There is a mental polarization and psychological split among Muslims due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Some Muslims want to congregate and pray jama‘ah prayers in the masjid; they want to go for ‘Umrah and Hajj regardless of what the media, the scientists, and the Muslim scholars say. There are other Muslims who counter that by saying that such close contact with other Muslims may result in contracting the coronavirus and potentially dying from it.
This divergence of opinions is not new. There are hundreds of issues that Muslims have incompatible opinions about. We will not deal with any of these issues individually. We will try to go to the source of many of these differing opinions and try to deal with the problem at its starting point. We plan to begin a series of articles to try to pinpoint the cause of the many divergent Islamic attitudes and judgments.
Let us say upfront that numerous Islamic differences of opinion and decisions that we are living with and have been living with and will continue to live with (if we don’t correct ourselves) can be traced back to the body of hadiths attributed to our infallible Prophet (pbuh).
This writer has heard it from many prominent Islamic scholars that the body of hadith collected works has to be scrutinized and sifted. Anyone familiar with hadith literature knows that we have inherited an archive of hadiths that run into the hundreds of thousands. And by our own careful confession we acknowledge that some of these hadiths are true, real, and factual and others are false, fake, and/or even fictitious. Yet all these hadiths – the true hadiths and the untrue hadiths – circulate and become the yardstick by which we make up our minds and draw our conclusions. This has to stop. It will take more than individual scholars to slam the brakes on this slippery slope of absentmindedness that lumps authentic hadiths with inauthentic hadiths.
We will have to emphasize throughout our humble effort that we are not in any way trying to denigrate or degrade the Prophet’s hadith once we verify and affirm that such a hadith was expressed by the Prophet (pbuh) himself. We are not depreciating the importance and value of the Prophet’s hadiths. The Prophet’s hadiths are integral to Islam and essential for Iman.
We ask Allah (SWT) to accept this unassuming effort. Ameen.
One of the challenges a scholar encounters when delving into the books of hadith is the repetitive chain of narrators with similar names, the repetition of narrations with compatible and incompatible inferences and the lack of “context” in many cases.
Some researchers may feel bored or exacerbated as they wade through a minefield of up-and-down hadiths that is at times parched and at other times drenched. Let us be frank and admit that it is not an easy task to follow in the scrutinization of the “sanads” (individuals whose integrity, character, and transparency are required) to classify one hadith or another.
To begin with, and for those who may not be versed in hadith works, it behooves us to mention a few books of hadith that are referred to on par with the Qur’an by some and implicitly more than the Qur’an by others. We have al-Bukhari, Muslim, Muwatta’ Malik, Sunan Abi Dawud, al-Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Musnad Ibn Hanbal, etc… These and other books of hadith have hundreds of explicatory and elucidatory amendments and reviews. Some of them are short and others are long. Some of them purport to explain the meanings of the hadiths, others contend to evaluate the personalities that transmitted the hadiths, yet others seek to place the hadiths within the Seerah of the Prophet (pbuh).
We the Muslims have inherited a type of “holiness” about these books. That sense of “holiness” has become a barrier that renders us incapable of placing these books in the context of the unfailing and infallible Qur’an. A Qur’anic critical mind is prohibited from entering the field of hadith because of the inherited “godliness” of the books of hadith.
The task at hand, and it is a very indispensable and analytical one, is to evaluate the hereditary hadiths strictly from and within a Qur’anic construct. As we move into this scholarly area of research, we will discover that there are “hadiths” that are attributed to the Prophet (pbuh) which he never expressed. Such hadiths were fraudulently attributed to him to justify certain policies or to support certain rulers.
Some of these “hadiths” were interjected into Islamic learning by those who pretended to be Muslims – many coming from Yahudi backgrounds. They literally fabricated hadiths and claimed that the Prophet (pbuh) articulated such “hadiths”. In some instances, we will find some “hadiths” echoing their version of the Torah. Some of these “hadiths” appear to convey moral values… that can be easily promoted if they are attributed to the Prophet (pbuh). Some of these hadiths are in the form of story-telling.
Some “hadiths” were coined to appeal to those who were in power (this still applies today). Some of these “hadiths” made it into the books of fiqh and others into the books of philosophy. Some “hadiths” were invented to promote certain Islamic partisan trends in early Islamic history. In today’s parlance some of those “hadiths” were used as campaign slogans within certain Islamic political parties. Some “hadiths” were fabricated by certain “scholars” to raise their “academic” status and to flash their repertoire of knowledge to the general public.
The consequences of such hadith machinations either spoiled the straight thinking of people or caused some people to misunderstand what Islam is. The meanings of some of these manufactured hadiths reflected negatively on the sublime character of Allah’s Prophet. These false hadiths also served the enemies of Islam who used them, and still do, to prove how Islam is substandard at best or a forgery at worst and how the Prophet (pbuh) was an imposter or not a real Prophet (nastaghfiru Allah).
Early on in Islamic history some ‘ulema were aware of this hadith forgery. They tried their best to weed out the false hadiths from the true ones. The way they did so was to scrutinize the individuals who conveyed the hadith from generation to generation until the hadith was finally compiled in the known books of hadith. This was, no doubt, a sincere effort to examine and pore over the lives of these individuals: how honest were they, how committed to Allah and His Prophet, drawing on friends, acquaintances, inner circles, neighbors, family members, etc…
But this on its own is not enough. It is almost impossible to vouch for the uprightness, trustworthiness, righteousness, truthfulness, straightforwardness, etc… of any one person through contacts, references, or associates only, as significant as that may be. You can study and scrutinize a person night and day and still be unable to discover his vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and liabilities.
Knowing this, the scholarly effort of verifying a hadith turns to the text and wording of the hadith itself. A person may be qualified to appear in a court of law as a witness because of the integrity of his character but who knows what is in their hearts when it comes to the Prophet’s hadith and all the details, variables, and aspects pertaining to a hadith. That is why it becomes extremely important to place any narrated hadith in the contextual meanings of the Qur’an. The Qur’an is the only flawless Scripture, perfect Book, and pristine Revelation there is. All Muslims know this and agree to from the beginning to the end.
The Qur’an was preserved and came to us through two channels simultaneously: human memory and physical text. The Qur’an was recorded in writing during the time of our immaculate Prophet (pbuh). It was gathered during the time in office of Abu Bakr, and it was compiled and consolidated from cover to cover in one Book during the reign of ‘Uthman when it was distributed throughout the regions of the Islamic homeland.
This was not the case with the Prophet’s hadiths. Therefore, the Qur’an is the only Book that we have that has been preserved in writing and in memory from the time it was revealed up to this very moment and until the end of time. And that is why the Qur’an and only the Qur’an is the reference for the hadiths that were collected generations after the Prophet (pbuh) passed on.
Surely, it is We who have made accessible the [Quranic] consciousness, and surely, We shall safeguard it [from alteration and/or obliteration]. (Surat al-Hijr, ayat 9)