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Science of the Compilation of Ahadith

An Introduction

(Note: This is not a series on Ahadith. Muhaditheen or traditionists do that. This is not an attempt to redefine Ahadith or re-categorize them. Traditionists do that. This is not about evaluating ahadith. Traditionists and jurists do that. This is a series about the history of the compilation of ahadith. How did our previous scholars compile the books of ahadith. What methodologies they adopted and how did they select what they selected and reject what they rejected. Of course, based on my readings of this vast literature, I also developed certain understanding and at the end of the series, I would submit that to readers. I am not a traditionist nor a jurist. I have studied all the seven known books of ahadith as well as many others in their original language. I have also studied the methodologies adopted by their compilers. I am a simple student of Islam with a keen interest in research to make things clearer to me. My only purpose is to share what I have learned with others as I feel that it is an obligation upon those who read and who try to acquire knowledge. Whatever, I will present here is based on research with references. I will separate my opinions with facts as reported by earlier scholars. If I am dishonest in my research, Allah will expose my weaknesses and take away the knowledge that He alone gives. If I am honest, but not proficient in all aspects of knowledge, He will guide me as he has guided many others. If I promote a particular point of view, the readers will discover it. If I make mistakes, the people of knowledge will expose me. My sincere purpose is to inform the readers in simple language the history of Hadith without any biases or favors. Please do not question my right to write what I am writing about. It is a right that my creator has given me and I will exercise it urging everyone that each one of us is gifted with the divine to acquire knowledge that He alone has created.)

Abd al-Rahman ibn Sakhr Al-Azdi, Abu Hurayrah or Abu Huraira (603 – 681) was a companion of Prophet Muhammad and is the narrator of hadith most quoted in isnad by Sunni Muslim scholars. Shia scholars seldom accept his narrated ahadith and when they do, they do only when they are narrated by companions considered authentic by them and the members of the family of the Prophet considered reliable, by the Prophet and his cousin and the fourth Caliph Ali bin Abu talib (Radhi Allahu Anhu).

He had many disciples and one of them was Wahb ibn Munabbih later came to be known as a traditionist. He died at the age of 90 in the year 731 C.E., some 50 years after the death of his teacher. It is narrated that Abu Hurayrah compiled a collection of ahadith for his student Wahab, which came to be known as As Sahifatus Sahih, later named as Sahifa Hammam bin Munabbih.

After Wahab, this sahifa was transferred to Muammar bin Rashid Yemeni and passed it on to Abdur Razzaq bin Hammam bin Naefy Al-Humeiri. He wrote a book on the Science of Hadith known as Al Musannif. His manuscripts are available in Istanbul, Yemen, and India. He had two students Imam Ahmed Hanbal and Abdulhasan bin Yusuf Al-Silmi.

Imam Hanbal included it in his Masnad under the chapter of Abu Hurayrah.

Silmi also passed on this sahifa to his students. From his students, it reached to Muhammad bin Abdur Rehman al Masoudi and Ismail bin Jama. The Masoodi's manuscript is in the library of Istanbul and Ibn Jama's manuscript is in Berlin. It was the Berlin manuscript that was copied by Professor Muhammad Hamidullah who published it in 1953 in Arabic with translations in English, French and Urdu in later years. Even though some people have questioned the authenticity of this manuscript claiming that Dr. Hamidullah admitted in later years that he had forged it to prove the authenticity of the hadith literature. (http://mubashirnazir.org/QA/000300/Q0232-Sahifa.htm)

But it is more an accusation than an assertion as the original manuscripts are available in the libraries of Istanbul and Berlin.

The Sahifa, written by Abu Hurayrah is one of the earliest collections of hadith written before 681 C.E. preserved in its original manuscript. It has 138 ahadith mostly on ethics. The Kitab al-Athar was the other book composed in Islam after the generation of the Companions. Al-Imam al-A’zam Abu Hanifah Nu’man ibn Thabit (699-767 CE) wrote it. It comprises Ahadith that connect directly back to the Messenger of Allah (marfu’), those which stop short at a Companion or one of the followers (mawquf) and those which are attributed to the Messenger, directly by one of the followers or the followers of the followers without attribution to a Companion (mursal). His companions Imam Abu Yusuf, Imam Zufar, Imam Muhammad, Imam al-Hasan ibn Ziyad, Imam Hammad ibn Abi Hanifah the Imam’s son, Hafs ibn Ghiyath and others narrated it from him. It comprises some 40,000 ahdith. However, the authenticity of the narration has been questioned by some scholars.

