by Abu Dharr (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 49, No. 8, Safar, 1442)
The topic of “Hadith” is a particularly delicate and exceptionally difficult one. This writer is well aware of it. Thus, the Quranically enlightened and Islamically informed readers and scholars will appreciate this effort once it is completed. This may continue for months or potentially even years. To them we say in advance, thank you. And may Allah (swt) unite us all to defend our benevolent Prophet (pbuh) from unsuitable statements attributed to him.
The other reaction to this sincere effort will likely come from those who are averse to sincere studies and robust research. They are ill-disposed to ijtihad. A God-given and Quranically functional mind to them is anathema. They continue to regurgitate whatever they have thoughtlessly memorized and sightlessly learned. We expect these establishmentarian traditionalists to become upset with a genuine effort to synchronize the Qur’an and the Prophet (pbuh). They will be jumping mad because some hadiths that they had taken for granted will appear to be no hadiths at all. To them we say: Peace, we are not in pursuit of halfwits. We do, though, invite the more open-minded of them, at this early stage, to prepare their rational responses—in a studious manner—to our honest analysis of false hadiths.
We are, by Allah’s grace, spiritually healthy enough to accept corrections or critiques based upon the Qur’an and the well-established and consensual verbal statements and practical undertakings that are universally accredited to our praiseworthy Prophet (pbuh).
We foresee that much of the disapproval or even defamation will come from such “scholars” who are die-hard salafis and their likes who will not tolerate any censure of hadiths narrated by Abu Hureyrah in particular and certain other “Sahabis” in general.
This elevation of over 100,000 Muslims some 1400 years ago in Arabia to the rank of sahabah and infallibility is itself attributable to a dubious hadith in which it is reported that the Prophet (pbuh) said: My sahabah (companions) are like stars (in the night); whoever one you choose to follow, you will be guided. This so-called hadith is not well-matched with many ayats in the Qur’an where these ‘sahabah’ are found to be at [innocent and not so innocent] faults. We hope to explain this in the course of our careful inspections and cautious inquiries of this and similar ‘hadiths’.
Another risk we are taking in presenting a review of bogus hadiths is the allegation that we aim at disregarding or discrediting all hadiths. Preemptively speaking this allegation is a lie. There are many hadiths that are genuine, authentic, and undisputable. There is a very small group of reactionaries who reacted to “false hadiths” by discarding all hadiths – be they true or false. These came to be known as ‘Quranists’. They are the types who “threw the baby out with the bath water”. We call upon them to rethink their position and return to the Prophet (pbuh) and to be mature and courageous enough to distinguish between authentic and fabricated hadiths. One way of explaining this is to say that the Qur’an is the seed, the roots, the trunk, and the branches and the Hadith is the greenery of that tree. The forged hadiths are like unwanted and rowdy pathogens stuck to this tree greenery.
Let us first begin with an important definition – the definition of the word “sunnah”. Generally speaking, it means a set course, or a well-established route, or a trajectory. The plural is “sunan”. The linguistic origin of the word is attributed to an observation of flowing or coursing water.
In some usages of the word “sunnah” it would either mean “a routine” or “a pattern”.
An ayah in the Qur’an extends the linguist origin and has it gain a shar‘i characterization: Many social patterns of life have passed away before your time; therefore, traverse the earth and examine what happened in the end to those who contradicted [Our truth and justice]. Surat Aal ‘Imran, ayat 137
And the Prophet (pbuh) in a fitting hadith says: You [the Muslims] will follow in the [social and worldly defined power] footsteps of those [nations] that preceded you.
In both the ayat and the hadith above, the word “sunan” (the plural of sunnah) refers to the socially established norms of peoples and civilizations.
Thus, the sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh) is his social arrangement much more than it is his personal or private prototype.
We trail the word “sunnah” in the faultless Qur’an and what do we observe? Well let’s begin. The word “sunnah” is mentioned thirteen (13) times. “Sunnatina” [Our Sunnah] is mentioned once. The word “sunan” [plural of sunnah] is mentioned twice. We cannot go into the contextual details of all these words. For those who are more keen on getting a better understanding of this word and its meaning wait for the translation of the meanings of the Qur’an by Imam Muhammad al-‘Asi which is due to be printed in a few months, insha-Allah.
