The hadith ban (Arabic: منع الحدیث), or The ban on writing hadiths (Arabic: منع کتابة الحدیث), was a ban on citation and the writing of hadiths from the Prophet (s). The hadith ban began since the period of the first and the second caliphs, and lasted until the period of 'Umar b. 'Abd al-'Aziz, that is, for approximately hundred years.
Sunni scholars justify the policy in terms of precluding any possible confusions between hadiths and the Qur'an, preventing disputes among Muslims, preventing people from being engaged in anything other than the Qur'an, and illiteracy of transmitters of hadiths. Shiite scholars, however, believe that the ban was enforced out of a motivation for preventing the propagation of Imam 'Ali's virtues and as an attempt at the establishment of the religious rule of the caliphs.
The hadith ban was a prohibition of writing and citing hadiths from the Prophet (s). Its official enforcement dates back to the period of the caliphate of Shaykhayn. Prior to this period, Muslims used to scribe the Prophet's hadiths, and the Prophet (s) encouraged his companions to write and cite his hadiths.
During his caliphate, Abu Bakr prohibited the writing of hadiths and destroyed a great number of hadiths. Moreover, according to historical texts, the Second Caliph prohibited his governors from citing the Prophet's hadiths and invited them to rely merely on the Qur'an. As reported by some Sunni sources, 'Umar b. al-Khattab decided at first to collect and write the Prophet's hadiths, but he then changed his mind, allegedly because this would lead to conflations of hadiths and the Qur'an.
The Ban on the Citation of Hadiths
When the writing of hadiths was banned, some companions of the Prophet (s) cited hadiths for other people. Thus, the Second Caliph prohibited the companions from leaving Medina without a permission and banned them from the citation of hadiths as well. He imprisoned some of the companions, such as Abu Darda' and ibn Mas'ud because of citing the Prophet's hadiths. Some scholars speculate that the ban on hadith writing was announced after the ban on hadith citation.
Abolishment of the Ban
The ban on hadith writing was enforced until the period of 'Umar b. 'Abd al-'Aziz (b. 63/682-3 - d. 101/720), the eighth Umayyad caliph, who wrote a letter to Abu Bakr b. Hazm, the ruler of Medina, and asked him to collect and write the Prophet's hadiths, because such knowledge and its possessors would disappear very soon.
Proponents and Opponents
Allegedly, a number of the companions and Tabi'un considered it reprehensible (makruh) to write hadiths, including Zayd b. Thabit, Abu Sa'id al-Khidri, Abu Hurayra, and Ibn 'Abbas, whereas others such as Imam 'Ali (a), Imam al-Hasan (a), 'Abd Allah b. 'Umar, Anas b. Malik, 'Ata' b. Yasar, and Sa'id b. Jubayr, considered it as permissible.
Motivations and Factors
There is a disagreement between Sunnis and Shi'as as to why the writing of hadiths was banned. Sunni scholars believe that it was motivated by a fear from confusions between hadiths and the Qur'an, prevention of disputes among Muslims, concerns about decreased attempts at memorizing hadiths and a merely relying, instead, on writing them, fear from the engagement of people with something other than the Qur'an, prevention of propagating invalid hadiths, worries about there being a book aside from the Qur'an, and illiteracy of transmitters of hadiths.
In his book, Man' tadwin al-hadith (the ban on the collection of hadiths), however, Shahristani claims that the majority of Shiite authors take the main motivation for the hadith ban to be the prevention of propagating the virtues of Imam 'Ali (a). One piece of evidence they appeal to is what Al-Nasa'i, an author of al-Sihah al-Sitta, quoted from Ibn 'Abbas: they left the tradition of the Prophet (s) out of their animus towards Imam 'Ali (a). Other motivations of the ban are said to be the caliphs' insufficient knowledge of religious rulings and their attempts at establishment of their religious rule, in addition to their political rule.
Heresy or Tradition?
Proponents of the hadith ban support their view with a hadith from the Prophet (s) according to which, “if someone has written a word from me other than the Qur'an, then he should destroy it.” To the contrary, opponents of the hadith ban cite hadiths from the Prophet (s) in which he recommends people to scribe his hadiths, including a hadith in which 'Abd Allah b. 'Umar was recommended to write the Prophet's hadiths. According to this hadith, the Quraysh reprehended 'Abd Allah b. 'Umar because he wrote and kept the Prophet's words, but the Prophet (s) encouraged him to write his hadiths. Moreover, there is another hadith according to which “if someone cites a hadith or a piece of knowledge from me, then he will be rewarded as long as the writing persists to exist.”
According to some people, a number of the companions collected hadith collections called “Sahifa” during the lifetime of the Prophet (s), including Imam 'Ali's Sahifa, and Sahifa of Ubayy b. Rafi', and the practice was not prohibited by the Prophet (s). Instead, some of them were collected with his own permission.
Goldziher, a Jewish Orientalist, believes that Islamic hadith collections were made in the second half of the second/eighth century. He maintains that hadiths that prohibit and those that permit hadith writing are both fabricated, and are indeed reflections of disputes in the early Islamic era.
According to Shiite scholars, the ban on hadith writing had significant negative repercussions, including the destruction of early texts of hadiths, fabrication of hadiths, changes in the Prophet's tradition, and the formation of Islamic denominations.
- Destruction of early texts of hadiths: the Prophet's words scribed by his close companions were destroyed and made unavailable in this period. According to 'A'isha, Abu Bakr burned down five hundred hadiths from the Prophet (s). Moreover, hadiths memorized by some companions were never written down because of the hadith ban, and thus they became unavailable after their deaths.
- Fabrication of hadiths: when the policy of the hadith ban was enforced and the Prophet's hadiths were destroyed, citation of fabricated hadiths and their attribution to the Prophet (s) became rampant. For instance, hadiths were fabricated and attributed to the Prophet (s) in order to conjure up virtues for some political and religious figures, some of whom were born after the Prophet's demise. Fabricated hadiths were so prolific that Sahih al-Bukhari includes 2761 non-repetitive hadiths selected from among nearly 600,000 hadiths, and Sahih Muslim includes 4000 non-repetitive hadiths selected from among 300,000 hadiths, as claimed by their authors.
- Changes in the Prophet's tradition: some people suggest that the ban on the collection of hadiths led to changes in the Prophet's tradition. To show this, appeals are made to some historical reports, including what al-Shafi'i, the leader of Shafi'is, quoted from Wahab b. Kaysan: all traditions of the Prophet (s), including the Prayer, were distorted.
- Formation of Islamic denominations: when the tradition was destroyed and fabricated hadiths were rampant, different denominations as well as theological and jurisprudential schools began to appear. For each personal dispute was accompanied by a fabricated hadith, leading to the separation of a group of people from the Islamic community and the establishment of a new denomination.
The book, Man' tadwin al-hadith, asbab wa nata'ij (the ban on the collection of hadiths: causes and consequences), written by Sayyid 'Ali Shahristani, investigates the grounds and repercussions of the ban on writing the Prophet's hadiths. According to the book's translator, the author tries to demonstrate that the formation of the “school of ijtihad and personal opinions” was a consequence of the hadith ban. The book was written in Arabic and was published by Mu'assisa al-A'lami li-l-Matbu'at in 1418. It was translated into English and Persian and published by Ahl al-Bayt World Assembly.
- The material for this article is mainly taken from منع حدیث in Farsi WikiShia.