The Preservation of Hadith Over the Generations

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

A Brief Overview of the History of Ḥadīth Literature from the Age of the Companions until the Present Day[1]

Sunday Dec. 5th 2004

The Scholars of the Ummah, from the time of the Companions until the present day, have taken great care to preserve and convey the Sunnah of Allāh’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم). In every age, as new challenges appeared, sincere scholars arose who met those challenges. It is not possible to do justice to this broad topic in a short amount of time and this is by no means to be taken as a thorough discussion of the topic, but rather, it should be regarded merely as what it is: a brief overview.

The Great Effort of the Companions (رضوان الله عليهم) to Learn the Sunnah

The Companions used to give great concern to sitting with the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) to hear his ḥadīths and learning from him as much as possible. Of course, while some of them were independently wealthy and were able to devote themselves entirely to learning from the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم), others had to work in order to meet their needs. However, they would not let this prevent them from learning from Allāh’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم). For this reason we find, for example, that ‘Umar made an arrangement with an Anṣarī neighbor of his. Each of them would take turns sitting with the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) on alternating days, and then he would return and relate to the other all that he had missed that day as has been mentioned in a long ḥadīth in Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī. Still, other Companions were young and unmarried, having few worldly obligations, allowing them to devote their time to learning from the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم); at the head of them was Abū Hurayrah.

Writing of Ḥadīth During the Lifetime of Allāh’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم)

Muslim reports in his Ṣaḥīḥ through the route of Hammām from Zayd ibn Aslam from Aṭā’ ibn Yasār: from Abū Sa’īd al-Khudrī that Allāh’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said, “Do not write from me, and whoever has written from me other than the Qur’an, then let him erase it.”

Although this ḥadīth is in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, it is one of the few ḥadīths of Ṣaḥiḥ Muslim which was criticized by some of the scholars of ḥadīth. While it has come from this particular route from Abū Sa’īd from the statement of Allāh’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم), Abū Naḍrah and Abū al-Mutawakkil have narrated it from Abū Sa’īd in mawqūf form from the words of Abū Sa’īd himself. Al-Bukhārī[2] and Abū Dawūd[3] both chose the opinion that this is the correct version of this ḥadīth. Al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī mentioned this opinion without making a decisive conclusion as to which is correct.[4] The opinion chosen by al-Bukhārī and Abū Dawūd seems to be correct, and Allāh knows best.

However, even if this ḥadīth is authentic, then it should be regarded as abrogated. A number of scholars have stated that the wisdom behind this prohibition was so that the Qur’ān would not get confused with other than it when the revelation was still new and the Companions were still new to Islam. However, later, when that was no longer feared, the prohibition was lifted.

This is based on a number of authentic ḥadīths that show the permission of writing.

Al-Bukhārī and Abū Dāwūd report that on the day of the Conquest of Makkah, the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) delivered a sermon. A man from Yemen called Abū Shāh asked the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) to have that sermon written for him so the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) ordered that a copy of that sermon be written for Abū Shāh.

Abū Dawud also reports with a ṣaḥiḥ isnād that ‘Abdullāh ibn ‘Amr ibn al-‘Āṣ used to write down everything he would hear from the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) that he desired to preserve or to memorize, so some of the Companions prohibited him saying, “He is a human being, he speaks when he is pleased and when he is angry.” Consequently, ‘Abdullāh ibn ‘Amr refrained from writing until he mentioned this to Allāh’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم). Allāh’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) pointed to his mouth and said, “Write, for by the one in whose hand is my soul, nothing comes forth from it except for the truth.”

It is for this reason that Abū Hurayrah said, “There is no one from the Companions of Allāh’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) with more ḥadīths from Allāh’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) than me, except for ‘Abdullāh ibn ‘Amr, for he used to write, and I did not write.” [Al-Bukhārī and Abū Dāwūd]

This statement may seem problematic as there is no doubt that many more ḥadīths have been recorded in the books of ḥadīth from Abū Hurayrah than from ‘Abdullāh ibn ‘Amr. However, this is due to a number of causes. Abū Hurayrah devoted himself to teaching, giving fatāwā, and narrating ḥadīth, while ‘Abdullāh ibn ‘Amr used to perform a great deal of worship by day and night – prayer, recitation of Qur’an, and fasting – which would have occupied most of his time. Furthermore, Abū Hurayrah lived in al-Madinah while ‘Abdullāh ibn ‘Amr accompanied the armies that conquered Syria and Egypt and eventually took Egypt as his place of residence. In that time period, many of the Tābi’īn would travel to Madinah to hear ḥadīths while that was not necessarily the case with other cities. In fact, according to al-Bukhārī, in at-Tārīkh al-Kabīr, over 800 of the Tabi’īn heard ḥadīths from Abū Hurayrah, and there was no one else from the Companions who had anywhere near that number of students.

