An Introduction to the Different Types of Books of Hadith by Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad


إن الحمد لله نحمده ونستعينه ونستغفره ، ونعوذ بالله من شرور أنفسنا وسيئات أعمالنا ، من يهده الله فلا مضل له ، ومن يضلل فلا هادي له ، وأشهد أن لا إله إلا الله وأن محمدًا عبده ورسوله .

يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ حَقَّ تُقَاتِهِ وَلا تَمُوتُنَّ إِلا وَأَنْتُمْ مُسْلِمُونَ

يَاأَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اتَّقُوا رَبَّكُمُ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُمْ مِنْ نَفْسٍ وَاحِدَةٍ وَخَلَقَ مِنْهَا زَوْجَهَا وَبَثَّ مِنْهُمَا رِجَالا كَثِيرًا وَنِسَاءً وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ الَّذِي تَسَاءَلُونَ بِهِ وَالأَرْحَامَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلَيْكُمْ رَقِيبًا )

:يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَقُولُوا قَوْلا سَدِيدًا. يُصْلِحْ لَكُمْ أَعْمَالَكُمْ وَيَغْفِرْ لَكُمْ ذُنُوبَكُمْ وَمَنْ يُطِعِ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ فَقَدْ فَازَ فَوْزًا عَظِيمًا أما بعد :

booksof hadith2.jpgThe study of hadith is a world in itself. It is a beautiful, remarkable and detailed universe of source knowledge, intra-disciplinary sciences, and sub-sciences that support the preservation, transmission, explanation, understanding, and implementation of the Sunna of our Beloved Prophet Muhammad ibn Abdullah ﷺ. The world of hadith is a world of guidance, knowledge, and understanding of this religion.  It is the collection of statements, actions, habits, travels, and events of the Prophet ﷺ and is one of the most satisfying and beneficial paths and pursuits of knowledge. The study of hadith and its related sciences is vast, and is something that scholars, students of knowledge, and regular folk engage in as a lifelong pursuit.

There are many ways to approach hadith study. Primarily as Muslims, we want to know and understand what the Prophet ﷺ did and said so we can obey him and follow him. Of course it’s more than that; it’s loving him, using his guidance, and following his path.  No one gets to a point where they know all the hadith, or studied all the hadith or have learned everything there is to learn about hadith of the Prophet ﷺ. There are many approaches, many disciplines and sub-disciplines, and many methods. I advise every student, or serious seeker of knowledge that when you decide to read a collection of hadith, or an explanation of a collection of hadith like Aoun al-Ma’bood, or Tuh’fatu  Ah’wathi, or Fat’h al-Baari, or even study it with your sheikh, you would benefit a lot by reading the introduction, or the foreword by the author himself. You learn a lot from the introduction such as terminology, the reasons behind writing the book, how it is arranged, the authors methodology, and the views of that particular scholar on issues relating to hadith and to his own hadith collection or explanation.

There are two principle ways that hadith books are put together. One is according to chapter and subject matter or what scholars call ‘abwaab’ which is the plural of ‘baab’ which literally means door. In these types of hadith books, the book is organized by subject matter such as tahaara, salat, zakat, siyaam, buying and selling etc. Books arranged by subject matter are easier for research and finding the topic you are looking for and is preferred by students and scholars alike. If a person wants to look up a hadith on a certain topic, then there’re likely to refer to these types of books first as opposed to the second type which I’m going to talk about next.

The second type of hadith book are books that are arranged according to the companions of the Prophet ﷺ that narrated the hadith originally. Usually this is done in alphabetical order. Sometimes it’s done according to the rank of the narrator (راوي) his preference in Islam or his ranking, or what’s called a tabaqa (طبقة). The following types that I mention are not all of the types of books of hadith but they are the major ones. In sha Allah this short piece will help understand in some small way, how to study and look at books of hadith. Keep in mind that this is just a small window to a very wide and deep topic. Wal Allahu al-Musta’aan.

