Refuting The Argument from Hadith in Which the Prophet Says “Do Not Write Down Anything from Me Except Qur’an”

Refuting The Argument from Hadith in Which the Prophet Says “Do Not Write Down Anything from Me Except Qur’an”

Mohamad Mostafa Nassar


A question regarding the meaning of this hadith was put forth to Sheikh Al Munajjid and he answered back…


Is this hadeeth saheeh, and what does it mean: “Do not write anything from me, and whoever writes anything but the Qur’aan, let him erase it”? May Allaah reward you with good.


Praise be to Allaah.

It was narrated from Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri that the Messenger of Allaah {C}(peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Do not write anything from me; whoever has written anything from me other than the Qur’aan, let him erase it and narrate from me, for there is nothing wrong with that.”

(Narrated by Muslim, al-Zuhd wa’l-Raqaa’iq, 5326) 

Al-Nawawi said in his commentary on Saheeh Muslim: 

“Al-Qaadi said: there were many disputes among the Sahaabah and Taabi’een concerning the writing down of knowledge. Many of them regarded this as being makrooh, but most of them regarded it as permissible. This dispute is no longer an issue. 

They differed as to the meaning of this hadeeth which says that it is forbidden. It was said that this pertained to one who was sure of his memory, and there was the fear that he may rely upon what he had written if he wrote it down;

the ahaadeeth which say that it is permissible to write things down is to be interpreted as referring to the one whose memory is not reliable, such as the hadeeth, “Write it down for Abu Shaah”; or the hadeeth of the saheefah of ‘Ali (may Allaah be pleased with him);

the hadeeth of the book of ‘Amr ibn Hazm, which contains laws on inheritance, sunnahs and diyaat (blood money); the hadeeth about writing down charity, and the minimum amounts at which zakaah becomes obligatory (nisaab), with which Abu Bakr sent Anas (may Allaah be pleased with him) to Bahrain;

the hadeeth of Abu Hurayrah which says that Ibn ‘Amr ibn al-‘Aas used to ; write things down but he (Abu Hurayrah) did not write things down, and other ahaadeeth.

And it was said that the hadeeth forbidding writing down ahaadeeth was abrogated by these ahaadeeth. The prohibition was in effect when there was the fear that (the words of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) might be mixed with the Qur’aan.

When that danger was no longer present, permission was given to write down (ahaadeeth). And it was said that the prohibition mentioned in the hadeeth referred to writing ahaadeeth on the same page as Qur’aan, lest they become mixed and thus the reader would be confused when looking at this page. And Allaah knows best. 

The hadeeth of Abu Shaah was narrated by al-Bukhaari from Abu Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him), who said: ‘When Allaah granted His Prophet {C}(peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) victory over Makkah, he stood before the people and praised and glorified Allaah, then he said:

“Allaah protected Makkah from the elephant and has given authority to His Messenger and the believers over it, so fighting was forbidden for anyone before me, and was made permissible for me for part of a day, and it will not be permissible for anyone after me. Its game should not be chased,

its thorny bushes should not be uprooted, and picking up its fallen things is not allowed except for one who makes public announcement for it, and he whose relative is murdered has the option either to accept a compensation for it or to retaliate.” Al-‘Abbas said, “Except Al-Idhkhir (a kind of plant), for we use it in our graves and houses.”

The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said, “Except Al-Idhkhir.” Abu Shaah, a Yemeni, stood up and said, “O Messenger of Allaah! Get it written for me.” The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said, “Write it for Abu Shaah.”  (al-Luqatah, 2254) 

Ibn Hajar said: What may be understood from the story of Abu Shaah (“Write it for Abu Shaah”) is that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) gave permission for hadeeth to be written down from him. 

This contradicts the hadeeth of Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri, which says that the Messenger of Allaah {C}(peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said, ‘Do not write down anything from me except the Qur’aan.’ (Narrated by Muslim). 

The two may be reconciled by noting that the prohibition applied only to the time when the Qur’aan was being revealed, lest it be confused with something else, and that permission was given at other times; or that the prohibition applied only to writing down things other than Qur’aan with the Qur’aan on one thing.

