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|What You Need To Know About Hadith by luv2talk(m): 8:49pm On Nov 26, 2007|
Many non-Muslims, including those who study Islam at an introductory university level, have absolutely no concept of the importance of hadith in Islam. It is also perhaps safe to assume that many Muslims themselves do not fully grasp the fundamental importance of the hadith as a basis for the religion of Islam, and more particularly as a basis for the shari'a, or Islamic law. This essay will seek to both outline the importance of the hadith within Islam, and also try to present a survey of the various views on the authenticity of the hadith, both within Muslim and non-Muslim scholarship.
In order to understand the importance of the hadith it is essential to first know what the hadith is. Simply put, the hadith are collected traditions about the sunna of Muhammad. Thus they are composed of sayings attributed to Muhammad, as well as the actions of Muhammad in various situations, both of which are held to serve as examples and guidelines for Muslim belief and practice.
According to Muslims, the hadith is almost equal in importance to the Quran. Dr. Mazhar U. Kazi, in the introduction to his A Treasury of Ahadith states that "all the sayings, sermons, and utterances of the Prophet were, divinely inspired. In Arabic these are known as ahadith (singular: hadith)." Dr. Kazi goes on to say that "all of the actions and deeds of the Prophet were also divinely inspired."Dr. Kazi summarizes his view on the traditions with clarity:
The sunnah and ahadith are not to be taken as the wise sayings of sages and philosophers or the verdicts of rulers and leaders. One should believe with full conviction that the words and actions of the Prophet represent the will of Allah, and thus one has to follow and obey them in each and every circumstance of life.
Another Muslim scholar, John L. Esposito, in his work, Islam - The Straight Path states that,
Quranic principles and values were concretized and interpreted by the second and complementary source of law, the Sunna of the Prophet, the normative model behaviour of Muhammad. The importance of the Sunna is rooted in such Quranic injunctions as "obey God and obey the Messenger, If you should quarrel over anything refer it to God and the Messenger" (4:59) and "In God's messenger you have a fine model for anyone whose hope is in God and the Last Day" (33:21). Belief that Muhammad was inspired by God to act wisely, in accordance with God's will, led to the acceptance of his example, or Sunna, as supplement to the Quran, and thus, a material or textual source of the law.
The sunna, as embodied in the hadith is not to be underestimated or minimized as a material or textual source of the law. Though supplementary to the Quran, the hadith's central importance rests on the fact that it forms the basis for Islamic law, as the scholar Andrew Rippin clearly states:
The focal point of the law in , Islam is the sunna, the concept of the practice of Muhammad, as embodied in the hadith and transmitted faithfully by Muhammad's followers through the succeeding generations down to the present. The sunna presents, for the individual Muslim, the picture of the perfect way of life, in imitation of the precedent of Muhammad who was the perfect embodiment of the will of God.
Thus, in Islam the hadith are the recorded traditions of the divinely inspired actions of Muhammad. Yet, further study compels one to face the fact that there are some complexities involved in the use of the hadith as a basis for Islamic law and practice.
Difficulties appear to arise when the transmission and preservation of the hadith are considered. As John L. Esposito states, "by the ninth century, the number of traditions had mushroomed into the hundreds of thousands. They included pious fabrications by those who believed that their practices were in conformity with Islam and forgeries by factions involved in political and theological disputes." However, according to Dr. Kazi, Islamic scholars have answered these problems as,
Each hadith was scrutinized and tested for its authenticity and recorded only if it proved to be reliable, These scholars [Ibn Jurayj, Imam Malik, Sufyan ath-Thawri, Hammad bin Salamah, 'Abdullah bin Mubarak, Imam al-Awza'i] made significant contributions to 'ilm al-hadith and laid down solid foundations for the evaluation of ahadith. Consequently, a lot of inauthentic ahadith that had crept into the masses were discarded, and at the same time, reliable ahadith were widely disseminated.
According to Dr. Kazi, especially the works of al-Bukhari and Muslim are considered to be reliable and are termed correct.1 Dr. Kazi states that "all that was humanly possible for ensuring the authenticity of the ahadith was completed by the third century Hijrah, no other religion, nation, party or even small group of people can parallel what the early Muslims did to ensure the authenticity of ahadith and the sunna."