The Concern of the Companions for Conveying the Ḥadīths

A number of Companions who were young in the lifetime of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) devoted themselves to attaining knowledge and then passed it on to the following generations.

There can be no doubt that this is a result of the tarbiyyah that they received from Allāh’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم), the greatest of teachers and guides. “And the best guidance is the guidance of Muḥammad.”

One of the many statements of Allāh’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) encouraging attainment of knowledge is the ḥadīth “Whoever takes a path seeking knowledge, Allāh makes easy for him a path to Paradise.” [Muslim]

He (صلى الله عليه وسلم) did not just encourage them to learn the Sunnah, but to pass it on as well, as he said, “May Allāh brighten the face of the person who hears what I say and retains it, then convey it to others.” [Aḥmad, Abū Dawud, ibn Mājah, and at-Tirmidhī who said, “Ḥasan Ṣaḥīḥ.”]

He also warned against lying upon him, saying “Whoever lies against me intentionally, then let him take his seat in the Hell-Fire.” [Al-Bukhāri, Muslim, and many others]

This ḥadīth has been narrated from the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) by over fifty Companions, which is an indication of the great effect that this severe warning had on this great generation as there are few ḥadīths that were narrated by as many Companions as this ḥadīth.

As a result, after Allāh’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) died, the Companions used to take great caution in narrating ḥadīths. When ‘Umar was the Khalīfah, he would threaten those who who narrated ḥadīths that he did not recognize to bring a witness for their ḥadīth, otherwise he would have them beaten. This was not because he doubted their trustworthiness, but it was to exercise great caution to verify every aspect of the Sunnah so that it would be protected from error entering into it.

Some narrators who lived long after the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) and were able to narrate many ḥadīths are Abū Hurayrah, ‘Abdullāh ibn ‘Umar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb, Anas ibn Mālik, and ‘Ā’ishah bint Abī Bakr, may Allāh be pleased with all of them.

There were others among the wives of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) who narrated ḥadīths from him such as Umm Salamah, but ‘Ā’isha, may Allāh be pleased with her, narrated the most out of any of the female Companions. This is perhaps part of the wisdom in making ‘Ā’ishah the wife of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم). She was shown to him as his wife in a dream, and so it was that Allāh showed him that he should marry her. He married her when she was six years old and she came to his house at the age of nine – and we know that memory is best at young age and can retain better. She was exceptionally bright and lived for over 40 years after the death of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) and she had many students. Being in the house of Allāh’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم), she saw what others did not see and heard that which others did not hear, and thus, she was able to preserve and convey very important aspects of the Sunnah. This is a sufficient sign that Allāh is the one ensuring the preservation of the Sunnah as it was by His Revelation to Allāh’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) that ‘Ā’ishah was in a position to play this essential role in the preservation of our religion.

Some other Companions who narrate a great number of ḥadīths are ibn ‘Abbās, Jarīr ibn ‘Abdillāh, and Abū Sa’id al-Khudri. Keep in mind, this is not intended as a comprehensive list.

Then, in the generation of the Tābi’īn, a number of important developments were made. The writing of ḥadīth increased, and whoever desires to know more concerning this should refer to Shaykh Aẓami’s book, Studies in Early Ḥadīth Literature, which he wrote as his doctoral thesis.

The Beginnings of Criticism of the Narrators (Al-Jarḥ Wat-Ta’dīl)

In the time of the Companions, there was no question of the trustworthiness and precision of the narrators of ḥadīths as the Companions heard directly from the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) and then took great caution in conveying what they heard. However, in the time of the Tabi’īn, the issue of narrators making errors or not being trustworthy began to appear for the first time.

So it was that the scholars of ḥadīth developed what has come to be known as the science of al-Jarḥ wat-Ta’dīl. This is the science of examining the narrations of different narrators to make a determination about their reliability. This science developed gradually and expanded as the need grew.

