Excerpted from Hadith: A Reevaluation

Do not accept anything that you yourself cannot ascertain. You are given the hearing, the sight and the mind in order to examine and verify.

(Quran, 17:36)

Modern Europe has succeeded in pioneering various fields of modern knowledge and becoming a leader in these fields — especially science and technology — because it holds firmly to the Kantian motto of the European Age of Enlightenment: Dare to know. The Islamic world, in the early stages of its second renaissance, must do likewise. Since in Islam knowledge is based on revelation, the motto of the new Islamic Renaissance must read: Dare to know under the guidance of the Quran.

Any study of the hadith and sunna must, of necessity, be based on the Quran. Everything said about the hadith must be subjected to the critical scrutiny of the Quran and science. Only what passes this test is acceptable.

The word hadith means ‘news,’ ‘story’ or ‘message’, while the word sunna means ‘law,’ ‘system,’ ‘custom’ or ‘behavior.’ In the hadith literature, the word hadith carries the meaning of a report of an alleged saying or action of Prophet Muhammad. Therefore, although sunna originally refers to the customary behavior of the Prophet, in the hadith literature both the terms sunna and hadith carry a similar meaning.

The Four Arguments of Traditionists

The Ahl’ul-Hadith or the Traditionists did not distinctly emerge in Muslim society until the second Islamic century, more than a hundred years after the Prophet’s death.

[1] There is a big gap between the Prophet and the first legal digest that contains some traditions, i.e. the Muwatta’ of Imam Malik (d. 179 AH). It is historically known that the ‘four guided caliphs’ — close companions of the Prophet — not only did not leave us any collection of traditions, they did not make use or made very little use of traditions.[2]

Nevertheless, against all odds, the Traditionists prevailed in insisting the hadith/sunna was binding on the Muslims from the beginning.[3] They claim to derive this authority for the hadith from the Quran itself, as we shall presently show. They cannot do otherwise than make this claim, for without the authority of the Quran as the basis of its legitimacy, the hadith is automatically rejected. It will be seen that this claim is false.

They put forward four principal arguments. Firstly, the hadith is also Divine revelation. Secondly, God’s command to the believers to obey the messenger means that they must uphold the hadith. Thirdly, the Prophet is the interpreter of the Quran and the hadith is necessary in order to understand and carry out Quranic injunctions. Fourthly and lastly, the Prophet is an example for the believers to follow, and his sunna is binding on the believers.[4]

We shall discuss these four principal arguments of the Traditionists in detail and show that they are false.

Argument One: ‘Sunna is Revelation’

Their claim that hadith/sunna also constitutes revelation is based on the following Quranic verses:

Our Lord, and raise among them a messenger who would recite for them Your revelations and teach them the scripture and wisdom and sanctify them.[5]

Your friend is neither astray, nor a liar. He does not speak on his own. This is a divine inspiration.[6]

The famous classical jurist, Imam Shafi’i, basically the creator of the theory of classical jurisprudence, interpreted the Arabic word hikmah in the above verse and in similar verses as meaning ‘sunna’ or ‘hadith.’ In his major work, al-Risala, he stated:

So, God mentions His scripture, that is the Quran, and wisdom, and I have heard from those who are knowledgeable in the Quran — those whom I agree with — say that wisdom is the traditions of the Prophet. This is the same as the Word [of God Himself]; but God knows better! Because the Quran is mentioned, followed by Wisdom; then God mentions His blessing to mankind by teaching the Quran and wisdom. So, it is not possible that wisdom means other things than the traditions of the Prophet … (Emphasis added).[7]

Shafi’i’s interpretation of the word hikmah as meaning the Prophet’s tradition cannot but give rise to grave doubts. Was he justified in doing so? He did not produce any support from the Quran for such an interpretation. He merely reported the view of “experts” whom he concurred with. Who these “experts” were and what were their reasons for advancing such a view Shafi’i did not say. According to the laws of logic, we can question any view put forward by anybody, but we cannot question certainty. In the quotation above, we notice that Shafi’i jumped from a statement of the status of probability to a statement of the status of certainty without giving proper proofs to enable the probable view to achieve the status of certainty. This is unacceptable in any scientific discourse.

God Himself states in the Quran that it is He Who explains the Quran.[8] This means that the Quran explains itself. Taking this cue and examining the use of the word hikmah, occurring twenty times in the Quran, it is obvious that it refers to the teachings of the Quran, or to general wisdom that all prophet-messengers or moral teachers were endowed with. The following Quranic usage will illustrate :

This is part of the wisdom that your Lord reveals to you.[9]

where the word ‘wisdom’ refers to some thirteen ethical teachings enumerated in verses 22 to 38. These teachings are the worship of God alone and the prohibition of idolatry, doing honor and kindness to parents, giving charity to relatives, the poor and needy and the alien, to be moderate in spending, prohibition against child-killing for fear of poverty, prohibition against adultery, prohibition against killing any human being except in the course of justice, the safe-keeping of an orphan’s property until he or she becomes of age, honesty in trading, prohibition against the acceptance of unverified news or views, censure against arrogant behavior and general censure against evil.

