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Traditions regarding the life of Muhammad and the early history of Islam were passed down both orally and written for more than a hundred years after the death of Muhammad in 632. According to Muslims, the collection of hadith or sayings by or about the Prophet Muhammad was a meticulous and thorough process that began right at the time of Muhammad. Needless to say hadith collection (even in the written form) began very early on – from the time of Muhammad and continued through the centuries that followed[citation needed]. Thus, Muslims reject any collections that are not robust in withstanding the tests of authenticity per the standards of the Science of hadith. This article goes through the historical evolution of the hadith literature from its beginning in the 7th century to present day.


Writing in the Pre-Islamic Period

History of hadith
Science of hadith
Hadith terminology
Biographical evaluation
People of hadith

Prior to the advent of Islam, memorization was the primary means of conveyance of information amongst the Arabs.[1] There were, however, some instances of writing present at that time, including promissory notes, personal letter, tribal agreements and some religious literature.[2] There were very few Arabs that could read or write in the beginning of Muhammad's era: The majority were unlettered, and according to Sunni traditions, so was Muhammad [3].

Prophetic Period

According to Ibn Hajar, “During the Prophet’s lifetime and into the time of the Companions and older Followers, the narrations of the Prophet were not transcribed in a systematic manner. This was due to two reasons. The first, was that early on they had been prohibited from doing so, as has been established in Sahih Muslim, lest the hadith become confused with the Quran. The second was due to expansive capability of their ability to memorize and because the majority of them were unable to write.”[4]


Writing of hadith

Despite this, there are few examples of written hadith from that period. A critical part of understanding this issue is the hadith of Aboo Sa’eed al-Khudree, who said, that the Prophet said, “Do not write what I say; whoever has written what I have said other the Quran, then he must erase it. There is no harm in narrating from me. Whoever lies on me,” a narrator said, “I believe he said, “intentionally,” “then take his seat in the hellfire.” This hadith is found in a number of hadith collections: the Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal[5], Sunan al-Darimi[6], Sahih Muslim [7], al-Nasa'i in al-Sunan al-Kubraa[8] and elsewhere. One possible explanation for this is that “the majority of the companions were illiterate with only a few individuals from them able to write. If they were to write, it was unrefined, not conforming to the written alphabet. Thus, the prohibition was due to the fear of erring while writing.”[9] Another is that “the prohibition was of writing the Quran with other than it in one place so as to avoid the two from becoming mixed up confusing the one reading it. As for writing in its entirety having been prohibited, then this was not the case as we see from another hadith, 'Convey what I say.' Present within the command to convey is permission to write and record.”[10]

A number of hadith indicate the permissibility if not encouragement to write down hadith. From them:

  • The hadith of Abd Allah ibn ‘Amr who said, “I used write everything I heard from the Prophet wanting to preserve it. The Quraysh then prohibited me from doing so, saying, ‘Do you write down everything? And the Prophet is human who speaks while angry and pleased?’ So I refrained from writing and then mentioned this to the Prophet. He gestured to his mouth and said, ‘Write, by the one in whose hand is my soul! Nothing emanates from this except the truth.’”[11]
  • A man came to Muhammad and complained about his memory, saying: ‘O Messenger of Allah: We hear many things from you. But most of them slip our minds because we cannot memorize them’. Muhammad replied: Ask your right hand for help.[14]. Muhammad meant that he should write down what he heard.
  • When Rafi‘ ibn Khadij asked Muhammad whether they could write what they heard from him, the answer came: Write, no harm! [15]. Another sources quotes Muhammad advising: "Record knowledge by writing." [16]
  • During the conquest of Mecca, Muhammad gave a sermon. A man from the Yemen, named Abu Shah, stood up and said: "O Allah’s Messenger! Please write down these [words] for me!" Muhammad ordered: "Write down for Abu Shah!"[17]
  • Muhammad sent a letter which contained commandments about the blood money for murders and injuries and the law of retaliation to Amr ibn Hizam[18]. This letter was handed down to his great grandson, Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad [3]. Among other things, like some of his letters other head of states[citation needed], some scroll transferred to Abu Rafi was handed down to Abu Bakr ibn ‘Abd Al-Rahman ibn Harith, belonging to the first generation after the Companions.[3]

