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ADĪTH . The Arabic word adīth literally means speech and also new: because speech is created as it is uttered, it is always new. Following Prophet Muammad's death (632 ce), people engaged in speech about him so much that the word adīth was eventually reserved for speech related to the Prophet, including his own speech; it then came to refer to the sayings of the Prophet and his companions, and finally only to the sayings of the Prophet himself.

Sunnah (lit., a beaten track) is a parallel word to adīth, as both refer to the speech and conduct of the Prophet, yet the two usages initially signified different shades of meaning. adīth denoted speech or word whereas sunnah signified actual conduct, or the way of doing something. It was, however, difficult to draw a clear line between words and deeds, especially in light of the fact that the narrations of companions referred to both the sayings and the deeds of the Prophet. Hence the difference between sunnah and adīth gradually faded and they became synonymous. This was further confirmed by Imām Muammad ibn Idrīs al-Shāfiʿī (d. 820), who maintained that no sunnah could be proven without a valid adīth, and the view thus prevailed that adīth signifies not only the speech but also the acts and conduct of the Prophet. A technical difference that still remains, however, is that sunnah refers to the law or value that is contained in a adīth; hence, a adīth does not necessarily contain a sunnah. Sunnah (or adīth ) is the most authoritative source of Islam next to the Qurʾān; it is both explanatory in relation to the Qurʾān and a source in its own right. The Qurʾān provides the affirmation that "he (the Prophet) speaks not of his desire and what he says is based on revelation And whatever the Messenger brings to you, take it, and whatever he forbids you, abstain from it" (53:3). Elsewhere the Qurʾān also makes it a religious obligation of every Muslim to obey the Prophet (4:59; 59:7). To this al-Shāfiʿī (d.820) added the argument, which seems to have been current before this time, that when the Qurʾān spoke of "the Book and the Wisdom (al-kitab waʾl -hikah )," which it does on seven occasions in this order, it meant Qurʾān and Sunnah. The adīth thus represented divine guidance, and the conclusion was drawn that all authentic adīths must be unquestioningly accepted and obeyed.

Khabar (lit., "news"; pl. akhbār ) is also synonymous with adīth, especially among the Shīʿī writers, as they include not only adīths but also the sayings of their recognized imāms within the meaning of khabar. The Shīʿī imām, being a member of the Prophet's family (i.e., the ahl al-bayt ) is deemed to have inherent knowledge (al-ʿilm al-ladunni ) of the Sunnah of the Prophet, transmitted from father to son down the line of descent. There is, however, a tendency among Shīʿī writers, too, to reserve Sunnah for the Sunnah of the Prophet alone, whereas khabar, and adīth can include both the adīth proper as well as the sayings of the imām.

Lastly, āthār (lit., "vestige") refers to the sayings, opinion (fatwa), and precedent of the companions. The phrase ʿilm al-adīth ("science of adīth ") refers to adīth literature as well as to the methodology and critical standards used to authenticate the adīth.

adīth qudsī ("sacred adīth ") is the name given to a unique variety of adīth wherein the Prophet attributes what he says directly to God. In the eleventh century ce, the question arose whether the adīth qudsī was to be regarded as part of the Qurʾān, which by definition consisted of the revealed speech of God, or was to be attributed to the Prophet. adīth scholars concluded that while the message of the adīth qudsī comes from God, it is in the words of the Prophetand thus cannot be considered part of the Qurʾān. For this reason only the Qurʾān, and not the adīth qudsī, may be recited during ritual prayer (alā). Even so, adīth scholars generally treat the adīth qudsī as a superior class of adīth. A total of about one hundred adīth qudsī have been recorded, and their authenticity is measured by the same criteria and standard as are applied to adīths generally. Muhyī al-Dīn ibn al-ʿArabī (d. 1240) compiled a collection of 101 qudsi adīths bearing the title Mishkat al-Anwar. Later Mulla ʿAli al-Qari (d.1605) selected forty such adīths, and this collection has become widely adopted by many subsequent authors.

Reception and Documentation

As a general rule, every adīth must be supported by a reliable isnād (chain of transmission) consisting of the names and identity of its transmitters. The number of transmitters in the isnād tends to increase with every successive generation. Sometimes a adīth that is transmitted by one companion is then transmitted by a number of persons in the next generation who may happen to be residing in different localities. This raises the question of how the particular transmitter obtained the information from his immediate source. Was it through direct hearing (samāʿ) and personal contact, or through other means of communication? Various methods of reception (tahammul) have thus been identified, which include, in addition to samāʿ, such methods as submission (ʿard) and recitation (qirāʾat) of a adīth to the master for his approval, permission (ijaza) to transmit adīth, handing over (munawala) of the master's materials to the student, correspondence (mukataba), declaration (iʿlam) by the master of his own source, bequest (wasiyya), and finding (wijada) by the student of adīth in the master's handwriting. Following the large-scale documentation of adīths in the ninth century, most adīth scholars began to employ special terms in the isnād literature that indicate the method by which the adīth had been transmitted; this has remained the most common method to this day. Most people nowadays find adīths in one of the standard collections and when quoting them make reference to the latter.

