We have previously briefly noted the reasons for increased ‘Ḥadithification’ of the concept of Sunnah. We refer to these as the forces of traditionalisation that were responsible for the paradigm shift in the way in which not only the concept of Sunnah came to be understood but also the entire subsequent Islamic thought. The process of traditionalisation is defined here as those social, political and jurisprudential mechanisms that throughout the second century of Hijrah contributed to:
1. the gradual shift in formulation, preservation and transmission of knowledge from the oral to the written mode in general and, as a corollary, the continued growth and proliferation of Ḥadith;
2. the increased perceived importance given to Ḥadith at the cost of the ethico-moral and ʿamal-based concept of Sunnah;
3. the absorption of practical and oral-based Sunnah into Ḥadith;
4. the increased application of Ḥadith in Qurʾānic and Sunnahic sciences such as tafsīr, ʿusūl-ul-fiqh ̣ and ʿusūl-as-sunnah ̣ including theology and ʿaqīdah; and
5. the development of hierarchical, literal legal hermeneutic models that were entirely textually based (i.e. based on the Qurʾān and Ḥadith) and the marginalisation of non-textually based epistemologicomethodological tools of Sunnah (and Qurʾān) such as notions about of raʾy and ijtihād.
However, this process of traditionalisation during the first half of the second century of Hijrah still did not appear to be dominant. For example, according to Motzki who analysed the content of Abdarrazaq’s (d. 211 AH) Musannaf which contains materials from Ibn Abbas (d. 68 AH) and his disciples, only 14% of Ibn Juraij’s (d. 150 AH) text collections were based on Prophetic aḥādīth, not all of which were considered binding but only those which were seen to be in accordance with the established Meccan tradition. In this context he argues that:
Propheten aḥādīth haben [daher] auch in der ersten Haelfte des 2. Jahrhunderts im mekkanischen Fiqh nur eine untergeordnete Rolle gespielt.
(During the first half of the second century hijri the hadith of the prophet played a very modest role in Meccan fiqh.)
It is also worth mentioning that of those 14%, less then one half of the Ḥadith going back to the Prophet had a complete isnād and for those aḥādīth whose chain of narrators stopped at the level of the Companions had even a lesser number of complete isnād. It is during the last half of the second century that the above-stated traditionalisation forces started to be felt more markedly. Therefore, this period can be rightfully described as a period of transition between regional non-Ḥadith-dependent concept of Sunnah and emerging concept of Ḥadith-based Sunnah. What was the attitude of major authorities on law towards this phenomenon, especially with regard to Ḥadith-based Sunnah proliferation?
When talking about the same period under examination in terms of Ḥadith-independent Sunnah, the opinion of Abu Yusuf was quoted as to his attitude with regard to the problem of ever-expanding Ḥadith literature. This methodology is also repeated in another passage found in Abu Yusuf’s work al-Radd ʿalā Siyar al-Awzaʾi in which he states: Ḥadith multiplies so much so that some Ḥadith are traced back through chains of transmission are not well known to legal experts, nor do they conform to Qurʾān and Sunnah. Beware of solitary Ḥadith and keep close to the collective spirit of Ḥadith. The use of words well-known is highly significant here because it suggests that the well-known Sunnah was still conceptually different from Ḥadith and was used as a methodological tool, along with the Qurʾān, to divorce Sunnah from Ḥadith. Having examined the use of Ḥadith in Malik’s Muwatta, al-Shaibani’s Kitab al-Siyar and writings of Awzaʾi Rahman makes an important conclusion in saying that: Awzaʾi regards the Ḥadith of the Prophet as being endowed with fundamental obligatoriness but the Sunnah or the living practice is of same importance to him. His appeals to the practice of the Community or its leaders are to judge from the extinct materials, the most regular feature of his legal argumentation. Malik adduces Ḥadith (not necessarily Prophetic Ḥadith) to vindicate the Medinise Sunnah but regards Sunnah in terms of actual importance, as being superior to the Ḥadith. As for Abu Yusuf and Shaybani, very few of whose legal Ḥadith go back to the Prophet at all, they interpret the Ḥadith with [a] freedom . . . The Iraqi school recognize the supreme importance of Ḥadith but the Ḥadith, according to it, must be situationally interpreted in order that law may be deduced from it.
Sadeghi makes a similar assertion by asserting that “for Abu Ḥanifa and Al-Shaybani not only were the Ḥadith not a primary source of law in practice but that they were also possibly not always binding in theory either.”
The importance given to what can be termed situational interpretation of Ḥadith in the light of the Qurʾān and well-known Sunnah was due to the formulation and projection of many theologico-politically sectarian and moralo-legal Ḥadith to that on to the Prophet himself that were taking place at the time. Many of these reports found their way into the Sahih Ḥadith books such as those complied by Bukhari (d. 256 AD) and Muslim (d. 261 AH). Also it is at this time that Musnād Ḥadith books came into existence. Musnād books contain Ḥadith which have uninterrupted chains of transmission up to the level of the Companions and are ordered according to the Companions’ names. As such, they were not collected with an aim of being used as tools for jurisprudentic purposes, as in the case of Bukhari and Muslim.
As we have seen from the above, this methodology of non-literal interpretation and conceptual differentiation of Sunnah and Ḥadith was still evident throughout most of the second century. Rather than accepting Ḥadith, even ‘authentic Ḥadith’, in an a priori fashion, the concept of assunnah al-maʾrufa was used, as a filter to distinguish between Ḥadith, which could potentially embody Sunnah, and those, which did not.
With regard to the development of isnād, it is during the third decade of the second century that birth of the ‘classical’ sciences of criticism of informants (rijal) started. In additional, it should be pointed out that the bulk of Ḥadith put into wider circulation took place at the level of Successors’ Successors early during the second century and, according to Juynboll, no foolproof method in terms of discerning authentic from inauthentic Ḥadith at the isnād level of Companions can be developed since the majority of Companions died prior to isnād science being systematically used and because of the fact that Companions cannot be considered responsible for their being included in isnāds.
taken from this academic article ( free PDF).