There are a number of Arabic terms which you may come across when studying this topic. Here is a brief overview of some of these terms:
- Sunnah – literally a way or something which is followed. The term however is used generally to refer to all of the sayings, actions, tacit approvals and descriptions of the Messenger Muhammad. The term ‘sunnah’ can also refer to something which is recommended, this latter use is a more restricted term to show that an action is not compulsory but to perform it is rewarding.
- Hadith – literally speech. This term refers to everything which is attributed to the Messenger Muhammad. As with the term ‘sunnah’ it includes sayings, actions, tacit approvals and descriptions. A hadith consists of two parts, the sanad which is the chain of narrators and the matan which is the text.
- Sanad/Isnad – This refers to the chain of narrators between the Messenger Muhammad and the scholar who would eventually record the hadith in a book. A sanad can typically include three narrators or more. Each narrator is usually from a different generation. The chain of narrators helps hadith specialists to ascertain whether or not a hadith has been correctly preserved or whether there is a defect in it.
- Matan – This is the second part of a hadith and is the part which contains the text which would be the saying, action, tacit approval or description of the Messenger Muhammad.
- Sahih – This means authentic, i.e. that all the narrators are reliable people and they correctly recorded and relayed the hadith.
- Da’if – which means weak. This is when there is a defect in the hadith either in transmission or the text. This is mostly due to one or more of the narrators being unreliable.