Quran vs Hadith – Part 1

By Ayeza Nadeem

It is a huge blessing of Allah Almighty that even in a time when things are very rough for the Muslims, we have at least one solid rock to hold on to and that is the final message of Allah, the sublime Quran e Hakeem. No sect in Muslim community can argue that the Quran we are holding in our hands today is not the very same Quran revealed to the last Messenger or that we have not received it in its original language or format as sent by our Creator. When it comes to Hadith, things are not this simple and a lot of ambiguity exists among us.

I am attempting to clear a few misunderstandings that I’m constantly hearing on all forums regarding the Hadith literature. In today’s Islamic world, if you open your mouth to question the Hadith literature, you instantaneously win the label of Munkar e Hadith. What I’m questioning here is; is Hadith an integral part of Deen e Islam without which Quran is incomprehensible as claimed by many learned scholars or does authentic Hadith only enhances different aspects of our Islamic lives and enriches it further with its inherent wisdom? There are some conclusions that I have reached as an ordinary Muslim after analyzing the information I can trust, because Allah has ordered each and every person to use his human faculties and contemplate on His signs. It is not just the duty of the learned scholars and that is why, I have stopped blindly following any particular scholar, even the one I trust and only take those opinions that my mind fully accepts because no scholar is perfect in his understanding, and can have a tendency to falter in some matters.

This attitude is vital for me now because Allah has told us that no person will carry the burden of our mistakes on the Day of Judgement and we will be held responsible for our deeds as individuals. We will not give the excuse of ignorance or that some other person, no matter who, mislead us because that is the exact reason why prophet-hood was completed and the final message preserved so that this excuse would not exist. Allah will judge me for what I believe from the very core of my heart without doubt so I have to be absolutely sure that what I believe is correct to the best of my knowledge. If I get more information tomorrow regarding some issue, I should be willing to change my opinion and follow that as this is an ongoing process and we cannot state on any stage that we have got all the knowledge that we needed so our quest continues till our last breath.

Dr Muhammad Hameedullah 

I will quote just one scholar for the point I want to clear as he is regarded as a very learned and renowned scholar in the Muslim world. Dr Muhammad Hameedullah (9 February 1908 – 17 December 2002) D. Phil.D. Litt.HI, was a MuhaddithFaqih, scholar of Islamic law and an academic author with over 450 books cited in WorldCat.org, the world’s largest bibliographic database. A prolific writer, his extensive works on Islamic science, history and culture have been published in several languages and many thousands of articles in learned journals. His scholarship is regarded by many as unparalleled in the last century. A double doctorate (D.Phil and D.Litt) and a polymath, he was fluent in 22 languages including Urdu (his mother tongue), Persian, Arabic, French, English, German, Italian, Greek, Turkish, Russian etc. He learned Thai at the age of 84. He was also involved in writing the constitution of Pakistan in 1948, awarded highest civilian award “Hilal e Imtiaz” but he went to France later on and spent most of his life there, with French National Centre for Scientific Research from 1954, which ended in 1978. He travelled all over the world for research, held teaching posts in Turkey and wrote over 30 books in Urdu, Arabic and Persian.

Hameedullah is known for contributions to the research of Hadith history, translations of the Quran into multiple languages and in particular into French (first by a Muslim scholar) and for the monumental biography of the Prophet Muhammad in French. He is also famous for discovering a missing work regarded as one of his great contributions to the Hadith literature. The earliest Hadith manuscript still extant today, Sahifa Hammam bin Munabbah, was discovered in a Damascus library. Hammam bin Munabbah was a disciple of Abu Huraira (r) and it showed that the earliest manuscripts had been absorbed into the much bigger later compilation.

This lengthy introduction was very necessary as we are usually unaware of these extra ordinary personalities who spent their lives in research and seeking knowledge. I will quote some of his research regarding compilation of Quran from his famous book, “Khutubaat e Bahawalpur”, which consists of several lectures that he delivered in Islamia University of Bahawalpur. After reading the background, it became clear to me as to how much effort the companions made to compile the Holy Quran in a book form which had not existed in the life time of the Prophet (s). Plus it also answered another question about Hadith compilation, which I had never realized before and it forever changed the way I regarded this form of knowledge. I will elaborate it later so first we should just find out how the companions preserved the Quran.

