A Critique and Evaluation of Narrations Concerned with the Recording of Hadiths


Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Critique and Evaluation of  Narrations Concerned with the Recording of Hadiths

It is an undeniable fact that writing plays a significant role in passing information on to future generations. However, recording information is not sufficient on its own for reliable transfer, as the soundness of information is not so much related to whether it has been recorded or not, but rather is connected with the reliability of the transmitters. As a matter of fact, there are many written documents that have been forged. Therefore, in this article our purpose is to analyze the subject of the recording of hadiths (sayings of the Prophet) as a historical event.

The recording of hadiths has developed in three subsequent stages, that is, kitabat, tadvin and tasnif. In order to properly understand the different attitudes about the recording of hadiths, first of all we should understand the Prophet's attitude. There are contradictory narrations about the Prophet's attitude towards the recording of hadith; there are hadiths that permit the recording of hadiths, and there are others in which it is prohibited.

I-Narrations Reporting that the Writing Down of Hadiths is Prohibited

Six different Companions, i.e., Abu Musa al-Ash'ari (42/662), Zayd b. Sabit (45/665), Abu Hurairah (58/678), Abdullah b. Abbas (668/687), Abdullah b. Umar (73/693) and Abu Said al-Hudri (74/693), narrated hadiths which state that the Prophet had prohibited the recording of hadith, that he did not allow the Companions to write them down and that he prevented those he saw from recording hadiths.

The narrations from these Companions are as follows:

Abu Musa al-Ash'ari narrated that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said "The people of Israel abandoned the Torah because they themselves wrote some books and adapted them." In this hadith, although there is no direct prohibition of recording hadiths, with an analogy it can be implied that writings other than Allah's revelation caused the people of Israel to disregard the Torah, and in the same way, texts other than Quran might cause Muslims to disregard the Quran.

As narrated in the sources, Muawiya b. Abu asked Sufyan Zayd b. Thabit about a hadith and then he wanted this hadith to be written down by his men. But Zayd b. Thabit said: "Allah's Messenger ordered us not to record the hadiths" and he destroyed the written text. This hadith clearly illustrates that the Prophet prohibited the recording of hadiths.

Abu Hurairah narrated: "While we were recording hadiths the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) approached us and asked what we were writing. We replied that we were recording the hadiths we had heard from him. Then the Prophet (pbuh) said: "Do you want a book other than Allah's book? The nations before you wrote down books in addition to Allah's book which caused them to stray."

In different versions of the above-mentioned narrations it is reported that the Prophet said "Write down only Allah's book" and "Report hadiths orally"; upon the Prophet's warning his Companions burned all copies of hadiths.

According to Abdullah b. Abbas and Abdullah b. Umar's narrations, the Prophet climbed the minbar (pulpit) and said: "What are the books you are writing? Do you want a book in addition to Allah's book? If you abandon the Quran, one night, Allah will suddenly annihilate the written verses and even the verses in your memory." 

There are two narrations from Abu Said al-Hudri about Prophet Muhammad's prohibition of recording hadiths:

  1. "We asked permission from the Messenger of Allah to record hadiths, but he did not give us permission to do so."
  2. "The Prophet said: ‘Do not write anything from me except the verses of the Quran. If there are any of you who have written anything other than Quran, he must destroy it. You can only report orally from me; there is no objection to this. And, whoever tells a lie referring to me should prepare his place in Hell!'"

None of the above narrations about the prohibition of recording hadiths, except for that of Abu Said al-Hudri's, are sufficient as evidence against such an act. The chain of some of them is considered to be weak, while Abu Hurairah's narrations were criticized as they lacked a sound chain or a reliable text. Although there is disagreement about whether one of Abu Said al-Hudri's narrations is marfu' (i.e., its chain of narrators reaches back to the Prophet) or mavquf (i.e. its chain of narrators does not reach back to the Prophet), it is clear that both of them are marfu, thus both can be seen as evidence. Views claiming that these narrations have been forged show a malevolent intention and they are not scientifically based.