Isnāds can consist of one or two links, or of as many as half a dozen or more; the smaller the number of links, the shorter the time lag between the demise of the Prophet and the transmission of the adīth. Thus isnāds are divided into two types, namely elevated (al-isnād al-ʿalī), which consist of fewer links and transmitters, and descended (al-isnād al-nāzil), which may involve a large number of transmitters. Most adīths were compiled long after the time of the Prophet, but some were compiled relatively early. ammām ibn al-Manabbih (d. 722), for instance, recorded his collection (sahīfa) around 672. His adīths consisted mainly of one link, namely a companion. Imām Mālik (d. 796) related adīths in his Muwatta (Straightened path) that had been told to him by Nāfiʿ, who had heard them from ʿAbd Allāh ibn ʿUmar, who had heard them from the Prophet, thus making for two intervening links. Elevated isnāds of this kind are also frequent in the collection of adīths compiled by the renowned Muammad ibn Muslim ibn Shihāb al-Zuhrī (d. 742). Shorter isnāds are naturally preferable, which is why some of them have been variously labeled silsilat al-dhahab ("golden chain"), or asahh al-asānid ("soundest of isnāds ") and so forth. adīth scholars are of the view that because isnād is the conveyor of the teachings of the Prophet, it is a part of the religion. Hence a diligent and conscientious rendering of isnād is believed to be an act of merit that gains the pleasure of God.

The Prophet is reported to have discouraged documentation of his own sayings in order to prevent confusion between the Qurʾān and adīth. Many of his leading companions were consequently against documentation of adīth; at the same time, however, many others among them considered it permissible and actually wrote adīths for their own collections. There are also reports that during the latter part of his ministry, that is, when much of the Qurʾān had already been documented, the Prophet permitted some of his companions to write adīths, and even instructed them "to preserve knowledge through writing." It seems, then, that after an initial period of hesitation, the basic permissibility of writing and documenting adīths was accepted and this activity became, in due course, a major preoccupation of the ʿulamāʾ during the second and third centuries of Islam. But even in the early stages, renowned companions such as ʿAlī ibn Abī-ālib (d. 661), ʿAbd Allāh ibn ʿUmar (d. 690), Saʾd ibn ʿUbada (d. 671), and Samura ibn Jundub (d. 681) are known to have documented adīths in small booklets, or sahīfas. Jābir ibn ʿAbd Allāh (d. 699) compiled a larger sahīfa, and ʿAbd Allāh ibn ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀ (d. 681) compiled one that became known as al-sahīfa al-sādiqa ("the true collection"). One of the earliest documented adīths of that period to have survived in its original form is the renowned Constitution of Madina (Dustūr al-Madina, c. 622).

Recent research by Muslim scholars concerning the early documentation of adīths has suggested the need for a revision of some of the negative conclusions Western Islamologists have drawn regarding the time frame and authenticity of the early collections. Twentieth-century scholars including Muammad Hamīdullāh, Subhī al-Sālih, Abul asan al-Nadwī, and Muammad Muafā Aʿzamī have questioned the conclusions of Ignác Goldziher, Joseph Schacht, G. H. A. Juynboll, and others who cast doubt on the authenticity of the bulk of adīths. The most extreme position on the authenticity of the adīths is that of Joseph Schacht, who took Goldziher's observations a step further to conclude that "every legal tradition from the Prophet, until the contrary is proved, must be taken, not as an authentic statement but as a fictitious expression of a legal doctrine formulated at a later stage" (The Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence, 1950, p. 149). For their part, Muslim commentators have maintained that documentation of adīths took place much earlier than suggested by Schacht and others. Two decades after the publication of The Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence, Nabia Abbott tried to balance Schacht's somewhat sweeping conclusions. Based on a group of papyri dealing with adīths, she concluded that several thousand authentic adīths had been documented during the first century of Islam. Her study also emphasized the attentiveness and care of important adīth scholars, such as al-Zuhrīand others after him. A more direct rebuttal of Schacht's position can be found in Muammad Muafā Aʿzamī's On Schacht's Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence (1985), which argues that many of Schacht's conclusions on the authenticity and documentation of adīths are exaggerated and unreliable.

Types of adĪth

The pious Umayyad Caliph ʿUmar II (d. 711) asked the leading scholars of Mādina, Abū Bakr Muammad ibn azm (d. 715), al-Qasim Muammad ibn Abū Bakr (d. 728), and al-Zuhrī to collect and document adīths, while taking care to "accept nothing other than the adīth of the Prophet." But the caliph died soon afterwards and it was al-Zuhrī, the teacher of Imām Mālik, who persisted and attempted what proved to be the first major documented collection of adīths. Al-Zuhrī's work marked the beginning of a movement that was to be continued by many others in the eighth and ninth centuries. Yet al-Zuhrī's own collection was subject-oriented and consisted of separate booklets for individual subjects that were neither well consolidated nor classified. He documented all the information that he had received from the companions and followers (tābiʿūn) concerning adīths, and often integrated the companion's own statement into the prophetic adīths. This manner of treatment can also be seen in Imām Mālik's Muwatta, one of the earliest collections of adīths after al-Zuhrī's, which would probably have been the most authoritative, even among the standard collections, had it not been for its tendency to confound the adīth with the āthār of companions. To distinguish these two and separate them from one another became one of the principal preoccupations of collections from later periods. The major ninth-century collections, discussed below, employed new methodology and critical standards. They attempted to more carefully verify the reliability of the isnāds and began to classify and distinguish the sahīh ("sound," "reliable") adīth from the daʿif ("weak") adīth.

