A few weeks ago I was sent a preview copy of a book which I was to soon discover could be as crucial to Muslims in the West as Gai Eatons’ ‘Islam and the Destiny of Man’ or Jeffrey Lang’s ‘Losing My Religion’. The reason was the same as for those two essential works: it actually addresses, in a cogent and frank way, the main causes of Muslim and non – Muslim doubts about truth of Islam. And it provides answers – but not the easy populist and frequently falsifiable ones that Muslims have hitherto had to be contented with.
Under the deceptively bland title of ‘Hanafi Principles of Testing Hadith‘, the authors have produced a wide ranging exploration into the truth of Islam and more fundamentally, how we know anything is true. Both a survey of controversies and sectarianism in modern and classical Islam as well as a dissection of those issues and hadith which cause consternation to Muslims and non-Muslims alike, it answers with great honesty and effectiveness the kinds of questions I receive on this site daily. Furthermore, it does so from a place of authenticity within Islam (the references are worth the asking price alone).
Taking in everything from wife beating through divinely sanctioned violence and slavery to comparative religion, the book is frighteningly ambitious and yet succeeds wonderfully.
The authors’ re-examination of the issue of apostasy killing is certain to infuriate many Muslims and Islamophobes in equal measure – no bad thing given how politicised this issue has become, with both sides disregarding theology and using it dishonestly as a means of gaining popularity amongst their cohorts.
I have been aware of and impressed by Avicenna Academies’ work for some time now and have often featured it on this site (their ‘Avicenna Answers’ website is one of the best Islamic resources on the web, though admittedly, that is not saying much) but I must admit, I had no idea they were capable of such a wide reaching treatment of what ails modern Muslims. After much pleading, they have allowed me to include an excerpts from the book before it goes on sale this week.
I always tell readers who have doubts about Islam to consult Lang’s essential ‘Losing My Religion’, but with the imminent release of this work I will have to direct them to this masterpiece: I can honestly say it will come to be seen, if not in the authors lifetime, then eventually, as one of the most important works ever produced about Islam in the English language.
About the Book
In Islam there are many sources of religion, three of them are agreed upon by all groups of Sunni Muslims. In order of priority they are Quran (القران), Hadith (الحديث) and Ijma’a (الإجماع). This book will deal with the thousands of hadith that form part of the Islamic tradition.
Hanafi Principles of Testing Hadith is a manual which explains the methodology of the traditional Islamic Hanafi School towards hadith. There are thousands of hadith; the concern of both the scholar and the layman is what their approach should be to these narrations. We know some hadith are accepted into theology or belief, and thus they need to fulfil the highest criteria of validity. Other hadith are accepted into law and everyday practice, but for these the burden of proof required is less than in issues of theology – yet they still require strong evidence in favour of their authenticity, especially when they can result in rulings about legal punishments (and especially capital punishment). Yet others are examples of how to follow the Prophetic tradition or words of wisdom, and consequently the degree of verifiability required for these is much lower. We also have some hadith which are completely rejected based on a variety of principles which are discussed in detail in the manual. Therefore, succinct principles to be used in the application of hadith are of the utmost importance. These principles were established by great Scholars from the early period of the development of Islamic theology and jurisprudence such as Imam Abu Hanifa (d. 767/148 AH), Imam Malik (d. 795/179 AH) and Imam Shafi’i (d. 820/204 AH).
Despite the modern day epistemic confusion when it comes to hadith, these principles were in fact strictly followed by Imam Abu Hanifa and the early Hanafis.
322 Pages (with Index, tables, diagrams and some Arabic text), Hardback/Dust jacket
Another brief review:
‘I’m going to go all out here and say that I think this is one of the best books in the English language on Islam period, whether for Muslims or non-Muslims. I seriously rank it up there with the works of Gai Eaton or Jeffrey Lang. The reason is not because of literary merit (it is written in a simple, unpretentious style) but rather because it addresses, under it’s rather misleading title, those exact issues which cause people to have serious doubts about Islam, both from within and without the faith.
