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Types of Hadith

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Types of Ḥadīths refers to classifications or categorizations of hadiths in hadith sciences in order to provide a grasp of their chains of narrations (sanad) or their texts and contents. Here are the classifications:

Classification in terms of the number of chains of narrations a hadith has: khabar al-wahid, al-mustafid, al-gharib, al-'aziz, and al-mutawatir.

Classification in terms of the reliability of a hadith's chain of narrators: al-sahih (and its types: al-sahih al-mudaf, muttafaq 'alayh, al-a'la, al-awsat, al-adna), al-hasan, al-mawthuq, al-qawi, al-da'if (and its types: al-mudraj, al-mushtarak, al-musahhaf, al-mu'talaf, al-mukhtalaf, …).

Classification in terms of the continuity or discontinuity of the chain of narration: al-musnad, al-muttasil, al-marfu', al-mawquf, al-maqtu', al-mursal, al-munqati', al-mu'dal or al-mushkil, al-mudmar, al-mu'allaq, al-mu'an'an, al-muhmal.

Classification in terms of the content: al-nass, al-zahir, al-mu'awwal, al-mutlaq wa l-muqayyad, al-'am wa l-khas, al-mujmal wa l-mubayyan, al-mukatab wa l-mukatiba, al-mashhur, al-matruk, al-matruh, al-hadith al-qudsi, al-shadhdh, al-maqlub, al-mutashabih.

And finally, classification in terms of the permissibility of acting upon the hadith: al-hujjat and la hujjat, al-maqbul, al-nasikh and al-mansukh.

In Terms of the Chain of Narration

Al-Hadith al-Musnad

Al-Musnad (Arabic: اَلمُسنَد) hadith is a hadith that has a chain of narration in which all the narrators since the time of the Infallibles (a) until when it was written in well-known and reliable books of hadith are mentioned. The authenticity of well-known books of hadiths, such as the Four Books, can be historically and bibliographically demonstrated. There are different types of al-musnad hadiths:

Al-Mu'an'an

A muʿanʿan (Arabic: المُعَنعَن) hadith is one in the chain of narrators of which the word, "'an" (Arabic: عن, from), is mentioned, without words such as "akhbarani" (he reported to me), "haddathani" (he let me know) and "sami'tu" (I heard from), such as "Ahmad b. Idris 'an (from) Muhammad b. Hassan 'an (from) Abi Muhammad al-Razi 'an (from) Sayf b. 'Umayra 'an (from) Ishaq b. 'Ammar qal (who said), 'qal (said) Abu 'Abd Allah (a) …'".

Al-'Ali and al-Nazil

An al-ʿālī (Arabic: العالی) hadith is one that has the least possible number of narrators between the book and the Imam (a). An al-nāzil (Arabic: النّازِل) hadith is one involving many narrators between the Imam (a) and the author of the book in which the hadith appears. Some Imamiyya scholars of hadiths have written books collecting al-'ali hadiths under "qurb al-isnad" (Arabic: قُرب الاسناد), that is, short chains of narrations; for example Qurb al-isnad by 'Abd Allah b. Ja'far al-Himyari.

Al-Mudmar

An al-muḍmar (Arabic: المُضمَر) hadith is one in which the Infallible Imam (a) is not mentioned; instead there is a pronoun that apparently refers to him. For example, a hadith in which the following phrase appears: "sa'altuh 'alayh al-salam" (I asked him, peace be upon him). It implies that the pronoun refers to an Infallible (a), but we do not know which Infallible.

Al-Mu'allaq

An al-muʿallaq (Arabic: المُعَلَّق) hadith is a hadith that is cited with the whole chain of narrators in one book and is cited with an incomplete chain of narrators in another book.

Al-Mursal

Al-Mursal (Arabic: المُرسَل) hadith is a hadith without a chain of narrators or one in which the chain of narrators is not mentioned completely. Here are the different types of al-mursal hadith:

Al-Marfu'

Al-Marfūʿ (Arabic: المَرفوع) hadith is one in which some narrators at the beginning of its chain of narration are not mentioned, and the last narrator narrates the hadith from the Infallible (a) without mentioning his chain of narrators in between. For Sunni scholars, al-marfu' hadiths are the ones that are attributed to the Prophet Muhammad (s) without the chain of narrators being mentioned, not the ones attributed to the Sahaba (which are called al-mawqūf (Arabic: المَوقوف) hadiths) or Tabi'un (which are called al-maqṭū' (Arabic: المَقطوع) hadiths).

