By: Dr. Mansoor Alam
“O Prophet – behold, We have sent thee as a witness [to the truth], and as a herald of glad tidings and a warner, and as one who summons [all human beings] to God by His leave, and as a light-giving beacon.” (33: 45-46)
“Now [as for thee, O Muhammad,] We have not sent thee otherwise than to humankind at large, to be a herald of glad tidings and a warner; but most people do not understand [this].” (34:28)
“Say: [O Muhammad]: “O humankind! Verily, I am a Messenger of God to all of you, [sent by Him] unto whom the dominion over the heavens and the earth belongs.” (7:158)
“And [thus O Prophet,] We sent thee as [an evidence of Our] grace towards all the worlds.” (21: 107)
The above Quranic verses clearly establish that Islam does not discriminate against human beings on the basis of color, race, blood relationships, language, or nationalities. Islam is for everyone. This means that Allah wants us to build a society based on the Quranic principle of universal brotherhood. While no one can question the value of this high goal, the problem is working to achieve it.
The Ultimate Goal of Sunnah
When the Quran set this high goal for humanity it also provided working principles for achieving it in the human world. This is what the Prophet (PBUH) accomplished with the help of his companions (R). He created a true multiethnic and multiracial society for the first time in human history. The ultimate goal, of course, was to include all humanity in this ideal. By knocking out all barriers political, social, economical, and geographical a global society could be created based on equality and freedom for all human beings. This, then is the Sunnah. Our practice of Sunnah must lead to this goal set by the Quran and implemented by the Prophet (PBUH). Otherwise, we belie Islam (107:1-7) as well as the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH).
The Traditional Line of Reasoning
How can we follow the Sunnah of our Prophet (PBUH)? This is a question every Muslim must take seriously. The traditional reasoning goes like this: the Quran says to obey Allah and to obey the Prophet (PBUH). Obeying Allah means obeying the Quran and obeying the Prophet (PBUH) means obeying his Sunnah. Therefore, before going any further, it is important to consider the position of the Quran and the position of Prophet’s Sunnah among Muslims. First, let us discuss the position of the Quran.
The Quran and Its Position among Muslims
Muslims, no matter where they are, have the same Quran. Sunni, Shi’ia, Maaliki, Shaafa’i, Hanafi, Hanbali, all Muslims have the same Arabic text of the Quran. There is no difference of opinion among Muslims about the authenticity of the Quranic verses. Even Orientalists, who have done an objective analysis of the Quranic text, have come to the same conclusion (see Maurice Bucaille’s book: The Bible, The Quran, and Science).
Unlike the Bible, the Quran does not have versions. There is only one version – that of Allah. There may be many translations or interpretations but there is only one Arabic text. This fact is borne out by fourteen hundred years of history. Non-Muslims may not believe in the divine origin of the Quran, but they cannot deny the fact that there is only one text of the Quran. This is no less than a miracle.
What Allah says about the Quran in the Quran
- There is no doubt in this Book (2:2).
- Allah has taken the responsibility to explain it (75:19).
- Allah says He has revealed the Quran and He will protect it (15:9).
- Allah’s revelation to the Prophet (PBUH) is written in the Quran (6:19). There is no verse in the Quran which says that Allah’s revelation to the Prophet (PBUH) is outside the Quran.
- Momineen are asked to obey the revelation from Allah (7:3).
- The Prophet (PBUH) was asked to obey the revelation sent down on him (10:109).
- He was asked to follow the Quran (75:18).
- Allah required the Prophet (PBUH) to follow the blessed Book sent down on him (6:155).
- The Prophet (PBUH) used to judge matters according to the revelation sent down on him (5:48).
- Those who do not judge matters according to what Allah has revealed are Kaafirs (5:44).
- In the Quran, Allah has completed His message and no one can change anything in it (6:34, 6:115).
- The Quran encompasses the message of earlier revelations (5:48). So, the truth of earlier revelations is now contained in the Quran.
- In it there are no contradictions (4:82).
- Allah has called the Quran “Tibyaanan li Kulli Shaiyin (16:89)”. This means it explains everything.