This is the first book I have seen which basically systematically tackles all of the controversial hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), not only on a case by case basis but also in PRINCIPLE, so you can generalise the authors’ approach, which they identify with that of traditional Islam, to other purported narrations from the Prophet Muhammad. Further, it does so in an honest way rather than bending over backwards with hard-to-swallow apologetics just because the narrations are in the canonical collections such as ‘Sahih Al Bukhari’.
For example, the narration in ‘Bukhari’ that there is no capital punishment for murdering non-Muslims in cold blood. Though it is in a canonical collection, Muslim scholars to a ‘T’ rejected it and considered it a forgery. But it was happily brought back by puritanical and violent movements in Islam, most recently ISIS. But people trying to appear ‘authentic’ today from within the Muslim community as well as Islamophobes refuse to deny this narration as the earlier generations did. Furthermore, when they do make excuses for it, they never say that Scholars such as Bukhari erred by including it and others like it. This leaves Muslims confused and vulnerable.
The authors approach empowers readers to tackle these narrations and for added measure they show without a shadow of a doubt that the narration was rejected by Muslim communities of the past, providing extensive references. They also tackle controversial issues such as warfare, apostasy killing, dress codes, gender segregation etc. They stubbornly refuse to ‘play to the gallery’, whether that is Muslims or secular folk.
It really does not spare the rod for Muslims or Islamophobes and is a really beautiful example of honesty and critical inquiry. Most of the time, Muslims and others have to put up with Evangelical style posturing and half (or non-truths) about controversial hadiths from Salafo-Wahhabi or other groups with an ‘angle’. This leaves them with doubts and at the end of the day, the arguments are weak and are clearly of a ‘no retreat, no surrender’ sort, with most popular Muslim groups being totally unwilling to ‘reject’ a hadith from ‘canonical’ collections, even if these were not accepted by Islamic scholars and the Companions of the prophet. This obsession with cheap arguments, spurious hadith and puritanism (often to appeal to Saudi or Gulf funding) is causing many to leave Islam and many others to not consider it seriously in the first place.
The authors write from the earliest Hanafi texts (a school of jurisprudence which is the earliest and still most followed in Islam) and remove the puritanical and modernist accretions from the faith and leave an easy to follow and understand religion. I was very impressed with the breadth of their knowledge in both Islam, comparative religion, philosophy and other disciplines.
There are about 60 pages of references, many from hard to find books, lots of tables and illustrations to aid understanding and an extensive glossary. It’s just not like the myopic, sectarian and generally un-academic works Muslims have had to put up with in English from the so-called Islamic ‘Scholars’. The author’s voice is articulate, sincere and comes across as genuinely concerned for humanity and the future of religion in general, not just Islam.
In summary, I would recommend this to anyone who has doubts about Islam (from any background).’
Arabic Transliteration Key 1
A Short Biography Of Imam Abu Hanifa 6
Part I – The Connected Chain 15
Types of Sunnah 16
Verbal Sunnah 20
How the Narrations Are Connected [To the Prophet] 23
Mutawatir [Mass Narration] 24
Mashhūr [Famous Narrations] 29
Aĥad [The Statement of One Person] 34
The Ruling on Aĥad [Narrations] 40
Rulings on the Rejection of Aĥad 45
The Categories of the Narrators of Aĥad 49
The Known Narrators 53
The Unknown Narrators 60
The Brief Specifications For A Narrator 70
Freed from Innovation 93
Part II – The Disconnected Chain 96
Categories of Disconnection 97
The Ruling 102
Implicit Disconnection 107
Disconnection Due to Opposing [A Stronger Proof of Islam] 109
The Reasons for Comparing Aĥad to the rest of the Religion 111
Types of Opposing 115
Disconnection Due to a Defect in the Narrator 128
The Ruling 131
Part III – The Subject of the Narration 136
The Subject of the Narration 137
The Ruling 138
Part IV – Types of Sunnah 144
About the Narration 145
Types of Narration 147
Rulings Pertaining to the Conditions of the Receiver 149
Initial Condition (Azīmah) In Listening 150
Replacement (Rukhsah) In Narrating 156
Writing the Hadith 163
Issues Pertaining to the Narrator 167
Condition for Narrating Hadith Literally or by Meaning 169
Types of Sunnah in Terms of their Meaning 171
The Ruling 173
Types of Narrations and their Strength 178
Part V – Criticism of Narrations 181
Criticisms from the Narrator 182
The Ruling 183
Criticism from Other than the Narrator 189
Criticism from the Companions (Ŝaĥabah) 190
Criticism from the Scholars of Hadith 193
Explained Criticism 196
Types of Accepted Defect 198
Types of Agreed Criticism 201
Ruling on the Types of Criticism of the Narrator 202
Reasons Which Are Not Valid Defects 203
[Miscellaneous] Issues 207
Part VI – Sunnah of Action and Tacit Approval 209
Sunnah of Action 210
Ruling on Following the Four Types 215
Tacit Approval 221
Practical Application of the Hanafi Hadith Methodology 223
Niqaab [Face Veil] 232
Black Magic 237
Advice about Excessive Involvement in Hadith 243
There are many purported sources of the Islamic religion, three of which are agreed upon by all the groups of Sunni Muslims. They are, in order of priority, the Quran, the Hadith (which report the actions, statements and tacit approval of the Prophet (r)) and Ijmāʿ (consensus). This book deals with the many thousands of hadith which form a part of the Islamic tradition. Are all these Hadith accepted? If not, then which ones are rejected? And why?
The principles of categorising and using hadith were set up by the two major schools of jurisprudential thought – the Hanafis and Shafi’is. Their respective principles of hadith result in the theology and jurisprudence of that particular school.
During the past eight hundred years, Shafi’i principles of hadith (‘Muŝŧalaĥ‘) have become very well-known, to the point where they were even adopted by most Hanafis. In contemporary times, nearly all Islamic institutes tend to teach Shafi’i hadith methodology. This has had the unfortunate result of confusion for Hanafis, since the principles of hadith they were learning are not congruent with the Hanafi jurisprudence they follow. A great deal of cognitive dissonance results.
For instance, consider the hadith about black magic affecting the Prophet Muhammad (r), reportedly narrated by Aisha (y) in ‘Sahih al-Bukhari’, a book which is considered by many Muslims in current times as being second only to the Quran itself. After being affected by said black magic, “The Prophet (r) continued for such-and-such time imagining that he had slept [had sexual relations] with his wives, when in fact he had not….”[i] In a second narration concerning the same event, also found in Sahih al-Bukhari, it is stated that “Once the Prophet (r) was bewitched, so that he began to imagine that he had done a thing when in fact, he had not done
it.” These hadith highlight quite a few important issues. Firstly, the mind of the Prophet (r) supposedly being affected to such an extent that he was imagining or hallucinating events occurring and not aware of what was happening around him. This could bring the entire religion of Islam into question. For instance, were parts of the Quran revealed during this time? Could parts of the Quran have been missed by the Prophet (r) due to him allegedly losing control of his mind? Are there then errors in the Quran as the Prophet (r) did not have control? The main role of any Prophet is to convey the message of God, and if there is a possibility of distortion in the message at the very point at which it is being revealed, it seemingly renders the entire process worthless. A message that can, even in theory, be distorted or contain significant errors cannot be trusted and therefore it can be argued that the entire religion cannot be trusted.
Ibn Hajar Asqalani (d. 1449/852 AH) is a famous pioneer of the Shafi’i Muŝŧalaĥ of hadith. He is also one of the main reasons for ‘Sahih al-Bukhari’ currently holding the position of the second most valued book in Islam. His commentary on Bukhari’s collection is considered the most authoritative amongst all of the scholars of hadith. But in this commentary he not only accepts this hadith, he compounds the problem by stating that the hadith was ‘only rejected by heretics’. [ii] Thus according to Ibn Hajar at least, rejecting this hadith results in a person leaving the parameters of Sunni Islam.
Qadi Iyaad (d. 1149/543 AH), a Maliki scholar, who is renowned for writing one of the best biographies of the Prophet (r), also tried to address this issue and explains that he believes that the magic did not affect the mind of the Prophet (r) but rather his body, which resulted in the Prophet (r) suffering from sexual impotence.[iii] This statement of Qadi Iyaad also highlights serious issues. From the outset, to speak about the Prophet (r) in this manner is highly unbecoming. Also, from whom was this information taken? Which of the wives of the Prophet (r) informed the people of the physical problems facing her husband? Is this not an
insult to the wives of the Prophet (r)? In fact, none of them did and this whole story is only a conjecture of the scholars!
The Hanafis on the other hand do not try to give their ‘own’ interpretation to this hadith and instead reject it outright based on their classical principles. The first question that arises is what are the effects of black magic? Imam Baidawi, a Hanafi scholar from the thirteenth century, explains in his Tafsīr (interpretation of the Quran) that someone affected by such magic loses his ”Aql” (brain and mind).[iv] This would bring the message of Islam into disrepute as the mind of the Prophet (r) has been compromised.
But the primary problem with this hadith is that it directly contradicts the text of the Quran: “We are most knowing of how they listen to it, when they listen to you, and when they are in private conversation, the wrongdoers say, “You follow none but a man affected by magic.”[v] According to God, the people who said the Prophet (r) was a man affected by magic were wrongdoers or oppressors (‘žālimīn’). Imam Abu Mansur al-Māturidī (d. 944/333 AH), a renowned scholar from the fourth Islamic century and the founder of Māturidī ʿAqīda (theological School), denied the notion that the Prophet (r) was affected by black magic at all and rejected this hadith. He also said the reason for the revelation (Asbāb al-Nuzūl) of ‘Surah Al-Falaq’ (The Daybreak) and ‘Surah Al-Naas’ (Mankind), which are two portions of the Quran which some claim refer to the Prophet (r) being affected by magical forces, was not as a result of magic at all but instead he emphasised that the two chapters were revealed whilst the Prophet (r) was merely on a journey.[vi] Imam Abu Bakr al-Jassas al-Razi al-Hanafi was a prominent Hanafi jurist from the fourth century, one of the most respected scholars in the field of Uŝūl (epistemic principles), and the grand-teacher of Abul Hasan al Quduri, who wrote the most famous and most commonly used primer in Hanafi jurisprudence, ‘Mukhtasar al-Quduri’. He not only rejected this hadith but stated “the ignorant of the Hashawis (anthropomorphists, those who believe that God is a form or body bound by space) narrated this hadith without knowing it was fabricated.”[vii] These strong statements of the Hanafi scholars demonstrate the philosophy of the school concerning certain types of hadith. As we can see, the issues at stake are of crucial importance for both Islamic theology and comparative religious studies.
This is the first book which contains the traditional Hanafi principles of hadith, with an English translation and commentary in one volume. It is recommended to readers of all backgrounds who interact with hadith, but especially those who have read hadith and are left confused because they seemingly defy logic, ethics, or clash with the principles of the Islamic religion.
This book is a manual which explains the methodology of the traditional Islamic Hanafi School towards hadith. There are thousands of hadith; the concern of both the scholar and the layman is what their approach should be to these narrations. We know that some of these hadith are accepted into theology or belief, and thus need to fulfil the highest criteria of proof. Other hadith are accepted into law and everyday practice, but for these the burden of proof required is less than in issues of theology – yet they still require strong evidence in favour of their authenticity, especially when they can result in rulings about legal punishments (and especially capital punishment). Yet others are examples of how to follow the Prophetic tradition or words of wisdom, and consequently the degree of verifiability required for these is much lower. We also have some hadith which are completely rejected based on a variety of principles which will be discussed later in the manual. Therefore, succinct principles to be used in the application of hadith are of the utmost importance. These principles were established by great Scholars from the early period of the development of Islamic theology and jurisprudence such as Imam Abu Hanifa (d. 767/148 AH), Imam Malik (d. 795/179 AH) and Imam Shafi’i (d. 820/204 AH).
Despite todays’ epistemic confusion amongst Muslims when it comes to hadith, these principles were in fact strictly followed by Imam Abu Hanifa and the early Hanafis. An example is the following hadith found in the collection of Bukhari: “When two people engage in a transaction, each of them has the right to choose to annul it as long as they haven’t parted and are still together…” Imam Abu Hanifa took issue with the hadith stating that the transaction is not complete until the participants separate.
