Introduction

History of the Sunnah -I: At the time of the Prophet

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Muslims were, early on, aware of the significance of the Sunnah and its authority. They, one generation after the other, were keen to preserve the Sunnah because they saw that as a part of the preserving of the last revelations man is ever to receive. Their efforts were unabated, and the remarkable job they did is unparalleled in the experience of any other religion or civilization.

At the time of the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ):

One of the main reasons behind this is the fact that the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) clearly taught the Companions, may Allah be pleased with them, the importance of his Sunnah, its place in Islam and their role in saving it, teaching and conveying it to others around them and to those who would come after them. In so doing, he  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) followed an effective methodology, which will be briefly outlined below:

1.      He  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) emphasized the importance of seeking knowledge and teaching it to others. He  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) said: "Seeking knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim (male and female)." [Ibn Maajah] Also, he  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) said: "Whosoever pursues a path to seek knowledge therein, Allah will thereby make easy for him a path to Paradise. No people gather together in one of the houses of Allah (mosques), reciting the Book of Allah and studying it among themselves, without tranquility descending upon them, mercy enveloping them and angles surrounding them, and Allah making mention of them to those (angels) who are with Him." [Muslim]

2.      He  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) always had a center for teaching. Most of the time, it was the mosque.

3.      He  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) was soft in his dealings and always facilitated things and made them easy for others. He  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) was merciful and humble and made himself readily available.

4.      He  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) never pushed people into anything. Instead, he  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) gradually taught them and led them to change. He  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) always motivated them to follow his example and be their best.

5.      He  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) would not continuously teach or work with them, but he would give them enough breaks to avoid overstressing or boring them.

6.      He  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) spoke plainly and clearly and he  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) talked to people at their level of understanding and intellectual ability. Whenever appropriate, he  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) spoke to people in their own dialect for the Arabs had different dialects.

7.      He  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) used the method of repetition. He  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) would repeat whatever he wanted to stress for three times to insure that all heard him properly and clearly understood what he  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) was saying.

8.      When questioned, he  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) would give more than what is expected as an answer and use the occasion to further clarify things for all, and teach about other things.

9.      Whenever the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) had to choose between two ways, he  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) chose the easier way, which had facility and mercy if there was nothing forbidden in that, and he  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) kept away from the difficult and harsh ways.

10.  He  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) attached special attention to teaching the women and provided them special times for questions. He  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) encouraged them to ask and learn.

11.  He  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) used to do his best in everything, and he  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) perfected whatever he did, thus setting an example for others.

The era of the Companions and their Followers

The Companions, may Allah be pleased with them, did their utmost to convey Islam to the generations succeeding them in the best and most accurate way possible. They sincerely loved it, honestly lived according to it and faithfully preserved it and kept any impurity or irregularity out of it.

Their role in the preservation of Islam was one of utmost importance to its continuation, but they were highly prepared for it by the best teacher and trainer, the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ). Thus the studying of this era, especially with respect to the history and authority of the Sunnah, is necessary to all Students of Knowledge.

And since this article will not provide enough details to properly cover the subject, it is recommended that the readers consult the following list of books on the subject:

Studies of Early Hadeeth Literature by M. M. Azami, Sunnah Qabla at-Tadween (the Sunnah before Writing) by Ajaj Al-Khateeb, The Sunnah and its Place in Islam by Mustafa As-Siba'ee, Manhajj an-Naqd fi Uloom Al-Hadeeth (The Methodology of Critique in the Sciences of Hadeeth) by Noor-ud-deen Etr, Al-Hadeeth wal Muhaddithoon (Hadeeth and Hadeeth Narrators) by Muhammad M. Abu Zahou, and Hujjiatus Sunnah (The Authority of the Sunnah) by Houcine Chouat. 

Methodology of the Companions in Preserving the Sunnah  

Before discussing the Companions' ways of learning, practicing, preserving and conveying of the Sunnah, it is worthwhile to shed some light on the main points one needs to understand about the Companions, may Allah be pleased with them, and their methodology: 

1.      The Companions, may Allah be pleased with them, were fully aware of the responsibility they shoulder after the death of the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention )

2.      The Companions, may Allah be pleased with them, are all trustworthy. They, may Allah be pleased with them, never doubted one another in the matters of this religion and the narration of Hadeeth. 

3.      The Companions, may Allah be pleased with them, have developed a methodology for scrutinizing Hadeeths and narrators, and by doing that have established the rules of ascertaining narrations for those who came after them. 

4.      The ability of different Companions, may Allah be pleased with them, to understand the Sunnah, memorize it and convey it varied from one Companion to another. 

5.      The Companions, may Allah be pleased with them, left Makkah and Madeenah to many places around the Muslim world, at the time, for the purpose of delivering the message and teaching Islam to those who accepted it thus spreading the Sunnah throughout the land.

It is interesting to note that about 750 Companions, may Allah be pleased with them, narrated Hadeeths, seven of whom narrated a high number of Hadeeths, and about twenty narrated an average number, the rest narrated a small number.  

The seven who narrated a large number of Hadeeths are: Abu Hurayrah who narrated 5374 Hadeeths, 'Abdullaah Ibn ‘Umar narrated 2630, Anas Ibn Maalik narrated 2286, 'Aa'ishah narrated 2210 Hadeeths, 'Abdullaah Ibn 'Abbaas narrated 1660, Jaabir Ibn 'Abdullaah narrated 1540, and Abu Sa'eed AI-Khudri narrated 1100 Hadeeths, may Allah be pleased with them. They understood their role and were aware of the significance of their ability in narrating the Hadeeths and did their best to deliver them diligently and accurately. Muslims of all times are indebted to them, may Allah be pleased with them.

History of the Sunnah -II: The era of the Companions and their followers

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