Perhaps the first scholar to truly devote himself to this – that is, critique of the narrators – was a scholar from the senior Atbā’ at-Tābi’īn, Shu’bah ibn al-Ḥajjāj (died in 160 H). Amongst his students who took this knowledge from him were ‘Abdur-Raḥmān ibn Mahdī (135-198 H) and Yaḥyā ibn Sa’īd al-Qaṭṭān (120-198 H).

Then this knowledge passed to their students from the generation after the Atbā’ at-Tābi’īn, at the head of them: Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal (164-241 H), Yaḥyā ibn Ma’īn (158-233 H), and ‘Alī ibn al-Madīnī (161-235 H). Then their students took it from them.

The students of these scholars would write their statements about narrators and gather them together, however, there were no scholars who authored books on this subject until the coming of Imām Muḥammad ibn Isma’īl al-Bukhārī (194-256 H). He was a student of ‘Alī ibn al-Madīnī. He wrote his tremendous book, at-Tārīkh al-Kabīr. Had he not written any other work, this one would have been sufficient to secure his position as an Imām in the field of ḥadīth, and he was just twenty years old when he wrote it! All the works written in this field after it are dependant upon it. After him, the scholars followed this sunnah hasanah, devoting many books to the biography and critique of the narrators of ḥadīth, and all of them were dependant in great part on the work of al-Bukhari.

Travelling to Gather Ḥadīth

It has already been mentioned that many of the scholars from the Tābi’īn travelled to Madīnah to hear ḥadīth. In fact, this practice started with the Companions themselves. Some of them would travel to other cities to meet other Companions just for the purpose of confirming ḥadīths they had heard from Allāh’s Messenger. However, it was in the time of the Atbā’ at-Tābi’īn that the scholars started to do a great deal of traveling for the purpose of seeking ḥadīth. Perhaps the most important of the scholars who set this example was Ma’mar ibn Rāshid al-Azdī (96-154 H). Imām Aḥmad said concerning him that he sought knowledge more than anyone else in his time and he also said concerning him that he was the first one to journey – meaning: he was the first to travel to many lands and spend years in travel through various lands to hear ḥadīths.[5]

The reason for this travelling to different lands was in order to hear more ḥadīth, because the Companions had spread to the various Islamic lands after the Conquests that took place in their time in order to teach the people Islam, so you would find some ḥadīths were known in one land but not in another or vice versa. So travelling for the purpose of gathering ḥadīth gradually increased until the time of the Imām Aḥmad and his generation came and it was the established practice. Imām Aḥmad did not marry until he was forty years old because all of his time and effort was devoted to travelling to seek ḥadīth. Such was the case with many of the scholars.

The Writing of Ḥadīth Books

The practice of writing books of ḥadīth concerning certain topics started all the way in the first century of the Hijrah, but these books were usually small books about various topics. As was mentioned before, writing of ḥadīths started in the time of the Companions but in the beginning, their writings were more like personal notebooks than books that are authored for people to read and study. Their purpose was to serve as records of the ḥadīths a person had learned and wished to preserve and memorize.

As time progressed, more comprehensive books were written. We will only discuss certain select important books. Many important developments have been left out in order to keep this discussion brief. Those who want to know more about the books of ḥadīth should see Studies in Early Hadith Literature as well as Studies in Hadith Methodology and Literature, both by Dr. Azami.[6]

Amongst those books is:

Muwatta’ of Imām Malik (93-179 H)

n It is the first important book of ḥadīth that has been passed down to our time.

n His student ash-Shāfi’ī said that his is the most authentic book after the book of Allāh (this was before al-Bukhārī and Muslim’s books were compiled)

n Along with Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, it is the book which has the most commentaries, which is an indication of the great importance that scholars have given this book.

n It is organized by chapters devoted to fiqh. It is a reference point for the fiqh of Imām Mālik, which is one of the reasons it has been given so much importance.

n It contains mostly ḥadīths from the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم), but there are also many narrations of statements of scholars from the Companions and the Tābi’īn of Madīnah. Imām Mālik was from al-Madīnah and did not travel much to learn the ḥadīths of the scholars outside the Ḥijāz.

n His book is typical of the books that were written by the scholars of his time, in that they covered a number of fiqh topics while still being brief.

