History of the Sunnah – III: The Era of the Companions and their Followers
6 - writing of the hadeeth
earlier in this series we discussed in some detail the writing of the sunnah in the era of the prophet and also showed that the companions were encouraged by him to learn writing and that many of them learned and mastered it. thus, not only did the companions use their gift of strong memories to start a tradition of oral transmission of the sunnah, but also they added to that the use of their newly learned skill of writing. many companions had recorded these sunnah for their personal references and to supplement their memorized hadeeth. the existence of these personal references has been the subject of numerous treatises by old and contemporary scholars, both muslims and non-muslims.
there are, however, two points, which are mentioned by those who believe that the sunnah was not recorded by the companions and they need to be clarified. the first is the claim that some of the well-known companions were reported to have refused to write the sunnah and have ordered others not to write it. such reports included abu bakr, ‘umar lbn al-khattaab, ‘ali, ibn abbaaas and ibn mas’ood . and while some of these reports are authentic, none of them present the writing of the sunnah as being forbidden to undertake, rather these companions were afraid that this writing might generate confusion with the quran, and no report ever indicated that they tried to prevent others from writing it. in addition, these companions were against having a personal collection of the narrations, not against writing the sunnah in general, later some of them, like abu bakr, ‘umar and ‘ali while being caliphs, each ordered the writing of the sunnah in occasions for a variety of reasons.
the second point is the claim that it was ‘umar ibn abd al-‘azeez, who first ordered the writing of the sunnah as a collection. obviously, this is cited in support of the claim that no written record was made of the sunnah until that point in time. this is not true, for the authentic records prove that many collections-mostly personal were dated back to the era of the prophet and that of the companions . ‘umar's efforts however were part of the attempt to collect the hadeeths on a global scale to facilitate its availability to all. eventually this objective was achieved and all of the sunnah was put together in the well-known books, which represent a tradition of care and preservation unmatched by any religion or nation. it is an undisputable fact that the companions used their writing skills to preserve the sunnah and convey it to their followers.
7 - practice
an extremely important way the companions used to preserve the sunnah was their efforts to bring the sunnah into their practice and shape their life according to it. they truly understood that the emphasis islam places on knowledge goes beyond the mere theoretical understanding and intellectual exercise. they realized that prophet muhammad’s teachings are not philosophical contemplations but ways and guidance that are intimately connected to the affairs of this life. they saw in the prophet a trainer and a role model, whatever they absorbed for him they immediately put into practice. their atmosphere was one of following the sunnah at all levels, an environment that was produced by a widespread reverence and a constant practice of the sunnah. this environment provided the best situation for them to teach and train those who followed them the whole religion as they learned it and practiced it thus preserving it for all the time to come. we are all indebted to them.
efforts of the followers to preserve the sunnah
the followers (taabi'een) were the closest, of all muslim generations, to the generation of the companions in terms of righteousness, knowledge, ijtihaad (deduction of juristic opinion on matters which are not specified in the quran or the sunnah), keenness in following the guidance from the sunnah, and seriousness in spreading the religion. this was expected for they were the companions' students and were the first to receive the religion and knowledge from them as well as made every effort to preserve them.
in their era, islam spread over a very large area of the known world, people from all religions, nations and races came into islam, and the followers had a major responsibility in preserving the religion as well as deliver it to all of these people—authentically and effectively. that turned out to be a major task for the number of the new comers into this young religion was far overwhelming to any number of scholars, teachers or callers (to islam). what made their job even more difficult was the fact that some of those who did not want islam to prevail, chose to fight it from within—by pretending to be muslims while their ultimate goal was to hurt islam.
the challenges the followers had to deal with were new and difficult but allaah guided them to do the right thing - to follow the methodology set and provided to the companions of the prophet . the books of the seerah (the prophet's biography), islamic history and biographies are full of their struggle and success stories. they should be consulted by all for they are an incredible source of knowledge and inspiration.
looking at the era of the followers, one can easily see that they followed the exact footsteps of the companions in their methodology in preserving the sunnah. a closer examination however reveals that the followers efforts to preserve the sunnah and spread the religion were further characterized by at least four points:
· they followed the same methodology they learned from the companions in loving the sunnah, learning it, and in following and teaching it. they embraced it strongly and honestly. however, they had to add to it new rules as well as extend some of the existing ones. they were facing a situation in which efforts to distort the sunnah were rampant, especially in some places like kufah. shu'bah ibn al-hajjaaj, may allaah have mercy upon him, for example, used to say: “accept knowledge only from those who are well-known to you.”
· they showed an unrivaled enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge. some of the companions had to teach groups that numbered in the thousands. ibn asaaker wrote in at-taareekh al-kabeer (the grand history) that abu ad-dardaa’ had more than 1500 students in his circle in the masjid (mosque) of damascus alone. they encouraged one another as well as their children and the young among them to seek knowledge and devote all the time needed to master it. they learned the sunnah so well that they were capable of applying it in a fashion similar to that of the companions .
· they made a distinctive effort to write down the sunnah—both at the personal and official levels. records of these personal and official (by order of the caliph ‘umar ibn ‘abd al-azeez ) writings are available today.
. they made an amazing effort in spreading the sunnah everywhere and teaching it to all. the large number of study circles was a phenomenon of the followers' era. scholars were available in large numbers in all of the regions of the muslim countries—egypt, kufah, basrah, syria, north africa, spain, persia and parts of the indian subcontinet.