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Disciplines of `Ilm al-Hadith


At the time of its emergence, there was a difference of opinion among men of eminence among Muslims about the very necessity of hadith. The first two caliphs, for example, exhibited a complete lack of interest in it.[1] Nevertheless, after the death of the Prophet (S), its importance was gradually realized. This realization grew with time, to the extent that it became necessary for religious scholars to consider hadith as the second authoritative source after the Qur'an for solution of their canonical problems. The importance of hadith grew steadily with time, until it took the shape of a vast science with numerous disciplines.

Al-Suyuti, in introduction to his Tadrib al-rawi, writes that at the beginning of the second century of Hijrah, the sciences related to hadith consisted of three disciplines: `ilm tadwin al-hadith, `ilm al-hadith, and `ilm usul al-hadith. However, during the third century, according to Ibn al-Mulaqqin, the science of hadith came to consist of more than two hundred disciplines. Abu Hatam, according to a more simple classification, has mentioned the existence of fifty separate disciplines. Ibn Hajar describes the various disciplines more simply in this fashion: `ilm usul al-hadith, `ulum al-hadith, `ilm mustalah al-hadith, and `ilm dirayat al-hadith (which also includes `ilm al-rijal).[2]

Ahmad Amin, in his Fajr al-Islam, says: "The study of hadith was followed by the birth of various disciplines, such as chronicles of history, wars, and merits of peoples and persons. This was followed by writing of biographies, such as the work of Ibn Hisham. According to Ibn Jarir, Ibn Ishaq and al-Baladhuri, their style and method was that of hadith narration. The anecdotes of the lives and times of former prophets, together with the hadith and the anecdotes mentioned in the Qur'an, helped to expand the literature dealing with the former prophets. The interest in hadith stimulated the study of Greek, Indian and Persian philosophy and ethics. `Ilm al-hadith stimulated popular interest in all sciences, and itself became a religious and canonical source, and, above all, the source of civil and penal codes. All this, avoiding further elaboration, bears testimony to the role played by `ilm al-hadith in expansion of the sciences."[3]

According to al-Suyuti, al-Hazimi considered `ilm al-hadith to consist of more than a hundred disciplines; Ibn Salah has mentioned 65 of these various disciplines.[4] Ibn Khaldun, in his work on history, mentions the following branches of `ilm al-hadith: the study of the nasikh and mansukh verses of the Qur'an, `ilm al-rijal, `ilm istilahat al-hadith, study of the text of hadith and its peculiarities, study of the qualifications necessary for a narrator to transmit hadith, knowledge of veracity of transmitters, and `ilm fiqh al-hadith.[5]

However, Hakim Abi `Abd Allah Muhammad ibn `Abd Allah Hafiz al-Nishaburi, in his book Ma`rifat `ulum al-hadith, mentions fifty-two disciplines in the science of hadith. In view of its importance, we mention them here:

Recognition of al-hadith al-`ali: On page 5 of his book, he says that recognition of the hadith `ali al-'asnad (a tradition all of whose narrators are known and veracious) is a part of `ilm al-hadith. He mentions further that besides the condition that the chain of transmitters of a hadith `ali should be as short as possible, the transmitters must, in addition, be all veracious.

Recognition of al-hadith al-nazil: On page 7, he says that identification of al-hadith al-nazil is also a branch of `Ilm al-hadith. Some have defined al-hadith al-nazil as the opposite of al-hadith a/-'ali, but this definition is insufficient. In fact, there are various degrees of the al-hadith al-nazil recognizable only for the experts. In this category are included the ahadith which require more than the ordinary amount of learning and scholarship.

Study of the veracity of narrators: On page 14, he includes this also as part of `Ilm al-hadith. Biographical details, level of knowledge and degree of carefulness of a narrator are issues related to this subject.

Knowledge of masanid of hadith: On page 17, he says that knowledge of the masanid (first narrator in the chain of transmission) of a hadith is an important subject. There is a disagreement among leading Islamic jurists about the validity of ahadith which are not musnadah. Al-hadith al-musnad is one which has reached us from one of the well-known Companions of the Messenger of God (S).

