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Review of "Authentication of Hadith – Redefining the Criteria" by


11 December 2014

Israr Ahmad Khan has a PhD in Theology from Aligarh Muslim University in India and is currently a professor in the Department of Qur’an and Sunnah Studies at International Islamic University Malaysia and has written several works in English on Islam.

In this book he takes a fresh look at the question of the authentication of Hadith which are oral accounts of the sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). 

As explained in "A Textbook of Hadith Studies: Authenticity, Compilation, Classification and Criticism of Hadith" by Mohammad Hashim Kamali, most of the effort on Hadith authentication has traditionally been spent on the chain of transmission (the isnad) with relatively little emphasis on considering the text of the Hadith. The author considers that greater attention needs to be given to the text of Hadith when considering their authenticity.

An overview of the book

The book is quite short and easy to read, being less than 200 pages, with just eight chapters after the Foreword and Introduction:

  1. Fabrication in prophetic traditions: causal factors and remedial measures
  2. The contribution of Muslim scholars to the authentication of Hadith
  3. The Quran and authentication of Hadith
  4. Authentication of Hadith through rationally authentic traditions
  5. Authentication of Hadith through sound reasoning
  6. Authentication of Hadith through established history
  7. Moderation in relation to authentication of Hadith
  8. Al Bukhari’s chapter on predetermination: an evaluation and interpretation

The comments below with brief extracts from the book are intended to give a general impression of the author’s approach.


The book begins with a short foreword written by the London office of the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) who are the publishers of the book. The following quote explains the need for the book:

“Although the misuse and abuse of Hadith is nothing new, in today’s complex and volatile world the consequences of relying on fraudulent and counterfeit Hadith to legitimise extremist behaviour, justify blatant abuse, particularly of women, and issue disturbing fatwas calling for violent acts, is not only far too easy but in fact very dangerous. In addition, given the widespread anti-Islamic sentiment currently dominating mainstream discourse, it is imperative that the issue of fabricated ahadith, extensively publicised and ruthlessly exploited to support the thesis of Islamic violence and backwardness, is addressed. It is consequently the responsibility of Muslim scholars well versed in the Islamic sciences, to root out with honesty and courage those ahadith which have clearly been fabricated, and which not only invite spurious interpretation but also perpetuate ignorance betraying both the Quran and the Prophet.

Any serious study of the content and scope of these traditions must necessarily start at the beginning, in this instance after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. The author traces in precise and careful detail the historical development of the oral and written traditions, as well as the many targeted attempts at fabrication that took place, critiquing in methodical detail certain ahadith which have come to be widely accepted as “authentic.” In any manner of dispute concerning the Hadith, the Quran must be the final arbiter. As such, notes the author, any hadith which seems to go against the Quran must be examined carefully and accurately, and if no interpretation to resolve the contradiction found, it is to be rejected. Further, as Muhammad was the Last Prophet sent to all mankind, interpretations of both the Quran and Hadith are not to be fixated in time, but rather to be carefully examined and reinterpreted to give practical guidance meeting the requirements and challenges of a new age, that is taking into account the time-space factor. It is here that the science of maqasid al-shariah, or the higher intents and purposes of Islamic law, comes into its own as the heart and philosophy of Islamic Law.

So, to answer the difficult question whether there is any real need for research into Hadith authentication we must realistically, and in the footsteps of Islam’s best scholastic tradition, answer yes.”


The author begins by pointing out that when it comes to Hadith Muslims fall into four categories:

  1. “Those who totally reject the relevance of Hadith in Islamic life.
  2. Those who fall blindly into accepting everything that appears to be a Hadith regardless of its authenticity.
  3. Those who make indiscriminate selection from Hadith for practical purposes.
  4. Those who believe in the sanctity of the Prophetic traditions but opt for an extremely careful approach with regard to their logical and practical relevance to Islamic life and civilisation.”

The author explains that he regards the fourth category as being “the most justly balanced between the extremes.” He rejects the first category as being contradictory to the injunction in the Quran to obey the Prophet. The second category is criticised particularly strongly:

“Opposed to those who totally deny the validity of Hadith are those whose love for it and the Sunnah is unconditional, being generally semi-literate Muslims who stand misguided and who consequently misguide many, blindly adhering to anything termed a Prophetic tradition regardless of the authenticity of the traditions reported in the sources. Furthermore, if a survey were to be conducted on Prophetic traditions very popular among Muslims today, the findings may be shocking, for in religious circles a great number of such traditions are being narrated, interpreted, and practised as if genuine when in reality they are little more than the remainders of fabricated Prophetic traditions. As such this is one of the main factors behind Muslim backwardness and decline in virtually every field of life including the religious and spiritual.”

