Sources:

  • Islamweb
  • The biography of Imaam al-Bukhaari (Rahimahullaah)

The Era of the Prophet (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam)

The Prophet (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) appointed the recorders of the Revelation from among his Sahaabah. The Qur’an was written on sheets, stones, leaves of palm trees, etc. Whenever any Ayah (verse) was revealed upon him (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), he used to command the recorder of the Revelation to write it in such-and-such position of such-and-such Surah. This way of recording continued till he (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) passed away, and the whole Qur’an was written and memorized; it just needed to be compiled in one Mus-haf.

As for the Sunnah, it was not all officially written in the era of the Prophet (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) like the Qur’an was, nor did he (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) command his Companions to do that.

The scholars mentioned many reasons for not writing the Sunnah in the Prophet’s (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) era:

  1. The Prophet (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) feared that his sayings would get mixed with the Noble Qur’an, especially in that stage where the Revelation was not yet completed. This is because the Qur’an was revealed in segments according to events.
  2. The Arabs were illiterate;not being able to read or write. Therefore, they had to rely on their memories when they wanted to understand something or retain knowledge and information. Allaah(Subhaanahu wa Ta’ala), in His Wisdom,blessed them with powerful and retentive memories.And because the verses were revealed at intervals,it was easy for them to memorize them by heart. However, the Sunnah consists of many diverse events, and includes the actions of the Prophet (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and his statements from the beginning of his Messengership until he (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) died. If the Sunnah was to be recorded in the same way as the Qur’an was recorded, this would entail the Companions having to memorize both the Qur’an and the Sunnah, and this would cause a great hardship for them. These and other reasons were the causes for not writing the Sunnah in the era of the Prophet (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). And this helps us to understand his prohibition of recording the Sunnah.

Abu Sa’id al-Khudri (Radia-Allaahu ‘anhu) narrated that the Prophet (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: “Do not record anything about me, and whoever has written anything on my authority other than the Qur’an, let him erase it.” [Muslim]

This does not mean that nothing of the Sunnah was written during the lifetime of the Prophet (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). There are many authentic quotations that indicate that some writings of the Sunnah occurred during the Prophet’s (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) era, but this writing was done in a limited and specific way; it was not general such that people could refer to or use it. Some of such Ahadeeth are mentioned below:

a– Abu Hurairah (Radia-Allaahu ‘anhu) narrated that when Allaah gave victory to His Messenger (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) over the people of Makkah, Allaah’s Messenger (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) stood up among the people, and after glorifying Allaah, said: “Allaah has prohibited fighting in Makkah and has given authority to His Messenger and the believers over it. Fighting was illegal for anyone before me, and was made legal for me for a part of a day, and it will not be legal for anyone after me. Its game should not be chased, its thorny bushes should not be uprooted, and picking up its fallen things is not allowed except for one who makes a public announcement for it, and he whose relative is murdered has the option either to accept a compensation for it or to retaliate.” 

 Al-‘Abbaas (Radia-Allaahu ‘anhuma) said: “Except al-Idhkhir, for we use it in our graves and houses.”

Allaah’s Messenger (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: “Except al-Idhkhir.” Abu Shah, a Yemenite, stood up and said: “O Allaah’s Messenger! Get it written for me.” Allaah’s Messenger (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: “Write it for Abu Shah.”

(The sub-narrator asked Al-Auza’i): What did he mean by saying: “Get it written, O Allaah’s Messenger?” He replied: “The speech which he had heard from Allaah’s Messenger (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam).” [Al-Bukhaari- the Book of al-Luqata]  

b- ‘Abdullaah ibn ‘Amr (Radia-Allaahu ‘anhu) narrated: “I used to write everything I heard from the Messenger of Allaah (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) that I wanted to memorize. Thereupon, the Quraish forbade me and said: ‘Do you write everything you hear and the Messenger of Allaah (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) is a human being, who speaks when he is angry and when he is pleased?’ So I stopped writing. Then I mentioned that to Allaah’s Messenger (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and he (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) gestured with his finger to his mouth and said: ‘Write, by the One in Whose Hand my life is, nothing but the truth comes out of it.’ [Saheeh Abu Dawoud no. 3646]

c- Abu Hurairah (Radia-Allaahu ‘anhu) said: “No one among the Companions of the Messenger of Allaah (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) was relating (narrating) Hadeeth on the authority of Allaah’s Messenger (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) more than me except ‘Abdullaah ibn ‘Amr (Radia-Allaahu ‘anhu); he was writing and I was not.” [Saheeh at-Tirmidhi no. 2668]