Again the word ‘wisdom’ in the following verse:

God has made a covenant with the prophets that He will give them the scripture and wisdom.[10]

refers to the contents of all divine scriptures. Similarly in the following verse:

We have endowed Luqman with wisdom, for he was appreciative of God.[11]

where the wisdom in question refers to general wisdom of spiritual teachers.

Muhammad Ali in his translation of the Quran mentions al-Hikmah as one of the names of the Quran based on the verse 17:39 that we have quoted above.

Further evidence that the words hikmah or hakeem with the meaning ‘wisdom’ can be seen from the following:

These are the revelations and the message of wisdom that we recite to you.[12]

Y.S. By the wise Quran! You are indeed one of the messengers.[13]

It should also be note that the word hakeem in the Quran meaning ‘wise’ without exception refers to God, as for example:

Our Lord, and raise among them a messenger who would recite for them Your revelations and teach them the scripture and wisdom and sanctify them. You are the Almighty, the Wise.[14]

Glorifying God is everything in the heavens and the earth; He is the Almighty, the Wise.[15]

Based on the above Quranic evidence we can make two conclusions. Firstly, the word ‘wisdom’ quoted by Shafi’i in verse 2:129 refers to the ethical teachings of the Quran. Secondly, general wisdom has been endowed to all prophets. Can we, therefore, infer that Prophet Muhammad taught wisdom to his community through his leadership of the community? The answer is, of course, Yes. History proves that. But that wise leadership is also consequent upon his acting strictly in accordance with the ethical teachings of the Quran. All this wisdom is contained in the Quran, although some hadith may also have preserved that wisdom. The case for upholding the hadith apart from the Quran is, therefore, not proved by this argument.

Further examination of the use of the words ‘sunna’ and ‘hadith’ in the Quran gives interesting information. The word ‘sunna’ is used in the Quran to refer to the divine system or law and to the example of the fate suffered by ancient communities. None refers to the behavior of the Prophet. The two usages are illustrated in the following verses:

This is God’s system that has always prevailed. God’s system never changes.[16]

Tell those who disbelieve that if they repent, their past transgression will be forgiven. But if they revert, then the examples of the past should be remembered.[17]

The word ‘hadith’ is used in the Quran to mean ‘news’, ‘story’, ‘message’ or ‘thing’. Out of the 36 times it is used in various grammatical forms, none refers to what is known as the Prophetic hadith as another source of law beside the Quran. On the contrary, in ten instances[18] of very powerful statements the word refers to the Quran and categorically rejects any hadith besides the Quran. Here we give two of them:

God sent down the best hadith, a scripture consistent, repeating.[19]

Some people uphold vain hadith in order to divert others from the path of God without knowledge, and to create a mockery of it.[20]

The other verses, 53:3-4, that the Traditionists quote as proof that the sunna is also divine revelation have been given. Commenting on these verses, Fazlul Karim said:

The Holy Quran exhorts the people to believe the Hadith of the Prophet as nothing short of revelation … The only difference between the Quran and the Hadith is that whereas the former was revealed directly through Gabriel with the very letters that are embodied from Allah, the latter was revealed without letters and words…[21]

This interpretation of the hadith as revelation is patently false and has its origin in earlier Jewish practice, as we shall show. Let us look closer at the verses in question.

By the falling star. Your friend is neither astray, nor a liar. He does not speak on his own. This is a divine inspiration. A teaching from a mighty one. The possessor of omnipotence, who assumed (all authority). From the highest horizon. He came closer by moving downwards. Until He became as close as possible. He then revealed to His servant what He revealed.[22]

The above verses clearly describe the process of revelation to Muhammad. They refer to a specially inspired state, not to the ordinary state of Muhammad’s human existence. Apart from the fact that the verses themselves make this clear, this is the interpretation given by all authorities. Thus, the later extremely subjective meaning given to these verses to conform to the Traditionists’ theory, as exemplified by Fazlul Karim, must be rejected.

