Editor’s Note: This is rather a worthy study, published earlier in 2001, that shows the dilemmas involved in denying the authenticity of Hadith to Muslims. Hadith is an integral part of the Islamic faith, and denying it denies important pillars of Islam, and raises doubts about the Qur’an itself and about the life of Muhammad.
There are two categories of Muslims: those who accept the authenticity of the Quran and the Hadith with no ifs or buts, and those who deny the Hadith, partially or totally. They try to reinterpret the Quran contrary to its apparent meaning so that it becomes acceptable to a reasonable mind.
For nearly 1200 years Bukhari’s collections of hadith were regarded (and still are) by the majority of Muslims, only second to the Quran. Apart from the Quran, Muslims, especially the Sunnis consider the Hadith as the source of guidance. Hadith are stories of the life of Muhammad, collected by scholars in the second and third century after the Hijra. The most famous and revered ones are those of Bukhari and his student Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj. They are called Sahih (correct, sound, authenticated,) because they went through a rigorous process of authentication called Ilmul Hadith.
However, there is a new trend amongst some Muslims, especially the Submitters, to deny the authenticity of hadith altogether. They would go as far as to call these eminent compilers of the hadith, liars and charlatans. This is killing the messenger. The collectors of hadith did not invent these stories to deserve such disparaging insults. They simply collected them, compiled them and gave the chain of narrators that that went all the way back to Muhammad and is companions.
Early Muslim scholars accepted a hadith as Sahih only when its authenticity was established on the basis of both Fann-i-Riwaayat (The art of sequence of narration) and Fann-i-Daraayat (The art of logical concordance). Moreover, a Hadith should not have contradicted the Sunnah and the Quran.
None of us is qualified to determine the accuracy the methodology used for accepting or rejecting a hadith based on Fann-i-Riwaayat. These are old stories. All those who reported them are dead more than a thousand years ago and we have no way to verify their trustworthiness. At this moment the only method left to determine the sihhat (soundness) of a hadith is Fann-i-Daraayat and its compatibility with the Quran.
The Islamic scholar, Asif Iftikhar writes, “Therefore, a Hadith can be regarded as a source of religious guidance only `if the basis of that Hadith exists in the Quran or the Sunnah or the established principles of human nature and intellect. Moreover, it should not be contradictory to any of these bases” (from The Authenticity of Hadith)
The same author writes, “Imam Ibni Ali Jauzee is reported to have said: ‘If you find a Hadith against the dictates of commonsense or contrary to a universal rule, consider it a fabrication; discussions about the trustworthiness of its narrators are needless. Similarly, such Ahadith (plural for hadith) should be suspected as are beyond comprehension to the extent that they leave no room for any possible explanation. Also, a Hadith in which colossal recompense is promised for a minor deed and a Hadith which is absurd in meaning are suspect.”
By examining some of the ahadith in the light of ‘commonsense’, and taking to heart the recommendations of Ibni Ali Jauzee we find many of them, despite being acknowledged as Sahih do not qualify as such. Take the following Hadith for example:
Sahih Bukhari Volume 3, Book 43, Number 652
Narrated Abu Huraira:
Allah’s Apostle said, “While a man was on the way, he found a thorny branch of a tree there on the way and removed it. Allah thanked him for that deed and forgave him.”
Here, the recompense outweighs the good deed and if we were to follow the sound advice of Ibni Ali Jauzee, we must discard this Hadith as false.
This may seem something trivial, but the implication is immense. By proving that a hadith that has been categorized as sahih is not sahih, we establish that it is prudent to be suspicious of the authenticity of all the ahadith classified as sahih. In fact this proves that despite the fact that 90% of Muslims believe in the collections of Bukhari and Muslim, and despite the fact that these ahadith are considered to be the soundest guidance after the Quran, they are not trustworthy after all.
Now, let us take another hadith and litmus test it with commonsense. Before that we have to define what do we mean by commonsense. I have come to the conclusion that commonsense is not that common at all, and it may have different meaning for a religious person whose senses are flavored by his beliefs.
For example, an unimpaired commonsense says that men and women, are at the same level of intelligence. Of course there are stupid people and intelligent people among both sexes, but this has nothing to do with their gender. No real serious scientific study, not marred by religious preconceptions, has ever demonstrated that there is any difference in intelligence between men and women. What has been found is that some parts of the brain in women is more advanced than the same parts in men’s brain while in other areas men are more advantageous. Any logical person would conclude that men and women should enjoy the same rights.
This difference is also evident in the comparison between the members of the same sex. Not all men are intellectually equal. Some are more intelligent than others. Yet all men are equal in front of the law. The testimony of Einstein and Joe Blow are of the same weight.
