The Science of Hadith – 6 Orientalists and Hadith (3)

Qur’an and Hadith

A cursory examination reveals that the two, Qur’an and Hadith, belong to completely different orders. So that, if someone doubts the authenticity of Hadith, whether or not they are the Prophet’s words, then the question that arises is – the two being literally so different – if the Hadith is not the Prophet’s words, whose words are they? This should explain why the Orientalists took great pains to prove that the reported Traditions were not the words of the Prophet. It was a simple plan. If they could prove that the Hadith statements were false attribution to the Prophet, fastened upon him by later generation Muslims, the Qur’an could not be left without an author. Prophet Muhammad would be its author, and Islam could be declared a non-revealed religion.

But the efforts, lasting well over several hundred years, did not yield the desired results. It was an impossible task and had not been taken up with sufficient consideration. The Orientalists did not foresee the insurmountable difficulties they would face a few decades later, appearing one after another, as the time passed, making it more and more difficult to sustain the theory. At the start, problems had remained hidden, like storms behind the pleasant morning breeze, to appear late in the afternoon and wreck havoc on their plans. But, once they had started the process of falsification, they arrived at a point where they found themselves, so to say, trapped. It was a point where full light of evidences glared upon them exposing the hollowness of their scholarship and integrity of their class.


The following are a few problems the Orientalists did not foresee when they began their crusade against the Hadith. For example, what would happen after Hadith was proven as not the words of the Prophet? Yes, then the Qur’an could be attributed to him; but, why should it become Muhammad’s making? How could it be, when the Prophet himself denied any role in its production, and a quarter million souls contemporary to him not only bore witness to his denial but also believed that he could not have in fact produced it, even if he tried to? The problem is quite serious. It is like saying Bertrand Russell was the author of the Theory of Relativity. It will not work because, Russell himself made no such claim. In fact, he wrote a book to explain it, and attributed the theory to someone else.

The Orientalists were aware of this problem, i.e., their attribution of the Qur’an to the Prophet, while he denied it, and so maintained – in earlier stages – that somebody else was involved in it. That is: admitted the Prophet could not have produced the Qur’an, somebody else had been behind the scene dictating it to him. Subsequently, this theory had to be discarded. Historical evidence did not yield a shred of evidence. The identity, for instance, of the person who supplied the material became an unresolved problem. After all, Jewish and Christian scholars contemporary to the Prophet (saws) were part and parcel of the body-politic and knew every man of importance around. Why did they fail to identify the man who helped the Prophet in his making of the Qur’an? Again, why was the man hiding? Why did he not claim the credit for himself? How did Muhammad pay him off for his services? Why did the man not speak out when Muhammad had emerged triumphant over the rest of the Arabs to become head of a state? Finally, why did he not surface up after the Prophet’s death, when no less than five men and women claimed prophethood? He could have produced some more of the Qur’an and claimed his own stake, with greater chances of success. Such were the questions that remained unresolved and so the suggestion was quietly taken off their writings.

With the assumption that the Qur’an was Muhammad’s production another problem arose. Admitted the Hadith literature is a compilation of later generation Muslims, but, where are the Prophet’s own non-Qur’anic utterances? Where are his sermons? Where are the details of his everyday life? When an ordinary politician, who happens to be a known liar, evokes such interest about himself, that people wish to know how he spends his hours, how he treats his family and children, and so on, why were Muhammad’s followers, who, immediately after his death, laid their lives in thousands in defense of the religion he had brought, were not interested to know anything about him? Were they not interested in knowing and preserving for their progeny anything about a man they believed was a Messenger of God for whom lives could be laid down at a time when, immediately after his death, his message seemed to be a lost cause? With the entire Arab world of the time including what is today UAE, Qatar, Yemen, and the best part of Saudi Arabia, (barring Makkah and Madinah), having apostatized, did it not look like the days of Islam had ended? Yet, the Companions (perhaps 2-3 percent of the entire population), stood up and fought it out. Did these 20-25000 men and women not care to pass on to their progeny something about the Prophet? Obviously, this is unthinkable. So, it must be assumed that what is known today as Hadith literature, cannot be entirely fabrications of the later generation Muslims, but also contain materials that are truly the Prophet’s own statements or statements about him. If so, which part of it is it? In other words, the whole cannot be rejected as spurious, as some Orientalists maintained, (as do the Muslim Hadith-deniers maintain), but only a part. It is merely a question of identification.