Nevertheless, we will sample a couple of ayats. First there is this ayah:
Such has been Allah’s social laws with those who [sinned and transgressed and] passed away in the past – and never will you find any change to Allah’s social laws. Surat al-Ahzab, ayat 62
Thus [it is]: you will never find any substitute to Allah’s social laws; and you will never find any diversion to Allah’s social laws. Surat Fatir, ayat 43
From this spacious definition of the word “sunnah” as it appears in the ayats of the Qur’an we can restfully understand that the word “sunnah” means Allah’s social laws or the teachings of the Prophet (pbuh) (verbally and practically) that define or heighten Allah’s social laws. Never in the Qur’an is the word sunnah used to refer to what the Prophet (pbuh) said. There are three words in the Qur’an that do that: “balligh” and its derivatives; the word “ud‘u” and its derivatives and, the word “bayyin” and its derivatives.
Later on, scholars referred to the statements of the Prophet (pbuh) as either “hadith” or “sunnah”. This particular “fiqhi” usage of the word cannot be traced to the word’s solemnity in the Qur’an. The word “sunnah” moved from its Qur’anic context into a “fiqhi” context as a matter of idiomatic and formal preference.
In some scholarly quarters the word “sunnah” is used to refer to anything the Prophet (pbuh) said or did.
In the general approach to the Qur’an and “Sunnah” the educational and studious position is: the Qur’an comes first, followed by the Prophet’s practical sunnah, followed by the Prophet’s spoken sunnah. As far as ranking the Qur’an above the other two forms of sunnah, there is no doubt about that whatsoever. The Qur’an is by an overpowering and irresistible consensus of all Muslims exact and flawless. The Qur’an has been passed on from generation to generation through two channels: human memory and human technology [from the chisel and pen to the processor and computer to…] This safekeeping of the Qur’an is what is called “tawaatur”.
The Sunnah, though, was not preserved in the same manner. The totality of the Sunnah is appropriate and reasonable while there are individual hadiths that are unreasonable and/or spurious. Some announcements in the Sunnah clarify ayats in the Qur’an. And some are outside the realm of the Qur’an. To be specific, for any Muslim who seeks the truth of this matter has to submit that the Qur’an has to be the center and the sunnah the contiguous.
We say this as a matter of refering to the Qur’an itself: And We made accessible to you [O Muhammad] [this] consciousness [of Us] so that you [O Muhammad] may clarify to people what has been disclosed to them [from on high]. Surat al-Nahl, ayat 44. There is nothing in the unadulterated Sunnah except that which is related in one way or another to the meanings of the incontrovertible Qur’an. The Prophet (pbuh) spent his whole life setting the Qur’an into motion by what he explained and what he achieved.
Umm al-Mu’minin ‘A’ishah (ra) described the Prophet (pbuh), her husband, saying: His [the Prophet’s] mannerism was the Qur’an. This means that the Prophet (pbuh) was the exemplary character who personified the Qur’an. And Allah (swt) says: And We gradually divulged to you [O Muhammad] the [Qur’anic] Scripture to make everything clear… Surat al-Nahl, ayat 89
Another ayat says: No single thing [that is relevant] have We neglected in Our Scripture [the Qur’an]. Surat al-An‘am, ayat 38
The Sunnah itself has the Qur’an as reference.
The best possible and undemanding example is the salat. The Qur’an mentions it without its details and the Sunnah explains it with its details. In one sense, the Sunnah specifies in some cases what is general; it may also regulate in some cases what is flexible, and it may restrict in some cases what may be considered boundless.
The broad-spectrum explanation above is agreed upon by most if not all the major faqihs and Islamic schools of thought.
With this understanding we may securely conclude that the Sunnah does not and cannot revoke or void the Qur’an.
Such is Allah’s guidance: He guides therewith whomever He wills of His [earthly] subjects… Surat al-An‘am, ayat 88