The question before us is whether protection is restricted to the words of the Qur’an or does it extend to its meanings. If the Prophetic explanation is necessary to understand the Qur’an correctly, then the preservation of the Qur’anic words alone cannot serve the purpose unless the Prophetic explanations are also preserved.
إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا الذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُ لَحَافِظُونَ
“Verily, it is We who have sent down the Dhikr, (i.e. the Qu’ran) and surely, We will guard it (from corruption).” (Al-Hijr 15:9)
In this verse, Allah سبحانه وتعالى has assured the preservation of the Qur’an. This implies that the Qur’an will remain unchanged and that it shall always be transferred from one generation to the other in its real and original form, undistorted by any foreign element. The question before us is whether protection is restricted to the words of the Qur’an or does it extend to its meanings. If the Prophetic explanation is necessary to understand the Qur’an correctly, then the preservation of the Qur’anic words alone cannot serve the purpose unless the Prophetic explanations are also preserved.
وَأَنْزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الذِّكْرَ لِتُبَيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ مَا نُزِّلَ إِلَيْهِمْ وَلَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ
“And We have also sent down unto you the Reminder and the Advice (the Qur’an) that you may explain clearly to the people what has been sent down for them” (An-Nahl 16:44)
The word ‘Dhikr’ has been used here to mean the Qur’an and it has been made clear that the people can only benefit from its guidance when they are led by the explanations of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم.
Again the words “to the people” in the ayah indicate that the Prophet’s explanation is always needed by everyone. If everyone in every age is in need of the Prophetic explanation, without which they CANNOT fully comprehend the Qur’an, how would it be useful for them to preserve the Qur’anic text and leave its Prophetic explanation at the mercy of distorters, extending to it no type of protection whatsoever.
Therefore, once the necessity of the Prophetic explanations of the Qur’an is accepted, it will be self contradictory to claim that these explanations are unavailable today. It will amount to negating the protection, because it is in no way a wise policy to establish the necessity of the Sunnah on the one hand, and to make its discovery (preservation) impossible on the other. Such a deficiency cannot be attributed to Allah, the All-Mighty, the All-Wise.
What follows is a brief account of the measures taken by the Ummah to preserve the Sunnah of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم.
Different Ways of Preserving the Ahadith
As we shall see, the Sahabah (raa) of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم committed a large number of Ahadith to writing. Yet, the ink and paper was not the sole means of their preservation. There were many other ways.
The Sahabah (raa) of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم use to learn Ahadith by heart. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said: “May Allah bestow vigour to a person who hears my saying and learns it by heart, then conveys it to others exactly as he hears it?.” (Tirmidhi)
The Sahabah (raa) were eager to follow this Hadith and used to devote a considerable amount of time for committing Ahadith to their memories. A large number of them left their homes and began to live in the Mosque of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم so that they may hear the Ahadith directly from the mouth of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم.They spent all their time exclusively in securing the Ahadith in their hearts. The Arabs had such strong memories that they would easily memorize hundreds of verses of their poetry. Nearly all of them knew by heart detailed pedigrees of not only themselves, but also their horses and camels. Even their children had enough knowledge of the pedigrees of different tribes. Hammad is a famous narrator of Arab poetry. It is reported that he knew by heart one hundred long poems for each letter from their alphabet, meaning that he knew three thousand and thirty eight long poems (Al-A’lam by Zrikli 2:131)
The Arabs were so proud of their power of memorization that they placed more confidence in it than in writing. Some poets deemed it a blemish to preserve their poetry in writing. They believed that writings on paper can be tampered with, while the memory cannot be distorted by anyone. If any poets have written some of their poems, they did not like to disclose this fact, because it would be indicative of a defect in their memory (Al-Aghani V.61 P611)
The Sahabah (raa) utilized this memory for preserving Ahadith which they deemed to be the only source of guidance along with the Qur’an. It is obvious that their enthusiasm towards the preservation of Ahadith far exceeded their zeal for preserving their poetry and literature. They used their memory in respect of Ahadith with more vigor and more precaution.
Abu Hurairah (ra), the famous companion of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم who has reported 5374 Ahadith, says, “I have divided my night into three parts. In one third of the night I perform Salah, in one third I sleep and in one third I memorize the Ahadith of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم.” (Sunan Darimi)
At one time, Marwan, the governor of Madinah, tried to test his memory. He invited him to his house where he asked him to narrate some Ahadith. Marwan simultaneously ordered his scribe Abu Zu-aizi-ah to sit behind a curtain and write the Ahadith reported by Abu Hurairah (ra).The scribe recorded the Ahadith. After a year he invited Abu Hurairah (ra) again and requested him to repeat what he narrated last year, and likewise ordered Abu Zu’aizi’ah to sit behind a curtain and compare the present words of Abu Hurairah with the Ahadith he had already written previously. Abu Hurairah (ra) began to repeat the Ahadith while Abu Zu’aizi’ah compared them. He found that Abu Hurairah did not leave a single word, nor did he change any word from his earlier narration’s. (AE Bidayaah wa Nahayah and Wa Seer Alam al NibIaa’ Lil Zahabi)
In addition, the scholars of Hadith developed the science of Asma ‘ur-Rijal by which they have deduced reliable means to test the memory power of each narrator of Ahadith. They never accepted any Hadith as reliable unless all of its narrators were proved to have high memory standards.
