فَبِأَيِّ حَدِيثٍ بَعْدَهُ يُؤْمِنُونَ
So in what Hadith after this will they believe?
(Suhuf-i-Mutahhara: 7: 185)
As we have briefly summarized in our previous entry of this series, the Suhuf-i-Mutahhara (Qur’an), being the Words of Allah, is the supreme and final authority in our Deen (religious affairs). No Hadith, text, book, tradition, or statement can overrule the Qur’an. It is reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
سَيَأْتِيكُمْ عَنِّي أَحَادِيثُ مُخْتَلِفَةٌ ، فَمَا جَاءَكُمْ مُوَافِقًا لِكِتَابِ اللَّهِ وَسُنَّتِي فَهُوَ مِنِّي ، وَمَا جَاءَكُمْ مُخَالِفًا لِكِتَابِ اللَّهِ تَعَالَى وَسُنَّتِي فَلَيْسَ مِنِّي
“There will come to you various Hadith attributed to me. So that which comes to you that is in accordance to the Book of Allah and my Sunnah, then it is truly from me, and that which comes to you that is at variance with the Book of Allah Most High and my Sunnah is not from me.”
Although one of the narrators of this Hadith is Salih b. Musa, whom the Muhaditheen have judged to as matrook (“abandoned”), nevertheless, the purport of the Hadith is correct in light of the above cited Qur’anic principle that no Hadith can be taken in place of it (Surah 7: 185).
A certain sect, the Ahl-al-Hadith, exaggerate with regard to Hadith. They even go to the extent of giving preference to Hadith over the Qur’an and established Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him). They in fact make no distinction between the established and mass-transmitted Sunnah and solitary reports of Hadith, which is a major error on their part. There is an obvious distinction between the Prophetic Sunnah, which has been preserved and passed down to us generation to generation through continuous practice, and solitary reports of Hadith whose authenticity needs to be carefully examined by qualified scholars who specialize in that particular field.
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi (d. 463 H), a classical Islamic scholar, has clarified this point:
ولا يقبل خبر الواحد في منافاة حكم العقل وحكم القرآن الثابت المحكم والسنة المعلومة
“A solitary report cannot be accepted if it negates the verdict of the intellect, verdict of the Qur’an, and that of the well-known Sunnah”
Reference: Al-Kifayah fee ‘Ilm al-Riwayah; p. 432
For example, the correct version of the Qur’an is that which has been mass-transmitted from generation to generation. However, there are certain solitary reports contained in the Hadith which identify an alternative reading of certain verses of the Qur’an. These are best understood as exegesis of the normative reading and not as an alternative reading. The danger, however, is that someone, without understanding the proper Islamic methodology and principles, might take those solitary reports containing alternative readings of the Qur’anic verses at face value and begin to recite the Qur’an like that, for example during the Salat.
Hence, a Muslim must approach the solitary reports of the Hadith which greater scrutiny and caution, and always give preference to the Qur’an and the established Sunnah mass-transmitted and passed down from generation to generation.
However, the reader should not understand from this that I am neglecting the importance of the Hadith. Even more dangerous than exaggerating the importance of Hadith, as the Ahl-al-Hadith do, is the tendency of the Hadith-rejecters, who so casually reject and even ridicule the Hadith corpus without fearing Allah.
The Hadith-rejecters are the most astray of the people who have been totally beguiled by Satan. There is no doubt in my mind that if they do not repent and return back to the Sunnah that they have been threatened with damnation to Hell. However, even the Hadith-rejecters are not a single category of people. They are divided into many different degrees of Hadith-rejection. The most extreme are those who promote the slogan of “Qur’an-only” and completely reject both Sunnah and Hadith altogether.
