History Of Hadith

Traditions regarding the life of Muhammad and the early history of Islam were passed down both orally and written for more than a hundred years after the death of Muhammad in 632. According to Muslims, the collection of hadith or sayings by or about the prophet Muhammad was a meticulous and thorough process that began right at the time of Muhammad. Needless to say hadith collection (even in the written form) began very early on – from the time of Muhammad and continued through the centuries that followed.[1] Thus, Muslims reject any collections that are not robust in withstanding the tests of authenticity per the standards of hadith studies. This article goes through the historical evolution of the hadith literature from its beginning in the 7th century to present day.

Writing in the Pre-Islamic Period

Prior to the advent of Islam, memorization was the primary means of conveyance of information amongst the Arabs.[2] There were, however, some instances of writing present at that time, including promissory notes, personal letter, tribal agreements and some religious literature.[3] There were very few Arabs that could read or write in the beginning of Muhammad’s era: The majority were unlettered, and according to Sunni traditions, so was Muhammad.[4]

Prophetic Period

According to Ibn Hajar, “During the Prophet’s lifetime and into the time of the Companions and older Followers, the narrations of the Prophet were not transcribed in a systematic manner. This was due to two reasons. The first, was that early on they had been prohibited from doing so, as has been established in Sahih Muslim,[5] lest the hadith become confused with the Quran. The second was due to expansive capability of their ability to memorize and because the majority of them were unable to write.”[6]

A possible explanation of aforementioned hadith is that “the majority of the companions were illiterate with only a few individuals from them able to write. If they were to write, it was unrefined, not conforming to the written alphabet. Thus, the prohibition was due to the fear of erring while writing.”[7] Another is that “the prohibition was of writing the Quran with other than it in one place so as to avoid the two from becoming mixed up confusing the one reading it. As for writing in its entirety having been prohibited, then this was not the case as we see from another hadith, ‘Convey what I say.’ Present within the command to convey is permission to write and record.”[8]

Writing of hadith

Despite this, there are a number of hadith that indicate the permissibility if not encouragement to write down hadith. From them:

  • The hadith of Abd Allah ibn ‘Amr who said, “I used write everything I heard from the Prophet wanting to preserve it. The Quraysh then prohibited me from doing so, saying, ‘Do you write down everything? And the Prophet is human who speaks while angry and pleased?’ So I refrained from writing and then mentioned this to the Prophet. He gestured to his mouth and said, ‘Write, by the one in whose hand is my soul! Nothing emanates from this except the truth.’”[9]
  • Among the prisoners of war taken at the Battle of Badr those who were literate were released after each taught ten Muslims how to read and write.[4][10] Sahih Bukhari states that Abd-Allah ibn Amr wrote down his hadith.[11]
  • A man came to Muhammad and complained about his memory, saying: ‘O Messenger of Allah: We hear many things from you. But most of them slip our minds because we cannot memorize them’. Muhammad replied: Ask your right hand for help.[12] Muhammad meant that he should write down what he heard.
  • When Rafi‘ ibn Khadij asked Muhammad whether they could write what they heard from him, the answer came: Write, no harm!.[13] Another sources quotes Muhammad advising: “Record knowledge by writing.”[14]
  • During the conquest of Mecca, Muhammad gave a sermon. A man from the Yemen, named Abu Shah, stood up and said: “O Allah’s Messenger! Please write down these [words] for me!” Muhammad ordered: “Write for Abu Shah!”[15]
  • Muhammad sent a letter which contained commandments about the blood money for murders and injuries and the law of retaliation to Amr ibn Hizam.[16] This letter was handed down to his great grandson, Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad.[4] Among other things, like some of his letters other head of states, some scroll transferred to Abu Rafi was handed down to Abu Bakr ibn ‘Abd Al-Rahman ibn Harith, belonging to the first generation after the Companions.[4]

Ibn Hajar summarized the different ways in which scholars have sought to reconcile those hadith prohibiting the writing of hadith and those permitting it, in the first of which he said, “The reconciliation between the two is that the prohibition was particular to the time in which the Quran was being sent down so that it would not become mixed up with other than it and the permission was during other than that time.”[17]

Post-prophetic period

During the caliphate of Abu Bakr, the Muslim nation had to deal with the rebellion of several apostates. In all likelihood, the apostates began to forge hadiths to suit their purposes. For this reason, Abu Bakr, and his successor, Umar, were very strict in their acceptance of hadiths as authentic, for fear of accepting a forged hadith.[18]

Among Sunnis, Umar ibn al-Khattab is the primary locus for many accounts about hadith collection. He is portrayed by Sunnis as desiring to initiate this project but unwilling to do so, fearing that Muslims might then neglect the Qur’an.[19] Umar is also said by Sunnis that, due to fear and concerns, he sometimes warned people against careless narration of hadith.[4]

Muslim historians say that it was the caliph Uthman (the third caliph, or successor of Muhammad, who had formerly been one of Muhammad’s secretary’s), encouraged Muslims to write down the hadith as Muhammad (in some instances) had encouraged Muslims to do likewise during his lifetime [20][21][22][23]. Uthman’s labors were cut short by his assassination, at the hands of aggrieved people who had come to the capital to seek redressal from the Caliph for the wrongs done by his secretary, Merwan ibn Hakam, on 17 June 656 A.D{[24]}.The Muslim community (ummah) then fell into a prolonged civil war, termed the Fitna by Muslim historians. After the fourth caliph, Ali ibn Abi Talib, was assassinated, control of the Islamic empire was seized by the Umayyad dynasty in 660A.D/40 A.H.{[25]} Illustrating the importance hadith in a written format had earned, Ibn Abbas left behind a camel-load of books, which mostly contain what he had heard from Muhammad and other Sahaba.[4][26]

Of the many companions, Abu Hurairah taught hadith to students, one of whom was Hammam ibn Munabbih. Ibn Munabbih wrote down these hadith, the original manuscripts of which are present even to this day in the libraries of Berlin, Beirut and Damascus.[27]

Starting the first Islamic civil war of the 7th century, those receiving the hadith started to question the sources of the saying, something that resulted in the development of the Isnad.[19] Muhammad ibn Sirin (d. 110/728) stated[19]:

“[the traditionalists] were not used to inquiring after the isnad, but when the fitna occurred they said: Name us your informants. Thus if these were Ahl al-Sunna their traditions were accepted, but if they were heretics, their traditions were not accepted.”

