As for the mutawatir, nobody can question its authenticity. The fact narrated by a mutawatir chain is always accepted as an absolute truth even if pertaining to our daily life. Any statement based on a mutawatir narration must be accepted by everyone without any hesitation. I have never seen the city of Moscow, but the fact that Moscow is a large city and is the capital of Russia is an absolute truth which cannot be denied. This fact is proved, to me, by a large number of narrators who have seen the city. This is a continuously narrated or a mutawatir fact which cannot be denied or questioned.
I have not seen the events of the First and the Second World War. But the fact that these two wars occurred, stands proved, without a shadow of doubt on the basis of the mutawatir reports about them. Nobody with a sound sense can claim that all those who reported the occurrence of these two wars have colluded to coin a fallacious report and that no war took place at all. This strong belief in the factum of war is based on the mutawatir reports of the event.
In the same way the mutawatir reports about the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (SAWS) are to be held as absolutely true without any iota of doubt in their authenticity. The authenticity of the Holy Quran being the same Book as that revealed to the Holy Prophet (SAWS) is of the same nature. Thus, the mutawatir Ahadith, whether they be mutawatir in words or in meaning, are as authentic as the Holy Quran, and there is no difference between the two in as far as the reliability of their source of narration is concerned.
Although the Ahadith falling under the first category of the mutawatir, i.e. the mutawatir in words, are very few in number, yet the Ahadith relating to the second kind, namely, the mutawatir in meaning, are available in large numbers. Thus, a very sizeable portion of the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (SAWS) falls in this kind of mutawatir, the authenticity of which cannot be doubted in any manner.
As for the second kind, i.e. the Mashhoor, its standard of authenticity is lower than that of the mutawatir, yet, it is sufficient to provide satisfaction about the correctness of the narration because its narrators have been more than three trustworthy persons in every generation.
The third kind is Khabarul Wahid. The authenticity of this kind depends on the veracity of its narrators. If the narrator is trustworthy in all respects, the report given by him can be accepted, but if the single reporter is believed to be doubtful, the entire report subsequently remains doubtful. This principle is followed in every sphere of life. Why should it not be applied to the reports about the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (SAWS)? Rather, in the case of ‘Ahadith’, this principle is most applicable, because the reporters of Ahadith were fully cognizant of the delicate nature of what they narrate. It was not simple news of an ordinary event having no legal or religious effect. It was the narration of a fact which has a far-reaching effect on the lives of millions of people. The reporters of Ahadith knew well that it is not child’s play to ascribe a word or act to the Holy Prophet (SAWS). Any deliberate error in this narration or any negligence in this respect would lead them to the wrath of Allah and render them liable to be punished in hell. Every reporter of hadith was aware of the following well-known mutawatir hadith:
“Whoever attributes a lie to me, he should prepare his seat in the Fire.”
This hadith had created such a strong sense of responsibility in the hearts of the narrators of Ahadith that while reporting anything about the Holy Prophet (SAWS) they often turned pale out of fear, lest some error should creep into their narration.
This was the basic reason for which the responsible narrators of Ahadith showed maximum precaution in preserving and reporting a hadith. This standard of precaution cannot be found in any other reports of historical events. So, the principle that the veracity of a report depends on the nature of its reporter is far more validly applicable to the reports of Ahadith than it is applicable to the general reports of ordinary nature.
Let us now examine the various ways adopted by the Ummah to preserve the Ahadith in their original form: