How Can We Be Sure That the Hadiths of the Prophet (PBUH) Reached Us Without Distortion?

Details of the Question
Which hadiths are trustable? or How Can We Be Sure That the Hadiths of the Prophet (PBUH) Reached Us Without Distortion?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

The Prophet (PBUH) himself took the first precautions by saying: "Whoever intentionally lies about me will find his abode in hellfire,"(1), and thus, He caused sahaba (his companions) to behave more carefully regarding it. Therefore, sahaba gave close attention to the issue of reporting Hadiths. For example, Hadrath Ali (May Allah be pleased with him) said: “When I report something to you from the Prophet (PBUH), I try to be so careful that, it is easier for me to be broken into pieces by falling onto the ground from the sky than telling lies concerning Him (PBUH).”(2)
Next to the preservation of the Qur'an and of its verses, Sahaba concentrated all their efforts on the accurate preservation of knowledge about the words, deeds and conducts of Allah's Messenger (PBUH), and especially those related to miracles of the Prophets and the injunctions of the Sacred Law. They never neglected even the most insignificant act or statement of his, as is confirmed by the books of tradition. During the Era of Bliss (3), many sahaba put the words and deeds of the Prophet (PBUH) into writing. In particular people called Seven Abdullahs(4) -notably among them Abdullah b. Abbas and Abdullah b. Amr b. As (May Allah be pleased with them) who were appointed spiritually regarding hadiths wrote down and recorded the hadiths about fundamentals of belief, the injunctions of Islam and the miracles of the Prophet (PBUH).
Companions acted too meticulously about reporting hadiths; sometimes they avoided narrating some Hadiths that they knew very well and they did not want to narrate them. What is more, Hazrat Anas Bin Malik (May Allah be pleased with him), who served the Prophet (PBUH) about ten years once said: “If I did not have the anxiety and fear of making mistakes, I would report more things from the Noble Messenger (PBUH).” (6) Similarly, when people wanted Abdullah Ibn Abbas (May Allah be pleased with him) to narrate a Hadith, he hesitated, became worried, and finally after he told a Hadith he never neglected saying, (7): “Look! I am transmitting something from my memory but you must know that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) uttered something approximately in the same meaning or in close meaning or similar to what I told you.” (6)
A similar incidence; Zubayr Ibn Avvam who is one of the ten Companions who were given the glad tidings of Paradise had narrated so few Hadiths that his son asked him: “Father, why don’t you narrate Hadiths?” He replied: “I am scared to death to say even a word different from what Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said. It is because He (PBUH) said: ‘Whoever intentionally lies about me will find his abode in hellfire.’” (8)
After the period of Companions, thousands of scholars of the following generation educated by the Companions and who are known as Tâbiin preserved those Hadiths which they gathered from the Companions and recorded by writing or by memorizing in the same serious delicacy. Some examples of how delicate the Tâbiin were regarding Hadiths: Said Ibnu’l-Musayyib said: “He walked for days for a Hadith when required.”(9); Masruk Ibnu’l-Ajda travelled for “even one of the letters of a Hadith” (10); According to Ibn Qais, Abu’d-Derdâ, a lover of knowledge, traveled from Damascus to Makkah in order to learn a Hadith; and many other similar travels are some examples regarding th issue. (11)
