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The Hadith (pl. Ahadith) is a body of laws, legends and stories about Muhammad's way of life, (Arabic, Sunnah which includes his biography or the sira) and the sayings themselves where he elaborated on his choices or offered advice; many parts of the Hadith deal with his companions (ahaba).

For most Muslims, the hadith contains an authoritative exposition of the meaning of the Qur'an. Islamic law is derived from the acts, statements, opinions, and ways of life of Muhammad. Traditional Muslims believe that the transmission of the Hadith is entirely accurate and without flaw (see note at end). However, this is difficult to reconcile with the fact that different compilers found different numbers of hadith to be authentic, and only to varying degrees.

The Hadith literature, as a whole, was handed down orally until the mid 700s, at which point collections of Hadith were written and later edited. This process was called isnad, or "backing", describing the editorial reduction, and it took two forms:

  • musnad - classification according to the names of the traditionists
  • mu'annaf - classification according to subject; edited according to the content.

Different branches of Islam (Sunni, Shi'a, Sufi) and different schools within these branches accept different hadith collections as genuine.

As the oral law is to Torah in Judaism, the Hadith is to the laws of the Qur'an in Islam. The Hadith is the authoritative interpretation of the Qur'an, even where the current practice is at odds with the plain meaning of the text. Islamic law has some flexibility as some traditions of the Prophet were considered nullified by later sayings of him.

Over time, due to different social, religious and political considerations, many hadith collections developed. A consensus of Islamic scholars weighed various collections, and judged them to be in one of the following categories: "genuine" ('ahih, the best category), "fair" (hasan, the middle category), and "weak" (da'if).

By the ninth century six collections of hadiths were accepted as reliable by Muslims, although they varied in how many they considered authentic: al-Bukhari (d. 870) accepted 7275, while Abu Muslim[?] (d. 875) accepted 9200. The other four well known and widely used colltions are those of Abu Da'ud[?] (d. 888), al-Tirmidhi[?] (d. 892), al-Nasa'i[?] (d. 915), and Ibn Maja[?] (d. 886). More compilations have developed over time, but these six hold the greatest weight.

A few sample hadith. Unlike the Qur'an itself, Muslims accept these words as those of Muhammad, which can be translated much as anyone else's words:

  • "The world is green and beautiful and God has appointed you his steward over it."
  • "The whole earth was been created as a place of worship, pure and clean."
  • "Little, but sufficient, is better than the abundant and the alluring."
  • "The superiority of the learned man over one who only worships is like the superiorty of the moon when it is full, covering the stars. The learned are the heirs of the Prophets who do not leave a legacy of dirhams and dinars but only of knowledge."
  • "The search for knowledge is a sacred duty imposed upon every Muslim. Go in search of knowledge, even to China."
  • "God has not created anything better than reason, or anything more perfect or more beautiful than reason. The benefits which God gives are on its account; and understanding is by it, and God's wrath is caused by it, and by it are rewards and pnishment."
  • "Poverty may sometimes lead to disbelief."
  • "God is gentle and loves gentleness in all things."
  • "Hasten to do good before you are overtaken by perplexing adversity, corrupting prosperity, disabling disease, babbling dotage and sudden death."
  • "Beware of envy for envy devours good works like the fire devours fuel."
  • "Beware of suspicion for suspicion is a great falsehood."
  • "Let the younger one salute the elderly, let the one who is walking salute the one sitting and let those who are small in number salute those who are large in number."
  • "Were it not for fear of troubling my followers, I would order them to clean their teeth before every prayer."

As these examples reveal, the hadith often have blunt advice for Muslims that enters the realm of professional choices or political culture. One reason they have been so carefully examined, and why strict consensus on authenticity of each has not been possible to the present day. Very often, specific hadith have been used to justify specific cultural practices, e.g. of Islamic banking or consensus decision making, and fiqh, which are not necessarily mandatory to Islam and change with the times (al-urf[?]). As an example of how contentious this can be, the exhortation to "let those who are small in number salute those who are large in number" has been interpreted in both early Muslim philosophy and modern Islamic philosophy as being an endorsement of some form of democracy, or "the ijma of the umma[?]" not merely of the ulema (scholars, jurists). Since scholars and jurists have a conflict of interest in reporting accurately any hadith that would limit their power, and a like conflict in promoting hadith that elevate the learned or the scholarly or the scientific method of reason they prefer, it is difficult to tell how the selection and interpretation of the hadith altered Muslim civilization[?] and today affect the Islamic World. This is of great interest to scholars.

On a more practical level, daily life of Muslims relies also on sira or the stories that constitute the biography of Muhammad. As the sunnah consists of both sira and hadith, a Muslim may consult either before choosing actions.

See also: Islam, Oral law, sira, isnad, early Muslim philosophy, list of Islamic terms in Arabic

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