Khalid Shah

Posted Aug 19, 2003      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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No matter how you stack it or slice it, hadith literature is full of problems. Yet most Muslims revere this body of work almost as much as the Holy Qur?an. To fully cover all the issues would take a book and is prudently left for another time. Here I will first very briefly present some of the salient arguments addressing the points most often raised by supporters of hadith and then raise some issues for your consideration.

Claim #1.The Qur?an is general and we need the hadith for specific instruction on how to live as a Muslim.

Response: ?Tafsir Al Qur?an bil Qur?an? The explanation for the Qur?an is the Qur?an.  This adage has throughout the ages been accepted by many scholars. In the Holy Qur?an Allah describes the Qur?an as (Kitabun Mubeen)  ?A book that makes things clear (or plain) to understand?.  Here in the US we see on a daily basis how, against all odds, people read the Qur?an and are so overwhelmed by its truth and clarity that they embrace Islam. If people with no knowledge of its history or background can understand the Holy Qur’an with ease, why can?t we? 

Claim #2.Without hadith we would not even know how to pray or fast etc. 

Response: The proper method of performing the five basic obligations of a Muslim was clearly and emphatically established by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Those who immediately followed him insured that the proper instructions were transmitted to all parts of the world where Muslims went. This is why we see today that everywhere Muslims pray five times a day, even the number of rakah for each prayer and the way they are performed is uniform throughout the world. Similarly, the practice of the other four pillars of Islam is also by and large uniform.  The instructions regarding these five basic duties cannot be considered in the same light as hadith literature. These practices were established by the Holy Prophet and were transmitted by his companions throughout the world long before the hadith literature was developed.

Claim #3. Doesn?t the Qur?an itself say ?obey Allah and obey the Messenger?. How can we obey the messenger without the hadith? 

Response: The Holy Qur?an does say ( Atiyallah wa atiya arrassul)  ?Obey Allah and His Prophet so that you may obtain mercy? (3:132).  However the hadith are not left to us by the Holy Prophet. If the Holy Prophet had wanted his actions to be strictly obeyed after his time it was surely within his power to make his instructions plain to follow for those who come later. What he left us with was the Holy Qur?an. We know of many true events from the daily life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his example is indeed worthy of being followed.  But since the Holy Prophet chose not to write the instructions down for later time it can only be concluded that it was not his wish that we use those events to establish precise rules and regulations in the future. Rather, it should be clear, that the Holy Prophet wanted us to rely completely on the Holy Qur?an when setting precise rules and regulations.

Claim #4. Scholars spent enormous effort in cleansing the hadith and what we are left with are pure and reliable hadith . 

Response: When the hadith were finally collected the task the scholars faced was indeed a daunting one. The total number of hadith that were collected numbered around 600,000. When the scholars were done qualifying the hadith, they had rejected nearly 99% of the hadith that were put in front of them. We were left with less than 9000 hadith that have since been considered as reliable. However even these so called reliable hadith have continued to be tested by later scholars. As little as a hundred years ago the grand mufti of AlAzhar wrote that he found less than 800 stood up to further investigation. He further cautioned that even for those that are very reliable we cannot comprehend the spirit of the Holy Prophet?s intention when he did a particular action or said something, only the Holy Prophet could have known that. It is, therefore, dangerous to think that if we know the words that we comprehend the spirit of the action. 

Claim #5. Some hadith are Qudsi and have almost the same importance as the Qur?an.. 
Response: After more than 1400 years no one has been able to successfully challenge the accuracy of even one word in the Holy Qur?an.  It should be apparent that whatever Allah(swt) and His Messenger wanted to preserve forever has been included in the Holy Qur?an and whatever has not been included in the Holy Qur?an did not receive the protection from Allah to preserve it.

Now let us consider some questions that we should be asking, especially of people who so fervently support the hadith and insist that they are essential to one?s practice of Islam:

Question #1. Where did all the incorrect hadith come from in the first place? How could some thing that is essential to our practice of Islam be so easily corrupted by so many false hadith? (in contrast to the Qur?an which remained unblemished).

Question #2. The Holy Prophet (saw) spent considerable effort to have the Holy Qur?an written down. Why he spent no effort to have the hadith written down (that some today consider essential to understanding the Holy Qur?an)?

Question #3. The first four caliphs (may Allah bless them all) who insured that the Holy Qur?an be put together in book form and also insured that even the spelling of the Holy Qur?an is preserved, did not pay the least attention to the hadith. Why not?
(Infact all of the first four caliphs ordered the known copies of hadith in their time to be burnt and also forbade the further writing and transmission of hadith by most sahabah. Hazrat Umar (rah) in particular put a confining order on many sahabah who had a penchant for relating hadith).

Question #4. Why were the first four rightly guided khalifa?s so opposed to the writing and collecting of hadith?

Question #5. Why more than a hundred and fifty years passed before people started thinking of collecting the hadith (i.e., more than four generations of Muslims had lived and died since the time of the Holy Prophet)? In short, why those who loved Islam and loved the Prophet(pbuh) more than anyone did not put any effort to preserve the hadith?

The Holy Prophet and the first four khalifa who followed him, each had a strong sense of history and in their reign they were very careful in making decisions that established Islam on a strong base for the future. Yet they all deliberately ignored the writing and collecting of hadith.  It should be clear that the Holy Prophet and the first four khalifa did not consider hadith essential for future Muslims to properly practice Islam. We all believe Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was sent as a (Rahmatul Alameen) Ramah for all the worlds; 21:106. The Holy Prophet left for us the everlasting gift of the Word of Allah, preserved in the Holy Qur?an. No other religion at this time can claim to possess the unblemished Word of Allah. Not only that, the power of the Holy Qur?an’s language has been such that classical Arabic language has not changed since the time of the Holy Prophet.  Thus the Holy Qur?an exists today in an alive language, preserving all nuances of its rich meaning for anyone who puts forth the effort to explore it. This is truly the miracle of Islam.  Another gift from Allah to each and everyone of us is our intellect and power of reasoning.  “He is successful who causes it to grow and He is a failure who stuntheth it” 91:9-10. It is up to us to hone our intellect through keen study and reflection of the Holy Qur?an. It was by this method that Muslims reached the zenith of human excellence and only by this method we can re-attain our rightful position among humanity.

The topic of Hadith is a controversial one for most Muslims to discuss. However I have stated here the facts as I have best understood them, in order that all Muslims may benefit in some way from them.  I would welcome and encourage ‘intelligent’ debate on this very important issue. There is a saying of the Holy Prophet (pbuh)  ‘a difference of opinion among the learned in my community is a sign of Allah’s Ramah’. Because it is only through strong debate that we can uncover the truth. Let us hope that we can help each other in the pursuit of excellence and truth and in becoming worthy representatives of Islam.
    Khalid Shah 12-17-94
(updated 2 29-04)