
among them.
Studying the way the classical discipline treats these features
will prepare the student to appreciate the functional importance of the
otherwise abstract and dry issues of traditional Islamic hadith criticism.
Then, a brief glance at modern developments will identify the defining elements
of each of the two academic discourses. By the end of the course the student
should come away with an ability to understand the pivotal issues when he/she
listens to modern and classical debates on hadith (and the related concept of
The Scope of the Course: The Islamic discipline of hadith criticism is
sophisticated enough that this course can only be a survey.
I shall use the
works of modern Western scholars only as a counterpoint to emphasize the
"pressure points" in the classical Islamic disciplines. Within the Islamic
disciplines, I will focus on the aspect of authenticity (establishing the
reliability of texts) although we will be forced to turn the issue of meaning
repeatedly (identifying what a text, once established as reliable, should mean
in our understanding of Islam) as it cannot be disentangled from the issue of
Grades and Requirements for doing well in this course:
This course demands that the student interact directly with the works of scholars who collected hadiths and analyzed
their significance. If the student does not read the texts and come to class with questions, understandings and
misunderstandings, there is no point in taking this course. The instructor will email questions on every reading to the
students. On Thursday morning there will be a quiz to award the students for having read the material and tried to
answer the questions on it. Thursday class will continue with a detailed discussion of the emailed questions. Then,
there will be a quiz on Friday on those same readings: this quiz will test comprehension of the issues the email
questions raised and that were discussed on Thursday. These two types of quizzes will be 66% of the grade. The final
exam will be 34% of the grade.
How To Read For This Class And Prepare For It:
Please reads this carefully: I will test you on it!
Most of us read passively. We assume that the author is going to give us information that we will try to understand and
store in our memories for a time when we will need it. Or, we read reactively, with suspicion: we assume that this is a
non-Muslim writing about Islam and he will try to distort the data and confuse us about Islam. In this course I would
like us to go beyond both passive reading and reactive reading.
We shall try to view each one of these authors as an individual living in this world with all the limitations that human
beings have. When an author paints a picture we dislike, we shall try to ignore and suppress our distaste for a bit while
we identify the colors with which he has painted this picture and the techniques that have gone into it. Then, when we
return to our taste, we will know exactly what we like or dislike about the picture and why we like it or dislike it.
HOW TO PREPARE FOR CLASS: This is a three unit course. That means that students should attend three hours of
classes and spend six hours outside class preparing for class. To do well in this course you will have to start each
week's reading well in advance of the class. You will have to read each reading a few times, and think about it between
each re-reading. There are questions at the end of each reading. Buy a notebook and write down your answers to
each question. Each Thursday class will begin with a multiple choice quiz based on the assigned readings and the
emailed questions: it will assume that you have read the assigned readings carefully and repeatedly. After the quiz I
will call on students randomly to read out what they have written and we will discuss the answers you have written.
Then on Friday, there will be a multiple choice quiz based both on the readings and on the discussion on Thursday.
This quiz will assume you have understood the readings fully. The Final will be based on the readings, on the
discussion in the tutorials and on the lectures.
HOW TO READ: For every reading, first look at the title, the date of publication, the name of the author, the name of
the book from which the selection is. Look at the title of the chapter or the section. If there are any subsections in the
reading, look at their titles. Read the introductory and concluding paragraphs of the reading and of its subsections if
there are any. Browse through the whole reading to get an idea of the types of things the author is saying--where he
starts from, where he is going to, how does he get there. Spend fifteen minutes to half an hour on this. Then start
reading. Read to the end. Then browse through the whole article again. Try to construct an outline of the entire
reading. Read it again. Do not worry about whether you agree with the author or disagree with him. Look at what he
is trying to say and how he says it. He is telling a story--what are the important components in the story. He is
painting a picture: what are the colors he uses. What are the critical elements in his story.
Week1: Introduction
The purpose of this course is to introduce you to the classical Islamic discipline of hadith study: its
history, its literature and the problems it deals with. This is a vast field and scholars in this
tradition continue to produce original and significant works in it to this day.1 Thus, I would like to
use the time of this class to focus on learning this tradition. However, to introduce the student to
the need for an education in this tradition, I have included two excerpts from works of modern
Western scholars describing what they think Muslim scholars feel about hadith. With apologies to
both these scholars, I will demonstrate how totally out of touch with this tradition they are. This
does not detract from these specific scholars—they are indeed quite competent and, in my
estimation, quite sincere—Western scholars are unable to get beyond a simplistic journalistic
understanding when they try to describe the approach of Muslims scholarship to hadith. While they
will spend volumes describing fine distinctions between the work of Western scholars, when they
come to Muslim scholarship, it takes a few strokes to paint the picture.
For us this is important because the work on hadith in English is either written within the Western
academic tradition, or it is written in response to it and in the arena defined and delimited by it. It
is important to throw this all behind for a bit and look directly at the tradition on its own terms.
Otherwise we run the risk of putting ourselves in the position of the person accused of beating his
wife who was asked "What was the date on which you last beat your wife? Please respond just by
giving me a date!"
