How were Ahadith Compiled?

There are people in the Muslim Community who believe that the Sayings of our beloved Prophet Mohammad SAWS (or Ahadith) were not written down until the third century Hijri.

The reason for their belief is due to the following Hadith:

It was narrated from Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri RA that the Messenger of Allaah SAWS said: “Do not write anything from me; whoever has written anything from me other than the Qur’aan, let him erase it and narrate from me, for there is nothing wrong with that.” (Narrated by Muslim, al-Zuhd wa’l-Raqaa’iq, 5326)

Al-Nawawi said in his commentary on Saheeh Muslim: Al-Qaadi said: there were many disputes among the Sahaabah and Taabi’een concerning the writing down of knowledge. Many of them regarded this as being makrooh, but most of them regarded it as permissible. This dispute is no longer an issue, as will be explained below.

The term “Hadith” covers not only the sayings of Prophet Mohammad SAWS, but also his actions as well as what he tolerated among his companions. By toleration we mean the seeing by the Prophet SAWS of a thing being done by a companion of his and keeping silent over the deed or even explicitly approving it. Each of these three categories finds a place in the books of Hadith.

The questions before us are:

  • When did these Ahadith began to be first complied in writing?
  • To what extent might an unbiased person place his reliance on books of Hadith?

It is obvious that it would have been impossible to write down everything that the Prophet Mohammad SAWS spoke, did or tolerated. Such a complete record would have necessitated superhuman efforts. At the same time, any sceptic statement to the effect that nothing at all was written down during the lifetime of Prophet Mohammad SAWS, would be stretching suspicion to the limits of absurdity.

Dr. Hamidullah in his book, An Introduction to the Conservation of Hadith, Published by Islamic Book Trust; from which this article is extracted mentions several examples of the Prophet’s SAWS words, speeches, etc. being written down during the lifetime of the Prophet SAWS. He mentions the following official documents that were written down in Madina on the order of the Prophet SAWS, which can be found in the books of Hadith:

Incidental Writings of Ahadith

  • Constitution of Medina (Muslim City State)
  • Census of Madina and the head counts of Muslims and Non Muslims
  • Letters were written to the Heads of State of Few Empires around Arabia
  • Agreements were made with different tribes, who then became Allies of Muslims
  • Correspondence with Jews
  • Instructions to Governors
  • Rules and Tariffs of Taxes
  • Etc.

Apart from the Above some incidental occasions of writing down of Hadith have been recorded, one such incident is quoted here:

Al Bukhari and several other souces have recorded that in the year 8H/629CE, on the occasion of the peaceful conquest of Makkah, the Prophet SAWS delivered a sermon on the rights and duties of humanity and other important problems. A man of Yemen, Abu Shah, who was present at the time, said: “O Messenger of Allah, please have this written out for me”. The Prophet SAWS accordingly caused the sermon to be transcribed for him. The exact text of his order was “Write it down for Abu Shah”. (Hadith is narrated by Abu Hurrairah RA in Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawood, Tirmizi)

There must have been cases when a Companion of the Prophet SAWS, not residing in Medina, would have come to the metropolis for a short stay/vist, and when returning should have taken back with him some written notes of what he had heard from the Prophet SAWS, or even his instructions exclusively meant for him or his clan. Among the inhabitants of Madina, the common people, such as cultivators, labourers, craftsmen, etc., who had no special aptitude or taste for letters and intellectual avocations, should on some occassion or other have been so deeply impressed by some particular oration or phrase tha thtey must have mad a written note for future reference. Such cases may be said to have been accidental occassions of writing down the Hadith in the lifetime of the Prophet SAWS.

Deliberate Arrangements in the Prophet’s SAWS Time for the Compilation of Hadith

There are not lacking traditions to the effect that the Prophet SAWS prohibited his Companions from putting down in writing anything and everything that was heard from his lips except that which was the Quran. There are also sayings through which he has not only premitted, but even ordered his Companions to write down his sayings.

