Sunday, 25 November 2007

Preservation of Sacred Text & Their Authentic Elaborations

Allah SWT has ordered us in the Qur'an to practice on the Sunnah. The Prophet Muhammad SAW has ordered us in Ahadith to practise on the Sunnah. The Qur'an and Shari'ah are relevant till the Day of Qiyamah. Therefore, the orders therein will apply till then. It is obligatory to follow the Sunnah of Rasulullah SAW in all walks of life.

Both Allah SWT as well as Rasulullah SAW have given definition to Sunnah.

The verses of the Qur'an and Ahadith defining and confirming this are too numerous to mention here. A few are reproduced below:

Allah SWT says (mafhum):

"Whatever the Messenger SAW gives you, then grasp it (implement it) and whatever he prohibits you then stay away from it. (Surah Al-Hashr: Verse 7)

Allah SWT says (mafhum):

"Say - O Muhammad SAW – 'if you love Allah follow me, then Allah will love you and forgive your sins'." (Surah Al-Imran: Verse 31)

Allah SWT says (mafhum):

"Indeed in the Messenger of Allah is a beautiful lifestyle for you, if you have hope for (meeting) Allah and for the Last Day." (Surah Al-Ahzaab: Verse 21)

Irbaadh ibn Saariyah RA narrated the following (mafhum):

"Rasulullah SAW once advised us with such eloquence that our hearts trembled and our eyes flowed with tears. We said, "Ya Rasulullah, as though this is the advice of one bidding farewell therefore advise us." Rasulullah SAW said, "I advise you to fear (have Taqwa of) Allah and to hear and obey even if a slave is made your leader. Whoever lives after me will indeed see many divisions, therefore follow my way and the way of the Khulafa Ar Rashideen (the Rightly-Guided Caliphs) – cling to it with your teeth, and stay away from innovations for indeed every innovation is misguidance." (Riyadhus Salihin: No.157)

Abu Hurairah RA reports that the Prophet SAW said (mafhum):

"My entire Ummah will enter Jannah except he who refuses. The Sahabah enquired, "Who will refuse Ya Rasulullah?" Rasulullah SAW said, "Whoever obeys me will enter Jannah, and whoever disobeys me, he has refused." (Sahih Bukhari)

From the above it is apparent that it is obligatory to follow the Sunnah of Rasulullah SAW.

In principle, any action that was carried out by the Prophet SAW, or was carried out in front of him and he did not object to it, is called Sunnah. This is what has come to us from our Pious Predecessors who were in the blessed company of Rasulullah SAW i.e. his (SAW) Companions RA.

The Various Stages of the Compilation of Ahadith

The Ahadith of Rasulullah SAW were not compiled and codified in the time of the Holy Prophet SAW like it is today. There existed no real need for this as the Sahabahs memorised virtually every word spoken by the Holy Prophet SAW. Allah SWT had granted them such perfect and excellent memories that once they heard anything they used to remember it throughout their lives. The remembering of lengthy poems and the ancestral details of horses and camels bears testimony to this fact.

Once Ibn Umar RA repeated Ahadith to a Bedouin (Badwi), for him to memorise. The Bedouin remarked, "Enough. Once is sufficient. I shall not forget it till death. I have performed 60 pilgrimages on 60 camels and I know perfectly well which Hajj I performed on which camel."

This was the condition of the Bedouins in ordinary matters and mundane talk. How much more did they preserve the speech of Rasulullah SAW? Not only his speech but every action notion, indication, approval, disapproval and deed of Rasulullah SAW was preserved by them. They valued these more than their lives and wealth. They used to alternate with their business partners in sitting in the gathering of the Holy Prophet SAW. Each partner used to narrate to his companion what he had heard the Holy Prophet SAW say. Such was the reverence given.

Extreme measures were taken to safeguard the words of the Holy Prophet SAW. Many of them were not literate and did not know how to write. However, the Sahabah RA who knew how to write used to record and write down Ahadith as well. Ahadith were recorded in the presence of the Holy Prophet SAW. And this is also proof that much of what was written and recorded as Ahadith were actually approved by the master himself – Rasulullah SAW.

A Period When the Prohibition of Writing Ahadith – The Reasons For Its Prohibition and Later The Reasons For Its Annulment

The Holy Prophet SAW has mentioned in one Hadith:

"Do not record (write) from me anything except the Qur'an. Whosoever has written anything should obliterate it." (Sahih Muslim: volume 2: Page 44)

Those who are aware of the history of Risalah and Revelation will be quick to point out that this prohibition is of a temporary nature when the Qur'an was initially being revealed and there was a possibility of Ahadith and Qur'an being mixed up, and thus the main purpose of this instruction of Rasulullah SAW was so that Ahadith and the Qur'an did not get mixed up.

When this initial period has passed and this possibility was then unlikely and ruled out, this prohibition ceased and an order was given to write and record Ahadith as the grand classical scholar – Hafiz Ibn Hajar RA has detailed in his commentary on Sahih Bukhari.

Imam Nawawi RA in the commentary of Sahih Muslim has stated that the prohibition was when the mixing was feared. Thereafter when it was safe, permission was granted for writing.

