Compilation after Prophet Death
Soon after the death of the Prophet PBUH, the need for some authoritative guidance in Quranic interpretation was felt. The need was felt all the more because of religious and political divisions; also because the expansion of Islam from a small community in central Arabia to a mighty empire created all kinds of political, economic, legal and social problems quite unknown during the days of the Prophet PBUH.
When Islam had spread widely. new converts wanted to hear about the Prophet PBUH from his close companions and associates. These people were the best authority for a knowledge of Ahadis and Sunnah as they had listened to the Prophet PBUH and witnessed his actions. They became a source of knowledge for later converts and since the incidents were fresh in their memory, they could be conveyed with fair accuracy to the new generation. Everyone of them who had the slightest knowledge of any incident relating to the Prophet’s life deemed it his duty to deliver it to another. Individuals like Abu Hurairah, Abdullah bin Abbas, Abdullah bin Umar, Anas bin Malik and many others became the centres to whom people resorted from different parts of the Islamic empire to gain knowledge about the Prophet PBUH.
The Prophet’s wives were also looked upon as vital custodians of Ahadis and were approached tor instruction by other companions. The names of Hazrat Aisha. Hazrat Hafsa, Hazrat Umm-e-Habibah, Hazrat Maimunah and Hazrat Umm-e-Salamah are among the earliest and most distinguished Transmitters.
In particular, Hazrat Aisha is one of the most important figures in the history of hadis literature, not only-as-one of the earliest reporters of the largest number of Ahadis. But also as one at the most careful interpreters of hadis.
Some of the companions settled in different towns in the various provinces where they were surrounded by a large number of Muslims who were eager to hear reports of the Prophet’s PBUH words and deeds. It is reported that such a large crowd of them collected round a companion when he related a hadis that he would climb the roof of a nearby house so that he could be heard.
With the passing away of the companions, there were no more reports to be investigated from different persons and the Ahadis became the property of teachers who taught at various centres. They were known as the “successors of the companions”.
At this stage, the writing of Ahadis became more common. The Umayyad Khalifa, Umar II, who ruled towards the close of the first century of Hijra, was the first person to issue instructions to the effect that written collections should be made.
After the death of the successors the Muslims had to rely on the communication of the next generation, known as the “successors of the successors”.
ln those days, to recite and memorize the hadis was considered to be a great privilege. Since they were preserved in writing as well, in due course of time, a great amount of Ahadis literature was collected.
The most authoritative and the first collection of Ahadis was Al-Muwatta compiled by Imam Malik bin Anas.(94 A.H.) Another important and exhaustive work is that of imam Ahmed bin Hanbal (164 A.H) founder of the Hanbali school of law.
Upto the beginning of the third century of Islam, compilations of Ahadis did not discriminate between authentic Ahadis and other less than authentic. so the Ahadis were mixed up.
Imam Muhammad ibn Ismail Al-Bukhari (194-256 A.H.) was the first to conceive the idea of compiling the authentic ahadis. On account of the strict conditions he laid down for accepting a hadis, he called his Compilation Sahih that is, the authentic Compilation. It is Said that he used to seek aid in prayer before recording any hadis. He devoted about sixteen years of his life to the compilation of his Sahih, which is generally considered by the Muslims as an authority second only to the Quran.
From a very young age, Imam Bukhari immersed himself in the study of hadis and within six years, he had mastered all the traditions of Bukhara as well as everything contained in the books which were available to him.
He then travelled to Makkah from where he started a series of Journeys in search of Muslims who could recite ahadis to him in all the important centres of Islamic learning. He is said to have questioned more than thousand masters of ahadis who lived in far off places. He was recognized as the greatest traditionist of his time by all the major authorities with whom he came into contact.
