Introduction to the Science of Hadith

Introduction to the Science of Hadith
Shaykh Khalid Abdussattar & Shaykh Bilal Ali al-Ansari
Project Uloomination
Notes Take – Spring 2009

Islam = Creed + Practice


It is important for us to establish a connection between ourselves, the Quran and the Sunnah (the Life of the Prophet (saws)). We need to gain appreciation for the amount of time given to the conservation of Hadith. Hadith and Sunnah are used interchangeably by scholars. Hadith are sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (saws). Scholars define broader meaning to include actions. It can also include approvals or not approvals. Even his silence on certain matters are taken into account.

The root meaning of Hadith is “new”. One can say that a philosopher just comes up with an idea whereas a Prophet actually practices a lifestyle.


  • Statements
  • Actions
  • Tacit Approvals
  • Characteristics

Who studies Hadith?

It is important to us to learn from the Sunnah of the Prophet so that we can apply it to our lives.

In the Islamic context you have Traditionists (Muhaddithin) and the Jurists (Fu’qaha). The Muhaddithin are specialists who know and narrate Hadith. The Jurists on the other hand are scholars in Islamic Law. Muhaddithin will usually conclude that what is narrated in Hadith is Sunnah. So basically all is Sunnah. The Fu’qaha will anaylze in more detail. For example they will ask “Has the Prophet’s action been an exceptional case or was it normal? Does it fit into the larger body of law and what implications does it have today?”. The Fu’qaha will analyze the Prophet’s lifestyle and analyze the Hadith to determine what are routine actions and what are exceptions.

The Form, Transmission & Subject Matter of Hadith

Every Hadith has two components:

  1. Actual Text (‘matn)
  2. Source  – the chain of Narrators (sanad or isnad)

Defining the Source is an critical aspect of Hadith – its a science. It is a well defined structure of history. Very strict standards were used to determine the chain of transmission. Biographies of the Narrators were also well documented. Much of the work of the earlier scholars was spent on figuring out the source.

During the time of the Sahabah (the Companions) people were extremely truthful. No one would lie and it would be considered out of the norm if they did. Therefore there was no worry about sources.

Because of the rifts and sects in the Ummah later in Islamic History, the Scholars looked into the science of transmission! This included putting in endnotes and referencing. Even in the time of the Sahabah sourcing was important.

Ex. Chain
Author -> Author’s Shaykh -> Successor -> Companion
(usually between 2-3 people between scholar & prophet)
Imam Bukhari -> Ahmad ibn Iskab -> Muhammad ibn Fudayl -> Umarah ib Qa’qa -> Abu Zur’ah -> Abu Hurayrah

What is the Subject Matter of Hadith?
Includes the following:

  • Worship (‘ibadat)
  • Civil Law (mu’amalat)
  • Criminal Law (hudud)
  • Exegesis (tafsir)
  • Prophetic Biography (sirah)
  • Tales of Prophets (qasal al-anbiya’)
  • Virtues of the Companions (fada’il)
  • War and International Law (maghazi and siyar)
  • Creed (‘aqidah)
  • Apocalyptic
  • Etiquette (Adab)

What texts are available to study the Hadith Narrators?

This is just the tip of the Iceberg, but the following categories of text are avaliable to learn more about Hadith.

  • Biographical Encyclopedia of the Narrators
  • Book Specific Encyclopedia
  • City Specific Encyclopedia
  • Credible Narrator Encyclopedia
  • Weak Narrator Encyclopedia
  • Shared Name Encyclopedias
  • Morphed Name Dictionaries – small typographical errors b/c early scholars wrote very small because they had a little parchment
  • Ambiguous Name Encyclopedias

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