Introduction to Hadith: The “Traditions” of the Prophet Muhammad
As the final Messenger of Allah, Muhammad has a special place in the history and culture of Islam. Not only was Muhammad the leader of the Muslim community, and the vehicle through whom the Qur`an was revealed, but he was also considered, by virtue of his status as a Messenger of God, to be close to God and to be a suitable model for human behavior. Because of this, Muhammad’s leadership guided the community while he was alive, but his example was believed to be normative long after his death. Given this importance, the Muslim community recorded his words and actions for posterity, and as the number of these reported conversations grew exponentially in the century after his death, the community developed sophisticated methods for evaluating their veracity. Since these Hadith were an important source for the development of Islamic law, the community had to know which traditions were reliable, and which were clearly fraudulent. The two most important compiler/evaluators were Bukhari (d. 870 CE) and Muslim (d. 875), although four other collections are accepted by all Sunni Muslims (by al-Tirmidhi, Abu Da’ud al-Sijistani, al-Nasa’I, and Ibh Majah).
A Hadith is composed of two major parts, the text (which gave the actual content) and the chain of transmission (which named the people who had reported this, going back to the time of the Prophet.
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