The collectors and preservers of Ahadeeth are the prime suspects of default or negligence in the sight of many ill-informed, ignorant pseudo-intellectuals of the past or present times. Sometimes these Muhadaseen (Hadeeth narrators) are tried and charged guilty in people’s own perception. Such questions as ‘Who knows the source of this information?’ ‘Were these men or women even present at the times of the Prophet (sa)?’ ‘How can we trust the credibility of a particular Ahadeeth?’ are rampant.
Quite amusingly, when Darwin’s ridiculous theory of evolution is presented to most, they accept it without a second thought, even though it has been proven incorrect by the Quran and the scientists. Similarly, do we ever question, how far the Sun is or did Neil Armstrong actually travel to the Moon? Never! One news bulletin is sufficient to convince us about the authenticity of any particular happening or discovery. How many of us go to the extent of verifying any of the information changing hands at the speed of light? Alas, we reserve the worst imaginable skepticism or allegations for our own reputed scholars. It is sinful to suspect those whom we know nothing about.
Muhammad Iqbal Kailani in his book “Following the Prophet’s Path” analyzes the lives of some of these Ahadeeth narrators to understand their quest for truth.
The search begins
Abu Ayub Ansari traveled from Madinah to Egypt for investigating a single Hadeeth. Jabir Ibn Abdullah traveled for a month just to hear a Hadeeth personally. Imam Razi spent seven years traveling in his quest to gather the Sunnah. Nafe Ibn Abdullah attended Imam Malik’s lectures from morning to noon for nearly forty years. History presents countless examples of such endeavors made by Ahadeeth students.
Abdullah Ibn Mubarak obtained instructions from eleven hundred renowned scholars of the Sunnah. Imam Malik learnt prophetic traditions from nine hundred teachers. Hisham Ibn Abdullah was instructed in Ahadeeth by seventeen hundred teachers.
After serving his duties in Ahadeeth in his home town of Bukhara, Imam Bukhari traveled to such other destinations as Balakh, Baghdad, Makkah, Basra, Kufa, Syria, Uskhalan, Hamus and Damascus for further enriching himself in the science of Sunnah.
At the time, when there were no road networks, flight connections, not even reliable maps available, these men undertook journeys of peril and personal sacrifice in search of the prophetic traditions. Their travelogues are an evidence of determination and sincerity to the cause of Ahadeeth compilation and preservation.
The Ahadeeth narrators spent their entire fortunes working on the science of Sunnah. In his quest to find sound Hadeeth, Imam Malik’s teacher Rabia sold even the rafters of his house. At times, he had to face extreme poverty and actually fed himself on the remains of dates lying in the trash.
Imam Yahya Ibn Moeen spent one and a half million Dirhams in search of the Sunnah. He was reduced to such a state of destitution that he didn’t even have shoes to wear.
Imam Bukhari, who was raised in the lap of luxury, willingly faced hardships during his long journeys in search of the Sunnah. Umar Ibn Hafs, one of Imam Bukhari’s colleagues in Basra, narrates that they were engaged in writing down the Sunnah. After a few days, they realized that Imam Bukhari was absent from class. Upon inquiry, they discovered that he did not have proper clothing to step out of his room and was too poor to buy any. The students gathered money and bought for the Imam suitable clothes, so he could start attending classes again.
Ishaq Ibn Rahviyya, Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal’s classmate, tells of how Imam Hanbal came to Yemen to learn the Sunnah. During such time, he earned his living weaving trouser strings. When it was time for him to depart from Yemen upon completion of his education, he was indebted to a baker. He gave his shoes to the Baker for debt settlement and left Yemen barefoot. On his way back, he worked also as a loader to earn his living.
How many scholars of today do we know, who have abandoned their home comforts, jeopardized their lives and put their honour at stake in the quest for true knowledge? Sadly, such scholars today are fewer as compared to the previous eras.
Wrath of evil and unjust rulers was another trial that many noble scholars had to brave. In the reign of Banu Umaiyya (except the reign of Umar Ibn Abdul Aziz), some renowned scholars of Ahadeeth were persecuted cruelly. They included Mohammad Ibn Sireen, Hassan Basri, Obaidullah Ibn Abi Raffay, Yahya Ibn Obaid and Ibn-e-Abi Katheer.
During the rule of Banu Abbas, Imam of Darul Hijra Malik Ibn Anas was punished mercilessly by flogging on his bare back. The great scholar Sufyan Sauri was condemned to death. Imam Shafai was arrested and taken to Baghdad on foot, where he was incarcerated and tortured. The torments suffered by Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal in the cause of the Sunnah are tragic. Imam Abu Hanifa’s funeral procession was taken out from the dark and narrow dungeon of prison. All these remarkable men withstood torture and death, never compromising the truth.
Strict criteria for Ahadeeth acceptance
Their caution and strict vigilance in matters of acceptance of the Sunnah can be realized from the meticulous standards these scholars adhered to. Abu Bakr (rta) and Umar (rta) never accepted a Ahadeeth without a proper witness. Usman (rta), as a precaution, narrated few Ahadeeth. Ali (rta) accepted the Sunnah from the narrators on oath only.
When Abdullah Ibn Masood was requested to narrate the Sunnah, his countenance changed with concern, as he understood the great responsibility he had as a Hadeeth narrator. When Anas (rta) related a prophetic tradition, he always added “or as the Messenger (sa) said.” Upon reaching their old age, the companions stopped relating the Sunnah out of the fear of their failing memory.
The narrator Moin Ibn Isa says: “The Hadeeth I have reported from Imam Malik are such that I have heard each one of them thirty times from him.” Ibrahim Ibn Sayeed Al-Jauhari states: “If I fail to get any Hadeeth from a hundred different sources, I consider myself weak in that Hadeeth.”
The renowned orientalist professor Margaret stated: “The Muslim’s pride in their science of Sunnah is justified.”
The famous Hungarian orientalist Goldziher Ignaz (1850-1921) said: “The scholars, who collected the Sunnah, traveled extensively in the Muslim world from one end to the other, from Spain to Central Asia, mostly on foot, visited every city and every village in search of the Sunnah, in order to record them and to spread them among their disciples. Undoubtedly, these were the persons who deserved the title or surname of Rahhal and Jawwal (meaning indefatigable traveler).”
Dr. Springier, a renowned German orientalist, admits: “No nation ever existed in the past or is there in the present, which has invented like the Muslims the science of Asma-ur-Rijal, through which we can know today the lives of five hundred thousand people of Medieval times. The learned scholars of Sunnah have recorded every important detail about every reporter of the Sunnah, such as his belief, faith, character, virtue, trustworthiness, truthfulness, honesty, their retention power and comprehension skills.” (Asaba fi AhwAl-us-Sahaba)
It’s entirely up to our objective and non-biased reasoning to decide whether the Muslim Ummah should continue suspecting the efforts of its scholars or reap benefit out of it. Should we take pride in the sacrifices of the earlier generations and humbly accept them as the creditor or continue with a disrespectful and disdainful attitude?
With Allah (swt) eventually lies the reward of every knowledge bearer. Our scholars played their part and did it extremely well. They offered unimaginable services to Allah (swt) for the preservation of the Sunnah. Our acceptance or rejection of them only speaks of our own character. May Allah (swt) have His mercy on them and keep us guided on the straight path. Ameen.