The Sharing Group Discussion on When Hadits were First Recorded

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ 

Sister Louise Ann Kelly, asked, on the 07th October 2016, on The Sharing Group, “I am sorry if this topic has been covered already, but I am very interested to know about the origins of ahadits.  Is it true that the first known ahadits to be actually written down was 200 years after the death of the Prophet (s.a.w.).  What is the earliest date of ahadits being recorded in written form, not oral.  What was the first known ahadits to be narrated and recorded  or transcribed? 

Brother Mustafa Howard: 200 years is certainly not true.  Among the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) companions were those who wrote some of the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) sayings.  But your question begs other questions.  Why the importance laid on when ahadits were written?  The Arabs were a people of incredible memory powers.  The early Muslims were the most moral people to ever exist.  They immediately implemented whatever they learned from Rasulullah (s.a.w.).  These are other forms of “recording” authentic Islam. 

For example, Imam Abu ‘Abdullah Malik ibn Anas (r.a.) considered his observations of the Muslims of Madina to be more reliable than ahadits.  He would consider their habits, the text and meaning of the Qur’an, and the thousands of ahadits he had memorised.  What he considered authentic was a scholarly combination of all sources of knowledge.  While your question is perfectly valid, since you are a convert like myself, I just want to warn you that there is much propaganda.  Some come from haters of Islam.  Others come from a new branch among Muslims who want to deny the validity of ahadits.  Allah (s.w.t.) has preserved Islam for humanity.  He did this through the efforts and recordings of Islam’s scholars throughout history.  The most authentic way to learn Islam is the same way it was always taught. 

Sister Louise Ann Kelly: Brother Mustafa, it is not a question of change; just one of curiosity.  However the question I asked was not answered. 

Brother Mustafa Howard: Sister Louis, I answered two of your three questions.  The 3rd question is unanswerable. 

Sister Louise Ann Kelly: So the answer from you is ahadits was not written down but transmitted in oral form?  Can you name them and how these writings were preserved? 

Brother Mustafa Howard: Sister Louise Ann Kelly, In the books I have, I found reference to Sayyidina Abu Bakr ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Utsman asw-Swiddiq (r.a.) having written some of the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) sayings.  It is narrated that he destroyed them himself for fear they may have contained inaccuracy.  After Sayyidina Abu Bakr’s (r.a.) caliphate, more of the companions and the tabi’un began recording.  There were debates among them.  Some considered the importance of written preservation.  Some were concerned over inaccuracy or confusing ahadits with the Qur’an.  And others were concerned that writing would cause lazy memory, which is somewhat true. 

So, I cannot provide any textual resources offhand.  I think asking a scholar of ahadits or someone who has formal ahadits studies could give a more complete answer.  One reference I have is that Imam Shams ad-Din Abu ‘Abdullah Muhammad ibn Ahmad adz-Dzahabi (r.a.) narrated that Sayyidina Abu Bakr (r.a.) had written some 500 ahadits.  He later destroyed the collection.  So, in that case there would be no way to know what the collection contained, except whatever was discussed orally later. 

Sister Louise Ann Kelly: It is interesting that Sayyidina Abu Bakr (r.a.) himself destroyed these texts. 

Brother Mustafa Howard: Sister Louise Ann Kelly, He destroyed the written form.  But it is likely they were narrated, and certain that they were in his personal practice. 

Sister Louise Ann Kelly: Sayyidina Abu Bakr (r.a.), such an upstanding man and confident of the Prophet (s.a.w.), if he is such an early time did this, what do you think about collections and writing down many years later?  Again, just a question. 

Brother Mustafa Howard: Later, they realised that the knowledge was being lost.  At that point, it was generally agreed that recording was necessary. 

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: The thing is, none of this actually addressed the question itself.  The issue of taqlid and the development of fiqh is a whole separate topic in and of itself. 

Brother Mustafa Howard: I think a good way to overcome your concerns about ahadits would be to own a small collection that is greatly authentic and very beneficial to read.  Imam Abu Zakariya Yahya ibn Sharaf an-Nawawi’s (r.a.) collection, Riyadh asw-Swalihin, is an example.  Imam an-Nawawi (r.a.) memorised well over 100,000 ahadits.  The collection in Riyadh asw-Swalihin are fundamental ahadits representing core beliefs, morals, and actions in Islam. It is a book of inspiration and encouraging moral practices. 

Sister Louise Ann Kelly: I find it quite patronising your assumption that I am asking questions because I have never read a book, and do not know anything about Islam.  To ask questions from the intellect is something permissible and increases understanding, especially when people come to you from other variations of Islam, and want to discuss. 

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: This is an excellent question, and it is not unusual for anyone to wonder, since reading narrations in and of themselves do garner doubts.  The Quranists, as they call themselves; or Munkar al-Ahadits, as we call them, say that the ahadits were compiled around 200 or 300 years after the time of the Prophet (s.a.w.).  That is incorrect.  The first ahadits were written down in the time of the Prophet (s.a.w.). 

