What do the different Hadith classification terms mean?

Quran

Hadith

Islamic Text

Hadith are divided into different classification in terms of authenticity. The strength hierarchy is as follows:

  1. Mutawatir – Mass Transmitted.
    • It is a Hadith that a large number of narrators have transmitted such that it is impossible for it to be forged.
    • This type of Hadith establishes a point of Iman (faith). Therefore, if something is in a Mutawatir Hadith, to deny it can be considered Kufr (disbelief).
  2. Sahih – Authentic.
    • It is a Hadith that has one or more Sahih Sanad (chain of narrators), but it does not have enough chains to take it to the level of Mutawatir.
    • Such a hadith is used for all aspects of the religion and it is sinful to reject it but not Kufr.
  3. Hasan – Good.
    • It is essentially the same as a Sahih Hadith but it is just slightly less authentic.
  4. Da’if – Weak. 
    • It is a Hadith which does not meet all the conditions of soundness.
    • There are many types of Da’if Hadith, all varying in degrees of weakness.  They are used Fadail al-Amal (virtuous actions), Nafl (optional) matters, etc., but not used to establish points of faith or religious obligations.
    • The Imams of Hadith established certain conditions when using weak Hadith and these must be observed:
      1. A person must explicitly say it is a weak Hadith when narrating it or at least allude to it.
      2. A person must not believe that it is definitely a statement of the Prophet ﷺ when narrating it. Instead, the person should recognise that this is a possibility rather than a matter of fact.
      3. A weak Hadith cannot be used to establish a new matter that is not found in the Quran or authentic Hadith.
      4. The weakness should not be severe. Therefore, if a Hadith is considered Da’if Jidan (very weak) it cannot be narrated except to point it out as a problematic narration.
  5. Mawdu – Fabricated.
    • It is a Hadith that has a fabricator (or more) in the chain.
    • It is prohibited to attribute such a Hadith to the Prophet ﷺ. Rather such a Hadith is only mentioned to point out that it is prohibited.
  6. La asla lahu – Baseless.
    • This is a Hadith that cannot be found in an authentic book of Hadith with a chain of narrators.
    • Once again, this type of Hadith must not be attributed to the Prophet ﷺ nor used for anything except only to warn people against it. It must not be promoted or propagated. If a scholar has used it in his work, he has made a mistake which will invariably be pointed out by later scholars. This Ummah does not agree upon misguidance.

References

أَن مَا يكون مُوجبا علم الْيَقِين فَإِنَّهُ يكفر جاحده كَمَا فِي الْمُتَوَاتر الَّذِي يُوجب الْعلم ضَرُورَة وبالاتفاق لَا يكفر جَاحد الْمَشْهُور من الْأَخْبَار 

A person who rejects something which dictates certain knowledge, like a Mutawatir Hadith which leads to necessary knowledge by agreement, has fallen into Kufr (disbelief). However, a person who rejects a Mashoor narration is not considered Kafir. [Usool al-Sarakhsi]

وَأَمَّا حُكْمُ الْوُجُوبِ فَلُزُومُهُ عَمَلًا بِمَنْزِلَةِ الْفَرْضِ لَا عِلْمًا عَلَى الْيَقِينِ لِمَا فِي دَلِيلِهِ مِنْ الشُّبْهَةِ حَتَّى لَا يَكْفُرَ جَاحِدُهُ وَيُفَسَّقَ تَارِكُهُ إذَا اسْتَخِفَّ بِأَخْبَارِ الْآحَادِ  

As for the ruling of the Wajib, it requires one to act upon it like the Fard. However it does not dictate certain knowledge, because there is some room for speculation in its evidence. So someone who rejects it is not Kafir, but falls into sin (Fisq) if he belittles Aahaad narrations (non-mass transmitted narrations). [Usool al-Bazdawi] 

وَمَنْ نُقِلَ عَنْهُ ذَلِكَ: ابْنُ حَنْبَلٍ، وَابْنُ مَهْدِيٍّ، وَابْنُ الْمُبَارَكِ، قَالُوا: إِذَا رُوِّينَا فِي الْحَلَالِ وَالْحَرَامِ شَدَّدْنَا، وَإِذَا رُوِّينَا فِي الْفَضَائِلِ وَنَحْوِهَا تَسَاهَلْنَا.
تَنْبِيهٌ: لَمْ يَذْكُرِ ابْنُ الصَّلَاحِ وَالْمُصَنِّفُ هُنَا، وَفِي سَائِرِ كُتُبِهِ لِمَا ذُكِرَ سِوَى هَذَا الشَّرْطِ، وَهُوَ كَوْنُهُ فِي الْفَضَائِلِ وَنَحْوِهَا، وَذَكَرَ شَيْخُ الْإِسْلَامِ لَهُ ثَلَاثَةَ شُرُوطٍ:
أَحَدُهَا: أَنْ يَكُونَ الضَّعْفُ غَيْرَ شَدِيدٍ، فَيَخْرُجُ مَنِ انْفَرَدَ مِنَ الْكَذَّابِينَ وَالْمُتَّهَمِينَ بِالْكَذِبِ، وَمَنْ فَحُشَ غَلَطُهُ، نَقَلَ الْعَلَائِيُّ الِاتِّفَاقَ عَلَيْهِ.
الثَّانِي: أَنْ يَنْدَرِجَ تَحْتَ أَصْلٍ مَعْمُولٍ بِهِ.
الثَّالِثُ: أَنْ لَا يُعْتَقَدَ عِنْدَ الْعَمَلِ بِهِ ثُبُوتُهُ، بَلْ يُعْتَقَدُ الِاحْتِيَاطُ.

It has been narrated from Ibn Hanbal, Ibn Mahdi, Ibn Mubarak, who all said, if Hadith regarding Halal and Haram are narrated then we are strict. And if Hadith regarding the virtues of deeds and the like are narrated then we are lenient.

Important Note: Ibn Salaah and the author did not mention here or in any of their books, any conditions except for this one. Namely, it (the weak Hadith) being used for the virtues of deeds. Shaykh al-Islam mentioned three conditions for it:

Firstly, the weakness cannot be severe, this excludes narrations that have liars in them, or narrations of those accused of lying, and those who make grave errors when narrating,  al-Alai narrated agreement upon this condition. 

Secondly, it must be in line with an established acted upon teaching (of the Deen). 

Thirdly, when acting upon it (the weak Hadith) one cannot believe it to be a sound narration, rather one must keep in mind caution. [Imam al-Sayuti, Tadreeb al-Rawi Vol. 1, pg.351]

– Answered by Shaykh Noorud-deen Rashid (23.08.2021)

See also:

Using Weak Hadith

Narrating Hadith Without Reference

See also (video):