Then there are more moderate Hadith-rejecters who do not reject the Sunnah altogether, but reject most of the narrations of the Prophet (peace be upon him) that have come to us in various Hadith collections, such as Bukhari and Muslim. The reader should keep in mind that after the Holy Qur’an, the most authentic books are the collections of Bukhari and Muslim, known as the Sahihayn. However, even this is not an undisputed fact, as many scholars regard the Muwatta of Imam Malik as the most authentic collection of Hadith. Nevertheless, it is important to give due regard and consideration to the authentic canons of Hadith accepted by Ahlus Sunnah wal-Jama’ah, such as Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, Abi Dawud, Nasa’i, and Ibn Majah (known as the Sihhah al-Sitta). The Muwatta of Imam Malik and the Musnad of Imam Ahmad are also important collections which we regard highly and give due consideration to. Then there are the vast number of other collections of Hadith which are of secondary importance, such as the collections Daraqutuni, Darimi, Ibn Hibban, Mustadrak of al-Hakim, Ibn Khuzaymah, Musnad of Abi Ya’la, etc.
Now concerning the principle of Prophetic inerrancy, we mentioned in our previous entry that it is crucial to draw a distinction between the Prophet’s statements which are based on Wahi (divine revelation) and those who are based on his personal opinion.
However, in this entry I would like to clarify another point of this principle which is that the Prophet’s personal opinion can also be given regarding something that was revealed, and it is not always necessary that such opinions will be correct.
This is merely an extension of the principle we have already established and is not a new principle. That is because divine revelation is not synonymous with the understanding or interpretation of that divine revelation. Sometimes the Prophet (peace be upon him) understood or interpreted a Wahi (divine-revelation) through Wahi or Ilham (inspiration) itself. For example, the Prophet (peace be upon him) interpreted and explained the opening verses of the 62nd chapter of the Qur’an (Surah al-Jumu’ah) on the basis of inspiration, when he stated that those opening verses indicate some virtue for the ‘Ajams (non-Arabs) or the people of Salman the Persian.
However, at times the Prophet (peace be upon him) interpreted or understood a divine-revelation on the basis of his personal opinion, in which case he was not always correct. An example of this latter category is when the Prophet (peace be upon him) saw in a vision that he was migrating from Mecca to a land with an abundance of date-palm trees. He initially interpreted and understood this dream to mean that he would emigrate to either al-Yamamah or Hajar. However, it turned out that the place the Prophet had seen was actually Yathrib (Medina) to which he later migrated to some thirteen years after proclaiming Nubuwwah.
Another example is the Prophet’s premonition that he would enter Mecca and perform Tawaaf (circumnavigation) around the Ka’ba. In the year 628, the Prophet and his companions approached Mecca to fulfill this vision or premonition, and they had donned the ritual garments for Ihram and brought sacrificial animals. However, they were prevented from offering the pilgrimage that year, but the vision was fulfilled at a later date. From this we see that, although the divine-inspiration from Allah is undoubtedly true and was therefore fulfilled, nevertheless, the Prophet, being a human being, can err in his understanding of divine-revelations and visions if they are based on his personal opinion and not inspiration.
Yet another example is the Prophet’s understanding concerning the details of the Dajjal (antichrist). The Prophet (peace be upon him) suspected a certain Jewish soothsayer living in Medina named Ibn Sayyad to be the Dajjal, but never gave any definite verdict on the matter. When the Prophet’s companion and second successor ‘Umar b. al-Khattab requested the Prophet (peace be upon him) that he be given permission to kill Ibn Sayyad, the Prophet (peace be upon him) refused him, stating that if Ibn Sayyad was in fact the Dajjal no one would be able to slay him except the Messiah, and if he was not the Dajjal, ‘Umar would have killed a human being unjustly. This illustrates that the Prophet (peace be upon him) was unsure concerning the reality of Ibn Sayyad as he had obviously not received any definite Revelation or inspiration regarding him. In the Hadith of Tamim al-Dari, the Prophet (peace be upon him) is reported as first agreeing with Tamim al-Dari’s story that the Dajjal is imprisoned on a mysterious island. Then he stated that the Dajjal is in the Mediterranean Sea, then changed his stance and stated that the Dajjal is in the Arabian Sea, and then once again changed his stance and finally stated that the Dajjal will emerge from the east.
Again, this illustrates that the Prophet (peace be upon him) could change his previous stance based on his opinion or personal observation and amend it with a different position that was based on inspiration. There are numerous examples of this, which reinforces the point that one must approach the Hadith with utmost caution and a nuanced understanding.
To be continued (In Sha Allah).