Chapter XVIII - The Earliest Preservation of Traditions Collection of Hadith
The first step for the preservation of hadîth was thus taken during the lifetime of the Prophet, but all his followers were not equally interested in the matter, nor had they equal chance of being so. Every one had to work for his living, while on most of them the defence of the Muslim community against overwhelming odds had placed an additional burden. There was, however, a party of disciples called “As-habus-Suffah” who lived in the Medina Mosque itself, and who were specially equipped for the teaching of religion to the tribes outside Medina. Some of these would go to the market and do a little work to earn their living; others would not care even to do that. Of this little band, the most famous was Abu-Huraira, the Prophet’s faithful attendant, who would remain in the Prophet’s company at all costs and store up in his memory everything which the Prophet said or did. ‘A’isha, the Prophet’s wife, was also one of those who sought to preserve the Sunna of the Prophet. She, too, had a marvellous memory, and was, in addition, gifted with a clear understanding. She had narrated over 160 traditions. ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Omar and ‘Abdullaah ibn ‘Abbas were two other companions who were specially engaged in the work of preserving and transmitting the hadîth, as also was ‘Abdullah ibn’ Amr who used to write down the sayings of the Prophet. And in addition to these, every disciple of the Prophet did his utmost to preserve such of his words and deeds as came to his knowledge. ‘Omar, the second Khalifa, was reported to have made arrangements with a neighbour of his that they should be in the company of the Prophet on alternative days, so that each might report to the other what happened in his absence. And, most important of all the Prophet had repeatedly laid an obligation on everyone of flowers to transmit his words to others: “Let him who is present deliver to him who is absent”, was the concluding sentence of all his utterances, all of which afford a clear proof that the work of preservation and transmission of the Sunna had begun during the lifetime of the Prophet.
Collection of Hadith (Second Stage)
With the Prophet’s death, the work of the collection of hadîth, entered on a second stage. Every case that came up for decision had now to be referred either to the Holy Koran or to some judgment of saying of the Prophet which obtained wide reputation. There were numerous cases on record, in which a right was claimed on the basis of a judgment or saying of the Prophet, and evidence was demanded as to the authenticity of the saying.()
Thus, there was a double process at work, not only the trustworthiness of the particular hadîth established beyond all doubt, but the hadîth also obtained a wide circulation and from being the knowledge of one man only, it passed to that of many. The particular judgment might not be on all fours with the circumstances of the case to which it was to be applied, and an analogy might then be sought from one or more sayings. Thus, the multiple needs of a rapidly growing and widely spreading community whose necessities had increased tenfold on account of its onward march to civilization, brought into prominence a large number of hadith, knowledge of which had been limited to one or a few only, with the seal of confirmation on their truth, because at that time direct evidence of that truth was available.
Yet this was not the only factor that gave an impetus to a dissemination of the knowledge of hadîth.
The influx into Islam of large number of people who had never seen the Prophet himself, but who could behold for themselves the astounding transformation brought about by him, and to whom, therefore, his memory was sacred in the highest degree and formed in itself an important factor in the general eagerness to discover everything which the great reformer had said or done. It was natural that each new convert should be anxious to know all that was to be known about the Great Prophet who had given quite a new life to a dead world. Every one who had seen him would thus be a centre to whom hundreds of enquirers would resort, and since to whom hundreds of enquirers would resort, and since the incidents were fresh in their memories, they would be conveyed with fair accuracy to the generation.
Moreover, it was to the companions of the Prophet that the religion he brought and the teachings he taught were a thing which they valued above anything else the world contained. For its sake they had given up their business, their kinsfolk, nay, their very homes; to defend it, they had laid down their lives. To carry this divine blessing, the greatest gift of God,
To other people, had become the supreme object of their lives; hence a dissemination of its knowledge was their first concern. In addition to this, the Prophet had laid on those who were present of his companions on attendants and on those who saw him or listened to his saying and teachings, the duty of carrying what they saw or beard, to those who were absent, "Let him who present carry this to him who absent" was the phrase which on account of its frequency of its repetition range continually in their ears. And they were faithful to the great charge laid on them, in whichever direction they went and in whichever country they settled. They went eastward and westward and northward, carrying with them the Koran and the Sunna.
Everyone of them who had but the knowledge of one incident relating to the Prophet's life deemed it his duty to deliver it to another. And individuals like Abu Huraira, 'A'isha, Abdullah ibn Abbas Abdullah ibn Omar, 'Abdullah ibn 'Amr el-'As ibn Malik and many others who had made the preservation first object of their lives, and become as it were centres, to whom peoplerestored from different quarters of the kingdom of Islam to gain knowledge of hadîth. Abu-Huraira alone had eight hundred disciples. A1isha's house, too, was resorted to by hundreds of ardent students. The reputation of 'Abdullah ibn 'Abbas (cousin of the Prophet), was equally great, and, notwithstanding his youth; he had a foremost place among the counsellors of the Khalifa 'Omar, on account of his knowledge of the Koran and the Sunna.
