Dirayat al-hadith

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Dirāyat al-ḥadīth (Arabic: دِرایَة الحَدیث) (lit. comprehension of hadith) is a branch of hadith-related Islamic disciplines. This discipline is concerned with the narration and comprehension of hadiths. There are differences between Shiite and Sunni definitions of dirayat al-hadith. Many works have been authored concerning dirayat al-hadith.

Literal Meaning

The term "dirayat al-hadith" is a complex phrase out of the words "dirayat" and "al-hadith". The former is from the root, "d-r-y"(د-ر-ی), which means understanding, knowing, or comprehending. This is a particular sort of knowledge achieved via some premises and by reflection, or it is a sort of knowledge achieved not by usual methods, rather by unusual procedures, or a sort of knowledge followed by doubts.

In Shiite Hadiths

In Shiite hadiths, the word "dirayat", taken to mean a comprehension of hadiths, has been used in contrast with "riwayat", which means the mere narration of a hadith. Such hadiths emphasize the necessity of understanding hadiths, the superiority of understanding hadiths over merely narrating them, and the low number of people who understand hadiths as opposed to those who just narrate them.

It seems that the use of the word "dirayat" in these hadiths has been very influential in the emergence and terminology of "dirayat al-hadith" among Shiite scholars.

In Sunni Hadiths

The word "dirayat" and its cognates have been used in Sunni hadiths narrated from the Prophet (s), though sometimes with different words, such as "knowledgeable people are concerned with observation (al-ri'ayat) and unwise people are concerned with narration (al-riwayat)". In another hadith from the Prophet (s), the person who knows and understands hadiths has been preferred to one who just narrates them.


Dirayat al-hadith is, in general, a discipline concerned with issues that contribute to a more reliable narration, a more accurate understanding, and a more precise evaluation of hadiths. However, Shiite and Sunni scholars have provided different definitions or conceptions for the discipline.

Definitions of Sunni scholars

The definitions of Sunni scholars may be classified into three.

  • Ibn Kafani's definition:

In his classification of sciences and disciplines, Ibn Kafani has, for the first time, divided the discipline of hadith into two branches concerning riwayat (narration) and dirayat (comprehension) of hadiths, giving definitions for each. He takes the discipline of riwayat al-hadith to study the Prophet (s)'s words and acts, an accurate report thereof, and a correction of words in hadiths. Dirayat al-hadith, he says, is a discipline concerning the nature of narrating a hadith, conditions and types of such narration and the verdicts concerning them, the condition of the narrator of hadiths, and everything related to this.

  • Ibn Jamaʾa's definition:

Ibn Jama'a has summarized the issues discussed in dirayat al-hadith, taking it to be a discipline concerned with the laws and regulations of the condition, the chains of narrators, and the text of hadiths.

  • Tashkupri Zada' definition:

However, Tashkupri Zada has provided a totally different definition of the disciplines of riwayat al-hadith and dirayat al-hadith. He admits that a major part of dirayat al-hadith is concerned with the narrative chains of hadiths, but he takes it to discuss the status of narrators with respect to their honesty and reliability and the way hadiths are connected to the Prophet (s), given that some hadiths may be disconnected from the Prophet (s) in their chains of narrators (e.g. at least one person in the chain of narrators is dropped).

He takes riwayat al-hadith to be a discipline that considers the meanings of the words appearing in hadiths, in accordance with the grammar of the Arabic language, evaluating hadiths with respect to the status of the Prophet (s).

Definitions of Shiite scholars

The definitions provided by Shiite scholars of dirayat al-hadith may be classified into three main ones:

A discipline in which the text of hadith and its attributes, such as correctness and incorrectness, are discussed in order to tell acceptable hadiths apart from the unacceptable ones.

With some changes into al-Shahid al-Thani's definition, he takes dirayat al-hadith to be a discipline in which the narrative chain (sanad) of hadiths, its text, the manners of receiving and narrating a hadith are discussed.

He has modified al-Shahid al-Thani's definition, restricting dirayat al-hadith to the narrative chain of hadiths, taking it to discuss the attributes of the narrative chains of hadiths, in ways related to their reliability and unreliability.

There is no history of classifying the discipline of hadith into riwayat al-hadith and dirayat al-hadith among Shiite scholars of hadith. However, some contemporary Shiite scholars have made similar distinctions, which is an adaptation of the classification made by Sunni scholars of hadith.

The Relation Between Diraya al-hadith and other Disciplines of Hadith

Sunni scholars of hadith have not usually examined and criticized the above definitions of dirayat al-hadith, but it might come under consideration in two respects: first, from the viewpoint of the relation between dirayat al-hadith and its sub-disciplines, such as the science of rijal; and second, from the viewpoint of the relation between dirayat al-hadith and riwayat al-hadith. Given the above definitions, all disciplines of hadith may be included within these two classes.

