In Islam, we have the science of hadith (uloom al-Hadith) described on Wikipedia as:

...a number of religious disciplines used in the study and evaluation of the Islamic hadith.

Judging from a Google search hadith science, a lot of people describe it as a "science". This raises the question:

Question: How scientific are Hadith sciences?

Generally, when I think of science, I think of peer review more than anything else. All other things seem to fall into place when you're dependent on passing the high standards of peer review for publication. This doesn't seem to be the style of the hadith sciences.

  • 1
    I really think this depends on how one defines "science" or " 'uloom".
    – Kilise
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 9:55
  • "Generally, when I think of science, I think of peer review more than anything else." I would say there are other equally or more important conditions you need something to satisfy before you want to call it science. Astrologers could agree on irrational principles and distribute peer reviewed nonsense, but that wouldn't make it science. There's a lot more to the scientific method than that, and a competitive and peer reviewed publishing culture is more or less a proxy to make sure findings were indeed arrived at via trustworthy methods.
    – G. Bach
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 11:51
  • Your question is a bit unclear...I don't get what you mean. Scientific in what sense? If we have a narration saying you must pray this way...what about it can be scientific or not? If you have a narration saying tying with your kin increases your longevity...how can you verify this? If we have a narration that says stealing from an orphan will bring fire to your heart...how can you verify this? Or is that you mean how can we just be certain if narration XYZ has actually been said by the prophet? Which then I think your title should be how authentic are narrations? @Kilise(~ what you're saying)
    – Thaqalain
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 14:59
  • @Honey: "Scientific in what sense?" is the question I'm asking. Many people call it "hadith science", but I don't see how science enters into it. (Basically, what do they mean when they say "science"?) Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 15:14
  • @RebeccaJ.Stones That would've been a much simpler question to answer; they mean the literary criticism of what they consider more or less reliable narratives about what Muhammad said or did. It's as scientific as literary criticism of other folklore or fiction, except that it has the implicit assumption that it comes with some form of divine license and lots of trust invested in the people who produce/transmit the texts.
    – G. Bach
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 15:30

2 Answers 2


In a nutshell

... the "science" lies in the systematic nature of determining the veracity of a narration attributed to the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.

The scientific nature of 'Uloom-ul-Hadeeth lies in the methodical manner through which scholars of Hadeeth apply its principles and guidelines to determine the authenticity of a narration.

This science serves a critical role in the preservation of Islamic tradition from the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and the first generations of Muslims; it is a major source of what Muslims consider to be divine legislation (Sharee'ah).

This science was developed in the first few centuries of the Islamic era in response to the appearance of fabricated narrations that individuals and factions were attributing to the Prophet ﷺ and his companions in order for their opinions to gain credibility. With the religious significance attached to the words of the Prophet, the scholars saw the need to develop a systematic means by which they could distinguish authentic reports from reports that were planted or unreliably transmitted.

I feel that Muslim's introduction to his Saheeh is very relevant to this question. Here are some excerpts:


TLDR: this is a handful of references from my superficial familiarity with the subject, but modern historians seem to be pretty much in agreement that ahadith are sources of very little historical veracity and largely forgeries.

Two assumptions made in hadith studies that are unscientific are:

  • the acceptance of the tenets of Islam; ahadith contain many anti-scientific claims that are not considered a reason to dismiss them based on content. Take for example the splitting of the moon, Adam and Hawa (Eve) having been 60 cubits tall, a common ancestor of mankind in Noah some 30000-40000 years ago going by ahadith, stones talking to Muhammad, water springing forth from between his fingers to quench the thirst his followers, the coccyx not decaying, etc. Generally, hard-science findings are irrelevant to hadith studies.
  • the sahaba (minus known hypocrites) are considered to be trustworthy

From the outset, hadith studies do not incorporate the scientific method due to the first item, and start from a position of credulity due to the second.

A scientific field that is comparable in purpose to the study of hadith would be history, the relevant method the historical method. The study of hadith among Muslim scholars has - to my knowledge, and by modern standards - dimly documented roots with poor archeological evidence in the form of relics, i.e. original manuscripts, other textual sources mentioning ahadith, etc. Just one example of how poor the documentation is: Christopher Melchert in "Bukhari and early hadith criticism" writes:

Actually, the Sahih of Bukhari seems not to have been widely published until well into the tenth century, for virtually all known transmissions were through a single man, Muhammad ibn Yusuf ibn Matar al-Firabri (d. 320/ 932). Somehow, no one else of the many illustrious traditionists who related hadith of Bukhari (al-Mizzi lists over eighty) recognized the value of his collection of sound hadith and transmitted it. Its organization, in particular its chapter headings, seem not to have stabilized until the mid-tenth century. It first attracted commentaries in the later tenth century. The earliest hadith collection based on the Sahih of Muslim is said to have been that of Abu Bakr ibn Raja' al-Sindi al-Isfarayini (d. 286/ 899-900); however, the earliest that might have been based on the Sahih of Bukhari is that of Abu Ali Said ibn 'Uthman ibn al-Sakan (d. 353/964).

Thus the earliest collections we can find are roughly three centuries after the death of Muhammad, and go back to decades or more than a century after the death of their suggested author through a very small number of transmitters. The paper goes on to talk about the formation of the current text.

Another source of distrust in hadith ignored by Islamic discourse (at least to my knowledge) about hadith criticism is their relation to politics. Goldziher in "Muhammadan Studies" vol.2 p.44 writes:

it is not surprising that, among the hotly debated controversial issues of Islam, whether political or doctrinal, there is not one in which the champions of the various views are unable to cite a number of traditions, all equipped with imposing isnads

Wiki has a couple links pointing to works by modern historians about the authenticity of hadith, its origins, the available evidence, etc. They seem to be in agreement that the corpus of hadith is largely fabrications and evidence for it even existing can't be traced any earlier than almost a century after the death of Muhammad.

The work of Jonathan Brown, a sunni Muslim professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown university, in particular the book "The canonization of al-Bukhari and Muslim", may be of interest. Overall the field is vast, but there's very little trust, if any, accorded to hadith as having historical veracity among modern historians.


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