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The Muslims are agreed that the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) is the second of the two revealed fundamental sources of Islam, after the Glorious Qur'an. The authentic Sunnah is contained within the vast body of Hadith literature.

A hadith (pl. ahadith) is composed of two parts: the matn (text) and the isnad (chain of reporters). A text may seem to be logical and reasonable but it needs an authentic isnad with reliable reporters to be acceptable; 'Abdullah b. al-Mubarak (d. 181 AH), one of the illustrious teachers of Imam al-Bukhari, said, "The isnad is part of the religion: had it not been for the isnad, whoever wished to would have said whatever he liked."(see: An Introduction to the Science of Hadith Suhaib Hassan, Al-Quran Society, London)

The evolutionary necessity of the study of Hadith

The evolutionary process which the study of the science of hadith went through was dictated by certain reasons. During the lifetime of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) and after his death, his Companions (Sahabah) used to refer to him directly, when quoting his sayings. The Successors (Tabi'un) followed suit; some of them used to quote the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) through the Companions while others would omit the intermediate authority - such a hadith was later known as mursal. It was found that the missing link between the Successor and the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) might be one person, i.e. a Companion, or two people, the extra person being an older Successor who heard the hadith from the Companion. This is an example of how the need for the verification of each isnad arose; Imam Malik (d. 179) said, "The first one to utilise the isnad was Ibn Shihab al- Zuhri"{ (d. 124)-previous source)

The other more important reason was the deliberate fabrication of ahadith by various sects which appeared amongst the Muslims, in order to support their views  a Successor, said, "They would not ask about the isnad. But when the fitnah (trouble, turmoil, esp. civil war) happened, they said: Name to us your men. So the narrations of the Ahl al-Sunnah (Adherents to the Sunnah) would be accepted, while those of the Ahl al-Bid'ah (Adherents to Innovation) would not be accepted.

Another area of importance  the study of hadith went through is the stage of classical classification of hadiths. Talking about this stage, the principal types of hadiths are follows:

Marfu' - "elevated": A narration from the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), e.g. a reporter (whether a Companion, Successor or other) says, "The Messenger of Allah said ..."For example, the very first hadith in Sahih al-Bukhari is as follows: Al- Bukhari === Al-Humaidi 'Abdullah b. al-Zubair === Sufyan === Yahya b. Sa'id al-Ansari === Muhammad b. Ibrahim al-Taymi === 'Alqamah b. Waqqas al-Laithi, who said: I heard 'Umar b. al- Khattab saying, while on the pulpit, "I heard Allah's Messenger (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) saying: The reward of deeds depends on the intentions, and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended; so whoever emigrated for wordly benefits or for a woman to marry, his emigration was for what he migrated."

Mauquf - "stopped": A narration from a Companion only, i.e. his own statement; e.g. al-Bukhari reports in his Sahih, in Kitab al-Fara'id (Book of the Laws of Inheritance), that Abu Bakr, Ibn 'Abbas and Ibn al-Zubair said, "The grandfather is (treated like) a father." It should be noted that certain expressions used by a Companion generally render a hadith to be considered as being effectively marfu' although it is mauquf on the face of it, e.g. the following:

"We were commanded to ..."

"We were forbidden from ..."

"We used to do ..."

"We used to say/do ... while the Messenger of Allah was amongst us."

"We did not use to mind such-and-such..."

"It used to be said ..."

"It is from the Sunnah to ..."

"It was revealed in the following circumstances: ...", speaking about a verse of the Qur'an.

Maqtu'- "severed": A narration from a Successor, e.g. Muslim reports in the Introduction to his Sahih that Ibn Sirin (d. 110) said, "This knowledge (i.e. Hadith) is the Religion, so be careful from whom you take your religion."

The authenticity of each of the above three types of hadith depends on other factors such as the reliability of its reporters, the nature of the linkage amongst them, etc. However, the above classification is extremely useful, since through it the sayings of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) can be distinguished at once from those of Companions or Successors; this is especially helpful in debate about matters of Fiqh. This stage also witnessed the classification of hadith according to the number of reporters involved in each stage of the isnad (chain of narration). They generally include: Mutawatir & Ahad

Depending on the number of the reporters of the hadith in each stage of the isnad, i.e. in each generation of reporters, it can be classified into the general categories of mutawatir ("consecutive") or ahad ("single") hadith. A mutawatir hadith is one which is reported by such a large number of people that they cannot be expected to agree upon a lie, all of them together. A hadith ahad or khabar wahid is one which is narrated by people whose number does not reach that of the mutawatir case.

