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From the moment the hadith were first recorded onwards, they were meticulously protected with even the slightest errors not being overlooked, but identified. Certain essentials have been established in view of preserving the Prophetic Traditions and preventing transmission based errors. Traditions consonant with these essentials and criteria have been regarded as acceptable, or maqbul, while those that are not have been rejected. The acceptable hadiths have been likened to a fit and healthy human being and labeled sound (sahih), while the others have been labeled defective (saqim) or faulty (mu’allal).

The first and most fundamental prerequisite for a hadith to be classified as sound is the integrity and trustworthiness of its narrator. Due to there being not even the slightest doubt with regard to the character of the Companions, all of them have been accepted to bear the characteristic of truth and righteousness. The second precondition is that the narrator possesses strong intellectual capacity or academic competence. A very strong memory and reliability in written documentation, in the event that their transmission is in written form, as well as above average intelligence are the most important qualities sought in the narrator.

With the chain of narrators lengthening over time, the connection between mentor and student being known gained increasing importance. A strong and reliable mentor-student relationship came to be accepted as one of the prerequisites of a sound hadith. Those wanting to learn or record hadith from a particular mentor, accepted as a basis recording from their most reliable students who spent the longest time with them. The aim, in so doing, is to reduce any student error and eliminate the possibility of misattribution.

The possibility for error exists in narrations with reliable narrators and a sound mentor-student connection also. In view of eliminating such possibilities of error as misapprehension and omission, the hadith narrated by various students of the same mentor have been compared and cross-checked for soundness. In this way, an attempt has been made to identify errors that can arise in respect to its chain of narrators (isnad).

The necessary conditions of sound Traditions became evident as a result of the check and control mechanism which developed in parallel with the growing chain of narrators and increasing number of narrations. Accordingly: 1) The narrator must be righteous, 2) possess a very strong memory; 3) the mentor-student connection must be sound; 4) the narration must not be anomalous (shadh) or 5) faulty (mu’allal).

Mu’allal hadiths are those, which although outwardly reliable and sound, reveal a hidden flaw. As is evident, a Tradition’s possessing the qualities of authenticity or soundness with respect to form and its transmission by reliable narrators has not been deemed sufficient. The need for its verification by specialist hadith scholars, or Traditionists, has also been emphasized.

Traditionists have never been bound by form and have not shown absolute submission to authority. They have not neglected research and verification. To that end, they have examined the narrations of the most reliable hadith scholars and have attached even greater importance to investigating their shortcomings, for it is much more difficult to pick up on the errors of a reliable narrator.

Alongside the small number of hadith texts, or matn, each different narration emerging as a result of change in narrators in the chain of transmission has been regarded as a separate hadith. For instance, in the event of a Tradition narrated by a single Companion being transmitted by two of his students, these have been accepted as two separate Traditions and when those two students have each had five students, they have been regarded as ten separate hadith. In this way, the number of narrations multiplied along with the increasing number of students and by the third Islamic century, approximately one million narrations had become distributed among the students of the Hadith Sciences. Traditionists have made selections from among these narrations within the framework of certain criteria.



Due to the fact that weak Traditions have been accepted as evidence historically and in matters pertaining to the virtue of certain personalities and places, as well as in legal issues lacking rulings, they have been narrated and even recorded in compilations by hadith scholars. In this period, “fair” or hasan hadith were also evaluated in the category of weak hadith. On account of such issues as the criticism leveled at Traditionists for narrating weak hadith and the difficulty for those other than the hadith scholars to benefit from books of hadith, Traditionist Ishaq ibn Rahuya (d. 852 CE) referred toin an assembly where his student Bukhari was also presentthe need for a compilation containing only the rigorously authenticated (sahih) hadith.

Beginning his work upon this advice, Imam Bukhari (d. 870 CE) selected 1,563 hadiths from among the 600,000 that he had collected until that point, to produce his work Al-Jami’ as-sahih. The full title of the work is Al- Jami al-Musnad as-Sahih al-Mukhtasar min Umur Rasulullah wa Sunanihi wa Ayyamihi (The Abridged Authentic Compilation of the Affairs of the Messenger of Allah, his Sunnah and Campaigns). The term mukhtasar in the title, denoting “concise,” serves to illustrate that he did not aim to compile all authentic Traditions. As a matter of fact, after Bukhari, a great many authors produced works compiling sahih hadith; however, Bukhari’s collection has always been accepted as the most reliable with respect to both its being the first of its kind and due to his rigorous application of the sahih hadith criteria. The reliability of his narrations pertains to his work in the general sense. A particular narration in another hadith compilation may be sounder than the one in Bukhari and it is possible to find sounder narration than one cited in Bukhari.

Later scholars of hadith conducted various studies on Imam Bukhari’s work, investigating his narrators one by one, discovering differing chains of transmission for the narrations therein, and carrying out independent studies of its diverse characteristics. Imam Bukhari’s work left researchers in awe of him and has been regarded as the most reputable book of hadith.

Bukhari recorded narrations from approximately one thousand mentors, but included the narrations of only 293 of his mentors in his Sahih. The shortest chain of transmission in Bukhari’s Sahih contains three narrators. There are twenty-two such hadith in the work, with the number of narrators for each isnad throughout varying between three and six. Bukhari has documented the narrations of the most select narrators at each level or category. He has included a total 1,597 narrators, 208 of them Companions.

