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Quran, Hadith and Sunnah

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The Quran, hadith, and sunnah are Islamic sources that one can learn a lot about Islam, its laws, teachings, and way of life. The Quran is the most important Islamic source as it is the word of God verbatim and contains many useful content for living a prosperous life. Similarly, hadith is very important as well because it is the words of the Prophet and the Ahl al-Bayt which tell us about many things that do not exist in the Quran. Lastly, sunnah is the conduct of the Prophet and Imams who are role models for us to follow. In this article on Islam4u, we will analyze the topic of Quran, hadith, and sunnah from different perspectives.

What does the Quran, Hadith and Sunnah Refer To?

Quran, hadith, and sunnah refers to different things. Obviously, the Quran is the book of Muslims that has never been distorted and God revealed to the Prophet both all at once and gradually over the period of 23 years. Hadith are the words of the Prophet and the Ahl al-Bayt, which is also very important as they are the interpreters of the Quran and have explained things that the Quran has not explained in detail. Sunnah refers to the conduct and way of life of the Prophet and Imams and we must try to be like them by observing their sunnah.

Definition of the Quran

The Quran is a book of guidance gradually revealed by God to his final apostle, Muhammad (peace be upon him and household) through Archangel Gabriel in the process of 23 years. Its audience was the people of Muhammad’s time and the nations to come until the Last Day. It is composed of 114 chapters (Surahs) and 6236 verses (Ayahs). The Quran was compiled after the demise of the holy prophet (peace be upon him and household) by his companions who had memorized it at his time.

Could the people distinguish the words of the Prophet (peace be upon him and household) from that of the Quran?

The Quranic style was and still is quite unique. When the prophet (peace be upon him and his household) spoke, he had one speaking style and when he recited the Quran for them, he had quite a different style which the people could easily distinguish as they had been living with him for four decades.

Definition of Hadith

The lexical meaning of hadith is: something that was unapparent and then becomes evident.In terminology, a hadith is speech that communicates the words, actions or the approval of the Prophet, Lady Fatimah and the 12 Imams (peace be upon them all).

Approval or Taqrir (تقریر) is when an act of worship or transaction is performed in the presence of one of the Infallibles which they are aware of and remain silent in face of it, thus silently announcing their approval. This approval is a sign of that act being permissible and legitimate. Although, it must be noted that certain conditions have to be met in order for one to rule that their silence is indeed approval.

What is Sunnah?

According to lexicologists, Sunnah can have any of the following meanings:

  1. Continuity and permanence
  2. A favorable conduct
  3. Any conduct (good or bad)

Terminologically, sunnah refers to the words, actions and approval (taqrir) of the 14 Infallibles (peace be upon them).

The difference between sunnah and hadith is that hadith is encompasses the words of the Infallibles, whereas sunnah encompasses their life, character and behavior and since this covers their words as well, sunnah can be considered to be more comprehensive and general than hadith and, therefore, hadith communicates sunnah.

It is also due to this reason that sunnah is considered as one of the sources of deduction of religious laws besides the Quran but not hadith per se and also why one of the ways of recognizing fabricated narrations is by comparing them to the Quran and sunnah and not to hadith. However, today, since hadith conveys sunnah, narrations are used as the sources of extracting laws from sunnah, with the condition that they are authentic. Therefore, as you can see, Quran, hadith, and sunnah are very important sources for Muslims.

What is the Relationship between Quran and Hadith and Sunnah?

وَ أَنزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الذِّكْرَ لِتُبَينِ‏َّ لِلنَّاسِ مَا نُزِّلَ إِلَيهْمْ وَ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَفَكَّرُون

We have sent down the reminder to you so that you may clarify for the people that which has been sent down to them, so that they may reflect [16:44].

As for the relationship between Quran, hadith, and sunnah, according to what has been mentioned in the Divine texts, God has always communicated to man through His Divine Books and also through that which has been reflected in the words, actions and approval of the prophets, as an explanation and clarification of that which is revealed.