II- Narrations Reporting that the Prophet Permitted Recording Hadiths

It is possible to analyze the narrations about Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) granting permission for recording hadiths under three categories: those in which the Prophet himself had his Companions write down his sayings, those in which he allowed those Companions who asked for permission to record hadiths, and those in which the Companions recorded hadiths during the lifetime of the Prophet and after his death. In this article, our purpose is not to bring together all the narrations about this subject, but rather to clarify the issue by discussing some of them.

a) Narrations reporting that the Prophet himself had his Companions record his sayings

One of the most important pieces of evidence that the Prophet gave permission to record hadiths is that he himself had some of his hadiths written down. Prophet Muhammad had written correspondence with state leaders, including the Roman emperor Heraclius, the Egyptian king Muqawqis, the Abyssinian king Najashi, the kisra of Iran, the ruler of Bahrayn Mundhir b. Sava al-Abdi, the governor of Ghassan, Harith b. Abu Shamra, the rulers of Oman Jayfer b. Julandi and his brother Abd b. Julandi, the ruler of Ghassan, Jabala b. Ayham, the Dumatu'l Jandal, the ruler Uhaydir b. Abdulmalik, the ruler of Khimyar Kharis b. Abdukulal, and the governor of Yemama, Havza b. Ali al-Hanafi. Additionally, he passed on his commands to his governors Amr b. Hazm al-Ansari (53/673) and Muaz b. Jabal (98/639) in writing. He had his commanders, for example, Abdullah b. Jahsh and Khalid b. Velid, write his regulations. He invited tribes and committees like the Juhayna, Khas'am, Khadas, Beni Zuhayr b. Ukaysh, and Khamdan to Islam or he sent the basic principles of Islam in writing to them. He corresponded with the Jews of Khaybar and the Christians of Najran and he sent a letter to Suraka b. Malik al-Mudliji (24/645), granting him safety.

In addition to the written texts transmitted from Prophet Muhammad, there are also some narrations which state that the Prophet had his hadiths recorded. When Abu Rashid al-Khibrani asked Abdullah b. Amr b. As to narrate the hadiths he had heard from the Prophet, he took out a paper and said "This is the page that the Messenger of Allah had me write." This shows that Prophet Muhammad himself had the hadiths that were on this paper written down (Musnad, II, 196).

Ummu Salama, Prophet Muhammad's wife, reported that once the Messenger of Allah asked for a piece of leather and had Ali b. Abu Talib write on both sides of it. Additionally, there are some narrations reporting that the Prophet wanted to have a testament written to restrain his people from falsifying hadiths (Musnad, I, 324-325, 336; Buhari, "‘Ilm", 39, "Merda", 17, "I'tisam", 26; Muslim, "Vasiyyet", 20).

This information shows that on different occasions Prophet Muhammad had some hadiths recorded.

b) Narrations reporting that Prophet Muhammad allowed the Companions to record hadiths

There are some narrations that act as evidence that Prophet Muhammad was tolerant toward the recording of hadiths; he allowed his Companions to record his sayings and he did not restrain those who recorded hadiths in front of him.

It is reported that while Abdullah b. Amr was recording everything he heard from the Prophet so that he could memorize it, some Companions of the Prophet opposed this action, saying, "The Messenger of Allah is a man too; he is sometimes happy, sometimes angry." Upon this warning, Abdullah went to Prophet Muhammad and the Prophet permitted him to record the hadiths, saying: "Continue to write". Abdullah asked; "Should I write down everything you say, even when you are happy or angry?" Prophet Muhammad replied: "Yes, write down everything, even when I am in a mood of compliance or anger, because from this mouth emerges only the word of truth."

When Abdullah b. Amr was asked whether Constantinople or Rome would be conquered first, he went over to a chest and took out a book. Then he explained: "Once we were recording what the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said. He was asked whether Constantinople or Rome would be conquered first. He stated that the city of Heraclius would be first, thus implying Constantinople (Musnad, II, 176; Darimi, "Mukaddime", 43; Hakim, al-Mustedrak, IV, 508, 555)."

