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Monday, February 25, 2008

Proofs of its Preservation (Hadith)

Proofs that Allah preserved the sunnah are both textual and logical. The textual argument is based on the following verse “Of a surety, We certainly reveal the reminder, and We certainly are its definite guardians” (15:9). It can’t be stated that the word “reminder” in this verse is only referring to the Quran. It is either referring to the Quran and hadith or only the hadith. It is not possible that it is referring to only the Quran. This is true because it is inconceivable that only the wording of the Quran would be preserved. Preserving the Quran must imply both preserving both its wording and meaning. The meaning of the Quran is captured in the hadith of the Prophet peace be upon him, that is, its meaning cannot be had without the hadith of the Prophet peace be upon him.

The logical argument runs as follows: According to Islamic belief, the Quran is Allah’s final revelation and the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him is Allah’s final messenger. Allah orders Muslims to follow the sunnah of the Prophet peace be upon him. If Allah did not preserve the sunnah, the true sunnah would have been lost and Allah would be ordering Muslims to follow something that they could not possibly follow. This would not be consistent with what is known of the mercy, wisdom, and justice of Allah. Therefore, logically speaking, Allah must have preserved the hadith. These arguments do not mean that Allah did not use some earthly means to preserve the Quran and the hadith. Allah, through humans, used many means by which He preserved the sunnah. Some of these aspects are unique to the Muslim nation. This is a great blessing and bounty from Allah for which every Muslim should be sincerely grateful to Allah and to those individuals who sacrificed their time and wealth in order to preserve the teachings of the Prophet peace be upon him.

The Prophet peace be upon him and His Position According to the Quran

a) Expounder of the Quran: The Prophet peace be upon him is the expounder of the Quran appointed by Allah. Allah mentions this in the Quran “We have revealed unto you the Remembrance that you may explain to mankind that which has been revealed for them” ( 16: 44 ). For example the Quran tells us to pray, but the details for the method of praying are not prescribed in the Quran. It was the Prophet’s task to demonstrate the forms of prayer.
b) Legislator: Allah says about the Prophet peace be upon him in Chapter 7 verse 157 “He will make lawful for them all good things and prohibit for them only the foul…”
c) Model behavior for the Muslim Society: Allah says in chapter 33 verse 21 “Indeed a noble model you have in Allah’s Messenger...” If we consider the Prophet peace be upon him as the model for the community, then Muslims have to follow his example in every way. Allah did not leave this open to debate and ordered complete obedience to the Prophet peace be upon him. For this reason the Muslim community accepted the authority of the Prophet peace be upon him from the very day his mission began.

Teaching of Ahadith by the Prophet peace be upon him

The methods used by the prophet peace be upon him to teach his sunnah or ahadith can be put in three categories:
1) Teaching of the sunnah in verbal form: the Prophet peace be upon him was the teacher of his sunnah, he would often times repeat important statements three times to make it easier for his companions to understand and memorize. New comers were often times to be accommodated by Medinites (people of Medina ), not only for accommodations, but also for education in the Quran and Hadith.
2) Teaching the sunnah in writing; All letters sent by the Prophet peace be upon him to kings, chieftains, and Muslim governors can be included in his sunnah. Some of those letters were very lengthy and contained legal matters concerning zakah, taxation, forms of worship etc. The Prophet peace be upon him had at least 45 scribes who wrote for him at one time or another.
3) Teaching of the sunnah by practical demonstration: The Prophet peace be upon him taught the method of ablution, prayer, hajj etc all by practical demonstration. He gave practical lessons in excellence with clear instructions to follow his practice. He further said “Learn from the rituals of hajj” Many times he would tell questioners to stay with him and learn by observing his practice.

