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Review of "A Textbook of Hadith Studies: Authenticity, Compilation, Classification and Criticism of Hadith" by


22 December 2013

The primary source of religious authority in Islam is of course the Quran, the word of God as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) via the Archangel Gabriel.

The Quran is a relatively short book and concentrates on setting out the fundamental principles of Islam such as the uniqueness of God, the obligation to worship Him, the obligation to be just and generous, the inevitability of the Day of Judgement etc. The Quran’s brevity inevitably means it contains little regarding the details of religious practice or the laws that are required for a society to operate.

As explained in Kamali’s book "Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence" the secondary source of religious authority in Islam is the Sunnah which comprises what the Prophet said and what the Prophet did as reported to us by those who heard him and observed him. Those reports are known as hadith, and were transmitted by word-of-mouth until they were collected and written down in books of hadith.

There are two polarised extreme views about hadith amongst Muslims.

  • Some Muslims known as Quranists reject all hadith as unreliable and seek to base their religious practice entirely upon the text of the Quran. Their view is that oral transmission simply cannot be relied upon. Perhaps the most prominent of these is Edip Yuksel.
  • A view held at the opposite extreme is that to doubt the authenticity of a single hadith is to place yourself outside the boundary of Islam. I was somewhat bemused when this view was expressed to me by a well-known British Muslim politician.

My personal view is somewhere in between. As explained in my review of John Wansbrough's book "Quranic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation" I have no difficulty accepting that a primarily oral society could preserve over a period of 100 or 200 years the basic facts regarding the most important thing that had ever happened there.

The short description on the back of this book states that:

"A Textbook of Hadith Studies provides a wide-ranging coverage of hadith methodology and literature for intermediate and advanced levels of study. It offers insights into the history of hadith, their compilation, documentation and methods for ascertaining their accuracy. It also deals with the principles of hadith criticism (al-jarh was al-ta- dil) and classification."

To summarise my review, the book does just that. It will be accessible to anyone with reasonable English language education.

An overview of the book


The book is quite short, 220 pages plus a bibliography, glossary, notes and index. After the author profile, preface and transliteration table, the contents of the book are as follows:

  1. Introduction
  2. Reception and Delivery of Hadith
  3. Documentation of Hadith – Early Developments
  4. Hadith Literature – the Major Collections
  5. Biographies of Hadith Transmitters
  6. Hadith Terminology
  7. Hadith Forgery
  8. Impugnment and Validation
  9. Hidden Defects 1
  10. Hidden Defects 2
  11. Conflict in Hadith
  12. Unfamiliar Expressions in Hadith
  13. The Abrogator and Abrogated in Hadith
  14. Additional Segments to Hadith by Reliable Narrators
  15. Hadith Classification 1
  16. Hadith Classification 2
  17. Hadith Classification 3
  18. Confirmation and Follow-up
  19. Prerequisites of Authenticity
  20. Conclusion and Reform Proposals

In this review I have not attempted to cover every chapter exhaustively. Instead the review illustrates some of the parts that I found particularly interesting or illuminating.


Kamali explains that most of the existing works on hadith in English are preoccupied with historical developments and the debate over hadith authenticity. However the existing English-language coverage provides little about traditional hadith studies (ulum al-hadith) and the methodology that hadith scholars have employed to verify the reliability of hadith.

Conversely, he explains that in Arabic there is extensive literature on hadith methodology but little interest in the history of hadith or the debate over hadith authenticity. He writes:

"Only in recent decades, Arab and Muslim writers generally, and those with a Western experience in particular, have addressed issues that feature prominently in the 20th century writings of Western origin concerning the Sunna and hadith. The present volume does not propose to delve into historical developments as the English reader of hadith can obtain this in the existing works. I have instead focused on the jurisprudence of hadith, if I may use the expression, and have tried to offer, in a textbook format, the traditional coverage of hadith methodology."

1. Introduction

Kamali explains that the book is about "hadith methodology and criteria that seek to verify accuracy of the text and authenticity of hadith."

He goes on to say:

"One of the main objectives of methodology, whether in the sphere of hadith or other disciplines of learning, is to develop objective and scientific standards of enquiry and research. The purpose is to ensure adequate safeguards against subjectivity and error that might compromise reliability of the results of that enquiry.

Muslim jurists and ulama have developed elaborate methodologies for the authentication of hadith with the purpose precisely to enhance the scope of scientific objectivity in their conclusions. This they have done in full awareness that in no other branch of Islamic learning has there been as much distortion and forgery as in hadith."

As an aside, Muslim scholars often use phrases such as "the Islamic sciences" and in the above extract the word "scientific" recurs. In my view the use of the word "science" outside its proper field of enquiry is misleading. As explained in more detail in my piece "Why science ignores God" science is about observation, the formulation of hypotheses and the carrying out of repeatable experiments to test those hypotheses. Use of the word "science" in other fields is likely to cause confusion since those other fields do not practice science; for example they do not carry out repeatable experiments.

