GOD’S PRESERVATION OF THE SUNNAH (PART 4 OF 7): THE PRESERVATION OF ISNAD
Concerning when the narrators were forced by the listeners to mention theirIsnads, Fullaatah states that Abu Bakr, the first caliph who died only two years after the Prophet, was the first to make the narrator prove the authenticity of his narration as he sometimes would not accept a hadeeth unless the person presented a witness for his hadeeth. Umar also followed the same pattern. By doing so they made it clear if the person heard the hadeeth directly from the Messenger of God or through some intermediary source. Their goal was to confirm the correctness of the narration although they were, at the same time, inadvertently making the narrator state theIsnadfor his hadeeth. Therefore, it was during their time (right after the death of the Prophet) that narrators were first being forced to state theirIsnads. Ali, the fourth caliph and the caliph during thefitnah (affliction), would sometimes take an oath from the person in which the person would swear that he heard the hadeeth directly from the Prophet. Obviously, then, after thefitnah, the same process of requiring the narrator to state his sources continued.
Concerning when the narrator himself began to insist on mentioning theIsnadof each hadeeth, Fullaatah states that the need for theIsnadreally became apparent after weak narrators and immoral people began to relate hadeeth. During that time, the narrator himself made sure that he would mention theIsnadof the hadeeth he narrated. Al-Amash used to narrate hadeeth and then say, “Here is the head of the matter,” and then he would mention theIsnad. Al-Waleed ibn Muslim of al-Shaam stated, “One day al-Zuhri said, ‘What is wrong [with you people] that I see you narrating hadeeth without the critical or important part?’ After that day our companions [that is, the people of al-Sham (Northern Arabia)] made sure to mention theIsnad.” The scholars would blame their students for listening to hadeeth from teachers who would mention the hadeeth without theIsnad. In fact they would reject any hadeeth which did not have anIsnadwith it. Bahz ibn Asad said, “Do not accept a hadeeth from someone who does not say, ‘He narrated to us..,” that is, without anIsnad. The Muslims even began to insist on the use of theIsnadfor people of disciplines other than hadeeth, for example, history,tafseer(explanation of the Quran), poetry and so on.
Therefore, after discussing the question in detail, Fullaatah could soundly conclude the following:
1. TheIsnadwas first used during the time of the Companions.
2. Abu Bakr was the first to force narrators to mention the source for their hadeeth.
3. The narrator himself insisted on mentioning theIsnadof each hadeeth on the heels of (1) and (2) above.
In conclusion, there was never any time that hadeeth narrations were completely void of mentioning theIsnad. During the time of the Companions the use of theIsnadwas not so obvious as there was (usually) no intermediate narrator between the person mentioning the hadeeth and the Prophet. (The period of the Companions “officially” ended in 110 A. H. with the death of the last Companion.) Abu Bakr and Umar were scrupulous in checking the authenticity of hadeeth. Later scholars like al-Shabi and al-Zuhri appeared and they made the Muslims realize the importance of mentioning theIsnadwith the hadeeth. This was especially manifest after major confrontations (such as the death of Uthmaan) which made the people realize that the hadeeth narrations were their religion and, therefore, they should look carefully at whom they were taking their religion from. After the early years, theIsnadand its proper use became standardized and its knowledge became an independent branch of hadeeth. This continued until the major collections of hadeeth were compiled in the third century.
In reality, God blessed the nation of Muhammad with a unique way of preserving its original teachings: theIsnad. Muhammad ibn Haatim ibn al-Mudhaffar wrote:
“Verily God has honored and distinguished this nation and raised it above others by the use of theIsnad. None of the earlier or present nations have unbrokenIsnads. They have [ancient] pages in their possession but their books have been mixed with their historical reports and they are not able to distinguish between what was originally revealed as the Torah or the Gospel and what has been added later of reports that have been taken from untrustworthy [or, most likely, unknown] narrators.”