ARE COMPANIONS OF THE PROPHET FREE FROM ERRORS?
The word sahaba is used for all Muslim individuals who had the privilege of seeing the Prophet, even from a distance. This definition of Bukhari has received general acceptance. In the well-known hadith compilations, the honesty, the reliability of the memory, and the faith of persons who claim to have heard a certain saying of Muhammad reported were questioned to check the veracity of the allegation or for rejection of testimony. Yet, no one’s lifetime would suffice for the examination as to honesty, reliability of memory and checking of other qualifications of reporters up until the third century AH.
Abu Shame said: “Views on transmitters of hadiths present great diversity; while a particular transmitter is the most reliable one among others for some, for others he happens to be the most accomplished liar.” For instance, he may be a trustworthy transmitter according to Ikrim and Bukhari, but a perjurer for Muslim. This instance may be multiplied. Among these the most striking example may be Bukhari’s refusal to include in his compilation any of the traditions transmitted by Abu Hanifa as he declared him to be one of the most unreliable of transmitters. The founder of the foremost representative and revered figure of traditional Islam happens to be unreliable according to the most prominent compiler of hadiths. The contradictory accounts encountered about hadiths, subject of controversy, among members of the board of examiners, abounds, and are as many as those existing between the hadiths themselves. We refrain from going into detail, as it is useless and may be tiresome.
All these hadiths were first attributed to the companions of the Prophet as the last link in the chain of information, to be eventually traced back to the Prophet. Persons, who came after the companions, also became a bone of contention even though they were ultimately questioned. Nowhere in the Quran do we encounter a passage where it is said that every person who saw the Prophet is a reliable person. Quite the reverse is the case, many of those who confessed to be confirmed Muslims were censured. The Quran states also that the hypocrites had infiltrated the community of true believers. It is said that not even the Prophet knew all of the double-dealers (9 Repentance, 101). One cannot imagine how the hadith imams may have distinguished them, given the fact that not even the Prophet could tell them apart. How can they assert that what they accepted as reliable was, in fact, not worthy of confidence? Can one claim that these people knew what the Prophet did not know, 200 hundred years after his death? The clashes and accusations of infidelity among some of the companions are evidence that the self-styled companions also may not have been trustworthy after all. The mentality that hypothesizes the fact that a companion should be considered ipso facto a reliable source is liable to err. As G.H.A. Juynboll has pointed out, if the assumption that the companions are trustworthy people is challenged, the logic behind the structure of hadiths would go on the rocks. We shall be dealing with this issue when we take up the case of contrivers of hadiths.