And that permission was given to write them separately; of that the prohibition came first and the permission abrogated that, when there was no longer any fear of confusion. This is most likely to be the case.                               

It was said that the prohibition applied only to those whom it was feared would depend on the writing and not memorize things, and that permission was given for those from whom such a thing was not feared. 

The scholars said: a group of the Sahaabah and Taabi’een regarded it as makrooh to write down the hadeeth and they regarded it as mustahabb to learn it from them by heart, as they had learned it. But when people were no longer able to strive so hard (in memorizing) and the scholars feared that knowledge might be lost, they compiled it in books.” 

So as we can see, the prohibition was temporary and for some people. If the Quranites want to be consistent then that means we have to look at other hadith which show that the early Muslims followed and even wrote down hadith…

Saheeh Bukhari

Volume 001, Book 003, Hadith Number 111.

Narated By Ash-Sha’bi : Abu Juhaifa said, “I asked Ali, ‘Have you got any book (which has been revealed to the Prophet apart from the Qur’an)?’ ‘Ali replied, ‘No, except Allah’s Book or the power of understanding which has been bestowed (by Allah) upon a Muslim or what is (written) in this sheet of paper (with me).’ Abu Juhaifa said, “I asked, ‘What is (written) in this sheet of paper?’ 

Ali replied, it deals with The Diyya (compensation (blood money) paid by the killer to the relatives of the victim), the ransom for the releasing of the captives from the hands of the enemies, and the law that no Muslim should be killed in Qisas (equality in punishment) for the killing of (a disbeliever). 

(See also Saheeh Bukhari, Volume 004, Book 053, Hadith Number 397, Volume 009, Book 083, Hadith Numbers 040 & 50

Volume 008, Book 076, Hadith Number 480.

Narated By Warrad : (The clerk of Al-Mughira bin Shu’ba) Muawiya wrote to Al-Mughira: “Write to me a narration you have heard from Allah’s Apostle.” So Al-Mughira wrote to him, “I heard him saying the following after each prayer: ‘La ilaha illal-lahu wahdahu la sharika lahu, lahu-l-mulk wa lahuI-hamd, wa huwa ‘ala kulli Shai-in qadir.

‘ He also used to forbid idle talk, asking too many questions (in religion), wasting money, preventing what should be given, and asking others for something (except in great need), being undutiful to mothers, and burying one’s little daughters (alive).”

So here we see that the Muslims used to follow laws and regulations that were not found in the Qur’an and they had them written down. 

They also used to narrate hadith…

Saheeh Muslim

Book 002, Hadith Number 0438.

Chapter : The merit of Wudu and that of prayer after it.

Humran, the freed slave of ‘Uthman said: I heard from ‘Uthman b. ‘Affan and he was in the courtyard of the mosque, when the Mu’adhdhin (announcer of the prayer) came to him at the time of afternoon prayer. So the (‘Uthman) called for the ablution water and performed ablution and then said: By Allah, I am narrating to you a hadith. 

If there were not a verse in the Book of Allah, I would have never narrated it to you. I heard Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) say: If a Muslim performs ablution and does it well and offers prayer, all his (sins) daring the period from one prayer to another would be pardoned by Allah. 

(See also Saheeh Muslim, Book 002, Hadith Number 0440)

Taqi Usmani says…

It is true that in the beginning the Holy Prophet had forbidden some of his companions from writing anything other than the verses of the Holy Qur’ân. However, this prohibition was not because the ahâdîth had no authoritative value, but because the Holy Prophet had in the same breath ordered them to narrate his ahâdîth orally. The full text of the relevant hadîth is as follows:

Do not write (what you hear) from me, and whoever has written something (he heard) from me, he should erase it. Narrate to others (what you hear) from me; and whoever deliberately attributes a lie to me, he should prepare his seat in the Fire.” [Sahih Muslim]

The underlined phrase of the hadîth clarifies that prohibition for writing hadîth was not on account of negating its authority. The actual reason was that in the beginning of the revelation of the Holy Qur’ân, the companions of the Holy Prophet were not fully familiar with the Qur’ânic style, nor was the Holy Qur’ân compiled in a separate book form.