Study of al-riwayat al-mawqufah: On page 19, he discusses the study of al-riwayat al-mawqufah. Al-riwayat al-mawqufah is one whose primary source is one of the Companions of the Prophet (S).

Study of those ahadith whose first narrator is not mentioned. Al-Nishaburi discusses this topic on page 21.

Study of the Companions (al-Sahabah): This study involves the history of Companions, whether they belonged to the Ansar (the Helpers) or to the Muhajirun (the Emigrants), and their station and degree of nearness to the Prophet (S).

Study of al-hadith al-mursal: Discussing this topic on page 25, he includes it among the most difficult in `Ilm al-hadith, and says that none except the most learned can handle this subject. Al-hadith al-mursal is a tradition narrated by someone belonging to the next generation (the Tabi'un) after the Prophet.

Study of al-hadith al-munqati': On page 27, he states that al-hadith al-munqati' is different from al-mursal, although like al-mursal it is one narrated by one of the Tabi'un. There are three kinds of al-hadith al-munqati'.

Study of transmitters of al-hadith al-musalsal: On page 29, he states that there are eight types of this kind of hadith.

Study of al-hadith al-mu'an'an: On page 34 of his work, al-Nishaburi includes the study of non- counterfeit ahadith mu'an'anah (lit. transmitted) as part of `Ilm al-hadith.

Study of al-hadith al-mu'dal: On page 36, he quotes the definition given by `Ali ibn `Abd Allah al-Madini, the great scholar of hadith, and his predecessors of al-hadith al-mu'dal as a tradition whose two or more links of transmitters are missing.

Study of the al-hadith al-mudarraj: On page 39, he defines al-hadith al-mudarraj as a tradition in which the narrator has included his own words or that of a Companion or someone else in the text of hadith.

Study of al-Tabi`un (persons belonging to the next generation after the Prophet (S) and his Companions): On page 41, including the study of lives of the Tabi'un in `Ilm al-hadith, he remarks that this in itself involves several separate disciplines.

Study of the Atba' al-Tabi'in (persons belonging to the second generation after the Prophet): On page 46, this is also said to be included in `Ilm al-hadith.

Study of al-akabir 'an al-asaghir: On page 48, he includes the study of al-akabir 'an al-asaghir (lit. 'the greater from the lesser ones', said of traditions related by someone senior in age or knowledge from one junior to him in one of these aspects, or by a prolific narrator from one less prolific in narration of hadith) in `Ilm al-hadith.

Study of the descendents of the Companions: On page 49, he states that anyone who lacks knowledge on this subject is bound to make errors in regard to many traditions.

`Ilm jarh wa ta'dil (lit. challenging the validity, and settlement, or amendment): On page 82, he states that this involves two distinct disciplines.

Study of al-sahih and al-saqim (said of hadith): On page 58, he states that this study is different from `Ilm jarh wa ta'dil mentioned before.

`Ilm fiqh al-hadith.

Study of the nasikh and mansukh in hadith.

Study of uncommon words in the text of hadith: On page 88, he states that this study began after the period of the Atba' al-Tabi'in. Among those who pursued it were Malik, al-Thawri, Shu'bah, and others who came after them. The first to compile a work on the uncommon aspects of hadith (`Ilm ghara'ib al-hadith) was Nadr ibn Shumayl.

Study of the al-hadith al-mashhur (lit. famous): On page 92, he points out the distinction between al-hadith al-sahih (veracious hadith) and al-hadith al-mashhur.

Study of the al-hadith al-gharib (uncommon): He states on page 94 that it is related to the study mentioned above (no.22); for there are various aspects of uncommonness.

Study of al-hadith al-mufrad (al-khabar al-wahid): He states on page 96 that this study involves three kinds of hadith: firstly, those narrated by one from al-Madinah, Makkah or Kufah; secondly, those narrated by one of the Imams; thirdly, those narrated by someone besides the above two.

Study of apocryphal narrators: Study of those narrators who do not make a distinction between the narrated text and their own words.

Study of deficiencies found in hadith: On page 112, he states that this study is distinct from `Ilm jarh wa ta'dil and the study of al-saqim and al-sahih.

Study of al-hadith al-shadh (lit. rare): On page 119, he states that it is a tradition narrated from only one veracious narrator.

