A Re-evaluation (Part 1)
...Therefore, congratulate My servants who listen to all views, then follow the best.
[Editor’s note: This article is part of the introduction of the book “Hadith: A Re-evaluation” authored by Kassim Ahmad of Malaysia. This book is translated into English from the Malay original by Syed Akbar Ali. We are in the process of publishing this book. God willing, it will be available for distribution by the month of Ramadan.]
All Muslims are required to uphold the hadith or sunna of the Prophet, i.e., the so-called Prophetic traditions, as a primary source of law apart from the Quran, according to the teachings of classical jurisprudence. Yet not many, indeed very few, realize that the basis of this jurisprudential theory was promulgated two hundred years after Muhammad’s death by the famous jurist Imam Shafi`i (d. 204/820). What have come to be known as the ‘Six Authentic Books’ of hadith of the majority Sunnite ‘orthodoxy’ were compiled, precisely after the promulgation of this theory, by Bukhari (d. 256/870), Muslim (d. 261/875), Abu Daud (d. 275/888), Tirmidhi (d. 279/892),
Ibn Maja (d. 273/886), and al-Nasa'i (d. 303/915) during the second half of the second and the beginning of the third centuries of Islam, between 220 and 270 years after the Prophet’s death.
The ‘heterodox’ Shi`ite minority sect has its own sets of hadith compiled during the third and fourth centuries, by al-Kulaini (d. 328 or 329), Ibn Babuwayh (d. 381), Jaafar Muhammad al-Tusi (d. 411) and al-Murtada (d. 436), who compiled sayings attributed to Ali.
Based on this Shafi`i theory and on what was later termed as the consensus of scholars, the hadith/sunna was propagated to and accepted by the Muslims as interpreter and complement to the Quran, implying thereby that the Quran needs an interpreter and is not complete in itself. Although the Shi`ites have not accepted the classical Sunnite jurisprudential theory in toto, they do accept the doctrine that the hadith/sunna constitutes a source of law on par with the Quran.
Background to this Study
In accordance with this Sunnite tradition, I also accepted this position when I wrote my book on modern Islamic social theory in 1981-82, although I qualified my acceptance according to Ibn Khaldun’s formula, which requires all acceptable traditions to be validated by the Quran and rational criteria. However, this position, though a scientific one, is still not clear enough until in 1985 the works of an outstanding Egyptian Muslim scholar, Dr. Rashad Khalifa, particularly his The Computer Speaks: God’s Message to the World, Quran, Hadith and Islam and his superb translation of the Quran have opened for me a way to solve the problem of the hadith. I therefore began to re-examine the hadith: how they came about; the social factors that brought them into existence; a review of the classical criticism; the actual place of the hadith in relation to the Quran; their negative effects on the Muslim community; their connections to the decline and
Continued on page 2
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