Muhammad Zubayr Siddiqi relates that despite the reluctance and reservations of some of the Companions, there were those who did write down hadiths in the lifetime of the prophet (peace be upon him).
1) 'Abd Allah ibn 'Amr wrote down whatever he heard from the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his collection, known as al-Sahifa al-Sadiqa, was seen by Mujahid and was subsequently owned by 'Amr ibn Shu'ayb, a great-grandson of 'Abd Allah ibn 'Amr;
2) the fourth caliph Ali is said to have possessed a sahifa containing certain laws;
3) Samura ibn Jundab maintained a sahifa;
4) Jabir ibn 'Abd Allah possessed a sahifa, the contents of which were later transmitted by Qatada;
5) Sa'd is said to have a book;
6) Bukhari relates a hadith from the 'book' of 'Abd Allah ibn Awfa;
7) Ibn Abbas transcribed hadiths he learnt from Abu Rafi and is said to have possessed many books and to have left so many books upon his death that "they might serve a complete load for a camel"
8) Abu Hurayra is said to have transcribed hadiths - which he showed to Ibn Wahb and Umayya al-Damri. The Sahifa of Hamam Ibn Munabbeh is based on the reports of Abu Hurayra and is still preserved today. (Summarized from: Muhammad Zubayr Siddiqi, Abdal Hakim Murad (Editor), Hadith Literature: It's Origin, Development & Special Features, Revised Edition, 1993, The Islamic Texts Society, The Aldon press, Oxford, pp. 24-25. An exhaustive list of Companions who wrote hadith is found in M. M. Azami, Studies In early Hadith Literature: With A Critical Edition Of Some Early Texts, 2000, Islamic Book Trust: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, pp. 34-60.)
Besides these written collections, there are many reports which state that the Companions also regularly transcribed individual hadiths that they either learnt directly from the Prophet (peace be upon him) or encountered indirectly. For example, an individual from the Ansar was granted permission by the Prophet (peace be upon him) to write down material on account of his weak memory; Abu Rafi was permitted by the Prophet (peace be upon him) to write down hadiths; Abu Shah was given permission to write down the Prophet's (peace be upon him) speech upon the conquest of Mecca; Itban ibn Malik al-Ansari wrote a hadith which he immensely liked. (Ibid p. 25.)
Finally, Prof. Siddiqi also draws our attention to the letters sent by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), his (peace be upon him) dictation of certain laws such as those of poor-tax, blood-money, charity, prayers, fasting (Ibid.) etc., which also shows that non-Quranic writing occurred during his (peace be upon him) lifetime.
J. Robson writes:
The theory was held by some that traditions should be conveyed only by word of mouth and not written, and there are even traditions in the books supporting this view. Abu Da'ud (Ilm, 3) rather curiously gives two traditions, one after the other, the first stating that the Prophet gave command to write traditions and the second stating that he forbade writing them. Whatever justification there may have been for the view that writing was prohibited, there were, even quite early, men who made notes for their own guidance, and these notes formed a basis for larger works produced later. Among them mention may be made of 'Urwa b. al-Zubayr (d. 94/712 or 99/717) in Medina who is quoted as transmitting many traditions from his aunt 'Aisha, and Muhammad b. Muslim Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri (d. 124/741) who settled in Syria and was one of the most widely quoted authorities. Reference is even made to sahifas (scripts) in which some Companions of the Prophet collected traditions. (J. Robson, "Hadith", in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, CD-ROM Edition v. 1.0 © 1999 Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands.)