Yet another complication consisted in not considering that if the Hadith are not the Prophet’s words, rather, those of his followers, then whose words are those that are separately preserved as the words, statements, speeches or writings of his followers? This question arises for the same logical reason as the question about the Hadith when compared to the Qur’an. The words and statements of his followers, immediate or later generations, are also very different in their style, diction, language and composition from those of the Hadith. The Hadith too, like the Qur’an, though in a lesser degree, is unique in its style, diction, language and composition. Barring a few phrases, statements of the Prophet’s followers do not match at all with the words of the Hadith. We have for instance Qur’anic interpretations offered by the Companions and their first and second generation followers. We also have the letters of Abu Bakr, `Umar and `Uthman, written to the government officials. The speeches of `Ali as well as several other kinds of recorded material is also available for comparison.

For example, one could compare the following passages of Abu Bakr, `Umar and `Uthman in the choice of words and ways of expression with those of the Prophet. A rudimentary knowledge of Arabic language should be enough to mark the differences. One can note that even standard religious phrases and sentences have been expressed in non-hadith style:

كتب أبو بكر الصديق الى خالد بن الوليد حين جاءه أنه كسر طليحة ومن كان في صفه وقام بنصره فكتب إليه ليزدك ما أنعم الله به خيرا واتق الله في أمرك فان الله مع الذين اتقوا والذين هم محسنون جد في أمرك ولا تلن ولا تظفر باحد من المشركين قتل من المسلمين الا نكلت به ومن أخذت ممن حاد الله أو ضاده ممن يرى أن في ذلك صلاحا فاقتله (البداية و النهاية – فصل في مسيرة الأمراء من ذي القصة على ما عوهدوا عليه.

كتب عمر بن الخطاب إلى العلاء بن الحضرمي وهو بالبحرين أن سر إلى عتبة بن غزوان فقد وليتك عمله واعلم أنك تقدم على رجل من المهاجرين الأولين الذين قد سبقت لهم من الله ورسوله الحسنى لم أعزله أن لا يكون عفيفا صليبا شديد البأس ولكني ظننت أنك أغنى عن المسلمين في تلك الناحية منه فاعرف له حقه وقد وليت قبلك رجلا فمات قبل أن يصل فإن يرد الله أن يلي عتبة فالخلق والأمر لله رب العالمين. واعلم أن أمر الله محفوظ بحفظه الذي أنزله فانظر إلى الذي خلقت له فاكدح له ودع ما سواه فإن الدنيا أمد والآخرة أبد ولا يشغلنك شيء مدبر خيره عن شيء باق خيره واهرب إلى الله عز وجل من سخطه فإن الله عز وجل يجمع لمن شاء الفضيلة في حكمه وعلمه نسأل الله لنا ولك العون على طاعته والنجاة من عذابه (المنتظم ج4/ص242

وعن سيف عن عبيد عن عصمة قال كتب عمر إلى سعد أناأعلم بزهرة منك وإن زهرة لم يكن ليغيب من سلب سلبه شيئا فإن كان الذي سعى به إليك كاذبا فلقاه الله مثل زهرة في عضديه يارقان وإني قد نفلت كل من قتل رجلا سلبه (تاريخ الطبري ج2/ص426

 عن شعيب عن سيف عن محمد وطلحة وعطية قالوا كتب عثمان إلى أهل الأمصار أما بعد فإني آخذ العمال بموافاتي في كل موسم وقد سلطت الأمة منذ وليت على الأمر بالمعروف والنهي عن المنكر فلا يرفع علي شيء ولا على أحد من عمالي إلا أعطيته وليس لي ولعيالي حق قبل الرعية إلا متروك لهم وقد رفع إلي أهل المدينة أن أقواما يشتمون وآخرون يضربون فيا من ضرب سرا وشتم سرا من ادعى شيئا من ذلك فليواف الموسم فليأخذ بحقه حيث كان مني أو من عمالي أو تصدقوا فإن الله يجزي المتصدقين (تاريخ الطبري ج2/ص648

Indeed, if one were to compare the style and expression used in above passages, with those that are found in the traditions of the Prophet as narrated by the same persons – Abu Bakr, `Umar and `Uthman – it is easy to note differences in diction and style.

