The word hadith, according to the dictionary, has several meanings such as “new,” “novel,” “recent,” “modern,” and “speech”, “report,” “account,” and “narrative.” However, in Islamic context, the term hadith means “Prophetic tradition” or “narrative relating deeds and utterances of the Prophet (S).” According to some, even the account of a dream linked with the Holy Prophet (S) is also included in the category of hadith.
In most cases, the words sunnah and hadith are used as interchangeable synonyms by the scholars of the science of hadith. The author of the book Talwih says: “Sunnah is a more general term than hadith, and includes everything related to the Prophet (S) except the Qur'an: his speech - which is hadith - and his behaviour and character1.” According to another opinion, since the majority of Sunni Muslims believe in Qur'an's being sempiternal (qadim), everything else except the Qur'an from the Prophet (S) came to be called hadith, a word closely related with hadith meaning “incidental” as opposed to “eternal2”.
Some are of the opinion that the sayings of the Sahabah (the Companions of the Prophet) and the Tabi`un (the second generation after the Holy Prophet (S)) can also be included under the term hadith3. On the other hand, for the Shi`ah authorities on hadith, the term can properly include only the narratives relating the speech, biographical details and deeds of the Prophet (S) and the Imams (A)4.
Here, we consider it necessary first to explain certain terms related to our discussion.
Sunnah: The term in general means “habitual practice” or “customary procedure,” and in particular applies to the sayings and doings of the religious leaders who are ma`sum5 (i.e. the Prophet and the Imams, who are considered as being free of sin and error). Accordingly, the term is employed by the side of the Book (Qur'an). Sunnah is used in a sense that is wider than that of hadith, although in some of the Sunni texts of tradition, such as of Ibn Maja, al-Bayhaqi and others, the term signifies hadith. The authorities of hadith differ as to meanings covered by hadith and khabar (report).
While some consider the terms as being synonymous, others are of the opinion that khabar is a term which is more general than hadith. According to them, khabar applies to every narrative regarding the Prophet (S), while hadith is taken to mean a narration quoting the Prophet (S) himself6. Some, as pointed out above, apply the term hadith to the sayings of the Sahabah and Tabi`un in addition. Accordingly, every hadith is also a khabar, though every khabar is not a hadith; though some regard the terms as being inter-changeable synonyms7.
Riwayah: This term is synonymous with hadith. According to the author of Majma` al-bahrayn, “Riwayah is a khabar that is traceable through a series of narrators to a ma`sum8.”
Athar: Shaykh Baha'i in his Nihayat al-dirayah considers athar as being identical with hadith. Others impute to it a wider meaning. Still others confine its meaning to narrations that go back to the Sahabah9.
Hadith-i Qudsi: Hadith-i qudsi is defined as the Divine communication whose revelation is not the part of the Qur'anic miracle. Sayyid Sharif Jurjani says: “ [Hadith-i qudsi] is from God, the Most Exalted, from the point of view of meaning, and from the Prophet (S) from the viewpoint of actual wording. It constitutes what God has communicated to the Prophet through revelation or in dreams. The Prophet - upon whom be peace - informed others of its meaning in his own words. Accordingly, the Qur'an is superior to the hadith-i qudsi, because it is the actual Word of God.”
There are six points of differences between the Qur'an and the hadith-i qudsi: Firstly, the Qur'an is a Divine miracle; this does not necessarily apply to the hadith-i qudsi. Secondly, salat (prayer) is not valid without recitation of parts of the Qur'an; this is not so in the case of the hadith-i qudsi. Thirdly, one who rejects the Qur'an is regarded as a kafir (an unbeliever); this does not hold true in the case of the hadith-i qudsi.
Fourthly, whole of the Qur'an was communicated to the Prophet (S) through the agency of the Angel Gabriel; this does not apply to hadith-i qudsi. Fifthly, every word of the Qur'an is the Word of God, but the wordings of the hadith-i qudsi may be ascribed to the Prophet (S). Sixthly, the Qur'an cannot be touched without taharah (the condition of bodily purity as prescribed by the Shari'ah) and this condition does not apply to the hadith-i qudsi10.