Kamali goes on to explain his views about the nature of objective knowledge:

"Objective knowledge is that knowledge which is open to public verification, and this is held to be true, in the modern world, of impirical [empirical] knowledge, which can be accessed and verified by the public. The Islamic perception of objectivity and objective knowledge tends to differ, however, in that access, experimentation and whether or not it is verifiable by most people are not the defining elements of objective knowledge, although they remain relevant. Objectivity in the Islamic context is measured by impartiality, universality and justice.

Physical, mathematical and metaphysical truths are objective in nature. Objectivity is also possible in non-impirical [empirical] knowledge, such as in the religious, philosophical and metaphysical knowledge, precisely because man is endowed with a higher faculties of intellectual discernment, impartiality and justice."

In my view the above text confuses rather than enlightens. I would look at it as follows.

Objective knowledge of the real world consists of statements such as "if we mix a clear solution of chemical A with a clear solution of chemical B a blue precipitate will form." This is a testable statement about the real world which can be verified or disproved by making solutions of the chemicals concerned and mixing them.

Conversely there are many other areas where certainty is impossible and the question of whether knowledge is objective can be debated.

For example, most educated people believe that 2000 years ago there was a Roman general called Julius Caesar who was assassinated by a conspiracy, one of whose members was called Brutus. We believe this because there are manuscript texts which tell us about the incident. However as far as I am aware the manuscripts that we have are copies made by mediaeval scribes of older manuscripts. Even if we had a manuscript that could be dated using radiocarbon technology to 2000 years ago, which recounted the story as we believe it today, we would still be relying upon the writer of that manuscript having told the truth about a real event rather than writing a fabrication.

We believe that the story of Julius Caesar is real and not a fabrication because there are many manuscripts, old statues etc available, and the collective story that they tell is far more likely to be true than false.

However this is a probabilistic statement. It is not the same as objective knowledge about the chemicals mentioned above. Unless we become able to construct a time machine and go back in time to observe Julius Caesar and his murder, our knowledge about him is perforce much less certain than our knowledge about chemistry. Objectivity in the context of historical studies has to refer to a lack of bias and the best possible extrapolation from the historical materials available to us, but it should not be confused with the objectivity of chemistry.

After outlining the scope for controversy and hadith fabrication, Kamali outlines the efforts undertaken by the scholars:

"Moved by an acute sense of responsibility and the desire to safeguard the Sunna of the Prophet, peace be upon him, against prejudice and error, the ulama have undertaken painstaking efforts to verify the authenticity of hadith. Their tireless travelling and interviews, on a massive scale, for that purpose enabled them not only to obtain information on hadith, but also impressed upon them the difficulty of the challenge they faced over the endless possibilities of error in the accurate rendering of hadith. The methodology of hadith, or usul al-hadith, that was developed as a result… to provide a set of methodological guidelines that ensured propriety… in relation to hadith, to ensure authenticity in the text and transmission of hadith."

The rest of the book goes on to explain this methodology in detail.

2. Reception and Delivery of Hadith

Kamali begins by emphasising the clarity with which the Prophet used to teach Islam.

"It is reported that the Prophet used to speak to his audience clearly and elaborated or repeated his point whenever he doubted the reception and understanding of his audience. Sometimes he asked his Companions to repeat his message, or he asked them a question to alert them as to the accuracy of their reception. Aisha al-Siddiqa has been quoted to have said that ‘the Prophet, peace be upon him, did not summarise his speech… And he spoke in a way that if one were to count his words, they could be counted.’ She has also been quoted to the effect that ‘whenever she did not hear anything (that the Prophet had said) she went back over it until she clarified and understood it.’"

Kamali proceeds to outline the requirements regarding people who received and transmitted hadith. For example a person who was a disbeliever is qualified to be a recipient of hadith but any transmission by him is not valid if he was still a disbeliever at the time of transmission; transmission would only be valid if the person had become a Muslim by the time when the transmission took place. Transmitters of hadith must also be of good character, avoid major sins and of course the persons of high level of integrity and honesty.

People who transmitted hadith must have received them and Kamali outlines the eight methods of reception that are accepted within hadith methodology.

  1. Direct hearing from a teacher.
  2. Recitation by the disciple back to the shaykh from whom the hadith was received.
  3. Permission, where the Shaykh expressly grants permission to individuals to transmit the hadith.
  4. Presentation to the disciple by the shaykh of the manuscript which the shaykh has originally received from the source the shaykh is relying upon.
  5. Correspondence where the hadith teacher writes the hadith in his own handwriting and hand it over to his disciple.
  6. Declaration where the teacher merely declares the hadith and its source to the disciple without express permission for the disciple to transmit it further.
  7. Bequest aware the teacher these instructions to the disciple to transmit the contents of a particular hadith collection.
  8. Finding where a person finds hadith in the handwriting of his teacher.

Each of the above eight categories is explained in some detail by Kamali.

3. Documentation of Hadith – Early Developments

Kamali explains that the Prophet discouraged writing down his own sayings.

