How early is the Sahifah of Hammam?

For Daud, who asked me the question.

The work we know as ‘the Sahīfah of Hammām bin Munabbih’ is a collection of around 140 hadīths. It begins with a chain of transmission from the Prophet through Abū Hurayrah, Hammām, Ma‘mar, and ‘Abd al-Razzāq. The idea that Hammām or even Abū Hurayrah authored the text has persisted, despite its having nothing in particular to recommend it; in fact the author is probably ‘Abd al-Razzāq (d. 827): it’s after his name that chains of transmission start to diverge, and the text has a markedly classical form that shouldn’t belong to an earlier date.

The text was popularised by his student Ibn Hanbal (d. 855), who partially reproduced it in the Musnad. Michael Cook observes that, judging by its presentation in the Musnad, the Sahīfah was already considered a discrete collection. The next generation of compilers, who preferred to arrange hadīths thematically, broke it up and redistributed the hadīths in their own works; but it’s clear that the Sahīfah, as a collection in its own right, has been floating around since the early ninth century.

It’s sometimes billed as the oldest extant hadīth collection. That does not mean that our surviving manuscripts are the earliest to contain hadīths – the current scholarly edition by Hamidullah is based on manuscripts from the twelfth century and later –; it means that the text itself, preserved in later volumes, may represent the earliest collection.

Between variants of the Sahīfah, differences in wording are few and trifling. However, as Marston Speight has shown, there are many and significant differences between the hadīths in the Sahīfah and variants of the same hadīths transmitted elsewhere. This is what we’d expect. The ninth-century turn to writing and publication ‘fixed’ a body of oral tradition that was previously fluid and adaptive: quite different accounts of the same story could then be preserved in parallel.

The point is that the Sahīfah was rigorously transmitted once it had been written, but it was only written in the ninth century.

More disturbing is the analysis by Juynboll. He notes that Hammām, the second transmitter of the hadīths, is said to have died in 719 and in 749-50. It’s a huge inconsistency, forcing the question of how much the later biographers really knew about these early figures; but the more immediate problem is chronological. His teacher, Abū Hurayrah, died in the late 670s; his student, Ma‘mar, was born in 714. Either he was exceptionally long-lived – though nobody thought it worth mentioning – or, more likely, he’s been drafted into a chain of transmission in order to endorse the Sahīfah.

Juynboll’s other objection requires an understanding of his own, very difficult, theory of hadīth transmission. His key insight is that a link in the chain of transmission can be confirmed only if several iterations of the same hadīth branch away from it. If Hammām and Ma‘mar were indeed respectable teachers, they should have distributed their hadīths to many students; but only ‘Abd al-Razzāq transmits these hadīths and claims a chain of transmission through those masters.

His conclusion, sensible but not decisive, is that ‘Abd al-Razzāq brought many hadīths into circulation by attaching them to a prestigious chain of transmission. In other words, the Sahīfah may contain much that is new; or at least new within the bounds of hadīth scholarship.

Do not think of ‘Abd al-Razzāq as some compulsive liar or finger-tenting villain. Bending the truth is altogether human, especially when serving a higher ‘truth’. If ‘Abd al-Razzāq believed that his hadīths were historical, or that they promoted better practice, then it was his duty to pass them on to the scholarly mainstream.

It would appear that ‘the Sahīfah of Hammām’ is more properly the Sahīfah of ‘Abd al-Razzāq, and a thoroughly ninth-century work. Religion is a dialogue between creativity and conservatism; the early hadīth tradition expresses this beautifully.
  
Bibliography

Cook, “The opponents of the writing of tradition in early Islam”, Arabica, 44/4 (1997), esp. 470
Hamidullah (Eng. trans.), Sahīfah Hammām ibn Munabbih, 5th ed. (1961)
Hamidullah (Fr. trans.), Sahīfah Hammām ibn Munabbih (1978)
Juynboll, Encyclopedia of Canonical Hadīth (2007), 29-31 and ff.
Speight, “A look at variant readings in the Hadīth” Der Islam 77/1 (2000)

Ian D. Morris

Ian D. Morris

Historian and occasional human, powered by tea and cat videos.

4 Comments

  1. >Do not think of ‘Abd al-Razzāq as some compulsive liar or finger-tenting villain. Bending the truth is altogether human, especially when serving a higher ‘truth’. If ‘Abd al-Razzāq believed that his hadīths were historical, or that they promoted better practice, then it was his duty to pass them on to the scholarly mainstream.

    So,a ‘pious forgery’?

  2. Interesting article. Would you happen to know what the earliest surviving manuscript would be for the Sahifah Of Hammam?

    • Not off-hand, sorry. I wrote above that “the current scholarly edition by Hamidullah is based on manuscripts from the twelfth century and later”; I assume those are still the earliest known. I remember Hamidullah gives a lot of detail about them, so if you’re really interested, you should track down his book.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *