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Most Important Hadith Books
(The Four Books)
(The Authentic Six)

Ḥadīth (Arabic: حديث) which is also called "riwaya" (Arabic: روایة; lit.: narration) is a word in Islamic terminology and religious sciences which refers to sayings quoted from the Prophet (s) and Imams (a) and their conduct.

Beside the Qur'an, hadith also has had a central role in Muslims' understanding of religion during history of Islam.

Due to its importance, different sciences have been established to study hadiths from different aspects of reference, content, etc. under the general title of hadith sciences. Issues about the sources of the hadiths are studied in riwayat al-hadith and their content is studied in dirayat al-hadith. rijal and mustalah al-hadith are two branches of riwayat al-hadith. Different branches have been established under the mentioned disciplines to more specifically analyze and check authenticity of hadiths.

Among the many hadith books, ten books are more important. Four of them are written by Shi'a and other six ones are written by Sunnis.

The four most important Shi'a books are al-Kulayni's al-Kafi, al-Shaykh al-Tusi's Tahdhib al-ahkam and al-Istibsar fi ma ikhtalaf min al-akhbar and al-Shaykh al-Saduq's Man la yahduruh al-faqih. These books are called "al-Usul al-'Arba'a" or "al-Kutub al-'Arba'a" (The Four Books).

To Sunnis, most authentic books are Sahih al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim (which are called Sahihayn), Sunan Abi Davud, Sunan al-Tirmidhi, Sunan al-Nasa'i and Sunan Ibn Maja. These books are called al-Sihah al-Sitta.


The word "hadith" is an adjective derived from the root "ḥ d th" (Arabic: ح د ث) meaning "new, story, and narration". Hadith and riwaya are generally different but are used synonymously in most cases in hadith terminology; however, sometimes they are used differently where, Imams (a)' sayings are called hadith and narrations of any topic from other than Imams (a) are called riwaya.

Apparently the reason for hadith as khabar is that it is used beside the Qur'an (both of which explain rulings); since, most Sunnis believe that the Qur'an is ancient and thus call the rulings the Prophet (s) issued hadith (new).

The contents (though not the words) of hadiths are divinely inspired.

Relation of Hadith with Athar, Khabar and 'Ilm

In recent centuries, three concepts of athar, khabar and 'ilm are in close relation to hadith.


From literal aspect, Athar means "remains and trace". Among Sunnites, this word refers to any trace remains from religion or religious teachings, whether quoted form the Prophet (s) or quoted through the Followers from the Sahaba about the Prophet's (s) conduct in Medina. However from Shi'a viewpoint, this term is used similar to the meaning of riwaya from Imams (a); and some have associated it with what is quoted from the Companions.


There are different opinions about the definition of khabar. Some scholars categorize hadith to Hadith al-Marfu' and called it khabar and Hadith al-Mawquf and called it athar.[1] Some scholars have considered hadith, a saying quoted from Imams (a), khabar as any general quotation from the past and athar even more general than the other two.[2] Some scholars have regarded the three the same to free from disagreements.[3]


This word is no longer used as a term; however, there are many cases of its usage in the first century and some cases in the second century which show that for what today we call hadith, the first word came to one's mind at that time has been 'Ilm.

There are certain quotations from the Companions and the Followers in which they expressed their worries about "abandoning of 'ilm" or "'ilm being worn out" and "abandoning of 'ilm" was considered as abandoning of the bearers of 'ilm.


In hadith studies, there are different classifications of hadith in order to better understand their sources or their content:

  • Classification based on the number of the narrators of the source: khabar al-wahid, khabar al-mustafid, and al-khabar al-mutawatir,
  • Classification based on the authenticity of the source: sahih and its subtypes (sahih mudaf, al-muttafaq 'alayh, a'la, awsat, adna), hasan, muwaththaq, qawi, da'if and its subtypes (al-mudraj, al-mushtarak, al-musahhaf, al-mu'talaf, and al-mukhtalaf),
  • Classification based on connection or disconnection of the chain of references: 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 based on text: al-nass, al-zahir, al-mu'awwal, al-mutlaq and al-muqayyad, al-'am and al-khass, al-mujmal and al-mubayyan, al-mukatab and al-mukatiba, al-mashhur, al-matruk, al-matruh, al-Hadith al-Qudsi, al-shadh, al-maqlub, al-mutashabih
  • Classification based on acting upon the hadith: hujjat and la hujjat, maqbul, nasikh and mansukh


Among Sunnis of the first century, they regarded the hadiths narrated from the Prophet (s) regardless of their narrators. In the second century, after gradually forgers of hadiths emerged, the need for mentioning the chain of references as a preventive means against spread of fake hadiths.[4] Following the domination of the mentioned approach, baseless narration from the Prophet (s) and the Companions dramatically decreased, however it remained until the end of the second/eighth century, both among scholars from People of Hadith such as Malik b. Anas[5] and the People of Opinion (Ashab al-Ra'y) such as Abu Hanifa[6] and al-Shaybani,[7] his student. At the end of the second/eighth century, al-Shafi'i made efforts in dominating the discourse of "where you found this from?".