The Holy Prophet of Islam (S), for a period of 23 years from the beginning of his prophetic mission to the moment of his death, was directly involved in the process of guidance and leadership of the people. The multifarious kinds of questions that arose for the Muslims in relation with their needs converged upon the Holy Prophet. The Prophet responded to their questions through explanations and discussions whose variety increased with the progress of Islam to the extent of enveloping all aspects of the moral, social and civic affairs of Muslims.
The new society that emerged during this period was significant and important from every aspect. The Muslims who were the contemporaries of the Prophet had the advantage of personal recourse to him and chance of putting to him various questions regarding their social life. However, as long as the Prophet lived, and the source of Divine Revelation was in the midst of the Muslims, the great importance of recording his words was not fully realized.
Nevertheless, soon after the Prophet's death, the Muslims realized the imminent need of recording the hadith so as to avoid the problems that would arise in the future generations.
Accordingly, from the time of the first caliph, the need for recording of hadith was distinctly felt by the Muslim society. It should not remain unsaid that `Ali (A), the first Imam of the Shi`ah Muslims, had with characteristic foresight, pioneered the task of recording the Prophet's sayings during the Prophet's lifetime itself. Word for word, he wrote down what he had heard from the Prophet (S). The author of Ta'sis al-shi`ah writes:
...Know that the Shi`ah were the first to embark on collecting the records of the acts and sayings of the Prophet (S) during the era of the caliphs. They followed in the footsteps of their Imam `Ali, Amir al-Mu'minin (A), for, he had recorded and categorized the hadith during the times of the Holy Prophet. Al-Shaykh Abu al-Abbas al-Najashi, in the translation of Muhammad Ibn `Adhafar, said: “I was with Hakam ibn `Ayyinah by the side of Abu Ja`far Muhammad ibn `Ali al-Baqir (A). Hakam started asking questions with Abu Ja`far reluctantly answering them.
There was a disagreement between them about one thing. Then Abu Ja`far said: “Son, get up and bring `Ali's book.” He brought a big voluminous book and opened it. He looked closely in it for a while until he found the problem (which was under debate). Abu Ja`far (A) said: “This is the handwriting of `Ali and the dictation of the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be God's peace and benedictions11.”
This tradition is in agreement with what I found in Najashi's Rijal. In addition, two other sources confirm the contents of the abovementioned hadith12.
Another narration that confirms the attention devoted by the Shi`ah to recording of hadith is that of an incident from the life of Fatimah al-Zahra'(A). One day Fatimah (A) could not find a manuscript in which hadith was recorded. She reportedly urged her housemaid to search for it, saying, “Look for it. It is as precious to me as my sons Hasan and Husayn13.”
Among the Ahl al-Sunnah, the recording of hadith started after the Holy Prophet's death, and that too after prolonged controversies between groups who favoured and opposed it14. In this connection, `A'ishah reports: “My father Abu Bakr had collected five-hundred hadith of the Messenger of Allah and one day he burnt them all15.”
There are several narrations regarding the second caliph which indicate that he stopped people from relating the Holy Prophet's traditions16.
The recording of hadith among the Sunnis started from the early second century when the Umayyad caliph `Umar ibn `Abd al-`Aziz ordered their collection and compilation17. As is widely accepted, Ibn Jurayj was the first person to record and compile hadith among the Sunnis18.
Here it is worth mentioning that apart from the Household of the Prophet (S), their Shi`ah followers preceded the Sunnis in their effort to record the hadith. Abu Rafi` was the first man to begin the task along with the members of the Prophet's Household (A)19. However, there were also several others who took up this task at the time of Abu Rafi`, or after him. Among them were: `Ubayd Allah ibn Abi Rafi`, `Ali ibn Abi Rafi`, Salman al-Farisi, Abu Dharr al-Ghifari, Asbagh ibn Nubatah and others20.