Types of Books of Hadith:

Jaami [جامع]:

A Jaami is a hadith collection that contains all the main categories of primary islamic knowledge which represent the full breadth of the religion such as aqeeda, adab, eating and drinking, tafseer, hadith about fitan (trials), raqaa’iq / رقائق (spiritual heart softeners) and ibaadah / عبادة  (worship). The most well-known of such types of hadith books are Jaami as-Sahih by Imam Muhammad Ismaa’eel al-Bukhaari (d. 256 h.), better-known as Sahih al-Bukhaari. The actual title that Imam Bukhaari named the book that we’ve come to know as; “Sahih al-Bukhaari” was, “Al-Jaami’ al-Musnad as-Sahih al-Mukhtasar min umoor Rasoolillaah wa sunanihi wa iyyaamihi(الجامع المسند الصيح المختصر من أمور رسول الله و سننه و ايامه). Over time it simply became known as Sahih al-Bukhaari, or Jaami Sahih, or Jaami’ Sahih al-Bukhaari.

Another is al-Jaami as-Sahih by Imam Muslim, known as Sahih Muslim, and al-Jaami by Imam Abu Eesa at-Tirmithee, better known as Sunan at-Tirmidhi. The actual name of Imam al-Tirmidhi’s collection is Al-Jaami al-Mukhtasar min al-Sunan wa Ma’rifatu as-Saheeh wal ma’lool, wa maa alaihi al-amal. الجامع المختصر من السنن عن رسول الله صلي الله عليه و سلم و معرفة الصحيح و المعلول ما عليه العمل)). As you can see, it is a pretty long name and one that is hardly ever used in any modern printings of the book. It has been referred to at times as Jaami’ as-Sahih by at-Tirmidhi which is a misnomer because the collection contains hadith which are not sound. It’s sometimes referred to as a Sunan because it deals a lot with hadith al-ah’kaam, or hadith that has to do with law and it follows the same pattern as other books of Sunan and notwithstanding that Sunan is part of the original title of the book.  Imam Abu Eesa said about his collection; “anyone who has this book in his house, it’s like the Prophet ﷺ is in his house talking”.

The titles of the books of hadith and the arrangement of the chapters and subject matter gives you an insight into the thinking and methodology of the muhaddith who authored the book. For example, Imam al-Bukhaari and others use what’s called the tarjama [ترجمة]. The word tarjama has several meanings in the Arabic language but according to traditionalists (scholars of hadith) the tarjama is the section heading. The common word for chapter is Kitaab [كتاب] and the common word used for section is baab [section]. The name of the section is the tarjama and the tarjama give you a clue of the scholar’s view on the issue. Imam an-Nawawi used to say; “Bukhaari’s fiqh is in his taraajam”. For example, in Sahih al-Bukhaari in the Book of ghusl (ritual bath), there is a section titled; “If one remembers while he is in the masjid that he is in a state of impurity, he should leave as he is without making tayammam” (بلب اذا ذكر في المسجد انه جنب خرج كما هو، و لا يتيمم), then he proceeds to present the hadith that proves the implication of the tarjama. You see this example throughout his Sahih and in other books of hadith.

Sunan [سنن]

Books of Sunan in the language of hadith scholars are books of hadith that contain hadith dealing with law (احكام), organized by the sections of fiqh. For example, these books usually begin with purification (طهارة), and the section on purification will start with a certain aspect of purification depending on the detail, the style and choice of the compiler of the book. For example, Imam Abu Eesa at-Tirmidhi (d. 279 h.), begins his book with tahaara but starts with the hadith; “the salat is not accepted without wudu[1] . Then he follows with hadith about the virtues of wudu and moves on from there. However, Imam Abu Dawood (d. 275 h.) takes a different approach; he begins his Sunan with a chapter titled tahaara but begins the first section with hadith about the etiquettes of relieving one’s self. Which is also a part of tahaara.  In the Sunan of an-Nasaai, Imam Abu Abdurrahman Nasaai (d. 303 h.) takes a slightly different approach. He begins his book with the chapter on tahaara but starts with the hadith of Abu Hurraira that the Prophet ﷺ said; “When one of you wakes up from sleep, he should not put his hands water (for ablution) until he washes them because he does not know where his hand spent the night”. (what his hands touched”. The second hadith in his collection is about using siwaak (miswaak), which is also a part of tahaara.