"It is generally known that the Prophet, peace be on him, discouraged documentation of his own sayings and Sunna at the early stages of his mission in order to preserve the purity of the Quran and prevent the possibility of confusion between the Quran and his Sunna. The profit is thus reported to have said to his Companions: "Do not write what I say. Anyone who has written from me anything other than the Quran, let him blot it out. You may speak about me and there is no objection to that, but one who were attributes a lie to me deliberately should prepare himself for a place in Hell.""

Kamali goes on to discuss a number of cases where companions of the Prophet were specifically given permission to record his sayings. He mentions a number of cases where hadith collections were written down during the Prophet’s lifetime; although the manuscripts have failed to reach others they are referred to and sometimes incorporated in later works that have survived.

He goes on to discuss the attitude to more formal documentation of hadith.

"The Caliph Umar b. al-Kattab considered the documentation of Sunna and consulted with the Companions, many of whom supported the idea, but as Urwa b. al-Zubayr reported "Umar delayed the matter and thought over it for a month as he remained doubtful about it himself", but after a month of deliberation, he addressed the Companions and told them that he was apprehensive that this might distract people’s attention from the Book of God. The Caliph Umar eventually decided not to write the Sunna. This position basically remained unchanged during the period of the Pious Caliphs until the advent of the turmoil and fitna which followed the assassination of the third Caliph Uthman and the civil war that broke out between the Caliph Ali and the governor of al-Sham, Muawiya. Military conflict led in turn to the emergence of political and theological differences among various groups, and some individuals resorted to hadith forgery in order to promote their particular viewpoints."

Kamali goes on to explain that the expansion of the territorial domain of Islam and the dispersal of the companions gave rise to new concerns that hadith should be documented. He explains how the Umayyad Caliph Umar b. Abd al-Aziz (died 101 AH) was the first to take up the issue and that he gave the governor of Medina the task of collecting and documenting the Sunna. This led to the beginning of the hadith collections that were published during the second and third centuries AH.

Kamali refers to a change in style.

"Whereas the early years of the second century saw works on the Sunna that were in conformity with al-Zuhri’s [one of the people asked by Caliph Umar b. Abd al-Aziz to document hadith and the teacher of Imam Malik] method, the latter part of that century witnessed writings in hadith that were different in style and format. Hadith collections that were authored during the late second century by Imam Malik, Ibn Jurayj and Sufyan al-Thawri, for example, brought the various themes of hadith within a single volume instead of the separate volumes that were devoted to individual themes. But these works still continued al-Zuhri’s method of joining the sayings and fatwa of the Companions and Followers with the hadith of the Prophet on particular subjects. This can be seen, for example, in the Muwatta of Imam Malik, and the Musnad of Imam Shafi, the only two works that have reached us of that period."

Kamali informs us that the third century AH saw yet another phase in the development of the documentation of hadith, and in particular the isolation of the Sunna of the Prophet from the sayings of the Companions and the fatwas of the Followers. The writers of the third century also observed the methodological principles that had been developed. By the beginning of the fourth century, writers drew a clear distinction between sound and defective hadith.

4. Hadith Literature – the Major Collections

Kamali explains that "the different stages of development in the compilation of hadith and their classification may be summarised under 10 headings are as follows." However he points out that the categories below are not exclusive and sometimes overlap. The categorisation is simply an aid to understanding the vast hadith literature.

The 10 categories that Kamali outlines are as follows:

  1. Sahifa (literally booklet) collections which come from the earliest stage of documentation, often for purely personal use, without any order or classification. This period started during the Prophet’s lifetime and continued until the early second century.
  2. Musannaf (literally classified) collections which consisted of thematic classifications of hadith. An example is the Muwatta of Imam Malik.
  3. Musnad (literally supported) compilations where greater attention was paid to the chain of transmission or isnad which linked the hadith to the Prophet through the reports of reliable narrators usually starting with a Companion. All hadith from a particular Companion were grouped together under his or her name. An example is the Musnad of Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal (161-241) which contains 40,000 hadith including 10,000 repetitions reported by about 700 Companions.
  4. The Sahih (sound/authentic) collections are typified by the third century compilations by al-Bukhari and Muslim. Kamali goes on to give an overview of the life of Muhammad b. Ismail al-Bukhari (194 – 256AH) who devoted 16 years to his compilation, interviewing over 1000 hadith transmitters from Egypt to Iraq and allegedly collecting about 600,000 hadith which he winnowed down to 9,082. The collection contains duplicative hadith with different isnads; discounting repetitions there are 2,602 hadith in his collection. Kamali points out that of the approximately 430 transmitters in Bukhari, scholars have only considered about 80 to be dubious or weak, whereas of the 620 transmitters in Muslim, the critics have raised questions over 160.
  5. The Sunan collections which specialise in legal hadith. The premier example is the Sunan Abu Dawud of Sulayman b. Ashath al-Sijistani (died 275AH) which consists of 4,800 legal hadith.
  6. The Jami collections which take a comprehensive approach including a broad range of topics, with chapters on such matters as dogmatics, legal rules, moral teachings, social etiquette etc. Kamali points out that the collections of Bukhari and Muslim fall into this category, as a simple demonstration that Kamali's 10 categories are not exclusive.
  7. Al-Mujam collections are books of hadith where the contents are in alphabetical order under the names of the narrators or the cities or tribes to which the narrators belonged.
  8. Al-Mustradak (literally discovered or detected) hadith books and collections are those in which the compiler has supplemented the work of a previous compiler by collecting other hadith which fulfil the original compilers requirements but which had not been included.
  9. Al-Mustakhraj (literally extracted) collections are those where a later compiler collect fresh isnads for the same hadith that were compiled in a previous work. The goal is usually to draw attention to additional transmitters.
  10. Al-Juz (literally section) refers to a book collection in which hadith are narrated by a single narrator. For example hadith narrated by Abu Bakr and included in one collection would then be called Juz Abu Bakr.

