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The Grievous Impacts of Hadith Sciences in the Later Centuries of Islam – A Soul Searching Exercise and a Final Call to the Muslim Ulema and Intellectual Elite



By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam

Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009

Aug 31, 2013


This is the third and conclusive article on the different facets of Hadith sciences beginning with their evolution, compilation, through to historical role and present day relevance. It attempts to bring to light the natural fallouts of the prolonged domination of the Hadith sciences in Islam, its fatal blow to critical thinking leading to internal divisions and rigid polarizations at practically all tiers of Islamic societies. It also demonstrates the intrinsic connection between external ‘conspiracies’ and internal dissonance in world history and distinguishes the Prophet’s personal Sunna from the Sunna of the era (the existential aspects of Hadith sciences). These propositions lead up to the conclusion to treating the latter – the Hadith relating to the Prophet’s era as a closed corpus or technical field, not relevant to this era and substituting it with Qur’an’s universal message and universal knowledge and art forms in the madrasa curriculum – a conclusion also reached in the first article based purely on technical evaluation of the intrinsic weaknesses in Hadith sciences.

The first article referenced below [1] appeared in two parts and covered:

i)       The warnings by the early Imams (al-Bukhari and Muslim) against technical authenticity of the bulk of Ahadith (pl. of Hadith) in their so-called Sahih (traditionally translated as ‘authentic’) compilations

ii)      The Glory and Ramifications of the Hadith sciences for its era

iii)     The generic concept of Sunna (Sunnah)

iv)      The generic concept of Hadith (Hadith)

v)       The specific Concept of the Sunna/Hadith of the Prophet.

vi)      Compilation of Hadith corpus,

vii)     Effect of time on the screening process of the Hadith literature,

viii)    The anachronism (historical disconnection) factors

ix)      The existential dimension of the Qur’anic oft-repeated instruction to obey and follow the Prophet.

x)       The need for a major paradigm shift on the role of the Hadith sciences and the scope of madrasa education

With clear arguments drawn on the Qur’an, the article demonstrates that from the Qur’anic perspective, the pursuit of scientific knowledge is integral to its message, and to set it apart as ‘European’ or ‘un-Islamic’ could amount to a blatant denial of a self evident proposition - a Kufr. The same holds for all other universal faculties, professional disciplines and art forms that form the basis of modern education – as they are glimpses of God’s infinite manifestations (Kalimat, 18:109, 31:27). 

The second article [2] is an abridged version of the first article. It acknowledges the presence of accounts that purport to provoke sexuality, induce terrorism, foment inter-faith hatred, and stand deeply misogynist, scientifically untenable, self contradictory and Qur’an-incompatible [3], but defends the early compilers on the basis of historical relativism and the limitations of textual scrutiny and tools in that era. It blames the orthodoxy for not conducting any further scrutiny of the Ahadith over the last millennium, and blames some of the Ulema as well as anti-Islamic Muslims and non-Muslims for selectively picking preposterous and anti-Qur’anic Ahadith to launch Fatwas and demonize Islam and bring shame and disgrace to the early compilers of the Hadith.      

Current Exercise

This concluding article aims at bringing across the mortifying effect of the continued propagation and teaching of Hadith sciences in the madrasas on Muslim intellect.

Hadith’s Fatal Blow to Critical Thinking in Islam

As is common knowledge and reviewed at length in earlier articles, the Hadith sciences evolved in the first two centuries of Islam led by the pioneering compilations of Imam al-Bukhari and Muslim. The literary style, social and cultural setting and dialectical methods underpinning the Hadith sciences, therefore, date back to that era. Accordingly, their teaching as a regular subject in Islamic religious schools (madrasas) results in recurring exposure of the madrasa students with the ground realities of that era - the early medieval ages. This, inevitably influences their intellect and worldview in line with the cognitive framework of the early medieval ages when hearsay prevailed over reason, truth was established by syllogism and dialectics, embellishments and legends fired the imagination of common man, people accepted whatever came to their ears without any critical or analytical thinking and narrated the same episode again and again in a closed circuit of thought and knowledge, without ever questioning if what they quote was technically feasible at all [4]. This, in historical perspective, led to the demise of critical thinking in Islam, veneration of the principle of Taqlid or blind conformity with past knowledge and abhorrence to any form of new knowledge.

