The Strong Memory of the People of Hadith

The scholars of the past emphasised keeping important things in memory. When hadith were starting to be collected and passed down, at the time of the generation after the Sahabah, it was important for people to possess a strong memory. Hadith authentication depended on that strong memory, as well as reliable writings. Here are a collection of stories regarding this.

Imam Malik narrates that once his famous teachers al-Zuhri narrated 30 hadith to them. He told al-Zuhri that he could only memorise 15 of them so could he please repeat the other 15, and al-Zuhri replied “I never asked my teachers to repeat a hadith; repeating the hadith is more heavy to me than moving a mountain.”

Hisham ibn Abdul Malik, one of the Umayyad khalifas, wanted to test al-Zuhri one day. So he called him over and said his sons wanted to learn some hadith so could he please dictate some hadith for them to write. So al-Zuhri sat and narrated 400 hadith by heart. After a month, Hisham called al-Zuhri back again and said the books they had written had gotten lost. So al-Zuhri said this was no problem and he sat and narrated the same 400 hadith again from memory, while the scribes wrote. They compared the book written then to the one a month ago and not a single letter was missing.

It was said that al-Zuhri used to put cotton in his ear in the marketplace so that he would not be corrupted by what people are saying. This way he could always keep his mind focused on the words of hadith.

Hammad ibn Zayd says Amr ibn Ubayd al-Ansari narrated to him from Abu Zu’ayzi’a who was a scribe of Marwan ibn Hakam, governor of Madina, that “One day Marwan called Abu Hurayrah and asked him his hadith and he made me go behind a curtain to write all the hadith. After 1 year he again called Abu Hurayrah and asked the same hadith in the same order and again I was hiding to write them down, and when I compared the two there was no addition, omission, or change in order.”

Abu Bakr ibn Shadhan narrates that Abu Bakr, the son of the famous Abu Dawud, came to Isfahan to visit family and the people surrounded him and asked him to narrate hadith. He he said he does not have his books with him as he came for family, but they said he should know the hadith of his father without any books. They kept elevating him until he had to narrate 30,000 hadith by memory. When he came back, the people of Baghdad told the people of Isfahan that they should rely more on his books, so they took his books back to Isfahan and compared the dictation to his writing, and they found only 6 mistakes. Abu Bakr said 3 of them were actually his teacher’s mistakes.

After relating this story to Ishaq ibn Raghaway, he was told that Amr Sha’bi never wrote down anything. Ishaq replied “Are you surprised? Because you are talking to someone who knows 70,000 hadith as if he is reading from a book.”

Al-Bukhari was told this story and replied to the person “Are you surprised by this? There is someone in this world who knows 200,000 hadith like they are written in a book”. And indeed he was only talking about himself.

A Dream of a Prediction

Abu Hurayrah narrates that he heard the Prophet ﷺ say “When I was sleeping I saw a dream that I was at the edge of a well and there was a bucket, and I kept on pulling from the bucket as long as Allah wanted. Then Ibn Abi Quhafah (Abu Bakr) took it and he pulled it one or two times, and there was some weakness in his pulling, and Allah will forgive him for that weakness.”

This is a prediction from the Prophet ﷺ that means for a year or two Abu Bakr would continue from the his legacy and the weakness turned out to be the civil war and the wars of apostasy Abu Bakr faced which nearly tore the Ummah apart.

The narration continues from the Prophet ﷺ “Then it became a massive container and Umar ibn al-Khattab took that huge bucket, and I never saw such an amazing person do the pulling like the pulling of Umar, and he kept on pulling until even the camel’s pens drank.”

This is the prediction of the conquests of Umar which expanded the Muslim Ummah.

Source: Sahih Bukhari, narrated by Yasir Qadhi, Lives of Sahaba, Abu Bakr, Part 3

Always… with Abu Bakr and Umar

Ibn Abbas was a young man in his mid-20s when Umar passed away. He narrates this story just when permission had come from Aisha allowed Umar to be buried in the same room next to the Prophet ﷺ and Abu Bakr.

Ibn Abbas narrates:

On the day that Umar was stabbed and killed, I was standing there when Umar was placed on his bed as he was dying. As I was standing there I felt on my shoulder somebody’s elbow leaning over me. I heard him say: “May Allah have mercy on you, I always hoped that Allah would place you together with your two companions, because how often did I used to hear the Prophet ﷺ say ‘I used to… along with Abu Bakr and Umar’ and ‘I did… with Abu Bakr and Umar’ and ‘I went… along with Abu Bakr and Umar’, and so I wanted you to be with them in death as well.” I looked back to see who was the person speaking, and it was Ali ibn Abu Talib.