Measures taken by the Prophet peace be upon him for the Diffusion of Sunnah

1) Establishment of schools: The Prophet peace be upon him established a school in Mecca soon after he became a Prophet. Schools were also established by the Prophet peace be upon him in Medina soon after his arrival. His general policy was to send teachers to areas outside of Medina .
2) His Directions about Diffusion of Knowledge: The Prophet peace be upon him said “Pass on knowledge from me even if it is only one verse” He also said something similar during his farewell pilgrimage “Those who are present should convey the message to those who are absent” It was a common practice of the companions to tell absentees about the Prophets deeds and sayings.
3) Creation of incentive for teachers and students: The Prophet peace be upon him mentioned great rewards for teachers and students.
a) Reward for students: The Prophet peace be upon him said: “If anyone pursues a path in search of knowledge Allah will thereby make easy for him a path to paradise, and the angels spread their wings from good pleasure with one who seeks knowledge, and all the inhabitants of the heavens and the earth, even the fish in the depths of the water ask forgiveness for him”
b) Rewards for teachers: In this regard the Prophet peace be upon him mentioned that after death all deeds come to and end except three, one of them being knowledge that people still reap benefit from.

How the Sunnah was Received by the Companions

People always try to watch and remember the sayings and deeds of their loved ones. In regards to Mohammad peace be upon him, we can say for sure that he was the most beloved person on earth in his community. Some companions like Zayd said they would rather die, than have the Prophet peace be upon him even pricked with a thorn. Abu Sufyan a one time enemy of Islam said “I have never seen a man who was so loved by his companions as Mohammad was”. Thus the Prophet peace be upon him was the most beloved in his community. The community’s involvement in worldly pursuits was minimal and this made the opportunity for learning greater. The Arabs were known to have had excellent memories and used remember many verses of their tribal poets by heart.

Companions Learning of Ahadith

The Companions used three methods of learning

a) Learning by memorizing: They used to listen to every word of the prophet peace be upon him with utmost care. If he went away for any reason they would recollect what they had learned. Anas ibn Malik, the servant of the Prophet peace be upon him said “We sat with the Prophet peace be upon him, maybe sixty persons in number and the Prophet peace be upon him taught them ahadith. Later on when he went out for any necessity, we used to memorize it among us, when we departed it was as if cultivated in our hearts” Those who were absent also used learn from those who were present. Some of them even came to agreement among themselves to attend the gatherings of the Prophet peace be upon him in shifts, as we find in the case of Umar.
b) Learning ahadith through writing: The companions learned the ahadith by recording it in writing as well. There were a good number of companions who recorded the ahadith of the Prophet peace be upon him.
c) Learning ahadith by practice: The companions put into practice everything they learned by writing or memory. Knowledge in Islam is for practice and not just for the sake of knowledge. This is why it took Umar eight years to memorize the second chapter of the Quran
This is a sketch of how the ahadith of the Prophet peace be upon him was learned by the companions. After his death the method was almost the same except that he was no longer among them.

Recollection of ahadith in the Period of the Companions

Recollection of ahadith was carried in the time of the companions as it was during the life of the Prophet peace be upon him. Abu Huraira used to divide his night into three portions; one third for sleep, one third for prayer, and one third for the recollection of ahadith. Umar and Abu Musa al Ashari used to memorize ahadith through the night until the morning. They companions used to memorize in groups and individually.
Recording of Hadith in the life of the Prophet peace be upon him and the Companions

Certain companions wrote down ahadith in the life of the Prophet peace be upon him and in some cases he dictated it to them. There numbers are smaller than that of the later scholars. Not all companions narrated the same number of ahadith. Some had transmitted more than a thousand while others transmitted only one or two. Abu Hurairah transmitted the most ahadith and it was reported that he had books in his possession and at least nine of his students wrote ahadith from him. Others who transmitted large number of ahadith and had others collect them in written form are: Anas ibn Mailk, Aisha bint Abu Bakr, Ibn Abbas, Abdullah ibn Amr, Umar ibn al Khattab, Ali ibn Abi Talib, Abu Musa al Ashari and others.

