Dr. Peter Riddell delivered a lecture on The Hadith as Commentary during a CIU course. Here, Riddell presents the historical evolution, structures, and types of categorization of the Hadith collections found within the Islamic traditions.


 Here starts the auto-generated transcription of Dr. Peter Riddell’s Lecture: The Hadith as Commentary:


Welcome back to understanding the Quran. We’re going to move on to our second lecture topic now, and that relates to the Hadith collections. Now this is a very important topic for understanding the Quran because the Hadith serve to expand and to elucidate, to explain the Quran in significant ways. The fact is that the Quran itself is full of guidelines, injunctions, prescriptions. It’s it’s it’s a guide for Muslims in many ways, but that’s especially so at the macro level.


At the level of generalities. For example, the Quran says that a Muslim should pray, but the Quran doesn’t specify exactly how many times to pray and exactly how to pray. So the Quran is relevant in terms of macro level guidelines for Muslims. But for the micro level detail of being a Muslim and prayer and all different sorts of areas of Muslim life, the Quran doesn’t provide that sort of detail. And so in early Islamic history, the practice emerged of copying the practice of Mohammed, which came to be known as the sunnah.


We’ve encountered the word sunnah before. The sunnah or the model of Mohammed, his behavior, his practice, was, very important for the formulation of Islamic law. And at the time that Islamic law was emerging in the in the 8 100, the Hadith were also being canonized. The Hadith or the compilations of traditions which describe Mohammed’s experiences, his behavior, his statements in various ways. How did these hadith collections emerge?


Well, in the early 1800 in the early 800, a decision was taken by Muslim rulers that the law and the customs and the belief should be based upon the practices found support in a particular Koranic verse, Surah 33 verse 21, which states, indeed, in the messenger of Allah, you have a good example to follow for him who hopes for Allah in the last day and remembers Allah much. But also Surah 59 verse 7, which states, and whatsoever the messenger gives you, take it and whatsoever he forbids you abstain from us. In other words, the message to Muslims was do what Mohammed did. Use Mohammed as your model. And that was, a key factor that emerged in the early centuries of Islam.


And, of course, today, it is still very much in the forefront of Muslim behavior and Muslim belief and explains, for example, why the person of Mohammed is, held in such esteem and, is such a volatile topic if the person of Mohammed is seen to be insulted in in any way. So during the 1st 2 centuries of the Muslim era, thousands of traditions about Mohammed’s statements and practices and deeds came into circulation. And a number of them, quite a number, quite a significant number, were invented by rulers, it appears, and rival claimants to strengthen their own claims. In other words, in the early centuries of Islam, there was widespread forgery of traditions about Mohammed’s statements and deeds according to Islamic sources. And so Muslims considered by the 3rd century of the Islamic era, which is the 800, they considered that it was necessary to take action to determine what were reliable traditions, and so a process of canonization, classification was carried out.


A three way system of classifying the individual traditions was identified. And it’s interesting as you think about the canonization of the hadith to take account to have one eye on the process of canonization of the biblical text as well. Muslims developed this three way system of classification of individual traditions of little hadith accounts. They were considered as either sound, which is the most solid and reliable, fair, which is fairly reliable, and weak, which is less reliable. Now the first collection to gain canonical authority was the collection that we encountered earlier in this course.


That is the collection of al Bukhari. He died in 870. This was a period of great activity in Hadith canonization. He evaluated around 600,000 traditions, we’re told by the Islamic, records, And he reduced 600,000 to around 4,000, around 6,000 with some duplication. So 66100000 down to 4,000, you can imagine that that means that there was a a lot of unreliable traditions out there, which were effectively discarded.


Now on the Sunni side, there are 6 authoritative Sunni collections, that by al Bukhari, who died in 870, that by Muslim, ibn Hajjaj, who died in 875, and collections of Abu Dawood, ibn Majah, Atir Mehdi, and An Nasai as well. The collections of Al Bukhari and Muslim are considered as the most reliable of the lot. Remember that the purpose of our course is understanding the Quran. We’re studying the hadith because the hadith is an essential tool for Muslims in understanding the Quran. The great medieval Islamic theologian, Al Ghazali, we will encounter him later, he made a statement about the status of the hadith in the Quran, which is quite interesting.


He wrote, God has but one word, which differs only in the mode of its expression. On occasions, God indicates his word by the Quran On others, by words in another style not publicly recited and called the prophetic tradition or hadith. Both are mediated by the prophet. So we can understand just how central Mohammed is to the to the literature, to the primary text of Islam. Muslims believe that Mohammed received the Quran directly from God via the angel, Gabriel.


They also believe that the records of Mohammed’s statements and deeds, the Hadith, are also part of sacred text. So Quran and Hadith are two sides of a similar coin according to the statement by Al Ghazali, and then Mohammed is central to both. The relationship between the Hadith and the Quran is is crucial, and this is a whole area of, study. The topic of, for example, is a significant area of study for for Muslims. The idea that within the Quran, some Quranic verses abrogate other verses.


