Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Is the Qur’an inimitable?

The own Muslim scriptures say otherwise

According to Muslim authorities Muhammad expressly forbade anyone from writing down his hadiths. The reason why he supposedly did this was to insure that his words would not get mixed in or confused with the Qur’an. (Dr. ‘Ali Muhammad As-Sallabee, The Noble Life of the Prophet, translated by Faisal Shafeeq [Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, First Edition: October 2005], Volume 1, pp. 138-139);

Muhammad was keen to write down the text of the Qur’an immediately after he received it from God. To ensure the distinction between his own words and the word of God, he warned people not to write down his own prophetic utterances so that they would not be mixed in with God’s words. Muhammad even commanded people to erase anything they had written of his own sayings that was not part of the Qur’an. (Dr. Muhammad Abu Laylah, The Qur’an and the Gospels – A Comparative Study [Al-Falah Foundation for Translation, Publication & Distribution, Third edition, 2005], p. 55; (Link)

As we have seen
(Link), a reference states that the holy Qur’an had been collected and written during the government of Abu Bakr (11-13 of Hijra), but the Muhammad’s traditions were only kept orally within hearts. No one dared to record in written form the sayings of the Messenger, as a response to a tradition (Hadith) cited by Abu Sa’eed Al-Khudri, in which the Prophet said: Do write nothing but the holy Qur’an; and who has written from me anything should have it erased.

As far as you can see, we have at least three Muslim sources that show us how Muhammad wanted to avoid having his speeches recorded.

He seemed apparently to be fearful of any mixture between the divine revelation and the Messenger’s traditions. It was clear that this order was intended to serve the purpose of keeping the Qur’an as a heavenly divine revelation, far from being amalgamated with any human speech; even the speech of Muhammad.

According to the hadith literature itself Muhammad was adamantly set against anyone writing down his words. In fact, according to another narrative the official recording of hadiths first took place during the caliphate of Umar (c. 717-720 AD) Bukhari, 1,3,
 (Number 98 )

From another Muslim source:
When Umar became second Caliph (13-23 of Hijra), some companions called upon him for issuing an order of writing the tradition. He asked A to guide him to do this action for a month, but he was not inspired to fulfil this task. Some 76y later, Omar Ibn Abdul-Aziz took the power (99-101 of Hegira), and was successfully qualified to accomplish the collection and writing of the Messenger’s traditions after asking Allah for proper guidance, in this case several times for about 40 days. He allowed for Abu Bakr to record them in written form. He wrote what he had kept in a book, from which several copies were sent to the different Islamic regions. Abu Bakr (not the first Caliph), during this time, was Medina’s judge and governor. He died in 120H. Mohammad Ibn Muslim Ibn Shehab Al-Zuhri was ordered also by Omar Ibn Abdul-Aziz to compose another book of tradition. In this way, a collection of Muhammad’s traditions (Hadith) began to appear, with no methodologically specific arrangement or classification. The traditions were randomly gathered. (Ibn Hesham, The Prophet’s Biography, translated by Mohammad Mahdi Al-Sharif [Dar Al-Kotob Al-ilmiyah, Beirut-Lebanon, 2006 2nd edition], Introduction, pp. 4-5).

First problem:

Although there are many reports that say that Muhammad expressly censured the writing of his statements, there are
other narratives which contradict this by claiming that he did allow his follows to record them:
 “…Write, by Him in Whose hand my soul lies, only right comes out from it (Dawud, 25, Number 3639).
Book 25, Number 3639:  Narrated Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-'As:  I used to write everything which I heard from the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him). I intended (by it) to memorise it. The Quraysh prohibited me saying: Do you write everything that you hear from him while the Apostle of Allah (pbuh) is a human being: he speaks in anger and pleasure? So I stopped writing, and mentioned it to the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him). He signalled with his finger to him mouth and said: Write, by Him in Whose hand my soul lies, only right comes out from it. (Link 2)

The following report implies that there were certain companions who started recording Muhammad’s words during his lifetime: Bukhari 1.3.
Number 113.: Narrated Abu Huraira: There is none among the companions of the Prophet who has narrated more Hadiths than I except 'Abdallah bin Amr (bin Al-'As) who used to write them and I never did the same. (Link 2)

We, therefore, have a
huge contradiction within the hadith literature.

Second problem:

The second major problem is the assertion that
the reason why Muhammad didn’t allow the recording of his traditions is because of his fear that the people would confuse them with the Qur’an. How could anyone confuse Muhammad’s words with the Qur’an, when the latter is supposed to be unmatchable?

Since Sunnis believe that the words Muhammad spoke when he wasn’t reciting the Qu’ran were not dictated to him, but were merely inspired in the sense that the ideas were from Allah but the words that he used to express them were his very own,
how then could anyone confuse the two together? In other words, wouldn’t the words of the Qur’an be of superior quality and eloquence to Muhammad’s statements since the former were divinely dictated to him which he then recited?

Moreover, doesn’t
Muhammad’s fears show that his statements were equal to the Qur’an? Is this why certain reports claim that Muhammad was given something similar to or like (mithli) the Qur’an? But if they are equal to the words of the Muslim scripture then doesn’t this meet the challenge of the Qur’an to produce something like it? If so wouldn’t this falsify the Qur’an’s claims that it is inimitable? After all, how can human speech no matter how inspired be equal to A’s words which are dictated through a human agent?

Let the reader keep this point in mind:
Muhammad’s Sunnah wasn’t dictated by Allah but was relayed through Muhammad’s own words and modes of expression. It, therefore, cannot have the same level of eloquence and authority of the Qur’an which is supposed to be the very speech of A which was dictated word for word.

It seems that Muhammad’s hadiths are just as good and equal to the Muslim scripture. To top it off, M’s statements haven’t come down to us entirely intact, but have been intermingled with the words of the narrators who often times forgot or summarized what they heard.

Thus, the statements of uninspired, fallible humans have the same level of authority as the Qur’an, being its equal!


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