adīth literature has developed in several stages, each marking some new development in the writing methods and classification of adīths. The sahīfa collections, to which reference has already been made, contained the earliest documented adīths on record, but were not classified; they consisted simply of written records of adīths on a variety of subjects, and were mainly written for the personal use of their authors. Many companions recorded adīths in this form, which naturally come first in order of reliability and closeness to the source. Next came the musannaf ("classified") collections, which collated adīths on separate themes, organizing them under headings and into chapters. Famous in the musannaf category were the Muwatta of Imām Mālik, the Musannaf of Maʿmar ibn Rāshid (d. 770), and the Musannaf of ʿAbd al-Razzāq ibn Humam al-Sanʿani (d. 827).

Then followed the musnad (lit., "supported") collections, which favored isnāds that linked a adīth to the Prophet through the reports of companions. All adīths that were narrated by one companion, regardless of subject matter, were put under his or her name, the main purpose being to preserve the largest possible number of adīths. Famous in this category was the Musnad of Imām Amad ibn anbal (d. 855), which contains about 40,000 adīths, including 10,000 repetitions, reported by about seven hundred companions. Other works in this category include the Musnad of Abū Dāwūd Sulaymān al ayālisī (d. 819), and the Musnad of ibn Najjār (d. 876), among many others. Some of the musnad works are arranged alphabetically and some according to region and tribe. Although considered to be richest of all in scope and content, the musnad collections are not easy to use because they are not classified by subject.

The sahīh ("sound," "reliable") collections marked the fourth and basically the last stage in the development of adīth literature. The six standard Sunnī collections of adīths, known as al-sihāh al-sitta, were all compiled around the mid-ninth century and have remained the most authoritative to this day. Sahīh al-Bukhārī and Sahīh Muslim are often referred to collectively as sahīhayn ("the two sound collections"), but even so, they do not include all the sahīh adīths on record, as some have appeared in other collections. Because their compilers, Muammad ibn Ismāʿīl al-Bukhārī (d. 870) and Muslim ibn al-Hajjāj (d. 875), did not set out to include every sahīh adīth in their collections, it follows that a adīth may not be labeled unsound or unreliable simply because it did not appear in either of these two collections.

Before discussing the six standard adīth collections in some detail, it is necessary to introduce the three-fold classification of adīths into the sahīh, asan, and daʿif categories.

The sahīh adīth is defined as one with an unbroken chain of transmission, consisting of upright persons who also possessed retentive memory, going all the way back to the Prophet or a companion; its content is not outlandish (shādh) in the sense that it does not contradict another reliable adīth and it is free of both obvious and subtle defects. It is, in other words, a adīth that is free of defects in respect both to its isnād and its content (matn). Sahīh adīth are also subdivided into those on which there is general agreement, and those on which the ʿulamāʾ have disagreed. Furthermore a adīth may be sahīh in its own right (sahīh li-dhātih), in that it fulfills all the requirements of sahīh, or it may be sahīh due to an extraneous factor (sahīh li-ghayrih), as in cases where doubts about the memory of a adīth' s narrator have been removed due to confirmation from another source.

adīth transmitters have been classified into a number of categories, with respect to their uprightness, reliability, and retentiveness. Without entering into technical details, it can be said that a sahīh adīth is one for which the transmitters belong to the first three most reliable classes of narrators: the companions, the renowned imāms, and scholars of adīths. As opposed to this, a asan ("fair") adīth is one for which the transmitters belong to the next three categories, consisting of those who are not among the most prominent and about whom some doubt persists concerning the retentiveness of their memory and the accuracy (dabt) of their reports. A daʿif (weak) adīth is defined as one that fails to meet the requirements of the sahīh and asan classifications, and its transmitters include one or more persons of questionable reliability. The weakness in a daʿif adīth may be in the isnād or in the text. There are many subvarieties of the daʿif category. The term mursal (lit., "sent free"), for example, refers to a adīth with an isnād that is missing a link at the level of a companionin other words, a follower (tābiʿī) has directly relayed it from the Prophet. But even the mursal is sometimes accepted if it is reported by a highly reliable person, such as the imāms al-Shāfiʿī or Mālik.

adīths have also been classified into three types based on the number of their narrators. The first of these is the mutawatir ("continuously recurrent") type, those that have been reported by a large enough number of people to preclude the possibility of collusion or fabrication. A adīth that is reported by only a small group of individuals is known as an aad, or solitary adīth, and, finally, a adīth that is called mashhūr ("well-known") is one that became widespread during the first three generations following the demise of the Prophet.

