Subscribe via email

Enter your email To BE a member:



Wednesday, 21 April 2010

A Historical View of the Hadeeth Collections

A Historical View of the Hadith Collections

The traditions (Hadiths) are held to be authentic and acceptable by Muslims if they are found to be in accordance with the laws and regulations that we shall soon discuss.

The following is a standing commandment of the Holy Prophet:

Be careful in reporting a hadith from me unless you have learnt (from me) abstain from reporting other things. Anyone reporting a falsehood in my name knowingly shall have his abode in fire

The above tradition is mutawatir (having a large number of reporters in every period right from the time of the Holy Prophet) having been reported by not less than sixty-two Companions of the Holy Prophet. The above warning coming from the Holy Prophet was enough for the companions to be extremely careful in reporting traditions from the Holy Prophet.

History has recorded unique examples of the extreme scrupulousness of the Muslims and their being highly prudent in maintaining the highest standard of accuracy in reporting the traditions, something that is certainly not present in case of Christian tradition. For certain positive reasons the Companions of the Holy Prophet did not collect the traditions in the form of books. One of the reasons was that the revelation of the Holy Qu’ran was in progress and being written down by the Companions. To avoid any possible mixing of the Qur’anic text with the tradition they did not collect the traditions in book form.9[9]

However, they were collected later by the disciples of the Companions like Imam Zuhri, Rabi‘ ibn Sabih and Sa’id etc. Still they did not arrange their collections according to the standard arrangement of the jurisprudents. Later, all the subsequent scholars adopted a standard arrangement in their great works. In Madina, the great Imam Malik compiled his collection known as Muwatta’. Imam Malik was born in 95 AH. In Makka a collection was compiled by Abu Muhammad ‘Abdul-Malik ibn ‘Abdul-‘Aziz Ibn Jurayj. In Kufa, Sufyan ath-Thawri compiled his work while in Basra, Hammad ibn Salma also compiled his collection.

Then Bukhari and Muslim made their collections for their books, including only sahih hadiths of the Prophet and did not allow any tradition that was not qualified as sahih. Muslim hadith scholars invested great labour and took great pains in maintaining the accuracy of the prophetic traditions. A new branch of knowledge was initiated known as Asma’ ur-Rijal, that is the biographies of each and every reporter of hadith right from the Companion to the present time. It helped them know everything about a particular reporter in the chain of reporters of any single tradition. All the collections known as Sihah (the books containing only sahih hadiths) were so compiled by their authors that each and every statement is prefixed with complete chain of reporters starting from the author to the Holy Prophet himself. There are some hadiths reported by Bukhari that have only three names between him and the Holy Prophet.

Three Kinds of Hadith

The sahih hadiths are further divided into three kinds

(1) Mutawatir:

A mutawatir hadith is a hadith that is reported by such a large number of people at every stage of transmission so that their agreement on a false statement is denied by human reason. Examples of these are the hadith describing the number of rak’ats (genuflexion) in salat or specifying the amount to be paid in zakat.

(2) Mash-hur:

This kind of tradition is the one that was reported by a single Companion of the Holy Prophet but at later stages, that is, in the time of the followers of the Companions or in the time of their disciples, it became famous and was generally accepted by the Ummah. Now from this stage onward it was reported by a large number of people, so attaining the status of mutawatir. For example, the injunction describing the punishment of fomication through stoning to death.

(3) Khabar al-wahid:

This kind of hadith is the one that is reported by a single reporter to an individual or to a group of people, or a group of people reported it to an individual.

Now the knowledge imparted through a mutawatir hadith is always undeniable and certain. Denial of this kind of hadith constitutes unbelief. The mashhur hadith satisfies all the doubts and creates satisfaction. Anyone denying this kind of hadith is not an unbeliever but a heretic and a sinner.

Khabar al-wahid does not impart knowledge as certain as in the above two examples. Though it cannot be a source of beliefs and basic doctrines it is acceptable in practical injunctions. If it happens to run counter to a stronger source, effort must be made to reconcile the two. If this effort fails then this kind of hadith should be abandoned.

Distinction between Qur’an and Hadith

There are three kinds of distinctions between the Holy Qur’an and hadith:

Firstly, the whole of the Qur’anic text is a mutawatir report. It has been reported verbatim and exactly as it was revealed to the Holy Prophet, without the alteration of a single word or replacing any word by a synonym. Whereas the sahih hadith was allowed to be reported by an expert and qualified reporter in his own words. 10[10]

Secondly, since the whole of the Qur’anic text is mutawatir, the denial of a single sentence of the Qur’an is an act of infidelity while the denial of hadith, mutawatir excepted, is not an act of infidelity.11[11]

Thirdly, there are many injunctions that are directly related to the words of the Qur’anic text, like salat or the miraculous nature of the Qur’anic words, whereas the words of the hadith are not directly related to any injunctions they might contain.

In view of the above, it should be sufficiently clear that it is in no way against logic or human reason to rely upon the traditions, specially when they are reported through a constant chain of reliable reporter.

9[9]In spite of the above reservations there were many collections of traditions written down by the Companions of the Holy Prophet. According to Abu Dawud, the companion ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr ibn ‘As wrote down traditions with the permission of the Holy Prophet himself (Jam’ al-Fawa’id vol 1, page 26). It is stated that this collection was named As-Sahiha Al-Sadiqa. A collection of traditions compiled by Humam Ibn Munabbih has been recently discovered which was dictated to him by the Companion Abu Hurayra which proves that the traditions were written down in the time of the Companions. For more details see Tadveen-e-Hadith by Sheikh Munazir Ahsan Geelani. (Taqi).

10[10]This implies that the actual words spoken by the Holy Prophet are not reported, but the message is transmitted faithfully in the reporter’s own words.

11[11]It may be noted that the denial of mashhur and khabar al-wahid is not an act of infidelity, but any one denying the hadith altogether as a source of knowledge is declared an infidel by all the schools of thought. In the same way a Christian is not excommunicated for claiming that a particular verse of the Bible is a later addition, but he will be declared infidel if he disbelieves the Bible as a whole. (Taqi).