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The Story of Hadith

On Obeying, Following, Imitating, And Loving Prophet Muhammad ﷺ

By Sh. G. F. Haddad

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When the best generation of humankind ever to walk the earth realized that the Lord of the Heaven was addressing them directly with His timeless Speech they realized that Allah Almighty had made belief in that most honorable, most distinguished, and most accomplished Messenger - our liege-lord Muhammad ﷺ an integral condition of belief.

Hadiths come from the Bringer of the Qur'an ﷺ upon him blessings and peace - and they were heard, practiced, narrated, preserved, and compiled according to his instructions and in obedience to Its commands.

Here is one hadith:

لَا يُؤْمِنُ أَحَدُكُمْ حَتَّى يُحِبَّ لِأَخِيهِ مَا يُحِبُّ لِنَفْسِهِ

None of you [truly] believes until he loves for his brother that which he loves for himself.
Al-Bukhari, Muslim

When the best generation of humankind ever to walk the earth realized that the Lord of the Heaven was addressing them directly with His timeless Speech in the language which they had mastered better than any human nation ever mastered a language, they realized that not only had Allah Almighty deputized the worthiest of them as the carrier of the final Message to humanity, but He had also made belief in that most honorable, most distinguished, and most accomplished Messenger - our liege-lord Muhammad ﷺ - an integral condition of belief in Allah Himself by saying repeatedly "Believe in Allah AND the Messenger."

They also heard Allah again and again command them to { Obey Allah AND the Messenger. } They also realized that Allah Almighty stressed to them that this Messenger was their paramount model of behavior and of belief in Allah and the Last Day. They also heard and understood it meant they had to follow him and love him before they could claim to follow and love Allah.

They further understood the required levels of following the Prophet ﷺ properly and truly on which one's actual belief in Allah Most High depended: { But nay, by your Lord! they will not believe (in truth) until they make you judge of what is in dispute between them }. But to make the Prophet ﷺ judge is not enough, this must be done without any mental reservation toward the Prophet ﷺ and his decision: { and find within themselves no dislike of that which you decide }. Even this unalloyed acceptance of the Prophet's judgment is not enough, there must be full embrace of the heart, mind and soul for the Prophet ﷺ { and submit with full submission } 4:65

They also noticed that Allah had made such love and following of His Prophet ﷺ the easiest and most natural thing in the world for people of sound hearts, because that blessed man encompassed all the human qualities imaginable. So they understood it all the more when Allah Himself stressed that whatever magnificent human character there could exist, the Prophet ﷺ possessed it, and more.

Hence, by listening to the majestic Qur'an and taking to heart its message, the Companions realized that its study and practice necessitated the absolute study, understanding, and imitation of the Prophet ﷺ himself. Allah Most High further reassured them that this same Prophet ﷺ did not speak out of whim. Accordingly those most pragmatic and wisest of people - whom Allah Himself chose as the friends and companions of His dearest Beloved - set to the task of obeying, following, imitating, and loving the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ as no other leader and savior was ever faithfully obeyed, followed, imitated, and loved before. They became absorbed into his paradigm yet with their eyes wide open and in a systematic manner like the dedicated and uncompromising hunters of blessings that they were.

So they learned from the Prophet and they worshipped with the Prophet ﷺ . They lived with the Prophet and for the Prophet. They moved with the Prophet and they rested with the Prophet ﷺ . They sought to look through his eyes, hear with his hearing, fight when he fought, make peace when he made peace, taste what he tasted, love what he loved, and hate what he hated. They wished to think his thoughts. They longed to visit him again, gaze at him again, be addressed by him again. They found they could not exhaust nor begin to describe the endearment of his voice, his touch, his scent, his gaze, his gait, his energy, his repose, his bravery, his intelligence, his eloquence, his generosity, his gentleness, his humbleness, his majesty. His comfort and safety, or rather the comfort and safety of his very foot they would ransom with their lives and that of their own parents. They lived to act as his human shields from spears and arrows or spend the last of their honor in defense of the first of his. When he spoke they were attentive and when he was silent they observed him with baited breath. Their hearts kept custody over their senses in his presence so that they understood, they obeyed, they memorized, and they taught one another in turn with full discipline. They knew Allah had changed them forever at his hands, turning the humblest of them into a reformer for humanity!