Al-Muṣannaf of Abdur-Razzāq aṣ-Ṣan’ānī (126-211 H)

n He was a student of Ma’mar ibn Rāshid.

n His is a very large and comprehensive book devoted to gathering together ḥadīths from the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) as well as narrations from the scholars of the Companions and the Tābi’īn.

n It is also devoted mostly to fiqh topics

Al-Musnad of Imām Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal (154 – 241 H)

n His book is one of the greatest if not the greatest ḥadīth book ever written!

n It contains approximately 28,000 ḥadīths.

n He said to his son Abdullāh, describing the purpose of this book, “I wrote this book to be an Imām (i.e. a guide and a reference point) for the Muslims, so whenever they disagree about the ḥadīths of Allāh’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) they can refer to it…”

n Not everything in al-Musnad is authentic. Many of the ḥadīths in it were criticized by Aḥmad himself. It was his wish to put in it all the ḥadīths that were mashhoor (i.e. popular/well known, not necessarily ṣaḥīḥ), because sometimes the opinions of the scholars may vary about what is authentic.

n It is a tremendous reference. His statement about the purpose of the book indicates that he wanted to encompass all of the Sunnah. This does not mean that every ḥadīth that is authentic is in his Musnad. However, it is highly unlikely that you will find any authentic ḥadīth for which there is not a similar ḥadīth in the ḥadīths of al-Musnad.

n Many scholars from his contemporaries wrote Musnads. The purpose was to encompass all that had been narrated from the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) and preserve it.

n The Musnad books were organized according to the Companion who was narrating ḥadīths. So for example, Imām Aḥmad’s work begins with the ḥadīths of Abū Bakr, then ‘Umar, then ‘Uthmān, then ‘Alī, until all of the Companions have been covered.

Al-Jāmi’ aṣ-Ṣaḥīḥ of al-Imām al-Bukhārī (194-256 H)

n We will in shā Allāh be discussing his book in great detail next week

n His book was the first book that was complied with intention to bring together ṣaḥīḥ ḥadīths only.

n It was not his intent to encompass all the authentic ḥadīths.

n He wrote it at the suggestion of his shaykh, Isḥāq ibn Ibrāhīm al-Ḥanẓalī, more popularly known as Isḥāq ibn Rāhūyah or Isḥāq ibn Rāhawayh.

Aṣ-Ṣaḥīḥ of Imām Abū al-Ḥusayn Muslim ibn Ḥajjāj (204-262 H)

n He was the student of al-Bukhārī

n He followed his example in writing a book devoted to authentic ḥadīths

n Both his book and the book of Imām al-Bukhari are organized by chapters. They gather together the chapters of fiqh as well as other topics such as Īmān, Zuhd, etc.

Al-Jāmi’ of at-Tirmidhī (279 H)

n His book is more popularly known as Sunan at-Tirmidhī.

n The organization of his book is similar to the previous two books.

n He was perhaps the most devoted of all of Imām al-Bukhārī’s students.

n In terms of topics covered, his book is similar to the previous book.

n In addition to gathering together ḥadīths, he also mentions the fiqh of the Salaf – the scholars of Ahl al-Ḥadīth – concerning the topics touched upon in his book.

n Furthermore, he grades the ḥadīths.

n Some later scholars have said that he is mutasāhil(i.e. he was lax in authenticating ḥadīths that are not authentic). It seems that this may partly bes based on misunderstandings of his terminology on the part of those who made these claims. Later scholars use the term ḥasan to mean that ḥadīths is from the second level of authentic ḥadīths. However, one who studies the terminology of at-Tirmidhī will find that he uses the term ḥasan ṣaḥīḥ for ḥadīths he regards as authentic, and that he uses the term ḥasan to indicate other factors related to science of the ḥadīth, and this is not the place to clarify that.

n He discusses his methodology that he used in writing his book in al-‘Ilal as-Saghīr which is included at the end of his al-Jāmi’.

As-Sunan of Imām Abū Dāwūd (died 275)

n He was one of the closest students of Imām Aḥmad

n He wrote a letter describing the methodology he used in writing his Sunan which I have translated and it should be referred to for more information about his Sunan.

As-Sunan of An-Nasā’ī (215 – 303 H)

n He has two books: As-Sunan Al-Kubrā and As-Sunan Al-Mujtabā. The second is summarized from the first and it is half its size. It is the one that is popularly referred to as Sunan an-Nasā’ī or as-Sunan as-Ṣughrā.

n Imām an-Nasā’ī devotes a great deal of effort to mentioning various routes of certain ḥadīths to clarify the mistakes of narrators and it is a tremendous reference for that.

n Some scholars even said he was more knowledgeable than Imām Muslim (concerning sciences of ḥadīth).