- Allah gives many verses on a particular topic over and over again (6:105, 17:41). This means that we have to collect all the verses on a topic in order to understand it fully. This is the Divine method of understanding the Quran.
- The Prophet (PBUH) was required to solve all human differences through the Quran (16:64).
- The Prophet (PBUH) was required to admonish and remind people through the Quran (50:45).
- The Quran itself is light (5:15). So, it is not dependent on another source of light.
- This light (i.e., the Quran) has been given so that human beings, using this light, can travel safely on the path of life (6:122).
- Allah undertook the responsibility to collect the Quran (75:17). [The logical conclusion from this verse is that the Quran was collected and put together by the Prophet (PBUH). Allah decided the sequence of surahs and verses and no one else besides the Prophet (PBUH) could have received the direction from Allah on how to put them together. There is no verse in the Quran asking the Prophet (PBUH) to delegate this extremely important responsibility to anyone else.]
- Whatever difference human beings have, the decision is with Allah (42:10). [Since Allah’s decision is contained only in the Quran, it is logical to believe that it has the power to serve as the constitution for the entire world, creating a universal brotherhood. The model implemented by the Prophet (PBUH) is a proof of this.]
These are some of the verses, which clearly establish what the position of the Quran should be in the life of Muslims. Now let us see what position Sunnah occupies among Muslims.
Status of Sunnah
In the first place, there is no single definition of Sunnah that is acceptable to all the Islamic scholars. Some say that whatever the Prophet (PBUH) said or did in private, or public, is his Sunnah. Others (especially the Ahlul Hadith sect) say that whatever is in the books of hadith is the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH). Still others (including Maulana Maududi) disagree with this definition of Sunnah. According to Maulana Maududi what the Prophet (PBUH) did as a Bashar (man) is not his Sunnah; only the things he did as a prophet comprise the Sunnah (Rasaayel-o-Massayel, page 311). It is safe to conclude, then, that there are as many variations in the definition of Sunnah as there are sects and sub-sects in Islam. Each sect thinks its definition is the right one.
Secondly, unlike the Quran, there is no single book of hadith or Sunnah that is acceptable to all Muslims. Shi’ias have their own hadith books, while Sunnis have their own.
Books of Hadith
Among the Sunnis, there are six books of hadith that are generally considered to be the most authentic.
- Sahih Bukhari: This was compiled by Imam Muhammad Isma’il Bukhari. He was born in Bukhara and died near Samarqand in 256 A.H. (or in 260 A.H.). It is said that he collected about 600,000 ahaadith. From these he selected about 7,300 for his book, having discarded the rest.
- Sahih Muslim: This was compiled by Imam Muslim Bin Hujjaj. He was born in 204 A.H. in the famous Iranian city of Nishapur and died in 261 A.H. He collected about 300,000 ahaadith and selected 4,348 for his book.
- Tirmidhi: This was compiled by Imam Abu ‘Isa Muhammad Tirmidhi. He was born in the Iranian city of Tirmidh in 209 A.H. and died in 279 A.H.. He collected 300,000 ahaadith and selected 3,115.
- Abu Daawood: He was born in 202 A.H. in the Iranian city of Sistaan and died in 275 A.H. He collected 500,000 ahaadith and kept only 4,800 in his book.
- Ibn Maaja: This was compiled by Imam Abu Abdullah Muhammad Bin Zayd Ibn Maaja. He was from the Iranian city of Qazwin. He was born in 209 A.H. and died in 273 A.H. He collected 400,000 ahaadith and selected only 4,000 for his book.
- Nisayee: This was compiled by Imam Abdul Rahman Nisayee. He was born in the village of Nisa in the province of Khurasaan in Iran. He died in 303 A.H. He collected 200,000 and selected 4,321 for his book.
These are the facts which are known about the books of hadith called Sa’hha Sitta (six most authentic books). Among these, Bukhari and Muslim are called Sa’hi’hayn; between the latter, Bukhari is considered to be the most truthful book after the Quran.
