The Hadith reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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Hadith

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The Hadith (الحديث, pl. Ahadith) is a body of laws, legends and stories about Muhammad's way of life, (Arabic, Sunnah which includes his biography or the sira) and the sayings themselves where he elaborated on his choices or offered advice; many parts of the Hadith deal with his companions (Sahaba).

For most Muslims, the hadith contains an authoritative exposition of the meaning of the Qur'an. Islamic law is derived from the acts, statements, opinions, and ways of life of Muhammad. Traditional Muslims believe the Islamic scholars of the last 1400 years were for the most part successful in determining the accuracy of many of the hadith they came across.

The Hadith literature, as a whole, was handed down orally until the mid 700s (less than 100 years after Muhammad and his companions), at which point collections of Hadith were written and later edited. This process was called isnad, or "backing", describing the editorial reduction, and it took two forms:

Different branches of Islam (Sunni and Shi'a) accept different hadith collections as genuine.

As the Talmud is to Torah in Judaism, the Hadith is to the laws of the Qur'an in Islam. The Hadith is the authoritative interpretation of the Qur'an, even where the current practice is at odds with the plain meaning of the text. Islamic law has some flexibility as some traditions of the Prophet were considered nullified by later sayings of him.

Over time, due to different social, religious and political considerations, many hadith collections developed. A consensus of Islamic scholars weighed various collections, and judged them to be in one of the following categories: "genuine" (sahih, the best category), "fair" (hasan, the middle category), and "weak" (da'if).

By the ninth century six collections of hadiths were accepted as reliable by Muslims, although they varied in how many they considered authentic: al-Bukhari (d. 870) accepted 7275, while Abu Muslim (d. 875) accepted 9200. The other four well known and widely used colltions are those of Abu Da'ud (d. 888), al-Tirmidhi (d. 892), al-Nasa'i (d. 915), and Ibn Maja (d. 886). More compilations have developed over time, but these six hold the greatest weight.

A few sample hadith. Unlike the Qur'an itself, Muslims accept these words as those of Muhammad, which can be translated much as anyone else's words:

As these examples reveal, the hadith often have blunt advice for Muslims that enters the realm of professional choices or political culture or philosophy - akin in influence to views of Aristotle.

One reason they have been so carefully examined, and why strict consensus on authenticity of each has not been possible to the present day. Very often, specific hadith have been used to justify specific cultural practices, e.g. of Islamic banking or consensus decision making, and fiqh, which are not necessarily mandatory to Islam and change with the times (al-urf).

As an example of how contentious this can be, the exhortation to "let those who are small in number salute those who are large in number", along with the observation that Muhammad did not appoint but directed his followers to select their own leader, has been interpreted in both early Muslim philosophy and modern Islamic philosophy as being an endorsement of some form of democracy, or "the ijma of the ummah" not merely of the ulema (scholars, jurists). This demonstrates also the importance of Muhammad's actions as reported in the sira and not just his sayings, the hadith.

Since scholars and jurists have a conflict of interest in reporting accurately any hadith that would limit their power, and a like conflict in promoting hadith that elevate the learned or the scholarly or the scientific method of reason they prefer, it is difficult to tell how the selection and interpretation of the hadith altered Muslim civilization and today affect the Islamic World. This is true of all historical information, but traditional Muslims believe that those Islamic scholars of hadith whose work has been accepted over the centuries were of noble character and were primarily interested in conveying the truth.

Daily life of Muslims relies also on sira or the stories that constitute the biography of Muhammad. As the sunnah consists of both sira and hadith, a Muslim may consult either before choosing actions.

See also: Islam, Oral law, sira, isnad, early Muslim philosophy, list of Islamic terms in Arabic

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