The Muwatta of Imam Malik is the other the earliest extant collections of hadith covering rituals, rites, customs, traditions, norms, and laws of the time of Prophet Muhammad. Imam Malik (711-795) was born some 30 years Abu Hurayrah and he selected only about one percent of Ahadith for inclusion into the Muwatta, from the corpus of 100,000 narrations available to him. In later years, he removed many from the one percent he had included in the original. He compiled the collection after great hesitation over a period of forty years to represent the "well-trodden path" of the people of Medina. Its name means that it is a book that is much agreed upon about whose contents the people of Medina were unanimously agreed. The Muslim jurist Imam Muhammad ibn Idris Ash Shafai famously said, "There is not on the face of the earth a book – after the Book of Allah which is more authentic than the book of Malik. It is interesting to note that in the Muwatta is not included in the popular six collections of Sahih ahadith that include the books by Imam Bukhari, Imam Muslim, Imam Tirmidhi, Imam Abu Dawood, Imam ibn Maja and Imam Abdur Rahman Nasai.

The six major collections of ahadith were compiled in the 11th century C.E. , some 250 years after the death of Abu Hurayrah. It is interesting that scholars in later centuries found more ahadith then the ones written down by Abu Hurayrah. For instance, Imam Bukhari is said to have found 600,000 ahadith (some say 300,000), Imam Muslim found some 400,000, Imam Hanbal over a million and Imam Yahya Ibn Moeen 1.2 million.

It is worthy to note that Abu Hurayrah gives only 138 ahadith to his student and Imam Malik finds 100,000 ahadith while the later day traditionists found over a million ahadith. Obviously, scholars developed methodologies to scrutinize statements and actions attributed to the prophet as narrated by the successive generation of people. They sorted, sifted, categorized, evaluated, checked their authenticity and even rejected the bulk of the collections.

They developed the science of `Ilm al-Riwayah and ilm Diraya.

`Ilm al-Riwayh is the science in which we study hadith through narrations. It looks into the authenticity at the source and accuracy in the transmission and reporting of the hadith so as to prevent distortion and error, deliberate or otherwise. `Ilm tarikh al-ruwat, `Ilm Jarh wal-ta`dil:, `Ilm Mutabi wa'l-Ishhad are the sub branches of this science.

`Ilm al-Dirayah is the science in which we study hadith through its meaning. It is concerned with ensuring the accuracy of the text of the hadith by paying attention to all the nuances of the text as well as any ruling it might contain. `Ilm Gharib al-Hadith, `Ilm Mukhtalif al-Hadith, `Ilm Ziyadat al-Thiqar: `Ilm al-nasikh wa'l-Mansukh and `Ilm al-Hadith wa al-Tadlis are its subcategories.:

The emergence of the science of the compilation of ahadith was necessitated because the Prophet had not left any collection of his sayings that was checked, verified and approved by him. When Ibn Abbas was asked what did the Prophet leave, he replied: "what is between the two dafateen (i.e. the Quran)" (Bukhari)

The task of the scholars to develop methodologies to determine the accuracy of the statements and actions of the Prophet was immense and huge. They were only humans and they relied on what either they had heard or found in some scattered manuscripts. They did not have anything like the Quran that was approved, compiled, and memorized by the Prophet in his own lifetime. So everything that was attributed to him had to be dealt with in this context.

That is the reason that the traditionsts were very careful in reminding the readers that what they were presenting what is attributed to the prophet as they understand or the narrators understand implying that the probability that the fact may be different may not be ruled out.

The Ilm riwayah led them to determine the accuracy of the chains of narrations and lm diraya led them to determine the accuracy of the statement. The emergence of these sciences is a testimony that the Prophet did not leave any collection of his words approved by him at the time of his departure from the world.

The devotion and sincerity of scholars were beyond question, as they realize themselves that they were still dealing with a body of literature that did not have the approval of the prophet even though the actions and statements were attributed to him. It was an expression of the highest responsibility and the greatest scholarship that they showed in developing the principles of the science of the compilation of ahadith with the full understanding that their efforts were human and the subject they were dealing with was a serious one as the only one who was qualified to verify what was attributed to him was not amongst them.

In the forthcoming articles, writings will focus on the two branches of ilm tadween hadith, with articles on the history of hadith collections, traditionists, statements or actions attributed to the prophet with a conclusion about how to do I personally study the hadith. I hope you will have the patience to go through this series without jumping to the conclusion unless you have read all the articles.

Each one of us is responsible for our own understanding. No one would be held accountable for other's actions and understanding. I am presenting my understanding hoping that a greater discussion will take place and help us move forward in our understanding of the sources of our faith.

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