The six major collections

Kamali explains that around 350 AH the two Sahih collections of Bukhari and Muslim and the two Sunan collections of Abu Dawud and al-Nasai were recognised as the best collections of hadith. After some time, the Jami of al-Tirmidhi was added with the five books together being referred to as the "five source books."

Kamali explains that it is not clear exactly when the Jami of al-Tirmidhi achieved the status of being one of the five as it was being criticised by one scholar as late as the mid--fifth century AH. However he considers that the work would have achieved its recognition well before that of Ibn Maja which was the last to have achieved special status. By the seventh century AH these six collections were generally recognised by Muslims as being the reliable collections of hadith, with Bukhari and Muslim occupying the first rank.

5. Biographies of Hadith Transmitters

In this chapter Kamali outlines the branch of hadith studies that concentrates on biographical data chronology and the life histories of hadith transmitters, and everything that is known about them. It is obviously essential to know whether a person was pious, trustworthy and had a good memory. Furthermore, there are even more fundamental points such as ensuring that if person A is reported as having transmitted a hadith to person B, that they should have been alive at the same time and preferably lived in a region which would cause them to meet each other.

6. Hadith Terminology

Kamali points out that "hadith literature is replete with technical terms of the kind that even a native Arabic speaker without expert knowledge of the subject cannot be expected to comprehend."

In the rest of the chapter, Kamali gives many of the technical Arabic terms that are used in hadith studies and explains what they mean.

7. Hadith Forgery

Kamali explains just how much hadith forgery there has been and how early it started.

"Extensive forgery in hadith was commonly known and acknowledged to have occurred in the early decades of the advent of Islam. It is believed to have begun following the turmoil over the murder of the third caliph, Uthman, which dealt a heavy blow to the unity of the umma. This momentous event is held responsible for the emergence of serious political differences and partisan groups such as Shia, Kharijites and Mutazila, as well as the onset of forgery in hadith. Hadith forgery was to a large extent an epiphenomenon of these developments and theconflicts they precipitated eventually led to the collapse of the early caliphate barely forty years after its inception."

Forgery may apply to either the text of a hadith or to its isnad or both. Kamali explains that personality cults have often led to the forging of hadith, for example "Whoever wishes to behold Adam for his knowledge, Noah for his piety, Abraham for his gentleness, Moses for his commanding presence and Jesus for his devotion to worship – let him behold Ali."

Kamali points out that juristic and theological differences such as whether the Quran is created or uncreated were also a major contributor to the forging of hadith. For example "whoever raises his hands during the performance of salah [prayer], his salah is null and void." Commentaries on the Quran (tafasir) have also often included forged hadith.

Kamali discusses the methods used by the scholars to identify forged isnads. He also outlines how forgery can be detected in the text of a hadith. He lists seven factors:

  1. The use of crude language since the Prophet was known for his eloquence.
  2. Irrational language, for example "the arc of Noah circumambulated the Kaaba seven times and then prayed to units of salah at the end" is evidently unreasonable.
  3. Statements which stand in clear opposition to the Quran. For example "The offspring of zina [unlawful sexual relations] shall not enter Paradise down to seven generations" was rejected by the Prophet’s widow Aisha since it violates the clear text of the Quran that "no soul shall carry the burden of another soul" in Quran 6:164.
  4. Where the text is a historical anachronism.
  5. Where the hadith shows scholastic fanaticism.
  6. Where the hadith is supposed to have been known to large numbers of people but only one person has actually reported it. For example the so-called hadith that "Anyone who touches his sexual organ must take a fresh ablution." If this were true, the entire Ummah would have known it and have practised it; as that is not the case, is likely to be a forgery.
  7. They hadith which promises disproportionate rewards or excessive punishments for a small act that clearly does not warrant the stipulated consequences. Kamali gives the example of "the report ‘anyone who says "there is no God but Allah", Allah will create for him a bird with 70,000 tongues each of which speaks 70,000 languages and all will be praying for him.""

8. Impugnment and Validation

Kamali reminds us of the Quranic authority to investigate and verify reports, even when they are conveyed by persons of compromised integrity, instead of dismissing them out of hand. "When a transgressor comes to you with news, then investigate (its veracity) so that people are not afflicted with adversity due to ignorance and then you regret what you have done." Quran 49:6.

