Ilm al-Hadeeth – Its Meaning, Its History, & Its Types

1- The Meaning of Ilm al-Hadeeth:

Ilm: pl. ‘Uloom’ refers to the awareness of things.


Al-Hadeeth: pl. ‘Ahaadeeth’ literally means: the new things and it refers to a “Report” or “Statement”. As Allaah says:

وَمَنْ أَصْدَقُ مِنَ اللَّهِ حَدِيثًا

“And who is more truthful than Allah in statement.”

[Surah Nisaa 4:87]

And He (swt) said:

فَجَعَلْنَاهُمْ أَحَادِيثَ

“So we made them narrations”

[Surah Sabaa 34:19]

And In Istalaah it refers to: Whatever is attributed to the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) from his Sayings, Actions, Approvals, and Descriptions.

Sayings: refer to his words.

Similar to the hadeeth of Mu’aawiyah bin Abi Sufyaan (radiallah anhu), he said: I heard the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) saying: “When Allah wishes good for someone, He bestows upon him the understanding of Deen”

[Agreed upon, narrated by Al-Bukhaari (71, 2948, 6882) and Muslim (2/719)]

Action: refers to the Prophet’s acts, behavior, or conduct.

Similar to the hadeeth of Abdullah bin Abbaas (radiallah anhu) that: He performed ablution and washed his face (in the following way): He ladled out a handful of water, rinsed his mouth and washed his nose with it by putting in water and then blowing it out. He then, took another handful (of water) and did like this (gesturing) joining both hands, and washed his face, took another handful of water and washed his right forearm. He again took another handful of water and washed his left forearm, and passed wet hands over his head and took another handful of water and poured it over his right foot (up to his ankles) and washed it thoroughly and similarly took another handful of water and washed thoroughly his left foot (up to the ankles) and said, “I saw Allah’s Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) performing ablution in this way”.

[Narrated by al-Bukhaari (140)]

Approval: is what occurred from someone other than the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) and the Prophet was informed of it or it was in his knowledge, but he did not disapprove or disallow it.

Similar to the hadeeth of Aa’ishah (radiallah anha), that she said: “Once I saw Allah’s Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) at the door of my house while some Ethiopians were playing in the mosque (displaying their skill with spears). Allah’s Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) was screening me with his Rida’ (garment) so as to enable me to see their display.”

[Agreed upon, narrated by Al-Bukhaari (443) & Muslim (2/609)]

Description: refers to the human characteristics of the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) which do not return back to the Prophet’s knowledge and awareness of it.

Similar to the hadeeth of Al-Baraa bin Aazib (radiallah anhu) he said: “Allaah’s Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) had the most handsome face amongst men and he had the best disposition and he was neither very tall nor short-statured.”

[Agreed upon, narrated by Al-Bukhaari (3356), and Muslim (4/1819)]

With this explanation, the likes and the dislikes of the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) for certain actions and conditions are not included in “Description”, rather this category only comes under the ahaadeeth of “Action” due to its occurrence from him according to his likes and dislikes.

Similar to the hadeeth of Aa’ishah (radiallah anha), she said: “Allaah’s Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) loved to begin with the right while putting on his shoes, combing his hair, in his purification and in all his affairs”

[Agreed upon, narrated by Al-Bukhaari (116, 416, 5065, 5516, 5528) and Muslim (1/226)]

Question: Do narrations which are attributed to people other than the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) come under the word “Al-Hadeeth”?

Answer: Narrations which are attributed to a Sahaabi, a Taabi’ee, or someone after them are termed “Hadeeth” only in literal sense. However, in Istalaah the word Hadeeth is only spoken to things attributed to the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) specifically. And just for the sake of avoiding any confusion, it is better to apply the word “Hadeeth” only to what’s narrated from the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam).

Difference between Hadeeth and Sunnah:

As-Sunnah in its basic meaning is the same thing as Hadeeth as the definition passed, with the only exception of the addition: Description”. The exception of “Description of the Prophet” from the Sunan only occurred due to the fact that the area of discussion in Sunnah is the sources of Sharee’ah and this does not include his personal description, as it is only drawn from the Sayings, Actions, and Approvals of the Prophet.