The Six Standard Collections

The compiler of the Sahīh al-Bukhārī, al-Bukhārī, came from Bukhara in Asia Minor. He traveled widely and devoted some sixteen years to the compilation of his Sahīh. He interviewed over a thousand adīth transmitters in the ijāz, Egypt, Iraq, and Persia and collected as vast number of about 600,000 adīths, from which he selected 9,082 adīths. Discounting all the repetitions, Sahīh al-Bukhārī contains 2,602 adīths, divided into 106 chapters and under numerous subheadings. The repetitions here, as in other collections of adīths, occur on account of the presence of more than one chain of isnād for one and the same adīth. They are all listed on the assumption that multiple isnāds add to the reliability of a adīth. It was al-Bukhārī's declared purpose to include in his collection only sahīh adīths narrated by upright and retentive individuals who had met with one another within the same generation or within two adjoining generations. Al-Bukhārī followed al-Zuhrī's methodology and criteria in the selection of adīths. The first link in al-Bukhārī's isnād is usually a verified companion. This is followed, in turn, by two upright followers, or by one follower who is verified by at least two other narrators. The third link in al-Bukhārī's chain of isnād usually consists of an upright and retentive successor (tābi' tābi'i) from whom other narrators have also reported. The fifth link in al-Bukhārī's isnād is likely to be his own teacher, or shaykh. It was important for al-Bukhārī to ensure that at any stage of the isnād a adīth had been narrated by at least two people, be it a companion, follower, or successor. This is only a general characterization of al-Bukhārī's isnād, as exceptions are foundfor example, in the case of a companion, Midras al-Aslamī, whose adīths al-Bukhārī included, even though only one person, Qays ibn Hazim, has reported adīths from him.

Al-Bukhārī himself entitled his work al-Jamīʿal-Sahīh al-Musnad al-Mukhtasr min adīth Rasūl Allāh wa Sunanih wa Ayyamih. This name is indicative of al-Bukhārī's methodology and approach: the word al-Jamīʿ (lit., "comprehensive") signifies that the work's coverage extends to eight areas. These are dogmatics (ʿaqāʾid), legal rules (ahkām), moral teachings (al-riqaq), the etiquette of eating and drinking (adab al-taʿam waʾl -sharāb), Qurʾanic commentary, the history and biography of the Prophet (al-tafsīr, waʾl -tārīkh waʾl -siyar), travel and movement (al-afar waʾl -qiyām waʾl -quʿud), turmoil and tumults (al-fitan), and the virtues of the Prophet and his companions (al-manāqib). The word al-Sahīh in al-Bukhārī's title signifies that he did not knowingly include a weak (daʿif) adīth in his collection, whereas the word al-Musnad implies that all the adīths he compiled were supported by verified isnāds going all the way back to the Prophet. Al-Bukhārī was the first to compile a comprehensive collection of this kind, and his methodology was generally followed by Muslim ibn al-Hajjāj.

Muslim ibn al-Hajjāj's Sahīh Muslim is the next most authoritative of the six collections of adīths that are currently in use, except in North Africa and the Maghreb, where Sahīh Muslim is ranked first. This reverse order of ranking is basically due to Sahīh Muslim' s superior classification system, which makes it easier to use than al-Bukhārī. Sahīh Muslim consists of 10,000 adīths that can be reduced to just over 3,000 without the repetitions. Muslim ibn al-Hajjāj also traveled extensively in search of adīths and interviewed a large number of transmitters over a period of fifteen years. Muslim ibn al-Hajjāj went on record to say, in the introduction to his Sahīh Muslim, that he showed his work to Abū Zaurʿa al-Rāzī, the renowned scholar and teacher of adīth of his time and that Al-Rāzī had criticized some adīth transmitters that Muslim had included in his chains of isnad as being unreliable and that al-Rāzī had found a hidden defect (ʿillah) in others. Muslim then added that he removed what al-Rāzī had criticized and doubted and included everything he had approved as sahīh (sound) adīths. He also wrote that he intended to purify the adīths of the accretions of storytellers, the input of those who were moved by ignorance and prejudice, and the influence of heretics.

A point of difference between al-Bukhārī and Muslim ibn al-Hajjāj can be noted with regard to their respective treatment of the isnād. Al-Bukhārī not only verified that contiguous links in the isnād were contemporaries, he also made sure that they had actually met. For Muslim ibn al-Hajjāj it was sufficient if the two were contemporaries, even if he could not prove they had not actually met. Muslim ibn al-Hajjāj was content, in other words, with the possibility of an actual encounter between teacher and disciple.

Commentators have noted that more of al-Bukhārī's narrators meet the requirements of just character (ʿadala) and retentiveness (dabt) than do those of Muslim ibn al-Hajjāj. Of the total of 430 or so of al-Bukhārī's narrators, the critics have identified 80 as being of questionable standing or weak, whereas 160 of the total of 620 of Muslim ibn al-Hajjāj's narrators are said to be weak. About 89 of al-Bukhārī's adīths have been identified as having some defect, whereas for Muslim ibn al-Hajjāj the figure stands at one hundred.

The Sunan (pl. of sunnah, lit., "beaten track") collections specialize in legal adīths, known as aadīth al-ahkām. The various chapters of sunan works are thus devoted to topics such as rules pertaining to cleanliness, prayers, fasting, and the ajj pilgrimage, as well as marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance, and so forth. The Sunan Abū Dāwūd of Sulaymān ibn Ashʿath al-Sijistānī (d. 888), which consists of 4,800 adīths, stands out for its comprehensive treat-ment of legal adīths. Abū Dāwūd did not confine his Sunan to the compilation of sahīh adīths, but also included adīths in the asan ("fair") category. Abū Dāwūd claimed, however, that whenever a adīth seemed weak to him, he identified it as such and specified its point of weakness. This would imply that when he did not specify any weakness in a adīth, it was deemed to be sahīh. Sunan Abū Dāwūd has been ranked third in order of reliability after al-Bukhārī and Muslim. Abū Dāwūd also traveled widely in his quest to collect and verify adīths and acquired such a reputation as a teacher of adīths that students came to him from wide and far.