The clash of knowledge between Islamic and the Western and its fallouts

Down the centuries, the Hadith have taken deep roots in the social and intellectual fabric of Islam. This, in the later centuries of Islam (around fifth century onwards) led to the stagnancy of knowledge, blocked any advancement of science and technology and stunted manufacturing, organisational and administrative capabilities in Islam and inevitably set the stage for the colonization of Muslim lands. Colonization in turn led to the introduction / permeation of the paradigms of Western civilization – notably universal education, use of reason, production based economy, corporate business, advanced financial institutions and Western legal and administrative system into the social, commercial and intellectual fabric of Islamic societies. This, with time, triggered an endless chain of divide between the retrogressive (anti-Western) and progressive (pro-Western) elements in practically all spheres of life in the Muslim world. While any detailed discussion on the theme will be digging too deep into history and detract from the theme, some major examples of the divides are cited below to illustrate the different facets of clash between traditional (Hadith based) worldview and Western/ modernist worldview:

        Choice of education system (Western or Islamic)

        Business option (trade, cottage scale or industrial production)

        Fund management (whether keeping money in the bank is allowable or forbidden)

        Clothing and living habits (jacket or Shirwani, eating on the mat with hand or on dining table with cutlery)

        Professions (manual, handicraft, clerical, family tradition or education based)

        Healthcare (homeopathy, Hakimi or allopathic),

        Recreation modes (indoors or outdoors)

        Cultural pursuits (poetry, Ghazal, Quawwali, musical soirees; or dance, western musical bands, symphony orchestra),

        Entertainment mode (centred around eating and display of fineries, or around drinks and display of personal charms as well as fineries),

        Socialising avenues (private parlours* or clubs) etc. – the list can be extended.

All pervading internal war in present day Islam - a legacy of prolonged exposure to Hadith sciences.

Fast track to this era, intellectually, the modern educated class is divided between ultra-secularist eager to dismiss the Qur’an, and the moderate who venerate it but have no keenness to know what it demands of them as Muslims or human beings.

Dogmatically, there is a medley of rival Mathhabs/ Sects, sub-sects, Sufi fraternities, spiritual /religious orientations - many with conflicting views.

There is a mushrooming of self-taught professional turn scholars, televangelists, commentators, each clinging to his own views formed by limited or even extensive exposure to the vast theological and juristic domains, or selective and literalist reading of the Qur’an and exegetic corpus (Tafsir) depending upon one’s agenda.

There are self proclaimed intellectuals forming ‘civil societies’ boasting of cultural, linguistic and national identities, but oblivious to the pressing national issues and antagonistic to conservative religious views of the masses.

On the social level, there is sharp and widening divide between people living on the opposite ends of the income spectrum: the slum dwellers living in abject poverty in make-shift shed at the mercy of the forces of nature and the residents of posh, luxurious flats, condominiums and bungalows living in supreme affluence undaunted by the forces of nature.

On the political front there is a bitter divide between ruling and opposition factions; an ubiquitous propensity of the ruling party to blame the opposition led previous government for all of country’s problems, to bring corruption or criminal charges against past Presidents, Prime Ministers, ministers and high officials, to prosecute them with an air of vengeance and celebration, to dub them as terrorist to get international sympathy, and to stage false-flag violence and even communal riots to brushstroke them with terrorism. There is no tolerance and political space owing a closed mindset that does not admit of any fresh thinking and is singularly rigid and incapable to strike a deal with those on the opposite side, ready to invite the Superpowers for moral, material or military support against political rivals.      

At a broader plane, there is a divide between Islam and the rest of the world, Islamic education and universal education, the dwindling employment opportunities of madrasa graduates and the promising career opportunities of the product of civil/ universal education.

In one word, the typical Muslim society is riddled with so many tiers of divides that it remains perpetually locked in debates over past and contentious issues and fails to focus on serious issues in a logical, collective and cohesive manner – a legacy of the rigidity, scholasticism, divergence and contradictions that permeate the Hadith sciences.      

Hadith provoked fallouts of Political events and wars on terror.