Such seemingly “contradictory” orders did not create any perplexity in the minds of his Companions, because they were fully aware of the context of every pronouncement. They did, however, cause a little confusion to some later traditionists, and each one compiled with the test of the saying which had come to his knowledge. Later, when all the relevant data, for and against, were collected, intelligent and discerning minds found no difficulty in gathering the real desire of the Prophet SAWS. For instance, it is worth bringing into relief that in his Sahih, the great specialist Bukhari includes a special “chapter on the writing down of the science (i.e., of the Prophet SAWS)”. This deals with the sanction accorded to the writing of Hadith. There is no chapter, however, issuing injunctions against or expressing strong disapproval of writing down of the Hadith. Below are some examples of Hadith Collections during the Prophet”s SAWS time:

An Ansarite:

Tirmizi relates that one day an Ansarite Companion came into the presence of the Prophet SAWS and complained of the weakness of his memory. He added that he felt enlightened and elevated on hearing what the Prophet SAWS spoke every day by way of exhortation or admonishment, but on account of his weak memory he failed to retain it all in his mind. The Prophet SAWS replied: “Be helped by thy right hand”, (i.e., take it down in writing). The source does not exactly mention who this Ansarite was. One may suppose that he must have profited by this permission.

Abdullah ibn Amr ibn Al Aas RA:

A similar instance is recorded of the Makkan Abdullah ibn Amr ibn Al Aas RA. He, with the knowledge and permission of the Prophet SAWS, used to note down his sayings, so that he might not forget them. People asked him not to do so. They said that the Prophet SAWS was after all a human being, subject to moods of pleasure and anger, and as such it would not be fitting to record indiscriminately anything and everything that was spoken by him. It was a sensible suggestionl Hence, Abdullah RA went to the Prophet SAWS and asked: “May I write down whatever I hear from you?” He replied: “Yes”. As an additional precaution, he asked: “On occasions, both of pleasure and anger?” The Prophet SAWS pointed to his mouth and said: “By Allah, whatever issues from this is certainly right and truth.” It is recorded from Abu Hurrairah RA who said:

“Amongst the Companions of the Prophet SAWS, there is none who recounts a greater number of Hadith than myself, except Abdullah ibn Amr RA, who used to write down (on the spot), but not me.”

Abdullah RA gave the name of Al Sahifa Al Sadiqah (which means the truthful record) to this compilation of his, collecting the sayings of the Prophet SAWS. It is said that Abdullah RA used to say: “I have remembered one thousand mathal from the Prophet SAWS”. He certainly meant narrations thereby, and not merely proverbs. Maybe the reference is to this same compilation. Anyhow, the Sahifah Sadiqah remained preserved in his family for a long time. His grandson Amr ibn Shuayb used to hold it in hand, read it out and dictate his lectures. To Ahmad Ibn Hanbal we owe all thanks, for he seems to have incorporated the whole of this work of Abdullah ibn Amr RA in his invaluable and voluminous Musnad, in the chapter “Abdullah ibn Amr ibn Al Aas” and thus attenuated the loss of the original. Ibn Hanbal and others (Darimi, Ibn Munzir, Ibn Abd al Hakam) have referred to this compilation of Abdullah ibn Amr RA and they gave other details as follows:

“It is narrated by Abu Qabil: One day we were with Abdullah ibn Amr RA; he was asked” Which town would be conquered first, Constantinople or Rome? Upon this, he sent for an old box, and taking out a book from it, looked into it and said: One day we were sitting in the presence of the Prophet SAWS and were writing down whatever he spoke. In the meantime he was asked: Which town would be first conquered, Constantinople or Rome? The Prophet SAWS replied: The town of the son of Heraclius will be conquered first – i.e. Constantinople.”

These details show that it was not simply Abdullah ibn Amr, but a whole group of the Companions of the Prophet SAWS who used to write down the sayings of the Prophet SAWS, and that, in his very presence.