The author is also highly critical of “people who select only those Quranic ayat [verses] and only those Prophetic traditions which benefit in one way or another their vested interests and covert agendas. The Quran refers to these Muslims as those in whose hearts is a disease, not sincere to Islam or its cause.”

The author lists the five criteria applied to the chain of narrators when assessing the authenticity of a Hadith:

  1. continuity in the chain of narrators
  2. integrity of character
  3. infallible retention
  4. freedom from any hidden defect
  5. safety from any aberrance

He points out that the last two criteria are also applicable to the examination of the text of a Hadith but that this is rarely done. He asks “is there any real need for Hadith authentication from a textual angle” and responds “The answer to this question is both a difficult and an easy one. Difficult because today’s Hadith scholars lack the courage required to answer it, and easy because reasons justifying the examination of Hadith text are numerous.” He proceeds to list 10 reasons which are elaborated upon in the book:

  1. Controversy over the position [reliability] of a particular narrator
  2. Inability of some narrators to maintain the preciseness of the report
  3. Textual conflicts among reports [elaborated below]
  4. ‘Delusion’of reliable narrators
  5. Practical correction of narrations
  6. Identifying the contemporary relevance of Hadith
  7. Understanding the methodological dimension of Hadith
  8. Probability of fabrication in Hadith text
  9. Fiqhi [legal] controversy among fuqaha [jurists]
  10. Sanctity of Hadith

3. Textual conflict among reports

The author reminds us how often Hadith conflict.

“Whether we examine al Bukhari’s compilation of Hadith or Muslim’s there are several instances where certain reports concerning the same matter vary from each other, not only in words but also in meaning. It is generally suggested that such differences in reporting are not due to error on the part of narrators but because the Prophet himself made the statements differently on different occasions. This principle may be true in some cases but is not relevant everywhere. For example, in his chapter on al-Musaqat (sharecropping) Muslim has recorded fifteen traditions on the spiritual loss that the domestication of dogs may bring, seven on the authority of Abd Allah ibn Umar and the remaining eight on the authority of Abu Hurayrah (Muslim: 3999-4013). Out of seven report narrated on the authority of Ibn Umar five traditions inform us of the daily deduction of two carats (Qiratan) from the deeds of one who keeps a dog as a pet without any genuine purpose, but two of them refer to the deduction of only one single carat (Qirat). Out of eight reports narrated on the authority of Abu Hurayrah only one mentions the deduction of two carats of good deeds, whereas the remaining seven put the deduction to only one carat. How is one to resolve the discrepancy and is there any way to make a compromise between them?”

History of this research

As part of the introduction the author explains how he came to write this book.

“Like any concerned Muslim, I felt uncomfortable with the idea of an apparent conflict existing between various texts of Prophetic traditions recorded as ostensibly genuine. On discussing the issue of textual disparity with several scholars I met with one of two reactions, either discouragement from pursuing debate on Hadith further or encouragement to continue discourse. Despite some heated discussions and opposition I persevered and continued deliberation upon traditions recorded in al-Bukhari and Muslim, reading Hadith commentaries of these two works, and also particularly the works of al-Nawawi, al-Ayni, and Ibn Hajar. It seemed to me that the Hadith commentators had not used any well-established and universally defined principles of Hadith commentary, and that they had not been justly balanced in their approach to Hadith, placing main focus on the chain of narrators, and not on the text of the traditions.

As I felt somewhat dissatisfied with the interpretations made by the great scholars I began more serious research on the authenticity of Hadith from the point of view of its text.

I applied to the International Islamic University Malaysia, obtain sponsorship and ultimately produced a study entitled “Authentication of Hadith: Redefining the Criteria” copies of which were sent to several scholars including hadith scholars and experts in Islamic law, seeking their comments, observations, and suggestions. The general observations were encouraging and I submitted a small portion of the research to a highly recognised international refereed journal in America, where it was published, after which I decided to have it published as a book, culminating in this work. In order to do this I have had to include two new chapters not originally part of the research.”

The author states that translations of Quranic ayat have been primarily taken from the translations of Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Muhammad Asad, and Muhammad Muhsin Khan. I was particularly pleased to see him write “with a general preference given to the translation of Muhammad Asad which I believe is based on the concept of thematic unity in the Quran.” The reason is that, as mentioned in my page on Quran translations, Muhammad Asad’s is the translation I generally prefer for detailed study of the Quran.

The author also includes in this introduction an explanation why chapter eight stands alone.