With the advent of Islam, as the most comprehensive and complete of religions, all of God’s messages were sent down to man through the two sources of the Quran and Sunnah, i.e. the conduct of the Prophet, Lady Fatimah and the 12 Imams.

Since the hadith communicates and transmits sunnah, the relationship between the Quran and Hadith and Sunnah is clear.

Importance of Hadith and Sunnah

Speaking of Quran, hadith, and sunnah, hadith, in particular are an important part of Islamic text besides the Quran. We can consider three reasons for this:

1.      Rational Reason

Even though the Quran is Divine revelation and the most authentic and important source of guidance for the Muslims; however the Quran provides only general guidelines for man’s happiness, guidance and spirituality. Without the Prophet, Lady Fatimah and the 12 Imams’ guidance, we would not be able to fully understand the meanings and the intents of the verses of the Quran and the details of the main principles mentioned therein.Therefore, all three, i.e. the Quran and Hadith and Sunnah are required together.

2.      Quranic Reason

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَطِيعُوا اللَّـهَ وَأَطِيعُوا الرَّسُولَ وَأُولِي الْأَمْرِ مِنكُمْ ۖ فَإِن تَنَازَعْتُمْ فِي شَيْءٍ فَرُدُّوهُ إِلَى اللَّـهِ وَالرَّسُولِ إِن كُنتُمْ تُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّـهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ خَيْرٌ وَأَحْسَنُ تَأْوِيلًا ﴿59﴾

O you who have faith! Obey Allah and obey the Apostle and those vested with authority among you. And if you dispute concerning anything, refer it to Allah and the Apostle, if you have faith in Allah and the Last Day. That is better and more favourable in outcome.

Why do we Need Hadith and Sunna if the Quran Claims to be Enough and Clear?

Doesn’t the Quran say that it is sufficient for mankind?

أَ وَ لَمْ يَكْفِهِمْ أَنَّا أَنزَلْنَا عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ يُتْلىَ‏ عَلَيْهِمْ إِنَّ فىِ ذَالِكَ لَرَحْمَةً وَ ذِكْرَى‏ لِقَوْمٍ يُؤْمِنُون

Does it not suffice them that We have sent down to you the Book which is recited to them? There is indeed a mercy and admonition in that for a people who have faith. [29:51]

Does not the Quran say that it is a manifest book?

تِلْكَ آياتُ الْكِتابِ وَ قُرْآنٍ مُبين

These are the signs of the Book and a manifest Qur’an. [15:1]

تِلْكَ ءَايَاتُ الْقُرْءَانِ وَ كِتَابٍ مُّبِين

These are the signs of the Qur’an and a manifest Book,[27:1]

هُدًى وَ بُشْرَى‏ لِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ

a guidance and good news for the faithful [27:2]

Importance of text and context

To answer these questions, one needs to note that having a better grasp of understanding of the verses of the Quran and their meaning, one need to look at them in their textual context, as well as the occasion of their revelation. Furthermore, one has to take into consideration other verses of this noble book which have provided us clear instructions and guidelines. This is when Quran, hadith, and sunnah become intertwined.

For instance, the above mentioned verse, in chapter ‘Ankabut [29:51], was in response to the question of the polytheists of Mecca of why the prophet is not bringing them any miracle, like Moses, who broke open the water for his people to pass through the Nile, turned his staff into a serpent or in the case of Jesus, who healed the blind and brought the dead to life.

The Quran intends to say that this book itself is a miracle in terms of its content and beautiful Arabic form. It is the most eloquent and rhetoric text one can ever see. It contains information of past nations and incidents yet to happen. It invites all to gather to bring a chapter like it:

وَإِن كُنتُمْ فِي رَيْبٍ مِّمَّا نَزَّلْنَا عَلَىٰ عَبْدِنَا فَأْتُوا بِسُورَةٍ مِّن مِّثْلِهِ وَادْعُوا شُهَدَاءَكُم مِّن دُونِ اللَّـهِ إِن كُنتُمْ صَادِقِينَ

And if you are in doubt concerning what We have sent down to Our servant, then bring a surah like it, and invoke your helpers besides Allah, if you are truthful. [2:23]

Need of a practical example

Hence, the Quran is a manifest book of guidance which suffices as a divine sign and miracle for mankind. However, the story does not end here. People needed a practical role model, someone who could not only deliver and read to them the words of God but to explain many issues and implement the divine rulings in his own life so that others could see and learn. 

