A Reading List of English Books in Hadith Studies

Over the past few years, a significant number of friends and students have requested a list of suggested book readings for my various classes on Hadith Studies. Others over the past few years have asked my opinion about certain works or whether they are appropriate for the level of the enquirer. Recently, I was reminded of a promise to compile a short list of works I would consider useful reading material for a student and have thus decided to take out a few minutes to compose this post, keeping in mind the various levels of readers and the need for conciseness.

Beginner Level:

For beginners, I recommend several books that don’t require a heavily critical eye, are relatively brief in size, and are not overly technical in nature. Such books include three which I highly recommend be read cover-to-cover and purchased for one’s personal library.

  1. Hadith Literature: Its Origin, Development, and Special Features by M. Zubayr Siddiqi
  2. Studies in Hadith Methodology and Literature by M.M. Azami
  3. The Authority of Sunnah by Justice Muhammad Taqi Usmani

Some may suggest Hashim Kamali’s A Textbook of Hadith Studies, but I have found it so riddled with errors as well as with premature, uninformed, and entirely unnecessary calls for reform that unless one is reading very critically I would suggest skipping it. At the same time, one must admit that the organization of topics in his book and general arrangement of material is excellent and deserving of praise.

Another book worth reading but not absolutely essential is Ghassan Abdul Jabbar’s Bukhari (Ghassan Abdul Jabbar is one of several pen names Dr. Iftikhar Zaman uses, I believe).

Intermediate Level:

For slightly advanced readers, I would suggest the following works, some of which need to be read slightly critically and preferably with the opportunity to discuss its contents with an expert:

  1. Hadith: Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World by Jonathan A.C. Brown
  2. Hadith and Sunnah: Ideals and Realities (14 Selected Essays) 
  3. Studies in Early Hadith Literature by M.M. Azami
  4. An Introduction to the Conservation of Hadith by Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah
  5. The Garden of the Hadith Scholars by Shah ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Dihlawi
  6. The Sunnah and Its Role in Islamic Legislation by Dr. Mustafa al-Siba‘ee

Advanced Level:

My assumption for this level of a reader is that he/she is already quite advanced in the study of the Islamic sciences and has easy access to Arabic works as well as a good background in technical hadith manuals. The following works are useful, then, for reading that will complement a study of advanced Arabic works in Hadith Studies. This list is not meant to be exhaustive, and I even hesitated to include some of the books I did because of their inaccessibility or exorbitant prices.

  1. On Schacht’s Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence by M.M. Azami
  2. An Introduction to the Science of Hadith by Ibn Salah trs. by Eerick Dickenson
  3. The Canonization of al-Bukhari and Muslim: The Formation and Function of the Sunni Hadith Canon by Jonathan A.C. Brown
  4. Constructive Critics, Hadith Literature, and the Articulation of Sunni Islam by Scott C. Lucas
  5. The Evolution of a Hadith: Transmission, Growth, and the Science of Rijal in a Hadith of Sa’d b. Abi Waqqas by Dr. Iftikhar Zaman
  6. Analysing Muslim Traditions: Studies in Legal, Exegetical and Maghazi Hadith by Harald Motzki 

I have not included a list of the more common Orientalist or Reductionist works simply because many of the above texts do a decent job of summarizing their main contentions and providing context for them. I also haven’t included the countless beneficial journal articles that exist out there simply because this list was meant to include books alone. I am fairly certain I have omitted some works which I will later remember or be reminded of, so look out for revisions of this post.

Bilal Ali Ansari

12 thoughts on “A Reading List of English Books in Hadith Studies

  1. Maulana Bilal,

    Thanks much for supplying this list. Hadeeth studies fascinates me. I am amazed at the tremendous efforts our honorable scholars spent in supplying these wisdoms to us. I hope I and we all benefit from this list/

    However, I feel that in the modern world’s training of the young mind to be analytical, ahadeeth can sometimes actually weaken one’s iman. Since Allah (swt) is perfect, any hadeeth that conflicts with one’s reason or moral sense can be unsettling to the potential reader since if one makes assumption that some of the Prophet’s utterances were a form of revelation (which is an assumption that may not always be true such as the ahadeeth with farming of date trees), then any ahadeeth that does not seem right can make someone question if the perfect Allah (swt) would send that particular revelation to the Prophet and that questioning can create dangerous doubts . The Qur’an seems to generally be more unassailable compared to the ahadeeth corpus. The convert Professor Jeffrey Lang points this out in his book, Losing my Faith and says that from the numerous letters he receives from young Muslims struggling with their faith, ahadeeth is the number one (although not the only) reason for producing the doubts in their faith.

