Q. In light of recent events in Paris, debates have popped up pretty much everywhere about the obligation of Muslims to love our Prophet Muhammad more than our own mothers, fathers, and even our own selves. Non-Muslims cannot understand why this is the case and to be honest with you, neither can I. I have read the various hadith mentioning that our Prophet stated that one of the companions was a true believer because he claimed that he loved the Prophet more than his own life. The problem I have is that all of these hadith make him sound egotistical. I don't believe that our Prophet was so insecure and emotionally weak that he demanded the undying devotion of all his followers. Whilst I love the Prophet for the message he brought and for all the hardships he endured, I do not love him more than my mother or father or my own life. Does that make me an unbeliever or bad Muslim? I really have problems accepting some of these hadith narrated by Bukhari and Muslim.

Allah put the Prophet Muhammad on another level to the other prophets which is indicated in the Qur'an. I have no problem accepting that but it does not tell us to give our lives for the Prophet Muhammad. Why are our lives less worthy than his? He worshipped and we worship, he lived and we live. We were given life by our Creator to worship Him. Is it bad that I don't love the Prophet the way that the hadith claim that we should? I just can't find the Qur’anic evidence for it. As usual I look forward to your thoughts on this matter.

A. This is the problem with hadith: they fill a void in explanation and many people don't see that. Did the companions actually say that, or did the Prophet actually say that? I have a problem with it, as do you. But I see it as explanation of a verse in the Quran: "If you love God, then follow me." A rational thinker sees that as stating that since I have brought God's message to you, then follow that which I bring. But others see it in terms of the Prophet's persona, and so we have many hadith that speak of the world being created for the Prophet, etc. While some of these traditions are obviously manufactured, others are more subtly phrased. For this reason we stick to the traditional definition of hadith as "that which is attributed to the Prophet in terms of word, deed, or tacit approval." The use of the passive voice, known as sighat al tamrid to hadith specialists, tells us that a hadith is ab initio deemed as untrue. The rankings attributed by Bukhari and Muslim have to do with the idea that the narrators are above board. The problem is that such narrations, while purportedly going back to the Prophet's time, are only collected and written at the earliest, about a century after his death, and that earliest generations did not accept them. For this reason Al Shafi (d. 205/820) is supposed to have come to some method of making hadith acceptable. The question is why at this late stage? We do not, as a matter of principle, advocate the eschewal of all hadith -- for the definition of tawatur would make such eschewal illogical. But we have found no tawatur lafzi, i.e., by verbatim any consensual text of agreement. That should cause people to think. For more information on this subject, read this synopsis for Fazlur Rahman's view on the hadith.

Posted January 16, 2015