When It Comes to Hadith, It is Unfortunate Common Sense isn’t More Common

Developing Just Leadership

Abu Dharr

Dhu al-Hijjah 11, 1441 2020-08-01


by Abu Dharr (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 49, No. 6, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1441)

There comes a time when the rational has to reclaim the emotional, when the mind has to discipline the impressions. Look around in the masjid, on the minbar, at Islamic conferences, even in school books and with a little stimulation of mind-power one realizes that most of the talks by khatibs and da’is are focused on hadith quotations, whether such hadiths are accurate or made-up. This “mixed bag” of statements attributed to our dearly loved Prophet (pbuh) has been with us for centuries. Still, the Muslim mind has not woken up to pass the fake hadiths through a Qur’anic filter.

Once the precious Qur’an-centered Muslim mind begins to contemplate hadith quotations and weigh up hadith literature it begins to realize that some “hadiths” cannot have been pronounced by our adored Prophet (pbuh). Some purported hadiths (and we will get to them later) cannot be acceptable to a person of common sense, nor agreeable to the facts of life, much less suitable to the Qur’anic paradigm.

Some of these hoax hadiths are found in books of tafsir, history, fiqh, and general Islamic literature. Some quotations attributed to our cherished Prophet (pbuh) are, to the intelligent mind, anticlimactic – conveying an unexpected change in tone or subject-matter from the high-minded, serious, or compelling quintessence of the revealed Qur’an. Some so-called “hadiths” are out-and-out trivial, or dull.

I am aware that the subject of our favorite Prophet’s hadiths is an extremely sensitive issue, but there comes a time when “enough is enough”. Our love and devotion to our prized Prophet (pbuh) cannot be extended to a mindless reception of statements ascribed to him which are mismatched with the Qur’an and unharmonious with other authentic hadiths which he (pbuh) expressed.

For those who are conversant and at home with the Arabic language, we bring to their attention that even the eloquence and expressiveness of some of these false hadiths are mediocre if not low-grade. Our noble Prophet (pbuh) was eloquent, so why does any Muslim accept a “hadith” that amounts to “linguistic slang”? How does any thinking Muslim accept a “hadith” that is void of any sagacity? More to the point, how and why do “Islamic scholars” thoughtlessly “take in” and “give out” all the statements attributed to our treasured Prophet (pbuh) as if they were all real and reliable?!

There is a “hadith” that is “beyond doubt” among the Qur’anically illiterate and mindfully ignorant. The so-called hadith is

من كذب علي متعمدا فليتبوأ مقعده من النار

[Whoever intentionally attributes a lie to me, should be ready to seat himself in the fire.]

Another way of delivering this into English is: ‘Whoever purposefully misquotes me should prepare to sit down in the fire.’ With a little bit of thinking, may we ask: how about a person who unintentionally attributes a lie to the Prophet? What do we say about an individual who carelessly misquotes the Prophet? The word متعمدا [knowingly] in this alleged hadith should be questioned. Attributing a lie to our much-loved Prophet (pbuh), whether it is intentional or unintentional, is enough to condemn any person to the flames of infamy.

Before we proceed, we want to reiterate that hadith words and collected works have to be searched and scrutinized, and this has to be done by all qualified ‘ulama (Islamic scholars), be they Sunnis or Shi‘is. Some readers may think that our study and scrutiny of “Sunni” books of hadith amounts to a score for the Shi‘is! Think again. Shi‘is are also burdened with false hadiths not only attributed to our dear Prophet (pbuh) but also to our appreciated Imams.

Whether “Sunnis” or “Shi‘is” we think there is an unexpressed acknowledgment that our universally respected Prophet (pbuh) did not appoint or assign scribes to write down his hadiths the way he had scribes write down the Qur’an – there were no كتاب حديث [kuttab hadith] along with or as there were كتاب وحي [kuttab wahy]. The Prophet’s hadith was left up to the human memory with all the vulnerabilities of human remembrance and retention. Human recollection and recall are subject to forgetfulness, a poor memory, and lack of memory, obliviousness, and vagueness not to mention misunderstanding or false impressions.