Shaykh ‘Abdullah al-Judayyi’ said:

The basic meaning of the word “Sunnah” is fundamentally the same as the definition given by hadeeth scholars, as mentioned above for the word “hadeeth”, when mentioned in general terms without anything to describe what is being spoken of. That excludes the reports that speak of the physical description of the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him); but this exclusion is only when talking about the Sunnah in the context of it being one of the sources of sharee‘ah. In that context, the reports that speak of his description are not part of the Sunnah; rather the Sunnah is only based on his words, deeds and approval. End quote.

Tahreer ‘Uloom al-Hadeeth

For details click HERE

Al-Athar (Report):

Literally means remnants of something.

[Zafar al-Amaani (P. 4)]

In Istalaah, its meaning is differed upon. Some Scholars restricted the word Athar as only referring to “Mawqoof” narration i.e. the narration of a Sahaabi or other than a Sahaabi such as a Taabi’ee. And there are those who consider every narration to be an Athar without looking into who it is attributed to.

According to the most authentic view, Athar is any narration narrated either from the Prophet or a Sahaabi or a Taabi’ee no matter it is Marfoo or Mawqoof. And this is the view favored by the Jumhoor Muhadditheen from the Salaf and the Khalaf as mentioned by Nawawi in Sharh Saheeh Muslim (1/63)

This is the meaning by considering which Al-Haafidh at-Tahaawi named his book “Sharh Ma’aani ul-Athaar” in which he also explained and mentioned the Marfoo narrations. And, Ibn Jareer at-Tabari also has a book which he named “Tahdheeb al-Athaar” which he intended for the Marfoo narrations. Similarly, Imaam Muslim has also once in his Saheeh referred to a Marfoo narration as “Athar” (1/8).


Another relevant term used in place of “Hadeeth” and “Athar” is “Khabar”. It literally refers to news. And in Istalaah, there are three meanings of it mentioned by the Scholars:

  • Khabar” and “Hadeeth” are both synonymous.
  • Hadeeth” is that which is attributed to the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) while “Khabar” is something attributed to other than him.
  • Khabar” is something broader in comparison to “Hadeeth” and besides the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam), it also includes the reports of other people – i.e. every hadeeth is a Khabar but every Khabar is not a Hadeeth.

Uloom al-Hadeeth:

It refers to those studies which pertain to the hadeeth as per its narration; and which investigate and determine the authenticity of any given hadeeth thus distinguishing the authentic from the weak ones.

2- The History of Ilm al-Hadeeth:

Discussion concerning the narration is one of the ancient sciences. It can be traced back to the era of Sahaabah. And there are only a few narrations narrated from them on this. The following are some of the examples:

1)   Sa’eed bin Jubayr (rahimahullah) said: “I said to Ibn Abbaas that Nauf al-Bikaali claimed that Moses (peace be upon him), the Apostle of Bani Israa’eel, was not the same who accompanied Khadir, whereupon he said: The enemy of Allah tells a lie. I heard Ubayy bin Ka’b say: Moses (peace be upon him) stood up to give sermon to the people of Israa’eel. He was asked as to who amongst the people has the best knowledge…” and then he mentioned the lengthy story of Moses (peace be upon him) with Khadir (peace be upon him)

[Agreed upon, narrated by al-Bukhaari (122, 3220, 4448, 4449, 4450) & Muslim (2380)]

2)   Humayd bin Abdur Rahmaan narrated that he heard Mu’aawiyah bin Abi Sufyaan (radiallah anhu) talking to a group of people from Quraysh at Al-Madeenah, and on mentioning Ka’b Al-Ahbaar, he said, “He was one of the most truthful of those who used to talk about the people of the Scripture, yet we used to detect certain faults in his information.”