The significance of chapter eight – Al-Bukhari’s chapter on predestination / predetermination

“It may appear to readers that chapter eight is not connected to the theme of this book, and that the traditions discussed could easily be more appropriately rearranged under chapters three, four, five, six and seven where the respective criteria have been applied to ascertain the authenticity of prophetic traditions. However, the twenty-seven traditions of al-Bukhari’s Kitab al Qadar (chapter on predetermination / predestination) cannot be easily evaluated under certain particular criteria only. They further needed to be treated separately, practically because these traditions need analysis from several angles and therefore cannot be scattered in various chapters, and psychologically because of the nature of Kitab al-Qadar’s subject matter and its deep impact on Muslims’ psyche.”

Fabrication in prophetic traditions: causal factors and remedial measures

The author reminds us just how much of an industry there was in the fabrication of Hadith and enumerates eight particular causal factors which are elaborated upon in the text:

  1. Political movements
  2. Inimical missions against Islam and Muslims [by heretics and hypocrites]
  3. Corroboration of particular schools of thought
  4. Jurisprudential rivalry
  5. Commercial propaganda
  6. Ambition to earn a livelihood and acquire fame
  7. Overenthusiasm in the “service” of Islam
  8. Avarice for state patronage

The author then proceeds to explain how Muslim scholars went about identifying fabricated traditions and the work done to document the chains of transmission, and to assess the authenticity of the narrators. This included the assembly of biographical dictionaries of Hadith narrators so that one could know whether two purported narrators could actually have met and whether they were reliable people.

I would summarise the approach used as follows. Assume we have the following:

Hadith collector [say Bukhari] << A << B << C << D << E << The Prophet

In the above illustration, Bukhari meets individual A who recounts a Hadith, explaining that he received this Hadith from individual B who received it from individual C who received it from individual D who received it from individual E who directly heard the Prophet say those words.

The Hadith scholars would assess whether each of individuals A, B, C, and D could actually have met the respective person from whom the Hadith is alleged to have been received, and similarly whether individual E could have met the Prophet at a time when individual E was sufficiently mature to hear, understand and remember the alleged Hadith. Furthermore, the character and integrity of individuals A - E would be considered and people who were bad Muslims, known liars or persons known to have faulty memories would be regarded as unreliable transmitters. However if all of the appropriate criteria were satisfied, the Hadith would be accepted.

In my view this places particularly heavy reliance upon the integrity of individual A since he is the only person from whom Bukhari received the alleged Hadith.

It is possible that A may have fabricated the Hadith in which case he would of course fabricate the chain B << C << D << E << Prophet. A clumsy fabricator may trip up by naming individuals whose lives or geographical locations did not overlap but a fabricator with good knowledge of history would be impossible to detect purely by relying upon analysis of the stated chain of transmission.

The contribution of Muslim scholars to the authentication of Hadith

The author begins by explaining in more detail how the chain of transmission is evaluated and gives further background on the two most important Hadith collectors, al-Bukhari and Muslim. He then goes on to discuss the authentication of Hadith from a textual perspective.

“It cannot be claimed in any manner possible that al-Bukhari and Muslim, and other Hadith authorities, ever examined the texts of ahadith [plural of Hadith] against certain universally established criteria. Convinced that establishing the authenticity of a hadith’s chain of narrators insured authenticity of its text, their major focus was therefore squarely on authentication of Hadith through a rigorous examination of the chain of narrators. Even when Hadith works have been criticised, particularly those believed authentic, this has been carried out from the perspective and analysis of the chain only. This is not to say that scholars of Ulum al-Hadith [the study of Hadith] have paid no attention to content. References to problems contained in the texts of some of the traditions recorded in authentic Hadith works, including al-Bukhari and Muslim, have been made in places. Yet a truly serious attempt is largely absent.”

The author goes on to discuss three scholars who have, to varying extents, taken the text of Hadith into account when considering authenticity. He gives particularly extensive coverage to the work “Maqayis Naqd Mutun al-Sunnah” by al-Dumayni and says “Misfir Gurm Allah al-Dumayni is the first scholar to have written a comprehensive book on the importance of Hadith analysis from a textual perspective. His work was originally a doctorate thesis submitted to and approved by Umm al-Qura University, Makkah.” The book appears to be contemporary, published in 1403 AH. The author briefly outlines the three chapters of al-Dumayni’s book with examples of specific Hadith:

  1. Criteria of textual examination of the Sunnah by the companions
  2. Criteria of textual examination of the Sunnah by Hadith scholars
  3. Criteria of textual examination of the Sunnah by jurists

The Quran and authentication of Hadith

The author is unambiguous about the relationship between Quran and Hadith.

