pl. ahadith. A report of a saying or deed. As time passed, in order to establish the authority of shar'ia practices, only hadith reports that are supposed to originate from Muhammad became important. See also TRADITIONS.
Sahih (true) hadiths: those accepted to be the most authentic. Qudsi Hadiths: hadiths that record what Allah said.
Hadiths consist of two parts: chain of narrators (isnad) and the text (matn). The earliest collection of hadiths dates from 1.5 to 2 centuries after Muhammad's death. al-Bukhari collected over 600,000 reports, but kept only 7,397 as true. Of the six important Muslim collections of hadiths, Bukhari and Muslim are accepted as the most reliable. Their collections are called Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim respectively.
If a hadith report is not mutawatir (ie. universal, widespread,
accepted with concensus), "most scholars would say that one is free
to disregard it, though not necessarily without peril" (Lomax).
[Question: Now, of course, if disregard is perilous, a person should follow such hadiths. Yet there are so many different hadiths, and if one is held accountable for such actions, what is the criteria for right and wrong?]
Muhammad said: "The Sunna can dispense with the Qur'an, but not the Qur'an with the Sunna".
Muslims also believed that the hadiths are also divinely inspired. "The teachings of Islam are based primarily on the Quran and the Hadiths, and as we shall presently see, both are based on divine inspiration." (Muhammad Hamidullah, Introduction to Islam, pg 23)
The hadith regulates the life of a Muslim. The Qur'an contains scant details of many of the duties of the Muslim, and the hadith filled in the gap by providing the details. For example, the salat is described in detail in the hadith but not in the Qur'an.
Not all Muslims believe in the hadiths, and Muslims have been divided since the existence of these books. Shiites and Sunnis have different collections of hadiths. Some believe them only when it suits them. For example, they would accept passages in them that would glorify Muhammad and his teachings but reject those that discredit him.
Muslim scholars admit that many of the hadiths were fabricated. For example, Goldhizer cites the Muslim scholars Al-Ya'qubi, II, p. 311, Ibn al-Faqih al-Hamadani, p. 95, 3, Ibn Maja, p. 102 concerning Abd al-Malik (716-794 A.D.), one of the four great jurists of Islam, who was himself a major collector of hadith:
When the Umayyad caliph 'Abd al-Malik wished to stop the pilgrimages to Mecca because he was worried lest his rival 'Abd Allah b. Zubayr should force the Syrians journeying to the holy places in Hijaz to pay him homage, he had recourse to the expedient of the doctrine of the vicarious hajj to the Qubbat al-Sakhra in Jerusalem. He decreed that obligatory circumambulation (tawaf) could take place at the sacred place in Jerusalem with the same validity as that around the Ka'ba ordained in Islamic law. The pious theologian al-Zuhri was given the task of justifying this politically motivated reform of religious life by making up and spreading a saying traced back to the Prophet, according to which there are three mosques to which people may take pilgrimages: those in Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. .. An addition which, apparently, belonged to its original form but was later neglected by leveling orthodoxy in this and related sayings: 'and a prayer in the Bayt al-Maqdis of Jerusalem is better than a thousand prayers in other holy places,' i.e. even Mecca or Medina. Later, too, 'Abd al-Malik is quoted when the pilgrimage to Jerusalem is to be equated with that to Mecca... (Ignaz Goldhizer, Muslim Studies (Muhammedanische Studien) vol. 2 London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1971, p. 45)Clearly, this politically motivated fabrication sought to find authority in Muhammad, less than a century after Muhammad's death, is significant. That the Muslims have little or no way to tell true reports from fabrication makes dependence on them to govern life a difficult one to justify.
``As disputes arose, one technique adopted by the usulis was to question the validity or relative strength of the opposing group's evidence. When the opponent rested his argument on a hadith, the strength of his evidence could be challenged by the rough-and-ready rule of counting hadith reports. The usuli would allege that a greater number of reports, or transmitters for a particular report, could be amassed in favour of his school's view. This technique resulted in the clasification of hadith reports according to their 'spread' as : mutawatir (universally acknowledged), mashur (widely attested), and khabar al wahid (isolate).Here is a Shi`ite's perspective of the hadith:
More subtle methods of challenging evidence were emerging. One of the most enduring was to be isnad criticism. By isnad (support) is meant the list of guarantors which came to be demanded for all statements as to what consitituted the Sunna. To ensure the soundness of information conveyed, all scholars were required to list the names of those persons responsible in each generation for the downward transmission of every individual hadith.
From his knowledge of the magazi and sira sciences, which dealt respectively with the campaigns and the biography of the Prophet and his contemporaries, the scholar might note a discrepancy in the opponent's argument, such as the transmission from a Companion on some topic of a report which could not possibly be authentic, either because the Companion had not been born, or had not yet been converted to Islam, or had already died at the time of the introduction of the particular ruling. The same technique served also to determined 'correctness' as between conflicting views each traced to a different verse of the Qur'an, for among the masses of information presented in the magazi works were frequently to be found also statements as to the date of revelation of this or that Qur'an passage. Such data, asba al nuzul (the occassion of the revelation of the verses), were eagerly collected.'' (John Burton, The Collection of the Qur'an, p.15)
"Careful examination of the chains of transmission of the traditions leaves one in doubt as to the extent of the deceitful additions and false testimonies. Many conflicting traditions can be traced to one companion or follower and many traditions, which are complete fabrications, may be found amongst this body of narrations.
Thus reasons for the revelation of a particular verse, including the abrogating and abrogated verses [in the Quran], do not seem to accord with the actual order of the verses. No more than one or two of the traditions are found to be acceptable when submitted to such an examination.
It is for this reason that Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, who himself was born before this generation of narrators, said, "Three things have no sound base: military virtues, bloody battles and the traditions pertaining to Qur'anic commentary." Imam al-Shafi'i relates that only about one hundred traditions from Ibn 'Abbas have been confirmed as valid." (Allamah Sayyid M.H. Tabataba'i, The Qur'an in Islam, London: Curzon Press, 1987, 47, quoted by William VanDoodewaard, Hadith and Authenticy: A survey of Perspective, unpublished article, The University of Western Ontario, London, Canada, 1996).
Narrated Abu Huraira:
I said: "O Allah's Apostle! Who will be the luckiest person, who will gain your intercession on the Day of Resurrection?" Allah's Apostle said: O Abu Huraira! "I have thought that none will ask me about it before you as I know your longing for the (learning of) Hadiths. The luckiest person who will have my intercession on the Day of Resurrection will be the one who said sincerely from the bottom of his heart "None has the right to be worshipped but Allah."
And 'Umar bin 'Abdul 'Aziz wrote to Abu Bakr bin Hazm, "Look for the knowledge of Hadith and get it written, as I am afraid that religious knowledge will vanish and the religious learned men will pass away (die). Do not accept anything save the Hadiths of the Prophet. Circulate knowledge and teach the ignorant, for knowledge does not vanish except when it is kept secretly (to oneself)." (Sahih Bukhari 1.98)