Meaning of 'ILM AL-HADITH in English


form of investigation established by Muslim traditionists in the 3rd century AH (9th century AD) to determine the validity of accounts (hadiths) of Muhammad's statements, actions, and approbations as reported by various authorities. In the first two centuries of Islam, during the period of territorial expansion, there arose a need to accommodate a great diversity of cultures in the Muslim community. The hadiths then multiplied in number and were often fabricated in order to create a normative past that could accommodate contemporary situations. Thus many early opinions on the religious law and dogma of Islam, as well as sectarian prophecies and other expectations, were cast in the form of hadiths. Once the Prophet's personal example, as recorded in hadiths, became established as the universal Muslim norm (sunnah), however, Muslim scholars attempted to determine forgeries or doubtful reports among the existing body of hadiths. They were bound in principle to accept any textually reliable hadith and had to restrict themselves principally to the scrutiny of isnadsi.e., the chains of oral or written transmission by which the reliability of hadiths were determined (see isnad). All acceptable hadiths therefore fall into three general categories: sahih (sound), those with a reliable and uninterrupted chain of transmission and a matn (text) that does not contradict orthodox belief; hasan (good), those with an incomplete isnad or with transmitters of questionable authority; da'if (weak), those whose matn or transmitters are subject to serious criticism. Isnads are further evaluated according to the completeness of their chains: they may be unbroken and reliable all the way back to Muhammad (musnad) yet very short ('ali), implying less likelihood of error; they may lack one authority in the chain of transmitters or may be missing two or more transmitters (mu'dal) or may have an obscure authority, referred to simply as a man (mubham). The transmitters themselves, once established in the historical record as reliable men, determine further categories; the same tradition may have been handed down concurrently through several different isnads (mutawatir), indicating a long and sound history, or a hadith may have been quoted by three different trustworthy authorities (mashhur) or by only one (ahad). Many scholars produced collections of hadiths, the earliest compilation being the great Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal, arranged by isnad. But only six collections, known as al-kutub as-sittah (the six books), arranged by matnthose of al-Bukhari (d. 870), Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj (d. 875), Abu Da'ud (d. 888), at-Tirmidhi (d. 892), Ibn Majah (d. 886), and an-Nasa'i (d. 915)came to be recognized as canonical in orthodox Islam, though the books of al-Bukhari and Muslim enjoy a prestige that virtually eclipses the other four.

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