The Shi`ah recorders of hadith can be divided into four groups:
1. In the first group, besides `Ali ibn Abi-Talib (A) and Fatimah al-Zahra' (A), were Abu Rafi`, Salman al-Farisi, Maytham al-Tammar, Asbagh ibn Nubatah, Mujashi`i al-Kufi, `Ubayd Allah ibn Abi Rafi`, Harth ibn `Abd Allah al-A`war al-Hamdani, Rabi`ah ibn Sami`, Salim ibn Qays, `Ali ibn Abi Rafi`, `Abd Allah ibn Hurr, Muhammad ibn Qays al-Bajali, Ya`la ibn Murrah, Jabir ibn `Abd Allah al-Ansari.
2. In the second group were Imam `Ali ibn al-Husayn Zayn al-`Abidin (A), Ja`far ibn Yazid al-Ju`fi, Zayd ibn `Ali, Husayn ibn Thawr, Ziyad ibn al-Mundhir.
3. In the third group can be said to belong Yahya ibn Qasim, `Abd al-Mu'min, Zurarah ibn A`yun, Muhammad ibn Muslim, Bassim al-Sayrafi, Abu `Ubaydah al-Hadhdha', Zakariyya ibn `Abd Allah, Thawrab ibn Qamamah, Majd ibn Mughirah, Muhammad ibn Za'idah al-Khadrami, Mu`awiyah ibn `Amarah, Matlab al-Zahri, `Abd Allah ibn Maymun.
4. This group of recorders of the hadith comprised of more than four-thousand of the people of Iraq, Hijaz, Khurasan and Sham (Syria), who related traditions from Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (A) or Imam Ja`far al-Sadiq (A)21.
The pioneers in recording of the hadith among the Sunnis were Ibn Jurayj in Mecca; Ibn Ishaq and Malik in Medina; Rabi` ibn Sabih, Sa`id ibn Abi `Urubah, Hammad ibn Salamah in Basra; Sufyan ibn Thawri in Kufa; al-Awza`i in Syria, Haytham in Wasit; Mu`ammar in Yemen, Jarir ibn `Abd al-Hamid in Rey, and Ibn Mubarak in Harran22.
However, there is a disagreement among the Sunni scholars about who first started recording hadith. According to Ibn Hajr, Rabi` ibn Sabih (died 160/777) and Sa`id ibn Abi `Urubah (died 156/773) were pioneers in this field; they were followed by Malik in Medina and `Abd al-Malik ibn Jurayj in Mecca, who pursued the task of recording hadith23. But according to Haji Khalifah, `Abd al-Malik ibn Jurayj and Malik ibn Anas were the first ones to do so, and the first man to classify them and divide them into chapters was Rabi` ibn Sabih24.
In any case, regardless of who it was to first record hadith among the Ahl al-Sunnah, whether Rabi` ibn Sabih or Malik or Sa`id ibn Abi `Urubah, all of them belong to the second century of Hijra, and lived one hundred years after the Shi`ah had already started this work.
As we mentioned above, the Muslims recognized the need to record the words of the Prophet (S) right after his demise; because they knew that it was the only way to safeguard the future generations against various problems. The realization of the significance of this work grew gradually.
After the Prophet (S) his close companions formed the primary source of hadith. During their lifetimes, the solution of various problems that arose could still be found and the narrations of the Sahabah served as the guiding torch for the generation that followed them, the Tabi`un. It was during the generation of the Tabi`un that the Sahabah were questioned about various issues and their narrations were committed to writing.
This was the beginning of the science of hadith. Hadith served as the key to the understanding of the Qur'an, and became an addendum to the Book for the Muslims. However, as pointed out earlier, the Shi`ah had felt this need earlier during the lifetime of the Prophet himself.
From the time that Muslims began to realize the need for collection and recording of ahadith, they took great pains in this regard. A man like Jabir ibn `Abd Allah al-Ansari would cover months on camel-back to hear a hadith25.
The number of the Companions of the Prophet from whom traditions have been related is put somewhere near 114 in some books26. The most important of them were: `Ali ibn Abi-Talib (A), `Abd Allah ibn Mas`ud, Salman al-Farisi, Ubayy ibn Ka`ab, `Ammar ibn Yasir, Hudhayfah ibn al-Yaman, `Abd al-Rahman ibn `Awf, Anas ibn Malik, Abu Musa al-Ash`ari, `A'ishah, `Umar ibn al-Khattab, Abu Hurayrah, `Abd Allah ibn al-`Abbas, `Ubadah ibn Samit, Jabir ibn `Abd Allah al-Ansari, Abu Sa`id al-Khudri.
