The Number of the Authentic Traditions
Some biased Orientalists and their blind followers in the Muslim world try to cast doubt on the authenticity of the Sunna on the pretext that some Companions narrate too many Traditions and the number of the Traditions is incredibly great.
It should, first of all, be noted that Hadith does not comprise only the sayings of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings. It includes also his actions ranging from his acts of worship to his manner of sleep, from his style of speech to his likes and dislikes, and his approvals or tacit confirmation of what he witnessed in his Companions, which was not contrary to the essence of Islam. The Prophet lived 23 years among his Companions as a Messenger of God. He taught them Islam down to its minutest details. He led prayer before them five times a day and every detail of his prayer was recorded, because he ordered them: Pray as you see me praying. He fasted and explained to them everything concerning fasting. He instructed them in the essentials and details of the alms-giving. He performed pilgrimage with them. The books written concerning the essentials of belief and pillars of Islam – the main ways of worship, that is, prayer, fasting, alms-giving and pilgrimage – alone cover tens of volumes. Islam is a universal Divine system, inclusive of everything related to man’s life, it has laws and regulations concerning individual and collective life, including all of their spiritual and material, social, economic, political and military aspects. God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, laid down principles related to all these aspects of life. Besides, he warned his Companions many times against deviations; he encouraged them to be deeper and more sensitive and more careful servants of God. He told them about by- gone nations and predicted many future events. As reported by Abu Zayd ‘Amr ibn Akhtab, it sometimes happened that he mounted the pulpit after the dawn prayer and addressed the congregation until noon. He continued his addresses after the noon and afternoon prayers and told them about what had happened from the beginning of the world until that time and what would happen from then until the Last Day, including the upheavals of the other world, the grave, the Resurrection, the Great Mustering, balancing of people’s deeds, the Last Judgment, the Bridge, and finally Hell and Paradise.106
God’s Messenger commanded armies many times, heard and tried many cases as a judge, sent envoys and delegations and received them. He signed peace treaties, waged wars and dispatched military expeditions. He laid down rules of hygiene and principles of good conduct and high morality. The number of the miracles he worked amounts to hundreds. As he set an example to be followed by Muslims and because of the vital importance of Hadith in Islam, in addition to his Companions’ love of him – to the extent that they preserved the hairs of his beard and imitated him in his every step – his life was recorded from the beginning to the end.
God’s Messenger honored the universe with his Messengership, His servanthood to God and his exalted, peerless personality. Being the first to be honored by witnessing his life, the Companions did not leave to oblivion anything related to him. When they scattered through the lands conquered by Islam, they were first asked by new converts to relate to them Traditions from God’s Messenger, upon him peace and blessings. They were devoted to him so deeply that they remained extra-ordinarily faithful to their memories of him.
Once during his caliphate, ‘Umar was passing by the house of ‘Abbas, the uncle of the Prophet, on his way to the Friday congregational prayer, when a few drops of blood fell onto his robe from the gutter on the roof. He was angered and pulled the gutter to the ground, saying to himself: ‘Who has slaughtered an animal on this roof so that its blood stains my robe on the way to mosque?’ He arrived in the mosque and, after the prayer, warned the congregation: ‘You are doing some wrong things. I was passing by such and such wall on my way here, when some blood dropped onto my robe from the gutter. I pulled the gutter to the ground.’
‘Abbas was upset and sprang to his feet, saying: ‘O ‘Umar, what is that which you did? I personally saw that God’s Messenger put that gutter there in person.’ Now, it was ‘Umar’s turn to be upset. He said to ‘Abbas in great excitement: ‘By God, I will lay my head at the foot of that wall and you will put your foot on my head to put the gutter back in its place. Until you do that, I will not raise my head from the ground’. Such was their devotion and faithfulness to God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings.107
God’s Messenger implanted so great a zeal for learning in the hearts of his followers that the Islamic civilization, under the blessed shadow of which a considerable portion of mankind lived a peaceful life for centuries, was built on the pillars of belief, knowledge, piety and brotherhood. In the lands through which the pure water of Islam flowed, innumerable ‘flowers’ burst open in every field of science and the scent diffused by them exhilarated the world.
Among those flowers were some, like Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, who read in two or three sessions the whole of the collection of authentic Traditions compiled by Imam Muslim. Imam Nawawi dedicated himself thoroughly to knowledge – teaching and writing – and did not marry during his life in order not to assign any time to anything other than knowledge. Imam Sarakhsi, a great jurist of the Hanafi School, was sentenced by the king to imprisonment in a well. He dictated his monumental compendium of thirty great volumes, al-Mabsut, to his students from memory while in the well. When his students once told him that Imam Shafi‘i, the founder of the Shafi‘i School and regarded by some as the second reviver (mujaddid) of Islam, had in memory three hundred fascicules of Traditions, he answered: ‘He knew the zakat (one fortieth) of what I know’.108 The works of some scholars such as Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi and Imam Suyuti, cover so many volumes that when divided among the days of their lives, about twenty pages fall on each day. That is, each wrote twenty pages every day. We are unable to study or even read in a whole life what each wrote during his life.
