An Introduction to the Science of Hadith

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  • An Introduction to the Science of Hadith

  • THE CLASSIFICATION OF HADITH: According to the number of reporters involved in each stage of the isnad

    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.29 Al-Ghazali (d. 505) stipulates that a mutawatir narration be known by the sizeable number of its reporters equally in the beginning, in the middle and at the end.30He is correct in this stipulation because some narrations or ideas, although known as mutawatir among some people, whether Muslims or non-Muslims, originally have no tawatur. There is no precise definition for a "large number of reporters"; although the numbers four, five, seven, ten, twelve, forty and seventy, among others, have all been variously suggested as a minimum, the exact number is irrelevant (some reporters, e.g. Imams of Hadith, carry more weight anyway than others who are their contemporaries): the important condition is that the possibility of coincidence or "organised falsehood" be obviously negligible.31 Examples of mutawatir practices are the five daily prayers, fasting, zakat, the Hajj and recitation of the Qur'an. Among the verbal mutawatir ahadith, the following has been reported by at least sixty-two Companions from the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), and has been widely-known amongst the Muslims throughout the ages: "Whoever invents a lie and attributes it to me intentionally, let him prepare his seat in the Fire." Ahadith related to the description of the Haud Kauthar (the Basin of Abundant Goodness) in the Hereafter, raising the hands at certain postures during prayer, rubbing wet hands on the leather socks during ablution, revelation of the Qur'an in seven modes, and the prohibition of every intoxicant are further examples of verbal mutawatir ahadith.32 A hadith ahad or khabar wahid is one which is narrated by people whose number does not reach that of the mutawatir case. Ahad is further classified into: Gharib, 'Aziz & Mashhur A hadith is termed gharib ("scarce, strange") when only a single reporter is found relating it at some stage of the isnad. For example, the saying of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), "Travel is a piece of punishment" is gharib; the isnad of this hadith contains only one reporter in each stage: Malik --- Yahya b. Abi Salih --- Abu Hurairah --- the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace). With regard to its isnad, this hadith is sahih, although most gharib ahadith are weak; Ahmad b. Hanbal said, "Do not write these gharib ahadith because they are unacceptable, and most of them are weak."33 A type of hadith similar to gharib is fard ("solitary"); it is known in three ways:
    • similar to gharib, i.e. a single person is found reporting it from a well-known Imam;
    • the people of one locality only are known to narrate the hadith;
    • narrators from one locality report the hadith from narrators of another locality, such as the people of Makkah reporting from the people of Madinah.34
    If at any stage in the isnad, only two reporters are found to narrate the hadith, it is termed 'aziz ("rare, strong"). For example, Anas reported that the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, "None of you (truly) believes until I become more beloved to him than his father, his son, and all the people." Two reporters, Qatadah and 'Abdul 'Aziz b. Shu'aib, report this hadith from Anas, and two more reporters narrate from each of them: Shu'bah and Sa'id report from Qatada, and Isma'il b. Ulayyah and 'Abd al-Warith from 'Abd al-'Aziz; then a group of people report from each of them.35 A hadith which is reported by more than two reporters is known as mashhur ("famous"). According to some scholars, every narrative which comes to be known widely, whether or not it has an authentic origin, is called mashhur. A mashhur hadith might be reported by only one or two reporters in the beginnning but become widely-known later, unlike gharib or 'aziz, which are reported by one or two reporters in the beginning and continue to have the same number even in the times of the Successors and those after them. For example, if only one or two reporters are found narrating hadith from a reliable authority in Hadith such as al-Zuhri and Qatadah, the hadith will remain either gharib or 'aziz. On the other hand, if a group of people narrate from them, it will be known as mashhur.36 According to al-'Ala'i (Abu Sa'id Khalil Salah al-Din, d. 761), a hadith may be known as 'aziz and mashhur at the same time. By this he means a hadith which is left with only two reporters in its isnad at any stage while it enjoys a host of reporters in other stages, such as the saying of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), "We are the last but (will be) the foremost on the Day of Resurrection." This hadith is 'aziz in its first stage, as it is reported by Hudhaifah b. al-Yaman and Abu Hurairah only. It later becomes mashhur as seven people report it from Abu Hurairah.37
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