A mutawatir hadith is one which is reported by such a large number of people that they cannot be expected to agree upon a lie, all of them together.
Al-Ghazali (d. 505) stipulates that a mutawatir narration be known by the great number of its reporters equally in the beginning, in the middle and at the end. He is correct in this stipulation because some narrations, although known as mutawatir among some people, whether Muslims or non-Muslims, have no tawatur in the beginning .
Examples of mutawatir practices are the five daily prayers, fasting, zakat, the Hajj and recitation of the Qur'an. Among the verbal mutawatir ahadith, the following has been reported by more than sixty-two Companions and has been widely known among the Muslims throughout the ages:
|"Whoever lies about me intentionally, let him reserve his seat in the Fire."|
Ahadith related to the description of the Haud Kauthar (the Basin of Abundance) in the Hereafter, raising the hands at certain postures during prayer, rubbing wet hands on the leather socks during ablution, revelation of the Qur'an in seven modes, and the prohibition of every intoxicant are further examples of verbal mutawatir ahadith.
A hadith ahad or khabar wahid is one which is narrated by people whose number does not reach that of the mutawatir case. Ahad is further classified into mashhur, 'aziz and gharib.
A hadith is termed gharib when a single reporter is found relating it, usually at the beginning of the isnad (i.e., only one Companion relates it from the Prophet). For example, the saying of the Prophet,
"Travel is a part of torment" is gharib; the isnad of this hadith contains only one reporter in each stage: Malik --- Yahya b. Abi Salih --- Abu Huraira --- The Prophet. With regard to its isnad, this hadith is sahih, although most gharib ahadith are weak; Ahmad b. Hanbal said, "Do not write these gharib ahadith because they are munkar and most of them are weak."
A type of hadith similar to gharib is al-afrad (the solitary ones); it is known in three ways:
(i) Similar to gharib, i.e. a single person is found reporting it from a well-known Imam.
(ii) People of one locality are known to narrate a hadith.
(iii) People of one locality are known to report a hadith from the people of another locality, such as Makkan people reporting from Madinan.
If at any stage in the isnads, only two reporters are found to narrate the hadith, it is termed 'aziz. For example, Anas reported that the Messenger of Allah said,
|"None of you believes until I become more beloved to him than his own son, his father and all mankind."|
Two reporters, Qatada and 'Abdul 'Aziz b. Shu'aib, report this hadith from Anas, and two more reporters narrate from each of them: Shu'ba and Sa'id report from Qatada, and Isma'il b. Ulayya and 'Abd al-Warith from 'Abd al-'Aziz. Then a group of people report from each of them.
A hadith which is reported by more than two reporters is known as mashhur. According to some scholars, every narrative which comes to be known widely, whether or not it has an authentic origin, is called mashhur. A mashhur hadith might be reported by only one or two reporters in the beginnning but become widely-known later, unlike gharib or 'aziz, which are reported by one or two reporters in the beginning and continue to have the same number even in the times of the Successors and those after them. For example, if only one or two reporters are found narrating hadith from a reliable authority in Hadith such as al-Zuhri and Qatada, the hadith will remain either gharib or 'aziz. On the other hand, if a group of people narrate from them it will be then known as mashhur. An example of a mashhur hadith is the famous saying of the Prophet,
|"Actions are (judged) according to their intentions."|
According to al-'Ala'i (Abu Sa'id Khalil Salah al-Din; d. 761), a hadith may be known as 'aziz and mashhur at the same time. By this he means a hadith which is left with only two reporters in its isnad at any stage while it enjoys a host of reporters in other stages, such as the saying of the Prophet,
|"We are the last but (will be) in the first (rank) on the Day of Resurrection."|
This hadith is 'aziz in its first stage, as it is reported by Hudhaifa b. al-Yaman and Abu Huraira only. Later it becomes mashhur as seven people report it from Abu Huraira.