Oldest Hadith Manuscripts – Join islam

If we consider the Hadith as an essential component of being a faithful adherent of Islam, it is indeed perplexing that we do not encounter extensive records of written Hadith circulating in the immediate generations following the Prophet’s passing. Given the vast quantity of Hadith within the corpus, some estimates even suggesting the presence of over a million possible Hadith in circulation, one would naturally anticipate an abundance of manuscripts tracing back to the time of the Quranic revelations. Except the complete opposite is observed. To date, we have yet to discover even a single complete or fragmentary manuscript from the first century after the Hijra. In actuality, the earliest Hadith manuscript we have presently is a solitary, fragmented page from Imam Malik’s Muwatta, dating to approximately 793 CE or 176 AH. This chronology places it more than 160 years after the Prophet’s demise.

Moreover, when we consider the substantial intervals separating the initial publication of these texts from the emergence of their earliest surviving manuscripts, it inevitably raises questions about the extent to which the compositions we possess today can be attributed to the original authors as opposed to contributions made by their respective students and later interpreters.

Gharib al-Hadith

Abu Ubaid al-Qasim bin Salam (770-838CE / ), often referred to as Abū ʿUbayd, was an early Islamic scholar who wrote the book Gharib al-Hadith (MS Leiden Or. 298). The earliest manuscript of his work is dated 866CE / 252 AH, which is an incomplete manuscript and is kept at the Library of the University of Leiden.

This book is not a traditional Hadith book but focuses on how to understand uncommon words found in the hadith corpus and is more akin to a dictionary. It does not contain an isnad to the snippets of Hadith it cites in attempting to understand the meaning of words. It also was not meant to be taken as a basis of sharia (religious law system) or fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence).

For example, here is an entry from his book, along with the translation:

آله وَقَالَ [أَبُو عبيد -] : فِي حَدِيث ابْن عَبَّاس حِين ذكر آدم عَلَيْهِ السَّلَام ودخوله الْجنَّة فِي آخر سَاعَة من النَّهَار قَالَ: فَللَّه مَا غَابَتْ الشَّمْس حَتَّى أخرج مِنْهَا. قَوْله: فَللَّه يُرِيد: فوَاللَّه [وَالْعرب تَقول هَذَا تَقول: لله لقد كَانَ كَذَا وَكَذَا يُرِيد: وَالله وأنشدنا الْكسَائي: (الطَّوِيل)

: لَهِنّك من عَبْسِيّةٍ لَوَسِيمةٌ … على هَنَوات كَاذِب من يقولُها

وَقَوله: لَهنّك يُرِيد: وَالله إِنَّك لوسيمة فأسقط الْوَاو من وَالله وَأسْقط إِحْدَى اللامين من الله كَمَا قَالَ الآخر: (الْكَامِل)

لاهِ ابنُ عمّكَ والنَوى يَعْدُو

أَرَادَ: لله ابْن عمّك] .

Alah (أله) said, and Abu Ubaid mentioned: In the hadith of Ibn Abbas, when he mentioned Adam (peace be upon him) and his entry into Paradise in the last hour of the day, he said: ‘By Allah, the sun did not set until he was taken out of it.’

His statement, ‘By Allah,’ means: ‘I swear by Allah,’ and Arabs use this expression to emphasize something. For example, they say: ‘By Allah, it was indeed like this and that,’ meaning, ‘I swear by Allah, it was like this and that.’ And we have been told by Al-Kisai (the poet) in his poem called ‘At-Tawil’:

لَهِنَّك من عَبْسِيَّةٍ لَوَسِيمةٌ … على هَنَوات كَاذِب من يقولُها

And his statement, ‘لَهنَّك’ means: ‘By Allah, you are indeed beautiful,’ so he dropped the ‘وَ’ from ‘وَالله’ (By Allah) and dropped one of the ‘لام’ from ‘الله’ (Allah), just as the other poet said:

لاهِ ابنُ عمّكَ والنَوى يَعْدُو

He meant: ‘By Allah, you are indeed the son of your uncle.’”