The zeal of the new generation for the acquisition of religious knowledge was so great that students were wont to travel from one place to another to complete their knowledge of the sunna, and some would journey long distances to obtain first-hand information about one hadith only ()
Thus arrangement existed both for the collection of the knowledge of hadith in different centres of learning pies who gained their knowledge at such centres.
Collection of Hadith (Third Stage)
With the passing of the generation that had seen and heard the Prophet directly, the ;work of collection of hadith entered upon a third stage. There were no more reports to be investigated from different teachers who taught at different centres. There was no single centre at which the whole store of the knowledge of hadith could be obtained, for companions of the Prophet had spread so wide. But in the second stage, hadîth had undoubtedly passed from individual into public possession, and, therefore in the third stage the whole of hadith could be learned by repairing to the different centres, instead of enquiring about it from individuals. Moreover, at this stage the writing down of hadîth became more common. The large number of the students of hadîth at the different centres, having abundance of material to digest, to which was also added the further difficult charge of remembering the names of the transmitters, sought aid from the pen, so that the work might be easier. By this time, writing had become general and writing material abundant. Moreover, there was no fear of the hadîth being confused with the Koran. It must, however, be remembered that at this stage, hadîth was written merely as an aid to memory; the mere fact that a written hadîth was found among the manuscripts of a person was no evidence of its authenticity, which could only be established by tracing it to a reliable transmitter. “Omar ibn ‘Abdul-‘Aziz, commonly known as ‘Omar II, the Omayyad Khalifa, who ruled towards the close of the first century of Hijra, was the first man who issued definite orders to the effect that written collections of hadîth should be made. He is reported to have written to Abu-Bakr ibn Hazh, the Khalifa’s governor at Medina : “See whatever saying of the Prophet can be found, and write it down, for I fear the loss of knowledge and the disappearance of the learned men and do not accept anything but the true hadith of the Prophet, and people should make knowledge public and should sit in companies, so that he who does not know should come to know, for knowledge does not disappear until it is concealed from the public'. () The importance of this incident lies in the fact that the Khalifa himself took an interest in the collection of hadîth,( ) But 'Omar II died after a short reign of two and a half years. After his death, the work of collection of hadith in written volumes was taken up independently of government patronage in the next century, and this brings us down to the fourth stage in the history of the collection of the traditions of the Prophet.
Collection of Hadith (Fourth Stage)
Before the middle of the second century, hadîth began to assume a more permanent shape, and written collections began to see the light of the day, as such collections had become indispensable. The first known work on the subject is that of Imam Ibn Juraij. He lived at Mecca, while other authors who wrote books on hadîth in the second century are Imam Malik ibn Anas and Sufyan ibn ‘Uwayna at Medina, ‘Abdullah ibn wahb in Egypt, Ma’mar ibn ‘Abdul-Razzak in Yemen, Sufyan Thawri and Muhammad ibn Fudail in Kufa, Hammad ibn Salma and Rauh ibn ‘Ubada at Bisra Hushaim ibn Wasit and ‘Abdullah ibn Mubarak in kuurasan (now Afghanistan).
The Book of Imam Malik, known as the Muwatta Book, is considered the most important of the collections of these authors. However all these books were yet unexhaustive writing on Ihadîth, the object of their compilation was simply the collection of such reports as touched on the daily life of the Muslims. Reports relating to a large number of topics, such as faith, or knowledge, or the life of the Prophet, or wars or comments on the Koran, were outside their scope. Also every author had collected only such reports and traditions as were taught at the centre at which he worked. Even the Muwatta Book which stood in the first rank contained only the hadîth which came through the citizence of Hijaz. All these works on hadîth were, therefore, incomplete, but they were a great advance on oral transmission of the Sunna.
Collection of Hadith (Fifth Stage)
The great work was brought to completion in the third century of the Hijra. It was then that two kinds of collection of hadîth were made, the Musnad and the Jami’. The Musnad was the earlier and the Jami’ the later. By Musnad is meant the tracing of any one hadîth back through various transmitters to the companion of the Prophet on whose authority is rested. The most important of this class in the Musnad of ImamAhmad ibn Hambal (164-241. A. H.) which contains thirty-thousand reports. This great Imam divine is one of the four recognized Imams of the Sunni-Muslim School. The collections of the Musnad hadîth, however, contains reports of traditions of all sorts. As to the Jami’, also known as Musannaf, it literally means a work that gathers together, it arranges reports according to heir subjectmatter and, moreover, it is of a moral critical tone. It is to the Jami, or the Musnad that the honour is due of bringing the knowledge of hadîth to perfection.
Six books are recognized by the sunni Muslims as authoritative works on the traditions of the Prophet. These are the collections of : (1) Muhammad ibn Isma’il, commonly known as Al-Bukhari (died 256 A.H.), (2) Muslim (died 261 A.H.), (3) Abu-Dawud (died 275 A.H), (4) Tirmizi (died 279 A.H.), (5) Ibn Maja (died 283 A.H.), and (6) An-Nasa’I (died 303 A.H.). The works of the third and the last two are generally known by the name of sonan, i.e. practices. These books classified reports under various heads of subjects and thus made hadîth easy for reference, not only for the judge and the lawyer, but also for the ordinary and the research students.