[Narrated by al-Bukhaari in his Saheeh (5/2679) and in Taareekh al-Awsat (201)]

As you can see in both these narrations the discussion took place concerning two people who were known for narrating from the people of Scripture but were not from the Sahaabah as the Sahaabah would never lie upon each other in narrating from the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam), rather they only erred amongst one another in minor wordings as occurred in what Aa’ishah Umm ul-Mu’mineen emendated upon some Sahaabah

[See examples in Al-Ijaabah li-Eeraad maa Istadrakathu Aa’ishah ala as-Sahaabah by Zarkashi]

And the reason for that is that the narration of Ahaadeeth from the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) was only through the Aduwwal (the trustworthy people i.e. the Sahaabah) and that is why the people at that time were not attentive to the Isnaad (chain of transmission) until the Fitan (trials) appeared and fabrications started spreading and the narration was now being taken from Taabi’een after the Sahaabah.

Thus it is narrated from Mujaahid bin Jabar al-Makki that he said: “Bushayr ul-Adawee came to Ibn Abbaas then he set about narrating to him, saying: ‘The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah upon him, said…’, ‘the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah upon him, said…’. Then it seemed that Ibn Abbaas was not listening to his Hadeeth and not reflecting on them, so [Bushayr] said: ‘Oh Ibn Abbaas, why is it that I see you not listening to my Hadeeth? I narrate to you on authority of the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah upon him, however you are not listening’. Ibn Abbaas said: ‘Indeed once upon a time we would listen to a man saying, ‘the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah upon him, said…’ rushing towards him with our eyes and harkening towards him with our ears; then when the people took the difficult (Munkar) and the docile (Saheeh), we no longer took from people except those whom we knew’.”

[Narrated by Muslim in his Muqaddimah (P. 13 H. 21), Chain Saheeh]

And the Imaam and a Taabi’ee, Muhammad bin Sireen said: “They would not ask about the chains of narration, and when the Fitnah occurred, they said: ‘Name for us your men’. So Ahl us-Sunnah would be regarded, and their Hadeeth were then taken, and Ahl ul-Bid’ah would be regarded and their Hadeeth were not taken”
[Narrated by Muslim in his Saheeh (H. 27), Chain Saheeh]

Then after that time, the Shuyookh started paying attention to the chains and the discussions concerning the narration and critique of reports; and as the time passed, this increased more and more.

Thus a group of Taabi’een started discussing these things in detail, among them include: Sa’eed bin Jubayr, Saalim bin Abdullah bin Umar, Ataa bin Abi Ribaah, Urwah bin az-Zubayr, Al-Hasan al-Basri, Muhammad bin Sireen, and Aamir ash-Sha’bee etc.

After them, the later Taabi’een became even more abundant with such discussions such as Az-Zuhri, Ayyoob as-Sakhtiyaani, and Al-A’mash. Until there came the generation of Ittibaa ut-Taabi’een (the successors of Taabi’een) thus this science reached to the level of maturity and that is because the Liars had become abundant and chains had become lengthy which also called for the increase in mistakes and errors. Thus there appeared men like Shu’bah bin al-Hajjaaj, Sufyaan ath-Thawree, Maalik bin Anas, and Al-Awzaa’ee and then after them, their students like: Yahya al-Qattaan, Abdur Rahmaan bin Mahdi, and then their students such as: Ahmed bin Hanbal, Yahya bin Ma’een, Ali bin al-Madeeni, Ishaaq bin Rahwayh, and Amr bin Ali al-Fallaas.

And this was the period in which the books on Uloom al-Hadeeth started being written, but only on some of its specific branches such as Al-Jarh wat Ta’deel, Ilal al-Hadeeth, and the Histories of Narration. It grew and the discussions on those Uloom became abundant among those who came after them. But a book to be written specifically on Mustalah remained postponed until the era of Imaam Abu Muhammad al-Hasan bin Abdur Rahmaan ar-Raamahurmuzi (D. 360), who authored the first independent book on Uloom al-Hadeeth which he named: “Al-Muhaddith al-Faasil bayna ar-Raawi wal Waa’ee”. Then many people followed him in authoring books on it.

The most beneficial of books on this topic are the books of Imaam Khateeb al-Baghdaadi and the most esteem of them is “Al-Kifaayah fi Ilm ar-Riwaayah” then the book of Al-Imaam Abu Amr Ibn as-Salaah “Uloom al-Hadeeth” famously known as the Muqaddimah of Ibn as-Salaah.