One of the earliest collections of hadith was compiled by the Persian Imam Ma’mar ibn Rashid (714-770CE, 96-153AH). Two partial manuscripts of this book have been found in Turkey. One is from Ankara and dates back to 974CE / 364 AH, and another one similar to it is in Istanbul. One of the controversies to this text is whether the book was originally authored by Ma’mar ibn Rashid or his student ‘Abd al-Razzaq (744-827CE, 126-211AH), who started his studies with ibn Rashid when he was 20.

Jami’ of Ma’mar ibn Rashid

One of the earliest collections of hadith was compiled by the Persian Imam Ma’mar ibn Rashid (714-770CE, 96-153AH). Two partial manuscripts of this book have been found in Turkey. One is from Ankara and dates back to 974CE / 364 AH, and another one similar to it is in Istanbul. One of the controversies to this text is whether the book was originally authored by Ma’mar ibn Rashid or his student ‘Abd al-Razzaq (744-827CE, 126-211AH), who started his studies with ibn Rashid when he was 20.

While this work does contain isnad for the Hadith cited, the isnad uses “anonymous sources, broken isnads, anomalous informants, indirect transmission and reports from very weak transmitters” based on the following analysis.

Ṣaḥīfat Hammām ibn Munabbih

Ṣaḥīfat Hammām ibn Munabbih ( صحيفة همام بن منبه ),  ’The Book of Hammam ibn Munabbih,’ is a hadith collection compiled by the Islamic scholar Hammam ibn Munabbih, who is claimed to be a student of Abu Hurayrah. It is sometimes quoted as the oldest documented Hadith compilation, which consists of ~140 ahadith. It is unsure when Hammam lived, with the possible dates of death being 719CE / 101AH  or 748CE / 130AH. In addition to that discrepancy, the original manuscripts for this work has been lost, but it is known through ‘Abd al-Razzaq (744-827CE, 126-211AH), which have an isnad (chain of narrators) The Prophet → Abū Hurayrah → Hammām → Ma‘mar → ‘Abd al-Razzāq.

Even the Musannaf of ‘Abd al-Razzq that contains this work was thought to have been lost and was just recently extracted from other works, with 90% of the material being traced back to the transmitter Ishaq ibn Ibrahim al-Mus’abi (d. 850). Therefore the earliest manuscript for this work is undetermined as it is a modern-day extraction from other works.

Muwatta Imam Malik

Muwatta Imam Malik (711–795CE, 93-179AH) is usually described as the earliest written collection of hadith. The Muwatta blends the sayings of Muhammad with the sayings of the companions as well as Imam Malik’s own understandings. According to one version, 822 hadith are ascribed to Muhammad and 898 from others. To date, there are sixteen known versions of the Muwatta, each different from the others, of which the most famous is the one transmitted by Yahya ibn Yahya al-Laythi. For example, The recension of the Muwatta produced by Ahmad ibn Abi Bakr al-Zuhri is approximately five to ten percent larger than the recension of al-Laythi.

PERF No. 731 is the earliest known manuscript of Mālik’s Muwaṭṭaʾ, dated to his own time (~793CE / 176AH), and consists of only a single page.


The Risāla is a book written by ash-Shafi’i (d. 820), with the full title Kitab ar-Risāla fī Uṣūl al-Fiqh (Arabic: كتاب الرسالة في أصول الفقه “book of the communication on the foundations of comprehension (i.e. Islamic jurisprudence)”. As the primary purpose of this book was Shafi’s understanding of certain topics of jurisprudence, it only contains dozens of Hadith. There are two manuscripts of this book at the National Library in Cairo. The first is the manuscript of Ibn Jama’ah, and the second is the manuscript of Ar-Rabi’.

There is uncertainty as to what century this manuscript is dated, with the earliest date being ~270AH by Ahmad Muhammad Shakir, while Bernhard Moritz, the German orientalist, dates Ar-Rabi’s manuscript to the middle of the fourth century AH.

Sahih Bukhari

The most revered and mainstream book of Hadith that most Muslims are familiar with is that of Sahih Bukhari (810-870CE, 194-256AH). The oldest Arabic manuscript published online of this work is dated 407 AH (1017CE) and only contains books 65 through 69, with book 65 being incomplete. This manuscript is kept at the National Library of Bulgaria, and can be viewed online at World Digital Library‘s official website.