The Sunan al-Nasāʾī of āfiz Abū ʿAbd al-Ramān Amad ibn Shyʾ ayb al-Nasāʾī (d. 915) stands next in order of ranking to after the Sunan Abū Dāwūd, and consists of 5,000 legal adīths, of which a great deal had already appeared in previous collections. Nasāʾī wrote his Sunan in two stages. His initial collection, entitled Al-Sunan al-Kubrā (the greater sunan ), contained adīths in the three categories of Sound, Fair, and Weak, and was presented to the Abbasid ruler of Ramla in Palestine. Nasāʾī was then asked to compile a work that only contained sahīh adīths, and so he winnowed the Al-Sunan al-Kubrā down to a smaller collection named Al-Mujtaba min al-Sunan (The select from the sunan ). This version is the one currently in use and is said to contain very few defective or weak adīths. Al-Nasāʾī is ranked equally with the Sunan Abū Dāwūd, yet the latter is preferred as it provides additional insights of interest to jurists.

Next in the sunan category is Sunan al-Tirmidhī by Abū ʿIsā Muammad al-Tirmidhī (d. 915), which is also included among the six standard collections. adīth scholars have placed this work in the sunan category due to its arrangement and the style of its chapters, which are both in line with works of jurisprudence (fiqh). Some have also placed al-Tirmidhī in the jamīʿ ("comprehensive") category, as it is not strictly confined to legal adīths. One of the distinctive features of this work is that it first gives the principle isnād of a adīth, and then gives other alternative isnāds. It focuses on adīths that were practiced and generally accepted by Muslim jurists, and is thus thought to be free of spurious adīths, even though it is not totally devoid of ones that are weak or defective.

The last of the sunan among the six standard collections is Sunan Ibn Mājah, by Muammad ibn Yazīd al-Qazwīnī, better known as ibn Mājah (d. 886). The book contains 4,341 adīths, of which 3,002 had been recorded by previous authors, leaving 1,339 adīths recorded by ibn Mājah alone. Sunan Ibn Mājah contains adīths in all three categories of Sound, Fair, and Weak, which is why it was not included among the six standard collections until the early twelfth century, when Muammad ibn āhir al-Maqisi (d. 1227) included it among a list of reliable worksafter which other writers followed suit. Until that time, the Muwatta of Imām Mālik had been ranked as the sixth of the leading adīth collections, but the Muwatta contained very little that was not already known, and thus came to be considered less important than the Ibn Mājah.


The main purpose of adīth criticism is to verify the authenticity of a adīth through methods of enquiry that roughly resemble double-checking and cross-examination. The Prophet is reported to have said in a adīth, "One who intentionally tells a lie about me, let him be sure of his place in Fire (of Hell)." This and other similar prophetic warnings led to a cautious approach on the part of the companions and other adīth transmitters, who were mostly careful not to narrate adīths about which they had doubts. The four early Islamic caliphs (khulafāʾ rāshidūn) made a point of criticizing some of their fellow companions who narrated adīths that were not directly known to them, or that they had doubts about. Some of the less reliable seeming were asked to produce evidence of the veracity of their reports. The subsequent spread of adīths to remote parts of the Islamic domain also gave rise to apprehensions about the presence of error and distortion in adīths. A separate branch of adīth studies, known as al-jar waʿl-taʿdīl ("impugnment and validation," also known as naqd al-adīth, or adīth criticism), was developed as a result, and numerous writers in almost every period contributed to its growth. Yayā ibn Maʿīn (d. 847), ʿAlī al-Madīnī (d. 848), and Imām Amad ibn anbal were the early pioneers, after which almost every leading scholars of adīths, including al-Bukhārī, Muslim ibn al-Hajjāj, Abū Dāwūd, Nasā'ī, and others wrote one or more books on the biographies of adīth transmitters, their strengths and weaknesses, and factors that influenced the reliability of their reports. A vast body of biographical literature, known as asmāʾ al-rijāl (lit., "names of authorities") and tabaqāt ("generations of adīth transmitters"), developed as a result.

Whenever the reliability of a adīth transmitter is questioned, two approaches are possible: one is to attempt a validation (al-taʿdīl) of the transmitter's reliability and uprightness, the other is to enter into a process of disqualification known as al-jar (lit., "wounding," "impugnment"). The methods by which impugnment is attempted are, on the whole, more rigorous than what is usually required for validation. adīth scholars have employed special terms that indicate grades of reliability, and also ones that suggest degrees of weakness. Terms such as thabtun ("proof"), hujjatun ("strong," "firm"), āfiz ("retentive"), and dabit ("accurate"), in reference to transmitters, indicate the first degree of taʿdīl, whereas expressions such as adūq ("truthful"), sāli al-adīth ("fit to narrate adīth "), and la ba ʾsa bihi ("no objection") tend to come next in ranking. Impugnment is established through the use of terms such as majhūl ("obscure"), da ʿif ("weak"), matruk ("abandoned"), muttaham biʾl-kidhb ("accused of lying"), and kadhdhāb/wadda ʿ ("liar," "forger"). Broadly speaking, specifying the grounds for one's assessment is necessary for impugnment, but not for validation. adīth scholars thus tend to validate transmitters in a few words without elaborating on their good qualities, whereas brevity of this kind is not enough for purposes of impugnment.