The compilers of the above hadith books were Persians and were born in the third century Hijra. They collected hundreds of thousands of ahaadith and selected only a small percentage of them for their books based on their own judgements. All these ahaadith were collected from oral narration and not from any previously written record. The Prophet (PBUH) said:
“Do not write anything other than the Quran. Anyone who has written anything other than the Quran should destroy it.” (Sahih Muslim)
The Shi’ia also have different hadith books. These are:
- Al-Kaafi: This was compiled by Imam Jaafar Muhammad. He died in 239 A.H.
- Min La Yastahdhira Al faqiah: This was compiled by Sheikh Muhammad Ibn ‘Ali. He died in 381 A.H.
- Tahdheeb: This was compiled by Sheikh Abu Jaafar Muhammad Bin Hasan. He died in 460 A.H.
- Istibsar: This too was compiled by Sheikh Abu Jafar Muhammad Bin Hasan.
Again, none of these compilers was an Arab. They were all Persian.
Quran Vs Hadith
Now that we know the facts about the status of both the Quran and the hadith, we can compare them. Every Muslim must believe in the Quran and the Prophet’s (PBUH) Sunnah. (Remember, the Prophet (PBUH) was described as a walking Quran.) We know that the Quran is the only Book that is unquestionable. Allah has taken the responsibility to protect it; however, neither Allah nor the Prophet (PBUH) took a similar responsibility for protecting the hadith. And that is why there is a chance that some hadith may have been wrongly attributed to the Prophet (PBUH). Moreover, narrators of the hadith never claimed that they reproduced the exact words of the Prophet (PBUH) but that they narrated the meaning of his sayings. Maulana Maududi explains this as follows:
“Suppose for example, I give a speech today and several thousand people hear it. After few hours (not months, or years, but hours!) after the speech, ask people what the speaker said. You will see that their description of the text of the speech will not be the same. Some will describe one part and others will describe a different part of the speech. Some will exactly repeat the words of a certain statement and others will describe its meaning in their own words. An intelligent person may correctly describe the substance of the speech and someone else of lesser understanding may not be able to do so. A person with strong memory may be able to reproduce a better part of the speech, and one with weak memory may commit many mistakes in his recounting.” (Tafhimaat, Volume 1, Pages 329-330.)
[Quotations of Maulana Maududi given here have been translated from Urdu.]
This was the method by which the books of hadith were compiled. When we recite any verse in the Quran we say with one hundred percent certainty “Qaalallahu Ta’alaa” (i.e., Allah has said). But when we recite any hadith of the Prophet (PBUH) we say in the beginning “Qaala Rasulul Allah” (i.e., Prophet of Allah said) and end it by saying “Au Kamaa Qaala Rasulul Allah” (i.e., or something like this, the Prophet of Allah said). That is why Ahaadith may not be the exact words of the Prophet (PBUH) but rather sayings attributed to the Prophet (PBUH).
Chain of Narrators (Asmaa-ur-Rijaal)
The authenticity of the narrators was judged extremely carefully and there is no doubt that all the compilers were experts in the field of Asmaur–rijaal (the process of verifying the trustworthiness of the chain of narrators). But no matter how reliable the narrators may have been, they could not have reproduced the exact words of the Prophet (PBUH) — especially for those Ahadith that were collected more than two hundred years after his death. The issue here is not just the trustworthiness of the narrators, but as Maulana Maududi has pointed out, also their abilities to comprehend and faithfully reproduce the original sayings of the Prophet (PBUH). He says:
“The venerable compilers produced excellent resource of Asmaur-rijaal which, without doubt, is extremely valuable. But in it, there is nothing where possibility of error does not exist.” (Tafheemaat, Volume 1, page 319.)
He further says:
“The individuals who investigated the reliability of hadith reporters, they too were human beings with all the human weaknesses. It is questionable that a reporter considered to be reliable by these investigators was in fact reliable. To check the memory, credibility and accuracy in reporting of each and every reporter is a very, very difficult task.” (Tafheemaat, Volume I, page 321)
Categories of Hadith
There are various categories of Hadith as described by Imam Farook Abo Elzahab:
“The major classifications are: Sahih (Correct), Hasan (Good enough), Daief (Weak), and Mawdoo (Coined)” (Monitor, Jul/Aug 1999, page 6)
Because of this classification, scholars are divided in determining which hadith is sahih and which is daief. In certain cases, what is sahih to one sect is considered daief or Mawdoo by others. For example, the Ahlul-Hadith sect consider every hadith of Bukhari and Muslim to be sahih (correct). But Haafiz ibn ‘Hajar and other Ulema including Maulana Azad, Sheikh ‘Abdul ‘Haq Muhaddith Dehlavi, Allama Hameeduddin Faraahi, Maulana Amin Ahsan Islahi, and Syed Sulaiman Nadvi do not take this position.