The third reading for this week is a collection of excerpts from the Muqaddimah of Ibn Salah.
IMPORTANT: After each reading I have included a series of questions. Please buy a notebook
and write down the answers to these questions and bring them to class on Thursday.
 Class on Thursday will begin with a quiz based on these questions. The quiz should be
easy for anyone who has completed the assigned readings and has tried to answer these
questions. After the quiz on these readings I will call on students to read the answers they
have written to the questions at the end of each reading.
 Friday class will begin with a second quiz. This quiz will be: based on these same readings
and questions, but it will assume you have understood them well. So, while the Thursday
quiz ("reading quiz") will typically have four silly answers to each MCQ and one correcft
answer, the Friday quiz ("comprehension quiz") will have a number of partially correct
answers and only one actually correct answer. My lecture on Friday will assume you have
read, understood and digested the assigned readings: it will assume readings, it will not
review them. I will begin with a survey of the tradition and we will study only the tradition
until the last few weeks of this course. In the final few weeks we will return to a brief look
at Western academic views on hadith.
This is despite the fact that conventional modern (i.e. "Western") academia is absolutely in the dark about this
scholarly tradition.
John Burton is a leading authority on hadith
among Western scholars today. His book
entitld on An Introduction to the Hadith is --a
popular introductory text in academic
(college-level) courses on the subject.
Goldziher can be taken as the founding father
of hadith study in Western academia.
Burton's approving quote of Goldziher with
the words "There is little to quarrel with…" is
especially important since it clearly shows
that the modern Western academic is
comfortable that at the very least he has
understood the Muslim understanding of the
sunna. This is useful to him later when he
will reject it all as being of no use for
historical study of Islam—since, as far as the
Western academic is concerned, this will be a
considered rejection of the tradition and not
simply a matter of having dismissed the
tradition out of hand.
An Introduction to the Hadith
John Burton
As Goldziher describes it:
1. What do Muslims think the hadith attempts to
preserve—what exactly is its scope?
2. What have Muslims understood as the sources
for hadith? List all the sources.
Herbert Berg is a young academic who received his
PhD in the last ten years or so and now teaches at a
University in the USA. This excerpt is from Chapter 2
of a book which is a revised form of his doctoral
dissertation. Berg's description of Muslim scholars'
view of hadith is important because it can safely be
taken to represent what Western academics are
comfortable with as an accurate description of the
major features of Muslim scholarship on hadith.
The Development of Exegesis in
Early Islam
The Authenticity of Muslim Literature from the
Formative Period
Herbert Berg
John Burton, 1994
Edinburgh University Press Ltd 22 George Square,
Set in Linotron Trump Medieval
by Koinonia Ltd, Bury, and
printed in Great Britain
by Redwood Books, Trowbridge, Wiltshire
(The excerpt is from the Introduction, pg. x.)
There is little to quarrel with in Goldziher's resume of
what Muslims have generally understood by the term
The Prophet's pious followers have reverently repeated the
enlightening sayings of the master and have endeavoured to
preserve for the edification and instruction of the community
everything that he said, both in public and in private, regarding
the practice of the religious obligations prescribed by him, the
conduct of life in general, and social behaviour, whether in
relation to the past or the future. When the rapid succession of
conquests led them to distant countries, they handed on these
hadiths of the Prophet to those who had not heard them with
their own ears, and, after his death, they added many salutary
sayings which were thought to be in accord with his sentiments
and could, therefore, in their view, legitimately be ascribed to
him, or of whose soundness they were in general convinced.
Chapter 2: Hadith Criticism
The assumption of most Muslim scholars has been that
the hadith material, at least that contained in the
classical canonical collections, is authentic. Canonical
status is conferred upon al-Jami' al-sahih of Abu 'Abd
Allah Muhammad ibn Isma'il al-Bukhari (d. 256/870)
and al-Jami' al-sahih of Abu al-Husayn Muslim ibn alHajjaj (d. 261/875), and, to a lesser degree, upon the
Kitab al-sunan of Sulayman ibn al-Ash'ath Abu Da'ud
al-Sijistanl (d. 275/889), al-Jamic al-sahih of Abu 'Isa
Muhammad al-Tirmidhl (d. 279/892-3), the Kitab alsunan of Ahmad ibn Shu'ayb al-Nasa'i (d. 303/915),
and the Kitab al-sunan of Abu cAbd Allah Muhammad
ibn Yazld al-Rabaci al-Qazwinl ibn Majah (d.
273/887). To these six collections are occasionally
added other works, most notably the Musnad of
Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d. 241/855), but these others have
not quite achieved the same degree of authority. And,
while these six works are not immune from criticism, it
is generally believed that among them they contain an
authentic, authoritative, and fairly complete record of
the words and deeds of Muhammad. Although, many
Western scholars have not been as generous in their
assessment of the material in them, most Muslims
continue to feel that the rigorous analysis to which the
transmitters of it were subjected by these collectors
assures its authenticity.
