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Islamic Sharia Laws (08 Feb 2012 NewAgeIslam.Com)

Evolution of Hadith Sciences and Need for Major Paradigm Shift in Role of Hadith Corpus and Scope of Madrasa Education


By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam

Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009

-        This is a historic critical investigation (Ijtihad) based on a comprehensive review and historiography of Islamic theology appearing in a recently published exegetic work [1] that has the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif (2002) and authentication by a renowned jurist and scholar of Islam, Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl (2009). Beginning with i) the warnings by the early Imams, it covers, ii) the Glory and Ramifications of the Hadith sciences, iii) the generic concept of sunna (tech. Sunnah), iv) the generic concept of Hadith (tech. Hadith), v) the specific Concept of the Sunnah/Hadith of the Prophet. vi) Compilation of Hadith corpus, vii) Effect of time on the screening process of the Hadith literature, viii) the anachronism (historical disconnection) factors and fallouts, ix) Qur’anic instruction to obey and follow the Prophet, leading on to x) the need for a major paradigm shift on the role of the Hadith sciences and the scope of madrasa education. As the multiple features of the subject may be taxing for a reader to grasp in a single reading session, the work is divided into two interconnected parts, each of which, however, can stand on its own as a coherent and self explanatory write up.

Muhammad Yunus, co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009


1. The Early Imam’s warnings.

“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” -  Imam al-Bukhari [2].

"If we discuss about all those accounts which are held authentic (Sahih) before the learned, and suspect by a critical scholar (who demands a proof of personal meeting between the narrators and transmitters of Hadith in each generation), - 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” – Imam Muslim [3].

These quotations from the two foremost pioneers of Hadith compilation may be shocking to those who regard the Hadith as a form of divine revelation side by side with or complementary to the Qur’an. But truth must be told as the Western world cites weak and forged Hadiths (technically Ahadith) selectively to demonize Islam, while many educated Muslims, ignorant of the historicity of the Hadith sciences, cite weak Hadiths selectively despite the compilers’ warning against them [2,3].  

2. The Glory and Ramifications of the Hadith sciences.

When the common people in Europe were sleeping in communal halls on haystacks in pitch darkness and had no more than a pair of clothes or leather jerkins to wear, and spent their whole winter indoors living on potato and porridge cooked over the left over in the same pot, year after year, and had no schools, colleges or centers of learning, the Muslims lived in great luxury and sophistication and popularized and advanced all forms of art, craft and knowledge at grass roots level that was beyond the imagination of their European counterparts. While their cultural superiority owed to their newfound Qur’anic wisdom, military successes, adoption of the cultural paradigms of the major civilizations they subsumed (the Romans, Egyptians, Persians, Indian for example) and an unremitting passion to acquire knowledge, the inner fabric of the society was immensely benefited by the ancestral wisdom, passed from generation to generation in the form of narrations or Hadith. The Hadith sciences covered practically all the activities of the community and fields of knowledge and provided a common set of paradigms that filled the gap in practical knowledge in the early centuries of Islam. Thus, Imam Bukhari’s compilation [2] is spread over 9 volumes, divided into a total of 93 sections (or books) and 3981 chapters. Broadly speaking, it covers the following areas of life:

•        Agricultural activities: Sowing and planting of seeds, keeping a watchdog at the farm, use of oxen for ploughing, share cropping, distribution of water, use of wells, irrigation and dams, documentation, etc.

•        Financial dealings: Bartering, advance booking of goods, sale and purchase of cattle-heads and property, collection of debt, lost and found, mortgaging, evaluation of joint property, dividing of houses, sharing of land, gold, silver, food, and slaves; bankruptcy, renting, transfer of debts, freezing of property, representation of authority etc.

•        Legal matters: Litigation for executing the will of the deceased; fraud and cheating; status and handling of slave girls; law of inheritance, al-hudud (limits of punishment), blood money, coercion, sexual assault etc.

•        Interpretation of selective Qur’anic verses: Beginning of creation, accounts of Adam's fall from the Paradise, blessings and healing powers of Qur'anic verses, description of the rewards and punishment in the Day of Judgement etc.

