What is the Purpose of Learning Hadith?


By Umer Sultan | (6/17/2015)

The Prophetic Traditions, known as Hadith (pl. Ahadith), are very near and dear to the hearts of the Muslims. The Muslims are often found quoting the Traditions of Prophet Muhammad, the Last Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him).

Here we try to answer why Hadith is so important to Muslims and what is the purpose of learning these Prophetic Traditions?

The Hadith are the sayings, actions or the tacit approval of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) that were reported by his companions. Often such Hadith were immediately put into practice by the early Muslims in an attempt to follow the Sunnah (practice of the Prophet). Those who could write, they preserved it in writing, and the teachers among them taught it to their students and the ever growing Muslim community.

The Authority of Sunnah:

The importance and the authority of Sunnah became clear during the very lifetime of the Prophet. The Noble Qur’an states [1]:

“He (Allah) is the One who raised up, among the unlettered, a Messenger from among themselves who recited the verses of Allah, and makes them pure, and teaches them the Book and the Wisdom.” (62:2)

This verse among others mentioned the following four roles of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him):

  1. Recite the verses of the Qur’an. He is the authority on how the Qur’an must be recited.
  2. Teaching the Book. His interpretation of the Qur’an is the final word.
  3. Teaching the Wisdom. He is the only source from whom we could learn the divine guidance.
  4. Making the people pure. He is to practically train people to have higher morals, spirituality and the obedience of the Creator.

Due to this clear role of the Messenger of Allah, his companions preserved the Hadith and taught it to their students, who then taught it to their students and so on. After the demise of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), the tradition of passing down the teachings of the Prophet and his life events continued and soon these accounts were compiled into book forms.

4 Purposes of Learning Hadith according to Mufti Ahmed Khanpuri

Mufti Ahmed Khanpuri is a world renowned Indian scholar whose teachers include Mufti Saeed Ahmed Palanpuri and Mufti Mehmood Hasan Gangohi. Shaykh Marghoob Lajpuri mentioned four purposes of learning Hadith in “Mubadiyat-e-Hadith, which is his compilation of Mufti Khanpuri’s lectures of the introduction of Mishkat al-Masabih (also known as the Miskhat Shareef):

1st Purpose: The Merits of Learning Hadith

Mufti Khanpuri: “The experts of this science say that the purpose of studying the science of Hadith is to attain the blessings that are reported in the Ahadith about those who engage in teaching and studying of Hadith.

It is stated in Jami’ Tirmidhi, that Abdullah ibn Mas’ud reported that the Messenger of Allah said:

‏أَوْلَى النَّاسِ بِي يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ أَكْثَرُهُمْ عَلَىَّ صَلاَةً ‏

“The person closest to me on the Day of Judgement is the one who sent the most Salat (peace and blessings) upon me.” (Jami’ Tirmidhi, Hadith 484) [2]

Ibn Hibban mentioned in his Saheeh that this Hadith is applicable to the scholars of Hadith (Muhadditheen) as there is no other group in the Muslim nation that sends more Salat (peace and blessings) upon the Prophet than them.” [3]

2nd Purpose: The Hadith is the exegesis of the Qur’an

Mufti Khanpuri: “The second purpose for studying the science of Hadith is that this religion is dependent on Hadith, because the Qur’an is concise and it is in need of explanation to make things clear, and that can only be accomplished by the Ahadith. For example, the Qur’an mentions the Salah (Prayer) and Zakah (Obligatory Charity), but it doesn’t mention the specific numbers of Salah and for Zakah. Such details are known from the Ahadith.

Since the Qur’an is the origin of this religion and the base of the Shari’ah, and the Hadith is its explanation (Sharh), thus, how can one understand a text (matn) without its explanation (sharh)?

Imam Abu Hanifa (may Allah be pleased with him) said:

لولا السنة لما فهم القرآن أحد منا

“Had it not been for the Sunnah, no one would have been able to understand the Qur’an.” (Al-Mizan al-Kubra al-Sha’rani) [4]

[End Quote of Mufti Khanpuri] [3]

The authority of Sunnah and the importance of the way of the Prophet is established from the Qur’an. Allah Ta’ala says in the Qur’an:

“Say (O Muhammad), if you love Allah, follow me and Allah will love you.” (Al Imran, 31)

“O you who believe, follow Allah and His Messenger and those who have appointed (made حاكم) over you.” (an-Nisa, 59)

“Whosoever followed the Messenger, has indeed followed Allah.” (Surah an-Nisa, 80)

So it is explicitly clear from the Qur’an that the Muslims are commanded to follow the Last Messenger of Allah and the only way to follow the Messenger and learn about his way is to learn the Hadith that comprises his Sunnah. Many such verses of the Qur’an thus establishes the authority of the Sunnah and Hadith.

3rd Purpose: Love for Allah and His Messenger

Mufti Khanpuri: “Shaykh-ul-Hadith Maulana Zakariyya Kandhlawi stated:

Even if by engaging with the teaching and studying the science of Hadith we do not get any benefit or reward, even then there is one purpose that is enough for us to study this science, and that is that it is the speech (kalaam) of the Messenger of Allah.

We love the Messenger of Allah and we are true in our claim, hence, we should study the speech of the Messenger of Allah because it is the speech of our beloved and when we study with love for him, we will experience a unique pleasure, sweetness and affection.

