RIWÂYÂT – روايات
Literally: A narrative. A legend. A tradition. A telling, narrating, repeating, transmitting. To tell, relate, narrate, transmit. To be narrated. Handed down.
As an Islamic term: Riwâyât is a transmission of the Hadiths of Prophet Muhammad (asm) by the way of transmitting from the Sahâbah and handing down to others. Riwâyat is also used sometimes in place of the word of Hadith.
“Furthermore, books of both history and the Prophet's biography (siyar) testify that, next to the preservation of the Qur'an and its âyahs, the Sahâbah worked with all their strength to preserve the deeds and words of Ar-Rasûl Al-Akram ‘Alayhissalâtu Wassalâm, and especially those relating to the injunctions of the Sharî‘ah and to miracles, paying extreme attention to their accuracy. They never neglected even the tiniest aspect of Ar-Rasûl Al-Akram ‘Alayhissalâtu Wassalâm’s conduct, actions, and states. This and the fact that they recorded them is testified to by books of Hadith.
Also, in the Era of Bliss, they wrote down and recorded very many of the Hadiths concerning the injunctions of the Law and his miracles. The 'Seven 'AbdAllah's' in particular recorded them in writing. And especially 'AbdAllah b. al-'Abbas, known as 'the Interpreter of the Qur'an,' and 'AbdAllah b. 'Amr b. al-'As some thirty to forty years later and the thousands of muhaqqiqîn of the Tabi’în recorded the Hadiths and miracles in writing. And still later, chiefly the four Mujtahid Imams and thousands of Muhaqqiqîn of Hadith related them and preserved them in writing. Then two hundred years after the Hijrah, foremost Bukhari and Muslim and the six accepted books undertook the duty of their preservation. Many severe critics such as Ibn al-Jawzi emerged who identified mawdu’ hadiths which had been produced by deniers, the unthinking, the ignorant, or those who had recalled them wrongly. Later, by the attestation of the people of kashf, the great ‘Ulama and muhaqqiqîn like Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti, who seventy times was honoured in a waking state by the ma’nawî appearance and conversation of Ar-Rasûl Al-Akram ‘Alayhissalâtu Wassalâm, differentiated the diamonds of authentic traditions from other sayings and fabrications.” The Letters ( 144-145 )
“Of such muhaqqiq ‘Ulamâ of Hadith were called al-Hafîdh, who had committed to memory at least 100,000 Hadiths, also such muttaqî ‘Ulamâ of Hadith were those geniuses who offered for fifty years their morning salah with the wudû’ of the night salah, and who produced the six accurate books of Hadith headed by those of Bukhari and Muslim. Without doubt, any report scrutinized and accepted by those great ‘Ulamâ cannot fall short of the certainty of 'tawâtur.' For the muhaqqiqs of the science of Hadith and its examiners acquired such intimacy with the Hadiths, became so familiar and acquired mastery with Ar-Rasûl Al-Akram ‘Alayhissalâtu Wassalâm’s manner of expression and exalted style that they could spot at first sight a single mawdu’ among a hundred hadiths, and would say “It is mawdu’ ”, saying, "This cannot be a hadith; it does not have his wording." and reject it. Since they were able to recognize the precious quality of the Hadith, like an expert jeweller, there was no possibility of their confusing any other word with that of the Prophet. Some muhaqqiqîn, however, such as Ibn al-Jawzi, went to ifrât in their criticism as to regard many sahîh Hadiths as mawdu’. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the meaning of every mawdu’ is wrong; rather it means that the wording itself is not a Hadith.
Question: What is the benefit of citing the chain of transmission of a tradition so that even if it is not called for in the case of a well-known incident they say: "So-and-so informed so-and-so, etc."?
Answer: Its benefits are many, and one is that the citing of the chain shows the concurrence of the truthful, reliable and exacting ‘Ulamâ of Hadith and the unanimity of the ahl al-tahqîq whose names are included; each of the Imams and great ‘Ulamâ signs, as it was, for the accuracy of the Hadith and places his seal on it.” The Letters ( 124-125 )
“If it is asked: All the actions and conduct of Ar-Rasûl Al-Akram ‘Alayhissalâtu Wassalâm were recorded and transmitted by the Sahâbah with extreme care. Why then are such great miracles only narrated through ten or twenty chains of transmission, when they should have been narrated through a hundred? Also, why are many narrated from Hazrat Anas, Jabir, and Abu Hurayra, and few related from Hazrat Abu Bakr and 'Umar?
The Answer: The answer to the first part of the question has been given in the Third Principle in the Fourth Sign. Regarding the second part: just as someone in need of medicine goes to a doctor, mathematicians are consulted on mathematical problems, and questions to do with the Sharî‘ah are asked of the Mufti, and so on; so too, some of the ‘Ulamâ among the Sahâbah were charged in a ma’nawî manner with the duty of instructing succeeding centuries in the Hadiths of the Prophet, working with all their strength for this end. Yes, Hazrat Abu Hurayra devoted his entire life to memorizing Hadiths, while Hazrat 'Umar was occupied with the world of politics and the great Khalîphate. 'Umar, therefore, narrated very few riwâyât, relying on persons like Abu Hurayra, Anas, and Jabir, to teach the Hadiths to the Ummah. Furthermore, on a well-known, siddîq, sincere, honest, and trusted Sahâbah reporting an incident through one chain, it was regarded as sufficient, and no need remained for another to narrate it. This is why some significant events were narrated through only two or three chains of transmission.” The Letters ( 165-166 )