The swahifah are the earliest collections of ahadits, written down by the companions during the lifetime of the Prophet (s.a.w.), or by their followers amongst the tabi’in.  Some of these collections are also considered rasa’il or kutub.  Examples of this include the Swahifah Abu Hurayrah, which he taught and handed down to his nine known student, one of whom was Shaykh Hammam ibn Munabbih (r.a.).  Shaykh Hammam ibn Munabbih (r.a.‎) was a scholar, from among the tabi’in and one of the narrators of ahadits.  He was the son of Munabbih ibn Kamil, a knight of Persia.  Shaykh Abu ‘Abdullah Wahb ibn Munabbih asw-Swana’ani adz-Dzamari (r.a.), the famed transmitter of ahadits as well as Judeo-Christian narrations, was his brother.  Swahifah Hammam ibn Munabbih is the only example of this that survived in manuscript form. 

Then there was the Swahifah asw-Swadiqah.  Sayyidina ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr ibn al-‘Aasw (r.a.), the son of Sayyidina ‘Amr ibn al-‘Aasw (r.a.) was a companion of the Prophet (s.a.w.).  He was the author of Swahifah asw-Swadiqah, an ahadits compilation which recorded about one thousand narrations.  He embraced Islam in 7 AH, a year before his father.  The Prophet (s.a.w.) used to show preference to Sayyidina ‘Abdullah (r.a.) due to his knowledge.  He was one of the first companions to write down the ahadits, after receiving permission from the Prophet (s.a.w.) to do so.  Sayyidina Abu Hurayrah ‘Abd ar-Rahman ibn Sakhr ad-Dawsi az-Zahrani al-Azdi (r.a.) used to say that Sayyidina ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr (r.a.) was more knowledgeable than him.  Swahifah asw-Swadiqah remained in his family and was used by his grandson, Imam ‘Amr ibn Swuhayb (r.a.). Imam Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Hanbal (r.a.) incorporated the entire work of Sayyidina ‘Abdullah (r.a.) into his Musnad.  Therefore, the first known ahadits, and there were a group of them, were all from the these books. 

Sister Louise Ann Kelly: How can we relate the ahadits reported by Sayyidina Abu Hurayrah and what you mentioned yesterday about his narrations being discounted due to some discrepancies with regards to money later on.  Also are these books you mentioned, such as Swahifah asw-Swadiqah, widely available and in print nowadays?  Were they compiled and unchanged between then and now? 

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: The narrations of these books were later compiled, graded and copied into other books that are more well-known.  A prime example would be al-Muwaththa’ of Imam Malik (r.a.).  Imam Malik (r.a.) was from the tabi’un, the generation just after the Prophet (s.a.w.), and lived withing 90 years of the time of prophethood.  He took his narrations directly from the companions, the people who were there. 

What we must remember, however, is that ahadits are transmitted via verbal narrations.  This is a society where most people were illiterate and, as a result, there was a heavy emphasis on memory work, of which they were renowned.  The early transmission of ahadits is the same as that of the Qur’an: a group of narrators who took it from the mouth of the Prophet (s.a.w.), and memorised it.  The Qur’an, just like the strongest ahadits, were transmitted via mutawatir oral narrations.  Narration from books and papers is the weakest method of narration.  It is called “wijadah” amongst the scholars of the methodology of ahadits.  It proves neither any verse of the Qur’an nor the soundness of any hadits. 

The issues of ahadits are complex, more so than what can be shown in my earlier posts.  In essence, there are two issues.  The first is that whilst the methodology of authentication is sound solely on the basis of the examination of chains and the biography of the narrators, we must also be more stringent, I feel, in considering them in the light of reason and established theology. 

Secondly, we must recognise that whilst many ahadits are the basis of many, ahkam, rulings, and fatawa, legal opinions, these ahkam and fatawa must periodically be reviewed since then the makan, place, and zaman, time, changes, the rulings themselves may become obsolete.  Shari’ah is about the Divine Intent, and should never be reduced to mere legalism. 

Sister Louise Ann Kelly: The question about Sayyidina Abu Hurayrah (r.a.) and his ahadits being discounted, can you expand further?  I notice a lot of Wahabbis use his ahadits as well. 

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Not every hadits from Sayyidina Abu Hurayrah (r.a.) is discounted.  If they are problematic, we treat them with caution and set them aside until further clarification.  If they outright contradict common sense, or our established points of ‘aqidah, or the Qur’an; then the narration is to be discarded.  This is the same principal regardless of the silsilah. 

The issues with Wahhabis, and by extension, many Muslims, is that they have taken to applying narrations directly and literally without considering the context, the intent and the circumstances then and now.  A hadits is not a hukm, ruling.  That is where jurisprudence comes in.  So when we encounter a hadits that says, for example, plucking your eyebrows is haram, that does not mean that it is so automatically to be adhered to.  We must consider that this is a snapshot of a moment, a snippet of an ongoing conversation centred around the Prophet (s.a.w.).  Unless and until we know more than that snapshot, we leave the narration be.  It is a window to a different time.


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