Maulana Hameeduddin Farahi says:
“Remember! Majority of hadith is daief. Only minority of hadith is correct. Hadith, and ‘Ijma are not beyond doubt.” (Nidhaam al-Quran)
Maulana Amin Ahsan Islahi (considered to be one of the great Islamic scholars) says:
” Maulana Hameeduddin Faraahi did not agree with those who consider Bukhari and Muslim beyond doubt. In this Maulana was not alone. Haafiz Ibn ‘Hajar and Sheikh ‘Abdul ‘Haq Muhaddith Dehlavi never considered these books beyond doubt.” (Ma’aarif, February 1948, pp. 94-95)
Maulana Maududi lays out the practical consequence of this as follows:
“The fact is, any hadith which is attributed to the Prophet can be questioned for accuracy and reliability. You (the hadith devotees) are bound to accept every saying of the prophet which is duly certified by the reporters. But this is not the criterion for us. A certificate in no way is the litmus test for the authenticity of a hadith.” (Rasayel-o-Massayel, Volume I, 1951 edition, page 290)
Need for an Objective Standard
Maulana Maududi says:
“The sayings of the prophet and the sayings we find in the books of ahadith are not necessarily one and the same. The ahadith, because of the authority of the reporters cannot be equal in status to the verses of the Quran. The Quranic verses, beyond any doubt, are Allah’s revelations. On the contrary, in the case of the sayings, the attribution of any word or deed to the prophet is always in doubt.” (Rasayel-o-Massayel, Volume I, 1951 edition, page 270)
Therefore, we need an objective standard to determine the authenticity of the sayings attributed to the Prophet (PBUH). This standard can only be the Quran as it has the power to separate the truth from falsehood – called Al-Furqan by Allah. If any hadith is against the Quran then it can not be the saying of the Prophet (PBUH) and therefore cannot qualify as his Sunnah. Remember, according to Ummul Momineen ‘Aisha (R) the Prophet (PBUH) was a walking Quran.
Maulana Amin Ahsan Islahi says:
“Under the sun there is only one Book beyond any doubt. Therefore, We should accept only those narrations, which are in accordance with the Quran. Whenever there is difference between the Quran and Hadith, then the Quran is the authority.” (Ma’aarif, February 1948, pp. 91-92)
No doubt, the compilers of hadith books, whether Sunni or Shi’ia, acted voluntarily in the service of Islam. They deserve our utmost respect and their work is a collective inheritance of the Muslim Ummah. But the fact remains that they did not have the approval of Allah or the Prophet (PBUH) for their work. They were humans and subject to human errors. We must always keep this in mind.
Dear sisters and brothers, I have given a brief description of the history of the compilation of hadith and its significance as the Sunnah of our Prophet (PBUH). True, any Muslim who does not believe in the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH) is not a Muslim. But the question really is: does believing in the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH) require us to believe in everything attributed to him in the books of hadith? We have seen that there is a disagreement on this issue among the scholars belonging to different sects in Islam. As to the authenticity of hadith, we have also seen that, according to Maulana Maududi (considered to be one of the great Islamic scholars), “the attribution of any word or deed to the Prophet (PBUH) is always in doubt.”
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to be a scholar or an expert in this field. I have made a humble effort in this direction as an ordinary student of Islam. Now that you have read my presentation, please make up your own mind. You do not have to agree with me. There is no compulsion in Islam (2:256). No one has the right to force anything in the name of Islam on anyone else.
Are obeying Allah and obeying the Prophet (PBUH) two separate duties; one through the Quran and the other through the hadith? Or, are these two merged into one obedience? We will discuss this in the next article.