By Mln. Yusuf Ghouse
How can we trust hadith when they were not documented until 150-300 years later? Couldn’t the hadith have been altered? Doesn’t this negate its authenticity?
In the Qurʾān, Allāh says: “Indeed, ًWe revealed the reminder and We shall preserve it.” (15:9)
In his monumental tafsīr, Maʿārif al-Qurʾān, Muftī Muḥammad Shafīʿ mentions that this is a promise to protect both the Qurʾān and the ḥadīth. Allāh promised to protect not only the words of the Qurʾān, but also its meanings. And the ḥadīth explains the meanings of the Qurʾān.  Muftī Shafīʿ further comments that if one claims that the ḥadīth is not preserved, they have essentially said that the Qurʾān is not preserved either. This is because if ḥadīth is not preserved, the meanings of the Qurʾān are not preserved.
We see from the above that, from a theological standpoint, a Muslim believes that the ḥadīth are preserved. However, one may wonder how this belief reconciles with the historical documentation of ḥadīth, which continued centuries after the Prophet (upon him be peace) passed? How does one know the ḥadīth is still reliable?
Firstly, it should be noted that this objection is based on an erroneous assumption. It is a misconception to think that the documentation of ḥadīth only started two or three centuries after the Prophet (upon him be peace). The formal compilation of the ḥadīth corpus into chapters and collections began a little before AH 75. And the documentation of the ḥadīth began in the lifetime of the Prophet (upon him be peace) and continued thereafter.
Writing the Ḥadīth: A Continuous Practice from Generation to Generation
Many Companions recorded the ḥadīth. Some of them even maintained personal collections. ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAmr b. al-ʿĀṣ was one of the main Companions in this regard. Imām Bukhārī reports that Abū Hurayrah said:
“None of the Prophet’s Companions knew more ḥadīth than me, except for ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAmr b. al-ʿĀṣ; he used to write while I did not.”
Although ḥadīth were primarily transmitted orally during the first few generations, ḥadīth students and scholars widely employed writing as a tool to preserve their ḥadīth. At the end of this brief article, the names of scholars from this period who wrote down ḥadīth themselves or dictated it for their students to write shall be presented. As the reader will see, these ḥadīth writers easily span the first one and a half centuries of Islām. And this clearly demonstrates the prevalence of writing during this era.
The Ṣaḥābah’s Caution When Narrating Ḥadīth
The Companions were extremely cautious when narrating ḥadīth. They would only narrate the ḥadīth that they were certain of. For example, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Abī Laylā says:
“I met one-hundred and twenty individuals from the Prophet Muḥammad’s Anṣārī Companions. Not even one of them would narrate a ḥadīth without preferring that another would take the responsibility for it.”
“I accompanied ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿUmar on a trip from Makkah to Madinah. I didn’t hear him narrate a single ḥadīth from the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ except the hadith: ‘The example of a Muslim is that of a date palm.’”
Sāʾib b. Yazīd mentioned that he accompanied Saʿd b. Abī Waqqāṣ from Madinah to Makkah. Throughout their journey together, he didn’t hear him narrate even one ḥadīth.
These narrations demonstrate the caution that the Companions had when they would narrate ḥadīth. They were aware of the grave warnings related for falsely attributing information to the Prophet ﷺ. Due to this, they were extremely cautious in narrating and would only narrate the ḥadīth that they were certain of.
The scholars who came after maintained this tradition. Assiduously, they devoted themselves to the task of authenticating narrations attributed to the Prophet. Considering the extent of their caution, we are confident that the Companions never attributed anything to the Prophet ﷺ that he did not say.
The Rigor of Ḥadīth Authentication
The subsequent generations witnessed the development of formal ḥadīth criticism and authentication. No ḥadīth would be accepted without its narrators being extensively scrutinized, with their integrity (ar. ʿadālah) and retention (ar. ḍabṭ) inspected and evaluated alongside other narrators. Moreover, every ḥadīth would be cross-referenced to ensure that it was free from defects or anomalies.
Below are just a few glimpses into the extent of the scholars’ rigor when authenticating ḥadīth.
