Muhammad Mustafa Al-A’zami رَحِمَهُ ٱللَّٰهُ
The Prophet taught his ahadith and sunna and it was received by the Companions. As the Companions were direct disciples of the Prophet, they had the special privilege and duty to spread his teachings. However in later days, as the knowledge of ahadith spread all over the Muslim world, gathering of knowledge or collection of hadlth required much more extensive travelling, so new methods of learn- ing had to be developed. These will be discussed here briefly.
Learning of Ahadith in Early Days :
For learning of hadith the following eight methods were in use:
(1) Sama’: that is reading by the teacher to the students.
(2) ‘Ard: reading by students to teachers.
(3) Ijazah: to permit someone to transmit a hadlth or book on the authority of the scholar without reading by any one.
(4) Munawalah: to hand someone the written material to transmit.
(5) Kitabah: to write ahadith for someone.
(6) I’lam: to inform someone that informer has permission to transmit certain material.
(7) Wasiyah: to entrust someone his books.
(8) Wajadah: to find some books or ahadith written by someone just as we nowadays discover some manuscripts in a library or somewhere else.
But in the period of the Companions only the first of these methods was in general use, while the use of other methods was negligible. The students stayed near their teachers at all times serving them and learning from them. When they imparted any hadlth the students wrote it down or memorized it. Al-Zuhri says: “People used to sit with Ibn ‘Umar, but none dared ask him questions till someone came from outside and asked him. We sat with Ibn al-Musayyab without questioning him, till someone came and questioned him. The question roused him to impart hadith to us, or he began to impart it at his own will.” A little later the most common methods were numbers one and two. There has been a lot of discussion as to whether the first or the second is the best method of learning. In view of some scholars, both methods have equal merit and Tahawi (d. 328) wrote a booklet on the subject giving his opinion for the equality of both methods. Different terminology was used in transmitting the hadith to show what method was used in learning the hadith, as we see later. A man was not entitled to use any hadith in his literary life if he had not received it by one of the eight above-mentioned ways, that is up to number seven. Number eight was not recognized by the scholars. Now we shall discuss these methods in some detail.
( 1 ) Sama’: Reading by the Teacher to Students
This method has the following features: Oral recitation, reading from books, questions and answers, and dictation.
Oral Recitation of Ahatlilh by the Teacher
This practice began to decline from the second half of the second century, though it persisted to a much lesser extent for a long period. Usually, the students were attached to a certain teacher for a very long time, until they were believed to be authorities on the ahadith of their teachers. Sometimes they were called Rawi or Sahib of so and so. Even if tegular meetings were held for the teaching, only a few ahadith were taught in one lesson, say about three or four.
Rending from Books
Reading by the teacher, from his own book, which was preferred. Reading by the teacher from the student’s book, which was either a copy of or a selection from his own work. This method had a great many pitfalls for the teachers who did not learn their ahadith by heart. Some students and scholars played tricks. They would insert ahadith here and there into the teacher’s ahadith and hand the book to the teacher for reading, to examine the soundness of his knowledge and memory. Teachers who failed to recognize the additional material were denounced and declared untrustworthy.
Questions and Answers
In this method students used to read a part of the ahadith and the teacher read it in full.
Dictating the Ahadith
Apart from the Prophet’s dictation and his Companions’ rare dictations of ahadith, perhaps the Companion Wathilah b. Asqa’ (d.83) was the first who held classes for dictation. This method was not encouraged in the early days because in this way a student could gather much knowledge in a very short time without much effort. It seems that al-Zuhri was the first to depart from this attitude. About the end of the first century we find him dictating ahadith, a method which he followed during the rest of his life.
There were certain scholars who had an extreme distaste for dictation and did not allow writing down. There were others who did not transmit ahadith until the students wrote them down. Some of them even refused to dictate ahadith if the students used wooden boards from which the writing could be erased. There were some others who wrote down ahadith and after memorizing erased them. Others used to learn by heart and after memorizing wrote them down. It seems that compared with other methods of the teaching of ahadith, these were rare and uncommon practices. From the second century onwards, besides the usual method of reading from books, dictations became usual. Sometimes regular classes were held for this purpose.