Source: Sahih Bukhari, narrated by Yasir Qadhi, Lives of the Sahaba, Abu Bakr, Part 3

A Beautiful Family

Once the Prophet ﷺ was in the house of Aisha with her, and Abu Bakr came by. He heard Aisha’s voice raising up over the Prophet’s ﷺ, because they were having a domestic dispute like any other couple. When he hears this he becomes very angry. He asks permission to come in and he rebukes his daughter, saying “How dare you raise your voice against the Prophet ﷺ? ” And his temper begins to raise until Aisha becomes scared, and the Prophet ﷺ has to come between them and calm Abu Bakr down.

A few days later, Abu Bakr comes to visit them again and he hears laughter and joking, which shows they were now reconciled. (This is of the blessings of Allah that we see the Prophet ﷺ had a normal marital life with his spouses, without getting into details, but we know just enough to make us feel comfortable for being human with each other.) He hears them laughing and joking, so he knocks on the door again and says, “O Messenger of Allah, allow me to visit while you’re in peace as you allowed me to visit you while you were at war!”

Source: Sunan Abu Dawud, narrated by Yasir Qadhi, Lives of Sahaba, Abu Bakr, Part 3

The Iman of Abu Bakr

Abu Bakr’s son Abdullah was hit by an arrow during the Battle of Ta’if after the conquest of Mecca. This arrow did not kill him but wounded him severely, and it continued to cause problems until he eventually died from it in Madinah over a year later, 40 days after the death of the Prophet ﷺ.

Later, when Abu Bakr was the Caliph, the tribe of Ta’if, Banu Thaqifah, came to visit him. Abu Bakr had kept the arrow, so he took it out and asked the tribe of Thaqif: “Do you recognise who this arrow belongs to?”

So they passed it around until one of them, Sa’id ibn Ubayd, said “This is my arrow; I recognise it. I’m the one who carved it and sharpened it and feathered it and shot it.” In those days each arrow was custom made and hand made, and they would be collected and used again. They did not realise the significance of the arrow and who had been affected by it!

So Abu Bakr says, and look at his amazing iman:

“This is the arrow that killed my son Abdullah. So alhamdulillah to the One who honoured him through you, and did not humiliate you through him, for that is better for the both of you.”

This is because his son was honoured with martyrdom through Sa’id, and Sa’id would be forgiven for that because he became Muslim afterwards, so his sins before are forgiven. This is the amazing iman of Abu Bakr al-Siddiq.

Source: Yasir Qadhi, Lives of the Sahaba, Abu Bakr, Part 3

Battle of Yamamah

The Battle of Yamamah took place at the time of Abu Bakr’s (ra) caliphate to eliminate the threat of Musaylamah al-Kaddhab. As they were awaiting the support of Khalid bin Waleed (ra), Abu Bakr commanded the army under Ikrimah (ra) not to engage Musaylamah’s army near Yamamah. The army of Musaylmah was composed of the men of the tribe of Banu Hanifa, which was known to be a very strong tribe. This is why the Muslims needed to amass as much support as possible. However, Ikrimah could not contain himself and attacked, only to be defeated by Musaylamah.

Shurahbil (ra) thereafter brought his army in support and was equally told by Abu Bakr not to engage until Khalid came. However, the similar temptation came to him and he ordered his army to attack, only to be defeated by Musaylamah as well. When Khalid bin Waleed and his 14,000 men arrived, he found Shurahbil’s battered men and rebuked him for attacking prematurely.

Now the army of Musaylamah grew in confidence after having defeated two armies of the Muslims. However, many of Musaylamah’s 40,000 men did not fight out of conviction of faith, but rather out of tribal loyalty. Many of them actually doubted Musaylamah’s 

Initially the battle swayed one way and then the other, ending with the Muslims in retreat and the apostates in quick pursuit. The apostates started to loot the Muslim camps, allowing the Muslims time to regroup. They attacked again and managed to push the enemy back.

Khalid bin Waleed stepped up for duels and he eliminated challengers one after another. He then proposed to hold talks with Musaylamah who came out surrounded by a group of men. Khalid bin Waleed was a great general who often used psychological warfare to his advantage on the battlefield. He lured Musaylamah out and waited for the perfect opportunity to strike. When he moved forward to attack, Musaylamah turned around and ran off. This demoralised his men and the Muslims began shouting “Allahu Akbar!”