In those days some companions began to write the ahâdîth along with the Qur’ânic text. Some explanations of the Holy Qur’ân given by the Holy Prophet were written by some of them mixed with the Qur’ânic verses without any distinction between the two. It was therefore feared that it would lead to confuse the Qur’ânic text with the ahâdîth.

It was in this background that the Holy Prophet stopped this practice and ordered that anything written other than the Holy Qur’ân should be rubbed or omitted. It should be kept in mind that in those days there was a great shortage of writing paper.

Even the verses of the Holy Qur’ân used to be written on pieces of leather, on planks of wood, on animal bones and sometimes on stones. It was much difficult to compile all those things in a book form, and if the ahâdîth were also written in the like manner it would be more difficult to distinguish between the writings of the Holy Qur’ân and those of the ahâdîth. The lack of familiarity with the Qur’ânic style would also help creating confusion.

For these reasons the Holy Prophet directed his companions to abstain from writing the ahâdîth and to confine their preservation to the first three ways which were equally reliable as discussed earlier.

But all this was in the earlier period of his prophethood. When the companions became fully conversant of the style of the Holy Qur’ân and writing paper became available, this transitory measure of precaution was taken back, because the danger of confusion between the Qur’ân and the hadîth no longer existed.

At this stage, the Holy Prophet himself directed his companions to write down the ahâdîth. Some of his instructions in this respect are quoted below:

1. One companion from the Ansâr complained to the Holy Prophet that he hears from him some ahâdîth, but he sometimes forgets them. The Holy Prophet said:

“Seek help from your right hand,” and pointed out to a writing. [Jâmi’ Tirmidhi]

2. Râfi’ ibn Khadij, the famous companion of the Holy Prophet says, “I said to the Holy Prophet [that] we hear from you many things, should we write them down?” He replied:

You may write. There is no harm. [Tadrîb-ur-Râwi]

3. Sayyiduna Anas reports that the Holy Prophet has said:

Preserve knowledge by writing. [Jâmi’-ul-Bayân]

4. Sayyiduna Abu Râfi’ sought permission from the Holy Prophet to write ahâdîth. The Holy Prophet () permitted him to do so. [Jâmi’ Tirmidhi]

It is reported that the ahâdîth written by Abu Râfi’ were copied by other companions too. Salma, a pupil of Ibn ‘Abbâs says:


I saw some small wooden boards with ‘Abdullâh Ibn ‘Abbâs. He was writing on them some reports of the acts of the Holy Prophet which he acquired from Abu Râfi’. [Tabaqât Ibn Sa’d]

5. ‘Abdullâh ibn Amr ibn al-‘Aass  reports that the Holy Prophet said to him:

Preserve knowledge.

He asked, “and how should it be preserved?” The Holy Prophet replied, “by writing it.” [Mustadrik Hâkim; Jâmi’-ul-Bayân]

In another report he says, “I came to the Holy Prophet and told him, ‘I want to narrate your ahâdîth. So, I want to take assistance of my handwriting besides my heart. Do you deem it fit for me?’ The Holy Prophet replied, ‘If it is my hadîth you may seek help from your hand besides your heart.” [Sunan Dârimi]

6. It was for this reason that he used to write ahâdîth frequently. He himself says,


I used to write whatever I heard from the Holy Prophet and wanted to learn it by heart. Some people of the Quraysh dissuaded me and said, “Do you write everything you hear from the Holy Prophet, while he is a human being and sometimes he may be in anger as any other human beings may be?” [Sunan Abu Dâwûd]

They meant that the Holy Prophet might say something in a state of anger which he did not seriously intend. So, one should be selective in writing his ahâdîth. ‘Abdullâh ibn ‘Amr conveyed their opinion to the Holy Prophet. In reply, the Holy Prophet pointed to his lips and said,

I swear by the One in whose hands is the soul of Muhammad: nothing comes out from these two (lips) except truth. So, do write. [Sunan Abu Dâwud; Tabaqât ibn Sa’d; Mustadrik-ul-Hâkim]

It was a clear and absolute order given by the Holy Prophet to write each and every saying of his without any hesitation or doubt about its authoritative nature.

