Hadith (/ˈhædɪθ/ or /hɑːˈdiːθ/; Arabic: حديث ḥadīṯ, plural: waleأحاديث, ʼaḥādīṯ) are the collections of the reports claiming to quote what the prophet Muhammad said verbatim on any matter. The term comes from the Arabic meaning “report”, “account” or “narrative”. Hadiths are second only to the Quran in developing Islamic jurisprudence, and regarded as important tools for understanding the Quran and commentaries (tafsir) on it. Many important elements of traditional Islam such as five salat prayers, the abhorrence of paintings and sculpture of living things, stoning adulterers, are mentioned in hadith but not the Quran. Some hadith are neutral in the view of Muslims while sunnah is recommended duty for Muslims.
The hadith literature is based on spoken reports that were in circulation in society after the death of Muhammad. Unlike the Quran itself, which was compiled under the official direction of the early Islamic State in Medinah, the hadith reports were not compiled by a central authority. Hadith were evaluated and gathered into large collections during the 8th and 9th centuries, generations after the death of Muhammad, after the end of the era of the “rightful” Rashidun Caliphate, over 1000 km from where Muhammad lived.
Each hadith is based on two parts, a chain of narrators reporting the hadith (isnad), and the text itself (matn). Individual hadith are classified by Muslim clerics and jurists as sahih (“authentic”), hasan (“good”) or da’if (“weak”). However, there is no overall agreement: different groups and different individual scholars may classify a hadith differently.
In Arabic, the word ḥadīth (Arabic: حديث ḥadīth IPA: [ħaˈdiːθ]) means a “report, account, narrative”. The Arabic plural is ʾaḥādīth (أحاديث) (IPA: [ʔaħaːˈdiːθ]). Hadith also refers to the speech of a person. It is a noun.
In Islamic terminology according to Juan Campo, the term hadith refers to reports of statements or actions of Muhammad, or of his tacit approval or criticism of something said or done in his presence, though some sources (Khaled Abou El Fadl) limit hadith to verbal reports and include the deeds of Muhammad and reports about his companions only in the Sunnah.
Classical hadith specialist Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani says that the intended meaning of hadith in religious tradition is something attributed to Muhammad but that is not found in the Quran. Other associated words possess similar meanings including: khabar (news, information) often refers to reports about Muhammad, but sometimes refers to traditions about his companions and their successors from the following generation; conversely, athar (trace, vestige) usually refers to traditions about the companions and successors, though sometimes connotes traditions about Muhammad. The word sunnah (custom) is also used in reference to a normative custom of Muhammad or the early Muslim community.
The two major aspects of a hadith are the text of the report (the matn), which contains the actual narrative, and the chain of narrators (the isnad), which documents the route by which the report has been transmitted. The sanad, literally ‘support’, is so named due to the reliance of the hadith specialists upon it in determining the authenticity or weakness of a hadith. The isnad consists of a chronological list of the narrators, each mentioning the one from whom they heard the hadith, until mentioning the originator of the matn along with the matn itself.
The first people to hear hadith were the companions who preserved it and then conveyed it to those after them. Then the generation following them received it, thus conveying it to those after them and so on. So a companion would say, “I heard the Prophet say such and such.” The Follower would then say, “I heard a companion say, ‘I heard the Prophet.'” The one after him would then say, “I heard someone say, ‘I heard a Companion say, ‘I heard the Prophet…” and so on.