Al-Mawquf

There are two notions referred to by al-mawqūf (Arabic: المَوقوف) hadiths:

  • A hadith whose chain of narrators goes back to the Infallible (a) without the Infallible (a) being mentioned, and the last narrator is known to be a person who never narrates anyone other than an Infallible Imam (a),
  • A hadith whose chain of narrators goes back to a companion of the Holy Prophet (s) or an Imam (a). For Sunni scholars, a mawquf hadith is reliable because for them, Sahaba are reliable, but Shiite scholars of hadiths take a mawquf hadith to be reliable insofar as we know that it goes back to an Infallible (a).

Al-Maqtu'

Al-Maqṭū' (Arabic: المَقطوع) hadith is one some of whose narrators are unknown or it is not known whether its chain of narrators goes back to an Infallible (a). In the terminology of Sunni scholars of hadiths, an al-maqtu' hadith is one that expresses the words or actions of Tabi'un. Al-Maqtu' hadith is for Shiite scholars unreliable, just like al-mawquf hadiths.

In Terms of the Number of Narrators

Al-Mutawatir

Main article: Mutawatir Hadith

Al-Mutawātir (Arabic: المُتَواتِر) hadith is one that has different numerous chains of narrators, such that it is practically impossible for all those chains to collude in giving a false report. Such a hadith gives us an assurance that it was really issued by an Infallible (a). Such hadiths are reliable both with respect to the principles of beliefs and fiqh or rulings of sharia.

Al-Wahid

Main article: Khabar al-Wahid

Al-Wāḥid (Arabic: الواحِد) hadith is any hadith that is not al-mutawatir.

Al-Mustafid

Al-Mustafīḍ (Arabic: المُستَفیض) hadith is a type of al-wahid hadith with at least three narrators in each level of narration.

Al-'Aziz

Al-ʿAzīz (Arabic: العَزیز) hadith is a type of al-wahid hadith involving at least two narrators in each level of narration.

Al-Gharib

Al-Gharīb (Arabic: الغَریب) hadith is a type of al-wahid hadith involving only one chain of narrators.

In Terms of the Reliability

According to Sunni scholars of hadiths, there are three types of hadiths in terms of their reliability: al-sahih, al-hasan and al-da'if.

Shiite scholars classify hadiths in terms of the reliability of their chains of narrators into five categories. The classification was different in the early periods. Shiite scholars of the earlier centuries classified hadiths into al-sahih and not sahih, and required the following conditions for a hadith to count as sahih: it should be narrated from an Infallible (a) by reliable persons or there should be evidence within the content of the hadith or its context that imply its reliability. In later centuries, a fourth type of hadith was introduced as al-muwaththaq by al-Sayyid b. Tawus (664 AH/1265). Al-Shahid al-Thani and Baha' al-Din al-'Amili added a fifth type called al-qawi.

Here are the definitions of these five types of hadith in accordance to the common classification:

Al-Sahih

Main article: Sahih (Hadith)

Al-Ṣaḥīḥ (Arabic: الصحيح) hadith is one whose whole chain of narrators leading to the Infallible (a) consists of reliable people from Imamiyya.

Al-Muwaththaq

Al-Muwaththaq (Arabic: المُوَثَّق) hadith is one whose chain of narrators consists of reliable people in accordance with Shiite sources of 'ilm al-rijal, though some of its narrators are not from Imamiyya, such as 'Ali b. al-Faddal and Aban b. 'Uthman. Sometimes al-muwaththaq hadiths are called al-qawi. Words such as "thiqa" (reliable), "'ayn" (trustable and well-known), "wajh" (well-reputed), "mashkur" (acknowledged), and "hujja" (reliable) in sources of 'ilm al-rijal imply the reliability of a narrator.

Al-Hasan

Al-Ḥasan (Arabic: الحَسَن) hadith is one all of whose narrators leading to the Infallible (a) are from Imamiyya and are praised, though their reliability, in the strict sense of the term, is not explicitly confirmed by the scholars of 'ilm al-rijal. The following words in sources of 'ilm al-rijal imply a person's being praised: "mutqan" (accurate), "hafiz" (keeper), "dabit" (careful), "zahid" (pious), and "qarib al-amr". Al-hasan (good) hadith is called so because scholars have a good opinion of its chain of narrators.

Al-Hasan ka-l-Sahih

Al-Ḥasan ka-l-ṣaḥīḥ (Arabic: الحَسَن کالصَّحیح) is a hadith whose narrators are so praised that they can approximately count as reliable or one of whose narrators is from People of Consensus.

Hasan al-Isnad

Ḥasan al-isnād (Arabic: حَسَنُ الاسناد) is a hadith whose chain of narrators is al-hasan, but its content is suspicious because it is not believed by many or has some flaws in it.

For Sunni scholars, a musnad hadith is called al-hasan when its narrators are nearly reliable and a mursal hadith is al-hasan when the person who left out its chain of narrators is reliable. However, in both cases, the content of the hadith should not be rare or flawed.

