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About the Hadith: sayings of Muhammad (pbuh)

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Definition of "hadith:"

Hadiths are regarded as a narration on the Sunnah (lived example) of Muhammad.  It includes reported sayings, actions, and traditions of Mohammad and his companions.

M.M. Azami formally defines "hadith" as follows:

"According to Muhaddithiin [scholars of hadith] 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] and Successors [to the Companions] as well." 1

The Qur'an says: "And whatever the Messenger gives you, take it, and whatever he forbids you, leave it. And fear Allah: truly Allah is severe in punishment." 2 The Messenger refers here to the Prophet Muhammad. These writings are not regarded as having the same status as the Holy Qur'an, which is considered to be God's word.

The accuracy of Muhammad's sayings was confirmed by his contemporaries -- generally his companions; i.e. his immediate followers. Some Muslims regard all of the the Hadiths as being valid. Some historians question the accuracy of some passages. For example, Historian Bernard Lewis commented on a saying attributed to the prophet that some scholars believe is invalid:

"If anyone insults me, then any Muslim who hears this must kill him immediately." 7

Some terrorists partly believe that, based on this Hadith, all Muslims have a duty to kill Americans when they have the opportunity.

The great Islamic scholar Yahya bin Sharaf Ul-Deen An-Nawawi compiled a collection of 43 of the most important sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). It is is now known as "An-Nawawi's Forty Hadiths" 3

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Reinterpretation of the Hadith:

The government of Turkey's Department of Religious Affairs has been concerned that many sayings in the Hadith were not actually stated by Muhammad or his followers, and that some of his valid sayings need to be reinterpreted. They have commissioned a team of theologians at the School of Theology of Ankara University to revise the Hadith over a three year project. Their findings are expected to generate an explosion of angry debate within the faith. Some suggest that it will produce conflict similar to that of the Christian reformation when the document is published.

Felix Koerner, says some of the sayings can be proven to have been written centuries after the death of Muhammad, He said:

"Unfortunately you can even justify through alleged hadiths, the Muslim - or pseudo-Muslim - practice of female genital mutilation. ...You can find messages which say 'that is what the Prophet ordered us to do'. But you can show historically how they came into being, as influences from other cultures, that were then projected onto Islamic tradition."

BBC News reports that some Islamic reformers argue that:

"... Islamic tradition has been gradually hijacked by various - often conservative - cultures, seeking to use the religion for various forms of social control. Leaders of the Hadith project say successive generations have embellished the text, attributing their political aims to the Prophet Muhammad himself."

Prof Mehmet Gormez, a senior official in the Department of Religious Affairs and an expert on the Hadith notes:

"There are some messages that ban women from traveling for three days or more without their husband's permission and they are genuine. But this isn't a religious ban. It came about because in the Prophet's time it simply wasn't safe for a woman to travel alone like that. But as time has passed, people have made permanent what was only supposed to be a temporary ban for safety reasons. ... [In another speech, Muhammad said:] he longed for the day when a woman might travel long distances alone."

In another project, Turkey has trained 450 women in theology and appointed them as senior imams called "vaizes." Their task is to visit remote communities and explain the original spirit of Islam. BBC News reports:

"One of the women, Hulya Koc, looked out over a sea of headscarves at a town meeting in central Turkey and told the women of the equality, justice and human rights guaranteed by an accurate interpretation of the Koran - one guided and confirmed by the revised Hadith."

"She says that, at the moment, Islam is being widely used to justify the violent suppression of women. 'There are honor killings,' she explains. 'We hear that some women are being killed when they marry the wrong person or run away with someone they love. There's also violence against women within families, including sexual harassment by uncles and others. This does not exist in Islam... we have to explain that to them'." 6

See also: Some quotations from the Hadith


  1. M. M. Azami, "Studies in Hadith Methodology and Literature." Quoted in "Sunnah and Hadith," at: http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/
  2. Qur'an 59:7
  3. Yahya bin Sharaf Ul-Deen An-Nawawi , "Al-Nawawi's Forty Hadiths" at: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~alnur/DOCS/
  4. These Hadiths were taken from news releases by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Their web site is at: www.cair-net.org.
  5. Bernard Lewis: "The crisis of Islam: Holy war and unholy terror," Random House, (2004). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store. It is a popular book, available in hardcover, paperback, large print, audio CD and audio download.
  6. Robert Pigott, "Turkey in radical revision of Islamic texts," BBC News, 2008-FEB-26, at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/
  7. Bernard Lewis, "Islam in History: Ideas, People, and Events in the Middle East," Page 372, at: http://books.google.ca/

Site navigation: Home page > World Religions > Islam > here

Copyright © 2002 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2002-JUL-25
Latest update: 2012-JUN-04
Compiler: B.A. Robinson

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