An Arabic word signifying "narrative" or "communication"; the name given to sayings traced to the prophet Mohammed, or to reports of his actions by eye-witnesses. The authenticity of the ḥadith depends upon the value of the chain of tradition ("sanad," "isnad" = "support") which precedes the quotation or the report ("matn"); that is, upon the trustworthinéss of the authorities who have handed down the tradition. Since, on account of the meagerness of the Koran, the most important documents for the religious, ritualistic, and legal development of Islam are contained in the ḥadith, the examination of the authenticity of the latter, with especial regard to the trustworthiness of the channels of transmission, has always formed one of the most important theological concerns of Islam. Notwithstanding the painstaking and precise character of such examinations, European critics hold that only a very small part of the ḥadith can be regarded as an actual record of Islam during the time of Mohammed and his immediate followers. It is rather a succession of testimonies, often self-contradictory, as to the aims, currents of thought, opinions, and decisions which came into existence during the first two centuries of the growth of Islam. In order to give them greater authority they are referred to the prophet and his companions. The study of the ḥadith is consequently of the greater importance because it discloses the successive stages and controlling ideas in the growth of the religious system of Islam. According to the consensus of Mohammedan critics, six canons, in which the most authentic records of the ḥadith are collected, have attained special authority, and form the most important source, next to the Koran, for Islamic theology. The collections of Bukhari (d. 870) and Muslim (d. 875) are those to which the highest authority is ascribed. These are supplemented by four others, namely, the collections of Abu Daud (d. 888), Tirmidhi (d. 892), Nasa'i (d. 914), and Ibn Maja (d. 886). All these works have recently been rendered accessible in the Orient; three-fourths of the Bukhari collection has been printed also in Europe (3 vols., Leyden, 1862-68)."Sunnah."
Through an inexact extension of the term the contents of these works as well as the ḥadith in general have been called "sunnah," which latter term must be distinguished from "ḥadith." By "sunnah" are to be understood the religious customs handed down from the oldest generations of Islam, whether authenticated in the form of ḥadith or not. ḥadith, on the other hand, may be a record of what is regarded as sunnah, but is not identical with it. For the sake of offering an analogy from Jewish literature, a parallel has often been drawn between "ḳur'an" and "miḳra" and between "sunnah" and "mishnah." This comparison, however, is quite absurd, for the Arabic "sunnah" (which means "manner," "custom") is etymologically and materially different from the Hebrew word with which it was identified. Just as incorrect was the widely prevalent opinion, which was supported by a comparison of the differences observed in Judaism between Rabbinites and Karaites, that the two great divisions into which Mohammedans are divided, Sunnites andShiites, are distinguished from each other through the fact that the former recognize, in addition to the Koran, the traditions of the ḥadith and sunnah, while the latter recognize only the validity of the Koran as a religious document, and not of the ḥadith. For the Shiites also recognize ḥadith as a source of religious doctrine, but they make the condition that the "isnad" be tranṣmitted by authorities whom they regard as trustworthy (Shiitic ḥadith). As far as contents are concerned, the Shiitic ḥadith often coincides with the Sunnitic ḥadith (excepting in regard to the principles of public law).
The scope of the ḥadith includes everything that comes under the influence of religion—the ritual, the law in its entirety, the religious legends, and the ethical precepts and views. Within it a halakic and a haggadic ḥadith may be discriminated. The material which early Islam borrowed from Judaism is also clothed in the garb of the ḥadith. In later generations rabbinical precepts and legends which found their way into Mohammedan literature as a result of intercourse between Jew and Mohammedan were simply claimed as Islamic property, and, put in the technical phraseology of the ḥadith, were ascribed to the Prophet. In the article Islam the subject of derivation from the Halakah is treated more in detail. Even more plainly than in the case of the law and its codification, Jewish influence is seen in those portions of Islamic religious literature which correspond to the Jewish Haggadah, because here its elements were not forced into codified forms, and could therefore develop in greater freedom. This Mohammedan Haggadah seems to have received its final form, if at all, only very late; it is seen expanding freely as long as the impulse to ḥadith-creation remains active to any degree. Apart from the legendary amplifications of Biblical history, whose sources are usually rabbinical Haggadah and apocryphal literature, the moral precepts attributed to Mohammed and his companions and successors also show traces of rabbinical origin. And even Biblical passages are sometimes claimed in Mohammedan literature as ḥadiths of the Prophet. If, on the one hand, for the sake of making a display of learning, citations (including some from rabbinical sources; see "Z. D. M. G." lii. 712) which are foreign to the ḥadith literature are inserted in it as coming from Biblical sources ("taurat" and "zabur"; see ib. xxxii. 348 et seq.), on the other hand, rabbinic sayings are sometimes inserted as being original Mohammedan ḥadiths. A few characteristic examples must suffice:
- (1) (Ta'an. 2a; comp. '. Tan., Gen., ed. Buber, pp. 106, 155); found in Bukhari's "Tauḥid," No. 4; "Istisḳa'," No. 28 (the thought is the same, though five keys are mentioned instead of three or four).
- (2) Peah i. 1; see "R. E. J." xliv. 66 et seq.
- (3) ' (Ḥag. 9b); see Schreiner, "Studien über Jeschu'a b. Jehuda," p. 14, note 3, Berlin, 1900.
- (4) (an old Jewish saying not found in the Talmud; comp. Brüll's "Jahrb." vii. 28); occurs in Abu Zaid's "Nawadir," pp. 171, 179, Beirut, 1894: "When it pleases you to lie, leave your witness at a distance" (it is possible, however, that this saying was borrowed by the Jews from the Arabs).
- (5) (Beẓah 29a), as a religious rule; a literal translation in the "Mufid al-'Ulum," p. 31, Cairo, 1310 A.H.
- (6) "In heaven is proclaimed: 'A, the daughter of B, shall be the wife of C, the son of D'"; cited as teaching of the Prophet by Jahiẓ, "Le Livre des Beautés et des Antithèses," ed. Van Vloten, p. 218.
- (7) Abot iii. 7; see Goldziher's "Abhandlungen zur Arab. Philologie," i. 193.
Other examples may be found in Barth's "Midraschische Elemente in der Muslimischen Tradition," in the "Berliner Festschrift," pp. 33-40.
- Goldziher, Ueber die Entwickelung des ḥadith, in Muhammedanische Studien, ii. 1-274, Halle, 1890;
- idem, ḥadith und Neues Testament, pp. 382-399;
- idem, Neue Materialien zur Literatur des Ueberlieferungswesens bei den Muhammedanern, in Z. D. M. G. l. 465-506);
- W. Marçais, Le Taqrîb d'en-Nawawî, Paris, 1902.