For Muslims, transmitting the words and deeds of
Muhammad is as old as Islam itself. The Qur'an orders
Muslims to follow the example of the Messenger2 and
so from the very beginning the Companions (sahaba)
concerned themselves with following the sunna
(conduct or custom) of the Prophet, which was
embodied in hadiths (reports or anecdotes) narrating
his words and deeds. Muhammad is thought to have
taken some pains to ensure the use and dissemination
of his sunna.3
Generally, the Umayyad caliph cUmar II (d.
101/720) is credited with having ordered the first
collection of hadith material in an official manner,
fearing that some of it might be lost.4 Abu Bakr ibn
Muhammad ibn Hazm (d. 120/737) and Muhammad
ibn Muslim ibn Shihab al-Zuhri (d. 124/742), known
simply as Ibn Shihab or al-Zuhri, are among those who
compiled hadiths at cUmar II's behest. This delay,
nearly a century, in having the hadiths recorded
resulted from reservations expressed by Muhammad
and especially the first four Caliphs to commit to
written form anything other than the Qur'an, lest it be
confused with the Qur'an. cUmar I is the primary locus
for many accounts about hadith collection. He is
portrayed as desiring to initiate this project but as
unwilling to do so, fearing that Muslims might then
neglect the Qur'an. The movement to finally record
hadlths initiated by cUmar II and Ibn Shihab, though
begun somewhat haphazardly, culminated with the six
canonical collections after having received impetus
from the establishment of the sunna as the second
source of law in Islam, particularly through the efforts
of the famous jurist Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafci (d.
The actual text of the hadith is known as the matn.
For a matn to be recognized as an authentic record of
one of Muhammad's acts or sayings, it needs to have
attached to it the list of the people who were
transmitters (muhaddiths) of the matn. This isnad, or
chain of authorities, provides the name of the
For an account of Shi'i hadith collection, see
Kohlberg, "Shi'i Hadith," pp. 299-307.
For example, "There is for you in the Messenger of
Allah a beautiful model" (Qur^an 33:21) and "Obey
Allah and the Messenger so that you might be shown
mercy" (Qur'an 3:132) have been interpreted by
Muslims to mean that the sayings and actions of
Muhammad are binding upon the lives of Muslims.
Siddiqi, Hadith Literature, p. 5. The distinctions
between hadiths and sunna "have long been
theoretical," at least for Muslims. Siddiqi, Hadith
Literature, p. 2. However, scholars have quite different
theories of what constitutes sunna at different times
and to different Muslims. See pages 13-4 and 32-4.
This bears a suspicious resemblance to the first
collection of the Qur'an instigated by cUmar I (d.
23/644), who feared that some of the Qur'an might be
eyewitness of the actual event, the person to whom
s/he related the event, the person to whom this
muhaddith related the matn, and so forth until the
hadith was recorded.
The isnad portion of the hadith was an early
standard practice as well, according to Muslim
interpretation of the sources. To Muhammad ibn Sirin
(d. 1 10/728) is attributed the following remark:
They (sc. the traditionalists) were not used to inquiring after the
isnad, but when the fitna (= civil war) occurred they said:
Name us your informants. Thus if these were ahl as-sunna (=
the people of the catholic Muslim community) their traditions
were accepted, but if they were ahl al-bidac, their traditions
were not accepted.5
For most Muslim scholars, this fitna is the one
following the assassination of the third caliph, cUthman
(d. 35/656). And so, the regular use of isnads for
hadiths, is thought to have begun shortly after 35 A.H.
(656 C.E.). This date then also marks the beginning of
hadith study as a science in the Muslim community.
The implication of Ibn Sirin's statement is that wellmeaning but misguided or even unscrupulous people
fabricated or altered hadiths for political, dogmatic, or
personal reasons. Muslims freely admit this. But,
according to traditional accounts, these vast numbers
of obviously false and doubtful hadlths were
eliminated in the painstaking process of producing the
classical collections. In the third/ninth century, the
sifting out of these spurious hadiths focussed largely
on the isnad. That is to say, the compilers
systematically examined each of the transmitters of
every hadith (though often the examination ignored the
first level of transmitters, the Companions, who were
thought of as being above charges of falsification).
Analysis focussed on the transmitter's date and place of
birth, familial connections, teachers, students,
journeys, moral behaviour, religious beliefs, literary
output, and date of death. This allowed compilers to
determine not only reliability (thiqat), but also the
contemporaneity and geographical proximity of
transmitters juxtaposed within the isnad, in an attempt
to ascertain whether they could have come in contact.
In addition to this biographical analysis (cilm al-rijat),
the cohesion (ittisal) of the isnad was examined. The
continuity of the isnad was evaluated for missing or
unknown muhaddiths or for not reaching back to
Muhammad and stopping at a Companion or
Successor. In addition, the number of simultaneous
transmitters was tallied. A hadith with numerous
transmitters at every level of the isnad (mutawatir) was
deemed to be beyond doubt of forgery, while one with
three or more at each level (mashhur), one with just
one at a particular level (gharib), or one with one
transmitter at each level (fard) was considered binding
but with less weight. On these three bases, a particular
hadith would be classified as sahih (sound or
Juynboll, trans., "Muslim's Introduction to his Sahih,"
p. 277.
authentic), hasan (good), dacif (weak), or saqim
So Muslims have never suggested that forgery of
hadiths was not a problem in early Islam. What they do
claim is that the forgeries have been eliminated and
that that which has been preserved is, on the whole, the
actual words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad.7
Moreover, since criticism of hadiths in the Muslim
world has focussed on their isnads,8 dating of a
particular hadith is done by ascription. That is, a
prophetic hadith came into circulation during the life
of Muhammad, and one that terminates with a
Companion was probably born in the first few decades
after the death of the Prophet.