Ibn Hajar summarized the different ways in which scholars have sought to reconcile those hadith prohibiting the writing of hadith and those permitting it, in the first of which he said, “The reconciliation between the two is that the prohibition was particular to the time in which the Quran was being sent down so that it would not become mixed up with other than it and the permission was during other than that time."[19]

Post Prophetic Period

Among Sunnis, Umar ibn al-Khattab is the primary locus for many accounts about hadith collection. He is portrayed by Sunnis as desiring to initiate this project but as unwilling to do so, fearing that Muslims might then neglect the Qur'an [20]. Umar is also said by Sunnis that he due to fear and concerns, he sometimes warned people against careless narration of hadith[3].

Muslim historians say that it was the caliph Uthman (the third caliph, or successor of Muhammad, who had formerly been Muhammad's secretary), who first urged Muslims both to write down the Qur'an in a fixed form, and to write down the hadith. Uthman's labors were cut short by his assassination, at the hands of aggrieved soldiers, in 656[citation needed]. The Muslim community (ummah) then fell into a prolonged civil war, termed the Fitna by Muslim historians. After the fourth caliph, Ali ibn Abi Talib, was assassinated, control of the Islamic empire was seized by the Umayyad dynasty in 661[citation needed]. Illustrating the importance hadith in a written format had earned, Ibn Abbas left behind a camel-load of books, which mostly contain what he had heard from Muhammad and other Sahaba [3][21].

Of the many companions, Abu Hurairah taught hadith to students, one of whom was Hammam ibn Munabbih. Ibn Munabbih wrote down these hadith, the original manuscripts of which are present even to this day in the libraries of Berlin, Beirut and Damascus.[22]

Starting the first Islamic civil war of the 7th century, those receiving the hadith started to question the sources of the saying, something that resulted in the development of the Isnad[20]. Muhammad ibn Sirin (d. 110/728) stated[20]:

"[the traditionalists] were not used to inquiring after the isnad, but when the fitna occurred they said: Name us your informants. Thus if these were Ahl al-Sunna their traditions were accepted, but if they were Ahl al-Bid'ah, their traditions were not accepted."

The beginning of systematic hadith collection

The beginning of the systematic collection and compilation of hadith began during the time of the second generation of Muslims, that of the Followers. Muhammad ibn Muslim ibn Ubaydullah, commonly known as ibn Shihab al-Zuhri, was a prolific and prominent hadith narrator from the Followers whom Ibn Hajar identified as a tabi'i.[23] According to Ibn Hajar, “Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri was the first to compile hadith at the beginning of the first century after the Migration acting on the order of Umar ibn AbdulAziz. It was after this that the compilation, then the authoring of books of hadith became commonplace, resulting in much good.”[24]

Ummayad rule was interrupted by a second civil war (the Second Fitna), re-established, then ended in 758, when the Abbasid dynasty seized the caliphate, to hold it, at least in name, until 1258[citation needed].

Muslim historians say that hadith collection and evaluation continued during the first Fitna and the Umayyad period. However, much of this activity was presumably oral transmission from early Muslims to later collectors, or from teachers to students. If any of these early scholars committed any of these collections to writing, they have not survived. The histories and hadith collections we possess today were written down at the start of the Abbasid period, more than one hundred years after the death of Muhammad[citation needed].

The scholars of the Abbasid period were faced with a huge corpus of miscellaneous traditions, some of them flatly contradicting each other. Many of these traditions supported differing views on a variety of controversial matters. Scholars had to decide which hadith were to be trusted as authentic narrations and which had been invented for various political or theological purposes. For this purpose, they used a number of techniques which Muslims now call the science of hadith and hadith terminology[citation needed]. In 134 AH (751752), paper was introduced into the Muslim world [25]

Generally, Umar II is credited with having ordered the first collection of hadith material in an official manner, fearing that some of it might be lost. Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad ibn Hazm and Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri, are among those who compiled hadiths at `Umar II’s behest [20].

