Compiled by Naureen Aqueel
(Excerpts from Dr. Idrees Zubair’s lectures)
Many criticisms have been made on the veracity and position of Ahadeeth in Islam. The truth is that such criticisms are based on ignorance. Those, who consider Ahadeeth objectionable, have not comprehended the reality of Ahadeeth and the efforts of the Muhaddithin (scholars of Ahadeeth) to devise a set of strict conditions for accepting Ahadeeth.
Let’s explore and refute some criticisms in detail.
From the death of Prophet Muhammad (sa) to 300 AH, for around 250 years, Ahadeeth were transmitted only verbally. When something is verbally transmitted, there is a possibility that the words would have changed and, subsequently, so would the meaning. There is great possibility of text distortion; thus, Ahadeeth become unreliable.
Firstly, there is proof that written material of Ahadeeth existed at the time of the Prophet (sa). While pursuing a Ph.D. at Cambridge University in 1960s, Dr. Mustafa Al-Azami wrote a thesis proving that there were more than 50 companions, who had written and preserved Ahadeeth at the time of the Prophet (sa).
Secondly, there are proofs that no errors were made in verbal narrations. For example, the Prophet (sa) wrote a letter to Kaiser to invite him to Islam. It is on record that no copy of that letter was kept with the Prophet (sa). The Prophet (sa) dictated the letter, and the messenger took it away. But the scribe and the companions of the Prophet (sa), who were there at that moment, knew what was written in that letter. The letter was sent, and the companions, who had heard and memorized the letter verbally, transmitted the whole text of it to the later generations.
Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, a scholar of the beginning of the third century, included in his book “Musnad Ahmad” that same letter, which he had received through verbal transmissions. Of course, this was recorded after the traditional scrutiny for accepting Ahadeeth. During the Usmani Caliphate, around 200 years ago from the current time, the same letter of the Prophet (sa) written to Kaiser was found during excavations in Egypt. When that original letter was collated with the letter mentioned in the book of the third century Hijri, there was not even an iota of difference between them. This is a great proof that not the slightest carelessness was employed in verbal narrations.
Similarly, Abu Hurairah (rta), a companion of the Prophet (sa), taught many Ahadeeth to his student Hammam Ibn Munabbih, who wrote them all down. However, Hammam’s manuscript got lost. The Ahadeeth narrations of Abu Hurairah (rta) were narrated later by his other students and written down in books of Ahadeeth. Relatively recently (in the 1954), Dr. Hamidullah, a great scholar of Ahadeeth, discovered the manuscript of Hammam Ibn Munabbih in the national library of Damascus and Berlin among old manuscripts. When one compares the Ahadeeth of Abu Hurairah (rta) recorded in these Ahadeeth books and those in the ancient manuscript, there is no difference.
The companions and other Ahadeeth narrators employed the utmost precision in narrating Ahadeeth. Moreover, they had very sharp memories. They used to memorize the family trees of horses, camels and tribes! It wasn’t difficult for them to memorize long Ahadeeth word for word.
Ahadeeth at the time of the Prophet (sa) were few, but they grew in number during the time of the Tabaeen and later generations, indicating fabrication.
The number of Ahadeeth increased in later generations because of the growth in the number of Isnad (narrations) of the same Ahadeeth. In other words, for the Muhaddithin ‘Hadeeth’ means not just the words of the Prophet (sa) but each narration of those words. For example, the Hadeeth “Indeed, deeds depend upon intentions” is found in 70 different narrations. Each is counted as a separate Hadeeth.
The Isnad system (the method of narrating Ahadeeth with a chain of narrators) was introduced at the end of the first century AH. They made up the chains themselves by guess work. So, if they concocted the chains, they might have done the same with the text of Ahadeeth.
A famous Tabaee Imam Ibn Sirin (33-110 AH) is recorded to have explained that the system of asking for references arose at the time after the martyrdom of Usman (rta), since it was a time of great trial and mistrust. Furthermore, the Isnad system is a natural process and cannot be fabricated so easily. Arabs used to have long names, with many other titles mentioned with the name. There is no record of an error in any chain. The names found in the chains were actual people found in those times. If you read their biographies, you find that they were really of that time, had the same name, titles, etc., and were of the same time, as those, whom they narrate from, and met the people they narrate from. The Muhaddithin used to scrutinize each narrator to the extent that people began to fear them.
The Isnad system has far greater intricacies than any contemporary research methodology. This system is very important. It has a position of reference for us and is a means to judge the authenticity of a Hadeeth. The Muhaddithin made numerous sacrifices (travelling long distances in heat, cold, hunger and thirst) for obtaining the authentic source of a Hadeeth – at times, only for a single Hadeeth.
There are contradictions in Ahadeeth. The Prophet (sa) could not have made contradictions. People produced them themselves.
They often quote a Hadeeth, in which the Prophet (sa) told the people to erase whatever they had written from him besides the Quran. It is an authentic Hadeeth narrated by Sahih Muslim, but they quote it out of context, wherein lies the answer to contradictions. In the second half of the same Hadeeth, the Prophet (sa) advises, however, to quote Hadeeth from him. The context, in which this was said, was when people used to write the Quran on the already scarce writing material and then write the Ahadeeth on the same material along with the Quran. The Prophet (sa) feared that it would be mixed up.
When Muslims understood the difference between Ahadeeth and the Quran, the Prophet (sa) commanded them to write, as is directed in the Hadeeth, in which he commanded Abdullah Ibn Amr Ibn As (rta) to write what he (saw) spoke. (Abu Dawood, Tirmidhi)
Lastly, the mouth that uttered the verses of the Quran uttered also the Ahadeeth. Similarly, the same companions transmitted to us the Quran and the Ahadeeth. How can we accept one thing and reject another?