•        There is a full chapter Book (XVI/Vol.3) on freeing of slaves and its superiority’. ‘Whoever frees a Muslim slave, God will save all the parts of his body from the (Hell) Fire (693). To free the most expensive and the most beloved slave (694), to free slaves at the time of solar eclipse (695) lunar eclipse (696), to educate and treat slave girls nicely then free them, and take them in wedlock (Acc.720, 723/Vol.3). Since some slaves were under joint ownership in those days, the Prophet is reported to have urged the rich partner to free such slaves completely (not partially) (697, 698, 699, 700, 701, 702) or alternatively the price of the slave is to be estimated, and the slave is to be helped to work without hardship till he pays the rest of his price (672, 704).

•        Simple daily chores: Rising from sleep, cleaning of teeth, washing, bathing, ablution, dressing up, eating, keeping a pet, clipping of nail, cutting of hair, going for a walk, attending to natural call etc.

•        Invocation to cover practically each of the daily rituals, including getting up in the morning, going to toilet, while ascending a high place, going down a valley, against and in favour of pagans, during and after prayer, while dusting the bed sheet before going to bed, while going to bed, sleeping on the right side, waking up at midnight, putting the right hand under right cheek etc. 

•        Marriage: Its divine blessing, marrying a virgin, a matron, several women, one's own slave girl; who all are prohibited in marriage, presenting one's daughter or sister to a man, marrying off one's young children, beating the tambourine during the nikah, consummating marriage on journey, during the day, and with a nine year old girl; perfume for the bridegroom, etc.

•        Different aspects of a divorce, including among others: giving the divorce during a woman’s monthly period, in a state of anger, using gestures to express divorce, divorcing thrice at a time, stoning a woman accused of adultery, remarriage after divorce etc.

•        Emotions, wishes, afflictions, judgements, patients, medicines, interpretation of dreams, meals, aqiqa, slaughtering of animal, festivals, religious rites; personal virtues and manners; social norms etc.

•        Armed conflicts, jihad, war-booty; the virtues of ansars, Medina, and the Prophet's companions, treatment of non-Muslims at peace and wartime etc.

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 phenomenal rise of Islam. However, we must remember that human civilization has advanced by more than a millennium and the customs, methods and exigencies of life and the scope of knowledge has seen waves upon waves of changes and therefore we cannot lock ourselves to the glorious era of Hadith domination. With this we embark upon our evaluation of the Hadith sciences beginning with the concept of Sunna that forms the heart of a Hadith account.

3. The generic concept of sunna (tech. sunnah, pl. sunnat)

In the pre-Islamic Arabia, the term sunna was used as a generic concept for established principles, norms, and practices of the ancestors. In the absence of any books, written materials, or any other forum or institution of learning, the sunna served as the sole repository of ancient or ancestral wisdom. Accordingly, different Arab tribes had their own sunnas handed down to them from their ancestors. The Qur’an also uses this word, and its other roots, in their generic concept such as ‘the ideal or righteous way of life’ (4:26), ‘example set by a people’ (8:38), ‘natural and moral laws as prescribed by God’, or a practice approved by Him (33:38).

The term sunna remained in currency in its generic sense during the time of the Prophet, through to the closing decades of the second century hijra: The example of any prominent person – the Prophet, his companions, companions’ companions, in a given generation became his sunna for his people of the next generation and thus entered the ever expanding domain of hadith.

4.  The generic notion of hadith (tech. hadith, pl. ahadith).

hadith broadly means a narration, a story or an account. Accordingly the verb haththathna and its other roots (including hadith) appear frequently in the Qur’an with a broad shade of meaning such as an ancient story (12:6, 23:44), an account (4:42), 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) etc. As the Arabs excelled in telling stories and expressive skills, they orally transmitted the sunnas of their ancestors by giving it the body of a narration or hadith. The people who took part in the transmission of the hadiths down the generations were collectively called the isnad.

In the initial years after the Prophet’s death, the hadiths were few in number, and were rarely cited by the Prophet’s companions, while the common man was discouraged from quoting them. Imam Bukhari and Shibli Noumani record:

•        Caliph Umar is reported to have led the Iraq expedition, not only to add prestige to his force, but also to ensure that his officers did not misguide fellow Muslims with ahadith. He is reported to have remarked [4]: fanan shaqaluhum jar’rethul Qur’ana (Do not mix things with the Qur’an), and wa qil’lur rawa’ayata un rasul’illahe” (Quote sparingly from the Prophet).