Despite hearing hundreds of ḥadīth from his teacher, ʿAlī b. Muḥammad al-Ṭanāfisī, Imām Ibn Mājah points out that he missed out hearing the ḥadīth: “The sword is sufficient…” from him. He narrates it, but rather than directly from his teacher, he diligently notes that he heard it from someone else who told him that his teacher said it.
Ḥammād b. Salamah was a luminary of the earlier generations. He was famed for his piety, scholarship, and prolific narration of ḥadīth. Despite his reputation, Imām Bukhārī did not accept ḥadīth from him, due to a rumor that his foster son inserted pages into some of his ḥadīth notes.
Sufyān b. Ḥusayn was a reputed narrator and declared reliable by several expert ḥadīth critics. However, some scholars meticulously note that though his ḥadīth are generally reliable, his narrations from the famous scholar, Ibn Shihāb al-Zuhrī, are unreliable because he heard from him during the Ḥajj. And in that situation, when the crowds are large, it is difficult to properly focus.
In the above anecdotes, we have seen the care and painstaking attention to detail that the scholars upheld when analyzing and transmitting ḥadīth. These stories are a mere pixel of the entire image. Seeing accounts such as these helps us appreciate how Allāh used these great men to transmit our dīn and preserve the Prophet’s legacy, ensuring that it remains free from distortion or alteration.
Shaykh Muṣṭafā Ṣabrī said:
“Islām’s scholars devoted much effort when transmitting the Prophet’s statements and actions. There is no one else in history to whom there is devoted so much in recording the biographies of those who narrated. For example, Ibn Ḥajar’s Iṣābah includes biographies of a staggering number of 13,000 Companions! I would not be exaggerating if I said that the level of attention that was devoted to recording the Prophet’s Sunnah is one of Islām’s miracles.”
Inevitably, every person relies on the accounts of others. Whether it is reading the news or asking our friends and family regarding a fact, we readily accept information from others without witnessing it or authenticating it ourselves. Commenting on the rigor and meticulousness with which the ḥadīth critics analyzed narrators, assessed their reliability, and authenticated narrations, Shaykh Muḥammad ʿAwwāmah says:
“There’s no way for a researcher to not rely on those before him when relating information. If one is forced to accept transmission and regard it to be a valid source, then (to an even greater degree) it is imperative for him to believe that the Sunnah is an authentic source in Islām. How does it make sense to reject the Sunnah while accepting something lower?”
From the above, we understand that Muslims believe that Allāh Himself preserved the Prophet’s statements and teachings. And the ḥadīth were extensively documented starting in the first generation and that continued thereafter. Moreover, when narrating the ḥadīth, the scholars were extremely cautious and would not narrate haphazardly.
The ḥadīth critics thereafter exerted themselves in sifting painstakingly through narrations, assessing the credibility and reliability of narrators, and comparing ḥadīth to check for anomalies. The astounding effort that went into the preservation of the ḥadīth corpus leaves us with the utmost certainty that the ḥadīth were accurately preserved. And through this effort, Allāh preserved the nūr of His Messenger such that it would continue to illuminate the world in all times.
