(written for young adults)
Religion is derived from the Qur'ān and Sunnah. The whole of it is found in these two. Nothing external to them can add to or subtract anything from religion. We want to understand the Qur'ān and Sunnah. At times, we are faced with some difficulty in understanding them. Moreover, guidance is also needed in matters which are left to our discretion. On such occasions, the correct attitude is that we pose our questions before scholars of this religion or consult their books. Muhammad (sws) was a prophet of God. Hence, he was the first and greatest scholar – in fact, the imām of all scholars. A distinctive feature of his religious knowledge which makes him stand apart from other scholars is that was that it is infallible. This was because if any mistake occurred in it, the Almighty would correct it through divine revelation. If this knowledge exists any where, then every Muslim must seek guidance from it the foremost.
We are fortunate enough that this knowledge is available and a vast part of it has reached us. This knowledge was acquired from the Prophet (sws) by his companions. However, since communicating it to others was a matter of great responsibility, some companions were very cautious and some were brave enough to do so. It contained those things which they heard from his tongue or saw him follow and those practices also which were done before him and he would not stop people from doing them. All this knowledge is in fact "talks" of the Prophet (sws). In Arabic, a talk is called Hadīth. This word has been adopted for the very reason.
History tells us that it was the Companions who foremost narrated these talks before other people. Those who heard it from them narrated them to others. These were narrated orally and at times in the written form as well. This process continued for one or two generations. However, it then became evident that some errors were creeping in while reporting them and some people were intentionally mixing lies in them. It was on this occasion that some noble souls took upon themselves to research into these Hadīth. These people are called the muhaddithūn (scholars of Hadīth). They were very extra-ordinary people. They looked into each and every narrative and its narrator and as far as was possible for them ascertained the correctly and wrongly ascribed ones and sifted truth from falsehood. Then some among them also compiled books about which one can quite safely say that the narratives recorded in them are the talks of the Prophet (sws) which the narrators have reported mostly in their own words. In religious parlance, they are called akbār ahād. They refer to reports which are transmitted by such a small number of people about which it is not possible to say that they cannot err collectively.
The books of Hadīth just referred to are all very important; however, the books of Imām Mālik, Imām Bukhārī and Imām Muslim occupy fundamental status and are regarded to be very authentic. They are the greatest and most important source of the knowledge, deeds and life history of the Prophet Muhammad (sws). They have been compiled after a lot of research. However, this does not mean that their compilers never committed any mistake in recording them. The experts of this field know that they did commit mistakes. For this reason, these experts have continued to evaluate and asses these books. So when they see that any significant flaw in the narrators of a Hadith or if its content contains something against the Qur'ān and Sunnah or against established facts derived from knowledge and reason, they tell people that this Hadīth cannot be attributed to the Prophet (sws) and has been erroneously ascribed to him.
My dear young minds, you know that Muhammad (sws) was a prophet of God. God has bound us to follow him in all circumstances. Thus if any of his directive or decision reaches us through Hadīth narratives, we cannot disobey it. As Muslims, it is our obligation that if we are satisfied on its ascription to the Prophet Muhammad (sws), we should accept it without any hesitation and be ready to practice what it says.
(Translated by Dr Shehzad Saleem)