Ibrahim bin Bashar (d. 844/230 AH) claims that Sufyan ibn Uyaynah (d. 815/200 AH) said; “Imam Abu Hanifa used to reject the hadith of Prophet (r), and he gave some examples”. Regarding the above hadith Imam Abu Hanifa said; “what happens if the both of them are on a boat, how are they able to separate?” In another statement relayed by Bishr bin Mufaddal about the same hadith, Imam Abu Hanifa said “this is poetry”, meaning that this hadith is a fabrication. Bishr bin Mufaddal then narrated another hadith to Imam Abu Hanifa which is also found in Bukhari; “Qatadah narrated from Anas that a Jewish man fractured the skull of a woman by assaulting her with two rocks, so the Prophet (r) fractured the man’s skull with two rocks as well.” Imam Abu Hanifa said this hadith was a ‘delusion’.
Imam Abu Hanifa was not rejecting the words of the Prophet (r) but rather was denying that these words came from the Prophet (r) in the first place. This distinction is very important when trying to understand the methodology of the Hanafis.
As stated at the outset, this is the first book in the modern era which contains the science of hadith based solely on the principles of the Hanafi school of thought. Across the globe, people are taught Shafi’i Muŝŧalaĥ, which is in some instances taught in tandem with the Hanafi Muŝŧalaĥ, leaving the student or lay individual confused.
Hanafi Muŝŧalaĥ, Māturidī ʿAqīda, Hanafi Uŝūl and Hanafi Fiqh are all cogs in the same machine. Their principles are interconnected and there should never be a situation when there is any conflict between them. Hanafi Uŝūl are the principles used to derive rulings based on the primary sources, which are the Quran and Sunnah. This subject also develops rulings that are based on scholarly consensus (Ijmāʿ), and the application of analogical reasoning (Qiyyās) in order to derive legal precedent. Qiyyās is used when matters are not mentioned specifically in the primary sources but have some similarity to issues which are found therein. Hanafi Muŝŧalaĥ is in fact a branch of Hanafi Uŝūl which deals solely with the principles of verifying hadith. Once these principles are applied, the results form a part of
Hanafi theology which is commonly known as ‘Māturidī ʿAqīda’ (one of the two great subdivisions of Sunni theology, with the other being Ashʿarīsm), as well as Hanafi Fiqh, which are foundational legal principles and maxims.
An example may help illustrate this point. Take the hadith in the collection of Abu Dawood where Abu Zahr (y) is lying on his chest, and the Prophet (r) reportedly said “Don’t lie on your chest, as the people of Hell will be doing this.”
The later Māturidīs were heavily influenced by the principles of the Ashʿarīs, which is generally the theological orientation of the Shafi’i and Maliki Schools, and therefore based on this hadith stated that lying on one’s chest is major sin. According to classical Māturidīs however, this hadith is in fact rejected, and the basis of this is the Hanafi epistemology in the scrutinising of hadith. The Māturidīs find it highly improbable that the Ŝaĥabah (companions of the Prophet (r)) would not know that lying on one’s chest is a major sin in Islam, since it implies that the Ŝaĥabah as a body were either heedless or ignorant of such basic rulings. The second issue is that any major sin is a fundamental issue, which everyone should know, yet in this case it is narrated by only one person in a single narration. In Uŝūl this is known as ʿUmūm Al-Balwā’, an issue that affects a large number of people yet only a few people narrate the hadith. The acceptance of this hadith will result in the lowering of the status of the Ŝaĥabah, as it either demonstrates their ignorance or their inability to understand the importance of relaying such a crucial component of the religion to the rest of the Muslim nation. Therefore based on this, the hadith is rejected.
