The Utmost Care Shown in Relating the Traditions
Whether of the Companions or the succeeding generations, those who constituted the first two or three links in the chains of the Traditions, were quite meticulous in the narration or transmission of ahadith. As will be elaborated below, they showed the utmost care and exactness in distinguishing the sound from the fabricated ones and, after committing to memory word for word, transmitted the sound ones to the following generations. The following examples show the motives for this exactness:
The warning of the Prophet, upon be peace and blessings
Islam is based on truthfulness which distinguishes between Islam and unbelief. A Muslim refrains from lying to the utmost degree. The first generations of Islam, the Companions and their successors, proved their utmost attachment to Islam by the world-admired sacrifices they made in order to spread Islam. Also, they feared God very much and lived austerely, not indulging in the comforts of life. Many great scholars and saints appeared among them and the examples they set have been followed by succeeding generations up to the present day.
Along with the emphasis Islam puts on truthfulness, God’s Messenger severely warned people not to lie against him: Whoever lies against me, should prepare his abode in the Fire.54 He also warned: Whoever relates from me falsely is a liar.55
Is it at all conceivable then, in the face of such severe warnings, that the Companions, who sacrificed their lives for the cause of Islam, which is based on truthfulness, should have lied against the Messenger?
The self-control of the Companions in narrating the Traditions
Because of the important place the Tradition has in Islam and due to the warnings of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, the Companions were very careful in narrating Traditions. They feared lest they should fail to narrate them word for word and thereby cause misunderstandings. For example, the fourth Caliph ‘Ali, who was the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet and who was always with him, used to say: ‘I fear to narrate a Tradition from God’s Messenger so much that I would rather fall from heaven than speak a lie on his behalf.’56
‘Abdullah ibn al-Mas‘ud was among the foremost in nearness to God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings. He was also one of the most knowledgeable among the Companions. When he was asked to report from God’s Messenger, he began with ‘The Messenger of God said’; then he stopped, bowed his head, took in a deep breath, unbuttoned his collar and his eyes filled with tears. After the narration, he added: ‘The Messenger of God said this, or something like this, or something more or less like this.’57
Zubayr ibn ‘Awwam was one of the ten Companions who were assured of entry to Paradise. He narrated only a few Traditions from God’s Messenger. When his son asked him why he did not narrate Traditions from the Messenger, Zubayr replied: ‘I feared very much lest I should utter a word contrary to what God’s Messenger really said. For he declared: Whoever lies against me intentionally, should prepare his abode in the Fire.’58
Anas ibn Malik, who served God’s Messenger for ten years, said: ‘Were it not for fear of making a mistake, I would make many more narrations from God’s Messenger.’59
‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Abi Layla met 500 Companions. When he visited a place, people would say: ‘The man who met 500 Companions has come to our town.’ He had great influence on Abu Hanifa and Imam Abu Yusuf. He reports: ‘I was personally familiar with 120 Companions. It sometimes happened that all of them were in the same mosque. When they were asked about something, each waited for the other to answer, and if they were to narrate a Tradition, no one would dare to. At last, one of them made the narration trusting in God and added: ‘The Messenger said this, or something like this, or something more or less like this.’60
Zayd ibn Arqam was among the first to convert to Islam. In the early days of his mission, God’s Messenger came together with the Muslims secretly in his house. He was the superintendent of the Public Treasury during the caliphates of ‘Umar and ‘Uthman. When he witnessed ‘Uthman give out from the treasury to his relatives, he went to him and said: ‘O Commander of the Faithful! People will feel suspicious of you, and they will no longer trust me. Please permit me to resign.’ When ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Abi Layla asked this honest man to narrate a Tradition, he answered: ‘My son! I have become old and forgetful. Narration from God’s Messenger is something very hard to do.’61
There is a matter in the science of Tradition, namely whether it s absolutely necessary to narrate a Tradition word for word. Although literal narration is better and always preferable, narration of meaning is permissible on condition that the narrator is expert in the language, and the word used to give the meaning is well-fitted to the context, and the original has been completely forgotten. However, the Companions were very careful in narrating Traditions literally despite this permission. For example, one day ‘Ubayd ibn ‘Umayr narrated: The like of a hypocrite is like sheep left between ‘rabidayn’ (two flocks). ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar, who was present, objected: ‘He did not say so. I heard God’s Messenger say: The like of a hypocrite is like a sheep between ‘ghanamayn’ (two flocks).62 The meaning is the same; the difference is only between the words rabidayn and ghanamayn.