What should alert Muslims is the very close resemblance of this theory to the much earlier Jewish theory of written and oral revelations. The Jewish Talmud, consisting of the Mishnah and Gemara, the equivalent of Muslim Hadith and Sunna, is a body of oral teachings of Jewish rabbis and jurists based on their interpretations and expositions of the scripture over a long period. In the words of the Jewish scholar Judah Goldin,

“…[It was believed that] along with the revelation of the Written Torah was a revelation of an Oral Torah, that is, that interpretations of and deductions from the Scriptures must have accompanied the Scriptures themselves has at least this to recommend it: no written text, particularly if it is meant as a guide for conduct, can in and of itself be complete; it must have some form of oral commentary associated with it. This much however is clear: from the fifth century BC onward there was a conscious effort on the part of teachers to expound the canonical books of the Torah, to make clear its meaning and its applicability. ‘To make clear the Torah of the Lord and put it into practice, and to teach in Israel statutes and ordinances’ (Ezra 7:10) was not only the programme of Ezra but of the colleagues whom he attracted to himself, the Soferim … It was the Soferim who made what was implicit in the Book of the Torah of God explicit and intelligible …, and under their tutelage too, as times required, enactments and decrees were issued. Such teaching and legislation as the Soferim conducted through their schools and councils were carried on orally, in order to carefully distinguish between what was the Written Torah, Scripture, and the body of exegesis, interpretation by [word of] mouth, Oral Torah.”[23]

This historical testimony is self-explanatory. The theory of two revelations that the Traditionists had propagated is Jewish in origin and had its beginning in the teaching of scholar-priest Ezra, idolized by the Jews as the son of God,[24] and his followers.

We should note that this theory, built with such elaborateness, is demolished by the Quran in just two words with its declaration that the Prophet believes in God’s words:

Therefore, you shall believe in God and His messenger, the gentile prophet, who believes in God and His words, and follow him that you may be guided.[25]

Argument Two: ‘Obey the Messenger’ Means ‘Uphold the Hadith’

The second principal argument advanced by the Traditionists relates to God’s commandment to the believers to obey the messenger, which they have interpreted to mean belief in the hadith/sunna. Shafi’i used this argument as his principal argument and tirelessly repeated it in his book, al-Risala. He said,

But whatever is decided by him in the sunna God has decreed that we should obey, and He considers [our] obedience to him as obedience to Him, and [our] refusal to obey him as our denial of Him, which will not be forgiven …[26]

The Traditionists use the famous verse 4:59 as well as two other verses as their props for this argument. Let us look at the verses carefully:

O you who believe, you shall obey God, and you shall obey the messenger and those in charge among you. If you dispute in any matter, you shall refer it to God and the messenger, if you truly believe in God and the Last Day. This is better for you and provides you with the best solution.[27]

Any gained spoils that the messenger gives you, you shall accept, and whatever he forbids you, you shall desist from.[28]

Never, by your Lord, will they be considered believers, unless they ask you to judge between them, then find no hesitation whatsoever in their hearts regarding your judgement, and unless they submit completely.[29]

The Traditionists desire to convey two ideas by these quotations. Firstly, the messenger is an independent power to be obeyed apart from God. Secondly, obedience to the messenger means upholding the hadith/sunna. Are they right in these?

It seems obvious that obedience to the messenger in the above verse and in other similar verses means obedience to God, since the messenger is not an independent agency. As messenger, he was the agency that delivered the message, and obedience to him was equivalent to obedience to God. As stated in the Quran several times, “The sole function of the messenger is to deliver the message.”[30] It should be noted that the Quran uses the word ‘messenger’ and not ‘Muhammad’. The obedience is, therefore, to the messenger, that is, to the message that he brought from God. In short, God and messenger in this context constitute one concept which should not be separated.

We have said earlier that the Quran explains itself. Such verses where obedience to God is coupled with obedience to the messenger is explained by other verses where obedience is made due only to God. The following are examples:

Say, “I exhort you to do only one thing: that you totally submit to God in pairs or as individuals, then reflect. Your friend is not crazy; he only alerts you to evade terrible retribution.”[31]

You shall be obedient to your Lord and totally submit to Him before the retribution comes to you.[32]

The second idea that obedience to the messenger means upholding the hadith is therefore categorically rejected by the Quran.

A question may still be asked: Did Muhammad the messenger not pronounce and act outside the Quran? It is only too obvious that he did and must have done so. He did so as leader of the then Muslim community and as an ordinary human being. Under such circumstances, the Quranic directive regarding leadership and obedience in verse 4:59 applies: that the people are duty-bound to obey their rightful leader or leaders in so far as he or they do not trespass the bounds of God. We may assume that Muhammad, the leader and the man, would not have said or done anything contrary to the divine message he brought, after he knew the message. Therefore, the truly genuine hadith can only be the ones that do not contradict the Quran.

