By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam
Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009
There is a common knowledge that some of the ahadith (pl. form of hadith) are weak and fabricated. The bold and erudite critique Dr. Shabbir Ahmed, refers to them as “bizarre, outrageous and awful statements”  – an expression they aptly deserved, were they framed today. Their theme can range from a simplistic explanation of the cause of an illness as people thought in that era to highly preposterous positions like those abound on all Islam critical websites and are meticulously listed in Dr. Shabbir Ahmed’s publication, ‘The Criminals of Islam’, featured on this website. The most unfortunate part, however, is not in the themes of such ahadith – whether they appear the most repulsive morally, most offensive or derogatory to women, most untenable scientifically, most insulting of our Prophet, most demonizing of our faith or most contradictory to the Qur’anic message, but the fact that the orthodoxy have not screened them for over a millennium following their canonization as a form of divine revelation around the fifth century of Islamic calendar. There were compelling reasons for the veneration of the Hadith corpus as the secondary source of Islamic law, but the fact remains that their compilers had clearly warned the posterity about the presence apocryphal and questionable ahadith in their compilations.
Thus, the first compiler of the Hadith, Imam Muhammad Ibn Ismail al-Bukhari (194-256 AH/ 810-870 CE) declared:
“Why do people impose conditions which are not in Allah’s book (Kitab il lah)? Whoever imposes such conditions as are not in Allah’s Laws (Kitab il lah), then that condition is invalid even if he imposes one hundred such conditions, for Allah’s conditions (as stated in the Qur’an) are truth and more valid” .
The second great compiler of Hadith, Imam Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj, (202-261AH/ 817-875 CE), who, like al-Bukhari came from Iran was also highly suspect of the authenticity of many ahadith that he recorded in his compilation. He records his doubts in an oblique manner by citing the example of an arbitrary critical scholar who demands a proof of personal meeting between the narrators and transmitters of ahadith in each of the seven to eight generations back to the Prophet’s era. He then says:
"If we discuss about all those accounts which are held authentic (Sahih) before the learned, and suspect by the critical scholar, we would simply be tired (because they are so large in number)." …‘This argument is novel in its approach, and it is wrong that early scholars did not believe in this. Neither is its denial by those who came later, any ground for its repudiation... and God is there to help repudiate what is wrong in the religion of the learned and I trust in Him” .
What is a hadith and how did the present compilations evolve?
Before Islam, the Arabs did not have any scripture. They were divided into tribes and the customs and values of each tribe were based on ancestral wisdom or the ‘trodden path’ of their forebear, which was called ‘Sunnah.’ The term denotes a spirit, a moral ideal that served as the building blocks of the tribal more. Being of an abstract nature, it needed a story, a saying or a narration to be understood by common people. Such story, saying, narrative was known as hadith. The Qur’an uses this term to denote an ancient story (12:6, 23:44, 79:15, 85:17), an account (4:42, 45:6), a truthful account or speech (4:78, 4:87), a topic of conversation or theme of discussion (4:140, 6:68), social conversation (33:53) and its own narrative (45:6, 52:34,53:59, 68:44).
The first compilation of the Hadith literature (by al-Bukhari) was undertaken at least two centuries, or seven to eight generations after the Prophet’s death. During this period the very definition of hadith was changed. Until around the middle of the 2nd century of Islam, hadith embodied the normative ways and examples of all the prominent people in the preceding five to six generations. Since the number of prominent people – scholars, jurists, administrators, generals, governors etc. increased exponentially generation after generation dating from the Prophet’s era, the number of ahadith also grew exponentially. This, created a great deal of confusion, not merely on account of their sheer number, but also because their different eras and locations of origin rendered many of them self contradictory as what may have been a norm at a given historical location could be outdated or invalid at a later era or another region in the same era. Al-Shafi’i, one of the greatest jurists of Islam, resolved this by disregarding all those ahadith that originated from anyone other than the Prophet. But as time went by, more and more ahadith were introduced in the name of the Prophet to address new situations and emerging realities. Thus, at the time of their compilation by the early Imams – some fifty years after al-Shafi’i rationalization, there were reportedly a few hundred thousands of ahadith in oral circulation – all attributed to the Prophet as his sayings.