Among the Tabi`un, there were such as Sha`bi, Ibn Musayyab, Ibn Sirin, and others27.
The author of Tadrib al-rawi puts the number of traditions narrated from each of the Companions in the diminishing order as follows:
1. Abu Hurayrah: 5,374 hadith.
2. `Abd Allah ibn `Umar: 2,630 hadith.
3. `A'ishah: 2,208 hadith.
4. `Abd Allah ibn al-`Abbas: 1,660 hadith.
5. Jabir ibn `Abd Allah al-Ansari: 1,540 hadith.
6. Abu Sa`id al-Khudri: 1,170 hadith28.
There is none among the rest of companions to be accredited with narration of more than one thousand traditions. Evidently, the political conditions prevalent during the Umayyad rule did not permit narration of ahadith from `Ali (A) and his followers. It is worth mentioning that not all of the first narrators of hadith were equally reliable.
This issue will be discussed later in the chapter on dirayat al-hadith (critical examination of hadith). But before we enter the discussion on dirayat al-hadith, its origin and development, it is necessary to study the course of development of the science of hadith among the Shi`ah and the Ahl al-Sunnah from the point of view of style of compilation of the texts during various periods.
As said above, the work of compilation of hadith among the Shi`ah started during the life of the Prophet (S). The texts which were compiled by the early Shi`ah scholars were called “Usul.” It should however be admitted that these texts were not without defect from the point of view of the art of writing and compilation; for, most of the authors of these texts were those who had heard the ahadith from one of the Imams, in particular, from Imam Muhammad al-Baqir and Imam Ja`far al-Sadiq (A), writing them down in notebooks.
These notebooks composed by the Shi`ah scholars, containing the traditions heard from one of the Imams, or heard from someone who had heard the Imam, came to be called “Usul.” Out of these texts compiled from the era of `Ali (A) to the time of Imam Hasan al-`Askari, the eleventh Imam, the popular ones were four-hundred in number by different authors. Each of them contained a number of ahadith written without any attention being paid to the sequence or classification according to the subject. Most of these traditions exist in the al-Mahasin al-Barqi, al-Kafi, Man la Yahduruhu al-faqih.
Some of them are found in Tahdhib. It appears that most of these notebooks existed in the Shahpur Karkh Library of Baghdad and were lost when Tughrul the Turk burnt the city on conquering it in the year 448/1056. Others which escaped this calamity, and other disasters, were preserved until the time of Ibn Idris and Ibn Ta'wus and were available to them. Some, more than two-hundred of them, have survived to our own times29. These notebooks usually go with the prefix “kitab” and often “nawadir”. Thirteen of them exist in the library of the Tehran University in the manuscript file number 962. Twelve of them are “kitab” and one is “nawadir”. These are:
1. Kitab Zayd al-Zad;
2. Kitab Ghasfari;
3. Kitab ibn Hamid al-Hannat;
4. Kitab Zayd al-Nirsi;
5. Kitab Ja`far al-Hadrami;
6. Kitab Muhammad al-Hadrami;
7. Kitab `Abd al-Malik ibn Hakim;
8. Kitab Muthanna ibn Walid al-Hannat;
9. Kitab Haddad al-Sindi;
10. Kitab Husayn ibn `Uthman;
11. Kitab Kahili;
12. Kitab Salam Khurasani;
13. Nawadir Abi al-Hasan `Ali ibn Asbat ibn Salim30.
The later Shi`ah scholars of hadith compiled four great collections from the aforementioned notebooks or Usul which became the most important texts of hadith in the Shi`ah world receiving hitherto unprecedented popularity. These four books were the following:
1. Al-Kafi: It was compiled by Shaykh Abu Ja`far Muhammad ibn Ya`qub al-Kulayni al-Razi (died 329/940) which contains 16,099 musnad (documented) hadith narrated from the Ahl al-Bayt (the Household of the Prophet)31.