Keep in mind that at the time of the holy prophet (peace be upon him and household), there were no book of Quran and the numerous books of hadith that we have at our disposal today. The Quran was revealed gradually by God to his apostle, Muhammad (peace be upon him and household). People living with Muhammad (peace be upon him and household) literally saw one entity. They only saw a man who had lived among them for 40 years and now claimed to be a messenger of Allah, receiving revelations. Later on, after the demise of the noble prophet and at the time of the caliphs, the first copy of the Quran was compiled.

What does the Quran say about Sunnah and Hadith?

لَقَدْ مَنَّ اللَّـهُ عَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ إِذْ بَعَثَ فِيهِمْ رَسُولًا مِّنْ أَنفُسِهِمْ يَتْلُو عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتِهِ وَيُزَكِّيهِمْ وَيُعَلِّمُهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَإِن كَانُوا مِن قَبْلُ لَفِي ضَلَالٍ مُّبِينٍ

Allah certainly favored the faithful when He raised up among them an apostle from among themselves to recite to them His signs and to purify them and teach them the Book and wisdom, and earlier they had indeed been in manifest error. [3:164]

God introduces Muhammad (peace be upon him and his household) as a special blessing and a favor for the believers who can rely on his guidance and support; someone who would carry out 4 roles:

  1. Recite to the people the verses of His book;
  2. Purify them;
  3. Teach them the book and
  4. Wisdom.

Elsewhere, God visibly clarifies the role of the prophet (peace be upon him and household) in explaining what He has send down to mankind (the Quran).

وَ أَنْزَلْنا إِلَيْكَ الذِّكْرَ لِتُبَيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ ما نُزِّلَ إِلَيْهِمْ وَلَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ

We have sent down the reminder to you so that you may clarify for the people that which has been sent down to them, so that they may reflect. [16:44]

Sunnah and Hadith side by side with the Quran

The Quran mentions various Islamic rulings, the detailed explanation of which requires the presence of a man immune from mistakes; someone appointed by God Himself. For instance, with regards to the Muslim’s obligatory daily prayers, the units (Rak’at) of prayers have not been specified in the Quran. The prophet (peace be upon him and household) accomplished this role for the Muslim community. Therefore, we need the hadith and Sunnah side by side the Quran.

Obedience of the Prophet side by side with the Obedience of God

In many verses where you see the obedience of God, you notice that it has been coupled with the obedience of the prophet (peace be upon him and household), for instance [3:32]; [4:59]; [4:150-151] etc.

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يَكْفُرُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَرُسُلِهِ وَيُرِيدُونَ أَن يُفَرِّقُوا بَيْنَ اللَّهِ وَرُسُلِهِ وَيَقُولُونَ نُؤْمِنُ بِبَعْضٍ وَنَكْفُرُ بِبَعْضٍ وَيُرِيدُونَ أَن يَتَّخِذُوا بَيْنَ ذَٰلِكَ سَبِيلًا

Those who disbelieve in Allah and His apostles and seek to separate Allah from His apostles, and say,” We believe in some and disbelieve in some” and seek to take a way in between. It is they who are truly faithless, and We have prepared for the faithless a humiliating punishment. [4:150-151]

وَمَا آتَاكُمُ الرَّسُولُ فَخُذُوهُ وَمَا نَهَاكُمْ عَنْهُ فَانتَهُوا ۚ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّـهَ ۖ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ شَدِيدُ الْعِقَابِ

Take whatever the Apostle gives you, and refrain from whatever he forbids you, and be wary of Allah. Indeed Allah is severe in retribution. [59:7]

The Prophet (peace be upon him and household) has been seen as inseparable from God. If one claims to believe in God, automatically the belief in His apostle would follow. This belief is not a theoretical lip service; one is to manifest it in one’s life. God requires one’s loyalty and submission to his prophet when it comes to the stage of ultimate decision making.