The same care the Companions showed in literal narration was also shown by the scholars or narrators belonging to the generation following the Companions. For instance, in the presence of Sufyan ibn ‘Uyayna someone narrated: ‘God’s Messenger forbade leaving to fermentation (an yuntabadha) the juice (of grapes, dates and the like) in the bowls made of pumpkin and lined with pitch’. Sufyan ibn ‘Uyayna objected and said: ‘I heard Zuhri narrate it: “God’s Messenger forbade leaving to fermentation (an yunbadha) the juice (of grapes and dates and the like) in the bowls made of pumpkin and lined with pitch.’63 Though of exactly the same meaning, the difference is that as conjugation.
Bara ibn ‘Adhib related: ‘God’s Messenger advised me: Do ritual ablution before going to bed. Then lie on your right side and say this prayer: ‘O God, I have submitted myself to You and I have committed my affair to You; I have sheltered in You, in fear of You and in quest of You. There is no shelter from you except in You. I believed in Your Book You sent down and Your Prophet You raised.’ In order to memorize the prayer immediately, I repeated to the Messenger and said at the end of it: “and Your Messenger You raised”. Our master corrected me, saying: and Your Prophet You raised.’64
A man has dreams in sleep, and true dreams constitute a forty-sixth of Prophethood, since God’s Messenger had true dreams in the first six months’ period of his Prophethood, which lasted twenty-three years. Since dreams are therefore related to Prophethood, the Messenger corrected Bara ibn ‘Adhib. This care was shown by almost all of the Companions, who studied the Traditions they heard from God’s Messenger and discussed them, their meaning and connotations. The Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, commanded them:
Commit Traditions to memory and study them. Some of them are associated with some others. Therefore, come together and discuss them.65
The verification of the Companions and those succeeding them
The Companions did not only study the Traditions and discuss them among themselves, they also verified the meaning of what God’s Messenger related to them. Of course, none of them told lies, being in utmost fear of Divine punishment, but the reporters might have mistaken the meaning of the Tradition or missed an important point in receiving it from God’s Messenger or interpreted it wrongly. So, without thinking of any opposition to God’s Messenger in any matter, they tried to understand the true purpose of the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, and discussed what they received from him.
Once, a woman asked Abu Bakr, the Caliph, whether she could inherit from her grandchildren. Abu Bakr answered: ‘I have not seen a verse in the Book of God which gives you the right to inherit from your grandchildren, nor do I remember God’s Messenger having said anything on this point.’ However, Mughira ibn Shu‘ba, who was present, stood up and said: ‘God’s Messenger gave to the grandmother a sixth of the inheritance’. Abu Bakr asked Mughira if there was anybody else who had witnessed God’s Messenger having done so. When Muhammad ibn Maslama testified to it, Abu Bakr gave to the woman a sixth out of what her grandson had left.66
On hearing God’s Messenger declare, The one called to account for his deeds on the Day of Judgment by God will be ruined, ‘A’isha asked: ‘How about the Divine declaration in the Qur’an: Then they will be called to account (for their deeds) and it will be an easy act of giving account?’ The Messenger answered: It is about presentation. Everyone will give account to God for their deeds. If a man denies his evil deeds and God enumerates them to him, that man will be ruined.67
As recorded in Bukhari, ‘Umar narrates:
I heard Hisham ibn Hakim pronounce some words of the sura al-Furqan, somewhat differently from the way God’s Messenger taught me. I waited patiently until he had finished praying and then I asked him: ‘Who taught you to recite this sura in this way?’ ‘God’s Messenger did,’ he answered. I took him to the Messenger, whom I informed of the matter. The Messenger asked Hisham to recite the sura. Hisham recited and the Messenger nodded, saying: This is the way it was revealed to me. Then, he ordered me to recite. I recited, and again he nodded and said: Thus it was revealed. Then, he added: Surely, the Qur’an is revealed in seven different ways. Recite it in the way easiest to you.68
The attachment of the Companions to the Sunna was such that they did not show any reluctance to travel long distances to learn even a single hadith. For example, Abu Ayyub al-Ansari travelled from Madina to Egypt to ask about a hadith the exact wording of which he was not sure of. Among those who had received it from God’s Messenger only ‘Uqba ibn Amir was alive and living in Egypt. Abu Ayyub arrived in the capital city and calling on its governor, Maslama ibn Mukhallad, took a guide with him. He found ‘Uqba in a street and asked him about the hadith: Whoever covers (hides) a defect of a believer in the world, God will cover his defects in the Hereafter.69 Abu Ayyub’s memory was confirmed as exact. He took leave of ‘Uqba, saying: ‘I came just to ask about this hadith. I wouldn’t like to make my intention impure [by staying] for some other reason’.70