Abdurrahman Ibn Abi Layla, who was reported to have had met five hundred Companions Abdurrahman was introduced as the “man who had seen five hundred Companions of the Prophet (PBUH)”, when he arrived in a town said, “I met and knew one hundred and twenty Companions; they all could sit in a mosque together; When they were asked something they knew, they would look at one another’s face; while talking, with the fear of confusing Allah’s Messenger’s words, they would wait for someone to answer; when no one replies, one of them grits his teeth and by taking refuge in Allah narrates something with a warning like Ibn Mas’ud’s words: “Look! I am transmitting something from my memory but you must know that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) uttered something approximately in the same meaning or in close meaning or similar to what I told you.”” (12) Apart from Tabiin, especially the Four Imams and the scholars of Hadiths who were responsible for preserving hadiths preserved and reported the hadiths by means of writing. It is said that Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, one of the sect Imams, had memorized one million Hadiths from different sources, with different proofs and different scriptures, even though their contents were the same, he memorized sound, good and weak narration forms of those Hadiths; he wrote his famous Musnad book which contains forty thousand Hadiths by searching three hundred thousand Hadiths.
Spending his whole life for the blessed words of the Allah’s Messenger (PBUH), Yahya Ibn Maîn memorized fabricated (mawdu) Hadiths which did not belong to the Prophet (PBUH) although the meanings were true. Ahmed Ibn Hanbal asked why he did this, he replied: “I tell people asking me about Hadiths as ‘this one is fabricated, that one is fabricated and you can use others except those.” (13) From Imam Zukhri to Yahya b. Said al Qattan, from Bukharî and Muslim to Dâraqutnî and Hâkim, many Hadith scholars who memorized Hadiths emerged.
Two hundred years after Hijra (migration), primarily Bukhari and Muslim and the other authors of the six esteemed narration books called Kutub-u Sitta, shouldered the duty of recording and preserving the hadiths. Thousands of severe critics and researchers such as Ibn al-Jawzi identified and sorted out the fabricated hadiths that would be likely to be included in the Hadiths and the words that had been added into hadiths up to that time in order to cause suspicions about Hadiths.
Apart from those, although not included in the fashion of Hadith science, there are some incidences in which Hadiths were asked to Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) directly and their soundness was searched beyond time and place in a state between sleep and wakefulness called yaqaza. For instance the great Imam Jalaladdin as-Suyuti is narrated to have met the Prophet (PBUH) many times in the state of yaqaza. In addition, Imam Bukhari, performed ablutions and two rak’at prayers for each Hadith which he had acquired through his studies and after asking the blessed spirit of our Master (PBUH) and say: “Is it true O Allah’s Messenger?”, he added the Hadith in the Hadith book in accordance with a private signal he got.(14)
Therefore, one should not occupy his mind with the question “How can we be sure that those hadiths that reached us through a fourteen century length of time are sound?”
This article was prepared by referring to the Letters (Mektubat), one of the treatises of Badiuzzaman Said Nursî.
(1) Bukhari, Ilm, 38; Muslim, Zuhd, 72; Abu Dawud, Ilm, 4; Tirmizi, Fitan, 70; Musnad, 1/70.
(2) Bukhari, İstitâba, 6; Abu Dawud, Sunan, 28.
(3) The period of the Prophet (PBUH) is called as the Era of Bliss. The reason why it is called like that is that the most civilized and excellent community was established out of a desert tribe after being honored with Islam;, they were honored with the blessing of belief that would make them attain the happiness in bothh worlds. For detailed information: (Turkish web page)
(4) Abdullah Ibn-i Abbas, Abdullah Ibn-i Umar, Abdullah Ibn-i Mas'ud, Abdullah Ibn-i Rawâha, Abdullah Ibn-i Salam, Abdullah bin Amr bin As, Abdullah bin Abi Awfâ (May Allah be pleased with them)
(5) Dârîmî, Muqaddima, 25.
(6) Ibni Majah, Muqaddima, 3.
(7) There are many examples demonstrating how the companions of the Prophet (PBUH) gave attention to the matter of reporting Hadiths.
(8) Bukhari, , 38.
(9) Zahabî, Tazkirata’l-Huffaz, 1/56; ar-Rihla, p.127-129.
(10) M.Ajjaj al-Hatîb, as-Sunnatu Qabla’t-Tadwin, p: 178.
(11) Ar-Rihla, p.78; Ibni Majah, Muqaddima, 17.
(12) Zahabî, Siyar-u A’lâmi’n-Nubalâ, 4/263.
(13) M.Ajjaj al-Hatîb, as-Sunnatu Qabla’t-Tadwin, p:229.
(14) Ibn-i Hajar, Tahzibu’t-Tahzib, 9/49.

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