Conditions for Saheeh Hadeeth

Bismillah.

The study of hadeeth is one of the most noble sciences in Islam. The precision of this science, and the scholars who perfected it, is amazing and is not found in any other science–secular or Islamic. The sciences of hadeeth may be the most disputed science in Islam, simply because people do not understand the succinct process and scrutinization for only one narration to be accepted as authentic (saheeh). The Sunnah is the second source of legislation after the Qur’an, and Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) promised to protect the Sunnah:

إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا الذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُ لَحَافِظُونَ

Translation: We have, without a doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption). [Suratul-Hijr, verse 9]

So those who deny the Sunnah (for reasons such as weakness and lack of authenticity) and claim to “follow the Qur’an” are further away from the Qur’an; and they do not truly follow it, because if they did follow the Qur’an, they would automatically turn to the Sunnah.

The term saheeh literally means “sound and healthy.” Its Islamic/legal definition means: a narration that is totally authentic, with no doubt in its authenticity, and is a certified statement of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم). For a hadeeth to be taken as saheeh, five conditions must be met:

  1. Connected Isnaad: (isnaad is the plural of sanad, which is the chain of narrators). In Arabic: اتصال السند, ittisaal us-sanad. There cannot be a break in the chain. The narrators must have heard the hadeeth from each other, and if there is a break in the chain, the hadeeth is not authentic. (An example of a break in the chain would be a tabi’i narrating directly from the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم). The successor/tabi’i couldn’t have met the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) and had to have taken the narration from a companion, yet they did not mention the companion–so this would be a weak narration.)
  2. The narrators must be trustworthy and righteous.In Arabic: العدالة, al-’adaalah. The sub-conditions for ‘adaalah is that the narrator fears Allah, they are not known to commit major sins or consistent minor sins, and that they avoid all that people may consider shameful (faqawaar al-maroo’a). A modern day example of this would be that the Imam of the masjid would not come lead the prayer in shorts. Although shorts are technically fine to wear, some members of the prayer may consider it shameful and inappropriate for the Imam to lead the prayer in such clothing. So the narrators leave acts that can be seen as shameful by the people, even if they are not haraam or makrooh.
  3. Precision and accuracy of the narrators. In Arabic: ضبط الرواة dhabt ar-rawaah. There are two sub-conditions under dhabt:
    1. Precision and accuracy of the memory. In Arabic: ضبط الصدر, dhabt as-sadr.
    2. Precision of writing. In Arabic: ضبط الكتاب, dhabt al-kitaab. In terms of writing, some scholars of hadeeth had weak memories, so they would never narrate from their memories, but rather from their scribes or notes.
  4. No irregularities or inconsistencies. In Arabic: عدم الشذوذ, adamu as-shuthooth. Shuthooth is plural of shaath, and it literally means something irregular or not normal. An example of a shaath narration would be a hadeeth with a reliable narrator, but he contradicts a stronger narrator. So for a hadeeth to be authentic, it must be consistent.
  5. No hidden defects. In Arabic: عدم العلة, adamu al-’illah. An ‘illah, or a hidden defect is hard to detect and only the top scholars of hadeeth (like Imam Bukhari and Imam Ahmad) were able to detect them. Only through knowledge and experience will someone be able to detect an ‘illah in a hadeeth. Ibn al-Salah says, “A ma’lul (defective) hadith is one which appears to be sound, but thorough research reveals a disparaging factor.” An example of an ‘illah would be a narrator saying he narrated from his shaykh (his teacher) but he never heard from him, and rather took it from another student.

These are the five conditions for a hadeeth to be considered authentic, as stated by the scholars of this science. The only difference between a saheeh hadeeth and a hasan (good, one level lower than saheeh) is that the narrators have good memories and not excellent memories, they are still reliable, but their level of memory and precision is less than saheeh.

SubhanAllah, if someone takes the time to learn even the basics of this science, they will realize that those who claim the sunnah as unreliable have no idea what they’re talking about, and have never even studied this science! Allah has promised to preserve the sunnah, and with conditions such as these, the scholars of hadeeth have lived out this promise.

A great introductory resource if you would like to learn this science is a book by Shaykh Suhaib Hasan, known as “An Introduction to the Sciences of Hadeeth,” published by Dar-us-Salam–and take the AlMaghrib course known as Chain of Command: The Sciences of Hadeeth. Also, shaykh Yasir Qadhi has a set of introductory audio lectures on this science, which can be found here.

And Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) knows best.

References

Abdul-Bary Yahya. Lecture. AlMaghrib Institute. Chain of Command: Hadeeth Sciences. University of Maryland, Rockville. July 2007.

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17 Responses

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  1. Nice post.
    I do understand that we must follow the Sunnah.
    Out of curiousity though, how do you know that the 1st Ayah you quoted is not talking about the Quran?

