The Science of Hadith – 5 Orientalists and Hadith – II

The Medieval Legacy

Such were the trend-setters for many of the Orientalists who took over from the priestly class after the burst of Renaissance. A great majority of them, right up to our times, wrote – particularly, but not exclusively, if principles and morals happened to be the topic – just as much untruth as was not likely to be discovered. They are, otherwise, excellent workers at the books, manuscripts, and inscriptions, but, sadly, have a penchant eye for the odd word or occurrence, that the lack of their intellectual integrity converts into the conventional. (Any anthology of Arabic writings prepared by one of them will provide instances – of the freakish portrayed as the norm – on every second page).

In their accounts therefore, facts were marginalized, twisted, and their value reduced with the help of inauthentic insertions at points where good effects were feared – even if legendary material had to be relied upon. Conjectural ideas were freely aired. For example, if `Abdullah ibn Ubayy, the arch-hypocrite, (a natural focal point of Orientalists’ sympathies), did not participate in the campaign to Tabuk, he must have had good reasons. Writes the Encyclopedia of Islam, “He took part in the expedition of Hudaybiya, but stayed away from that of Tabuk, doubtless because of ill health, since he died shortly afterwards.” A guess becomes “doubtless” needing no citation of an evidential report, which anyway does not exist.

One of the unresolved problems that the Orientalists have had on their hands for a long time is, how was a false Prophet able to win such absolute following? So, here is an explanation: facts are not what history tells us, but rather, “There were occasional disagreements with Muhammad’s policy even among those Muslims loyal to him, but the sources tend to minimize the disagreement within the community and to suggest that it was more united than in fact it was.” (Montgomery Watt, Muhammad at Medina, Oxford, 1988, p.180). However, since the writer knows that historical records refuse to yield instances of opposition to the Prophet by any section of his followers, he has to create one, if not real then at least verbal. Therefore, “The opponents of Muhammad among those who had formally professed Islam are commonly spoken of as the munafiqun or Hypocrites, and the usage has Qur’anic sanction. A more useful term in the present connexion, however, is the ‘Muslim opposition’ since this name distinguishes the object of study from the pagan opposition (just mentioned) and the Jewish opposition (to be dealt with later), and does not restrict the historian to those persons branded as Hypocrites” (Ibid, p. 180). In fact, the portion of this book is crowned with the chapter heading “Muslim Opposition” containing long conjectural passages without the citation from the sources of a single example of Muslim Opposition. But, in the least, the air was created, and a lead given for someone in a WesternUniversity to take it up as a PhD Thesis.

If nothing worked, then implications were the recourse. To take a recent example, the following is noted about Hasan al-Banna’: “The years of the Second World War saw a hardening of the attitude of the government towards Hasan al-Banna’. Under both Sirri Pasha and al-Nuqrashi he was arrested for brief periods and the activities of the Brotherhood severely curtailed. In the immediate postwar period tension between them and the government increased, culminating in their suppression followed by the murder of al-Nuqrashi in December 1948. A few months later, in February 1949 Hasan al-Banna’ was himself assassinated.” (J.M.B. Jones in The Encyclopedia of Islam, art. Al-Banna’, Hasan). One can see how the writer connects by implication three events: persecution of the Brotherhood, murder of Nuqrashi and the assassination of al-Banna’; while it is known that Ikhwan’s hands in the murder of Nuqrashi could not be established. In fact, failure of the secret agency (local and foreign) to establish a link, between Ikhwan and the murder, leads one to suspect, as it is always the case when secret agencies fail to solve a riddle, that powerful political personalities (again local and foreign) were involved. (E.g., Kennedy’s murder, or that of Zia al-Haq). As for Imam Hasan al-Banna’, it is well-known that he possessed an unblemished character: a true Godly man, who would not approve of Ikhwan’s involvement in politics far from sanctioning murder.

To be sure, even thinkers and philosophers, those supposed to be the most rationalists and objective users of datum could not escape the inheritance of methods and purposes. In the words of Norman Daniel, “The framework of what Voltaire writes is the classic one of the Enlightenment; but his assessment of Islam as a religion is, in its outline, nearly identical with the mediaeval one.”  (Ref. cit. p. 312)

The difference between one Orientalist and another (barring a few) has been in the order of how prejudices and intentional inaccuracies are to be couched and concealed. Modern writers carefully hide facts in complicated sentences that skillfully combine truth with falsehood. A vigilant reader will have to exercise good amount of skill and spend quite some efforts to separate facts from fiction, to discover where, what exactly is the misrepresentation or implication. He will need considerable determination to discover what the author could be relying on to make the statements he does. The works produced by them are well-hemmed, well protected against falsification efforts. The extremely complicated style of presentation is a major barrier to the commission of a fact-finding mission. It is an art of writing, and a specialty of the Western Islamic writers, that has been gradually developed over a length of time, to combat the spread of Islamic knowledge and prepare the defense wall against the likelihood of uncorrupted message being available to the masses.