In compliance to this order, ‘Abdullâh ibn ‘Amr wrote a large number of ahâdîth and compiled them in a book form which he named, “al-Sahîfah al-Sadîqah.” Some details about this book shall be discussed later on, inshâ-Allâh(Taqi Usmani, The Authority of Sunnah, Chapter 3:  The Authority of the Sunnah: Its Historical Aspect,)

Muhammad Zubayr Siddiqi relates that despite the reluctance and reservations of some of the Companions, there were those who did write down hadiths in the lifetime of the prophet (peace be upon him).

For example,

1) ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Amr wrote down whatever he heard from the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his collection, known as al-Sahifa al-Sadiqa, was seen by Mujahid and was subsequently owned by ‘Amr ibn Shu’ayb, a great-grandson of  ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Amr;

2) the fourth caliph Ali is said to have possessed a sahifa containing certain laws;

3) Samura ibn Jundab maintained a sahifa;

4) Jabir ibn ‘Abd Allah possessed a sahifa, the contents of which were later transmitted by Qatada;

5) Sa’d is said to have a book;

6) Bukhari relates a hadith from the ‘book’ of ‘Abd Allah ibn Awfa;

7) Ibn Abbas transcribed hadiths he learnt from Abu Rafi and is said to have possessed many books and to have left so many books upon his death that “they might serve a complete load for a camel”

8) Abu Hurayra is said to have transcribed hadiths – which he showed to Ibn Wahb and Umayya al-Damri. The Sahifa of Hamam Ibn Munabbeh is based on the reports of Abu Hurayra and is still preserved today. 

(Summarized from: Muhammad Zubayr Siddiqi, Abdal Hakim Murad (Editor), Hadith Literature: It’s Origin, Development & Special Features, Revised Edition, 1993, The Islamic Texts Society, The Aldon press, Oxford, pp. 24-25. 

An exhaustive list of Companions who wrote hadith is found in M. M. Azami, Studies In early Hadith Literature: With A Critical Edition Of Some Early Texts, 2000, Islamic Book Trust: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, pp. 34-60.)

Besides these written collections, there are many reports which state that the Companions also regularly transcribed individual hadiths that they either learnt directly from the Prophet (peace be upon him) or encountered indirectly. For example, an individual from the Ansar was granted permission by the Prophet (peace be upon him) to write down material on account of his weak memory.

Abu Rafi was permitted by the Prophet (peace be upon him) to write down hadiths; Abu Shah was given permission to write down the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) speech upon the conquest of Mecca; Itban ibn Malik al-Ansari wrote a hadith which he immensely liked. (Ibid p. 25.)

Finally, Prof. Siddiqi also draws our attention to the letters sent by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), his (peace be upon him) dictation of certain laws such as those of poor-tax, blood-money, charity, prayers, fasting (Ibid.) etc., which also shows that non-Quranic writing occurred during his (peace be upon him) lifetime.

J. Robson writes:

The theory was held by some that traditions should be conveyed only by word of mouth and not written, and there are even traditions in the books supporting this view.

Abu Da’ud (Ilm, 3) rather curiously gives two traditions, one after the other, the first stating that the Prophet gave command to write traditions and the second stating that he forbade writing them.

Whatever justification there may have been for the view that writing was prohibited, there were, even quite early, men who made notes for their own guidance, and these notes formed a basis for larger works produced later

Among them mention may be made of ‘Urwa b. al-Zubayr (d. 94/712 or 99/717) in Medina who is quoted as transmitting many traditions from his aunt ‘Aisha, and Muhammad b. Muslim Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri (d. 124/741) who settled in Syria and was one of the most widely quoted authorities.

Reference is even made to sahifas (scripts) in which some Companions of the Prophet collected traditions(J. Robson, “Hadith”, in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, CD-ROM Edition v. 1.0 © 1999 Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands.)

Likewise Ghulam Nabi:

There were many contradictory statements made regarding the writing down of Hadith. Abu Sa’id al-Khudri transmitted a Hadith on the authority of the Prophet (pbuh) that he said, ” Do not write from me anything except the Qur’an.