The third century (200’s H) was the Golden Age for the Sciences of Ḥadīth. After that, decline began. There were many scholars who came in the 300’s such as Ibn Khuzaymah, ibn Ḥibbān, al-Ḥākim. Each of them wrote books for the purpose of gathering authentic ḥadīths only. However, they were lax in grading ḥadīths Ṣaḥīḥ.

In this period of decline, the understanding of the sciences of Ahl al-Hadith declined as people began entering more and more into ‘Ilm al-Kalām and turning away from the beneficial knowledge of the Salaf.

As a result scholars eventually became forced to write books about ‘Ulūm al-Ḥadīth because the students of ḥadīth themselves were starting to get mixed up concerning matters that were important for them to know. Some important books written in this time were Ma’rifah ‘Ulūm al-Ḥadīth by al-Ḥākim and al-Muḥaddith al-Fāṣil of ar-Rāmahurmuzī.

Also, Imām al-Khaṭṭabī (388 H) wrote the first commentaries on ḥadīth books in this time period, Ma’ālim as-Sunan, which is a commentary on Sunan Abi Dawud, and then he authored A’lām al-Ḥadīth, popularly known as A’lām as-Sunan, a commentary on Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī.

He mentioned in his introduction to Ma’ālim as-Sunan the reason for writing his book. The reason was that he found in his time that the people of ḥadīth devoted their time to gathering ḥadīth for the purpose of competing with one another so they focused on gathering gharīb (strange) ḥadīths that their peers did not have. Typically, the reason for the strangeness would be that they weak narrations coming from the mistakes of narrators, and hence no one would have them except for those who heard them from those narrators. This is in contrast to the authentic ḥadīths which were well-known and in wide circulation. They became so occupied with this that they started to neglect that which was most important – being able to distinguish between ṣaḥīḥ and ḍa’īf. This also lead them to neglect the importance of understanding the ḥadīths and applying their knowledge. On the other hand, there were the people of fiqh who were not concerned with gathering ḥadīths to begin with, so they knew only a few ḥadīths and their effort was devoted to debating issues of fiqh based on argumentation, not based on knowledge of the Sunnah.

So he saw for the first time there was a need for commentaries explaining the Prophetic Hadiths whereas the previous generations learned the ḥadīths and their fiqh directly from their shaykhs as they travelled seeking ḥadīths. However, due to the decline of knowledge, he saw a need for a book to aid the students in learning the fiqh of ḥadīths due to their ignorance concerning it.

In this time period, ‘ilm al-kalām – which has its origins in the philosophy of the Greeks such as Aristotle – started to spread and influence people’s knowledge and understanding. The Mu’tazilah had started spreading their ‘aqīdah which was based on logic and argumentation, not Qur’an and Sunnah (i.e. ‘ilm al-kalam).

In the previous generation, the generation of Imām ash-Shafi’ī, Aḥmad and the followers of scholars like them, the scholars of Ahl al-Hadith did not enter into ‘Ilm al-Kalām at all.

However, in this century, when the knowledge of Ahl al-Ḥadīth concerning their own field became weak, they started to turn to ‘Ilm al-Kalām to respond to the Mu’tazilah. So you find in this time the Ash’ari and Maturidi madh-habs started to spread amongst Ahl al-Ḥadīth. The basis of both these madh-habs was in the writings of ibn Kullāb. He was a contemporary of Imām Aḥmad who declared him an innovator because of his involvement in ‘ilm al-kalām. Yet, in the century following that of Imām Aḥmad, many scholars began following the way of ibn Kullāb! So it was that ‘ilm al-kalam began to effect all the Islamic sciences, including, ‘ulum al-ḥadīth.

There was another way in which ‘ilm al-kalam influenced ‘ulum al-ḥadīth: through usul al-fiqh. The people of kalam started to enter things into the field of usul al-fiqh that were not from the way of the Salaf. And some of those alien concepts were entered into the sciences of ḥadīth.

Al-Ḥafiẓ ad-Dāraquṭnī (385 H)

n He was the last of the great early scholars of ḥadīth.

n He was from the few people of his time who stayed away from ‘ilm al-kalām, but as al-Hafiẓ adh-Dhahabī said, “But rather, he was a Salafi.” Meaning: he followed the way of the Salaf. This is true not just of his ‘aqīdah, but his approach to the sciences of ḥadīth.