The Muslims attacked in full force and caused the apostates to flee and fortify themselves in the castle. The apostates angrily asked Musaylamah where the victory was and where were the miracles he promised them. He replied saying “Fight in order to defend your honour and noble lineages. As for religion, there is no religion.” The walls were impenetrable and the Muslims were stumped as to how to put an end to this.

Then an old companion who was known to be very adventurous and daring proposed something. His name was Baraa ibn Malik (ra). He told his comrades to throw him over the wall and once over he would loosen the gates and let the Muslims through. Initially Khalid refused to allow this but in the end the plan was accepted. He was thrown over the wall and in some miraculous feat he managed to loosen the bolts to the gates. The Muslims poured through the narrow gate.

Many are aware of the story of Wahshi, the Abyssinian slave who was granted freedom by Hind ibn Utbah after killing the uncle of the Prophet (saws), Hamza (ra), at the Battle of Uhud. He was an expert spearsman and practised this method to perfection in the hopes of attaining his freedom. In this battle, Wahshi (ra) was the one who managed to hit Musaylamah by piercing him through the stomach with a spear. He crumpled forward and Abu Dujanah (ra) finished him off. This is where Wahshi said his famous phrase: “Before Islam I killed the best of people, and after Islam I killed the worst of people.”

Many great companions and huffaz (those who had memorised the entire Quran by heart) were lost fighting bravely that day. Among them included Thabit bin Qais (ra), the spokesman of the Quraysh, and Zayd bin al-Khattab (ra), the half-brother of Umar (ra). Umar used to say that his brother beat him in two things – entering Islam and gaining martyrdom. Because of the loss of so many huffaz, this prompted Abu Bakr to start compiling the Quran in written form for its preservation.

Musaylama “The Liar”

Musaylama bin Habeeb was a man who belonged to the tribe of Bani Hanifa, which was a very strong tribe from the area of Najd. His entire tribe came and embraced Islam in Medina in 9AH. When Musaylama left the gathering he told the people “If Muhammad makes me a successor after him, only then will I believe in him as a prophet.” Unknown to him at the time, the Prophet (saws) was standing right behind him. He picked up a stick and told Musaylama “If you were to ask me for this stick in my hand I would not share it with you”.

Most of the tribe returned to Yamamah, but one of the chiefs named Nahar al-Rajjal stayed behind in Medina, memorised the entire Quran and spent time with the Prophet (saws) and the companions (ra).

A year later, in 10AH, Musaylama wrote a letter to the Prophet (saws) saying:

“From Musalama the Messenger of Allah to Muhammad the Messenger of Allah. Salutations to you. I have been given a share with you in this matter. Half the earth belongs to us and half to the Quraysh, but the Quraysh are people who transgress.”

Upon receiving this letter, the Prophet (saws) asked the messenger who delivered it if he believed in what had been written. The messenger replied in the affirmative and the Prophet (saws) said that if it wasn’t for the etiquette of not harming messengers, he would have been killed.

The Prophet (saws) replied to Musaylama saying:

“In the name of Allah. From Muhammad the Messenger of Allah to Musaylama the Liar (al-Kaddhab). Salutations to whoever follows guidance. Lo! The earth belongs to Allah. He gives it to whoever he wishes from His servants. And there Hereafter is for the virtuous.”

This is how Musaylama earned the title which he will be forever remembered, Musaylama the Liar or Musaylama al-Kaddhab.

The Prophet (saws) sent Habib ibn Umm Ummara (ra), who was the son of a woman who fought very bravely at the Battle of Uhud and was honoured by the Prophet (saws). When Musaylama received the letter he asked Habib if he thought Muhammad (saws) was a Messenger of Allah and he replied in the affirmative. He then asked if he believed Musaylama was a Messenger of Allah and Habib replied saying “I cannot hear you.” Musaylama had him tied down lying flat on the ground and repeated these questions and Habib replied with the same replies. Musaylama then cut off one limb. He repeated the questions again and Habib replied in the same way as before. Musaylama then cut off another limb. This continued until Habib (ra) was martyred in the cause of Allah.

The Prophet (saws) sent Nahar al-Rajjal to deal with the problem of Musaylama as he was also from Bani Hanifa, but he was convinced to join Musaylama’s side once he was promised half of everything Musaylama owned. This was a big tribulation for the Muslims because he was a man who had memorised the entire Quran and had spent time with the best of creation.