And whoever has written anything from me other than the Qur’an should erase it”28 This was challenged by many scholars, who deduced that it meant that nothing should be written with the Qur’an on the same sheet. 

There is ample evidence that the Prophet (pbuh) allowed it. Abu Huraira reports that one of the Ansar told the Prophet (pbuh) of his inability to remember what the Prophet (pbuh) said.

The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said, “Call your right hand to your aid,” i.e. write it down. 

It is apparent that the Prophet’s sayings would not have survived if they were confined to oral transmission only.

However, the real basis for the later collections of hadiths was the relatively few Companions, such as `Abd Allah ibn `Amr (d. 65/684), Abu Huraira (d. 58/678), Ibn `Abbas (d. 67-8/686-8), and Anas ibn Malik (d. 94/712),(may God pleased with them all) who continued to collect, record, and transmit them. 

The fact is that the Prophet had asked the companions to refrain from recording his words suggest that the practices were widespread. (Ghulam Nabi Falahi, Development of Hadith: A concise introduction of early Hadith Literature, 2005, UK Islamic Mission, p. 5.)

This is also the view of Nabia Abbott who said that the companions of Muhammed (peace be upon him) themselves kept written records of hadith (Nabia, Abbott, Studies 11, pp. 6-7).

There are, however, also a number of traditions which prohibit the writing of any material besides the Quran: traditions on the authority of the Prophet (peace be upon him) against the writing of hadiths and statements from the Companions and the Successors which disliked the writing of hadith and discouraged it.

As for the first, then, with one exception, all of these are of questionable authenticity whereas, in sharp contrast, the reports on the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) authority allowing the writing of hadiths are abundant and undoubtedly authentic.

Prof. Azami mentions the three Companions who transmit the prohibition hadiths:

1. Abu Sa’id al-Khudri;

2. Abu Hurairah;

3. Zaid b. Thabit

There are two versions of al-Khudri’s hadith with one of them having ‘Abd al-Rahman b. Zaid as transmitter, who is deemed a weak narrator. ‘Abd al-Rahman b. Zaid is also present in the second hadith, which renders it weak and unacceptable. The third hadith is regarded Mursal – incomplete traditions in the isnad of which a companions has been omitted. Hence it is also unacceptable.

Azami proceeds to mention that there is just one hadith transmitted by Abu Sa’id al-Khudri in which the prophet (peace be upon him) clearly prohibits the writing of hadith. However, even this hadith is disputed among scholars. In contrast, the hadiths allowing the writing of hadith are clear and abundant. 

(M. M. Azami, Studies In early Hadith Literature: With A Critical Edition Of Some Early Texts, 2000, Islamic Book Trust: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, pp. 22-23.)

Prof Azami writes (pp. 24-25):

No scholar can find a single authentic hadith forbidding the writing of ahadith save the one of Abu Sa’id al-Khudri, and even this is challenged by scholars of the stature of al-Bukhari1.

Regarding the hadiths prohibiting the writing of hadith, Gregor Schoeler goes so far as to conclude:

In all likelihood, the Prophet himself never made a statement to this effect.” (Gregor Schoeler, “Oral Torah And Hadit: transmission, prohibition of writing, redaction,” in The Oral and the Written in Early Islam (Routledge Studies in Middle Eastern Literatures), 2006, Routledge, p. 137.)

With regard to the statements of some of the Companions and the Successors, not all of these are authentic, some of them have been misinterpreted as disallowing the writing of hadith, and not always do we find blanket statements therein against the writing of hadith.

For example, al-Dahhak, Ibrahim, and ‘Alqama are said to have objected to the writing of hadith in book form but not to making notes to serve memory. 

(Nabia, Abbott, Studies 11, pp. 6-7) Azami also mentions that many scholars disliked writing for personal reasons and not on the basis of any Prophetic (peace be upon him) order.

Furthermore, many who disliked writing for various personal reasons also committed hadiths to writing at the same time. 

(M. M. Azami, Studies In early Hadith Literature: With A Critical Edition Of Some Early Texts, 2000, Islamic Book Trust: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, p. 26.)

Prof. Azami states:

. quite a number of Companions recorded ahadith and among them were those people who were responsible for transmitting hadith which forbade its recording . 

