| "O ye
who believe! Obey Allah and obey the Prophet and those charged with authority
among you. Therefore, if there is a difference of opinion among you in
any matter, refer it back to Allah and His Prophet1,
if ye do believe in Allah and the Last Day." (4:5)
This verse of the Quran clearly indicates that the original sources of knowledge on Islam are only two: The Holy Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet (sws2). The first addressees of this verse were the Companions3 of the Prophet (sws). It was they who were the first to be told that they should refer to the Quran (refer it back to Allah) and the Sunnah (and His Prophet) in case they had a difference of opinion in any matter pertaining to religion. Therefore, only these two can be considered as original sources of religious knowledge by the Muslims. All other sources of religious guidance are subservient to them.
The problem is that today many people regard the Sunnah and the Hadith as synonymous terms, whereas the two are quite distinct from each other. The Sunnah (or Sunnat-i-Thaabitah4) refers to `those established customs of the Prophet (sws) that were passed on as religion to the Muslim Ummah5 by the Companions of the Prophet (sws) through their practical consensus6 on these customs or through their perpetual adherence7 to them'8. Therefore, there is no doubt about the authenticity of the Sunnah as an original source. Just as the Quran was perpetuated by oral transmission, the Sunnah was passed on by perpetual adherence. Hence, the authenticity of the Sunnah does not epend on the narratives told by a few individuals; the entire society in the Prophet's time adopted and transmitted the Sunnah, thereby making it an established fact of history.
A Hadith on the other hand, refers to a short narrative which describes a statement or an action or a tacit approval of the Prophet (sws). Most of these narratives were told by a few individuals at each link of the chain of narrators and, therefore, are very appropriately called Akhbaar-i-Ahaad9.
As the transmission of Ahaadith10 went on, it became evident that the Hadith11 was being invaded by many forgeries. Therefore, scholars of Hadith formulated numerous methods of evaluation by which genuine Ahaadith could be sifted out of the mass of forgeries. These methods belong to either of the two disciplines essential for investigating the authenticity of Ahaadith: Fann-i-Riwaayat and Fann-i-Daraayat. Fann-i-Riwaayat12, which has many branches, involves investigation of the complete chain of narrators13 going back to the original narrator of a particular version14 of the Hadith in question. This science, thus, investigates the bonafides, the moral character, truthfulness, and power of memory of the narrators. Fann-i-Daraayat, on the other hand, investigates the authenticity of a Hadith by determining whether or not its subject-matter is acceptable.
A Hadith is accepted only when its authenticity has been established on the basis of both Fann-i-Riwaayat and Fann-i-Daraayat. Therefore, a Hadith can be regarded as a source of religious guidance only `if the basis of that Hadith exists in the Quran or the Sunnah or the established principles of human nature and intellect. Moreover, it should not be contradictory to any of these bases, and should have been transmitted by reliable sources'15. A Hadith which meets these criteria is accepted as a bonafide record of the Sunnah and of information pertaining to Islam. However, the following points must be kept in mind which stem from these criteria:
1. No Hadith can present anything as religion which does not have its basis in the Quran or the Sunnah or the established principles of human nature and intellect. Therefore, whatever a Hadith presents would either be an explanation of a principle found in these sources or a branch emanating from that principle.
2. A Hadith must not be against the Quran or the Sunnah or the established principles of human nature and intellect. In short, the Hadith in question must conform with the entire fabric of Islam.
3. A Hadith must have been transmitted by reliable sources.
The first two of these points relate to Fann-i-Daraayat and the last to Fann-i-Riwaayat.
Unfortunately, the scholars competent to analyse Ahaadith on the basis of these criteria are few, and the untrained eye is often confused while studying the Hadith. There are three mawjor reasons for this confusion:
1. Almost all the available written collections of Ahaadith, including the most revered ones, contain those Ahaadith which were analysed primarily on the basis of Riwaayat. Most Ahaadith, therefore, have to be analysed further on the basis of Fann-i-Daraayat before they can be accepted or rejected.
2. In most cases the context of a Hadith is not clear or is even left out. The reason is that a typical Hadith is what is called Riwaayat-bil-Maa'naa, which refers to such a Hadith the narrators of which had not transmitted its exact subject-matter but had used their own words to convey the meaning.
Riwaayat-bil-Maa'naa has also led to complete distortion of the actual subject-matter in many cases. Occasional alteration in the text by mistakes in copying has also added to these problems.
3. Placing a Hadith in its right context is not the job of a layman. It requires a sound understanding and appreciation of the classics of Arabic literature of the Prophet's time and training in various disciplines necessary for understanding and analyzing any segment of the whole corpus of the sources of religious knowledge. In short, analysis, in the true sense of the word, of this historical record---the Hadith---is the job of a scholar. Unfortunately, this confusion pertaining to Ahaadith has given rise to some adverse reactions. People who have shown such reactions can be classified into two categories:
1. There are those who have reacted by formulating the erroneous premise that the Hadith can in no way be a reliable source of religious knowledge. This reaction went beyond all proportion when they confused the Hadith with the Sunnah and then refused to accept even the Sunnah as an original source.
