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Quran and Islamic Jurisprudence – Part 21
By Dr. Maher Hathout

When someone said that the Prophet (Pbuh) said so and so, Hazrath Umar (RA) would ask for a witness to be brought.

Ulum al-Hadith


* Linguistically Hadith means “new”, which is opposite to old (qadim).

* Hadith in general refers to the sayings of the Prophet (Pbuh).


* Linguistically sunnah means way, custom, tradition, attitude.

Different Opinions

* Despite the importance attached to knowledge and learning, in the early period, the Prophet did not allow his Companions to write down what they heard from him. For example, as related in the Sahih al-Muslim (vol.2 Pg.44), he said: “Do not write anything belonging to me. Whoever has written something received from me outside the Quran, let him destroy it”. This was because it was quite possible that the Companions might confuse the Quranic verses with the sayings of the Prophet.

* Another interpretation of the above Hadith is that it was forbidden to write down Hadiths in early days because all attention was to be paid to the Quran and its preservation. In other words, nothing should dilute the Quran.

How did the Hadiths reach us?

First stage

* The four rightly guided caliphs did not write or ask people to write down the Prophet’s sayings. When the Prophet sent Mu’adh ibn Jabal as the Governor of Yemen, he asked:

“What will you do if a matter is referred to you for judgement?” Mu’adh said: “I will judge according to the Book of Allah.” The Prophet asked: “what if you find no solution in the Book of Allah?” Mu’adh said: “Then I will judge by the Sunnah of the Prophet.” The Prophet asked: “And what if you do not find it in the Sunnah of the Prophet?” Mu’adh said: “Then I will make Ijtihad to formulate my own judgement.” The Prophet patted Mu’adh’s chest and said “Praise be to Allah who has guided the messenger of His Prophet to that which pleases Him and His Prophet.”

* Caliphs were skeptical about riwaya (transmission) also. They deterred people doing riwaya when they used to reach certain opinion. When someone said that Prophet said so and so, Hazarath Umar (RA) would ask for a witness to be brought. When the Hadith that said “knock the door thrice of a person you are visiting, if one hears no response, then leave the place” was presented to Umar with the witness, Umar said, “if he wouldn’t have brought the witness, he would have been punished”. This shows how Umar was careful in accepting the Hadith. This Hadith is related in more than one version by Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Al-Tirmidhi, Abu Dawood and Ibn Majah.

* Ali ibn Abu Talib would ask the person to take an oath, if someone quotes a Hadith.

* The riwaya at the time of the sahaba was very limited.

Second stage

* The time of sahaba is gone, the junior or successors of sahaba, tabi’un came. In this era, very little writing took place with regard to the Prophet’s sayings.

Third stage

* Then the average successors of sahaba, few sahabis lived at that time i.e. 99 years after the hijrah.

Fourth stage

* At the time of Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, there was an official order to write down the hadith.

- He felt that things might be forged

- He sent his man to Madinah and to a woman by the name Amra bint Abdur Rahman, an Ansar, a much respected authority on the things narrated under the authority of Ayesha.

* One of the earliest collections of Hadith was in 124 A.H. by a great scholar called Zohri.

Fifth stage

The followers of the followers of the tabi’un came after the middle of the 3rd century of hijri, people wanted to collect the sound hadith, which is sahih. A methodology was developed.

Sunni schools

Sahih Al Bukhari 256 A.H.

Sahih Muslim 261 A.H

Sunan Abu Dawud 275 A.H

Jami Tirmidi 279 A.H.

Sunan ibn Majah 273 A.H.

Sunan An Nasai 309 A.H

(The writer is Sr. Advisor, Muslim Public Affairs Council -MPAC)