Further, since the standard Arabic – lugha fus-ha – was undergoing changes at a fast pace during the early Islamic century, the language used by later generation Muslims, is once again very different from what we have quoted above. The difficulty continues down the generations. To recapitulate: if the Qur’an is by Prophet Muhammad, whose words are of the Hadith. If the Hadith is by the Companions and their immediate followers, whose are the words attributed to them. If the words attributed to them are of third-fourth generation Muslims, whose are the words attributed to third-fourth generation Muslims? .. until perhaps several centuries down.


Contradictory Positions

A third problem unfolded itself but so gradually that by the time the Orientalists became cognizant of it, it was too late for any corrective action. From the earliest times the Orientalists were trying to row two boats at a time. One was stout denial of the words of the Prophet as his, and another, a scintillating criticism of what he said and did. This led to complications and left the Orienatalists trapped in a mesh of their own making.

Reported acts such as the following were accepted as authentic: he had nine wives; he married `A’isha when she was nine; he fought dozens of battles; he did not prevent the killing of the Jews of Banu Qurayza; he married his adopted son’s divorced wife; he allowed his Companions to collect booty; and so on. All these are in Hadith and not denied by the Orientalists as authentic. Sale wrote: “It is certainly one of the most convincing proofs that Mohammadenism was no other than a human invention, that it owed its progress and establishment almost entirely to the sword.” He also wrote, “That Muhammad was, as Arabs are by complexion, a great lover of women, we are assured by his own confession.” So Sale had confessions of the Prophet! Where is it but in the Hadith?

There were many other things that the Prophet said or did that the Jews and Christian would not approve of. To the Orientalists they were so horrendous to hear that the Prophet cast shadows on his own authenticity therewith. For example, Paradise is under the shade of swords; women were dear to him; two religions were not to co-exist in the Arabian Peninsula; he married Zaynab under questionable circumstances, he married the evening that saw the culmination of the death sentence of some 150 people, etc. In short, there were many statements and events of the Prophet’s life that the Orientalists accepted as his words and deeds that deserved systematic and unrelenting criticism. Those were the reports that helped them write his biographies – trusted by all Orientalists as reflecting the truth, and to be quoted as authoritative opinions.

For every accusation leveled against the Prophet, the Western scholars had proofs and evidences that went back to a source. For example, he committed rape and indulged in adultery. How could it be substantiated? Well, was it not there in biographical accounts produced by believers in him: Waqidi, Ibn Sa`d, Ibn Is-haq and others? Similarly, when they wrote that the Prophet committed incest, they had first-hand knowledge from Hadith books that say that he married the divorced wife of his adopted son after he had accidentally seen her in a revealing situation.

In other words, not all Hadith material was fabrication. Some were true reports. But, if these reports were taken from Hadith compilations, then, what were the rules of acceptance and rejection? This question the Orientalists would not discuss. In fact, they never discussed the Principles of Hadith Criticism that had been formulated by the earliest Hadith scholars. It was plain that they had a specific agenda when they attacked the Hadith literature as unauthentic. What they liked – whether they were in trusted works (Bukhari, Muslim and others) or distrusted collections – were Muhammad’s words and deeds; and what they did not like – although in trusted collections – were not his words and deeds! Indeed, the honesty of Western scholars and writers was of such order that some reports were both true as well as untrue at the same time. For example the following statement of the Prophet,

(يا أيّهَا النّاسُ لاَ تَتَمَنّوْا لِقَاءَ العَدُوّ وَسَلُوا الله العَافِيَةَ، فَإذَا لَقِيتُمُوهُمْ فَاصْبِرُوا وَاعْلَمُوا أنّ الْجَنّةَ تَحْتَ ظِلاَلِ السّيُوفِ (أبو داؤد

“O people! Do not wish to meet the enemy. Seek Allah’s protection. However, if you meet the enemy then be patient and know that Paradise is under the shadows of the swords.”

In the above example, the first part was ignored while the second part was often quoted to prove that Muhammad was a warrior-prophet.

