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The difference between sanad and isnad

Posted by on March 20, 2014

Some ḥadīth scholars have said that isnād is a synonym of sanad. 1 But others have rejected this synonymy outright and insist that these two terms are different. Isnād, according to them, is the ascription of a ḥadīth to the one who said it and is thus a means of attaining information about the chain of transmission, whereas the sanad it the chain of transmission itself. 2

The latter view is supported by a ḥadīth from Amīr al-Muʾminīn (‘a) where the term isnād has been used:

إِذَا حَدَّثْتُمْ بِحَدِيثٍ فَأَسْنِدُوهُ‏ إِلَى الَّذِي حَدَّثَكُمْ فَإِنْ كَانَ حَقّاً فَلَكُمْ وَ إِنْ كَانَ كَذِباً فَعَلَيْهِ.

When you narrate a ḥadīth, ascribe it to the one who narrated it to you; for if it is true then you will gain [the reward] and if it is a lie, he will be responsible. 3

Based on this difference between isnād and sanad, those who define sanad as being information about the chain of transmission have erred 4 because this is the definition of isnād, not sanad. 5


  1. See: Mīrdāmād, al-Rawāshiḥ al-Samāwiyyah, p. 126
  2. See: Māmqānī, Miqbās al-Hidāyah, vol. 1, p. 52
  3. Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, vol. 1, p. 52
  4. Suyūṭī, Tadrīb al-Rāwī, vol. 1, p. 22
  5. See: Māmqānī, Miqbās al-Hidāyah, vol. 1, pp. 51-52  

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