3- The types of Uloom al-Hadeeth:

Uloom al-Hadeeth in general is divided into two basic types:

First Type: Ilm ur-Riwaayah (The science of transmission)

Its subject is the study of whatever is attributed to the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) or to the people other than him from Sahaabah and Taabi’een, in the perspective of narration, preservation, and the scripting of its words.

In other words: It is concerned with ensuring accuracy of the Matn (text) of a report dealing specifically with its words. That is why, it is also called “Ilm Matn ul-Hadeeth (The textual study of hadeeth)”

The branches of Uloom al-Hadeeth that fall under this type include: Marfoo, Mawqoof, Maqtoo, Ghareeb al-Hadeeth, Mukhtalif al-Hadeeth, and Naasikh wa Mansookh etc.

Second Type: Ilm ad-Diraayah (The science of the chains and conditions of the hadeeth)

It is the study in which the way or the condition of how a narration reaches up to the Prophet or a Sahaabi or a Taabi’ee etc is discussed, as to whether it reaches up to him through a reliable source of transmission and with a connected chain etc.

In other words: It is the study of the chain of hadeeth, and the principles that are used in determining the acceptability or unacceptability of a hadeeth.

This science is also called “Ilm Mustalah al-Hadeeth” or “Ilm Usool al-Hadeeth”

The branches of Uloom al-Hadeeth that fall under this type include: Ilm al-Jarh wat Ta’deel, Ilm Tawareekh ar-Ruwaat (The Histories of narrators), Ilm Ilal al-Hadeeth etc.

Meaning of Sanad and Matn:

Sanad: Literally, it means “trust in, or reliability”. We know the reliability of a hadeeth through the Sanad and trust it. In Istalaah, it refers to the chain of narrators through which we reach the report.

And the word “Isnaad” is also used interchangeably with Sanad. The difference between the two in Ilm al-Hadeeth is insignificant.

Matn: Literally, it means the “elevated solid part of the earth”. In Istalaah, it refers to the text or the body of hadeeth upon which the Sanad ends.

In Ilm al-Hadeeth, any given hadeeth consists of two parts.

(1)           First part is the Sanad &

(2)           The Second part is the Matn.

Sanad is the part of hadeeth in which a compiler or the author of a book of hadeeth mentions the complete or incomplete chain of all the narrators from him up until the Prophet or whomever it is attributed to.

And Matn is the actual body of the hadeeth which contains the message.

We will understand this with the following example:

Suppose we find this hadeeth written in a book: Sufyaan bin Uyaynah narrated from Ziyaad bin Ilaaqah, and he narrates from Jareer bin Abdullah (radiallah anhu) that he said: “I pledged to the Messenger of Allaah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) to be sincere towards every Muslim”

The bold red part of the hadeeth mentioned above is called the Sanad of the hadeeth, while the part inside quotation marks in blue which contains the message is called the Matn.

One Sanad of a hadeeth is also called its “Tareeq (the route)” and its plural is “Turuq” and it is also often referred to as “Wajh” like it is famous in Imaam Tirmidhi’s terminologies that he says, “This hadeeth is not narrated except through this Wajh i.e. route, or Sanad”.

And it is known that Isnaad (chain of transmission) is one of the specialties of this Ummah. This is by which we come to know of the proven Prophetic traditions as it is narrated from Abdullah bin Abbaas (radiallah anhu) that he said: The Messenger of Allaah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) said: “You hear (from me), and others will hear from you; and people will hear from them who heard from you.”

[Narrated by Ahmed (2945), Abu Dawood (3659) and Ibn Hibbaan (62) in his Saheeh with a Saheeh chain]

Imaam Abdullah bin al-Mubaarak said: “Isnaad is part of the Deen, and were it not for the Isnaad, anyone would have said whatever he wished”