The Method of Dictation For dictation, two methods were employed: either from a book or from memory. In some cases the students refused to write ahadith being dictated from memory, yet it seems that it was the fashion of the time to rely on memory in transmitting or dictating ahadith. Perhaps it was a matter of prestige and reputation. This practice resulted in many mistakes owing to the inherent deficiencies of memory. The teachers had to go through their books to refresh their memories. In many cases when they were uncertain they did not dictate.
The Mustamlls The dictation method, due to large audience, gave rise to a new type of work for certain people who were called Mustamlls. They used to repeat the words of the Shaikh in a loud voice to the audience.
To Select Someone for Writing As all the students could not write rapidly, sometimes a fast writer was chosen to take down ahadith, while others watched him writing, lest he should make any mistake. Later, either they borrowed the books or copied them in the presence of the owner. In literary circles a class of scribes or Warraqun was found for the purpose of copying, which gave rise to trade in books.
The Correction of Written Copies It seems that the scholars were aware of the importance of revision after copying. Therefore we find them constantly advising their students, even helping them, in revision after copying. We find this practice from a very early stage. ‘Urwah (22-93 H.) asked his son Hisham whether or not he revised after copying. Hisham replied, No, upon which ‘Urawah said that in fact it meant he did not write down (Khatib Baghdad!, Kifdyah, 237.)
After copying or dictating, either the students helped each other to correct the copies or did so under the supervision of their masters.
The Writing Materials It seems that wooden boards were mostly used for writing dictations and taking notes from which, later on, fair copies were made. A special shorthand method was sometimes used to save time and space.
(2) ‘Ard: Reading to Teachers
Another method was that the book was read by the students to the teacher or by a certain man called a ‘Qarl’, and other students compared ahadith with their books or only listened attentively. Later they copied from the books. This method was called ‘ard. Unfamiliarity with this terminology may cause misunderstanding even to Arabs.
It seems that ‘ard was the most common practice from the beginning of the second century. In this case either copies were provided by the teachers themselves as many of them had their own scribes, Katib or Warraq, or students had their own books, copied earlier either from the original or from another copy of the same work. In copying they usually made a circular mark after every hadith (Khatib Baghdadi, Kifayah, 237). Whenever a student finished the reading of a hadith he made a sign in the circle or somewhere else to show that this hadith had been read to the teacher. This was necessary because even when a student knew ahadith through books he was not entitled to use those materials for teaching or for his own compilation till he received them through properly recognized methods of learning. If one did not follow this method, he could be accused of stealing hadith, ‘sariq al-hadith’, which meant that a scholar used materials in teaching or in compiling his book which, even though genuine, were not obtained through the proper way. A modern parallel to this practice is the copyright law. A man can buy a million copies of a book but may not print even a few copies without per mission. The early scholars had their own method of copyright, where one could not use materials simply by buying a book.
However, some scholars copied information from certain manuscripts which they found and explained it explicitly that they had found so and so in certain manuscript. This had no validity in the view of early scholars, because a copy might be forged one or the scribe might have committed mistakes in its reading.
When a hadith was read more than once the students made additional marks for every reading. Sometimes scholars read the same book several times.
(3) Ijazah: Permission
In hadith terminology Ijazah means to permit someone to transmit a hadith or a book on the authority of a certain scholar who gave this permission, without having read the book to him. There have been different kinds of Ijazah. Until the third century, it is difficult to find signs of the Ijazah system, but it was widely used later. There have been differences of opinion about its validity.
This system, in certain cases, provided a kind of safeguard for the text. For example when A permitted B to transmit Sahih of Bukhari through the authority of A, then B ought to find out a copy of Sahih of Bukhari which contained a reading certificate including the name of A. In this way the correct text could be kept free of alterations.