Certain decisions he made as leader of the community that history has recorded must necessarily be circumscribed by the conditions of the time. The Madinah Charter is a good example. Although the principles of religious freedom, inter-communal equality and unity, local autonomy and just government underlying the charter conform to the teachings of the Quran, the forms they took were conditioned by the circumstances then prevailing. In the same manner, his decisions on other matters concerning methods that the Quran, for obvious reasons, does not stipulate were determined by historical circumstances and do not bind the Muslims after him. History records that this was precisely the attitude of the four righteous caliphs, although they did consider those decisions as precedents.[33] That past decisions are precedents is normal legal procedure.

Argument Three: ‘Hadith Interprets the Quran’

The Traditionists claim that Prophet Muhammad is the interpreter of the Quran, and that this interpretation is obtainable through the hadith. Without the hadith, they assert, we cannot understand and carry out the commands of God in the Quran. A typical statement of the Traditionists is as follow:

If the explanations of the Prophet (pbuh) regarding general matters were not preserved and guaranteed from foreign interference, it is certain that Quranic commands cannot be implemented. In this way, a great part of Quranic directives which are binding on us will lapse. In this way, we shall be unable to know the true purpose of God.[34]

The Traditionists quote the following verses to support their contention:

We reveal to you this Reminder so that you may explain to the people what is revealed to them and to let them reflect.[35]

We did not send this scripture down to you except that you may explain to them over what they dispute, and to provide guidance and mercy for those who believe.[36]

Commenting on these verses, one writer said that the Prophet detailed general or universal matters in the Quran, such as the times and number of prostrations of prayer and the rate of zakat or obligatory charity; the Prophet clarified matters that were not mentioned in the Quran, such as the time of imsak (early morning just before dawn when fasting begins in Ramadan); the Prophet specified general commands in the Quran, such as division of family property where, it was claimed, that the hadith forbid any share for children who killed their parents; and the Prophet defined the limits of Quranic orders, such as determining the methods of carrying out the punishment for cutting off the hand.[37]

It is clear from the above that what is meant by the Traditionists is the role of the Prophet as leader, contained in the Quranic concept ulil-amr (those in authority) that has already been explained.

As regards explaining and interpreting the Quran, Quranic statements and historical evidence have shown that it is not given to Prophet Muhammad or to any subsequent teachers to do so fully and all at once. The Quran, being from the omniscient knowledge of God, cannot all be understood fully, except through a prolonged process of rational understanding and scientific studies. The long history of Quranic exegeses prove this. The Quran itself attests to this when it declares about the allegorical verses:

No one knows their correct interpretations, except God and those well-grounded in knowledge.[38]

While this verse refers only to the understanding of allegorical verses, God clearly states that it is He who teaches and explains the Quran.[39] This means, on the one hand, that the Quran explains itself and, on the other, that God will, at the proper time, give man the necessary knowledge to understand it. The various discoveries and findings of modern science within the last four hundred years have thrown light on the meanings and corroborated the statements made in the Quran fourteen centuries ago when modern science was not yet born.[40]

Mode of Prayer

The Traditionists invariably ask: If we do not have the hadith, how do we pray? This shows that they have not studied the Quran nor Arab history prior to Muhammad carefully. The Quran clearly states that the obligatory prayers and all other religious observances of Islam were originally taught to Abraham.[41] All the prophets and their true followers since Abraham practiced them, but, as the Quran also informs us, later generations, including the Arabs at the advent of Muhammad, had lost these prayers.[42] The prayers of the Arabs at the Shrine at the time were described by the Quran as “no more than deceit and alienation.”[43]

It should also be noted that the very early revelations, such as the chapter 73 entitled al-Muzzammil which was the third in order of revelation, already mentioned salat and zakat, indicating that these religious observances were well-known and were being practiced.[44] This is confirmed by early historical sources, such as Ibn Ishaq’s biography of the Prophet.[45] All these conclusively prove that our salat prayers today were not originally given to Muhammad during the Night Journey, as the Traditionists claim.

A moment’s thought will also make us realize that we do not learn how to pray from the hadith. We learn to do so from our parents and teachers who inherit the practice through the generations from the first source, that is Prophet Abraham.

Although the Quran no longer needs to teach us how to pray, since we have learnt and practiced it from the time of Abraham, still it gives us the main features of salat prayer, i.e. the normal ablution (5:6), the abnormal ablution (4:43), the proper dress (7:31), standing and facing the qiblah (2:144), the times (11:114, 17:78, 24:58, 2:238, 30:17-18 and 20:130), the bowing and prostrating (2:43,125,3:42, 22:77, 48:29), using moderate voice when saying prayers (17:110), not calling anyone else besides God in prayer (72:18) and modified mode of prayer at unusual times (4:101,103). It is quite obvious that many important details regarding the mode of prayer are given in the Quran.

