Hadith Reports As A Historical Source

1236 words - 5 pages

There are many controversies surrounding the first century of Islamic history. Historians often have trouble agreeing on whether or not it is reliable to use hadith literature as a source for the origins of Islam considering a large amount of hadiths surfaced well after the time of Muhammad. Many historians find issue with the isnad and matn of hadith. Historians argue that these can be easily forged given the nature of how hadith is transmitted by word of mouth. Another problem with using hadith as a historical source for the origins of Islam is that many hadith collections contain anachronisms, which, again raises questions about the reliability of such collections. Lastly, certain portions of hadith are interpreted from the Qur’an, which is problematic because many scholars can interpret the Qur’an differently, resulting in inconsistencies. Because many of these hadiths came from the 9th century but are making claims about much early times, they are more effective as sources for historians looking for information about the 9th century rather than as historical sources for the origins of Islam. Although hadith reports can be helpful to historians for information on the ninth century or later, they are unreliable as historical sources for information on the origins of Islam.
Many non-prophetic hadith reports surfaced in and around the ninth century. As a response to these reports that were unfocused on the prophet Muhammad, a man by the name of Al-Shafi’i began popularizing prophetic hadith reports. He believed that hadith should be about what Muhammad allegedly did or said. Up to the time of al-Shafi’i’s death, hadith specialists began to travel to major cities in search of prophetic hadith. These quests are known as Talab al-‘Ilm, or “The Search for Knowledge.” Many of the hadith collections at this time are the most authoritative for Muslims. Although some historians use these collections as a historical source for the origins of Islam, certain circumstances bring up questions about the reliability of these reports. Because the prophet Muhammad died almost two centuries before these reports surfaced, the validity and reliability of these reports remain debatable.
Historians raise questions about hadith reliability because hadith can easily be forged. Historians attempt to verify the accuracy of hadith by examining the isnad and matn of each hadith. One way to verify the accuracy of hadith is to ensure that all isnads lead back to Muhammad. Some scholars believe the isnad should be complete, meaning that there should be no disruptions in the transmitters. For example, if one transmitter claims they heard a story from another transmitter that died before they were born. It is problematic to have an incomplete isnad because there are missing links, which creates controversy about the reliability of the report. Other scholars, such as Joseph Schacht see a complete isnad as more problematic than an incomplete isnad. Schacht asserts that hadith...

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