All Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds. Peace and blessings of Allah be upon our Prophet Muhammad, and on his family and companions.
إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا الذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُ لَحَافِظُونَ
"We have undoubtedly sent down the Reminder, and We will truly preserve it."
The above promise made by Allah is obviously fulfilled in the undisputed purity of the Qur'anic text throughout the fourteen centuries since its revelation. However, what is often forgotten by many Muslims is that the above divine promise also includes, by necessity, the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), for it is the practical example of the implementation of the Qur'anic guidance, the Wisdom taught to the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) along with the Scripture, and neither the Qur'an nor the Sunnah can be understood correctly without recourse to the other.
Hence, Allah preserved the Qur'an from being initially lost by the martyrdom of its memorisers, by guiding the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, endorsed by the consensus of the Messenger's Companions (may Allah bless him and grant him peace and may He be pleased with them), to compile the ayat (signs, miracles, "verses") of the Qur'an into one volume, after these had been scattered in writing on various materials and in memory amongst many faithful hearts. He safeguarded it from corruption by its enemies: disbelievers, heretics, and false prophets, by enabling millions of believers to commit it to memory with ease. He protected its teachings by causing thousands of people of knowledge to learn from its deep treasures and convey them to the masses, and by sending renewers of His Deen at the beginning of every century.
Similarly, Allah preserved the Sunnah by enabling the Companions and those after them (may Allah be pleased with them) to memorise, write down and pass on the statements of the Messenger (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) and the descriptions of his Way, as well as to continue the blessings of practising the Sunnah. Later, as the purity of the knowledge of the Sunnah became threatened, Allah caused the Muslim nation to produce outstanding individuals of incredible memory-skills and analytical expertise, who journeyed tirelessly to collect hundreds of thousands of narrations and distinguish the true words of precious wisdom of their Messenger (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) from those corrupted by weak memories, from forgeries by unscrupulous liars, and from the statements of the enormous number of 'ulama', the Companions and those who followed their way, who had taught in various centres of learning and helped to transmit the legacy of Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) - all of this achieved through precise attention to the words narrated and detailed familiarity with the biographies of the thousands of reporters of Hadith. Action being the best way to preserve teachings, the renewers of Islam also revived the practice of the blessed authentic Sunnah.
Unfortunately however, statements will continue to be attributed to the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) although the person quoting them may have no idea what the people of knowledge of Hadith have ruled regarding those ahadith, thus ironically being in danger of contravening the Prophet's widely-narrated stern warnings about attributing incorrect/unsound statements to him. For example, here are some very commonly-quoted ahadith, which actually vary tremendously in their degree of authenticity from the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace):
1. "Surah al-Ikhlas is worth a third of the Qur'an."
2. The hadith about the Ninety-Name Names of Allah.
3. Allah says, "I was a hidden treasure, and I wished to be known, so I created a creation (mankind), then made Myself known to them, and they recognised Me."
4. Allah says, "Were it not for you (O Muhammad), I would not have created the universe."
5. When Allah completed creation, He wrote in a Book (which is) with Him, above His Throne, "Verily, My Mercy will prevail over My Wrath."
6. Allah says, "Neither My heaven nor My earth can contain Me, but the heart of My believing slave can contain Me."
7. "He who knows himself, knows his Lord."
8. "Where is Allah?"
9. "Love of one's homeland is part of Faith."
10. "I have left amongst you two things which, if you hold fast to them, you will never stray: the Book of Allah, and my Sunnah."
11. "I have left among you that which if you abide by, you will never go astray: the Book of Allah, and my Family, the Members of my House."
12. The hadith giving ten Companions, by name, the good tidings of Paradise.
13. "If the iman (faith) of Abu Bakr was weighed against the iman of all the people of the earth, the former would outweigh the latter."
14. "I am the City of Knowledge, and 'Ali is its Gate."
15. "My companions are like the stars: whichever of them you follow, you will be guided." 16. "The differing amongst my Ummah is a mercy."
17. "My Ummah will split up into seventy-three sects: seventy-two will be in the Fire, and one in the Garden."
18. Prophecies about the coming of the Mahdi (the guided one), Dajjal (the False Christ, the Anti-Christ) and the return of Jesus Christ son of Mary.
19. Description of punishment and bliss in the grave, for the wicked and pious people respectively.
20. Intercession by the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), and the believers seeing Allah, on the Day of Judgment.
21. "Paradise is under the feet of mothers."
22. "Paradise is under the shade of swords."
23. "Seeking knowledge is a duty upon every Muslim."
24. "Seek knowledge, even if you have to go to China."
25. "The ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr."
26. "We have returned from the lesser Jihad to the greater Jihad (i.e. the struggle against the evil of one's soul)."
The methodology of the expert scholars of Hadith in assessing such narrations and sorting out the genuine from the mistaken/fabricated etc., forms the subject-matter of a wealth of material left to us by the muhaddithun (scholars of Hadith, "traditionists"). This short treatise is a humble effort to introduce this extremely wide subject to English readers. The author has derived great benefit from the outstanding scholarly work in this field, Muqaddimah Ibn al- Salah.
A brief explanation of the verdicts from the experts in this field on the above ahadith is given in the Appendix.
We ask Allah to accept this work, and make it beneficial to its readers.