A Brief History of Hadith Narrations

Some people believe hadith were collected 300 years after the Prophet’s death ﷺ. Men like Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim tried to work out which ones were authentic and which were not. Therefor questioning the overall authenticity of hadith narrations. This is far from the truth.

Hadith collection existed during the era of the lifetime of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ did not want people to confuse the Qur’an with hadith, so he never allowed people to write them down (except a select few). All hadith were memorised and transmitted orally.

There were certain Sahabi who personally tasked themselves with memorising statements of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, his actions and behaviour. As well as gathering hadith from other Sahabi.

Some of the most famous of them are:

  • Abu Hurairah – He narrated approximately 5374 hadith.q
  • Abdullah Ibn Abbas – He narrated approximately 2660 hadith
  • Aa’isha as-Sadiq – She narrated approximately 2210 hadith
  • Abdullah Ibn Umar – He narrated approximately 1630 hadith
  • Jabir Ibn Abdullah – He narrated approximately 1560 hadith
  • Anas Ibn Malik – He narrated approximately 1286 hadith
  • Abu Sa’id al-Khudri – He narrated approximately 1170 hadith

The remaining companions like four rightly guided caliphs, Abdullah Ibn Amr Ibn al-Aas, Umm Salamah, Abu Musa al-Ash’ari, Abu Dhar al-Ghafari, Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, Ubayy Ibn Ka’ab, Mu’aadh Ibn Jabal also narrated over 100 hadith.

All these companions, at times purposefully and other times in passing, narrated to either other Sahabi or other companions. These companions were known as the Taabi’een, the Successors. They are the ones who never met the Prophet ﷺ but met his companions. Abu Hurayra purposefully shared hadith, he had 800 students. Aa’isha, Ibn Abbas and Ibn Umar were leaders of knowledge in the community so as people asked them questions on Islamic rulings, they always based their reasoning on the Qur’an and Sunnah. They gave direct references using hadith.

Following on from these companions, the Taabi’een took on the task of memorising and teaching others hadith. These followers also used to approach different Sahabi for what they heard from the Prophet ﷺ. They would memorise verbatim. The Last of the Sahabi died around 80 years after the Prophet ﷺ died, approximately 94AH. Bear in mind, great scholars like Imam Abu Hanifa was born in 70AH.

Some of the most popular amongst the Taa’bieen are:

  • Saeed ibn al-Mussayib – He was born during the time of Umar and became one of the leading scholars and hadith narrators after the Sahabi.
  • Urwah Ibn Zubair – He was the nephew of Aisha. As Aisha was one of the biggest scholars in Madina, he from a young age, asked her as many questions on Islam as he could.
  • Salim Ibn Abdullah Ibn Umar – He was the son of Abdullah ibn Umar, like his father, he was a keen student and follower of Islamic knowledge.
  • Naaf’i – He was the servant of Abdullah Ibn Umar. He is also famous for being the teacher of Imam Malik. So the Maliki School of thought take many hadith from this chain. You have Ibn Umar who was known as a meticulous sahabi, he was known to copy and record everything form the Propht, then you have Nafi’ who was Ibn Umar’s servant, he was with Ibn Umar all the time, and was his student too and then he passes the knowledge to a very bright young man called Malik ibn Anas.

Some examples of Taab’ieen and their students who went out and collected hadith:

  • Muhammad Ibn Shihab az-Zuhri from Abdullaah Ibn Umar, Anas Ibn Maalik and Sahl Ibn Sa’ad, Sa’eed Ibn al-Mussayab and Mahmood Ibn Rabee’ah.
  • Abdul Maalik Ibn Juraij in Makkah
  • Imam al-Awzaa’ee in Shaam
  • Mu’ammar Ibn Raashid in Yemen
  • Imam Sufyan ath-Thawri in Kufa
  • Imam Hamad Ibn Salama in Basra
  • Abdullah Ibn al-Mubarak in Khurasaan
  • Maalik Ibn Anas who famously compiled Muwatta Imam Malik

There were 100s of Taab’ieen who narrated but many of the hadith the hadith scholars like Imam Bukhari collect are from such Taabi’. They did not rely on hadith narrated from unknown people or people who weren’t known for religious knowledge and uprightness. Alongside these narrations from these Sahabi and Taabi’, they could see there are other companions who are narrating the same/similar thing. This gave weight to the hadith being authentic.