Impact of historical factors on the multiplication of ahadith
The multiplication of ahadith with the succession of generations was inevitably influenced by the prevalent historical factors that included:
• Introduction of forged hadith by the dynastic rulers, as well as those with vested interest to serve their purpose or justify their practices.
• Many of the juridical experts based their opinions on the practices of their regions. So the ahadith representing their Sunnahs were conditioned by local and personal factors.
• State of knowledge, and social and political conditions of the time when a given hadith came into currency.
• Propensity of the introducers of new ahadith in each generation to trace their ahadith back to the Prophet by establishing a chain of transmitters in each generation (called isnad) going back to one of the Prophet’s companions who had seen or heard the Prophet doing or saying a thing. This was to lend credibility to their accounts.
It was humanly impossible for the compilers to address all these historical factors that had interacted during this long period. The compilers could only rely on the integrity of the narrators in the transmission chain (isnad) through the preceding generations stretching back to the Prophet’s era. This is the best they could do, as the state of knowledge of the era was not conducive to verifying, whether:
• The narrators and transmitters of the Prophetic traditions (ahadith) in each successive generation ever met in their lifetime.
• The substance of a given tradition (hadith) was revoked by a subsequent Qur'anic revelation - which had continued until a few months before the Prophet’s death.
As a result of these limitations, a large number of forged, spurious and fabricated accounts skipped the screening process and found their way into the authentic (Sahih) corpus. Many learned people of the era were aware of this, but religious passion was so intense that even the most learned and pious were afraid to question the truth of an apparently ‘questionable’ account, if it furnished a chain of reliable transmitters.
The Glory and Ramifications of the Hadith sciences during the era of their evolution
The Hadith sciences covered practically all the activities of the community and theological branches. The Qur’an, as a book of guidance, only lays down the broader principles governing human relations at personal, conjugal, communal/national and international levels, and provides a common set of paradigms to guide humans in business ethics, pursuit of universal knowledge and to infuse him with a spirit of enterprise and exploration. It does not give any details on any physical parameter of life – barring passing references to some of the existing practices. The expanding Muslim community needed comprehensive guideline to handle the myriad of day to day transactions of life. The Hadith furnished this. Thus, Imam al-Bukhari’s compilation  is spread over 9 volumes, divided into a total of 93 sections (or books) and 3981 chapters.
For its era, the knowledge contained in the Hadith enabled the growing Muslim community to lead a peaceful, harmonious and progressive life and contributed to the consolidation of the civil society of Islam. Besides, and more importantly, it preserves the heritage of the Prophet and that of his companions. Hence, the contribution of Hadith in the history of Islam remains paramount, and anybody with slightest familiarity of the ethical and moral depravity (by this day’s ethos) of the rival civilizations of the medieval ages, can only admire the compilers of the ahadith in the superlatives.
Conclusion: There can be no denying that the authenticated (Sahih) Hadith compilations contain some accounts that sound most bizarre and purport to provoke sexuality, induce terrorism, foment inter-faith hatred, and stand deeply misogynist, scientifically untenable, self contradictory and Qur’an-incompatible  – but this must not be attributed to any intellectual turpitude on the part of the Imams who compiled them. The early compilers confronted hundreds of thousands of accounts in oral circulation and applied the prevalent isnad (integrity of narrators in the transmission chain) based screening methodology to accomplish their works. Human reason was in its primitive form and what appears most bizarre and grotesque today, did not register as such in the minds of the common people of Islam’s early centuries, as they were accustomed to believe in legends and fairy tales. The great Imams, who were among the most learned in their era, were cognizant of the ingress of forged and fabricated ahadith in their compilations, but they were not in a position to delete the suspect ahadith as long as they met their criteria of screening. Accordingly they warned the community and posterity about it. This happened a little over two centuries after the Prophet’s death. The canonization of the Hadith as indirect revelation and repository of all worldly knowledge happened after another two centuries or so.
The problem therefore lies with the orthodoxy for failing to carry out any further scrutiny of the ahadith over the last millennium. The problem also lies with some of the Ulama as well as secular minded anti-Islamic Muslims and non-Muslims who selectively pick preposterous and anti-Qur’anic ahadith to launch fatwas and make high sounding statements to demonize Islam, and to bring shame and disgrace to the early compilers of Hadith.
