Question: Did the Prophetic Companions (Sahaba) narrate all the teachings of the Prophet to them? Did they hide anything that we need to believe in or need to act upon?
Wa alaykum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
Thank you for your important question.
While it is true that certain hadiths have not reached us, this does not apply to hadiths about which our whole religious practice, beliefs, or ethics revolve. It only applies to certain hadiths concerning the names of certain bad Muslim rulers or extra details about the basic Islamic morals about which we already know.
The message of Islam has reached it’s full, and this religion will be preserved until the End of Time.
The Preservation of the Whole Message of Islam
Let us deal with the first question first: Did the Prophetic Companions (Sahaba) narrate to us all the teachings of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace)?
Yes, the teachings in their general and specific sense were all conveyed to us. However, it would not be true to say that every single word that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) ever said and every action that he ever did was recorded and transmitted to us. Rather, the Prophetic Companions (Allah be pleased with them) would generalize and summarise, saying things like ‘He used to say …’ or ‘He used to forbid ….’ etc.
So, the Prophetic Companions conveyed the message of Islam to us in its complete form, and whatever one Companion did not know or did not convey to the next generation was known and conveyed by another Companion down to this day of ours.
The Role of the Prophet himself (Allah bless him and give him peace)
Now, regarding the second question: Did the Prophetic Companions ever hide anything that we need to believe in or need to act upon?
Well, let’s first ask the question: Did the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) himself hide anything that we need to believe in or need to act upon?
The answer is an emphatic no. Allah Most High says,
‘And the duty of the Messenger is only to clearly convey (the message).’ (Qur’an, 29: 18)
And He Most High says,
‘O Messenger, announce that which has been revealed to you from your Lord, and if you do not, then you have not conveyed His message.’ (Qur’an, 5: 67)
And He Most High says,
‘This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favor unto you, and have chosen for you as religion Islam.’ (Qur’an, 5: 3)
And He Most High says,
‘Indeed, those who conceal what We have sent down of clear proofs and guidance after We made it clear for the people in the Scripture, those are cursed by Allah and cursed by those who curse.’ (Qur’an, 2: 159)
All of these verses clearly tell us that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) was ordered to convey the whole message of Islam. That is to say that everything that we have to believe in and everything that we have to do was taught to us by our Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace).
In the famous Farewell Hajj, the Prophet said, ‘Have I not conveyed Allah’s message to you?
They said, ‘Yes indeed.’
He said, ‘O Allah! Bear witness! It is incumbent upon those who are present to convey it (this information) to those who are absent.’ (Bukhari)
This hadith very clearly tells us not only that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) conveyed the whole message, but that he also told everyone else to convey the message.
So, we can conclude thus far that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) was ordered to convey the whole message of Islam, that he did so, and that he commands others to do the same.
Until the End of Time
The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, ‘This religion will remain sound (qa’im) and defended by a group of the Muslims until the Last Hour.’ (Muslim) Now if this is true, there is no room for anyone to go around hiding from us fundamental information about its core tenets or practices.
With this being the case, it is impossible that the Prophetic Companions, or any other generation of Muslims, could systematically remove key pieces of revelation such that fundamental beliefs and practices be hidden from the rest of the Muslims. Rather, this religion is protected and will remain so until the End of Time.
The Role of Prophetic Companions
We have already quoted the words of Allah Most High, ‘Indeed, those who conceal what We have sent down of clear proofs and guidance after We made it clear for the people in the Scripture, those are cursed by Allah and cursed by those who curse.’ (Qur’an, 2: 159), and we have already asserted that the Prophet Companions were commanded to convey the whole message too.
What is very clear from the actions of Prophetic Companion is that they were very keen to convey the message in its totality, and they did indeed convey the whole message to the next generation of believers.
The Muadh ibn Jabal (Allah be pleased with him) said that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, ‘There is not a single person who bears witness that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah in faith, and from the bottom of his heart, save that Allah will bar him from the Hell-Fire.
‘Shall I not inform everyone, O Messenger of Allah,’ asked Muadh, ‘so that they might rejoice?’
‘No, ‘ he replied, ‘lest they just rely [on that] on.’
The narration closes stating that Muadh conveyed the hadith to others at his death so as to avoid sin (taaththuman). (Bukhari and Muslim)
So here we see that even when he was told not to tell others, he still felt compelled to tell them and that he would be sinful for not hiding Sacred Knowledge if he did not tell them. He understood that the onus of conveying Islam to the next generation was still on his shoulders and that the command to not tell others was only at a time when the religion was still not clear to everyone. (Fath al-Bari, Ibn Hajar al- Asqalani) This tells us that Muadh ibn Jabal took the responsibility of conveying the message very seriously.
Any cursive reading of the lives of the Prophetic Companions will show us that others did the same.
