Companions tried to understand the Messenger

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Did the companions and those succeeding them verify the reports coming to 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, say-ing: 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 Compan-ion. 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 au-thenticity 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 sectarian-ism.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 fa-ther 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 Tradi-tions 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

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.

 

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