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Classification & Compilation Of Hadeeth

The Classification And Compilation Of Hadeeth

In another article we dealt with the tremendous efforts made by the scholars of Islam to preserve the sunnah of Muhammad (sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam) through authentication of the ahadeeth (sing. hadeeth). We would like to mention a few words about the actual types of hadeeth collections along with a brief description of the six most authentic collections.

On the basis of available materials on hadeeth literature the books of hadeeth can be classified into the following categories:

Saheefah (pl. suhuf) - This comprises a collection of the sayings of the Prophet (sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam) as were written down by some of his companions (radiallahu 'anhum) during his lifetime or by their followers (at-taabi'een) in the next generation.

Musannaf (pl. musanafaat) - A large collection of ahadeeth in which ahadeeth relating to various topics are put together and arranged according to topic. The Muwatta of Imam Malik and the Saheeh of Muslim are in this category.

Musnad (pl. masaaneed) - This term was originally used for the hadith supported by a complete uninterrupted chain of authorities going back to a companion who related it from the Prophet (sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam). This term later came to be used in the general sense of reliable and authoritative ahadeeth. Therefore, this term is used for all reliable works in hadeeth literature. Technically speaking however, it is used only for those collections of ahadeeth that are arranged according to the names of the final authorities by whom they are related, irrespective of subject matter. The collection of Al-Bukhaari is called a musnad. Musnad collections differ in themselves in detail in their arrangement of the authorities who originally related them. Some are arranged by alphabetical order while others may be arranged according to the relative merits of the narrator in the acceptance of Islam or taking part in early important events during the mission of the Prophet (sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam). Some collections compiled all available ahadeeth reported by the companions or by a special group of companions or by even a single companion (radiallahu ‘anhum ajma’een).

Sunan - A collection of ahadeeth containing ahadeeth al-ahkaam (hadeeth of rulings and law) and arranged accordingly, to the exclusion of hadeeth about historical matters or beliefs (though a single hadeeth may contain matters overlapping into these areas). Examples are the Sunan of Abu Dawood and an-Nisaa'i.

Mu'jam (pl. ma'aajim) - This is commonly applied to works on various subjects that are arranged in alphabetical order. Those which are arranged under the names of companions in alphabetical order are known as Mu'jam As-Sahaabah. Technically speaking again however, this refers to collections of hadeeth that are arranged according to the one who narrated the hadeeth to the compiler himself.

Ajzaa - Collections of ahadeeth transmitted on the authority of one single individual whether they be a companion or someone thereafter.

Rasaa'il or kutub - Collections of hadeeth dealing with one of the following topics:
 a) 'aqeedah (beliefs and tawheed)
 b) ahkaam (laws) that include all the subjects of fiqh (jurisprudence)
 c) raqaa'iq - those hadeeth dealing with matters of piety, asceticism
 d) adaab - Etiquette in eating, drinking, travelling, etc.
 e) tafseer - explanation and commentary on the Qur'aan
 f) taareekh or siyar - Historical and biographical matters
 g) fitan - crises
 h) madh wa dhamm - appreciation and denunciation of people and places.

Mustadrak (pl. mustadrakaat) - Collection in which the compiler collects other ahadeeth fulfilling conditions previously laid down but were left out by them for some reason.
Mustakhraj (mustakhrajaat) - Where a compiler collects hadeeth previously compiled by another compiler however using fresh asaaneed (chains of transmission)
Jaami' - Collections relating to the various matters mention under rasaa'il (see vii). The Saheeh of Al-Bukhaari and the book of At-Tirmidhi are both called jaami'.
Arba'eeniyaat - Collections of forty ahadeeth relating to one or more subjects which may appear to be of special interest to the compiler. An example is An-Nawawi's Forty Hadeeth.

The Six Most Authentic Collections of Hadeeth (As-Sihaah As-Sittah)

In the third century of the Islamic Era six works were accomplished which came to be recognized as the most authoritative of all collections. This in no way implies that all authentic hadith in existence are to be found in these books alone, nor does it mean that each of these six are equal in the degree of authenticity. It also does not mean that each hadeeth collected in these books is authentic (with the exception of Al-Bukhaari and Muslim) as we will explain. The following is a list of these six works and a brief description of their most outstanding characteristics.

Al-Jaami' Al-Musnad As-Saheeh Al-Mukhtasar Min Umoor Rasoolillahi wa Sunanihi wa Ayyaamihi more popularly known as Saheeh Al-Bukhaari. This work was compiled over a period of 16 years by Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Ismaeel Ibn Ibraheem Ibn Al-Mugheerah al-Ju'fee from Al-Bukhaara, more popularly known as Imam Al-Bukhaari (b. 194 - d. 256 AH). Considered the most authentic book after the Qur'aan itself. He would pray two rakaats before recording each hadeeth and the collection comprises 2, 602 ahadeeth (not counting repetitions) sifted from over 600,000 ahadeeth. He would habitually take a portion of a hadeeth for the heading of chapter titles and may scholars point out that if one wishes to know Imaam Al-Bukhaari's positions on matters of fiqh, aqeedah, etc. he merely needs to look at the chapter titles.

He laid down the most strict conditions for acceptance of hadeeth. The narrator had to be of a very high grade of personal character, as well as literary and academic standard. There must be positive information that the narrators of a hadeeth had indeed met one another.

