Categories of aḥadīth and their definitions

The study of aḥādīth can be categorised into three:

Ilm riwāyat al-ḥadīth – Narration of ḥadīth and transmitting aḥādīth without necessarily understanding the words being narrated.

Ilm dirāyat al-ḥadīth – Understanding the meaning of the aḥādīth and the rulings derived therefrom.

Ilm usūl al-ḥadīth (or Muṣṭalaḥ al-ḥadīth) – Verification of aḥādīth from the perspective of its acceptability and rejectability.

Ilm riwāyat al-ḥadīth

Definition: knowledge which comprises of the sayings, actions [and conditions] of the Prophet ﷺ, and its narrations, memorisation[1] and documentation.[2]

Subject Matter: the aḥādīth of the Prophet ﷺ only from the perspective of transmission and narration.

Objective: to keep a chain between us and the Prophet ﷺ through words such as “we have been told”, “we have been informed” and the like, that which is specific to this ummah.

Ilm dirāyat al-ḥadīth

Definition: The science of researching the explanation of aḥādīth and its intended meaning.

Subject Matter: The aḥādīth of the Prophet ﷺ from the perspective of the implication of its understood meaning and what is intended by it.[3]

Objective: To adorn ourselves with the characteristics of the Prophet ﷺ, and to abstain from those things which he ﷺdisliked and prohibited.

Ilm Usūl al-ḥadīth 

This category of ḥadīth is succinctly captured by Imām Suyūti as mentioned in his Alfiyyah; 

علم حدیث ذو قوانین تُحدّ            يُدری بها أحوال متن وسند

فذانك الموضوع والمقصود            أن يعرف المقبول والمردود

The knowledge of ḥadīth are laws

through which the condition of the matn and sanad are known

That is the subject matter, and the objective

is to know that which is accepted and rejected.

As such, Imām Suyūtī ‘s dictum can be broken down as follows:

Definition: knowledge of the laws through which one recognises the respective conditions of the sanad[4] and matn[5] of any given ḥadīth.

Subject matter: the sanad[6] and matn.[7]

Objective: to know that which is accepted and rejected.

[1] How to pronounce the words, or how it is written, such as knowing whether it is a ص or ض

[2] As mentioned by Ibn al-Akfānī with the addition of his conditions from Qawāid fi Ulūm al-Hadīth.

[3] As defined by al-Ṭash

[4] Literally; something depended upon for support.

[5] Literally; hard, raised part of the ground.

[6] The chain of narrators connected to the matn. 

[7] The text at which the sanad ends. 

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