Study of prophetic traditions which conflict with others, and which are relied upon by founders of one of the fiqh schools.

Recognition of traditions which are not contradicted by any other.

Study of the various schools of the muhaddithun.

Study of the process of memorization of hadith (`Ilm mudhakarat al-hadith).

Study and recognition of additional words in hadith.

Study of al-tashif (slip of pen, misspelling, misplacement of diacritical marks etc.) in manuscripts.

Study of such errors by the muhaddithun in manuscripts of their ahadith.

Study of the lives of brothers and sisters of the Sahabah, the Tabi'un, and their descendents up to the present times.

Study of the lives of the Sahabah, the Tabi'un, and Tabi' al-Tabi'in from whom not more than one narrator has transmitted.

Study of the tribes of narrators, including the Sahabah, the Tabi'un, and Tabi' al-Tabi'in up to the present.

Study of genealogies of the muhaddithun, from al-Sahabah up to the present. On page 168, he says that study of genealogies has been recommended by the Prophet (S). On page 169, he quotes this tradition on the authority of Abu Hurayrah:


Know your genealogies, so as to fulfil your duties to your kin.[6]

Study of the names of the muhaddithun: On page 177, he says, "Abu `Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Isma'il al-Bukhari has met the complete needs of this study by his book."

Study of surnames (kuna pl. of kunyah) of the Sahabah, the Tabi'un, and their descendents up to the present. On page 83, he says that the scholars of hadith have compiled many works on this subject.

Knowledge of the homelands and regions of hadith narrators.

Study of the mawali [7] among the narrators of hadith from among the Sahabah, the Tabi'un and their descendents.

Study of the lives, dates of death and birth of the muhaddithun.

Study of the titles of the muhaddithun.

Study of contiguous narrators. On page 215, he says that this study is different from that of al-akabir 'an al-asaghir; rather it relates to narrators who relate from those contiguous to them.

Study of similarities between the tribes of narrators, their homelands, names, nicknames, and accomplishments. In this regard he mentions five secondary disciplines, such as the study of tribes, the study of their homelands, etc.

Study of the battles of the Holy Prophet (S) and his epistles written to kings and others.

Study of the well-known pioneers of hadith collection from among the Sahabah, the Tabi'un and their descendents.

Study of the mode of classification of hadith into various chapters by the muhaddithun.

Study of a group of narrators from the Tabi'un and their descendents, regarding whose reliability in case of al-hadith al-sahih the evidence is inconclusive.

Study of those who received an ijazah from a scholar for transmitting ahadith. [8]

In addition to the above, there are other disciplines linked with the study of Arabic morphology, syntax, and philology, as mentioned by al-Suyuti in his al-'Itqan.[9] In this regard, it may be mentioned that Ibn al-Nadim in his Kitab al-Fihrist, quoting Muhammad ibn Ishaq and other scholars, says that Abu al-'Aswad al-Du'ali, the first Arab grammarian, acquired it from `Ali ibn Abi Talib (A).[10] Following this, he quotes a statement from Abu Nasr that `Abd al-Rahman ibn Hurmuz is the foundation layer of Arabic studies and that Abu Sa`id al-Sirafi had confirmed this. Furthermore, Ibn al-Nadim explaining the origin of the name 'nahw' for Arabic syntax says that Abu al-'Aswad had asked for `Ali's (A) permission to formulate rules of Arabic grammar similar (nahw) to what `Ali (A) had done in his discourses.

Those who had learnt Arabic grammar from Abu al-'Aswad al-Du'ali, according to Ibn al-Nadim, are: Yahya ibn Ya'mur, 'Anbasah ibn Ma'dan and Maymun ibn Aqran.[11]

Sayyid Hasan al-Sadr, in his Ta'sis al-Shi`ah, writing about the origins of `Ilm dirayat al-hadith, says that the first to compile a work on this subject was Abu `Abd Allah Hakim al-Nishaburi, a Shi'ite (d. 405/1014-15), and Ibn Salah, who came after him, was his follower. However, al-Suyuti, in his Kitab al-wasa'il fi awa'il, states that Ibn Salah, Abu 'Amr `Uthman ibn `Abd al-Rahman (d. 643/1051-52), a Shafi'i from Damascus, was the first to work on `ilm dirayat a-hadith.[12] Evidently, al-Suyuti has shown complete indifference to the work of Abu `Abd Allah Hakim al-Nishaburi, who lived about two hundred years before Ibn Salah.

