Seerah and Hadith: What is the Difference?
If Seerah1 is defined as the life or way the Prophet (SAW) lived, then what is the difference between Seerah and Hadith2 or even the Sunnah3? The Seerah is a collection of narrations about the people and events surrounding the Prophet (SAW) arranged in a chronological order. The amount of rigor put into authenticating and analyzing the chains and narrators4 of an incident or event that is found in the Seerah is far lower than when a narration is used in the Sunnah or Hadith. Only the top of the top narrations, namely Sahih5 or Hasan6 are used in the books of Hadith and Sunnah. As for Seerah this is not the case, the narrations used include all the authentic and acceptable ones, along with ones with weaknesses. The reason for including these weaker narrations is in order to fill in gapes or holes in the story. The reason we do this is because if we were to be just as strict and apply the same rules in accepting narrations in the Seerah as Hadith then, this would mean that we wouldn’t be able to get narrations about the status of the Arabs, and the forefathers of the Prophet (SAW) because everyone who narrated them were Non-Muslims. Examples of this are the narrations about the Story of the Feel (Elephant)7, and the incident of ‘Amr Ibn Luhayy Al-Khuzaaee8, or even the life of Abdul Muttallib9.So, since we use weaker narrations in Seerah, we can not use the seerah as evidence to support rulings and beliefs found in fiqh10 (Islamic Juriprudence) or aqeedah11 (Islamic Belief). We cannot derive rulings of fiqh or aqeedah from the Seerah. So in conclusion, we cannot derive or use as our proof for our worship, our beliefs or our methodology from the seerah alone, we have to use the authentic Sunnah as our primary reference and not rely upon seerah alone.
From this we can say that scholars of seerah like Ibn Is’haaq12, specialized in seerah out of all the sciences of Islam, and this is true for most of the scholars. Each and every scholar has a specialty in a certain field of Islam. Just like a person usually doesn’t specialize in engineering and also medicine, this is the case with Islam, some people specialize in hadith and are called muhadditheen13 (s. muhaddith) and some people specialize in fiqh and are called fuqahaa14 (s. faqeeh). Ibn Is’haaq’s specialty was seerah therefore he was abandoned by the scholars of hadeeth when it came to narrating hadeeth and a reason for this might be because he might include those weaker narrations while he narrated the hadeeth._______________________________________________________
1. Biography of the Prophet Muhammad (Sal Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) – Click here to see “What is Seerah!”
2. Literally – something that is a statement, communication, or story, or if used as an adjective it means new. In the Shari’ perspective it is a statement of the Prophet (Sal Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam).
3. Literally it means a way, in the Islamic Sciences perspective it means the way of the Prophet (Sal Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam), it is had different definitions based on which type of scholar uses it. More info on this topic to be posted soon InshaAllah.
4. Chain (Arabic is isnad) and Narrators (Arabic is rijaal) – use dint he Sciences of the authentication or rejection of hadith. More info on this topic to be posted soon, InshaAllah.
5. Sahih – a hadeeth that is authentic based on its chain of narrators. Accpeted as a source of Shareeah in Islam.
6. Hasan – a hadeeth that is good base don its chain of narrators. Accpeted as a source of Shareeah in Islam.
7. The Story of the Elephant or Feel is mentioned in the Qur’aan in Chapter (Sura) 105. It happened the year the Prophet (Sal Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) was born. It was an event where the king of Yemen tried to destroy the Ka’ba in Mecca by bringing elephants from Ethiopia, but were unsuccessful due to a miracle from Allah. More info on this topic to be posted soon, InshaAllah.
8. This person was a chief of Khuza’ah. He was known for his righteousness, piety, and care for religion, but he went to Syria for a trip and saw them worshipping idols, and adopted this practice and brought it to his lands, and then the Ka’bah, and this being the center of religion of Arabia, this practice spread like wildfire over the years. This was the main reason for the spread of idolatry in the Arabian Peninsula. A more post on this topic will be posted soon, InshaAllah.
9. He was the grandfather of the Prophet (Sal Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) and took care of him in his early childhood. More info on him to be posted soon, InshaAllah.
10. Islamic Jurisprudence – the rules and conditions surrounding the physical acts of worship the Muslim does, and the obligatory, permitted, and forbidden things in Islam.
11. Islamic theology, or Islamic beliefs that a person has that makes him a Muslim.
12. The greatest scholar of the Seerah of RasoolAllah (Sal Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam), his work was used as a basis of later works about the Seerah. InshaAllah, if I learn more about this individual I will post a blog about him.
13. Scholars of hadeeth and its sciences.
14. The scholars that are proficient and specialize in the science of fiqh