It should be remembered that the Quran repeatedly teaches the people to be concerned with doing good sincerely and not to be concerned with form.[46] It is obvious why this should be so. An obsession with form would defeat the purpose of an action. The incidence of Saudi Prince Sultan Salman who accompanied the American space mission, Discovery, in 1985 and who exposed the inability of the traditional Saudi ulama to answer the question of how he should pray in the space shuttle was a good modern illustration of the error of obsession with form.[47]

Argument Four: `The Example of the Prophet’

This is the fourth and last argument of the Traditionists: that the Prophet constitutes a good example for the believers to follow, and following his examples means following the sunna. They base this argument on the following verses of the Quran:

The messenger of God is a good example for you, for any of you who truly seek God and the Hereafter and remember God frequently.[48]

Referring to this verse and the following verse

You are indeed endowed with a great character[49]

one traditionalist writer remarked:

The messenger (pbuh) is a perfect man. He is the foremost example to be followed in all aspects and fields, except in those that cannot be followed.[50]

According to the hadith scholar, M.M. Azami,

If we consider the Prophet as the model for the community, the Muslims have to follow his example in every way, especially as they have been specifically commanded to do so by Allah.[51]

Even the late modern scholar Prof. Fazlur Rahman talks of the existence of the exemplary conduct of the Prophet.[52] However, if we look at the context of verse 33:21 quoted above, it is clear that it does not refer to every detail of the Prophet’s behavior, such as his eating, dress, sleeping and other personal habits. Actually, it refers to the Prophet’s faith in God’s help and victory. The verse is put in the middle of the account of the Battle of the Allies when the believers were really shaken and thought that the cause of Islam was lost. Nevertheless, it would not be wrong if we derive a general meaning for this verse that the Prophet provided a good example for Muslims to follow. The Prophet’s example is none other than his staunch faith in God and strict adherence to the Quran.

That the phrase uswah hasanah, meaning ‘a good example’ in this verse, refers to one’s conviction, stand and struggle, and not to one’s personal behavior, can be proved by its usage, twice, for Prophet Abraham who was a staunch monotheist. Verse 4 of Surah 60 explains the meaning of the phrase:

A good example has been set for you by Abraham and those with him. They said to their people, “We disown you and the idols you set up besides God. We reject you, and you will see from us nothing but enmity and opposition until you believe in God alone.”[53]

The above verse explains the meaning of uswah hasanah as referring to one’s religious conviction, ideological position and struggle. This is an instance of how the Quran explains and interprets itself.

It is unreasonable and unthinkable that God would ask the Muslims to follow the prophet’s personal mode of behavior, because a person’s mode of behavior is determined by many different factors, such as customs, his education, personal upbringing and personal inclinations. The prophet’s mode of eating, of dress and indeed of general behavior cannot be different from that of other Arabs, including Jews and Christians, of that time, except regarding matters which Islam prohibited. If the Prophet had been born a Malay, he would have dressed and eaten like a Malay. This is a cultural and a personal trait which has nothing to do with one’s religion.

So were the methods of the Prophet’s wars and his administration of the Medina city-state. The weapons he used, such as swords, spears, arrows and shields, were in accordance with the prevailing technology. Today, with the development of modern weapons, the Muslims obviously cannot fight with the medieval weapons used by the Prophet, although they must emulate his staunch faith in God and complete adherence to God’s teachings.

In political administration, the same Islamic principles operate. Some examples: sovereignty of the people under God’s sovereignty, government based on just laws, complete freedom of religious worship, obedience to God and due obedience to leaders, leadership to be exercised by those who are competent and morally upright, and government through consultation. However, methods and the institutions vary according to time and circumstances. The methods and institutions used by the Prophet are not universally and eternally binding.

Actually, the ways of the Prophet were in strict conformity with the teachings of the Quran.[54] He held firmly to the Quran and obeyed its injunctions. Therefore, following the example of the Prophet means upholding the Quran. The claim of the Traditionists that the Quran is general and requires the hadith to explain it and make it specific is based on a false understanding of the Quran. This claim has been partially dealt with here. It will be fully dealt with in Chapter V where we shall discuss the comprehensiveness of the Quran as a guide.

The Quran is Complete, Perfect and Detailed

The hadith writers’ allegations are clearly misleading. To say that the Quran is incomplete or unclear can only be blasphemous. Such an opinion belittles God’s power by implying that He gave us an incomplete or unclear product. It is just like the Christian Bible insisting that God created the heavens and the earth in six days and then on the seventh day He had to take a break. In the Quran, God tells us that He created the heavens and the earth and God does not need to take any breaks for such is the power of God.