Bukhari’s work is divided into ninety-seven chapters (kutub, sing. kitab) and subdivided into 3,730 subchapters (abwab, sing. bab). The use of the term jami (compilation) in the title suggests that the work brings together Prophetic Traditions covering a complete range of topics. After beginning with a hadith on the matter or intention, it proceeds with a section explaining the beginning of revelation, and passes on to legal issues after expounding matters of belief and knowledge. Chapters concerning history and related topics begin with the creation of the universe and continue with sections explaining the history of previous Prophets and the military expeditions (maghazi) of Allah’s Messenger. Including an extensive treatment on the Qur’anic commentary (tafsir), the work’s subchapters have been enriched with explanatory notes taken from various works of commentary up until his day.

Bukhari has given room to his own opinions and those of other writers in only the subheadings. He has also included Qur’anic verses in some subheadings, citing these in particular in the subheadings of the last chapter, the Book of Tawhid. In his work, Imam Bukhari has also collected hadith encompassing all aspects of life such as dreams, medicine, illnesses, and good character.

Bukhari has aimed not only to compile the hadith themselves, but to also facilitate rulings to be obtained from them and to allow the hadith to serve as a guide in every facet of life. For this reason, he has scattered the hadith under a great many subheadings, even sometimes repeating a single hadith under the relevant six or seven subheadings. While there are a total of 7,275 hadiths, this number is reduced to 2,791 upon a removal of all duplicates. By means of including a different chain of transmission (isnad, sing. sanad) or content or text (matn) at each repetition of the hadith, he avoids the possibility of their being rendered meaningless. Sometimes, for the purpose of abridgement, he has not cited the chain of narrators for the repeated hadith. Placing these hadith in the subheadings, he has been able to include a great number of hadith in his work without making it any greater in volume.



Muslim ibn Hajjaj al-Qushayri’s (d. 874 CE) Al-Jami as-Sahih is one of the most important of hadith canons. Muslim is the student of prominent scholars such as Ahmad ibn Hanbal and Imam Bukhari. In his work, he has included 7,563 hadiths from among 300,000, separating these into chapters but not entitling these. There are fifty-four main chapters (“Books”) in the book. He has not repeated the hadith under separate subheadings, but has placed differing narrations of the same hadith consecutively in the same section. The majority of the hadith in the work are those included in Bukhari. A hadith mentioned in the collections of both Bukhari and Muslim is referred to as muttafaqun alayh (agreed upon). There are 820 hadiths in Muslim that are not included in Bukhari’s compilation.



The works of Bukhari and Muslim are known as the Sahihayn (the two sahih). The hadith agreed upon by both are referred to as muttafaqun alayh and have been regarded as the soundest hadith.

Muslim has not adopted the approach of transmission by meaning, summarization and a hadith’s being narrated under different headings. He has placed primary importance on preserving the original words of the hadith and transmission verbatim. Hence, when hadith agreed upon by both Bukhari and Muslim are transmitted, the latter’s text is generally preferred. The legal dimension takes precedence in Bukhari’s text, while adherence to the methodology of hadith transmission holds sway in Muslim.



Maqbul, or acceptable hadiths have been divided into two parts: sound (sahih) and fair (hasan). The term ‘fair’ hadith has been used to illustrate the differentiation in degree between different hadith in the absence of any flaw affecting the soundness of a hadith in terms of its transmission. As the Arabic word hasan denotes ‘beautiful’ and ‘pleasant’, it was employed by second century scholars in their studies of hadith to also signify sound hadith, in line with is literal meaning. From the third Islamic century onwards, however, it became a specialized term representing acceptable hadith that could not be classified as sahih.

In addition to the terms sahih and hasan, the words jayyid, meaning good and amiable, thabit, and salih have been used in reference to acceptable (maqbul) hadith.



The first individual to define the term hasan hadith was Abu Isa Muhammad ibn Isa at-Tirmidhi (d. 892 CE). Imam Tirmidhi defined hadith whose narrators were not alleged to have lied, that were not opposed to other authenticated hadith and which had a second supporting narration, as hasan. Tirmidhi kept the scope of the meaning of hasan hadith quite broad and accepted weak hadith that were corroborated with a second chain of transmission as fair. Referred to in this definition are narrations that are not themselves directly fair, but which achieve such a status through a second supporting chain of narration. Consequently, Tirmidhi’s definition expresses those hadith that are hasan li-ghayrihi, or hasan due to other narrations.

As for hadith that are hasan li-dhatihi, or hasan in itself, they have been defined differently. Accordingly, hasan hadith bear all the characteristics of sound hadith, but contain a shortcoming with respect to the documentation of one of its narrators. Such deficiencies include those such as any weakness in the narrator’s memory or an occasional lapse. However, it is essential that these narrators be renowned for hadith narration and be reliable and righteous. The narrations of those narrators who carry these characteristics and which do not contradict those of reliable narrators and have no other defect with respect to transmission, have been regarded as fair.



1. Define sahih hadith.

2. Explain the accumulation of sahih hadith.

3. What are the distinctive characteristics of Bukhari’s Sahih?

4. What are the distinctive characteristics of Muslim’s Sahih?

5. What are the differences in the works of Bukhari and Muslim?

6. Explain maqbul hadith.

7. Define hasan hadith.

8. What does i’tibar in the Hadith Sciences refer to?

9. What is hasan li-ghayrihi?


Tekines, Ayhan. “An Introduction to Hadith” Tughra Books Press. January 2013.