The Prophet ﷺ encouraged them and said "Bright does Allah make the face of his servant that records and conveys what he hears from me." And he said "Narrate from me and let those that are present teach those that are absent." And he pointed to his noble mouth and said "Nothing but truth issues from this." And he formed them under his kind gaze, asking Allah Most High to give this one a flawless memory, that one an encyclopedic pen, the third one superlative understanding, the fourth one faith to lead all others, the fifth one the wisest judgment. His wife ʿA'isha became in ten ineffable years the most knowledgeable woman of humankind.

Allah then turned them, at His Prophet's hands ﷺ, into the paragon teachers of the next layer and so forth: "From every succeeding generation its upright folk shall carry this knowledge in turn…" "This knowledge is Religion, so watch from whom you take it…" When He took back His Beloved, Allah did not leave us but in the best hands!

"We are blessed, Muslim kind, for we enjoy of Divine support an indestructible Pillar!" (al-Busiri, Burda)

The Companions knew better than anyone he was a human being and they saw in the Prophet ﷺ , also better than anyone, a living Qur'an brimming infinitely with all sorts of qualities that spelled perfection. Those sincere and pure Arab-tongued men and women vied in poetic expressions because prose was too poor to describe the rising sun of Hashim that he was, the full moon in its beauty, goodness itself, and the nearest thing to eternal beauty they felt they could experience here and now: their forerunner to Paradise, the Mercy to the worlds! No wonder they recorded faithfully, in addition to his description of the Creator's Names and Attributes and the purpose of our creation, also: his Prophetic dispensation, "the Wisdom" which Allah mentions in so many verses and which refers to what we call the Sunna of the Prophet. It includes not only the do's and don'ts of the Religion that elucidate and illustrate the Qur'anic rulings but also his historical battles, treaties, polity, travels, marriages etc. which we call the Sira; his states, character, moral and psychological traits, and physical features which form the genre we call the Shama'il; and his exclusive special and specific characteristics which we call the Khasa'is.

This Prophetic Wisdom of the Sunna comes to us, textwise, in the form of transmitted sayings which in Arabic are called Hadeeth, plural: Ahaadeeth. This is the "genesis of the hadiths" the question asked about. Most importantly to us, this Sunna and its practicing servants among the Friends of Allah represent the Prophet ﷺ among us - a living body of Prophetic knowledge and practice of which this Umma shall never be bankrupt, without which there is no Qur'an, and of which the Qur'an is never divorced nor orphaned until they both return back to the Prophet ﷺ at his Kawthar-Pond in Paradise!

Our forefathers and mothers carried that huge responsibility and trust. They collectively and individually transmitted, as faithfully and to the nearest detail possible, the totality of the information Allah wanted the last, mercied community of mankind to receive and preserve about His final elect representative for the guidance and happiness of humanity here and hereafter just as they faithfully transmitted His Book. No one could have done their job better because Allah chose them. He was and is well-pleased with them and they are well-pleased with Him, He loves them and they love Him; see for yourself what He says of { The First and Foremost of the Muhajirun and the Ansar }!

Allah Most High also says:

{ Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah and those with him are hard against the disbelievers and merciful among themselves. You (O Muhammad) see them bowing and falling prostrate (in worship), seeking bounty from Allah and (His) acceptance. The mark of them is on their foreheads from the traces of prostration. Such is their likeness in the Torah and their likeness in the Gospel like as sown corn that sends forth its shoot and strengthens it and rises firm upon its stalk, delighting the sowers that He may enrage the disbelievers with (the sight of) them. } (48:29). Imam Malik said: * Whoever harbors spite toward any of the Companions of the Prophet, this verse has hit him!
* May it never hit you, dear reader, or me!

Allah Most High chose them and they are all upright. He made them the strongest of people in memory, the most precise in language, the most familiar with the Prophet's gracious person ﷺ and the most masterful of the Revelation he had brought, both its recited aspect (the Qur'an) and its non-recited aspect (the Sunna) in its language, meanings, and subtle explanations and applications.

It pleased our bountiful Creator, also, to make knowledge of Hadith and its related sciences the exclusive characteristic of Muslim civilization. Alone among the nations that walked the face of the earth, the Umma received and kept this Divine trust together with the Last Testament - the Qur'an - to pass it on to subsequent generations unchanged with an ever-refined array of disciplines for verification and authentication.

