What is the science of Hadith?

What is the science of Hadith
What is Ḥadīth?

Ḥadīth (اَلْحَدِيْث) is one of the key branches of Islamic Sciences. Before we begin with the discussion of Ḥadīth, we must first embark on a journey to understand the nature of the Quran.

Muslims believe that Allah the Exalted, God Almighty, created the Heavens and the Earth and created Mankind as the custodians and caretakers of Earth. God then appointed the best of mankind as prophets and messengers. These individuals were chosen as a medium of communication between God Himself and all of mankind. To the prophets He sent scripture, such as the four major books; the Torah to Moses, the Psalms to David, the Gospels to Jesus and the Quran to Muhammad, may blessings and peace be upon them all. The messengers delivered scripture, the Message of God, and guidance to their respective nations. The prophets reinforced the message of earlier messengers. Muhammad (d. 11 AH/632 AD) was the final prophet and messenger who received and delivered the Quran.

Each messenger received two kinds of communication from God; (1) divine revelation that was the medium of delivery for scripture; (2) divine inspiration which manifested as the teachings of the messengers through their actions and words.

That which Muhammad received from divine revelation manifested as the Quran, and that which he received through divine inspiration manifested as the sunnah (السُّنَّة), the tradition of Muhammad containing the teachings of the Quran and Islam through his actions, words, and tacit approval.

Development of Ḥadīth

Ḥadīth is that branch of Islamic Sciences, a corpus of great literature, which endeavours to preserve the sunnah, i.e., everything regarding the Quran and Islam, which he said, did, tacitly approved, and even his descriptions.[1]

Muhammad, may peace and blessings be upon him, did not just deliver the words of the Quran to his faithful Companions, but also taught the meanings of the Quran and became a living embodiment of its lessons. His Companions, referred to as al-Ṣaḥābah (اَلصَّحَابَة), from amongst his friends, followers and wives, exerted effort in memorising his words and retaining their observation of his actions, tacit approvals and even his description. They then transmitted their knowledge of him and his teachings, as well as the Quran word for word, verbatim, to the next generation of Muslims. And the second generation of Muslims would then transmit the divine knowledge of the Quran and sunnah to the generation following them. But as early as the time of the Companions themselves, they began to memorise and write down the teachings and corroborate the transmissions through a robust system of peer-review.

Within the first three generations of Muslims most of the sunnah had been recorded in the books of early scholars such as the Muwaṭṭa’ of al-Imām Mālik (d. 179 AH/795 AD). Hundreds of thousands of teachings would be preserved, each one of them simply termed a ḥadīth’. Each ḥadīth would then be recorded with its chain of transmition, known as the sanad (سَنَد). A chain of transmission contains the names of all those who narrate from each other up till Muhammad himself.

For example: Mālik ibn Anas narrated on the authority of (his teacher) Nāfi’ who narrated on the authority of (his teacher) ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar, who said, the Messenger of God said: “when you are invited to a dinner, you must go[2].

It was not enough to just obtain a ḥadīth with its accompanying chain of transmission. One could ask, how do I know this to be true? For this reason, the scholars who specialised in the science of Ḥadīth began to grade each narration, as early as the first three generations, in order to ascertain whether the ḥadīth was authentic, reliable, weak, unreliable, fabricated etc. This led to the development of a new paradigm in Ḥadīth Sciences, the science of al-Takhrīj.


[1] Taysīr Muṣṭalaḥ al-Ḥadīth, Maḥmūd al-Ṭaḥān, Maktabah al-Ma’ārif li al-Nashr wa al-Tawzī’: pg.17

[2] Muwaṭṭa’ Malik, Kitāb al-Nikāḥ, 49/1144

Ḥadīth Gradation

Whilst the Companions of Muhammad and the following generations where already operating on a system of peer-review, they began to collate biographical dictionaries of narrators in order to pinpoint which narrators where deemed truthful, trustworthy and reliable, and whether the text of the individual narrations where free from any corroborative defects, which would render the ḥadīth to be authentic or reliable; or, whether narrators where deemed untrustworthy, unreliable, or simply liars, or if the text of an individual narration contained any corroborative defects, in which case the the ḥadīth would be graded as weak, unreliable or even fabricated.

Later scholars began to collate biographical dictionaries, assess the reliability of those dictionaries, corroborate the data contained within each one, and develop a robust database of entries that would help weed out weak ḥadīth and decide which are authentic. The raw nature of the sciences of Ḥadīth was a robust endeavour to preserve the sunnah of Muhammad as accurately and precisely as possible.

However, the grand corpus of Ḥadīth literature was not just confined to a mere collation of hundreds of thousands of narrations, but to categorise and organise with respect to topics and subject matters that would reflect and aid in the building of the Legal and Theological frameworks of the Islamic Sharī’ah.

The works of masters such as al-Bukhārī (d. 256 AH/870 AD) contain a collection of over 7200 individual ḥadīth, categorised in well thought out chapter headings and subheadings, that reflect the nature of each narration and what purpose it serves in contributing to Islamic knowledge. Topics ranging from juristic and theological matters, to commentaries of individual words and statements of the Quran, to the descriptions and mannerisms of Muhammad, to name a few.

Ḥadīth Sciences

The Ḥadīth literature is not just an intricate and insightful encyclopaedia of knowledge, but also serves to be a source of reliable knowledge which aids and abets the development of all other Islamic Sciences. Whether it be the science of al-Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence), or al-‘Aqīdah (Islamic Theology), or al-Tafsīr (Exegesis of the Quran), or al-Sīrah (the biography of Prophet Muhammad), or even as something as remote as al-Lughah al-‘Arabiyyah (the Arabic Language); all and more draw their rules, methods and conclusions from the two key sources: (1) the Quran itself, and (2) the Science of Ḥadīth.


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