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the Quran points out, are mere conjecture (10:36-37). But at that
time, the Quran was, so to speak, covered up for me by the fog of
It will be claimed that calling the people back to the Quran alone
will create a new sect, in addition to the sects that already exist.
This is standing the argument on its head. Since the Quran is, in
the first place, anti-sectarian (6:159), not only will it not create
a new sect, but it will, on the contrary, eliminate all existing
sects and reunite all Muslims. This is precisely what we want to
do. History proves that under Muhammad the young Muslim society
was completely united and there was no sect whatever. It is ironic
that the Ahl'ul-Hadith who talk so much about following
the example of the Prophet have completely abandoned this finest
of his examples!
It will also be claimed that in rejecting the hadith as a source
of law, we shall be rejecting the role of the Prophet. It will further
be claimed that this is the first step to the ultimate rejection
of the Quran! As for the first part of the claim, it is obvious
to anyone that it was only through Muhammad that mankind received
the Quran from God Almighty. That was his primary role—God’s
messenger—indeed his only role, as the Quran stressed several
times. Was not this role great enough for Prophet Muhammad? Surely,
As for the second part, it is too ridiculous to even think of it.
But since the die-hard traditionalists would stop at nothing to
slander their opponents, one would lose nothing to spend a few lines
exposing them. How can anyone, after calling the people back to
the Quran, then reject the Quran? Even if he does, and this means
reverting to disbelief after belief, how can that benefit him? He
would lose everything, while the people, on the contrary, would
benefit greatly by going back to the Quran.
The Muslims must re-possess critical consciousness and discard
prejudice and group fanaticism. We must avoid throwing slanderous
accusations at what we may not like at first. God Himself has
taught us to verify things before we
accept or reject them. No less an intelligent man than Sayyed Hossein
Nasr who has said the following about those who deny the authority
of the hadith:
It is against this basic aspect of the whole structure
of Islam that a severe attack has been made in recent years by an
influential school of Western Orientalists. No more of a vicious
and insidious attack could be made against Islam than this one,
which undercuts its very foundations and whose effect is more dangerous
than if a physical attack were made against Islam.
How can this scholar, who has quoted a blasphemous hadith in the
same book, spout this slander? (This scholar cited an unattributed
hadith which goes:
“I am Ahmad without the mim [that
is, ahad meaning Unity]; I am Arab without the `ain
[that is rabb meaning Lord]. Who hath seen me hath seen
the Truth.” He went on to say: “What do such sayings
mean but the inward union of the Prophet with God?”
This last sentence has a name: it is pantheism, which Islam rejects
absolutely.) Why should we Muslims, in possession of an invincible
scripture from God Almighty, be afraid of the criticisms and even
attacks of Orientalists? Such fear, in fact, reflects our own weakness.
It shows that we are not sure of our own selves. The Quranic methodology
should be a lesson for us. The Quran incessantly reproduces the
false arguments of idol-worshippers and hypocrites and rebuts them
with proofs and with better arguments. We should do the same to
expose falsehoods and confirm the truth. The methods of suppression
and slander are alien to the methods of truth.
Rejecting the authority of the hadith does not mean denying its
existence. Some true reports of what the Prophet said and did outside
the Quran as leader of his community and as an ordinary man must
have been preserved. Such reports deserve to be treated as any other
historical account whose authenticity must be judged against other
historical accounts, against the higher authority of the Quran,
and against rational criteria. While Quranic pronouncements are
divine and are eternally binding on believers, those of Muhammad
in his capacity as leader must be treated in accordance with the
Quranic injunction regarding
politico-social authority (4:49), i.e.
that they are only conditionally binding. The conditions are that
they do not contradict the Quran, they are binding only for the
community of that time, and that for other communities of other
times they only constitute as precedents to be followed or bypassed
as and when deemed useful.
It should also be well understood that this re-evaluation of the
hadith is in no way a slur upon our classical scholars. They understood
and reacted to their problems as best they could. We who come after
them are not bound by their solutions. As Muhammad Abduh has well
said, “They are human and we are human. We learn from them
but we do not [blindly] follow them.” No doubt our re-examination
constitutes a criticism. But this is normal scientific procedure.
It has been done by all our great philosophers and scholars from
the beginning, by Ibn Sina, al-Ghazzali, Ibn Rush, Ibn Taimiya,
Shah Waliyullah, Muhammad Abduh and scores of others. We owe it
to them and to ourselves to constantly practice this method. For
how else can knowledge develop and society progress unless they
continually be purged of errors. This accounts for the very important
Quranic directive, repeated many times, to believers:
Let there be a community among you who preach goodness,
advocate righteousness and forbid evil. These are the winners (3:104).
It must also be pointed out that this criticism and re-evaluation
of the hadith that we are making is nothing new. Imam Shafi`i, who
first stipulated that the hadith should be accepted as a source
of law had opponents that he himself described in his book. In recent
times there were such proponents in Egypt, India and Indonesia.
It may be that our treatment, thanks to recent developments in Quranic
and hadith studies, is more systematic than previous efforts.
In this study we have adopted what may be termed as Islamic scientific
methodology. It is unfortunate that today we associate scientific
methodology to the Western empirical and rational methods,
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