    I think if the study of ahadeeth can yield evidence that many ahad ahadeeth that are labeled as sahih might not have really been spoken from the Prophet (s), then I think such studies can actually help the believer with his/her iman because then there is no cognitive dissonance in one’s reasoning and conscience with the particular ahadeeth.

    I am not saying that we should have an agenda to find holes in the science of hadith and to focus exclusively on these holes. I think we should accept whatever tentative conclusions the current evidence points to and to continue to study and research the strengths of the ahadeeth and to consider all criticism. I think if anyone has an agenda to find holes in ahadeeth science, he will only see the holes and likewise if anyone has an agenda to argue that all the sahih ahad ahadeeth are truly spoken from the Prophet, then he will only see the perfection of the system and will consciously and subconsciously overlook the holes.

    I assume that the texts you provided are scholarly reading but that they generally support the ahadeeth system as being valid….and that you decided to not list those texts that are critical of the ahadeeth system.

    I appreciate your concern because some of those criticizing ahadeeth may have an agenda to attack hadeeth. But even if they have an agenda, some but certainly not all their methodology may be valid. I know that Jonathan Brown helped to expose that Juynboll (who criticizes the hadeeth system) was not paying attention to research by Motzki and others that demonstrate that Juynboll’s methods were not reliable….but it is probably not a all or nothing phenomena…..even if what the critics are saying is not completely accurate and is indeed deficient to some extent….it may also be accurate to at least some extent.

    I know some amount ahadeeth science but I hope inshallah I can learn more about the ahadeeth system.

    I think that if each transmitter in a given chain was a devoted student to his shaikh and that this shaikh-student relationship holds true through every narrator, then this system would preserve a substantial amount of the
    Prophet’s (s) sayings or paraphrased versions of his sayings because students tend to be careful of what they learn while a non-student person hearing statements from another would be less reliable to accurately propagate that knowledge. Of course the more the narrators down a chain, the more chance for errors.

    1. Maulana Bilal, do we have some idea in terms of percentage as to how many narrators were devoted students of the person he narrated from as opposed to an aquaintance or having a non dedicated student-teacher relationship? …and if so, how can we demonstrate that they really were?

    2. The Qur’an mentions that we need two witnesses for a financial transaction and 4 witnesses for evidence of alleging adultery.

    I am troubled that the ahad hadeeth has only one narrator for at least one or more of the narrators down the chain. Since alleging that a certain statement is from the Prophet (s) (and that we and subsequent generations must act on it) has far more importance than a financial transaction, would not one narrator be violating the Qur’an?

    Some may challenge that but Ahmad Shafaat discusses this and related issues more throughly at

    http://www.islamicperspectives.com/SingleNarrator.htm

    I would appreciate if you can carefully read the above article and discuss whether you find any of his comments reasonable.

    Again, I want to mention that while defending ahad sahih hadeeth may help convince some to accept the argument…if it is driven from an apriori mindset…then there is a likely danger that any valid criticism of ahadeeth science may be overlooked and that may in turn make people who value critical reason lose faith if they cannot reconcile the particular ahadeeth with a concept of the perfect Creator.

    Thanks in advance for your time in considering the above two questions.

    Your brother in Islam.

    • Al-Salam ‘alaykum akhuna Muhammad,

      I appreciate that you took out so much time to write the above comments and that you took such a civilized approach to discussing a sensitive issue. To be concise, you are not alone in your skepticism about the field of hadith in general and, more specifically, about ahad hadith. Sadly, this skepticism (like that of Lang’s, whose book, by the way, I felt was inexcusably poorly researched and left more questions to be answered than at the beginning of the book) exists largely as a result with an unfamiliarity with hadith criticism as a subject of study that began even in the prophetic period.

      Skepticism, criticism, and research was and always has been the pride of our intellectual tradition. The earliest works of our jurists, especially the Hanafi and Maliki masters, prove to even a cursory reader that ahad hadith have never been accepted without first meeting the strictest preconditions of historical criticism. I invite you to read the books provided in the list above, especially those of the second and third categories.

      I feel that once you read these books, you will realize that the assumption that such skepticism didn’t exist in the past is a result of a lack of education in the field. There are a whole lot of interesting points that you bring up in your comments and all that I appreciate. It may be redundant, however, to discuss them given that most of your questions are answered sufficiently in the books provided. I especially recommend Chapter 8 of Jon Brown’s “Hadith”. I think you will find it most enlightening.

      Bilal

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