Any level-headed Muslim of whatever fiqhi denomination will agree that attaching a statement to our faithful Prophet (pbuh) which he did not say is tantamount to a serious sin. Misquoting anyone is immoral and wrong; more so when misquoting Allah’s truthful Prophet (pbuh). There is a chapter in al-Nawawi’s Sharh Muslim [The Explanation of [Sahih] Muslim] titled: تحريم رواية الحديث الموضوع [The Prohibition of Narrating a Bogus Hadith]. Misreporting what the Prophet (pbuh) said is more than violating religious, ethical and moral standards – in a word it is one of the كبائر [major sins].
To understand this in a relevant and meaningful way we are required to take a closer look at the individuals and persons who constituted the Prophet’s general public. This writer is aware that from here on he will be entering, in the minds of some, what may be called a verboten (forbidden) domain, as certain traditions have sealed off that society 1400 years or so ago by claiming that everyone, with very few exceptions, were Sahabah [companions of the Prophet (pbuh)] and therefore are beyond reproach. We beg to courteously disagree.
The “Sahabah” were not carbon copies of each other. They had fluctuating or variable degrees of knowledge and even varying quality companionship time with our paragon Prophet (pbuh). This is normal and a feature of human nature and human social interactions. Many centuries before our current “Sunni-Shi‘i” sectarian hang-up we had Ibn Khaldun in his seminal book المقدمة Al-Muqaddimah [An Introduction [to History]] observing the following:
إن الصحابة كلهم لم يكونوا أهل فتيا ولا كان الدين يؤخذ عن جميعهم وإنما كان ذلك مختصا بالحاملين للقرآن العارفين بناسخه ومنسوخه ومتشابهه ومحكمه وسائر دلالته بما تلقوه من النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم أوممن سمعه منهم وعن عليتهم وكانوا يسمون لذلك القراء أي الذين يقرأون الكتاب لأن العرب كانوا أمة أمية. فاختص من كان منهم قارئا للكتاب بهذا الاسم لغرابته يومئذ وبقي الأمر كذلك صدر الملة.
Not all the Sahabah were qualified to issue legal opinions; and the Deen [of Islam] could not have been [equally] extricated from all of them; that process of obtaining an understanding of the Deen was specific to those who were loaded with the Qur’an – those who knew the difference between superseding [final] ayats and preceding [initial] ayats, those who could differentiate between allegorical [figurative] ayats and verifiable [literal] ayats, as well as other Qur’anic gradations and nuances in accordance with what they have learned or heard from the Prophet (pbuh)… these were called the Qurra’ [the Qur’anically well-versed], as the Arabs, in general, were a Scripturally illiterate society. Those who were well-read and well-informed by the Qur’an were given the honorific title of al-Qurra’, at that time. This continued to be the case during the initial era of that Islamic orientated society. [End of Ibn Khaldun’s quote]
In Tabaqat Ibn Sa‘d, there is reference to three recognized “scholars” from the Muhajireen and three from the Ansar. They are respectively: Imam ‘Ali, ‘Umar and ‘Uthman, then Ubayy ibn Ka‘b, Mu‘adh ibn Jabal and Zayd ibn Thabit.
During Abu Bakr’s reign when he needed to seek advice he would call on Imam ‘Ali, ‘Umar and ‘Uthman as well as ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn ‘Awf, Mu‘adh ibn Jabal, Ubayy ibn Ka‘b and Zayd ibn Thabit. When ‘Umar succeeded Abu Bakr, he continued to consult the same experienced individuals.
In Sahih Muslim on the authority of Masruq who said: I probed the Sahabah of Allah’s messenger (pbuh) and I found that resonate knowledge belonged to six [only]: ‘Umar, ‘Ali, ‘Abdullah [Ibn Mas‘ud], Mu‘adh, Abu al-Darda’ and Zayd ibn Thabit. And I probed these [six] and I found that bursting knowledge belonged to [two only] Imam ‘Ali and ‘Abdullah [Ibn Mas‘ud].
As we carefully and painstakingly walk through this early Prophetic history we should realize that not everyone was present when the Prophet (pbuh) spoke on different occasions, at different places, at different times. Therefore, we would have some companions of the Prophet (pbuh) in attendance and others absent. Sometimes those attending would be significant in numbers, at other times they were only a few. This dynamic resulted in some companions relating to other companions what these others did not hear the Prophet (pbuh) say. In the academic studies of the Prophet’s hadiths, those hadiths that do not have the initial companion narrator’s name mentioned is called riwayah mursalah.
