Imam Ibn Shihab Zuhri (rahimahullah) – Demise 125- features quite prominently in the discussion of Hadith compilation. It is commonly stated that he was the first to compile the Noble Traditions of Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam).
However, this is not entirely correct as it pushes the date of hadith compilation much further and opens the door for hadith rejectors to object.
Shaykh Muhammad ‘Awwamah’s research
My Honourable teacher, Al-Muhaddith Shaykh Muhammad ‘Awwamah (may Allah protect him) writes:
“The claim of Ibn Shihab Zuhri being the first to compile hadith is based on two things;
- The statement of Imam Malik (rahimahullah):
أول من دون العلم ابن شهاب
“The first person to compile knowledge was Ibn Shihab”
(Al-Hilyah, vol.3 pg.363 & Jami’u bayanil ‘ilm, vol.1 pg.320)
- Ibn Shihab’s statement:
أمرنا عمر بن عبد العزيز بجمع السنن
“Umar ibn ‘Abdil Azeez commanded us to gather hadith”
(Jami’u bayanil ‘ilm)
The statement of Imam Malik is reported via a person by the name of Muhammad ibn Hasan ibn Zabalah (not Imam Muhammad ibn Hasan ash-shaybani)
This ibn Zabalah is considered very unreliable. In fact Imam Abu Dawud (rahimahullah) declared him a liar.
However, Imam Ya’qub ibn Sufyan (rahimahullah) reports from Ibrahim ibn Sa’d :
أول من وضع هذه الأحاديث ابن شهاب
Ibn Shihab was the first person to collect ahadith
(Al-Ma’rifah wat-tareekh, vol.1 pg.633)
Ibrahim ibn Sa’d is much better than ibn Zabalah, but this report of his is considered broken (منقطع) – as he was born after the demise of ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdil Azeez-
Be that as it may, this statement would be interperated to mean that Ibn Shihab Zuhri was the first in Madinah to do so.
The second basis for this claim was the statement of ibn Shihab himself. This statement is self explanatory, as he says (‘Umar instructed us) which means the directive was given to many people, not just Ibn Shihab (rahimahullah)
The following narration is the reason for my response above:
Ibn Sa’d (rahimahullah) reports that ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdil ‘Azeez’s father; ‘Abdul ‘Azeez ibn Marwan (Demise: 85 A.H.) wrote to Kathir ibn Murrah Al-Hadrami, Al-Himsy (rahimahullah) instructing him to send the ahadith of Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam which he heard from various sahabah (radiyallahu ‘anhum) exept for the ahadith of Sayyiduna Abu Hurairah (radiyallahu ‘anhu) He said: “For indeed I already have his ahadith with me”
(Tabaqat ibn Sa’d, vol.7 pg.448)
Kathir ibn Murrah was a senior ranked Tabi’e who met seventy badri sahabah (radiyallahu ‘anhum)
He passed away between the years 70 & 80 A.H, and in one view between 80 & 90 A.H.
Based on this, it was the father; ‘Abdul ‘Azeez (rahimahullah) who initiated the project of Hadith compilation between 20 to 30 years before ‘Umar the son of ‘Abdul ‘Azeez (rahimahullah) continued with his father’s initiative.
This is the earliest period to which I could trace the commencement of hadith compilation. Bear in mind that hadith “Compilation” (تدوين الحديث)is different from (كتابة الحديث) the writing of hadith. Writing had commenced in the era of Rasulullah sallalahu ‘alaihi wasallam.
Later on, I came across the following from my teacher, Shaykh ‘Abdullah Al-Ghumari (rahimahullah):
“I have seen a narration that proves that hadith compilation had commenced before Zuhri”
After quoting the same narration from Ibn Sa’d he commented: “This narration shows that the ahadith of Sayyiduna Abu Hurairah (radiyallahu ‘anhu) were already collected and kept by ‘Abdul ‘Azeez. It is clearly possible that he may have acquired it from his father; Marwan ibnul Hakam (Demise: 65 A.H.) who had shared the governorship of Madinah Munawwarah with Abu Hurairah (radiyallahu ‘anhu).
It is also obvious that (the father) ‘Abdul ‘Azeez had ordered the hadith to be compiled before his son; ‘Umar’s instruction.”
Translator’s note: If ‘Abdul ‘Azeez (rahimahullah) truly did acquire the ahadith of Sayyiduna Abu Hurairah (radiyallahu ‘anhu) from his father, Marwan (Demise: 65 A.H.) – like Shaykh Al-Ghumari has asserted- this would move the date of hadith compilation even earlier to before the year 65 A.H. i.e, before the demise of Marwan.
And Allah knows best.