Jonathan A.C. Brown

in Islamic Studies

ISBN: 9780195390155
Published online December 2009 | | DOI:

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A Hadith (Arabic plural aHadith; the word “Hadith” is used as both a singular and a collective plural in English) is a report attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, describing his words and actions and representing the chief source for knowing his authoritative precedent (Sunna). Each Hadith consists of a text ascribed to Muhammad (matn) and a chain of transmission (isnad) for that text. Muslims view Hadith as the second major source for Islamic law and dogma. In effect, however, Hadith are arguably more important than the Qurʾan. While the Qurʾan is the foundation of authority in Islam, it provides few legal injunctions. The details of Islamic law are far more commonly derived from Hadith, and many tenets of Islamic theology and dogma come not from the Qurʾan but from Hadith (for example, a belief in the Antichrist). Unlike the Qurʾan, which was compiled and standardized during and immediately after Muhammad’s life, the Hadith were set down gradually during a period of five centuries after the beginning of Islam. This presented the serious problem of Hadith forgery, with the different groups and schools of thought that emerged during the early Muslim civil wars and intellectual debates all creating Hadith to support their points of view. Muslim scholars developed the isnad as a tool for trying to distinguish authentic from forged Hadith based on the reliability and reputation of the transmitters who made up the isnad. The question of when one should believe a Hadith based on the fact that it had been attributed to Muhammad’s divine inspiration or reject it because its meaning seemed unacceptable has remained a contentious issue among Muslim scholars. Since they believed in Muhammad’s prophethood, Muslim scholars did not think it unusual for Hadith to predict future events or describe things that a typical person could not know. Western scholars who began evaluating the historical reliability of the Hadith corpus in the 19th century did not share these assumptions. Because there are no surviving textual records of Hadith from the actual time of the Prophet, Western scholars have questioned the authenticity of the Hadith corpus in general, with many reasoning that the Hadith tradition was elaborated as part of the growth of Islam and not as its original foundation.

Article.  9152 words. 

Subjects: Islam

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