Accordingly scholars have developed a number of methodologies for assessing and grading the character and qualifications of transmitters of hadith. Kamali explains those in detail in this chapter. In particular he points out:

"The methods that were applied in hadith criticism were clearly focused on the reliability of the narrator. To accept a hadith according to the criteria of hadith criticism, it is not sufficient for the text to be accurate and sound but that it should also be transmitted by an upright adl [upright and just] person of undisputed credibility. The issue at stake is not, in other words, the narrator’s accuracy and care in receiving, retaining and then transmitting the hadith but also his upright character and adala. [Probity and a brightness of character]"

9. Hidden defects 1

Kamali explains that scholars have designated the study of hidden defects, illa in Arabic, in hadith as a separate branch of hadith studies. The defect may relate either to the isnad or to the text of the hadith such as a subtle change of a word, superfluous addition or insertion of words that do not belong etc. He goes on to give a number of examples.

10. Hidden Defects 2

This chapter is devoted to a different kind of defect, in Arabic tadlis.

"Tadlis literally means concealment, especially in reference to a fault that a merchant does not reveal in order to sell his goods. It is the verbal noun of dalasa which originally means the mixing of light and dark colours. Tadlis is usually attempted by one who knows what he chooses not to reveal and remains silent. The ulama of hadith have used tadlis somewhat technically in reference to a transmitter who has narrated a hadith from an authority whom he met but from whom he did not learn that particular hadith, but learned it from someone else going through the same authority. It also refers to a narrator who was a contemporary of his immediate source but has not met him, yet he makes out as if he did."

A number of examples are given and Kamali outlines the way that ulama have classified transmitters of hadith who have committed tadlis.

11. Conflict in Hadith

In Arabic this branch of hadith studies is known as mukhtalif al-hadith. It deals with hadith which are in conflict with each other. This branch is also known in Arabic as mushkil al-hadith, and Kamali explains that the latter term, also encompass "hadith which is not in conflict with any other hadith but difficult nevertheless to comprehend." The difficulty may also arise from an apparent conflict between a hadith and a Quranic text, or conflict with human experience and natural sciences.

The chapter goes on to explain how, wherever possible, hadith which appear to be in conflict may be reconciled. He explains that the methodology is only applied to sound hadith since spurious and weak hadith does not merit serious attention anyway. Sometimes hadith can be reconciled, and sometimes they cannot.

Kamali gives the following example where two hadith can be reconciled:

  • "When the water reaches (the height of) two qullas, it does not carry dirt.
  • God created water clean and will not make it unclean unless there is a change in its taste, colour or smell.

There is an apparent conflict here which can be resolved by recourse to particularisation of the general. The first hadith declares water clean when it reaches a certain height (regardless of any change in its colour or taste). The second hadith declares that water is clean (below the level of two qullas) as long as there is no change in its attributes of cleanliness. Each of the two hadith operates as a specifier over the other and the conflict therein is resolved."

Kamali goes on to explain that sometimes hadith cannot be resolved. Where it is possible to identify their chronological order, the rules of abrogation will apply so that one hadith will abrogate the other. Where the chronological order cannot be ascertained, the rules of preference (al-tarjih) will be applied to determine which of the two is stronger and therefore preferable. He goes on to explain the seven principles grounds of preference discussed by al-Suyuti in his work "Tadrib al-Rawi".

Where preference is totally unfeasible, Kamali explains that the ulama advise suspension, which means that the conflict remains and no action is taken in either direction. Kamali gives a number of examples of conflict in hadith. He points out that many of the problems arise from "a tendency among the scholars and jurists to stick to the literal meaning of words and expressions even on occasions when a metaphorical meaning would seem preferable. There are numerous instances of departure from the literal to metaphorical meanings words in the Quran and the position is no different in the Sunna."

12. Unfamiliar Expressions in Hadith

Kamali explains that "This branch of the hadith studies is concerned with odd and unfamiliar expressions that are encountered in hadith." In particular he goes on to explain "A certain degree of ambiguity and confusion has also been caused by contact and literary influence from non-Arab sources, especially the Persian language and tradition after the mid-second century hijra when such influences began to affect the language and culture of the Arabian peninsula."

The chapter goes on to explain how the scholars have dealt with this issue from the earliest days.

13. The Abrogator and Abrogated in Hadith

Abrogation is an important but controversial subject. Kamali explains it as follows:

"Abrogation is defined as the removal or suspension of one Sharia ruling by another, provided that the latter is of a subsequent origin and the two rulings are enacted separately from one another. The occasion for naskh [Arabic for abrogation] arises only when there is a clear conflict between two ahadith and the conflict between their respective rulings cannot be reconciled nor can the one be distinguished from the other in regard to its subject matter, time or circumstance."