2. On the other hand are those who tried to defend the status of the Sunnah as an original source but in the process lost sight of what they were actually defending. They too have come to regard the Sunnah and the Hadith as one and the same thing. Therefore, they consider those Ahaadith which have already been evaluated on the basis of Fann-i-Riwaayat as an unchallengeable source of knowledge even where the possibility of further analysis on the basis of Fann-i-Daraayat clearly exists.
As far as the former group is concerned, the very premise it has formulated is incorrect. Many Ahaadith were fabricated; there is no doubt about that; but it does not imply that all Ahaadith are false. A Hadith can neither be considered as genuine nor as fabricated until proper analysis on the basis of both Fann-i-Riwaayat and Fann-i-Daraayat has been made.
Moreover, it must be remembered that the Sunnah relates to that part of religion which the Prophet (sws) taught as the instructor of divine law and as a model for mankind so that his followers should mould their lives in accordance with the wishes of the Almighty by performing the rituals and following the injunctions found in Islam. Transmission of the Sunnah was his duty and, therefore, it was not passed on to a few narrators merely but to the whole society at that time and was transmitted to the Muslim Ummah by the perpetual adherence of the Companions of the Prophet (sws). For example, the exact significance of thd Quranic term Al-Salaat16 is not something which the Prophet (sws) explained to a few narrators only---who might or might not have passed on the information to someone like Imam Bokhari17, who might or might not have accepted it as genuine18---but something which the Prophet (sws) explained to the whole Muslim community in his time orally and through demonstration. Therefore, Al-Salaat, as the Prophet (sws) defined it, became so much a part of the daily routine of those people that it is now an established historical fact. It is also natural that in the case of the Sunnah---which relates to the performance of rituals and execution of injunctions and not to articles of faith---some variations should emerge. Such variations as do not distort the broader structure of the Sunnah are acceptable. The Prophet's reply `La Ba's' (no problem) on a certain occasion when some people were not certain whether they had correctly made the Haj owing to such minor variations also corroborates this principle. Questions as `should the hands be clasped together above or below the navel in Al-Salaat' are hardly important and minor variations on their account do not impair the position of the Sunnah as an original source. Therefore, this position of the Sunnah cannot be denied on the grounds that some Ahaadith had been fabricated. Take a crude example---that of circumcision. For centuries, Muslims have been circumcising the male child. They still regard it as part of the Sunnah passed on from generation to generation. Few parents need a Hadith from Al-Bukhari or Al-Muslim19 before circumcising their child. Today, those who deny the Sunnah would find, on close inspection, that they too had been circumcised by their people. They would be lying if they denied that more often than not their parents did not have to bother about finding a Hadith to justify that `terrible act of cruelty' to their child.
The latter group has great contempt for those those scholars who use Fann-i-Daraayat for making further analyses of a Hadith which had already been confirmed as genuine on the basis of Fann-i-Riwaayat by earlier scholars. In the following paragraphs we present a translation of a portion from a book20 by Maulana Habib-ur-Rahman Kandhalvi. This portion of his book discusses Fann-i-Daraayat and highlights its importance. It clearly points out that Fann-i-Daraayat is essential for confirming the authenticity of Ahaadith and that the option of using this approach is still available to Hadith scholars of today as much as it was to the scholars of earlier times.
The translation begins thus:
"Although books on these two disciplines: [Fann-i-Daraayat and Fann-i-Riwaayat] have been available in the sub-continent21 for a long time, few scholars have made use of Fann-i-Daraayat and that too for merely solving problems in Fiqh22.
If Fann-i-Daraayat was limited to a small number of scholars in an age when learning was in its prime, its virtual non-existence in the present age of blind acquiescence in conventions must come as no surprise. However, it is important to discuss the significance of Fann-i-Daraayat.
The Foundations of Daraayat
|1. The word Prophet has
been used for Muhammad (peace be upon him) for two reasons: a) The Oxford
Dictionary (A S Hornby, Advanced Learner's) now uses the term `the Prophet'
specifically for Muhammad (peace be upon him), and b) In the Quran, the
word Rasul has quite a different connotation from the one implied by the
word Nabi. Owing to various reasons, too lengthy to be discussed here,
we think that the word Prophet in English is a better synonym than Messenger
for Rasul. For a detailed discussion on the difference between Rasul and
Nabi, see Javaid Ahmad Ghamidi, `Nabuwwat-o-Risaalat', "Ishraaq" (Urdu),
(Oct. 1988), page 27.
2. sws has been used as an abbreviation for sallalaahu `alaihi wasallam (May God bless him and may peace be upon him).
3. `The Companions' has been used as a specific term, ie, as a synonym for Al-Sahaabah. Many people use Al-Sahaabah for all those who, after embracing Islam, had the opportunity of seeing the Prophet (sws) even if only once. In our opinion this is an erroneous interpretation of the term. It should refer merely to those Companions of the Prophet (sws) who were the foremost converts to Islam and who had in times of ease, as well as in times of difficulty, supported the Prophet (sws) in his cause and had generously spent out of their wealth in the way of Allah and had taken an active part in the Ghazwaat (those Holy battles which were fought under the Prophet's command and in which he had taken part).