Furthermore, as the literary style, setting, paradigms, and dialectical constructions of the Hadith literature date back to the early medieval era “their continued teaching and propagation, such as in traditional religious schools (madrasas), can adversely impact the mental development of the students, shackling their power of reasoning and virtually freezing their intellect into the early medieval era” . Hence, as suggested in a related article, “there is a long-standing need to treat the Hadith corpus in its historical, regional and cultural perspective as a closed domain and to restructure the curriculum of traditional religious schools by displacing the Hadith and other theological disciplines with a focused study of the Qur’anic message, and the diverse branches of universal knowledge and art forms” . However, as the Hadith remains a critical part of Islamic religion, in so much as it preserves the legacy of the Prophet, no less his companions, it should be reserved for enlightened specialists who have attained sufficient maturity, knowledge, and training to distinguish between weak and reliable Hadith, and not to confuse or parallel them with the Word of God – the Qur’an. This will exculpate the great Imams from the preposterous charge of leaving highly objectionable materials for posterity; shut the mouths of the anti-Hadith modernist Muslims and secularists who deride the Hadith disregarding the anachronism factor, and remove doubts and frustrations from many educated Muslims who are bombarded with what is most atrocious in the Hadith on their internets and mobile phones.
1. Muhammad Yunus and Ashfaque Ullah Syed, Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA 2009. P 342
2. Criminals of Islam by Dr. Shabbir Ahmed posted on this website
3. Sahih al-Bukhari, English translation by Mohsin Khan, New Delhi 1984, Acc. 364, 735/Vol.3.
4. Sahih al-Muslim, Urdu translation by Wahiduz Zaman, Aeteqad Publishing House, New Delhi (year not mentioned), extracted from the muqaddimah.
5. “The evolution of the Hadith sciences and the Prophet’s Sunna and the need for a Major Paradigm Shift regarding the role of the Hadith Corpus and the scope of Madrassa education.” Sec. 10
July 24, 2012.
Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.
@Satbir Singh Bedi. The following answer to
your question is extracted from one of my articles posted on this website
"The Classical Islamic law is a
cumulative juristic tradition that encompasses the legal response (Fatawa) and
opinions (rai) of all past jurists of Islam. Accordingly, it is shaped and
informed by the customs, traditions, social and political conditions, juristic
norms and the state of knowledge of the diverse historical points of Islamic
civilization - dating from the founding Caliphate (632-661/10-40 AH) through the
medieval ages to this day. Accordingly, it is a repository of, among countless
other rulings, such notions as stoning to death for adultery, capital
punishment for apostasy and blasphemy, punishment for homosexuality, slavery,
discrimination and hatred against non-Muslims, demographic division of the
world between the Muslims and non- Muslims, division of knowledge between
Islamic and non-Islamic, temporary marriage, on the spot divorce, parental
immunity against child abuse, gender disparity and so on, that are antithetic
to the Qur’anic message. In historical perspective, these notions may not be
out of line with those of the other civilizations, but dwelling into that will
detract from the subject. The truth is, many of the fundamental notions and rulings
of today’s overgrown Classical Sharia stand in sharp stark contrast to the
realities of the modern era, as well as to the Qur’anic message."
The Classical Islamic Law (Islamic
Sharia Law) is NOT a Word of God!#3
Epitome of Justice and Equity for a thousand years of Islamic
civilization - now a threat to Islamic civilization and World peace, warranting
an urgent paradigm shift in Islamic Juristic thoughts.
The Classical Islamic Law
(Islamic Sharia Law) is NOT a Word of God!
Classical Islamic Sharia Law is NOT a Word of God! (Part II: The Way Forward)
Yunus saheb and Shahin saheb, I did mean the Quran in my last comment but I was wrong in saying it "was compiled pehaps 200 years after the passing of our Prophet." I should have said that it was collected in the caliphate of Uthman and the canonical text was established around 650 A.D.
I thank Yunus saheb for the excellent points he made. He added, "the Quran......recorded by the scribes during the Prophet’s lifetime, and compiled some twenty years after his death based on both the memorized litany and the preserved inscriptions, scrolls, dry palm leaves, hides, etc. used by the scribes for the non-availability of paper." Hence the question of over-inclusion can not be totally ruled out. As I said, "The Prophet, besides being a Messenger, was also a secular leader of the Arabs in Mecca and Medina. If the compilers included, besides his inspired words, also his battle cries, his civic speeches and his explications of the inspired words to his contemporaries, then it becomes our task to separate the wheat from the chaff." I raised these points as a non-aalim and I am aware of the possibility that my points are totally inappropriate.