So the major books of Sunan follow the same style and methodology in that purification is usually at the beginning but differ in the exact approach to the topic. This is one reason why students of knowledge should be broad in their lifelong study of the hadith of the Prophet ﷺ which is not something that you do over a certain period of time; it’s something that you do without. Even the major shuyookh of the ummah, still read and study hadith of the Prophet ﷺ and engage in its related sciences.

This demonstrates the breadth of approach to knowledge and scholarly independence of hadith preservation. So of the great scholars who compiled and preserved the ahaadeeth of the Prophet ﷺ, they demonstrated their preferences in how they approach of hadith the topics of Sunna in their books.

All books of hadith do not have the same detail, the same number of hadith, or the exact same approach to any given topic. After tahaara (purification) Sunan books usually follow with ibaadah starting with salat, then zakat, then fasting and so on. The most well-known books of Sunan are the Sunan of Abu Dawud, the Sunan of at-Tirmithee which is the Jaami of at-Tirmithee [جامع الترمذي], the Sunan of an-Nasaa’i, and the Sunan of Ibn Majah. These four are known as the Four Sunan (السنن الاربعة). Within the discipline of hadith study, scholars employ certain terminology that is specific to the science. Within it, they have several ways of referring to books of hadith also. For example, if they say “the three”, then they mean the four Sunan we just mentioned minus the Sunan of ibn Majah. If the say “the five” for example, they mean the four Sunan and the Musnad of Imam Ahmad. If they say ‘Sahihain’ (صحيحين) they mean the collection of al-Bukhaari and Muslim and if they say; ‘as-shaykhaan (الشيخان), [the two shaykhs], then they are talking about al-Bukhaari and Muslim also.

Musnad [مسند]

A Musnad is a collection of hadith that is according to the name of the companion of the Prophet ﷺ who narrated the hadith. Sometimes this is done in alphabetical order, other times it is arranged according to who preceded who in Islam, and other times it is arranged according to preference (fadeela/ فضيلة) of the particular companion to another. Many musaaneed begin with hadith narrated by the four caliphs (الخلفاء الراشدين) starting with Abu Bakr as-Siddeeq. Others arrange it according to the ten companions who were promised paradise, then the companions who were at Badr. At other times, a Musnad is arranged according to genealogical status or lineage. There are many musaaneed / مسانيد (plural of Musnad). The most well-known of the musaaneed is the Musnad of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d. 241 h.), followed by the Musnad of Abu Ya’laa.  At other times a Musnad its arranged according to preference or the historical position of the narrator of the hadith.

Al-Mu’jam [المعجم]

Al-Mu’jam (plural: mu’aajam/ معاجم ), in the terminology of traditionalists, are hadith collections that are arranged according to a name of the sheikh from whence the author narrated it. Where the author arranges the hadith according to his shuyookh that he heard them, in alphabetical order. The most well-known of these are the three ma’aajam written by Abu al-Qasim Sulaiman at-Tabaraani (d. 360 h.), called al-Mu’jam al-Sagheer, and al-Mu’jam al-Awsat which were both hadith that he related from his shuyookh, and his third one is called al-Mu’jam al-Kabir [المعجم الكبير], which consists of hadith narrated by companions. The Mu’jam al-Kabir is the most famous of Tabaraani’s three collections. It popularity and recognition is at a level that when people mention “al-Mu’jam” then it is known that they are referring to al-Mu’jam al-Kabir by Tabaraani. Some books are so well-known and so widely used that they are fully recognized by even part of the name. for example, the book, Fat’h al-Baari, the famous explanation of Sahih al-Bukhaari by Ibn Hajar al-As’qalaani (d. 852 h.) is known across centuries simply as “al-Fat’h”, despite that there are hundreds of books whose title begins with al-Fat’h or contains the word Fat’h. Nevertheless, when a reference to al-Fat’h is mentioned in a book or a footnote, scholars of this discipline generally assume (depending on the context) that you are referring to Fat’h al-Baari. An anecdotal note about Ibn Hajar’s Fat’h al-Baari is that Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (d. 795 h.) himself, started writing an explanation of Sahih al-Bukhaari and he titled it; ‘Fat’h al-Baari’ he completed up to the chapter on salaatul janaaza before he died. Twenty years after his death, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalaani began his explanation of Sahih al-Bukhaari and he named it; ‘Fat’h al-Baari’ in honor of ibn Rajab.