One of the areas of controversy is whether the Quran and hadith can abrogate each other. Kamali writes:

"Among the four leading schools, only the Shafis have attempted to narrow down the scope of naskh by holding the view that the Quran and the Sunna can only abrogate themselves but that they do not abrogate one another. More recent research on the subject has on the whole shown that the scope of naskh may not be as wide as it was shown in some earlier writings on the subject.

The subject matter of hadith must also be one that is amenable to abrogation: Naskh applies mainly to the akham [plural of hukm – law, value or rulings of Sharia] and even here the two rulings must be decisive and not open to interpretation. Naskh does not apply to purely rational subjects nor does it apply to factual statements that are in the nature of news and reports. To say that justice is a virtue cannot really be abrogated. Similarly one can deny a report but cannot abrogate it."

Kamali explains that there are four types of abrogation in hadith.

  1. Explicit abrogation where a saying of the Prophet makes clear that it is reversing an earlier saying. Kamali gives the example of a hadith in Muslim where the Prophet said "I had forbidden you from visiting the graves. You may now visit them."
  2. Where the saying of a Companion reports of the Prophet abrogating something he had said previously without the abrogation being directly in the text of the hadith.
  3. Where the historical sequence of events is known and the second hadith abrogates the prior one.
  4. Where the abrogation is known through general consensus, ijma. Kamali stresses that ijma itself cannot abrogate the hadith but it can verify whether abrogation has, or has not, occurred.

14. Additional Segments to Hadith by Reliable Narrators

This chapter discusses the issue where: "Two different versions of a hadith are sometimes reported by two different but reliable narrators, or even by the same narrator at different points in time, one of which adds a segment to the shorter version or records some kind of variation to the words. The question then arises as to the admissibility or otherwise of the additional data to the hadith in question."

15. Hadith Classification 1

This chapter discusses the primary way that hadith are classified with regard to their reliability. Kamali writes:

"The grading of hadith transmitters, as noted in the previous section on impugnment and validation, enabled the ulama to classify the hadith from the viewpoint of acceptability of otherwise, into the three broad categories of Sahih (sound), Hasan (fair) and Daif (weak). It may be noted at the outset, however, that these categories are less than exclusive and sometimes tend to be overlapping in that a particular hadith may qualify for some of the conditions of Sahih and some also of Hasan, which is why some scholars have actually introduced intervening categories of hadith so that the name reflects the overlapping character of the ahadith that fall in between these classifications."

Kamali then explains each of these classifications in significant detail. This can be illustrated by looking at the introduction to his explanation of Sahih.

"Hadith is classified as Sahih when its narrators belonged to the first three classes of narrators. [As classified in the earlier chapter on impugnment and validation.] It is defined as a hadith with a continuous isnad although back to the Prophet, or a Companion, consisting of upright persons who also possess retentive memories and those whose narration is not outlandish (shadhdh) while it is, in the meantime, free of both obvious and subtle defects (ilal). The last two requirements here are concerned mainly with the text (matn) and what it all means is that both the isnad and matn of the hadith are clear of apparent uncertainty and doubt. A Sahih hadith must not be outlandish in the sense that it does not contradict a reliable hadith that is reported by a larger number of transmitters, or even by one transmitter of higher authority and ranking."

Kamali continues to expand on this definition of Sahih before explaining Hasan and Daif in similar detail. Furthermore these three main categories also have subcategories. For example a Mursal hadith is a Daif hadith "with a broken link in its isnad at the level of a companion. A Follower (tabi) has, in other words, reported it directly from the Prophet." He goes on to discuss the differing attitudes of the scholars to Mursal hadiths.

16. Hadith Classification 2

This chapter discusses the classification of hadith on a different dimension from the previous chapter. "This classification is predicated on the question as to who has actually uttered the hadith, or to whom it may be attributed." Kamali gives detailed explanations of the categories outlined below.

  1. Marfu (elevated) – "The underlying idea of this classification is that a hadith may sometimes consist of the statement of conduct of one or more Companions, which is then elevated and attributed to the Prophet himself, due to the strong, even irrebuttable, assumption that no one else could have validated it in the first place, even though it direct saying of the Prophet on it is not available on record."
  2. Mawquf (suspended) – this category is for hadith that are attributed to a companion, and can consist of words, action or tacit approval, but the isnad stops at that level and falls short of reaching the Prophet himself.
  3. Muttasil (connected) – "hadith with a continuous isnad in which every narrator has received the hadith from his immediate link above."
  4. Maqtu (broken) – "a hadith that is suspended at the level of a leading figure among the Followers (tabiun)."
  5. Muanin (from from) – "hadith with an isnad in which ‘so and so narrates from so and so (i.e. fulan an fulan)’ is used without actually specifying the manner of its reception between the two links whether by direct hearing or other methods." Kamali has a detailed discussion of the fact that Muslim has more hadith in this category than Bukhari.
  6. Muannan (that that) – "this is a hadith with an isnad wherein the particle ‘an (that) occurs and tends to introduce an element of ambiguity as to the actual method of communication between the narrator and his immediate source. For example ‘so and so narrated to us that so and so said’".
  7. Muallaq (hanging) – "a hadith in which one or more links are omitted from the beginning of isnad at the lower end, or any other part thereof. Sometimes the entire isnad is omitted where the person quoting a hadith simply says ‘the Prophet, peace be upon him, said…,’ or when is said in reference to a Companion that 'Ibn Abbas said such and such'." Kamali goes on to discuss why this usage came out and when it may be acceptable.