•        Imam Sha‘bi is reported to have stayed for one year with Abdullah bin Umar (Caliph Umar’s son), who was renowned for authenticity of his Prophetic narration, and heard only one hadith from him during this period [5]. There is another version of this account that puts the period at two, or one year and a half, and the number of hadith at one [4].

•        Thabit bin Qutba reported that Abdullah bin Umar used to narrate only two to three hadiths a month” [5].

The second generation Muslims entertained a far greater number of hadiths representing the sunnas of the Prophet as well those of his companions, and the jurists and scholars of the first generation. This process continued down the generations resulting in an exponential growth in the number of hadiths with the passing of successive generations.

This, after a few generations, created serious complications for the community. There were simply too many hadiths in oral circulation representing the changing historical realities and views of the scholars of each of the preceding generations of the expanding and intellectually effervescent Islamic world, and no one knew for sure which hadith to follow and which one to discard. This created a chaotic situation in theological domain and warranted an urgent solution.  

5. Evolution of the specific concept of the Sunna/Hadith of the Prophet.

Muhammad al-Shafi‘i (d. 205/821), a great jurist of the era, and one of the greatest in Islamic history, saved the situation by setting aside all those hadiths which originated from any individual other than the Prophet, and accepted only those Hadiths which could be traced back to the Prophet through a chain of reliable narrators (isnad). This literally meant redefining the generic sunna and hadith to specifically the Prophetic Sunna and Prophetic Hadith - the terms are capitalized for distinction. In other words, the term Sunnah [Sunna] became specific to only those accounts (Hadiths), which purportedly encapsulated the Prophet’s traditions - normative behavior and practices, or Sunnat al-Rasul Allah. This happened around six to seven generations from the Prophet’s era. The expression, Sunnat al-Rasul Allah however, does not appear in the Qur’an, which enjoins the emulation of the Prophet’s exemplary moral conduct and behavior (33:21).   

6. Compilation of the current Hadith literature.    

It was simply impossible for al-Shafi‘i – and remains so irrevocably for any human being or Intelligence/ Knowledge Resource ever, to address all the local, personal, historical and obsolescence factors that influenced the genesis of the hadiths, originating from countless sources across the expanding Islamic world over some six to seven generations that separated al-Shafi‘i from the Prophet’s era. Thus his exercise – however colossal and significant – was purely of an academic nature. Moreover, al-Shafi‘i’s redefinition of sunna (hadith) to Prophetic Sunna (Hadith), did not prevent the introduction of new accounts (Hadith) in the subsequent generations for the obvious reason that Islamic civilization had not stopped dead at al-Shafi‘i’s era and changes in civilizational paradigms were constantly occurring with the progress of civilization and expansion of Islam into new cultural settings. Thus, with time, there was a growing need for a thorough scrutiny and containment of the Hadith that were attributed to the Prophet. This was addressed from early third century hijra onward by Muslim compilers notably, al-Bukhari (d. 256/870), Muslim (d. 251/865), Abu Daud (d. 265/879), al-Tirmidhi (d. 282/895) and Ibn Maja (d. 276/890) in the mainstream Sunni Islam. 

Each of these compilers screened a few hundred thousands of accounts (Hadiths) in oral circulation, by traveling long distances and contacting and verifying with the contemporaneous narrators. The first two of the compilations (by al-Bukhari and Muslim) are regarded as the most authentic and therefore called sahih (meaning, true or correct). Their compilations cover about 7000-10,000 accounts, in the form of sayings or tradition of the Prophet, or narratives attributed to him through a chain of narrators (isnad). Their works and those of their successors have been passed down to the posterity and constitute the present day Hadith literature in Sunni Islam. The Twelver Shi‘as regard these compilations to be contrived and false (mukhtalaq) and claim the authenticity of the compilation, Suitable for the Science of Religion by Kulyani (d. 939) and Ibn Babuyi (d. 991) and Tusi (d. 1067)  [6] 


7. Irrevocably adverse effects of historically stretched time on Hadith screening process.

Since the first compilation of the Hadith literature (by al-Bukhari) was undertaken at least two centuries, or eight to nine generations after the Prophet’s death, they confronted the same inexorable challenge as al-Shafi‘i (6 above): It was humanly impossible for them to address all the local, personal, historical and obsolescence factors that had interacted during preceding eight to nine generations. The compilers could only verify 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 (Hadiths) in each successive generation ever met in their lifetime or came to know of the Hadith in currency through intermediaries of questionable integrity. 