Al-Musannafaat al-Jaami’a [المصنفات الجامعة]

These are encyclopedic collection of hadith compiled from many different collections by different scholars of hadith. These types are arranged in two different ways. The first way is to arrange it according to subject category or chapters (abwaab). An example of this type of hadith collect in this style is the book; Jaami’ al-Usool fi Ahaadeeth ar-Rasool [جامع الأصول في احاديث الرسول] by ibn al-Atheer [d. 606 h.] In his book he compiles hadith from Bukhaari, Muslim, Abu Dawood, at-Tirmidhi, ibn Maajah and the Muwatta by Imam Malik. He also takes the added steps of explaining unclear words.  Another book like this is the book; Khunz al-A’maal fi Sunan al-Af’aal wal Aq’waal [خنز العمال في سنن الاقوال و الافعال] by Ali ibn Hussaam al-Muttaqi (d, 975 h.), better known as al-Muttaqi. This is probably one of the most comprehensive books of this type; he complies hadith from about ninety something different collections of hadith. In the beginning of the book he explains terminologies of different scholars of hadith that are specific to them, since all scholars do not use all terminology in other same way.

The second style of collection of this category are books where the hadith are compiled alphabetically according to the first word in the hadith. Such is the book al-Jaami al-Kabir (الجامع الكبير) by Jalaaluddeen as-Suyuti (d. 911 h.). al-Jaami al-Kabir by Suyuti is considered to be the basis for Khanz al-A’maal. Another book by Suyuti, al-Jaami as-Sagheer in one where he (Suyuti) abridged the Jaami Kabir by removing ahaadeeth that were repeated, and he added other ahaadeeth. The whole book (al-Jaami al-Kabir) has 10,031 hadith altogether.

 Al-Mustad’rak / المستدرك

Al-Mustad’rakaat [المستدركات] are books of hadith where the author writes down hadith whose status of authenticity meet the standards [شرط] of a traditionalist although that traditionalist did not include those ahaadeeth in his own book. For example, Imam Al-Bukhaari memorized 200,000 authentic hadith. However, he only included 7,275 hadith in his Sahih. If you count the hadith that Bukhaari repeated [المكرر], then the number of hadith in Sahih Bukhaari is only 4,000 or so hadith. So another scholar of hadith will come along and make a collection the hadith that meets Bukhaari’s standards of authenticity, but that Bukhaari did not include in his Sahih. Such a book is referred to by scholars of hadith as a Mustadrak / المستدرك.