The Ṣaḥābah Who Wrote or Dictated Ḥadīth 
- Abū Ayyūb al-Anṣārī (d. AH 52)
- Abū Bakrah (d. 51)
- Abū Hind al-Dārī
- Abū Hurayrah (d. 59)
- Abū Mūsā al-Ashʿarī (d. 42)
- Abū Rāfiʿ (d. before 40)
- Abū Saʿīd al-Khudrī (d. 74)
- Abū Shāh
- Abū Umāmah al-Bāhilī (d. 81)
- ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAbbās (d. 68)
- ʿAbd Allāh b. Abī Awfā (d. 86)
- ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAmr b. al-ʿĀṣ (d. 63)
- ʿAbd Allāh b. Masʿūd (d. 32)
- ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿUmar (d. 74)
- ʿAbd Allāh b. al-Zubayr (d. 75)
- ʿĀʾishah (d. 58)
- ʿAlī (d. 40)
- ʿAmr b. Ḥazm (d. ~50)
- Anas b. Mālik (d. 93)
- An anonymous Anṣārī man
- Asmāʾ bint ʿUmays (d. ~40)
- Barāʾ b. ʿĀzib (d. 72)
- Ḍaḥḥāk b. Sufyān al-Kilābī
- Ḍaḥḥāk b. Qays (d. 65)
- Fāṭimah bint Rasūl Allāh (d. 11)
- Fāṭimah bint Qays
- Ḥasan b. ʿAlī (d. 50)
- ʿItbān b. Mālik (d. ~50)
- Jābir b. ʿAbd Allāh (d. 78)
- Jābir b. Samurah (d. 74)
- Jābir b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Bajalī (d. 54)
- Muʿādh b. Jabal (d. 18)
- Muʿāwiyah b. Abī Sufyān (d. 60)
- Mughīrah b. Shuʿbah (d. 50)
- Muḥammad b. Maslamah (d. 46)
- Nuʿmān b. Bashīr (d. 64)
- Rāfiʿ b. Khadīj (d. 74)
- Saʿd b. ʿUbādah (d. 15)
- Sahl b. Saʿd (d. 91)
- Salmān al-Fārisī (d. 32)
- Samurah b. Jundub (d. 59)
- Subayʿah al-Aslamiyyah
- Shaddād b. Aws (d. 58)
- Shamghun al-Azdī
- Ubayy b. Kaʿb (d. 22)
- ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb
- Usayd b. Ḥuḍayr
- Wāthilah b. al-Asqaʿ (d. 83)
- Zayd b. Arqam (d. 66)
- Zayd b. Thābit (d. 45)
The writing of ḥadīth proliferated as time moved forward. Numerous Successors documented and collected ḥadīth and travelled for that purpose. Below are a few names of the Successors who wrote ḥadīth.
- Abān b. ʿUthmān (d. 105)
- ʿAbd Allāh b. Hurmus (d. 100)
- ʿAbd Allāh b. Muḥammad b. ʿAlī (d. 99)
- ʿAbd Allāh b. Rabāḥ (d. ~90)
- ʿAbd Allāh b. Sakhbarah al-Azdī (d ~65)
- ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. ʿAbd Allāh b. Masʿūd (d. ~79)
- ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. ʿĀʾidh (d. ~80)
- ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Ghanm (d. ~78)
- Abū ʿUthmān an-Nahdī (d. 95)
- ʿAbīdah as-Salmānī (d. 72)
- Abū al-Malīḥ b. Usāmah (d. 98)
- Abū Qilābah (d. 104)
- Abū Salamah b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān (d. 104)
- ʿĀmir b. ʿAbd Allāh b. Masʿūd (d. ~83)
- ʿĀmir b. Sharāḥīl al-Shaʿbī (d. 103)
- ʿAtāʾ b. Yasār (d. 103)
- Ḍaḥḥāk b. Muzāḥim (d. 105)
- Dhakwān Abū Ṣāliḥ al-Sammān (d. 101)
- Ḥārith al-Aʿwar (d. 65)
- Ḥibbān b. Jazī as-Sulamī (d. 100)
- Ḥumrān b. Abān (d. ~75)
- Ibrāhīm al-Nakhaʿī (d. 96)
- ʿIkrimah, Mawlā Ibn ʿAbbās (d. 105)
- Jābir b. Zayd (d. 93)
- Kathīr b. Murrah (d. 75)
- Khālid b. Maʿdān (d. 103)
- Kurdus b. ʿAbbās (d. 60)
- Abū Mijlaz (d. 100)
- Mamṭūr Abū Sallām (d. 105)
- Miqsam b. Burjah (d. 101)
- Muʿādhah bint ʿAbd Allāh (d. 83)
- Mughīth b. Sumayy (d. 80)
- Muḥammad b. al-Ḥanafiyyah (d. 73)