The method of criticism and the conclusions it has
reached have not changed significantly since the
third/ninth century. Even much of modern Muslim
scholarship, while continuing to debate the validity or
authenticity of individual hadiths or perhaps the
hadiths of a particular transmitter, employs the same
methods and biographical (or rijal) materials.9
Azami, Studies in Hadith Methodology and
Literature, pp. 43-4. The terminology does vary
somewhat from scholar to scholar. As a result,
biographical dictionaries were produced containing an
entry for each transmitter. One of the best examples of
these is al-Tabaqat al-kubra of Muhammad ibn Sacd
(d. 230/ 844), which has some 4,300 entries.
There have, of course, been Muslim scholars who
have felt free to label as spurious a large number of
even the accepted hadiths. The best-known of these
scholars are probably the early dogmatic theologians,
the Mu'tazila. But by and large, they have formed the
exception to the rule.
Isnads were not always the sole criteria for
authenticity. The mains were also analyzed, and
rejected when they contradicted any of: the Qur'an, a
mutawatir hadith, the consensus (ijmac) of the
community, the tenets of Islam, or common sense -- at
least according to Siddiqi, Hadith Literature, pp. 1136. An example that he cites from al-Khatib's Al-Sunna
qabla al-tadwin, pp. 242-7 has, in fact, only a few
pages on matn criticism. It might be more accurate to
say that questions about the matn provoked criticism of
the isnad.
For a modern textbook on Muslim hadith criticism
see, for example, 'Atar, Manhaj al-naqd fi 'ulum alhadith. The question of authenticity of the hadith
material is of course debated in the Muslim world.
Reformers see in the strict adherence to hadith the
epitome of taqlid -- for them, slavish imitation of the
past. Some reformers echo Western scholars when they
highlight the relatively late written records of hadiths,
the assumption of the collective righteousness of the
companions, the universally admitted problem of
fabrication of at least some hadiths, and the
paraphrasing (and hence distortion) of hadith during
transmission. The scepticism of the reformers is
challenged by orthodox theologians, such as those
Look up the word "canon" in a dictionary.
Berg says that Muslim scholars accord
"canonical status" to certain books. What
could he mean by this?
2. If a Muslim scholar finds a hadith in one of
the "canonical collections" what, according to
Berg, are all the things the Muslim scholar
will feel justified in saying about that hadith?
3. In Berg's view, how much of the Prophet's life
do Muslims feel is preserved in the texts six
4. According to Berg, what is the Muslim view
about when the hadith began to be recorded?
5. What is the difference between scholars and
Muslims regarding the sunna and hadith (I am
not asking for detail, just name the
6. What is the word Muslims use for the
transmitter of a hadith?
7. Upon the death of cUthman in 35 A.H. people
began to fabricate or alter hadiths. When does
Berg think that Muslim scholars feel that
these false "hadiths" eliminated?
8. What is the technical term that Muslim
scholars use for "reliability" of a scholar?
9. According to Berg, what is the basis of
Muslim scholars' decision to label a hadith as
more or less sound?
10. According to Berg, what do Muslim scholars
consider taqlid to be?
11. Berg feels that Muslim reformers are skeptical
about the authenticity of hadith. What are the
bases of the skepticism of the reformers?
of al-Azhar in Egypt, using the traditional
arguments. For discussions of relatively recent
discussions of hadith analysis in the Muslim world,
particularly Egypt and Pakistan, see Juynboll,
The Authenticity of the Tradition Literature and
Brown, Rethinking tradition in Modern Islamic
The seventh century author Ibn Salah
gathered together the conclusions of hadith
scholars of the centuries preceding him in
a "Prologue" that captured the attention of
the ummah. Since his work most works on
the principles of hadith criticism use the
format and order of his work as a skeleton.
He has divided up his subject matter into
65 "disciplines" in the knowledge of hadith.
Below is a translation of the first
"discipline"—how to learn sound hadiths.
The Muqaddimah of Ibn Salah
Abu cAmr cUthman ibn cAbd al-Rahman alShahrazuwriy, (commonly known as "Ibn
Salaah") d. 642.
1. Know, God grant me and you knowledge,
that hadiths scholars divide hadiths into sahiyh
[sound], hasan and daciyf [weak]. The sahiyh
hadith is one that goes all the way back to the
Prophet with a continuous chain of narration
consisting of one narrator that is just (caadil),
and has control of the material he conveys
(daabit), to another such just narrator who has
control of the material he conveys until the end
of the chain of narration—provided that the hadith is neither atypical (shaadhdh) nor does it have a hidden
defect (cillah). These conditions are to exclude the: mursal hadith [that does not go back all the way to the
Prophet], the munqatic hadith [that is narrated through a chain of narration missing one link],
the mucdal hadith [that is narrated through a chain of narration missing more than one link] the shaadhdh
hadith [that is atypical], and the hadith that has a damaging cillah [hidden defect] in it.
2. So this is the hadith which will be judged sahiyh without any disagreement among hadith scholars.
Sometimes scholars will disagree about the soundness of a hadith because they disagree about the presence
of these qualities in a hadith or because they disagree about some of these conditions—as they do about the
condition that a sound hadith must go all the way back to the prophet [must not be mursal].
3. When the scholars say "This is a sound [sahiyh]hadith" this means that its chain of narration is continuous
with all these aforementioned qualities; it is not necessary that the hadith be certainly true in point of fact
since there are sound hadiths reported on the authority of a single narrator and which the ummah has not
accepted unanimously.1 In this same way, when they say "This hadith is not sound" this is not a definite
statement that the hadith is false in point of fact, since it is possible that it actually be true. The point is only
that its chain of narration is not sound according to the above conditions. God only knows best.
This is reference to a principle that it cannot be that a time come upon the ummah that the truth cannot be found
anywhere in the ummah. A corollary of this then, is that all the knowledgeable among the entire ummah cannot gather
together in error. Ibn Salah will use this principle repeatedly in this section: that when the knowledgeable among the
ummah have accepted a hadith, a set of hadiths, a hadith work or a number of hadith works as sound, then their
unanimity is guarantor of their decision being correct.
NOTE 1: The sahiyh hadith can be unanimously
sound or it can be sound with disagreement, as I
have just mentioned. It can be mashhuwr or
ghariyb or between the two. In addition, the
degree to which a hadith is sound will vary
according to the strength in which a hadith has
the above mentioned qualities that make a
hadith sound. There is an uncountable number
of types of the sound hadith—this is why we
believe that it is better to avoid declaring an
isnad or a hadith to be the soundest of all isnads
or hadiths. Despite this a group of leading
scholars of hadith (a'immah) have entered these
deep waters and have made mutually
contradictory decisions about this.
So, we have been told that Ishaq ibn Rahawayh
said: "The soundest of all chains of narrations is
Zuhri from Salim from his father [cAbdullah ibn
Umar]." The same thing has come to us from
Ahmad ibn Hanbal.
We have been told from cAmr ibn cAli al-Fallas
that he said: "The soundest of all hadiths is
Muhammad ibn Siriyn from cAbiydah from
Ali. The same thing has come to us from cAli
ibn al-Madiyni and others also. Then some
identify the narrator narratng from Muhammad
as Ayyuwb al-Sakhtiyaani while others make it
Ibn cAwn.
And among the things I have from Yahya ibn
Maciyn is that he said: "The best isnad is
Acmash from Ibrahim from cAlqamah from
Abdullah [ibn Mascuwd].
And we have been told from Abu Bakr ibn Abi Shaybah that he said: "The soundest of all isnads is from
Ali ibn al-Husayn from his father [Husayn] from cAli [ibn Abi Talib]."
And we have it from Abu cAbdullah al-Bukhari, the author of the Sahiyh that he said: "The soundest of all
hadiths is Malik from Nafic from Ibn cUmar." And the leading scholar [imam] Abu Mansuwr cAbd al-Qahir
ibn Tahir al-Tamiymi built on this and said that the greatest isnad is Shafici from Malik from Nafic from Ibn
Umar. As evidence for this he said refers to the consensus among the hadith folk that there was no one
greater than Shafici among the narrators relating from Malik (God be pleased with them all). God only
knows best.
5. NOTE 2: When we find a hadith with a sound isnad among the smaller collections of hadith that we
narrate or in some other place, and we cannot find it in either of the two sound books [Bukhari or Muslim],
nor do we find any of the leading hadith scholars having declared it to be sound in any of their reliable and
well-known writings, we cannot presume to definitely judge it to be sound. In our days it has become
impossible to independently identify sound hadiths just by looking at the isnads because every hadith we
find in these books has some narrator on whom the author had relied who does not have the qualities of
memory and control and mastery that are required in a sound hadith. So in identifying the sound hadith and
the hasan hadith the matter ends up on having to rely on the explicit statements of leading hadith scholars in
their well known and reliable works regarding which we can be sure that there has been no deliberate
modification or corruption because they are so well known. The major purpose, then, of the isnads that are
passed on is to maintain the continuity of the chain of narration with which has been especially granted to
this ummah.
6. NOTE 3: The first to compose a book limited to only sound hadiths was Bukhari: Abu Abdullah
Muhammad ibn Ismaciyl al-Jucfiy by clienthood. Then he was followed by Abu al-Husayn Muslim ibn al-
Hajjaj al-Qushayri of the Banu Qushayr. While
Muslim narrated hadiths from Bukhari and
learned from him, he also participated with
Bukhari in narrating hadiths from most of his
teachers. The books of these two authors are the
soundest of all books after the Respected Book of
God. As for what had been related to us from
Shafici that he said: "I don't know of any book on
the surface of the earth more correct than the
book of Malik [the Muwatta]." Others narrate this
with slightly different words. He [Shafici] only
said this before Bukhari and Muslim had written
their books. Then, the book of Bukhari is the
more sound and has the more scholarly benefit to
it. It has been related to us that Abu cAli the
Hafiz of Nishapur, the teacher of the Hakim Abu
Abdullah the Hafiz, said: "There is no book more
sound than the book of Muslim ibn Hajjaj."
