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Answer To Modernism: Errors Made by Modernists About the Hadith & its clarification, By Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi

Errors Made by Modernists About the Hadith & its clarification

Translated By: Professor Muhammad Hasan Askari & Karrar Husain
Compiled By: Mufti Umar Anwar Badakhshani

Intimation (5) Regarding the Hadith as one of the sources of the Shariah

are the traditions (Ahadith) of the Holy Prophet not authentic?

The prevalent error with regard to the Hadith is that it is supposed that the traditions of the Holy Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم are not authentic, and have not been handed down to us intact either as to their text or as to their substance. The texts are supposed to be of doubtful authenticity, because the traditions were not compiled in a written form during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم himself, but were reported orally from man to man, and memory strong enough to retain the words exactly is something unnatural. The substance of the Traditions is similarly supposed to be doubtful because everyone who heard something from the Holy Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم could perforce understand it only in his own way – which might be in accord with what the Prophet ﷺ had really meant, or be even opposed to it—, and, being unable to retain the very words, reported to others only what he himself had understood, and thus even the substance could not remain intact. So, when neither the texts nor the contents are authentic, how can the Hadith serve as a valid authority? And this is the substance of the objection raised by the new-fangled set, the Qur’aniah, who believe the Holy Qur’an to be the only source of the Shariah.

The error of denying Hadith and its reasons

In fact, this error results from disregarding the lives of the early Muhadditheen and the Fuqaha (the compilers of the Traditions and the Muslim jurists). Some people have simply imagined them to be like themselves in the matter of weak memory, a want of zeal, and a lack of piety. Their great power of memory is established by a large number of incidents reported about them, which one after the other bears out the same fact.

For example:

  • The companion Ibn Abbas heard a poem of one hundred couplets only once, and ever afterward it was preserved in his memory, or:
  • Once in an assembly, one hundred Traditions were recited before the great master of the science of Hadith, Imam Bukhari, with the texts and the names of the authorities deliberately mixed up, and he pointed out the errors, corrected every one of the Traditions, and repeated the authentic versions of all the hundred Traditions word by word; or:
  • Another master of this science, Imam Tirmidhi, now blind, while passing by a certain spot, bowed his head as if he was passing under a tree, and, on being asked for the season, reported that there used to be a tree there (which was now missing), and the report was, on the investigation, found to be quite true; or:
  • The masters of the science of Hadith from time to time used to request their own masters to repeat the same Traditions in order to test their memory, and never found a word more nor less. All this is quite well-known, and has been narrated in biographic or histories or in the detailed catalogs of the reporters of the Traditions, and should suffice to establish the great power of memory these masters possessed.

If one looks carefully into these catalogs, one would find that the Traditions reported by people with a weak memory have been excluded from the category of Sahih (or the most authentic) Traditions. This again is sufficient proof of the scrupulous care that the masters of this science have taken in determining the authenticity of the Traditions.

Besides the power of memory, there is another factor as well. Since Allah the Almighty had chosen these masters for this task, their faculty for remembering things had been strengthened with divine help. For example, a Hadith relates how the Holy Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم recited a few words over the sheet of cloth which Hadrat Abu Hurairah (R.A) was wearing, and the latter pressed it to his breast.

Deriving arguments from Hadith while objecting Hadith

It would not proper to raise the objection here that we have just presented a Hadith in support of our argument, while the very validity of the Hadith as such is in dispute. As a matter of fact, all the Traditions of the Holy Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم are not in dispute, but only those which have a bearing on the injunctions of the Shariah. The Tradition we have just referred to only relates an incident. Such Traditions fall into a category of the science of history, which is unanimously accepted as a valid standard of reference in an argument.

Is the incident of Hazrat Abu Huraira (R.A) against nature?

But if one were to object that this story goes against the law of nature, then we have already given our reply under Intimation No. 3, while discussing miracles. Moreover, we would even dispute the assertion that it goes against the law of nature. Mesmerists can so influence the imagination of their subject that unknown things become disclosed to him, and known things disappear or are obliterated. Far be it from us to suggest that the influence which the Holy Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم exercised over Hadrat Abu Hurairah was of a similar kind. We only want to point out that it is not absolutely correct to consider this incident as something which goes against the law of nature. Even so. then it is a miracle, and we have already settled this issue.

The passion, fear of Allah & caution of our predecessors in preserving the Hadith

Besides we have ourselves heard of people, quite close to our own day, who possessed an extraordinary memory. One such man was Hafiz Rahmatullah of Ilahahabad. We have personally met people who had seen his performance for themselves, and have heard stories about him from them.

So much for the power of memory. Now as to the zeal of these masters for committing the Traditions to memory and for transmitting them intact, the incentive behind this zeal was that the Holy Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم has offered a special prayer for such a man:

نضر اللہ عبدا سمع مقالتی ، فحفظھا ووعاھا ، وأداھا کما سمعھا

“May Allah grant happiness to the man who heard what I had said (i.e., Hadith), then committed to memory, preserved it intact, and transmitted it to another exactly as he had heard it”. (Hadith).

So, those great masters made all possible efforts to be worthy of this prayer, and hence their anxiety to transmit the Traditions as exactly as possible. They had also a great dread of the least alteration because they had heard this from the Holy Prophetصلى الله عليه وسلم :

من کذب علی ما لم أقلہ فلیتبوأ مقعدہ من النار

“The man who falsely imputes to me something which I have not said should take it for granted that his resting place is hell”. (Hadith).

