The Rightly-guided Caliphs and great Companions particularly those giving legal verdicts – as is known before – used to evade and fear narrating hadith from the Prophet. Rather in fact they were turning away from this act, since they were aware of their failure to perform, in its due way, whatever they heard from the Prophet (S), as memory being unable to recollect or record whatever is heard. Besides, that which is memorized can never remain intact or keep its originality, however hard effort exerted by anyone to attain accuracy. Further, they never trusted those hearing from them not to make changes in the traditions, including addition, omission, forging, altering or corruption, or any other form. And they, while being known of having a command on principles (usul) and branches of religion, completely taken from the Messenger of Allah, would never approve of narrating hadith through meaning, as accepted by some others and those succeeding them, because they were quite aware that changing the wording (of hadith) would entail change in meaning for the most part. And as is known, there is much difference between the Messenger’s speech and that of others, as behind every word of his utterance being a specific denotation with certain purpose intended by him (S). For this reason, they were so stiff and precautious in accepting the reports from their brethren and comrades, however intimate they be to them, to the extent that Abu Bakr would never admit any hadith from anyone but only when his narration being testified by another one, which being the provision of the correct affirmation (isnad). Al-Dhahabi in his Tarjumah68 says, that he (Abu Bakr) was the first to take precautions in accepting the reports.
Ibn Shahab reports on the authority of Qubaysah that a grandmother came to Abu Bakr asking him about her right in inheritance. He said: I can never find in the Book of Allah anything to be your right, and I have no knowledge that the Messenger of Allah has dedicated any share in inheritance for you. Then he consulted the attendants, when al-Mughirah stood up saying: The Messenger of Allah used to grant her one-sixth. He (Abu Bakr) asked him: Do you have any witness (to confirm your claim)? Thereat Muhammad ibn Maslamah testified his claim, whereat Abu Bakr was satisfied and gave her that share.
Such was the practice of Abu Bakr, whereas Umar was even much severer and more precautious in accepting the hadith.
In Ta’wil mukhtalif al-hadith.69 Ibn Qutaybah is reported to have said: Umar used to be so strict toward whoever was abundantly narrating (the hadith), or that bringing any report related to rules, without introducing a witness confirming his words, beside ordering them to lessen the number of traditions they narrating. His intention behind this was preventing people from going too far in narrating the traditions, and keeping them from any kind of forgery or foisting or fabrication at the hands of the hypocrites, debauchees and bedouins.70 He was so keen and serious in safeguarding the hadith that he once slapped Abu Hurayrah for narrating the hadith, threatening him with exile to his homeland in case of keeping on narrating.
In Tabaqat al-huffaz, al-Dhahabi says: “It was Umar who enacted for the narrators the principle of verifying and investigating the veracity of narrations, with probably refusing to approve of khabar al-wahid (unsuccessive narrated hadith) when suspecting its veracity.”
Al-Bukhari reports on the authority of Abu Sa’id al-Khudri as saying: When I was present in a meeting – with the Helpers – Abu Musa entered upon us with a state of panic, saying: I sought permission to enter upon Umar three times, but my request was rejected, so I returned. Umar said: What is that impeded you? He replied: I asked permission to enter for three times, but I was never permitted, so I returned home…and the Messenger of Allah said: “If anyone of you seeks permission for three times and his request is refused, he should go back.” Thereat Umar said: You should introduce an evidence for this (hadith), or (added by Muslim) otherwise I shall beat you. In another narration he said: By God I shall verily beat your back and belly, if you fail to produce someone to testify what you said… Is there anyone among you heard it from the Prophet? Ubayy ibn Ka’b said: By God only the youngest of us (least in knowledge) will go with you (as a witness). (Abu Sa’id said:) I was the youngest of the attendants, so I accompanied him and told Umar that verily the Prophet (S) has disclosed this hadith.
The reader can clearly see how Umar strictly tackled a matter in which no rules of lawful and unlawful can be found, and can determine what would be the case when the hadith being related to other aspects of the principles or branches of religion!
On this narration depended those claiming that Umar was never accepting the singly reported hadith (khabar al-wahid), and it was inferred as evidence by those holding that: The report of a single just narrator is not to be approved unless it be confirmed by another narrator, as in the case of giving testimony. Ibn Battal is reported to have said: In regard of khabar al-wahid, it should be verified and investigated as he (narrator) is liable to lapse or forgetfulness or other things. It is known for all how he (Umar) dealt with Abu Hurayrah and others, in a way that traditions reported by Aby Hurayrah couldn’t increase in number but only after death of Umar,71 when someone reported a hadith from Abu Salamah, from Abu Hurayrah, to whom I (Ibn Battal) said: Could you narrate this during the days of Umar? He replied: Had I reported in the time of Umar what I am relating to you now, he would have beaten me with his whisk.
68. Tadhkirat al-huffaz, vol.I, p.3.
69. See p.48.
70. That which Umar was fearing has taken place, after people engaged themselves abundantly in riwayah, as a result of which it was inflicted with distortion, falsification and perversion. Neither might nor power is there but with Allah.
71. In the biography of Abu Hurayrah Shaykh al-mudirah more elaboration about this subject can be found, so the reader can refer to it, in the 3rd edition.
Adapted from: “Lights on the Muhammadan Sunnah” by: “Mahmud Ali Riyyah”