After him there came many other great ḥadīth scholars such as al-Bayhaqī, but none of them were of the same level as the likes of an-Nasā’ī, al-Bukhārī, ibn al-Madīnī and other early scholars!

For that reason, those early scholars of ḥadīth must be taken as the point of reference.

Imām ibn aṣ-Ṣalāḥ (643 H)

n He wrote a book concerning ‘ulūm al-ḥadīth which became the foundation for all such books written after him.

n While it is an excellent and influential book, it contains certain fundamental methodological errors as ibn aṣ-Ṣalāḥ was influenced indirectly by ‘ilm al-kalām through the influence of uṣūl al-fiqh.

n So this influenced all the scholars who came after him, and subsequent generations were not as knowledgably as generations of the Salaf.

There were still tremendous scholars such as In Kathīr, adh-Dhahabī, ibn ‘Abdil Hādī, ibn Rajab, and ibn Ḥajar but gradually over time, the knowledge of ḥadīth started to die and be neglected although there were still some notable scholars.

In our age, Shaykh al-Albānī came and he really revived interest in the sciences of ḥadīth. His many works devoted to the sciences of ḥadīth played a great role in creating a renaissance in the study of ḥadīth and a level of interest that has rarely been seen. Islamic universities from Morocco to Indonesia all devoted separate colleges for specialization in the sciences of ḥadīth. In general, the Colleges of Hadith have seen more students than any of the other colleges because of the profound level of interest in this area.

Despite that, Shaykh al-Albānī is not at the same level of knowledge as Abū Ḥātim, Abū Zur’ah, al-Bukhārī or the other Imams of the Salaf. There are still some mistakes in regards to methodology that is used by later scholars of ḥadīth.

To illustrate the difference:

There is a ḥadīth reported by Ibn Umar, may Allāh be pleased with him, that his father, ‘Umar ibn al-Khaṭṭab, asked the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) if a person can sleep while in a state of janābah, the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said “Yes, if he makes wudu.” [Al-Bukhari]

Likewise, it has been reported from ‘Ā’ishah, may Allāh be pleased with her, that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) used to perform wuḍū’ before sleeping while he was junub. This was narrated from A’isha by a number of narrators, among them: Abū Salamah ibn ‘Abdir-Raḥmān ibn ‘Awf, ‘Urwah ibn az-Zubayr ibn al-‘Awwām, and al-Aswad.

As for the narrations of Abū Salamah and ‘Urwah, they have been reported by Muslim and al-Bukhārī, and the narration of al-Aswad has been reported by Muslim.

There is another narration concerning this issue that some scholars have relied upon to say that the order is merely recommended to fulfill and that it is permissible to sleep without performing wuḍu’ when junub. It is narrated by Abū Isḥāq from al-Aswad that ‘Ā’ishah, may Allāh be pleased with her, said that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) used to sleep while junub without touching water.

This ḥadīth is reported by Aḥmad, Abū Dāwūd, an-Nasā’ī, ibn Mājah, and at-Tirmidhī.

After relating this ḥadīth, at-Tirmidhī states, “And more than one has narrated from al-Aswad from ‘Ā’ishah that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) used to make wuḍu’ before sleeping – meaning: – when he was junub.”

Imām at-Tirmidhī then states, “And this is more ṣaḥīḥ than the narration of Abū Isḥāq from al-Aswad. And they regard this as a mistake from Abū Isḥāq.

An-Nasā’ī has clarified this contradicition in the narrations as well in as-Sunan al-Kubrā.

In discussing this ḥadīth, ibn Rajab states in Fatḥ al-Bārī (1/362):

“And this ḥadīth is amongst those that the Imams of Ḥadīth from the Salaf agreed in rejecting from Abū Ishaq; from them: Isma’īl ibn Abī Khālid, Shu’bah, Yazīd ibn Hārūn, Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal, Abū Bakr ibn Abī Shaybah, Muslim ibn al-Ḥajjāj, Abū Bakr al-Athram, al-Jawzajānī, at-Tirmidhī, and ad-Dāraquṭnī.

And ibn ‘Abdil-Barr quotes from Sufyān that he said, ‘It is a mistake.’