In Ta'sis al-Shi`ah, it is stated that the first to compile a book on the study of Islamic sects was al-Hasan ibn Musa al-Nawbakhti, a prominent scholar of the third century, who lived before Abu Mansur `Abd al-Qadir ibn Zahir al-Baghdadi (d. 429/1037-38), Abu Bakr al-Baqillani (d. 403/1012-13), Ibn Hazm (d. 456/1062-63), and al-Shahristani (d. 548/1153-54).[13] The author of al-Adab al-Farisi not only confirms this, he also explicitly states that al-Hasan ibn Musa al-Nawbakhti was a Shi'ite:

Several men of the house of Nawbakht excelled in the Islamic sciences and became (great) scholars of the Imamiyyah Shi'ite sect and forerunners of its mutakallimin. To them goes the great credit of providing support for this sect on the basis of its kalam. Among them was Abu Muhammad al-Hasan ibn Musa al-Nawbakhti (d. 300 or 301 A.H.), the author of the book Firaq al-Shi`ah and al-'Ara' wa al-diyanat; also he was the first to write a book on the subject of al-milal wa al-nihal (study of nations and sects):[14]

The author of Tadrib al-rawi writing about the origins of `ilm 'istilahat al-hadith, says that the first to compile a work on this subject was Qadi Abu Muhammad al-Ramhurmuzi, the author of Kitab muhaddith al-fadil, followed by Hakim Abu `Abd Allah al-Nishaburi, Abu Nu'aym al-'Isfahani, and al-Khatib al-Baghdadi.[15]

In regard to the history of the military campaigns (al-maghazi) of the Prophet (S), which is a part of `ilm al-rijal, the author of Ta'sis al-Shi`ah says that the first to write on this subject was Muhammad ibn Ishaq al-Matlabi. Elsewhere, he quotes a statement from Khulasat al-'aqwal relating to `Ubayd Allah ibn Abi Rafi', who was 'Ali's scribe, as being the first to write on the Prophet's battles.[16] This is also confirmed by al-Najashi in his al-Rijal.[17] Al-Suyuti, however, in his Kitab al-wasa'il fi al-awa'il considers 'Urwah ibn al-Zubayr (d. 94/712-13) as being the pioneer in writing on al-maghazi.

With regard to historiography, according to Kash al-zunun, the first to write on this subject was Muhammad ibn Ishaq (d. 151/768) the forerunner among the writers of al-maghazi.

According to al-Suyuti, the first to compile a musnad was Sulayman ibn Dawud Abu Dawud al-Tayalisi.[18] As to `ilm dirayat al-hadith, the first to write on this subject was Sayyid Jamal al-Din Ahmad ibn Musa ibn Tawus Abu al-Fada'il (d. 673/1274-75), the teacher of `Allamah ibn Mutahhar al-Hilli. He formulated new Shi'ite terms in hadith (such as al-sahih, al-hasan, al-muwaththaq, and al-da'if).[19]


Kinds of Hadith

In general, there are three basic kinds of hadith from the viewpoint of the Ahl al-Sunnah (al-Sahih, al-hasan, and al-da'if), and four basic kinds from the viewpoint of the Shi`ah (al-sahih, al-hasan, al-muwaththaq, and al-da'if). These are further classified both by the Shi`ah and the Ahl al-Sunnah. Following are some of these general classifications:

Al-sahih: It is a hadith free of any kind of fault related by several continuous chains of veracious transmitters with more than one first recorder (ruwat 'adilun, dabitun ghayr shawadhdh).[20]

Al-hasan: It is a hadith which is well-known, and with reputable source (makhraj) and transmitters (ruwat).[21] It has been defined in these words in al-Jurjani's al-Ta'rifat:

Al-hasan is a hadith whose transmitters are reputed for their veracity and trustworthiness; however, it does not reach the station of al-hadith al-sahih.[22]

Al-da'if: It is a hadith which does not have the qualities of either al-sahih or al-hasan.[23]

Al-musnad: It is a hadith whose chain of transmission goes right up to the Holy Prophet (S).