(4) Munawala: Handing the Book to a Student
When someone gave a student a manuscript along with the authority to transmit it. For example Zuhri (51-124) gave his manuscripts to sev-eral scholars, like Thauri, Auza’i and ‘Ubaidullah b. ‘Umar . It was called munawala. This was not a common practice in the early days.
(5) Kitabah: Correspondence
This means writing ahadith to’ give them to someone else to transmit. In modern terminology, this could be called learning by correspondence. There were quite a good deal of activities of this sort. This practice started from very early days, and can be assumed to have started from the very beginning. Official letters of the rightly guided Caliphs contained many ahadlth which were transmitted by scholars. Besides this many companions and later on many many scholars wrote down ahadith and sent them to their students. See for example Ibn ‘Abbas’s writings to Ibn Abu Mulaikah and Najdah.
( 6 ) I’lam: To Inform About Ahadith
I’lam meant to inform someone that informer has permission to transmit a certain book on certain scholars’ authority. Some of the scholars per- mitted this method of transmitting ahadith while others rejected it. The only benefit from it was that the second person had to find the original copy which bore the certificate and the name of the person who gave permission. Signs of this method are difficult to trace in the early period.
To entrust someone the book which may be transmitted on the authority of the one who entrusted the books. For example Abu Qilabah (d. 104) who entrusted his books to Ayyub al-Sakhtiyanl
That is to find someone’s book without any sort of permission to transmit on anyone’s authority. This was not a recognized way of learning ahadith. According to the standard of the Muhaddithin one must state explicitly that the information he presented had been taken from the book of such a man. There are references to books of this sort from very early days. An example is the book of Sa’d b. ‘Ubadah (d. 15 A.H.)
Terms Used to Describe Transmission of Ahadith:
There are many terms employed by muhaddithin for this purpose. As every isnad contains many names therefore these terms are repeated frequently.
To save space and time Muhaddithin used abbreviations or, say, short- hand method for this purpose, and even used to drop some word from isnad. These are the terms:
Haddathana: mostly written Thana or Na only
Akhbarana: mostly written Ana only and rarely arana
Haddathana is used mostly to denote learning through the reading by the teacher (1st method)
Akhbarana: is used to denote learning through the second method, though some of the scholars used these two terms interchangeably.
Anb’ana is used in Ijazah and munawala, and sometimes even Haddathana Ijazatan, is used in Munawala.
Sami’ah: it is used in the learning through the first method only.
‘An: it can be used in all the methods.
All these terms are not of equal value. Sami’tu, Haddathana; Haddathani, Akhbarana and Akhbarani are the most superior, though the authorities differ about which is best among them. However, ‘an is very inferior.
These terms should not be changed in copying. ‘An is not explicit for direct contact between narrators, therefore in case of a narrator who was accused of practising Tadlis, it might cause the hadith to be judged a weak one.
Certificate of Reading
A regular record of attendance was kept and after the reading of a book was completed, a note was written either by the teacher or one of the famous scholars in attendance. This gave details of the attendance, e.g. who listened to the complete book and who joined partially, what part they read and what part was missed by them, giving dates and the places. If an attendant was under five years his age was mentioned with the title حضر which meant “attended.” If he was five or more he was mentioned as a regular student. At its conclusion, the book was usually signed by the teacher or by some famous attending scholar. In many cases, this certificate stipulated that no further entry could be made in the book which had been completed. This certificate was called Tabaq by the Muhaddithin.
Education in hadith was free. Only a few scholars charged some money but they were denounced for this practice. The students’ relations with their teachers were based on reverence and respect. Some of them used to help or serve their tutors, but there were tutors who did not accept any kind of service lest it might be taken as service in return for teaching.