Some Misunderstanding about Recording of Ahadith

The Hadith Against Writing Down the Ahadith: There is only one authentic hadith about this matter which says “Do not write down from me anything except the Quran and whoever has written anything from me other than the Quran should erase it.” According to Bukhari and others it is the statement of the narrator Abu Said himself and it is erroneously attributed to the Prophet peace be upon him. Others say it means that nothing should be written on the same sheet as the Quran so the two don’t get mixed up. It should be remembered that this command was given in the early days of Islam and the Prophet peace be upon him wanted all attention to be paid to the Quran and its preservation, and later on there was no danger of neglecting the Quran, thus the previous order was abrogated and writing ahadith was permitted. The Prophet peace be upon him himself sent hundreds of letters containing formulae for forms and rituals of worship.

Chain System

Every Hadith consists of two parts; the first portion is the chain of narrators while the second protion is the actual statement of the Prophet peace be upon him. The chain system was used to some extent in transmitting pre-Islamic poetry, but it was in the hadith literature that its importance culminated. It was also in hadith literature when the system was used to its full and in some cases to extravagant limits. Since hadith was the store where we get the sunnah it was natural to deal with the isnad with utmost care. Thus with the introduction of the chains, a unique science came into existence for the evaluation of chain and text of ahadith. At the end of the first century the science of the chain system was fully developed.

The Proliferation of Chains

It is a common phenomenon of the chain system that as we go further in time the number of transmitters increases. Sometimes a hadith transmitted by one companion acquires ten students in the next generation, in the class of successors, and these ten students have in some cases twenty or thirty students from different countries. For example Abu Huraira reported that the Prophet peace be upon him said when anyone amongst you wakes up from sleep, he must not put his hand in a utensil until he washed it three times, for he doesn’t know where his hand was during sleep. At least thirteen students of Abu Huraira transmitted this hadith from him. 8 out of 13 were from Medina , 1 from Kufah, 2 from Basrah, 1 from Yemen , 1 from Syria . There are sixteen scholars who transmitted this hadith from the students of Abu Huraira. 6 out of the 16 were from Medina, 4 from Basrah, 2 from Kufah, 1 from Makkah, 1 from Yemen , 1 from Khurasan, 1 from Syria .
Further down the chain the number of narrators increase and localities spread even further into different provinces. The flourishing of chains and diffusion of ahadith in this way made it easy to check the faults of scholars or any forgery that was committed. This proves the early existence of the chain system and shows how impossible it would have been to fabricate chains of transmission on this large a scale. The scholars used rigorous methods to examine chains of transmission, eliminating all ahadith passed by unreliable sources. Given centuries of this kind of activity we are logically justified in accepting the whole chain system and methodology of hadith scholars as accurate and valid.

Forgery and Errors in Transmitting Ahadith

The Prophet peace be upon him said “If anyone tells a lie about me intentionally, let him be sure of his place in hell fire.” This hadith and others had a tremendous effect on the companions and most of them refrained from imparting hadith in case of doubtful memory. Early scholars played their roles with due caution in transmitting or copying ahadith. As is known to all scholars, even the most sincere person may commit a mistake. Since the sunnah is an everlasting example for the Muslim community, the community couldn’t afford to let ahadith be polluted or diluted in any way. Therefore it was necessary to use criticism with full force.

Beginning of Criticism

Criticism of hadith began during the life of the Prophet peace be upon him. At that time it meant nothing more than going to the prophet peace be upon him and verifying something he was reported to have said. With the death of the Prophet peace be upon him it was the duty of the Muslim individuals, community, and state to be very careful in ascribing statements to the Prophet peace be upon him, and they had to scrutinize them carefully. The first Caliph Abu Bakr was a pioneer in the field, next came Umar and Ali. To err is human and with the spread of hadith in different regions of the Islamic world, the possibility of mistakes arose. Consequently the necessity for criticism became apparent.

During the time of trials of the assassination of Uthman the first fabrication of hadith began. During this stage the general trend of learning ahadith became stricter and schools of criticism began to appear. There were two prominent schools of that time, the school of Medina and the school of Iraq . The scholars of both schools belonged to the first century of Hijra and after this period of criticism of hadith entered a new phase. From the second century to a few centuries later it was a general requirement for the student of hadith to make extensive journeys in search of knowledge of hadith. Since the early scholars mostly learned from scholars in their area their criticism was confined to the same locality. When people began learning ahadith from hundreds of scholars their criticisms were not confined to one locality.

