Umar’s Ban on Hadith
August 11, 2011 Leave a comment
In many conversations and discussions with Muslims who acknowledge hadith as a source of law, I would often mention how Umar Bin Al Khattab disallowed the recording of hadith and the narration of sunan. Most of the time, I was asked for proof and could not quite provide any. “Fair enough,” I’d say to myself, “I learned about this on a missionary-kind of Hadith-rejection TV show after all, and never did my homework on it as I should.”
But today is the day.
Umar ibn al-Khattab once tried to deal with the problem of committing the Hadith to writing. The companions of the Prophet whom he consulted, encouraged him, but he was not quite sure whether he should proceed. One day, moved by God’s inspiration, he made up his mind and announced: “I wanted to have the traditions of the Prophet written down, but I fear that the Book of God might be *encroached* upon. Hence I shall not permit this to happen.” He, therefore, changed his mind and instructed the Muslims throughout the provinces: “Whoever has a document bearing a prophetic tradition, shall destroy it.” The Hadith, therefore, continued to be transmitted orally and was not collected and written down until the period of al-Mamun. (The Life of Muhammad, Cairo, 1935) [Source].
Many Muslims already argue that Umar outlawed hadith so that the Quran would not get mixed up and neglected at such an early, vunerable stage. They offer the same argument when you tell them the Prophet himself ordered his companions to burn what they recorded of his sayings. But it seems to me that people were doing well without hadith during the time of Umar.
There’s also the interesting view of Shi’a on this.
Muhammad lived in the hearts of his companions and friends. After his death, they wished to preserve all their recollections of his life. These recollections were of two kinds – his words and his deeds. The two together formed his Sunnah (the trodden path). Anything he said, and was quoted by a companion, is called a hadith or ‘tradition.’
But Umar did not want the companions to preserve any recollection of the words and the deeds of the Prophet. He, apparently, had many reservations regarding the usefulness, to the Muslim umma, of these recollections. He, therefore, forbade the companions to quote the sayings of the Prophet in speech or in writing. In other words, he placed the Hadith of the Prophet under a proscription. [Source].
Turning the tables, most Shi’a believe that this is a conspiracy-kind of act coming from Umar to prevent Ali of being declared a successor by the Prophet on his death bed. It’s actually surprising, to some level, that the Prophet wanted to leave behind anything beside the Quran. This means the very notion of the Prophet having preached anything outside the boundaries of the Quran are redicilous. How could Umar remember that statements outside the Quranic verses were unlawful while the Prophet could not?
Most Sunnis view that Muhammad himself proclaimed that no hadith are to be recorded to ensure that people would not confuse any hadith with the Qur’an, and that this decision of Muhammad was upheld by his successors (Arabic: caliph), including Umar, the second Sunni Caliph. [Source]
So, until the second Caliphate, people survived without documented hadith. In fact, they survived with it being illegal and advertised as haraam (being made illegal for religious purposes). Why did that ever have to change?
And just for the sake of reading, I give you this:
Abu-Dhahabi reports: The Caliph Abu-Bakr compiled a work, in which there were 500 traditions of the Prophet, and handed it over to his daughter ‘Aishah. The next morning, he took it back from her and destroyed it, saying: “I wrote what I understood; it is possible however that there should be certain things in it which did not correspond textually with what the Prophet had uttered.”
As to Umar, we learn on the authority of Ma’mar ibn Rashid, that during his caliphate, Umar once consulted the companions of the Prophet on the subject of codifying the Hadith. Everybody seconded the idea. Yet Umar continued to hesitate and pray to God for a whole month for guidance and enlightenment. Ultimately, he decided not to undertake the task, and said: “Former peoples neglected the Divine Books and concentrated only on the conduct of the prophets; I do not want to set up the possibility of confusion between the Divine Qur’an and the Prophet’s Hadith.” (Introduction to Islam, Kuwait, pp. 34-35, 1977)
One of the companions whom the Sunni Muslims consider one of the greatest authorities on Hadith, was Abu Hurayra. He was ever ready to quote a Hadith. There was never an occasion when recollection did not come to him of something he had heard the Prophet saying or something he had seen him doing. Once Umar asked him:
“O Abu Hurayra! Tell me this. Did the Messenger of God have nothing in the world to do except to whisper Hadith in your ears?”
Umar then ordered Abu Hurayra not to narrate any more Hadith.
You can read the rest here: http://www.al-islam.org/restatement/57.htm. I’ll have to disagree on the last part of the article that claims Quran cannot be understood without hadith. Also that Umar acted alone when all others actually wanted to record and document hadith.