Criticism of Hadith

The criticism of Hadith refers to critique directed towards collections of the reports quoting what the prophet Muhammad said verbatim on any matter, that are known as Hadith. The criticism revolves primarily around the authenticity of hadith reports and whether they are attributable to Muhammad, as well as theological and philosophical grounds as to whether the hadith can provide rulings on legal and religious matters when the Quran has already declared itself "complete", "clear", "detailed" and "perfect".


According to Daniel Brown there exist three major causes of corruption of the Hadith literature: political conflicts, sectarian prejudice, and the desire to translate the underlying meaning, rather than the original words verbatim.[1] Orthodox Muslims do not deny the existence of false hadith, but believe that through the scholars' work, these false hadith have been largely eliminated.[2]

Main areas of criticism


According to Wael Hallaq the central issue with hadith is its authenticity. From the legal theoretician's point of view, hadiths can be divided into mutawatir (transmitted via numerous chains of narrators) and ahad (anything that is not mutawatir). The medieval scholar Al-Nawawi argued that any non-mutawatir hadith is only probable and can not reach the level of certainty that a mutawatir hadith can. However scholars like Ibn al-Salah (d. 1245 CE), al-Ansari (d. 1707 CE), and Ibn ‘Abd al-Shakur (d. 1810 CE) found "no more than eight or nine" hadiths that fell into the mutawatir category.[3]

Daniel Brown notes that a group referred to as Ahl al-Kalam, who lived during the time of Al-Shafii also questioned the authenticity of the Hadith. The Prophetic example, they argued, "has to be found elsewhere – first and foremost in following the Qur'an."[4] The Mu'tazilites, who are the later Ahl al-Kalam, also viewed the transmission of the Prophetic sunnah as not sufficiently reliable. The Hadith, according to them, was mere guesswork and conjecture, while the Quran was complete and perfect, and did not require the Hadith or any other book to supplement or complement it."[5]

Later in nineteenth century Syed Ahmed Khan "questioned the historicity and authenticity of many, if not most, traditions, much as the noted scholars Ignaz Goldziher and Joseph Schacht would later do."[6] His student, Chiragh Ali, went further, suggesting nearly all the Hadith were fabrications.[7] Ghulam Ahmed Pervez also noted, "No steps were taken by the Prophet or by his immediate followers to preserve the integrity of Hadith."[8]

John Esposito notes that "Modern Western scholarship has seriously questioned the historicity and authenticity of the hadith", maintaining that "the bulk of traditions attributed to the Prophet Muhammad were actually written much later." He mentions Joseph Schacht, considered the father of the revisionist movement, as one scholar who argues this, claiming that Schacht "found no evidence of legal traditions before 722," from which Schacht concluded that "the Sunna of the Prophet is not the words and deeds of the Prophet, but apocryphal material" dating from later.[9] Henry Preserved Smith and Ignác Goldziher also challenged the reliability of the hadith.[10][11] Goldziher writes, in his Mohammedan Studies: "it is not surprising that, among the hotly debated controversial issues of Islam, whether political or doctrinal, there is not one in which the champions of the various views are unable to cite a number of traditions, all equipped with imposing isnads".[12]

Patricia Crone noted that early traditionalists were still developing conventions of examining the chain of narration (isnads) that by later standards were sketchy/deficient, even though they were closer to the historical material. Later though they possessed impeccable chains, but were more likely to be fabricated.[13]

Theological or philosophical critiques

Early criticism of the Hadith came from a group referred to as Ahl al-Kalam, who lived during the time of Al-Shafii, and mentioned in his Kitab Jima al-Ilm, rejected the Hadith on theological grounds. Their basic argument was that the Quran was an explanation of everything (16:89). They contended that obedience to the Prophet was contained in obeying only the Qur'an that God has sent down to him, and that when the Qur'an mentioned the Book together with Wisdom, the Wisdom was the specific rulings of the Book."[14] Daniel Brown notes that one of the arguments of Ahl al-Kalam was that "the corpus of Hadith is filled with contradictory, blasphemous, and absurd traditions."[4]

At the turn of the twentieth century, Muhammad Tawfiq Sidqi (d. 1920) of Egypt wrote an article titled 'al-Islam huwa ul-Qur'an Wahdahu' ('Islam is the Qur'an Alone) that appeared in the Egyptian journal al-Manar, which argues that the Quran is sufficient as guidance: "what is obligatory for man does not go beyond God's Book. ... If anything other than the Qur'an had been necessary for religion," Sidqi notes, "the Prophet would have commanded its registration in writing, and God would have guaranteed its preservation."[15] "Sidqi held that nothing of the Hadith was recorded until after enough time had elapsed to allow the infiltration of numerous absurd or corrupt traditions."[16] Although Muhammad Iqbal never rejected the hadith wholesale, he proposed limitations on its usage by arguing that it should be taken contextually and circumstantially.[17]