There is no indication that women are less intelligent than men, and even if we process the data differently, there is no justification for women not to have the same rights as men do. Science, justice and commonsense all acknowledge that men and women are equal and should have the same rights.
When influenced by spurious doctrines, commonsense is ignored. Islam has a different set of criteria that defies commonsense. Baffling as it is, some Muslim women happily fight for their inequality and suppression of their rights and call it “liberation.” They think that hijab elevates their statues. Being rebuked, punished and even beaten by their husband is good for them. They believe to have lower intelligence and that the majority of them will go to hell because Muhammad said so.
So when I talk about commonsense. I am not talking about the commonsense of a religious person, but about the commonsense that is supported by “real” science and approved by “real” scientists. I put the word real between quotation marks because all religions have made their own version of pseudo-science and have their own brand of pseudo-scientists and pseudo-philosophers. What charlatans like Maurice Bucaille and Keith Moore have said about the Quran being scientific is not science. It is sheer nonsense made up to fill their bank accounts.
Let us get see if the following hadith is scientific and acceptable by commonsense.
Sahih Bukhari Volume 4, Book 54, Number 414
He (Muhammad) said, “First of all, there was nothing but Allah, and (then He created His Throne). His throne was over the water, and He wrote everything in the Book (in the Heaven) and created the Heavens and the Earth.”
How this story can make sense? If there was “nothing”, how could Allah put his throne over the water? Which water? What was holding that water? How could Heavens and Earth be created after the waters? Doesn’t water need an earth to contain it, and doesn’t the earth need a heaven to hold it? Beyond the fact that the whole notion expressed in this Hadith is scientific balderdash, there is an error in the order of things created.
Isn’t the Earth a planet of the solar system, which is an insignificant part of a galaxy that is one of the billions of galaxies of the Universe? Can anyone, including Maurice Bucaille who found a lot of “$cience” in the Quran to fill his bank account (yet refused to convert to Islam), tell us which part of this is scientific?
So we can conclude that the above hadith is a fabrication because is against the dictates of commonsense and contrary to a universal rule. Or can we?
The problem is that this hadith is in conformity with the Quran and as Asif Iftikhar said “a Hadith can be regarded as a source of religious guidance only `if the basis of that Hadith exists in the Quran or the Sunnah.” What if we find something in the Quran that corroborates the above absurdity? There is more than one verse that does that. See the following:
Until, when he reached the setting of the sun, he found it set in a spring of murky water: Near it he found a People: We said: “O Zul-qarnain! (thou hast authority,) either to punish them, or to treat them with kindness.” Then followed he (another) way, until, when he came to the rising of the sun, he found it rising on a people for whom We had provided no covering protection against the sun. (Q. 18:86, 89, 90)
The Sun rises and sets in ALL places, or to be more precise, in no place at all. One does not have to go “another way” to find it rising. This gives us the clue that Muhammad really believed that the Earth is flat and the Sun moves in the sky rising from one place and setting in another.
How can we be sure this is what Muhammad thought? The answer can be found in another hadith.
Sahih Bukhari Volume 4, Book 54, Number 421
Narrated Abu Dhar:
The Prophet asked me at sunset, “Do you know where the sun goes (at the time of sunset)?” I replied, “Allah and His Apostle know better.” He said, “It goes (i.e. travels) till it prostrates Itself underneath the Throne and takes the permission to rise again, and it is permitted and then (a time will come when) it will be about to prostrate itself but its prostration will not be accepted, and it will ask permission to go on its course but it will not be permitted, but it will be ordered to return whence it has come and so it will rise in the west. And that is the interpretation of the Statement of Allah: “And the sun Runs its fixed course For a term (decreed). That is The Decree of (Allah) The Exalted in Might, The All-Knowing.” (Q. 6: 38)
Here we have a case where a hadith is confirmed by the Quran, which is ratified by another hadith and again reiterated the Quran.
Is this hadith against the science and the commonsense? It sure is. However, it is not against the Quran. The message conveyed by the hadith is wrong, despite the fact that it is an authenticated Hadith.
If we have any doubt about what Muhammad really thought of the shape of the Earth, we can safely put them to rest when we read the following verses.
Have We not made the earth as a wide expanse, and the mountains as pegs? Q. 78: 6-7
Expanse” gives the idea of something flat. The Arabic word used in the Quran is mehad, (bed). Beds are made flat. They are not spherical. Furthermore, mountains are not like peg keeping the earth from shaking.
Don’t these ahadith, backed by the Quran, clearly describe a flat Earth, with the Sun rising from one end and setting in the muddy waters on the opposite end? Is there a Throne somewhere in the sky that the Sun goes under it to get permission? When and how the Sun prostrates itself? This concept sounds ludicrous. In the ancient times the common folks believed that the earth is, floating on waters, surrounded by high mountains beyond which there an abyss. Muhammad’s depiction of the cosmos made sense to his ignorant followers. But it makes no sense today.