Dear muhammad yunus (1) Saheb, I have taken the liberty
of changing a word from the second sentence of Ghulam Mohiyuddin Saheb’s
comment: Quran to Hadith. It now reads: “Apart from the jahaliyat of the so-called ulema, the
fault must also lie in how the Hadith was compiled perhaps 200
years after the passing of our Prophet by people who had no expertise in either
compiling or editing or judging the authenticity of what they were compiling.”
It seemed to me that this
was a very obvious mistake. He couldn’t have thought of the holy Quran being
compiled 200 years after the demise of the Prophet. Also, the entire discussion
is centred on the Hadith. Your article under discussion is itself about Hadith.
I had done this just before I saw your comment. This seems completely
unnecessary now. But I am still leaving it here, as it contains, some valuable
insight. I hope readers will understand. Ghulam Mohiyuddin Saheb will probably
also clarify if he really meant Quran in that place or just wrote it by mistake
while wanting to write Hadith.
However, your comment can still continue to enlighten readers about the authenticity of the holy Quran. despite what seems to me a misunderstanding.
Dear Gholam Muhiuddin Saheb,
Had the Qur’an been compiled 200 years after the
Prophet’s death (as your last comment suggests), there would have been scores of Qur’ans (nowzu billah) for the
scores of the mathahab that had evolved by that time. Besides, if the Qur’an
were even edited after the death of the Prophet, the following suggestions/ statements
that are not consistent with the Hadith would have been unquestionably removed:
(pbuh) was of humble descent (93:6-93:8).
was a human being like others (18:110, 41:6).
was not a prominent man in the two towns (Mecca and Medina) (43:31).
was unable to harm or benefit himself (10:49) or harm and guide others (72:21).
was not capable to show any miracles (6:37, 11:12, 13:7, 17:90-93, 21:5,
was reproved for ignoring a blind man for his untimely intervention (80:1-10).
derided the poets who represented the powerful media (CNN, BBC) of the era (26:221-226).
made loud claims about the consistency of the revelation despite its
fragmentary references to different themes (18:1, 39:23, 39:28) – any editing
would have pieced together all the scattered references that confuse the lay
is found helpless in a cave with a companion whose name is not even mentioned
(9:40). According to early reports, the other person was his father-in-law and
foremost companion, Abu Bakr who later became the first Caliph of Islam.
rather than glorify Muhammad for taking high value captives at Badr (8:67/68).
is placed at a spiritual parity with other Prophets (2:136, 2:285, 4:152).
is prevented from putting any pressure on his followers to accompany him to the
battlefield (at the planes of Uhud) (4:84).
promise of sending angels down to the battlefield at Badr (624) and Uhud (625)
were merely to reassure them (3:126, 8:10) and not reality.
is barred from contracting any further marriage (33:52) barely a few years after
permission was given him to have any number of wives as an exclusive privilege
over other believers who were permitted to have up to four wives (33:50). Note:
There can be no second example in the entire history of mankind of a man
occupying the position of a king with unlimited power (as was the case with
Muhammad) to take a vow of not contracting any further marriage at the zenith of
his career at an age that must have promised him many more decades of life and
many more issues including sons from further marriages.
reference to the killing of some of the banu Qurayzah (not named as such in the
Qur’an) and their expulsion from Medina. Had the Qur’an been doctored the
reference to the killing of ‘some of them’ (the
banu Qurayzah) must have been removed.
is not credited with any military glory for defending Medina at battles of Uhud
and Trench, for the integration of Mecca and his march to Tabuk, – a bordering outpost of the mighty Roman
Empire (48:24, 48:26, 110:1-3) – a unique show of success by one man of humble
origin to the Supreme leader – temporal as well as spiritual of a people who
hated him as he embarked on his mission.
There is a lot more to establish that the text of
the Qur’an as we have with us today is as preserved in the chest of the huffaz
and recorded by the scribes during the Prophet’s lifetime, and compiled some twenty years after his death based on both the memorized litany and the preserved inscriptions, scrolls, dry palm leaves, hides, etc. used by the scribes for the non-availability of paper.
For further enlightenment
kindly read my following article:
The Qur’an was never edited and any effort to edit the
Qur’an will be self contradictory.