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The Standard of Hadith Criticism

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« on: April 26, 2007, 03:11:04 am »


Edited by Zahid Ghadialy from the Book, The life of Muhammad by Haykal

Despite the great care and precision of the hadith scholars, much of what they regarded as true was later proved to be spurious.  In his commentary on the collection of Muslim, al Nawawi wrote: “A number of scholars discovered many hadiths in the collections of Muslim and Bukhari which do not fulfill the conditions of verification assumed by these men.” The collectors attach a greater weight to the trustworthiness of the narrators (a subjective criteria). Their criterion was certainly valuable, but it was not sufficient. In our opinion the criterion for hadith criticisms as well as standard for materials concerning the Prophet's life, is the one which the Prophet himself gave. He said: “After I am gone differences will arise among you. Compare whatever is reported to be mine with the book of God; that which agrees therewith you may accept as having come from me; that which disagrees you will reject as fabrication.” The great men of Islam right from the very beginning observe this valid standard.  It continues to be the standard of thinkers today.  Ibn Khaldun wrote: “I do not believe any hadith or report of a companion of the prophet to be true which differs from the common sense meaning of the Quran, no matter how trustworthy the narrators may have been. It is not impossible that a narrator appears to be trustworthy though he may be moved by ulterior motive. If hadiths were criticized for their textual contents as they were for the narrators who transmitted them, a great number would have been rejected.  It is a recognized principle that a hadith could be declared spurious if it departs from the common sense meaning of the Quran, the rules of Logic, the evidence of sense, or any other self-evident truth.” This criterion given by the Prophet as well as ibn Khaldun, perfectly accords with modern scientific criticsm.

True, after Muhammad’s death the Muslims differed, and they fabricated thousands of hadiths and reports to support their various causes. From the day Abu Luluah, the servant of Mughirah, killed Umar ibn al Khattab and Uthman ibn Affan assumed caliphate, the old pre-Islamic enmity of Banu-Hashim and Banu-Ummayah reappeared. 

When, upon the murder of Uthman, civil war broke out between the Muslims, Aishah fought against Ali and Ali’s supporters consolidated themselves into a party, the fabrication of Hadiths spread to a point where “Ali ibn Abu Talib himself had to reject the practice and warn against it. He reportedly said: “We have no book and no writing to read except the Quran and this sheet which I have received from the Prophet of God in which he specified the duties prescribed by charity.” Apparently, this exhortation did not stop the hadith narrators from fabricating their stories either in support of a cause they advocated, or of a virtue or practice to which they exhorted the Muslims and which they thought would have more appeal if vested with prophetic authority. When Banu Ummayah firmly established themselves in power, their protagonists among their hadith narrators deprecated the prophetic traditions reported by the party of Ali ibn Abu talib and the latter defended these traditions and propagated them with all the means at their disposal. Undoubtedly they also deprecated the traditions reported by Aishah, “Mother of the Faithful.”

A humorous piece of reportage was given to us by ibn Asakir who wrote: “Abu Sa'd Ismail ibn al Muthanna al Istrabadhi was giving a sermon one day in Damascus when a man stood up and asked him what he thought about the following hadith of the prophet: “I am the city of knowledge and Ali is its gate.” Abu Sad pondered the question for a while and then replied: “Indeed! No one knows of this hadith except those who lived in the first century of Islam. What the Prophet had said was rather, I am the city of knowledge; Abu Bakr its foundation; Umar its walls; Uthman its ceiling; and Ali its Gate.” The audience was quite pleased with his reply and asked him to furnish them with the chain of narrators. Abu Sad could not furnish them with the chain of narrators and was embarrassed.” Thus hadiths were fabricated for political and other purposes. This wanton multiplication alarmed the Muslims because many ran counter to the book of God. The attempts to stop this wave of fabrication under the Umawis did not succeed. When the Abbasids took over, and al Mamun assumed the caliphate almost two centuries after the death of the Prophet, the fabricated hadiths numbered in thousands and hundreds of thousands and contained an unimaginable account of contradiction and variety. It was then that the collectors applied themselves to the task of putting the hadiths together and biographers of the prophet wrote his Biography. Al Waqidi, ibn Hisham and Al Madaini lived and wrote their books in the days of al Mamun. They could not afford to contradict the caliphate and hence could not comply with the precesion due to the Prophet’s criterion that his traditions ought to be checked against the Quran and accepted only if they accorded therewith.

Had this criterion, which does not differ from the modern and scientific criticism, been applied with precision, the ancient masters would have altered much of their writing. Circumstances of history imposed upon them the application of it to some of their writings and not to others. The later generation inherited their method of treating the biography of the Prophet without questioning it. Had they been true to history they would have applied this criterion in general as well as in detail.  No reported events disagreeing with the Quran would have been spared, and none would have been confirmed but those that agreed with the book of the God as well as the laws of nature.  Even so, these hadiths would have subject to strict analysis and established with valid proofs and incontestable evidence. This stand was taken by the great Muslim scholars of the Past as well as of the present. The grand shaykh of Al Azhar, Muhammad Mustafa al Maraghi, wrote in his foreword to the book, The life of Muhammad by Haykal: “Muhammad- may God’s peace and blessing be on him had only one irresistible miracle: the Quran. .."

In his book, Al Islam wa al Nasraniyah, Muhammad Abduh, the great scholar and leader wrote: “Islam, therefore, and its demand for faith in God and his unity, depend only on the rational proof and common sense human thinking. Islam does not overwhelm the mind with the supernatural, confuse the understanding with the extraordinary, impose acquiescent silence by resorting to heavenly intervention, nor does it impede the movement of thought by any sudden cry of divinity. All the Muslims are agreed, except those whose opinions are insignificant, that faith in God is prior to faith in prophethood and that it is not possible to believe in the prophet except after one has come to believe in God." 

I am inclined to think that those who wrote Biographies of the Prophet agreed with this view. The earlier generation of them could not apply to it because of the historical circumstances in which they lived. The later generation of them suspended the principle deliberately on account of their belief that the more miraculous their portrayal of Prophet, the more faith this would engender among their audience. They assumed, quite naively, that the inclusion of these extraneous matters into his biography achieved a good purpose. Had they lived our day and seen how enemies of Islam had taken their arguments against Islam and its people, they would have followed the Quran more closely and agreed with al Ghazzali, Muhammad Abduh al Maraghi, and all other objective scholars. And had they lived our day and age, and witnessed how their stories have alienated many Muslim minds and hearts instead of confirming their faith, they would have satisfied with the indubitable proofs and arguments of the Book of God.
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