There is nothing wrong with this and other such
statements of the scholars of the West who prefer
Muslim's book over Bukhari's if they mean that
Muslim's book is better because he has included
only sound hadiths in it, for after his Prologue
these is nothing but sound hadiths related one
after another with nothing mixed with the hadiths
as in Bukhari's book where he has included
statements in his chapter titles without isnads that
meet the standards he has maintained in his
Sahiyh. But this does not imply that Muslim's
book is better than Bukhari's in terms of
soundness itself. If, however, these statements
are to mean that Muslim's book is sounder in its
hadiths than Bukhari's, then we deny this. God
only knows best.
7. NOTE 4: These two authors have not covered all the sahiyh hadiths in their books and they did not intend
to do so. So, we have it from Bukhari that he said: "I have only included sound hadiths in my book and I
have left out [many] sound hadiths to not tire te reader by making my book too long." It has been related to
us from Muslim that he said: "I have not included here (i.e. in his book the Sahiyh) every hadith that is
sound in my opinion. I have only included hadiths that they have agreed upon." I say, God only knows best,
that he had only included those hadiths in his book which, in his opinion, had in them those qualities that are
unanimously agreed upon as required in a sound hadith—even though some scholars disagree about the
presence of these qualities in some hadiths.
8. In addition, Abu cAbdullah al-Akhram had said: "There are very few verifiable hadiths that both Bukhari
and Muslim have missed," that is, in their two books. But one could say that they are not few at all since the
Mustadrak `ala al-sahiyhayn of Abu cAbdullah al-Hakim is a large book which contains many hadiths
which they have missed. There are problems in some of them, but even after taking this into account he has
managed to collect many sound hadiths. He has reported a total of 7257 sound hadiths including repeated
hadiths. It has also been said that he has 4000 hadiths after ignoring repeated hadiths, but perhaps this count
includes the sayings and reports of the companions and the successors. Also, perhaps this count considers a
single text reported by two chains of narration to be two hadiths.
9. Then, to add to his knowledge of the sound hadiths in the two books, the student should take hadiths that
are in the famous and reliable hadith collections of leading hadith scholars such as Abu Dawud al-Sijistani,
Abu cIysa al-Tirmidhi, Abu cAbd al-Rahman al-Nasaa'iy, Abu Bakr ibn Khuzaymah, Abu al-Hasan al-Dara
Qutani and others, provided that there is an explicit statement of their being sound in the book. It is not
enough that a hadith is present in the books of
Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Nasa'iy and all those
scholars who collected both sound hadiths and
other hadiths in their books. It is enough that a
hadith be in the books of those who have taken
upon themselves only to include sound hadiths
in their collections, such as the book of Ibn
Khuzaymah. Similarly, it is enough to judge a
hadith sound for it to be in one of the books that
have been derived from ["are a takhriyj"]
applying the standards that Bukhari and Muslim
have maintained in their books: such as the
books of Abu cUwanah al-Isfar'iyni, and Abu
Bakr al-Ismaciyli and Abu Bakr al-Burqaaniy
and others who have completed incomplete
hadiths and added commentary to many of the
hadiths of the two sound books. There is a lot of
this kind of material in Abu cAbdullah alHumaydi's Kitab al-jamc bayn al-sahiyhan.
10. Abu Abdullah al-Hakim, the Hafiz, paid
special attention to add to the number of sound
hadiths in the two sound book and he gather all
this together in a book he called al-Mustadrak in
which he included hadiths that were in neither of
the two sound books and that he felt met their
conditions and were narrated by people whose
hadiths the two sound books already included,
or hadiths that met the condition of either
Bukhari or of Muslim. But, he is rather free in
applying the conditions of soundness and quick
to judge a hadith sound. It is best to take the
path of moderation in judging him so we would
say that if he judges a hadith to be sound and
other leading scholars don't do so, then if it isn't sahiyh it is hasan and can be brought in as evidence in
debate and can be put into practice until we see a weakness that forces us to declare it weak. This is also
pretty much the judgment about the hadiths of Sahiyh of Ibn Hibbaan al-Busti.
11. NOTE 5: The authors of the books derived according to the conditions of the books of Bukhari or
Muslim2 (God be pleased with them) did not take it upon themselves to derive hadiths that had the exact
wordings of the hadith as reported in the two books with no addition or deletion. They report those hadiths
through chains of narration that bypassed Bukhari or Muslim in an attempt to report the hadiths through a
higher [brief] isnad, so there is some difference in words in some of their reports. Similarly those hadiths
that other authors such as Bayhaqi's Sunan Kubra and Abu Muhammad al-Baghawi's Sharh al-sunnah,
report in their independently composed books regarding which they say "Bukhari (or Muslim) have narrated
this hadith"—one should take them to mean no more than that Bukhari (or Muslim) have narrated the text of
the hadith with the possibility that there be a difference in words. Sometimes there can also be some
difference in meaning since I have found examples of this in which there is some such difference in
meaning. When this is how things are, you would not be justified in copying a hadith from these books and
saying that the hadith is like this in Bukhari (or Muslim) unless you either compare the words of the hadith
with the original texts or the author explicitly states: "Bukhari has narrated this hadith with these words."