2. Man la yahduruhu al-faqih: It was compiled by Shaykh Saduq Abu Ja`far Muhammad ibn `Ali ibn Babwayhi al-Qummi (died 381/991) who is known as “Shaykh-i Ajal” or “Saduq al-Ta'ifah”. This book contains 9,044 hadith32.
3. Al-Tahdhib: It was compiled by Abu Ja`far Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Tusi (died 460/1068) also known as “Shaykh al-Ta'ifah” (The chief of the sect). This book contains 13,590 hadith33.
4. Al-Istibsar: This book was also compiled by Shaykh Tusi, and contains 5,511 hadith. The book is divided into four parts34.
It is necessary to mention here that the four hundred “Usul” were widely quoted and narrated by the Shi`ah muhaddithin (scholars of hadith) until a comprehensive compilation called al-Mahasin was done by Shaykh Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Khalid al-Barqi, who died in the second half of the third century of Hijra. His book contained a large number of ahadith arranged in numerous chapters. The al-Mahasin set an example which opened a new era in the history of the science of Shi`ah hadith35; because it was after him that others took up the task of collection, compilation and classification of ahadith, which were until then scattered in hundreds of Usul.
This trend led to the emergence of the four authoritative compilations of hadith during the fourth and fifth centuries. Since then, they have been considered the greatest sources of hadith for the Shi`ah and served as the primary sources for the later day writers.
After the compilation of the four great texts of hadith, the next stage was that of exposition. During this period, the attention of most of the scholars was devoted to writing of commentaries and exposition of these texts. A large number of commentaries were written on each of these texts. In spite of the fact that most of these commentaries have, in the course of time, been forgotten and lie buried in libraries, more than 120 of these commentaries and exegeses have come down to our times36.
However, this phase of exposition should be regarded as a period of langour in the history of development of the science of hadith; because, instead of a gradual growth, it marked a stage when most of the discussions went round and round in a definite circle without any progress or breakthrough. This situation lasted until the time of Safavid rule. With the formal recognition of the Shi`ah faith as the state religion from the early times of the Safavis, the study of hadith commenced growth once again.
Great scholars of hadith appeared in the Shi`ah world during the period of Safavid rule. These men restored the leading role of the Shi`ah in this field, with the result that after ages of neglect and stagnation, the study of hadith entered its golden age. At the close of the eleventh century and the beginning of the twelveth, for once again, the study of hadith received the attention of great scholars.
The most prominent among them were Muhammad ibn Murtada Mulla Muhsin Fayd al-Kashani (died 1091/1680), Muhammad ibn Hasan al-Hurr al-`Amili (died 1104/1692-93) and Mulla Muhammad Baqir ibn Muhammad Taqi al-Majlisi (died 1111/1699-1700). Each of them has left behind a precious scholarly work. These works are the following:
1. Kitab al-jami` al-Wafi: It is the work of Mulla Muhsin Fayd al-Kashani. This book comprises of the four aforementioned classical texts of hadith. In this book, which is a very precious work from every aspect, the repetitive ahadith have been deleted and expositions have been written on the difficult ones37.
2. Wasa'il al-Shi`ah: Its author is Shaykh Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Hurr al-`Amili. This book, like the above one, combines the four classical texts of hadith and draws upon other sources also.
3. Bihar al-Anwar: It is what can be called an encyclopedia of Shi`ah hadith. It is the work of `Allamah Muhammad Baqir al-Majlisi and is the greatest work of hadith compiled either among the Sunnis or the Shi`ah. In this work, in addition to the Shi`ah sources, there are plenty of ahadith drawn from the Sunni sources. In spite of the great amount of labour and pain borne by al-`Allamah al-Majlisi, it should be admitted that the book is an unfinished masterpiece; since, he could not succeed in eliminating many weak traditions from his great work.
Had al-Majlisi lived for another decade, he might have been successful in producing a true “ocean of light” full of precious pearls and corals and mines of pure gold. The task of extracting its precious pearls and gold from this unfathomable ocean and clearing its treasures of their adhering mud and fungus remains for us to accomplish.