“Muslim scholars are almost unanimous concerning the position of the Quran in relation to the Hadith. According to them, in a situation of uncompromising conflict between a tradition recorded in the name of the Prophet and the Quran, the tradition is to be rejected as unacceptable.

The Quran therefore is a God-given criterion, which spells out what is right and what is wrong, distinguishing truth from falsehood. It states that Allah revealed to the Prophet two things, the Quran and its bayan (interpretation): “thus, when we recite it, following its wording: and then, behold, its bayan [interpretation] will be upon us” (Quran 75:18 – 19).

Undoubtedly the role of the Hadith and the Sunnah is to serve as the interpretation of the Quran. Thus as the Prophet's utterances and practices symbolise the bayan, both the Quran and bayan should complement each other. There should be perfect harmony between the two. If any component of the bayan i.e. Hadith contrasts with the Quran, the tradition attributed to the Prophet may be forthrightly rejected as unacceptable. The book of Allah exists not only to serve as a guide but also as a mediator in a situation of dispute.”

The author goes on to give a number of examples of how the Prophet's wife Aishah always made it clear by referring to the Quran that the Prophet would not have said anything that went against the Quran. The author also mentions how a number of other scholars have dealt with this point. Some are listed below.

Abd Allah ibn Abbas’s Perspective

“A statement of the Prophet purporting to put a ban on the meat of domestic donkeys was reported. Abd Allah ibn Abbas rejected the authenticity of the report on the basis of the Quranic ayah: “say: I find not in the message revealed to me any meat forbidden for one who wishes to eat it, unless it be dead meat, or blood poured forth. Or the flesh of swine – for it is an abomination – or what is impious on which a name other than Allah has been invoked” (6:145)”

Abu Hanifah’s Comment

Nu’man ibn Thabit Abu Hanifah remarked in his treatise al-Alim wa al-Muta’allim that one must believe that the Prophet never said anything unjust, or ever uttered, or did anything, that went against the Quran. In his opinion any tradition in the name of the Prophet which clashed with the Quran was to be rejected as false. Clarifying this further he emphasised that by rejection of a tradition he did not mean the rejection of the Prophet’s statement but rather one or other of the narrator’s lie attributed to the Prophet.

Al-Sahfi’i’s Observation

Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi’i observed in his masterpiece, al-Umm that if a Hadith contrasted with the Quran, it could not be accepted as having legitimately come from the Prophet, even if its transmitters were authentic. In fact he quotes a Hadith of the Prophet himself to support this position: “Hadith will, indeed, spread far and wide in my name; whatever thereof is in conformity with the Quran is genuinely mine; and whatever thereof clashes with the Quran is certainly not from me.”

The author goes on to give a number of specific examples of Hadith which conflict with the Quran and which therefore must be rejected.

Lies attributed to Prophet Ibrahim

“Al-Bukhari, Muslim and others have recorded a Hadith on the authority of Abu Hurayrah which mentioned that “the Prophet said: ‘Ibrahim never spoke lies except three lies.’

This tradition comprises an allegation against Prophet Ibrahim whereas the Quran exonerates him of these kinds of allegations saying “and call to mind, through this divine writ, Ibrahim. Behold, he was a man of truth, a prophet” (19:41). The Quran describes Prophet Ibrahim as a paragon of truth (siddiq), whereas the Hadith quotes some exceptions to this quality.

If this Hadith is considered authentic, then the Quranic statement proves meaningless. If the sanctity of the Quran is maintained, then the tradition will have to be classified as unreliable.”

The author goes on to mention a number of commentators on Bukhari who attempt to maintain the authenticity of the tradition and their reluctance to reject the tradition as unreliable despite its clear contradiction with the Quran. He also mentions other commentators who do reject the authenticity of the tradition.

Predetermination of human destiny

“In their works on Hadith, al-Bukhari, Muslim and others have included a chapter on predestination (Kitab al-Qadar). [Discussed in detail in the author's chapter eight.] All the reports recorded therein conform to the idea that everything in life is predetermined. The first Hadith quoted in these sources is on the authority of Abd Allah ibn Masud. According to this tradition the Prophet said:

“Verily, the first structural form of everyone of you is gathered in his mother’s womb for forty days, then it turns into a clot of blood (alaqah) and remains like this for the same period, then it turns into a lump of flesh (mudghah) and remains like this for the same period whereupon the angel is sent who breathes into it life, and is commanded to write its sustenance (rizq), life-span (ajal), whole life activities (amal) and its end either as a condemned one (shaqiyy) or as a rewarded one (sa’id). By the One except whom there is no deity but He! One of you indeed performs the deeds of the people deserving Paradise until there is almost no distance between him and Paradise, he is then overtaken by destiny (al-kitab); he consequently does the deeds of those to be condemned to Hell, and he enters it. And one of you performs the deeds of the condemned until there is very little distance between him and Hell, he is then overtaken by destiny and he starts doing good deeds, as a result of which he enters Paradise.