  2. The word ‘dhikr’ in the ayah can refer to Qur’an and Sunnah/Hadeeth, because the sunnah is also a reminder and remembrance.
    So not only did Allah promise to protect the Qur’an – He also promised to protect the statements of our Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam.
    Also, knowing that Allah says Qur’an many times, “obey Him and His messenger”, (there is actually a post explaining this, called Following vs Obeying) showing us the status of the sunnah–so the sunnah is also an inspiration from Allah. Allah ta’ala says in Surah Najm, “nor does he speak from his own inclination, it is but a revelation revealed…” (3-4)

    But for the ayah, Allah knows best, most scholars say that it refers to the Qur’an and Sunnah. The ayah says that “We sent”, both the Qur’an and Sunnah are sent from Allah. and Allah ta’ala knows best.

  3. Al-Salam alaykom.

    I just have a remark regarding the Ittasal al-Sanad. It is not true that this is a requirement that has to be met, else the hadith is da3if (weak), at least not according to all of the great hadith scholars. In fact, many ahadith were narrated from a Tabi’i from the Prophet and were still used as proofs (like in Malik’s Muwatta), and certain tabi’in did an irsal that was acceptable – and among these are Ataa bin Abi Rabah, whose irsal is regarded acceptable. As far as i know, the scholars differ regarding the younger Tabi’in.

  4. wa alaykum assalam wa rahmatullah,

    yes brother you are correct, jazakum Allahu khayran for commenting. The only reason I did not mention this was because the above post is introductory and if I mentioned the mursal ahadeeth that are acceptable, I would have to define what mursal is, why only some scholars are accepted and so forth, so I only mentioned the general “rule” that it is weak without a mention of the companion, although there are some exceptions of scholars you mentioned like ‘Ataa ibn Abi Rabaah.

    Also, Sa’eed ibn Musayyab’s rahimahullah narrations are acceptable, but for example, Al-Hasan Al-Basri and Yahya ibn Sa’eed rahmat Allahi alayhuma are not acceptable. From what I learned, only the great scholars among the tabi’een are acceptable for practicing this, not all of them.

    Also, just to note for everyone, if a tabi’i says they heard from a companion, then this narration is acceptable (ie, marfu’) because the tabi’i is trustworthy and the companion’s status has been already established. However the difference comes when the companion is not mentioned, this is what Mursal is–when the chain is broken from the tabi’i and the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam (ie, companion is missing).

    Like I mentioned above, this science is very precise and subhanAllah, it is amazing how these ahadeeth and narrators have been scrutinized to such an extent, Allahu Akbar. This is a science we all need to learn and at least be familiar with inshaAllah. Again, I urge everyone to please read the book and listen to the audios stated above inshaAllah.

    and Allah azza wa jal knows best, anything I have said wrong is from my own self, and all good is from Allah ta’ala, and for Him is all praise.

  5. You both have me confused.
    Regarding the quote “We Sent” The “We” used is a honourable “We” and thats how Allah put it in the Quran. I don’t get how that means that what Allah is talking about is Sunnah? Are you saying that every time Allah mentions that “We sent signs, etc” it means both Quran and Sunnah?
    JazakAllahu Khaira.

  6. Sister, please read the book or listen to the audios to understand what the brother and I were referring to inshaAllah :)

    In regards to the “We”, I was not emphasizing the “We” part of the ayah, I was emphasizing the “SENT” part. From the ayah in Surah Najm, we learn that the sunnah was a revelation/inspiration from Allah like the Qur’an. The Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam did not speak from his own desires, rather it’s an inspiration from Allah. So just as Allah SENT the Qur’an, He also SENT the Sunnah. That’s what I meant. Wa Allahu ta’ala ‘alam. Please forgive me for any confusion. Also, please refer to the resources I posted, everything I have posted thus far is what I learned from there alhamdulillah. All of this is covered in the lectures, book and class.

  7. Thank you for your reply. I understand know why you did not include this issue, and the only reason why i mentioned it was for the readers to notice. However, one should know that there is disagreement about the Irsaal of younger successors – for example, the scholars differ about tabi’in as Hassan al-Basri (rahimahollah), as some of his sayings seems to indicate that he narrates Irsal from Ali ibn Abi Talib (May Allah be pleased with him). This is a complex science that scholars have studied for centuries, and it is not fit for us to discuss who is right or who is wrong, but what you wrote absolutely serves good as a basic introduction. Thank you and May Allah reward you.

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  15. Unfortunately this Ayah has been taken completely out of its context. The Quran is crystal clear in its wording and hence the context of this Ayah should be understood before deciding whether it is talking about Sunnah or not.

    In Surah Hijr, Verse 6 – 8, it is stated:
    And they say: “O you (Muhammad (PBUH) ) to whom the Dhikr has been sent down! Verily, you are a mad man.

    Why do you not bring angels to us if you are of the truthful ones?”

    We send not the angels down except with the truth (i.e. for torment, etc.), and in that case, they (the disbelievers) would have no respite!

    And then in Ayah 9:
    Verily We: It is We Who have sent down the Dhikr and surely, We will guard it (from corruption)

    Thus is clear that the Quran is being talked about here, not the Sunnah. Additionally, one of the first criterion of saheeh hadith should be it conformance with Quran and then anything else.

    With due respect, we should also use our own intellect rather than totally depending upon what has been said earlier.

    Just my 2 cents!

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