Comparison of sources and checking on dates and localities are among the most commonly employed methods of adīth criticism. To verify the accuracy of a doubtful adīth, comparison is attempted between the various versions of the adīth reported by different students of one scholar, or between statements made by the same scholar at different times, or between the adīth and the relevant text of the Qurʾān, and so forth. In some cases where a disciple claims to have received a adīth directly from a teacher, further examination of their respective localities and dates proves that the two could not have met. Some other grounds of impugnment that adīth scholars have listed include:

  1. Attribution of lies and falsehood to the Prophet.
  2. A reputation for telling lies, even if no specific charge is proven.
  3. A reputation for negligence and mistakes.
  4. Sinful conduct, whether consisting of words or acts.
  5. A reputation for making improbable statements and indulgence of the imagination (wahm).
  6. Disagreement with reliable authorities and narrators.
  7. Obscurity and lack of clear personal identification.
  8. Advocacy of pernicious innovation (bidʿah).
  9. Bad memory.

Validation and impugnment are only acceptable from qualified and impartial persons. Although backbiting (ghiba) is normally forbidden, adīth scholars have generally held it to be permissible to the extent that it is necessary in the context of impugnment.


The prerequisites that every sahīh adīth must fulfill to be considered authentic may be summarized as follows:

  1. The adīth must be supported by a sound and verified isnād.
  2. It is required that every link in the isnād was known as an upright and respected person (ʿadl) at the time they reported the adīth, even if they did not yet have that reputation when they received it. The minimum requirement of uprightness (ʿadala) is that the person be free of grave sins (kaba ʾir) and not have persisted in committing minor sins (sagha ʾir) or degrading or profane acts, such as associating with persons of ill-repute, making silly jokes, or exhibiting antisocial behavior. The fundamental positive behaviors that ʿadala is associated with are observance of religious duties and personal decorum (muru ʾa). The different schools of law tend to differ on such issues as whether or not the holding of views that amount to pernicious innovation (bidʿah) or caprice (hawā) is grounds for disqualificationthough generally such views are permitted in a narrator, unless the person is actively engaged in inviting others to embrace them. Various methods have been identified by which to verify the probity of person, including, for example, tazkiya (lit., "purging"), which may consist of testimony from witnesses, character references from colleagues, or consideration of general local reputation.
  3. None of the transmitters in an isnād can be implicated in forgery, or in sectarian, political, or theological disputes, especially in cases where such disputes are actually related to the theme of the adīth.
  4. The transmitter must be a contemporary of the teacher on whose authority he related the adīth. As mentioned above, al-Bukhārī further stipulated that the two must have actually met. Some have also specified that it is necessary for the narrator to have been certain of the reliability of his teacher.
  5. The transmitter must qualify as dabt that is, they must possess a retentive memory and be capable of accurate renderings of adīths.
  6. The transmitter must not be obscure or unknown (majhūl): at least two upright persons must have narrated a adīth from them. Only the companions are exempt from this requirement.
  7. The text (matn) of a adīth must be in the dignified style of the prophetic language. The presence, therefore, of obscene, ridiculous, or objectionable elements is taken as a sign of forgery.
  8. The text and message of a adīth must be consistent with the Qurʾān. A clear and irreconcilable conflict with the Qurʾān would thus render the adīth unacceptable.
  9. A adīth is also rejected if it fails the test of historical evidence. A adīth for example, that the Prophet said such and such in a public bath in Medinais rejected simply because no public bath existed in Medina at the time.
  10. The text of a adīth must not be contrary to reason. For instance, a adīth claiming that the parents of the prophet Muammad rose from the dead to embrace Islam would be rejected.

Modern Attitudes

Modern Islamic scholars and the majority of Muslims continue to consider adīths a part of established dogma, and authoritative proof of the tenets, laws, and values of Islam, next only to the Qurʾān in importance. The spread of a modern scientific mindset has, however, led to much discussion of the authenticity of individual adīths. The presence of forgery in the larger mass of adīths is not denied, and many adīth scholars have been involved in painstaking efforts to identify and isolate unreliable adīths, which have been gathered together in collections under the general heading mawdu ʿat ("forgeries"). Despite this meticulous work, however, doubts remain.

While acknowledging that most of the forged adīths had been isolated in the mawduʿat literature, Muammad Zubayr Siddīqī, writing in 1962, argued that there were still "some weak or forged" adīths in the standard collections, which he identified with certain topics, such as the antichrist (dajjāl) and the last guide (mahdī). Muammad al-Ghazālī (d. 1993) drew attention to adīths in the standard collections that are at odds with the Qurʾān. He then categorized a number of such adīths as "rejected" or "discarded" (al-aadīth al-marduda).

