Role of Companions in Preserving the Sunnah

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The role played by the Companions in preserving the Sunnah

The greatest factor in enabling the Companions the preserve the Sunnah was the personality of the Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam) himself. People preserve things that are valuable to them. The deep interest and love they had for the Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam) ensured that they closely observed his every saying and action. In addition the Arabs at that time were known for their excellent memories. This was coupled with the qualities of the Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam) as a teacher. He would report important information three times, he would teach by way of question and answer. e.g. “do you know who the bankrupt person is?” He would put certain information in writing such as his letter to various governors, the writing of his last sermon (“write it for Abu Shah” (Muslim, Abu Dawood).). The Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam) would also practically demonstrate his sunnah – “pray as you have seen me pray”, “take you rites of Haj from me”.
The Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam) also encouraged the Companions to learn his sunnah: “Convey from me, even it is one ayah”, “Seeking knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim”. This coupled with the warning “Whoever conceals knowledge will be raised up on the Day of Judgement with a bridle of fire”, ensured that the companions took the necessary steps to preserve his sunnah.
A number of different methods were used by the Companions to preserve the Sunnah.

Memorisation

The following saying of the Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam) encouraged the Companions to memorise hadith: “May Allah brighten the face of a man, who hears my saying, memorises and then conveys it exactly as he heard it” (Tirmidhi)
Anas ibn Malik said: “We sat with the Prophet, maybe 60 in number, and the Prophet taught us some hadith. Later on, when he went out for some necessity, we used to memorise it amongst us, when we departed, it was cultivated upon our hearts”. (Khateeb al-Bagdadi: al-Jami)

Recollection of hadith

Abu Huraira divided up the night into three parts; a third for prayer, a third for sleeping, and a third for the recollection and memorising of hadith.
Umar and Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari jointly memorised hadith throughout the night until Fajr, as did Ibn Abbas and Ziad ibn Arqam.

Practice

The Companions would implement everything they learnt. Acting upon sunnah preserves it.

Asking questions to one another

Anas reported that whenever the Companions met each other, they would ask each other about any new hadith. Umar and his Ansari neighbour took it in turns to spend time with the Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam).

Writing

Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al Aas. (d63H) used to write down everything he heard from the Messenger. When some people advised him not to do so, as the Messenger, being human, is subjected to the normal human emotions of anger and pleasure, he went to the Messenger of Allah to clarify this doubt. The Messenger (sallahu alaihi wa sallam) said: “Write, by the One Who’s Hand is my soul, nothing comes from here except the truth”. (Tirmidhi, Abu Dawood, Ahmed). This collection of written hadith from Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al Aas was called Saheefa Saadiqq and contained almost 1000 ahadith. Although the original is lost, it was seen by Mujahid, and is contained within the Musnad of Ahmed. Abu Hurairah said: “One can find no companion of the Messenger of Allah relating more hadith than I, except Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al Aas, because he used to record the ahadith, while I did not do so”. Amr b Shu’aib, the grandson of Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al Aas used to hold the Saahifa in his hand and dictate it to his students.
Saeed bin Hilal narrates that Anas bin Malik would mention everything that he had written by memory, whilst showing us, he would say: “I heard this narration from the Messenger of Allah (sallahu alaihi wa sallam) and I would write it down, and repeat it to the Messenger of Allah, so that he would affirm it”.
(al Mustadarak of al Haakim, also Taqyid al-ilm of Khateeb al Bagdadi).
Amr bin Hazm (d50H) was appointed by the Messenger of Allah (sallahu alaihi wa sallam) as governor of Najran. He was given a letter containing times of the prayer, methods of the prayer, ablution, booty, taxation, zakat and other issues. Amr b Hazm also collected 21 other letter of the Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam) and complied them in book form. The Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam) also sent countless lengthy letters to various Muslim governors with detailed instructions, as well as to Kufaar leaders.
A man from the Ansar complained to the Messenger of Allah about the weakness of his memory to which the Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam) replied: “Be helped by the right hand” (Tirmidhi).
Abdullah ibn Abbas (d68H) would sit at the door of various companions to ask them about hadith. He would sometimes ask 30 different companions about a single incident. His slave, Kuraib, would assist him in writing hadith. After his death Kuraib entrusted the books of Ibn Abbas to the famous historian, Musa b Uqba who said: “Kuraib b Muslim deposited with us a camel load of book of Abdullah ibn Abbas, and when his son Ali b Abdullah ibn Abbas wanted a book, he wrote to Kuraib saying: ‘send me such and such sahifaa’ Kuraib used to transcribe it and send him one of the two copies.”
Humman ibn Munabbah (d101) was a student of Abu Hurairah who dictated 138 narrations to him. This book of hadith is called Saheefah Saheehaa of Humman ibn Munabbah. Almost the entire collection is in Musnad Ahmed as well as Bukhari and Muslim. Amazingly, the extant collection was discovered by Dr. Hamidullah and has been translated into English.
Ali ibn Talib had a Sahifaah written in the time of the Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam). At least eight of his students had his hadith in written form.
Aishah bint Abu Bakr’s narrations were written by Urwah b Zubair.

The Companions of the Suff

Some companions such as Abu Huraira devoted their entire lives to staying in the masjid, learning the deen and teaching it to others.

Verification and authentication

There were a number of methods used by the companions to ensure that any narrations that they heard could be correctly attributed back to the Prophet (sallahu alaihi wa sallam). These are also mentioned in more detail in the article on hadīth fabrication.

1. Referring back to the original source
2. Asking for an oath, or demanding confirmation from a reporter
3. Rectification of a mistaken report
4. Demanding the reporter to repeat the hadith on the same or later occasion
5. Asking the reporter for a witness to his narration
6. To take the writing (letter or book) as binding if proved to be authentic.
7. Travelling to verify hadīth