Likewise Ghulam Nabi:
There were many contradictory statements made regarding the writing down of Hadith. Abu Sa'id al-Khudri transmitted a Hadith on the authority of the Prophet (pbuh) that he said, " Do not write from me anything except the Qur'an and whoever has written anything from me other than the Qur'an should erase it"28 This was challenged by many scholars, who deduced that it meant that nothing should be written with the Qur'an on the same sheet. There is ample evidence that the Prophet (pbuh) allowed it. Abu Huraira reports that one of the Ansar told the Prophet (pbuh) of his inability to remember what the Prophet (pbuh) said. The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said, "Call your right hand to your aid," i.e. write it down. It is apparent that the Prophet's sayings would not have survived if they were confined to oral transmission only. However, the real basis for the later collections of hadiths was the relatively few Companions, such as `Abd Allah ibn `Amr (d. 65/684), Abu Hurayra (d. 58/678), Ibn `Abbas (d. 67-8/686-8), and Anas ibn Malik (d. 94/712),(may God pleased with them all) who continued to collect, record, and transmit them. The fact is that the Prophet had asked the companions to refrain from recording his words suggest that the practices were widespread. (Ghulam Nabi Falahi, Development of Hadith: A concise introduction of early Hadith Literature, 2005, UK Islamic Mission, p. 5.)
This is also the view of Nabia Abbott who said that the companions of Muhammed (peace be upon him) themselves kept written records of hadith (Nabia, Abbott, Studies 11, pp. 6-7).
There are, however, also a number of traditions which prohibit the writing of any material besides the Quran: traditions on the authority of the Prophet (peace be upon him) against the writing of hadiths and statements from the Companions and the Successors which disliked the writing of hadith and discouraged it.
As for the first, then, with one exception, all of these are of questionable authenticity whereas, in sharp contrast, the reports on the Prophet's (peace be upon him) authority allowing the writing of hadiths are abundant and undoubtedly authentic.
Prof. Azami mentions the three Companions who transmit the prohibition hadiths:
1. Abu Sa'id al-Khudri;
2. Abu Hurairah;
3. Zaid b. Thabit
There are two versions of al-Khudri's hadith with one of them having 'Abd al-Rahman b. Zaid as transmitter, who is deemed a weak narrator. 'Abd al-Rahman b. Zaid is also present in the second hadith, which renders it weak and unacceptable. The third hadith is regarded Mursal - incomplete traditions in the isnad of which a companions has been omitted. Hence it is also unacceptable.
Azami proceeds to mention that there is just one hadith transmitted by Abu Sa'id al-Khudri in which the prophet (peace be upon him) clearly prohibits the writing of hadith. However, even this hadith is disputed among scholars. In contrast, the hadiths allowing the writing of hadith are clear and abundant. (M. M. Azami, Studies In early Hadith Literature: With A Critical Edition Of Some Early Texts, 2000, Islamic Book Trust: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, pp. 22-23.)
Prof Azami writes (pp. 24-25):
No scholar can find a single authentic hadith forbidding the writing of ahadith save the one of Abu Sa'id al-Khudri, and even this is challenged by scholars of the stature of al-Bukhari1.
Regarding the hadiths prohibiting the writing of hadith, Gregor Schoeler goes so far as to conclude:
"In all likelihood, the Prophet himself never made a statement to this effect." (Gregor Schoeler, "Oral Torah And Hadit: transmission, prohibition of writing, redaction," in The Oral and the Written in Early Islam (Routledge Studies in Middle Eastern Literatures), 2006, Routledge, p. 137.)
With regard to the statements of some of the Companions and the Successors, not all of these are authentic, some of them have been misinterpreted as disallowing the writing of hadith, and not always do we find blanket statements therein against the writing of hadith. For example, al-Dahhak, Ibrahim, and 'Alqama are said to have objected to the writing of hadith in book form but not to making notes to serve memory. (Nabia, Abbott, Studies 11, pp. 6-7) Azami also mentions that many scholars disliked writing for personal reasons and not on the basis of any Prophetic (peace be upon him) order. Furthermore, many who disliked writing for various personal reasons also committed hadiths to writing at the same time. (M. M. Azami, Studies In early Hadith Literature: With A Critical Edition Of Some Early Texts, 2000, Islamic Book Trust: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, p. 26.)
Prof. Azami states:
. quite a number of Companions recorded ahadith and among them were those people who were responsible for transmitting hadith which forbade its recording . (M. M. Azami, Studies In early Hadith Literature: With A Critical Edition Of Some Early Texts, 2000, Islamic Book Trust: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, p. 23.)