Indeed your Lord is God; the one God who created the heavens and the earth in six days, then assumed all responsibility.[55]

It is not likely that the God who created the whole wide universe and then assumed all responsibility including revealing the Quran and teaching and explaining it would reveal a Quran that was incomplete or unclear.

Also consider the following:

Any creature on earth and any bird that flies with wings, are all nations like you. We did not leave anything out of this scripture. To their Lord they will all be gathered. Those who reject our revelations are deaf, dumb and in total darkness.[56]

So if God “did not leave anything out of this scripture,” how can the Quran be incomplete?

The word of your Lord is complete, in truth and justice. Nothing shall abrogate His words. He is the Hearer, the Knower.[57]

We have cited for the people every kind of example, that they make take heed.[58]

These examples referred to in the above verse served the Prophet well such that he in turn was able to learn from these examples and become a good example himself for his followers. How then can the hadith writers insist that the Quran is incomplete when it also has every kind of example quoted for mankind’s reference? The Quran therefore contains details for all our needs. The Quran states general principles in places where it would be too burdensome for us if God were to make strict rules. This is especially true when the Quran touches on socio-cultural matters as they differ from place to place and among different peoples.

But still, how do we come to a solution for a problem that we have to solve by ourselves, for example, when Prince Sultan Salman wanted to pray aboard the space shuttle Discovery? God answers:

O you who believe, you shall obey God, and you shall obey the messenger and those in charge among you. If you dispute in any matter, you shall refer it to God and His messenger, if you truly believe in God and the last day. This is better for you and provides you with the best solution.[59]

They respond to their Lord and observe the salat prayers. Their affairs are decided by consensus among them, and from our provisions to them they donate.[60]

The only way we can refer anything to God and His messenger today is by using the teachings of God Almighty that is still with us in the Quran. We must use our own intelligence to deliberate among ourselves to solve our problems, but always guided by God, i.e. through knowledge of the Quran.

There are some matters whereby God clearly spells out exactly what we are required to do. The rights of individuals, ownership of property, the rules of marriage and divorce, the laws of inheritance, penal laws, the rules of witness, dietary laws, the methods of ablution, and so on are all clearly detailed in the Quran.

At other places, whenever God pleases, He provides us both the principles and the methods. Let us explore further the issue of penal laws. The punishments of hand-cutting for theft and a hundred lashes for adultery mentioned in the Quran are forms, not principles, of punishment. Furthermore, these forms are connected to specific historical circumstances.[61]

What, then, are the Quranic principles for punishment? There are two, or one can say three, if we include the principle that all crimes must be punished and not overlooked. The two principles are: firstly, that every crime must be punished in accordance with the severity of the crime, i.e. the principle of equivalence; and secondly, the principle of mercy, as evidenced by the following verses:

Whoever works evil must be punished.[62]

They counter aggression with an equivalent response. However, those who pardon and conciliate receive a better reward from God.[63]

They counter evil with good.[64]

According to the first principle, every crime must be punished, but following from the second principle, the punishment meted out must match the crime. This is the principle of justice designed to deter criminals. But the last principle gives the power to our courts to lighten punishments of crimes up to the point of pardon to encourage reformation on the part of individual criminals. What a beautiful penal system this is!

Similarly, God provides us the guiding principles and the detailed methods of dividing property for inheritance purposes.

The man shall get a share of what the parents and relatives leave, and the women shall get a share of what the parents and the relatives leave, be it small or large, a decreed share.[65]

This verse therefore sets the principle that men and women can inherit property.

God decrees what you shall bequeath for your children; the male shall get the share of two females.[66]

It will be seen that the above verses establish the general principle of inheritability by both males and females, while at the same time fixes the portions. The question arises: are the fixed portions of two for men and one for women historically determined or absolute? Is it fair that working women who also share the burden of family expenses be given less portion? At a time when women looked after the home and men were sole breadwinners, such portioning was fair. But when economic conditions change and women bear equal burden, is it allowed for us to make adjustments, implying that we consider the second verse as historically determined? (Hint: the above verses also talk about will; see also 2:180, 240). This is something, as in many other matters, that Muslim society, through council and through their rightful leaders, must decide.

The Quran also makes provisions for Muslims to handle problems in difficult or extraordinary circumstances. For example, foods that are forbidden to eat under normal circumstances, like pork, become permissible out of necessity and not by choice.[67]

Thus, the Quran contains guidance and solutions to handle all of our affairs. The Quran is complete, perfect and detailed. If God “leaves anything out” of the Quran at all, it is only because God has put in place, elsewhere throughout the Quran, sufficient guidance with which human beings can guide their lives.

