Why We Must Study Ha­dith Once Again?

The Miracle - - Faith - By: Dr Ovamir An­jum

Why should we worry about au- au then­ti­cat­ing the Ha­dith lit­er­a­ture any more—given that we have the im­pec­ca­ble col­lec­tions of sound tra­di­tions of the Prophet صلى اله عليه وسلم in Bukhâri and Mus­lim, among oth­ers? Well, be­cause in the light of new and in­creas­ingly da­m­ag­ing at­tacks against Is­lam from its en­e­mies and crit­ics, in ad­di­tion to the ef­forts by world pow­ers to re­write Is­lam in ac­cor­dance with their in­ter­ests, it is es­sen­tial that be­liev­ing Mus­lims— who love Al­lah and His Din—also gir­dle up their de­fenses. Some of the most ve­he­ment at­tacks against the Din of Al­lah have been on the is­sue of au­then­tic­ity of the Sun­nah of the Prophet — which has been pre­served in the form of a ha­dith (Prophetic re­ports).

Why are Aha­dith At­tacked?

There is a rea­son why the Ha­dith lit­er­a­ture is of­ten at­tacked both by the en­e­mies of Is­lam as well as by those Mus­lims who are en­chanted by other ideals and are try­ing to rein­ter­pret Is­lam to fit their vi­sion. To chal­lenge the pure monothe­ism of Is­lam or its ir­refutable ap­peal to good hu­man na­ture is a lost cause; and the en­e­mies of Is­lam know this well. To chal­lenge the au­then­tic­ity of the fi­nal Book of Al­lah—the Qu­ran—is also hope­less for any rea­son­able per­son, even though at­tempts are now be­ing made by some des­per­ate en­e­mies. The only op­tion left is to rein­ter­pret the Mes­sage of Al­lah—by as­sign­ing its words ar­bi­trary, self-serv­ing mean­ings. This be­comes pos­si­ble es­pe­cially if the Qu­ran is re­duced to a book in a vac­uum, by at­tack­ing and mak­ing sus­pi­cious the en­tire cor­pus of Ha­dith lit­er­a­ture that tells us when, how, and why the var­i­ous Qur’anic pas­sages were re­vealed. Of course, the Qu­ran ex­plic­itly de­mands that we fol­low the ad­di­tional and in­de­pen­dent leg­is­la­tion and in­struc­tion of the Fi­nal Mes­sen­ger. If you de­tach the words of the Qu­ran from the per­son of the truth­ful Mes­sen­ger of Al­lah—from his ex­am­ple and his ex­pla­na­tions—and sus­pend them in a vac­uum—then of course a mil­lion in­ter­pre­ta­tions of each verse are pos­si­ble. Any word can have any num­ber of mean­ings, so long as you can change its en­try in your dic­tio­nary. With­out the guid­ance of au­then­tic Sun­nah, the verses of the Qu­ran are no longer real, alive and con­crete words that were un­der­stood, ap­plied and ex­plained by a real, liv­ing hu­man be­ing—known to us through richly doc­u­mented his­tory— his­tory and un­der­stood cor­rectly by an en­tire com­mu­nity—a com­mu­nity, that, as a sign of God’s ap­proval and bless­ing, soon be­came the world’s great­est power and civ­i­liza­tion. Rather, they be­come re­duced to enig­matic al­lu­sions whose mean­ing is any­body’s guess. In other words, they be­come like words of the Bi­ble and other scrip­tures whose orig­i­nal texts were lost or ut­terly dis­fig­ured.