This erroneous vision of the universe is not an invention of Muhammad. It was part of the folklore of his people. In a book entitled The Oldest Stories in the Word, Theodor H. Gaster has compiled the lore of the Babylonian, the Hittite and the Canaanite people of 3500 years ago. These stories were lost for centuries. In mid 20th century they were found and unearthed. They were deciphered and printed in 1952. The similarities of those old stories and the stories in the Quran, including the above Hadith, are astonishing. It helps us understand the origin of the Quran as well as the Bible. The Quran has no divine origin. What Muhammad told were stories he heard from storytellers, old tales that were part of the tradition of the people of his time.
Miracles in Islam
There are also many ahadith attributing miracles to Muhammad. What should we make of them? Again as Asif Iftikhar indicated, a hadith that contradicts the Quran should not be trusted. I suppose this is acceptable by all Muslims. If there is a controversy between a hadith and the Quran the authority of the Quran overrides the hadith.
What the Quran says in respect to Miracles? It categorically denies them.
According to the Quran Muhammad did not perform any miracles and all those ahadith that report stories about miracles are false. Their falsity also can be proven logically.
The eminent scholar Ali Dashti asked: If Muhammad could really perform miracles, make stones speak, split the moon, multiply the food, visit the hell and the heaven in a night, etc., as some of the ahadith suggest, why he did not perform the logical and useful miracle and did not learn how to read and write? Does it make sense that a man who can see the next world, when given a piece of written paper in his own language find it difficult to read? Muslims believe that he could look into one’s eyes and reads their mind. He himself claimed that when he leads the congregational prayer he can see his followers behind him without turning. Yet, he could not read a simple letter written in his own language? Among all the miracles that he performed wasn’t reading the most useful of all?
Apart from the Quran, there are many hadiths that also deny any supernatural power or hidden knowledge attributed to Muhammad.
Sahih Bukhari Volume 3, Book 43, Number 638
(the wife of the Prophet) Allah’s Apostle heard some people quarreling at the door of his dwelling. He came out and said, “I AM ONLY A HUMAN BEING, and opponents come to me (to settle their problems); maybe someone amongst you can present his case more eloquently than the other, whereby I may consider him true and give a verdict in his favor. So, If I give the right of a Muslim to another by mistake, then it is really a portion of (Hell) Fire, he has the option to take or give up (before the Day of resurrection).”
How a man who is aware of this world and the next, who, as Muslims say, predicted all the inventions that has happened since, is capable of splitting the moon and performing any miracle cannot trust his own judgment fearing the eloquence of one party may deceive him and make him err?
Let us examine more hadiths with our own Fann-i-Daraayat, unclogged from preconceptions and prejudice.
Sahih Bukhari Volume 1, Book 6, Number 315
Narrated Anas bin Malik:
The Prophet said, “At every womb Allah appoints an angel who says, ‘O Lord! A drop of semen, O Lord! A clot. O Lord! A little lump of flesh.” Then if Allah wishes (to complete) its creation, the angel asks, (O Lord!) Will it be a male or female, a wretched or a blessed, and how much will his provision be? And what will his age be?’ So all that is written while the child is still in the mother’s womb.”
This hadith is a joke. Just the thought of this little angel that gets in there and stands in front of the womb each time a man thrust his wife watching the whole show from inside her vagina, supplicating Allah for a drop of semen right on his face, is hilarious. Shall we discard this hadith as a fabrication? It certainly goes against our commonsense. But it was not against the commonsense of those who used to narrate it to each other 1200 years ago. It does not make sense to us, but it made perfect sense to them. A few hundred years ago, commonsense dictated that the Earth is flat. All the philosophers and prophets agreed. Today it doesn’t? Can we say that the hadiths that go against our modern commonsense are false now, but they were true then because they were in accordance with the commonsense of the ancient folks?
The point is that we cannot dismiss a hadith as unauthentic based on our commonsense. Muslims have taken for granted that Muhammad was the messenger of God and therefore he could not be wrong. So they reevaluate the hadiths as time goes by and keep discarding those that their newfound understanding of science proves unsound.
This method is highly biased. We can’t discard evidences that show Muhammad was a liar simply because we have accepted him to be truthful. An unbiased jury would weigh all the evidences; the good and the bad.
To examine the truth of the claim of Muhammad we have to decide which side we are standing. Are we part of the defense team or are we part of the jury? The majority of Muslims, as it’s expected will choose to be part of his defense team. They are not interested to know whether Muhammad was right or he was an impostor. That question does not arise in their minds. They have accepted him as the messenger of God. They approach the subject with prejudice. Their objective is not to find the truth about him but to acquit him.