The Poisoned Cake Bakers

Consider the following: In the work already referred to above, Montgomery Watt defends – for all appearances – the Prophet’s character under a chapter entitled, “The Man and His Greatness.” He writes under a sub-heading “The Alleged Moral Failure“:

“Of all the world’s great men none has been so much maligned as Muhammad. It is easy to see how this has come about.” (Montgomery devotes a paragraph to explaining how this came about and then continues): “The aim of the present discussion is to work towards a more objective attitude with regard to the moral criticism inherited from medieval times. The main points are three, Muhammad has been alleged to be insincere, to be sensual, and to be treacherous.

“The allegation of insincerity or imposture was vigorously attacked by Thomas Carlyle over a hundred years ago, has been increasingly opposed by scholarly opinion since then, and yet is still sometimes made. The extreme form of the view was that Muhammad did not believe in his revelations and did not in any sense receive them from ‘outside himself’, but deliberately composed them, and then published them in such a way as to deceive people following him, so gaining power to satisfy his ambition and his lust. Such a view is incredible. Above all it gives no satisfying explanation of Muhammad’s readiness to endure hardship in his Meccan days, of the respect in which he was held to by men of high intelligence and upright character, and of his success in founding a world religion which has produced men of undoubted saintliness. These matters can be satisfactorily explained and understood on the assumption that Muhammad was sincere, that is, that he genuinely believed that what we now know as the Qur’an was not the product of his own mind, but came to him from God and was true.

“The conception of Muhammad’s sincerity, however, is open to possible misunderstandings and requires to be made more precise. Thus, to say that Muhammad was sincere does not imply acceptance of the Qur’an as a genuine revelation from God; a man may without contradiction hold that Muhammad truly believed that he was receiving revelations from God but that he was mistaken in this belief. Further, once this point is grasped, it should be clear that, even if true, the alleged fact that the revelation fitted in with Muhammad’s desires and pandered to his selfish pleasure would not prove him insincere; it would merely show him to be capable of self-deception..”

“When we come to the other two allegations, however, namely, that Muhammad was morally defective in that he was treacherous and sensual, the discussion has to embrace not merely factual points, but also the question of the standard by which the acts are to be judged. On the factual side, there is agreement on such acts as his breaking of the treaty of al-Hudaybiyah and his marriage to Zainab, the divorced wife of his adopted son, but there is ample room for dispute about circumstances and motives. With regard to standards there are two main possibilities: we may ask, ‘Was Muhammad a good man according to the standards of the Arabia of his days?’, or we may ask, ‘Was he a good man according to the standards of, say, the people in Europe about the year 1950?’ Let us begin, then, by trying to answer the first of these questions with special reference to the points of criticism.

“The allegation of treachery may be taken to cover a number of criticisms made by European writers. It applies most clearly to such acts as the breaking of his agreements with the Jews and his one-sided denunciation of the treaty of al-Hudaybiyah with the Meccans. It may also, however, be taken to include infringement either of the sacred month or of the sacred territory on the expedition to Nakhlah when the first Meccan blood was shed, the mass execution of the Jewish clan of Qurayzah, and the orders or encouragement given to his followers to remove dangerous opponents by assassination.

“In all these actions there was nothing which disturbed the conscience of Muhammad’s followers apart from the events of Nakhlah. This may seem incredible to the Europeans, but that is in itself a measure of the remoteness of the moral ideals of ancient Arabia from our own. In some respects the Arab nomadic Arabs had a high ideal of conduct, but they had no idea whatsoever of a minimum standards of decent behavior towards all men, simply because they were men. They had no idea of a universal moral law of the Kantian type..” (Muhammad at Medina, p.324-327)

Montgomery’s discourse goes on to cover a whole chapter. We can note a few points:

* Watt is defending the Prophet’s character. He is describing the man and his greatness.

* Muhammad has been maligned. He was alleged to be insincere, sensual and treacherous.

* However, insincerity theory does not explain Muhammad’s success. Therefore, the concept needs to be understood more precisely.

* Muhammad was indeed sincere, but mistaken in his belief that he was sincere.

* As for the allegations of the revelations fitting in with Muhammad’s desires, and pandering to his selfish pleasure, well, this can be explained: he was capable of self-deception. That is, the allegation is true, but Muhammad cannot be blamed because he deceived himself without realizing that he was deceiving himself.