Here we are not in any way trying to evaluate the companions of the Prophet (pbuh) who were known for their sacrifices and were given the Qur’anic and Prophetic honorifics of al-Muhajireen and al-Ansar. But during the time of the second Khalifah a dubious person of Yahudi background announced and went public with his (out of character) Islamic faith. Up to here, that is fine. But what complicates the matter is that this person known as Ka‘b al-Ahbar was a Biblical scholar in his own right. And his ostensible and deceptive Islamic cover gave him “status” among certain people in al-Madinah and al-Hijaz to such a degree that Ka‘b al-Ahbar became a hadith spokesperson. Those people who were impressed by Ka‘b al-Ahbar becoming a so-called Muslim are the equivalents of today’s Muslims who are excited and fascinated by a prominent Yahudi becoming a (professed) Muslim in our time! Al-Suyuti in his Alfiyah has a chapter called:
رواية الأكابر عن الأصاغر [The Narration of Senior Personalities on the Authority of Minor Personalities].
In his explanation of al-Suyuti’s Alfiyah, Sheikh Ahmad Muhammad Shakir calls out those who narrated hadiths on the authority of Ka‘b al-Ahbar such as ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas, ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar, Abu Hureirah, Mu‘awiyah, Anas, and others. The critical and un-researched part of this whole affair is whether the above narrators actually narrated hadiths from Ka‘b al-Ahbar, or did the ruling dynasties, during the decades that followed, say that the above “Sahabah” narrated hadiths from Ka‘b al-Ahbar. Remember, those dynasties needed certain types of hadiths to justify their usurpation of power.
When the companions were quoting the Prophet (pbuh) after he passed away, they would not necessarily make it clear whether they heard the hadith at the time the Prophet (pbuh) expressed it or they heard the hadith from another companion who heard the hadith himself. But all of that unquestioning or inattentive quotes and attribution to the Prophet (pbuh) came to an end at the onset of al-Fitnah al-Kubra [The Foremost Fitnah]. From there-on most people wanted to know who is or are the source(s) of hadith. They wanted to know them by name.
A quick reminder: The Fitnah Kubra set in after several years of ‘Uthman’s rule. Al-Zuhri compresses that history by saying: When ‘Uthman took charge [as Khalifah] he was the commanding executive for twelve years. He discharged his duties for [the first] six years without any popular reaction [or repercussion]. Quraish favored him much more than ‘Umar [his predecessor] because ‘Umar was strict and severe towards them [Quraish]. But when ‘Uthman took over, he was lenient, kind and forthcoming with Quraish. And he [‘Uthman] slackened and was relaxed with Quraish. In ‘Uthman’s last six years he promoted his family and relatives into governmental positions. He allotted one fifth of Egypt’s revenue to his relative Marwan and he dispensed money from the Islamic treasury to his kinsfolk. He even misappropriated funds from the treasury. He explained what he did by saying that Abu Bakr and ‘Umar voluntarily waived or relinquished what was rightfully theirs when they refused to offer their kinsfolk proceeds from the Islamic treasury. But he would not abandon what he considered to be lawfully his to hand out to his extended family and clan. Here is when the Muslim popular tide turned against him. [Refer to Tabaqat ibn Sa‘d].
What is known in Islamic academia as Isnad al-Hadith goes all the way back to that early unfolding of events.
Now let us demonstrate a so-called hadith that contradicts the meaning of an ayah. Let us consider what Umm al-Mu’mineen ‘A’ishah said in this regard. She heard individuals (Sahabah by some accounts) attribute the following statement to the Prophet (pbuh): ان الميت يعذب ببكاء أهله عليه [A deceased is tormented because of his folks weeping [at his funeral]. Upon hearing this, she objected and avowed that the Prophet never said such a thing. She said:
أين منكم قول الله سبحانه: "لا تزر وازرة وزر أخرى"
Where are you from Allah most exalted as He says: “and no bearer of burdens shall be made to bear another’s burden.” Al-An‘am, 164
This means that a deceased person cannot be held accountable for what others are doing. And the hadith above tells us that a deceased person is being held accountable for a fault committed by others; i.e., he is tormented because others are crying. Obviously, the “hadith” contradicts the ayah. Thus, it is not a hadith, as the Prophet (pbuh) does not contradict the Qur’an.
Suffice it to say that in the early Islamic generations we had people who purposely misreported about the Prophet (pbuh) and others who perceptively corrected such overtones.
And there are among them [the general public] such as [pretend to] listen to you [O Prophet]: but can you cause the [intellectually] deaf to perceive [your intended meanings] even when they will not use their reasoning? (Yunus, 42)