Middle East Encyclopedia

Encyclopedia of the Middle East


MidEastWeb Middle East


The Hadith form the Muslim oral tradition. It is not clear precisely how the differ from Sunnah except that whereas Sunnah are supposedly the words of the prophet as written down by his companions, Hadith are sayings and laws of Muhammad that may have been transmitted indirectly. 

Hadith (حديث) literally means that which is new from amongst things or a piece of information. The plural form is ahaadeeth (أحاديث)…

A hadith was originally an oral tradition about the actions and customs and opinions of the  Muhammad. Starting with the turmoil of the 7th century, those receiving the hadith started to question the sources of the saying. This resulted in a list of transmitters, for example "A told me that B told him that Muhammad said". This list of the chain of testimony by which a hadith was transmitted is called an Isnad. The text itself came to be known as Matn.

The hadith were eventually recorded in written form, had their Isnad evaluated and were gathered into large collections mostly during the reign of Umar II (bin Abdul Aziz, grandson of Umar bin Khattab(RAA)2nd Caliph) during 8th century, something that solidified in the 9th century. These works are still today referred to in matters of Islamic law and History.

Traditions regarding the life of Prophet Muhammad and the early history of Islam were passed down orally for more than a hundred years after his death in 632.

Muslim historians say that it was the caliph Uthman (the third caliph, or successor of Muhammad, who had formerly been Muhammad's secretary), who first urged Muslims both to write down the Qur'an in a fixed form, and to write down the hadith. Uthman's labors were cut short by his assassination, at the hands of aggrieved soldiers, in 656.

The Muslim community then fell into a prolonged civil war, termed the Fitna by Muslim historians. After the fourth caliph, Ali ibn Abi Talib, was assassinated, control of the Islamic empire was seized by the Umayyad dynasty in 661. Ummayad rule was interrupted by a second civil war (the Second Fitna), re-established, then ended in 758, when the Abbasid dynasty seized the caliphate, to hold it, at least in name, until 1258.

Muslim historians say that hadith collection and evaluation continued during the first Fitna and the Umayyad period. However, much of this activity was presumably oral transmission from early Muslims to later collectors, or from teachers to students. If any of these early scholars committed any of these collections to writing, they have not survived. The histories and hadith collections of today were written down at the start of the Abbasid period, more than one hundred years after the death of Muhammad.

The scholars of the Abbasid period were faced with a huge body of miscellaneous traditions, some of them flatly contradicting each other. Many of these traditions supported differing views on a variety of controversial matters. Scholars had to decide which hadith were to be trusted as authentic narrations and which had been invented for various political or theological purposes. For this purpose, they used a number of techniques which Muslims now call the science of hadith.

The overwhelming majority of Muslims consider hadith to be essential supplements to and clarifications of the Qur'an, Islam's holy book. In Islamic jurisprudence, the Qur'an contains many rules for the behavior expected of Muslims. However, there are many matters of concern, both religious and practical, on which there are no specific Qur'anic rules. Muslims believe that they can look at the way of life, or sunnah, of Muhammad and his companions to discover what to imitate and what to avoid. Muslim scholars also find it useful to know how Muhammad or his companions explained the revelations, or upon what occasion Muhammad received them. Sometimes this will clarify a passage that otherwise seems obscure. Hadith are a source for Islamic history and biography. For the vast majority of devout Muslims, authentic hadith are also a source of religious inspiration.

However, some contemporary Muslims argue that the Quran alone is sufficient. Examples of such Muslims groups are Tolu-e-Islam (Resurgence of Islam), Free Minds, and United Submitters International. Muslims who take the "Qur'an alone" viewpoint are regarded as deviant by mainstream Muslim scholars, and by the vast majority of Muslims.

The origins of some verses and statements in the Hadith cannot be verified.

Muslim scholars classify hadith relating to Muhammad as follows:

* What Muhammad said (قول) (qawl)
* What Muhammad did (فعل) (fi'l)
* What Muhammad approved (تقرير) (taqrir) in others' actions

There are also hadith relating to the words and deeds of the companions, but they may not have the same weight as those about Muhammad. Many actually believe that the Hadith was written hundreds of years after Muhammed died.

Non-Muslim scholars note that there is a great overlap between the records of early Islamic traditions. Accounts of early Islam are also to be found in:

* sira (stories, especially biographies of Muhammad)
* tafsir (commentary on the Qur'an)
* fiqh (jurisprudence)

SSome of these accounts are also found as hadith; some aren't. For a Non-Muslim historian, these are all simply historical sources; for the Muslim scholar, hadith have a special status. They cite sura [Qur'an 7:157] (Yusuf Ali translation):

“ Those who follow the messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own (scriptures),- in the Law and the Gospel;- for he commands them what is just and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as lawful what is good (and pure) and prohibits them from what is bad (and impure); He releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them. So it is those who believe in him, honour him, help him, and follow the light which is sent down with him,- it is they who will prosper. ”

They take this and other Qur'anic verses to require Muslims to follow authentic hadith. However, a growing number of "Quran-only" Muslims disagree with this view and interpret these verses differently; they argue that the hadith are of human creation and have no authority.