- Mujāhid b. Jabr (d. 102)
- Muḥammad b. Jubayr (d. ~101)
- Qāsim b. Muḥammad (d. 105)
- Rufayʿ b. Mihrān (d. 90)
- Saʿīd b. Fayruz (d. 83)
- Saʿīd bin Jubayr (d. 95)
- Sālim b. Abī al-Jaʿd (d. 100)
- Sulaymān b. Qays al-Yashkurī (d. ~80)
- Shahr b. Ḥawshab (d. 100)
- Shaqīq b. Salamah (d. 82)
- Sharāḥīl b. Shuraḥbīl (d. 60)
- ʿUbayd Allāh b. Abī Rāfiʿ (d. 80)
- Umm al-Dardāʾ Hujaymah (d. 81)
- ʿUmar b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz (d. 101)
- ʿUrwah b. al-Zubayr (d. 93)
- Yaḥyā b. al-Jazzār al-ʿUranī (d. 80)
Ḥadīth writing proliferated thereafter. The following are names of scholars who wrote down ḥadīth from the generation that followed the Successors:
- ʿAbdah b. Abī Lubābah al-Ghādirī (d. after 123)
- ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz b. Saʿd b. ʿUbādah (d. 110)
- ʿAbd Allāh b. Abī Bakr b. Ḥazm al-Anṣārī (d. 135)
- ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAwn al-Baṣrī (d. 151)
- ʿAbd Allāh b. Bishr al-Kātib (d. 115)
- ʿAbd Allāh b. Buraydah al-Aslamī (d. 115)
- ʿAbd Allāh b. Dhakwān (d. 130)
- ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿIsā b. Abī Laylā al-Anṣārī (d. 135)
- ʿAbd Allāh b. Muḥammad b. ʿAqīl (d. 142)
- ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Hurmuz (d. 117)
- ʿAbd al- Raḥmān b. Sābit (d. 118)
- Abū Bakr b. Muḥammad b. ʿAmr b. Ḥazm al-Anṣārī (d. 117)
- al-ʿAlā b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān (d. 139)
- ʿAlī b. ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAbbās (d. 117)
- ʿAlī b. Yazīd (d. 110)
- ʿAmr b. ʿAbd Allāh (d. 127)
- ʿAmr b. Dīnār al-Makkī (d. 126)
- ʿĀṣim b. ʿUmar b. Qatādah (d. 120)
- al-Aswad b. Qays al-Bajalī (d. 125)
- ʿAṭāʾ b. Abī Muslim al-Khurāsānī (d. 135)
- ʿAṭāʾ b. Abī Rabāḥ (d. 117)
- ʿAwf b. Abī Jamīlah (d. 146)
- ʿAwn b. ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿUtbad (d. 110)
- Ayyūb b. Abī Tamīmah al-Sakhtiyānī (d. 131)
- Ḥabīb b. Sālim al-Anṣārī (d. 150)
- Ḥabīb b. Abī Thābit (d. 119)
- Hafṣ b. Sulaymān al-Tamīmī (d. 130)
- al-Ḥakam b. ʿUtaybah b. al-Kindī (d. 115)
- Ḥammād b. Abī Sulaymān (d. 120)
- al-Ḥasan b. Yasār al-Baṣrī (d. 110)
- Hishām b. ʿUrwah (d. 146)
- Ḥusayn b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Sulamī (d. 136)
- Ḥuyay b. Hāniʾ (d. 128)
- Ibrāhīm b. ʿAbd al-Aʿlā al-Juʿfī (d. 125)
- Ibrāhīm b. Jarīr b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Balajī (d. before 120)
- Ibrāhīm b. Muslim al-Hajarī (d. 130)
- Isḥāq b. ʿAbd Allāh b. Abī Farwah (d. 144)
- Iyās b. Muʿāwiyah (d. 122)
- Jamīl b. Zayd al-Baṣrī (d. 120)
- Jawwāb b. ʿUbayd Allāh al- Taymī (d. 120)
- Khālid b. Abī ʿImrān al-Tujībī (d. 129)
- Maymūn b. Mihrān (d. 117)
- Makḥūl al-Shāmī (d. 118)
- Manṣūr b. al-Muʿtamar (d. 132)
- Manṣūr b. Zādhān al-Wāsiṭī (d. 128)
- Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr al-Anṣārī (d. 132)
- Muḥammad b. al-Munkadir (d. 130)
- Muḥammad b. Muslim b. Shihāb al-Zuhrī (d. 124)
- Muḥammad b. Muslim b. Tadrus (d. 126)
- Muḥammad b. Sīrīn (d. 110)