Travels for the sake of learning even a single hadith
Again, as related in Bukhari, in order to receive a hadith directly from its narrator, ‘Abdullah ibn Unays, Jabir ibn ‘Abdullah traveled for a whole month. He found ‘Abdullah and said to him: ‘I have been informed that you relate a hadith which I did not hear from God’s Messenger, upon him be peace, Fearing that either of us may die before I learn it, I have come to you’. Jabir learned the hadith and returned to Madina.71
The journeys undertaken for the sake of Hadith continued in the following centuries. Sa‘id ibn al-Musayyib, Masruq ibn Ajda and others made long travels sometimes in order to learn a single hadith and sometimes even to confirm a single letter of one hadith. As related by Kathir ibn Qays, a lover of knowledge traveled from Madina to Damascus to learn a single hadith from Abu al-Darda’.72
Those who succeeded the Companions showed the same care in the narration of Traditions as the Companions had. As stated by A‘mash, they would prefer the sky to collapse on them than to add so much as a wrong vowel to a hadith.73
The verification of the blessed generation succeeding the Companions
The Ahl al-Sunna wa l-Jama‘a are all agreed upon the absolute truthfulness of the Companions. However, after internal conflicts broke out in the Muslim Umma, the scholars of the second generation, the generation succeeding the Companions, began to scrutinize whatever they heard in the name of Hadith. They inquired into the truthfulness of those who narrated a hadith. Muhammad ibn Sirin says: ‘We did not use to ask about the persons who narrated the hadith. But, after the seditions broke out, we began to ask.’74
People of weak character and ungrounded, weak faith, fabricated Traditions in order to promote their sectarian beliefs. While the Nasiba (enemies of ‘Ali, the fourth Caliph, among the Umayyads and their supporters) forged Traditions in favor of ‘Uthman and Mu‘awiya and against ‘Ali, the Rafidites (extremists in Shi‘a) did the opposite. This roused the meticulous, truth-seeking scholars to detailed and careful examination of what they heard as a hadith and of the character of those who narrated them. Abu al-‘Aliya says: ‘We were no longer content with what was reported to us from a Companion. In order to receive it directly from the Companion or Companions who had narrated it and ask other Companions who knew about it, we traveled [from place to place].’75
Again, as related by Imam Muslim, Bushayr al-‘Adawi narrated a hadith to Ibn ‘Abbas. When the latter paid no attention to him, Bushayr asked in surprise: ‘What ails you that you give no ear to me when I narrate a hadith to you?’ Ibn ‘Abbas answered: ‘In the past, when somebody began to narrate you a hadith saying ‘God’s Messenger said’, we felt our hearts jump for joy and excitement and were fully attentive. Nevertheless, after people began to travel from place to place on docile or unruly horses, we no longer receive anything from other than whom we know.’76
Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, the great scholar of Muslim Spain (Andalusia), reports from Amir ibn Sharahil al-Sha‘bi, one of the greatest scholars of the generation following the Companions: Rabi‘ ibn Husayn relates to Sha‘bi the hadith: ‘The one who recites ten times, There is no god but God, One, and there are no partners with Him. His is the kingdom, and His is all praise, He gives life and makes to die. He is powerful over everything, may earn as much reward as one earns by emancipating a slave.’ Sha‘bi asked Rabi‘ who had narrated that hadith to him. ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Abi Layla’, Rabi‘ answered. Sha‘bi left and found Ibn Abi Layla, who was living in another city. Ibn Abi Layla testified to the authenticity of the hadith; he had heard it from Abu Ayyub al-Ansari.77
Many great scholars such as Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri, Ibn Sirin, Sufyan al-Thawri, Amir ibn Sharahil al-Sha‘bi, Ibrahim ibn Yazid al-Naha’i, Shu‘ba, Abu Hilal, Qatada ibn Di‘ama, Hisham al-Dastawa’i and Mith‘ar ibn Qudam did their utmost to distinguish between authentic Traditions and fabricated ones. When they were not sure of the authenticity of a Tradition, they never hesitated to ask each other about it. For example, Abu Hilal and Sa‘id ibn Abi Sadaqa appealed to Hisham al-Dastawa’i about a Tradition the exact wording of which they were not sure of. Shu‘ba and Sufyan al-Thawri referred to Mith‘ar ibn Qudam a matter about which they did not have exact knowledge.78 They did not allow a fabricated Tradition to spread, and whenever and wherever they witnessed a fanatical sectarian narrate a Tradition, they asked him from whom he had heard it.