The concern of Dr. Kazi to ensure that Muslims believe the hadith are authentic as the divinely inspired words and actions of Muhammad, is quite understandable. This is especially clear when one once again considers the role of the hadith in Islam. Muslims are often quick to argue that in Islam, in contrast to Christianity, practice is of primary importance. 'What to do' is central in Islam, and thus the shari'a (rather than theology), is the 'queen of the sciences.' And, the Muslim will say, 'divine' revelation is the source of the shari'a. However, the Quran, though seen as the primary source of revelation, has no more than ten percent of its verses devoted to legal issues. There are only six hundred verses relating to prayer and ritual and some eighty verses relating to crime and punishment and inheritance laws. Thus it can be simply stated that the Quran is not a book of law. The basis of Islamic law or shari'a is, however, to be found in the hadith - giving the hadith a fundamental importance in the religion of Islam.
Questions about the authenticity of hadith begin to arise when one consults Maulana Muhammad Ali's A Manual of Hadith - a highly respected compendium of the Bukhari collection. In the second chapter which covers the topics of iman (faith) and islam (submission) a hadith is related in which Muhammad defines what faith is. In one of Bukhari's hadith, as relayed by Abu Hurairah, the Prophet states that,
Faith is that thou believe in Allah and His angels and in meeting with Him and (in) His messengers and that thou believe in being raised to life (after death).
Ali discloses that the same hadith is relayed by 'Umar, though 'Umar's version was rejected by Bukhari as it states that the Prophet, instead of saying "in meeting with Him", said "that thou believe in qadar, in the good of it and the evil of it." According to Ali this is because "the belief in qadar is evidently a doctrine of later growth and it is perhaps on the account of this flaw that Bukhari does not accept the version attributed to 'Umar." Yet, Bukhari does continue to use 'Umar as a source of authentic hadith throughout his collection.
Situations such as this one found in Bukhari's work, have created questions in the minds of many scholars, both Muslim and non-Muslim. Andrew Rippin, in his work Muslims - Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, states that,
Some Muslims picked up on this and used these sorts of doubt about the veracity of the material to attack the authority of the sunna. This was primarily an Egyptian phenomenon; the criticism of the sunna as a whole, however, has much earlier roots, especially in India, where the problem was attacked in more of a theological manner than a historical one.
Rippin goes on to present an interesting survey of some of the Muslim leaders and scholars who have either admitted to the weakness of the hadith, or been openly critical of it.
Ghulam Ahmad Parvez, born in 1903, in East Punjab, India, was one of the first Muslim critics of the hadith. Parvez realized that hadith had been treated as a divinely inspired source in Islam, and "the shari'a, the path of life which Muslims follow, was as a result of the status given to the sunna as a source of revealed knowledge, fundamentally wrong." Parvez argued that "the Quran contains no ruling saying that hadith must be followed" contending that the word hikma in the Quran (2:129) was meant in the general sense of 'wisdom', and that the verse "Whatever the messenger gives you, take; whatever he forbids you, give over" (59:7) referred to the distribution of loot after battle. Parvez also noted that "Hadith reports occasionally contradict the Qur'an; for example the punishment for adultery is 100 lashes in the Qur'an but stoning in the hadith."Another point of Parvez's argument was that "Muhammad was an ordinary man according to Qur'an sura 18 verse 100, and that he could have erred." All in all Parvez was convinced that "the unreliability of hadith transmission , undermines its validity." This was a serious argument, as the Muslim leader Mawdudi realized, being concerned that "the position Parvez argued vis-a-vis the hadith reports, especially where it raises issues concerning their historical value, would eventually be applied to the Quran, and Islam would crumble as a result."
Another Muslim scholar, Dr. Kassim Ahmad, of Malaysia, authored a work entitled Hadith - A Reevaluation, which was "banned by the Malaysian Home Ministry on 8 July 1986, in order to 'safeguard the interests of the people and the country'." The work rejected hadith as a basis for theology and law, and stated that "the hadith are 'sectarian, anti-science, anti-reason and anti-women'." Rippin states that,
According to available summaries of the book, he [Ahmad] poses four main questions:
1. Did Muhammad bring one or two books?
2. Why did the hadith take 250-350 years to be compiled and why do Sunnis have different collections from Shi'ites?
3. What factors led to the emergence of the hadith?
4. What is the connection between the hadith and the decline and backwardness of Islam?
Clearly, even in Muslim circles there is skepticism about the authenticity of the hadith collections. Yet, to this point, it is the Western scholars of Islam who have presented the most searching critique of the hadith collections.