God never sends any people astray without first pointing out the consequences for them. God is fully aware of all things.[68]

In spite of repeated Divine proclamations that the Quran is complete and perfect, the hadith writers insist that when the Quran is silent on some issues, the Prophet steps in (allegedly) and provides the hadith to fill in the gaps. Since, according to them, all the Prophet’s words are inspired by God, therefore, it is actually God Himself who indirectly fills the gaps that He Himself created in the first place! A very neat and tidy explanation to justify their going around in circles. However, God replies in the following verse:

O you who believe, do not ask about things if revealed to you, you will be hurt. If you consider them in the light of the Quran, you will realize that God left them out as an alleviation. God is Forgiver, Clement.[69]

Muhammad Ali interprets this verse thus:

As Islam discouraged religious practices, such as monastic life, it also prohibited questions relating to details on many points which would require this or that practice to be made obligatory, and much was left to the individual will or circumstances of the time and place. The exercise of judgement occupies a very important place in Islam and this gives ample scope to different nations and communities to frame laws for themselves and to meet new and changed situations. The hadith shows that the Prophet also discourages questions on details in which a Muslim could choose a way for himself.[70]

God does not mention some things altogether or in detail for two reasons. Firstly, like the regular prayer, because He has taught mankind these things before Muhammad. Secondly, because such things concern the forms their principles take at different times and different places. These forms are therefore decided by the society’s council or by customs or by personal preference. The principles of decision-making through council, or through customary usage, or through using reason are clearly enunciated in the Quran.[71]

It is clear that the Quran, being the last of God’s scriptures to mankind, is the only infallible source of our guidance.

Other sources, including previous scriptures as well the hadith/sunna, are subject to Quranic criticism. What passes this criticism is acceptable; what fails is automatically rejected. This is plain, as the following verses state:

Shall I seek other than God as a source of law, when He revealed to you this Book fully detailed? Even those who received previous scripture recognize that it came down from your Lord, truthfully. Therefore, you shall not harbor any doubt.[72]

… Those who do not rule according to God’s scripture are the unjust.[73]

You should judge among them according to God’s scripture and do not follow their ideas, and beware lest they divert you from some of God’s revelations to you. If they turn away, then you should know that God wants to punish them for their sins. Indeed, many people are wicked. Is it the laws of the days of ignorance that they want to apply? Whose laws are better than God’s, for those who are firm believers?[74]

Those who fabricate false doctrines are the ones who do not believe in God’s revelations. They are the liars.[75]

Shall we treat the Muslims like criminals? What is wrong with you? How do you judge? Do you have another book that you apply? One that gives you anything you want?[76]

So, do the hadith writers have another book that they apply? One that gives them everything? Is this why God revealed the earth-shaking verse that we have quoted several times?

The messenger will say, “My Lord, my people have deserted this Quran.”

We cannot, therefore, use any other book other than the Quran to make our laws and punish the guilty, attributing these laws to God. But what do the hadith writers say? They say that anyone who does not accept the hadith books immediately become unbelievers. They insist that the hadith, although it is not the Quran, must be accepted. To them the hadith is “the other book that they apply, one that gives them anything they want,” as the Quran puts it precisely and beautifully.

What does God say to these allegations?

Who is more wicked than one who lies about God, or rejects His revelations? Indeed, the wicked never succeed. On the day when We gather them all together, We will say to the idol worshippers, “Where are the idols you had fabricated?” Their only response will be, “By God, our Lord, we were not idolaters!” Note how they lied to themselves! Whatever they have invented have misled them.[77]

When God alone is advocated, the hearts of those who do not believe in the hereafter shrink with aversion. But when others are mentioned besides Him, they rejoice.[78]

They follow idols who decree for them religious laws never authorized by God. If it were not for the predetermined decision, they would have been judged immediately. The wicked have deserved painful retribution.[79]

This is because when invited to worship God alone, you disbelieved, but when others were made partners beside Him, you believed. Alas the judgement has been decreed by God, the Most Exalted, the Great.[80]

God cites the example of a man with partners who contradict one another and a man who relies on one consistent source: are they the same? Praise be to God, the majority do not know.[81]

To place the hadith on an equivalent footing with revelation is to create another source of guidance – an idol. This is the major problem with the hadith. When we invite them to believe in God alone through the Quran, they hesitate, but when we throw in the false hadith and other false teachings, then they are happy!

In conclusion, the theory or doctrine that the hadith is an equal source of guidance with the Quran, propounded by Shafi’i, is the most important aspect of the hadith question. Even though we totally reject this doctrine, we do not reject the hadith as a secondary source,[82] provided that it does not contradict the Quran. On this view also, we say that the hadith is an important source of early Muslim social history. We shall have more to say about this in the last chapter.