Prophet as a Good Exemplar

The Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him and household), was a normal human being living among people, yet possessed certain qualities which made him outstanding. For many years Muhammad (peace be upon him and household) was seen to retreat to remote areas such as a cave called Hira to meditate and purify himself, getting prepared for a mission to come. He was titled as the trusted Muhammad among the pagans. He certainly had the qualifications of a guide, leader and role model. Furthermore, he was gifted with the blessing of infallibility. His words and conduct were rooted in a divine source, as God says:

وَ مَا يَنطِقُ عَنِ الهَوَى ﴿3﴾

Nor does he speak out of [his own] desire:

إِنْ هُوَ إِلَّا وَحْىٌ يُوحَى ﴿4﴾

: it is just a revelation that is revealed [to him],

عَلَّمَهُ شَدِيدُ الْقُوَى ﴿5﴾

taught him by One of great powers, possessed of sound judgement.

وَ إِنَّكَ لَعَلىَ‏ خُلُقٍ عَظِيمٍ ﴿4﴾

And indeed you possess a great character. (68:4)

Muhammad was qualified to be a living example among the people, thus God says in the Quran,

لَّقَدْ كاَنَ لَكُمْ فىِ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ أُسْوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ لِّمَن كاَنَ يَرْجُواْ اللَّهَ وَ الْيَوْمَ الاَخِرَ وَ ذَكَرَ اللَّهَ كَثِيرًا

“In the Apostle of Allah there is certainly for you a good exemplar, for those who look forward to Allah and the Last Day, and remember Allah greatly. [33:21]

Narrative Reason

The Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him and household) on the day of Mina said:

“May Allah bloom the face of a slave of God who hears my words and understands them and pass it those who did not hear it. So, how many people who transfer knowledge without understating it, and how many people who transfer knowledge to the one who is more learned than them.”

This and many other narrations from the Prophet and the Infallibles show the importance of narrations for a believer and for guidance.

Hadith and Sunnah after the Prophet

Mohammad (peace be upon him and household) was the seal of apostles. He had received the final revelations of God and claimed that his religion was the most complete and most qualified to answer the needs of his people and the future generations. Yet all along, people needed practical examples. How about after the demise of the Noble Prophet (peace be upon him and household)? What would people do? They still needed perfect human beings who would serve as links between the heaven and the earth. There would be no new revelations but there were so many topics that people needed explanation for.

In other words, a Muslim community was formed and led by the Prophet (peace be upon him and household). How would the leadership of the community be carried out once he was gone?

When a teacher wants to leave the class even for 10 minutes, he/she appoints a representative to manage the class in his/her absence; how could the prophet not select a representative for himself for the time when he would no longer be among the people. He struggled for so many years to establish a Muslim community. Now he was to just leave this mission at this sensitive point?

Obey Allah, the Apostle and Those Vested with Authority

The Quran provides the answer:

يَأَيهُّا الَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ أَطِيعُواْ اللَّهَ وَ أَطِيعُواْ الرَّسُولَ وَ أُوْلىِ الْأَمْرِ مِنكمُ‏ فَإِن تَنَازَعْتُمْ فىِ شىَ‏ءٍ فَرُدُّوهُ إِلىَ اللَّهِ وَ الرَّسُولِ إِن كُنتُمْ تُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَ الْيَوْمِ الاَخِرِ ذَالِكَ خَيرْ وَ أَحْسَنُ تَأْوِيلاً

You who have faith! Obey Allah and obey the Apostle and those vested with authority among you. And if you dispute concerning anything, refer it to Allah and the Apostle, if you have faith in Allah and the Last Day. That is better and more favorable in outcome. [4:59]

Who did the Quran mean by those vested with authority?

They need to be perfect individuals immune from mistakes and sins. Someone you can trust. Someone God has purified and the His apostle has (peace be upon him and household) appointed. 