The Rise of Western Schol­ar­ship of Is­lam and its Im­pli­ca­tions

For the last two cen­turies, while the best and most ded­i­cated minds among the Mus­lims have been busy learn­ing en­gi­neer­ing and medicine from the West, thou­sands of Western schol­ars have been en­gaged in study­ing, eval­u­at­ing, rein­ter­pret­ing and ques­tion­ing the en­tire cor­pus of Is­lamic sciences. Not all non-Mus­lim schol­ars are ma­li­cious to­wards Is­lam, and a good num­ber of stud­ies com­ing out of Western uni­ver­si­ties in­vite Mus­lims to re­think a lot of what they have been tak­ing for granted and a lot of what they have by now for­got­ten. How­ever, and to no one’s sur­prise, most of these stud­ies serve to cut at the roots of Is­lamic be­lief. A brief his­tory is in or­der. Since the nine­teenth cen­tury, as the Mus­lim world en­coun­tered Western moder­nity and as Western schol­ars be­gan to crit­i­cally study Is­lamic sources based on the meth­ods of tex­tual study (philol­ogy) which they had de­vel­oped in their Bib­li­cal stud­ies, ques­tions were raised about the au­then­tic­ity of Is­lamic sources, es­pe­cially about the Qu­ran and the Ha­dith lit­er­a­ture. These Western schol­ars of Is­lam, called Ori­en­tal­ists, were in­flu­enced by the 19th cen­tury trends in a sec­u­lar­iz­ing Europe where re­li­gion was flee­ing from the in­tel­lec­tual and pub­lic sphere and re­li­gious texts were be­ing, for the first time in Chris­tian his­tory, stud­ied crit­i­cally and his­tor­i­cally. These philo­log­i­cal schol­ars found plenty of ev­i­dence that these Bib­li­cal texts were writ­ten a few cen­turies after the ac­tual events they de­scribe took place, and were dis­torted by po­lit­i­cal and other con­sid­er­a­tions that sur­rounded the writ­ers. These bib­li­cal stud­ies dev­as­tated claims of the Chris­tian Church for all prac­ti­cal pur­poses, so that Chris­tian­ity was to be­come a re­li­gion of the lay­men or of those who could have faith against all ev­i­dence. It could not be a faith of rea­son or his­tory any more. As the West col­o­nized the Mus­lim Mus­lim­world world and came across Is­lam—a re­li­gion that the re­li­gious West had thus far feared and hated—the new kind of Western scholar, mostly sec­u­lar and post-Chris­tian, started to study Is­lam with a new in­ter­est, and for their own spe­cific pur­poses. Those sym­pa­thetic to Chris­tian­ity, like the famed Max We­ber, wanted to show the su­pe­ri­or­ity of their re­li­gion to Is­lam and give rea­sons why Is­lamic so­ci­eties could not de­velop and mod­ern­ize while the Chris­tian ones could. Oth­ers wanted to study Is­lam for colo­nial pur­poses— to rule the Mus­lims bet­ter. Still oth­ers wanted to prove their athe­is­tic the­o­ries about re­li­gion be­ing a fig­ment of hu­man imag­i­na­tion and not based on God-sent mes­sage, and so at­tempted to show that Is­lam too, like Chris­tian­ity, was a hu­man prod­uct. To them, the Prophet was an in­tel­li­gent man— some­one who told bril­liant lies to hu­man­ity for good in­ten­tions. This view­point is still widely em­braced by Western schol­ars and writ­ers to­day. Some oth­ers, who sim­ply wanted at­ten­tion per­haps, made claims that were laugh­able even to other West­ern­ers, such as that Is­lam was cre­ated by the Arab im­pe­ri­al­ists to jus­tify their rule. At the heart of all these claims about the hu­man ori­gin of Is­lam lay the ba­sic Ori­en­tal­ist bias: just as the Chris­tian texts were ‘in­vented’ a few cen­turies after the ap­pear­ance of Je­sus, so must Is­lamic texts be shown to have orig­i­nated a few cen­turies after Muham­mad. Most of the at­tempts to dis­credit Is­lamic texts, how­ever, have been frus­trated, some­times by other Western schol­ars who have pointed out se­ri­ous prob­lems with these kinds of claims. These days, the heat against Is­lam is once again back on, and on high, and so are at­tempts to ‘re­form’ Is­lam in the im­age of the Western re­li­gions and to show that the Is­lamic texts, par­tic­u­larly the Ha­dith lit­er­a­ture, are not au­then­tic. The Mus­lim re­sponse, for the most part, has been to wait for some re­vival­ist, some scholar, or some mir­a­cle that would prove to the world, and the com­ing gen­er­a­tions of Mus­lims, that all the pro­pa­ganda is base­less, fab­ri­cated, and in­co­her­ent. While there have been ef­forts by some schol­ars to en­gage the mod­ern crit­ics with rea­son, ar­gu­ment and his­tor­i­cal re­search—and one bril­liant ex­am­ple of that is Dr. Hamidul­lah’s work on ‘the Sahi­fah of Ham­mâm’—gen­er­ally, our re­sponse has been to ig­nore and ne­glect the chal­lenge.

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