Monday, October 29, 2012

Early Hadith Literature: II

When we read the Quran, we never say before an aya, from Abu Bakr, or Umar, or Usman, or Ali, or Ayesha or Khadeeja (May Allah be pleased with them all) who heard it from the Prophet. Even though all of them heard the Quran directly from Prophet Muhammad, yet no one mention their names for a very simple reason. The Prophet verified each and every letter of the Quran and ensured that the every single aya is written down in the format as we see today. The evidence is so strong that there is no need of the chain of narrators to prove the authenticity of an aya. Even though some of the anecdotes mentioned in some books of ahadith would argue contrary, but the verdict of the Quran that Allah revealed it and he would ensure its protection is final and supreme. The duties of the prophet hood included the preservation of the Quran during his life time as was revealed to him and Prophet Muhammad fulfilled his duties. Those who argue that that the Quran was compiled during the life time of Abu Bakr or Uthman by a commission of six companions or more are simply contradicting the Quran and accusing the Prophet of not fulfilling his responsibilities of preserving the Quran in his life time. No Muslim can ever claim to be a Muslim if he denies the fact that the Quran, as we see it, was compiled during the lifetime of the Prophet.
However, when we read the hadith, we see a long chain of narrators before the expression that “thus said the prophet, or as we believe was said by the Prophet.” This is due to the fact that prophet did not leave any collection of his sayings like the one we see in the compilation of Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Malik, Bukhari, Muslim, Nasai etc.
Some of the companions often wrote what they head the Prophet saying on several situations.  Yet, so far there is no concrete and conclusive empirical evidence that the companions asked the prophet to verify what they had attributed to him. In the initial stages of prophet hood, the formative years of Islam, the Prophet is said to have prohibited his companions from writing anything other than the Quran. Obviously, a substantial part of what the Prophet had said in those early days was not written down. Many of the early companions had passed away when this restriction was removed by the prophet in later days. Thus we would never know their narrations of the prophetic teachings.
Masnad Imam Ahmed, a book of ahadith is considered authentic by many and it includes the following passage in its contents, “The companions said that we used to write down whatever we would hear from the Prophet. Then, one day the Prophet came and asked us what is it that you are writing; we told him that whatever we hear from you, we write that down. He exclaimed, any other book beside the book of Allah! Keep the book of Allah clean, keep it purified; keep it away from all skepticism. We then brought out in an open space everything that we had written and burned it.” (Masnad Ahmed as quoted by Manazar Ahsan Gilani in his work Tadween Hadith, page #249, also reported in Tazkiratul Huffaz by Zahabi) So whatever was compiled by the companions until then was burned. How many ahadith were there and on what subject, no one can even guess.
In Zahabi’s Tazkiratul Huffaz it is mentioned that during his Caliphate, first Caliph Abu Bakr assembled people after the death of the Prophet and addressed them by saying that you attribute statements to the Prophet and you have differences among yourself about them, the people who would come after you would have differences much wider than yours; so you should not attribute any statement to the prophet and if anyone question you about that tell him that we have the book of Allah amongst us. Thus, you should consider halal what this book has declared halal and consider haram what this book has declared haram.”
Zahabi also notes that Umm ul Momineen (the mother of the believers) Aisha said that “once my father, Caliph Abu Bakr, collected some 500 ahadith of the Prophet and I noticed that he was restless during his sleep, I asked him the reasons for this condition and he did not respond.  In the morning, he asked me to bring all those ahadith that he had collected and instructed me to burn them all.” So a substantial number of ahadith as remembered by the Prophet were burned by none other than the one who assumed the leadership of Muslims after the Prophet. No one can even guess what those ahadith were all about.
Ibn Abdul Birr in his book Bayanul Ilm says that the second Caliph Umar bin Khattab consulted the companions of the prophet about compiling the ahadith but he was not certain about their advice that the ahadith should be written down. So after a month of reflection he told people to abandon the idea of compiling ahadith as it would confuse people between the importance of the Quran and hadith.
