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The Hadith (1)
Victor M. Eskew
Jesus left us with His precious teachings in the New Testament. One of these teachings commands us to love our enemies. “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). In the New Testament, we also see Jesus applying His own words to His life. As He hung upon the cross of Calvary, He prayed for His persecutors. “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
In Islam the teachings of the prophet Muhammad are contained in the Qur’an. These teachings, we are told, are put in practice in the Hadith. The writings that form the Hadith of Islam are considered just as authoritative as the Qur’an. It is essential for those who are studying Islam to have some understanding of these writings.
Let’s begin with the word “Hadith.” It is an Arabic word that means “report, account, or revelation.” In the book, Understanding the Hadith, Ram Swarup tells us that the hadith contains “…all the prophet said, or enjoined, forbade or did not forbid, approved or disapproved” (p. 3). According to the scholars of the Hadith, “it stands for what was transmitted on the authority of the Prophet, his deeds, sayings, tacit approval, or description of his sifaat [features] meaning his physical appearance…” (Unveiling Islam, Conar & Conar, p. 95).
The Hadith and the Qur’an go hand-in-hand. The Hadith are regarded as important tools for understanding the Qur’an. They are like commentaries on the Qur’an. “According to the South African Council of Muslim Theologians, the Hadith/Sunnah is the sensible explanation of one other- wise sporadically ambiguous Qur’an” (Unveiling, p. 95). Another writer described the relationship between the Qur’an and Hadith as follows: “The Qur’an and the Hadis are interdependent and mutually illuminating. The Qur’an provides the text, the Hadis the context. In fact, the Qur’an cannot be understood without the aid of the Hadis, for the Quranic verse has a context which only the Hadis provides” (Understanding the Hadith, p, 7). The Hadiths have also been referred to as the “unread revelation.” The Hadith are not read as extensively as the Qur’an, but these writings are inspired all the same. In some ways, the Hadith are more important than the Qur’an because they explain the Qur’an, give more information about Muhammad than the Qur’an does, and contains much more material than the Qur’an.
The Hadith not only help put the Qur’an in context, but it also sets forth much of the early history of Islam. Too, the Hadith is a foundational element of Shari’a Law.
There are four main collections of the Hadith. One of them is the collection of Sahih al-Bukhari. Bukhari lived from 810 to 870. He spent sixteen years compiling the Hadith that make up his collection. His collection contains 3,295 Hadiths, 97 books, and 3,450 chapters. A student of Bukhari named Sahih Muslim also made a collection of the Hadith. His collection contains 12,000 Hadiths. The other two collections were made by Sunan Abu Doawood and Malik’I Muwatta.
We are told that Surah 15:9 in the Qur’an is a prophecy about the Hadith. It says: “We have, without doubt, sent down the message: and we will assuredly guard it (from corruption).” The Hadith, therefore, help to preserve the teachings of the Qur’an. It was not until a hundred years after the death of Muhammad that Khalifa Uman II ordered a collection of all extant traditions under the supervision of Bakr ibn Muhammad. Almost another hundred years passed before Bukhari began sifting through the galaxy of traditions. Bukhari collected 600,000 traditions. His tests of authenticity were elaborate and he applied them ruthlessly. He only accepted 7,000 as authentic. Today, two groups of Hadiths have become “the two authentics,” Mukhari and Muslim.