by Rudolph P. Boshoff
Traditionally, the word ‘Ḥadīth’ (Arabic: حديث ʾḥādīṯ or plural aḥādīth أحاديث) means ‘communication’ or ‘narrative’ and in an Islamic setting it would pertain to the stories about the life of Prophet Muhammad and his companions. Shaik Kadir in his helpful book, ‘Islam Explained’, writes;
“Apart from the Qur’an, there is another book that Muslims rely on for guidance — the Hadith, which contains the words and deeds of the Prophet. The Islamic law and the teachings of Islam are formulated mainly from the Qur’an and the Hadith. The Qur’an contains the exact Words of God, while the Hadith contains the words and the conduct of Prophet Muhammad. The conduct of the Prophet is called the Sunnah. It is from the Sunnah that Muslims learn many practical applications of the Qur’an.”
Ignáz Goldziher mentions that even amongst heathen Arabs, it was considered virtuous to follow the ‘sunnah’ or the way of life of one’s forefathers to determine acceptable society. The post-Pagan people could no longer continue this pagan way of life, and therefore, the Muslim community imitated the conduct of the Prophet and his companions as a model for the affairs of everyday life. This first community called the ‘sahāhbī’s’ that lived in the society of the Prophet was deemed authoritative for knowing and living out the ‘sunnah’ or example of the revered Prophet. Muslims get their proximity from the Ḥadīth’ and the Sunnah. Shaik Kadir explains;
“The Sunnah and words of the Prophet as recorded in the Hadith serve as a practical guide and explanation to the correct understanding of the principles set out in the Qur’an.”
It could be hard for anyone to understand the devotional significance and centrality of the Prophet Muhammad who was deemed the seal of the Prophets (‘Khatam an-Nabiyyin’ Arabic: خاتم النبيين), or the final messenger of Allah that would be esteemed as the greatest example to mankind. One Muslim writer says that the Prophet’s conduct;
“was the Holy Quran (personified).”
For millions of Christians the sure foundation of the Biblical imperatives would be Jesus Christ. But for Muslims, the Prophet Muhammad six-centuries after Christ, would become the most revered example. As the traditions relate the Prophets estimation of himself it relates:
Narrated Abu Huraira:
Allah’s Messenger said, “My similitude in comparison with the other prophets before me, is that of a man who has built a house nicely and beautifully, except for a place of one brick in a corner. The people go about it and wonder at its beauty, but say: ‘Would that this brick be put in its place!’ So I am that brick, and I am the last of the Prophets.”
As for the Prophet being the perfect example, we read:
“Certainly, you have an excellent model in the Messenger of Allâh for one who hopes (to meet) Allâh and the Last Day and who remembers Allâh again and again.”
Recorded as his last sermon, the Prophet of Islam announce the importance of both the Ḥadīth’ and the Sunnah.
“I have left you with two matters which will never lead you astray, as long as you hold to them: The Book of Allah and the Sunnah of his Prophet.”
Different Classifications of Hadith
There are three important components to notice when looking at the Hadith. First is the sequence of reporters (Isnad) through which these accounts have spread. Second is the introductory text (taraf) by which the actions and characteristics of the Prophet was mentioned. Last is the text of the Hadith or the speech recorded instructing the believer (matn). There are also different orderings of the Hadith:
a). Sahih: meaning “Sound”. Hadith reported by a dependable reporter known for his truthfulness, knowledge, and correct way of accounting for the narrative. Abdul H. Siddiqi mentions that these hadith are ‘absolutely faultless.’
b). Hasan: meaning “Approved”. Hadith whose reporters are known and have solid character but a weak memory.
c). Da`if: meaning “Weak”. This is Hadith ranked under that which is known as Hasan (good) because of a shortcoming in the Isnad (Sequence of Reporters).
d). Mutawatir: meaning “Continuous”. Hadith being reported by such many rightful companions that it is agreed upon as authentic.
e). Mash’hur: meaning “Famous”. Hadith which is related by more than two individuals from each generation.
f). Maudu`: meaning “Fabricated”. Hadith having wording opposite to the confirmed Prophetic traditions.
g). Muttafaq’Alaih meaning “agreed upon by both Imām Bukhari and Imām Muslim.
In the near future, I will look at some of the various sects and divisions in Islam. It is essential to notice that multiple branches in Islam refer to different hadith collections. The Prophet warned his adherents that there will be as much as 73 sects in the Muslim community.