d- It was narrated that ‘Ali (Radia-Allaahu ‘anhu) had a sheet of paper on which some rulings narrated from the Messenger of Allaah (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) were written. Ash-Sha’bi narrated that Abu Juhaifa said: “I asked ‘Ali, ‘Have you got any book (which has been revealed to the Prophet (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) apart from the Qur’an?’ ‘Ali (Radia-Allaahu ‘anhu) replied: ‘No, except Allaah’s Book, or the power of understanding which has been bestowed (by Allaah) upon a Muslim, or what is (written) on this sheet of paper (with me).’” Abu Juhaifa said: “I asked: ‘What is (written) in this sheet of paper?’ ‘Ali (Radia-Allaahu ‘anhu) replied: ‘It deals with Diyah [compensation (blood money) paid by the killer to the relatives of the victim in the case of manslaughter only], the ransom for the releasing of the captives from the hands of the enemies, and the law that no Muslim should be killed in Qisas (equality in punishment) for the killing of a disbeliever.’” [Al-Bukhaari-the Book of Knowledge]

‘Ali (Radia-Allaahu ‘anhu) was asked: “Did the Prophet (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) grant you something special which he did not grant to anyone else?” He replied: “The Messenger of Allaah (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) did not give us something special which he did not give to the people, except for what I have in my scabbard (a sheath for a sword).” Then he brought out a booklet on which was written, “Allaah curses whoever sacrifices an animal to other than Allaah. Allaah curses whoever steals a landmark. Allaah curses whoever curses his parents. Allaah curses whoever gives shelter to an innovator.” [Al-Adab al-Mufrad and al-Albaani verified it to be authentic]

The Era of the Companions 

During the era of the Companions (Radia-Allaahu ‘anhum) and of the more senior members of the ensuing generation (the Tabi’oon), the sayings and deeds of the Prophet (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) were not recorded and classified in Hadeeth compilations.

Al-Baihaqi reported that the rightly-guided Caliph, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab (Radia-Allaahu ‘anhu) pondered over the issue and consulted the Companions who agreed with him not to record the Hadeeth. Nevertheless, he continued to make Istikharah (the prayer for seeking guidance) for a month, and then preferred that the Ahadeeth not be written down in fear that people might place too much importance on them at the expense of the Qur’an. ‘Umar’s (Radia-Allaahu ‘anhu) stance affirms what was mentioned before; that the Prophet (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) prohibited the recording of the Ahadeeth because he feared that some people might confuse it with Qur’an. Hence, he (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) prohibited it in general but allowed it in specific cases under certain circumstances.

The Era of the Tabi’oon (the Followers)

The era of the Companions passed without recording any Hadeeth, except a little. Then, during the latter part of the era of the Tabi’oon, more and more of them began to record knowledge in writing. Innovations were becoming widespread; deviant groups such as Khawaarij, the Raafidah, and the Qadariyyah were gaining followers among the common masses of the Muslims. Such groups had to be countered with knowledge and clear proofs. The fear of their influence on Muslim society accelerated the process of recording knowledge in books.

After the Muslim nations had memorized the Book of its Lord and were safe from mixing it with other than it, of the books of the Sunnah, the Caliph, ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul-‘Azeez (Rahimahullaah) came and he commanded the compilation of the Hadeeth for obvious and necessary reasons.

Almost all narrations agree that the first person to order the compilation of the Sunnah was the rightly-guided Caliph ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul-‘Azeez (Rahimahullaah). At the end of the first century, Abu Nu’aym narrated that ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul-‘Azeez (Rahimahullaah) ordered Abu Bakr ibn Hazm (Rahimahullaah), who was his appointed governor and judge of Madinah, to write down the Ahadeeth of the Prophet (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), because he feared that they might get lost.

He wrote to the rulers of the provinces commanding them to appoint the scholars of Shari’ah and the Imaams in their countries to compile the Sunnah from the trustworthy people of knowledge and write it down.

Among those to whom he had written was Imaam Muhammad ibn Muslim ibn Shihaab az-Zuhri, one of the scholars in Shaam and Hijaaz and one of the scholars of the Tabi’oon and their jurist [died 124 A.H]. Accordingly, he responded and he compiled the Hadeeth from people of Madinah and presented it to ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul-‘Azeez (Rahimahullaah). This was the first attempt to compile the Hadeeth and write it down. His compilation was of the Ahadeeth (narrations of the Companions) without putting them into chapters, and they were mixed with statements of the Companions and Fatawa (religious ruling) of the Tabi’oon.