•        Whether the substance of a given Hadith was revoked by a subsequent Qur'anic revelation - which had continued until a few months before the Prophet’s death, or had become obsolete with time.

•        Whether some vested interest had introduced some Hadith to serve their interest by forging an isnad.

•        the integrity of people whose example (sunna) was adopted by the next generation followers. 

As a result of these limitations, a large number of forged, spurious unsavory and fabricated accounts skipped the screening process and found their way into the authentic (Sahih) corpus, simply because they had gained popularity among the masses and had entered the Hadith chain. Many learned people of the era were aware of this, including the great Imams (al-Bukhari and Muslim) who compiled the hadith (opening quotations) 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. Moreover, some Hadith that might have been authentic in isolation were context specific and lend themselves to contradictory propositions, [7] while some were specific to the era and suffered obsolescence with time as earlier mentioned [8].

Last but not least, the later rulers of Islam, notably the Tatars, actively popularized many weak Hadiths which in the words of Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905), who is regarded as one of the most learned Islamic scholars and one time Grand Mufti of al-Azhar al-Sharif, were no more than “lethal superstitions and fables”:

“(The Tatars) found many spurious and fabricated traditions which they were quick to exploit for their own purpose, interpreting them only in order to indoctrinate the people with their fictions and delusions… They misinterpreted the Islamic doctrine of divine decree so as to frustrate human will and to choke every striving for action. The people’s ignorance of the religion, their inclination to the path of least resistance, and their desire to satisfy their passions persuaded the Muslims to accept those lethal superstitions and fables.” [9]

In consideration of the foregoing factors, it will be simplistic and in many cases a grievous error to take the Hadith literature left by the early compilers and in currency to this day, on their face value, as the true representation the Prophet’s Sunna. The claim becomes all the more weak and porous if we remember that a rival School of Law (the Twelver Shi‘i) regard all Sunni collections as false and fabricated ((mukhtalaq), though the case of the Sunni Hadith as divinely revealed corpus remains immensely weak on its own – given the plethora of arguments tabled above and the grave doubts of the pioneering compilers noted under the caption above. To quote Muhammad Abduh again: [10]:

“Most of what goes today under the name of Islam is not Islam at all. It may only have preserved the outer shell of the Islamic ritual of prayer, fasting and pilgrimage, as well as some sayings, which have been however perverted by allegorical interpretations. All these sinister accretions and superstitions that found their way into Islam brought about the stagnation that now passes under the name of religion.”

8.  The anachronism factor. 

The forgery, fabrications, sinister accretions and superstitions apart (7 above), the literary style, setting, civilizational paradigms, and the intellectual underpinning of the Hadith sciences date back to the early medieval era and have thus lost touch with the present day objective scholarship, realities and paradigms of life, and intellectual acumen and insight. Hence, “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.” [11] These symptoms are reflected in the categorization of Islam by the 19th century French intellectual, François Rene De Chatteaubrand, as ‘a cult that was civilization’s enemy, systematically favourable to ignorance, to despotism and to slavery.’ [12] Leapfrogging to this very decade we see that A Washington Post/ABC New Polls in 2006 “found that nearly half of Americans – 46% - have a negative view of Islam,” and in Europe Islam was overwhelmingly singled out “as the religion most prone to violence.” [13]. These remarks by the Western scholarship spanning almost two centuries cannot be shrugged off as biased. The following remarks by some of the great Muslim scholars of recent centuries reflect similar sentiments:

"The condition of the Muslims is akin to those of the beasts of the forest - They revel in their state no matter how ignominious." “If anyone wants to see a (community's) decline exceeding all limits, He can see the inability of Islam to rise after its downfall.” – Altaf Hussain Hali (1837-1914) [14].            

