Muslim polemicist Bassam Zawadi takes a shot at refuting (*) al-Bukhari’s citation from Ibn Abbas regarding the incorruptibility of God’s revealed books. Let us see how well he does.
This could be answered in more than one way.
First of all, WHERE IS THE FULL CHAIN OF TRANSMISSION? We can't find any full chain of transmission for this statement attributed to Ibn Abbaas. Famous hadith scholar Ibn Hajar Al Asqalani said regarding this narration...
I did not find it with continuous chain of reporters (mawsoul) on authority of Ibn 'Abbaas in spite of the fact that what is said before it is from his words as well as that is after it....
Many of our folks (ashabena) have explicitly declared that the Torah and the Gospel has been corrupted (hurrifat) in contradiction with what Al-Bukhari mentions here [on authority of Ibn 'Abbaas] (Ibn Hajar Al Asqalani, Fath-ul-Bari fe Sharh Sahih-el-Bukhari, Book of "Oneness of God", Chapter 55, Number 6223)
Here is the specific part of Ibn Hajar’s comments that Zawadi somehow overlooked:
… in spite of the fact that what is said before it IS FROM HIS WORDS as well as that is after it…
Ibn Hajar’s comments are rather confusing. Is he saying that the statements which appear both before and after this specific part are definitely the words of Ibn Abbas? Or is he referring to something else? If he is referring to this specific report then how did he know that what appeared before and after Ibn Abbas’ statements regarding the incorruptibility of God’s books are from him when the entire narrative lacks a continuous chain?
Be that as it may, there were other scholars who disagreed with Ibn Hajar and acknowledged that Ibn Abbas did make these comments. Throughout his article Zawadi references Dr. Muhammad Abu Laylah’s book, The Qur’an and the Gospels – A Comparative Study. In this very source the author cites another Muslim scholar who appealed to Ibn Abbas’ statements regarding the textual incorruptibility of the Torah and the Gospel:
… The Andalusian interpreter Ibn ‘Atiyya stated that Tahrif means "to change or transfer something from its original character to another" and that Ibn ‘Abbas held that the Jewish (and possibly the Christian, by implication) corruption and change was to be found in exegesis, the letter of the Torah surviving intact, although a second school of scholars maintained that the letters themselves had been changed on the basis that although the Jews had been asked to safeguard the Torah, unlike the Qur’an it was not safeguarded by God Himself. (Laylah, The Qur’an and the Gospels – A Comparative Study [Al-Falah Foundation for Translation, Publication & Distribution, Third edition, 2005], pp. 145-146; source)
Moreover, we had earlier cited Ibn Kathir who quoted Ibn Abbas’ words as reported by al-Bukhari. Here is his reference once again, this time with some additional context:
Mujahid. Ash-Sha'bi, Al-Hassan, Qatadah and Ar-Rabi' bin Anas said that,
means, "They alter (Allah's Words)."
Al-Bukhari reported that Ibn 'Abbas said that the Ayah means they alter and add although none among Allah's creation can remove the words of Allah from His books, they alter and distort their apparent meanings. Wahb bin Munabbih said, "The Tawrah and Injil remain as Allah revealed them, and no letter in them was removed. However, the people misguide others by addition and false interpretation, relying on books that they wrote themselves." Then,
As for Allah's books, they are still preserved and cannot be changed." Ibn Abi Hatim recorded this statement. However, if Wahb meant the books that are currently in the hands of the People of the Book, then we should state that there is no doubt that they altered, distorted, added to and deleted from them. For instance, the Arabic versions of these books contain tremendous error, many additions and deletions and enormous misinterpretation. Those who rendered these translations have incorrect comprehension in most, rather, all of these translations. If Wahb meant the Books of Allah that He has with Him, then indeed, these Books are preserved and were never changed. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir – Abridged, Volume 2, Parts 3, 4 & 5, Surat Al-Baqarah, Verse 253, to Surat An-Nisa, verse 147 [Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, Riyadh, Houston, New York, Lahore; First Edition: March 2000], p. 196; source)
Ibn Kathir disagrees with both Wahb and Ibn Abbas that the previous revelation remained intact. And on what basis does he disagree? On the basis that Arabic versions of the Holy Bible showed textual tampering in the form of additions and deletions! This is equivalent to someone today claiming that the Qur’an has been corrupted due to the fact that there are additions and omissions among the various English versions (*) or that a specific English translation made by Rashad Khalifa omits Q. 9:128-129 (1, 2)!
