Writing of hadith - misrepresentation of early scholars statements

According to the general belief, ahadith were orally transmitted at least for 100 years (after the hijrah from Mecca to Medina).

[Abu Talib al-Makki, Qut al-Qulub, i, 159;  Ibn Hajar, Hady al-Sari, i 17;  al-Kattani, Risalah Mustatrafah, 3;  Abu Rayyah, Adwa ala al-Sunnah, 207;  Dhahabi, Tafsir wa al-Mufassirun, i 140]


It is said that Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz was the first who asked Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad ibn Amr ibn Hazm, al-Zuhri and others to collect ahadith, and that al-Zuhri was the first to record them.

[Khaithamah, iii, 126b;  Ibn Asakir, Tarikh Dmiashq, xv, 400a; al-Razaq, Tamhid li-Tarikh al Falsafah al Islamiyah, 198]


The general belief in the later recording of ahadith and of oral transmissions (being the main form of transmission until they were written) for more than 100 years was due to the information provided by muhaddithun (scholars of hadith) themselves.


The names of the earliest compilers of hadith provided by the muhaddithun belong to the mid 2nd or the latter half of the 2nd century after hijrah.

[Ramhurmuzi, 78b; Yusuf ibn Taghri Bardi, Nujum Zahirah, i, 351;  al-Kattani, Risalah Mustatrafah, 6]



In Taqyid al Ilm, al-Khatbi al-Baghdadi deals with the sebject of writing ahadith at length concerning whether or not it was prohibited by the Prophet. The first part of the book is mainly concerned with the disapproval of writing; and the first chapter of this part mainly contains ahadith from the Prophet, forbidding writing of anything except the Quran.

[Baghdahi, Taqyid, 29-35]


In the 2nd chapter he mentions the names of 6 companions who disapproved of the recording of the ahadith of the Prophet, they are:

- Abu Said al Khudri

- Abdullah ibn Masud

- Abu Musa al Ashari

- Abu Huraira

- Abdullah ibn Abbas

- Abdullah ibn Umar

[Baghdahi, Taqyid, 36-44]


In the 3rd chapter he provides a list of successors which contains 12 names of people who were supposed to be against writing down ahadith, they are:

- Al-Amash

- Abidah

- Abu al-Aliyah

- Amr ibn Dinar

- Ibrahim al-Nakhai

- Abu Idris

- Mansur

- Muhammah ibn Sirin

- Mughirah

- Al Qasim ibn Muhammad

- UbaidAllah ibn Abdullah

[Baghdadi, Taqyid, 45-48]


In part two of the book, chapter 1, he gives the names of al-Ashari, Ibn masud and Ibn Awn who were against the writings of hadith besides the name of Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab, who consulted the companions over the recording of hadith officially and after their full support he disapproved of it.

[Baghdadi, Taqyid, 49-57]


The problem is that almost all of them had written down hadith and in many cases had sent them to others. Full details will be in a subsequent e-mail.


Whats going on?


Before the issue is addressed, focus will be on  the Prophet and the Writing of hadith


The ahadith against the recording of ahadith are transmitted by three companions:

1. Abu Said al-Khudri

2. Abu Huraira

3. Zaid ibn Thabit


The hadith of Abu Said al Khudri had two different versions. One of them is transmitted by Abd al Rahman ibn Zaid. [Taqyid, 32]. The authorities agree unamiously that he was a weak narrator, and according to al-Hakim and Abu Nuaim, he transmitted even false hadith; and in the words of Ibn Hibban 'He used to reverse ahadith without knowing it, and he put the full isnads (chains of transmisson) for interupted ones, so he deserves to be abandoned' [Ibn Hajr, Tahdib, vi, 177].


The same Abal rahman ibn Zaid occurs in the hadith of Abu Huraira [Taqyid, 33-35]. Therefore this hadith is also weak and unacceptable.


The third companion is Zaid ibn Thabit. His hadith is Mursal. The transmitter from Zaid is al-Muttalib ibn Abdullah who did not even meet Zaid [Ibn Hajr, Tahdib, x, 179]. So this hadith is not acceptable.


