The Muslims in general believe that the Qur’an has been preserved intact and pure by Allah Himself. But what is often forgotten by many is that this preservation necessarily includes the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (S), the practical example of the implementation of the Qur’an.
Hadith is Sunnah in record. How the immense wealth of Hadith literature has been left to us by the Muhaddiths (scholars of Hadith) is an extremely wide, complex study.
We publish this short treatise on “the science of Hadith” by the learned Suhaib Hasan with English readers in mind. It is part of our scheme to introduce various aspects of Islam to English readers. May Allah accept it as a good work.
The Muslims are agreed that the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (S) is the second of the two revealed fundamental sources of Islam, after the Glorious Qur’an. The authentic Sunnah is contained within the vast body of Hadith literature.
A hadith (pl. ahadith) is composed of two parts: the matn (text) and the isnad (chain of reporters). A text may seem to be logical and reasonable but it needs an authentic isnad with reliable reporters to be acceptable; ‘Abdullah bin Al-Mubarak (d. 181 AH), one of the illustrious teachers of Imam al-Bukhari, said:
“The is and is part of the religion: had it not been for the isnad, whoever wished to would have said whatever he liked.”
During the lifetime of the Prophet (S) and after his death, his Companions (Sahabah) used to refer to him directly, when quoting his saying. The Successors (Tabi’un) followed suit; some of them used to quote the Prophet (S) through the Companions while others would omit the intermediate authority – such a hadith was .later known as mursal. It was found that the missing link between the Successor and the Prophet (S) might be one person, i.e. a Companion, or two people, the extra person being an older Successor who heard the hadith from the Companion. This is an example of how the need for the verification of each isnad arose. Imam Malik (d. 179) said, “The first one to utilize the isnad was Ibn Shihab al Zuhri” (d. 124). The other more important reason was the deliberate fabrication of ahadith by various sects which appeared amongst the Muslims, in order to support their views (see later, under discussion of maudu’ ahadith). Ibn Sirin (d. 110), a Successor, said, “They would not ask about the isnad: But when the fitnah (trouble, turmoil, esp. civil war) happened, they said: Name to us your men. So the narrations of the Ahl al¬Sunnah (Adherents to the Sunnah) would be accepted, while those of the Ahl al-Bid ‘ah (Adherents to Innovation) would not be accepted. ”
It is not possible in this day and age to comprehend the great sacrifices that were made by the hadith masters [muúaddithīn] or the difficulties and barriers they struggled to overcome for the preservation of hadith. It is a result of these sacrifices that today each word, in fact each letter of the aúódõth are fully preserved. The rules the hadith masters established to preserve the hadith
and by which this branch of knowledge became a distinct science are necessary for one to learn and make headway into both the knowledge of hadith and principles of hadith [uüñl al-úadīth]. This short booklet is written to introduce the reader to the knowledge of hadith. It discusses important issues such as how the hadith were compiled, the preservation of hadith, principles regarding the authenticity and weakness in a hadith, the importance of hadith and the various types of hadith books. It ends with short biographies of some of the famous hadith masters. This booklet may be looked upon as a first step in acquiring the insight that is necessary for advancing in this science. After reading this booklet, if one feels a renewed connection with the hadith, it is hoped that it will be a way of salvation for its author. The readers are requested to pray for the author, his parents and his family and that Allah bless them in this world and the Hereafter.