Musaylama would ask Nahar what the Prophet (saws) used to do and he would try to emulate the Prophet (saws). For instance, Nahar told Musaylama that the Prophet (saws) used to chew a small piece of a date and place it in the newborn’s mouth. When Musaylama emulated this all the children ended up having no teeth! He also tried to copy the Prophet (saws) in spitting in a bitter well to make it sweet, but his saliva ended up ruining the well’s taste even further! He made alcohol lawful and had strange rulings such as a father having to remain celibate after having a son unless that son died.

His revelation was also a bit funny, for example:

The elephant. What is the elephant? And what would have you know what the elephant is? It has a scraggly tail, and a very long trunk

Before he had accepted Islam, Amr ibn al-Aas (ra) once visited Musaylama and the latter asked him what had been revealed to his friend (i.e. the Prophet Muhammad (saws)). Amr ibn al-Aas (ra) read to him Surat al-Asr:

By time, verily mankind is in loss. Except those who believe and do good, and join together in truth and join together in patience. (Quran 103)

So Musaylama thought for a while and then said that something similar had also been revealed to him:

O Wabr (a small furry mammal known as a hyrax), O Wabr! You are only two ears and a chest, and the rest of you is digging and burrowing.

He said “What do you think, oh Amr?” Amr ibn al-Aas (ra) said to him “By Allah! You know that I know you are lying!” Musaylama meant to produce something that would match the Quran but it was not even convincing to an idol worshipper!

Battle of Kazima

The used to say “No one saw the face of Khalid bin Waleed (ra) except they were already defeated.”

Abu Bakr (ra) sent Khalid to Iraq to fight against the Persians. They had a great empire which they ruled for over 1200 years as a world superpower. Their lands spanned from Greece in the West to Punjab in the East.

Due to the wars already fought by the army, Abu Bakr also told Khalid to grant permission to those soldiers who wished to return home. Hence his army shrunk from 13,000 to only 2,000. He wrote a letter back to Abu Bakr informing him of this and Abu Bakr responded by sending 1 man – Qaqa’ bin Amr. The people asked Abu Bakr how he could replace 11,000 men with 1 man, and he replied “An army with the ranks of those like Qaqa’ will never be forsaken by Allah.”

The Muslims, and especially Khalid bin Waleed, were gaining reputation and the Persians sent one of their greatest warriors named Hormuz as the leader of their army. Hormuz was an amazing warrior, referred to as the ‘Defender of Persia’. He had the highest rank of a 100,000 dirham cap studded with pearls and diamonds.

What made Khalid bin Waleed a great general was his war tactics and psychological warfare which crippled the opposing forces. He knew the Persian warriors carried heavy weapons and heavy armour. So he moved his forces to a place called Hudhair in Iraq. Hormuz, wanting to intercept the Muslim army, rushed his forces to overtake them and managed to reach Hudhair first. When he reached Hudhair, he realised that Khalid had returned back to Kazima. Again Hormuz rushed his army to overtake the Muslims and he reached Kazima first, but by this time his army were exhausted. When Khalid bin Waleed arrived he ordered them to attack straight away, thereby not giving any time for rest.

Hormuz emerged from the ranks and called out for Khalid, challenging him to a duel. Hormuz had carefully manoeuvred the duel to take place closer to his side, positioning people to ambush Khalid and kill him. Initially they fought on horses but then when Hormuz got off his horse, Khalid got off his horse and they continued battling. Then Hormuz threw his sword and Khalid in turn also threw his sword, ready to wrestle to the death. As they were wrestling, Hormuz managed to get Khalid in a hold and called out to his men who came charging, ready to kill Khalid. Abu Bakr knew the worth of Qaqa’, who was all prepared for this possibility and he rode out to intercept the men successfully.

By the end of the day, the Muslims had defeated the Persian army and taken control over the region.

Shuwail and Kiramah

During the time of the Prophet (saws) there was a Christian Arab princess  named Kiramah bint Abd al-Masih who was well known through poems and tales of her beauty. She lived in Hira, a Roman city which was the centre of the Christian Arabs. The Prophet (saws) predicted that the Muslims would conquer Hira and a Bedouin companion named Shuwail (ra) asked the Prophet (saws) if he could have Kiramah. The Prophet (saws) said “She will be yours.” This man was a Bedouin who lived a rough life and was uneducated and unlettered.

When the Muslims conquered Hira under Khalid bin Waleed (ra) during the time of Abu Bakr (ra), Shuwail approached Khalid and asked for Kiramah. Khalid was surprised that a Bedouin would be promised a princess, but he brought forward his witnesses and Kiramah was brought to him. The women of the household objected but Kiramah said she would handle it.

