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What Is the Difference Between Quran, Hadith and Hadith Qudsi?

The article, Quran: Definition and Relation to Previous Scriptures, defined the Quran as follows:

The speech of Allah which He sent down upon the last Prophet Muhammad , through the Angel Gabriel; in its precise meaning and precise wording, transmitted to us by numerous persons (tawatur), both verbally and in writing.

The Meaning of hadith

The word hadith means news, report or narration. It is in this general sense that the Quran uses this word. [e.g. Surah 12:101.]

Technically, the word hadith, (pl. ahadith) means in particular the reports (verbal and written) about the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad.

Hadith reports about the Prophet Muhammad are of the following kinds:

– What he said (qawl).

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– What he did (fi`l).

– What he (silently) approved (taqrir) in others’ actions.

There are also reports about him, i.e. about what he was like (sifah).

For details on hadith see: A’zami, Muhammad Mustafa: Studies in Hadith Methodology and Literature, Indianapolis, 1977.

Difference between the Quran and Hadith

There is agreement among most Muslim scholars that the contents of the sunnah are also from Allah. Hence they have described it as also being the result of some form of inspiration.

The contents of the sunnah are however expressed through the Prophet’s own words or actions. In the case of the Quran, the Angel Gabriel brought the exact wording and contents to the Prophet, who received this as revelation and then announced it, in the very same manner that he received it.

Imam As-Suyuti’s View

Imam As-Suyuti, [quoting Al-Juini,] illustrated the difference between these two forms in the following manner:

‘The revealed speech of Allah is of two kinds. As to the first kind, Allah says to Gabriel: Tell the Prophet to whom I sent you that Allah tells him to do this and this, and He ordered him something.

So, Gabriel understood what His Lord had told him. Then he descended with this to the Prophet and told him what His Lord had told him, but the expression is not this (same) expression, just as a king says to someone whom he trusts: Tell so-and-so, “The king says to you: strive in his service and gather your army for fighting…” and when the messenger (goes and) says: The king tells you: do not fail in my service, and do not let the army break up, and call for fighting, etc., then he has not lied nor shortened (the message)… ‘

And as to the other kind, Allah says to Gabriel: Read to the Prophet this (piece of) writing, and Gabriel descended with it from Allah, without altering it the least, just as (if) the king writes a written (instruction) and hands it over to his trustworthy (servant) and says (to him): Read it to so-and-so.”

As-Suyuti commented: “The Quran belongs to the second kind, and the first kind is the Sunnah, and from this derives the reporting of the Sunnah according to the meaning unlike the Quran.” [Sabuni, Tibyan, p.52]

So, the difference between Quran and sunnah is that the ahadith from or about the Prophet Muhammad are:

– The words or actions of a human being, and not the speech of God as the Quran is.

–  Not necessarily reported in their precise wording, as the Quran is.

–  Not necessarily transmitted by tawatur, except in some instances.

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About Ahmad Von Denffer
Ahmad Von Denffer was born in Germany in 1949. He is working for the Islamic Center, Munich, Germany. He has various publications in different languages.