17. Hadith Classification 3

This is yet another dimension of classification.

"Hadith classifications that are reviewed in this chapter are also premised on the number of narrators in their isnad without any reference to the placement of hadith on the three-point scale of Sahih – Hasan – Daif."

Again Kamali gives a detailed discussion of the categories listed below.

  1. Fard (single) – "a hadith that only one Companion has narrated from the Prophet, even if the hadith has become well-known and reported by many at the lower levels of the isnad."
  2. Gharib (strange) – "a hadith which is narrated by only one narrator at any one link of its isnad, be it the middle, lower or upper end." This means that every Fard hadith is automatically a Gharib hadith, but not vice versa.
  3. Aziz (strong) – a hadith in which at least one link in its isnad consists of two narrators, even if the other links include more than two provided that none of the links in the isnad consists of less than two narrators."
  4. Mashhur (well-known) – "when the number of narrators at every link of the isnad is no less than three, the hadith would be classified as Mashhur."
  5. Mutawatir (recurrent) – "a hadith narrated by a large number of people, so much so that it is inconceivable that they could all have collaborated in order to perpetuate a lie. That possibility is precluded owing to the large number, diversity of residence, locality and time of the narrators.… A hadith is classified as Mutawatir only when the number of its reporters in every generation is large enough to preclude the possibility of collusion to propagate a lie. Hadith would thus failed to qualify as Mutawatir if its reporters are found to be biased or associated with one another through a political or sectarian movement."
  6. Ahad (solitary) – Kamali explains that while the name solitary implies a hadith that is narrated by one transmitter, this is not the definition. "Ahad is actually defined as a hadith that does not fulfil the requirements of Mutawatir. It may have been narrated by one, two or three persons at every level or the number may vary, but their number does not reach that of the Mutawatir. This is why Ahad according to the majority of hadith scholars and jurists includes the Gharib, Aziz and Masshur."

18. Confirmation and Follow-up

This chapter explains the process for following up and confirming "a hadith which is narrated by only one transmitter in a single chain of isnad. The purpose is to find out whether additional support can be found for it by tracing its chain of transmission at various levels all the way back to the level of Companions."

Kamali explains the process and methodology.

"When the report of one narrator is confirmed by another, and the latter agrees with the format entirely through the same chain of transmission without any change in the hadith, the original narrator (and his hadith) are called mutaba (followed) and the new narrator (and his hadith) as mutabi (follower).… But when confirmation for a hadith is found through an entirely different isnad, from a different companion, that is, but the hadith conveys the same meaning or a closely similar meaning, the lowest narrator in the chain of isnad (and his hadith) is called a shahid (witness)."

Kamali goes on to give a number of examples.

19. Prerequisites of Authenticity

An authentic hadith consists of words that the Prophet truly said or describes actions that he actually did. In this chapter Kamali explains the criteria developed by the scholars for judging the authenticity of hadith in 12 categories.

Each of the following is discussed in considerable detail in the chapter.

  1. The hadith must be accompanied by an isnad.
  2. "Every link in the chain of isnad must be known to be an upright person (adl) at the time of reporting the hadith."
  3. "None of the narrators in the isnad is known to be implicated in forgery, sectarian, political and theological disputes."
  4. "The narrator of hadith must be a contemporary of the teacher on whose authority he relates the hadith. This means that he must have been born before the death of his teacher by a period long enough to enable him to acquire the knowledge of hadith."
  5. "The narrator of hadith must possess a retentive memory so that his report can be trusted. If he is known for committing frequent errors and inconsistencies, his report would be unacceptable."
  6. "With regard to the text matn of hadith it is noted that it must be in the familiar eloquent and dignified style of the prophetic language. If it is a report of an action of the Prophet, it should be such that can be expected of him. The presence of obscene and objectionable words, and statements that are particularly crude, ridiculous and unbecoming of the Prophet are usually taken as signs of forgery in hadith and rejected."
  7. "The text and message of the hadith must be consistent with the Quran. Should there be a clear case of conflict in such a way that no reasonable compromise and interpretation can remove it, the hadith is rejected."
  8. "Hadith which is not historical and fails to qualify the test of historical evidence that was known during the time of the Prophet is rejected."
  9. "The text must be in agreement with reason. If it is illogical in purpose and meaning, it is suspected of being a forgery."
  10. "The narrator must not be totally unknown (majhul). To eliminate obscurity and ignorance, the ulama of hadith stipulate that at least two upright persons should have transmitted hadith from the person in question. Only the companions are exempted from this requirement."
  11. "The narrator must also know the conditions of his shaykh/teacher and ascertain his knowledge and character and only then should transmit hadith from him." Kamali outlines four sub-categories in this section.
  12. "Both the text and isnad of the hadith must be clear of subtle and hidden defects, or illa, and also clear of concealment, tadlis."

