The Hadith

by Matt Slick

The Hadith, in Islam, is second in authority only to the Quran. The Hadith is a record of the prophet Muhammed'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 hadith are of differing levels of reliability:  "The final verdict on a hadith, i.e. Sahih (sound), Hasan (good), Da`if (weak) or Maudu` (fabricated, forged), depends critically on this factor."1

  • Sahih
    • "A Sahih hadith is the one which has a continuous isnad, made up of reporters of trustworthy memory from similar authorities, and which is found to be free from any irregularities (i.e. in the text) or defects (i.e. in the isnad)."2
    • SAHIH is that which contains these four qualities:  a) "The authenticity of which is assured by the contiuance of the chain of Reporters or Narrators (Ravis) is unbroken or uninterrupted from the Holy Prophet" 2) "Each reporter or narrator of the Hadith must be a person of righteous moral excellence in all his sayings and deeds in all walks of life." 3) "All the reporters must possess healthy retentive memory, without becoming weak on account of illness or senility" 4) "The Hadith reported by him must not be rare or of an uncommon or peculiar nature. It must bear the mark of common or natural occurrence or in other words it must not be against well known Hadith called Hadith-e-Mash'hoorah."3
  • Hasan:
    • "a [Hasan] hadith which is not Shadhdh, nor contains a disparaged reporter in its isnad, and which is reported through more than one route of narration..."4
    • "By this kind of Hadith is meant that its Narrator or reporter may ot possess the qualities required of a Ravi of Sahih Hadith; his righteousness (Taqva) or memory not be of the execllent level or which has been imparied on account of sickness, senility or some accident."5
  • Da'if:
    • "A [Daif] hadith which fails to reach the status of Hasan is Da`if...The smaller the number and importance of defects, the less severe the weakness. The more the defects in number and severity, the closer the hadith will be to being Maudu` (fabricated)"6
    • "The Narrator of such a Hadith is not righteous or whose memory is not strong and healthy and reliable."7
  • Maudu:
    • "[Maudu] the term applied to a Hadith, the text of which goes against the established norms of the Prophet's sayings...Maudu` ahadith are also recognised by external evidence related to a discrepancy found in the dates or times of a particular inciden."8

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."9

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 can be found online.

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.
  • 2. Ibn al-Salah as quoted at
  • 3.
  • 4.
  • 5. ibid.
  • 6. Ibn al-Salah as quoted at
  • 7. ibid.
  • 8. ibid.
  • 9. Glasse, Cyril, The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989, p. 141.