After the age of al-Majlisi, another age followed in which the study of hadith made valuable progress. The scholars of this period did not abandon the pursuits of such men as Fayd al-Kashani, al-Hurr al-`Amili, and al-`Allamah al-Majlisi; rather they adhered to this path with greater care and attention to the new sophisticated criteria of authorship.
Among those who have left worthy books in the field of the science of hadith can be named `Allamah Muhammad Husayn ibn `Allamah al-Taqi, and Muhammad Nuri al-Mazandarani al-Tabarsi, the latter of whom wrote the Kitab mustadrak al-wasa'il wa mustanbat al-masa'il, which was finished in 1319/1901, adding several chapters to the Kitab al-wasa'il al-shi`ah. This book is the greatest compilation of the ahadith of the Shi`ah faith. `Allamah Nuri died in the year 1320/1902 in the city of Najaf38.
In this brilliant period there lived such great men as the late Ayatullah Haj Aqa Husayn Burujardi, whose work changed the status of several thousand hadith. It is hoped that the Shi`ite and Sunni scholars of our times, working together, may be able to make greater achievements in this field.
According to Kashf al-Zunun, when the Companions of the Prophet (S) began to die one after another, the need to record the hadith became evident. It is also maintained that the first person to compose a book in Islam was Ibn Jurayj39. The next to be compiled was the al-Muwatta' of Imam Malik (died 179/795), and Rabi` ibn Sabih of Basra was the first man to compile a book with different chapters.
The work of compilation of hadith continued until the time of Imam al-Bukhari and Imam Muslim, who were followed by al-Tirmidhi, Abu Da'ud al-Sijistani, al-Nasa'i and others40. Imam Malik, who lived in Mecca in his al-Muwatta' compiled the ahadith with a sequence based on the principles of jurisprudence41. Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, in his Musnad classified the ahadith in various chapters each devoted to a separate Companion of the Prophet (S) from whom the narration was quoted42.
After them Imam al-Bukhari classified the traditions according to region: he devoted separate sections to ahadith narrated by people of Hijaz, Iraq and Syria. Imam Muslim deleted the repetitive ahadith and put them in various chapters corresponding with various aspects of fiqh and other chapters dealing with biographical details. After them, Abu Da'ud, al-Tirmidhi and al-Nasa'i extended the scope of the work devoting greater attention to classification of the material43.
The period of the first compilers of hadith was followed by those who compiled their own collections from al-Sihah al-Sittah, summarizing and rearranging the ahadith such as `Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Hamid ibn Abu Bakr, Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Raqani and Abu Mas`ud Ibrahim ibn Muhammad al-Dimashqi who combined the books of al-Bukhari and Muslim.
After them, Abu al-Hasan Zarin ibn Mu`awiyah combined the books of al-Muwatta' and al-Jami` of al-Tirmidhi and the Sunan of Abu Da'ud and al-Nasa'i and the works of Muslim and Bukhari. After him Ibn Athir combined the six classical texts (al-sihah al-sittah) and the book of Zarin, producing a work more organized than that of Zarin. After that al-Suyuti combined al-sihah al-sittah and the ten masanid (plural of musnad) and called his book Jam` al-Jawami', which however retains several weak ahadith44.
To sum up, it may be said that the primary purpose of the first compilers of hadith was to record the narrations without any attention to the principles and techniques of compilation and bookwriting. It may even be said that in the beginning the purpose was not even that of composing a book; rather the aim was to record and preserve the ahadith in individual notebooks.
During the second stage, though there was a conscious purpose of composing books, the works had many defects; for the ahadith lacked order and classification forcing the reader to go through the whole book while searching for a certain hadith.
The third phase was that of classification of the ahadith in which every author divided them into chapters in his own way: one would classify them on the basis of fiqhi issues and another preferred classification according to the land of origin of the narrators.
During the fourth phase, the compilers deleted the repetitive ahadith making the job of the reader a bit easier.
In the fifth phase, the experts of hadith began to examine the traditions from various angles, such as studying them from the point of view of various jurists and for discovery of new points - a matter which we shall discuss in greater detail in a proper chapter. During this stage the whole bulk of hadith came under critical study and endeavour was made to collect them in a single work45.