In Tabaqat ibn Sa’d it is mentioned that Imar bin Khattab instructed the people to bring to him all that they had written down as far as ahadith were concerned and he burned them all. (Tabaqat ibn Sa’d, volume V P# 141)
Ibn Abdul Bir further narrates that the second Caliph then sent the instructions in districts and other towns asking people to destroy whatever they had collected in the name of ahadith. (Jami Bayanul Ilm, Vol. I, P# 65)
If the intent of the Prophet was the preservation of his words, he would have ensured that whatever he was instructing the people besides the Quran should be written down, his closest companions should have ensured that each and every word coming out of his mouth is preserved and they would have left a collection of his instructions to save the succeeding generation from compiling books of ahadith.
Writing had become popular at the time of the Prophet. As mentioned by Ibn Hazm in his book Kitabul Fisl, there were about 100,000 copies of the Quran at the time of Caliph Umar, yet Caliph Abu Bakr and Umar bin Khattab prevented the people from compiling book of ahadith. The second Caliph went a step forward as he put in prison companions such as Abdullah ibn Masood, Abu Darda and Abu Masood Ansar for narrating ahadith in abundance (Tazkiratul Huffaz)
As is reported in the above mentioned books, the compilation of the ahadith in written form was not the hallmark of the earliest period of Islam during the life time of the prophet or his immediate successors. If the earlier companions had preserved the sayings of the prophet, we would certainly be in a better position to understand the full extent of what the Prophet said and did. This lack of early written material gives an indication to the monumental efforts that many later day scholars had to do to compile the ahadith through a very vigorous and rigorous method of scrutiny. Whatever criterion they applied, it was to determine the accuracy of the statement that could alone be determined in definite terms by none other than the Prophet who was not there to verify them. It is this reality that differentiates the authenticity of the Quran with the ahadith. From the methodological perspective, the two cannot be the same and equal. One is verified by the Prophet and the other is built around the narrations attributed to him through a chain of narrators who repeated whatever they could remember was reportedly said by the prophet.
This does not mean that nothing of what the Prophet said or did was preserved initially. The companions preserved his sunna of prayers, alms giving, fasting, charity, hajj, relations with non-Muslims etc., etc.
There are many narrations in books such as Tirmidhi, Tabarani and Hakeem that quote many companions of the Prophet saying that they had the permission of the prophet to write down whatever they heard him saying. Rafey bin Khadeej is reported to have said the prophet told him to write down his words or Abdullah bin Umar bin Aas is reported to have said that “Whatever I heard from the Prophet, I would write down and then the Quraysh prohibited me from writing it saying that the Prophet is a human and often says words when he is in a state of anger or happiness so I stopped writing, then I mentioned this to the Prophet, and he pointed his finger towards his mouth and said, you should write down, I swear by the one who has my life in his control, nothing but truth comes out from it.” (Abu Dawood and Masnad Darmee)
How much of what was written by the companions survived at the time of Caliph Abu Bakr and Umar bin Khattab who often prevented people from writing the ahadith is not known. Were the ahadith written down by Abdullah bin Umar bin Aas or Rafey bin Khadeej were used by the two Caliphs in their governing decisions is not known.
Today, there are several written decrees and letters attributed to the prophet that exist in their original form in books of ahadith. The book Letters and Treaties by the Prophet, (published by the Islamic Society of Nevada, Las Vegas in cooperation with Iqra International Trust) gives a list of those letters and treaties.
In Sahih Bukhari and Sunan Tirmidhi it is reported from Abu Hurayrah that during the opening of Makkah, the people of the tribe of Khaza killed a person from Bani Laith. When the prophet learned about it he addressed the people on the sanctity of the Kaaba and the reparation for murder. After the khutbah one Yemeni companion Abu shah asked the Prophet to make the sermon available to him in writing so the prophet asked his companions to write it down for Abu Shah.
