The Arabic word 'Hadith' means a report, tale, story, statement, narration, a communication
or a discourse. Its plural form is 'Ahadith'. In common parlance, 'Hadith'
has now become synonymous with a specific body of work within Islamic literature
which constitutes narrations that depict the words and practices of the Prophet
and are attributed to him.
DEFINITION OF ISLAMIC SECONDARY SOURCES
'Islamic secondary source(s)' or 'secondary sources' are often used
throughout my articles. This term has been utilised to denote all manner
of literature within Islamic thought which constitutes 'Ilm-e-Rijaal' (Knowledge
of men) and resides outside the actual text of the Quran (i.e. anything
that is not scripture) and which are used to make theological inferences and
These include canonised
Ahadith reports, the Maghazi genre, Prophetic
biographies, Islamic jurisprudence, consensus, opinions of Muslim jurists,
analogical deductions, 'Ra'y' (independent reasoning), Muslim practices and all manner of sources
which are not part of the Quranic text or used solely to understand its
"Say: "Shall I seek for judge other than God? -
when He is the One who has sent to you the Book, explained in
detail (Arabic: Mufassalan)."
They know full well, to whom We have given the Book, that it has been sent
down from your Lord in truth. Never be then of those who doubt"
PRESERVATION OF THE LANGUAGE
The protection of the 'dhikr' (reminder) is assured by the Quran (15:9).
This implies both the 'words' of the Quran and an appropriate ability
to discern its 'meanings'. Otherwise, the 'dhikr' would be
Therefore any source, including classical lexicons, works of
grammarians, dictionaries or indeed, any Islamic secondary source as
defined above which is used to understand the classical Arabic
language is implicitly ratified by the Quran (15:9).
The Prophet was tasked with a responsibility to convey the message of
the Quran in Arabic to his people. His people had a responsibility en
masse to pass the message to mankind (22:78) both in Arabic and to
convey its meaning to those who did not understand the language.
THE CLAIM OF THE QURAN
The Quran claims to be
the direct word of God, the Divine scripture, a revelation to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)
and hence the
'primary source' of any
interpretation, the absolute first principle for analysis.
It also presents itself as a discourse (Hadith) to mankind (45:6). It is not the
personal property of any religious elite, divide, group, sect or individual. Non
Muslims have as much right to reflect, ponder, scrutinise, question, criticise
the arguments presented by the Quran (and Muslim interpretations of it) as
those who have 'inherited' their religion and have been born into Muslim
The Quran is simply a message to
all mankind from a
it is nothing less than a Reminder to all nations
Please see article:
Understanding the Quranic term
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HADITH AND SUNNA
There remains a crucial, yet often unappreciated difference between the two
sources. A brief discussion is covered in the following article:
Difference Between Hadith and Sunna
Both sources remain subservient to the
actual text of the Quran which is
the only source which has been fully protected and preserved by God. God has
only vouched for the protection of the 'dhikr' (The Quran) and not the practices
of the people or of their literature.
We have revealed the
reminder (Arabic: Dhikr) and
We will most surely be its guardian
Illustration - Joseph Islam
"...Indeed, those who disbelieve in the reminder when
it comes to them. And indeed, it is surely a mighty Book.
Falsehood shall not come to it from before it nor from behind it;
a revelation from the Wise, the Praiseworthy"
Both the Sunna (practice) and the Ahadith along with all other Islamic
secondary sources must only be understood and appreciated in the light of the
Quran and not vice versa. The Quran must remain the first principle, the
ultimate filtering point, the supreme authority and the final judge between what
is right and what is wrong. It is the ultimate source of interpretation,
guidance and the perfect criterion. Anything which runs contrary to the
teachings of the Quran, its own theology or wisdom must be instantly rejected.
However, it is also unreasonable to suggest complete corruption of the Islamic
secondary sources. Classical scholars should be fully appreciated in the
endeavours they have made to pass on their efforts to succeeding generations of
Muslims. However, it is also a mistake to consider them as 'authorities' in such
a way that their works become the source of guidance themselves
and beyond reproach. Classical or modern works should always be
understood, appreciated and critically evaluated in the light of the Quran.
befitting statement is noted by a modern scholar which is worthwhile reproducing as an excerpt.