Al-Qawi

The term, "al-qawi" (Arabic: القَوی), is used to refer to one of the three things:

  • A hadith whose narrators are Twelver Shias, but there is no praise, nor reproof of them in sources of 'ilm al-rijal. Al-qawi hadiths are in this use considered to be da'if (unreliable).
  • Al-muwaththaq hadith.
  • Al-sahih hadith.

Al-Da'if

Al-Ḍaʿīf (Arabic: الضَّعیف; literal meaning: weak) hadith is a hadith that has none of the conditions for al-sahih, al-hasan, and al-muwaththaq hadiths. That is, even if one of its narrators does not meet these conditions (where there is no body else in his class of narration), that hadith will count as al-da'if. Sometimes al-da'if hadiths are called "al-majrūḥ" (Arabic: المَجروح). For Sunni scholars, a hadith is al-da'if when it is not al-sahih, nor al-hasan.

Changes in the Criteria of al-Da'if Hadith

Some hadiths that were considered as al-sahih by early scholars count as al-da'if in the terminology of later scholars of hadiths (since the 7th/13th century onward), since for early scholars, a hadith counted as al-sahih when there was assurance and confidence that it was issued from an Infallible (a). Thus some hadiths that are objectionable with respect to their chains of narrators counted as al-sahih because there was evidence in their contents or their contexts that provided confidence that they were issued from an Infallible (a). Early scholars lived in times that were close to the periods of the Infallible Imams (a), they had more access to hadith collections of the companions of the Imams (a), and had evidence at their disposal that gave them assurance of a hadith being issued by an Infallible (a), but such evidence is lacked by later scholars.

A hadith counts as al-da'if when it is ignored or not acted upon by early scholars, even if its chain of narrators is reliable.

Here are different types of al-da'if hadiths:

Al-Majhul

Al-Majhūl (Arabic: المَجهول) hadith is a hadith one or more than one of whose narrators are unknown or there is no comment on them in sources of 'ilm al-rijal implying their reliability or unreliability.

Al-Muhmal

Al-Muhmal (Arabic: المُهمَل) hadith is a type of al-majhul hadith involving at least one al-majhul or unknown narrator who is not mentioned in sources of 'ilm al-rijal or is mentioned without any comments on his beliefs, character and reliability.

Al-Mawdu'

A hadith is called al-mawḍūʿ (Arabic: المَوضوع) or al-majʿūl (Arabic: المَجعول) when a narrator makes up words and attributes them to an Infallible (a).

Al-Mushtarak

A hadith is called al-mushtarak (Arabic: المُشتَرَک) when at least one of its narrators is ambiguous between a reliable and an unreliable person and there is no evidence to know whether the person is the reliable or the unreliable one. Such hadiths are not relied upon for the deduction of the rulings of sharia.

Al-Shadhdh

A hadith is called al-shādhdh (Arabic: الشّاذّ) when its narrator is accused of having a poor memory throughout his life.

Al-Mukhtalit

A hadith is called al-mukhtaliṭ (Arabic: المُختَلِط) when its narrator is accused of having a poor memory during a certain period of his life, such as his old age.

Al-Munkar

A hadith is called "al-munkar" (Arabic: المُنکَر) when one of its narrators is accused of having made a great number of mistakes in reporting other people's speeches.

Al-Matruk

A hadith is called "al-matrūk" (Arabic: المَتروک) when one of its narrators is accused of telling lies or making heresies, whether or not in this specific hadith he told a lie.

Al-Matruh

A hadith is called "al-maṭrūḥ" (Arabic: المَطروح) when its content is contrary to decisive evidence and it cannot be interpreted away.

Al-Mu'allal

A hadith is called "al-muʿallal" (Arabic: المُعَلَّل) when there is a problem with its chain of narrators or its content that questions its accuracy.

Al-Mudtarib

A hadith is called "al-muḍṭarib" (Arabic: المضطرب, confused) when it is narrated in two ways. For example, in one case, the narrator has narrated a hadith directly from a person, and in another case, he has narrated it from that person by narrating from another person in between. This is called al-iḍṭirāb (Arabic: الاِضطِراب) or confusion in the chain of narrators. Sometimes a hadith involves a confusion in its content, that is, a narrator has narrated a hadith in two ways with two different meanings. Such hadiths are also called "mukhtalif al-nuskha" (Arabic: مُختَلِف النُّسخَة, involving different transcriptions).

Al-Maqlub

A hadith is called "al-maqlūb" (Arabic: المَقلوب) when there is a displacement in its chain of narrators or content. An example of displacement in the chain of narrators is to write Muhammad b. al-Husayn as al-Husayn b. Muhammad, where it is not known which one is the correct one. And displacement in the content is a case in which words are reported in their wrong place.