And he attributed it to the book of Abū Dāwūd, and what is present in his book is that this statement is from Yazīd ibn Hārūn, not from Sufyān.

And Aḥmad ibn Ṣaliḥ al-Miṣrī al-Ḥāfiẓ stated, ‘It is not permissible for this ḥadīth to be narrated.’

Meaning: It is certainly a mistake, so it is not permissible to narrate it without clarifying its ‘illah.[7]

As for the later fuqahā’, than many of them looked at the trustworthiness of its narrators, so they thought it authentic, and these ones think that every ḥadīth that is narrated by a trustworthy narrator is ṣaḥīḥ. And these ones do not comprehend the fine points of the Science of the Hidden Defects of Ḥadīth.”

It should be noted that the presentation of this ḥadīth given by Abū Dāwūd and an-Nasā’ī in their books is indicative that they consider this ḥadīth a mistake as well, although they did not explicitly say that.

Many of the great scholars from the later scholars of ḥadīth have graded this ḥadīth saḥīḥ. This difference in the approach of the earlier scholars and many of the later scholars in critiquing ḥadīths is the result of the influence of uṣūl al-fiqh on the books of ‘Ulūm al-Ḥadīth that have been written and studied by the later scholars.[8]

The Usuliyyin developed their principles based on “logical arguments” without having practical knowledge of ḥadīth and the realities that existed in the era of narrating ḥadīths that would lead to mistakes. So they would say, “It is possible that these are two different ḥadīths that al-Aswad narrated from ‘A’isha. And Abū Ishaq is a reliable narrator from the greatest of narrators, whose narrations are relied upon by al-Bukhari and Muslim in as-Sahihayn. So his ḥadīth must be accepted.”

However, one who studies the narrations of this ḥadīth from Abū Isḥāq, it becomes clear he was narrating it relying on his memory by its meaning and then distorted the meaning.[9]

These early scholars of ḥadīth LIVED the narration of ḥadīths. So they developed their approach to critique of ḥadīths based on the realities that existed that influenced the narration of ḥadīths. Since they had experience with the reality of how ḥadīths were narrated, they knew the causes that lead narrators, even reliable ones, to make mistakes. Based on this knowledge, they could identify the signs that a narrator had made a mistake in narrating a ḥadīth.

Grading this ḥadīth ṣahīḥ is problematic from another perspective as well. These scholars graded this ḥadīth ṣaḥīḥ for a simple reason: because the books of al-Jarḥ wat-Ta’dīl have recorded that these early scholars of ḥadīth critiqued the narrators of this ḥadīth and said that they were reliable narrators, including Abū Isḥāq. It is not logical to accept the judgments of these scholars concerning the narrators of ḥadīths and at the same time reject their judgments on the ḥadīths themselves!

This is because the judgments of these scholars was based on their judgments on the ḥadīths themselves. After studying the ḥadīths of a narrator and identifying his authentic narrations and his mistakes, they would make a judgment concerning the narrator based on their study of his narrations. So if one were to reject their judgments on the ḥadīths and say that they are not reliable, he would have to reject their statements concerning the narrators.

The methodology of the later scholars in grading ḥadīth is to examine the judgments of the early scholars on the narrators and then to pass a judgment on their narrations. So to use the results that these scholars reached to reject the basis of those results is not logical.

The important lesson that can be taken from this example is that we must accept and submit to the judgments of the early scholars of ḥadīth, as they are the experts in this field, and no one else reaches their level of knowledge concerning ḥadīth. This is why al-Ḥāfiẓ ‘Abdur-Raḥmān ibn Abī Ḥātim said, “When the people of ḥadīth agree upon something, then their consensus is a ḥujjah (proof).”

As for us coming all these centuries after them, then it is necessary for us to study their works and understand their methodology for grading ḥadīths. Then when we come to ḥadīths they may have disagreed about or concerning which we cannot find a judgment from them, we can reach a proper conclusion.

Certainly, we love all of the great scholars of this Ummah that came in the later centuries, however, they are not as knowledgeable as Aḥmad, al-Bukhārī, an-Nasā’ī, ad-Dāraquṭnī and the other Imams of Ḥadīth from the Salaf, so we return to their words and rely on their judgments in these matters.

