Oral And Written Hadith In Early Islam – Analysis


Narratives have been given ample space in the social structure of humankind. Narratives are represented in our environment through various media, especially from our childhood itself through storytelling grandparents. A narrator and a good listener are essential for any narration. But the early sociologists were drawn to the words of the Ottoman thinker Zia Pasha that a person exists not in words but deeds. Later social thinkers such as Habermas and White can be seen to disagree with this view. From Habermas’ point of view, society itself means the communicating class, and similar to him, a group of social scientists like Danko, Shrank, Bruner also argue that knowledge must remain narrative in any postmodern digital environment. In short, modern sociology believes that narratives are as relevant to society as essays.

What differentiates Islamic civilization from other civilizations is the narrative form of the Hadith Network. There are many religious texts and philosophies in the world based on narratives that have been around for a long time. The Avesta of the Zoroastrianism, the Hindu scriptures, the Talmud of Judaism, and the Gospels of the Christians, as well as the books of Hadith, the books of Usul al-Hadith, and the biographies of the Muhaddiths (Twabakhat). The holiness and meticulousness shown by the Muslim scholars in conveying the scriptures make them forms of authenticity.

From the very beginning, the hadiths have been preserved by memorizing the hadiths and reciting them to each other. Its reporting networks have been scrutinized. The very idea of ​​a sanad (transmission network) has become the hallmark of Islamic civilization. Although citations of transmission networks have been in use in Arabian poetry since pre-Islamic times, they have come to activeness through the tradition of hadith. Later, Orientalists began to look for the presence of the Sanad in non-Arabic pre-Islamic sources to minimize its significance. Thus, the history of the Sanad dates back to the Talmudic period and Jewish literature. This is why Joseph Horovitz’s modern study of the Talmudic charters is celebrated in the Oriental world today. But Islamic civilization can only claim the world of a systematic lineage of transmission network embarked by the Twabakhats (biographical dictionaries) and other Jarh wa Ta’dil (critical sciences) branches, regardless of the period in which the sanads originated. Therefore, the pollination of knowledge that existed in the Islamic world in the early days and the social influence promoted by the Hadith literature are still active in the academic world.

Fuat Sezgin and his view on early Hadith transmission

The idea that what is written is more authentic than what is transmitted orally can be seen to emerge in post-Renaissance visions like in the works of Ignaz Goldziher and Joseph Scchat. Fuat Sezgin is one of the most celebrated Muslim Orientalists who questions Golzier’s arguments and argues that the series of hadiths have been passed down from the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) to purely written collections, not narrative forms. The key evidence presented by Sezgin in his study of the sources of Al Bukhari is as follows:

1. The compilation of hadiths during the time of ‘Umar bin Abdul Aziz was similar to the compilation of the Qur’an during the time of Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him). Sezgin subconsciously points out that Imam Zuhri only needed to codify them, as the advent of the sanads indicates that he was literate by the time of Imam Zuhri.

2. Sezgin sees the hadith writings beginning in the 125s of the Hijra as a kind of extension of the monographic descriptions of the Umayyad period. Sezgin reckons that the earliest works include the Al-Jamia of Mamar bin Rashid (r), the Kitab al-Manasik of Qatadah, and the Al-Jamia of Rabia bin Habib al-Basari the same contents of these monographic versions.

3. It can be seen that eight different methods were used in the early period for the transmission of hadiths. Samaa, Qiraa, Ijaza, Munawala, Ilamu Ravi, Wasiya, Vijada, Kitabat. With the exception of the first two of these methods, all the others are related to the inscription.

4. There are similarities between some early texts and later texts in the arrangement of texts and other reports. Therefore, it is possible to reduce the historical distance between those who stand on two levels in the reporting network.

5. Sezgin introduces the practicality of his arguments by quoting a few hadiths from Sahih al-Bukhari. Hammam ibn Munabbih, Ma’mar ibn Rashid, and Abdul Razzaq are some of the common narrators of the series of hadiths that have passed through their authors. Therefore, the exchange of hadiths between them will be in written form. This researcher introduces Islamic history from earlier manuscripts and brings a lot of evidence in favour of Sezgin from papyrologist Nabia Abbott and famous hadith scholar Mustafa Azami.

Herald Motzki, a German hadith scholar, was one of the foremost scholars who, unlike Mustafa Azami and Jane Ball, took a moderate stance and objectively evaluated Sezginian thought. Motzki argues that the reconstruction of value sources in the name of charters should not be completely ruled out. To some extent, Sezginian thought has been able to counter the Orientalist claim that the hadiths did not exist in written form at all. Sezginian thought was the subject of intense debate among Western scholars about the transfers of knowledge in the first centuries of Islam beyond hadith. From some of those healthy debates, Motzki comes to some conclusions.