"It would, therefore, be improper to ignore or underestimate the significance of
the Ahadith literature as a historical source even if its authenticity may appeal
doubtful. The modern Occidentalists are of the opinion that in spite of the fact
that Apocrypha are of doubtful authenticity, we can still peep through them into
the social life and behaviour of their fabricators, hence their significance as
a source of history should not be denied. Similarly, even such portions of the
hadith material as have been declared fake, unauthentic and of doubtful nature,
contain most valuable hints regarding one or the other aspect of the early
 SINGH. N.K, Encyclopaedia Historiography of the Muslim World, Global
Vision Publishing House, First Edition 2003, Page 319
Regrettably, most Muslims remain tacitly unaware of an understanding of their own
sources, what their sources constitute, how they have developed and what impact
it has had on Islamic thought. Hadith criticism for example, is not a new enterprise initiated
by Western scholarship within the past couple of centuries. It is an enterprise
that took provenance from the earliest classical Muslim period.
UNDERSTANDING THE DIFFERENCE
It is significant to appreciate that there is a
crucial difference between an 'earliest' extant report and a 'contemporaneous'
report to the source.
later documents (often centuries removed) purporting to be continuously
orally narrated and claiming to be from an earlier period. There is a crucial
difference to appreciate between a later extant document
claiming to be derived from an earlier source
and actually having that earlier
Whether these narratives have been faithfully
transmitted orally and actually originate from the period they are depicting is
usually a matter of individual faith in the sources and
trustworthiness of their chains of narrators (Arabic: isnad)
We do not have
any original sources from the companions, or their followers.
To provide some context as an example, many
Muslims attack the veracity of the New Testament based on the fact that they
were written 'later'. In fact, the
Biblical documents are much closer to the source that they attempt to capture
(within decades). This is in stark contrast to the Muslims secondary sources
which are often centuries removed. Also there are many contemporaneous sources (such
as of the Gospel writers) available for verification who all give their versions
of the ministry of Prophet Jesus.(pbuh)
There is as much reason not to suspect the
sincerity of the early Christians to pass on to
later generations what they believed was true as there is reason not
to suspect the sincerity of early companions of Prophet
For example, if Biblical narratives show differences in details and a possible
development of theology between the Gospels of Mark through to John, one can
only imagine how accentuated the problem would be for Muslim sources which are
often centuries removed from the period they attempt to narrate, often with no
immediate contemporaneous verifications.
No doubt, it is
one's understanding of the origin and development of the ‘isnad’ (chain of
narrators) and its application which ultimately determines how one construes
Islamic texts and understands the Islamic history it attempts to depict. The
'isnad' has indisputably played a fundamental role in authenticating 'hadith'
through classical Muslim scholarship. The body of literature itself (Ahadith
corpus) relies on the authenticity of its chain of narrators (isnads).
Fierce debates have
always enraged with regards the authenticity of this body of literature not only
amongst classical Muslim scholars but equally with modern scholarship in the
West. The need for 'isnads' clearly demonstrates some degree of scepticism and
the need for justification of authenticity that the Ahadith body of literature
has always attracted, even amongst the earliest Islamic communities. Never
has any such 'isnad' been demanded of the Quran or of its verses. In this
way, the Quran stands as an exception and clearly depicts a more rigid, accepted
body of text right from the earliest Muslim communities.
regards ‘isnads’ are sharply contested and divided. Albeit in the West,
discussions with regards authenticity started with the likes of Alois Sprenger,
it was undoubtedly Ignaz Goldziher that spearheaded the argument in his work
"Muhammedanische Studien" more commonly known today as Muslim Studies in Volumes
I and II. S.M. Stern and C.R. Barber provide English translations from the
German text. From Goldziher's 'Muslim Studies' initiates the methodology of
analysing the 'matn' (content of the hadith) to determine the provenance of a
particular hadith. His impeccable scholarship, even today remains undisputed as
does his in-depth research presenting extremely cogent arguments.
concurring with much of Goldziher's views further scrutinised the literature in
a more legal context focusing on Islamic jurisprudence. He equally provided
in-depth scholarship and powerful arguments. His conclusions however remain not
much different with regards the spurious nature of much of the hadith
narratives. Schacht’s methods are challenged by scholars such as Mohammad
Mustafa (M.M) Azami, Fuat
Sezgin, Mustafa al-Sibai and Norman Calder. M.M Azami in particular, focused on
dismantling Schacht’s theories and the premises underlying them. M.M
Azami's counter arguments with regards Schacht's theories are also worth reading.
