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Human Efforts to Understand the Ahadith

This is the last in the series of the compilation of hadith. The four previous articles appeared on aslamabdullah.blogspot.com. The series was in response to those who asked about my methodology in understanding the ahadith. I am grateful to Allah for giving me the opportunity to state my understanding of this vast subject to the best of my capabilities. Still, I believe that doors to understanding are wide open. It is a quest that would continue until I leave the world. I requested all who have been receiving my posts on the subject to refrain from making any judgment until they read the last article. Now you have all the articles in front of you and you can form your opinions about how I understand the hadith literature.

When we use the statements, attributed to the Prophet and reproduced in books classified as Sahifas, Aziz, Rasail or Kutub, Musannafs, Musnads, Mujams, Jamis, Sunans, Mstadraks, Mustakhrajs and Arainiyat, to define Islam and develop principles and laws influencing the attitude, behavior, and character of Muslims in all aspects of life, we have to ensure in absolute terms their authenticity, integrity, validity, trustworthiness, and correctness.

With the exceptions of a few letters, treaties and advises that the Prophet asked his companions to write down, the vast majority of statements attributed to him were not seen, verified and approved by him. He did not leave any collection of his words and actions verified by him.

The books on the ahadith of the prophet, thus, are the outcome of human efforts. They cannot be equated with the prophetic efforts, evident in the compilation of the Quran or the divine plan in the revelation of the Quran. The Quran was given by the one whom we deem as the Creator of the universe and preserved by the one who was chosen by the creator as the final and last recipient of the message.

The books of ahadith were compiled by Muslim scholars spread over three centuries through their limited human efforts in preserving what they thought was attributed to the messenger of Allah.

The compilers of the book of ahadith did not choose their collection from a common pool of ahadith. Each one of them developed a distinct methodology and criterion to make their selection.

For instance, Imam Malik bin Anas collected some 500 ahadith in his book al-Muwattaa out of 70,000 ahadith he had access to. Imam Ib Hanbal chose some 40,000 ahadith from 700,000 ahadith. He rejected some 94 percent statements attributed to the prophet based on his methodology. Imam Bukhari had access to some 600,000 ahadith and accepted 7275 confirming his methodology, thus, rejecting some 98 percent of the total. Imam Muslim had access to 300,000 ahadith and he included only 4000 of them in his work rejecting 296,000.

Ibn al-Jauzi compiled a list of about 1060 companions who related ahadith of the prophet to their followers, while Abu Abd al-Rahman has given a list of 1,300 companions. Not included in the list are the names of over 100,000 companions, whom Abu Zara al Razi , never saw or hear him including the 40,000 who were present in the Farewell Pilgrimage.

The largest number of ahadith is attributed to Abu Hurayra (5374) followed by Abdullah bin Umar (2630) and Ummul Momineen Aisha, (2210). From Caliph Abu Bakr are reported 142 ahadith, from Caliph Umar, 537, from Caliph Uthman 142, from Caliph Ali 536, from muwadhdhin Bilal 44 and from the Ummul Momineen Khadija less than 20.

In other words, the bulk of ahadith was reported by some 300 companions of the Prophet. The muwatta of Imam Malik contains reports from 98 companions, the Musnad of Abu Daud contains reports from 281 companions, the Masnad of Ahmad b Hanbal contains the ahadith from 700 companions; while Sahih Muslim has ahadith from 208 and Sahih Muslim from 213 companions. Only 149 companions are common in the selection of Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim.

Of all the companions, only 11 reported more than 500 ahadith each and they are: Abu Hurayra, Abu Abdal Rahman, Abu Hamza Anas bin Malik, AishaAbu al Abbas, Jabir bin Abdallah, Abu Said Sa’ d bin Malik al Khudri, Abdulla bin Masud, Abdullah bin Amr bin al As, Umar bin al Khattab and Ali bin Abi Tallib.

Some of the statements of the Prophet are reported differently by different compilers. For instance, the Farewell Khutbah of the Prophet that was heard by at least 40,000 people present during the Pilgrimage has been reported differently by three different compilers. In Sahih Muslim and Masnad Ibn Hanbal and the collection of Darimi it is reported that the Prophet said: “I left for you, what if you hold up to, you will never be misguided, the Book of Allah and my family.”

In Muwatta the Prophet is reported to have said: “I left for you, what if you hold up to, you will never be misguided, the Book of Allah and my Sunnah.”