Purified Household

God specifies the purified progeny of the Noble Prophet (peace be upon him and household) as those He has vested with authority:

وَ أَطِعْنَ اللَّهَ وَ رَسُولَهُ إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ لِيُذْهِبَ عَنكُمُ الرِّجْسَ أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ وَ يُطَهِّرَكمُ‏ تَطْهِيرًا

Obey Allah and His Apostle. Indeed Allah desires to repel all impurity from you, O People of the Household, and purify you with a thorough purification. [33:33]

I Only Ask You “Love of my Relatives”

And God’s apostle asks for no reward for his years of endeavor in guiding his people to the truth but the love of his relatives.

قُل لَّا أَسْلُكمُ‏ عَلَيْهِ أَجْرًا إِلَّا الْمَوَدَّةَ فىِ الْقُرْبىَ‏

Say, “I do not ask you any reward for it except love of [my] relatives.” [42:23]

Loving them is not at a shallow verbal level. Loving them means loving their path in life and following them, otherwise you are just fooling yourself if you claim that you love them yet refer to others and follow them in life.

Holding on to the Quran and Sunnah: the Hadith of the Two Lofty Treasures

The relation between Quran and Sunnah has been further clarified in a beautiful narration from the noble prophet. It’s a strongly established hadith; a Mutawatir (متواتر), meaning cited by numerous narrators with its authenticity being confirmed by different chains of transmitters both Sunni and Shia.

Zayd bin Arqam, one of the companions of the holy prophet, narrates him saying, “It seems that God is calling me to Himself and I must answer His call. But I will leave two precious things among you”: 

إِنِّي تَارِكٌ فِيكُمُ اَلثَّقَلَيْنِ مَا إِنْ تَمَسَّكْتُمْ بِهِمَا لَنْ تَضِلُّوا بَعْدِي كِتَابَ اَللَّهِ وَ عِتْرَتِي أَهْلَ بَيْتِي وَ إِنَّهُمَا لَنْ يَفْتَرِقَا حَتَّى يَرِدَا عَلَيَّ اَلْحَوْضَ

Verily I am leaving behind two valuable treasures. As long as you cling on to the two of them you will not be misguided after me. [These are] the book of Allah and my family and they will not part away from one another until they reach me at the pond (of Kowthar in heaven).

Day of Ghadir: Completion of Religion

In the last Hajj pilgrimage of Muhammad (peace be upon him and household), called the farewell pilgrimage, Gabriel descended upon him, to convey an important divine message. A verse was revealed to the prophet saying,

یا أَيُّهَا الرَّسُولُ بَلِّغْ مَا أُنْزِلَ إِلَيْكَ مِنْ رَبِّكَ ۖ وَإِنْ لَمْ تَفْعَلْ فَمَا بَلَّغْتَ رِسَالَتَهُ وَاللَّـهُ يَعْصِمُكَ مِنَ النَّاسِ

O Apostle! Communicate that which has been sent down to you from your Lord, and if you do not, you will not have communicated His message, and Allah shall protect you from the people. [5:57]

In an oasis, near a pond known as Ghadir (غدیر) he halted. He summoned all the Muslims on the journey to gather together. He waited for the ones behind to catch up and the ones who had gone forward to return. A pulpit was made out of stones and camel tooling. The prophet delivered a lengthy sermon in the scorching heat for a large crowd numbering to over a hundred thousand people. Muhammad (peace be upon him and household) uttered his famous statement in this sermon that “for whomever I am the Mawla (مولی), after me Ali is the Mawla“.

What did the prophet mean By ‘Mawla’? friend or successor?

Ever since the incidence of Ghadir, there has been many disputes among Shia and Sunni as to the meaning of Mawla on the day of Ghadir. The Sunnis are of the opinion that the holy prophet only intended to convey the message to the Muslim Community to love Ali as a dear person to him and that’s it. Even if that was the case, the Muslim community proved otherwise. On the other hand, the Shias believe that based on the abovementioned contextual proofs and several other logical reasons, what the prophet meant by the term ‘Mawla’ was his successor.