Preservation of the Holy Quran

The earliest evidence of the promotion of Quran is found in the book of earliest writers, Ibn e Ishaq, whose book “Al Magazi” (stories regarding the events of Gazwat or wars in which Rasul Allah (s) took part) was lost in time and only a few pages were discovered which were published by the government of Murakish. Very amazing lines found in those pages were that, “Whenever he received any verses from the holy Quran, the Devine revelations, the Prophet (s) first recited them before a gathering of Muslim men and then repeated those especially before a gathering of Muslim women”. This means that women were given equal importance by him (s) and given equal opportunity to gain the knowledge of the Quran. Then, a special group of companions was assigned to pen down these revelations and simultaneously many of them started to memorize the verses as they were revealed.

The Prophet (s) used to call a “Katib e Wahi” (a person assigned to pen down the verses) and dictate the verses after revelation. Then he (s) would ask the writer to repeat what he had written down. The scribe would repeat and if there was a need for correction, the Prophet (s) would correct it. The companions would learn only from that correct official manuscript and then repeat those verses in their five daily prayers so that they were ingrained in their memories. When the verses and students of Quran increased, the holy Prophet (s) appointed some qualified companions as teachers and gave them his certificate which enabled them to impart the verses to other Muslims. This process of revelation, writing down the verses, correcting them and memorizing went on for 23 years. The verses did not come in that sequence that we now have in the Quran, it was purely on the guidance of Allah and instructions of the holy Prophet (s) who guided the companions as to where to place verses. For example, we are told that the 5 verses of Surah Alaq were the first ones that were revealed to the Prophet (s) in the cave of Hira but they are place in chapter 96 of the Quran. The Prophet (s) would recite the Quran in sequence to the companions in the nights of Ramadan and in the last Ramadan of his life, he completely recited it twice to the companions so that they would double check the sequence and the matter perfectly.

After the death of our Prophet (s), no official Quran existed in a single cover. The first Khaleefah Abu Bakr Sideeq (r) was faced with a difficult situation and had to wage a war against a rebellious tribe. Countless Muslims were martyred and many of them were Hufaaz or the companions who had memorized the entire Quran. This led Umer ibn e Khataab (r) to talk to the Khaleefah Abu Bakar (r) and ask him to do something about this loss which would have ultimately lead to losing parts of Quran as the other Devine books were lost in time. His first objection was, how should he do something new which the Prophet (s) did not do in his life time? They discussed without reaching an answer and decided to ask another companion and a Katib e Wahi, Zaid bin Sabit (r) to decide. He too was reluctant but later Umer (r) asked him to think about what would go wrong by compiling Quran in a book form putting aside the emotional argument that they should not do it because the Prophet (s) did not do it. This was a tie breaker and they decided that there was khair in it and this preservation should be done.

Abu Bakar Sideeq (r) in his official capacity as Khaleefah appointed Zaid bin Sabit (r) head of a committee to perform this humongous feat. A commission was created headed by Zaid (r) which announced throughout the land that all companions who had the written verses with them, should bring it before the commission but only those who were personally corrected by the holy Prophet (s) himself. There were many members of the commission, including Umer (r) and the instructions were to only accept a verse if it is found in at least two places simultaneously.  Whenever a verse was presented by a companion, Umer (r) made them take an oath that they are presenting that written verse that was recited before the Prophet (s) and he had listen and approved it. When all the Quran was compiled, Zaid bin Sabit (r) who was a Hafiz himself, recalled a verse which was in his memory but was nowhere to be found in the written verses presented before him. He was most anxious and went around the city searching in the homes of all companions and finally found one written copy in an Ansari companion’s home. Now the instruction of the Khaleefah was to only accept a copy if it existed in two written records but we see a remarkable story here. That Ansari companion had once done some act which had pleased the Prophet (s) so much that he had declared that the witness of this individual will be taken equivalent to the witness of two persons and so that one written verse, already in the memory of hufaaz, was taken and placed in its proper sequence.