In Sahih Muslim and other books of hadith there is a hadith that says:

لا تكتبوا عني شيئا سوى القرآن فمن كتب عني شيئا غير القرآن فليمحه

[Don’t write down [of] what I say anything except the Qur’an; although if anyone has written anything I said besides the Qur’an, he should erase it].

As far as we know, every one of his companions complied. And no one transcribed his hadiths during his lifetime. Furthermore, there was an inclination among that first generation of committed Muslims to discourage anyone from narrating the Prophet’s hadiths. Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and Imam ‘Ali were very rigorous in this regard.

No doubt, there were times after the Prophet (pbuh) passed on that some companions felt duty bound to recall some of the Prophet’s instructions on certain matters. Many of them were familiar with the Prophet’s instructions but may not have memorized his “word-for-word” expression. Some of them felt at ease by relaying the meaning or teaching of the Prophet (pbuh) in their own words or in whatever words they had memorized from the Prophet’s instructions. This explains why many conscientious ‘ulama would quote a statement attributed to the Prophet (pbuh) and follow that up as a matter of caution by saying أو هو كما قال [or to that effect; literally: or as he [the Prophet] expressed it].

Those who study the books of hadith will realize that there are many hadiths that have a common meaning but a different wording. This acquisition of Prophetic meanings without the acquisition of the Prophet’s verbatim is more likely to be found among those who came generations after the Prophet (pbuh) and who were yet non-conversant with the Qur’an [i.e., Arabic was not their mother tongue]. Some of these types of hadiths are to be found in Sahih al-Bukhari among others.

As many sincere Muslims throughout the early history of Islam were concerned with verifying the validity of hadiths there were insincere Muslims and even enemies who were concerned with issues of power and wealth; and to justify the abuse of power and the misappropriation of wealth – the hadith channel proved to be quite convenient for them. Hadith books are not free of Isra’iliyat [Israeli hadiths]. Some figures who were instrumental in this regard are Ka‘b al-Ahbar and Wahb ibn Munabbih and others. There were other religions and cultures (Christians, Zoroastrians, etc…) that implanted their own un-Islamic religious, theological, philosophical meanings in collected works of hadith. As Islam was being accepted by people of multiple cultures, languages, religions and philosophies throughout the centuries, this intrusion upon hadith literature was not properly checked or scrutinized. And it remains up to this very day unchecked and un-scrutinized.

Without the allergies of sectarianism let us say that something is wrong when there are thousands of hadiths narrated by Abu Hureirah who lived with the Prophet (pbuh) for one year and nine months according to some sources, or three years according to other sources when compared to the very few hadiths narrated by Imam ‘Ali who lived his whole life with the Prophet (pbuh) in his family and in his household!

O my dear Muslim brothers and sisters! Islamic history with all the human sincerity and shortcomings in it is not sacred. The Qur’an and the Prophet (pbuh) are sacred. All statements that are attributed to our beloved Prophet (pbuh) are not his hadiths. Hadith literature, as it is today with true hadiths and fake hadiths, is not sacred although the Prophet (pbuh) is sanctified, sacred, and sacrosanct. We can criticize the faults in our history as they are attributed to our human weakness and vulnerabilities and not to the sureness of the Qur’an or the soundness of the Prophet (pbuh). We may appraise and disapprove of some statements attributed to our esteemed Prophet (pbuh) not because he is at fault but because some of those who narrated “hadiths” about him were incorrect or because there were “national interests” that demanded dishonest “hadiths.”

I am delivering to you my Sustainer’s messages [illustrations of His power and authority] and giving you good advice: for I know [through revelation] from Allah what you do not know… (Al-A‘raf, ayat 62)

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