Methodology of Criticism

As far as it concerns the criticism of the text there were several methods that can all be brought under the broad heading of comparison. This method was by gathering all the related material and comparing them carefully with each other. Ayyub al Sakhtiyani said “If you wish to know the mistakes of your teacher, then you ought to sit down with others as well.” This method was practiced in many ways; the following are some of them:

1) Comparison between the hadith of different students of one scholar: By this method one discovered the mistakes of almost every student and was able to differentiate between the mistakes made by the teacher and the mistakes made by the students. This also gave one the ability to grade the different students and determine their accuracy.
2) Comparison between the statements of a single scholar at different times: Once Aisha told her nephew Urwah to go to Abdullah ibn Amr and ask him about the hadith of the Prophet peace be upon him. Abdullah mentioned a hadith that states that knowledge will be taken away from the earth. Aisha was discontented and sent Urwah a year later and when he returned to Aisha he told her Abdullah narrated the same hadith and didn’t add or subtract anything to it upon which she said he must be correct.
3) Comparison between oral recitation and written documents: In case two scholars have a difference about a hadith the one written in the texts will be accepted because books are more accurate in the eyes of scholars.
4) Comparison between hadith with related verses of the Quran: we find this method was used by Umar in rejecting the hadith of Fatima bint Qais concerning maintenance money for divorced women. This method was also applied by Aisha in several cases.

Grading of Scholars and its impact on Grading of Ahadith

Scholars of hadith didn’t consider it sufficient for the transmitter to have high literary achievements, no matter how accurate the scholar might be, besides this he must be righteous in conduct. Ibn Mubarak a second century scholar put personal character in this way: a person must pray in congregation, must be known for not telling lies, doesn’t commit major sins, and doesn’t suffer from mental disqualification. A man may be a great scholar, but if his morals are doubtful a hadith narrated by him is not acceptable. In the opinion of hadith scholars, all scholars with the exception of the companions, whose character is testified by Allah and His Prophet, need this testimony of character if their word is to be accepted.

It’s obvious that in most cases one must depend on contemporary authorities to find out the persons personal character which can sometimes be influenced by enmity or favor. Therefore the scholars of hadith laid down certain rules. When both moral character and high literary accuracy are combined in a person he was called trustworthy. If a scholar was charged with indecency in his character, material transmitted by him was not accepted no matter how big a scholar he might have been.

For example a man who committed many mistakes in transmitting the hadith was called weak. If he narrated a hadith alone and no other scholar could verify his narration, then the hadith can’t be accepted, for it is suspected of having a mistake in its transmission. However if another scholar though himself a weak narrator in his literary achievement, transmitted a hadith which agrees in the meaning and the sense of the early hadith then it would be accepted, though it would be placed in a very low grade, just like a student passing with a ‘D’ grade.

Authenticity of Hadith

To be a source or authority of Islamic law, a hadith must be from the categories of sahih (authentic) or hasan (good). In order for a hadith to be authentic or good it must meet the following criteria:
1) The chain of narration must be unbroken. In other words, each source must have received the hadith directly from the one whose authority he is relating it all the way back to the Prophet peace be upon him. If there is any missing authority, the chain would be considered broken and unacceptable.
2) Every narrator in the chain must be of acceptable righteousness and character; in other words, each narrator must be morally fit. Impious people are not accepted, for their impiety is a sign that they don’t fear Allah and, hence, they can’t be trusted to take extreme care in narrating the statements of the Prophet peace be upon him. If just one narrator in the chain does not meet these criteria the hadith will have to be rejected.
3) Moral characteristics are not sufficient. Each narrator must be proficient and exact when it comes to narrating hadith. If a person is known to make lots of mistakes when narrating hadith either from his memory or from his writing, his hadith will not be acceptable.
4) Both the chain and the text of the hadith must be such that they don’t contradict what has been narrated through stronger means.
5) Upon inspection of the different ways a hadith is narrated, it must be the case that no mistake or defect is spotted in either the chain or the text of the hadith
If any of these conditions are not met, the hadith will be rejected as weak or very weak depending on the magnitude of the weakness. Hadith which are graded weak or very weak are not considered authorities in Islamic law.

