Chapter 3, Hadith & Seerah, The Authority of Sunnah / Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

The fourth way of preserving of Ahadith was writing. Quite a large number of the companions of the Holy Prophet (SAWS) reduced the Ahadith in writing after hearing them from the Holy Prophet (SAWS).

It is true that in the beginning the Holy Prophet (SAWS) had forbidden some of his companions from writing anything other then the verses of the Holy Quran. However, this prohibition was not because the Ahadith had no authoritative value, but because the Holy Prophet (SAWS) had in the same breath ordered them to narrate his Ahadith orally. The full text of the relevant hadith is as follows:

“Do not write (what you hear) from me, and whoever has written something (he heard) from me, he should rub it. Narrate to others (what you hear) from me and whoever deliberately attributes a lie to me, he should prepare his seat in the Fire” (Sahih Muslim).

The underlined phrase of the hadith clarifies that prohibition for writing hadith was not on account of negating its authority. The actual reason was that in the beginning of the revelation of the Holy Quran, the companions of the Holy Prophet (SAWS) were not fully familiar with the Quranic style, nor was the Holy Quran compiled in a separate book form. In those days some companions began to write the Ahadith alongwith the Quranic text. Some explanations of the Holy Quran given by the Holy Prophet (SAWS) were written by some of them mixed with the Quranic verses without any distinction between the two. It was therefore feared that it would lead to confusion between the Quranic text and Ahadith.

It was in this background that the Holy Prophet (SAWS) stopped this practice and ordered that anything written other than the Holy Quran should be rubbed or omitted. It should be kept in mind that in those days there was a great shortage of writing paper. Even the verses of the Holy Quran used to be written on pieces of leather, on planks of wood, on animal bones and sometimes on stones. It was much difficult to compile all those things in a book form, and if the Ahadith were also written in a similar manner it would be more difficult to distinguish between the writings of the Holy Quran and those of the Ahadith. The lack of familiarity with the Quranic style would also help creating confusion.

For these reasons the Holy Prophet (SAWS) directed his companions to abstain from writing the Ahadith and to confine their preservation to the first three ways which were equally reliable as discussed earlier.

But all this was in the earlier period of his Prophethood. When the companions became fully conversant of the style of the Holy Quran and writing paper became available, this transitory measure of precaution was taken back, because the danger of confusion between the Quran and the hadith no longer existed.

At this stage, the Holy Prophet (SAWS) himself directed his companions to write down the Ahadith.

Some of his instructions in this respect are quoted below:

1. One companion from the Ansar complained to the Holy Prophet (SAWS) that he hears from him some Ahadith, but he sometimes forgets them. The Holy Prophet said:

“Seek help from your right hand and pointed out to writing” (Tirmidhi).

2. Rafe’ ibn Khadij (RA) the famous companion of the Holy Prophet (SAWS) says. “I said to the Holy Prophet (SAWS) we hear from you many things, should we write them down?” He replied:

“You may write. There is no harm” (Al Fazl).

(3) Sayyiduna Anas (RA)reports that the Holy Prophet (SAWS) has said:

“Preserve knowledge by writing.” (Bayan ul Ilm).

4. Sayyiduna Abu Rafe’ sought permission from the Holy Prophet (SAWS) to write Ahadith. The Holy Prophet (SAWS) permitted him to do so (Tirmidhi).

It is reported that the ahadith written by Abu Rafe (RA) were copied by other companions, too. Salma, a pupil of Ibn Abbas says:

“I saw some small wooden boards with Abdullah Ibn Abbas. He was writing on them some reports of the acts of the Holy Prophet (SAWS) which he acquired from Abu Rafe.” (Ibn Saad).

5. Abdullah ibn ‘Amr ibn al-’Aas (RA) reports that the Holy Prophet (SAWS) said to him:

“Preserve knowledge.”

He asked “and how should it be preserved?” The Holy Prophet (SAWS) replied “writing it” (Hakim, Bayan ul Ilm).

In another report he says,

“I came to the Holy Prophet (SAWS) and told him” I want to narrate your Ahadith. So, I want to take assistance of my handwriting beside my heart. Do you deem it fit for me? “The Holy Prophet (SAWS) replied, “If it is my hadith you may seek help from your hand besides your heart” (Darimi).

6. It was for this reason that he used to write Ahadith frequently. He himself says,

“I used to write whatever I heard from the Holy Prophet (SAWS) and wanted to learn it by heart. Some people of the Quraish dissuaded me and said, “Do you write every thing you hear from the Holy Prophet (SAWS) while he is a human being and sometimes he may be in anger as any other human beings may be?” (Abu Dawood).

They meant that the Holy Prophet (SAWS) might say something in a state of anger which he did not seriously intend. So, one should be selective in writing his Ahadith. ‘Abdullah ibn Amr conveyed their opinion to the Holy Prophet (SAWS). In reply the Holy Prophet (SAWS) pointed to his lips and said,

“I swear by the One in whose hands is the soul of Muhammad (SAWS), nothing comes out from these two (lips) except truth. So, do write.”(Abu Dawood, Ibn Saad, Hakim)

It was a clear and absolute order given by the Holy Prophet (SAWS) to write each and every saying of him without any hesitation or doubt about it’s authoritative nature.

In compliance to this order, Abdullah ibn Amr wrote a large number of Ahadith and compiled them in a book form which he named “Al Sahfah al Sadiqah”. Some details about this book shall be discussed later on inshallah.

7. During the conquest of Makkah (8 A.H.) the Holy Prophet (SAWS) delivered a detailed sermon containing a number of Shari’ah imperatives, including human rights. One Yemenite person from the gathering, namely, Abu Shah requested the Holy Prophet (SAWS) to provide him the sermon in a written form. The Holy Prophet (SAWS) thereafter ordered his companions as follows:-

“Write it down for Abu Shah” (Bukhari).

These seven examples are more than sufficient to prove that writing of Ahadith was not only permitted but also ordered by the Holy Prophet (SAWS) and that the earlier bar against writing was only for a transitory period to avoid any possible confusion between the verses of the Holy Quran and the Ahadith. After this transitory period the fear of confusion ended, the bar was lifted and the companions were persuaded to preserve Ahadith in a written form.

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