In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Hadith

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Hadith Concordances
  • Hadith in a Comparative Light

Islamic Studies Hadith
Jonathan A.C. Brown
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 December 2009
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0030


A Hadith (Arabic plural aHadith; the word “Hadith” is used as both a singular and a collective plural in English) is a report attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, describing his words and actions and representing the chief source for knowing his authoritative precedent (Sunna). Each Hadith consists of a text ascribed to Muhammad (matn) and a chain of transmission (isnad) for that text. Muslims view Hadith as the second major source for Islamic law and dogma. In effect, however, Hadith are arguably more important than the Qurʾan. While the Qurʾan is the foundation of authority in Islam, it provides few legal injunctions. The details of Islamic law are far more commonly derived from Hadith, and many tenets of Islamic theology and dogma come not from the Qurʾan but from Hadith (for example, a belief in the Antichrist). Unlike the Qurʾan, which was compiled and standardized during and immediately after Muhammad’s life, the Hadith were set down gradually during a period of five centuries after the beginning of Islam. This presented the serious problem of Hadith forgery, with the different groups and schools of thought that emerged during the early Muslim civil wars and intellectual debates all creating Hadith to support their points of view. Muslim scholars developed the isnad as a tool for trying to distinguish authentic from forged Hadith based on the reliability and reputation of the transmitters who made up the isnad. The question of when one should believe a Hadith based on the fact that it had been attributed to Muhammad’s divine inspiration or reject it because its meaning seemed unacceptable has remained a contentious issue among Muslim scholars. Since they believed in Muhammad’s prophethood, Muslim scholars did not think it unusual for Hadith to predict future events or describe things that a typical person could not know. Western scholars who began evaluating the historical reliability of the Hadith corpus in the 19th century did not share these assumptions. Because there are no surviving textual records of Hadith from the actual time of the Prophet, Western scholars have questioned the authenticity of the Hadith corpus in general, with many reasoning that the Hadith tradition was elaborated as part of the growth of Islam and not as its original foundation.

General Overviews

There are few general works on Hadith. The most comprehensive introduction is Brown 2009, which considers both Muslim (Sunni and Shiʿite) and Western scholarship on Hadith. Abd al-Rauf 1983 packs an astounding amount of information of the Sunni Hadith tradition into a manageable size and provides a valuable reference. Works such as Burton 1994 assume a more limited and dated Western perspective, while those of Siddiqi 1993 and Kamali 2005 proceed from a more pietistic Muslim point of view.

  • Abd al-Rauf, Muhammad. “Ḥadīth Literature—I: The Development of the Science of Ḥadīth.” In The Cambridge History of Arabic Literature: Arabic Literature until the End of the Umayyad Period. Edited by A. F. L. Beeston et al., 271–288. London: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

    One of the most succinct and useful descriptions of the genre of Sunni Hadith scholarship.

  • Ahmad, Shahab. “Ḥadīth.” In Encyclopedia Iranica, Vol. 11. Edited by Ehsan Yar-Shater, 442–447. Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982–.

    An excellent and brief overview of the Hadith tradition with supplements on the role of Hadith in Sufism and Iranian history. Available online.

  • Brown, Jonathan. Hadīth: Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World. Oxford: Oneworld, 2009.

    The most comprehensive and up-to-date discussion of Hadith, including Hadith collection and criticism in Sunni and Shiʿite Islam, the functions of Hadith in Islam law, theology, and Sufism; modern Muslim debates over Hadith, and Western scholarship on the authenticity of the Hadith corpus.

  • Burton, John. An Introduction to the Hadīth. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1994.

    A dated but still useful book. In particular, chapters 3, 4, and 5 provide clear and accessible discussions of the political, ritual, and theological role of Hadith. The Introduction is a helpful if outdated summary of the Western study of Hadith.

  • Guillaume, Alfred. The Traditions of Islam: An Introduction to the Hadith Literature. Oxford: Clarendon, 1924.

    A dated by still useful introduction to Hadith, which should be used selectively; the most useful parts are the translations of sections from major Sunni Hadith collections. Reprint, New York: Books for Libraries, 1980.

  • Kamali, Mohammad Hashim. A Textbook of Ḥadīth Studies: Authenticity, Compilation, Classification, and Criticism of Ḥadīth. Markfield, UK: Islamic Foundation, 2005.

    An interesting modern Muslim perspective on the Sunni collection and criticism of Hadith, with many excellent examples. It lacks a critical or historical perspective, however.

  • Robson, James. “Ḥadīth.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam. 2d ed. Edited by P. J. Bearman et al. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1960–present.

    A brief history of Hadith and Hadith criticism from a distinctly Western academic perspective. New edition published in 2005. Available online.

  • Shah Abd al-Aziz. The Garden of the Hadith Scholars. Translated by Aisha Bewley. London: Turath, 2007.

    A translation of a 19th-century Indian Muslim’s history of the Hadith tradition, coming from a parochial Muslim and premodern perspective.

  • Siddiqi, Muhammad Zubair. Ḥadīth Literature: Its Origins, Development and Special Features. Rev. ed. Cambridge, UK: Islamic Texts Society, 1993.

    A distinctly Muslim perspective on Hadith with little critical consideration, it is nonetheless very useful because of the biographies of major Muslim Hadith scholars and descriptions of their books.

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