Thus, “memory-power” in the Science of Hadith is not a vague term of general nature. It is a technical term having specified criteria to test the veracity of narrators. A great number of scholars of the sciences of “Asma ‘ur-Rijal” and “Jarh and Ta’dil” have devoted their lives to examine the reporters of Hadith on that criteria. Their task was to judge the memory power of each narrator and to record objective opinions about them.
The second source of preservation of Ahadith was by mutual discussions held by the Sahabah (raa). Whenever they came to know of a new Sunnah, they used to narrate it to others. Thus, all the Sahabah (raa) would tell each other what they had learnt from the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. This was to comply with the specific directions given by the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم in this respect. Here are some Ahadith to this effect:
“Those present should convey (my Sunnah) to those absent.” (Bukhari)
“Convey to others on my behalf, even though it be a single verse.” (Bukhari)
“May Allah grant vigour to a person who listens to my saying and learns it by heart until he conveys it to others.” (Tirmidhi)
“You hear (my sayings) and others will hear from you, then others will hear from them.” (Abu Da’wud)
The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم motivated the Sahabah (raa) to study the Ahadith in their meetings. The word used for this study is Tadarus which means “to teach each other.” One person would narrate a particular Hadith to the other, and in turn, he would repeat it to the first, and so on. The purpose was to learn it correctly. Each one would listen to the other’s version and correct his mistake, if any. The result of this Tadarus (discussion) was to remember the Ahadith as firmly as possible. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم has held this process of Tadarus to be more meritorious with Allah سبحانه وتعالى than the individual rituals of worship throughout the night.
The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said: “Tadarus (discussion) of knowledge for any period of time in the night, is better than spending the entire night in worship” (Jam’ia Bayan at urn lbn Adul Berr) [the word ‘knowledge’ in the era of Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم was used to connote knowledge related to the Qur’an and the Sunnah.]
Moreover, the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم has also warned, that it is a major sin to hide a word of ‘knowledge’ whenever it is asked for:
“Whoever is questioned pertaining to such knowledge that he has and thereafter conceals it, will be bridled by a rein of fire.” (Tirmidhi)
At another occasion the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم explained that the concealment of ‘knowledge’ is in itself a major sin, even thought the person having that knowledge is not asked about it. He صلى الله عليه وسلم said: “Whoever conceals knowledge which can be benefited from, will come on the Day of Judgement bridled with a rein of fire.” (Jam’ia Bayan Al Ilm Ibn Abdul Berr)
The Hadith makes it clear that the disclosure of knowledge is an inherent obligation on each knowledgeable person, no matter whether he is asked about it or not. The frequent discussions have played an important role in the preservation of the Sunnah. It was by the virtue of these discussions that the Ahadith known only by some individuals were conveyed to others, and the circle of narrators gradually expanded. Since these discussions were carried out at a time when the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم was himself present among them, they had the full opportunity to confirm the veracity of what has been conveyed to them in this process, and some of them actually did so.
The third way of preservation of the Sunnah was to bring it into practice.
The knowledge of Sunnah was not merely a theoretical understanding, nor were the teachings of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم merely philosophical disposition. They were and are intimately connected to the affairs of this life. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم did not confine himself to giving lessons and sermons, he صلى الله عليه وسلم also trained the Sahabah (raa) practically. Whatever they absorbed from the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم, they spared no effort to bring it into actual practice.
Thus, the entire atmosphere was one of following the Sunnah. The Sunnah was not a verbal report only, it was a living practice, a wide spread behavior and a current fashion manifesting itself in all concerns of society, in all the affairs of their daily life.
Therefore, constant practice in accordance with dictates of the Sunnah was another major factor which advanced the process of preserving the Sunnah.
