Before broaching the subject of reliability of the Sahabah, I have to define who the Sahabi is as identified by them (Sunnis), and the most adequate definition in view of the Jumhur (Sunnis) being that one mentioned by al-Bukhari:
In his book,653 he said: Whoever from among Muslims kept company with the Prophet (may God’s peace and benediction be upon him and his Progeny) or saw him, he would be verily a Sahabi.654
In his exposition for the definition of al-Bukhari, Ibn Hajar al-Asqallani declared: What he wants to say is that the epithet Suhbat al-Nabi (Companionship of the Prophet) fits that who kept company with the Prophet (S), a degree less than what the word suhbah means lexically, though the prevalent norm stipulated for it some association (mulazamah). It is also used for anyone who saw him (S) even from a remote distance.
What al-Bukhari stated is the preponderant notion, but is it stipulated that the seer should discern what he has seen! Or mere seeing being enough? Still there is controversy regarding this point but the practice of those who were counted among the Sahabah indicates the second option. As they mentioned Muhammad ibn Ali Bakr al-Siddiq, who was born only three months and few days before the demise of the Prophet, as recorded in the Sahih, stating that his mother Asma’ bint Umays gave birth to him during the Farewell Pilgrimage (Hijjat al-Wada’), before enterring Mecca, in the last days of Dhu al-Qa’dah in the year 20H.
Ali ibn al-Midyani says: Whoever accompanied or saw the Prophet even for only one hour, should be counted among the companions of the Prophet. It seems that they supported this definition with a hadith reported from the Prophet as saying: Some people will launch invasion, when it will be said to them: Is there among you anyone saw the Messenger of Allah? (When an affirmative answer is given) Then they will verily conquer.
In his introduction to the book al-Isabah fi tamyiz al-Sahabah, he (Ibn Hajar), in defining who the Sahabi is, said: The best definition I managed to get being: The Sahabi is that who met the Prophet (may God’s peace and benediction be upon him and his Progeny), having faith in him, dying as a Muslim, he will be counted among those who met him, an fought beside him or those who did not participate in a battle. Also is that who saw him by his own eyes, even if he did not sit beside him, and that who could not see him due to a casualty like blindness.654
The ulama’ have – a manifested in the previous chapter — obligated investigation about narrators of hadith, sarcasting some and moderating some others. And they have right in this as it is improper to admit the claim of any man whatever he may be, without investigation or verification or scrutiny. While making jarh and ta’dil of the narrators an obligation incumbent upon every narrator whatever his status be, they could not transgress the boundaries of the Sahabah, as they held them all to be reliable not liable to criticism, nor sarcasm can be levelled at them. What they said in this regard: “Their carpet had been folded”(i.e. there is no room for attacking them).
The wonderful point here being that they adopt such a stance while the Companions themselves used to criticize each other and even charging each other with impiety, as stated before and will be manifested later on in this book.
In his al-Taqrib, al-Nawawi writes: The Sahabah are altogether reliable, those who were involved in the fitnah and others. Al-Dhahabi, in his Risalah, said about the trustworthy narrators:655
If we open the door of jarh and ta’dil, a good number of Companions, Followers and leaders (imams) would enter it, as some of the Sahabah charged each other with impiety, according to some interpretation!! And Allah is pleased with all and forgives them, as they are not infallible, and their disagreement or contending them can never make them mild in our eyes.
Then he said: But the Sahabah, are not liable to sarcasm, despite whatever happened, and even if they erred as other trustworthy men erred!! No one can be immune against mistake, but it being a very rare error causing no harm at all! As their reliability should be accepted and whatever they reported should be approved of, and acted according to, with which we charge Allah the Exalted.