They replace them. They supersede them. But, also, abrogation operates between the Quran and the Hadith. According to ibn Hanbal, a a classical Islamic writer, again, a founder of one of the leading law schools, the Hanbalites. According to ibn Hanbal, any tradition, any hadith account can be abrogated by a verse in the Quran, but not the reverse.


So as we seek to understand the Quran and to respond to the Quran as Christian students of Islam, we can’t underestimate the importance of the Hadith, the role that the Hadith plays in elucidating and explicating the text of the Quran. Study of the Hadith is important. And in this context, it’s useful to turn to the the famous 20th century Islamic scholar, Fazlur Rahman, a modernist, who addresses the question of hadith and sunnah, the interrelationship between hadith and sunnah. Remember that we saw earlier that the sunnah represented the model of the behavior of Mohammed. Well, Rahman says that the sunnah really has two meanings.


It originally meant the contact or the conduct or the behavior of Mohammed. But it came to represent in time, says Rahman, with the actual content of the behavior of each succeeding generation. Rahman observes that although the sunnah as a concept referred to the behavior of the prophet, its content, nevertheless, was bound to change and derive largely from the actual practice of the early community. So as you engage with Islam, you will encounter the word sunnah a lot, and you need to be aware that it can be used in 2 ways. It can be used to refer to Mohammed’s behavior and conduct as well as the established enormity of behavior of Islamic generations.


Rahman, in his in chapter 3 of his book entitled, quite simply, Islam, he surveys various scholarly approaches to Hadith study, both Muslim and non Muslim. And I would encourage you to access Rahman’s study, that chapter, chapter 3, which is available online, and to read it. Now he makes quite a telling statement. He says, if the hadith as a whole is cast away, the basis for the historicity of the Quran is removed with one stroke. If the Hadith as a whole is cast away, the basis for the historicity of the Quran is removed with one stroke.


In other words, understanding the Quran depends significantly on the Hadith, hence our focus on the Hadith in this lecture. So think about the Hadith as a significant text in the Islamic literary corpus. Ask whether the Hadith has any parallels within Christianity. Think of the text. Think of its significance.


Think of its role. Think of think of its function. How do we respond as Christians to the hadith and to the function and role that it plays? Are there any parallels within Christianity? Welcome back to understanding the Quran.


We’re continuing on with our study of the Hadith collections, and we’ve already looked at, the evolution of the Hadith collections, the historical process that led to the Hadith collections, and we’re going on now to consider, issues of structure and issues of types or categorization of Hadith reports. The hadith are a very important body of Islamic literature and, these, particular approaches to study of the hadith will help us as we understand their significance and as we respond to the hadith as Christian students. There are thousands and thousands of hadith accounts that have been gathered together into the authoritative collections. Now each account is divided into 2 parts. The first part is called the isnad, or it’s best translated as the chain of authorities.


And the second part is the mutton or the actual text of what Mohammed is reported to have said or done. Let’s look at an example. This is a a hadith account that’s taken from the famous, collection of al Bukhari, and it goes as follows, that al Bukhari reported that Yahya ibn Bukhair narrated to us from Aleith, from Ukkaya, from ibn Shurba, from Orwa, from Aisha, who said. Now that part that you can see in red is the isnad, and it’s the chain of authorities. It’s the list of people who passed down the generations, this particular report.


So beginning at the end, Aisha is the wife of Mohammed, and she got this account from Urwa who got it from ibn Shuhbah, who got it from Ukayah, who got it from Alaith, who got it from Yahya ibn Bukayr. So you can see that each account is tracked back through generations back to the original reporter. Now that part, the SNAD, gives us, in a sense, the history of the account, but the second part, the mutton, gives us the actual content, so continuing to read. Whenever the prophet was given an option between two things, he used to select the easier of the 2 as long as it was not sinful. But if it was sinful, he would remain far from it.


Now you can imagine that the first part, the ISNAD, often becomes very unwieldy. And so very often when hadith collections are printed, they summarize the isnaad and they simply give the name of the last person who gave the account to Mohammed. So in this case, this this Hadith would simply be presented as Aisha said whenever the prophet was given an option, etcetera. That makes the Hadith accounts much more, manageable. Now this is NAD or the chain of authorities is, represented here, in generational terms.


And you can see on the left hand part of the page at the bottom, you can see the name of the collector. Now in this case, on this slide, the collector is Bukhari or Muslim, and Bukhari or Muslim has gathered this particular account from a reporter who got the account from a successor of the successors, who got it from a successor, who got it from a companion, who got it from a saying of the prophet. Now it’s important to understand the role of the different generations, if we go back to the Muhammad’s generation, which is represented here by the sayings of the prophet, let’s go through that process in in the downward direction. So Mohammed passed the account to his companion, who was a friend of his. Now that companion passed it to the next generation, a successor, the successor generation, And the successor passed it to the successor of the successor generation, who passed it on to a reporter, who passed it on to Bukhari.


