History of the Sunnah
October 31 2019 11:29 PM
Masjid-e-Nabawi in Madinah.
Masjid-e-Nabawi in Madinah.

Muslims were, early on, aware of the significance of the Sunnah and its authority. They, one generation after the other, were keen to preserve the Sunnah because they saw that as a part of the preserving of the last revelations man is ever to receive. Their efforts were unabated, and the remarkable job they did is unparalleled in the experience of any other religion or civilisation.

At the time of the Prophet
One of the main reasons behind this is the fact that the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, clearly taught the Companions  the importance of his Sunnah, its place in Islam and their role in saving it, teaching and conveying it to others around them and to those who would come after them. In so doing, he, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, followed an effective methodology, which will be briefly outlined below:
1. He emphasised the importance of seeking knowledge and teaching it to others. He said: “Seeking knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim (male and female).” [Ibn Maajah] Also, he said: “Whosoever pursues a path to seek knowledge therein, Allah will thereby make easy for him a path to Paradise. No people gather together in one of the houses of Allah (mosques), reciting the Book of Allah and studying it among themselves, without tranquility descending upon them, mercy enveloping them and angels surrounding them, and Allah making mention of them to those (angels) who are with Him.” [Muslim]
2. He always had a centre for teaching. Most of the time, it was the mosque.
3. He was soft in his dealings and always facilitated things and made them easy for others. He was merciful and humble and made himself readily available.
4. He never pushed people into anything. Instead, he gradually taught them and led them to change. He always motivated them to follow his example and be their best.
5. He would not continuously teach or work with them, but he would give them enough breaks to avoid overstressing or boring them.
6. He spoke plainly and clearly and he talked to people at their level of understanding and intellectual ability. Whenever appropriate, he spoke to people in their own dialect for the Arabs had different dialects.
7. He used the method of repetition. He would repeat whatever he wanted to stress for three times to insure that all heard him properly and clearly understood what he was saying.
8. When questioned, he would give more than what is expected as an answer and use the occasion to further clarify things for all, and teach about other things.
9. Whenever the Prophet had to choose between two ways, he chose the easier way, which had facility and mercy if there was nothing forbidden in that, and he kept away from the difficult and harsh ways.
10. He attached special attention to teaching the women and provided them special times for questions. He encouraged them to ask and learn.
11. He used to do his best in everything, and he perfected whatever he did, thus setting an example for others.

The era of the Companions and their Followers

The Companions did their utmost to convey Islam to the generations succeeding them in the best and most accurate way possible. They sincerely loved it, honestly lived according to it and faithfully preserved it and kept any impurity or irregularity out of it.
Their role in the preservation of Islam was one of utmost importance to its continuation, but they were highly prepared for it by the best teacher and trainer, the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam. Thus the studying of this era, especially with respect to the history and authority of the Sunnah, is necessary to all Students of Knowledge.
For detailed reading there are many books on Hadiths and Sunnah:

Methodology of the Companions in Preserving the Sunnah
Before discussing the Companions’ ways of learning, practising, preserving and conveying of the Sunnah, it is worthwhile to shed some light on the main points one needs to understand about the Companions  and their methodology:
1. The Companions were fully aware of the responsibility they shoulder after the death of the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam.
2. The Companions are all trustworthy. They never doubted one another in the matters of this religion and the narration of Hadith.
3. The Companions have developed a methodology for scrutinising Hadiths and narrators, and by doing that have established the rules of ascertaining narrations for those who came after them.
4. The ability of different Companions to understand the Sunnah, memorise it and convey it varied from one Companion to another.
5. The Companions left Makkah and Madinah to many places around the Muslim world, at the time, for the purpose of delivering the message and teaching Islam to those who accepted it thus spreading the Sunnah throughout the land.
It is interesting to note that about 750 Companions narrated Hadiths, seven of whom narrated a high number of Hadiths, and about 20 narrated an average number, the rest narrated a small number.
The seven who narrated a large number of Hadiths are: Abu Hurairah who narrated 5,374 Hadiths, ‘Abdullaah Ibn ‘Umar narrated 2,630, Anas Ibn Maalik narrated 2,286, ‘Aa’ishah narrated 2,210, ‘Abdullaah Ibn ‘Abbaas narrated 1,660, Jaabir Ibn ‘Abdullaah narrated 1,540, and Abu Sa’eed AI-Khudri narrated 1,100 Hadiths. They understood their role and were aware of the significance of their ability in narrating the Hadiths and did their best to deliver them diligently and accurately. Muslims of all times are indebted to them.
Article source: http://www.islamweb.net/emainpage/

Era of the Companions and their followers
Most scholars group the main aspects of the methodology of the Companions  in preserving the Sunnah into the following seven categories: prudence in narrating the Hadiths, verification and substantiation of the Hadiths before accepting them, critique, discussions and assessment of the narration, travelling for search and confirmation of the Hadiths, memorisation, practice and writing of the Hadiths. Some scholars refer to these aspects as ‘rulings’, ‘methods’ or ‘ways’ instead of methodology.

