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Documenting Prophet Muhammad’s Sayings (Sunnah)

I remember how happy I was to meet our dear neighbour, whose family and ours lived side by side for a long period of time that includes my entire childhood and adolescence.

In my meeting with her, accompanied by my sisters, she told me details about my childhood and situations that I did not know at all.

This information was supported by old photos that she had kept throughout this period.

At that time, I remembered the Messenger’s companions, who accompanied him on his journey in conveying the message of Islam and who underwent the hardships.

The religion of Islam states:

Believing in God (the Creator), that He has no partner or son. He does not incarnate in any of His creations or any idol. Also, humans need to have a direct connection with Him, not through any priest or saint.

  • The oneness: Believing that there is no god but one true God (Allah), without any partners or son, He is the Creator, the provider to the whole universe.
  • The servitude: To worship God alone, never associate anyone or anything with Him.
  • Believing in messengers: Following messengers (Abraham, Moises, Jesus, and many others), and believing in what they brought (in that era). (The messengers prophesied the coming of last Prophet- Muhammad, and urged their followers to believe in him and follow him if they reach his time).
  • Ethics: Doing good deeds and avoiding bad deeds.

People who took this path deserves the reward in Hereafter , and punishment to those who goes astray.

Say, My Lord has guided me to a straight path, an upright religion, the creed of Abraham the Monotheist, who was not a polytheist.[18]

Some of the companions documented the events that occurred in the Prophetic era in papers and wrote some of them which exist so far, such as the sheet of the companion “Hammam bin Munabih” .

It was called the “accurate sheet ”, after the example of the “correct sheet ” by “Abdullah bin Amr bin al-Aas”.

We have received this entire sheet, as narrated and recorded by the companion “Hammam” on the authority of the companion “Abu Hurairah”.

This sheet was found by “Dr. Muhammed Hamidullah” in two identical manuscripts in Damascus and Berlin.

Our confidence in the Hammam’s sheet increases when we know that the scholar “Ahmad Ibn Hanbal” transmitted the entire sheet in his book, the “Musnad,” just as scholar Al-Bukhari transmitted a large number of its narrations in his book the “Sahih” in various chapters.

This sheet has a historical importance in the codification of the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (hadith), because it is a conclusive argument, and shining evidence that the teachings and habitual practices of the Prophet Muhammad were written down at an early age.

I said to myself:

Each of us remembers details in his life that he witnessed from parents, relatives, friends, classmates or teachers that have been firmly established in his memory, and they are stronger than what he read in a book.

What about when we care about events related to a religion in which a person worships his Lord, and works according to it, and will be rewarded by God Almighty?

A Muslim once told me:

If the Messenger’s companions saw the importance of the Prophetic teachings and habitual practices in religion, they would hasten to collect and document it as they did with the word of God (Qur’an), but the Companions neglected it throughout their lives.

I said to him:

The Prophetic teachings’ documentation began in Prophet’s life, with his knowledge, permission and command.

The Prophet himself wrote and sent to the heads and leaders of people and clans, agreements, treaties, and reconciliations between him and some of them. He also wrote to his companions in other countries, explaining to them what they decide in disputes, the provisions of inheritances, types and amounts of alms, etc.

Also, there are writings of some companions who knew writing at that time, such as the sheet of “Ali bin Abi Talib” and many others.

So, writing was present during the time of the Prophet, but it was few in relation to what was reported about him, because most at that time did not know writing, so they relied on their great abilities to memorize in preserving the Prophet’s teachings.

We can imagine their tremendous ability to memorize if we know that they memorized the poems with many verses by hearing it only once. Otherwise, how did we recieve the thousands of poems that were said in the pre-Islamic era while there was no record?

Didn’t the poetry “mu’allaqat” come from what was said in the pre-Islamic era, and it reached and was narrated to us in this era?

The Prophetic teachings are not limited to his words only, but his actions were witnessed by the companions themselves.

They attended and witnessed teachings relating to worship, customs, and other things, which is stronger and more confident than what they wrote in a book without having it in the memory.

After the era of the companions came the era of the followers, which witnessed the official codification of the Prophetic teachings at the beginning of the second century of migration. The codification came by the order of the Caliph “Omar bin Abdul Aziz”, who died in the year (101 AH).

He ordered the codification of the Prophet’s teachings, and assigned scholar “Al-Zuhri” this work.

Scholar “Al-Zuhri” was a scholar who had honesty, mastery, and excellent ability of memorization. He was one of the companions’ students, may God be pleased with them all.

“Al-Zuhri” heard from their sons such as:

  • “Urwa bin Al-Zubayr”
  • “Ali bin Abdullah bin Abbas”

He heard as well from senior followers such as:

  • “Saeed bin Al-Musayyib”
  • “Ibrahim bin Abdul Rahman bin Auf”

The difference between writing and codification:

Writing: The writings of some companions who documented some of the Prophet’s teachings and habitual practices in papers, and each of the teachings (narration) was kept in a separate paper belonging to the companion who wrote the paper.

Codification: The collection of these papers in one book, which is what Caliph “Omar Ibn Abdul Aziz” did, while the third Caliph “Omar Ibn Al-Khattab” was afraid of taking this step during his time.

“Omar Ibn Al Khattab” forbade a lot of people from writing the Prophet’s teachings so that its abundance would not overwhelm the Book of God, and people would turn away from it.

It would’ve been lost, especially since the events of collecting the Qur’an after the death of the memorizers in the battle of “Al-Yamamah” are present in the memory.

