The Biography of

Muhammad Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam

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    Special supplement    
The Science of Hadith

The field of Asma'ur Rijaal is indeed a unique science totally foreign to any nation of the past. It is a science which not only guarantees the authenticity of the Hadith literature, but is also a glowing tribute to the Muslim scholars of the past who painstakingly invented, developed and systemised it.

Almost all nations of the world recorded their history in written form many centuries after the actual occurrence. They were forced to accept every prattle and gossip that they came across without any research regarding the source of these reports. Historians, finally, by a process of elimination selected the most acceptable narrations.

In comparison, the criteria set by Muslim historians for the acceptance of historical incidents were more severe and critical compared to other nations. The narrations which have reached us today are, therefore, more authentic and factual. One of the conditions set was that the initial narrator had to be an eye-witness to the event he was narrating. Secondly, the life histories of each person who narrated the incident in the chain of narrators (sanad) were meticulously recorded.

The concept of having a sanad for hadith penetrated into many other branches of Islamic learning. Hence, isnaad (plural of sanad) appear in commentaries of Quranic verses, in the commentaries of hadith, in poetry, in jurisprudence, in history, in literature, in prose and even in the books of comedy like "Akhbaar ul-Humaqaa wal Mughaffaleen."

A sanad was so important to the scholars that even for a single word they would mention a lengthy chain of narrators to indicate the actual source of the word. For example, in the commentary of the Quran by Imam Abu Jafar Mohammed ibn Jarir at-Tabari, in the explanation of the word "heen" (Surah Baqarah, verse 36) he mentions : "Younus narrates from Ibn Wahab who narrates from Abdur Rahman ibn Mahdi who narrates from Israel who narrates from Ismail as-Suddi who narrates from Ibn Abbas who said that "heen" means life." The author here has brought a sanad which is about three lines long simply to provide the meaning of a single word which he had heard.

Another example from history also illustrates the importance given to a sanad. Ibn Asakir in his book, "Tareegh Madina Damishk", produces a length sanad simply to prove that the agnomen of Mohamed ibn Shahaab was Abu Bakr. He writes : "Abu Bakr Yahya ibn Ibrahim narrates from Nimat Allah ibn Mohamed who narrates from Ahmed ibn Mohamed ibn Abdullah who narrates from Mohamed ibn Ahmed ibn Sulaiman who narrates from Sufyan ibn Mohamed ibn Sufyan who narrates from al-Hasan ibn Sufyan who narrates from Mohamed ibn Ali who narrates from Mohamed ibn Ishaq who narrates from Abu Umar Dharir who said : "Mohamed ibn Shahaab Abu Bakr."

Furthermore, the scholars of hadith only recorded authentic hadith after careful assessment of each narrator. They were completely impartial showing no fear or favour no matter who the narrator might have been. Once Muadh ibn Muadh, a scholar of hadith, was offered ten thousand dinars simply to remain silent with regard to the integrity of a certain person. He declined, saying : "I can never conceal what is right."(1) This was the conscience with which these scholars preserved this hadith.

For the preservation of hadith, the scholars of Islam recorded the lives of thousands of men who were in any way linked to the life or even the words of the Prophet Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam. For this reason we see books written exclusively covering the lives of the Sahaba. For example, Tabaqat ibn Sa'd, As-Sahaba by Ibn Sukun, Al-Isti'aab by Ibn Abd al-Barr, Marifat us-Sahaba by Bagawi, Asad ul-Ghabah by Ibn Athir, Al-Isaba by Ibn Hajar, etc. These contain the lives and characteristics of approximately ten thousand Sahaba.

Then there are books which cover the lives of those who came after the Sahaba (ie. the Taabi'een and Tab'i-Taabi'een). The number of narrators which are covered in these books are at the very least about 100 000. Consider for a moment the following books which have been written exclusively on these men : Tahzeeb at-Tahzeeb by Ibn Hajar (12 volumes), Tahzeebul Kamaal by Mizzi, Alaaudin Mughultaai (13 volumes), Mizaanul I'tidaal by Zahabi, Lisaanul Mizaan by Ibn Hajar and countless others.

Let us take only one book of Ahadith to understand this unique aspect of Islam. The Sahih Bukhari contains 2602 narrations, excluding the repeated Hadith. Imam Bukhari selected these from a total of 100 000 which he had memorized. The book has close to 2000 narrators mentioned in it. Imam Bukhari selected these from a total in access of 3000 narrators. The Sahih Bukhari, including all these Hadith and narrators fills 4 copious volumes. If we discard the narrators, however, we are left with only one volume of average size. Is there any other book of history in the world that can come close to this outstanding collection of Hadith? Consider for a moment that the author knew the names and qualities of each of the 2000 narrators that he mentioned. Further, these 2000 narrators are part of a chain in which each narrator has heard from another until finally the sequence terminates at a saying or action of the Prophet. (2)



(1) At-Tahzib Vol 1, p. 231

(2) Abdul Fattah Abu Ghuddah, Al-Isnad min ad-din, p. 31