Among those disciplines, Hadith methodology and criticism ensured that nothing alien crept into the pure Prophetic Sunna as conveyed by the upright (ʿadl) and precise (dabit) transmitters known as the "trustworthy" (thiqa, pl. thiqat) under the strict perusal of their peers and subsequent experts.
When Ibn al-Mubarak was asked about the forgeries he replied, "The giant scholars (al-jahabidha) dispose of them!" Then he recited, { Lo! We, even We, have revealed the Reminder, and lo! We verily are its Guardian } (15:9). Thus he reiterated in the pithiest way that the Prophetic Sunna and authentic Hadith are part and parcel of the Final Revelation – which no Muslim denies! – and that the Lawgiver preserves His Dhikr through the surest human means imaginable.

To that end, the Friends of Allah Most High and caliphal inheritors of the Prophet ﷺ known as the Huffaz spared no effort. Those were the Repellers of False Imputations to the Prophet ﷺ , the Preservers, Custodians, Protectors, Caretakers, Trustees, and Storehouses of the Faith envied by the erudite Caliph Abu Jaʿfar al-Mansur who described them as "the stained-clothed, scalyfooted, long-haired rovers of faraway lands." With their photographic memories, inkwells in hand, wearing out – like Dulaf ibn Jahdar – up to seventy book-satchels, obsessed with detail, these hawk-eyed jewellers tracked the Prophetic narrative and its reporters to the ends of the earth, oblivious of food and sleep, laughing at wealth and the world, selling the shirt on their back and eating grass if necessary as did Muhammad ibn Ismaʿil al-Bukhari, losing their eyesight through candle-lit night work as happened to his tireless student Abu ʿIsa al-Tirmidhi, moving their libraries on camel-back through three continents like Abu Tahir al-Silafi, sifting the sound from the unsound, the fair from the weak, the Prophetic from the non-Prophetic, the broken-chained, and the fabricated hadiths, living only for the three words "Qala Rasul Allah" which they compiled into manuals they named with various names according to their arrangement such as:

- The Jamiʿ-type compilations, i.e. encyclopedias arranged by topical sub-divisions. E.g. by Sufyan al-Thawri, al-Bukhari, Muslim, al-Tirmidhi....

- The Muwatta', Musannaf, and Aathaar-type topical compilations that focus on legal rulings and include non-Prophetic fatwas. E.g. by Malik, ʿAbd al-Razzaq, and Abu Hanifa.

- The Sunan-type topical compilations: like the previous type but consisting only of Prophetic reports e.g. the Sunan of Abu Dawud, al-Nasa'i, al-Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, al-Darimi, and others.

- The Musnad-type compilations arranged by Companion-narrators e.g. by the heroic Imam Ahmad and Ishaq ibn Rahuyah.

- The countless Juz'-type compilations i.e. "Monographs" on a single topic or from a single narrator and so forth.

- The Muʿjam-type compilations i.e. alphabetical Musnads of Companions or other authorities narrating back to the latter e.g. the works of al-Tabarani.

Among the extant manuscripts of the numerous hadith collections compiled in the first Hijri century are ʿAbd Allah ibn ʿAmr ibn al-ʿAs' (d. 63) al-Sahifat al-Sadiqa, originally containing about 1,000 hadiths of which 500 reached us, copied down by ʿAbd Allah directly from the Prophet ﷺ and transmitted to us by his great-grandson ʿAmr ibn Shuʿayb (d. 118); Hammam ibn Munabbih's (d. 101 or 131) al-Sahifa al-Sahiha which has reached us complete in two manuscripts containing 138 hadiths narrated by Hammam from Abu Hurayra (d. 60) from the Prophet ﷺ ; and, from the second Hijri century, the massive, partly-recovered Musannaf of the Yemenite hadith Master ʿAbd al-Razzaq ibn Hammam ibn Nafiʿ al-Sanʿani (d. 211), which includes the compendium of his teacher Maʿmar ibn Rashid al-Azdi (d. 151 or 154) * both principal sources of the Two Arch-Imams al-Bukhari and Muslim in their Sahihs * and is, with its 21,000+ narrations, the largest authentic early source of hadith extant.