(M. M. Azami, Studies In early Hadith Literature: With A Critical Edition Of Some Early Texts, 2000, Islamic Book Trust: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, p. 23.)

Prof. Azami examines the attitude displayed towards hadith by a number of the Companions and the Successors in his book Studies In early Hadith Literature in great detail. He strives to demonstrate that:

There have been scholars who copied ahadith but sometimes disliked doing so. They gave reasons for their attitudes which were not based on the Prophet’s orders and in many cases the reasons were omitted. Sometimes when the statements were given in full they were interpreted as against writing, without any serious consideration. 

(M. M. Azami, Studies In early Hadith Literature: With A Critical Edition Of Some Early Texts, 2000, Islamic Book Trust: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, p. 25.)

Be that as it may, hadith scholars generally argue that the prohibitive report from the Prophet (peace be upon him) is earlier, which was then abrogated by the ones permitting the writing of hadith. As for the reason why at one stage the Prophet (peace be upon him) prohibited the writing of hadiths.

And then allowed it, then a number of explanations of differing degrees of probability have been submitted by scholars. The following possibilities are cited from Gibril Haddad’s critical review of the English translation of Schoeler’s anthology:

(a) There was fear, in the earliest time of Islam only, of admixture of non-Qur’anic material into the Qur’an itself, although even then the writing of hadith was widespread; moreover, this reason had become obsolete even before the ‘Uthmānic codex became law.

(b) There was fear of (1) distraction by, and (2) scripturalization of other than the Divine Book, as the Jews and Christians had done with their Dispensations; this reason culminated in the incident of the Caliph ¢Umar reportedly gathering the people’s written hadiths as so many “self-inflicted burdens” (al-gharmā’) – in the words of al-Qāsim ibn Muh.ammad (d. 106) – and “tearing them up or burning them,”9 exclaiming:

“A Mishna like the Mishna of the Israelites (mathnātun ka-mathnāti ahl alkitāb)!”10 This fear had become almost obsolete by the end of the time of the Companions.11 In any case, Schoeler and the commonality of the Orientalists do not sufficiently stress that there was never any question hadith had to be known and transmitted.

(c) There was fear of memory loss caused by over reliance on writing, a purely technical concern of especial relevance in pristine Arabic culture in the first couple of centuries.

(d) There was fear that written records could fall into the wrong hands and be misused by the heterodox and the laity – as well, perhaps, as the post-rāshida caliphal authorities – instead of remaining the exclusive province of the scholarly community (particularly the Sunni scholars) alone, undoubtedly the most widespread concern of all.

(e) There was – and remains to this day – profound suspicion of knowledge obtained merely through books at the expense of physical encounter and scholarly companionship without which both memorization and comprehension prove defective. This included book-bound Qur’ān memorizers, let alone students of other disciplines.

(f) There was fear of freezing material (particularly unrevealed material such as fiqh), into an unduly authoritative form, both losing the opportunity to refine and correct it, and risking the incurrence of sin through the misguidance of others in case of error. Imām Ahmad wrote Hadīth but would not hear of compiling his fiqh


The theory that hadith writing was prohibited because of fear of mixture/confusion with the Quran is unlikely. Taha Jabir al ‘Alwani in his foreword to Ahmad ‘Ali al Imam’s book writes:

… the Prophet discouraged his Companions from writing anything along with the Qur’an. The reason for this discouragement is not as many have supposed i.e., to prevent the contamination of the Qur’an’s verses with outside material, because the Arabs of those days were all too able to distinguish between the rhetoric of the Qur’an and that of anything else.

Rather, the point in doing so was to give the Ummah an opportunity to interact with the Qur’an exclusively, and to allow it to work on their hearts and minds so that everything they encountered in their lives would be secondary to the Qur’an.

Moreover, within the framework of the Almighty’s pledge to preserve the Qur’an and protect it, He endowed it with the sort of rhetoric and eloquence that was clearly beyond the ability of humans to produce. 

(Ahmad ‘Ali al Imam, Variant Readings Of The Qur’an: A Critical Study Of Their Historical And Linguistic Origins, 1998, The International Institute Of Islamic Thought, Herndon, Virginia, pp. xvii-xviii.)