- Muḥammad b. Ziyād al-Qurashī (d. 120)
- Makhāriq b. Khalīfah (d. 130)
- Mūsā b. ʿUqbah (d. 141)
- Muṭarrif b. Ṭarīf al-Ḥārithī (d. 133)
- Nāfiʿ, Mawlā Ibn ʿUmar (d. 117)
- al-Qāsim b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Shāmī (d. 112)
- Qatādah b. Diʿāmah al-Saddūsī (d. 117)
- Rabīʿah b. Farrūkh al-Taymī (d. 136)
- Rajāʾ b. Ḥaywah (d. 112)
- Ruqbah b. Miṣqalah al-ʿAbdī al-Kūfī (d. 129)
- Saʿīd b. Iyās (d. 144)
- Saʿd b. Ibrāhīm b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān (d. 126)
- Ṣāliḥ b. Nabhān (d. 125)
- Shuʿbah b. Dīnār al-Hāshimī (d. 115)
- Simāk b. Ḥarb al-Kūfī (d. 123)
- Simāk b. al-Walīd (d. 120)
- Salamah b. Kuḥal (d. 121)
- Sulaymān b. Mihrān al-Aʿmash (d. 147)
- Sulaymān b. Mūsā al-Ashdaq (d. 115)
- Sulaymān b. Tarkhān al-Baṣrī (d. 143)
- Sulaymān b. Yasār (d. 107)
- Talḥah b. Nāfiʿ (d. 110)
- Thābit b. Aslam al-Bunānī (d. 127)
- Thābit b. Ajlān (d. 130)
- Thuwayr b. Abī Fākhitah (d. 120)
- ʿUbayd Allāh b. Abī Jaʿfar al-Miṣrī (d. 135)
- ʿUmarah b. Juwan (d. 134)
- ʿUthmān b. ʿĀṣim al-Asadī (d. 128)
- ʿUthmān b. Ḥaḍīr al-Ḥimyarī (d. 110)
- Wahb b. Munabbih (d. 114)
- Yazīd b. Abān al-Raqqāshī (d. 120)
- Yazīd b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Abī Mālik (d. 130)
- Yazīd b. Abī Ḥabīb (d. 128)
- Yazīd b. Sufyān (d. 110)
- Zayd b. Aslam (d. 136)
- Zayd b. Rufayʿ (d. 125)
- Zubayd b. al-Ḥārith (d. 122)
 Maʿārif al-Qurʾān, 5:300.
 There are many verses in the Qurʾān that cannot be understood independently and need the Ḥadīth to explain them and shed light on their contexts. For example, in Sūrah ʿAbasa, Allāh says: “He frowned and turned away, when the blind man came to him.” (80:1-2) What happened here? Who was the blind man? Why did the Prophet ﷺ frown? The Qurʾān is silent on these things; instead these details are mentioned in ḥadīth.
 Shaykh Muḥammad ʿAwwāmah dated the formal compilation of ḥadīth to have begun before the AH 75. (Musnad ʿUmar b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz, 21) He based this view on ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz b. Marwān’s order to Kathīr b. Murrah that Kathīr start compiling ḥadīth.
 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, #113.
 Mukhtaṣar Kitāb al-Muʾammal, Abū Shāmah al-Maqdisī, 40.
 Al-Sunnah Qabla al-Tadwīn, ʿAjjāj al-Khaṭīb, 64.
 Sunan Ibn Mājah, #29.
 Sunan Ibn Mājah, #2606.
 Fatḥ al-Mughīth, 1:67.
 al-Nukat ʿalā Muqaddimat Ibn al-Ṣalāḥ, Ibn Ḥajar, 1:314. Mīzān al-Iʿtidāl, 2:166.
 Due to their interest in preserving the Sunnah, the scholars compiled biographies of all the narrators who transmitted the Sunnah too. Including in these works the judgements made pertaining to their reliability. The Companion’s biographies were compiled as well, as they were the first ones who related ḥadīth to us.
 al-Qawl al-Faṣl, 57.
 Introduction to Nuṣrat al-Ḥadīth, 6.
 These names were all taken from Mawlanā Muḥammad Muṣṭafā al-Aʿẓamī’s monumental Studies in Early Ḥadīth Literature.