The Three Methods of Preserving and Safeguarding Ahadith

The classical and traditional Ulama of the Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama'ah have detailed all the methods utilised to preserve Ahadith from the era of Rasulullah SAW up to this day. There is consensus and agreement within these righteous Ulama that recording and writing was not the only method of safeguarding Ahadith. There existed other reliable methods as well as marked below:

1. Memorising Ahadith

The most reliable method adopted by the Sahabah RA to safeguard Ahadith was through memory.

2. Preservation Through Action and Practice

This was another reliable means of protecting and safeguarding Ahadith. The Sahabah RA used to transform the words of Rasulullah SAW into action immediately and each and every one of them used to practice upon each and every Hadith. This resulted in every word of Rasulullah SAW becoming a practical action and deed, which was thoroughly remembered and preserved.

Therefore, many traditions contain the phrases:

"…This is how I saw the Holy Prophet SAW carry out and perform this…"

This practical method was very effective in preserving Ahadith. It continues up to this day – by the practice and prescriptions of the righteous and pious Ulama, by their students and those under their custody i.e. their followers – ardent adherents of the Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah.

It is a shame that in this day and age, many practices of Rasulullah SAW are as if unheard of even by an adult Muslim who has gone through so-called basic Islamic education. How shall we fair on the Day of Judgement? It is shameful. And these are the people who have the odesity to dispute prior to undergoing patience and perseverence to know, understand, practice and spread Islam as taught by Nabi Muhammad SAW.

3. Writing and Recording Ahadith

And the third method of preserving Ahadith is in writing and recording. This method was also customary in the time of Rasulullah SAW. And this procedure had passed through four stages (phases):

1. Recording of Ahadith without any arrangement or sequence

2. Arranging Ahadith relating to a certain subject (topic) or subjects into one small book

3. Accumulating of various Ahadith into one book

4. Compiling Ahadith and codifying them

The first two types of compiling were extensively practised during the time of the Prophet SAW and the Sahabah RA.

Some examples of the above methods to preserve the words, actions and approvals of Rasulullah SAW are as described below:

Example 01

Abu Hurairah RA reports that the Holy Prophet SAW indicated to a certain Sahabat of the Ansar whose memory was weak, to write:

"One Ansari Sahabat RA used to sit by Rasulullah SAW and listen to Ahadith; it used to please him, but he was unable to memorise it. He complained to the Holy Prophet SAW who replied, "Seek assistance with your right hand", and he indicated towards writing with his hand." (Sahih Tirmidhi: Volume 2: Page 107)

Example 02

In a tradition recorded in Mustadrak Al-Hakim, Amr bin Aas RA reports:

"I used to record everything the Holy Prophet SAW used to say with the intention of accumulating and gathering. The Quraysh stopped me saying:

"Do you write everything the Holy Prophet SAW says? He is a human being, he speaks in anger and happiness."

I then abstained from writing. I mentioned this to the Holy Prophet SAW and he indicated towards his tongue and said:

"Write! By Him in whose hand is my life. Nothing except the truth comes out of it." " (Mustadrak Al-Hakim: Volume 1: Page 104)

Example 03

In another Ahadith recorded in Mustadrak Al-Hakim, an explicit and clear order of writing is given. The words said by the Prophet Muhammad SAW are as follows:

"Tie down knowledge."

The Sahabah RA enquired:

"What is tying down knowledge?"

The Prophet SAW replied:

"It is writing." (Mustadrak Al-Hakim: Volume 1: Page 106)

Example 04

The incident of Abu Shah Yamani RA is famous.

Once the Holy Prophet SAW mentioned an incident and upon the request of Abu Shah Yamani RA the Holy Prophet SAW instructed the Sahabah RA to write it for Abu Shah Yamani RA. (Sahih Bukhari: Volume 1: Page 23 & Sahih Tirmidhi: Volume 2: Page 107)

The Writing of Ahadith During The Era Of The Prophet Muhammad SAW

There are numerous traditions indicating the instruction of writing Ahadith. Therefore, many Sahabah RA recorded Ahadith in the era of Nabi SAW. References are many of such collections and compilations, and some are described below in brief:

The Sahifah of Abdullah bin Amr RA

Abu Hurairah RA is the greatest narrator of Ahadith. Despite this he says:

"No person has learnt more Ahadith than me. However, Abdullah bin Amr RA used to write Ahadith and I didn't."

This is clear evidence that Ahadith used to be written in that era, and Abdullah bin Amr RA possessed a collection that exceeded one thousand Ahadith.

The scholar – Ibn Rushd RA has mentioned in his Kitab Asadul Ghaaba (Volume 3: Page 233) - that, this collection was named As-Sadiqah.

The Sahifah of Saiyidina Ali ibn Abi Talib RA

Imam Bukhari RA has mentioned this Sahifah in the chapter of "Ilm" (Volume 1: Page 21) and, he has mentioned it in four places.

The narrator Abu Juhaifa reports:

"I enquired from Saiyidina Ali RA, do you possess a book?" He replied: "No, except the Book of Allah or the understanding granted to a Muslim or what is in this Sahifah." I asked him, "What is in this Sahifah?" He replied, "Orders relating to 'Diyat' (penalty or murder) - the freeing of prisoners and no Muslim will be killed in lieu of a kafir."