According to this tradition, man is not free to think, choose and act, but bound only to do that which has already been fixed by the Creator. This concept of predetermination stands in stark contrast to the “theory of examination” mentioned in the Quran. On around twenty-two occasions, the Quran reiterates the fact that man is being tested in various ways. For example:

Behold, we have willed that all beauty on earth be a means by which We put men to a test, to see as to which of them are best in conduct. (18:7)

He who created death and life, that He might test you, as to which of you is best in deed. (67:2)

The author concludes:

“Most of the traditions recorded by al-Bukhari and Muslim in their Kitab al-Qadar may not withstand any Quranic scrutiny in light of its theory on man’s malleability and his existence on earth being an examination. In fact, what the above tradition declares and what the Quran explains are poles apart, and there may hardly be any way to affect a compromise between them. This is why only one of them can be accepted as right. Naturally, the judgement will go in favour of the Quran.”

Coercion in conversion to Islam

The author begins by looking at a specificHadith.

“Al-Bukhari, Muslim and others have recorded this Hadith on the authority of Umar, Ibn Umar and Abu Hurayrah etc: “The Prophet said: ‘I have been commanded to wage war (qital) against mankind (al-nas) until they acknowledge (shahadah) that there is no deity but Allah; one who professes it (la ilaha illa Allah), his life and property are safe from me, except for the sake of justice, and his reckoning is with Allah’.”

He writes of the Hadith:

“The tradition as quoted declares in an unambiguous manner that the Prophet was bound to fight people to force them to accept Islam, and in the case of people's rejection of the new faith to wage war against them until they totally submitted to Allah. Al-Samani (d.489 AH) views in this tradition, among other things, an obligation to engage in war against the non-believers. He has rightly understood the import of the Hadith. What is absolutely clear is that the Hadith stands in marked contrast to certain Quranic injunctions:

There shall be no coercion in matters of faith. Distinct has now become the right way from [the way of] error. (2:256)

If they turn away, we have not sent you as a guard over them: you are not bound to do more than deliver the message. (42:48)

And so, [O Prophet,] exhort them; your task is only to exhort: you cannot compel them [to believe]. (88:21 – 22)

These ayat obviously prohibit the use of force in conversion to Islam. All Islamic jurists hold the position that forcible conversion is, under all circumstances, null and void, and that any attempt to coerce a non-believer to accept Islam is a grievous sin: a verdict, which disposes of the widespread fallacy that Islam places before the unbelievers the close-ended choice of either “conversion or the sword.” This verdict of Muslim scholars is without doubt based on the Quranic precepts mentioned above."

Transfer to Jews and Christians the sins of Muslims

“Only Muslim has recorded on the authority of Abu Musa al-Ashari the following three traditions all on the same theme:

  1. The Prophet said: ‘on the day of judgement Allah will present to every Muslim, a Jew or a Christian, and say: this is your ransom.’
  2. The Prophet said: ‘no Muslim dies but Allah consigns a Jew or a Christian to hell in his place.’
  3. The Prophet said: ‘on the day of judgement many Muslims will appear [carrying] the burden of sins as [big as] mountains. Allah will forgive them for their sins, which he will place on Jews and Christians.’”

The author points out that the commentator on Muslim, Al-Nawawi, “seems unable to advance any rationale for these traditions and therefore unsuccessfully tries to interpret them in a bid to maintain their sanctity.” However he goes on to reject this. “Al-Nawawi’s arguments can hardly stand up to scrutiny.” He concludes:

“These three ahadith as recorded by Muslim alone, are in gross contrast with the Quran: “and whatever any human being commits rests upon himself alone; and no bearer of burdens shall be made to bear another’s burden” (6:164).

The Quran rejects the idea of the transfer of one’s sin onto others, whereas the traditions spell out a completely different message. Al-Nawawi does feel very strongly about this contradiction but suggests that we interpret the traditions so as to remove the conflict. As shown earlier, his attempt to effect a compromise between the two apparently contradictory ideas fails entirely, making it crystal clear that there exists an uncompromising conflict between what the Quran states and what the traditions convey.”

