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The Hadith Must Be Re-Examined


By Fawad Ahmed

16 March 2015

On February 3, 2015, the world was horrified when the criminals known as Isis burned alive Jordanian pilot, Moaz al-Kasasbeh in a cage. My horror was doubled when I learned that this heinous act has its counterpart in the narrations attributed to Prophet Muhammad (S) and His Companions, known as the Hadith:

'Abu al-Nu‘man Muhammad ibn al-Fadl related to us: Hammad ibn Zayd related to us from Ayyub from Ikrimah who said: “Ali burnt some people (apostates) and this news reached Ibn 'Abbas, who said, "Had I been in his place I would not have burnt them, as the Prophet said, 'Don't punish (anybody) with Allah's Punishment.' No doubt, I would have killed them, for the Prophet said, 'If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him"' (Sahih Bukhari Vol 4, Book 52, No. 260).

How could one of the most righteous companions of Prophet Muhammad (S), Ali (RA), have burnt alive apostates?  The other companion, Ibn Abbas, was apparently not much better. He would have "killed them" as well, if not burned them!

How do we reconcile this narration with the benevolent injunction of the Quran, "Let there be no compulsion in religion" (2:256)? How are we Muslims to be taken seriously on any human rights platform if narrations such as these taint our belief system?

Before proceeding further, let us examine the history of the Hadith. Traditionally, Muslim historians claim that shortly after Prophet Muhammad's death, hundreds of thousands of narrations attributed to him and his companions began to circulate in the Islamic world causing mass confusion as to how to follow the Prophet's example.

Enter the six most prominent Hadith scholars 200-300 years after the Prophet's death: Imams Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawood, ibn Majah, Tirmizi, and Nisai. (These are Sunni hadith scholars. Please note the Shias have their own separate scholars and books.)  They independently sifted through tens of thousands of reports. In the case of Bukhari, we are told he sifted through 600,000 (!) narrations, settling on a little over 7,000 as "sahih" or authentic.

The methodology used by these scholars to authenticate Hadith was "isnad", or chain of narration of the reports, from generation to generation.  The isnad methodology emphasized verification of the character and memory of the narrator, rather than using the Quran or reason as guides. Can Chinese whispering be taken as solid evidence for any serious belief system?

In any case, the six Sunni Hadith collections, as they stand today, are considered unquestionable by traditional religious authorities and have become the basis of Islamic jurisprudence.

But recently, bold Malaysian scholar Kassim Ahmad was met with controversy and some scholars declared him an apostate for suggesting that "the Hadith are sectarian, anti-science, anti-reason and anti-women."

Indeed, what are we to do with Hadith that prescribe death for blasphemy and apostasy? Should we stone adulterers as numerous "sahih" narrations mention or choose the Quranic path of forgiveness for the repentant adulterer (26:68-71) and decidedly non-lethal punishment for the habitual adulterer (24:2)? Should we marry off a nine-year old to a 53-year-old man according to the Bukhari tradition, or wait until the poor child is of sufficient age to sign a legal contract, consent and to handle finances (4:6, 4:19, 4:21). Are not thousands of innocent lives being destroyed in these unholy unions every year? Others such as this justify Isis sex slavery and "sexual jihad":

Narrated Abdullah, "We used to participate in the holy wars carried on by the Prophet and we had no women (wives) with us. So we said (to the Prophet ). "Shall we castrate ourselves?" But the Prophet forbade us to do that and thenceforth he allowed us to marry a woman (temporarily) by giving her even a piece of cloth, and then he recited: "O you who believe! Do not make unlawful the good things which Allah has made lawful for you" (Sahih Bukhari Book 60, No. 139)

Aside from these human rights violations, some sahih narrations are so pornographic in nature that one is left bewildered as to what guidance is intended and who was the voyeur behind the narration. See for yourself but please be forewarned.

Traditionalists argue that without the narrations, our religion is not complete. They frequently cite verses such as this: 33:21: "Verily, in the Messenger of Allah you have an excellent example, for everyone who looks unto Allah and the Last Day, and remembers Allah much."

But, which Hadith books should I use to understand the Prophet's example, the Sunni or Shia ones? Does not the Quran compare sectarians to idolaters 30:31-32?  Did the Prophet (S) judge other than with the Quran? Was his character anything but the Quran?

History is witness that the most luminous period of Islamic history was the first 200 or so years after the Prophet (S). Were these early Muslims lost, awash in hundreds of thousands of false reports, waiting for Hadith scholars to rescue them from the abyss three centuries later? Did the Quran state that such authorities would arise and be unchallengeable? Quite the contrary, the Quran forbids blind following even in itself:

25:73: "And who, whenever they are reminded of even the Revelations of their Lord, do not fall at them deaf and blind (with deaf and blind acceptance)."

So who concocted the narrations that violate human rights, contradict Quranic injunctions, violate reason, and slander the Prophet and his companions?

If we piece together the evidence, the Hadith collections served the purpose of the corrupt Abbassid caliphs, the elite rich, and the priest class. The liberating and versatile Quran, meant for all times, had to be chained down with man-made dogmas to meet the needs of this evil trio. In those times when religion and state were one and the same, anyone who converted was akin to a traitor and harsh penalties had to be justified.

Harems needed to be stocked, with age no bar, so child marriage and sex slavery were promoted. To keep women in line, their rights had to be degraded and stoning was introduced from the Bible (how conspicuously rare is the male stoning victim in the Muslim world?).

Free minds threatened priesthood and hence the Arts and Sciences had to be disparaged and superstitions promoted. The remaining herd of Muslims, following like sheep, did not pay heed to the warning of the Quran:

9:31: "They take their rabbis, priests and monks to be their Lords besides Allah."

In conclusion, there are traditions that do reflect the Divine Light of the Quran. Those should be respected.

But those which promote human rights violations, contradict the Quran, slander the Prophet and his companions, or are anti-reason, are fuel for the likes of Isis and a source of shame in front of non-Muslims and our children. God calls the Quran the best hadith repeatedly (4:87, 7:185, 39:23, 56:81, and 77:50, many more) and has guaranteed the preservation of only one Book:

15:9 "Behold, it is We Ourselves Who have sent down this Reminder (the Quran), and behold, it is We Who shall truly guard it."

There is no such guarantee for man-made books. The hadith must be reexamined!

Fawad Ahmed, MD, is the blogger/founder of