Friday, January 18, 2013

Introduction to Asmaa ur-Rijaal

The “Sunnah” (words, actions and traditions) of the Prophet (), is the keystone of the teachings of Islam. Among majority of the scholars, the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad () is defined as the sayings (the verbal order), actions (the activities) or approval of actions (directives) that are related to the beliefs as well as rulings of the Islamic faith – both in terms of rituals as well as daily life actions.

The “Hadith” (similar to Sunnah) are narrations originated from the words and deeds of the Prophet (). Ahadith are regarded as important tools for understanding the Qur’an and in matters of jurisprudence. As the companions started to pass away, the era of Taabi’een (Muslim generation after Sahaabah) began. During this time, the scholars became very careful in narrating the traditions and the scholars would emphasize on naming the source before accepting any narration of Hadith. The successors introduces many techniques to authenticate and verify the true words of the Prophet () - one such science (among many others) of verifying the “words and actions” of the Prophet () is known as ‘Asma-ur-Rijaal’ or ‘The Science of the narrators’. The Sunnah of the Prophet () has been emphasized a number of times at different places in the Qur’an as:

وَأَقِيمُواْٱلصَّـلواَةَ وَآتُواْٱلزَّكَواةَ وَأَطِيعُواْٱلرَّسُولَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُرْحَمُونَ
So establish regular Prayer and give regular Charity; and obey the Messenger that ye may receive mercy. [Quran 44:56]

مَّنْ يُطِعِ ٱلرَّسُولَ فَقَدْ أَطَاعَ ٱللَّهَ وَمَن تَوَلَّىٰ فَمَآ أَرْسَلْنَاكَ عَلَيْهِمْ حَفِيظاً
He who obeys the Messenger thereby obeys Allah; as for he who turns away, We have not sent you as a keeper over them! [Quran 4:80]

Throughout the history, people attacking the validity of Islam as well as some who believed in Islam have questioned the authenticity of the traditions and sayings of the Prophet (). Some of the points that they raise are:

1.     Accuracy of the text being narrated
2.     Forgetfulness of the narrators
3.     Deceit on part of the narrators

The term “Muhaddith” refers to a specialist who profoundly knows and narrates hadith, verifies the ‘chains of their narration’ (known as: Isnaad), and the original and filters famous narrators. Many scholars had to travel long-ways, miles & miles and take on arduous journeys to even collect one Hadith from the companions of the Prophet () and they were extremely careful in narrating and authenticating even small bits of each Hadith. When a person would narrate a Hadith, some of the steps that scholars would take to establish the authenticity of the Hadith would include the following:

  • They would review the history of the narrator to ensure that he did not have a history of lying.
  • Some of the scholars would ask the narrator of their source and then would travel themselves to confirm the source and to verify the authenticity of the Hadith.
  • They would evaluate the text against the verses of the Qur’an as well as other Ahadith to ensure that it did not violate any other established text or rule.


The Prophet (), at initial days of Islam inhibited the companions, not to write down his sayings due to some of the reasons (e.g. sayings of Prophet may not be confused with the verses of the Qur’an) - but later, as time passed, the Prophet allowed the companions to write down His sayings on different media such as skins, rocks, wood etc.

The first actions taken to be known as Asmaa ur-Rijaal or the science of the narrators. During this time, they started documenting both the Ahadith as well as the science of narrators. The documenting of Hadith would consist of documenting the actual text along with the whole chain of narrations. A sample Hadith would look something like: