The function of the intellect should never be by-passed, nor should things that are not compliant with reason and logic be incorporated and dressed in the garb of holiness and infallibility. We should never deal with the hadiths of the Prophet, even those deemed sahih (‘authentic’), nor traditional religious interpretations, from a starting point of absolute submission. 


THIS IS ESPECIALLY so since the first systematic attempt at evaluation (within the limits of the circumstances and tools of that era) in al-Bukhari’s work[1] did not appear until nearly two hundred years after the death of the Messenger Muhammad, and under the conditions of the era of the Caliph al-Mutawakkil, who championed the group of traditional interpretation at the expense of those supporting the employment of reason and logic whom he persecuted. 

Or as Malik bin Anas put it, whoever makes any innovation in the religion thinking that this is a good thing, has claimed that Muhammad has betrayed the Message, since God Almighty said: 

This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favour unto you, and have chosen for you as religion al-Islam.[2]

Similarly, what is attributed to Ibrahim al-Dasuqi and Abi Yazid Al-Bistami al-Sufi, that one can now “close the gates of Hell with his patches” (his worn-out garment), with all its implications for the abolition of reason, for stagnation, for avoiding renewal and looking suspiciously upon, and expiating, everyone who brings up something that is not mentioned in the text of the Qur’an, is unacceptably imposing things upon the Qur’an which are not there. 

For if we look at the spirit of the Qur’an, the Bible, and the Torah, not only at their texts letter by letter, we find in it a call to independent legal reasoning (ijtihad) and works that achieve what acts to the good and what is beneficial, in step with the requirements of every era, wherever the interest (real and explicit) may be located for the common people and for society as a whole, not for the elite or the few. God’s law and his will is for freedom, justice and peace.

The Imam, the scholar Abu al-Ala Ibn Al-Nafis, says in the introduction to his book Al-Mukhtasar fi Usul Ilm al-Hadith al-Nabawi:

Whenever we hear something that runs counter to what we have known, let us not hasten to dismiss it, for that would be reckless. Many a strange thing is true, and many a familiar, praised thing turns out to be mendacious. That which is true is true in itself, not because people say so. In every field of endeavour, what comes later is invariably an improvement on what came before.

Muhammad ‘Abduh, the imam of renewal and development, said after he had returned from the West, “I found there Islam without Muslims, and here I found Muslims but no Islam.” He also said that “all that the Muslims are being reproached for is not actually Islam, but something else that they are calling ‘Islam’”. One cannot, for instance, accept what ‘Abd al-Wahhab al-Sha‘rani said, that “a man may not attain unto the ranks of the siddiqin[3] until he leaves his wife as a widow and his children as orphans, and takes shelter in a kennel”. This cannot be considered part of Islam even if though was issued by a man classified in his day as a distinguished jurist and scholar.

Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali rejected philosophy and criticized it for adopting logic and reason. He wrote his work The Incoherence of the Philosophers in order to devalue philosophy and any perceptions or and rational interpretations of phenomena, or those things considered to be ‘hidden’. For the very fact of the words and acts of the most illustrious Muslim thinkers such as Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali and others who legitimised the suppression of the intellect or legitimised dictatorship, tyranny and oppression it is not possible, or reasonable, to grant these a monopoly on the truth of Islam and what it demands, and pass over the individual ijtihad of scholars such as Ibn Rushd who rebutted Al-Ghazali in his book The Incoherence of the Incoherence and who asserted that that God granted us the faculty of reason and therefore could not have given us laws that acted contrary to reason, but rather that God demonstrates his will through reason.

As for those who take advantage of the hadiths attributed to the Messenger Muhammad as a reference and entry point for their attack on Islam and Muslims, by holding to a number of hadiths that establish and institutionalise a collective Islamic mindset that hates women and supports the culture of slaves and enslaving others and rejecting reason – it is not necessary to rely on their interpretations of the faith.

