Could you please tell me your views about the authority and status of the Ḥadīth of the Prophet (sws)? I also wanted to learn how can a person reject a Ḥadīth which has earlier been accepted by the Muslim scholars? Can a scholar introduce new explanations and new versions of Islamic interpretations?
Looking forward to your response.
Regards Faisal Hassan
wa alaykum assalam
Muslims believe that the Prophet (sws) communicated the religion to the world in two forms, the Holy Qur'an and the Sunnah. The contents of the religion are therefore contained in these two sources. The Holy Qur'an is the Book of God which the Prophet (sws) taught to the entire generation of the Companions (rta) who communicated it to the next generation with their consensus and it has reached us passing from generality to generality in each layer. This makes the Book absolutely authentic without a shadow of doubt. The Sunnah is the set of the religious practices including the worship rituals, social customs and etiquette. Just like the Holy Qur'an, the Sunnah too was taught by the Prophet (sws) to the entire generation of the Companions (sws) who transmitted it to the next generation and it has reached us with the consensus of all the people in each generation of the believers. This generality to generality mode of transfer makes it absolutely authentic like the Holy Qur'an. No individual or scholar can add to the contents of the religion contained in these two sources. No doubt is entertained regarding their historical authenticity and no one questions their origin.
The status of the Hadith of the Prophet (sws) is different. It has not been transmitted through generality to generality. On the contrary it has been transmitted by individual to individual mode of transfer. Therefore, it does not yield absolutely certain knowledge. The Muslims scholars and the doctors of the science of Hadith have always considered them a zanni (probable truth) source and it has always been considered an explanatory source.
The obvious lack in the authenticity of the Hadith required that the believers do not accept everything that is reported to through a khabr-e wahid (individual to individual report). This is precisely for the same reason that the scholars of the science of Hadith decided to gauge such reports on various scales before accepting the claim that a narrative issued from the Prophet (sws). We must appreciate the fact that even after great care and thorough checking a Hadith remains short of yielding conclusive truth and certitude.
The Muslim scholars checked the isnad (chain of transmitters) thoroughly to make sure that a saying attributed to the Prophet (sws) reached them through a chain of reliable transmitters without a break. They also analyzed the text of the reports as well. For example they did not accept a report that contradicts the Qur'an, the Sunnah, the conclusive arguments, human reason and commonsense. We also need to appreciate that it has never been the case that a Hadith accepted by one scholar was taken as authentic by the rest of them. We know that a particular Hadith was acceptable to Imam Malik while it was not that authentic for Imam Bukhari. Similarly, Imam Muslim who was also a student of Imam Bukhārī, did not accept all the narratives included by the latter in his Sahih. This is because the process of Hadith investigation involved much of subjectivity. That is why a particular narrator is reliable for one scholar and unreliable for another.
This process goes on and the scholars continue judging the narratives on the scales established by the muhaddithoon themselves. However, it does not mean that the Hadith is useless and is of no use. The Muslims have always given it due importance. After due research and careful analysis they use it as an explanatory source. The Muslim scholars have always felt a need to turn to the Prophetic knowledge transmitted through the Hadith. This is because we need to turn to this explanatory source in a number of cases. A detailed discussion on this issue cannot be carried out in this short response. Some important facts however can be mentioned. The Hadith is one of the many sources that document the life history of the Holy Prophet (sws), the best example he set in carrying out the religious obligations and his interpretations of the religious sources. This entails that no serious student of Islam can do without studying them at length.
i. Life History Of the Holy Prophet (sws)
The Prophet Muhammad (sws) occupies the position of intermediary between Allah and the people. He is the source from whom we received the religion of Islam. The very stature of the person of the Holy Prophet (sws) naturally attracts the attention of all including his followers, adversaries and students of all aspects of human history. None can study Islam completely without knowing about the person who conveyed it to us as the last Messenger of God on earth. Though the Holy Qur'an provides a clear picture of the various events surrounding his life, it does not provide us with the detail of his early life, personal description and his own words and deeds to which we can only find some principle statements. The Hadith literature provides all such details in this regard that we need to know. However, we need to benefit from this source very cautiously and see that these narratives always conform to the Qur'anic information of his life history and character.
ii. History and Background of Qur'anic Revelations
Quite obviously, if a text contains references to persons, places, and customs sufficiently strange to the reader, it is necessary to become acquainted with the historical period of the text to understand what is being said at the most elementary level. The Hadith literature is an important source of the history of the environment and circumstances in which the Holy Qur'an was revealed. It provides a true picture of the cultural and social setup in which the book was revealed. It introduces us to the social, cultural, political, financial and moral conditions of its addressees. It tells us how as the necessary consequences of the preaching mission of the Messenger of Allah Islam spread in the Arabian Peninsula and what changes did the Holy Qur'an bring in the lives of the followers. The Holy Qur'an is the book which contains the account of Indhar (warning) of the Holy Prophet (sws). Hadith literature provides us with a graphic picture of the way the Holy Prophet (sws) preached the faith in Arabia, the way he met resistance from the polytheists and the People of the Book of Arabia and coped with this resistance. It provides us with ample information on numerous facets of the Da'wah mission of the Holy Prophet (sws). For example the following verse of the Holy Qur'an requires of the Holy Prophet (sws) to warn his kinsmen:
وَأَنْذِرْ عَشِيْرَتَكَ الْأَقْرَبِيْنَ
And warn thy nearest kindred.(26:214)
The Hadith literature avails us the detail of the matter as to how did the Holy Prophet (sws) respond to the directive and what was the result of this effort. Following narratives refer to the incident:
عن قبيصة بن المخارق وزهير بن عمرو قالا لما نزلت وأنذر عشيرتك الأقربين قال انطلق نبي اللهإلى رضمة من جبل فعلا أعلاها حجرا ثم نادى يا بني عبد منافاه إني نذير إنما مثلي ومثلكم كمثل رجل رأى العدو فانطلق يربأ أهله فخشي أن يسبقوه فجعل يهتف يا صباحاه
Qabisah Ibn al-Mukhariq and Zuhayr Ibn 'Amr reported: When this verse was revealed: 'And warn thy nearest kindred,' the Apostle (sws) of Allah (sws) set off towards a rock of the hill and ascended the highest of the rocks and then called: 'O sons of 'Abd Manaf! I am a warner; my similitude and your similitude is like a man who saw the enemy and went to guard his people, but, being afraid they might get there before him, he shouted: Be on your guard!' (Muslim: No. 207)
Like wise the Holy Qur'an frequently refers to some important incidents, for example the Battle of Badr (3:123, 8:41), the treaty of Hudaybiyyah (48:1-18) etc but does not provide us the full account of the incident. Therefore, the students of the Holy Qur'an benefit greatly by studying Hadith.
ii. The Perfect Exemplar
For Muslims, the person of the Holy Prophet holds the status of the Divine Messenger. The Holy Qur'an describes the person of the Holy Prophet (sws) as the model of excellence for the adherents of Islam. The Holy Prophet (sws) is the epitome of exalted moral character and performed religious obligations with ultimate care and precision. Thus, the Holy Prophet's (sws) own example is considered normative for the entire Islamic community. The way he would perform religious obligations and the care he took in dealing with the practical observation of the commands and the theoretical beliefs in the doctrines of Islam is the best form in which any human can discharge these obligations. Indeed, following his example is required of us by God Himself:
لَقَدْ كَانَ لَكُمْ فِي رَسُولِ اللَّهِ أُسْوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ لِّمَن كَانَ يَرْجُو اللَّهَ وَالْيَوْمَ الْآخِرَ وَذَكَرَ اللَّهَ كَثِيراً
In God's messenger you have indeed a good example for everyone who looks forward with hope to God and the Last Day, and remembers God unceasingly. (33: 21)
The Hadith literature affords us knowledge of his conduct towards fulfilling obligations which relate to human beings and also the ones which relate to Allah. The following examples provide information on the example he set in this regard.
Islam teaches humans to treat people with kindness. 4:36 reads:
وَبِالْوَالِدَيْنِ إِحْسَانًا وَبِذِي الْقُرْبَى وَالْيَتَامَى وَالْمَسَاكِينِ وَالْجَارِ ذِي الْقُرْبَى وَالْجَارِ الْجُنُبِ وَالصَّاحِبِ بِالجَنبِ وَابْنِ السَّبِيلِ وَمَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُكُمْ إِنَّ اللّهَ لاَ يُحِبُّ مَن كَانَ مُخْتَالاً فَخُورًا
Show kindness to parents, and to near kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and to the neighbor who is of kin (to you) and the neighbor who is not of kin and the fellow traveler and the wayfarer and whom your right hands possess. Lo! Allah loves not such as are proud and boastful. (4:36)
The following narratives, for example, provide a picture of the Holy Prophet's (sws) treatment of his household and servants. :
عائشة قالت ما ضرب رسول الله شيئا قط بيده ولا امرأة ولا خادما إلا أن يجاهد في سبيل الله وما نيل منه شيء قط فينتقم من صاحبه إلا أن ينتهك شيء من محارم الله فينتقم لله عز وجل
'A'ishahh (rta) reported that Allah's Messenger (sws) never beat anyone with his hand neither a woman nor a servant, but only in the case when he had been fighting in the cause of Allah and he never took revenge from anyone unless the things made inviolable by Allah were made violable; he then took revenge for Allah, the Exalted and Glorious. (Muslim: No. 2328)
عن أنس رضي الله عنه قال قدم رسول الله المدينة ليس له خادم فأخذ أبو طلحة بيدي فأنطلق بي إلى رسول الله فقال يا رسول الله إن أنسا غلام كيس فليخدمك قال فخدمته في السفر والحضر ما قال لي لشيء صنعته لم صنعت هذا هكذا ولا لشيء لم أصنعه لم لم تصنع هذا هكذا
Narrated Anas (rta) : When Allah's Apostle (sws) came to Madinah; he did not have any servant. Abu Talhah (Anas' step-father) took me to Allah's Apostle (sws) and said 'O Allah's Apostle (sws)! Anas is a wise boy, so let him serve you.' So, I served himat home and on journeys. If I did anything, he never asked me why I did it, and if I refrained from doing anything, he never asked me why I refrained from doing it. (Bukhari: No. 2616)
The Holy Qur'an while referring to the obligation of ablution states:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ إِذَا قُمْتُمْ إِلَى الصَّلاةِفاغْسِلُواْ وُجُوهَكُمْ وَأَيْدِيَكُمْ إِلَى الْمَرَافِقِ وَامْسَحُواْبِرُؤُوسِكُمْ وَأَرْجُلَكُمْ إِلَى الْكَعْبَينِ
O you who believe! When you rise up for prayer, wash your face, and your hands up to the elbows, and [lightly] rub your heads and [wash] your feet up to the ankles. (5:6)
The directive only lays out the basic requirement in this regard. But when we study the way the Holy Prophet (sws) performed Wudu (ablution), we come to know that he did it in the highest level of perfection. He started from cleaning his teeth then, [starting from the right] washed his both hands, cleaned his mouth thrice, cleaned his nostrils thrice, washed his mouth thrice, and put fingers in his beard to ensure that the water goes to the skin, washed his hands up to the elbows, then soaked his hands and rubbed it on the whole head starting from the forehead to the neck, cleaned the ears from both outer and inner sides, and, at last, he washed his feet [starting from the right]. This has been recorded in the Hadith literature. (Muslim: No. 226, 235, Bukhari: No. 159, 186) It shows how a Muslim can discharge religious obligations with the same care and thoroughness.
iii. The Prophet's Explanation of Religious Sources
The Hadith literature is also the storehouse of the Holy Prophet's (sws) knowledge and understanding of the religious sources. Since the Holy Prophet (sws) was directly receiving religious guidance and was in communication with the Almighty his knowledge of the detail and the wisdom of the texts is unparalleled. We can only reach his explanations of the Qur'anic text through the Hadith literature. It is the source through which his understanding of the wisdom of the religious sources, rites and rituals and doctrines and dogmas can be accessed. However, one must remain alive to the fact that the Hadith literature does not add to the content of religion; it only offers explanation of the Holy Qur'an, the Sunan and dictates of sense and reason. This is imperative because the Hadith literature has not been transferred to us through absolutely reliable sources. These explanations can only be accepted if they do not go against the explicit text of the Holy Qur'an and established usage of the words employed. All the authentic books of Hadith and the Tafsir works contain a large number of Prophetic explanations of the Qur'anic text. Most of the Hadith literature consists either of the Holy Prophet's (sws) explanation of the Sunnah or his best example in performing certain religious acts. The following examples would adequately explain the importance of the explanations of the Qur'anic text the Holy Prophet (sws) offered:
The scholars of Qur'anic exegeses have offered different interpretations to words 'Habl 'l -Allah' in the following verse:
وَاعْتَصِمُوْا بِحَبْلِ اللهِ جَمِيْعَا وَ لَا تَفَرَّقُوْا
And hold fast to the rope of Allah together and do not become disunited. [3:106]
The Holy Prophet (sws) is reported to have explained these words thus:
كتَابَ اللهِ هُوَ حَبْلُ الله الْمَمْدُوْدُ مِنَ السِّمَاءِ إِلَى الْأَرْضِ
Book of God is the rope of Allah that stretches from the heavens to the earth. (Tabari, Abu Ja'far, Muhammad Ibn Jari, Jami'u'l-Bayan 'an Tawil Aay al-Qur'an, Ist Ed., Vol. 4, (Dar Ihya al-Turath al-'Arabi Berot), P. 44)
وَالسَّارِقُ وَالسَّارِقَةُ فَاقْطَعُواْ أَيْدِيَهُمَا جَزَاء بِمَا كَسَبَا نَكَالاً مِّنَ اللّهِ وَاللّهُ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ
As to the thief, male or female, cut off their hands as a reward of their own deeds, and as an exemplary punishment from God. For God is Mighty and Wise. (5:38)
According to linguistic principles the words Sariq and Sariqah are adjectives and denote thoroughness and completeness in the characteristics of the verb they qualify. Hence, words can only be applied to the one who commits the act with deliberation and only when someone steals a significant item. Consequently, while keeping this aspect of usage in consideration the Holy Prophet (sws) is reported to have said:
لَا قَطْعَ فِي ثَمَرٍ مُعَلَّقٍ وَلَا فِي حَرِيسَةِ جَبَلٍ فَإِذَا آوَاهُ الْمُرَاحُ أَوْ الْجَرِينُ فَالْقَطْعُ فِيمَا يَبْلُغُ ثَمَنَ الْمِجَنِّ
If a fruit is hanging from a tree or a goat is grazing on a mountainside and someone steals them, then hands should not be amputated for this. But if the fruit is stacked in a field and the goat is in a pen fold, then hands should be amputated on the condition that the goat is at least the price of a shield. (Mu'atta: No. 1573)
He is also reported to have explained:
تُقْطَعُ يَدُ سَارِقٍ بِرُبْعِ دِيْنَارٍ فَصَاعَدَا
A thief's hand will be cut only when he steals things amounting to one forth of a Dinar and above that. (Sunan Abi Daud: No. 4384)
Thus he hinted towards the actual implication of the word which when, used as adjective, signifies that the theft has been committed with volition and significant items have been stolen.
The need to turn to the Hadith is raised manifold by the fact that his knowledge of the religion is protected and guaranteed by the Almighty. His Ijtihad was protected because of his contact with the Almighty and through the Holy Qur'an was corrected whenever the need arose. For example the Holy Prophet (sws) vowed not to use some lawful thing in order to placate some of his wives. The Almighty commanded him to ignore his vow through revelation that forms part of the Holy Qur'an (See the Holy Qur'an 66:1-5) because the Muslims receive the religious guidance from the person of the Holy Prophet (sws). They take his acts as normative and his behaviour exemplary to be followed. Therefore, if he refuses a blessing from the Almighty because of his personal disliking for it people may be led into taking it as recommended behaviour. Thus, the Holy Prophet was always corrected by the Almighty in case he went against the wisdom of the Almighty. The following tradition clearly shows that the knowledge of the Holy Prophet (sws) and his understanding of the religious sources is guarded from errors by timely correction from the Almighty.
عائشة قالتدخل علي رسول اللهوعندي امرأة من اليهود وهي تقول هل شعرت أنكم تفتنون في القبور قالت فارتاع رسول اللهوقال إنما تفتن يهود قالت عائشة فلبثنا ليالي ثم قال رسول اللههل شعرت أنه أوحي إلي أنكم تفتنون في القبور قالت عائشة فسمعت رسول اللهبعد يستعيذ من عذاب القبر
'A'ishah reported: The Holy Prophet (sws) entered my house when a Jewess was with me and she was saying: 'Do you know that you would be put to trial in the grave?' The Messenger of Allah (sws) trembled [on hearing this] and said: 'It is the Jews only who would-be put to trial.' 'A'ishah said: 'We passed some nights and then the Messenger of Allah (sws) said: Do you know that it has been revealed to me: 'You would be put to trial in the grave''? 'A'ishah said: 'I heard the Messenger of Allah (sws) seeking refuge from the torment of the grave after this'. (Muslim: No. 584)
Obviously no one else could attain the degree of knowledge the Holy Prophet (sws) was bestowed with.