Prof. Haleem, in his recent essay, likewise comments upon the stylistic differences between the Qur’an and hadith as follows:

Stylistically, Qur’anic material which the Prophet recited following the states of revelation described above is so evidently different from the Prophet’s own sayings as recorded in the hadith, whether uttered incidentally or after long reflection, that the tradition has always ascribed them to two radically different levels of discourse. 

(M. A. S. Abdel Haleem, “Qur’an and hadith,” in Timothy Winter (Editor), The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology, 1st Edition, 2008, Cambridge University Press, p. 20.)

Yet there may be some truth to this theory and hence it should not be completely abandoned. Not all Arabs are likely to have been proficient and well-versed in the Arabic language and despite the notably distinct style of the two – the Quran and hadith – there was still a potential of at least some getting confused into believing that both texts on a same sheet constituted one and the same Scripture,

particularly if they were not memorizers of the Quran, though perhaps wondering at the same time about the difference in styles.  Hence, mixture of the two could still occur among the ignorant (or perhaps even some with knowledgeable) and those unfamiliar with the Quran, even if not on a wide scale.

Scholars have favored different views on this matter and some have opted for multiple reasons to explain the prohibition and the subsequent allowance by the Prophet (peace be upon him).

Prof Haleem points out that there is evidence to suggest that the Prophet (peace be upon him) only allowed his (peace be upon him) companions – those who could write proficiently – to write hadiths once the Quran had been fully recorded. 

(M. A. S. Abdel Haleem, “Qur’an and hadith,” in Timothy Winter (Editor), The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology, 1st Edition, 2008, Cambridge University Press, p. 23.) 

Thus, the prohibition was meant for companions who were not well trained in writing and was not directed towards all Companions.

Siddiqi concludes that the hadiths which prohibit writing of hadiths are not only fewer and weaker than those encouraging it, but that the former could be the result of the generally unfavorable Arabian public attitude towards the art of writing in the early years of Prophethood or it could be on the basis of fear that perhaps hadiths might get confused with the Quranic text.

But later, however, when it was felt that such confusion would be unlikely, the earlier prohibition was lifted. 

(Muhammad Zubayr Siddiqi, Abdal Hakim Murad (Editor), Hadith Literature: It’s Origin, Development & Special Features, Revised Edition, 1993, The Islamic Texts Society, The Aldon press, Oxford, p. 27.)

Prof. Azami also suggests that the initial prohibition of the writing of hadith was most probably directed towards the writing of Qur’anic and non-Qur’anic material on the same sheet as that had the potential of creating misunderstandings.

Another possible reason submitted by him is that the Prophet (peace be upon him) disapproved the writing of hadith in the early days because it was feared people may neglect the Quran at a time when all attention was needed to be directed towards the Quran and its preservation.

But later, when such a danger had ceased, the previous prohibition was lifted. 

(M. M. Azami, Studies In early Hadith Literature: With A Critical Edition Of Some Early Texts, 2000, Islamic Book Trust: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, pp. 23-24.)

‘Urwa ibn al Zubayr reports that Aishah said:

1)      Are you not surprised at Abu Hurairah? He came and sat next to my room and narrated Hadith from the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), wanted me to hear. I was praying and he left before I finished my prayer. If I had caught him I should have replied to him. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) did not recite Hadith as you do. (Narrated by Bukhari, Muslim and Ibn Abdul Barr)

2)      After the understanding of the Qur’an comes the correct understanding of the authentic hadiths. It is best for those who know the Sunnah to refrain from quoting the Prophet (peace be upon him) if they do not understand the full implication of the quotation, though they may understand the literal sense of the words.

The Sunnah suffered greatly in the past from those who memorized much of it but understood very little. Aishah’s astonishment at Abu Hurairah’s quoting of hadiths was not because she was accusing him of lying. His method of narrating Hadith neglected the circumstances under which they had been said and strung one Hadith to another.