“If you fail to take cognizance (of truths) you will be annihilated - Your story will not be there in the annals of history.” “Muslim blood is as cheap as water, though you are perplexed (O Muslims) ignorant of the cause” (Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938) [15]

Thus, the history’s calculus for Islam today stands out dark and gloomy as a cold and frosty moon-less night. As Hali said, “Gloom (nahusat) is lurking all around [14]. On one hand, the Muslim masses in many parts of the world are being subjected to violence by their own and Western regimes in the name of just and anti-terrorism wars and on the other, the Muslim theologian overlords are causing rivers of blood to flow wherever they can – Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Algeria (in recent past) for example. More grievous is the total denial of the Muslim ulama to the mental mortification, backwardness and abysmally poor performance in all development fields of the products of the madrasa education that is cantered round the Hadith, which is thus exerting a formidable throwback and mortifying influence because of obvious anachronism factors.

9. The Qur’anic instruction to love, obey and follow the Prophet.

The orthodox quote the Qur’anic oft-repeated exhortations to love, obey and follow the Prophet (3:31, 3:32, 3:132, 4:69, 4:80, 5:56, 5:92, 24:52, 24:54, 24:56, 47:33, 64:12) as an indication to follow the Hadith or the sayings of the Prophet that are conflated with his normative behaviour (Sunna). But the Qur’anic instructions obviously aimed at establishing the Prophet as the ultimate and most honored and beloved leader of the community – a love and honor that he deserved as the Prophet of God. Accordingly, people at different historical junctures were asked to obey the Prophets Hud (26:131, 26:150), Jesus (3:50, 43:63), Lot (26:163), Noah (26:108, 26:110, 71:3), Shoaib (26:179), Salih (26:144, 26:150) and to follow the creed of Abraham (4:125, 16:123). Thus, the Qur’an, does not bind the followers of a prophet with his sunna, but uses it to refer to universal laws and patterns in both physical and moral realms (3 above, Part-I). Furthermore, any command to observing the Sunna (normative ways) of the Prophet Muhammad would have contradicted the notion of shir‘ah wa minhaj (dynamic system of law and code of life - 5:48, as the Qur’an envisions for humanity in its concluding legislative phase [16], and froze Islam, veritably, at the seventh century Arabia. It was conceivably for these reasons that the Qur’an did not connect its message with the Sunna of the Prophet – though based on the pre-Islamic norms, such a connection was a historical necessity in that era. History had to take its own course and accordingly it saw the evolution of the institution of Hadith sprouting from the pre-Islamic concept of following the Sunna of the ancestors. In absence of any Qur’anic mandate to follow the Sunna of the Prophet, there can be no breach of faith in any manner by treating the Hadith that is supposed to be a repository of the Prophet’s Sunna – as a historically informed and conditioned space-time specific theological discipline – rather than an intrinsic part of the eternal message of the Qur’an. 

Ulama and scholars may also raise the question of religious rituals and festivities that the Hadiht corpus preserves. The truth is, all forms of rites, rituals and festivities are shaped and informed by historical contexts and the cultural heritage of people that entered Islam. This will continue to happen as part of historical inertia and conservatism. Conceivably, it is for this reason that the Qur’an is almost silent about religious rituals and festivities. 

10. Need for a Major Paradigm Shift in religious thoughts:

The suspicion of Imam al-Bukhari and Muslim regarding the authenticity of the contents of the Hadith they compiled based entirely on isnad (1 above), the anachronism factors (6 above), the irrevocably adverse effects of historically stretched time on the Hadith screening process (7,8 above) and absence of any express instruction of the Qur’an to all humanity for all times to follow the Sunna of the Prophet (5 above) taken together clearly demonstrate that as a font of guidance or supplement to the eternal Qur’anic message that is meant for all times, space and historical contexts, the Hadith corpus has run far beyond its due course in history. Accordingly, the repetitive teaching of Hadith as a core subject in the traditional madrasas - generation after generation, and century after century beyond the era of its compilation (third century of Islam), has had grievous fallouts as summarily underlined under 8 above.

Hence, 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.