Those truth-loving and truth-seeking scholars did not refrain, for the sake of Hadith, even from revealing the weak spots of their kin. For example, Zayd ibn Unaysa warned the Traditionists not to receive hadith from his own brother, perhaps because of his forgetfulness or carelessness or sectarianism.79 When asked about his father, ‘Ali ibn al-Madini, who is the first to write on the Companions, answered: ‘Ask others about him.’ When they insisted, he explained. ‘Hadith means religion. My father is weak on this point.’80 Waki’ ibn Jarrah was brought up in the school of Abu Hanifa, and was one of the tutors of Imam Shafi‘i, who said: ‘As far as I know, I have never forgotten anything once I heard it; nor do I remember anything which I had to repeat in order to memorize, if I heard it once’. Despite his keen memory, Imam Shafi‘i once complained to Waki‘ ibn Jarrah about his poor memory. Waki’ answered: ‘Refrain from sins. Know that knowledge is a light from God. Therefore it is not granted to a sinful man.’ When his father, Jarrah, was narrating a hadith, Waki’ was always present near him. When asked why, he answered: ‘My father works at the finance department of the state. I am afraid that he might soften some Traditions in favor of the government. I accompany him so that I can prevent him from such a lapse.’81
While the Traditions were being recorded on the one hand, they were entrusted to the memories of some greatest Traditionists on the other. For example, Ahmad ibn Hanbal memorized around one million Traditions including authentic, good, weakly transmitted and fabricated ones, and some of which were identical in text but handed down by different chains of narrators. He formed his Musnad, containing 40 thousand Traditions, out of 300 thousand Traditions. Yahya ibn Ma‘in, who dedicated himself to Hadith, committed to memory both authentic Traditions and fabricated ones. When asked by Ibn Hanbal why he did so, Ibn Ma‘in answered: ‘I inform those coming to me of fabricated Traditions so that they may choose the authentic ones.’82 There were many other critics of Hadith, who knew hundreds of thousands of Traditions by heart. Among them, Zuhri, Yahya ibn Sa‘id al-Qattan, Bukhari, Muslim, Daraqutni, Hakim, Dhahabi, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani and Imam Suyuti were the most famous.
Thanks to the tremendous efforts of Muslim Traditionists, authentic Traditions were distinguished from fabricated ones. Those Traditionists, besides recording authentic Traditions in volumes and memorizing them, wrote volumes in which they explained the character of narrators and distinguished the reliable from the unreliable, the careful from the careless, the profound and meticulous from the superficial, and the God-fearing from the heedless and careless. When people warned the critics that they revealed the defects of people and brought shame on them, they used to answer: ‘Hadith means religion, therefore it should be given greater care than hiding the defects of those who narrate them.’83 Yahya ibn Sa‘id al-Qattan, who was renowned for being alert to sins, used to say: ‘In the presence of God, I would rather have them as enemies than God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings’.84
54. Bukhari, “‘Ilm,” 38; Muslim, “Zuhd,” 72; Abu Dawud, “‘Ilm,” 4; Tirmidhi, “Fitan,” 70.
55. Muslim, “Muqaddima,” 1.
56. Bukhari, “Istitaba,” 6; Abu Dawud, “Sunna,” 28.
57. I. Ma’ja, “Muqaddima,” 3.
58. Bukhari, “‘Ilm,” 38; Muslim, “Zuhd,” 72.
59. Darimi, “Muqaddima,” 25.
60. Dhahabi, Siyaru A’lam al-Nubala’, 4.263.
61. I. Ma’ja, “Muqaddima,” 3.
62. Abu Dawud al-Tayalisi, Musnad, 248.
63. Khatib al-Baghdadi, al-Kifaya fi ‘Ilm al-Riwaya, 178.
64. Bukhari, “Da‘awat,” 6.
65. Darimi, “Muqaddima,” 51.
66. Tirmidhi, “Fara’id,” 10.
67. Bukhari, “‘Ilm,” 35; Muslim, “Janna,” 79.
68. Bukhari, “Khusuma,” 4; Muslim, “Musafirin,” 270; Abu Dawud, “Witr,” 22.
69. Bukhari, “Maghazi,” 3; Muslim, “Birr,” 58.
70. Khatib al-Baghdadi, “al-Rihla fi Talab al-Hadith,” 118–24.
71. I. Sa‘d, Tabaqat, 3.178; Bukhari, al-Adab al-Mufrad, 337.
72. al-Baghdadi, ibid., 78; I. Ma’ja, “Muqaddima,” 17.
73. Khatib al-Baghdadi, al-Kifaya fi ‘Ilm al-Riwaya, 178.
74. Muslim, “Muqaddima,” 5.
75. M. ‘Ajjaj al-Khatib, al-Sunna Qabl al-Tadwin, 178.
76. Muslim, “Muqaddima,” 5.
77. M. ‘Ajjaj al-Khatib, op. cit., 222.
78. Ibid., 229.
79. Muslim, “Muqaddima,” 5.
80. I. Hajar, Tahdhib al-Tahdhib, 5.176; Dhahabi, Mizan al-I‘tidal, 2.401.
81. I. Hajar, ibid., 6.84.
82. M. ‘Ajjaj al-Khatib, ibid., 229.
83. ‘Ajjaj al-Khatib, ibid., 234.
84. Ibn Salah, Ulum al-Hadith, 389.
This article has been adapted from Risale- i Nur Collection.