Yes, you would be justified stating this in the case of the books that are abridgments of the two sound books,
An author of a work "derived" (mustakhraj) from Bukhari's Sahih for example, would begin with a text that Bukhari
has reported through a certain chain of narration. The author of the derived work would report that same text from a
chain of narration in which he would bypass Bukhari and would "connect" to Bukhari's own chain of narration by
reporting the hadith from the same person from whom Bukhari reports it.
since their authors copy the words of the two
sound books or of one of them. Humaydi alAndalusi's book al-Jamc bayn al-sahiyhayn is
different since, as I have said, it contains some
additional words that complete some hadiths so
an indiscriminating person would copy something
from it and attribute it to the two sound books or
to one of them and he would be wrong since that
addition might not even exist in either of the two
sound books. Finally, these derived books have
two benefits to them: one is that they present
higher isnads, and the other is that they add to our
knowledge of sound hadiths because they
establish the soundness of the additional words or
completions of some hadiths that are not in the
original but they narrate them through the chains
of narration that have been confirmed as sound in
the two sound books or in one of them.
12. NOTE 6: The hadiths that both Bukhari and
Muslim narrate through connected chains in their
books are the hadiths that we can judge sound
without any doubt. But one needs to consider
separately hadiths that are mucallaq, that is,
hadiths that are reported through chains of
narration from which one or more of the narrators
has been dropped from the beginning of the
isnad. Usually you find this kind of hadith in
Bukhari: it is rare indeed in Muslim's book. We
should say that those mucallaq hadiths are sound
in the eyes of the author in which the author
attributes the words definitely to the person he
quotes at beginning of the isnad. For example,
where he says something like: "The Messenger of
God, God bless him and grant him peace..." or "Ibn Abbas said…" or "Mujahid said…" or " cAffaan said…"
or "Qacnabiy said…" or "Abu Hurayrah narrated…." All these places represent his decision that the person
he is quoting actually said what he reports him as saying and narrating. The author of the hadith collection
would never permit himself to use these kinds of words unless he was persuaded that the narrator to whom
he was attributing these words directly had actually said those words. Then, if the person the author quotes
is from the generations after that of the Companions, the decision that the hadith is sound rests on the isnad
being continuous between the person being quoted and the Companion.
13. But places where the author does not use a word that definitely attributes the text to the person he quotes
do not at all represent any decision by the author that the text is soundly attributed to the person he quotes.
This would be in words like: "It is narrated from the Prophet that …" or "It is narrated from so and so that
…" or "In this issue there is a hadith from the Prophet that …." These words and words like them can also
be used in reporting a weak hadith. Despite this, the fact that the author reports this hadith in his Sahiyh
constitutes a suggestion that stands to reason and one tends to credit, that there is a basis in fact to it. God
only knows best.
14. After all this, there is very little in this material that does not fulfill the criterion of soundness. There is
some such material in Bukhari's book in the titles to the chapters of his book and not in the text of his book
and in the midst of the content of the book as indicated by the title he gave it: al-Jaamic al-sahiyh al-musnad
al-mukhtasar min umuwr rasuwlillaahi sallallaahu calayhi wa sallama wa sunanihi wa ayyaamihi [the
comprehensive, sound and brief book of hadiths that go back all the way to the Prophet reporting about him
and his exemplary ways of doing things and the significant events of his life]. General statements such as "I
have only included sound hadiths in my book al-Jaamic" must be interpreted within the bounds we have
described. Similarly Hafiz Abu Nasr al-Wayiliy
al-Sajizi's general statement "The jurists are
agreed that if a person were to swear: 'May my
wife be divorced if it is not true that all that is
narrated from the Prophet in Bukhari's book is
established from the Prophet (God bless him and
grant him peace) and he actually said it' there is
no doubt that his oath would be sound and his
wife would remain in her condition within the
bounds of his wedlock" or Abu cAbdullah alHumaydi's statement in his book al-Jamc bayn
al-sahiyhayn "These are the only two leading
scholars from the past from whom we have
found a clear statement that all that they have
gathered is sound"—all such statements refer to
the text of the book and its substance not to the
chapter titles and similar things, since in these
latter places there is definitely some material
that is not of this quality. An example is
Bukhari's statement "Chapter about what had
been mentioned regarding the thigh. It has
narrated from Ibn Abbas and Jurhud and
Muhammad ibn Jahsh from the Prophet, God
bless him and send peace upon him, "The thigh
is among the parts of the body that one must
hide." Or, Bukhari's statement in the beginning
of the first of the chapters about bathing "Bahz
ibn Hakiym said, from his father, from his
grandfather, from the Prophet, God bless him
and send peace on him, 'Allah is the most
deserving of modesty." This definitely does not
meet Bukhari's standards of soundness and this
is why Humaydi does not record it in his Jamc
bayn al-sahiyhayn. So be aware of this: it is both important and not immediately apparent. God only knows
15. NOTE 7: When it turns out that one knows sound hadiths through the reports that the leading scholars
have narrated in those of their works that take up the task of clarifying this, as we have already said, one
needs to point out the types of the sound hadith in this respect. So, the first type is the sound hadith that both
Bukhari and Muslim have narrated. The second is the sound hadith that Bukhari alone has reported and
Muslim has not reported. The third type is the sound hadith that Muslim alone has reported and Bukhari has
not narrated. The fourth type is the sound hadith that fulfills the criteria of both Bukhari and Muslim but
they have not narrated. The fifth type is the sound hadith that fulfills the criteria of Bukhari but he has not
reported it. The sixth type is the sound hadith that fulfills the criteria of Muslim but he has not reported it.