Now this whole concept of the chain of authorities is crucial for determining whether a hadith account is reliable or not, And hadiths are classified according to their reliability. Sometimes they’re considered extremely reliable, sometimes they’re considered not so reliable. And the reliability will be determined by how many generations it can be tracked back easily by the reputation of the people who passed on the account, and by various other factors. So hadiths are classified as very reliable or less reliable. And the importance of the companions is crucial in this.


The companions are those who knew Mohammed. That’s a very important link in the chain of these hadith accounts. Now there’s an interesting definition of a companion by ibn Hanbal, a very early Islamic scholar. He defined a companion as anyone who knew Mohammed for a year or a month or a day or an hour or even saw him. I do want us to be trying to think about Christian, responses as we go through this material.


Because this Islamic idea of the importance of a companion to give credibility to the report is clearly something which has distinct echoes in the Christian tradition as well, where Christ spent time with his disciples, and those disciples in turn became a primary source of the accounts that became the gospels, the accounts of the life of Christ. And this can provide food for thought in discussion with Muslims. Another way of classifying hadiths is according to whether they present text which Muslims consider almost like the Quran. So these kinds of hadiths are called hadith Qudsi. They include what Muslims believe to be God’s direct words as with the Quran, and they’re really considered as an extension of the Quran.


Now within the thousands and thousands of hadiths in the major collections, there are only about 400 of these kinds of hadiths, and they constitute in a sense an appendix, an addendum to the Quran. Now the other kind of hadith are the vast majority, the Hadith Sharif or the hadith Nabawi, and they don’t purport to contain God’s direct words, they record Mohammed’s words and deeds. Now given how many hadith accounts there are, there are literally 1,000 and 1,000 and they constitute many volumes of the major collections. For ordinary Muslims, it’s important that they have access to these materials, and often the best way that Muslims could gain access to these extensive hadith materials was through summary collections. Now 2 very famous summary collections are listed in this slide.


There’s the Mishkat al Masabir, which emerged, in fairly early in the Islamic period by a writer who died in 516, 516 Islamic years after the death of Mohammed. But in many ways, perhaps the most popular summary collection is the next one, the 40 Hadith by An Nawawi. Now I have given a link to this collection, the 40 hadith by An Nawawi, on the Moodle page. In fact, the Moodle page includes links to the major collections by Bukhari and by Muslim as well as to the summary collection by An Nawawi. So I do encourage you to stop your cassette, to stop this this recording, and to take some time to look at that link, to look at the footy hadith by Anawawi, to get a sense as to how it’s structured, and to get a sense as to the kind of text that ordinary Muslims engage with.


At this stage of our course, we’re focusing very much on the textual materials, the primary textual materials. I’d like to finish this lecture with a brief consideration of some modern debates which are taking place increasingly in the Islamic world today. Let us begin by looking at this summary discussion was reported in the Egyptian newspaper, Al Haram, on the 9th August 2002, and in fact, it was an interview with the Mufti of Egypt. He is the head of the Islamic community in Egypt, the chief religious authority, and he was asked a question by the interviewer, What do you see as the best way to purify the Islamic heritage from myth? And his answer was interesting.


He replied that a specialized committee of Al Azhar Islamic Research Academy had been set up to work on purifying the sources of the prophets hadith and the tafsir or the commentaries from the strange, the false, and from forgery. Now let’s take a moment to think about this. Al Azhar is the leading Islamic higher education institution in Egypt and one of the leading ones in the Muslim world. So from this leading authority, questions are being asked about the hadith and about elements of the commentaries as to whether they are reliable or whether there are strange and false elements in there. So you can see that the within the Islamic community of scholars, there are questions that are being asked about the Hadith collections even today.


And there’s another very interesting project that’s taking place in Turkey, in which Turkish scholars are preparing a new collection of Islamic hadith, prophetic hadith, as they’re called, prophetic traditions. And the aim is to only include those hadith accounts which bear, bear a relation with the realities of the modern world. And their aim is to eliminate those hadith accounts, which they do not see as relevant to the modern day. So Islamic scholars around the world are aware that within the canonical collections of hadith, there are elements which are more relevant than others to the 21st century. And some Islamic scholars are trying to find ways of addressing the lack of relevance of some hadith in favor of those Hadith which are more relevant.


So I’d like you to wind up this lecture by considering the process of the identification of authoritative hadith collections in comparison with canonization of the biblical text. How was the biblical text canonized? What processes were gone through by early Christian scholars to canonize the biblical text? How does that compare with the processes taken by Islamic scholars to canonize the hadith collections?