[Narrated by Muslim in his Muqaddimah of As-Saheeh (1/15), Al-Tirmidhi in al-Ilal from al-Jaami (6/232), Ibn Abi Haatim in Al-Jarh wat Ta’deel (1/1/16), Ar-Raamahurmuzi in Al-Muhaddith al-Faasil (P. 209), Ibn Hibbaan in al-Majroheen (1/26), Al-Haakim in Ma’rifah Uloom al-Hadeeth (P. 6), Al-Khateeb in his Taareekh (6/165) in al-Kifaayah (P. 558), in Al-Jaami Li-Akhlaaq ar-Raawi (1643), and in Sharaf Ashaab ul-Hadeeth (77, 78) all from Abdullah bin al-Mubaarak with a Saheeh chain]

Isnaad is the connected route towards the proof of the Matn, thus there is no good in just the Matn without the Isnaad. Hence, Imaam Yahya bin Sa’eed al-Qattaan said: “Do not look into the hadeeth, rather look into its Isnaad, thus if the Isnaad is Saheeh (take it), otherwise do not go for a hadeeth if its isnaad is not Saheeh”

[Narrated by al-Khateeb in Al-Jaami Li-Akhlaaq ar-Raawi (1301), Chain Saheeh]

Hadeeth al-Musnad:

In literal sense, Musnad refers to the thing towards which something or a report is attributed to. In Istalaah, it has three meanings:

1)   A compilation of Ahaadeeth in which the narrations are arranged according to the Sahaabah who narrated them. Among the early compilers of such a Musnad were Yahya bin `Abd al-Hameed al-Himmaani (d. 228) at Koofah and Musaddad bin Musarhad (d. 228) at Basrah. The largest existing collection of ahaadeeth of Companions arranged in this manner is that of Imam Ahmed bin Hanbal (d. 241), which contains around thirty thousand ahaadeeth. Another larger work is attributed to the famous Andalusian traditionist Baqi bin Makhlad al-Qurtubi (d. 276), but unfortunately it is now untraceable.

2)   Musnad is a hadeeth whose chain is connected from the compiler until the end of the chain; thus this includes Marfoo, Mawqoof, and Maqtoo all kinds of narrations as long as their chains are connected without a disconnection at any place. However, mostly it is used to refer to what is narrated specifically from the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) and not anyone else, with a connected chain. In fact, Imaam al-Haakim and others have suggested that it is not used except for connected Marfoo narration – and this is the most authentic opinion and this is what Haafidh Ibn Hajar has affirmed in Sharh Nukhbah

[Tadreeb ar-Raawi (P. 107)]

However, Ibn Abdil Barr has made the term “Musnad” synonymous to “Marfoo” and he did not put the condition of Ittisaal (connection) in it, and this is what he narrated from a group of people.

[Al-Tamheed (1/21-23, 25)]

3)   The word Musnad is also used as a synonym to “Isnaad”.


“Musnid” as compared to “Musnad” refers to the person who narrates a narration through his Sanad (chain). Critical understanding of the traditions or of the science of Isnaad (Ilm ar-Rijaal) is not necessary for one to be deemed a Musnid. Al-Sakhaawi ranks a Musnid below a Muhaddith in terms of the former’s proficiency as a hadeeth Scholar.

[See, Al-Jawaahir wal Durar of Sakhaawi (70)]


Muhaddith is someone who is an expert in Riwaayah and Diraayah of Hadeeth and also is well aware of a large number of narrators and narrations. Allaamah Ibn Sayyid an-Naas said: “Muhaddith in our times is someone who busies (himself) in Hadeeth both through the perspective of its Riwaayah as well as Diraayah, and gathers its narrators, and knows a numerous number of narrators and narrations in his era, and distinguishes (the weak from the authentic) in them until he knows the mistakes found in it, and his precision in this becomes well known”

[Tadreeb ar-Raawi (1/38)]

Abdul Fattaah Abu Ghuddah said: “It depends upon the Urf (commonly used meaning) of any given era. Thus a Muhaddith in our time is someone who is frequently busy in studying the books of Hadeeth, learning it, and teaching it through the permission of his Shuyookh for him along with knowing the meanings of hadeeth and understanding it, both through Riwaayah and Diraayah.”

[Qawaaid Uloom al-Hadeeth (P. 32)]

Note: Some people define a Muhaddith as someone who has a certain age, memorized a specified number of narrations, and studied a specified number of books. All of this has no basis at all.

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