Similarly, narrators were both trustworthy as well as untrustworthy. Generally speaking, Abu Hurayrah is considered untrustworthy. But when Abu Hurayrah narrates that the Prophet forbid that Hadith be written down, then he becomes trustworthy. What was reported by others as allowing Hadith to be written down, was summarily dismissed as not worthy of consideration.

At the root of such kind of behavior was that the Orientalists were never ready to give any credit to the Prophet, not even as much as they would to one of his followers. This led them to strange anomalies. For example, while discussing the issue of injustice done to Sufism by the Orientalists, Martin Lings wrote that “.. when his (Arberry’s) attention was drawn to the Shaykh Ahmad al-`Alawi who only died in 1934, he freely admitted that ‘here was a man whose sanctity recalled the golden age of mediaeval mystics.’” (What is Sufism, Martin Lings, p. 124, Suhail Academy 1999). But it did not perhaps occur to Arberry, nor to others, that if one of the Prophet’s followers deserved such praise, then, what is the quality of praise that his Master deserves who exerted such influence even after 1400 years? Further, could someone gain such eminence as to remind of the “golden age of mediaeval mystics” although the foundation on which he laid his structure happens to be spurious viz., the Hadith?


Another Trap

The Orientalists maintained that the Qur’an was most reliably the Prophet’s own words. But, this led them to another trap. On occasions they disregarded Qur’anic statements in favor of Hadith statements. For example, the Qur’an states that the Prophet and his Companions had gone out in 2 A.H. to Badr to face the pagan army, and that they were fearful on that account. The Qur’an said:

(كَمَا أَخْرَجَكَ رَبُّكَ مِن بَيْتِكَ بِالْحَقِّ وَإِنَّ فَرِيقاً مِّنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ لَكَارِهُونَ. يُجَادِلُونَكَ فِي الْحَقِّ بَعْدَ مَا تَبَيَّنَ كَأَنَّمَا يُسَاقُونَ إِلَى الْمَوْتِ وَهُمْ يَنظُرُونَ (الأنفال: 5،6

“As your Lord brought you out of your dwellings with truth, although a section of the believers were reluctant, arguing with you (O Muhammad) concerning the truth after it had become clear, as if they were being driven into death while they were looking on” (Al-Anfal: 5,6).

To explain: Some of the Muslims were hoping dearly that they would not meet with any enemy force, but rather, get their hands on the trade caravan. But that was only a wish. That they will meet the enemy in battle-field, was clearly understood, and so “as if they were being driven to death.” The Qur’an said, “When Allah was promising you that one of the two parties will be yours while you were wishing that the one unarmed should be yours. But Allah was wishing that He demonstrate the Truth by His Words, and cut off the roots of the unbelievers” (Al-Anfal, verses 5-7).

But the Orientalists ignored the Qur’anic words, and accepted the Hadith version, which leads to the conclusion that the intention at the beginning was to waylay the Abu Sufyan trade caravan. The preference of hadith over the Qur’an in this instance was to maintain that the Prophet had sought to loot a caravan and that his early associates were looters.

In short, whatever Hadith came in handy to prove that the Prophet was not genuine, who had succeeded in recruiting thugs for loot, or did things that, according to the Orientalists, a Prophet sould not have done, it was acceptable. Otherwise, the Qur’an was more reliable.

Such were the standards of scholarship and integrity of those who rejected the Hadith. And such has been the scholarship and integrity of those of the Muslims who follow the Orientalists in rejecting the Hadith.

It must be admitted though that if the Orientalists failed to prove that the Hadith was entirely a fabrication of later generation Muslims, they did not fail in their second objective which was to plant doubts about the authenticity of the Hadith. Here their efforts paid off handsomely. Those who came under their influence, and who had not read any Islamic literature from their original sources, believed in them as they believed in their scientists, thinkers, reformers and statesmen. The results were disastrous, both for the Islamic world as well as the non-Islamic. One of the consequences was that Islam as a system of life and government was abandoned by those of the Western trained Muslims who assumed political power at home, while a vigorous spread of Islam in the West was made impossible. Western peoples are not as deficient in wisdom, as is assumed and even propagated by the Westerners themselves, but the fact is, they were never allowed encounter with Islam in its true form. And the credit goes to the Orientalists.

We turn now to other topics.

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