History of the Sunnah – III: The era of the Companions and their followers

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As a part of our discussion of the Companions’  may  Allah  be  pleased  with  them methodology in preserving the Sunnah of the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) we mentioned thus far two of its aspects; namely, prudence in narrating the Hadeeth, and verification and substantiation of the Hadeeth before accepting it. Three more aspects are presented here.

3. Study, critique, and assessment of the narrations

Of the ways the Companions  may  Allah  be  pleased  with  them used to preserve the Sunnah, properly learning and studying it, was perhaps the most important. They refer to this using terms like, "Tadarus" and "Muthakarah," both of which indicate a studying that involves more than one person as well as a mutual exchange of knowledge and ideas. The results of this "studying and discussing" were manifold. Learning the Sunnah correctly, free of mistakes was one of the goals, and so was the firm memorization of it. And since it was physically impossible for a large number of the Companions, may Allah be pleased with them, to have equal time access to the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) these discussions were the means through which the narrations known to only a few individuals were passed on to many others, thus expanding the circle of narrators. Books such as Jaami' Bayaan Al-‘Ilm by Ibn Abd Al-Barr  may  Allah  have  mercy  upon  him and Al-Jami’ Li Akhlaq Ar-Rawi by Al-Khateeb  may  Allah  have  mercy  upon  him have many authentic narrations from the Companions  may  Allah  be  pleased  with  them bearing witness to the effectiveness of these discussions in preserving the Sunnah.

Another aspect of the Companions'  may  Allah  be  pleased  with  them methodology in preserving the Sunnah was the critical assessment and evaluation of what they narrated and taught to one another. Anytime a Companion, may Allah be pleased with him, felt what he heard from another had a problem, he or she would critically analyze it and give his/her opinion about it. A major example of this effort by the Companions  may  Allah  be  pleased  with  them was demonstrated by Badruddeen Az-Zarkashi  may  Allah  have  mercy  upon  him who wrote a book in which he collected more than seventy narrations in which one Companion, ‘Aa’ishah, the Mother of the Believers  may  Allah  be  pleased  with  her was reported as having corrected other Companions'  may  Allah  be  pleased  with  them narrations based on her assessment of the narrations in light of the Quran and the Hadeeth.

4. Traveling in search of the Hadeeth

Another great effort they made was traveling in search of the Hadeeth, for after the death of the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) the Companions  may  Allah  be  pleased  with  them moved to different places within the Muslim land, and traveling became an essential method of Hadeeth collection, authentication and preservation. Here are a few examples of the Companions’  may  Allah  be  pleased  with  them travel for the sole purpose of confirming certain narrations:

Jabir Ibn Abdullah  may  Allah  be  pleased  with  him traveled a whole month to Ancient Syria only to verify one Hadeeth. [Al-Bukhari]

One of the Companions  may  Allah  be  pleased  with  him traveled to visit Fudhalah Ibn ‘Ubayd  may  Allah  be  pleased  with  him and told him that he came not to visit him but only to ask him about a narration that they both heard together from Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) and he was hoping that Fudhaalah, may Allah be pleased with him, had the complete wording of that Hadeeth. [Abu Dawood]

One of the Companions  may  Allah  be  pleased  with  him left his home in Madeenah in order to meet Abu Ad-Dardaa’  may  Allah  be  pleased  with  him in Damascus only to have Abu Ad-Dardaa’ confirm a narration which this Companion  may  Allah  be  pleased  with  him had already heard from the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ). [Ibn Abd Al-Barr]

The Companion Abu Ayyoob  may  Allah  be  pleased  with  him traveled all the way to Egypt to ask ‘Uqbah Ibn ‘Amr  may  Allah  be  pleased  with  him about one Hadeeth. Abu Ayyoob told ‘Uqbah  may  Allah  be  pleased  with  them that the two of them were the only living Companions who have heard that Hadeeth directly from the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) and he wanted to confirm the Hadeeth from ‘Uqbah  may  Allah  be  pleased  with  him. [Ahmad]

5-Memorization of the Hadeeth

Muslims – one generation after the other – did all that is humanly possible to preserve the texts of the Quran and the Sunnah as accurate as they received it from the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ). Beside the extra effort they exacted to develop the Methodology, the Companions  may  Allah  be  pleased  with  them benefited from a talent that came naturally to them, one that was truly befitting to the main undertaking of that methodology—the verbatim transmission of the Sunnah. This unique quality of the Companions  may  Allah  be  pleased  with  them was that they enjoyed powerful memories. It was easy for anyone of them to commit to heart any number of narrations and retain them as such for a very long time.

This quality was not specific only to the Companions  may  Allah  be  pleased  with  them but rather was a common feature of the Arab society as a whole. Many scholars—Muslims and non-Muslim alike – established the fact that the Arabs of that era were masters of language, and their society had a profoundly strong oral tradition. The known narrator of poet­ry, Hammaad, for example, was reported to have memorized at least one hundred long poems for each letter in the Arabic alphabet. That is more than 2800 pieces of poetry. Powerful memory was a source of pride for them and they placed more con­fidence in it than in writing, they believed that writings could be tampered with. Some even took this pride to extreme levels, they would not write anything down for fear that may be taken as indication of defective memory.

Obviously, the Companions  may  Allah  be  pleased  with  them who had more passion for preserving the Sunnah than poetry and literature used this powerful quality to protect and maintain the Sunnah. Imam Ad-Darimi  may  Allah  have  mercy  upon  him narrated that the Companion Abu Hurayrah  may  Allah  be  pleased  with  him said: "I used to divide the night into three parts. In the first, I would perform the optional night Prayer, in the second I would sleep, and in the third I would spend committing Hadeeth to my memory.” Actually, all of the Companions  may  Allah  be  pleased  with  him considered this an honor and a blessing, for they were encouraged to do so by the saying of the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ): "May Allah make radiant (bestow vigor upon) anyone who heard what I said and commit­ted it to his memory until he is able to convey it to another. Perhaps the person who hears it from him can have a better understanding of it than him.” [At-Tirmithi]

On the other hand, the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) also taught the Companions  may  Allah  be  pleased  with  them two aspects that brought a needed balance to the use of memorization in conveying his Hadeeth, namely the importance of writing, and the need of being moderate in all matters. This fact complemented their efforts in establishing a sound and well rounded methodology.

The phenomenon of “Memory Power” continued to be a general character of the Arab society well into the third and fourth centuries of Hijrah, the time by which all of the Sunnah was collected into books and records. But the diminishing of its prevalence in the society with time did not minimize the role memory played in the preserving of the Sunnah. “Memory Power,” or Dhabt—proficiency in narration, as it later came to be known—became an essential part of the standards used to judge authenticity. Judging the narrators memory power is central in what we know as the science of “Al-Jarh wa Ta'deel.”

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