20. Conclusion and Reform Proposals

Kamali begins this chapter by referring back to some of his comments in the introduction "on the strengths and weaknesses of methodology and methodological guidelines that the ulama have developed for the authentication of hadith." He then reminds us of the effort the ulama have undertaken to verify the authenticity of hadith.

"The sheer wealth of the scholarly works on hadith methodology and sciences and the effort that has gone into the compilation of countless numbers of valuable works on hadith spanning the entire history of Islamic scholarship cannot fail to impress. The ulama have clearly seen the hadith studies as an arena where they combined meticulous scholarship with a sacred purpose and the results they have achieved are clearly remarkable."

While Kamali is satisfied with the methodology, he points out that some of the major hadith collections were prepared before the methodology was fully developed.

"Yet some weakness is noted with regard to its implementation especially in the early stages of the compilation of hadith. The methodology of usul al-hadith, and even that of usul al-fiqh, were developed mainly in the third century hijra, and even as late as in the dates of imam Ahmad b. Hanbal (d. 241 H), questions have been raised whether he had in fact known the methodology of usul al-hadith in its final form.… It may therefore not come as a surprise to note that both al-Bukhari and Muslim can gain hadith that were subsequently identified as weak (Daif) or which did not fulfil some of the prerequisites of authenticity for a Sahih hadith."

Kamali also points out that hadith scholars overemphasised the confirmation of the isnad compared to a review of the text.

"One tends to notice a certain degree of imbalance in the kind of attention that hadith scholars have paid to matters of transmission and isnad as opposed to the text or matn of hadith. Hadith experts clearly paid greater attention to the former at the expense, to some extent, of the latter. The accuracy of the hadith text and its harmony or otherwise with the Quran and principles of Islam that had a wider basis of support in the hadith itself did not receive a commensurate level of attention from the hadith scholars.… A careful reading of the text, in these examples, [specific hadith are cited in the book] reveals weaknesses so much so that the hadith in question could hardly be accepted as an authentic sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. One would have expected in such instances that the compiler of such controversial materials would have rejected them and refused to document them in the category of Sahih hadith, or even of any hadith for that matter. Weak and even fabricated hadith are found in the hadith collections, and although not extensive, the presence even on a limited scale, of such controversial hadith tends to undermine confidence in the veracity of the larger corpus of hadith."

Kamali goes on to discuss a number of examples of hadith in the major collections which are clearly unacceptable. He also gives some examples where Muhammad al-Ghazali found certain hadith in the standard collections which are at odds with the Quran.

Kamali mentions the concerns of the modern scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi regarding the weak hadith in the standard collections and his proposal for the compilation of three encyclopaedias on hadith:

  1. A comprehensive encyclopaedia on the narrators and their biographies.
  2. The text of all hadith available from the beginning down to the latter third of the fifth century AH including all of their chains of transmission.
  3. The Sahih and Hasan hadith derived from the second encyclopaedia using the biographical information and hadith methodology, with a comprehensive index.

Kamali mentions his own proposal made in 1998 at an international conference on hadith held at London’s School of Oriental and African studies for a critical review and consolidation of the existing collections to compile and abridged collection of those hadith in the six major collections that are considered reliable.

He now wishes to unify his proposal with al-Qaradawi’s. He also proposes rebalancing the conventional methodology of hadith criticism by giving more balanced attention to the verification of both the isnad and the matn rather than privileging one at the expense of the other. "Greater attention would thus have to be paid to the question of internal harmony between the Sunna itself and then of the Sunna with the Quran, and also the broad and general principles of Sharia that are derived from the overall reading of these sources."

Reviewer’s concluding comments

At 220 pages the book is very easy to read, clearly laid out and requires no knowledge of Arabic.

Anyone who reads it should come away with renewed respect for the effort put in by hadith scholars to verify hadith. A good understanding of the efforts that have gone into the validation of hadith should help to counter the enthusiasm of some for ignoring all hadith and seeking to base or Islamic practice solely on the Quran. While Kamali does not devote more than a few sentences to rejecting Quranism (and does not use the term), it is clear that he has no sympathy for it.

At the same time, reading the book should dispel the over-enthusiasm of some Muslims who regard all of the text in the major hadith collections as if it were of equivalent status and "gospel." The book demonstrates clearly that there are hadith presently within the major collections which must be rejected.

I recommend the book to everyone who wishes to understand Islam properly since an understanding of Islam, in my view, requires understanding both the Quran and hadith.

Further reading

Review of "Authentication of Hadith — Redefining the Criteria" by Israr Ahmad Khan
Hadith are oral accounts of the sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Their authentication has traditionally relied almost entirely upon assessing the chain of narrators. However the author considers more emphasis needs to be given to assessing the text of the Hadith. The book is very clearly written, short, and easy to read and I recommend it highly.


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