As we travel through the massive collections of hadith we encounter two persons who appear to have been key figures in our hadith related history. One of them is Ka‘b al-Ahbar and the other is Abu Hureirah. These two individuals have not been studied properly. We will briefly mention some issues or events that will help us understand more thoroughly who these two persons were.
Ka‘b al-Ahbar came from Yemen. He was of the Yahudi faith. He became a Muslim during the rule of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab. He was recognized as a “scholar”. Apparently, he had “free” access to both ‘Umar and ‘Uthman. He is reported to have accompanied ‘Umar on his journey to al-Quds when the Islamic armed forces liberated the holy city from Byzantine imperial power. For further information refer to al-Baladhuri, al-Mas‘udi, and al-Tabari.
Abu Hureirah also came from Yemen. His full name is ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Sakhr al-Dawsi al-Yamani (born 21 years before hijrah, died 59 after hijrah (602-678 CE). He died in al-Madinah (may Allah forgive his weaknesses and punish those who used him). When he first met the Prophet (pbuh), Abu Hureirah was destitute and poverty stricken, but when he died, he was rich and privileged. ‘Umar banned Abu Hureirah from quoting the Prophet (pbuh); he even struck Abu Hureirah to make it clear to him that he should not be quoting the Prophet (pbuh). Furthermore, ‘Umar warned him that if he didn’t stop quoting the noble Messenger (pbuh) he would send him back to Yemen. ‘Umar initially trusted him to be “governor” or administrator of Bahrain but then seized some of Abu Hureirah’s wealth after it appeared to ‘Umar that Abu Hureirah was not trustworthy and responsible with money belonging to the Islamic treasury. Ibn Qutaibah says that Abu Hureirah was the first narrator of hadiths to be faulted.
Some may not like it but it has to be said because it may help motivate us to scrub hadith literature: Abu Hureirah was a supporter of the Umayyad dynasty, the dynasty that subverted the khilafah, annulled the Islamic principle of Shura (popular and principled political deliberations), and turned representative governance into a jingoistic tribal monarchy.
Suffice it to say that Abu Hureirah accompanied the Prophet (pbuh) for three years but the number of hadiths he is said to have narrated is more than the total amount of hadiths narrated by all the Muhajiroon and Ansar. We say “he is said to have narrated” such hadiths because we are very careful and mindful of the fact that the Umayyad dynasty may have “put words” in Abu Hureirah’s mouth or out-and-out fabricated hadiths and said that Abu Hureirah narrated such a Prophetic hadith!
Abu Hureirah is presented by the establishmentarian media of the post-Khilafah dynasties as a prominent hafiz, an intellectual and a master hadith-memorizer. He is, in this dynasty media hype, said to be the source of hadiths for many prominent sahabah and the generation following the sahabah (al-Tabi’in). It is reported that Abu Hureirah was the source of hadith for almost eight hundred of the sahabah! Among them Ibn ‘Abbas, Ibn ‘Umar, Jaber, Anas, and others. It is also reported that he narrated around five thousand, three hundred and seventy-four (5,374) hadiths.
For those who are curious or those who are surprised by what we say and are going to say about Abu Hureirah, you should refer to the following books, among others: Shadharat al-Dhahab, by al-‘Imad al-Hanbali, Al-Seerah al-Halabiyah, by Burhan al-Din al-Halabi, Rabi‘ al-Abrar wa Asas al-Balaghah by al-Zamakhshari, Al-Mudaf wa al-Mansub by al-Tha‘alibi.