Ignaz Goldhizer was perhaps the first serious Western critic of the authenticity of hadith, and it is his work that has formed much of the basis for further scholarship. Goldhizer begins with a history and definition of the sunna - a concept which he states was in existence among the Arab communities long before the arrival of Islam. Goldhizer states,
There was no need for Muslims to invent this concept and its practical significance; they were already current among the old pagans of the Jahiliyya. For them sunna was all that corresponded to the traditions of the Arabs and the customs and habits of their ancestors, and in this sense the word was still used in Islamic times by those Arab communities which had been only very little affected by Muslim religion. Under Islam the content of the old concept and the meaning of the word that corresponded to it underwent a change. To the pious followers of Muhammad , sunna meant all that could be shown to have been the practices of the Prophet and his earliest followers. The Muslim community was supposed to honour and obey the new sunna in the same way as the pagan Arabs revered the sunna of their ancestors.
Bid'a or innovation was viewed to be the opposite of sunna. Goldhizer recounts a hadith (Al-Nasa'i, I, p.143) of the Prophet which says, "Verily the most truthful communication is the Book of Allah, the best guidance is from Muhammad, and the worst of all things are innovations; every innovation is heresy, every heresy is error, and every error leads to hell." Yet, as Goldhizer soon shows, there is great evidence to show that much of the ahadith is either inauthentic, or incapable of being proven authentic, and thus to all appearances it is both innovation from a theological perspective, and lacking of any proof of authenticity from an objective historical perspective.
One example of the fabrication of hadith is that done by the Ummayad caliph 'Abd al-Malik, who is considered to be an important and sound scholar of the collection of hadith. Goldhizer explains,
When the Umayyad caliph 'Abd al-Malik wished to stop the pilgrimages to Mecca because he was worried lest his rival 'Abd Allah b. Zubayr should force the Syrians journeying to the holy places in Hijaz to pay him homage, he had recourse to the expedient of the doctrine of the vicarious hajj to the Qubbat al-Sakhra in Jerusalem. He decreed that obligatory circumambulation (tawaf) could take place at the sacred place in Jerusalem with the same validity as that around the Ka'ba ordained in Islamic law. The pious theologian al-Zuhri was given the task of justifying this politically motivated reform of religious life by making up and spreading a saying traced back to the Prophet, according to which there are three mosques to which people may take pilgrimages: those in Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. , An addition which, apparently, belonged to its original form but was later neglected by leveling orthodoxy in this and related sayings: 'and a prayer in the Bayt al-Maqdis of Jerusalem is better than a thousand prayers in other holy places,' i.e. even Mecca or Medina. Later, too, 'Abd al-Malik is quoted when the pilgrimage to Jerusalem is to be equated with that to Mecca,
Goldhizer boldly sums up the massive evidence for the "tendentious fabrications of traditions during the first century of Islam" with the statement that,
, it is a matter for psychologists to find and analyze the motives of the soul which made such forgeries acceptable to pious minds as morally justified means of furthering a cause, The most favourable explanation which one can give of these phenomena is presumably to assume that the support of a new doctrine , with the authority of Muhammad was the form in which it was thought good to express the high religious justification of that doctrine. The end sanctified the means.
Of course the fabrication of ahadith, and their lack of authenticity has often left orthodox Muslim scholars in a difficult position, as Goldhizer states,
'Ali b. Sulayman al-Bajama 'wi, a theologian who in recent times has taken great pains in his commentaries on the six canonical works on tradition, says: 'One of the strangest things that has ever happened to me was this: when I recited one of the traditional sayings according to which scholars are told not to mingle with the sultans, one of my listeners said: "How could the Prophet had said this, since there were no sultans in his days?" This poor man did not know the tradition that the apostle of God predicted with prophetical insight everything that is going to happen until the hour of resurrection.'
Another noted Western scholar who delves into the study of the authenticity of hadith is G.H.A Juynboll, whose work Muslim tradition - Studies in chronology, provenance and authorship of early hadith is a powerful critique of not only the authenticity of hadith, but also of scholarly works which have attempted to support notions of the authenticity of hadith. Juynboll's criticism of the 'authenticity' of hadith are numerous and well researched. In criticizing the isnad's he quite bluntly states that,
, I am skeptical as to whether we will ever be able to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that what we have in the way of 'sound prophetic traditions' is indeed just what it purports to be.
