To read the introduction to this series, click here
To read part 1, click here
To read part 2, click here
To read part 2a, click here
In this blogpost, we will look at what happens if the entire body of hadith is rejected. Do note that we are also quite careful about hadith and we acknowledge that there are thousands of weak and fabricated hadith reports collected in various books. The classical scholars realised this and muhaditheen like Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim made great efforts in sifting the authentic reports from the weak ones. So the best way to approach hadith is to not believe everything that is claimed to be hadith but to check the health of the hadith. We will inshAllah summarise basic hadith terminology and their rating in the last part of this series. Alternatively, it is best to consult the most authentic books first, such as the Sahiheen (Bukhari and Muslim) and Muwatta of Imam Malik.
The wholesale rejection of hadith creates more problems than it resolves. Rejection of Hadith creates a vacuum: we can’t find the explanation or the implementation of the Qur’an from any other source. One of the most famous rejecters of hadith we know of today is Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, a Pakistani scholar. In a very subtle manner, he uses the difference between Sunnah and Hadith to make the case that Sunnah (practice of the Prophet SAW) is a more reliable source of knowledge because thousands of people follow it, even today. Whereas hadith reports are only transported by a few individuals and so they are not reliable as a source of knowledge. You can read the full article here:
This is a very clever way of creating doubt about hadith and putting it next to the Sunnah of the Prophet, giving the impression that the Sunnah has been perfectly consistent in the last 1400 years. There are simple ways of answering such arguments.
- The Sunnah (actions) of Prophet (SAW) and Sahaba (RA) was certainly a source of knowledge perhaps until the end of the 8th century AD (or 2nd century AH). This is because the Tabi’een and Taba Tabi’een (the Successors of the Sahaba) were still amongst the ummah and their practice was consistent with the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW). Thus, Ghamidi’s argument holds but only in the first 100 years or so after the death of the Prophet.
- The Muslim world has divided into many sects and the sunnah followed by most Muslims is the sunnah of their ancestors or their scholars. This is why we need to differentiate their practices from the Sunnah of Muhammad (SAW). For example, the Shi’a pray differently compared to the Sunnis. Among the Sunnis, the Ahle Hadith say their prayers in a distinct manner compared to the Barelvis. There are arguments among sects about folding hands above or below the navel. Due to this it is very difficult, nearly impossible, to find out what the actual practice of the Prophet was if we look towards other Muslims around us.
- Ghamidi and the others, who doubt the standing and importance of hadith, forget that hadith is now the only source of Prophet’s Sunnah present amongst us. There is simply no other source because we happen to live centuries after the Prophet. It is interesting that Ghamidi cannot find another source of the Sunnah and has to rely on the ‘commonly practiced’ behaviour of Muslims to be sufficient proof (hujjat). But this is a highly flawed approach because practices vary depending on which group we are talking about. So which sect’s practices are closest to the Sunnah of the Prophet? And how do we determine this closeness without referring to hadith?
- Which brings us to this very interesting (and amusing) contradiction: the rejecters of hadith use hadith as and when they need to! Ghamidi is the same. He uses Hadith when it suits his purpose and rejects it when it suits his purpose. You will often find that doubters or rejecters of hadith have their personal interpretations of the Qur’an and they will use hadith if it agrees with their own views and will criticise it if it doesn’t.
The above arguments aimed at the rejecters of hadith have been summed up beautifully by Fazlur Rahman in his book Islam. He certainly suggests revisiting Hadith and looking for fresh interpretations but he does not agree with the idea of complete rejection of Hadith. He writes:
‘But now the only tradition is the verbal one, since the living Sunna, in so far as it is there, now derives its validity from the Hadith through which lies the only avenue of our contact with the Prophet and fundamentally also with the Qur’an as it was delivered to and understood by the Community. For if Hadith as a whole is cast away, the basis for the historicity of the Qur’an is removed with one stroke.’
He then adds:
‘[The Modernist] cannot disregard, even if he tries, the ethos of the Hadith and of the institutions which it guaranteed: no interpretation can take place in a vacuum. For the Qur’an did not come in a vacuum. Hence the well-known paradox that even the thoroughgoing sceptics [doubters] about the Hadith cannot resist supporting their views by it whenever it suits them.’  [In above quotes, text in bold represents my emphases. Text in square brackets shows my additions.]
Fazlur Rahman reminds us that it is only through Hadith that we get to know the Prophet and the early Muslim community. How else do we find his explanation of the Qur’an and the code of conduct of his Sahaba, if not through Hadith? It is this question the rejecters of Hadith cannot answer.
Therefore, the approach of the rejecters of Hadith not only leads to the loss of Sunnah of Muhammad (SAW) and his companions (RA) but the loss of the historical anchoring of the Qur’an itself. A recent example of this problem is highlighted in a Channel 4 documentary, where the researcher, using only the text of the Qur’an, places Muhammad (SAW) near the old cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and says that there is nothing in the Qur’an that places Muhammad (SAW) in Makkah. You can find out more about the documentary here. (The Guardian article also includes a link to the full documentary.)
This loss is a very serious implication of the rejection of Hadith but it is little understood. In the next blog post, we will link hadith with the obedience of the Prophet (SAW), which Allah has made obligatory (fard) for all Muslims.
 Rahman, Fazlur. 1979. Islam. Second edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (pp. 66-67)