1- Prudence in narrating the Hadith:
Because of the fact that the Sunnah is a revelation and a sacred Source for this religion, the Companions were very careful when narrating what the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, said or did. This vigilance was illustrated in:
* Avoiding narration unless they had to. ‘Abdur-Rahmaan Ibn Abi Layla said: “I have met with 120 Companions from the Ansaar (supporters of the Prophet), none of whom would narrate a Hadith or answer a question of fatwa unless he absolutely had no choice but to do it. One would have to go and ask another instead of him, so much so you would keep going from one to the other until you get back to the first one you asked.”
They  understood that they were conveying the message brought to them by the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, and that people see it as such, thus everyone wanted the other to do that because they may know it better. This, however, should not be construed to mean they avoided spreading the message or teaching Islam to others. This prudence indicates they were fully aware of their role and its significance. They would rather let others, who may be more knowledgeable, do the job, but once they had to do, they did it in the best way possible.
* Limiting or discouraging the narration. This attitude was adopted for the purpose of protecting the Sunnah because it minimises the possibility of mistakes or forgetfulness that may otherwise cause people to doubt the Sunnah or mistrust the narrators. This trend was strongly encouraged by Caliphs Abu Bakr, radhiallah ‘anhu, and ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattaab, radhiallah ‘anhu, and was accepted and practised by the Companions . This attitude is founded on the famous Hadith narrated by many Companions : “It is sufficient  - for one to tumble into lying - to narrate or repeat everything he/she hears.” [Al-Bukhari and others]
* Encouraging narration from knowledgeable Companions. To strike a necessary balance between being cautious and insuring the transmission of the religion and the spreading of its teachings, the Companions  who had a great deal of knowledge - like those recommended by the Prophet  - never hesitated to narrate, write or teach the Sunnah. There are hundreds of narrations that encourage such practice so long as it is done in the right manner.
* Opting for verbatim narration. Guided with instruction in the Hadith, “May Allah  bless the person who hears a statement from me and conveys it as he/she heard it,” the Companions  did all that was humanly possible to keep their narration verbatim of what they actually heard from the Prophet. There are many reported incidents, which testify to this fact. Having such natural mastery of the Arabic – that was common among them - and the fact that they  saw and heard the Prophet say, do and explain to them his teachings repeatedly, as well as their understanding of the need for verbatim transmission of narrations, all combined to make it easy for them not to cause changes as they narrate any Hadith.

2- Verification of the Hadith before accepting it
This is an important tool that the Companions established to safeguard the Sunnah against any foreign material interference and accidental or deliberate mistakes. This was a common practice amongst all of the Companions  when receiving or narrating the Sunnah.
Imaam Ath-Thahabi mentioned this practice, in one of his great books, addressing the issue of Hadith memorisers. He said that it was one of the ways used by of the four Caliphs to protect the Hadith. For example, Abu Bakr was asked to rule in the case of a grandmother who came asking for her right in inheritance, he said that he knew of no amount due to her neither in the Book of Allah (i.e., Qur’an) nor the Sunnah of the Prophet. But when Al-Mugheerah told that he has witnessed the Prophet give one-sixth of the total amount of the inheritance, he asked him if he had witness to substantiate this claim. And when Muhammad Ibn Maslamah witnessed to the truth of that figure, Abu Bakr accepted it and gave the grandmother exactly that.
In the case of ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattaab Ath-Thahabi mentioned many incidents that testify to the fact that he  always ascertained the narration when it was necessary to do so. He narrated that Maalik Ibn Aws heard ‘Umar  say to ‘Abdur-Rahmaan Ibn ‘Awf, Talhah Ibn Az-Zubayr and Sa’d Ibn Abi Waqqaas : “I ask by Allah, Who maintains the Heaven and Earth! Did you hear the Prophet say: ‘I am not to be inherited, whatever I leave is to be given in charity’? They said: ‘Yes, Allah is our witness.’” [Ahmad]
After narrating the above incidents among others, Imaam Ath-Thahabi  repeatedly asserted that the verifications were not meant to doubt the truthfulness of any of the Companions  rather they were necessary to establish a standard of care and respect for what the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, said or did. They did that for themselves and to institute a tradition to be fol­lowed and honored by all who come after them.
In summary, it is essential to note the following about this method:
* The purpose was to protect the Sunnah, not to doubt one another. All of the Companions are trustworthy as clearly stated in the Qur’an, and doubting their trustworthiness can certainly damage one’s faith.
* The purpose, also, was to establish a method and set an example to be followed by the rest of the Muslim nation. The truth, however, remains that Companions used to accept narration conveyed by any one of them. Their request of witnesses or that the narrator gives an oath that he is saying the truth was to establish the methodology, so that people would not take narrating a Hadith lightly. This fact may further be supported when considering that: 
* Sometimes they required a witness while at others they had the narrator give oath or reminded him of how serious it is to lie against the Prophet. This variation indicates that the purpose was actually to establish awareness of the significance of narrating the Hadith rather than set up a requirement of having more than one narrator as a condition for its authenticity.
* There are a very large number of narrations, which indicate that in many cases the Companions  had actually accepted Hadith from one narrator without seeking any substantiation or verification.