The beginning of systematic hadith collection

The beginning of the systematic collection and compilation of hadith began during the time of the second generation of Muslims, that of the Followers. Muhammad ibn Muslim ibn Ubaydullah, commonly known as ibn Shihab al-Zuhri, was a prolific and prominent hadith narrator from the Followers whom Ibn Hajar identified as a tabi’i.[28] According to Ibn Hajar, “Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri was the first to compile hadith at the beginning of the first century after the Migration acting on the order of Umar ibn AbdulAziz. It was after this that the compilation, then the authoring of books of hadith became commonplace, resulting in much good.”[29]

Ummayad rule was interrupted by a second civil war (the Second Fitna), re-established, then ended in 758, when the Abbasid dynasty seized the caliphate, to hold it, at least in name, until 1517 (the last Caliph was Al-Mutawakkil III 1508–1517, in Cairo and not in Baghdad).

Muslim historians say that hadith collection and evaluation continued during the first Fitna and the Umayyad period. However, much of this activity was presumably oral transmission from early Muslims to later collectors, or from teachers to students.

The scholars of the Abbasid period were faced with a huge corpus of miscellaneous traditions, some of them flatly contradicting each other. Many of these traditions supported differing views on a variety of controversial matters. Scholars had to decide which hadith were to be trusted as authentic narrations and which had been invented for various political or theological purposes. For this purpose, they used a number of techniques in hadith studies. In AH 134 (751/752), paper was introduced into the Muslim world.[30]

Generally, Umar II is credited with having ordered the first collection of hadith material in an official manner, fearing that some of it might be lost. Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad ibn Hazm and Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri, are among those who compiled hadiths at `Umar II’s behest.[19]

Early written hadith collections

List of collections of hadith, in chronological order:

  1. Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri
  2. Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad ibn Hazm
  3. Musannaf of ibn Jurayj — ?-? CE
  4. Musannaf of Ma`mar bin Rashid — ?-? CE
  5. Sahifah Hammam ibn Munabbih — 670–720 CE
  6. Musannaf of `Abd al-Razzaq al-San`ani — c. 700 CE
  7. Muwatta of Malik bin Anas — 760–795 CE
  8. Sufyan al-Thawri

Canonical texts

The efforts culminated with the six canonical collections after having received impetus from the establishment of the sunna as the second source of law in Islam, particularly through the efforts of the famous jurist Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi’i.[19]

The method of criticism and the conclusions it has reached have not changed significantly since the ninth century. Even much of modern Muslim scholarship, while continuing to debate the validity or authenticity of individual hadiths or perhaps the hadiths of a particular transmitter, employs the same methods and biographical materials.[19]

The classification of Hadith into sahih (sound), hasan (good) and da’if (weak) was firmly established by Ali ibn al-Madini (d. 234 AH).[31] Later, al-Madini’s student Muhammad al-Bukhari authored a collection that he stated contained only sahih hadith.[31] al-Tirmidhi was the first traditionist to base his book on al-Madini’s classification.[31]

Contemporary Analysis

In 1848, Gustav Weil, noted that Muhammad al-Bukhari deemed only 4,000 of his original 300,000 hadiths to be authentic.He was soon followed by Aloys Sprenger, who also suggests that many of the hadiths cannot be considered authentic.[19] However, this demonstrates a limited understanding by Non Muslims, of Bukhari’s criterion for his Sahih. This is clarified by other statements of Bukhari in which he made it clear that he considered all of the hadith in his authentic, but not all authentic hadith are included in his Sahih. Al-Dhahabi quoted Bukhari as saying, “I have memorized one hundred thousand authentic hadith and two hundred thousand that are not authentic.’[32]

Ignaz Goldziher was a large contributor of innovative theories to the West. The subsequent direction the Western debate took, a direction which has focussed on the role of hadiths in the origin and development of early Muslim jurisprudence, is largely due to the work of Joseph Schacht.[19] The Common-Link Theory, invented by Joseph Schacht and widely accepted in modern scholarship, argues that hadith authorities knowingly and purposefully placed traditions in circulation with little care to support these hadiths with satisfactory isnads (chains of transmitters). G. H. A. Juynboll, Michael Cook and other Schachtians subsequently embraced and elaborated upon this theory. In 2006, Fahad A. Alhomoudi in his thesis “On the Common-Link Theory”[33] challenges the accuracy of Schacht’s founding theory. Because of the interconnectedness of Schacht’s many theses about hadith and Islamic law, the findings of Alhomoudi’s thesis did not only challenge the significant Common-Link Theory in legal hadith studies, but also open the door for scholars to question other important theories held by Schacht and his followers with regard to larger issues in Islamic legal history.

The Turkish government’s Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı has commissioned a team of scholars at Ankara University to draft a new compilation of hadith that would omit numerous hadith considered historically inauthentic by these scholars.[34]

Adopted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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