HafizIb Abul Bir in his Jame Bayan writes that the Prophet dictated instructions to be written down about charity, obligations, the prophetic traditions and other matters for Umr bin Hazm in the 10th hijra when he was sent to Najran as a governor. This writing is included in Sunan Nasai and other books of ahadith.
Sunan Dar Qatni metnions that according to Abdullah Ibn Umar the Prophet sent a decree to the people of Yemen that explained the rules of zakat on agricultural production.
Imam Shaabi also mentions of a written decree on zakat by the Prophet in his book Az Zakat
Sunan Abu Dawood and Tirmidhi mention that the Abdullah bin Umr narrated that the Prophet dictated a book called Kitab us Sadaqat that was to be sent to his governors when the death overtook him. Both Abu Dawood and Tirmidhi have included many ahadith from this book in their compilations.
6. Abdullah bin Hakeem is reported to have said that the prophet sent a set of instructions about the hide of dead animals to the tribe of Juhaina. (Sunan Abi Dawood, Jame Tirmidhi, Sunan Nasai, Sunan Ibn Maja)
Abu Jafar Muhammad bin Ali reported that in the sword case of the Prophet we found a saheefa that had many ahadith of the prophet written down. (Jame Bayanul Ilm)
The Prophet is said to have written some 379 letters to different tribes besides treaties and invitation to Islam to several rulers. There is also written account of a census conducted by the Prophet in Medina.
The Prophet is said to have given a promissory note to the Suraqa bin Malik Mudalji who had followed him during his migration to Medina. Similar promissory notes were also issued to a few tribes

Among the companions Abdullah bin Umar bin AlAas is said to have to compiled a book of the ahadith of the Prophet known as Sadiqah and he is reported to have said: “There are two things that give me inspiration in life, As Sadiqa and al-Wahat. Sadiqa is the book that is based on what I heard from the Prophet and Wahat is the land that my father donated in the cause of Allah.”
His compilation was passed on to his grandson Shuayb bin Muhammad bin Abdullah and from him it passed on to his son Umar. Thus all the ahdaith from Umar bin Shuayb quoted in the books of ahadith are from Sahifa Sadiqa. However, it is not certain how many ahadith were included in Sahifa Sadiqa and how many of them made into the current books of ahadith.
In Sahih Bukhari there isa  reference to a statement of the fourth Caliph Ali ibn Talib who himself had compiled a sahifa: “We did not write anything else from the Prophet except the Quran and that is in this sahifa.” It is said that this sahifa had ahadith of the prophet about Zakat, sanctity of life, boundaries of the Medina, release of prisoners, breaking of pledges and erasings the marks on land etc. In several books of ahadith including the Bukhari, there are ahadith quoted from this sahifa.
Rafey bin Khadeej is said to have written several ahadith from the prophet. Additionally, in the books of ahadith, there are several letters written by the Caliphs to their governor that contain the sayings of the Prophet.
Thus we see two patterns distinct in the early hadith literature.
  1. There were efforts on the part of some companions to write down whatever they had heard personally from the prophet. But they did not write everything that the Prophet said as they were nto in his company 24 hours.
  2. The prophet initially discouraged his companions to write down words coming from him other than the Quran. Later on the permission and not the command was given to write down his words in addition to the divine revelation. The early caliphs discouraged the writing of ahadith and did not leave any collection of hadith that could have been described as officially approved collection of ahadith.

This situation led to methodological innovation and expansion on the part of latter day scholars including the Imam Abu Hanifa and Imam Malik whose books kitab ul Athar and Muwatta are earliest attempts to compiled ahadith. They asked questions such as who heard it directly or indirectly from the prophet. How did they transmit it to others? How did the others preserve it and pass that on to their succeeding generation? What was the character of people who preserved the sayings or actions of the Prophet in their memory? Did all of them have the same level of memory? These any many others were the questions the scholars dealt with. They did not outright reject everything they heard and they did not approvingly accept everything they were passed on. Each one of them developed his or her own methodology to reduce the probability of mistakes. Yet, they all knew that they were still dealing with a body of knowledge that was not verified by the Prophet himself with the exception of those written records that history had preserved. But the literature was vast compared to what was preserved in writing.  Imam Bukhari fournd 600,000 ahadith, Imam Muslim 300,000, Imam Tirmidhi, e00,000, Imam Abdu Dawood, 500,000, Imam ibn Maja, 300,000 and Imam Nasai 200,000.