Terrorism – indiscriminate retaliatory killing of unsuspecting civilians going about their normal lives is a historically driven response to deep seated frustrations arising out of continued persecution and suffering of civilians or perceived injustices. Palestinians are dispossessed of their lands and suffering discriminations and human rights violations for over six decades. The Muslims of Chechnya, Afghanistan, Albania and Caucasus regions have witnessed brutal suppression, occupation and genocide in the closing decades of the last century. These major events, among other geo-political and economic factors led to the rise of International terrorism in the recent decades.

If hatred inspiring and violence promoting Hadith accounts never existed, terrorism would still have taken root as a historical phenomenon. The terror-outfits would then have created secular narratives and terrorism would have been a political response rather than a religious ideology or a call to militant jihad. The Muslim terror-outfits seeking justice and end of persecution of Muslim masses appropriate terrorism into the faith of Islam by quoting apocryphal Ahadith thus adding a dangerous global dimension to politically motivated terrorism. This has serious global ramifications and is designed to upset the peace and stability of the world, the symptoms of which are clearly apparent.        

Conspiracy Theory – An Intrinsic Construct of History 

The Muslim scholarship may blame most of the above noted elements of ambivalence, discordance and divide and the rise of International terrorism to the machinations of the West; but this is nothing new. In historical perspective, the Muslim elite and Ulema have constantly blamed the West for all their woes – from the advent of colonization through cannibalization of the Middle East, collapse of the Ottoman Empire and practically all subsequent destabilizing political events of the Muslim world - to this very day. But this is out and out an escapist mentality. The truth remains, the medieval era root of the Hadith discourses rendered Islam out of date more than half a millennium ago. The continued teaching of the Hadith as an independent domain of closed knowledge in the ensuing centuries virtually froze the intellect of the global Muslim community in the medieval era. This rendered Islam increasingly uncompetitive with the Western civilization, witnessing phenomenal advancement in science, technology and practically every field of knowledge. This, with time left the Muslims at the mercy of the Western powers, who took all geopolitical decisions for them.

The Muslims construed this as conspiracy, a derogative term that beguiles the truths of history – their incapability to govern themselves by forming a just and cohesive society. More than a hundred years ago, Muhammad Iqbal, the distinguished poet-philosopher of Islam wrote: ‘the cunning of West rent the Muslim community asunder into countless pieces and the blood of the Muslims became as cheap as water’ [a poetic outburst, paraphrased - 5]. He also said, ‘this community is lost in narrations – it is wondering about in static grounds’ [6].  

Thus, as long as Islam clings to its medieval roots of Hadith driven close-circuit scholarship, the Muslims will remain backwards in all fields of knowledge, readily accept what comes to their ears or what their enemies tell them without any critical analysis, remain divided in myriad issues of life, lack vision and foresight, and be conveniently manipulated by rival civilizations as part of history’s game plan. They will attribute all their shortcomings to conspiracy theory and sink deeper and deeper into an abyss of decline that the renowned Indian poet, Altaf Hussain Hali put in these words: “If anyone wants to see the decline of a community surpassing all limits = he must look at Islam’s incapability to rise after its fall” [7]

 The distinction between the Prophets’s personal Sunna and the Sunna of the era.

The foregoing arguments against eternal retention of the Hadith discourses in Islamic narratives is no denial of the ineffable Sunna of the Prophet that his companions emulated, and that, over time, has been buried under layers upon layers of theological interpretations and speculations. On the other hand, the day-to-day customs and practices of the Prophet have been retained by the orthodoxy through an unbroken chain of repetition. These include, among other things, the daily chore of washing, bathing, clipping of nails, grooming of beard and hair, manner of eating, drinking, sitting down, lying down in bed, personal attire and headgear for example. But, these were normative (Sunna) for his era and do not constitute his personal Sunna. Hence, with the exception of eternally binding spiritual tenets like prayer, fasting, Haj and Zakat, the bulk of the Hadith must be treated as an academic or closed corpus. This has become a historical necessity to liberate Islamic thoughts from its medieval bondage, stagnation and closed circuit rambling, transform Islam from virtually a static cult of five pillars to the inclusive and dynamic din of Islam, and above all, to deconstruct the suicidal and internecine division in the Muslim world as discussed above.