Juynboll uses an effective case study approach in his critique of the isnad. One example is the "so-called 'golden chain' (silsilat adh-dhahab): Malik - Nafi - 'Abd Allah b. 'Umar - Prophet." Juynboll also brings serious questions to bear on "the case of Anas."45 He states that,
, Anas' advanced age - according to the most authoritative reports he died in 93/711 when he was allegedly one hundred and three - appeared especially convenient for those isnad forgers who were loath to go to a lot of trouble concocting complicated isnads and simply listed a rather late Successor who allegedly had it from Anas who allegedly had it from the prophet, Indeed, Anas has become such a crucial figure in isnads that he is one of the most important Companions, whose alleged activities caused other, most probably unhistorical, people with his name to into existence. The ensuing confusion, inevitable as we have learned , makes the reliability of any isnad featuring Anas suspect under the best of circumstances.
A thorough study, Juynboll's work presents what is perhaps the most articulate and documented critique of the notion of the 'authenticity' of hadith, to this day.
Clearly, the evidence to refute any notions of solid historical authenticity of hadith reports is overwhelming. Severe theological and historical problems exist, and are blatantly evident even in Bukhari's collection of hadith - which is considered to be "most reliable and [is] termed 'sahih' (correct)." The authenticity of hadith transmitted by men such as Anas b. Malik and Abu Hurayra is extremely dubious. Contradictions between the hadith and the Quran remain unsolved. The evidence is all too compelling - even without examining the enormous disparities between the traditions of the various sects of Islam.
The evidence presents a shattering blow to the religion of Islam, as the shari'a, rather than being rooted in the "words and actions of the Prophet [representing] the will of Allah," is merely built on the tradition of men. The problem of the hadith may carry other serious ramifications well, as "Fazlur Rahman points out, 'the historical validity of the Koran itself is vouchsafed only by the tradition.'"49 However, (and perhaps not surprisingly, when these consequences are considered) orthodox Muslim scholarship has, to this point, chosen largely to ignore the issue,
Cannons for the Evaluation of Ahadith1
A hadith consists of two parts: its text, called matn, and its chain of narrators, called isnad. Comprehensive and strict criteria were separately developed for the evaluation of matn and isnad. The former is regarded as the internal test of ahadith, and the latter is considered the external test. A hadith was accepted as authentic and recorded into text only when it met both of these criteria independently.
Criteria for the Evaluation of Isnad
The unblemished and undisputed character of the narrator, called rawi, was the most important consideration for the acceptance of a hadith. As stated earlier, a new branch of 'ilm al-hadith known as asma' ar-rijal was developed to evaluate the credibility of narrators. The following are a few of the criteria utilized for this purpose:
1. The name, nickname, title, parentage and occupation of the narrator should be known.
2. The original narrator should have stated that he heard the hadith directly from the Prophet.
3. If a narrator referred his hadith to another narrator, the two should have lived in the same period and have had the possibility of meeting each other.
4. At the time of hearing and transmitting the hadith, the narrator should have been physically and mentally capable of understanding and remembering it.
5. The narrator should have been known as a pious and virtuous person.
6. The narrator should not have been accused of having lied, given false evidence or committed a crime.
7. The narrator should not have spoken against other reliable people.
8. The narrator's religious beliefs and practices should have been known to be correct.
9. The narrator should not have carried out and practiced peculiar religious beliefs of his own.
Criteria for the Evaluation of Matn
1. The text should have been stated in plain and simple language.
2. A text in non-Arabic or couched in indecent language was rejected.
3. A text prescribing heavy punishment for minor sins or exceptionally large reward for small virtues was rejected.
4. A text which referred to actions that should have been commonly known and practiced by others but were not known and practiced was rejected.
5. A text contrary to the basic teachings of the Qur'an was rejected.
6. A text contrary to other ahadith was rejected.
7. A text contrary to basic reason, logic and the known principles of human society was rejected.
8. A text inconsistent with historical facts was rejected.
9. Extreme care was taken to ensure the text was the original narration of the Prophet and not the sense of what the narrator heard. The meaning of the hadith was accepted only when the narrator was well known for his piety and integrity of character.
10. A text derogatory to the Prophet, members of his family or his companions was rejected.
11. A text by an obscure narrator which was not known during the age of sahabah [the Prophet's companions] or the tabi'een [those who inherited the knowledge of the sahabah] was rejected.
Along with these generally accepted criteria, each scholar then developed and practiced his own set of specific criteria to further ensure the authenticity of each hadith. For instance, Imam al-Bukhari would not accept a hadith unless it clearly stated that narrator A had heard it from narrator B. He would not accept the general statement that A narrated through B. On this basis he did not accept a single hadith narrated through 'Uthman, even though Hasan al-Basri always stayed very close to 'Ali. Additionally, it is stated that Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal practiced each hadith before recording it in his Musnad [book or collection of hadith].
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