Literally, an Arabic word meaning sayings. In a religious context it is the second primary text for Muslims (followers of Islam) after the Qur'an (or Koran). It consists of narrations of actions and sayings of Muhammad. These narrations are connected back to Muhammad by a chain of narrators (i.e. I heard it from so-and-so, who heard it from so-and-so ... who heard it from Muhammad) and there are strict rules concerning checks on the validity of hadith. They function as an elaboration and practical implementation of the principles explained in the Qur'an, since the Qur'an recommends looking to Muhammad's actions as a guide to behaviour. There are six main collections of hadith: Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawood, Nisa'i, Tirmizi and Ibn Majah.

For example, here is one of the most important hadiths, complete with its chain of narration (or at least one of them).

On the authority of Yahya b.1 Sa'id al-Ansari on the authority of Muhammad b. Ibrahim al-Taymi, on the authority of 'Alqama b. Abi Waqqas al-Laythi, who narrated it from 'Umar b. al-Khattab who narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

Deeds are a result only of the intentions of the actor, and an individual is rewarded only according to that which he intends. Therefore, whosoever has emigrated for the sake of Allah and His messenger, then his emigration was for Allah and His messenger. Whosoever emigrated for the sake of worldly gain, or a woman whom he desires to marry, then his emigration is for the sake of that which moved him to emigrate."

Recorded in Bukhari and Muslim2.

1. "b" in this context is used as an abbreviation for "bin" or "son of"; as in Arab cultures generally, people are identified by their father (surnames were added later).
2. As mentioned above, Bukhari and Muslim are two large collections (nine volumes and six volumes respectively) of hadith. If a hadith is recorded in both, it is considered pretty much incontrovertible (in Arabic, it is described as "agreed upon" or "muttafaqun alayh").

Islamic legal traditions not embodied in the Qu'ran, but generally deriving their authority from the overt acts or sayings (the sunna) of the Prophet Muhammad.

In Islamic studies, hadith (or tradition) means all the sayings, deeds, decisions of Muhammad (pbuh), his approval of the behavior of his companions and the eyewitness' descriptions of his personality.

Ahadith (Arabic plural of hadith) are accepted as the second authentic source of Islam, second only to the Quran. People often confuse hadith with the Sunnah; In short, the sunnah is what was practiced by Muhammad (pbuh) and hadith is the record of what he said and did. Authentic hadith are a record to describe the sunnah. (I put some examples below)

There are many scholars of hadith, and the amount they have preserved take up to several volumes each. In all, there are hundreds of thousands, many undeniably authentic, and some questionable and weak. Scholars, sheikhs, Imams, and leaders use these to base judgements, give fatwas, and preach in khutbas.

The life and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad were fresh in the memory of his companions, the sahaba, so they were not rushing to record everything they remembered. However, they wanted to ensure their memory and narration of the sunnah was correct and verifiable. Gradually a whole system for the preservation of hadith was developed, the like of which the world has never seen.

Just about every Muslim today knows at least a few hadith, or sayings of Muhammad(pbuh). Although quoted and recorded in Arabic, most people know them in their native language, meaning that they're translated. An imam will usually quote it both in Arabic and then the vernacular during a khutba (sermon). They are usually short, as Muhammad(pbuh) usually was concise and didn't want to confuse people with long and complicated speeches. He also often repeated things three times, so that the people would understand the entire meaning and remember it better. There is a great deal of meaning behind each of his words, and they are still packed with morals that are applicable today.

Early on, Muhammad forbade his followers from recording his sayings, because he feared people would confuse his words with those of the Quran, which were God's words, and mix them together in one book. Later on, when Islam was more firmly established, he relaxed the restriction. He knew that people would record his sunnah, as he and the Quran stated its importance (and repeated in his final speech), and told the people that if they ever heard any hadith that contradicted the Quran, then that hadith was false and should be disregarded.

Several works containing collections of hadith were compiled. Some of the best reputed scholars at the time traveled through the Muslim world, searching for authentic sayings. Since much of this research took place long after Muhammad's death, they had to rely on eyewitness accounts. However, since a lot of people "narrate" something as passed on from what another person heard ("I heard it from a friend of a friend"), the hadith collectors had to use rigorous methods to determine what was actually said and what was apocryphal. If there was any doubt as to whether the hadith was real or not, it was discarded.