Imam Bukhari sifted through all the traditions known to him, selected about 7397 out of some 6,00,000 ahadis and arranged them according to their subject matter under separate headings, most of which are taken from the Quran and, in some cases, from the traditions themselves. The Ahadis in the Sahih are compiled into 97 books according to the teachings they contain. The first book is called “The Start of Revelation to the Messenger of Allah”.
The last Book is called “Tauhid’ Divine Unity. There are books devoted to ablution, the various kinds of prayer, Zakat, pilgrimage, books on agriculture, business transactions, types of dress, medicine and many more matters. There are teachings about the practices that the Prophet PBUH had witnessed in the markets of Makkah and Madinah, the practice of selling goods at an inflated price and the curse of usury. Each book provides a clear and easy source of guidance.
Imam Bukhari’s main object was to collect together the sound traditions only. By these, he meant such traditions as were handed down to him from the Prophet through a continuous chain of reliable narrators who had actually met each other, known for their integrity, possessed of a good memory and firm faith, on the condition that their narrations were not contrary to what was related by other reliable authorities and were free from defects.
Sahih of Imam Muslim
Almost simultaneously with the Sahih Bukhari, another Sahih was being compiled. This was the Sahih of Imam Muslim (202-261 A.H.) In his Sahih, he examined a third of a million ahadis of which he selected only about 12000 which the expert scholars unanimously regard as sound.
Like Bukhari, Muslim regarded a hadis as Sahih only when it had been handed down to him through a continuous isnad of known and reliable authorities, was compatible with other sound ahadis and was free from defects.
The Sahih of Imam Muslim has been acclaimed as the most authentic collection of Ahadis after that of lmam Bukhari which taken together are known as the “Two Sahihs” encompassing all topics of significance. They are spoken of as second only to the Holy Quran, in terms of authority.
Sunan of Abu Daud
Abu Daud is said to have compiled his Sunan after examining 500,000 ahadis, out of which he selected 4800, a labour which occupied him for twenty years. He made a series of journeys to meet most of the foremost traditionists of his time and acquired from them the most reliable ahadis quoting the sources through which it had reached him. Since the author collected ahadis which no one had ever assembled together, his Sunan has been accepted as standard work by scholars from many parts of the Islamic world.
Jami of Tirmizi
The principles with regard to the criticism of ahadis which had been adopted by Abu Daud were further improved upon and followed by his pupil Tirmizi in his collection known as Jami. He travelled a great deal in search of ahadis, visiting the great centres of Islamic learning, where he was able to associate with eminent traditionists such as Bukhari, Muslim and others. His work contains the bulk of traditions, which have been accepted by the jurists as the basis of Islamic law. The Jami not only arranges reports according to their subject matter but is also of a more critical nature.
Perhaps the most important feature of the Jami is the category, that Tirmizi terms as Hasan Hadis which he defines as one that has been related by narrators who are not accused of falsehood, has been handed down by more than one chain of authorities and is not contrary to what has been related by other reliable narrators.
Sunan of Nasai
Another important work in this category is the Sunan compiled by al-Nasai. He travelled widely in search of ahadis and was recognized as the leading traditionist of his day. He produced his Sunan, which he claimed, contained only reliable ahadis.
Sunan of Ibn Majah
Another compilation was Sunan of Ibn Majah. He visited important centres of learning and studied under great traditionists of his day. His Sunan contains 4000 traditions.
The four Sunan works, together with the two Sahihs are known as Sihah-e-Sitta or the six correct and reliable collections.
At a later period, many Scholars compiled new collections. In these works, contents were taken irom the Six books and arranged in different ways. One expert brought together Ahadis from Bukhari and Muslim on the same topic in “Masabih al-Sunnah- the Lamps of the Sunnah”. This was revised about two hundred years later into the “Mishkat al-Masabih” “The Niche of the Lamps”, a popular source of reliable ahadis.
About the end of the fourth century of Islam, all ahadis circulating orally had been put to writing. Ahadis literature became exceedingly rich and we are very fortunate to have for our benefit such great religious wealth from which guidance can be derived.