One of the proofs of Ali’s Successorship to the prophet
  1. The revelation of Verse [5:57]: an important message was about to be communicated.
  2.  Once the sermon ended on that day, many approached Ali bin Abi Talib (AS) to congratulate him on the position of successorship to the noble prophet. 
  3. The revelation of verse 3 of Surah Ma’edah after the announcement of Ali as heir to Mohammad after his demise:  

الْيَوْمَ يَئسَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ مِن دِينِكُمْ فَلَا تَخْشَوْهُمْ وَ اخْشَوْنِ الْيَوْمَ أَكْمَلْتُ لَكُمْ دِينَكُمْ وَ أَتمَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعْمَتىِ وَ رَضِيتُ لَكُمُ الْاسْلَامَ دِينًا

Today the faithless have despaired of your religion. So do not fear them, but fear Me. Today I have perfected your religion for you, and I have completed My blessing upon you, and I have approved Islam as your religion [5:3]

Taking these points into account and the numerous other occasions that Muhammad (peace be upon him and household) had announced Ali as his heir, the Shia come to conclude that the term ‘Mawla’ could not simply mean a friend, but a vicegerent.

History of Hadith Compilation

Compilation of hadith began during the time of the Prophet. Historians also recorded the events that took place during that time.

Lifetime of the Prophet

  1. During the lifetime of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his household), he had many scribes, some which recorded the Quran and others that wrote letters, treaties and agreements, etc. He also advised them to record his sayings and narrations. Thus, both Quran and hadith were recorded in writing during his lifetime. Recording of hadith was more prevalent during his time in Madinah than Makkah where the Muslims were more focused on getting familiar with the message of Islam and its foundational teachings.

Some of the most important recorders and writers of his narrations or hadith are the following: Ali bin Abi Taleb; Abdullah bin Umro bin Aas; Jabir bin Abdullah al-Ansari, etc.

The Signs and Proofs of Hadith Compilation during his life

There are certain signs and proofs of hadith compilation during the life of the Prophet. Let us go over them one by one.

The importance of Learning and Teaching Knowledge in Islam
  1. The first verse that was revealed to Prophet Muhammad from the Quran in Surah Alaq asked him to read and in the following verses speaks of teaching him:

اقْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ ﴿1﴾

Read in the Name of your Lord who created;

الَّذِي عَلَّمَ بِالْقَلَمِ ﴿4﴾

who taught by the pen,

عَلَّمَ الْإِنسَانَ مَا لَمْ يَعْلَمْ ﴿5﴾

taught man what he did not know.

  • Various and numerous hadith encourage man to gain knowledge, like the following:

اطلبوا العلم‏ من‏ المهد إلى اللّحد

Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.

  • After the Battle of Badr, when the Muslims had taken prisoners from the other side; the price for the release of prisoners was 4000 dirham and those who couldn’t afford it had to teach the children of the Ansar how to write. This shows how much emphasis was given to learning by the Prophet.
  • Advising a group of Muslims to migrate to Madinah and learning from the Prophet so that they may become scholars who can guide and teach others, which is indicated in a verse of the Quran:

…فَلَوْ لَا نَفَرَ مِن كلُ‏ِّ فِرْقَةٍ مِّنهْمْ طَائفَةٌ لِّيَتَفَقَّهُواْ فىِ الدِّينِ وَ لِيُنذِرُواْ قَوْمَهُمْ إِذَا رَجَعُواْ إِلَيهْمْ لَعَلَّهُمْ يحَذَرُون

… But why should not there go forth a group from each of their sections to become learned in religion, and to warn their people when they return to them, so that they may beware? [9:122].

