May 1988: Page 1, 2, 3, 4

Submitters Perspective

Page 2


Rationalism VS Irrationalism

by Kassim Ahmad

I have sufficiently shown … that the so-called “authentic” Hadith possess the characteristics of being sectarian and factional, anti-science, anti-reason and anti-woman, apart from being anti-Quran. These constitute a perfect prescription for disunity and backwardness.

The current Hadith debate in Malaysia and in some other Muslims countries arising from my book published last year (Hadith – A Re-evaluation) reminds me of George Sarton’s remark in his monumental three-volume “A History of Science”. He said, “The main issue, then as now, was not between materialism and spiritualism, but between rationalism and irrationalism. It is amazing to discover that in that very early time almost all the Greek philosophers had already realized that. No system of theirs, not even the Epicurean, was purely materialistic; none, not even the Platonic, was purely spiritualistic. They all understand that one needs some kind of matter even for thinking, and that one cannot refute spiritualism except with some kind of mind or spirit.”

The dominant anti-rationalist current in the present Islamic renaissance movement must sooner or later come to realize, as did their early rationalist ancestors, the profound Quranic truth that faith and reason are not in conflict. They are two sides of the same coin. Many verses stress this. Indeed, God repeatedly says that the Quran is addressed to those who think. And extremely clear verse pointing to the very close relationship between faith and reason reads: “No soul can believe except with God’s leave, for He deliberately blocks out those who defy common sense.” (10:100) It was precisely because the early Muslim generations observed the unity of faith and reason that they were able to create monuments of science, thought and culture. Present-day Muslims must retrace their steps back to the spirit of those times to regain the scientific, intellectual and political leadership of the world that they once held. Are they capable of doing it again? If they are not (and the odds are against them), other nations will replace them, as the Quran has warned (see Quran 47:38).

I cannot deal with all the points that have been raised in this debate. I have answered some of them in two of my earlier articles (see “Sunday Star” and New Sunday Times”, Kuala Lumpur, June 22, 1986). My traditionalist critics, theologians and scholars alike,

who have brought out two books to answer mine, have merely repeated the age-old classical arguments for upholding the Hadith, which I have refuted. It is my humble opinion that they have not answered my refutation.
I have quoted many clear verses of the Quran and some conforming hadith in my book to prove that the prophet brought, taught, followed and preached with only the Quran. Unfortunately, our modern-day blind followers of traditionalist theologians simply will not give serious consideration to them, seeking to rationalize them to conform to their already-formed opinions, and arguing that the majority of theologians, past and present, cannot make mistakes. Yet they know full well that the truth does not depend on the majority!
They tirelessly and unashamedly argue that God’s command to us to obey the messenger means that we should follow the Hadith when the phrase clearly means to obey God and to follow only the Quran. This meaning is supported by countless other verses in the Quran, by such proven weaknesses of very many ‘authentic’ hadith and by such proven weaknesses of the classical Hadith methodology that its is pointless to dwell on it any further.

Most  of our traditionalist theologians and scholars have proved themselves quite incapable of discussing the Hadith issue rationally and intelligently. This is strongest reason why a public debate is necessary so that the enlightened sections of the Muslim community can criticize their errors as well as their narrow-mindedness and bigotry, and bring them back to reason.

Many people criticize me for connecting the Hadith with Muslim disunity and backwardness, some contending that many Muslims have not even read any book of Hadith, let alone being influenced by it. They have missed the point altogether. The relevant question is one of the ideological basis or bases of Muslim behaviour, not what books they read or do not read. As a matter of fact, the Hadith has been with us for around a thousand years and has been actively propagated to us for as long. I agree that not all Muslims have come under the spell of the Hadith, as a number of them have chosen to follow liberalism or Marxism as of late (including me, at one time!). But none of us can deny the fact that the Hadith, alone among other ideological ingredients, has been, since it emergence, the major ideological basis of Muslim thought and

behaviour. If one understands this non-Quranic ideological configuration under which modern Muslims live, one can grasp the profound import of the prophetic words of the Quran:
Shall We treat the submitters like the guilty? What is wrong with you? How do you judge? Do you have another      book that you apply? One that gives you anything you want? (68:35-38)
The messenger will say, “My Lord, my people have deserted this Quran.” (25:30)


Of course, the traditionalist theologians and scholars, tied to their traditional ‘sacrosanct’ methodology, will hotly deny the applicability of these verses to the Muslims. But since the Quran is current, what can the phrase “another book” that “gives you anything you want” mean for the Muslims but the Hadith? As to the second verse, it obviously refers to the present rejection of the Quran by all ideological groups of mankind, including the formal Muslims. The term “my people” used by Prophet Muhammad must mean “all mankind” since his mission was universal.

In spite of the contradictory testimony of historical sources, a general conclusion may be safely drawn that the first division in the early Muslim community between the ‘orthodox’ Sunni party and the ‘heterodox’ Shi’ah party of Ali was both political and religious. The party of Ali resorted to a so-called Ghadir Khum hadith in which the prophet was alleged to have said, “He of whom I am master, of him Ali is also the master,” in order to bolster up their factionalism when the noble prophet spent his whole life fighting against it! Of course, at this time the hadith had not yet been compiled or institutionalized as a primary source of law, but the great prestige of the prophet had already been misused by the various political and theological factions. It should be well noted that as long as the Quran remained the only primary source of reference for the Muslims, they could reunite and advance on the basis of its teachings, but as soon as they set up other sources of reference to rival the Quran, as happened when they set up the Hadith as the “second primary” source, the division became irreversible, continuous and permanent.

I have sufficiently shown in my little book that the so-called ‘authentic’ Hadith possess the characteristics of being sectarian and factional, anti-science, anti-reason, and

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