The scholarly thing to do is to examine the original languages of the Scriptures and see if the text has remained intact. Once this is done one will discover that the Holy Bible, much like the Qur’an (*), has come down to us with variant readings. However, these variants do not prove that wholesale corruption to the Biblical text has taken place since the great bulk of these readings are inconsequential and do not affect the meaning of the text. To claim otherwise would actually imply that the Qur’an along with the Holy Bible, and all other books that were hand copied, have been completely corrupted seeing that such books have come down to us with textual variations. The fact is that, after carefully examining the variant readings, textual scholars have been able to reconstruct roughly 99% of the original text of the NT and it is therefore purely wishful thinking on the part of Muslims to claim that the original reading of the Bible books have been lost or corrupted beyond restoration.
Returning to the issue at hand, how strange that scholars such as Ibn ‘Atiyya and Ibn Kathir could approvingly cite al-Bukhari’s quotation from Ibn Abbas despite the lack of a chain of transmission! Could it be that these scholars realized that for al-Bukhari to even include it in his collection was proof enough for them that the quotation in question must have passed his very strict standard of authentication? After all, don’t Muslim scholars assert that al-Bukhari’s hadith collection is the most authentic book after the Qur’an? More on this point below.
And all scholars of hadith have agreed that you cannot judge a narration to be authentic unless you have the complete chain of transmission to examine and then conclude if it is authentic or not. Here we see that Imam Tabari just simply quotes Mujahid ibn Jabr Al Makhzumi (d. 104 A.H.) who then quotes the statement. However, there is a 200 hundred-year gap between Imam Tabari and Mujaahid! Where are the two or three people who should have come in the middle of the chain? …
Imam Al-Badr al-'Aini notes in his commentary on Sahih al-Bukhari...
Al-Bukhari frequently relates reports and sayings of Sahaba and others without isnad (chain of transmission) (Al-Badr Al-'Aini, Umdat-ul-Qari, Volume 1, page 9)
Here we can see that this alleged statement from Ibn Abbaas is one of those examples, therefore it must be rejected.
There are several problems with Zawadi’s assertions. In the first place, this attempt of evasion will not solve the problem for Zawadi but only compound the difficulties for him since all of al-Bukhari’s reports which contain an unbroken chain (isnad) were written over two hundred years after Muhammad’s death. Despite this long gap in time Zawadi erroneously assumes that just because a report provides a chain of transmitters this means that Muslims are able to accurately trace back the origin of a specific report. The circularity of such a position can be easily seen when we bear in mind this late dating of al-Bukhari.
To highlight the circularity of Zawadi’s reasoning note that:
- Muslims like Zawadi assume the veracity of a specific narration because of the authenticity of its chain.
- Yet these chains are contained in sources which were written over two hundred years after the events in question.
- This is the major problem that Zawadi faces. This huge time gap shows how unfeasible it is for Muslims to claim that a specific report is authentic due to its chain since, apart from a written trail, there is absolutely no way of verifying whether the people mentioned in that chain were reliable, were capable of passing down accurate information, or whether such individuals even existed! In other words, there is simply no possible way for someone writing two hundred years after an event to be able to completely guarantee that all the names of the chain which goes back over a two hundred year period are entirely correct, or that the men listed within these chains were completely honest.
Secondly, as Imam Al-Badr al-'Aini in the above quote from Zawadi noted, the hadith collection of al-Bukhari is filled with subheadings and quotes of specific Muslims without a chain of transmission, just as the following English version amply testifies: http://bewley.virtualave.net/bukhcont.html
If we were to therefore take Zawadi’s criticism seriously this means that a great bulk of al-Bukhari’s collection must be omitted, specifically the quotations that appear under the subheadings that precede the so-called sound reports.