The late Shaykh of al-Azhar, Mamūd Shaltūt, criticized (c. 1965) the "strange phenomenon" of adīths being labeled mutawatir ("continuously recurrent") even though they do not meet the requirements of that category, simply because of their diffusion and frequent occurrence in scholarly works. This tendency can even be observed in some of the Qurʾān commentaries, in which weak adīths are sometimes labeled mutawatir.

The contemporary scholar Yūsuf al-Qaradāwī has drawn attention to adīths in the category of al-targhīb waʾl-tarhīb ("encouragement and warning"), which adīth scholars have often uncritically accepted, thus undermining the reliability of adīths generally. This is because scholars have often neglected to apply the conditions of admissibility to this category of adīth on the assumption that they consist of moral advice and are in any case optional. Works of Qurʾān exegesis are also not free of weak and even forged adīths on such topics as the relative superiority and virtues of the various chapters and verses of the Qurʾān. Even prominent Qurʾān commentators "such as al-Zamakhsharī, al-Thaʿālibī, al-Bayāwī and others have persisted in quoting fabricated statements in the name of adīth " (al-Qaradāwī, Kayfa Nataʿamalu maʿ al-Sunnaa al-Nabawiy-yah, p. 36).

Writing in 1961, the Shīʿī author Muammad Najmī Zanjānī offered an evaluation representative of both Shīʿī and Sunnī opinion when he claimed that adīth scholars have generally placed much emphasis on isnāds and the reliability of adīth transmitters, but not enough on the text and message of adīths. The Egyptian scholar Fahmī Huwaydī, while acknowledging (1989) this weakness of the adīth collections, pointed out that many unqualified people with little insight into adīth methodology have lightly dismissed adīths and advanced ill-considered views in the name of reform and ijtihād ("independent reasoning"). Huwaydī extended this critique to the work of scholars at some Egyptian universities, including the renowned al-Azhar.

Yūsuf al-Qaradāwī has stressed the need for compilation of no less than three comprehensive encyclopedias on adīths, one on adīth narrators and their biographies, another containing the text (matn) of adīths, and a third one to be drawn from the first two and devoted exclusively to adīths in the sahīh and asan categories. Selection of material should be made strictly according to the scientific criteria that leading adīth scholars have developed, and modern research tools, such as computers and comprehensive indices, should be employed.

In adīth Methodology (2002) the present writer observed that the existing methodology and criteria of adīth criticism were basically adequate and that adīth scholars were also reasonably successful in their efforts to isolate the fabricated matter in their mawduʿat collections. However, much of the mawduʿat literature was written long after the standard collections of al-Bukhārī and Muslim ibn al-Hajjāj. In addition, some of the more refined methods of adīth criticism were developed after the time of al-Bukhārī and Muslim ibn al-Hajjāj. There is good reason, therefore, to undertake an extensive review and consolidation of adīths with the aid both of the existing adīth methodologies and of more modern means and methods of research.

ShĪʿĪ adĪth

The Shīʿah Ithna Ashariyah (or the Twelver Shīʿah), who represent the largest group of Shīʿah and mainly reside in Iran and Iraq, rely on their own collections of adīths. Of the four most authoritative Shīʿī collections, Al-Kāfī fī ʿIlm al-Din (What is sufficient for knowledge of religion) by Abū Jaʿfar Muammad al-Kulaynī (d. 939) is rated first, followed, in order of priority, by the Man lā Yahduruhu al-Faqīh (One who is not visited by a jurist) of Ibn Bābawayhi (al-Shaykh al-adūq ibn Bābūyah al-Qummī; d. 991), and by the two works of Shaykh Muammad ibn al-asan al-ūsī (d. 1067), namely Al-Istibsār fīmā Ukhtulifa min al-Akhbār (Examination of what is in dispute among the reports) and Tahdhīb al-Ahkām (Verified rulings). Al-Kāfī has 326 chapters and 16,199 adīths from the Prophet and the imāms. It deals with three basic themes, namely, theology and the imamate, which are the basics of religion (uūl); the furūʿ, or details of positive law; and al-rawda min al-Kāfī ("flowers from al-Kāfī"), which include miscellaneous topics related to fiqh. Ibn Bābawayhi's collection, which records 5,963 adīths, was compiled with the goal, as the title uggests, of diminishing the reader's need to consult a jurist. Al-ūsī's Tahdhīb is the next largest of the four collections, containing 13,590 adīths, while Al-Istibsār contains 5,511 adīths. The former lays greater emphasis on methodology in its verification of the rulings of adīths, whereas the latter was basically intended be a supplement to Tahdhīb. Whereas the leading Sunnī scholars, such as alShāfiʿī, emphasized accuracy in the isnād and text of adīths, al-ūsī was largely concerned with the practicableness of the adīths' contents. All four collections rely on isnāds reaching back only to the recognized Shīʿī imāms. Two of the imāms who feature most prominently in these works are the fifth and sixth imāms, Muammad al-Bāqir (d. 735) and Jaʿfar al-ādiq (d. 765), esteemed members of the Prophet's household who are credited with having changed Shiism from a primarily political movement into something with a juridical and scholastic focus.