Early written hadith collections

List of collections of hadith, in chronological order:

  1. Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri
  2. Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad ibn Hazm
  3. Musannaf of ibn Jurayj — ?-? CE
  4. Musannaf of Ma`mar bin Rashid — ?-? CE
  5. Sahifah Hammam ibn Munabbih — 670–720 CE
  6. Musannaf of `Abd al-Razzaq al-San`ani — 700ish CE
  7. Muwatta of Malik bin Anas — 760–795 CE
  8. Sufyan al-Thawri
  9. Ibn Basheer

Canonical texts

The efforts culminated with the six canonical collections after having received impetus from the establishment of the sunna as the second source of law in Islam, particularly through the efforts of the famous jurist Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi'i[20].

The method of criticism and the conclusions it has reached have not changed significantly since the ninth century. Even much of modern Muslim scholarship, while continuing to debate the validity or authenticity of individual hadiths or perhaps the hadiths of a particular transmitter, employs the same methods and biographical materials [20].

The classification of Hadith into sahih (sound), hasan (good) and da'if (weak) was firmly established by Ali ibn al-Madini (d. 234 AH)[26]. Later, al-Madini's student Muhammad al-Bukhari (d. 256 AH.) authored a collection that he stated contained only Sahih hadith[26]. al-Tirmidhi (d. 279 AH) was the first traditionist to base his book on al-Madini's classification [26].

Contemporary Analysis

In 1848, Gustav Weil, noted that Muhammad al-Bukhari deemed only 4,000 of his original 300,000 hadiths to be authentic.He was soon followed by Aloys Sprenger, who also suggests that many of the hadiths cannot be considered authentic.[20] However, this demonstrates a limited understanding by Non Muslims, of Bukhari's criterion for his Sahih. This is clarified by other statements of Bukhari in which he made it clear that he considered al of the [[hadith in his authentic, but not all authentic hadith are included in his Sahih. Al-Dhahabi quoted Bukhari as saying, "I have memorized one hundred thousand authentic hadith and two hundred thousand that are not authentic.'[27]

Ignaz Goldziher was a large contributor of innovative theories to the West. The subsequent direction the Western debate took, a direction which has focussed on the role of hadiths in the origin and development of early Muslim jurisprudence, is largely due to the work of Joseph Schacht [20]. The Common-Link Theory, invented by Joseph Schacht and widely accepted in modern scholarship, argues that hadith authorities knowingly and purposefully placed traditions in circulation with little care to support these hadiths with satisfactory isnads (chains of transmitters). G. H. A. Juynboll, Michael Cook and other Schachtians subsequently embraced and elaborated upon this theory. In 2006, Fahad A. Alhomoudi in his thesis “On the Common-Link Theory”[28] challenges the accuracy of Schacht’s founding theory. Because of the interconnectedness of Schacht’s many theses about hadith and Islamic law, the findings of Alhomoudi’s thesis did not only challenge the significant Common-Link Theory in legal hadith studies, but also open the door for scholars to question other important theories held by Schacht and his followers with regard to larger issues in Islamic legal history.

The Turkish government's Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı has commissioned a team of scholars at Ankara University to draft a new compilation of hadith that follows a liberal interpretation of Islam, and that would omit numerous hadith considered historically inauthentic by these scholars.[29]