This leads us to our third point. It is often claimed that al-Bukhari was the most careful collector of Muslim traditions, omitting thousands of hadiths that did not meet his strict specifications of authenticity. To help illustrate this fact we quote from the Muslim translator of Al-Bukhari's hadith collection:
It has been UNANIMOUSLY AGREED that Imam Bukhari's work is the most authentic of all the other works in Hadith literature PUT TOGETHER. The authenticity of Al-Bukhari's work is such that the religious learned scholars of Islam said concerning him: "The most authentic book after the Book of Allah (i.e., Al-Qur'an) is Sahih Al-Bukhari." …Before he recorded each Hadith he would make ablution and offer two Rak’at prayer and supplicate his Lord (Allah). Many religious scholars of Islam tried to find fault in the great remarkable collection- Sahih Al-Bukhari, BUT WITHOUT SUCCESS. It is for this reason, they UNANIMOUSLY AGREED that the most authentic book after the Book of Allah IS Sahih Al-Bukhari. (Translation of the Meanings of Summarized Sahih Al-Bukhari, Arabic-English, translated by Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan, Islamic University, Al-Madina Al-Munawwara, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; compilation: Al-Imam Zain-ud-Din Ahmad bin Abdul-Lateef Az-Zubaidi [Maktaba Dar-us-Salam Publishers & Distributors, Riyadh-Saudi Arabia, 1994], pp. 18-19)
The following citations are taken from the Islamic Awareness team's response to Andrew Vargo's criticism of Imam al-Bukhari's collection:
* The two sahîh collections did not gather the totality of the authentic ahâdîth as proved by al-Bukhârî's testimony: "I have not included in my book al-Jâmic but what is authentic, and I left out among the authentic for fear of [excessive] length.(Footnote 2)"
Footnote 2 says:
He [al-Bukhârî] meant that he did not mention all the turuq [parallel chains of transmission] for each and every hadîth.
To reiterate this in elementary English for the neophyte, Imâm al-Bukhârî selected only a few authentic ahâdîth from his vast collection. However, he left out certain traditions, despite their authenticity, simply to avoid excessive length and repetition in his al-Jâmic (a discussion about which is given below). If anything, the privilege to make such a gesture is highly complimentary to the authenticity of the Islamic traditions. In another tradition, Imâm al-Bukhârî is also reported to have said:
He said, I heard as-Sacdânî say, I heard some of our companions say, Muhammad Ibn Ismâcîl said: I selected/published [the content of] this book - meaning the Sahih book - from about 600,000 hadîths/reports. Abû Sacd al-Mâlînî informed us that cAbdullâh Ibn cUdayy informed us: I heard al-Hasan Ibn al-Husayn al-Bukhârî say: "I have not included in my book al-Jâmic but what is authentic, and I left out among the authentic what I could not get hold of."
Imâm al-Bukhârî's collection of ahâdîth was maintained to be authentic on account of his authority, and it has been maintained as authentic ever since. The neophyte's assertion, that Imâm al-Bukhârî regarded almost 99% of his own collection as spurious, is among the most rash and foolhardy statements ever dared by a Christian missionary. On the contrary, the 7,397 refers to the number of hadîths that Imâm al-Bukhârî chose to include in his al-Jâmic and left out many authentic narrations from his vast collection for the fear of excessive length.
…Regardless, we will quote the famous trial of Imâm al-Bukhârî to show how Maqlub (changed, reversed) ahadîth can be identified with ease by a scholar of hadîth:
The famous trial of al-Bukhârî by the scholars of
With the foregoing in perspective it should be abundantly clear that al-Bukhari would not include anything which he suspected was fraudulent or that didn’t meet his criteria for authenticity.(1) Thus, for al-Bukhari to include this quotation from Ibn Abbas means that this report must have met his very strict specifications and was fully convinced of its reliability. This further explains why both Ibn ‘Atiyya and Ibn Kathir could quote this narrative without questioning its authenticity.
And yet Zawadi wants his readers to actually believe that al-Bukhari was less stringent at this specific point since he decided to quote a questionable report!
Interestingly, Zawadi agrees with us that one should reconcile this specific narrative with the other narrations that claim that Ibn Abbas seemingly questioned the authority of the Holy Bible:
Secondly, it contradicts the authentic narrations and well-known position of Ibn Abbaas on the matter and that is that he believed that the Jews and Christians textually corrupted their scriptures…
This is precisely what we have done here. We carefully analyzed all of what Ibn Abbas is reported to have said, both here and in this article, comparing his statements in light of the teachings of the Qur’an and concluded that the only plausible way of harmonizing these conflicting reports is to assume that Ibn Abbas wasn’t speaking of textual corruption of the Holy Bible. Rather, Ibn Abbas was referring to the Jews and Christians corrupting the Bible through their misinterpretations of their holy Scripture and by writing books that they took to be inspired by God (such as the Talmud) but which further corrupted the plain meaning of the inspired text of God’s Word.
(1) Now this doesn’t mean that just because this report satisfied al-Bukhari’s criteria for authenticity that this somehow makes it a genuine saying of Ibn Abbas. It simply means that those Muslims who do hold al-Bukhari’s collection in very high esteem must contend with the fact that this narrative met his strict and rigorous standards of reliability and cannot simply dismiss it. Yet as we stated al-Bukhari’s stringent method of authentication cannot guarantee that a narration was passed down accurately for over two hundred years, nor can it guarantee that the names of those who transmitted it actually existed or were reliable preservers of that specific tradition in question