|In Islam, the
sunnah has come to denote the way Prophet
Muhammad (saas), the Messenger of Allah, lived his life. The
Sunnah is the second source of Islamic jurisprudence, the
first being the Qur'an. Both sources are indispensable;
one cannot practice Islam without consulting both of them.
The Arabic word
hadith (pl. ahadith) is very similar
to Sunnah, but not identical. A hadith is a narration
about the life of the Prophet (saas) or what he approved -
as opposed to his life itself, which is the Sunnah as
In M. M. Azami's Studies in Hadith Methodology and
Literature, the following precise definition of a hadith
According to Muhaddithiin [scholars of hadith -ed.] 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. However, physical appearance of the Prophet is
not included in the definition used by the jurists.'
Thus hadith literature means the literature which
consists of the narrations of the life of the Prophet and
the things approved by him. However, the term was used
sometimes in much broader sense to cover the narrations
about the Companions [of the Prophet -ed.] and Successors
[to the Companions -ed.] as well.
The explosion of Islam in the 7th and 8th centuries
confronted Islamic scholars with a daunting task: to
preserve the knowledge of the Sunnah of the Prophet (saas).
Hence the science of hadith evaluation was born. We
recommend that you read the "Introduction to the Science of
Hadith" below to understand the tremendous efforts that were
required to sift the true reports from the false reports.
The success of the early scholars is also captured below by
some collections of hadith.