Era of The Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam)
During the life of the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) there was no pressing need to write down all of his (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) various statements or record his (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) actions, because he (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) was present and could be consulted at any time.
As a matter of fact, the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) himself made a general prohibition against writing down his (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) statements which were other than the Quran itself.1 This was to prevent the possibility of mixing up the Quran with his own words during the era of revelation. Consequently, the greatest stress regarding writing was placed on recording the Quranic verses.
However, there are many authentic narrations collected by the Scholars of Hadith that prove that Hadith were recorded in writing even during the lifetime of the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam).
For example, ‘Abdullaah ibn ‘Amr said, “I used to write everything which I heard from the Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) with the intention of memorizing it. However, some Qurayshites forbade me from doing so saying, ‘Do you write everything that you hear from him, while the Messenger of Allah is a human being who speaks in anger and pleasure?’ So I stopped writing, and mentioned it to the Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam). He (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) pointed with his (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) finger to his (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) mouth and said: ‘Write! By Him in whose hand is my soul, only truth comes out from it.’ ” 2
Abu Hurayrah said, “When Makkah was conquered, the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) stood up and gave a sermon (Abu Hurayrah then mentioned the sermon). A man from Yemen, called Abu Shah got up and said, ‘O Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam)! Write it down for me.’ The Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) replied, ‘Write it for Abu Shah.’ ” 3
Al-Walid asked Abu ‘Amr, “What are they writing?” He replied, “The sermon which he heard that day.” 4
Abu Qabil said: We were with ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr ibn al-‘Aas and he was asked which city will be conquered first Constantinople or Rome? So ‘Abdullah called for a sealed trunk and he said, “Take out the book from it.” Then ‘Abdullah said, “While we were with the Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) writing, The Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) was asked, ‘Which city will be conquered first, Constantinople or Rome?’ So Allah’s Messenger (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) said, ‘The city of Heracliius will be conquered first’ – meaning Constantinople.” 5
Era of The Sahabah 6
After the death of the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam),his (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) saying and action took of a new importance because he (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) was no longer there to consult when problems arose. The practise of narration on a large scale started during this period.
For example, when the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) died, the Sahaabah debated about where to bury him. This debate ended when Abu Bakr told them “I heard the messenger (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) say, “No prophet dies but he is buried where he died.”7 Thus a grave was dug immediately below the bed on which he died in the house of ‘Aa’ishah. In this period a number of the leading Sahabah wrote down Hadiths of the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam).
The following are just a few of the leading narrators of the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam)’s traditions who were known to have recorded them in writing.
Abu Hurayrah (ra), to whom 5374 channels of Hadith narrations are attributed, actually narrated 1236 Hadith. Hasan in ‘Amr ad-Damaree saw many books in his possession.8
Abdullaah ibn ‘Abbaas (ra), to whom 1660 channels of narrations are attributed used to write whatever he heard 9 and even employed his slaves to record for him. 10
‘Abdullaah ibn ‘Amr ibn al- ‘Aas (ra) to whom 700 channels are attributed was know to recorded books of Hadiths during the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam)’s lifetime with he titled as-Sahifah as-Sahihah.
Abu Bakr (ra) was reported to have written down over 500 different sayings of the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam).
Ibn al-Jawzi, who provides a list of all the companions who related traditions, gives the names of about 1,060 together with the number of Hadiths related by each. 500 related only 1 Hadith each, 132 related only 2 each, 80 related 3, 52 related 4, 32 related 5, 26 related 6, 27 related 7, 18 related 8, 11 related 9, 60 related between 10 and 20, 84 related between 20 and 100, 27 related between 100 and 500 and only 11 related more than 500 of which only 6 related more than 1,000 Hadith, and they are commonly referred to as the mukaththirun (the reporters of many traditions). Today, a graduate of the college of Hadith in the Islamic University of Madeenah is required to memorize 250 Hadith during each of the four years of his study (i.e., a total of 1,000 Hadiths).
From the above, it can readily be seen that fewer than 300 companions related the vast majority of traditions. 11
Era of The Taabi’un 12 (1st Century Hijrah)
After Islam had spread into the Middle East, India, North Africa and the narration of Hadith had become widespread, there arose people who began to invent Hadiths.
To combat this development, Caliph ‘Umar ibn Abdul-Aziz (reign 99 to 101 AH – 71 8 to 720 C.E.) ordered the scholars to compile the traditions of the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam). The scholars had already begun composing books containing biographical data on the various narrators of Hadith in order to expose the liars and fabricators.
Abu Bakr ibn Hazm (d.120/737) was among those directed by the Caliph to compile the Hadith. Caliph ‘Umar requested him to write down all the Hadiths of the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) and of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab and to pay particular attention to gathering the Hadiths of ‘Amrah bint ‘Abdir-Rahmaan, who was at that time the most respected custodian of the narrations of ‘Aa’ishah. Sa‘d ibn Ibraaheem and Ibn Shihaab az-Zuhree were also requested to compile books and az-Zuhri became the first compiler of Hadith to record the biographies of the narrators with particular reference to their character and honesty. In this period the systematic compilation of Hadiths was begun on a fairly wide scale.
However, among the students of the companions, many recorded Hadiths and collected them in books. The following is a list of the top 12 narrators of Hadiths among the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam)’s companions and their students who had their narrations in written form.
Abu Hurayrah (5374)13 : Nine of his students were recorded to have written Hadiths from him.
Ibn ‘Umar (2630): Eight of his students wrote down Hadiths from him.
Anas ibn Malik (2286): Sixteen of his students had Hadiths in written form from him.
