The Preservation of the Ḥadīth Literature
By Muntasir Zaman
“Marks of ink on one’s mouth and clothes are emblems of honor.”
– Ibrāhīm al-Nakha‘ī
How has the Islamic civilization maintained the rich literary heritage of Ḥadīth developed by early Muslim scholars? What guarantee is there that the collections of ḥadīths in our possession have reached us accurately or that they were compiled by their purported authors? Far from being exhaustive, this article intends to provide answers to these questions. It begins by examining the procedures scholars instituted to ensure accurate transmission of Ḥadīth books. It then proceeds to study the practice of oral/aural transmission (samā‘) and public reading sessions and their influence in preserving the Ḥadīth literature. Thereafter, the article builds on three arguments that Ibn al-Wazīr al-Yamānī (d. 840 AH) posits in response to those who doubt the authorship of the major Ḥadīth collections. Before concluding, it sheds light on the usage of wijādah in terms of transmission and practice. The appendix contains diagrams on the transmission of Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī.
Procedures for Preservation
The attention and care scholars gave to the vast literature of Ḥadīth to ensure that the efforts of their predecessors were not in vain is truly awe-inspiring. They were methodical in their treatment of the Ḥadīth literature. They laid out guidelines on issues like book authorization, auditions, and the handling of manuscripts and registers. Qāḍī ‘Iyāḍ’s (d. 544 AH) al-Ilmā‘ ilā Ma‘rifat Uṣūl al-Riwāyah wa Taqyīd al-Samā‘ is among the most prominent titles on the subject. Although an oft-cited authority on the subject, Qāḍī ‘Iyāḍ was by no means the first to address this topic. He drew extensively from earlier works like al-Rāmahurmuzī’s (d. 360 AH) al-Muḥaddith al-Fāṣil and al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī’s (d. 462 AH) al-Kifāyah fī‘ ‘Ilm al-Riwāyah and al-Jāmi‘ li Akhlāq al-Rāwī wa Ādāb al-Sāmi‘. At times, scribes would devise creative techniques to prevent confusion when reading their manuscripts. For instance, Shu‘bah ibn al-Ḥajjāj (d. 160 AH) narrated the ḥadīth of Abū al-Ḥawrā’ to a student who wrote the ḥadīth and further added the word “ḥūr ‘īn” (wide-eyed damsel) as a note beneath the name Abū al-Ḥawrā’. The reason for this peculiar note was the presence of a narrator by the name Abū al-Jawzā’ in the same generation as Abū al-Ḥawrā’. To avoid confusing the two similar yet distinct narrators, the student diligently wrote ḥūr as a note to remind him of al-Hawrā’, which is the singular form of ḥūr. Read the rest of this entry »
In accordance with His promise to preserve the true teachings of Islām, Allāh has selected certain individuals or groups throughout Islām’s history to carry out the task of preserving the noble Islāmic legacy. At times of creedal turmoil, the likes of Ahmad ibn Hanbal stood against the Mu’tazilī heresy; at times of political instability, personalities such as Salāh al-Dīn al-Ayyūbī mobilized the Muslim armies for combat; and at times of spiritual degradation, reformers like al-Ghazālī let the ink of their pens flow to revive the true spirit of scholarship and worship. Thus manifested Allāh’s undertaking mentioned in the verse: “We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it.” (Qur’ān, 15:9)
The founding of an institution in Deoband, India, in the year 1866, was not the inception of a yet another sect. Rather, it was an extension of this continuous effort to preserve the noble Islāmic legacy. The scholars of Deoband have played a pivotal role in preserving Islām, be it the Qur’ān, the Sunnah and their connected sciences or Islām’s prestigious history. It is sad to witness such a noble legacy and rich heritage go largely unnoticed by many students and scholars of Islām. They have contributed tremendously in various fields of Islām, from Qurā’nic exegesis, to jurisprudence, to Arabic, to political reform. However, their contribution towards the revival and preservation of the blessed Sunnah is most noteworthy.
As a token of acknowledgment and a means of creating awareness, the following article was prepared to highlight their most important contributions in the field of Hadīth. More emphasis has been given to earlier scholars, although contemporary scholars are also occasionally cited. Among other sources, the book Dār al-Ulūm Deoband by Shaykh Muhammad ‘Ubayd Allāh al-Qāsīmī and a list published in a monthly newsletter by Dār al-Ulūm Deoband (Rajab, 1432 AH) were consulted. Honorific titles such as Shaykh, Mawlānā, Muftī, etc. were omitted from the lists.
Muntasir Zamān Read the rest of this entry »