The Qur’an is a book of wisdom (hikmah, 10:1, 31:2, 43:4, 44:4) that is made clear and distinct (12:1, 15:1, 16:64, 26:2, 27:1, 36:69, 43:2, 44:2)  with all kinds of illustrations (17:89, 18:54, 30:58, 39:27) and has guidance for the believers in God (7:52, 16:64, 27:77. 31:3), the heedful (muttaqi) (2:2, 3:138, 24:34), and for humanity at large (2:185, 10:108, 14:52). Its paradigms are eternal, pluralistic, broad based, constant free from any addition or alteration since the revelation [17], and revered by all the Muslims of the world regardless of their sectarian, theological, ideological and regional orientations and can therefore serve a common, constant and universally accepted core subject for madrasa curriculum. It lays a great emphasis on the ‘constants’ of life – how a human being should behave regardless of time and era. Thus, it encompasses a broad spectrum of universal paradigms - justice, liberty, equity, good deeds, good neighbourly and inter-faith relations, sharing of wealth with the poor, eradication of slavery, deliverance of women from various entrenched taboos, conjugal oppression and dehumanization; good business ethics, fair payment for goods and services, financial support to the needy, use of intellect, striving for excellence – to cite some major examples. These tenets are as relevant today as they were at the Prophet’s time. These tenets constitute the message of God that the Prophet delivered to humanity. Therefore, these tenets need to be taught as a core subject in the Islamic religious schools for the Muslims must know the message their Messenger brought for them if they really love him as they claim.

Furthermore, scientific knowledge is the very key to understanding the scientific indications of the Qur’an, and the essential tool to harnessing the resources of nature as enjoined by the Qur’an. Thus for example, we will not be able to understand many of the Qur’anic verses on natural phenomena, such as relating to the movement of the heavenly bodies (3:27, 31:29, 35:13), embryonic development in human foetus (22:5, 23:13/14, 39:6, 40:67, 75:38, 82:7, 96:2), graduated layers of darkness in the depths of oceans (24:40), barrier between sweet and saline water (25:53, 27:61, 55:19) etc. without the knowledge of physical sciences. Therefore, from the Qur’anic perspective, the pursuit of scientific knowledge is integral to its message, and to set it apart as ‘European’ or ‘un-Islamic’ could amount to a blatant denial of a self evident proposition - a kufr [18]. The same holds for all other universal faculties, professional disciplines and art forms that form the basis of modern education – as they no more than glimpses of God’s infinite manifestations (kalimat, 18:109, 31:27) and accordingly taught in the Christian and other missionary schools.   

To be more explicit, there is an urgent need for a major paradigm shift in Islamic religious thoughts and the scope and curriculum of traditional madrasas: they should be converted to universal houses of learning like the Western missionary schools with the same curricula and education system as in civil schools – with the addition of a Religion class. The Muslim students may be taught the fundamentals of the Qur’anic message and the non-Muslims, the fundamentals of their faith.

This definitely sounds radical if not revolutionary, as it purports to relegate the Hadith, now regarded as an eternal component of Islam like the Qur’an,  into its historical slot and bring to the fore, the Qur’anic message in its rightful place as a complete, universal, pluralistic and eternal font of guidance. What the Muslim elite and scholarship should be concerned is the truth – and this article has attempted to capture the truth in a very logical, systematic, unbiased and faithful manner drawing on most authentic resources. Hence it is worthy of serious evaluation and consideration.

The article is complementary to a recently posted article under the caption: An Open Reminder to Ulama - Rejecting universal knowledge as un-Islamic is brazenly un-Islamic and kufr (denial of truth).  



1.       Muhammad Yunus and Ashfaque Ullah Syed, Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA 2009.

2.       Sahih al-Bukhari, English translation by Mohsin Khan, New Delhi 1984, Acc. 364, 735/Vol.3.

3.       Sahih al-Muslim, Urdu translation by Wahiduz Zaman, Aeteqad Publishing House, New Delhi (year not mentioned), extracted from the muqaddimah. 

4.       Shibli Noumani, al Faruq, 1898, Karachi reprint 1991, p. 291, 293

5.       Sahih al-Bukhari, English translation by Mohsin Khan, New Delhi, 1984, Acc. 372/Vol.9.

6.       Mohammed Arkoun, Rethinking Islam, translated and edited by Robert D.Lee, Westview Press, Oxford, p.45] [6]

7.       Sahih al-Bukhari, English translation by Mohsin Khan, New Delhi 1984. Examples of context specific traditions that lead to contradictory propositions:

-        hajj is redemption of all past sins [Vol.2, Acc. 596]. The reward for hajj is commensurate to the hardship undertaken for it [Vol.3, Acc. 15].

-        The dog is a clean animal as dogs used to roam about the Prophet’s mosque and even urinate there [Vol.1, Acc. 174]. The dog is an unclean animal, and so if a dog eats from a container, it is to be washed seven times to purify it before human use [Vol.1, Acc. 173].