Their argument is strengthened by verses of the Quran which criticize the following of "hadith other than quran", the Arabic word "hadith" means "sayings".

Veracity of Hadith is examined by the science of Hadith in various ways. The most common technique consists of a careful examination of the isnad, or chain of transmission. Each hadith is accompanied by an isnad: A heard it from B who heard it from C who heard it from a companion of Muhammad. Isnads are carefully scrutinized to see if the chain is possible (for example, making sure that all transmitters and transmittees were known to be alive and living in the same area at the time of transmission to make sure they met ) and if the transmitters are reliable.

Examples of Hadith include decrees of law, wise aphorims, racist sayings and contradictory injunctions. For example: 

* "The blood of a Muslim may not be legally spilt other than in one of three [instances] : the married person who commits adultery; a life for a life; and one who forsakes his religion and abandons the community."

* " Those guilty of homosexuality must be killed."

* "The ink of the scholar is more precious than the blood of the martyr."

* "The last hour won't come before the Muslims would fight the Jews and the Muslims will kill them so Jews would hide behind rocks and trees. Then the rocks and tree would call: oh Muslim, oh servant of God! There is a Jew behind me, come and kill him."

* "Had it not been for Jews, food would not become stale.”

* "One learned man is harder on the devil than a thousand worshippers."

* "Riches are not from an abundance of worldly goods, but from a contented mind."

* "He who wishes to enter the paradise at the best door must please his mother and father."

* "No man is a true believer unless he desires for his brother that he desires for himself."

* "When the bier of anyone passes by you, whether Jew, Christian, or Muslim, rise to your feet."

* "Do not urinate in holes - Jinns live there."[10]

* "The thing which is lawful but is disliked by God is divorce."

* "Women are twin-halves of men."

* "Actions will be judged according to intentions.”

* "That which is lawful is clear and that which is unlawful likewise, but there are certain doubtful things between the two from which it is well to abstain."

* "The proof of a Muslim's sincerity is that he pays no attention to that which is not his business."

* "That person is nearest to God, who pardons…him who would have injured him."

* "…yield obedience to my successor, although he may be an Abyssinian slave."

* "Admonish your wives with kindness."

* "One hour's meditation on the work of the Creator is better than seventy years of prayer."

* "God says: '...whoso seeketh to approach Me one span, I seek to approach one cubit; and whoso seeketh to approach Me one cubit, I seek to approach two fathoms; and whoso walketh towards Me, I run towards him!'"

Adapted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hadith

Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information:   

USA Credit Card - Donate On-Line - Help us live and grow

Encyclopedia of the Middle East

Note - This encyclopedia is a work in progress. It is far from complete and is being constructed and improved all the time. If you would like to contribute articles or expansions of existing articles, please contact news (at) mideastweb.org.  Suggestions and corrections are welcome. The concise version of this dictionary is at our Middle East Glossary.

Spelling - Spelling of words in Middle-Eastern languages is often arbitrary. There may be many variants of the same name or word such as Hezbollah, Hizbolla, Hisbolla or Husayn and Hussein. There are some conventions for converting words from Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew There are numerous variant renderings of the same Arabic or Hebrew words, such as "Hizbollah," "Hisbulla" etc. It is not possible to find exact equivalents for several letters. 

Pronunciation - Arabic and Hebrew vowels are pronounced differently than in English. "o" is very short. The "a" is usually pronounced like the "a" in market, sometimes as the "a" in "Arafat."  The " 'A " is guttural.  " 'H "- the 'het ('Hirbeh, 'Hebron, 'Hisbollah') designates a sound somewhat similar to the ch in "loch" in Scots pronunciation, but made by touching the back of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. The CH should be pronounced like Loch, a more assertive consonant than 'het.

The "Gh" combination, and sometimes the "G," designate a deep guttural sound that Westerners may hear approximately as "r." The "r" sound is always formed with the back of the tongue, and is not like the English "r."

More information: Hebrew, Arabic

Copyright 2007- 8,  MidEastWeb for Coexistence RA.

All original materials at MidEastWeb are copyright by MidEastWeb and/or by their authors unless otherwise noted. Please do not copy materials from this Web site to your Web site or to forums without permission. Please tell your friends about MidEastWeb. Please forward these materials in e-mails to friends with links to this URL - http://www.mideastweb.org and to the URL of the material. You can print out materials for your own use or classroom use, giving the URL of  MidEastWeb. For pages marked Copyright, printed material should bear this notice:

"Copyright by MidEastWeb for Coexistence R.A - Middle East Resources. - http://www.mideastweb.org. All rights reserved. "

and should give the URL of the original. Reproduction in any other form - by permission only. Consult detailed terms of use and copyright information

Mideastweb: Middle East Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Issues in a Nutshell Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Brief History Zionism Zionism: Definition & brief history