Among Shi'a, narrators have been important since the beginning and Imams (a) explained their criteria for accepting hadiths for Shi'a.

Important Shi'i hadith collections Author Death Number of hadiths descriptions
al-Mahasin Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Barqi 274/887-8 about 2604 Hadiths regarding different topics such as fiqh and ethics
al-Kafi Muhammad b. Ya'qub al-Kulayni 329/941 about 16000 Variety of hadiths regarding the principles of beliefs, ethics, conducts, and fiqh
Man la yahduruh al-faqih al-Shaykh al-Saduq 381/991-2 about 5500 Hadiths regarding fiqh
Tahdhib al-ahkam al-Shaykh al-Tusi 460/1067 about 13600 Hadiths regarding fiqh
Al-Istibsar al-Shaykh al-Tusi 460/1067 about 5500 Hadiths regarding fiqh
al-Wafi al-Fayd al-Kashani 1091/1680 about 50,000 Collection of hadiths in the Four Books with eliminating repeated hadiths and explaining some hadiths
Wasa'il al-shi'a al-Shaykh al-Hurr al-'Amili 1104/1693 35850 Hadiths regarding fiqh in the Four Books and over 70 other collections of hadiths
Bihar al-anwar al-'Allama al-Majlisi 1110/1699 about 85,000 Hadiths from most of the Infallibles (a) regarding various issues
Mustadrak al-wasa'il Mirza Husayn Nuri 1320/1902 23,514 Supplementation of hadiths regarding fiqh in Wasa'il al-shi'a
Safinat al-bihar Shaykh 'Abbas Qummi 1359/1941 10 volumes an alphabetically ordered index for Bihar al-anwar
Mustadrak safinat al-bihar Shaykh 'Ali Namazi 1405/1984-5 10 volumes Supplementation of Safinat al-bihar
Jami' ahadith al-Shi'a Ayatollah Burujirdi 1380/1961 48,342 Including all Shiite hadiths regarding fiqh
Mizan al-hikma Muhammad Muhammadi Reyshahri 2022 23,030 564 non-jurisprudential (not regarding fiqh) topics
al-Hayat Muhammad Rida Hakimi 2021 12 volumes 40 chapters regarding theoretical and practical issues


In the time of the Prophet (s), 'Ali (a) and some Companions wrote hadiths of the Prophet (s). After the Prophet (s) passed away, writing hadiths among Sunnis became different from among Shi'a. From the first Caliph until 'Umar b. 'Abd al-'Aziz the official policy of the government was opposing narrating and recording hadiths of the Prophet (s) so that they burned many hadith collections.

'Umar b. 'Abd al-'Aziz changed the official policy of the government and publishing hadith collections began and al-Sihah al-Sitta were written at the end of third/ninth century, but a century of ban on hadith severely affected the authenticity of later sources.

Since the time of Prophet (s) and after him, at the time of the Infallible Imams (a) until the Minor Occultation period Shi'a used to write and compile hadiths. Kitab 'Ali, Jami'a, etc. and Usul arba' mi'a from the companions of Imams (a) were products of that period. In later centuries, collecting and compiling hadiths were done. The Four Books were written by collecting the previous hadith sources before the early fifth/eleventh century.


Classification of hadiths has been important to religious scholars to provide an easy access to hadiths. These classification have been followed and developed day by day in early centuries in different ways.

In Middle and Recent Centuries


As soon as hadith became a source for understanding religion in the first/seventh and second/eighth centuries, abusing it began and some people began forging hadith. The history of forging hadith (wad') and falsely quoting from the Prophet (s) and Imams (a) dates back to the origin of hadith.

Hadith scholars benefited from the two sciences of rijal and diraya as the solution for the mentioned problems and though such sciences they could recognize real and fake hadiths.

Studying Source and Content

Criticisms from outside the environment of hadith scholars, made some concerns among them to try to begin professional criticism about hadith themselves. Feeling such a need was not made only from the outside and even existence of some problems such as paradox between different reports made them take the mentioned approach. In such criticisms, even though the general look towards hadith was positive and trustful, but the efforts were towards finding their problems and ways through which readers could remain safe from their harms. The feeling of the need for criticizing hadiths in general made a criticizing system during several centuries which have been studied only in details and a general picture of it has not been studied; a general picture which will be tried to be made below.