Al-Musahhaf

A hadith is called "al-muṣaḥḥaf" (Arabic: الـمُصَحَّف) when some dots in Arabic letters are displaced in it, although it does not constitute a problem for the hadith (since such mistakes happen when a hadith is transcribed throughout centuries). For example, "Ibn Murajim" (ابن مراجم) is mentioned in some manuscripts as "Ibn Muzahim" (ابن مزاحم). Such hadiths can be trusted if they meet the criteria in 'ilm al-rjal and diraya.

Al-Mu'talif wa l-Mukhtalif

A hadith is called "al-muʾtalif wa l-mukhtalif" (Arabic: المُؤتَلِف والمُختَلِف) when the name of one of its narrators can be read in two ways, although they are written in the same way in Arabic alphabets. This is a type of al-musahhaf hadith.

Al-Mudallas

A hadith is called "al-mudallas" (Arabic: المُدَلَّس) when a flaw in its chain of narration was attempted to be concealed in order to make it look to be an acceptable hadith.

Al-Mudarraj

A hadith is called "al-mudarraj" (Arabic: المُدَرَّج) when a narrator adds his comments to the content of the hadith where it is not possible to identify which part is the Imam's (a) word and which one is the narrator's word.

Al-Mu'dal or al-Mushkil

There are two notions of al-muʿḍal (Arabic: المُعضَل) or al-mushkil (Arabic: المُشکِل) hadiths:

  • A hadith which is difficult to understand,
  • Hadith two or more narrators of which are eliminated.

In Terms of Contents

Al-Nass

A hadith is called "al-naṣṣ" (Arabic: النَّصّ) when its content has no more than one meaning.

Al-Zahir

A hadith is called "al-ẓāhir" (Arabic: الظّاهِر) when it admits of different possibilities regarding its meaning, where one of these possible meanings is more probable (the apparent meaning) and is meant by the speaker.

Al-Mu'awwal

A hadith is called "al-muʾawwal" (Arabic: المُؤَوَّل) when there are different possibilities for its meaning and one of those possible meanings is more probable in itself, but there is evidence that the speaker has meant something other than the apparent meaning.

Al-Mutashabih or al-Mujmal

A hadith is called "al-mutashabih" (Arabic: المُتَشابِه) or "al-mujmal" (Arabic: المُجمَل) when there are different possibilities for its meaning, but none of them can be preferred to others, and so it is not known at all what the speaker means.

Al-Mashhur

A hadith is called "al-mashhūr" (Arabic: المَشهور) when it is well-known by Muslims, such as the hadith according to which actions are evaluated by the intentions.

Al-Shadhdh and al-Nadir

A hadith is called "al-shādhdh wa l-nādir" (Arabic: الشّاذّ والنّادِر) when its content is contrary to a well-known hadith. An al-shadhdh hadith also refers to a hadith a narrator of which is accused by having a poor memory throughout his life.

Al-Mukatab

A hadith is called "al-mukatab" (Arabic: المُکاتَب) when the narrator who immediately reports the Imam's (s) speech reports it from the Imam's handwriting, whether the Imam (a) had written it initially or in response to a question. According to some scholars, al-mukatab hadiths should be transcribed from the Imam's (a) handwriting.

Al-Qudsi

Main article: Hadith Qudsi

A hadith is called "al-qudsī" (Arabic: القُدسی) when its content is revealed to the Infallible (a) by God, although its woding is formed by the Infallible (a) himself, unlike the Holy Qur'an whose wording and meaning are both revealed by God to the Holy Prophet (s).

In Terms of Acting upon the Hadith

In order to have religious beliefs, one has to have certainty. Thus if hadiths do not provide certainly with regard to a principle of belief, they will not be acted upon. But with respect to the rulings of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), it is required to act upon al-wahid hadiths, as evidenced by Quranic verses and some certain hadiths and the Sunna. Scholars of fiqh issue fatwas in accordance with al-wahid hadiths. So given Quranic verses, certainty-providing hadiths, and the practice of the companions of the Infallibles (a), we are certain that with respect to the rulings of fiqh, we are obliged to act upon hadiths whose chains of narrators are reliable or which we are confident to be issued by an Infallible (a).

It is possible for a hadith to be rejected because of its opposition to a Quranic content or a certainly known Sunna (tradition) or consensus or because it was abandoned by most of the scholars or because of its opposition to a more reliable hadith, even if its chain of narrators is reliable.

Al-Maqbul

A hadith is called "al-maqbūl" (Arabic: المَقبول, acceptable) when its chain of narrators is not reliable, there is evidence on the basis of which scholars have accepted its content and acted upon it.

Al-Nasikh and al-Mansukh

A hadith is called "al-mansūkh" (Arabic: المَنسوخ, abrogated) when its content is overriden by another hadith, which is called "al-nāsikh" (Arabic: النّاسِخ, abrogating).

References