As proposed in a recent exegetic work [8] “there is a pressing need to substitute the predominantly theological content of the curriculum of traditional religious schools (madrasas) with a focused study of the universal dimensions of the Qur’anic message [9] and a comprehensive study of the ever expanding fields of universal sciences and diverse faculties of knowledge (and art forms) that are nothing but the manifestations of the Words (Kalimat) of God (18:109, 31:27), that cannot be divided between Islamic and non-Islamic domains. The Hadith remains a critical part of Islamic religion; in so much as it preserves the legacy of the Prophet, no less his companions.’ However, only that segment of Hadith is to be accepted as technically genuine that conforms to the Qur’anic holistic message, evolved in a historical critical, gender neutral, inclusive and introspective manner, using Qur’anic vocabulary and illustrations rather than post dated Arabic dictionary or theological speculations. The bulk of the Hadith corpus relating to the Sunna of the era must be treated as historically closed corpus. This conclusion is consistent with those reached in the previous articles which analyse the advent of Hadith from a different angle.

The critics and the deniers of Qur’anic revelation may wish to exclude the Qur’an as well from madrasa curriculum thus abolishing the religious character of madrasas altogether. Such as thinking amounts to deconstructing the faith of Islam and thus turning the clock of history backwards by more than fourteen centuries – a puerile proposition that only the foolish and naive may propound for the Qur’an is ever alive and no less relevant today than it was during the era of its introduction. To quote Kenneth Cragg, a distinguished contemporary scholar of Islamic and Christian studies [10].

“What happens in the Qur’an is deeply related to the travail of our time, and we need the Qur’anic word in the face of it. This would be true, of course, if only for the reason that multitudes of mankind, to be guided or persuaded about modernity at all, will need to be guided and persuaded Qur’anically.....Even where secularism has gone far among them or irreligion presses, their judgments and their sanity, their priorities and their ideals, will always be in large measure within the mind of the Qur’an.”.

*Private parlour – Elegant parlours in which sophisticated dancers accompanied by traditional musicians played for an elite audience in live performances, though the very rich could also avail extra privileges. 


Evolution of Hadith Sciences and Need for Major Paradigm Shift in Role of Hadith Corpus and Scope of Madrasa Education


Defending the Hadith and Its Compilers – The Great Imams Who Are Sometimes Misunderstood and Even Reviled



3.       See Note 3 under:

Universal Dimensions of the Qur'an and Historic Specificity of Islam's Theological Sciences 

4.       An illustration of such a mindset can be found in a hadith quoted in Part-6 of a Fatwa issued by Sheikh Yousuf al-Abeeri, appearing in Nawa-e-Afghan Jehad, Dec. 2012 posted in English translation on NAI, Dec 4, 2012. Its essence is that the Prophet’s army laying a siege to Taif beheld a scantily dressed woman standing atop the enemy’s fort, and, on Prophet’s order shot their arrows at her private parts. The Fatwa then goes on to argue that under such a situation it should be permissible to take a close look at the private part of a female accomplice of the enemy to train an arrow at her. Sexual perversion apart, it defies the indubitable fact that it is technically impossible for an archer of an army laying siege to a town, from a distance of course, to make out the sex and the outfit of someone standing atop the enemy fort or to take a close look at her private parts from long distance with the naked eye as those warriors had no telescopes.

5.       hikamate maghrib se yeh millat ki kaifiyyat hui= tukre tukre jis tarah sonay ko kar deta hai gaaz==ho gaya maninde aab arzan musalman ka lahu=muztarib too hay ki tera dil nahi dana-e raz.

6.       yeh ummat riwayaat may kho gai=yeh salik muqamaat may kho gai.

7.       pasti ka kowi had se guzarna dekhe=islam ka gir kar na ubharna dekhe

8.       Muhammad Yunus and Ashafque Syed, Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, Maryland, USA 2009, p. 363.

9.       This will encompass, among other tenets, the social, moral and ethical paradigms of the Qur’an, its spirit of unremitting struggle, exploration and enterprise, its urge for excellence and its call to use reason (aql) and deep cogitation (fiqh).

10.     Kenneth Cragg, The Event of the Qur’an, Oneworld Publications, Rockport, USA 1974, p. 22/23.

Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.