The oldest full manuscript is a version narrated by Abu Dharr al-Heravi (d. 1043CE) and is kept at the Süleymaniye Library in Istanbul, and is dated to 1155CE / 550 AH. Another complete manuscript version is kept at Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, Ireland (no. 4176). It was copied by Ahmad bin Ali bin Abdul Wahhab and was dated 28 November 1294CE / 8 Muharram 694 AH.

Each version of the Sahih is named by its narrator. There are many books that noted differences between the different versions, the best known being Fath al-Bari. The version transmitted by Muhammad ibn Yusuf al-Firabri (d. 932), a trusted student of Bukhari, is the most famous version of the Sahih al-Bukhari today. All modern printed versions are derived from this version.

Sahih Muslim

Sahih Muslim is the most authentic book of Hadith after Sahih Al-Bukhari and contains 7,563 Ahadith. There are at least five hundred extant manuscripts of Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim that have been transcribed over a millennium by scribes from different regions. 

According to Yaqeen Institute,

[The earliest] partial manuscript kept in the Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Library was transcribed in the 5th century AH. The exact date of its transcription is not documented, but it was used by Abū Bakr al-Ṭūsī in 486 AH to teach the text. Another partial manuscript dated to 471 AH is held in the Ẓāhiriyyah Library (al-Assad National Library) in Damascus.

Several valuable manuscripts are easily accessible today and have been used by researchers to produce a critically edited version of the text. One early manuscript was transcribed by ʿAbd Allāh ibn ʿĪsā al-Murādī in 559 AH. This was read to and verified by Ḥadīth experts like Abū ʿAlī al-Baṭalyawsī (d. 568 AH), Ibn ʿAsākir (d. 571 AH), and al-Dimyāṭī (d. 705 AH), all of whom noted variants found in their respective manuscripts. The physical copy is held in the El Escorial Library in Spain, and a digital copy is available online.

The article continues in the section titled “Finalized Text or Fluid Text?”

“Here we will address a concern that was raised concerning the authorship of the Ṣaḥīḥ as we have it today: did Muslim complete the Ṣaḥīḥ during his lifetime or was it put into final form by subsequent students? As a result of issues like “organic texts, pseudepigraphy, and long-term redactional activity,” Norman Calder argued that Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim was put into final form a generation after the author’s demise. To be clear, there are definitely variations between the recensions of the Ṣaḥīḥ. But that was a natural outcome of the process of transmission.”

In one study, scholars found 117 differences when they compared two versions of Sahih Muslim (by Ibrāhīm ibn Sufyān and Ibn Māhān via al-Qalānisī), with 56 variations in the chains of transmission and 61 in the texts. This should be incredibly alarming to individuals who believe this work to be divine revelation (wahi), not to mention that the first Hadith of Sahih Muslim states.

Abū Bakr ibn Abī Shaybah narrated to us that Ghundar narrated to us, on authority of Shu’bah; and Muhammad bin ul-Muthannā and Ibn Bashār both narrated to us, they said: Muhammad bin Ja’far narrated to us, Shu’bah narrated to us, on authority of Mansūr, on authority of Rab’iy ibn Hirāsh, that he heard Alī, may Allah be pleased with him, giving a Khutbah and he said that the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah upon him, said: ‘Do not lie upon me; indeed whoever lies upon me will enter the Fire.’

وَحَدَّثَنَا أَبُو بَكْرِ بْنُ أَبِي شَيْبَةَ، حَدَّثَنَا غُنْدَرٌ، عَنْ شُعْبَةَ، ح وَحَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ الْمُثَنَّى، وَابْنُ، بَشَّارٍ قَالاَ حَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ جَعْفَرٍ، حَدَّثَنَا شُعْبَةُ، عَنْ مَنْصُورٍ، عَنْ رِبْعِيِّ بْنِ حِرَاشٍ، أَنَّهُ سَمِعَ عَلِيًّا، – رضى الله عنه – يَخْطُبُ قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏ “‏ لاَ تَكْذِبُوا عَلَىَّ فَإِنَّهُ مَنْ يَكْذِبْ عَلَىَّ يَلِجِ النَّارَ ‏”‏ ‏.‏

Sahih Muslim 1


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