The most well-known of the Mustad’rakaat (plural) is the Mustadrak of al-Haakim on Bukhari and Muslim titled; al-Mustadrak alaa Sahihain [المستدرك علي الصحيحين]. In al-Haakim’s Mustadrak, Al-Haakim (d. 403 h.) takes hadith that were collected by imam al-Bukhaari and Imam Muslim, that they did not included in their published collections. He somewhat follows some of Bukhaari’s arrangement of subject matter. The first four sections the Mustad’rak is similar to that of the Sahih as far as methodology. Al-Haakim begins with the book of faith [كتاب الايمان], then the book of knowledge [كتاب العلم], then the book of tahaara [كتاب الطهارة], followed by the book on salat [كتاب الصلاة]. Although he uses different hadith, he uses the same subject categories in the beginning of al-Mustad’rak except that Imam al-Bukhaari starts his book with “The Beginning of Revelation” (بدء الوحي), then he follows with the Book of faith, the book of Knowledge, and then after that al-Bukhaari, instead of having a chapter entitles the book of Tahaara like some of the others, he moves to the Book of Wudu, then the Book of Ghusl, then the Book of Menstruation, then the Book of Tayammum, then he moves to the Book of Salat, and so on. Similar methodology of the others, but different approach to the subject matter.

Unfortunately, scholarship is not without its controversy. Imam al-Haakim, like many other early scholars of hadith compilation, was a Persian. Some have accused Imam al-Haakim as having had leanings towards Shi’ism, and others have said that all of the hadith in the Mustadrak were not according to the standards of Bukhaari and Muslim; some of the hadith they say, were weak, and even forgeries. Other scholars defended him with that if particular muhaddith but that particular muhaddith did not include it in his book. For example, the most well-known Mustad’rak is the Mustad’rak of al-Haakim from Bukhaari and Muslim. He related hadith that met the standard of authenticity of Bukhaari and Muslim even though they did not include those hadith in their collections and we already mentioned some of the controversy surrounding al-Haakim (رحمه الله).

Forty Hadith Collections / الاربعينات

 Forty hadith collections are amongst the most common and popular types of hadith collection. In the terminological language of traditionalists ((المحدثين, Arba’een is a collection of hadith that is comprised of forty ahaadeeth, or forty sections (ابواب) of knowledge. The most well-known and perhaps the most often used of forty hadith collections is the Forty Hadith of Imam Abu Zakariyyah Yahya ibn Sharf An-Nawawi (d. 676 h.). Sometimes a forty hadith collection will contain the isnaad of the hadith and at other times it won’t contain isnaad. Sometimes a collection or book will use forty hadith as a benchmark but add to it. For example, ibn Rajab al-Hanbali’s (d. 795 h.) Jaami Uloom wal Hikam (جامع العلوم و الحكم), is an explanation of Imam an-Nawawi’s forty hadith but he added ten more hadith to it.

Is the hadith about collecting Forty hadith, a weak hadith?

What prompted many scholars to compile books of forty hadith were two things; the first is the hadith of the Prophet ﷺ: “Whoever of my Ummah memorized forty hadith from the affairs of its deen, Allah will resurrect him (on the day of judgment) as a scholar, and I will be a witness and an intercessor for him on the Day of Judgment”. This hadith, although weak (ضعيف), was reported by thirteen different companions of the Prophet ﷺ. According to Imam an-Nawawi; scholars all agree that this is a weak hadith despite that it has been reported through several chains. Some scholars say that due to the severe weakness of the multiple chains of this hadith, it is not permissible to act according to it. Imam an-Nawawi himself, who compiled one the most famous and enduring collections of forty hadith said; “I’m not depending on this hadith to compile my collection, on the contrary, (I’m basing it on) other sound hadith such as the hadith; “Let those who are present inform those who are absent”, and the hadith; “Allah will brighten (the face) of the person who hears what we say, understands (memorizes) it and passes it on just like he heard it”.  that he compiled his forty hadith collection based upon the virtue of compiling and spreading ahaadeeth of the Prophet ﷺ. Nevertheless, despite the weakness of this hadith, many scholars have compiled collections of forty hadith and it has become an accepted and agreed upon category in hadith compilation.

The first of our scholars to compile a book of forty hadith was Abdullah ibn al-Mubaarak (d, 181 h.). This was during the second century of Islam. His work was followed in the next century by Muhammad ibn As’slam at-Toosi (d. 242 h.), and Ibraheem ibn Ali at-Thah’li (d. 293 h.).  During each century of Islam, there have been scholars and Imams who compiled forty hadith collections. Even Ibn Hajar as-Asqalaani compiled a forty hadith compilation according to as-Sakhaawi in his biography of Ibn Hajar[2]. This goes on up until this present day.