The fourth way of preserving the Ahadith was through the pen. Quite a large number of the Sahabah (raa) committed the Ahadith to paper after hearing them from the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. It is true that in the beginning the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم had forbidden some of his Sahabah (raa) from writing anything other than the verses of the Qur’an. However, this prohibition was not because the Ahadith had no authoritative value, but because the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم had in the same breath ordered them to orally narrate his Ahadith. The full text of the relevant Hadith is as follows:
“Do not write (what you hear) from me, and whoever has written something (he heard) from me, he should erase it. Narrate to others (what you hear) from me and whoever deliberately attributes a lie to me, he should prepare his seat in the Fire.” (Muslim)
The underlined phrase of the Hadith clarifies that the prohibition for writing Hadith was not on account of negating its authority. The actual reason was that in the beginning of the revelation of the Qur’an, the Sahabah (raa) were not fully familiar with the Qur’anic style, nor was the Qur’an compiled in a separate book form. In those days some Sahabah (raa) began to write the Ahadith along with the Qur’anic text. It was therefore feared that it would lead to mixing the Qur’anic text with the Ahadith.
But this was the case in the earlier period of his صلى الله عليه وسلم Prophethood. When the Sahabah (raa) became fully conversant of the style of the Qur’an and writing paper became available, this transitory measure of precaution was eliminated, because the danger of mixing the Qur’an with the Ahadith no longer existed.
At this stage, the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم himself directed his companions to write down the Ahadith. Some of his instructions in this respect are quoted below:
1. One Sahabi (ra) from the Ansar complained to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم that he hears from him صلى الله عليه وسلم some Ahadith, but he sometimes forgets them. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said: “Seek help from your right hand and pointed to a writing.” (Tirmidhi)
2. Rafe’ ibn Khadij (ra), says, “I said to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم we hear from you many things, should we write them down?” He صلى الله عليه وسلم replied: “You may write. There is no harm.” (Tadrib ar-Rarawi)
3. ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr ibn al-‘Aas reported that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said to him: “Preserve Knowledge.” He asked, “and how should it be preserved?” The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم replied “Writing it.”
In another report he says, “I came to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم and told him, “I want to narrate your Ahadith. So, I want to take assistance of my handwriting besides my heart. Do you deem it fit for me? The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم replied, “If it is my Hadith, you may seek help from your hand besides your heart.” (Darimi)
It was for this reason that he used to write Ahadith frequently. He himself says, “I used to write whatever I heard from the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم and wanted to learn it by heart. Some people of the Quraysh dissuaded me and said, “Do you write everything you hear from the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم, while he is a human being and sometimes he may be in anger as any other human beings may be?” (Abu Da’wud)
They meant that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم might say something in a state of anger which he did not seriously intend. So, one should be selective in writing this Ahadith. ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr conveyed their opinion to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. In reply, the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم pointed to his lips and said,
“I swear by the One in Whose hands is the soul of Muhammad, nothing comes out from these two (lips) except truth. So, do write.” (Abu Da’wud)
In compliance to this order, ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr wrote a large number of Ahadith and compiled them in a book from which he named “Al Sahifah al Sadiqah.”
These examples are more than sufficient to prove that the writing of Ahadith was not only permitted but also ordered by the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم and that the earlier ban against writing was only for a transitory period to avoid the possible mixing between the verses of the Qur’an and the Ahadith.
After this transitory period, the fear of mixing ended, the bar was lifted and the companions were persuaded to preserve Ahadith in a written form. When we study individual efforts of the companions for compiling Ahadith, we find that thousands of Ahadith were written in the very days of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم and the four Khalifs. The following is a brief account of some outstanding compilations of Ahadith in that early period. It will, at least, refute the misconception that the Ahadith were not compiled during the first three centuries!
The Transcript of Sadaqah by ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr bin aI-‘Aas
1. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم has dictated detailed documents containing rules of Shari’ah about the levying of Zakah, and specifying the amount and rate of Zakah in respect of different Zakatable assets. This document was named “al-Sahifah al Sadaqah.” ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (ra) says:
“The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم dictated the Transcript of Sadaqah and it was sent to his governors when he صلى الله عليه وسلم passed away. He صلى الله عليه وسلم had attached it to his sword. When he صلى الله عليه وسلم passed away, Abu Bakr acted according to it till he passed away, then ‘Umar acted according to it till he passed away…” (Tirmidhi)
The text of this transcript is available in several books of Ahadith like the Sunan of Abu Da’wud. Imam Zuhri, the renowned scholar of Hadith used to teach this transcript to his pupils. He used to say:
“This is the text of the transcript dictated by the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم about the rules of Sadaqah (Zakah). Its original manuscript is with the children of Sayyidina ‘Umar. Salim, the grandson of ‘Umar had taught it to me. I had learnt it by heart. ‘Umar ibn Abdul-‘Aziz had procured a copy of this text from Salim and ‘Abdullah, the grandsons of ‘Umar. I have the same copy with me.” (Abu Da’wud)
The Script of ‘Amr b. Hazm
In 10 A.H., when Najran was liberated by the Muslims, the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم appointed his Sahabi (ra) ‘Amr ibn Hazm as governor of the province of Yemen. At this time, the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم dictated a detailed transcript to Ubayy ibn Ka’b and handed it over to ‘Amr ibn Hazm. This transcript, besides some general advice, contains the rules of Shari’ah about purification, Salah, Zakah, ‘Ushr, Hajj Umrah, Jihad, spoils, taxes, Diyah (blood money), administration, education etc. Sayyidina Amr lbn Hazm performed his functions as governor of Yemen in light of this transcript.