While the Tabi’un are nearly free from anyone deliberately telling lies, but they may err and have misconceptions, and whoever committing very rare errors would be admitted, but that making multiple mistakes, though being among men of knowledge, his error would be forgiven too, with reporting his hadith and acting according to it. But determined ulama’ would hesitate in referring to narrators, with such description and acting alone in argumentation, as whoever making numerous mistakes, his hadith can never be used in dispute and debate. Concerning the companions of the Tabi’un – like Malik and al-Awza’i and their likes – they are also classified in the same categories, and it was found in their time some who would deliberately lie or perpetrate so many errors, as a result of which his hadith would be ignored. For instance, Malik who was known as the guiding star among the Ummah, could never be immune against sarcasm!! And if anyone talked against Malik while using him in argumentation, his talk would be for an excuse! And so also is al-Awza’i, who was thiqah (trustworthy) and hujjah (authority), and he probably reported hadith alone and misconceived, with his reporting from al-Zuhri being doubted! In his regard Ahmad ibn Hanbal said that he was of weak opinion and weak hadith. So also spoke that who could not yet acquainted with al-Zuhri since he dyed with black colour, was wearing like soldiers, and served Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik. This is a vast section. Also a reference should be made to Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi’i, who was widely known as a virtuous, trustworthy and honest man, and a verifying memorizer that rarely erring. But Abu Umar ibn Abd al-Birr said: I heard Muhammad ibn Waddah saying: I inquired Yahya ibn Mu’in about al-Shafi’i, when he said: He is not a thiqah. The clause of Ibn Mu’in656 about al-Shafi’i was only a slip of the tongue (lapsus lingue) out of desire and bigotry, 657 as Ibn Mu’in was a Hanafi, though being an upstart.
Beside Ja’far ibn Muhammad al-Sadiq, who was deemed trustworthy by Abu Hatam and al-Nasa’i, whereas al-Bukhari did not consider him an authority (hujjah)!658 Also Sa’id ibn Abi Urubah, in whose regard Ahmad ibn Hanbal said: He is thiqah, an imam of bad memory, and his traditions were recorded in the books, but he was a fatalist (qadari).
And al-Walid ibn Muslim: He was the learned man of Damascus, thiqah, and a memorizer but he used to defraud from weak narrators, with his traditions being cited in all books. That was what we quoted of this treatise in brief.
In al-Ahkam659 al-‘Amudi says:
The Sunnah Imams concurred in believing in the reliability of the Sahabah, with some of them holding: Their judgement in adalah is like that of those who followed them necessitating investigation and verification about their reliability in riwayah. Some of them said: They (Sahabah) continued to be reliable till the time when conflict and seditions erupted among them. After that we should look into the reliability of the narrator or the witness among them, when he being not widely-known to be reliable. Some others said: Whoever fought against Ali, being aware, is verily a debauchee of refuted narration and witness against the true Imam. Some others believed in rejecting the narration and testimony of all of them, as one of the two parties should be fasiq, and he is unknown and unidentified.660
Al-Gazzali, in al-Mustasfi, says: Some people held them to be like others in respect of necessity of investigation. Some others said: They used to be characterized with reliability from the beginning till the eruption of battles and enmities, when the situation changed and blood was shed, the fact entailing investigation and scrutiny.
653. Al-Allamah al-Muqbili, in his reply to those proving the companionship for that who saw the Prophet: They term something very late, coming then and interpret the Book and Sunnah with their abstract term. And suhbah (companionship) has no legal origin but only used lexically, and so also are the rest of words used for indicating the merits of the Sahabah. But the muhaddithun termed and decided, with no any proof, that suhbah is used for everyone the Prophet saw, or he saw the Prophet even if he be a child! on condition that he be a true Muslim, and dying on this without apostatizing.
The basis upon which those believing in reliability of all the Sahabah depended was the hadith they used to report from the Messenger of Allah: Verily, my Companions are like the stars (nujum), whichever of them you follow, you shall be guided rightly. But this hadith is false and baseless.
654. Al-Isabah, p.4.
655. Al-Taqrib, pp.3-21.
656. Yahya ibn Mu’in was one of great leaders of jarh and ta’dil whose opinions about the rijal were deemed a decisive authority (hujjah).
657. The result of bigotry can be realized here.
658. If al-Bukhari does not depend on such lofty magnate as jujjah so on whom does he depend? You can see what al-Bukhari did to Imams of Ahl al-Bayt, from whom he disained to report, as stated before.
659. Al-Ahkam, vol.II, p.128.
660. Ibn Qutaybah, in Ta’wil mukhtalif al-hadith, writes: What is wonderful about them being their charging the Shaykh with falsity, without reporting from him what the traditionists agreeing with him, of censuring Yahya ibn Mu’in and Ali ibn al-Midyani and their likes, while they argue with the hadith of Abu Hurayrah (as hujjah) in cases not agreed by anyone of the Sahabah, though he was belied by Umar and Uthman and A’ishah (pp.10, 11).
Adapted from: “Lights on the Muhammadan Sunnah” by: “Mahmud Ali Riyyah”
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