There is no disagreement among scholars that the wordings, letters, dots, and grammar of the Hadith are parts of the Shari`ah and one of its rulings. Every narrator should convey the Hadith exactly as said by the Prophet (peace be upon him) to the extent that some people said it is obligatory, whereas others prohibited reporting the Hadith by meaning.
The latter statement needs more detail and explanation as follows:
Scholars said: Reporting the Hadith by the meaning without reporting the wordings is prohibited for the common people who are ignorant of the meanings of wordings, but a scholar who can differentiate between what is probable and what is not, the apparent and the more apparent, the general and the more general, Al Shafi`y, Abu Hanifah, the majority of jurists, and most scholars of Hadith permitted it.
Some people said: It is not permissible to replace the wordings of the Hadith but with equal wordings that convey the same meaning of the replaced words such as "Al Qu`ud" with "Al Julus" which both means sitting, "Al `Ilm" with "Ma`rifah" which both means knowledge, "Al Qudrah" with "Istita`ah" which both means ability, "Al Hazhr" with "At-Tahrim" which both means prohibition, and so on.
In general, wordings that replace one another or synonyms that do not affect the meaning are permissible unlike wordings that may affect deduction from the Hadith. Scholars disagreed about the wordings that may affect deduction from the Hadith into four sections:
1- When the narration is precise, it is permissible to report it by the meaning for the people who understand the language well because in this case it has one meaning. So, if the meaning is clear and no defect is resulting from, it is permissible to convey it by the meaning because the meaning will be reported precisely.
2- When the narration is apparent but may include another hidden meaning, in this case it is not permissible to report the Hadith by the meaning except for jurists who know the sciences of the Shari`ah and know the ways of Ijtihad because even if the meaning is apparent, it has another hidden meaning. So, it is not permissible to report it by the meaning except for a scholar who has knowledge of the religion and Fiqh so as to be careful about changing the intended meaning. As for an ignorant, he may use a word that does not convey the intended meaning or convey it by more general wordings due to his ignorance of the difference between general and private meanings which may lead to the obligation of something permissible, so keeping to the wordings is obligatory.
3- The narration may be confusing, so conveying the narration by meaning is not permissible because the meaning is confusing and is open for human speculations. The speculation of a narrator is not binding to others, so it is not permissible to convey it except with the exact wordings. A trustworthy narrator cannot report a narration except with the previous two sections which are permissible.
4- The narration may be general and is not imaginable to convey it by the meaning because it cannot be understood, and what cannot be understood cannot be reported by the meaning. So, the hindrance is internal and does not depend on external element.
The rule of conveying the Hadith by the meaning is: If wordings are necessary to convey because its meaning may result in an obligation or prohibition, then the narration was reported by other wordings without causing any defect, so reporting the narration by wordings is not necessary as mentioned.
The proof to that is: The permissibility of explaining the Shari`ah to non-Arabs in their own tongue, so if we permitted the replacement of Arabic language by non-Arabic, it is permissible to use the Arabic Language for an Arabic Language.
That is because we know that there is no acts of worship resulting from words but only the meaning and conveying it to people are important unlike the words which are used for worship such as Takbir "Saying: Allahu Akbar" or the words of Tashahhud.
If it is said that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "May Allah keep him fresh (and radiant) who heard my words, retained them (in his heart) and remembered them, and conveyed them (to others). Many a bearer of Hadith passes it on to one more learned than him."
We said: This Hadith is the proof because the Prophet (peace be upon him) mentioned therein the cause which is the difference of people regarding understanding, so the words which do not make difference among people are permissible.
This Hadith was reported in different wordings but the meaning is the same. It is possible that the Prophet said all these wordings but in different situations, but most likely it is one Hadith that has been reported by different wordings which is a proof to the permissibility of using synonyms.
Imam Abu `Eisa At-Tirmidhy (may Allah bestow mercy on his soul) said: Any scholar criticized a group of narrators did so because of the chain of narration to which they added or omitted or reported a Hadith with a different meaning, but as for those narrators who memorized the narration and did some changes to the words, it happened a lot among scholars as long as the meaning was not touched.
He said: Wathilat ibn Al Asqa` (may Allah bestow mercy on his soul) said: If we narrate to you a Hadith by its meaning, it is enough for you.
Ibn Sirin said: I used to hear the Hadith from ten narrators with different wordings but the meaning is the same.
At-Tirmidhy also said: Ibrahim An-Nakh`y, Al Hasan, and Ash-Sha`by (may Allah bestow mercy on his soul) used to narrate Hadiths by meanings.
Al Hasan said: If I have conveyed the meaning, it would be enough for you.
Sufyan Ath-Thawry (may Allah bestow mercy on his soul) said: If I say to you: I narrate to you as I heard, do not believe me, but I narrate the meaning.
Waki` said: If the meaning is not wide, people will have difficulty.
He said: Al Qasim ibn Muhammad, Ibn Sirin, and Raja' ibn Hayawah (may Allah bestow mercy on their souls) used to repeat the Hadith with its own wordings.
Mujahid said: You may cut from the Hadith whatever you want but do not add something to it.
He said: Malik ibn Anas (may Allah bestow mercy on his soul) used to be harsh regarding the wordings of the Hadith such as "Ya'" "Ta'" and so on.
Some of the Hadith scholars hold the view that it is not permissible to change the wordings of the Hadith to the extent that they heard it with a tone and narrate it with the same tone without changing it, which is more protective to the religion.
However, most scholars hold the other view, and the correct view is the permissibility because the Hadith was reported to them with different wordings but with the same meaning. We know for sure that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said many Hadiths and the Companions reported them with their different wordings.
We shall later mention a full chapter that Imam Abu `Abdullah Al Humaydy (may Allah bestow mercy on his soul) mentioned at the end of his book which indicate the permissibility of reporting the Hadith by the meaning, its causes, and the excuses.