Some of the companions of the Holy Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم stood in such a dread of it that they never related a Tradition at all. Then, the great masters of the science of Hadith so often, in the case of lengthy Traditions, used to qualify their report of the tradition by giving alternative words in the text or by saying. “This or something like this”, etc. This is a clear proof of their scrupulousness and of their anxiety to preserve the authenticity of even words.

The non-compilation of Hadith, in the beginning, did not harm the safety and preservation of  Hadith

This being the case, one can see no harm if the Traditions were not compiled in a written form in the days of the Holy Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم himself.

On careful consideration, one would, indeed, admit that this fact has been very helpful and efficacious in preserving the authenticity of the Traditions. For, so long as a man is habituated to write things down and has come to depend on memoranda, his memory does not come into full exercise, while every human faculty needs exercise in order to grow. We have often seen quite illiterate people working out lengthy sums orally. On the other hand, literate people can remember nothing unless they have written it down. This is one reason why people in our own day have such a weak memory. The other reason has been indicated above. That is to say, Allah the Almighty had given the early masters a very strong memory, for He had chosen them for the task of compiling the Traditions, and consequently compiling the injunctions of the Shariah on the basis of the Traditions. This task has already been completed for the most part, and what still remains to be done does not require a strong memory. And it is a law of nature ordained by God that certain human faculties are specially developed in consonance with the special needs of a certain age. For example, the development of the special mental faculty required for scientific discoveries and inventions in our own day too well illustrates the point.

Wisdom of not writing Hadiths in the beginning

If the Traditions were not written down in those early days, the raison d’etre was that the text of the Holy Qur’an should not get mixed up with that of the Hadith. Later on, when the text of the Holy Qur’an became established in full and final security, and that danger of confusion had been eliminated, and, moreover, when different misguided sects began to appear, it then became necessary to compile the Traditions as a matter of precaution against misrepresentation and in order to fortify the faith.

The saying, practices & traditions of the Holy Prophet are unquestionably safe & protected

Thus, the Traditions began to be compiled with the greatest possible care. And if one makes a thorough examination of the texts of the Traditions, of the “chains” of the authorities, of the proofs of their authenticity, and of the catalogs of their names and their biographic, one cannot help being deeply convinced that the words and the deeds of the Holy Prophet ﷺ have been preserved without the least change or alteration.

What we have been saying just now applies even to that category of the Traditions which is called Ahad— that is to say, a Tradition which has been reported by one or very few persons in any period. But if we take all the compilations of the Traditions together, and examine the texts along with the authorities, we shall find that the texts are often identical and the authorities many and diverse, which gives them the status of mutawatir. A Tradition of this category precludes the necessity of questioning the credibility of reporters, for a Mutawatir Hadith (a Tradition that has been reported by many reporters in each generation in several consecutive chains) does not depend for its validity on the integrity, good memory, or sound judgment of individual reporters.

Once a Hadith is declared authentic & proven It is a wrongdoing to criticize it based on mere intellect

Now that we have established how the Hadith is a final argument and a valid source for canonical law, it must also have become clear why it is wrong to criticize a particular tradition on the basis of Dirayat (reason). For, the lowest degree of authentic Traditions is that in which the authenticity and the connotation both should be approximative, while the substance of what people nowadays call Dirayat (reason) is only a rational argument of conjectural nature. We have already shown under Principle No. 7 that an argument based on an approximative report is to be preferred to a rational argument of approximative nature.

Why the words of Hadith are not as safely preserved like the Qur’an?

As for the objection that, in the case of some Traditions, it is the sense alone which has been reported, and not the actual words, we agree that it has sometimes been so. But there are several considerations even here:

  • (1) Firstly, the companions of the Holy Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم did not habitually resort to this practice unless there was a need for it, and their power of memory being what it was, such a need arose only rarely.
  • (2) Secondly, the same Tradition has often been heard and reported by a number of companions. If one of them has reported only the sense, another has reported the actual words. When the purport of two such reports is found to be identical, it shows us that even those who have reported the sense alone, have understood the words quite correctly. In fact, the man who is scrupulous and has the fear of God would take great care in trying to grasp the sense too, and would tremble with dread lest he should misinterpret it–he would be satisfied unless he receives it without the slightest doubt or reservation. If it should sometimes happen–though it is rare enough–that the words have not been preserved at all, even then it is evident that a man who is close to the speaker and knows him intimately, can understand his speech in the light of the context, the situation, the tone, and the accompanying gesture, as correctly as no one else ever can. On this basis, the insight of the Companions of the Holy Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم in the Holy Qur’an and the Hadith must be as trustworthy as the understanding of them by others can never be.

This being so, how can it be proper on the part of the others to oppose them, to make uncalled for assertions supposedly on the basis of the Holy Quran or one’s own reasoning, and, taking these assertions to be the very dictates of reason, to reject a Hadith altogether as contrary to ‘reason’? Can such a way of looking at things be at all worthy of our attention?

Rulings proved by ambiguous arguments are also obligatory & part of the Islam

In view of these considerations, if there can at all be room for a doubt to arise, the doubt can at the most be effective with regard to the authoritative degree of certain traditions alone. In that case, the most that can happen is that such Traditions would not be considered fit for establishing finally authoritative injunctions on them. But even approximative injunctions are part and parcel of the Shariah, and it is obligatory to obey them. So, even the approximative nature of such injunctions would not be detrimental to their validity.

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Posted in Contemporary studies, Sunnah and Hadith, Various Islamic studies

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