After his death this transcript remained with his grandson, Abu Bakr, Irnam Zuhri learned and copied it from him. He used to teach to his pupils. (Al-Wasaig al Siyasiyyah, Dr. Hamidullah)
The Scripts of Abu Hurairah
It is well-known that Abu Hurairah (ra) has narrated more Ahadith than any other Sahabi (ra) of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. The number of Ahadith reported by him is said to be 5374. The reason was that he, after embracing Islam, devoted his full life for the sole purpose of bearing and preserving the Ahadith of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم.
There are concrete evidences to support the understanding that he had preserved the Ahadith in written form. One of his pupils, namely, Hasan ibn ‘Amr reports that once:
“Abu Hurairah (ra) took him to his home and showed him “many books” containing the Ahadith of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم” (Jam’ia Bayan al lIm and Fath al Bari)
It shows that Abu Hurairah had many scripts of Ahadith with him. It is also established that a number of his pupils had prepared several scripts of his narrations.
The Script of Anas
Anas ibn Malik was one of those Sahabi (ra) of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم who knew writing. His mother had brought him to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم when he was ten years old. He remained with the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم for ten years during which he heard a large number of Ahadith and wrote them down. Sa’eed ibn Hilal, one of his pupils says:
When we insisted upon Anas, he would bring to us some notebooks and say, “These are what I have heard and written from the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم after which I have presented them to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم for confirmation.” (Mustadrak aI Hakim)
It shows that Anas (ra) had not only written a large number of Ahadith in several note books, but had also showed them to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم who had confirmed them.
The Script of ‘Ali
It is well known that ‘Ali (ra) had a script of Ahadith with him. He says:
“I have not written anything from the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم except the Qur’an and what is contained in this script.” (Bukhani)
Imam Bukhari has mentioned this script in six different places of his Sahih. A combined study of all those places reveals that this script was substantially large and it consisted of Ahadith about Qisas (retaliation), Diyah (blood money), Fidyah (ransom), rights of Ahlul Dhimma (non- Muslim citizens) of the Islamic State, some specific kinds of inheritance, Zakah rules pertaining to camels of different ages, and some rules about the sanctity of the city of Medinah.
The Script was written by ‘Ali (ra) in the days of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. Then, during the early days of the Khilafah, he felt that the Ahadith of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم should be spread among the people to widen the range of Islamic knowledge.
It is reported by the famous historian Ibn Sa’d that he stood in the mosque and delivered a lecture. Then he asked the people, “Who will purchase ‘knowledge’ for one Dirham only?”
He meant that whoever wanted to learn Ahadith, should buy writing paper for one Dirham and come to him, for dictation of the Ahadith of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم.
Scripts of Ibn ‘Abbas
‘Abdullah ibn Abbas (ra) was the cousin of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. When the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم passed away, he was very young. In order to preserve Ahadith, he began to compile what he himself heard from the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم as well as those narrated by other Sahabah (raa). Whenever he came to know of any Sahabi (ra) having some Ahadith, he would travel to him to hear them. All such Ahadith were compiled by him in several scripts. These scripts numbered so many that they could be loaded on a camel. These scripts remained with his pupil, Kuraib. Musa ibn ‘Uqbah, the famous historian says:
“Kuraib left with us a camel load of Ibn Abbas’ books. When ‘All ibn ‘Abdullah ibn Abbas would need a book from them, he wrote to Kuraib, “Send for me such and such books:’ He would then transcribe the book and send to him one of the two copies.” (Takat ibn Sa’ad)
The pupils of Ibn Abbas (ra) would copy these scripts and read them to him to confirm the correctness of the copies. (Tirmidhi)
Sometimes Ibn Abbas (ra) would narrate the Ahadith to his pupils while they would record them. (Darimi)
Therefore, this is a proof for those Muslims with a defeated mentality and for those outside the pale of Islam who attack the Islamic Aqeedah claiming that the Ahadith are not authentic or reliable.
This brief article proves without doubt that the Sunnah of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم was indeed given scrupulous attention during the life of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم.
In conclusion, the Protection of Allah سبحانه وتعالى extends over the Qur’an and the Sunnah.