For a detailed exposition see Maulana Amin Ahsan Islaahi," Mubaadi-i-Tadabbur-i-Hadith" (Urdu), (Lahore Faraan Foundation, 1989), pages 76-86.
4. Established Sunnah about which there is no doubt.
5. The whole Muslim Community.
6. This has been used as a synonym for a specific term ie, Ijma' Generally, Ijma' is used to refer to a consensus on an interpretation. In our opinion this connotation of the term is ambiguous. There has never even been a consensus on this sense of consensus. We have used the term to refer to the consensus of the Companions of the Prophet (sws) through their adherence to the Sunnah. Therefore, in this sense Ijma' refers to their `practice' of the Sunnah not to its interpretation.
7. This (perpetual adherence) has been used a synonym for tawaatur-i-amalee.
8. It must be remembered, as we have also pointed out in the article, that the Sunnah relates to the performance of rituals and execution of injunctions and not to articles of faith as such.
9. (Singular: Khabr-i-Waahid). It is often claimed that many of the Ahaadith as recorded in the well-known collections of Ahadith are Akhbar-i-Mutawaatir (Singular: Khabr-i- Muttawaatir). Khateeb Baghdadi has defined Khabr-i-Mutawaatir as `a Khabr (Version of Hadith) that had been narrated by so many people that it is not possible to believe that so many people would have agreed to lie, all at the same time, about an open matter, especially when there is no evidence to believe that they had been coerced.'
Maulana Amin Ahsan Islaahi says about Khabr-i-Mutawaatir: `It should be clearly borne in mind that although the definition of Khabr-i-Mutawaatir exists, that which it defines, does not. Often a Hadith is given the status of Khabr-i-Mash hoor [a well-known Khabr) but on inspection one finds that its narrators were one or two till the third stage [in the chain of narrators], whereas at the fourth or fifth stage, the number of narrators had increased. Therefore, in our opinion, such Ahaadith as are generally called Akhbaar-i-Mutawaatir require further investigation after which, if they are found to be in accordance with the definition mentioned above [Khateeb Baghdadi's], they would be accepted as Mutawaatir. But it is not correct to give something the status of Mutawaatir artificially. However, it must be remembered that the Sunnah has.... the status of Mutawaatir and this status is on the basis of perpetual adherence not on the basis of oral transmission [by a few individuals].' ("Mubaadi-i-Tadabbur-i-Hadith", Lahore, Faraan Foundation, 1989; pages 20 and 21).
10. Plural of Hadith.
11. `The Hadith' has been used, where the context permits, as a term to denote the whole corpus of Ahaadith.
12. Two of the major branches are: i) Asmaa-ur-Rijaal: Compilation, analysis, and use of the dictionaries of the narrators' biographies. ii) Jarah-o-Ta`deel: The science of impugnment and justification of the bonafides of the narrators.
13. Such a chain of narrators is called Sanad (plural: Asnaad).
14. Quite often, a Hadith has different Asnaad. Therefore, the same Hadith may have various `versions' (Riwaayaat; singular: Riwaayat).
15. See, Javaid Ahmad Ghamidi, Ishraq, March 1990, page 6.
16. Al-Salat refers to a form of prayers which was specified by the Prophet (sws).
17. A well-known compiler of Ahaadith (194-256 AH). His `Sahih' is one of the most venerated collections of Ahadith.
18. It is said that Bokhari alone sifted around 7,000 Ahadith from approximately 200,000 for inclusion in his Sahih.
19. Another well-known compiler of Ahaadith. His collection is also known as Sahih (of Imam Muslim).
20. "Mazhabi Dastaanain aur un kee Haqeeqat" (Urdu) (Karachi, Anjumani-Uswa-i-Hasanah, 1987).
This translation is of a portion from the second volume of the book (pages 9-12). The book is very useful in the sense that it has brought out the truth behind such stories and parables as have found their way into religious literature and have served to create a religion entirely different from Islam. Although one may disagree with Maulana's approach to Hadith analysis and his style of criticism and his research methodology, one has to concede that, on the whole, the book is an excellent piece of research work.
For a comparison of Maulana Kandhalvi's approach with that of some other scholars see the following:
i) Maulana Amin Ahsan Islahi, "Mubaadi-Tadabur-i-Hadith" (Lahore, Faraan Foundation, 1989).
ii) Javaid Ahmad Ghamidi, Ishraq, March 1990, pages 4-6.
iii) Javaid Ahmad Ghamidi, "Rajam Ki Sazaa" (4 parts), Ishraq, May-Aug, 1990.
21. India and Pakistan.
22. Islamic law.
23. Wadhu refers to a form of ablutions specified by the Prophet (sws). Wadhu is necessary for Al-Salaat.
24. Hadith-i-Mutawaatir is another name for Khabr-i-Mutawaatir (see note 9).
25. Often, the word Ijma' is used quite vaguely (see note 6). Therefore, it must be remembered that Maulana Kandhalvi may have used the terms ijma` and the Companions (Al-Sahaabah; see note 3) in a sense entirely different from the sense in which we have used them.