What has gone before may lead people to claim that the author is being ‘sectarian’ or igniting divisions between the different schools such as the Shafi’is or the Hanafis. However, this is in fact a spurious and misleading claim as it is not sectarian to state one’s schools’ position academically. Rather, people today paradoxically remind Muslims that there is a mercy in the differences of opinions of the
scholars and yet at the same time insist that everyone must follow the Shafi’i/Hanbali hadith methodology, denouncing all others as heretics or sectarians and even claiming that all Sunni Muslims have agreed upon (‘Ijmāʿ’ or consensus) the Shafi’i principles – a claim which we shall see does not hold up to scrutiny. The same claim is frequently made about the collection of Bukhari, with vociferous protests that Bukhari is ‘agreed upon’ and that ‘no-one’ in classical Sunni Islam rejects or questions the hadith contained within it. However, this is itself an exaggeration and sectarian challenge and seeks to stifle the variety within classical Sunnism by insisting on a single (usually Shafi’i or Hanbali) approach to hadith, when there are just as valid (and in the case of the Hanafi and Maliki Schools, earlier) alternatives. Our purpose is not challenge or debate but rather to present the diversity of traditional Islam so that students and readers can make informed choices, as opposed to enforcing a false orthodoxy as many would like to…
But one might ask: why are these principles we hope to elucidate applied only to hadith and not to the Quran? Or to put it another way, since the Quran is uncritically accepted as authentic by all Muslims, why do we not extend the same courtesy to the hadith literature? The answer lies in the fact that the Quran is ‘mutawātir’ (mass narrated) and thus considered totally reliable and beyond the possibility of forgery – therefore we don’t have principles that test whether aspects of it should be accepted or rejected.
With hadith, principles are however needed, as we have thousands of strong, weak and fabricated hadith. The differences in the schools are in great measure due to the different principles they follow in the science of hadith. When hadith scholars state that a person is a strong or weak narrator, the reason must be
investigated (according to the Hanafis) to establish if we agree with the judgement. For example, if it is stated that a person is weak due to their being an expert in legal reasoning (Fiqh), we reject this explanation for excluding he or she as a narrator. The reason given for rejecting a narrator has to be something that is cogent and will reasonably affect the authenticity of the narration. The hadith scholars, such as Imam Bukhari, are not given a monopoly over such things – at least according to the Hanafis.
The Maliki methodology bears some similarity to that of the Hanafis, whereas the Shafi’is and Hanbalis (and modern day Salafists and Wahhabis for that matter) differ from both Hanafis and Malikis in their principles of scrutinising hadith. The reason for this in our opinion is that Imams Abu Hanifa and Malik applied a high level of reasoning and deduction when establishing axioms to authenticate hadith. An emphasis was placed on the application of the narration by the Ŝaĥabah (with Imam Malik further specifying this to the Ŝaĥabah of Madinah). The Shafi’i and Hanbali methodology places a greater or even exclusive emphasis on the narrator and whether he meets their criteria. The Hanafis scrutinise the text and content of the narration as well as the narrators and chain of transmission.
With our necessary preamble completed, let us now begin to examine the Hanafi approach to hadith.
|PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS OF HADITH METHODOLOGY|
Niqaab [Face Veil]
The ‘niqaab’ is a veil for the face that leaves the area around the eyes clear. Nearly all scholars agree that the hijaab (a simple headscarf) is compulsory but there is a disagreement about the niqaab. Some scholars hold it is compulsory to wear whereas on the opposite side of spectrum many believe that it is recommended that women do not wear the niqaab. This issue leaves many people from various communities uncomfortable and therefore it will be beneficial to compare it to the Hanafi principles of hadith. This is the strongest hadith used (although others are deployed in the same vein) in terms of authenticity by those who propagate the compulsion of wearing the niqaab:
Narrated ‘Abdullah bin Abbas: Al-Fadl (y) (his brother) was riding behind Allah’s Apostle and a woman from the tribe of Khath’am came and Al-Fadl (y) started looking at her and she started looking at him. The Prophet turned Al-Fadl’s (y) face to the other side.[i]
The reasoning for the proof of niqaab that is given from this narration is that the actions of the Prophet (r) demonstrated the impermissibility of Al-Fadl ibn Abbas (y) looking at a woman. This hadith deals with the action of the Prophet (r) as opposed to the verbal statement. Therefore, according to what we have learnt, the action should have been applied specifically to the above situation rather than generally to all circumstances. This tradition does not meet the requirements of mutawātir nor mashhūr and so is aĥad. Consequently, for now there is a possibility it could be right and an equal possibility that it could be wrong…