3. Study, critique, and assessment of the narrations
Of the ways the Companions used to preserve the Sunnah, properly learning and studying it, was perhaps the most important. They refer to this using terms like, “Tadaarus” and “Muthaakarah,” both of which indicate a studying that involves more than one person as well as a mutual exchange of knowledge and ideas. The results of this “studying and discussing” were manifold.
Learning the Sunnah correctly, free of mistakes was one of the goals, and so was the firm memorisation of it. And since it was physically impossible for a large number of the Companions  to have equal time access to the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, these discussions were the means through which the narrations known to only a few individuals were passed on to many others, thus expanding the circle of narrators.
Books such as Jaami’ Bayaan Al-‘Ilm by Ibn Abd Al-Barr and Al-Jaami’ Li Akhlaaq Ar-Raawi by Al-Khateeb have many authentic narrations from the Companions  bearing witness to the effectiveness of these discussions in preserving the Sunnah.
Another aspect of the Companions’ methodology in preserving the Sunnah was the critical assessment and evaluation of what they narrated and taught to one another. Anytime a Companion felt what he heard from another had a problem, he or she would critically analyse it and give his/her opinion about it. A major example of this effort by the Companions was demonstrated by Badruddeen Az-Zarkashi who wrote a book in which he collected more than seventy narrations in which one Companion, ‘Aa’ishah, the Mother of the Believers  was reported as having corrected other Companions’ narrations based on her assessment of the narrations in light of the Qur’an and the Hadith.

4. Travelling in search of the Hadith
Another great effort they made was traveling in search of the Hadith, for after the death of the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, the Companions moved to different places within the Muslim land, and travelling became an essential method of Hadith collection, authentication and preservation. Here are a few examples of the Companions’ travel for the sole purpose of confirming certain narrations:
Jaabir Ibn Abdullaah travelled a whole month to Ancient Syria only to verify one Hadith. [Al-Bukhari]
One of the Companions  travelled to visit Fudhaalah Ibn ‘Ubayd  and told him that he came not to visit him but only to ask him about a narration that they both heard together from Prophet and he was hoping that Fudhaalah had the complete wording of that Hadith. [Abu Daawood]
One of the Companions  left his home in Madinah in order to meet Abu Ad-Dardaa’ in Damascus only to have Abu Ad-Dardaa’ confirm a narration which this Companion  had already heard from the Prophet. [Ibn Abd Al-Barr]
The Companion Abu Ayyoob travelled all the way to Egypt to ask ‘Uqbah Ibn ‘Amr about one Hadith. Abu Ayyoob told ‘Uqbah  that the two of them were the only living Companions who have heard that Hadith directly from the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, and he wanted to confirm the Hadith from ‘Uqbah . [Ahmad]