Hadiths Not Narrated for Fear of Error
A number of the Prophetic Companions were so scared of making errors in narrating Hadiths that they only narrated a very few hadiths in comparison to the number of hadiths that they heard.
Zubayr ibn Awwam, for example, was asked by his son why he did not narrate as many hadiths as other Prophetic Companions. ‘I was always by his side,’ replied Zubayr. ‘It is just that I heard him say, ‘Whoever lies/makes a mistake (kadhiba) about me, let him take his seat in the Hell-Fire.’ (Bukhari) So for fear of making a mistake in narrating hadiths, Zubayr ibn Awwam (Allah be pleased with him) generally refrained from narrating hadiths.
Anas ibn Malik said the same thing: he said, ‘The only reason I don’t narrate more hadiths to you is that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said, ‘Whoever intentionally lies about me, let him take his seat in the Hell-Fire.’ (Muslim)
Similar words and accounts have been narrated from Ibn Umar, Zayd ibn Arqam, Ibn Hurmuz, and many others. This indicates that they, like the rest of the Prophetic Companions, only narrated hadiths that they were 120% sure about. They did not treat narrated hadith as a light thing.
This also tells us that there were certain Prophetic teachings that certain Prophetic Companions knew about and did not narrate to us. However, it is far fetched to assume that those hadiths were both essential pieces of information necessary for applying the religion correctly and that no other Prophetic Companion knew about it or conveyed it to others.
Hadiths Not Narrated for Other Reasons
One Companion who certainly did not take this approach was Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him). He was genuinely scared that Allah would punish him if he did not narrate everything that he had heard from the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace).
That said, we also know that he said, ‘I have memorized two great containers [of knowledge] from the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace). As for one of them, I have dispersed it, and as for the other, were I to do so, this throat of mine would be slit.’ (Bukhari)
Similarly, he used to say of himself, ‘How many a bag that Abu Hurayra has that he hasn’t opened!’ (Siyar Alam al Nubala, Dhahabi) He meant knowledge that he had not mentioned publicly.
Commenting on this, Imam al-Dhahabi says, ‘This proves that it is permissible to hide certain hadiths that cause political strife, whether they be to do with beliefs or religious practice, or the merit [of certain people or things] or their evil. As for hadiths without which certain rulings in the Sacred Law could not be known, it is absolutely forbidden to hide such hadiths because they are of the “clear proofs and guidance” (Qur’an, 2: 159). (Siyar Alam al-Nubala, Dhahabi)
Further explaining this, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani said, ‘Scholars have interpreted this second “great container” to refer to the specific names of the corrupt rulers [to come], what they would be like, and what would happen during their reign … Ibn al Munayyir said, ‘Certain Ismailis and Alawis (al-Batiniyya) have used this hadith to promote their ideas that the Sacred Law has a superficial understanding (dhahir) and an esoteric understanding (batin). The only upshot of this is to get out of adhering to the letter of the Sacred Law.’ (Fath al-Bari, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani)
So nothing essential was being hidden. This tells us that we are not in the dark as to what Islam really is, and there is nothing hidden that any sect can pull out of the pockets and reinvent Islam with.
Knowing All the Hadiths
No laymen or scholar has ever known all the hadiths that have ever existed. (Raf al-Malam, Ibn Taymiyya) And this is not a concern. Of all the approximately 40,000 hadith we have access to today, most of them are not pivotal. This is not to discount the words of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), but rather to say that the core hadiths are relatively few, and not knowing one hadith would not mean that the religion would be lost.
To demonstrate what I mean, Imam al-Shafi’i said that the most important hadiths to do with legal rulings (ahadith al-ahkam) are about five hundred. (Siyar Alam al-Nubala, Dhahabi) Ibn Hajar’s Bulugh al Maram (summary of hadiths to do with legal rulings) only has about 1,300 hadith in it. Imam Nawawi’s Riyad al-Salihin on hadiths to do with key Islamic morals only contains about 2,000.
The key pivotal hadiths are not that many, so missing one of two hadiths is not going to change the whole religion, and there is no possibility that any key and fundamental hadiths have somehow been hidden from everyone.
The message of Islam has reached its full. The fact that some Companions did not narrate a few hadiths does not pose a threat to the preservation of Islam. They conveyed to us all the key teachings from the Messenger of Allah that we need to know. This is all because the religion of Islam will be preserved until the End of Time.
I pray this helps.
[Ustadh] Farid Dingle
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Ustadh Farid Dingle has completed extensive years of study in the sciences of the Arabic language and the various Islamic Sciences. During his studies, he also earned a CIFE Certificate in Islamic Finance. Over the years he has developed a masterful ability to craft lessons that help non-Arabic speakers gain a deep understanding of the language. He currently teaches courses in the Arabic Language.