Abu Rafi:

Abu Rafi was the freed slave of the Prophet SAWS, who was a coptic convert, also begged permission of the Prophet SAWS for noting down the Hadith, and was allowed to do so. His life is picturesque, but there are no details obtainable about his complilation of the sayings of the Prophet SAWS.

Compilation of Anas RA and its Correction by the Prophet SAWS:

By far the most important case is that of the Ansarite Anas ibn Malik RA. When the Prophet SAWS migrated to Madinah, Anas RA was but a boy of ten, nevertheless he had learnt how to read and write. His parents, out of the intensity of their devotion, ordered him to serve / help the Porphet SAWS. Anas RA stayed with him night and day, and only left the house ten years later when the Prophet SAWS died. Anas RA survived long until 91H/709CE. It can easily be understood that Anas RA had ample opportunities of noting the actions of the Prophet SAWS and hearing his words, while no other person could have had the same facilities. Al Darimi relates that Anas RA, in later life, always used to counsel his children:

“O my children, write down this learning (i.e. Hadith)”.

Al Darimi also reports an occasion on which the narrator says:

“I saw Aban one day sitting with Anas RA and writing Hadith” It is but natural that the descendants of Anas RA and his students must have engaged themselves in writing Hadith, when they must have been witnessing Anas RA more than anyone else in compiling Ahadith. A whole group of Hadith scholars have related (some on the authority of Said ibn Hilal, others on that of Hubayrah ibn Abd Al Rahman) the following facts:

When we used to press much (push), and in another version when we were numberous, Anas RA would take out note books, and say: “These are the traditions which I heard from the Prophet SAWS and submitted for his perusal”.

It may be noted here that Anas RA was not only in the habit of taking down in writing whatever he saw or heard from the Prophet SAWS, but even used to submit his notes to the Prophet SAWS for scrutiny and necessary corrections.

These are only some instances to show how during the time of the Prophet SAWS himself the Hadith was being compiled. After the death of the Prophet SAWS, the task of putting down in writing the Hadith was multiplied by the Companions to an ever increasing degree for a variety of reasons. A few names are mentioned hereunder for reference, as it is not in the scope of this article to cover all facts:

  • Jabir ibn Abdullah RA wrote a book on Hajj, collecting all Ahadith from the Final Pilgrimage of the Prophet SAWS.
  • The Mother of the Faithful Aishah RA, her nephew Urwah ibn Al Zubayr RA and other companions of the Prophet SAWS used to consult with her & write down from her.
  • Caliph Abu Bakr RA, which had 500 narrations, he later burnt it out of fear of taking the responsibility of transmitting anything wrong. Allah knows best.
  • Caliph Umar RA, he made official arrangements to compile Hadith, but eventually did not do it.
  • Rolls of Caliph Ali RA, written documents were always with Ali RA along with his sword.
  • Abdullah ibn Abi Awfa”s teaching of Hadith by correspondence.
  • Compilation of Samurah ibn Jundab RA.
  • Compilation of Saad ibn Ubadah RA.
  • Abdullah ibn Umar RA dictated Hadith to his freed salve / student Nafi. Imam Malik (who wrote Muwatta) was a student of Nafi.
  • Abdullah ibn Abbas RA, is very famous for his literary works.
  • Hadith correspondence by Al Mughirah ibn Shubah RA.
  • Hadith correspondence by Abu Bakrah RA.
  • Compilation of Abdullah ibn Masud RA.
  • Works of the Great Traditionalist Abu Hurrairah RA, needs no introduction, as the highest number of hadith are reported through him.

Brothers and Sisters, Ahadith from certain earlier sources were checked against Ahadith from later sources and found the text to be same, if this was a propoganda created by hadith collectors these hadith texts would have differed to a great degree due to the fact that there were no means of communications as we have today, internet, emails, websites, whatsapp and others tools.

Complied and Edited by Quranic Resources Administrator.

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