Q. What are your thoughts regarding the video below claiming that Muslims have given precedence to the hadith over the Qur'an, and that this is primarily responsible for their decadence?
A. This is arguably the best fusion of academic and confessional assessment of the entire hadith phenomenon. The scholar couches his language carefully, and it may be misunderstood by those outside of the hadith discipline. When he mentioned "authentic" hadith, and at the same time criticized the sanad idea, he was basically talking about established practice, which is actually sunnah. And even then, he was also alluding to the fact that the practice of the early generations had their agendas. His talk points out the biggest error Muslims have committed: this new reliance upon hadith comes from a lay reading of classical texts. Those texts were made for scholars, who used them in terms of juridical readings. They were never meant for the lay person's consumption. The lay person was supposed to do precisely what the good scholar talks about: use his / her intellect and spiritual ideas. The hadith were not meant to deal with such, but rather to "fill a void" so to speak. The different polities pushed the hadith concept as part of a political agenda, foisting "predestination" so that we might accept governments without argument, and promoting hatred against non-Muslims because by that time, Islam had morphed from being a religion into an entire administrative system, not unlike the American and European supremacist mentality that we see among many people.
The scholar's predicament is that he is in a place wherein most of the official voices are against his position, given that they represent a particular unintellectual interpretation of Islam. I pray for his safety. As you can see, he supports our position on the subject, and also proves beyond a doubt what we have been asserting all along, i.e., that hadith criticism is not some modern innovation, but that from the very beginning, the hadith were seen as problematic. As we have noted, the definition of hadith is "that which is attributed to the Prophet in terms of word, deed, and tacit approval." Note that "which is attributed" is in the passive case, which in hadith usage, indicates lack of conviction. The difference can be explained thus: if it were defined as "that which the Prophet said, did, or granted tacit approval to," it would be deemed as strong proof. But instead, we are told it is "that which is attributed," indicating that no one wants to take the position of responsibility for such attribution. This of course is getting into terminological minutiae, but it is known as "sighat al-tamrid" -- the structure of deficiency. I trust our readers pay attention to his well-articulated presentation, and note that the other "shaykh" sitting in the background had nothing to offer in terms of a good rebuttal, the irony of it all being that he was bedecked in the garb of the Ottoman colonizer.
[Webmaster’s note:] Some observations on the Prophet Muhammad's life and ahadith in general.
1) The Prophet Muhammad was born in A.D 570 and got married to Khadijah in A.D 595 at the age of 25.
2) He received his first revelation at the age of 40 (A.D 610). Prior to this, little attention would have been paid to his life.
3) Three years later in A.D 613, the Prophet went public with his message. For much of his ministry, the Prophet struggled with his fledgling community for survival.
4) It was only after the Prophet arrived in Madina in A.D 622 (at age 52) that he was able to start building a community, but even there, the struggle was still ongoing and the Muslims continued to battle the unbelievers and hypocrites.
5) Three major battles were fought in A.D 624 (Badr - victory), A.D 625 (Uhud - defeat), and A.D 627 (Trench - victory).
6) In A.D 630 in the waning years of his life at the age of 60, the Prophet entered Mecca victorious and consolidated the Arabian peninsula under Islam, which is when people really entered the religion in droves.
7) In A.D 632, the Prophet died in Madina and was buried there (may Allah bless him for all eternity).
Given the above chronology of events, the Prophet had very little time to sit down and issue edicts about the minutiae of daily life as well as the afterlife as described in many of the ahadith. Both Ali and Umar were with the Prophet for most of his ministry, and we have a little over 500 ahadith from each of them. Abu Bakr falls in the same category and we have about 140 ahadith from him. Abu Huraira spent less than two years with the Prophet, and he reported over 5,300 ahadith.
The fact is that thousands of ahadith stating things that the Prophet said and did are falsely attributed to him, yet many Muslims do not think twice about slandering our noble Messenger on a daily basis. As Islam spread and the companions (and companions of the companions) traveled to distant places to deliver the message, they were faced with numerous situations that they had not encountered before, and had to make decisions on the fly so to speak. In order to give these rulings provenance and avoid chaos, the natural thing to do when questions arose about these decisions was to claim that the Prophet was heard or seen saying or doing this and that. However, these ahadith are just a subset of the entire corpus.
In summary, a significant number of the tens of thousands of ahadith that we have today from the various sources have little or nothing to do with our noble Prophet. As Jonathan Brown noted in his seminal work "Misquoting Muhammad" (no doubt the title was inspired by Bart Ehrman's "Misquoting Jesus"), many thousands of ahadith were fabricated for a variety of reasons, especially after the Prophet's death. This is also the consensus of a number of other Muslim academics.
The Qur'an has to be our ultimate guide, and the numerous ahadith that contradict its universal message must be summarily rejected. Furthermore, many of these "urban legends" not only insult the Prophet, they are also an affront to our Merciful and Compassionate Creator. As Allah implores of us numerous times in the Qur'an, "use your intellect." May Allah continue to guide and bless us, and increase us in knowledge, ameen.
Posted June 30, 2016