In Sahih Muslim, and in the collection of Ibn Majah and Abu Dawud, the prophet is reported to have said: “I left for you what, if you hold up to, you will never be misguided, the Book of Allah.”

These three ahadith have led to three approaches in our understanding of deen. The Shias accepting the first version argues that the Quran, as well as ahadith reported by members of the family of the Prophet, is the core of deen. The Sunnis say that the Quran and the corpus tradition make the essence of deen while the Ahle Quran say that only the Quran is the essence of deen.

Among the Sunnis, the compilers of the ahadith have different methodologies to make their selections. Each one of them applies different rules pertaining to narration and the study of text. Some of the rules related to the study of the text were developed after the compilers had completed their collections.

In order to develop a comprehensive approach, to understand and explain the deen, the scholars have to renew their efforts to evolve an approach that is all-inclusive. They have to keep the following in mind.

1. Not everything that the prophet said in his lifetime was recorded. For instance, the Friday congregational prayer was made obligatory in Medina and the Prophet must have given close to 500 Friday sermons. We do not have in our hadith literature every Friday sermon delivered by the Prophet.

2. Whatever was recorded by the compilers was not seen, approved and verified by the Prophet.

3. The compilers adopted different methodologies to ascertain the accuracy, integrity, trustworthiness and validity of the statements and actions attributed to the Prophet.

4. The compilers of the collections put great sincere efforts in developing the rules of the narration and the study of the text with the help of the science of Ama ur Rijal. Yet their evaluation of narrators differs in grading each narrator. The sectarian differences between Shias and Sunnis appear in their methodologies used to collect the ahadith

5. The purpose was to ensure that the divine guidance, the Quran, is understood clearly and profoundly.

This purpose has remained unchanged in the changed circumstances. It is this purpose that should be the basis of unity among the work of scholars of our times. They are the ones who have the responsibility to review the entire hadith literature and develop consensus beyond sects and schools of thought differences to ensure that the divine message is properly understood in our times The purpose of these efforts is to ensure that the differences between the Quranic text and the ahadith, if there are any, and the differences between various ahadith, if there are any, should be understood in the proper context.

Deen and the understanding of the Quran cannot be left to the whims and wishes of individuals, especially when the differences are vast. It cannot be left to the sectarian differences, ideological schisms and political interests of the interpreters.

But the process to develop a consensual approach will take longer. In the meantime, the students of ahadith and the Quran and the followers of Islam can approach the vast literature with care and responsibility ensuring that the main purpose, i.e. understanding the divine the message, the Quran remains supreme and uncompromised.

Thus, in my personal methodology to understand the deen, I adopt the following approach.

1. Focus on the Quran and its universal message to humanity.

2. Study the ahadith in the light of the Quran. And follow those that concur with the well-defined meanings of the Quran.

3. Approach the scholars of the hadith and the Quran to understand those ahadith that apparently differ with the message of the Quran.

4. Approach the scholars of hadith to understand the ahadith that differ with each other.

5. Believe that my understanding is only human and leaves aside the rigidity with the conviction that there is room for change in my understanding.

6. Accept the sincerity and seriousness on the part of scholars in their efforts to understand believing that they were humans.

7. Not reject anything that is authentically presented and have differences of opinions within the ethical framework of divine guidance.

8. Live my life according to my understanding of the deen.

9. Avoid arguments based on methodologies and differences in approaches and never believe that I have perfected my understanding of the deen

Understanding deen is the most difficult and serious task that each one of us has to undertake personally. It is we who would be accountable for what we believe. Our identity comes from our understanding of the deen in our attitude and practices. We have to return to the Quran to understand that identity and approach the whole literature from that perspective.

Those who use the terms such as munkar hadith (rejectors of hadith) often trivialize the deen. No one claiming to be a Muslim can dare to reject the sayings and actions of the Prophet. But the responsibility of what is attributed to the prophet and what is accurate and not accurate is wholly ours.

For a long time, we have put our efforts in defining people based on our images and subjective understanding of the deen. We must understand that each one of us is sincere in our deen and wants to understand the truth as revealed to the Prophet. We will offer a better example of living the Quran if we acknowledge the efforts of each towards that goal without name-calling and insulting others. After all we must realize that each one of us is responsible for our actions and understanding. In the words of the Quran; “Say: "Shall I seek for (my) Cherisher other than Allah, when He is the Cherisher of all things (that exist)? Every soul draws the meed of its acts on none but itself: no bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another. Your goal, in the end, is towards Allah. He will tell you the truth of the things wherein you disputed. (6:164)


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