Authentication of Hadith through rationally authentic traditions

The author points out that:

The Prophet carried out his mission for a period of over two decades before its eventual accomplishment. During this time he explained the Quran, taught how to translate Allah’s commands into day-to-day practical life, guided his followers in everything, made judgements in disputed cases, admonished people for wrongdoing, counselled them in their problems, and patterned their life along Islamic principles (62:2). All these constitute an Islamic legacy that was meant to continue, leading people in general and believers in particular, throughout every age, time and place. Although adhered to, it was also unfortunately betrayed by those who sought to gain for themselves many known and unknown advantages. Consequently, people’s own desires and whims began to circulate in the name of the Prophet.

In this situation well-known Sunnah and Hadith, as well as the Quran, could be used to determine the nature of other traditions supposedly related by the Prophet. The Prophet had said: "if an act done by someone is not approved by us, it is to be rejected as unacceptable.” It seems fairly obvious that this advice indicates reference to a criterion for accepting or rejecting a tradition as Hadith. In other words, what is in conformity with the known traditions of the Prophet is to be accepted as an authentic report; and what appears in stark contrast with highly authentic Sunnah and Hadith is to be rejected as non-hadith.”

The author goes on to give a number of examples where leading Muslims from the early generations rejected purported traditions because they contradicted other more reliable traditions. For example:

“Muslim and others, for example, have recorded a Hadith on the authority of Abu Dharr and Abu Hurayrah which states that “the Prophet said: ‘the woman, the donkey, and the dog break the salah’. When this tradition was mentioned to Aishah she reacted sharply by saying: “you have likened us [women] to donkeys and dogs. By God, I used to lie in front of the Prophet while he was praying.”

Authentication of Hadith through sound reasoning

The author reminds us of the importance of sound reasoning in religion, and how this is more than mere intellectual ability.

“A mind that is not governed by Islamic faith, knowledge, wisdom, and sincerity towards Allah and the last Prophet is immediately to be disqualified for the purpose, and indeed any form of prejudice cannot be accepted as a criterion. For instance, someone harbouring an antagonistic approach to the Quran or the Sunnah cannot be expected to do justice to their elucidation, despite any intellectual ability. This is precisely why the criteria of reason cannot be defined as simple intellectual capacity but is more comprehensive. It requires a ‘sound mind’ or ‘sound reason’, defined as the ability to speculate governed by Islamic principles of God-consciousness (al-taqwa), justice (al-adl), honesty (al-amanah), truthfulness (al-sidq), moderation (al-wasat), and sincerity (al-ikhlas).”

He goes on to discuss 11 traditions which have been recorded in the books of Hadith which he regards as unreliable once subjected to review by sound reasoning.

  1. Breastfeeding of an adult male (recorded by Muslim)
  2. The self-indictment of four prophets on the Day of Judgement (recorded by al-Bukhari and Muslim)
  3. Moses running naked in public (recorded by al-Bukhari and Muslim)
  4. The Prophet's supposed order to kill an innocent man (recorded by Muslim)
  5. The Prophet’s wish to burn people due to their not joining the salah (recorded by al Bukhari and Muslim)
  6. An unrelated woman delousing the Prophet’s head (recorded by al Bukhari and Muslim)
  7. Encouraging a man to commit more and more sins (recorded by Muslim)
  8. The last Friday sermon of the second Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab (recorded by al-Bukhari and Muslim)
  9. The intellectual and religious deficiency of women (recorded by al-Bukhari and Muslim)
  10. Aishah’s trickery on the Prophet (recorded by al-Bukhari and Muslim)
  11. The burning of the ants' nest by a previous prophet (recorded by Muslim)

The author concludes:

“To conclude, eleven ahadith have been read and checked manually in this chapter, employing the light of human reason. Given the issues raised and the force of logic brought to bear, it would be hard for anyone to digest and accept them, albeit recorded by great Hadith scholars, as authentic. As the maxim goes, “the face is the index of mind,” so in this case, the text of a hadith indicates is nature, that is whether it is acceptable. As explained in the beginning of the chapter, human reason is not meant to signify mental power free from all bounds. Having said this however, if the Quran declares time and again that human reason is a reliable criterion to judge the truth from the false, then scholars and students from any background should use their reason to discover the truth in Hadith literature.”

Authentication of Hadith through established history

The author points out that the study of history is essential and one of its primary purposes is educative, to help humanity avoid repeating the mistakes of the past and draw inspiration from mankind’s best achievements. In the introduction to this chapter he states:

“In order to authenticate a historical report concerning an event, the established historical account on the matter concerned is to be checked. In case of similarity in both the descriptions reported and the historical event, the report is to be declared as reliable. If there is a clash between the reported event and the well-known historical account, the reported event is to be rejected as unacceptable.

Hadith literature contains many historical accounts including subject matter that in one way or another often deals with history. Reports, at times, corroborate history and at times, contradict it. In a situation where a report contradicts established history, the tradition, regardless of its authenticity in terms of the chain, is to be considered dubious if not declared fabricated.”