Al-muttasil (mawsul): It is a hadith whose all links in transmission are mentioned by the later transmitters.

Al-marfu': It is a hadith which reaches one of the Ma'sumun, regardless of continuity in the chain of transmitters.

Al-mawquf: It is a hadith which reaches the Sahabah, regardless of continuity in the chain of transmission.

Al-maqtu': It is a hadith narrated from one of the Tabi'un.

al-munqati': It is a hadith narrated from one of the Tabi'un.

Al-mursal: It is a hadith narrated by one of the prominent Tabi'un saying 'The Prophet of God said....' so on and so forth. There are many of this kind of narrations.

Al-mu'dal: It is a hadith whose two or more links in the chain of transmission are missing.

Al-mudallas (lit. forged): It is of two kinds: firstly, in text (matn); and secondly, in the chain of transmission (sanad).

Al-shadhdh: It is a tradition narrated by a veracious (thiqah) narrator that contradicts other traditions narrated by others.

Al-gharib: It is of three kinds: gharib al-'alfaz (with uncommon words), gharib al-matn (uncommon in content), and gharib al-sanad (uncommon with respect to the chain of transmission).

a. Gharib al-'alfaz is a tradition containing problematic words. 

b. Gharib al-matn is a tradition narrated by a single narrator belonging to the earliest narrators. 

c. Gharib al-sanad is a tradition whose content is otherwise well-known.

Al-mu'an'an: It is a tradition in which all the links in the chain of transmission are connected by the preposition 'an.

Al-mu'allaq: It is a tradition in which the names of one or more transmitters are missing at the beginning end of the chain of transmitters.

Al-mufrad or al-wahid: It is a tradition narrated by only one narrator, or by narrators belonging to only one location.

Al-mudarraj: It is a tradition whose narrator includes his own words or that of another narrator in the text of the hadith.

Al-mashhur: It is a tradition which is well-known amongst the muhaddithun.

Al-musahhaf: It is a tradition whose text or name of transmitter (sanad) has been partially altered on account of resemblance with another similar text or name of transmitter.

Al-'ali: It is a hadith with a short chain of transmission.

Al-nazil: It is one opposite in character to the 'ali.

Al-musalsal: It is a hadith all of whose narrators in the chain of transmission up to the Ma'sum fulfil the conditions of trustworthiness at the time of narration from the viewpoint of sound character and speech.

Al-ma'ruf: It is a hadith whose meaning is well-known among narrators.

Al-munkar: It is the opposite of al-ma'ruf.

Al-mazid: It is a hadith which either in text or sanad has something additional in comparison with a similar hadith.

Al-nasikh: Some ahadith, like the Qur'an, abrogate other ahadith. Al-nasikh is a prophetic hadith which abrogates a former hukm of the Shari'ah.

Al-mansukh: is a hadith whose hukm is abrogated by al-nasikh.

Al-maqbul: It is a tradition which is accepted and practised by the Islamic 'ulama'.

Al-mushkil: It is a tradition containing difficult or problematic words or meanings.

Al-mushtarak: It is a tradition the name of one whose transmitters resembles that of a veracious and a non-veracious narrator. Study of such traditions calls for the study of `Ilm al-rijal.

Al-mu'talif: It is a hadith in whose chain of transmission the name of a person mentioned therein can be read variously, though it is written identically in all those cases.

al-mukhtalif: It is a hadith in whose chain of transmission the name of a person mentioned therein can be read variously, though it is written identically in all those cases.

Al-matruh: It is a tradition which contradicts definite evidence (dalil qat'i) and is also unamenable to explanation (ta'wil).

Al-matruk: It is a tradition in whose chain of transmission someone known to be a liar is mentioned.

Al-mu'awwal: It is a tradition which contradicts what is apparently true from the viewpoint of reason (aql), the Qur'an, and the Sunnah (naql).

Al-mubin: It is a tradition whose words in the text are used in their literal meaning.

Al-mujmal: It is the opposite of al-mubin.

