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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 a certain understanding, and at the end of the series, I would submit that to readers.

I am not a traditionalist nor a jurist. I have studied all the seven known books of ahadith and 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 research interest to make things more apparent. 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 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 study, 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 learning, 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 write. My creator has given me a right, and I will exercise it, urging everyone that we are 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. However, Shia scholars seldom accept his narrated ahadith. Instead, they take the ahadith described by the members of the family of 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. Abu Hurayrah compiled a collection of ahadith for his student Wahab, which came to be known as As Sahifatus Sahih, later named 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 Muhammad bin Abdur Rehman al Masoudi and Ismail bin Jama. Masoodi's manuscript is in the library of Istanbul, and Ibn Jama's manuscript is in Berlin. The Berlin manuscript was with 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 Numan ibn Thabit (699-767 CE) wrote it. It comprises Ahadith that go back to the Messenger of Allah (marfu').

Those coming from a Companion or one of the followers are mawquf. Those attributed to the Messenger, directly by one of the followers or their followers, are 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 ahadith. However, the authenticity of the narration is under question 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 after Abu Hurayrah. 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 forty years to represent the "well-trodden path" of the people of Medina. Its name means that it is a book whose contents the people of Medina were unanimously agreed. The Muslim jurist Imam Muhammad ibn Idris Ash Shafai famously said, "There is not a book on the face of the earth after the Book of Allah, which is more authentic than the book of Malik.

The Muwatta is not 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.

Scholars compiled the six major collections of ahadith in the 11th century C.E., some 250 years after the death of Abu Hurayrah. Interestingly, scholars in later centuries found more ahadith than the ones written down by Abu Hurayrah. For instance, Imam Bukhari 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 latter-day traditionists found over a million ahadith. Subsequently, 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 Hadith by paying attention to all the nuance text and 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 science of the compilation of ahadith was necessary because the Prophet did not compile any work of his sayings. When asked what did the Prophet leave, Ibn Abbas replied: "what is between the two bindings, (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. However, they were only humans, and they relied on what they had heard or found in some scattered manuscripts. They did not have anything like the Quran approved, compiled, and memorized by the Prophet in his lifetime. So everything that attributed to him had to be dealt with in this context.

The traditionists were very careful in reminding the readers that what they attribute to the Prophet comes from understanding the narrators' understanding. They implied that the fact might 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 assess the accuracy of the statement. These sciences prove that the Prophet did not leave any written collection of his words behind him

The devotion and sincerity of scholars were beyond question. They realized that they were still dealing with a body of literature the Prophet did not verify even though people attributed the actions and statements to him. Therefore, they acted with the highest responsibility and the most outstanding scholarship. They developed 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 was not amongst them.

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