It may be noticed that among the six collections of hadîth mentioned above, which are known as the six reliable Hadîth Books, Bukhari holds the first place in several respects, while Muslim’s collection comes the second and the two together are known as the Sahihain or the two most reliable Hadîth Books. Bukhari’s collection has the distinction of being the first. Its author is the most critical of all. He did not accept any hadîth unless all the transmitters were reliable and until there was proof that the latter transmitter had actually met the first; the mere fact that the two were contemporaries (which is Dr. Muslim’s test) did not satisfy him. Moreover, Dr. Bukhari heads the more important of his chapters with a text from the Holy Koran and thus shows that hadîth or tradition of the Prophet is but an explanation of the Koran, and as such a secondary of the teachings of Islam.
European criticism of hadîth has often mixed up hadîth with the reports met with in the biographies of the Prophet and in certain commentaries on the Koran. The fact is that no Muslim scholar has ever attached the same value to the biographical reports as hadîth narrated in the above-mentioned collections.
There is no doubt that the collectors of hadîth attached the utmost importance to the trustworthiness of the narrators. Inquiries were made as to the character of the guaranters, whether they were morally and religiously satisfactory, whether any of them was tainted with heretical doctrines, whether they had a reputation for truthfulness, and had the ability to transmit what they had themselves heard. Finally, it was necessary that they should be competent witnesses whose testimony would be accepted in a court of civil law.() But more than this, they tried their best to find out that the report was traceable to the Prophet through the various necessary stages. Even the companions of the Prophet did not accept any hadîth which was brought to their notice until they were fully satisfied that it came from the prophet. The collectors went beyond the narrators, and they had rules of criticism which were applied to the subject-matter of the hadîth.
In judging whether a certain hadîth was spurious or genuine, the collectors not only made a thorough investigation regarding the trustworthiness of the transmitters, but also applied other rules of criticism which were in no way inferior to modern methods. According to these rules, a report of a tradition was not accepted under any of the following circumstances:
- If the report was opposed to recognized historical fact.
- If the reporter was a Shi’a, and the hadîth was of the nature of an accusation the companions of the Prophet, or if the reporter was a Khariji () and the hadîth was of the nature of an accusation against Prophet’s family. If, however, the hadîth was corroborated by independent testimony, it was accepted.
- If the report was of such a nature that to know it and act upon it was incumbent upon all Muslims, whereas it was reported by a single man.
- If the time and the circumstance of the narration of the hadîth contained evidence of its forgery.
- If it was against reason or against the plain teachings of Islam.
- If the subject-matter or words of a certain tradition were unsound or not in consonance with Arabic idiom, or the subject-matter was unbecoming the Prophet’s dignity.
- If the report mentioned an accident, which, had it happened, would have been known to and reported by large numbers, while as matter of fact that incident was not reported by any one except the particular reporter ().
- If it contained threatening of heavy punishment for ordinary sins or promised a mighty reward for slight deeds.
- If the narrator confessed that he was in doubt of what he reported.
- If the report dealt with the reward of prophets and messengers to the does of good ().
)) A woman came to Abu-Bakr, the Khalifa claiming her share of inheritance from her deceased grandson The Khalifa said that he could not find either in the Book of God (the Quran) or the Sunna of The Prophet that she was entitled to any share Thereupon, Al-Mughira ibn shuba (a companion) got up to say that he had seen The prophet granting one-sixth share to a grandmother. The Khalifa asked for a second witness and Muhammad ibn Mussallama supported Al-Mughira and accordingly judgment was delivered in favour of the woman Again Fatima the Prophet's daughter, claimed that she was entitled to an inheritance of the Prophet. As against this Abu'Bakr cited a saying of the prophet .''We prophets do not leave an inheritance; whatever we leave is a charity" The truth of this hadîth was not questioned by any one, and Fatima's claim was, therefore, rejected. Such incidents happened daily and became the occasion of establishing, or otherwise, the truth of many sayings of the Prophet.
() Vide Muir's "Life of Mohamet", p. XXX, into which he says, "About a hundred years after Mohamet, the Khalif Omar II issued circular order for the formal collection of all excellent Traditions'. Also vide “Fat-hul-Bari'' by AI-Hafiz Shahub-ud-Din Ahmad, Book 1, p 174, Cairo Press edition.
)) Vide “Traditions of Islam”, by Alfred Guillaume (Calendron Press, Oxford), 1924.
)) “Khariji” belongs to an old party of protest against the ascendancy of the Koraishites.
)) “Al-Ugalan-Nafi’a”, by Shah ‘Abdul-‘Aziz.
)) Similar rules of criticism are laid down by Mûlla ‘Ali Al-Cari in his work entitled “Maudu’at”, and by Ibn Al-Gawzi’s “Fathul-Mûghith”, as well as by Ibn Hajar in his “Nuzhatul-Absar”.