|How was Sunnah collected?
During the days of The Prophet (peace be upon him), Arabs were illiterate. Allah the Almighty says:
"He is The One Who has sent forth among the illiterate (i.e., Arabs; the common folk) a Messenger from among them, to recite His ayat (Verses, signs) to them, and to cleanse them, and to teach them the Book and (the) Wisdom, though they were earlier indeed in evident error".
Actually, this is due to several reasons among which are the following: Arabs' poverty, the feebleness of their resources, and the tough nature of their desert life which implies the lack of an outstanding civilization. Additionally, the rarity of writing tools and educational means in those times helped in their illiteracy.
In fact, Allah the Almighty had granted Arabs very powerful memories to be able to cope with the atmosphere around them and to prepare them to receive the Divine Revelation, for they were chosen to be the carriers of its illuminating lights and its advertisers. Therefore, Arabs had to rely heavily on their memories to record their history, their kinship and their poetry in order not to loose them with the passing of time.
This strong memory played a crucial role in collecting the Sunnah, which passed through many stages. The most important of these are the following:
Stage one: The registration of the Sunnah employing the Arabs' memory in the early days of Islam.
At the very beginning of Muhammad's mission, the Prophet (PBUH) forbade his companions from writing anything of what he says, except for the Holy Quran, fearing mixing them up. He was keen to keep the Holy Quran pure. In spite of the high standard occupied by his sayings, Muhammad (PBUH) was interested in Muslims' full understanding of: First, the truth in the difference between the Holy Quran and the Sunnah (though this difference is mandatory in making inferences about religious matters), and second, the priority of the former over the latter, keeping in mind the necessity of following the doctrines of both of them. In his Sahih Muslim (Avery precious book in several parts in which Al Imam (the chaplain) Muslim collected a huge number of authentic Hadiths), the Imam narrates that the Prophet (PBUH) said: "Do not record my sayings and whoever did it, except for the Holy Quran, have to omit it, but tell people about them, hence you will not be guilty"
This interdiction, in fact, was meant to address the Prophet's literate companions, and actually they were only a few. As will seen from the following Hadith, the Prophet (PBUH) not only urged his companions to keep his sayings in their minds and to advertise them, but also he prayed for the one who did so: " May Allah the Almighty bestow the light of beauty upon whoever heard something from us (the prophet himself PBUH), understood it and then, told it as he/she heard it". That is why the Prophet's companions devoted themselves to this mission. Of course this was absolutely easy for them thanks to the notion of the strength of their memories discussed above.
Stage two:Writing down the Sunnah.
After the spread of Islam of about twenty years, Muslims totally absorbed and clearly realized the difference between the Holy Quran and the Hadith which is the Sunnah. Thus, a new stage of Sunnah registration had begun. Some of the Prophet's literate companions, top of them was Abdullah ibn Amr ibn Al-Aas (May Allah be pleased with them), Started to write down what he (the Prophet) had said. Abdullah had a kind of note-book called -As Sadika-
"the genuine" in which he recorded every Hadith he heard from the Prophet (PBUH).
Al-Bukhari narrated in his Sahih that Abu Huraira (May Allah be pleased with him) said: " There was nobody who memorizes the prophetic Hadith as good as me and nobody who narrates many of them as me, except for Abdullah ibn Amr ibn Al-Aas because he wrote all what he heard from the Prophet, but I did not because of being illiterate".
Stage three :At-Tabe'een (The Followers) i.e.the Muslim generation that followed the Prophet's companions but did not see him.
After the Prophet's death, his companions transmitted his sayings to At-Tabe'een, who learnt Islam's doctrines from them. In this era, true registration of Sunnah began. In fact, Hammam ibn Monabeh, one of the leading figures of the era, had a kind of note-book, called As Sahiha "the genuine", in which he narrates the Sunnah depending on what Abu Huraira had said.
(This note-book has reached us complete as ibn Monabeh wrote it and it was discovered by Dr.Muhammad Hameed Allah Al-Haydar Abady in two similar manuscripts). (Al Sunnah Kabl Al Tadween,The Sunnah before Registration:356).
Professor Hassan Al Nadawey states that the compilation of this manuscript goes back to the mid-first Higry (The Muhammadan calender), because Abu Huraira died in the fifty eighth year after the Higra,(the emmigration of the Prophet(PBUH) from Makka to Al Maddina), and that it is of his dictation.
That is how the Sunnah registration was done at the late days of the Prophet's era, after his death (in separated note-books in an unorganized and unchapterised way) in At Tabe'een era, and then late in this same era(with the spread of Sunnah's Savants in all cities) was the start of systematic registration.
However, the difference in the levels of the Hadith does not have to be suspicious. On the contrary, it is an eminent evidence of Muslims accuracy in transmitting what happened during the Prophet's era. For it is Muslims Savants themselves who categorized the Hadith into authentic and weak. Actually, they laid some conditions to accept any Hadith and if these were realized, then they accept it, and if one or more were not applicable the Hadith was ignored. The following step was to have a second look at the accepted ones and recategorize them onto authentic and weak depending on how much the conditions are applicable.
In fact, these conditions are divided into two sections:
The first: Conditions that have to be present in the Hadith's narrators themselves (this is called Al Sanad). These are the conditions upon which criticizing and adjusting are based.
The second: Conditions that have to be present in the Hadith itself (This is called Al Matn).
Therefore, accuracy and honesty in transmitting are what best identifies the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH), and this categorization was initially meant to serve this purpose.
Actually, the assumption that the Sunnah does not suit the twenty first century is a fake one. WHY? Because, the Sunnah consists of : Morals , Ethics and decrees. As for the first two notions, they are relevant to every time and every place and nobody can argue about this.
Does any sane human being dare to object kindness, hospitality, bashfulness, honesty, overlooking, keeping one's tongue or hands away from hurting people and being good to one's neighbors?!! I do not think so.
In what concerns the decrees, the reply is made clear in " Refuting the suspicion of the validity of the Islamic Law for each era & each place "
that says: "The Islamic Sharia (Law) is Valid for Each Era & Each Place"