INQUIRY into the content, scope, and character of the traditions of Islam must necessarilybegin after the death of Muhammad; for the
of this vast literature is to providean authoritative standard of belief and conduct based upon the word and deed of Muhammadwhich shall be binding upon the whole of the Muhammadan world. It is notorious that thoughthe Quran contains a certain number of laws, e.g. rules in regard to marriage, inheritances,and the care of orphans, it cannot be successfully invoked to settle questions arising in suchdiverse categories as systematic and moral theology, ritual, and civil and military law. TheJews found the Mosaic law with its wealth of detail insufficient by itself without theassistance of case law and tradition, and the Talmud arose to supply this need. Similarly, theMuhammadan community found itself at the death of Muhammad with a holy book and theliving memory of a prophet; from these two sources the ecclesiastical and temporal polity of the Islamic world was for all time built up.
is a noun formed from the verb
'to be new' (cf. the Hebrew
with the same meaning and the noun
'new moon'). Properly hadith means 'news' andthen a tale or verbal communication of any kind. It may with propriety be used of an accountof a tribal raid, of old sagas, of incidents in the life of the prophet, and even of the Quranitself. The great impetus given to religious thought and speculation by Muhammad and theQuran could not fail to influence the language of Muhammadan writers, and thus the wordhas acquired its narrowed technical connotation of an oral tradition which can be traced back to a Companion or to the prophet Muhammad. Arabic preserves clearly the consciousness of the special connotation given to the word
, for Bukhari records a saying of 'Abd Allahb. Mas'ud that 'the best hadith is the book of God';
and of the prophet in reply to AbuHuraira's question, 'Who will be the happiest on the day of resurrection thanks to yourintercession?' 'I thought you would be the first to inquire of me about this hadith because Ihave noticed your eagerness in regard to the hadith.'
or 'beaten track'
the custom and practice of the old Mohammadancommunity inasmuch as hadith were often invoked to prove that a certain act was performedby the prophet, and was therefore to be imitated by all pious believers, it follows that hadithand sunna are sometimes names for one and the same thing. But there is no necessaryconnexion between them, and we often find that tradition is in conflict with custom. Thegreat merit
Bab I'tisam, ed. Krehl, iv, p. 420.
Bab Riqaq 51, Krehl, iv, p. 245.
of Malik b. Anas in the eyes of his contemporaries was that he was an authority both oncustom law and on oral tradition. Perhaps the best example of the distinction is in the title of a book cited by the Fihrist, 'the book of the sunnas with confirmatory hadith'.
The conservatism of the East has long been proverbial, and the Arab may fairly claim a sharein the building up of this reputation. The acceptance of monotheism, it is true, marked a break