Because, in the end, these are purely interpretations by humans, not angels, capable of truth or error subject to whims and the pressure of circumstances and conditions that the author of the interpretation may have lived through, and relied on strange or fabricated hadiths. Likewise, it is not obligatory to rely on hadiths attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, even if these be marked ‘authentic’ in formulating final, definitive rulings on religion or specific beliefs concerning the validity or falsity of this or that faith. For the hadiths of the Prophet may be divided into three types:[4]

1- Mutawatir Hadiths, ‘’hadiths without interruption’, those narrated directly from the Prophet during the eras of the Companions, the Followers, and the Followers of the Followers,[5] a group whose collusion and agreement upon a falsity is generally excluded. Examples of these hadiths are the practical hadiths such as prayer, which is not mentioned in the Qur’an but comes from a quote from the Prophet who said: “Pray as you have seen me pray” and so on. The same goes for the Hajj and the Umra (rituals known in the pre-Islamic era in the special glorification of Allah and the declaration that He has no partner). Such rituals were derived from the Prophet who said: “Take your rituals from me.”[6]

As for oral hadiths, the jurists were unable to agree on the mutawatir status of these, some holding that there was one hadith whose mutawatir status was proven which is the one that runs: ‘Whoever tells a lie about me deliberately, let him take his seat in the fire of Hell.’[7]

Mutawatir Sunnas are considered as definitely derived from the Prophet, and consequently are adopted in matters of doctrine since their mutawatir status indicates certainty.

Hadith that are mutawatir in their ‘transmission and recording in written form’ – at a time following the eras of the Companions, the Followers and the Followers of the Followers – do not constitute mutawatir hadith because their transmission through these three eras which form the mainstay of narration was not itself mutawatir, and therefore the validity and authenticity of such hadith is not taken as definitive.[8]

2- As for the ‘well-known’ or extensive hadiths, these are hadiths that were narrated on the authority of the Prophet by a Companion or a number of narrators, but not enough narrators to constitute the status of mutawatir at that time, and which only later, in the era of the Followers and the Followers of the Followers, attained the requisite minimum number.

An example of these hadith is that narrated by ‘Umar ‘Abd al-Khattab on the authority of the Prophet, who said: “Actions are to be judged only by intentions and a man will have only what he intended”[9] and the hadith, “Islam is based on five things: the testimony that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is His servant and messenger, the observance of the prayer, the payment of zakat, the Pilgrimage, and the fast during Ramadan.”[10]

The difference between mutawatir hadiths and ‘well-known’ hadiths is that the mutawatir hadiths were narrated by a plurality during the first three eras (the age of the Companions, the era of the Followers, and the era of the Followers of the Followers). The sufficient category of plurality for the ‘well-known’ hadiths was only achieved later, in the eras of the Followers and the Followers of the Followers, thus not achieved in the age of the Companions. The ‘well-known’ hadiths do derive their authority from definiteness and certainty in their narration from the Prophet, but rather from a conjecture that they are close to a status of certainty.[11]

3- Ahad hadiths – ‘single narrations’, those that were narrated on the authority of the Prophet by a number that did not reach the status of mutawatir in the era of the Followers or the era of the Followers of the Followers, and are thus called narrations by single individuals. These hadith do not have a chain of narrators and most hadiths are of this kind.

These hadiths indicate a ‘preponderant’ conjecture concerning their attribution to the Prophet. They are not definitive in this respect –  unlike the mutawatir hadiths – nor do they enjoy any ‘closeness’ to definitive status in the way that the ‘well-known’ hadiths do.

Because the Ahad hadiths are speculative and are neither definitive nor close to definitive, some Islamic schools and sects, right from early in the history of Islam, went so far as to reject them altogether, denying their authoritativeness, and refusing to base their actions according to them.

Among the established hadiths in al-Bukhari’s Sahih, which is considered to be the most authentic collection of hadith, there are many which contradict reason and logic. Of these we may mention three:

Allah’s Messenger said, “If a fly falls in the vessel of any of you, let him dip all of it (into the vessel) and then throw it away, for in one of its wings there is a disease and in the other there is healing (antidote for it)” [12]

This is a hadith that clearly contradicts common sense and offends against tastefulness. The Messenger Muhammad could not have uttered it.

The Prophet asked me at sunset, “Do you know where the sun goes (at the time of sunset)?” I replied, “Allah and His Apostle know better.” He said, “It goes (i.e. travels) till it prostrates Itself underneath the Throne and takes the permission to rise again, and it is permitted and then (a time will come when) it will be about to prostrate itself but its prostration will not be accepted, and it will ask permission to go on its course but it will not be permitted, but it will be ordered to return whence it has come and so it will rise in the west. And that is the interpretation of the Statement of Allah: And the sun Runs its fixed course for a term (decreed). that is the Decree of (Allah) the Exalted in Might, the All- Knowing.”[13]

It is currently known in human knowledge, the human intellect, and a basic of science that the sun does not move towards the West, but that the earth rotates from west to east around the sun, and that the sun does not ‘prostrate’ but rather rises in other places before it reaches the region of the Middle East. To assert the validity of this hadith therefore nullifies all scientific knowledge and rational perception, which is something that Islam does not call for but rather  commands against.

