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The Hadith (الحديث, pl. Ahadith) is a body of laws, legends and stories about Muhammad's way of life, (Arabic, Sunnah which includes his biography or the sira) and the sayings themselves where he elaborated on his choices or offered advice; many parts of the Hadith deal with his companions (Sahaba).

In conservative Muslim belief, the hadith contains an authoritative exposition of the meaning of the Qur'an. Islamic law is derived from the acts, statements, opinions, and ways of life of Muhammad, most of which is available to us only through hadith reports. Traditional Muslims believe the Islamic scholars of the last 1400 years were for the most part successful in determining the accuracy of many of the hadith they came across. However, various liberal movements within Islam have recently disagreed with the Hadith literature on grounds of both reliability and content.

The Hadith literature, as a whole, was handed down orally common in Arab society until the mid 700s (less than 100 years after Muhammad and his companions), at which point collections of Hadith were written and later edited. Involving the correlation of different narrators statements, where texts vary they were discarded. These include any correlated event that happened, including events which occurred when the community used Jewish Laws to regulate itself. The compilers tried not to put any personal prejudice in the way as to the validity of a hadith compared to Qu'ranic Injunctions. Some later collections re-evaluated the hadith and put them with verses from the Qu'ran where they felt a contradiction had occurred. This process was called isnad, or "backing", describing the editorial reduction, and it took two forms:

  • musnad - classification according to the names of the traditionalists
  • musannaf - classification according to subject; edited according to the content.

Different branches of Islam (Sunni and Shi'a) accept different hadith collections as genuine.

As the Talmud is to Torah in Judaism, the Hadith is similar to the laws of the Qur'an in Islam. The Hadith is the authoritative interpretation of the Qur'an, even where the current practice is at odds with the plain meaning of the text. Islamic law has some flexibility as some traditions of the Prophet were considered abrogated by later sayings of him.

Over time, due to different social, religious and political considerations, many hadith collections developed. A consensus of Islamic scholars weighed various collections, and judged them to be in one of the following categories: "genuine" (sahih, the best category), "fair" (hasan, the middle category), and "weak" (da'if).

By the ninth century six collections of hadiths were accepted as reliable by Muslims, to varying degrees, while they varied in how many narrations they contained. They are

The authors' intent was not to have an exhaustive collection including every hadith known to them, but rather a representative sample classified by topic, such as belief, prayer, fasting, marriage, laws, ...etc.. The authors of the first two collections included only hadiths they considered authentic, and hence their collections are referred to as Sahih. The other four did not have this constraint, but often gave a judgment on the degree of authenticity of the hadith, such as authentic, acceptable, rare, weak, ...etc. Therefore, their collections are referred to as Sunan سنن or Jami' جامع.

More compilations have developed over time, both before and after the above collections, and in other forms as well. While all the above were classified by topic, others were of the Musnad form, organized by the Companion who narrated the hadith. Others were organized by the scholar from which the author have heard the hadith from.

Muslims accept a hadith with a sound chain of narration as the words of Muhammad, rather than the words of God (Allah) that appear in the Qur'an. Both can be translated, of course, but a translation of the Qur'an is regarded as inherently deficient, and little more than a commentary upon the text or its near meaning. Practicing Muslims make a special invocation to God before pronouncing the words of the Qur'an; there is no such requirement before pronouncing a hadith.

A few sample ahadith follow.

  • "The world is green and beautiful and God has appointed you his steward over it."
  • "The whole earth was been created as a place of worship, pure and clean."
  • "Little, but sufficient, is better than the abundant and the alluring."
  • "The superiority of the learned man over one who only worships is like the superiority of the moon when it is full, covering the stars. The learned are the heirs of the Prophets who do not leave a legacy of dirhams and dinars but only of knowledge."
  • "God has not created anything better than reason, or anything more perfect or more beautiful than reason. The benefits which God gives are on its account; and understanding is by it, and God's wrath is caused by it, and by it are rewards and punishment."
  • "Poverty may sometimes lead to disbelief."
  • "God is gentle and loves gentleness in all things."
  • "Hasten to do good before you are overtaken by perplexing adversity, corrupting prosperity, disabling disease, babbling dotage and sudden death."
  • "Beware of envy for envy devours good works like the fire devours fuel."
  • "Beware of suspicion for suspicion is a great falsehood."
  • "Let the younger one salute the elderly, let the one who is walking salute the one sitting and let those who are small in number salute those who are large in number."
  • "Were it not for fear of troubling my followers, I would order them to clean their teeth before every prayer."

As these examples reveal, the hadith often have blunt advice for Muslims that enters the realm of professional choices or political culture or philosophy - akin in influence to views of Aristotle.

Very often, specific hadith have been used to justify specific cultural practices, e.g. of Islamic banking or consensus decision making, and fiqh, which are not necessarily mandatory to Islam and change with the times (al-urf), which may be one reason they have been so carefully examined, and why strict consensus on authenticity of each has not been possible to the present day.

As an example of how contentious this can be, the exhortation to "let those who are small in number salute those who are large in number", along with the observation that Muhammad did not appoint but directed his followers to select their own leader, has been interpreted in both early Muslim philosophy and modern Islamic philosophy as being an endorsement of some form of democracy, or "the ijma of the ummah" not merely of the ulema (scholars, jurists). This demonstrates also the importance of Muhammad's actions as reported in the sira and not just his sayings, the hadith.

Since scholars and jurists have a conflict of interest in reporting accurately any hadith that would limit their power, and a like conflict in promoting hadith that elevate the learned or the scholarly or the scientific method of reason they prefer, it is difficult to tell how the selection and interpretation of the hadith altered Muslim civilization and today affect the Islamic World. This is true of all historical information, but traditional Muslims believe that those Islamic scholars of hadith whose work has been accepted over the centuries were of noble character and were primarily interested in conveying the truth.

Daily life of Muslims relies also on sira or the stories that constitute the biography of Muhammad. As the sunnah consists of both sira and hadith, a Muslim may consult either before choosing actions.

Lastly, it is important to note not all Muslims accept Hadith. There has existed a minority group, from the time of Hadith's inception, that categorically rejects Hadith on grounds of authority and authenticity.

See also

Islam, oral law, sira, isnad, early Muslim philosophy, list of Islamic terms in Arabic

External links

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