Today the more educated Muslims find many absurdities in the hadith and deny their authenticity. However, since the majority of the hadiths are nonsensical, the growing consensus is to deny all of them to vilify the unfortunate Bukhari and Muslim who were revered for over a millennium. This is unfair. Bukhari and Muslim, along with other Muhaditheen (collectors of hadith) did not invent these hadiths. They meticulously recorded them. It is also unethical to defile these scholars and deny what they painstakingly collected, because what they reported blemish Muhammad.
Some of the hadiths are fabricated, but many of them are true. You’d not throw away all your money because there are a few counterfeit bills and you can’t tell which is which. Likewise, we must not discard all the hadiths just because a few of them are false.
Although it’s wise for Muslims not to rely on hadith as the infallible source of guidance, they are the only history of Islam. It’s through them that we know about Muhammad and his life.
If we discard the hadith how can we prove the historicity of the Prophet? If all those stories are false and someone with a diabolic wit has forged them all, then perhaps someone equally malignant has fabricated the Quran and the whole Islam is nothing but a fanciful tale. Without the hadith, we know nothing about Muhammad, his life and his history. Without them, Muslims have no way to know how to perform prayers or fast. These are the pillars of Islam.
Absurdities of Quran
To deny the authenticity of hadith on the ground of their logical absurdity poses a bigger problem. What to do with the equally absurd verses of the Quran? Can we dismiss the Quran because it is just as illogical as the hadith?
This is a line Muslims will never cross. So what do they do when confronted with quranic verses that are illogical? They reinterpret them esoterically. The desire to interpret the Scriptures and assign esoteric meanings to them is born out of the fact that they are crude and lack meaning.
The Mu’tazelits (early Islamic rationalists) were the first to notice the inadequacy of the Quran and Sufism is entirely based on giving esoteric meanings to the Quran. Sufism is the effort to “interiorize” the Quran, to break away with the purely legalistic religion and experience the mystical significance of the encounter of Muhammad with Allah in the night of Mi’raj, which to the Sufis was also spiritual in nature.
There are two categories of Muslims. The first are those that defend Muhammad and whatever he did, irrespective of any consideration for decency, rightness or justice. They don’t deny his marriage to a 9-year-old child, his assassinations, his massacres of his prisoners of war, his genocides, his rapes, his lewdness, and his other less than admirable deeds. He is to them the perfect man, and it is not up to anyone to question his actions.
The second group, are those that deny part or all of these historic facts about Muhammad and twist the evidence to make him acceptable by the modern morality. These are called moderate Muslims. In a nutshell the moderates are the ones who deny the unsavory truth about their prophet, prefer lies to truth and live with their heads stuck in the sands.
I certainly admire the honesty of the first group. Many so called moderate Muslims try hard to hide the brutalities of the Quran and present it in a different light. They would quote the earlier verses of Quran when Muhammad was weak and his preaching was sugary. But they would play down the harsher verses that were dictated in Medina.
During 1970s an Egyptian Muslim scholar came up with his brilliant solution that would entice many Muslims and renew their faith in Islam. His name was Rashed Khalifa. At first he claimed to have found a mathematical miracle in the Quran. This claim is refuted by several thinkers as a “lie-free deception.” Because of this claim he gained respect and fame amongst Muslims, until he decided to launch his own prophetic career, a decision that angered Muslims and cost him his life.
However, Khalifa’s contribution was important. By his complete denial of the Hadith and his serious effort to reinterpret the Quran in a way that would downplay its harsh and intolerant message, he started a new movement amongst the pseudo-intellectuals who could now pretend to promote a gentler Islam that does not advocate killing the apostates and instigating holy wars.
Their denial of the hadith goes as far as denying everything about the history of Muhammad. Their zest to present the Quran as a logical book of miracles has made them bend every rule of reason to. They use the following verses to justify their claim.
In their history verily there is a lesson for men of understanding. It is no invented story but a confirmation of the existing (Scripture) and a detailed explanation of everything, and a guidance and a mercy for folk who believe. Q. 12: 111
And of mankind is he who payeth for mere pastime of discourse, that he may mislead from Allah’s way without knowledge, and maketh it the butt of mockery. For such there is a shameful doom. Q. 31: 6
However, these verses do not sanction denying the hadith. Muhammad was ridiculed by his contemporaries and his Quran was called non-sense stories and idle tales. The word story or tale in Arabic is hadith. In these verses Muhammad is defending his claim saying what he is reciting is revelation, not a tale (hadith) invented or a frivolous discourse. He says that the idle tales of the people mislead them while the Quran guides them. Submiters, like all Muslims are deceivers. The hadiths that Muhammad is rejecting are the tales of narrated by his competitors, not his own.