Written Works

There are some reports of written works of hadith from the Sahaba. The Sahifa-Sadiqa has been attributed to Abdullah Ibn Amr al-Aas. He had a great love for the Sunnah and statements of the Messenger ﷺ. He personally had permission to record hadith by writing from the Prophet ﷺ. He wrote 1000 hadith. This work is now lost but many of the earlier scholars confirm most, if not all, of his hadith have been narrated by others too, so in effect are incorporated in other hadith. Imam Ahmad in his Musnad collected all the hadith in the Sahifa.

Another compilation that exists, called Sahifa Sahiha was written by Humam Ibn Munabbeh, a student of Abu Hurairah. He wrote all the hadith from his teacher. Imam Ahmad again collected these in his compilation under Abu Hurayra. Copies of the original manuscript can also be found in the Berlin Library and in the Damascus Library.

Another student of Abu Hurayra, Basheer Ibn Naheek, compiled hadith by writing the Sahifa ibn Naheek. He was known to have read them out to Abu Hurayra who in turn verified the collection.

There was also another copy of hadith by Abu Hurayra owned by the Caliph Abdul Aziz ibn Marwan. He is known to ask one of his subjects, Katheer ibn Murrah to write and send him hadith from other companions except from Abu Hurayra as he already had them.

The Final Sermon of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ during the conquest of Makkah was written down by Abu Shah Yamani.

There are many other examples of written hadith work from the time of the Sahaba. Briefly here are some others.

  • Saaheefa Jaabir ibn Abdullah
  • Narrations of Aa’ishah Siddeeqa by her nephew
  • Narrations of Ibn Abbaas by Sa’id ibn Jubair
  • Saaheefa of Anas Ibn Maalik which he wrote himself and had confirmed from the Prophet ﷺ
  • Amr Ibn Hazm a governor sent to another state was also given written guidance from the Prophet ﷺ
  • Risaalah of Samurah Ibn Jundub – Presented to his son in his will
  • Sai’d Ibn Ubaadah collection
  • Maktoob Naaf’i – Hadith written by Naafi’
  • Collection of Abdullah ibn Masud

After this period, the following works were collected (students of the successors)

  • Jami al Ma’mar
  • Muwatta Imam Maalik
  • Jaami Sufyaan ath-Thawree
  • Jaami Abdullaah Ibn al-Mubarak
  • Jaami Imam al-Awzaa’ee
  • Jaami Ibn Juraij
  • Kitaab al-Akhraj of Qaadhi Abu Yoosuf
  • Kitaab al-Athaar of Imaam Muhammad

The Muslim scholarship community was vast and high esteemed. Hadith were being taught by the most pious and honest teachers to the most pious and honest students. There was great care in preserving hadith as well as circulating them (like efforts from Abdullah ibn Abdul Aziz).

The Era of Bukhari and others

After about 200 years, this is where the chain of narrators had now grown, and due to much political conflict between the Ummayyads and Abbasids, there started to appear many forged hadith. The politicians started using hadith to support their course, or it could even be a layman who would invent a fiqh ruling to get his way.

So many scholars like Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim started to collect hadith as well as grade them. Firstly they distinguished between hadith of the Prophet ﷺ, companion or the Taab’ieen. Secondly they would assess the chain of narrators and classify them as just and precise or weak.  They would them seek to find multiple narrators of the same narration.

Imam Bukhari set out to collect only hadith that have been authenticated to a great extent in his Sahih collection.

Compilers of Hadeeth in the late period

  • Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal – compiled 30000 hadith
  • Imam Muhammad Ibn Ismaa’eel Bukhaaree – He gathered approx.. 7000 hadith. Imam Bukhari’s standard of checking hadeeth was the most stringent of any of the other scholars of hadeeth.
  • Imam Muslim Ibn Hajaj al-Qushairi – He was the student of Imam Ahmad and Imam Bukhari
  • Imam Abu Daawood Isha’at Ibn Sulayman as-Sijastani – He gathered about 4000 hadith.
  • Imam Abu Eesa at-Tirmidhi, he was the student of Imam Muslim
  • Imam Ahmad Ibn Shu’ayb an-Nasaa’ee
  • Imam Muhammad Ibn Yazeed Ibn Maajah al-Qazdi’ani

The final of the works of hadith are from scholars like Ibn ‘Asakir who died in 571 AH.

So the hadith the scholars have compiled were the task of collecting, authenticating and preserving the hadith. They did not start the process of hadith collection.

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