Anas ibn Sirin, the son of Muhammad ibn Sirin, who was one of the greatest scholars of the first generation after the Companions, says: ‘When I arrived in Kufa, 4000 people were attending the Hadith courses in mosques. Among them 400 were experts in Islamic jurisprudence.’109 In order to perceive the meaning of being an expert in Islamic jurisprudence, it is enough to relate that Ahmad ibn Hanbal, whose Musnad contains 40 thousand Traditions chosen from among one million Traditions in circulation, was not admitted as an expert jurist by some. He was not regarded to be of the same standing in Islamic jurisprudence as Abu Hanifa, Imam Abu Yusuf, Imam Shafi‘i, Imam Malik, Ibn Jarir al-Tabari and the like. However impossible it is not to admit that great figure of Islamic religious sciences as an expert jurist, it is a means to understand the merit and caliber of an expert jurist in Islam to relate that some objected to his being counted among the expert jurists.
The general atmosphere was extremely propitious for the development of sciences, especially the science of Tradition (Hadith). Every Muslim, every new convert showed a great zeal for learning Islam and recognizing its Holy Prophet fully. People had great potential and aptitude for literature and languages. As everybody knows, poetry was very widespread during the pre-Islamic period of ignorance. The Qur’an came, first of all, as an absolute and incomparable miracle of language and all the literary geniuses were prostrate with admiration before its eloquence. Almost all of those geniuses gave up poetry after their conversion and dedicated themselves to the Qur’an and the Hadith. Among them, Hansa, a woman poet, became so deeply devoted to the cause of Islam that when her four sons were martyred in the Battle of Qadisiyya, she praised God, saying: ‘O God, You gave me four sons, all of whom I have sacrificed in the way of Your Beloved (Prophet). Praise be to You, to the number of thousands.’110 That blessed woman found eight mistakes with respect to either language or poetry in a stanza of Hassan ibn Thabit, who was a famous poet among the Companions. After the revelation of the Qur’an, Hansa gave up poetry and became completely absorbed in the Qur’an and the Hadith.
Life was quite simple in the desert. This enabled people to commit themselves to Islamic sciences. Also, they had very keen memories. For example, when God’s Messenger asked him to learn the Hebrew language, Zayd ibn Thabit accomplished this within a couple of weeks to the degree of reading and writing letters in it.111 Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri, Qatada ibn Diama, Sha‘bi, Ibrahim ibn Yazid al-Nakha’i, Imam Shafi‘i and many others were among those who publicly pronounced that they never forgot even a single word once they committed it to memory. It was enough for many of them to read or hear something only once in order to memorize it.
When Imam Bukhari arrived in Baghdad, ten leading persons in Islamic sciences tested his knowledge of Hadith and keenness of memory. Each of them recited ten Traditions, changing either the order of the narrators in a chain of transmission or the chains with each other. For example, the famous Tradition, Actions are judged according to intentions... is narrated by Yahya ibn Sa‘id al-Ansari, from Muhammad ibn Ibrahim al-Taymi, who narrates it from Alqama ibn Waqqas al-Laysi, who narrates it from ‘Umar ibn al-Hattab, the second Caliph. That is, the chain of transmission of this hadith is composed of ‘Umar, Alqama, Ibrahim al-Taymi and Yahya ibn Sa‘id al-Ansari, respectively. They changed this chain with that of another hadith or changed the order of the narrators, or they substituted others for one or two names in the chain. A hundred Traditions were recited to Bukhari in this way. After the recitation of the hundredth, Imam Bukhari corrected the chains one by one from memory and repeated each Tradition with its own sound chain of transmission. At last, the scholars who tested him admitted his capacity of learning and knowledge of Hadith.112 Ibn Khuzayma acknowledged particularly: ‘Neither this earth, nor that heaven has witnessed a second person as knowledgeable as you in this field.’113
Imam Bukhari never sold knowledge for worldly benefits. When the then ruler of Bukhara invited him to his palace to teach his children, the great Imam refused him, saying: ‘Knowledge cannot be debased as to be taken to a ruler. If the ruler desired knowledge, he should personally come to knowledge.’ In response, the ruler requested him to assign one day of the week to his children. Bukhari refused again, saying: ‘I am busy with teaching the Ummah of Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. So, I cannot waste my time in teaching your children’. The ruler exiled him, and this greatest figure in the science of Hadith spent his last days in exile.114
106. Muslim, “Fitan,” 25.
107. I. Hanbal, 1.210.
108. Muqaddima li-Usul al-Sarakhsi, 5.
109. M. ‘Ajjaj al-Khatib, op. cit. 150–1.
110. I. Athir, Usd al-Ghaba, 7.90.
111. I. Hanbal, 5.186.
112. I. Hajar, Hady al-Sari’, 487.
113. Dhahabi, Tadhkirat al-Huffaz, 2.556.
114. I. Hajar, Tahdhib al-Tahdhib, 9.52.
This article has been adapted from Risale- i Nur Collection.