Some contemporary scholars of dirayat al-hadith take all disciplines of hadith (6 such disciplines as they have listed) to be sub-disciplines of dirayat al-hadith. But early scholars took all issues discussed in dirayat al-hadith to be an independent discipline, without making any demarcations between them. For instance, one important branch of dirayat al-hadith is the science of rijal (knowledge of the narrators of hadiths, especially with respect to their reliability), many issues of which, such as issues concerning the classes and names of narrators, are separate from, and additional to, issues of dirayat al-hadith. The indeterminacy of the boundary between dirayat al-hadith and other disciplines of hadith has led to confusions about the date when the first work in dirayat al-hadith has been written. Whereas some independent works concerning some sub-disciplines of dirayat al-hadith date back to sometime before the fourth century/tenth century, the first independent work in dirayat al-hadith is taken to be that of Ramhurmuzi which is written in 360/970-1.

With regard to the relation between riwayat al-hadith and dirayat al-hadith, it should be said that the relation between dirayat al-hadith and the texts of hadiths has sometimes been taken to be like the relation between an exegesis and the text that it interprets or that between judgments and events, and sometimes it has been taken to be like the relation between principles of jurisprudence and jurisprudence or nahw (Arabic grammar) and i'rab (that is, modulation of words and declensions).

A Classification of Hadith-related Disciplines

The classification of hadith-related disciplines into fiqh al-hadith (understanding hadiths), the science of rijal, and dirayat al-hadith is a recent classification that has come to be widely accepted and known. Though this has been an attempt to improve upon the extant classifications of the disciplines of hadith, there are reservations about its applicability to, and inclusiveness of, all disciplines of hadiths as they are conceived by early scholars. Notwithstanding this, there is no doubt that Shiite scholars have long been attentive to the distinction between issues of dirayat al-hadith and the science of rijal. In addition to the science of rijal and dirayat al-hadith, another hadith-related discipline has also been mentioned as "'ilm al-asnad", and the former two have sporadically been taken to be its sub-disciplines, though they take them all to be independent of one another.

The separation between dirayat al-hadith and the science of rijal for Shiite scholars

It is obvious that for Shiite scholars, unlike Sunni scholars, dirayat al-hadith and the science of rijal are not identical; they are completely independent. Thus Shiite scholars did not take the science of rijal to be part of dirayat al-hadith and took discussions about the chains of narrators of hadiths in the science of rijal and dirayat al-ahdith to be of totally different characters: in the latter, the general principles governing such chains are discussed, and in the former, individual instances of the narrators are considered as to, say, whether they are reliable or not. In practice, however, since dirayat al-hadith draws upon the results of the science of rijal, it is common for some issues of the science of rijal to be discussed in dirayat al-hadith, such as al-jarh wa l-ta'dil (that is, taking a narrator as reliable or unreliable), introduction of trustworthy books of the science of rijal, and contradictions in reports about a narrator of hadiths.

Other Titles

This discipline has also been called "'ulum al-hadith" (sciences of hadith), "mustalah al-hadith" (terminologies of hadith), and "usul al-hadith" (principles of hadith). Among Shiite scholars, however, the term "dirayat al-hadith", or sometimes "diraya" for short, is most commonly used. And for Shiite scholars, the term, "usul al-hadith", has come to refer to the main books of hadith, such as the Four Books.


The formation of dirayat al-hadith should be taken to be a result of extensive interactions between scholars of hadith, scholars of jurisprudence, and those of theology. The path has sometimes been different for Shiite and Sunni scholars. For Sunnis, some issues of dirayat al-hadith came under focus since the period of companions (the Prophet's (s) immediate companions). There are cases of works written about some issues of dirayat al-hadith which date back to the late second century/early 9th century. Shafi'i is the first to have written about this in his al-Risala.

The Formation of Hadith-related Terminologies

Some terminologies of hadith-related disciplines are formed in the 3rd/9th century. In this period, scholars of hadith and the science of Rijal discussed some issues of dirayat al-hadith in the introduction of their books; issues such as the manners of hearing a hadith and delivering it to others, types of acceptable and unacceptable hadiths, and classes of narrators of hadiths. According to Nur al-Din 'Itr, al-'Ilal by al-Tirmidhi (d. 279/ 892-3), which is published at the end of his collection of Hadith, known as Jami' al-tirmidhi, is distinguished for its definitions of some terms in dirayat al-hadith.