In order to understand hadith, different issues need to be discussed such as conveying through meaning, language of hadiths, knowing the audience, abrogating and abrogated, different semantic levels of hadiths, interpretation and other topics usually studied in Diraya.

Influence in Islamic Culture and Civilization

Using hadith-derived ideas in the literature of Islamic nations is a phenomenon which has a history as long as the history of the Islamic literature. In addition to usage of hadith-derived ideas in Arabic prose and poetry, examples of using them can be seen in Islamic Iranian literature since its development.

In sixth/twelfth century, Prophetic hadiths can be frequently seen both implicitly and explicitly in Farsi poetry; such as Amir Mu'izzi's explicitly quoting a hadith from the Prophet (s) about coming of a king from the West and his spread of justice in an ode. Sana'i Ghaznawi (d. 545/1150-1) often uses periphrasis and has implicitly mentioned some hadiths from the Prophet (s) such as Hadith al-Thaqalayn[8] and the Prophet's (s) hadith about truthfulness of Abu Dhar.[9] Also, such periphrasis can be seen in Sa'di's poems about Hadith of Mi'raj and Gabriel's worry about burning his wings.[10]

Among Farsi poets, Muhammad Balkhi (Mowlawi) (d. 672/1273) has widely, implicitly and explicitly benefited from hadiths; some of which are not available in currently available hadith collections. In Ahadith mathnawi, Furuzanfar has extracted those hadiths and studied their references.

Some Maxims from the Prophet (s) became so famous and popular among Muslims which turned into proverbs. In al-Amthal fi l-hadith al-Nabawi, Abu al-Shaykh Isfahani made a first step in collecting such famous hadiths.[11] In addition to Arabic collections, where using Arabic expressions as proverb is very expectable, such a function for hadith can be seen in other collections of Muslims, especially among Farsi speakers.

Some hadiths of the Prophet (s), whether in their original Arabic wording or in Farsi translation, have frequently been used which can be regarded among proverbs.[12] Sometimes, some short sayings which have been felt harmonious with prophetic teachings have become famous among people; for example, the phrase "al-Nizafa min al-iman" ["hygiene is part of faith"] is a very frequent proverbial expression among Iranians;[13] however, it cannot be found in hadith collections and just few hadith scholars including Ibn Hibban al-Busti have mentioned that as a concept derived from hadiths.[14] There are other cases, where a poetic form of a hadith in Farsi have become a frequently used and practical proverb such as "So said the truthful Prophet (s)/ from cradle to grave, seek for knowledge, a hadith, Arabic origin for which can only be seen in recent sources.

Different Approaches in Contemporary Period


Akhbari trend was originated in Safavid era and continued by Mirza Muhammad Akhbari (d. 1232/1816-7), even though with the efforts of Wahid Bihbahani (d. 1205/1791) and al-Shaykh Ja'far Kashif al-Ghita' (d. 1228/1813), dominance of Usulis over Akhbaris was established in Iraq and Iran; however, Akhbari thoughts has continued to exist and has had followers even to the present time. In addition to the movement of purification [of religious contents] against what was called innovation (Bid'a), there was another kind of the movement of purification followed by Akhbaris against expansion of jurisprudence and principles of jurisprudence inspired by Sunni teachings which has no origin or authenticity in teachings of Imams (a). The central idea of this school suggests that teachings of Imams (a) has to be purified from common knowledge and true knowledge is only what received from through hadiths of Imams (a) and mixing it with sciences originated from other roots, particularly philosophy, misguide people.

In this school, the above two movements of purification can be clearly seen; the movement of purification focused on purification of any teachings from the original hadiths received from Imams (a) and the other one focused on rejecting any expansion of religious sciences relying on principles this school does not respect their mixing with teachings of Imams (a).

School of Tafkik

Mirza Mahdi Isfahani introduced some essential issues about the Qur'an being a miracle, validity of the appearance of the Qur'an and distinguished between the Qur'an and Furqan which has been mentioned in the hadiths of Imams (a); then, he mentioned different levels of understanding the Qur'an and introduced the relation between the Qur'an and hadiths. Followers of this school tried to make people familiar with strong verses of the Qur'an and hadiths of Imams (a) regarding different issues a person or the society need. They also tried to provide proper access to the texts to benefit for their goals. Muhammad Rida Hakimi has discussed such issues in his compilation al-Hayat.