For example, if someone is in passionate love (‘ishq) and he receives a letter from his beloved, he will read this letter first if he is in a Hadith lecture; if he receives this letter in a middle of a meal, he will stop eating; and if he is in a prayer, his eyes will be at his pocket (looking at the letter). If this is the case with such a letter, then the speech (kalaam) of the Messenger of Allah is far exalted and deserving our respect. (Taqreer Bukhari 1/8)”

[End quote of Mufti Khanpuri] [3]

Why should there not be love in the hearts of the believers for the Prophet Muhammad? He is the role model for the humanity to follow. The Qur’an states:

“There is indeed a good model for you in the Messenger of Allah – for the one who has hope in Allah and the Last Day, and remembers Allah profusely.” (Surah al-Ahzab, 21)

In addition to this, the Qur’an declares that to emulate the Prophet Muhammad is the criterion of love for Allah.

“Say (O Muhammad), if you love Allah, follow me and Allah will love you.” (Al Imran, 31)

In summary, the love for Allah and His Messenger necessitates learning about the Prophet Muhammad so that his way can be implemented in our lives. For this purpose, Allah aided the early Muslim scholars in preserving the Ahadith of the Prophet, so that those who claim to love Allah and His Messenger also adhere to the Sunnah, the way of the Last Prophet.

4th Purpose: Seeking the companionship of the Prophet

Mufti Khanpuri: Shah ‘Abdul ‘Azeez Muhaddith ad-Dehlawi said:

“After much pondering and deep thought we will find that every science (‘ilm, field of study) has its specialty and in associating with that science (‘ilm) has its effect on human psychology – whether good or bad.

By associating with the science of Hadith, it causes respect for the companionship (sahabiyyat) in our daily life.” (‘Ijalah Nafiah, pg. 3)

Mufti Ahmed Khanpuri explained:

Because companionship (Sahabiyyat) actually means to be aware of the Messenger of Allah’s sayings and life events, and to observe his practice in regards to the religious rituals. With the gap in time, a person who engages (in studying this field) has such an effect that it actually becomes like accompanying him.

[End quote of Mufti Khanpuri] [3]

By studying the science of Hadith, it allows us to get closest to our Prophet, and it gives us a feeling of his companionship. It is said that some Hadith scholars reached such a high level of scholarship, that they would know if a Hadith has a problem by just hearing it. They knew and understood the Prophet so well that they knew the style of the Prophetic speech. These scholars became expert of the ‘ilal (hidden defects), a very unique and higher level of scholarship in the science of Hadith. Some of such experts of ‘ilal would make a note that there is a hidden defect in a report and if they were unable to point that out then the later experts would continue to do an extensive research upon that report until one of them would find the hidden defect.

It is indeed out of the love for the Prophet that the Muslims have special place for Hadith in their lives and that they are so keen to learn this science. Shaykh Manzoor No’mani beautifully stated in his preface to Ma’ariful Hadith:

In fact, we will know many things about him (Prophet Muhammad) which we do not know of our close friends and next of kin. I explained to a non-Muslim scholar recently how every detail of the Prophet’s life is preserved. I said to him, “When my father died, I was 45 years old, which means that forty years of my life of understanding I spent with him. In spite of that I do not know as much of my father as I do about the Prophet (Muhammad) through the Ahadith.” (Ma’ariful Hadith, Preface). [5]

The importance of this science is thus for four reasons, to benefit from the glad tidings and blessings related to this science, the Sunnah of the Prophet explains the final revelation of God, it shows the love for Allah and His final Messenger, and it brings us closer to the Prophet. All of these purposes are meant to achieve one single objective and that is our moral and spiritual reformation by adhering to the way of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in order to worship our Creator.

Shaykh-ul-Islam Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani said:

“The real objective of studying Hadith is self-reformation and adherence to the Sunnah…The objective of studying Hadith is not to research and debate, the real objective is to put it into practice…” (In’amul Bari, Vol. 1.) [6]

Due to all of these reasons, the Sunnah of the Prophet is the 2nd source of legislation in Islam. When something is clearly and authentically reported from the Prophet, it is accepted and must be followed. The obedience to the Messenger of Allah is the obedience to Allah.

References:

[1] All the English translations of the Qur’anic verses have been taken from “The Meanings of the Noble Qur’an” by Mufti Taqi Usmani.

[2] Jami’ Tirmidhi, Book 3: The Book on al-Witr, Chapter 21, Hadith #484.

[3] “Mubadiyat-e-Hadith” by Shaykh Marghoob Ahmed Lajpuri. Lectures of Mufti Ahmed Khanpuri. Maktaba Bayt-ul-‘Ilm, Karachi. pg. 24-29. English Translation. Umer Sultan

[4] The Arabic quote of Imam Abu Hanifa has been translated into English by me. If you have a better translation to suggest please leave below a comment.

[5] “In’amul Bari: Duroos-e-Bukhari Shareef” by Mufti Taqi Usmani. Compiled by Muhammad Anwar Husain. Vol. 1. Page 52. Maktabat-ul-Hira, Karachi.  English Translation. Umer Sultan

[6] “Ma’ariful Hadith” by Shaykh Manzoor No’mani, English Trans. Asif Kidwai. Vol. 1, page 16. Darul Ishaat, 2005.

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