The Prophet’s Efforts in Spreading Hadith

Islam is a universal religion and as such it is not rational that the Prophet would think only of those who lived during his lifetime and had access to him and not plan for future believers. One of the narrations that show the importance and emphasis he put on spreading hadith is the following narration:

مَنْ حَفِظَ مِنْ أُمَّتِي أَرْبَعِينَ حَدِيثاً مِمَّا يَحْتَاجُونَ إِلَيْهِ مِنْ أَمْرِ دِينِهِمْ بَعَثَهُ اللَّهُ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ فَقِيهاً عَالِما

One who memorizes 40 narrations regarding what their religious needs from among my nation; God will raise him on the Day of Judgment as a knowledgeable jurisprudent.

History is witness to the fact that many Muslim scholars were encouraged to compile narrations and publish them due to this very hadith.

The Prophet’s Efforts concerning Hadith Writing
  1. In many instances, the Prophet advised the people around him and the believers to write down knowledge and in some narrations, apart from asking them to write, he used the term “chaining knowledge”; this is because unless it is written down, a person will forget it. This is a sign that he was aware the same thing would happen to the Prophetic narrations and that memory is not reliable.
  2. Apart from advising the believers to write down narrations and knowledge, there were instances where he specifically asked some of the Muslims to write and record hadith and he would dictate hadith to them.

After the Prophet (peace be upon him and his household)

After the death of the Prophet, the state of recording hadith became very different among the Shi‘as and the Ahl al-Sunnah. The first, second and third caliphs prohibited the recording and compiling of hadith. However, the Shi‘as, due to their belief in the continuation to Divine proofs on the earth in the form of the Infallible Imams who were successors to the Prophet, always had a continuing chain of hadith compilation and recording.

Some of the important Shi‘a hadith books recorded are: The Book of Ali or Jami‘a (جامعة), recorded in the first century AH and Usul al-Arba‘ Mi’ah (اصول الأربعمائة) (the 400 principles), which was compiled in later years, etc. These books are compiled by the Imams themselves or on their orders.

The Third Stage of Hadith Compilation

In the 2nd century AH, Umar bin Abdul Aziz became the caliph and changed this policy of prohibition of hadith compilation. However, it took some time for this movement to actually start and it was by the 3th century AH, that the Sihah al-Sittah (صحاح الستة), the six most important hadith compilations for the Ahl al-Sunnah, had been compiled.

The Authenticity of a Hadith

Due to the fact that hadith are transmitted from one person to another and through generations, and also because there are many types of people transmitting them, it is possible that there are some which are not reliable or have been fabricated. And therefore it is very important to follow authentic narrations and for a science or sciences to be dedicated to the study of narrations.

Authentic Hadith Sources

The following are some of the best known and authentic books of narrations compiled by Shi‘ite scholars:

  1. Usul al-Kafi (اصول الکافی), compiled by Muhammad bin Ya‘qub al-Kulayni
  2. Tahzib al-Ahkam (تهذیب الأحکام), compiled by Muhammad bin Hasan al-Tusi (Shaykh al-Tusi)
  3. Al-Istibsar (الإستصار), also compiled by Shaykh al-Tusi
  4. Man la Yahduruhu al-Faqih (من لا یحضره الفقیه), compiled by Muhammad ibn Babwayh (Shaykh al-Saduq).

Apart from these, the Nahjul Balagha (نهج البلاغة) (the Peak of Eloquence) compiled by Sharif al-Razi which is a collection of sermons, letters and short sayings from Imam Ali (peace be upon him) as well the Sahifah al-Kamilah al-Sajjadiyyah (صحیفة الکاملة السجادیة), a book of prayers narrated from Imam Ali bin Hussain Zayn al-Abideen (peace be upon him) are also considered among the most authentic and valuable sources of narration for the Shi‘a. There are however, multiple other books that are also important which we have not mentioned here.

What Makes a Hadith Authentic?

When studying the narrations there are 3 main elements that must be clear:

  • The link of the narration to an Infallible
  • The words of the narration should not have been altered
  • The extent to which the content and meaning of the hadith has been narrated and transmitted.