1. Hadiths in written and narrative form have existed since the earliest times, so it should not be generalized that they were only pollinated in form.

 2. It is dangerous to determine authors on the basis of written charters alone.

 3. Do not compare other hadiths with the authors of some hadiths in general.

Motzki’s critique of Sezginian thought is more or less consistent. There is no need for Islam to bring such authenticity to a series of hadiths, assuming that what is written is more authentic. Jack Derrida says: ‘there is nothing outside text.’ Any social interaction can be considered text, so the text is just a representation.

Form of Hadith tradition from its early inception

Hadiths in the early days were mainly narrative transmissions. At the same time, some companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) kept the hadith in written form and it was not in widespread use. There are three reasons for this problem.

First, it was forbidden to record the hadith in the first instance as a precaution against interfering with the Qur’an while it was being revealed. Second, writing and reading were not universal at the time. Third, the majority of the Companions were able to differentiate the words of the Prophet and keep them in mind. However, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) later gave permission to some of the Companions to record Hadith. ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him), Ali (may Allah be pleased with him), Hasan (may Allah be pleased with him), Jabir (may Allah be pleased with him), Abdullah ibn Amr (may Allah be pleased with him) and Sa’id ibn Jubair (may Allah be pleased with him) were among those who expressed interest in and encouraged the writing of hadith. The collection of hadiths written by ‘Abdullah ibn Amr (may Allah be pleased with him) after the permission of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is known as Azwaheefat al-Sadiq. 

During the lifetime of the Prophet (peace be upon him), most of the hadiths codified in written form were letters and contracts. It is famous for the letter sent to King Najjashi and the letter of asylum given to Surakha. After Islam, the number of letters and agreements increased as Islam gained more power than before after the Hijra. Today, about 400 documents are available, including treatises and letters written by various kings and governors. Later, after the death of the Companions, the Tabi’is and their disciples, like Zuhri (ra), collected them. Thus, the codification of the hadiths in written form is a continuous process beginning in the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and completed by the sixth century AH. Therefore, not all the hadiths available in the Sihah (canonical compilations)  today can be considered as remnants of this codification. It is well known that Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated the most number of hadiths and passed them on to his disciples orally. 

Another form of Hadith codification is the written answers given by the Companions to the questions raised by the disciples in writing. Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) and Mughiratubnu Shu’ba (may Allah be pleased with him) were the Companions who wrote such hadiths. It is unfortunate that by the time the codification of the hadiths was completed, the number of Hafiz and Hujjat had shrunk to a handful. If in the beginning the hadiths were written to help the memories not to be forgotten, then the memorized hadiths were used later to help them be written down. But history has shown that more and more people converted to Islam when the hadiths were converted to a fully written form. In particular, people flocked to the cities of knowledge such as Basra, Kufa and Madinah to study Hadith. In some parts of Iraq, there are still places where hadiths are narrated on the basis of narration.

Orientalists argue that the hadiths have long existed in society as narratives, and that there is a great potential for smuggling into them, and that the hadiths have not been adequately critiqued by classical Muslim scholars. Examples include Alos Sprenger’s essay on the origins of writing down historical records among Musalmans and William Muir’s Life of Muhammed. Inspired by these, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was one of those who denied the authenticity of the hadith. They say that hadiths are synchronic traditions or that the series of hadiths are only imaginary disciplines that are not historically valid. However, such arguments arise because of the maturity of partial generalization based on the few books written on the science of Hadith. Look at Imam al-Dhahabi’s Tawbaqat – a selection of 1134 hafs from the 40,000 eminent scholars of Hadith, arranged in more than twenty different levels. From this, we can understand the meticulousness shown by the classical Muslim scholars in the interpretation of the hadith. It should be added that even the positions of Hafiz, Hujjat, and Hakim, given in the world of Hadith are based on ijma ‘(consensus). Unlike Western Christianity, a style that focuses on the authority of the Church is not familiar to Islamic civilization. Leading hadith scholar Recep Senturk finds the answer in Richard Bulliot’s book “Islam: A view from the edge” for those who see it as a weakness. In his words, the power structure of Islam, which is written in many sources, including legal scholars, sages, and muhaddithins, underscores the power of the expanding and evolving Islamic tradition. They also provide a variety of responses to possible misconduct in the faith.

*Basith Hamza is founding editor of Katib media collective, and interested in Islamic studies. He is currently pursuing Masters program from Jamia Markaz, India. He have also published several articles on various topics related to Hadith studies.

2 thoughts on “Oral And Written Hadith In Early Islam – Analysis

  • March 31, 2022 at 2:09 pm

    Good work. A unique one. Keep it up


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