Prof. Azami examines the attitude displayed towards hadith by a number of the Companions and the Successors in his book Studies In early Hadith Literature in great detail. He strives to demonstrate that:
There have been scholars who copied ahadith but sometimes disliked doing so. They gave reasons for their attitudes which were not based on the Prophet's orders and in many cases the reasons were omitted. Sometimes when the statements were given in full they were interpreted as against writing, without any serious consideration. (M. M. Azami, Studies In early Hadith Literature: With A Critical Edition Of Some Early Texts, 2000, Islamic Book Trust: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, p. 25.)
Be that as it may, hadith scholars generally argue that the prohibitive report from the Prophet (peace be upon him) is earlier, which was then abrogated by the ones permitting the writing of hadith. As for the reason why at one stage the Prophet (peace be upon him) prohibited the writing of hadiths and then allowed it, then a number of explanations of differing degrees of probability have been submitted by scholars. The following possibilities are cited from Gibril Haddad's critical review of the English translation of Schoeler's anthology:
(a) There was fear, in the earliest time of Islam only, of admixture of non-Qur'anic material into the Qur'an itself, although even then the writing of hadith was widespread; moreover, this reason had become obsolete even before the 'Uthmānic codex became law.
(b) There was fear of (1) distraction by, and (2) scripturalization of other than the Divine Book, as the Jews and Christians had done with their Dispensations; this reason culminated in the incident of the Caliph ¢Umar reportedly gathering the people's written hadiths as so many "self-inflicted burdens" (al-gharmā') - in the words of al-Qāsim ibn Muh.ammad (d. 106) - and "tearing them up or burning them,"9 exclaiming: "A Mishna like the Mishna of the Israelites (mathnātun ka-mathnāti ahl alkitāb)!"10 This fear had become almost obsolete by the end of the time of the Companions.11 In any case, Schoeler and the commonality of the Orientalists do not sufficiently stress that there was never any question hadith had to be known and transmitted.
(c) There was fear of memory loss caused by over reliance on writing, a purely technical concern of especial relevance in pristine Arabic culture in the first couple of centuries.
(d) There was fear that written records could fall into the wrong hands and be misused by the heterodox and the laity - as well, perhaps, as the post-rāshida caliphal authorities - instead of remaining the exclusive province of the scholarly community (particularly the Sunni scholars) alone, undoubtedly the most widespread concern of all.
(e) There was - and remains to this day - profound suspicion of knowledge obtained merely through books at the expense of physical encounter and scholarly companionship without which both memorization and comprehension prove defective. This included book-bound Qur'ān memorizers, let alone students of other disciplines.
(f) There was fear of freezing material (particularly unrevealed material such as fiqh), into an unduly authoritative form, both losing the opportunity to refine and correct it, and risking the incurrence of sin through the misguidance of others in case of error. Imām Ahmad wrote hadīth but would not hear of compiling his fiqh. (ENDURING MYTHS OF ORIENTALISM BOOK REVIEW BY G.F. Haddad (LONG VERSION), APRIL 2007 / RABI' AL-AKHĪR 1428)
The theory that hadith writing was prohibited because of fear of mixture/confusion with the Quran is unlikely. Taha Jabir al 'Alwani in his foreword to Ahmad 'Ali al Imam's book writes:
... the Prophet discouraged his Companions from writing anything along with the Qur'an. The reason for this discouragement is not as many have supposed i.e., to prevent the contamination of the Qur'an's verses with outside material, because the Arabs of those days were all too able to distinguish between the rhetoric of the Qur'an and that of anything else. Rather, the point in doing so was to give the Ummah an opportunity to interact with the Qur'an exclusively, and to allow it to work on their hearts and minds so that everything they encountered in their lives would be secondary to the Qur'an. Moreover, within the framework of the Almighty's pledge to preserve the Qur'an and protect it, He endowed it with the sort of rhetoric and eloquence that was clearly beyond the ability of humans to produce. (Ahmad 'Ali al Imam, Variant Readings Of The Qur'an: A Critical Study Of Their Historical And Linguistic Origins, 1998, The International Institute Of Islamic Thought, Herndon, Virginia, pp. xvii-xviii.)