Al-mu'allal: It is a tradition which gives the reason for a certain command (hukm) of the Shari'ah.

Al-mudtarib: It is a tradition that has been variously narrated either from the viewpoint of text or chain of transmission.

Al-muhmal: It is a tradition all of whose transmitters are not mentioned in books on `Ilm al-rijal.

Al-majhul: It is a tradition in which in spite of a continuous chain of transmission the sectarian affiliations of its transmitters are not known.

Al-mawdu': It is a tradition forged by its narrator.

Al-maqlub: It is a well-known tradition containing something counterfeit invented with the benign purpose of spiritual encouragement.

Al-hadith al-ma'thur: It is a tradition narrated by later generations from their ancestors.

Al-hadith al-qudsi: It consists of Divine Word, whose revelation unlike that of the Qur'an is not aimed as a miracle. (This kind of tradition has been discussed before).

Al-'aziz: It is one of the thirteen kinds of al-hadith al-sahih and al-hadith al-hasan.

Hadith za'id al-thiqah: It is another one of the various kinds of al-hadith al-hasan and al-hadith al-sahih. [24]

Al-muwaththaq: It is a hadith whose transmitters are reliable, although some of them may not have been Shi'ite.

Al-mutawatir: It is a tradition which has been transmitted from several narrators, so that it is impossible that it should have been forged. There are two kinds of this hadith: mutawatir in meaning, and mutawatir in words. However, if recurrence (tawatur) is in words, there may be chances of forgery.

Concluded; wal-hamdulillah.


[1]. Ahmad Amin, Fajral 'Islam, p 250.

[2]. Al-Suyuti, Tadrib al rawi, "Introduction".

[3]. Ahmad Amin, Fajr al-Islam p 268.

[4]. Al-Suyuti, Tadrib al rawi, pp. 3, 14.

[5]. Ibn Khaldun, al-'Ibar, pp. 796-797.

[6]. This tradition is considered dubitable by the Shi`ah.

[7]. Mawali (sing. mawla), or clients, is a term that was used to indicate inferior social standing. The term was originally used for freed slaves by Arab Muslims and after Muslim conquests it was extended to a variety of non Arab peoples (Tr).

[8]. The description of the fifty two disciplines of ulum al-hadith mentioned here is a brief adoption from Ma'rifat 'ulum al-hadith by Hafiz al Nishaburi, Hakim Abu `Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Abd Allah.

[9]. Al-Suyuti, al-'Itqan p. 5.

[10]. Ibn al-Nadim, Kitab al-fihrist pp. 59-62.

[11]. Ibid., p.62.

[12]. Sayyid Hasan al-Sadr, Ta'sis al-Shi`ah, p.294.

[13]. Ibid., p.234.

[14]. Muhammad Muhammadi, al-'Adab al-farisi, pp.115,116; Lebanon.

[15]. Al-Suyuti, Tadrib al-rawi', p.13.

[16]. Sayyid Hasan al-Sadr, Ta'sis al-Shi`ah, pp.232, 233.

[17]. Al-Najashi, Ma'rifat ahwal al-rijal, pp.3-6.

[18]. Al-Suyuti, Tadrib al-rawi, p.102.

[19]. Sayyid Hasan al-Sadr, Ta'sis al-Shi`ah, p.295.

[20]. Al-Suyuti, Tadrib al-rawi, p.22. See also Dehkhoda, Loghatnameh, vol. (ha'), p.399.

[21]. Al-Suyuti, Tadrib al-rawi, p.86.

[22]. Dehkhuda, Loghatnameh, vol (ha') p.399.

[23]. Al-Suyuti, Tadrib al-rawi, p.105.

[24]. About the classification of hadith see Al-Suyuti, Tadrib al-rawi, pp.21 ff.; Hafiz al-Nishaburi, Kitab Ma'rifat 'ulum al-hadith, pp. 108-123; see also The Encyclopedia of Islam, pp.23-28, Dehkhuda, Loghatnameh, vol. (ha') pp. 395-399; al-Shaykh al-Baha'i, Nihayat al-dirayah, pp.4 ff.


source : Outlines of the Development of the Science of Hadith Al-Tawhid (Vols. 1 Nos. 1-3)
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