The above collection contained orders regarding, murder, compensations, capital punishments, details of Zakat and matters relating to non-Muslim citizens in an Islamic State.


This collection was personally dictated by the Holy Prophet SAW. It contained details regarding Zakat, Ushar etc. According to some reports it was written for the Zakat collectors.

However, the Holy Prophet SAW left this world before it was sent to them. This kitab remained with Saiyidina Abu Bakr RA and Saiyidina Umar RA. Eventually Saiyidina Umar bin Abdul Aziz RA memorized it and thereafter Ibn Shihaab Zuhri RA memorised it.

The Sahifah of Abdullah Ibn Abbas RA

Ibn Saad RA mentions in his kitab "Tabaqaat" that the slave of Abdullah Ibn Abbas RA said:

"He found a large collection of the kitabs of Ibn Abbas equal to a camel-load."

The Sahifah of Jaabir Ibn Abdullah RA

Imam Muslim has reported that Saiyidina Jaabir RA had compiled a book on Hajj. Imam Bukhari mentioned this is his Tarikh-al-Kabir: Volume 7: Page 186) - Saiyidina Qataqda bin De'aama As-Sodusi had memorised this Sahifah.

The Sahifah of Samura Ibn Jundub RA

Hafiz ibn Hajar RA reports that Saiyidina Samura RA has narrated a big chapter from his father. Imam Muhammad ibn Sireen RA reports that the Kitab which Saiyidina Samura RA has written for his children contains great knowledge.

The Sahifah of Saad Ibn Ubadah RA

Ibn Saad reports in 'Tabaqaat' that Saiyidina Saad RA had a collection of Ahadith.

The Sahifah Abu Hurairah RA

Imam Hakim RA mentions in his Mustadrak that once Saiyidina Hassan ibn Umar RA narrated Ahadith to Saiyidina Abu Hurairah RA. Saiyidina Abu Hurairah RA denied the Ahadith. Saiyidina Hassan told him, "I have narrated this Ahadith from you". He replied, "If I have narrated it, it will definitely be written down". He had written down all his Ahadith in the end.

The Sahifah of Abdullah Ibn Mas'ud RA

Hafiz ibn Abdul-Barr RA mentions in his Kitab, 'Jaame Bayaan Nul-Ilm' that Abdullah Ibn Mas'ud RA took out one Kitab and swore an oath that it was compiled by him.

The Sahifah of Amr Ibn Hazam RA

When the Holy Prophet Muhammad SAW appointed Saiyidina ibn Hazam RA as governor of Najran, he gave him a Sahifah which was written by Saiyidina Ubay bin Ka'ab RA. It contained orders regarding cleanliness, purification, Solat, Hajj, Umrah, Jihad, etc.

The Sahifah of Abdullah Ibn Mubaraq RA

Saiyidina Sa'eed ibn Hilaal RA says:

"When we frequented Saiyidina Anas bin Malik (RA) he took out a volume and said, "I heard these from the Holy Prophet SAW. I have written it and preserved it." (Mustadrak Al-Hakim: Volume 3: Page 54)

Other Sahifahs

As previously mentioned, there are also many other Sahifahs which the Holy Prophet SAW sent to kings and rulers, as well as other compilations - which have not been mentioned here for the sake of brevity.

The Era of Umar bin Abdul Aziz RA

Though the writing of Ahadith had commenced, it was not done in an arranged manner, i.e. it was not codified. Because the Khulafa Ar Rashideen RA were pre-occupied with the compilation of the Noble Qur'an and other important matters, it was not possible for them to perform this task.

However, when certain blameworthy politicians during the time of Saiyidina Ali RA began to fabricate false Ahadith, Saiyidina Ali RA became concerned about safeguarding the authentic Ahadith. He used to stand on the mimbar and announce the authentic Ahadith to the people. This continued till the period of Umar bin Abdul Aziz RA who became the Khalifah after the demise of Sulaiman bin Abdul Malik.

Umar bin Abdul Aziz RA's Caliphate lasted only for two years - but his contributions were tremendous. After accepting Khilafah, he wrote to the Judge of Madinah, Abu Bakr bin Hazm RA saying, "Whatever you find from Ahadith of the Holy Prophet SAW, write it down. I fear the loss of knowledge and the passing away of the Ulama. (Sahih Bukhari: Volume 1: Page 20)

Hafiz Ibn Hajar RA mentions that this letter was addressed to all the Judges of every province. A large collection of Ahadith were compiled in this manner in the first century.

Thus we can appreciate that the recording and writing of Ahadith had began from the time of the Holy Prophet SAW and was done by the Companions RA. Further efforts then continued to preserve its authenticity. And those pious people who record are aware of all injunctions, its depth, its black and white, inferences, understanding, depth and breadth etc. So these people have helped us to understand Ahadith. Alhamdulillah. Ahadith complements the explanation of the Qur'an. Safeguarding of the Qur'an entails safeguarding of Ahadith, and vice versa.

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