Ibn ‘Abdul Barr reports that Abu Hurairah himself said: “I am narrating to you Hadith which if I had done so during Umar’s time, he would have struck me with a cane.” Umar’s reason for preventing the narration of Hadith was because he wanted to build society on the teachings of the Qur’an, and encourage people to study the Qur’an and extract what they needed from it.

If the Sunnah were narrated after this had been accomplished, it would be absorbed by enlightened minds and would not be misinterpreted. Abu Hurairah might have been able to quote a hundred hadiths on salah because of his good memory, and perhaps Umar would have no objection to them being taught in a specialist school.

However, disliked the Muslim masses to be occupied with such things when a few hadiths were sufficient for them, and then they could devote more time to what would be beneifical for Islam and all its people.

This is the reason why he objected to shoe who narrated too many hadiths. Ibn Hazm reported almost a thousand pages of Hadith on wudu, for those who were interested in this kind of knowledge, although to occupy the masses of Muslims with the like would be sheer stupidity!

What time would be left for the Qur’an itself? In fact, to occupy the Muslims with the Qur’an in this manner is to trespass on the religion.

Ibn ‘Abdul Barr reports from Al-Dahhabk ibn Muzahim:

“There will come a time over people when the Qur’an will be left on the shelf and spiders will build their webs over it: no use will be made of what is in it and men’s actions will be according to narrations and hadiths.”

The path of rectitude in this blind alley is to return to the Qur’an and make it the main pillar of our intellectual and spiritual lives. Then when we are fully conversant with it we should look into the Sunnah and benefit from the Prophet’s (peace be upon him wisdom, way of life, worship, character and regulations.

Nobody should be allowed to speak on the Sunnah who has little of understand of the Qur’an, or little understanding of the variety of narrations, or is unaware of the occasions and circumstances under they are said. 

(Muhammad Al-Ghazali, Fiqh-US-SEERAH: Understanding The Life Of the Prophet, International Islamic Publishing House, Riyadh, 1999, p. 57)

So then, in conclusion, we may say that there is an abundance of hadiths which mention the writing of hadith in the lifetime of Muhammad (peace be upon him). There is also evidence that the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself issued letters and written commands and teachings etc.

Therefore, the hadiths were written in the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) lifetime, though not systematically, and that non-Quranic writing that occurred at that time cannot be doubted.

Furthermore, there can be no doubt that many Companions and the Successors also actively wrote hadiths.  The problem is ascertaining when precisely in his (peace be upon him) career the permission to write the hadith was granted and the precise reason why it was disallowed in the beginning.

For the latter there exist a number of reasons and theories, some more probable/likely than others, and the reader can assess which reason(s) seem more likely to him/her.

It could be that a number of factors contributed towards the decision of prohibition, such as the concern of neglecting the Qur’an, possibility of confusion among some through encountering Quranic and hadith texts in the same sheet despite their distinct styles, the potential of inadvertently attributing something untrue to the prophet (peace be upon him) –

a concern which would have caused many Companions to act overly cautious even after hadiths were allowed to be written, the possibility of mistakes if all were allowed to transcribe hadiths and hence limiting its writing to only those who were proficient writers etc. All of these reasons may have contributed to some extent in the prohibition of hadith writing by the Prophet (peace be upon him).

After the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him), some may have continued to dislike writing due to its perceived negative impact upon memory, the possibility of misuse of hadith texts by others, the possible discouraging of students to seek knowledge directly from scholars, etc. 

Umar, Ali and the other leading companions did not reject the Sunnah. Nevertheless, they wanted to give the Qur’an the greatest share of reception and appreciation, and this is the natural sequence. One must fully  and correctly understand the law before delving into the details and explanations which are given for some parts of it, since the details and explanations are not needed by everyone.

Also people’s minds might not be clustered up and no space left in them for the necessary and important principles.  (Muhammad Al-Ghazali, Fiqh-US-SEERAH: Understanding The Life Of the Prophet, International Islamic Publishing House, Riyadh, 1999, p. 50)

The soundness of the hadith “Do not write anything from me…” and explanation of what it means

What is the meaning of the hadith “We are an unlettered nation; we do not write or calculate”?

Chapter: Verification Of Hadith And The Ruling On Writing Down Knowledge

Br. Bassam Zawadi