Prof. Haleem, in his recent essay, likewise comments upon the stylistic differences between the Qur'an and hadith as follows:
Stylistically, Qur'anic material which the Prophet recited following the states of revelation described above is so evidently different from the Prophet's own sayings as recorded in the hadith, whether uttered incidentally or after long reflection, that the tradition has always ascribed them to two radically different levels of discourse. (M. A. S. Abdel Haleem, "Qur'an and hadith," in Timothy Winter (Editor), The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology, 1st Edition, 2008, Cambridge University Press, p. 20.)
Yet there may be some truth to this theory and hence it should not be completely abandoned. Not all Arabs are likely to have been proficient and well-versed in the Arabic language and despite the notably distinct style of the two - the Quran and hadith - there was still a potential of at least some getting confused into believing that both texts on a same sheet constituted one and the same Scripture, particularly if they were not memorizers of the Quran, though perhaps wondering at the same time about the difference in styles. Hence, mixture of the two could still occur among the ignorant (or perhaps even some with knowledgeable) and those unfamiliar with the Quran, even if not on a wide scale.
Scholars have favored different views on this matter and some have opted for multiple reasons to explain the prohibition and the subsequent allowance by the Prophet (peace be upon him). Prof Haleem points out that there is evidence to suggest that the Prophet (peace be upon him) only allowed his (peace be upon him) companions - those who could write proficiently - to write hadiths once the Quran had been fully recorded. (M. A. S. Abdel Haleem, "Qur'an and hadith," in Timothy Winter (Editor), The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology, 1st Edition, 2008, Cambridge University Press, p. 23.) Thus, the prohibition was meant for companions who were not well trained in writing and was not directed towards all Companions. Siddiqi concludes that the hadiths which prohibit writing of hadiths are not only fewer and weaker than those encouraging it, but that the former could be the result of the generally unfavorable Arabian public attitude towards the art of writing in the early years of Prophethood or it could be on the basis of fear that perhaps hadiths might get confused with the Quranic text. But later, however, when it was felt that such confusion would be unlikely, the earlier prohibition was lifted. (Muhammad Zubayr Siddiqi, Abdal Hakim Murad (Editor), Hadith Literature: It's Origin, Development & Special Features, Revised Edition, 1993, The Islamic Texts Society, The Aldon press, Oxford, p. 27.)
Prof. Azami also suggests that the initial prohibition of the writing of hadith was most probably directed towards the writing of Qur'anic and non-Qur'anic material on the same sheet as that had the potential of creating misunderstandings. Another possible reason submitted by him is that the Prophet (peace be upon him) disapproved the writing of hadith in the early days because it was feared people may neglect the Quran at a time when all attention was needed to be directed towards the Quran and its preservation. But later, when such a danger had ceased, the previous prohibition was lifted. (M. M. Azami, Studies In early Hadith Literature: With A Critical Edition Of Some Early Texts, 2000, Islamic Book Trust: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, pp. 23-24.)
'Urwa ibn al Zubayr reports that Aishah said:
1) Are you not surprised at Abu Hurairah? He came and sat next to my room and narrated Hadith from the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), wanted me to hear. I was praying and he left before I finished my prayer. If I had caught him I should have replied to him. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) did not recite Hadith as you do. (Narrated by Bukhari, Muslim and Ibn Abdul Barr)
2) After the understanding of the Qur'an comes the correct understanding of the authentic hadiths. It is best for those who know the Sunnah to refrain from quoting the Prophet (peace be upon him) if they do not understand the full implication of the quotation, though they may understand the literal sense of the words. The Sunnah suffered greatly in the past from those who memorized much of it but understood very little. Aishah's astonishment at Abu Hurairah's quoting of hadiths was not because she was accusing him of lying. His method of narrating Hadith neglected the circumstances under which they had been said and strung one Hadith to another.
