The Hadith, in Islam, is second in authority only to the Qur'an. The Hadith is a record of the prophet Mohammed's life, actions, and deeds. A saying in the Hadith is called a sunnah. These sunnah were transmitted by word of mouth down through the centuries having been memorized first by Muhammad's companions and then later by subsequent Muslims. Therefore, the Hadith is the written record of the oral traditions, passed down from Muslim to Muslim, of what Mohammed was supposed to have said and done.
The Qur'an is considered to be the absolute and infallible word of Allah. The Hadith, however, though the words of the inspired prophet Muhammad, are not necessarily infallible. The oldest collection to date dates from the 9th century.
The Hadith fall into two categories, "Hadith qudsi (sacred Hadith) in which God Himself is speaking in, as it were, a complementary revelation through the Prophet, and hadith sharif (noble Hadith), the Prophet's own acts and utterances."1
The most famous and universally accepted among the six collections of Hadith are those of Sahih Al-Bukhari (d. 870)--which are used in the Interesting Quotes from the Hadith section--and Abu al-Hajjaj (d. 875), which is usually called "Muslim." The Hadith of Budhari can be found online and are the ones quoted on CARM.
The Hadith are important because they elucidate many areas not covered by--or were not very clear in--the Qur'an. The Hadith is appealed to in legal decisions and consulted in debate among many Muslims.
There is debate among western scholars as to the historicity and accuracy of the Hadith. Some believe additions were made to it to serve political and theological purposes of various Muslim leaders. Many Muslims will disagree and some even claim all the Hadith are inspired and accurate. This is quite debatable.
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- 1. Glasse, Cyril, The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989, p. 141.