Hadith are “reports” about the Prophet Muhammad and are the primary means of knowing his Sunna. The normative nature of the Sunna is well-established in the Qur’an and was supported by the conservative culture of seventh-century Arabian society. At the same time, the authority of the Sunna was not uncontested in early Muslim society. More seriously, the misattribution of statements to the Prophet Muhammad was recognized to be a problem as early as the first century of Islam. As a result, a major effort to collect, scrutinize, evaluate and organize hadith was undertaken by generations of hadith scholars. In parallel to this effort, legal scholars developed and refined their various approaches to the sources of the law, and arrived at different assessments of the legal value of various hadith. In the early Modern period, hadith scholarship came under new scrutiny, in light of historical-critical methods developed primarily by European scholars, often working in a climate hostile to Islam and Muslim bases of knowledge. Simple apologetic responses to the Orientalists have been replaced in recent decades with new efforts on the part of Muslim and non-Muslim scholars to use new technologies and the information in recently discovered manuscripts to re-evaluate the historicity of the collected hadith. For their part, legal modernists have struggled to establish a consistent approach to the use of hadith in their deliberations.
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