* As regards Muhammad’s treachery and sensuality, firstly, treacherous of course he was, but sensual?, well, this needs study of his motives.

* In any case there is another problem. Muhammad must be judged by ancient Bedouin standards. He passes the test. But if judged by the standards of the Europeans of 1950s, he fails the test. A modern critic must know what standards to apply.

* The nomadic Arabs had no idea of the universal morals presented by Kant.

What’s the conclusion then? All allegations are true. And Europeans come on top. They have produced men like Kant, who offered a far superior philosophy than that of Muhammad.

And this is from someone defending the Prophet, under a chapter entitled, “The Man and His Greatness!”

It is ironic to note that Montgomery Watt speaks of men about the year 1950. Incidentally, 1950s happened to be the time when the great men of Europe were wiping their blood-drenched hands on their napkins after a ten year mayhem and beastly murder resulting in the loss of a mere 55 million (55,000,000) souls.

We may also remind ourselves that Kant, the most influential thinker of modern times, was a German, not a nomadic Bedouin and that, far from unanimous following that Muhammad gained lasting to this day, Kant’s own pupil, Johann Fichte, a philosopher in his own right, threw his teacher’s idea of ‘division of the world into objective and subjective parts’ out of the window, and developed an idealistic philosophy of his own.

And, lest Kant is brushed off lightly, the following may evoke interest in a man who – as prototype of the great men of the 1950s – constitutes, according to Watt’s implication, an alternative to Muhammad. It is generally known that Kantian philosophy, particularly as developed by the German philosopher Hegel, was the basis on which the structure of Marxism was built, resulting in a revolution in Europe that wiped out ten million souls and imprisoned for life several millions in concentration camps!

Through Implications and Nuances

At all events, the above was an example of how facts were concealed and twisted, and how cleverly the Prophet’s feared and on-coming influence was worked against. The amount of concealment depended on the chances of exposure of truth. It also depended on how the reader could be tricked through subtleties. To give an example of this the following may be cited. (Although, the Orientalists cannot be implicated, but for our purposes the example will do, and helps us to show how deeply honest methods run in the West). With the surge in interest in religion, publishers of National Geographic magazine brought out a well illustrated 400-page book dealing with world religions entitled “Great Religions of the World” (first published, 1971). The first religion to be taken up is, quite naturally, the oldest: Hinduism. One expects Islam to come last. But it is placed after Judaism and before Christianity. Did Islam appear before Christianity or after? The subtle message is unmistakable: Christianity has the last word.

To cite the example of a one-word misleader, the title of the famous book by Ibn al-`Arabiyy (the self-proclaimed Seal of Muhammadan Sainthood), entitled “Al-Futuhaat Al-Makkiyyah” (which has been rejected by majority of Muslims as a blasphemous work), is translated as “Meccan Revelations;” while Fat-h in Arabic signifies “opening.” In this particular case the allusion is to “fat-h al-ma`ani” that is, “opening up of the meanings” (at Makkah); or, perhaps, “illuminations,” referring to the meanings or realities that opened up at Makkah. But, the preferred rendition, and blind following by Western educated Muslim scholars has been, “Revelations.” Is there an insinuation hidden in it?

Although major universities in Europe offered Islamic studies, the spirit of free inquiry was frowned upon. Professors who sat in large chairs, saw to it that any inquirer should be deflected away from true Islam. For example, if a student took a course on Islam in an AmericanUniversity, he was assigned two translations of the Qur’an, both of the seventeenth century, for chosen parts to be compared and analyzed. Both the translations could have been done by obscure half-cooked Western scholars, and both full of errors. The student’s energies thus expended, he was left with no desire to read any further about Islam. He never got a whiff of the true message. Such have been, and are, the clever ways by which the Orientalists deflect a person seriously in search of authentic information.

(وَلاَ تَزَالُ تَطَّلِعُ عَلَىَخَآئِنَةٍ مِّنْهُمْ (المآئدة 13

“You will never cease to discover one treachery (or another) on their part.”

We may ask, once again, could Muslims ever expect the Western scholars to be fair and honest when judging the Prophet’s Traditions?

As an aside we may remark that perhaps for many of the Western educated Muslims of the last century, the question of fair or unfair was irrelevant. They were in search of reasons to remove the burden of Islam off their shoulders, and in the rejection of Hadith (on the basis of doubtful authenticity, even on lean grounds), they saw a successful first step towards the ultimate goal: set for them by the masters of their minds and souls.

(To be continued).