Unlike their Sunnī counterparts, Shīʿī scholars were not preoccupied with the search for sound isnāds reaching back to the Prophet, because the infallibility (ʿimah) of the imāms precluded the need for such verification. Shīʿī adīths were mainly collected in the tenth through eleventh centuries, in part because of the "occultation" of the Shīʿah's living imām in 873, and also because the Buyid rulers who were friendly to the Shīʿah only came to power in 945. Although a great deal of the Sunnī and Shīʿī adīths are similar in content and message, Sunnī and Shīʿī scholars tend to differ widely in their respective approaches to authenticity and isnād. A four-fold classification of adīths is employed in Shīʿī collections:

  1. The sahīh or sound adīth is one with an isnād that connects it without a break to one of the imāms.
  2. The mūwaththaq, or reliable, adīth is one supported by an isnād in which the companion of an imām unequivocally declares it acceptable.
  3. The asan, or Fair, adīth is one with an isnād including a transmitter (from the imām ) whose uprightness (ʿadala) is not unequivocally established.
  4. The daʿif, or weak, adīth is one that does not fall within the first three categories.

Like their Sunnī counterparts, Shīʿī scholars have expressed reservations about the reliability of some material in their adīth collections. They have also questioned the reliability of using aad (solitary) adīths to establish a decisive legal or religious ruling. Like most Sunnī scholars, the Shīʿah maintain that all the obligatory rulings of adīths must be proven as a matter of certainty. Because aad adīths, those reported by a small number of unconnected individuals, do not qualify as mutawatir, they are not enough to establish a decisive sharīʿah ruling.

See Also

Islamic Law, article on Sharīʿah; Sunnah; Tafsīr.


A comprehensive treatment of the various aspects of adīth studies can found in Mohammad Hashim Kamali's adīth Methodology: Authenticity, Compilation, Classification, and Criticism of adīth (Kuala Lumpur, 2002). The same author's other book, Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence, 3d rev. ed. (Cambridge, U.K., 2003), provides a chapter (pp. 85117) on sunnah as a source of Islamic law. Muammad Zubayr Siddīqī's adīth Literature: Its Origins, Development, Special Features, and Criticism (Calcutta, 1961) also provides concise information on historical developments in the adīth and on major collections that are currently in use. There are many useful works on adīths available in Arabic. Subhī al-Sālih's ʿUlūm al-adīth wa-Mustalahuh (Beirut, 1966), Mannāʿ Kalīl al-Qattān's Mabāhith fī ʿUlūm al-adīth (Cairo, 1992), and Muafā Dīb al-Bughā's Buhūth fī ʿUlūm al-adīth wa Nususuh (Damascus, 1990) are all concise, yet comprehensive, and stay clear of burdensome extrapolations. A more detailed treatment of the entire range of adīth sciences can be found in Muammad Abū Shahba's Al-Wasit fi ʿUlūm wa Mustalah al-adīth (Jeddah, 1983). An Introduction to the Science of Tradition, edited and translated by James Robson (London, 1953) from a work of al-ākim al-Nīshāpūrī, and Amad Amīn's Fajr al-Islām, 14th ed. (Cairo, 1986), both provide information on early developments in the adīth. Fazlur Rahman's Islamic Methodology in History (Karachi, 1965) and Muammad Muafā Aʿzami's Studies in adīth Methodology and Literature (Indianapolis, 1977) are informative on modern adīth issues as well as on the Orientalist critique concerning the authenticity of adīths. Aʿzami's second and now well-recognized work, On Schacht's Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence (Riyadh, 1985), is highly critical of, and manages to successfully refute, many of Schacht's conclusions concerning the authenticity of adīths. Muammad Hamīdullāh's The Emergence of Islam: Lectures on the Development of Islamic World-View, Intellectual Tradition, and Polity (Islamabad, Pakistan, 1993) and Fazlur Rahman's Islam (Chicago and London, 1979) both contain concise and readable chapters on the history of the adīth and on issues concerning the documentation and authenticity of adīths. Coverage of modern debates and contemporary concerns vis-à-vis adīths, especially in the Egyptian context, can be found in G. H. A. Juynboll's The Authenticity of Tradition Literature: Discussions in Modern Egypt (Leiden, 1969).

Yūsuf al-Qaradāwī's Kayfa Natāʿamalu maʿa al-Suna al-Naba-wīya (Herndon, Va., 1990) and Muammad al-Ghazālī's Turāthunā al-fikrī fī Mizān al-Sharʿ wa al-ʿAql (Herndon, Va., 1991) both provide insight into some of the prominent issues surrounding the adīth and put forward proposals for reform. Mamūd Shaltūt's renowned Al-Islām ʿAqīda wa Sharīʿah (Kuwait, c. 1966) contains a useful chapter on the sunnah in which he addresses various issues and proffers a word of advice for contemporary readers of the sunnah and adīth.

A brief but sound discussion of Shīʿī adīths can be found in Murtazā Mutahharī's Jurisprudence and Its Principles, translated from Persian by Mohammad Salam Tawheedi (Elmhurst, N.Y., 1981). Muammad Najmī Zanjānī's Tārīkh-e Firāq-e Islāmī (Tehran, 1961) provides a more detailed treatment of the subject, as well as a survey of modern studies and significant issues concerning the Shīʿī adīth. Dwight M. Donaldson's The Shi'ite Religion (London, 1933) contains information on the adīth.

Mohammad Hashim Kamali (2005)