The seventh type is the hadith that is sound according to other leading scholars but does not fulfill the
criteria of either Bukhari or Muslim. So these are the major types of the sound hadith. The highest among
them is the first type about which you often hear hadith folk saying: "Sahiyh mutaffaq calayh" (sound and
agreed upon). They say this in these general words and the mean that Bukhari and Muslim are agreed upon
it, not that the entire ummah is agreed upon it. Nevertheless, the agreement of these two results in the
ummah being agreed upon it since the ummah has accepted what they have agreed upon.
16. This type of the sahiyh hadith is definitely sound and leads to deduced, certain knowledge. Those who
would deny this argue that in its essence a sound hadith can lead to more than probably knowledge and the
ummah has only accepted it is because the ummah is required to act on probably knowledge—and probable
knowledge can err. I used to incline towards this and think that this was a strong argument but then it
became clear to me that the position I have mentioned first is the correct one. This is because the probably
opinion of an inerrant person cannot err. This is
why ijmaac on an issue decided on by ijtihaad is
certain evidence—and most of the ijmaac of
scholars is just like this. This is a valuable and
useful point. It also shows that if only Bukhari, or
only Muslim has narrated a hadith, nevertheless
one can say that it is sound with certainty since
the ummah has accepted the books of each on of
them, as we have explained regarding the two
books—excepts for a few things that the Huffaz
amongst hadith critics have such as Dara Qutani
and others have criticized, and which are well
known amongst the knowledgable. God only
knows best.
17. NOTE 8: The previous discussion shows that
today the way to know sound hadiths and hasan
hadiths is by studying the two sound books and
other reliable books. So if someone is, according
to his school of thought, at the level at which it is
appropriate for him to base his practice on hadith
or use hadiths as evidence in debates about
religious issues, and he wishes to use hadith for
practice or as evidence, then he should turn to a
primary manuscript that he himself or someone he
relies upon has compared with a number of
primary manuscripts narrated through a number of
different types of chains of narration so that by
means of this comparison—along with the fact
that these books we have mentioned and the books
after them have become too well known for
someone to try to modify or corrupt—he feel
confident on the material that these manuscripts
all record.
Note: Read this selection keeping in mind the
format in which Ibn Salah is presenting this
material. He has not presented all the material in
these pages in a uniform manner. Some is the
main text, some consists of notes. Understand
what Ibn Salah has said keeping in mind where in
the structure of his article the things he has said
Answer all the questions below with respect to
Ibn Salah's opinion:
What is Ibn Salah telling us in this entire
What is it that makes a hadith sound? Hint:
Answer this question carefully try to capture
the nuance of Ibn Salah's entire position in
your answer.
What are the qualities required in a sound
In para 3 Ibn Salah places a limit on the
amount we can rely on the judgment of hadith
scholar that a hadith is sound. How does
paara 16 modify this limit?
After presenting his definition of a sound
hadith Ibn Salah tells us that this definition is
agreed upon. In what sense, however, is this
definition "agreed upon?"
What is the special status of the works of
Bukhari and Muslim and why do they have
this status? Do the remaining four of the six
books participate in this status?
If a scholar finds a hadith in one of the
"canonical collections" what are all the things
that one can justifiably say about that hadith?
What pieces of evidence does Ibn Salah
present to show that Bukhari's book and
Muslim's do not contain all the sound hadiths
that exist?
Having understood what Ibn Salah has said,
how much of the Prophet's life, do you think,
is preserved in the texts of the two sound
books, or in the six sound books?
What are the two ways in which hadiths can
be "used" and who can use them?
Can there be anything other than sound
hadiths in the Sahih of Bukhari or that of
What is the point of learning isnads today?
What is ths benefits of works "derived"
(mustakhraj) from the two sound works of
When is it possible to consider the presence of
a hadith in a certain book to be evidence of it
being sound?
Ibn Salah considers various ways of rankming
hadiths and issues decision about them. Make
a list of all the methods by which one can
rank hadiths as more or less sound—whether
Ibn Salah feels they are justified or not.