The earliest Siras or Prophetic biographies are the lost folios of Aban (d. 105), the son of ʿUthman ibn ʿAffan (d. 35), from whom Muhammad ibn Ishaq ibn Yasar al-Muttalibi (80-150/152) narrated; the accomplished works of ʿUrwa (d. c.92-95) (ra) the son of al-Zubayr ibn al-ʿAwwam and grandson of Asma' and ʿA'isha the learned daughters of Abu Bakr the Truthful (rad.i-Allahu ʿanhu) which he ordered burnt, after a lifetime of teaching from them, during the sack of Madina by the armies of Syro-Palestine under Yazid ibn Muʿawiya in 63; the most reliable Muhammad ibn Shihab al-Zuhri's (d. 120) Sira, from which Ibn Ishaq borrowed much; ʿAsim ibn ʿUmar ibn Qatada ibn al-Nuʿman al-Ansari's (d. 120 or 129) Maghazi and Manaqib al-Sahaba, another principal thiqa source for Ibn Ishaq and al-Waqidi; ʿAbd Allah ibn Abi Bakr ibn Muhammad ibn ʿAmr ibn Hazm al-Ansari's (d. 135) tome, another main source for Ibn Ishaq, al-Waqidi, Ibn Saʿd, and al-Tabari; the most reliable, partly preserved Sira of the Madinan Musa ibn ʿUqba al-Asadi (d. 141), praised by Imam Malik and used by Ibn Saʿd and al-Tabari; Muhammad ibn Ishaq's Sira, praised by Imam al-Shafiʿi, the oldest extant; Ibn ʿA'idh al-Azdi's (d. 191) Maghazi; and Sayf ibn ʿUmar al-Tamimi's (d. 200) al-Ridda wal-Futuh and al-Jamal as per Ibn Hajar in Tahdhib al-Tahdhib. A junior contemporary of Ibn Ishaq, the erudite Muhammad ibn ʿUmar ibn Waqid al-Aslami al-Waqidi (d. 207) compiled the Maghazi and Futuh al-Sham among others. He is the principal source of Imam al-Tabari (d. 310) in the latter's Tarikh and his student and scribe Muhammad ibn Saʿd (d. 230) relied heavily on him in his Tabaqat.

The early and late masters devised finely-tuned scientific gauntlets for the verification of hadith authenticity. The hadiths of the Two Sahihs * by the Arch-Masters al-Bukhari (194-256) and Muslim (204-261) * and the Muwatta' of Imam Malik (93-179) are rigorously sound and need no further authentication. Next in reliability come the Sunan of the major Masters al-Tirmidhi (c.210-279), Abu Dawud (202-275), al-Nasa'i (215-303), al-Darimi (181-250), and Ibn Majah (209-273) as well as the Musnad of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (164-241). Next come the lesser collections of Sahih narrations such as * in descending order of strength * the Sahih of Ibn Khuzayma (223-311), three quarters of which are lost; that of his student Ibn Hibban (d. 354); al-Diya' al-Maqdisi's (567-643) al-Ahadith al-Jyad al-Mukhtara; Ibn al-Sakan's (294-353) al-Sunan al-Sihah; Ibn al-Jarud's (d. 307) al-Muntaqa min al-Sunan al-Musnada; Abu ʿAwana's (d. 316) Musnad; al-Hakim's (321-405) Mustadrak. Next come * in chronological order * the compilations of Abu Dawud al-Tayalisi (d. 204), Ibn Abi Shayba (d. 235), Ibn Abi ʿAsim (d. 287), al-Harith ibn Abi Usama (d. 282), al-Bazzar (215-292), Abu Yaʿla (210-307), al-Tahawi (229-321), the Narrator of the World al-Tabarani (260-360), al-Daraqutni (306-385), Abu Nuʿaym (336-430), al-Bayhaqi (384-458), al-Khatib al-Baghdadi (392-463), al-Baghawi (d. 516), Ibn ʿAsakir (499-571), and many others including the Sira sources already mentioned.

Forgeries were identified and tagged in the two or three dozen compilations in the sub-genre devoted to their diagnosis. It is impermissible to use or narrate them as Prophetic reports. Preventive knowledge of the forgeries is an indispensable part of hadith science. The guideline in this is the verdict of the authorities in this science. The Prophet said time and again ﷺ upon him blessings and peace: Avoid relating my words except what you know for sure. Whoever lies about me willfully, let him take from now his seat in the Fire!

This terrible threat addresses not only wilful liars but also those well-intentioned Muslims who, in the course of daʿwa or otherwise, are habitually lax in attributing to the Prophet ﷺ untraceable or unverified matters. Let not their good intentions become their own specious law over and above the emphatic command of the Lawgiver! We belong to Allah and to Him do we return.

This in short is the story of the Prophetic Hadith, its origins and why and how it was compiled. Allah revive our hearts for its sake with His ancient blessing, as He blessed those who preserved and kept it alive it for us. Allah bless our Prophet and his Family and Companions, and may Allah be well-pleased with all of the sincere scholars and students of Hadith to the Day of Judgment!

Hajj Gibril

Oriental Pattern


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* Living Islam – Islamic Tradition *