Review of the Different Definitions of the Word “Sunnah”

Jurists (Faqeeh)
Main concern of the discipline—the value of deeds or actions, whether they be obligatory, recommended and so forth.

Definition of Sunnah—an act which is between obligatory and permissible; a recommended act; an act for which one is rewarded for performing and not punished for not performing, or anything which is juxtaposed to a innovation in the religion (innovation).

Comments—this definition is irrelevant to the discussion of the authority of the sunnah.

Example(s)—two rakahs (units of prayer) before fajr prayer.

Scholars of hadith (muhadithun)
Main concern of the discipline—any report concerning any aspect of the Prophets life; goal is to judge which of those reports are authentic and which are not.

Definition of Sunnah—what has been passed down from the Prophet peace be upon him of his statements, actions, tactical approvals, manners, physical characteristics or biography, regardless whether it was before he was sent as a Prophet or after wards.

Comments—this definition is too broad and includes some matters that do not fit into the concept of the authority of the sunnah.
Example(s)— a) statements- “Indeed all actions are driven by their intentions.
b) Actions- When he prayed two rakah fajr he would lie down on his right side.
c) Tactical approval- He used to see the companions praying two rakahs before Maghrib (sunset prayer) and he would neither order them to do it or forbid them.
d) Manners- He was very bashful, if he saw something he didn’t like the companions can tell from the expression on his face.
e) Physical appearance- He had approximately twenty gray hairs and also had a full beard.
f) Biography- he married Khadija when he was twenty five years old.

Legal theorists (Usooli)
Main concern of the discipline—determination of what is an authority in Islamic law and how that authority is used to derive laws.

Definition of Sunnah—what comes from the Prophet peace be upon him in the form of speech, action or tactic approval, other than the Quran itself.
Comments—This is the exact meaning of the word sunnah in the expression “the authority of the sunnah”
Examples--The Prophet peace be upon him established many laws that are compulsory to follow and at the same time it told us to do things that aren't. The same applies to the Quran. I will give you two examples:
1) The Quran says surah al Jumah verse 10 "And when the prayer is ended, then disperse in the land and seek of Allah's bounty, and remember Allah much, that ye may be successful.” This verse is telling us that after you pray the Jumah go out and work, is it compulsory to do that? No, of course not, but Allah is encouraging us to do so. According to the definition of legal theorists this command in the Quran is a “sunnah” and many commands found in the hadith of the Prophet peace be upon him are compulsory to follow.
The verse before it tells us "O ye who believe! When the call is proclaimed to prayer on Friday (the Day of Assembly), hasten earnestly to the Remembrance of Allah, and leave off business (and traffic): That is best for you if ye but knew!” Now this is compulsory for every Muslims male to attend the Jumah prayer.
2) The Prophet peace be upon him told us not to wear gold, silk, or eat the meat of a donkey. None of this is mentioned in the Quran. Yet all Muslims agree that they are strictly forbidden.
The Prophet peace be upon him encouraged us to wear musk, wear white etc, however this is not obligatory.

Specialist in Aqeeda (Creed)
Main concern of the discipline—What a Muslim is supposed to believe and related matters.
Definition of Sunnah—the foundations of the faith, the obligatory deeds, the matters of creed and the definitive rulings of Islam.
Comments—too restricted a definition, leaves out many facets that are necessary to be part of the definition.
Examples—the Prophet peace be upon him said “Whoever turns away from my Sunnah is not from me” meaning that one must follow the way of the Prophet peace be upon him with respect to his actions and beliefs.


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