‘Aa’ishah bint Abi Bakr (2210): Three of her students had her Hadiths in written form.
Ibn ‘Abbas (1660): Nine of his students recorded his Hadiths in books.
Jabir ibn ‘Abdillah (1540): Fourteen of his students wrote down his Hadiths.
Abu Sa‘id al-Khudri (1170): None of his students wrote.
Ibn Mas‘ud (748): None of his students wrote.
‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr ibn al-‘Aas (700): Seven of his students had his Hadiths in written form.
‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (537): He recorded many Hadiths in official letters.
‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (536): Eight of his students recorded his Hadiths in writing.
Abu Musa al-Ash‘ari (360): Some of his Hadiths were in the possession of Ibn ‘Abbaas in written from.
Al-Barra ibn ‘Aazib (305): Was known to have dictated his narrations.
Of Abu Hurayrah’s nine students known to have written Hadiths, Hammam ibn Munabbih’s book has survived in manuscript form and has been edited by Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah and published in 1961 in Hyderabad, India. 14
Era of The Taabi‘ut-Taabi‘in 15 (2nd Century)
In the period following that of the Taabi’un, the Hadiths were systematically collected and written in texts. One of the earliest works was al-Muwatta composed by Malik ibn Anas. Other books of Hadith were also written by scholars of Malik’s time by the likes of al-Awza‘i who lived in Syria, ‘Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak of Khurasan, Hammaad ibn Salamah of Basrah and Sufyaan ath-Thawri of Kufah. However, the only work which survived from that time is that of Imaam Malik. It could be said that in this period the majority of the Hadiths were collected in the various centers of Islam.
The reason why these three generations have been given special consideration is because the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) was reported to have said, “The best of generations is my generation, then the one which follows them, then the one that follows them.” 16
It was through these three generations that Hadith was first transmitted orally and in writing, until they were compiled into collections on a wide and a systematic scale.
Era of The Sahihs (3rd Century Hijrah)
There arose in the third century scholars who undertook the job of critical research of the Hadiths that were narrated and compiled in the first two centuries. They also grouped the Hadith which they considered to be accurate according to the branches of Islamic Law.
E.g. From this period is the book Sahih al-Bukhari containing 7,275 Hadith which al-Bukhari (died- 870 C.E.) chose from 600,000 and Sahih Muslim which contains 9,200 Hadiths which Imam Muslim selected from 300,000. Besides these two works of Hadith, there are four other works which became famous during this period. They are the four sunan of Abu Dawud (died 889 C.E.), at-Tirmithi (died 893 C.E.), an-Nasaa’i (died 916 C.E.) and Ibn Majah (died 908 C.E.).
Stages of writing
1. The first stage covers the period of the first century A.H. which began in July 622 C.E. or the early part of the century C.E. It was the age of the companions and their successors often referred to as the age of the Sahifah, that is, a sheet or some sort of writing material such as shoulder blades or parchments on which a number of Hadith were written. E.g. Sahifah Abu Bakr and Sahifah Sadiqah of ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr. The aim of the first stage was mainly recording the Hadith without any particular format.
2. The second period covers the middle of the second century A.H. is referred to as the stage of Musannaf (i.e. classified organized work). The second stage represents a planned compilation of Hadith grouped under headings denoting their subject matter. E.g. Muwatta Malik.
3. The third stage known as the stage of Musnad (compilation of Hadith according to the companion’s names). This stage began at the close of second century A.H. e.g. Musnad Ahmad.
4. The fourth and most important stage is known as the stage of Sahih. This stage began during the first half of the third century A.H. (9th century C.E.) and overlaps the period of the musnad e.g. Sahih al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim and Sahih Ibn Khuzaymah.
(1) Sahih Muslim – Kiatbuz Zuhd, hadith 72. This is the only authentic Hadith on the topic. Bukhari and others considered it to be a statement of Abu Sa‘id himself that was erroneously attributed to the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam).See Studies in Hadith Methodology and Literature, p. 28.
(2) Abu Dawud – vol. 3, p. 1035, hadith 3639; authenticated in Sahih Sunan Abi Dawud, hadith 3099. The collection of Hadith of ‘Abdullaah ibn ‘Amr is known as as-Sahifah as- Sadiqah.
(3) Abu Dawud – vol. 3, no. 3641; authenticated in Sahih Sunan Abi Dawud, hadith 3100.
(4) Ibid., vol. 3 hadith 3642; authenticated Sahih Sunan Abi Dawud, hadith 3101.
(5) Sahih: Musnad Ahmad (2: 176); Darimi (1: 126); Mustadrak Haakim (3: 422).
(6) The disciples or the companions of the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam), as-Sahabah, are sometimes referred to as the first generation of Islam. Any person who had the privilege of meeting the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) and died believing in him is classified as a Sahabi.
(7) The Life of Muhammad (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam), p. 688.
(8) Fathul Bari, vol.1, p. 217.
(9) Tabaqat ibn Sa‘d, vol. 2, p. 123.
(10) Tarateb, by al-Kattani, vol. 2, no. 247.
(11) Hadith Literature, pp. 18-19.
(12) The generation which followed the companions studying under them are referred to as the Tabi’un (followers or successors) e.g. Abu Hanifah and Mujahid.
(13) The total number of Hadiths or more properly, channels of narration of Hadith ascribed to the companion.
(14) Studies in Early Hadith Literature, p. 38.
(15) The generation of students of the successors, Tabi’un are referred to as successors of successors Taabi’ut-Tabi’in e.g. Malik ibn Anas.
(16) Bukhari and Muslim.
Taken from the book : USOOL AL HADITH