When one of the Companions complained about his inability to keep all the hadiths in his mind, the Prophet advised him "Help your memory with your hand." Also, Prophet Muhammad was asked "Should we write what we hear from you?" He replied: "There is no problem with your recording what I say." These narrations show that Prophet Muhammad allowed the recording of hadiths.

Even though some of these narrations have been criticized, when all the narrations are assessed it can be seen that there is nothing that prevents us accepting these as narrations that support sound hadiths. 

c) Companions who recorded hadiths

The fact that some Companions of the Prophet recorded hadiths while the Prophet was alive and that they also had others record hadiths after the death of the Prophet shows that Prophet Muhammad tolerated the recording of hadiths and that he did not set a strict principle that prohibited the recording of hadiths.

As-Sahifat As-Sadiqa, as narrated by Abdullah b. Amr, Ali and Amr b. Hazm (53/673) have manuscripts that were written in the period of Prophet Muhammad.

Abu Hurairah (58/678), Semura b. Jundab (60/679), Jabir b. Abdullah (78/697) and many other Companions of Prophet Muhammad wrote down hadiths or had someone write the hadiths. The number of hadith texts written by the Companions of the Prophet is not known exactly. Nabia Abbot says, "Hadiths were written down by a few people at the time of Prophet Muhammad", thus stating that there were not many Companions who had recorded hadiths. However, Rifat Fawzi Abdulmuttalib believes that there were more than a few hadith texts written at the time of Prophet Muhammad. According to A'zami, there were fifty-two Companions who wrote down hadiths. This shows that the number of Companions who wrote down hadiths and the texts of hadiths were more than just a few.


In this article which analyzes the narrations concerned with the recording of hadiths, we have discovered that some narrations report that the recording of hadiths is prohibited; of these only that of Abu Hurairah is sound, while the narrations that report that Prophet Muhammad allowed the recording of hadiths are all sound. It is a historical fact that the Prophet did not employ clerks to record the hadiths in the same way that he had clerks recording the verses of the Quran, nor did he have all the sunnah (practices of the Prophet) recorded in the same way that he had the verses of the Quran recorded. But this does not mean that he did not permit the recording of hadith. Therefore, all the claims which state that there were only a few narrations about the recording of hadith and that the Prophet did not permit such recordings, or that he did not leave any written source except for the Quran are groundless and meaningless. There are texts of hadiths written by the Companions of Prophet Muhammad as well as sound narrations about the Prophet granting permission for the recording of hadiths.

عن أبي هُرَيْرَةَ ـ رضى الله عنه قَالَ:
قَبَّلَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم الْحَسَنَ بْنَ عَلِيٍّ وَعِنْدَهُ الأَقْرَعُ بْنُ حَابِسٍ التَّمِيمِيُّ جَالِسًا‏.‏ فَقَالَ الأَقْرَعُ إِنَّ لِي عَشَرَةً مِنَ الْوَلَدِ مَا قَبَّلْتُ مِنْهُمْ أَحَدًا‏.‏ فَنَظَرَ إِلَيْهِ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ثُمَّ قَالَ ‏"‏ مَنْ لاَ يَرْحَمُ لاَ يُرْحَمُ ‏"‏‏
God's Messenger kissed Al-Hasan bin Ali (his grandchild) while Al-Aqra' bin Habis At-Tamim was sitting beside him. Al-Aqra said, "I have ten children and I have never kissed anyone of them", God's Messenger cast a look at him and said, "Whoever is not merciful to others will not be treated mercifully." (Bukhari, Good Manners and Form (Al-Adab), 18)


Title: Tracks from Neyzen Sadreddin Özçimi's album, Sufi Rhythms - Sultan-i Ask Artist: Sadreddin Özçimi