“Imām al-Barbahārī (rahimahullāh, died 329 AH) stated: “Know that Allah’s Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) said: “My ummah will divide into 73 sects, all of them will be in the Fire except for one, and that is the Jamā’ah.” It was said, “And who are they, O Allah’s Messenger?” He (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) responded, “That which I and my Companions are upon today.”
Even though that is an interesting topic in itself we will just outline the various branches and the selections of Hadith they depend on. In the most significant portion of Islam, Sunni’s they give six books place in their estimation: Sahih al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Sunan Abu Dawood, Jami` at-Tirmidhi, Al-Sunan al-Sughra and Sunan ibn Majah. One of the schools in Sunni Islam, the madhhabs, rejects Ibn Majah and rather affirms Muwatta Imam Malik and the Ahmadiyya sect rely on the Sunni cannons as well. The second largest Muslim sect would be the Shia’s that hold to four collections of hadith: Kitab al-Kafi, Man la yahduruhu al-Faqih, Tahdhib al-Ahkam, and Al-Istibsar. There is also an Ismaili Shia sect that use the Daim al-Islam as hadith collections and then the Ibadi’s that use the Tartib al-Musnad as their main canonical collection. There has also been a few Muslims known as Ahl al-Qur’an, Qur’niyyun or Qur’anists, that completely reject the Hadith collections. Aisha Y. Musa from Florida International University explains that;
“There are two strains of opposition to the authority of the Hadith. The ﬁrst is opposition to an extra-Qur’anic source of scriptural authority and the second is to the problematic content of some of the Hadith that make the religion an object of ridicule. Authenticity is also a concern, and opponents of the Hadith often argue that the Hadith have nothing to do with the Prophet. However, the overriding concern is about granting scriptural authority to something other than the Qur’an.”
It is important to notice that without the hadith the Qur’an will be without any clear proxy. Dr. Emad Hamdeh is an Assistant Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Embry Riddle University writes;
“The Sunnah is… necessary in order to uphold the Qurʾān as a meaningful text. Texts do not speak for themselves; readers always provide context and bring their assumptions to their understanding of texts. The Sunnah is meant to provide context to the Qur’ān to ensure it is interpreted within certain boundaries; without it, the Qur’ān would be decontextualized, vague, and meaningless. When one encounters any text, there is a process of interpretation that takes place, and this is no different for the Qur’ān. Extra-Qur’ānic sources are necessary to understand the Qur’ān. If the Qur’ān is stripped of all context, it becomes a text that is full of vague meanings.”
I agree with the sentiments of Anouar Majid that,
“The Hadith has become such an integral part of Islam that one can’t make sense of the Koran without it, which is, of course, a major problem.”
Christians need to know the critical five Pillars of Islam that every Muslim tries to adhere too. These include the Shahadah, or confession of faith, the five daily prayers, giving to the poor (zakat), going on pilgrimage (hajj), and strict fasting during the month of Ramadan. All these demands do not stem from the Qur’an, but rather the Hadith and the Sunnah of the Prophet. Without the hadith, Muslims might find themselves bankrupt, pointing to their revered Prophet’s proposed demands.
In summary, Islam is a vibrant and growing religion in Africa, and as the Church, it would be good to familiarise ourselves with its increasing demands. This article aims to inform and show the centrality of both the Sunnah and the Hadith and how it allows Christians to know the legacy of Islam’s Prophet and his actions. I end with the brilliant words of Dr. John Azumah when he writes;
“In places like Ghana, Muslims and Christians have often lived as close relations and neighbours. At the grass-roots level, they have on the whole lived in peace. Muslim relatives and friends visit Christians at Christmas to wish them well, and Christians in turn visit their Muslim friends and relatives during Islamic festivals. On these occasions, gifts and meals are shared. At weddings and child-naming ceremonies, and even at the ordination of priests, Muslims are known to come to church, and Christians attend Muslim gatherings when a ceremony involves a friend or relative. But Christians need to think about the questions such co-existence raises for Christian theology and mission.”
Short bio: Rudolph has completed his BTh and his BTh Hons at SATS and is currently pursuing his Masters in Theology with a specific emphasis on Islam at the same institution. He is also actively involved with Cult and Muslim Evangelism (Ad Lucem Ministries) and he also lectures full-time at a local seminary in Randburg (RBC).
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article belong to the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the South African Theological Seminary.