Later, the efforts to compile the Sunnah in book form spread on a large scale and so the books of Sunnah began to emerge.

The Second Stage of the Compilation of the Sunnah 

This stage started in the second century after Hijrah. The writing down of the Sunnah flourished and progressed, and all the scholars in different regions helped each other.

Ibn Jarij wrote in Makkah, Maalik and Ibn Ishaq wrote in Madinah, Sa’eid ibn Abi ‘Aroobah, Ar-Rabi’ ibn Subaih and Hammaad ibn Salamah wrote in Basrah, Sufyaan ath-Thawri wrote in Koofa, Abu ‘Amr al-Auza’ie wrote in Shaam, ‘Abdullaah ibn al-Mubarak wrote in Khurasan, and there were others.

Their way of writing was to compile the Ahadeeth (narrations) related to different topics and arrange them in chapters organized by the topic of Hadeeth. They put these chapters all together in one book by mentioning the statement of the Companion or Tabi’ee, and they called them Musannaf, Muwatta’ and Jamie’.

The Third Stage of the Compilation of the Sunnah

This stage started in the third century after Hijrah. In this stage the Ahadeeth were compiled in a special order with the scholars organizing the Ahadeeth in a special way. The following shows several types of Ahadeeth collections:

1- The early works were the Musnad

The Musnad organized the Ahadeeth by the Sahaabi (Companion) who narrated the Hadeeth. The Musnad would, for example, list all the Ahadeeth narrated by Abu Bakr (Radia-Allaahu ‘anhu), and then all by ‘Umar (Radia-Allaahu ‘anhu) and so on, irrespective of their subject matter.

The most famous Musnad is of Imaam Ahmad, who compiled over 30,000 Ahadeeth. This is one of the largest collections of original source Hadeeth.

Another Musnad is of Ishaaq ibn Rahawi and the Musnad of ‘Uthmaan ibn Abi Shaibah. These Musnads included authentic and inauthentic narrations which makes benefitting from them difficult except for those who are expert in this field.

2- After the Musnad came the Saheeh (authentic)

Since most of these books of Ahadeeth (i.e. the Musnad) consisted of narrations that were authentic, acceptable and weak, these books were fine reference works for scholars who had the ability to distinguish between the authentic and the unauthentic, but they were not exactly what the common masses of Muslims needed. The average Muslim needed a compilation that he could trust one hundred percent, so that if he came across a Hadeeth in it, he could be sure that it was authentic.

This was what prompted al-Bukhaari (Rahimahullaah) to compile his book al-Jaami’ as-Saheeh. The second Saheeh is of Imaam Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj al-Qushayri, the student of al-Bukhaari (died in 256 A.H.). He wrote his Saheeh which is known as Saheeh Muslim. They both organized their own Saheeh in accordance to the chapters of Fiqh (jurisprudence) to make it easy for the jurists and scholars to refer to them when intending to know any particular ruling.

3- The works of the Sunan

The compilers wanted to organize the Fiqhi aspect of the Hadeeth. These are organized by the order of Fiqh and compiled to make Fiqh easier. The four major Sunan works are of:

a- Sunan Abu Dawoud (died in 275 A.H.)

b- Sunan Ibn Maajah (died in 279 A.H.)

c- Sunan an-Nasaa’i (died in 303 A.H.)

d- Sunan at-Tirmidhi, although its proper classification is al-Jamie’, but it is very close to the Sunan.

However, these scholars did not abide by authenticity in their Ahadeeth, as al-Bukhaari and Muslim did. So, one finds the authentic and other than that in these Sunan, although the majority of them are authentic.

4- Mu’jam Works

The Mu’jam works are organized according to the scholars which the compiler himself heard the Hadeeth from. The greatest of Mu’jam works are the three works of at-Tabarani: he wrote al-Mu’jam al-Kabeer, al-Mu’jam al-Awsat and al-Mu’jam as-Sagheer.

There are many ways to categorize Hadeeth, but these are the four main ways: the Musnad, the Saheeh, the Sunan, and the Mu’jam.

Accordingly, the scholars considered the third century the best and most flourishing ages of the Sunnah for compilation and writing. In this century, the six books of Sunnah which the Ummah relied on were recorded and the Imaams of Hadeeth and those who were skilled in judging Hadeeth appeared.

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