Therefore, there are two main factors to consider when one wants to establish the authenticity of a hadith:

  1. Its content
  2. Its narrators

Based on this, there are 3 important sciences that deal with a narration:

  • Ilm al-Rijal (علم الرجال): this deals with the chain of narration and the narrators; their trustworthiness, character, beliefs, etc.
  • Fiqh al-Hadith (فقه الحدیث): this branch studies the text of the narration and by teaching the logical course in understanding a hadith, helps the researcher in understanding the intent of the Infallible who uttered it.
  • Mustalah al-Hadith (مصطلح الحدیث) or Derayat al-Hadith (درایة الحدیث): there are certain terms and words in hadith sciences which a researcher in this area must learn. This science deals with explaining these terms and providing definitions for the words.

Determining the Authenticity of a Hadith

Determining the authenticity of a hadith has certain criteria that here we will explain.

Contradiction between Quran and Hadith: Precedence of Quran over Hadith

It has been narrated from the Holy Prophet that in a sermon delivered in Mina he stated: O people! Whatever of my words reaches you and they are in agreement with the Book of God, I have said them; and that which reaches you and is in contradiction to the Book of God, I have not uttered it.

From this narration we understand that an important criterion for judging the verity of a narration is to check it against the Quran.

Being Against the Intellect and Intellectual Reasoning

When looking at a narration there are multiple factors to be taken into consideration and the intellect is a difficult criterion for verifying the authenticity of a hadith.

Even though it is an important criterion and if a hadith is against the intellect and reasoning, it must be rejected, however, this does not mean that any and everyone has the right to rule a hadith to be false as soon as they see the slightest contradiction between narrations and the intellect. A hadith can only be rejected when the intellect gives a certain, not suppository or approximate judgment in this regard and this is something that is the task of an expert jurisprudent not just anyone who reads or comes across a narration.

In other words, the intellect that is a criterion is firm intellectual arguments and strong logical proofs and when it is said that a hadith must be in accordance with the intellect, it means that it must be able to be proven. This intellect refers to intellectual reasoning.

If we refute every hadith that is difficult to understand or we, personally, are unable to understand it, then not only would we have to reject numerous narrations but also numerous other sciences which we are unable to grasp. In the same way that the Quran has clear and analogous  verses, the hadith are also the same.

Types of Hadith

One can classify hadith into the following types:

  • Types of hadith according to the qualifications of the narrators:
    • Sahih (صحیح)(true)
    • Hasan (حسن) (good)
    • Muwathaq (موثق) (reliable)
    • Dha’eef  (ضعیف) (weak)
  • Types of hadith based on the number of narrators:
    • Mutawatir: a hadith which has so many narrators at every stage that it is enough to convince us and give certainty of the truth and the authenticity of the hadith.
    • Wahid (واحد): a hadith which does not have as many authors as to give a conviction of truth; rather, it provides a reasonable assumption of it.

These classifications may also be further sub-divided and they also have conditions which they must adhere to in order to come under these classifications.

Quran and Hadith: Hadith about Learning the Quran

  1. It has been narrated from the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his household):

خِيَارُكُمْ مَنْ تَعَلَّمَ الْقُرْآنَ وَ عَلَّمَه

‏The best among you is one who learns the Quran and teaches it (to others).

  • He has also said:

الْقُرْآنُ مَأْدُبَةُ اللَّهِ فَتَعَلَّمُوا مَأْدُبَتَهُ مَا اسْتَطَعْتُم

The Quran is God’s university; so learn as much as you can in this university.

There are numerous hadith narrated in this regarded from both the Prophet and the rest of the Infallibles which show the importance and rewards or reciting, memorizing and teaching the Quran.

What is Hadith al-Qodsi (حدیث القدسی)?

This type of hadith is a narration that the Prophet (peace be upon him and his household) or the Imams narrate from God, in a manner that they transmit and communicate His words but they may do so using their own words and expressions. Here they themselves are considered as narrators in contrast to other hadith which communicate their words, actions or approval.

Some scholars believe that in this type of revelation too both the words and content are from God; however, without the condition of the words being miraculous in nature, in contrast to the Quran, the words of which have been revealed to be miraculous and issue a challenge to others to bring words similar to it which they are unable to do.

Overall, this type of narration is a different category than both Quran and hadith.

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