The increase in volume and importance of Ḥadith in the theological and legal interpretation of the Qurʾān and Sunnah induced in the coming generations a frame-of mind in which it was expected that “ever new Ḥadith should continue to come into existence in new situations to face novel problems—social, moral, religious.” The champion and proponent of this Ḥadith-based Qurʾānico-Sunnahic hermeneutic was Shafiʾi. Shafiʾi’s insistence on Sunnah being only in a written form with an authentic isnād going (in most cases) back to the Prophet diminished the value of the ijtihād–ijmāʿ element inherent in the concept of ʿamal- and oral-based Sunnah, and its overall importance in evolution of legal hermeneutic development, and substituted it with that of Ḥadith-based one.126 Noticing this conceptual shift in Sunnah, Rahman asserts that:
Whereas Sunnah was largely and primarily a practical phenomenon, geared as it was to behavioural norms, Ḥadith became the vehicle not only of legal norms but of religious beliefs and principles as well.
In other words, the largely ʿamal-based, ethico-religious or value-objectivebased and non-written-dependent concept of Sunnah that existed at the time of the first three generations of Muslims now became increasingly viewed as being qualitatively and quantitatively identical to specific, edified and static view of the Sunnah as reflected in proliferating Ḥadith. This process was, however, not entirely complete. Shafiʾi madhhab indeed differed from the ʿahl-ul-hadith movement (as well as Ḥanafi and Maliki madhhab) spear-headed by Ahmed ibn Ḥanbal on several hermeneutic principles so that the former was described as semi-traditionalist whilst latter was referred to as traditionalist. Maliki and Ḥanafi madhahīb were usually referred to as rationalist.
Ibn Ḥanbal, the major proponent of ʿahl-ul-ḥadith movement’s purely Ḥadith-based Sunnahic hermeneutic restricted the scope of non-textual and non-literal interpretations of the Sunnah (and the Qurʾān) which still featured to some extent in Shafiʾi thought even further. His approach to the concept of Sunnah is clearly demonstrated in his treatise Tabagatul Ḥanaabilah in which he states: And the Sunnah with us are the aathaar (narrations) of the Prophet” (wa-s-sunnatu ʿindana atharu resulillah). Moreover, in terms of epistemologico-methodological value and interpretational tool of Ḥadith, Ḥanbal maintains that: “the Sunnah (i.e. athar/ Ḥadith) explains and clarifies the Qurʾān (wa-s-sunnetu tufassiru-l-qurʾaan) . . . there is no analogical reasoning in the Sunnah and the examples are not to be made for it” (wa laisa fi-s-sunneti qiyyas, wa la tudhrebu laha al-amthal). Nor is it [Sunnah] grasped and comprehended by the intellects or the desires (wa la tudreke bi-l-ʿuquli wa la-l ahwaʾ).
Thus, Sunnah was epistemologically and methodologically self-identified with Ḥadith/athar and was considered as supreme commentary upon the already earlier discussed deutungsbeduerfigkeit of the Qurʾān.
This period also witnessed for the first time the ordering of Ḥadith books solely according to legal subjects going back to the Prophet, such as Bukhari’s and Muslim’s Saḥ ̣īḥayn (pl. of Saḥ ̣īḥ). The criticism of Ḥadith literature, however, has since continued135 so that the science of ʿulum-ulḥadith saw its efflorescence in the works of later authorities such as AlBaghdadi (d. 463 AH), Al-Salah (d. 643 AH) and Al-Nawawi (d. 676 AH). It may therefore not come as a surprise to note that the most authentic Ḥadith compendia, such as those of Bukhari and Muslim, contain Ḥadith that were subsequently identified as weak (ḍaʿīf ) or which did not fulfill some of the pre-requisites of authenticity for a Saḥ ̣īḥ Ḥadith.”
The major juristic works of this time still did not exhibit the purely Ḥadith-based Sunnah hermeneutic. Indeed, Calder argues that all of the early Ḥanafi texts on law (based on the writings of Abu Ḥanifa, Abu Yusuf and Shaybani) Kitab-ul-ʿAsl or Mabsūt “displays a minimum quantity ̣ of Prophetic Ḥadith.” Additionally, “a real systematic interest in the hermeneutic argument based on appeal to Prophetic Ḥadith can hardly be demonstrated for the Ḥanafi tradition prior to the corpus of works ascribed to Al-Tahtawi (d. 321 AH).”
Calder’s analysis of Sahnun’s (160-240 AH) Mudawwana, a juristic work from the Maliki school of law, also lead him to the following conclusion: Of material or literary forms which suggest that the law is hermeneutically derived from the Prophetic Ḥadith there are only hints throughout the Mudawwana . . . Prophetic Ḥadith are relatively few and it is difficult to accept that there was a widespread recognition of the authority of Prophetic Ḥadith for legal purposes. The same author based on the study of Muzan’s (d. 264 AH) Mukhtasar, a Shafiʾī school of law juristic composition, asserts that the author “refers to Ḥadith but rarely in full and never gives an isnād.” Lucas in this context asserts that “prior to the mid-third century the majority of the material found in the sunnan books was not prophetic reports and consisted instead of sahabi and tabiʾi athar. . . .”
This article attempts to present a brief chronological analysis of the development of the Sunni Ḥadith literature and the concept of an authentic Ḥadith. The article has focused in particular on the question as to what extent the classical definition of the concept of Sunnah can be seen to embody the concept of Sunnah as it was understood during the formative period of Islamic thought. Relevant, recent Western scholarship found in literature was used in order to shed light on this issue. In this context, the extent, importance and nature of Ḥadith literature as well as the developmental stages of an authentic Ḥadith, during the first four generations of Muslims, have been investigated. The findings presented herein suggest that the writing of Prophetic reports probably took place even during the Prophet’s time, although the conditions for its widespread writing, transmission and proliferation were not favourable, not only in relation to circumstances surrounding the Prophet’s life but also on the basis of cultural preferences for oral transmission of knowledge. This led Juynboll to assert that the volume of Ḥadith literature remained very small during the first century.142 Moreover, its importance during this period of time as source of law against the regional concepts of Sunnah was negligible. A marked growth in the corpus of Ḥadith literature, although still not in its ‘authentic form’, took place from the middle of the second century. It was during this period of transition that an epistemologico-methodological shift in the concept of Sunnah was becoming ever more prominent. Consequently, this resulted in its more frequent semantic association with Ḥadith. However, as Souaiaia demonstrated in relation to Islamic inheritance laws during the formative period of Islamic thought, spanning the first two and one half centuries or so, traditions from the Prophet in form of Ḥadith as defined by classical ʿulum-ul-ḥadith sciences could not alone produce an adequate framing of inheritance laws.As such, even towards the end of the second century, Sunnah and Ḥadith were seen as conceptually different terms. Due to his effort to bring more uniformity into the largely divergent legal theories in various regions of the Muslim empire, Shafiʾi was the first second-century-born jurist to narrow down the concept of Sunnah to that of an ‘authentic Ḥadith’ usually going back to the Prophet. This conceptual alteration in Sunnah provided by Shafiʾi was brought to its logical extreme, accepted and further consolidated by Ahmed ibn Ḥanbal. It is his literal, decontextualised, reason-condemning bilā kaifa (‘without asking how’) approach to ‘authentic Ḥadith’ as sole repository, conveyer and ultimate interpretational tool of Sunnah that is implied by the muḥaddithūn’s classical definition of the concept of Sunnah which did not correspond to the way the concept of Sunnah was understood by the first four generations of Muslims but is still prevalent in the majority mainstream Muslim community.
taken from this article ( Free PDF)