That is a gist of why and how Quran preserved for us as promised by our Creator. Allah says in His book, “Ina Nahnu Nazalnaz Zikra Wa Ina Lahu La Hafizoon”, which means, “Verily We are the one to send this reminder down to you and most certainly We are the one who is its Protector”. So much effort and careful details were observed to save it on an official level, by the official representative of the Islamic state, the first Khaleefah, who took this serious decision considering the changing time and gave this task to his most trusted top members of the Shura or cabinet.

Authenticity of the Holy Quran

In the end, Dr Hameedullaah narrates a personal experience when he was in Paris University in 1933. He met a director of an institute in Munich University, “Quranic Research Institute” which was working to collect records of Quran from all over the world for three generations!  Pretzel, who had come to collect photos of the ancient manuscripts of Quran from Paris Public Library, personally told Dr Hameedullah that his institute had photos of over 42000 manuscripts of Quran from all over the world and they were working for collation. He confessed that although they had not published an official report regarding their research but they had concluded that there were some mistakes in editing but no mistakes in the original text of all the Qurans studied. This meant that may be some word was omitted in one copy or repeated in another but it would be considered a typo.

As a contrast, Dr HameedUllah relates another story where Christian Priest in Germany decided to collect all manuscripts of Bible written in Greek language, which was not even the original language of Bible as it was revealed in Hebrew which became extinct and compared them with each other. He collected the different versions found in the world for collation and came to the final conclusion that more than two hundred thousand contradictory stories found in the text. This should open our eyes to the fact that preserving Quran for all mankind was indeed a divine act and the end result was what we have in our hands right now.

How Hadith Reached Us

Now we come to the next part of this topic which requires a bit more understanding than what we have read about Quran. The second chapter of Dr Hameedullaah’s “Khutubaat e Khilafat” deals with Hadith in quite detail but I cannot go into that and try to present some of his points briefly. The reason is, although his research is very comprehensive and gives an overall picture of what Hadith is and how it reached us but the question it raised for me became so vital that I reached a different conclusion from what his research revealed. This means, if Dr HameedUllaah was alive today, I would have asked him to clarify it for me because maybe this question did not come up in his lifetime but without that particular answer, the way we look at Hadith literature becomes totally different from what we are led to believe by different scholars today. I will present my question in the end so for now let us see what Hadith is.

  1. Anything that our Prophet (s) said or did is included in Hadith plus if some act happened in his presence and he (s) allowed it and did not forbid it also falls in this category.
  2. Another form is called Hadith e Qudsi, in which the statement is directly quoted from Allah (swt) in first person.
  3. Third type are the different official documents like letters written to head of states (like Najashi), letter given to some companion like Saraqa ibn e Malik (r), or a document that dealt with the constitution of an Islamic state, or different deals between tribes for gaining their support against common enemies or instructions sent to government officials of the Islamic state etc. These documents were officially written on the Prophets (s) specific instructions under supervision and mostly with his official seal on them. There are at least 400 or so letters that are still found in different museums today.

Now the Hadith that we have today in the form of different books like Bukhari or Muslim are those which were not official but privately collected statements by some companions and later passed on to us through generations. Like Bukhari is one of the oldest collections written after almost 300 years and at times, some Hadith quoted pass on from nearly 9 people before it was written down in it. We have contradictory statements in the Hadith literature itself about whether the Prophet (s) allowed companions to write down his sayings or forbade them. Some statements show that when one companion said that he forgets what he hears from the Prophet (s) due to poor memory, he was given this advice to “take help from your right hand” or in other words, write it down. It is said that companions like Abdullah bin Umro bin Aass (r) and Ans bin Malik (r) both had more than 10000 Hadith each in their collection although these did not reach us collectively but scattered Hadith from those can be found in different books. Likewise, Abu Hurera (r) wrote countless Hadith in his time and taught others from that collection. He used to teach different Hadith to different students and presented customized collection to some of his students. He made a collection of 150 Hadith and presented it to his student called “Saheefa Hammam bin Munbah” which was later discovered by Dr Hameedullaah.

Although we know that companions wrote down sayings of the Prophet (s) but the question is, whether it was a general rule or only a few trustworthy companions were allowed to do it? The Hadith that forbade writing down anything apart from Quran are also found in the very same books of Hadith that we have. A Hadith narrated from Abu Saeed Khudri (r) is found in Sahih Muslim in which he quotes directly from the Prophet (s) that he said, “ Do not write any of my sayings and if you have written them down, then delete it”. Again we do not know whether it was a general rule or a person specific order but the act of the highest companions from the whole group shows that they were extremely sensitive towards this issue.

Hadith and Khulfa e Rashideen

It is written that Abu Bakr Sideeq (r) had a collection of 500 Hadith of the Prophet (s) which he had gifted to his daughter Ayesha (r) One night she felt that he was very uncomfortable throughout the night with lots of tossing and turning which made her think that he must be sick. In the morning he asked her to bring him the collection he had given her and after receiving it back, he washed away everything he had written with water. He told her that the collection contained most of the Hadith which he had heard directly from the Prophet (s) but he feared that maybe he had included some sayings which he had heard indirectly from some other companion and so out of extreme caution, he destroyed the whole thing just to be on the safe side and not misquote him. To me this shows that although collecting Hadith could be called a labor of love by companions who genuinely wanted to preserve his precious statements but it was neither an obligation nor a compulsion to keep a record of any of those sayings! This means that they could not have been vital in understanding the basic teachings of Quran or Sunnah otherwise Abu Bakar Sideeq (r) would never have dared to destroy them.

Then we have an even more remarkable event found in the time of Umer (r) when he took charge as a second pious Khaleefah. He called a meeting of his most trusted cabinet members and asked for their advice on whether to preserve Hadith, just like he had asked Abu Bakr Sideeq (r) to preserve the holy Quran. The conclusion they came up after lengthy debate was that this should not be done! This was the firm opinion of Umer (r) and the logic he gave was that the people or tribes that came before them had preserved the sayings of their prophets, acted upon them but forgot the original message of Allah as sent to them in the Divine revelations. They polluted those books and included things that were not there so he did not want this to happen to the holy Quran. That is why this task was not taken up and rejected by the wisest companions. Please note that in his era Quran was already preserved so the argument that some scholars give in favor of Hadith becomes invalid that the companions initially refused to compile Hadith so that it does not get confused with Quran but afterwards they allowed it. These were not only the highest or the closest companions but were also the official representative of the Muslim Ummaah, Abu Bakar, Umer, Usman and Ali razi Allah ho unhum as Khulfa e Rashideen.

Usman (r) went a step further in the preservation of Quran in his time and brought the whole Muslim nation on one dialect of the Quran, the dialect of Quraysh on which the Quran was revealed. Any student of Arabic language will know that the meaning of words change due to vowel sounds that are used like fatah, dhuma and kasrah commonly known as zeer, zabar peesh in Urdu and that created problems for non-Arab Muslims when the Quran reached them after conquest of their lands. That is why Usman (r) united the whole Ummaah on one official dialect which earned him the title of “Jame ul Quran”. He sent the official version to all governors of the empire and asked them to destroy any other version that was creating confusion in its text without harkaat.

Likewise, Ali (r) also did not compile the Hadith officially in his era but when the Jew fitnah in the teachings of Abdullaah bin Saba emerged in his time, he asked people to bring him paper and pen to write correct Hadith to differentiate between what Abdullah bin Saba circulated as false fabricated Hadith. This means that this statement from different scholars is absolutely wrong historically that Hadith was preserved on the same pattern as the holy Quran was preserved. This is as far from the truth as it can be because if it was true, all of us would have a copy of authentic Hadith in our hands, just like a copy of the holy Quran.

To Be Continued