We want to emphasize before we delve further into the dormant details of our common early Islamic history that the hadiths of Allah’s Prophet are without any doubt and need no proof that they are paramount and indispensable in understanding Islam. Meticulous consideration and caution are thus required. There are definitely many sound and compelling hadiths about a variety of Qur’an-related subjects and issues, as well as other enlightening hadiths for all Muslims. Still, we have to confess that the “class” of the majority of ‘ulama’ has not dedicated Qur’anic critical thinking to the general and huge body of hadiths that we have become heir to. Only a specific “class” of scholars has spent time and effort to carry on with matters pertaining to hadith – inheriting hadith and bequeathing hadith without much Qur’anic analytical input. It all began with the first generation of these hadith personages who spent most of their time (may Allah (SWT) reward them for their effort and forgive them for their shortcomings) studying the “characters” or the “credentials” of hadith narrators (the Sanad) – their lifestyles, their environment, their lifetime, and their credibility. The end problem of this effort is that no rational or “academic” effort was placed by this class of scholars on whether a particular narrated hadith is well-matched with the Qur’an, or goes well with the rest of the hadiths. All they were concerned with was the credibility or the reliability of the reporters or narrators as they are known in most of our hadith books. No one really took a hard look at what a particular hadith means in the overall understanding of the impeccable ayats and the other authentic hadiths. The latter generations of this “hadith circle of scholars” just followed suit, without any serious and significant Qur’an-centered scrutiny. Thus, we have “‘ilm al-hadith” (the “science” of hadith) mothballed from a very early time in Islamic history.
The hadith became, in a sense, off limits to a Qur’anic approach; and as the centuries passed, the hadith surpassed the Qur’an up to our present time when many “scholars” consider the hadith to be a prerequisite to understanding the Qur’an instead of the Qur’an being a prerequisite to understanding the hadith.
Looking back at some basic bodies of Islamic knowledge there is a saying among some ‘ulama’ that goes like this: [Islamic] knowledge is of three categories. A body of knowledge that has developed and did not smolder which is the knowledge and art of [Arabic] grammar and Usul al-Din; and a body of knowledge that did not develop and did not smolder which is the scholarship of exegesis and tafsir; and a body of knowledge that expanded and smoldered which is the data of hadith and the archives of fiqh.
A very important issue is left out of this whole historical treatment and that is, did the Prophet (pbuh) order and instruct that his hadith be written down and inscribed and preserved by memory as he ordered and instructed that the ayats of the Qur’an be written down and preserved? Or, did the Prophet (pbuh) actually inhibit his followers from writing and transcribing his hadith? Did the sahabah actually put the hadith “to pen and paper”? How did the sahabah relate to the Prophet’s announcements and declarations? Are all the hadiths that are related to the Prophet (pbuh) verbally and evocatively the exact words he pronounced? Were there any interferences, interventions, and intrusions into the body of hadiths by the Prophet’s enemies? And there were many enemies – some of them having become Muslims after the Muhammadi liberation of Makkah, otherwise referred to as the munafiqeen, al-tulaqa’, al-A‘rab, etc… And was there a counter-reaction to these intruders by those who “held the prophetic line”? These are all factors that have, for all practical purposes, been either obscured or concealed by the dynasties and family rulers who dominated Muslims in the post-khilafah centuries –barring a few exceptions.
Then we have to ask: when did the recording of the Prophet’s hadiths begin? And did those who did the recording have one common agreed upon standard? And where are the original handwritings and recordings of those who collected the hadiths? How did the rest of the ‘ulama’ react or respond to the gathering of the hadiths? Were they all equally confident in all the hadiths? In some of the hadiths? Which ones? Where did they differ? What did they differ on? Why did they differ? All these issues have to be taken into consideration and thought through.
The sad fact of the matter is that today we have a corpus of hadiths that range from the “sahih” (sound and authentic) to the “manhul” (contrived and concocted).
It would seem that the “history of hadith” should be a prerequisite for those who “study” the hadith; we say “study” because they use the appellation, not this particular writer.
Brothers and sisters! There is plenty of work to be done. Don’t feel overwhelmed; we can move on if our hearts are together and our minds are consolidated.
Seeing that those who shun concentrated and abusive power structures lest they [be tempted to] comply with them, and turn to Allah instead, theirs is cheerful news. Give, then, this cheerful news to [those of] My subjects who listen [closely] to all that is said [by Allah and His Prophet], and follow the best of it. (Surat al-Zumar, ayats 17-18)