Ibn 'Abdul Barr reports that Abu Hurairah himself said: "I am narrating to you Hadith which if I had done so during Umar's time, he would have struck me with a cane." Umar's reason for preventing the narration of Hadith was because he wanted to build society on the teachings of the Qur'an, and encourage people to study the Qur'an and extract what they needed from it. If the Sunnah were narrated after this had been accomplished, it would be absorbed by enlightened minds and would not be misinterpreted. Abu Hurairah might have been able to quote a hundred hadiths on salah because of his good memory, and perhaps Umar would have no objection to them being taught in a specialist school. However, disliked the Muslim masses to be occupied with such things when a few hadiths were sufficient for them, and then they could devote more time to what would be beneifical for Islam and all its people. This is the reason why he objected to shoe who narrated too many hadiths. Ibn Hazm reported almost a thousand pages of Hadith on wudu, for those who were interested in this kind of knowledge, although to occupy the masses of Muslims with the like would be sheer stupidity! What time would be left for the Qur'an itself? In fact, to occupy the Muslims with the Qur'an in this manner is to trespass on the religion.
Ibn 'Abdul Barr reports from Al-Dahhabk ibn Muzahim:
"There will come a time over people when the Qur'an will be left on the shelf and spiders will build their webs over it: no use will be made of what is in it and men's actions will be according to narrations and hadiths."
The path of rectitude in this blind alley is to return to the Qur'an and make it the main pillar of our intellectual and spiritual lives. Then when we are fully conversant with it we should look into the Sunnah and benefit from the Prophet's (peace be upon him wisdom, way of life, worship, character and regulations. Nobody should be allowed to speak on the Sunnah who has little of understand of the Qur'an, or little understanding of the variety of narrations, or is unaware of the occasions and circumstances under they are said. (Muhammad Al-Ghazali, Fiqh-US-SEERAH: Understanding The Life Of the Prophet, International Islamic Publishing House, Riyadh, 1999, p. 57)
So then, in conclusion, we may say that there is an abundance of hadiths which mention the writing of hadith in the lifetime of Muhammad (peace be upon him). There is also evidence that the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself issued letters and written commands and teachings etc. Therefore, the hadiths were written in the Prophet's (peace be upon him) lifetime, though not systematically, and that non-Quranic writing that occurred at that time cannot be doubted. Furthermore, there can be no doubt that many Companions and the Successors also actively wrote hadiths. The problem is ascertaining when precisely in his (peace be upon him) career the permission to write the hadith was granted and the precise reason why it was disallowed in the beginning. For the latter there exist a number of reasons and theories, some more probable/likely than others, and the reader can assess which reason(s) seem more likely to him/her. It could be that a number of factors contributed towards the decision of prohibition, such as the concern of neglecting the Qur'an, possibility of confusion among some through encountering Quranic and hadith texts in the same sheet despite their distinct styles, the potential of inadvertently attributing something untrue to the prophet (peace be upon him) - a concern which would have caused many Companions to act overly cautious even after hadiths were allowed to be written, the possibility of mistakes if all were allowed to transcribe hadiths and hence limiting its writing to only those who were proficient writers etc. All of these reasons may have contributed to some extent in the prohibition of hadith writing by the Prophet (peace be upon him). After the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him), some may have continued to dislike writing due to its perceived negative impact upon memory, the possibility of misuse of hadith texts by others, the possible discouraging of students to seek knowledge directly from scholars, etc.
Umar, Ali and the other leading companions did not reject the Sunnah. Nevertheless, they wanted to give the Qur'an the greatest share of reception and appreciation, and this is the natural sequence. One must fully and correctly understand the law before delving into the details and explanations which are given for some parts of it, since the details and explanations are not needed by everyone. Also people's minds might not be clustered up and no space left in them for the necessary and important principles. (Muhammad Al-Ghazali, Fiqh-US-SEERAH: Understanding The Life Of the Prophet, International Islamic Publishing House, Riyadh, 1999, p. 50)