Ibn ‘Abbas said “I did not see anything more resembling to minor sins than what Abu Hurairah reported from the Prophet who said “Allah has decreed for the children of Adam a share in adultery, he will get it by all means.”

Evaluating this hadith in accordance with the dictates of the intellect, the standards of Islam, and the scales of the Qur’an, makes it subject to review, since it cancels out the principle of personal freedom which the Qur’an itself establishes: 

Oh, but man is a telling witness against himself [Qur’ān LXXV,14]

Whatever of ill befalleth thee it is from thyself [Qur’ān, IV,79]

If an evil thing befall them as the consequence of their own deeds, lo! they are in despair! [Qur’ān, XXX,36]

In addition to that, the hadith overrides principle of responsibility or make it a sin that the person commits voluntarily. As long as his ‘share of adultery’ is destined for him, how can he escape from his fate? Can a person do this? He cannot be punished to the extent that he did not choose this action himself with anything like a free and conscious will!

[1] The Sahih of al-Bukhari. Abū ʽAbd Allāh Muhammad ibn Ismāʽīl al-Bukhārī (809-867 AD) collected together 70,000 hadith – others say that he collected 200,000 hadith – but he considered no more than 2,726 hadith not to be repetitions of others, and 7,397 to have complete chains of transmission, including repeated hadith.

[2] Qur’an V (al-Ma’ida), 3.

[3] The Siddiqin (‘saints’) have a special status, one that is second only to the status of prophecy, and denotes one who has spoken the truth. According to Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, the status of Siddiq is to be attained through “complete obedience to the Messenger, with complete devotion to the Messenger” to the exclusion of all else. The term was first used for Abu Bakr, and ultimately comes from the reference in Qur’an IV (al-Nisa’), 69: وَمَنْ يُطِعِ اللَّهَ وَالرَّسُولَ فَأُولَئِكَ مَعَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِمْ مِنَ النَّبِيِّينَ وَالصِّدِّيقِينَ وَالشُّهَدَاءِ وَالصَّالِحِينَ وَحَسُنَ أُولَئِكَ رَفِيقاً  ‘Whoso obeyeth Allah and the messenger, they are with those unto whom Allah hath shown favour, of the prophets and the saints and the martyrs and the righteous. The best of company are they!’

[4] For more on the classification of hadiths, see Glossary: ‘Hadith’.

[5] On these terms see Glossary: ‘Sahaba’ and ‘Tabi‘i’

[6] For example, from the Sunan al-Nasa’i, 3062.  يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ خُذُوا مَنَاسِكَكُمْ فَإِنِّي لاَ أَدْرِي لَعَلِّي لاَ أَحُجُّ بَعْدَ عَامِي هَذَا  ‘O people, learn your rituals (of Hajj) for I do not know whether I will perform Hajj again after this year.’

[7] Zakaria al-Bari, أصول الفقه الإسلامى  , p. 49.

[8] Zakaria al-Bari, op. cit. p.50.

[9] Cf. Sunan Abi Dawud, 2201.

[10] Cf. Mishkat al-Masabih, 4.

[11] Zakaria al-Bari, op. cit. p.51.

[12] Sahih al-Bukhari 5782 . Narrated by Abu Hurairah and Ibn Majah, who also included it in Medicine.

[13] Sahih al-Bukhari 3199 . Narrated by Abu Dhar and published by Muslim, Abu Dawud, Al-Tirmidhi and Al-Nasa’i. The Qur’anic reference is to XXXVI (Ya Sin), 38.

Main image: The ḥadīth considered as a text ranking with Qur’anic scripture: a muṣḥaf-like page from the Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī with gold illumination. The passages calligraphically inscribed are Ḥadīths 815 and 816 from chapter كتاب الأذان : “The Prophet was ordered to prostrate on seven bony parts and not to tuck up his clothes or hair” (when performing ṣalāh). Unknown artist, Shiraz, dated 1400-1450. From the Keir Collection of Islamic Art, Object number K.1.2014.800.1.