The author gives a number of examples which I have quoted just one.

The First to die after the Prophet, Sawdah or Zaynab?

The author quotes a Hadith from Al-Bukhari on the authority of Aishah as follows:

“Some of the Prophet’s wives asked him as to which of them would be the first to die after his death. The Prophet answered: “the one with the longest hand.” They, then, measured their hands and found Sawdah to have the longest hand. She was the 1st to die after the death of the Prophet. When she died, they realised that the meaning of the longest hand was the one most generous in charity, as she loved charity work very much.”

The author goes on to say:

“This report claims that Sawdah was the first to die after the Prophet’s death. However, according to established history, Sawdah died in 54 AH, and it was Zaynab bint Jahsh who died before her in 20 AH. This is why the report is defective. Muslim records another tradition on the authority of Aishah, according to which it was Zaynab bint Jahsh who was the most generous among the Prophet’s wives and it was she who died first after the death of the Prophet. Ibn Hajar, after a long discussion on al-Bukhari’s report, concludes that a reporter made a mistake in transmission. Al-Nawawi declares al-Bukhari’s report to be false.”

Moderation in relation to authentication of Hadith

The author points out that Islam was revealed as a balanced way of life, which tends to prefer that which is moderate and reject or dislike that which is immoderate. He goes on to give examples of how the Prophet overruled some of his followers who wished to take their religious practice to extremes, for example byavoiding marriage and requesting permission to castrate themselves, which the Prophet refused to permit.

He goes on to give examples of a number of Hadith which promise excessive rewards, for example for supererogatory prayers or Hadith wich promise excessive reward or punishment for negligible good acts and insignificant evil acts. He points out that Hadith scholars have declared these traditions to be fabricated and adds “however, one need not examine their chains to determine this, for the examination of text alone is indicative enough of this. According to Ibn Al-Qayyim reports consisting of exaggeration in reward and punishment are evidently unreliable.”

He gives similar examples of traditions which denounce rich people and traditions which condemn certain sections of the Muslim community disproportionately or which disapprove of certain individuals. From his discussion it appears that most of these traditions in any event have defective chains of narrators but the author points out emphatically that the text of the traditions itself is sufficient to make it clear that they are lies attributed to the Prophet.

Al-Bukhari’s chapter on predetermination: an evaluation and interpretation

This chapter of the book is devoted to a detailed review of 27 traditions. It begins:

“One of the most widely respected Hadith scholars in Muslim history, and perhaps the most famous, is al-Bukhari. His al-Jami al-Sahih also commonly known as Sahih al-Bukhari is widely considered by many to be the most authentic book after the Quran. So esteemed is the text in fact, that its contents are generally held to be unquestionable. Al-Jami al-Sahih has exerted great influence on the Muslim mind, and the work is widely read and referred to throughout the Muslim world as a source of Islamic law.

Al-Jami al-Sahih contains a chapter on predestination entitled Kitab al-Qadar (book of predestination) consisting of twenty-seven traditions relating to the concept of a fore-written destiny for man; the evident message for believers is that human life, in all its detail, including man’s final destination, has been predetermined, even before a person's coming into the world. The great significance that these traditions have for Muslim understanding of human responsibility cannot be underestimated, and seen in this context the chapter and traditions contained therein need careful examination.

Debate over a fore-written destiny has existed in the Muslim world since the first Islamic century. The main arguments advanced in favour of the theory are based on certain Quranic ayat as well as certain traditions, particularly those recorded by al-Bukhari in Kitab al-Qadar. As emphasised in previous chapters, and according to the general approach of muhaddithun, the authenticity of traditions is heavily dependent on authenticity of reporters. Al-Bukhari is believed to have been scrupulous in ascertaining the reliability of the sanad of his selected traditions leaving no gap. According to this criteria, the traditions mentioned in Kitab al-Qadar are conceivably sound. However from the standpoint of textual content (matn) there may be some cause for questioning. Many scholars have tried to interpret these traditions in one way or another and these interpretations are available in well-known commentaries on Sahih al-Bukhari. This chapter is a humble attempt to critically review these interpretations and advance a new interpretation of most of the twenty-seven traditions contained in the chapter Kitab al-Qadar. All the traditions that will be cited are authentic in terms of their chain of narrators (sanad). This reinterpretation is based on a so far untouched methodology that is not applied by Hadith commentators. The objective of the exercise is to reassert the validity of ahadith in Muslim life on the one hand, and to identify probable errors in the text of reports, on the other.”