Each one of them made their individual efforts to develop their own criterion to choose what they considered the authentic. Their efforts must be lauded for their monumental task, yet they were aware that they had to undertake the task because like the Quran, there were no huffaz of ahadith who had transmitted the hadith through memory from one generation to another.
Syed Mawdudi in his book Tafheemat sums up the situation candidly: “Suppose I give a speech today heard by thousands. Now ask those present at the meeting a few hours, not a few days or weeks or years later to repeat what I said in my speech, you would notice each narrating it in different style, tones and words. They would not be the same in their narration. Someone would quote a full sentence, some a few words, some the gist of what I said etc., some would paraphrase it, some would conceptualize it, some who might not be clear in his understanding might misrepresent facts, and those whose memory is sound might repeat what I said and those who lack a good memory might repeat portion of it in their own words.” (Tafheemat, Vol 1)
The compilers of the hadith were aware of their limitations and each of them acknowledged it. They knew that their work can never be equal in authenticity or veracity to the Quran, the book that was received by the Prophet alone and verified by him alone. It is this limitation that makes the development of hadith sciences part of human sciences not the divine sciences. Thus the science of hadith is a human effort to determine the probability of the accuracy of the statement or action attributed to the prophet. It is not the science of what the prophet said or did, rather a science of what the scholars based on their methodologies believe the Prophet said or did. Thus anyone who is raising any question about the authenticity of the hadith, is not questioning the Prophet, rather he or she is questioning the methodologies and accuracy used by the compilers.
Imams, such as Malik, Abu Hanifa, Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi. Ibn Maja, Abu Dawood and Nasaid selected the statements or actions attributed to the prophet based on their methodology. Each one of them rejected bulk of what they heard. For instance, Imam Malik gave preference to those narration that came from the people living in Medina, Imam Abu Hanifa included narrations from people from different region and Imam Bukhari rejected some 95 percent of what he had collected.


  1. Salam. Thank you for the article. Here are some thoughts and feedback. Your basic point is true--that hadith are not as rigorously authenticated as the Quran; that the meanings in the Quran are established without doubt whereas the meanings in hadith are established with less certainty, ranging from almost certainly fabricated to almost certainly true. But the article gives the impression that scholars of law and hadith were not aware of this, when in fact this reality is very well-known and stated in great detail in books of legal methodology. In other words, scholars are aware that hadith are not as reliable as the Quran, and they have accounted for that in their legal opinions. However, the complaint against People Who Question the Authenticity of Hadith is that they have made a habit of throwing out narrations of the Prophet, peace be upon him, that are almost certainly true just because those narrations don't coincide with their own views. They will claim these hadith contradict the Quran to give weight to their position, but the truth is the hadith only contradict _their_ interpretation of the Quran. The moderate approach is the one that has already been taken by our scholars: to treat hadith with more caution than the Quran, but not to throw out any hadith that is not in line with our personal opinions, citing unreliability of the entire hadith corpus. In summary, the entire hadith corpus is less reliable than the Quran, but the entire hadith corpus is not unreliable.

  2. Wa Alaikum Salam,
    Thank you very much for your feeback. Here are my comments.
    You are repeating what I have argued in my articles.
    My argument is as follows.
    1. The scholars took great precaution to select ahadith.
    2. The scholars were humans as they did not receive any wahi or revelation from Allah to perfect their efforts.
    3. Their efforts should be seen as human efforts.
    4. We should all apply strict criticial criterion to look at their efforts before jumping to any conclusion.
    5. The critical approach should not be based on our personal or subjective opinion but on the objective criterion of the Quran.
    6. Hence, the hadith should be studied in the context and under the direction of the Quran.