If the project of transcribing the Prophetic teachings (verbal and actions) were opened wide, it would have been claimed a loss of the Qur’an.

The questioner said:

It has been reported that the Messenger of God (Muhammad) forbade the companions from writing his teachings.

“Do not write on my behalf, and whoever wrote on my behalf other than the Qur’an, let him erase it”.

I told him: That was at the beginning of the prophecy.

This saying was at the beginning of the documentation of the Qur’an, as the Prophet wanted the companions not to be preoccupied with anything other than the Holy Qur’an. Hence, in the beginning of Islam, it was forbidden to write anything other than the Qur’an, and that was for several reasons, including:

  • The words of the Prophet, not to get mixed with the Qur’an.
  • Muslims not to be inclined to write and leave memorization.

The Prophet gave permission after that to write his teachings.

Some evidences of the Prophet’s permission to record his teachings at his time:

  • When Mecca was opened for Muslims, the Prophet gave sermons. A man from the people of Yemen named “Abu Shah” stood up and said: “O Messenger of God, write for me” . The Prophet said to his Companions: “Write for Abu Shah” (Narrated by Ahmad).
  • “Abdullah bin Amr” said: I used to write down everything I heard from the Messenger of God, that I wanted to memorize, but the Muslims of Quraish forbade me. They said: “You write down everything you hear from the Messenger of God, but the Prophet is a human being who speaks in anger and contentment” , so I refrained from writing. I mentioned that to the Messenger of God, and he said: “Write. Nothing comes out of it but the truth”, pointing to his mouth. (Narrated by Ahmad).
  • The Prophet’s companion “Abu Hurairah” said: A man was witnessing the teachings of the Prophet, he came to the Prophet complaining his inability of memorizing. The Prophet said to him: “Use your right hand”, pointing to the calligraphy”. (Narrated by Al-Tirmidhi).

The Islamic nation transmitted these teachings (successors from predecessors), who wrote the teachings in their compilations, preserved them in their hearts, and apply what was in them in their religious practices and worldly affairs.

Also, Muslim scholars invented a set of rules that repels deceivers who try to insert into the Prophetic teachings information that isn’t from these teachings. The set of rules is called:

“Science of discrediting or confirming the reliability of narrators “.

The rules allow Muslim scholars to criticize the narrations of the Messenger, and to clarify what is true and what is not according to rules that represent the highest level that the human mind has reached in methods of criticism through verifying the narrations and their evidences.

The English orientalist priest (David Samuel Margolioth), despite his famous hostility to Islam, could not control himself in front of Muslims documenting the narration except to say that Muslims should be proud of the knowledge of their documentation.

This matter is considered a scientific fact reached by many researchers. Professor “Sayed Saqr” says in the first lines of his investigation of the book “Fath al-Bari”:

“Among the facts folded in books is that the teachings (verbal and action) of the Prophet were written down during his life and his companions’ lives. They were written based on what they heard of Prophetic teachings that they wrote with their own hands, or those who heard them and wrote on their behalf. In addition, the Messenger participated in transcribing his teachings by dictating to his writers what he dictated from the documents of the obligatory duties and others.

The Prophet sent them to whoever he wanted as a reminder in what was assumed from the religious duties’ types.

Dr. “Subhi Al-Saleh” says: Then, we do not have to wait for the era of Caliph “Omar bin Abdul-Aziz” to hear for the first time – as is common – something called the transcription of hadiths (Prophetic teachings), or an attempt to transcribe it.

We do not have to wait for the present age to admit the codification of the teachings at an early age, following some orientalists such as Goldziher and Sprenger. Our books and historical documents leave no room for doubt that the permission to write the Prophetic teachings was achieved in the era of the Prophet himself”.

The questioner said:

What did scholar Al- Bukhari do then?

I said to him:

The scholar al-Bukhari has compiled a brief book of accurate Prophetic teachings. Al-Bukhari mentioned the reason that made him rise to this work.

He says: “I was with “Ishaq Ibn Rahway”, and he said: If you compile a short book of the most accurate teachings of the Messenger of God”. Al- Bukhari said: “That fell in my heart”.

The book contains 7,275 narrations (hadiths), which “Al-Bukhari” chose from among the six hundred thousand, because he was meticulous in accepting the narration. He also had special conditions for accepting the narrator of any narration, as he should be contemporary with the one who narrates the narration, in addition to having trust, justice, discipline, perfection, knowledge, and piety.

We conclude:

  • Some companions began writing the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, in their own papers, with the permission of the Prophet himself, in his time.
  • The first to order the collection of these individual papers and their recording in a book was the fifth Caliph “Omar bin Abdul Aziz”.
  • All what scholar Al-Bukhari did was to purify the authentic and reliable narrations in his book.
  • The Science of discrediting or confirming the reliability of narrators of the Prophetic teachings was admired by non-Muslims, from orientalists and others.
  • Al-Bukhari’s book won acceptance and approval from the Islamic nation’s scholars.

Scholar Al-Bukhari’s book, regardless of its religious importance to the Muslim, and regardless of some narrations criticized in it, is considered the most accurate historical document after the Holy book Qur’an on earth.


Note:

The Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the Middle East use the word “Allah” to refer to God, which refers to The Only True God ( the Creator). The word “Allah” was mentioned in the earlier version of the Old Testament 89 times. (Refer to Genesis 2:4, Book of Daniel 6:20 Hebrew and Arabic Bible).

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