The author then lists well-known commentators on al-Bukhari's work including al-Tibi, al-Kirmani, Ibn Hajar, al-Ayni (d.855 AH), al-Qastalani (d.923 AH), al-Sindi (d.1138 AH), and Hamzah Muhammad Qasim. He goes on to discuss how these commentators have grappled with the meaning of these 27 traditions, stating that the methodologies followed by all of them are very similar:

"First, the commentator examines the chain of narrators (sanad) in a bid to prove the reliability or unreliability of reports. Second, the message contained in the tradition is highlighted or further elaborated upon in light of well-known scholars’ views. Third, the commentator spends time to identify reports from other sources with a view to developing a complete picture of the tradition in view. Fourth, the commentator, at times, describes the background of a particular hadith. Fifth, the scholar at times advances his own view either favouring or rejecting the views of others. Every so often the commentator seems to lose the objectivity required for examination, and which is consequent upon the methodology mentioned."

The chapter precedes to deal with each of these 27 Hadith, one by one. The author's goal is obviously to see if they can be read in a manner consistent with the teachings of Islam. The first of these is quoted as follows:

“Abd Allah Ibn Masud quotes the Prophet as having said:

[as regards your creation], verily, everyone of you is gathered in the womb of his mother for forty days, then in the form of alaqah [leech] for the same period, and thereafter in the form of mudghah [chewed lump] for the same period. Then Allah sends an angel to write four words: He writes his deeds, time of his death, means of his livelihood, and whether he will be wretched or blessed [in religion]. Then the soul is breathed into his body. So a man may do deeds characteristic of the people of the [Hell] Fire, so much so that there is only the distance of a cubit between him and Hell, and then what has been written [by the angel] surpasses, and so he starts doing deeds characteristic of the people of Paradise and enters Paradise. Similarly, a person may do deeds characteristic of the people of Paradise, so much so that there is only the distance of a cubit between him and it, and then what has been written (by the angel) surpasses, and he starts doing deeds of the people of the (Hell) Fire and enters the (Hell) Fire.”

While discussing the above tradition, the author  writes:

“While interpreting al-Bukhari’s report, neither al-Tibi, nor Ibn Hajar, nor al-Ayni, nor al-Qastalani discuss the implications of its message on one’s faith. In all likelihood they probably avoided saying anything on the matter because they asserted their view in their respective introductory notes to their commentary of al-Bukhari’s kitab al-qadar. They have emphatically declared that neither the Jabarites nor Qadarites are right in their belief; and that only the stand of Ahl al-Sunnah is correct. Jabarites see man’s life as absolutely predetermined. They claim that man enjoys no freedom at all; what he does is preordained. Qadarites attribute to man freedom of thought, choice and action and do not agree with the idea of a fore-written destiny. Ahl al Sunnah find themselves treading the middle path, avoiding both extremes. They insist that there does exist a fore-written destiny but this does not adversely affect man’s freedom to choose and act. It is not proper to be engaged here in the discussion as to which group holds the most valid attitude.

It is undeniable that al-Bukhari’s report goes against both ahl al-Sunnah and Qadarite opinion, but gives support to those with a fatalistic attitude towards life. Some might suggest the total rejection of the report on the one hand (based on it being replete with internal defects), and designating it as strange (shadhdh) on the other because of other more authentic versions. This is not reasonable. It seems appropriate to identify the errors contained in the report and rectify them in accordance with other available versions. A careful scrutiny may help scholars to recast the report, which may resemble something like the following possible version:”

The author goes on to offer a rewording of the tradition, albeit when I read the author's rewording it does not strike me as particularly different to the original text quoted above. The atuhor then proceeds to discuss its interpretation. In commenting on this Hadith, the author ignores the fact that he has already discussed the Hadith earlier in this book, in the chapter "The Quran and authentication of Hadith". His conclusion in that chapter is much more robust than his conclusion on the same Hadith in this chapter on predestination.

In the remainder of the chapter the author works through the other 26 traditions in Bukhari’s chapter. This last chapter of the book is discussing some difficult religious issues and merits close reading.

Concluding comments

From an Islamic perspective, it is difficult to exaggerate the significance of the authentication of Hadith. If fabrications are accepted as authentic guidance from the Prophet, it is easy for Muslims to be led astray. Equally serious is the risk of rejecting genuine traditions of the Prophet in which case one loses the opportunity to benefit from the Prophet’s teachings.

Against this background, I welcome the author pointing out to readers the importance of critically considering the text of traditions when assessing their authenticity, alongside the traditional emphasis given to the chain of transmission.

The book is very readable. I recommend it to everyone interested in Islam.

Kindle edition above


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