Books of Takh’reej / كتب التخريج

 Books of takhreej (extraction) are books where the author extracts or deducts hadith from another a book of knowledge that has hadith mentioned in it, and he clarifies in which book this hadith is collected, or which hadith scholars narrated or has a chain to this hadith. books of takh’reej may or may not clarify the strength or the weakness of the hadith, but it will tell you where the hadith is located. There are many books of takh’reej. The idea being takh’reej is so that the reader or student of knowledge is clear about the origin of the hadith he finds in a book. So that he knows which of the traditionalists collected the hadith in his book, and possibly the authenticity of the hadith. Scholars continue to this very day to write books of takh’reej of other collections. It is common for a scholar to do a takh’reej on another book. Usually he’ll put the takh’reej right in a separate or supplemental printing or publication of the book as a footnote, and end note or part of the commentary.

A couple of the more well-known books of takh’reej are;

  • Tal’khees al-Hibar fi Takh’reej Ahaadeeth al-Raafi’ee al-Kabir / التلخيص الحبير في تخريج احاديث الرافعي الكبير written by Imam Ibn Hajar al-As’qalaani. In it ibn Hajar clarifies the hadith contained in Imam Abu al-Qaasim al-Raafi’ee’s (d. 623 h.) explanation of the book ‘al-Wajeez Fi fiqh al-Shaafi’ee (الوجيز في فقه الشافي) which was written by Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazaali.
  • Al-Mughni an Himl al-Asfaar Fi al-As’faar Fi Takh’reej ma Fi al-Ih’yaa min al-Akh’baar / المغني عن حمل الاسفار في الاسفار في تخريج ما في الاحياء من الاخبار, by al-Haafiz Imam Abdul-Raheem ibn Hussain al-Araaqi, better known as al-Haafiz al-Araaqi (d. 806 h) who incidentally was one of the Shuyookh of ibn Hajar al-Asqalaani. In it, he extracts and clarifies the ahaadeeth contained in ‘Ih’yaa Uloom ad-Deen / احياء علوم الدين, by Imam al-Ghazaali and offers some explanation of some of the text.

Keep in mind, there are many, many other books of takh’reej, books of hadith, other types of hadith books, books about the different sciences of hadith and associated sciences of hadith. The number of books relating to hadith study and methodology are in the thousands, perhaps tens of thousands. Some are well-known and others are not so well-own. And Allah knows best as to their number.

These are not all of the types of books of hadith. However, these are the major ones. There is no one book that will give you all the understanding or all the knowledge of the religion . The religion is based upon the Quran and the sunna of the Prophet (SAWS) as recorded in hadith. Understanding is from Allah sub’haanahu wa ta’ala. The books are tools towards understanding in sha Allah, and our scholars are writers, compilers and preservers of these books.  May Allah increase us in knowledge and understanding of the religion.

Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad

Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad, a Philadelphia native, is a writer, a researcher and Imam of the Islamic Society of Folsom, in Northern California. He is a former executive committee member of the North America Imams Federation (NAIF), and the CEO of ‘Mosque Without Borders’, an organization that address Muslim sectarianism in the United States. He is also and the author of the new book, “Double Edged Slavery “, a critical and authoritative look at the condition of African American and convert Muslims in the United States, and the book: “The Devil’s Deception of the Modern Day Salafi Sect “, a look at the ideological underpinning of modern Salafist extremism. He blogs at imamluqman.wordpress.com, and can be reached at imamabulaith@yahoo.com. 

[1] The word mentioned in the hadith is tuhoor (طهور). By this he means wudu (ablution).

[2] الجواهر والدرر في ترجمة شيخ الإسلام ابن حجر, Vol, 2, p 669

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