In many cases, the teachers even helped their students financially, and it was quite common to offer meals to them. A noteworthy phenomenon of the education in hadith was the continuous traveling of students and scholars to collect ahadith. Perhaps journeying was an essential part of studentship. Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi wrote a book on the subject.
The Ages of Students
First they learned the Qur’an, mostly by heart. Many scholars used to examine new students in the Qur’an. They also learned some other subjects such as Islamic Law, religious practices and grammar. Usually, they joined Muhaddithin’s circle around the age of twenty. In the era of the Successors students were about twenty years of age when they started learning ahadith.
Zuhrl spoke of Ibn ‘Uyayanah who was fifteen years old as the youngest student he had ever seen. Musa b. Ishaq says the Kufans sent their sons to learn ahadith when they were twenty. Al-Thaurl and Abu al-Ahwas, give 20 years as the age at which study of hadith began. The Syrians began to write at 30. The Basrites began to learn when they were only 10; Ibn Hanbal started when he was 16. It ought to be remembered that this was a common practice in literary circles, with many exceptions, and not a compulsory rule which must be followed by everybody. However in later periods it was not observed. Al-Dabarl transmitted ‘Abd al-Razzaq’s book, and when ‘Abd al-Razzaq died his student was not more than 7 years old. It was said that if a child could discriminate between a cow and a donkey then he could start learning ahadith. It was at the time when the texts had been fixed, and learning meant transmission of a book through channels of Isnad. On the other hand, especially in the second century, many scholars were considered weak in their ahadith from certain teachers on the grounds of their youth when they wrote down from them. For example, ‘Amr al- Bairuti is considered weak in the ahadith of Auza’I as he was young when he wrote down from Auza’I. Similar charges were made against Ibn al- Madini, Ibn Abu Shaibah, Hisham b. Hassan etc.
However, later the situation changed completely. People began to bring even their infants to the lectures on hadith. The attendance of a child at such lectures entitled him to a certificate which gave the name of the child, if he was under five, as proof that he attended the lectures. But if a child was five or more it was mentioned in the certificate (Tibaq) that he learned certain books from certain scholars.
This practice, according to which a child of five years was awarded a certificate of matriculation or graduation in hadith sounds like a joke. But as a matter of fact the case is not so ridiculous as it seems and the practice I was not as silly as it appears to be.
Let us see what was the task of this ‘graduate’ of 5 years in hadith when he grew up. All he had to do was to read the text. Usually he was not sup-posed to interpret or explain it so his learning would not have much effect on its explanation.
The main use of this certificate was to mark the purity and authenticity of the text itself. The graduate’s name was put in the certificate of reading which was not written on a sheet of paper but either on the margin of the book, or at the title or at the end of the book. After being grown up, he was not entitled to read any copy of the same book. No, he must read either from the same manuscript or from a copy transcribed from the book which bore his name and which was checked carefully.
Therefore, by this very means, the scholars were able to safeguard the purity of the text while keeping the isndd ‘All, that is the least number of scholars between the reader and the Prophet.
The Number of Students
There are references to hundreds of teachers from whom al-Thauri, Ibn al-Mubarak, al-Zuhrl, etc. had written down ahadith. In the works of biographers we find a long list of teachers and students of eminent scholars. For example, even if we take only one scholar, al-Zuhri, we do not know precisely how many students wrote down from him, and how many at- tended his lectures. However, we have at least fifty references to his students who made their written collections from him. The growing number of transmitters resulted in tremendous growth in the number of books. The books grew so voluminous that it was difficult to handle them. Therefore, to avoid chaos and discrepancies, Shu’bah advised writing the famous ahadith from the famous scholars.
This growth of books resulted in the growth of numbers of ahadith. A contributing factor was the method of Muhaddithln who counted every isnad as one hadith. Thus if a single statement of the Prophet is narrated by one hundred isnads it would be counted as one hundred hadith. Thus a few thousand ahadith of the Prophet reached to over 600,000 ahadith. This fact and method which is unknown to many modern scholars caused them to make many mistakes.