[1] Al-Shaybani, Muwatta, p. 389; quoted in Muslim Studies, p. 195.

[2] Authenticity, pp. 24-29.

[3] See Shafi’i’s Risala, pp. 75-76, 105-08, 109-16; Mishkat, vol. I, pp. 2-4; Studies in Hadith Methodology, pp. 5-8 and Islam, pp. 50-51.

[4] See note 3 above.

[5] Quran, 2: 129.

[6] Quran, 53: 2-4.

[7] Shafi’i’s Risala, p. 11.

[8] “The Beneficent. He teaches the Quran” (55:1-2). See also 75:19.

[9] Quran, 17:39.

[10] Quran, 3:81.

[11] Quran, 31:12.

[12] Quran, 3:58.

[13] Quran, 36:1-3.

[14] Quran, 2:129.

[15] Quran, 61:1.

[16] Quran, 48:23.

[17] Quran, 8:38.

[18] Quran, 7:185; 12:111; 18:6; 39:23; 45:6; 52:34; 53:59; 56:81; 68:44 and 77:50.

[19] Quran, 39:23.

[20] Quran, 31:6.

[21] See Mishkat, vol. I, p. 2.

[22] Quran, 53: 1-10.

[23] Judah Goldin, The Living Talmud, pp. 22-23.

[24] “The Jews say, ‘Esra is the son of God’ and the Christians say, ‘The Messiah is the son of God’. These are the words of their mouths. They imitated the words of those who disbelieved before. God fights them. How perverse they are!” (Quran, 9:30)

[25] Quran, 7:158.

[26] Shafi’i’s Risala, Chapter V, in particular p. 119.

[27] Quran, 4:59.

[28] Quran, 59:7.

[29] Quran, 4:65.

[30] Quran, 5:99.

[31] Quran, 34:46.

[32] Quran, 39:54.

[33] Muslim Tradition, pp. 28-29.

[34] Mahmud Saedon, “Al-Sunnah: Kedudukan dan Peranannya Dalam Syariat Islam,” Working Paper for a Symposium of Hadith Studies held on 24 September, 1984 in Universiti Kerbangsaan Malaysia, Bangi, Selangor, Malaysia: p. 46.

[35] Quran, 16:44.

[36] Quran, 16:64.

[37] Mahmud Saedon, Op. cit., pp. 37-43.

[38] Quran, 3:7.

[39] See Note 8 above.

[40] See Note 8 above.

[41] Quran, 2:128.

[42] “Then He established generations after them who lost the salat prayers and pursued their lusts. Consequently, they have deserved to stray.” (Quran, 19:59)

[43] Quran, 8:35.

[44] Quran, 73:20.

[45] Life, p. 105.

[46] See Quran, 2:177 and 107:1-7.

[47] Refer to the Malaysian newspaper, The Star, 14 June, 1985, p. 23.

[48] Quran, 33:21.

[49] Quran, 68:4.

[50] Mahmud Saedon, Op. cit., p. 12.

[51] Studies in Hadith Methodology, p. 16.

[52] Islam, p. 51.

[53] Quran, 60:4.

[54] According to one hadith reported by Aisha: “His morals are the Quran.” (See Maulana Mohammad Ali’s translation, note 2539.)

[55] Quran, 7:54.

[56] Quran, 6: 38-39.

[57] Quran, 6: 115.

[58] Quran, 39:27.

[59] Quran, 4: 59.

[60] Quran, 42:38.

[61] See Addendum, p. 149-151.

[62] Quran, 4:123.

[63] Quran, 42:40.

[64] Quran, 13:22.

[65] Quran, 4:7.

[66] Quran, 4: 11-12.

[67] See Quran, 2:173; 5:3 and 6:145.

[68] Quran, 9: 115.

[69] Quran, 5: 101.

[70] The Holy Quran, p. 127, note 740.

[71] For the use of consultation, see 3:159 and 42:38; for reason, 7:179, 8:22 and 10:100. For the use of customs, see 5:4-5 and 2:178.

[72] Quran, 6:114.

[73] Quran, 5:45.

[74] Quran, 5:49-50.

[75] Quran, 16:105.

[76] Quran, 68:35-38.

[77] Quran, 6:21-24.

[78] Quran, 39:45.

[79] Quran, 42:21.

[80] Quran, 40:12.

[81] Quran, 39:29.

[82] The secondary source is stipulated and sanctioned in verse 4:59 of the Quran, i.e. “those in authority among you.” Under this head of secondary sources come other teachings, history, science, reason, customs and traditions, so long as they do not contradict the Quran.