It should also be noted that there are a few scholars from the later generations that have brought light to the importance of referring to the scholars of the Salaf. One of them is al-Ḥāfiẓ ibn Rajab al-Ḥanbalī, who was a student of Imām ibn al-Qayyim and many other scholars of his time. From our own era, there is al-‘Allāmah ash-Shaykh ‘Abdur-Raḥmān ibn Yaḥyā al-Mu’allimī.


[1] This was delivered as an introductory lecture to the class Glimpses of Light from Sahih al-Bukhari and is by no means comprehensive. And it is not possible to do this tremendous topic justice in a short article or lecture. Hence, many important developments in the history of the hadith literature and the role of many important scholars has been left out. And this is not due to its lack of importance, but because this topic is deserving of far greater effort than that which someone the likes of me is able. Wallāhul Musta’ān.

This article is based on the notes of some of those who heard the lecture, may Allah reward them for their efforts.

[2] As stated by ibn Ḥajar in Fatḥ al-Bārī.

[3] Cited by ibn Kathīr in al-Bidāyah wan-Nihāyah.

[4] In Taqyīd al-‘Ilm.

[5] See the biography of Ma’mar ibn Rashid in Tahdhib al-Kamal.

[6] Those who can read Arabic should refer to al-Mubarakpuri’s introduction to Tuhfah al-Ahwadhi and al-Hittah of al-‘Allamah Siddiq Hasan Khan, amongst many other rich references concerning this topic in the Arabic language.

[7] Its hidden weakness.

[8] From the contemporary scholars who rejected this hadith as ḍa’if, following the ruling of the early scholars is Shaykh Muqbil ibn Hādī al-Wādi’ī, in his book Aḥādīth Mu’allah.

[9] For example, see all the narrations of this hadith in as-Sunan al-Kubrā of an-Nasā’ī and Musnad of Imām Aḥmad.

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9 responses to “The Preservation of Hadith Over the Generations

  1. This is really just a rough draft taken from someone’s notes for a lecture I did two years ago. I had planned on revising it to make corrections and needed additions but I just haven’t gotten around to it as I’ve been extremely busy since the end of Ramadan and likely will remain that way for some time to come. When I get a chance, I would like to expand on this topic further however.

  2. Pingback: Online Resources for Studying the Sciences of Hadith « IBN AL HYDERABADEE

  3. Pingback: Uloom alHadeeth (9.5+ Hours) with Shaykh Bilal Philips - LI Islamic Forum

  4. its very impressive that the way knowledge of islamic awareness is been dissiminated has so far be authentic as to the very best possible effort of the compilers in electronic media.The issue is that we the muslim nations need to very aware and strickly careful the way which the authenticity needs to protected from the western method of educational induction.THANK YOU …ma’assalam

  5. Thank you for the verygood contribution about the awareness of the authenticity on the spread of islamic knowledge

  6. The needs araise many atimes that islamic awareness is knowledge which is not or strongly imbibed by most part of the nations in the asia,europe,africa or arabian continents maybe to uprising of many young talented individuals who have less or no time to undrstand the actual injunctions of the islamic religion only its ritual acts such as the 5daily salat,fasting,hajj,zakat…but in the real sense the history of the religion is finding its way close to the drainage except with authentic contributions like these pages which i strongly believe its the divine guidance of Allah[SWT] that inspired your effort and in HIM will you endlessly be rewarded.Many of thes youth prefer to indulge in tha affairs of worldly things rather than the affairs of the holy prophetSAW].THANK YOU….ma’assalam

  7. Bismilah irRahman irRaheem
    Assalamu alaikum!
    You have given a valuable and informative article about Tadween-e-Hadith.
    I m in search of material.
    Jazakallah!

    I want to know the total number of Hadith collected by various stalwarts, and how many of it are Sahih.
    Also want to know how many of it are (i) our Prophet SAW instructed to do, (ii) instructed not to do, (iii) our Prophet SAW’s habitual practice of doings.
    I will be grateful if I were enlightened.
    -Ibn Elias Natamkar, Ambur TN

  8. Bismillah irRahman irRaheem

    Assalamu alaikum!
    I want to know actual number of persons collected Hadith from various sources, and how many books of collections of Hadith available, numbers of Hadith in each collections, and also want to know how many of same Hadith found in various Collections?
    -Ibn Elias Natamkar, Ambur TN

  9. mustapha muhammad kan

    Thank you for the very good contribution on the awareness you created for world Muslims and for perfect authenticity on the spread of Islamic knowledge

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