-        The dog is a blessed creature as a man was promised Paradise by God because he brought water from a well to quench the thirst of a dog [Vol.1, Acc. 174]. The dog is an accursed creature as its sale is forbidden [Vol.3, Acc. 439, 440].

-        The Prophet forbade the killing of women and children [Vol.4, Acc. 257, 258]. The Prophet tacitly approved the killing of pagans at night when women were also exposed (and could be killed during attack) [Vol.4, Acc. 256].

8.       Ibid., Examples of era specific traditions include accounts forbidding Muslims from carrying the Qur’an to a hostile land [Vol.4, Acc. 233], keeping agricultural implements at homes [Vol.3, Acc. 514], taking the price of a dog [Vol.3, Acc. 439, 440], or selling fruits until they are ripe and red [Vol.1, Acc. 565].

9.       Muhammad Husayn Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, English translation of 8th edition by Ismail Ragi, Karachi 1989, p. 584] [9]

10.     Ibid., p. 584.

11.     Muhammad Yunus and Ashfaque Ullah Syed, Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA 2009, p. 342.

12.     Karen Armstrong, Muhammad, Victor Gollnacs Ltd. London, 1991, p. 39.  [11]

13.     John L.Esposito, The Future of Islam, Oxford University Press, New York 2010,  p. 12.

14.     Maddu jazar e Islam, 4th and 6th stanza

15.     Bange dara, taswir e dard, 27th verse, duniyae Islam, 6th verse. [15]

16.     Muhammad Yunus and Ashfaque Ullah Syed, Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA 2009, p. 94 – interpretation of the verse 5:48.

17.     See the article: The Qur’an was never edited and any effort to edit the Qur’an will be self contradictory:


18.     See the article: An Open Reminder to Ulama- Rejecting universal knowledge as un-Islamic is brazenly un-Islamic and kufr (denial of truth).  

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.





  • Ziauddin Sardar, in an article titled "How to take Islam back to Reason" quotes the Prophet as saying: "An hour's study of nature is better than a year's prayer."
    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 2/21/2012 12:15:42 AM

  • Dear br. Ghulam, I concur with the statement by the learned Prof Pervez. I myself combine zuhr and asr prayers and maghrib and isha on a daily basis. there is evidence in form of hadith that prophet did so for no particular reason to show it was acceptable. many shi'a muslims do this all the time of course AND FIND IT COMPLETELY ACCEPTABLE. he also told a man that if he couldn't wake up for farj prayers on time he should do it when he wakes up.
    By ADIS - 2/20/2012 9:33:41 PM

  • Dear Br. Yunus, beautifully put. couldn't agree more.
    By adis - 2/20/2012 9:28:22 PM

  • Regarding rituals Adis saheb says, "i guess a degree of mutibility without substantive change is possible for pragmatic reasons."

    Yunus saheb says, "these tenets do not appear to be subject to any rigidity or immutability."

    Remarking on the competitive pressures of modern life, and expressing concern for Muslims being backward in studies, careers and research, Prof. Pervez Hoodbhoy too has suggested that we should not be too rigid and literalistic regarding performance of rituals. Abbreviated and simplified forms of rituals may be more suitable for our times.
    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 2/20/2012 2:06:22 PM

  • Rituals and Taqwah are complementary to each other. Namaz (Salah)is just for the purity of body and a religious duty as well, but the real purity comes with the practice and sustenance of Taqwah in our life, so we ought to adhere to all the arkan of Iman (Faith) with full sincerety and Khushu wa Khuzu. If we wish to agree Allah Kareem, we must try to be a true Muslim by practicing our duties and leading our lives according to Sunnat-e-Rasool (pbuh).
    By Raihan Nezami - 2/20/2012 8:52:49 AM

