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· Beginners Guide to Hadith & Sunnah.


· Identify the four stages of hadithcollection.

· Identify the role of Umar bin Abdulaziz inpreserving Sunnah.

· Identify the completion of hadithcollection in third century and the major works of the time.

· Know the various methods of preserving hadith.

Arabic Terms

· SunnahSunnah has severalmeanings depending on the area of study however the meaning is generallyaccepted to be, whatever was reported that the Prophet said, did, or approved.

· Hijrah - the act of migration from one place toanother. In Islam, the Hijrah refers to the Muslims migrating from Meccato Medina and also marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar.

· Hadith - (plural – ahadith) is a piece of informationor a story. In Islam it is a narrative record of the sayings and actions ofProphet Muhammad.

Third Stage in Collection of Hadith

With the passing away of the generation that had seenand heard the Prophet directly, the work of the collection of hadithentered a third stage.  Since the Companions had traveled far in the Islamicworld and entrusted the knowledge of Sunnah to their students beforetheir death there were no more reports to be searched for from differentpersons, and the whole of the hadith accumulation was now the propertyof the different teachers who taught at different centers.  But in the secondstage, hadith had passed from individual possession into publicpossession, and therefore the whole body of accumulated hadith could belearned in the third stage by referring to different centers instead ofsearching it from different individuals.

Umar ibn Abdulaziz, the Umayyad Caliph, who ruledtowards the close of the first century of Hijrah, was the first man whoissued definite orders to the effect that written collections of hadithshould be made.  Umar ibn Abdulaziz wrote to Abu Bakr ibn Hazm:

“See whateversaying of the Prophet can be found, and write it down, for I fear the loss ofknowledge and the disappearance of the learned men; and do not accept anythingbut the hadith of the Prophet; and people should make knowledge publicand should sit in companies so that he who does not know should come to know,for knowledge does not disappear until it is concealed from the public.”[1]

Abu Bakr ibn Hazm was the Caliph’s governor at Medina,and there is evidence that similar letters were written to other centers.  Beforethe middle of the second century, written collections of hadith saw thelight of the day.  Hundreds of students of hadith were engaged in thework of learning it in different centers.  Every scholar of hadithtraveled in search of hadith.  Khateeb al-Baghdadi, a famous classicalscholar, has written an entire work, Ar-Rihlah fi Talab al-Hadith, or Travelingin Search of Hadith.  What is interesting is that the work talks aboutscholars who traveled in search of just onehadith!  By far themost important collection of the era is the Muwatta of Imam Malik which hasrecently been translated into English.

Fourth Stage in Collection of Hadith

The work of the collection of hadith was broughtto completion in the third century of Hijrah.  Carefully compiled booksof hadith from this era have reached us in their complete form.  It wasthen that three kinds of collections of hadith were made: Musnad,Jami’, and Sunan.  The Musnad was the earlier type and theJami’ the later.  The collections of hadith known as Musnadswere arranged, not according to the subject matter of the hadith, butunder the name of the companion on whose final authority the hadithrested.  The most important of the works of this class is the Musnad ofImam Ahmad Hanbal which contains about thirty thousand narrations.  Ahmad wasborn in 164 A.H. and died in 241 A.H. and is one of the greatest scholars inthe history of Islam.  His collection, however, contains reports of all sorts. The Jami’ not only arranges reports according to the subject matter, butis also more critical.  Six books are recognized generally under this heading,being the collections made by Muhammad ibn Isma’il, commonly known as Al-Bukhari(d. 256 A.H.), Muslim (d. 261 A.H.), Abu Dawud (d. 275 A.H.).  Al-Tirmidhi (d.279 A.H.), Ibn Maja (d. 283 A.H.) and Al-Nasa’i (d. 303 A. H.).  These booksclassified reports according to subject matter, making hadith easy forreference for the scholars of Islam.  All these books have reached us aswritten by their original authors.  Some of the major works have beentranslated into English.

Methods of Preserving Hadith

Throughout the stages of hadith collection, eightmethods were utilized in preserving hadith.  Only the first and secondwill be discussed briefly below:

(1)  Sama’: that is reading by the teacherto the students.

(2)  ‘Ard: reading by the students to theteachers.

(3)  Ijazah: to permit someone to transmitthe hadith or book on the authority of the scholar without reading byany one.

(4)  Munawalah: to hand someone the writtenmaterial to transmit.

(5)  Kitabah: to write hadith forsomeone.

(6)  I’lam: to inform someone that informerhas permission to transmit certain material.

(7)  Wasiyah: to entrust someone his books.

(8)  Wajadah: to find some books or hadithwritten by someone just as the Christian discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, or thefind of the oldest manuscript of the New Testament with some monks in Mt. Sinaiby Tischendorf.  At no stage did Muslim scholars recognize this to be areliable method of transmission.

In the period of the Companions only the first methodwas used.  The students used to stay with their teachers, serve them, and learnfrom them.  A little later, the most common methods were the first and second. Since wajadah was not recognized by the scholars, any method other thanthe seven listed above was not accepted.

Sama included oral recitation, reading frombooks, questions and answers, and dictation.  The practice of oral recitationof hadith by the teacher began to decline from the second half of the secondcentury, although it persisted for a long time.  The students were attached toone scholar for a long period of time, until they were considered authoritieson the hadith of their teacher. Only a few hadith, about four orfive were discussed in one lesson.  Reading by the teacher from his own bookswas preferred.  Reading by the teacher from the student’s book was also done.  Thiswas a way to test the teacher to see if he had memorized his hadithproperly.  They would insert hadith into the hadith they hadlearned from their teacher, and hand the book to the teacher to read, to findout if he had a grip on his stuff.  Those who failed to recognize theadditional material were denounced and deemed untrustworthy.

Ard was the most common practice from thebeginning of the second century.  Either copies were provided by the teachers,or made by the students from the original.  They made a circular mark afterevery hadith.  Whenever the student read the hadith to histeacher, he would make a mark in the circle to indicate that the hadithhad been read to the teacher.  This was necessary because even though thestudent knew the hadith through books, he was not allowed to use it inteaching it to others or for his own compilation until he had obtained itthrough proper means.  Otherwise, he would be called hadith thief, sariqal-hadith.

A regular record was kept and after the complete bookwas read, a note was written by the teacher or one of the famous scholarsattending the classes.  These gave details of attendance, like who listened tothe complete book, who joined partly, what part they read, and what part theymissed, giving dates and places.  The book was usually signed by the teacher ora famous attending scholar, to indicate that no further additions can be madeto the book.


As a result of tremendous and meticulous efforts ofearly Muslims the Sunnah and hadith of the Prophet has beenpreserved accurately and reliably for us.  Since Prophet Muhammad, may themercy and blessings of Allah be upon him, is the last prophet sent by Allah tohumanity, it only makes sense that his teachings be preserved completely.  Ifhis teachings were not preserved, another prophet would be necessary to findout what Allah’s religion is and how Allah has to be obeyed.  The teachings ofProphet Muhammad will be preserved till the Day of Judgment and therefore nomore prophets will appear.  It is upon us to learn and practice Islam asProphet Muhammad taught correctly and fully to earn salvation.


  1. Saheeh Al-Bukhari