  1. ^ Abridged from al-Hadith wa al-Muhaddithoon, pg. 39.
  2. ^ Studies in Early Hadith Literature, al-'Athami, pg. 2.
  3. ^ a b c d e f When where the traditions recorded?
  4. ^ Hadi al-Sari, vol. 1, pg. 6 of the Dar Taibah printing using the page numbering of the Maktabah al-Salafiyah edition.
  5. ^ Musnad Ahmad; vol. 3, pgs. 12, 21, 39 and 56
  6. ^ Sunan al-Darimi; vol. 1, pgs. 130 and 450
  7. ^ Sahih Muslim; vol. 2, pg. 1366, no. 3004
  8. ^ Al-Sunan al-Kubra; vol. 2, pg. 1240, no. 7954
  9. ^ Ibn Qutaibah in Mukhtalif al-Hadith, pg. 412.
  10. ^ al-Baghawi in Sharh al-Sunnah, vol. 1, pg. 295, al-Maktab al-Islami, Beirut.
  11. ^ Collected in the Musnad of Ahmad (10\15-6\ 6510 and also nos. 6930, 7017 and 1720), Sunan Abu Dawud (Mukhtasar Sunan Abi Dawud (5\246\3499) and elsewhere.
  12. ^ Ibn Sa'd, Tabaqat, 2.22.
  13. ^ Bukhari, “‘Ilm,” 39.
  14. ^ Tirmidhi, “‘Ilm,” 12.
  15. ^ Hindi, Kanz al-‘Ummal, 10.232.
  16. ^ Darimi, “Muqaddima,” 43.
  17. ^ Abu Dawud, “‘Ilm,” 3; al-Tirmidhi, “‘Ilm,” 12.
  18. ^ Darimi, “Diyat,” 12.
  19. ^ Fath al-Bari, vol. 1, pg. 208).
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h [1]
  21. ^ M. ‘Ajjaj al-Khatib, op. cit. 352.
  22. ^ An Introduction to the Conservation of Hadith – In the light of the Sahifah of Hammam ibn Munabbih by Dr Muhammad Hamidullah, IBT publishers, 2003
  23. ^ Taqrib al-Tahthib, pg. 440, no. 6296, Mu'assasah al-Risalah, Beirut, first edition, 1999.
  24. ^ Fath al-Bari, vol. 1, pg. 208.
  25. ^ Mit-Ejmes
  26. ^ a b c [2]
  27. ^ Tathkirah al-Huffath, vol. 2, pg. 556.
  28. ^ On the Common-Link Theory, Fahad A. Alhomoudi, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada,Copyright 2006 All rights reserved.
  29. ^ BBC NEWS | Europe | Turkey in radical revision of Islamic texts

Further reading

Part of a series on
Hadith collections

Most famous

Sunni six major collections
(Al-Sihah al-Sittah):

  1. Sahih al-Bukhari
  2. Sahih Muslim
  3. Sunan an-Nasa'i al-Sughra
  4. Sunan Abi Dawood
  5. Sunan al-Tirmidhi
  6. Sunan Ibn Maja

Shi'a Twelver collections:

  1. Kitab al-Kafi of Kulainy
  2. Man la yahduruhu al-Faqih of Shaikh Saduq
  3. Tahdhib al-Ahkam by Shaikh Tusi
  4. al-Istibsar by Shaykh Tusi

Ibadi collections:

  • al-Jami' as-Sahih by al-Rabi' ibn Habib
  • Tartib al-Musnad by al-Warijlani
Sunni collections
Shi'a Twelver collections
Shi'a Ismaili collections
Mu'tazili collections
  • Nahj with comments — ?-1258

This is a sub-article of hadith.

According to Muslims tradition, the collection of ahadith or sayings by or about the Prophet Muhammad was a meticulous and thorough process that began right at the time of Muhammad. Of the many companions, Abu Hurayrah taught ahadith (plural of hadith) to students, one of whom was Hammam ibn Munabbih. Ibn Munabbih wrote down these ahadith. The original manuscripts are present even to this day in the Libraries of Berlin, Beirut and Damascus. Needless to say ahadith collection (even in the written form) began very early on - from the time of Muhammad and right through the centuries that followed. Thus Muslims reject 'collections' that are not robust in withstanding the tests of authenticity.


Early Hadith

List of the earliest collections of Ahadeeth, in chronological order:

  • Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri
  • Al-Hazm
  • Musannaf of ibn Jurayj — ?-? CE
  • Musannaf of Ma`mar bin Rashid — ?-? CE
  • Sahifah Hammam ibn Munabbih — 670-720 CE
  • Musannaf of `Abd al-Razzaq al-San`ani — 700ish CE
  • Muwatta' of Malik bin Anas — 760-795 CE
  • Al-Thawri
  • Ibn Basheer


An introduction to the Conservation of Hadith - In the light of the Sahifah of Hammam ibn munabbih by Dr Muhammad Hamidullah, IBT publishers, 2003

See also

External links


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