Partial and unclassified hadith existed for a century after Muhammad's death, but they were, well, partial and unclassified. It was nearly impossible to discern real hadith from apocryphal ones. It was the initiative of the great and pious Caliph Omar ibn Abdul-Aziz (99-100A.H.) that he ordered his governors throughout the Islamic state to collect the Hadith. That initiative was a turning point in Islamic history. Scholars from all over the Muslim land were travelling from one end of the state to the other searching for Hadith, in doing so, they spread both knowledge and collected Hadith.

A new science, the science of Hadith was developed. A huge database of Hadith narrators and a unique classification system specifically tailored to purify the Hadith from edition or fabrication was evolved. A new breed of scholars of the highest caliber sprung up, and within two hundred years the vast majority, if not all the Hadith were collected, classified, checked and preserved for the Ummah.

Some notable scholars who devoted their lives to gathering hadith are: Imam Bukhari (d. 256AH/870CE), Imam Muslim (d. 261A.H./875CE), Abu Daud (d. 275A.H./888CE), Tirmidhi (d. 270A.H./883CE), Ibn Maja (d. 273AH/886CE), and al-Nasa'i (d. 303A.H./915CE). (A.H. signifies the date on the Islamic Calendar)

There is a difference of opinion between Sunni and Shia Muslims over which hadith are correct. The differences are minor (and both are in complete agreement that the Quran is higher, as well as complete and unchanged), but focus on the methodologies of the hadith scholars as well as the authenticity of the hadith collections. Shia, for example, dispute the authenticity of Imam Bukhari's collection, considered by Sunnis to be the most reliable hadith, but IIRC accept Tirmidhi to be accurate. The Shia also follow a collection called the Nahjul Balagha, which is purportedly a collection of the khutbas of Imam Ali bin Abu Talib(ra). Interestingly enough there are also many hadith in Sunni hadith collections that are narrated by Ali, and you can find interesting discussions between the denominations over the authenticity of the other.

Each hadith is prefaced by a chain of narrators, which is called an "isnad." This was the chain of people, through whom the hadith was transmitted. As time passed, more reporters were involved in each chain, and so the situation demanded strict discipline in the acceptance of ahadith; the rules regulating this discipline are known as Mustalah al-Hadith (the Classification of Hadith). Following these rules, hadith have been separated into different groups, according to how strong their authenticity are.

Hadith are classified in the following Categories: Sahih, Authentic and sound (literally means True); Hasan, Acceptable and good, Daeef, Weak (possibly broken chain); Mawdu' - Fabricated, forged. I've attached a classification of each category written by a scholar at the end of this writeup.

The scholars would painstakingly research each human link in the chain, and delve into the biography of each person and their background. If a person in the chain had a history of lying, or cheating, or stealing, then their testimony was thrown out. Some scholars would traverse the land for weeks, tracking down leads and interviewing family members and friends to make sure that the testimony was reliable. Their system of certifying a hadith as genuine are so rigorous that its amazing how so many passed the tests. Imam Bukhari is said to have found over 100,000 hadith, but after 16 years, he only certified 2,602 as genuine for his compilation.

To sum up the "chain of narrators" method, the scholar would find a quotation from a reliable source, who heard it on the authority of another reliable source, who heard it from a sahaba, who swore he heard it from Muhammad himself. Each person in that chain had to swear that was what they heard from the predecessor, and the scholars checked into the credibility of each source, living and dead. One hadith can have multiple chains of narration, and more than one author has quoted the same words of a hadith, using different witnesses and narrators. (Robwicks has a good example of such a chain blockquoted in his isnad w/u.)

The second part of the hadith is "al-matn", the content, which reports the teaching of the incident. In this way, hadith compilers provided not only the information they had received from or about Muhammad (pbuh), but also described its authentic source. This shows the context of the quotation, which is critically important as it shows the conditions of the moral being explained.

The complete translated Sahih Bukhari (without commentary), considered by Sunni Muslims to be the most authentic collection of hadith, is availible online at:


The complete Sahih Muslim (without commentary) is availible at:

Malik's Muwatta:

Forty Hadith Qudsi:

An-Nawawi's Forty Hadiths:

There is also an excellent database of hadith, neatly categorized across multiple sources at:

Sources: (an excellent online book telling the entire science of hadith)


There are thousands of hadith, far too numerous to list here. I will however, show some examples of hadith (with the chain of narrators omitted for brevity/readibility:
"Islam is to testify that there is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God, to perform the prayers, to pay the charity, to fast in Ramadan, and to make the pilgrimage to the House if you are able to do so." [Reported in Sahih Bukhari]

Abu Dharr (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said, "Do not disdain a good deed, (no matter how small it may seem) even if it is your meeting with your (Muslim) brother with a cheerful face.'' [Reported in Sahih Muslim.]