5-Memorisation of the Hadith
Muslims – one generation after the other – did all that is humanly possible to preserve the texts of the Qur’an and the Sunnah as accurate as they received it from the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam. Besides the extra effort they exacted to develop the Methodology, the Companions  benefited from a talent that came naturally to them, one that was truly befitting to the main undertaking of that methodology - the verbatim transmission of the Sunnah. This unique quality of the Companions was that they enjoyed powerful memories. It was easy for anyone of them to commit to heart any number of narrations and retain them as such for a very long time.
This quality was not specific only to the Companions but rather was a common feature of the Arab society as a whole. Many scholars - Muslims and non-Muslim alike - established the fact that the Arabs of that era were masters of language, and their society had a profoundly strong oral tradition. The known narrator of poetry, Hammaad, for example, was reported to have memorised at least one hundred long poems for each letter in the Arabic alphabet. That is more than 2,800 pieces of poetry. Powerful memory was a source of pride for them and they placed more con­fidence in it than in writing, they believed that writings could be tampered with. Some even took this pride to extreme levels, they would not write anything down for fear that may be taken as indication of defective memory.
Obviously, the Companions who had more passion for preserving the Sunnah than poetry and literature used this powerful quality to protect and maintain the Sunnah. Imaam Ad-Daarimi  narrated that the Companion Abu Hurairah, radhiallah ‘anhu, said: “I used to divide the night into three parts. In the first, I would perform the optional night Prayer, in the second I would sleep, and in the third I would spend committing Hadith to my memory.”
Actually, all of the Companions considered this an honor and a blessing, for they were encouraged to do so by the saying of the Prophet: “May Allah make radiant (bestow vigour upon) anyone who heard what I said and committed it to his memory until he is able to convey it to another. Perhaps the person who hears it from him can have a better understanding of it than him.” [At-Tirmithi]
On the other hand, the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, also taught the Companions  two aspects that brought a needed balance to the use of memorisation in conveying his Hadith, namely the importance of writing, and the need of being moderate in all matters. This fact complemented their efforts in establishing a sound and well-rounded methodology.
The phenomenon of “Memory Power” continued to be a general character of the Arab society well into the third and fourth centuries of Hijrah, the time by which all of the Sunnah was collected into books and records. But the diminishing of its prevalence in the society with time did not minimise the role memory played in the preserving of the Sunnah. “Memory Power,” or Dhabt - proficiency in narration, as it later came to be known - became an essential part of the standards used to judge authenticity. Judging the narrators memory power is central in what we know as the science of “Al-Jarh wa Ta’deel.”

Companions encouraged to learn writing of the Hadith
Earlier in this series we discussed in some detail the writing of the Sunnah in the era of the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, and also showed that the Companions  were encouraged by him  to learn writing and that many of them learned and mastered it. Thus, not only did the Companions  use their gift of strong memories to start a tradition of oral transmission of the Sunnah, but also they added to that the use of their newly learned skill of writing.
Many Companions  had recorded these Sunnah for their personal references and to supplement their memorised Hadith. The existence of these personal references has been the subject of numerous treatises by old and contemporary scholars, both Muslims and non-Muslims.
There are, however, two points, which are mentioned by those who believe that the Sunnah was not recorded by the Companions and they need to be clarified. The first is the claim that some of the well-known Companions were reported to have refused to write the Sunnah and have ordered others not to write it. Such reports included Abu Bakr, ‘Umar lbn al-Khattaab, ‘Ali, Ibn Abbaas and Ibn Mas’ood. And while some of these reports are authentic, none of them present the writing of the Sunnah as being forbidden to undertake, rather these Companions were afraid that this writing might generate confusion with the Qur’an, and no report ever indicated that they tried to prevent others from writing it.
In addition, these Companions  were against having a personal collection of the narrations, not against writing the Sunnah in general, later some of them, like Abu Bakr, ‘Umar and ‘Ali while being Caliphs, each ordered the writing of the Sunnah in occasions for a variety of reasons.
The second point is the claim that it was ‘Umar Ibn Abd Al-‘Aziz, who first ordered the writing of the Sunnah as a collection. Obviously, this is cited in support of the claim that no written record was made of the Sunnah until that point in time. This is not true, for the authentic records prove that many collections-mostly personal were dated back to the era of the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, and that of the Companions.
‘Umar’s  efforts however were part of the attempt to collect the Hadiths on a global scale to facilitate its availability to all. Eventually this objective was achieved and all of the Sunnah was put together in the well-known books, which represent a tradition of care and preservation unmatched by any religion or nation. It is an undisputable fact that the Companions used their writing skills to preserve the Sunnah and convey it to their Followers.
An extremely important way the Companions used to preserve the Sunnah was their efforts to bring the Sunnah into their practice and shape their life according to it. They  truly understood that the emphasis Islam places on knowledge goes beyond the mere theoretical understanding and intellectual exercise. They realised that Prophet Muhammad’s teachings are not philosophical contemplations but ways and guidance that are intimately connected to the affairs of this life.
They saw in the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, a trainer and a role model, whatever they absorbed for him they immediately put into practice. Their atmosphere was one of following the Sunnah at all levels, an environment that was produced by a widespread reverence and a constant practice of the Sunnah. This environment provided the best situation for them to teach and train those who followed them the whole religion as they learned it and practiced it thus preserving it for all the time to come. We are all indebted to them.
Article source: http://www.islamweb.net/emainpage/

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