Hundreds of commentaries and explanations have been written on this book, some over 25 volumes the most famous of which is Fathul-Baari by Al-Hafiz Abu Fadl Ahmed Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalaani Ash-Shaafi'ee (773 - 852 A.H.).

Al-Musnad as-Saheeh Al-Mukhtasar min As-Sunan bin Naql Al-'Adl 'an Rasoolillah more popularly known as Saheeh Muslim by Abul Husain Muslim Ibn Al-Hajjaaj An-Nisaaboori (b. 204 - d. 261 AH). Generally recognized as equally authoritative as Al-Bukhaari with only slight differences in his criterion of acceptance of certain hadeeth thus giving it second in rank of authority. He differed from Imaam Al-Bukhaari in that if two scholars lived together where it was possible for them to learn from each other he would accept a hadeeth from them as long as the chain was unbroken and no tadlees (name substitution for a narrator) was practiced. It is considered by many as superior to Saheeh Al-Bukhaari in its arrangement of the hadeeth. Imaam Muslim would present his work to the scholars and critics of ahadeeth and if any fault was found with any hadeeth he would omit it in order to insure that he only included what was unanimously accepted as authentic by the hadeeth scholars. He was a student of Imaam Al-Bukhaari and held him in the highest esteem.
The number of hadeeth in his collection based on subjects is 3033 but this number would perhaps double if counted according to isnaad (chains of narrators). There are many commentaries on his book, the most famous of which is that of Imaam An-Nawawi (d. 676).

Sunan of Abu Dawood by Abu Dawood Sulaiman Ibn Al-Aash'ath Al-Azdi As-Sijistaani (b. 202 - d. 275 AH). He compiled this book over a period of twenty years and selected some 4800 ahadeeth out of 500,000. He was contented with one or two hadeeth in every chapter. All of the hadeeth recorded in his book are however, not authentic. Abu Dawood himself pointed out many weak ahadeeth in his collection while scholars counted others as weak. Abu Dawood was of the opinion that a weak hadeeth, if not very weak, was still better than the personal opinion of scholars. His book was considered to be the first of its type and is considered the best of the sunan collections.

Al-Jami' or As-Sunan of At-Tirmidhi by Muhammad Ibn'Isaa Ibn Saura Ibn Musa Ibn Ad-Dahhak At-Tirmidhi (b. 209 - d. 279 AH). He was a student of Abu Dawood who further improved the principles of criticism of hadeeth adopted by his teacher. His aims were to: a) systematically collect the ahadeeth b) discuss the legal opinions of early imams so as a general rule he only mentioned those ahadeeth which were mentioned by earlier scholars as the basis of their legal opinions c) discuss the quality of the ahadeeth. His book has been divided into 50 sub-books and contains 3956 ahadeeth.

As-Sunan Al-Mujtabaa or Sunan of An-Nisaa'i by Abu Abdur-Rahmaan Ahmad Ibn Shu'aib Ibn Ali Ibn Sinaan Ibn Bahr Al-Khurasaani An-Nisaa'i (b. 215 - d. 303 AH). This book is a collection from a larger work called As-Sunan Al-Kubraa. He recorded the different asaaneed (chains), then records the isnaad where some mistakes have been made by narrators, then explains what is correct. Therefore, he recorded weak as well as authenticated hadeeth, mostly to show what defect they had.

Sunan of Ibn Maajah by Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Yazeed Ar-Rabee' (Ibn Maajah) (b. 209 - 273 AH). His book is considered the lowest grade of the six and it contains 4341 ahadeeth, 3002 of which were already recorded by the authors of the previous five books mentioned. The remaining ahadeeth which he recorded are graded as follows: 428 authentic (saheeh), 199 good (hasan), 613 of weak isnaad (isnaad da'eef), 99 munkar or makdhoob (rejected or forged). Where the other narrators would note when they recorded a weak hadeeth Ibn Maajah would remain silent. For this reason there was much discussion among scholars about counting his work among the six principle works.

There is nothing reported from the early scholars that there ought to be six principle works. This occurred due to literary process over time. Hundreds of books were compiled in the third and fourth centuries, some more famous than others. Many books began to be written on the biographies of narrators whose ahadeeth had been recorded in a certain book. The reckoning of Ibn Maajah's work as being recognized as one of the six principle works was largely due to the writing of Al-Maqdisee (d. 600) in his book Al-Kamaal where he collected all the narrators who have been mention in any of the six books. This work in turn became the basis for many famous works on the dictionary of narrators.

Unparalleled Effort

The study of the collection of books on hadeeth reveals that it is the result of the continuous, hard and honest work of the scholars of hadeeth. These men observed a measure of care far beyond any other field of study. The moral conditions of reporters of hadeeth and their reported level of piety was investigated as were their powers of retention and accuracy in recording hadeeth. There level of intelligence and religious understanding was considered, as well as how many channels a report had come through.

There are many outstanding examples of this in Islamic scholarship and the tradition is continued to this day. We thank Allah for guiding us to this True path and making this Ummah distinguished among all others in the efforts to authenticate and preserve its sources.

Sources on the Science of Hadeeth for the English Reader:
1. Studies in Hadith Methodology and Literature by M.M. Azami
2. The Authority and Authenticity of Hadith As A Source Of Islamic Law by Mohammad Shabbir
3. An Introduction To The Science Of Hadith by Dr. Suhaib Hasan
4. The Authority of The Sunnah by Muhammad Taqi Usmani

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