Hudaifah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: Whenever the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) got up (from sleep), he would rub his teeth with Miswak (toothbrush). [Reported in both Sahih Al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim.]

Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said, "The five (daily) prayers and the Friday (prayer) to the Friday (prayer) expiate whatever minor sins may be committed in between, so long as major sins are avoided.''[Sahih Muslim]

Abu Huraira narrates that one day while Allah's Messenger was sitting with the people, a man came to him walking and said, "O Allah's Messenger. What is Belief?" The Prophet said, "Belief is to believe in Allah, His Angels, His Books, His Apostles, and the meeting with Him, and to believe in the Resurrection." The man asked, "O Allah's Messenger What is Islam?" The Prophet replied, "Islam is to worship Allah and not worship anything besides Him, to offer prayers perfectly, to pay the (compulsory) charity i.e. Zakat and to fast the month of Ramadan." [The narration of Sahih Muslim has Hajj as well]. The man again asked, "O Allah's Messenger What is Ihsan (i.e.. perfection or Benevolence)? The Prophet said, "Ihsan is to worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you do not achieve this state of devotion, then (take it for granted that) Allah sees you." .... Then the man left. The Prophet said, "Call him back to me." They went to call him back but could not see him. The Prophet said, "That was [the angel] Gabriel who came to teach the people their religion." Bukhari.(Note that there are other narrations of this hadith, This one comes from Imam Bukhari's collection)

“There should be no harming nor returning harm for harm [in Islam].”(Reported by Ibn Majah, no. 2340)

The main divisions of hadith (written by Doud [David] Matthews)*

Scholars of hadith literature have divided the traditions into three categories, according to the degree of their reliability. These categories were based on:

  • The perfection or imperfection of the chain of transmitters.
  • The freedom of the texts from any defects.
Acceptance of any hadith, was tracked by its narrator, from the companions, their followers (at-tabi?un) and their successors (tabe?ie al-tabi?un).

(1) sahih, authentic hadith

The True; this name is given to the "correct" hadith in which there is no weakness. Both its chain of transmission (al-isnad) and the text (al-matn) are sound, and its text does not contradict any established belief of Islam. There are four characteristics of al-hadith as-sahih:

  • Its chain of transmitters is continuous i.e. there is no missing person anywhere in the isnad(chain).
  • Every transmitter possessed the qualities of 'adl' (righteous conduct) and 'dabt' (strong memory).
  • It should not be an isolated one.
  • It has no hidden defect.

(2) Hasan

The Good. It is like sahih tradition except for the fact that some of its narrators have been found to have a weaker memory in comparison to the narrators of sahih hadith.

(3) Ad-da'ff

The Weak. This refers to that tradition in which there is some problem in either the chain of transmission, in the proper understanding of the transmitter or in its content, which may be in disagreement with Islamic beliefs and practices.

Ad-da'ff traditions are further divided, according to the degree of problems with their reporters (ruwat) or in the text (al-matn) of the reports. A few of these divisions are as follows:
* Al-mursal: A hadith in which a follower transmits from Muhammad directly, dropping the sahabi from the chain.
* Al-munqati: A hadith going back to the follower only.
* Al-mu'dal: A hadith in which two continuous narrators are missing in one or more places in the chain.
*Al-mu'allaq: A hadith in which one or two transmitters are omitted in the beginning of the chain.

Hadith was also divided according to the chain, the number of its narrators:

(1) Al-mutawatir (the continuous): A hadith reported by a large number of people at different times, which makes it impossible for any falsehood to enter it. This would make agreement upon a lie unthinkable. This condition must be met in the entire isnad(chain) from its source to its end.

(2) Al-mashhur (the popular): This group of hadith, are which were originally narrated in the first generation by two to four narrators. Later, on their authority, these were narrated by several narrators.

(3) Al-ahad one isnad(chain): A hadith that is narrated in the first three generations by one to four narrators.

(4) Al-mawdu? (the fabricated): A false hadith, made up by some misguided people. This category of hadith was carefully uncovered by learned Islamic scholars in the past. They have no place in true and authentic hadith collections.

* Taken from:

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