  1. Brown, Daniel W. "Rethinking Tradition in Modern Islamic Thought", 1999. p. 113 & 134
  2. Nasr, Seyyed Vali Reza. "Shi'ism", 1988. p. 35.
  3. Hallaq, Wael (1999). "The Authenticity of Prophetic Ḥadîth: A Pseudo-Problem". Studia Islamica. 89: 75–90. JSTOR 1596086. (registration required (help)).
  4. 1 2 Brown, Daniel W., Rethinking Tradition in Modern Islamic Thought, Cambridge University Press, 1996 (Paperback 1999), pp. 15–16; excerpted from Abdur Rab, ibid, pp. 199–200.
  5. Azami, M. A., Studies in Hadith Methodology and Literature, Islamic Book Trust, Kuala Lumpur, 92; cited in Akbarally Meherally, Myths and Realities of Hadith – A Critical Study, (published by Publishers), Burnaby, BC, Canada, 6; available at; excerpted from Abdur Rab, ibid, p. 200.
  6. Esposito, John L, Islam – The Straight Path, Oxford University Press, 1991, p. 134.
  7. Latif, Abu Ruqayyah Farasat. The Quraniyun of the Twentieth Century, Masters Assertion, September 2006.
  8. Parwez, Ghulam Ahmed, Salim ke nam khutut, Karachi, 1953, Vol. 1, 43; cited in Daniel Brown, 1996, op. cit., p. 54; cited in Abdur Rab, op.cit, p. 202.
  9. Esposito, John (1998). Islam: The Straight Path. Oxford University Press. p. 67. ISBN 0-19-511234-2.
  10. "In truth the Hadith must be regarded with marked scepticism, so far as it is used as a source for the life of Mohammed. The forgery or invention of traditions began very early. The Companions were not always too scrupulous to clothe their own opinions in the form of anecdotes ... These natural tendencies were magnified by the party spirit which early became rife in Islam. Each party counted among its adherents immediate followers of Mohammed. Each was anxious to justify itself by an appeal to his words and deeds. It is only the natural result that traditions with a notoriously party bias were circulated at an early day. A traditionist of the first rank admits that pious men were inclined to no sort of fraud so much as to the invention of traditions ... From our point of view, therefore, many traditions, even if well authenticated to external appearance, bear internal evidence of forgery." Smith, H. P. (1897). The Bible and Islam, or, the Influence of the Old and New Testaments on the Religion of Mohammed: Being the Ely Lectures for 1897 (pp. 32–33). New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
  11. "... European critics hold that only a very small part of the ḥadith can be regarded as an actual record of Islam during the time of Mohammed and his immediate followers. It is rather a succession of testimonies, often self contradictory, as to the aims, currents of thought, opinions, and decisions which came into existence during the first two centuries of the growth of Islam. In order to give them greater authority they are referred to the prophet and his companions. The study of the ḥadith is consequently of the greater importance because it discloses the successive stages and controlling ideas in the growth of the religious system of Islam." Ignác Goldziher, article on "ḤADITH", in The Jewish Encyclopedia: A Descriptive Record of the History, Religion, Literature, and Customs of the Jewish People from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, Singer, I. (Ed.). (1901–1906). 12 Volumes. New York; London: Funk & Wagnalls.
  12. Ali, Ratib Mortuza. "Analysis of Credibility of Hadiths and Its Influence among the Bangladeshi Youth" (PDF). BRAC University. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  13. Patricia Crone, Roman, Provincial and Islamic Law (1987/2002 paperback) , pp. 23–34, paperback edition
  14. Musa, ibid, pp. 36–37; taken from Abdur Rab, ibid, p. 199.
  15. Musa, Aisha Y., Hadith as Scripture: Discussions on the Authority of Prophetic Traditions in Islam, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2008, p.6.
  16. Sidqi, Muhammad Tawfiq, "al-Islam huwa al-Qur'an wahdahu," al-Manar 9 (1906), 515; cited in Daniel Brown, 1996, op. cit., 88–89
  17. "IQBAL AND HADITH". Retrieved 22 March 2015.
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