One could argue
that there exist three main divisions in serious modern scholarship. Those that place little
trust in the authenticity of the 'isnad' and subsequent Ahadith corpus, those
that do maintain trust and finally those that seek the middle ground. Though
there is much overlap between the middle camp (seeking middle ground) and those
that take a more favourable approach towards the authenticity of the corpus,
there is little in common between those that doubt the authenticity outright and
those that don't. Much scholarship literature is imbued with vehement exchanges
though often disguised in scholarly gloss.
Those that do place
trust in the reliability of the 'isnad' include scholars such as Nabia Abbott,
Fuad Sezgin, M.M Azami, Harald Motzki, Gregor Schoeler, Harris Birkeland, isaiah Goldfeld and
Heribert Horst. Examples of sceptics include, Ignaz Goldziher, Joseph Schacht, John Wansborough and
Patricia Crone. Those that take the middle ground include scholars such as G.H.A
Juynboll, C.H.M. Versteegh, Miklos Muranyi, Fred Leemhuis, Fazlur Rahman and
Claude Gilliot. Each scholar
brings forward their own premises for the positions they take.
Studying Ahadith in
the West is rather different from studying it through traditional lenses of
Muslim scholarship which seems to have a very different emphasis such as authenticating chains
of transmissions and grading Ahadith to determine its authenticity. Western
scholarship on the other hand, seems to be focused on the historical reliability
of the narratives making use of their own particular methodologies.
Having spent much
of my academic endeavour researching and scrutinising Islamic secondary sources
with their intricate detailed arguments and counter arguments, I personally find
the following verse of the Quran a very apt depiction of the human condition.
"We have explained in detail in this Quran, for the
benefit of mankind, every kind of similitude: but man is, in most
THE APPROACH TAKEN WITH REGARDS SECONDARY SOURCES AND WHY
sources have been discussed in my articles in a holistic, cursory manner without delving into
its intricacies as the site primarily remains an analysis from a Quranic
perspective. Therefore, much of secondary source discussions and theology
dependant on them, remain superfluous to the arguments being presented from a
Quranic perspective. Where
Islamic secondary sources have been mentioned, they have been used as an example to
illustrate a point and not as a basis for the argument itself.
No Muslim, regardless of sect or divide, Non Muslim, classical or contemporary
scholar of any discipline or 'mufassir' (Quranic exegetic) has
the sole right to claim
ownership of the
interpretation of the Quran.
The Quran is a message to all mankind and provides
its own 'tafsir' (explanation) and claims to be fully detailed (Arabic: Mufassalan)
purposes of necessary guidance. The best interpretation can therefore only be one that is
fully consistent with the Quran's own narrative, its own internal consistency
and its own coherency. This approach also provides the platform for the
most cogent argument.
The Quran convincingly argues for the use of no other source to be used
in conjunction with its own interpretation. This is clear from various Quranic
verses hence why Islamic secondary sources have not been utilised in my articles to interpret the Quran. This is indeed consistent with
the Quran's own advice as to how it should be studied. This however does not
imply that all Ahadith are automatically false. Rather, the Quran admits no
other source to be used in conjunction with the Quran's interpretation or as a
separate source for law or judge.
Therefore, the question of 'authenticity' of the Ahadith corpus is relatively
mute from a Quran's perspective. Rather, a more pertinent question is with
regards the 'authority' of the Ahadith corpus and if the Quran recognises any other
authoritative source except for itself.
THE QURAN IS FULLY DETAILED FOR JUDGMENT AND GUIDANCE
"Say: "Shall I seek for judge other than God? - when He it is Who has revealed
to you the Book, explained in detail
They know full well, to whom We have given the Book, that it has been sent down
from thy Lord in truth. Never be then of those who doubt"
Arabic: Mufassalan - Clearly explained, fully detailed.
Please see article :
The Quran Stands Alone As Sole Religious Guidance
THE QURAN PROVIDES ITS OWN EXPLANATION (TAFSIR)
"And no example do they bring to you but We bring you the
truth and the best explanation (of it) (Arabic: Hasana Tafsir)"
SOME EXAMPLES OF QUESTIONABLE AHADITH
Please click the image below. Reader discretion is strongly advised.
the Quranic term 'Alameen'
Difference Between Hadith and Sunna
Quran Stands Alone As Sole Religious Guidance