Now there is only one hadith left, transmitted from Abu Said al-Khudri which reads "Do not write from me anything except the Quran and whoever has written anything from me other than the Quran should erase it"

[Baghdadi, Taqyid, 29-32; al-Hajjaj, Sahih Muslim, Zuhd, 72]


However, even this hadith is disputed amongst the scholars. According to al-Bukhari and others, it is the statement of Abu Said himself, that is erroneously attributed to the Prophet.

[Ibn Hajar, Fath al Bari, i, 208; al-Yamani, al-Anwar al-Kashifah, 43]


But this seems to be a hadith coming from the Prophet, and it actually meant that nothing should be written with the Quran on the same sheet, because this might lead to someone to conclude that sentances or words wirtten in the margin or between lines belonged to the Quran.

[al-Khattabi, Maalim al-Sunan, iv, 184; al-Sanani, taudih al Afkar, ii, 366]


It should be remembered that this order was given in the period when the Quran was being revealed and when the text itself was incpmplete. Otherwise there does not appear to be any sound reason to forbid the writing of hadith.


The Prophet himself sent hundreds of letters, many of them were very lengthy, containing formula for prayers and worship.

[Hamidullah, al-Walthaiq al-Siyasiyah pp 3-283]


Equally on the other hand, there is clear evidence to show that the prophet approved of recording of ahadth.

[see following email]


Further we find quite a number of companions who actually wrote hadith, even though it is said that they prohibited its recording.




The Prophet's disapproval of writing ahadith most probably meant the writing of the Quran and non-Quranic material on the same sheet because that might have led to misunderstanding.

[Ibn Hajar, Fath al Bari, i, 218]


There is another theory that people were forbidden to write down ahadith in the early days because all attention should be paid to the Quran and its preservation, and that later on, when there was no danger of neglecting the Quran, the previous order was abrogated and permission was given to write down hadith.

[Ibn Qutaibah, Tawil Mukhtalif al-hadith, 365; al-Khattabi, maalim al-Sunan, ib 184;  Ibn al-Qayyim, Tahdhib al-Sunan, v, 245; Ahmad Shakir, Alfiyat al Suyuti, 146]

There have been many scholars who copied ahadith but sometimes disliked doing so. They gave reasons for their attitudes which were not based on the Prophet's order and in many cases the reasons were omitted. Sometimes when the statements were given in full they were interpreted as against writing, without any serious consideration.


Some examples:


1. It is reported that Ibrahim al-Nakhai was against writing; the reason he gave for his dislike was: 'whoever wrtes depends on it'

[Ibn Saad, Tabaqat, vi, 189]


Early scholars considered books a bad store of knowledge, with the best store being the one which was kept in the memory.

[Baghdadi, Taqyid, 58]



2. The name of Amir al Shabi has been given in the lists of those who were against writing [Baghdadi, taqyid, 48]. If one reads his statement carefully, one must reach the conclusion that al-Shabi was not against writing. We have two of his statements on this subject. In one of them he says 'I neither wrote with black on white nor did I ask any man to repeat a hadith twice to me' [Abu Khaitamah, Ilm, 11b] The purpose of this statement is to show his great power of memory so that he never needed to ask anyone to repeat a hadith, and to hear it only once was sufficient for him to memorise it. The statement has no connection with the subject of recording of hadith.


In another statement he advises his students to write down everything they hear from him, if they did not have paper, they were even asked to write on walls.

[Baghdadi, Taqyid, 100]



Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi describes reasons for disliking recording.

[Baghdadi, Taqyid, 57]


He gives several reasons but there is no evidence that the interdiction of writing was based on any Prophetic order. Many scholars who disliked writing at one time or another purely on personal prejudice, nevertheless committed ahadith to writing.


The ahadith related from the Prophet concerning the interdiction of writing were precautions required by a specific set of circumstances motivitaed by the care, lest the Quran be mixed with non-Quranic material. The writing of ahadith by a vast number of companions is itself a proof that the prohibition of writing ahadith was neither a general, nor permanent order.



In the 2nd and 3rd chaperes of Baghdadis book, Taqyid, he gives some examples of those who wrote down hadith but ordered that these be erased on their death. He also gives examples of those who regretted having erased the ahadith.

[Baghdadi, Taqyid, 58-63]


In the 3rd part, he gives details of ahadith coming form the Prophet in favour of writing, then he provides the list of companions, successorrs and others who recorded hadith.

[Baghdadi, Taqyid, 64-113]



Taken from Studies in Early Hadith Literature by M M Azami.

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