Principles of thematic study of hadith

The science of hadith is a profound field which cannot be understood without taking into consideration certain principles. If a researcher attempts studying hadith ignoring these principles he will face perplexing questions at every step in this exercise and would be at risk of arriving at the an incorrect conclusion. Those intending to avoid the danger of losing the true prophetic knowledge will find the following principles helpful in avoiding these dangers. Those taking help from these principles will find the road to understanding hadith quite easy. A brief discussion of five of these principles would be made, and they are as follows:

1-the Qur’an is the measure of the truth. The first and the foremost principle is that the Quran is the real measure of truth regarding ahaadith. In fact, it is the only criterion of truth in all religious matters. The Quran and Hadith (singular of ahaadith) are interrelated as the root is related to its branches or a text is to its explanation. The Quran gives the core guidance forming the religion and the shari'ah. This Quranic guidance is the basis and foundation of the religion while the Hadith explain and detail it.

2-Collating the narratives on a single topic. Just like the Quran, Hadith too has an overall order and arrangement. We cannot properly understand and interpret a hadith without considering the overall structure of hadith.

3-Language of Hadith. The original language of the hadith literature is the standard Classical Arabic even though, unlike the Quran, most of the ahaadith have not been transmitted verbatim; ideas have been transmitted rather than words. Nonetheless, the language of Hadith maintains a high standard. The quality of the language of Hadith is superior to many other earlier sources. It is extremely important to consider this aspect of the language of the prophetic sayings while pondering over them. By the grace of God, there are many hadith collections. Recorded in an early period of oral tradition, the language of ahaadith is nearer to that of the prophetic times. Having acknowledged that language keeps changing and evolving, we need to prefer the traditions whose language is more approximate to that of the time of the Prophet Description: http://www.islamicity.com/global/images/photo/Islam/SAWS_sm__14x12.JPG and the Companions

4-Mutual Harmony of Religion, Human Nature and Reason .

5- The fifth and the last guiding principle in this regard is that the religion does not contradict the dictates of reason and fiṭrah (human nature). God has indeed based the teachings of religion on the dictates of fiṭrah (human nature). 

فِطْرَتَ ٱللَّهِ ٱلَّتِى فَطَرَ ٱلنَّاسَ عَلَيْهَا ۚ

“..the natural instinct God has instilled in mankind…” (Q 30:30)

The religion highlights the dictates of reason and fiṭrah, shapes them in the form of principles and bases the entire system of human life on it. Hence, it cannot contradict fiṭrah. It follows from this that everything that is against reason and fiṭrah would definitely contradict the religion.

Just as the entire call of the Quran is based on reason and intellect; and the Book pleads to it in the support of its claims; similarly, Hadith penetrate our hearts through reason and fiṭrah. It does not contain something opposed to reason and fiṭrah. If we find any such hadith we must investigate and ponder over it in more depth. We shall either appreciate that, previously, we were misinterpreting the hadith or learn that the narrative is not sound.

We must also appreciate that, at times, we fail to grasp all aspects of a stated fact. If we fail to fully understand a prophetic statement and we realize that the reason of our failure lies in the limitations of human intellect, we should not hastily brand the narrative as against reason and fiṭrah. It entails that if we see that a statement contradicts reason and fiṭrah, we should continue contemplating on it till we are able to grasp its meaning or conclude that it lies out of the scope of human mind. If, however, repeated investigation proves that the narrative contradicts reason and fiṭrah and there is no way we can reconcile between the two then it must be boldly rejected.  (http://www.islamicity.org/5752/fundamental-principles-of-understanding-hadith/)

In conclusion:

There are no doubt that there are other principles of the thematic study of Hadith. They too are important ,however, the ones mentioned above are fundamental. They provide firm and foundational rules to guide the study of Hadith. It is not possible for one to properly understand and explain ahaadith without taking them into consideration.

 

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