Distrusting the hadith heritage of Shi'a and the need to return to the Qur'an to access original teachings of Islam draw another group of contemporary scholars towards a kind of purification of the Qur'an and rejecting distortions and deviations. This group were so close to take the approach of Sayyid Qutb in interpreting the Qur'an by the Qur'an and benefiting Qur'anic thoughts for solving social problems; however, criticisms about hadith are usually cautious and relative.

A different aspect of purification in Twelver Shi'a seminaries is presented in critical works of Muhammad Taqi Shushtari discussing hadiths and reviewing what he called Ahadith Dakhil meaning "unauthentic hadiths".[15] He also had criticisms about authenticity or recording some words and expressions in Nahj al-balagha. Regarding the authenticity of Nahj al-balagha among Shi'a and criticisms made by Sunnites at that time, such a critical approach was very risky. Regarding the price which had to be paid for such criticisms and their organization in the works of Shushtari, they were the product of a movement of purification and could not be only the result of scholarly and curious efforts.


Also, among orientalists, there was a pessimistic look towards hadith. Until the end of nineteenth century, orientalists were distrustful both about the sources and validity of text; however, Ignác (Yitzhaq Yehuda) Goldziher (1850 – 1921) made a comprehensive and direct study about hadith and presented a somehow integrated approach about it, which was later completed by others such as Joseph Schacht and was the common approach of orientalists until the end of twentieth century. In general, it can be said that orientalists' criticisms of hadith as an important part of Islamic tradition on the one hand and emergence of new needs inside the Islamic world for reconstructing religious institutions on the other hand required Muslims' attention towards this part of their religious tradition and made the positive approach replace the negative one.

Revival of Attention to Hadith

This movement was not yet seriously begun, when Ayatollah Burujirdi (d. 1961) called the Twelver Shi'a seminary to study and research about hadith and prepared the ground for compiling the encyclopedia-like collection of Jami' al-ahadith al-Shi'a. That was when Ahmad Muhammad Shakir (d. 1377/1957-8), who was the chief of Ahl al-hadith (the People of Hadith) of Egypt and one of the pioneers of this movement of reviving hadiths in Egypt and himself had studied hadith in the old Sunni tradition, made great efforts for reviewing and correcting and interpreting most important works of the People of Hadith which resulted in publication of tens of books. His al-Kitab wa al-sunna was a declaration, which although had a Salafi Approach, tried to note the significance of hadith beside tradition for acquiring laws and managing society and criticized those who overlooked hadiths.

Usage for Solving Modern Issues

In recent decades, factors including inclination towards using Islamic teachings more in different levels of life including establishing rules, regulating social and family relations and paying more attention to religious principles in different areas of humanities expanded the grounds for drawing Muslims attention towards hadiths. Answering newly issued problems in the modern era such as problems of women, relation between science and religion, globalization, etc. need to be added to above-mentioned grounds. Issuing such discussions made even intellectuals, social activists and scientist movements who previously did not pay attention to hadith interested. However, one must note that their usage of hadiths is usually very selective and they sometimes pay attention to those texts and hadiths which have great problems of authenticity in the eyes of hadiths scholars.

See Also


  1. Suyūṭī, Tadrīb al-rāwī, vol. 1, p. 184.
  2. Anṣārī, al-Ḥudūd al-anīqa. p. 85; Shahīd al-Thānī, al-Riʿāya, p. 49.
  3. Qāsimī, Qawāʾid al-taḥdīth, p. 61; Ṣubḥī Ṣāliḥ, ʿUlūm al-ḥadīth, p. 10-11.
  4. See: Muslim, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, vol. 1, p. 15; Tirmidhī, Sunan al-Tirmidhī, vol. 5, p. 740.
  5. See: Mālik b. Anas, al-Muwaṭṭaʾ, vol. 1, p. 300.
  6. See: Shaybānī, al-Āthār, vol. 1, p. 3-4.
  7. Shaybānī, al-Āthār, vol. 1, p. 10.
  8. Sanāʾī Ghaznawī, Dīwān, p. 469.
  9. Sanāʾī Ghaznawī, Dīwān, p. 465.
  10. Saʿdī, Būstān-i kitāb, p. 36.
  11. See: Abū al-Shaykh Iṣfahānī, al-Amthāl, p. 21.
  12. see: Dihkhudā, Amthāl wa ḥikam, vol. 1, p. 252, 480.
  13. Dihkhudā, Amthāl wa ḥikam, vol. 1, p. 279.
  14. Ibn Ḥibbān, Ṣaḥīḥ, vol. 12, p. 294.
  15. Shūshtarī, al-Akhbār al-dakhīla, p. 1-2.


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