Sanctity of Hadith and ‘the Sahib-e Quran’
Incapable of communicating in and understanding Arabic Pakistani Muslims today suffer from disillusionment and skepticism regarding Islamic civilization. Pakistani doctors might have spent hours learning neuroanatomy and its cumbersome concepts but they might not fully know what does ‘taqwa’ or ‘wal-ar-ḥaam’ ties entail.
Not many would know about the scientific contributions and medical practice of the Al-Nafisi but of course, they’d proudly claim reading Gray’s Anatomy. Muslims today have a selected, almost criminal amnesia that is defined by a willingness to forget and undermine their own roots; right from Prophets Abraham, Ismail and Muhammad (PBUH) to so many of Muslim mathematicians, philosophers, sociologists, physicians, astronomers, historians and anything that has to do with Islamic civilization.
Pakistanis are especially guilty for neither understanding nor showing a willingness to understand the message of the Qur’an (obviously learning Arabic will not open employment opportunities in Silicon Valley and Canadian immigration requires English and not Arabic scores). It is terrible to note that Muslims have come to understand modernity as mainly a rejection of Seerah and hadith.
Any intellectual concept, social institutions, or ethical valuation that is seated in Seerah and hadith but is in opposition to the Western ideals to which we are happily accustomed and enslaved – we reject it. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) licked his fingers on finishing food so that he could benefit from all the baraqah (blessings) in the served portion. By licking food from one’s fingers, one is showing gratitude to the Provider; appreciating every single drop of that serving. But is this good manners? Would one do so during a formal hall in Oxbridge or even at the dining table at home? The question is: Why not? No longer do we prefer using fingers to place food in our mouths (the way of the Prophet). We would rather devour our sandwiches and pizzas digging in our beastly teeth straight in it with mustard and sauces disgustingly oozing down the sides of our mouths. All that is Islamic is perceived as a tag of some lower-grade existence.
Compare women in abaya with those in tank tops and trousers; and those who specialize in English with those in Arabic. Not only this but also in recent years there has been a growing tendency to either reject hadith and Seerah altogether or to approach it with a sense of doubt and suspicion with a preplanned intention to commit omission.
Due to misuse of hadith in a patriarchal, misogynistic, literalist, politically confused and messed up Pakistan, many have opted for an easy way out – stick to only and precisely the Qur’an, if at all. Many apparently educated Pakistanis hold the view that hadith and aspects of Seerah are mostly fabricated serving someone’s ulterior motive. No, this is not the case. Not only exaggerated, this supposition only serves all such elements who proactively deny any positive value to Islam and its sources.
Teachers and students of hadith know about Al Kamal fi Asma al Rijal and its volumes that include detailed biographies of each and every narrator. Not only the Books of hadith, but also the wealth of biographical data of those mentioned in the narration and transmitter chain, is overwhelming and inspiring for any genuine researcher; the amount of hard work behind the product is worth pondering. Does it even make sense for us to call these companions and early followers of Islam fabricators of hadith when the Qur’an has already recorded our and their station in the Afterlife? “the foremost ˹in faith˺ (the Sabiqoon) will be the foremost ˹in Paradise˺. ˹They will be˺ a multitude from earlier generations & and a few from later generations (Al Quran Chapter 56, verses 10, 13 & 14). Muhammad (PBUH) 2 It may make sense for all anti-Islam and anti-Muslim camps to take this route but why is this Indus-Muslim civilization imploding from within by relegating the status of hadith?
How can Salat be offered unless the Prophet’s actions are not followed? Also, isn’t much of the Qur’an already hadith; with Allah informing about what a certain prophet said or did, be it David, Jesus, Moses, so on and so forth; even the words of their prayers? Is that not all hadith? Then what makes us the Muslims think that we can reach Allah through the Qur’an by first relegating the sanctity of the sayings and actions of his Prophets, including those of Rasool Allah? It is important to mention here that the primary concern of a Muhaddith is to answer: Did the Prophet say ‘X’?; and that of a jurist is to evaluate the relation of this X with other evidences and elements concerning Muslim living; first and foremost the Qur’an, followed by other relevant Sunnah and hadith, consensus and principles.
As Imam-al Shafi summarizes: “Your hadith scholars are the pharmacists, we the jurists are the physicians”. So, how is any hadith authenticated or what are the grades of such allocated authenticity? Primarily there are two grades: Mutawatir i.e. massively and successively so perfectly transmitted that it is rationally impossible to label it as untrue and Ahad that further has four sub-grades: Sahih (authentic) i.e. one that fulfils 90-99 per cent criteria for credibility, validity and reliability; Hasan (fair) i.e. one that meets 80-90% criteria; Da’if (weak) hadith that stands anywhere on a spectrum between 1 to 80 per cent. Mawdu is basically a fabricated hadith and has no value as it simply does not even make it to 1% on the scientific criteria spectrum and yardstick.
There are five clearly defined and fully understood criteria points that make a hadith Sahih. So, this is not a random senseless exercise and has never been. The five points are: a connected chain of transmitters; trustworthiness (piety) of the narrators; accuracy of the content that these narrators provide (i.e. are these intelligent, intellectually sound, reliable and credible narrators) and finally whether the hadith is free of any anomaly (shadh), and also free of any hidden defects. Sahih hadith can be traced straight up to the Prophet and therefore the chain of transmitters usually appears as: The Prophet – Companion of the Prophet – Follower 1 – Follower 2- Compiler’s Teacher – the Compiler. There is an important warning here for Pakistanis who are too quick to reject Da’if/Zaeef hadith simply because they equate it to some fabricated lie. Please note that all weak hadith cannot be discarded and it is for the jurists to bring in other sources and conduct a thorough analysis. The fact is that Da’if hadith is missing out on any one or two of the five criteria list already noted.
For better understanding of hadith, I urge readers to consult Dr Mariam Sheibani’s work through Harvard and Cambridge Muslim College, UK. Pakistani social scientists devalue hadith without having any understanding that hadith is not only the ‘words’, but is a full-fledged academic discipline that is credible, valid and reliable. When Pakistani Muslims devalue or reject hadith, they are not only rejecting the Sahib-e-Quran i.e. the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) but also rejecting the intellectual heritage of the Islamic civilization and speaking the language of those who consider civilizations other than Greco-Roman, backward, barbarians and with zero intellectual contributions in the present world. Nothing could be further away from the truth.
As contemporary world western educated social science researchers we understand and fully appreciate that any empirical study can have a few limitations. It is just that the Western world has trained us to note these limitations in a way that in spite of them, we manage to promote our work as scientifically valid, credible and reliable. The audacity and arrogance (both the implicit and explicit grudge) that many social science researchers schooled in Western theories hold towards muhaditheen, muarakheen (historians) and Islamic jurists is unfair.
We must appreciate that they are intellectually noble enough to at least declare and categorize hadith according to the discipline’s established principles and criteria. Postscript: 3 Mufti Syed Adnan Kakakhel, Muhammad Asad, Martin Lings, Annemarie Schimmel, Idrees Kandhalwi, Khaleel Shawqi and Umar F Abdullah’s work on Islam is acknowledged here.
The writer is an interdisciplinary social scientist with MPhil, PhD and Post Doc in Development Studies, Peace and Governance from the University of Cambridge UK and, the United Nations University, Headquarters. email@example.com