  • @Adis/Muhiyuddin: My duly approved published exegetic work wraps up as follows with regard to the key Islamic spiritual rituals:

    i) Prayer (salah) is somewhat like the fragrance of a flower (the soul of Islam), and the dynamic forces of Islam its body. Without fragrance the body may not have any value in the court of God and without the body, it is a piece of fossil on the desert sand.”
    ii) Zakat: the Qur’an uses the word zakah for all kinds of humanitarian deeds. Thus all believers, rich and poor, can exercise zakah by showing mercy and extending emotional and psychological support to distressed humanity, by caring and nursing the sick and wounded, and other similar gestures, while the rich must also give the mandatory charity (institutionalized Zakat) as part of their zakah obligation.
    iii) Fasting: The fasting Muslims are normally extremely concerned about the finer aspects relating to their abstinence from food and drinks, and compliance with the timings for commencing or breaking the fast. They, however, ought to bear in mind that the Qur’an prescribes fasting as a means to acquiring taqwa (2:183, 2:187) or heedfulness (Ch. 8). Thus, those who keep fast must endeavor to comply with the whole range of Qur’anic precepts that go with taqwa to merit the highest spiritual blessing from their fast.5
    Ref. Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA 2009, p. 305, 310, 316.
    Furthemore, since a) salah, sawm and zakah are also prescribed for the followers of other Prophets, b) the Qur’anic verses on salah and zakah do not prescribe any strict regime, c) the verses on sawm offer concessions/ways of redemption in constraining circumstances, and d) there is no punishment clause for lapses – these tenets do not appear to be subject to any rigidity or immutability – though God knows best.

    By muhammad yunus - 2/20/2012 7:59:58 AM

  • rituals make each religious tradition unique and distinct of course. i guess a degree of mutibility without substantive change is possible for pragmatic reasons eg. number of sheep slaughtered during eid ul adha ( it can be one on behalf of all hajjis) , timing of namaz and fasting come to mind
    By adis - 2/20/2012 7:56:05 AM

  • I too think rituals have beauty and worth, but are they immutable?
    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 2/19/2012 9:48:59 PM

  • I agree with you br. Ghulam. Rituals , however, are powerful religious symbols which if understood and observed properly always point to the deeper truth in them. the fact remains that many do not realise this deeper truth that you so eloquently stated in your comment. i dont think we should do away with the rituals. there can be beauty in them too.
    By adis - 2/19/2012 9:36:17 PM

  • Mr. Adis says, "Sunna 'ibadiyya is the embodiement and the extension of the 'ibadiyya element of the Qur'an and it is immutable ( namaz, hajj, sawn, janaza etc)."

    The purpose of all religions is to make us better human beings and make our societies better societies. How do undue emphasis of rituals and considering rituals to be immutable help in that overriding purpose?
    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 2/19/2012 1:29:05 PM

  • Dear Adis, I am greatful that you read it and also made a positive remark about it. This is important as the article is quite sensitive and has rattled up the ahle hadith theological leadership in India.
    I take your point that the definition of Sunna in the article could be expanded to differentiate between the spiritual and the functional/universal tenets - but as you will appreciate the focus of the article is not on the Sunna but on the histeriography of the evolution of the Hadith, now regarded as an eternal component of Islam like the Qur’an, so as to relegate it into its historical slot and bring to the fore, the Qur’anic message (which constituted the Prophet's Sunna for the salaf) in its rightful place as a complete, universal, pluralistic and eternal font of guidance.

    By muhammad yunus - 2/19/2012 10:58:10 AM

  • Indeed, this is in many ways an important contribution.Hoewever, the author needs to refine his concept of sunna more clearly and systematically rather than just correctly stating that hadith are different from it. Muslims have always coupled Qur'an and Sunna together ( often expressed in the form kitab allah wa sunnatu nabiyihi). As I outlined in my articles eslewhere on this website, Sunna and Qur'an are two sides of the same coin in that Sunna. As such sunna consists of three parts , two of which are dynammic and one which is not . Sunna 'ibadiyya is the embodiement and the extension of the 'ibadiyya element of the Qur'an and it is immutable ( namaz, hajj, sawn, janaza etc). Other elements of sunna which refer to as sunna akhlaqiyya and sunna fiqhiya are dynamic in sense that they are based on maqasid and maslaha principles which are based on certain ethico-religious principles whose understandings change according to time and place. I will have more to say on this in my forthcoming articles to be publsihed here, in sha' Allah.
    By adis - 2/19/2012 3:46:40 AM

  • This is an important article. It puts the Hadiths in a proper perspective and emphasizes the need to make Quran's message the core of our madrasa teaching supplemented by standard curricula in arts and sciences.

    BTW, I take the Quranic exhortation to "follow the Prophet" to mean "believe in the suras that the Prophet brings you" rather than an upholding of the Hadiths or Sunna.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 2/9/2012 1:50:24 AM

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