When she stood before him, he was left speechless that she was a wrinkled old woman! She called him a fool and said that those tales were told decades before when she was young. She said “Of what use is an old woman to you? Let me go!”

But Shuwail, despite being uneducated, knew that she was still of worth and he could earn a profit by making her pay for her freedom. She asked for the price and he said “I am not the son of the mother of Shuwail if I let you go for less than ten hundred dirhams (i.e. 1000 dirhams).” She mildly protested but then paid the fee and returned to her family.

Shuwail returned to his comrades full of pride saying that he had made her pay through her nose. He was met by laughter and they exclaimed “1000 dirhams! For Kiramah you could have gotten much much more!”

Shuwail replied “More than ten hundred dirhams?? I didn’t know there was anything more than ten hundred dirhams!”

Hearing this, Khalid bin Waleed laughed and said “Man intends one thing, but Allah intends another.”

Battle at Ajnadein

During the caliphate of Abu Bakr (ra) the Muslims squared off against the Romans in the land of Sham. The first major victory in that area was the capture of Busra, the main trading centre of Syria. One soldier named Dirar ibn al-Azwar (ra) became famous in that battle for taking off his armour and upper garment, earning him the nickname ‘The half-naked warrior’.

After this, they faced a decisive battle against the Romans at Ajnadein. The Romans had gathered a formidable force of 90,000 under the leadership of Wardan. The Muslims assembled their largest army thus far of 32,000 under the leadership of the great Khalid bin Waleed (ra), also known as Saifullah, or the Sword of Allah.

There remained a stand-off for a few days, and Khalid bin Waleed wished to send a spy into the Roman camp. Dirar ibn al-Azwar volunteered, and baring his body he rode out but was intercepted by some Roman soldiers. He turned his horse back and began to gallop. As he rode back, 30 Roman soldiers followed him. Being the adventurous type, he decided to turn his horse to face them and he fought against them, killing 19 of them before they retreated. When he returned, the Muslims cheered him on but Khalid bin Waleed scolded him for being reckless.

Some time later, Khalid bin Waleed decided to square off against the enemy, giving specific orders for them not to attack until he tells them. The Roman bows and slings were far superior to the Muslim army, and the Muslims took heavy losses. The army leaders wished to advance the attack but Khalid stopped them, saying “Not until I give the order.” Again they lost many and the leaders were pushing to fight but Khalid said “Not until I give the order.” Then Khalid allowed a few fighters to go forward and fight in duels, and the Muslims, who were now heated for battle, defeated anyone who dared face them. The Romans became demoralised by this and Khalid ordered a full attack which resulted in massive Roman losses.

That evening, the Roman general, Wardan, gathered his counsellors and decided that they needed to dispose of Khalid bin Waleed himself, so they formulated a plan to lure Khalid out the next morning with the talk of negotiations and then ambush him. They sent a man named David to tell Khalid of this but when they met, David was so amazed by Khalid’s strength and conviction that he informed Khalid of the plot in return of his family’s safety. He informed them that 10 Roman soldiers would be hidden below a hillock, next to where the negotiations between the two generals were supposed to take place.

Khalid initially formulated a plan for some soldiers under the lead of Dirar ibn al-Azwar to intercept the Roman soldiers when they went out to ambush him, but Dirar felt it would be better for them to kill the Romans in the guise of darkness before the morning came. Khalid agreed and Dirar and his 9 men set out shortly after midnight.

The following morning Khalid went out to meet Wardan, who was dressed in bejewelled armour with a bejewelled sword by his side. They spoke for a while and then all of a sudden Wardan grabbed Khalid in a strong hold and called out. From behind the hillock, they saw 10 Roman soldiers emerge and race towards them. Khalid thought that perhaps Dirar’s time had come and he had made no other arrangements for his protection.

As the soldiers surrounded the two men, Khalid noticed that one of them was not wearing any upper garments! It was Dirar and his men who had put on the Roman soldiers’ clothing. Khalid recited the verse “They plan and Allah plans and Allah is the best of planners” and he deposed of Wardan.

Khalid took the opportunity to continue the ruse further and he put on Wardan’s beautiful armour and sword, and walked out of the hillock towards the Roman camp with 10 soldiers dressed in Roman clothing and holding the head of a man. The Romans were thrilled as they thought their leader had decapitated the great Khalid bin Waleed and the Muslims were in complete and utter shock. Then Khalid threw off the armour and called on the Muslims to attack.

Some time later, a letter was received in Medina from Khalid bin Waleed stating that 50,000 Romans had been killed and 450 Muslims martyred in the victory over the superpower of the time.