Saturday, 28 November 2009

The Qur’an and Hadith, which is more authentic?

” By Mumin Salih”

The Qur’an is considered like the backbone of Islam although the bulk of the religion is made from the sunna, or Mohammed’s traditions, which is based on his hadiths or sayings and considered second to the Qur’an in its importance. Practicing Islam is impossible without sunna because the Qur’an doesn’t explain anything about the Islamic rituals or sharia and refers Muslims to take Mohammed’s example which only comes through his hadiths (Q.59:7).

It is frustrating that whenever ‘intellectual’ Muslims are debated they become very quick to distance themselves from any hadith that seems implicate their religion, no matter how authentic that hadith was. Denying a hadith is an easy defence tactic by Muslim apologists in their effort to maintain the integrity of Islam. Their logic is that Islam doesn’t fall by the loss of one hadith or two because Islam is kept up by the Qur’an. On the other hand, those Muslims are not ashamed to quote other hadiths, no matter how unauthentic they are, to boost their argument. However, most ordinary Muslims remain strong believers in both the Qur’an and hadith, which they rightly consider to complement each other. The main stream Muslims consider those who deny the hadith as infidels who would eventually deny the Qur’an as well.

Behind the declared reason for denying the hadith is another undeclared, but true, reason. The hadiths come in detailed language and with several narrations that support each other, which leaves little room for word games or manipulating the meanings. On the other hand, the Qur’an comes in a vague abridged and self contradicting format that leaves more room to twist the language and meanings of its words. The Qur’an is covered with a thick layer of haze and some Muslims use that lack of clarity to argue and claim they can see a different picture from the others.

How authentic is the hadith?

There are different collections of hadiths that Muslims consider to be the most authentic; the most well known collections are Sahih al Bukhari and Sahih Muslim. Other collections include Al Nissaey, Al Tirmithy, Ibn Dauod and Ibn Maja. Together, these six collections are called the authentic six, the Sahih Sitta.

The ‘science of hadith’ or ‘Ilmul Hadith’ is a well known and prestigious speciality in all Islamic universities. It teaches how those scholars managed to gather their collections and how they travelled the Islamic world to accomplish their objective. The methodology they used, considering its time, was exemplary. They studied each hadith in details; its text and its chain of narrations and classified them into grades according to their authenticity. Even by today’s standards, their scholarship and dedication to objectivity was amazing. Most of the two hundred thousand or so hadiths that were subjected to their thorough assessment were rejected and only a few thousands made it to their Sahih (correct) books. Their objectivity meant that many ‘good looking’ hadiths had to be rejected while others, not so good looking ones, had to be included. If Muslims can be proud of anything at all it is that objective academic approach adopted by those scholars who collected the hadiths.

Those early Muslim scholars, like Al Bukhari and Muslim, were no ordinary people; they were well informed highly educated and intelligent. In short, they were the geniuses of their time. It is laughable that some Muslims of today, with questionable knowledge and education, dare to dismiss the works of those scholars as faulty just because it happens not to go well with their biased opinions.

How authentic is the Qur’an?

Q.2: 106.
Any verse We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, We substitute with something better or similar  Don’t you know that Allah can do anything?

The above verse is a short answer to those who claim the Qur’an was preserved. The verse is a clear admission that the Qur’an contains contradicting (Muslims call it abrogated) verses, as well as verses that have been completely forgotten! But not to worry, Allah was capable to bring similar to those verses or even better!

Unlike the hadith, the collection of the Qur’an was politically motivated with none of methodology or high standards of scrutiny that characterized the hadiths’ collection. The vulnerability of the Qur’an lies in the fact that the presence of only one error, say a misplaced word or letter, is a good enough proof that the entire book is a hoax.

It is essential in Islam to believe that the Qur’an is the preserved word of Allah. Therefore, it has an unquestionable authenticity. Indeed the Muslims do not question the authenticity of the Qur’an, which is where their problem lay. The Muslims believe that the reason why Islam came to existence was the distortion which the previous holy scriptures were subjected to. In other words, the Muslims believe that Allah revealed the Qur’an with the determination to preserve it. With that in mind, one would expect Allah to have employed extra ordinary measures to preserve what is supposed to be the most important document to mankind. But He didn’t! On the contrary, all the circumstances created an ideal setting for the Qur’an to be lost, which it did.

The Qur’an was revealed to Mohammed who was, as Muslims insist, illiterate and therefore unable to verify the accuracy of the scripts written for him by some volunteering scribes. Trusting Mohammed with the Qur’an is like trusting an illiterate person to edit a newspaper. With a document as important as the Qur’an, it would not be enough just to assume that the scribes were honest and trustworthy, especially that at least one of them, Abdulla Ibn Abi Al Sarh, admitted that he regularly made changes to the text of the Qur’an without Mohammed even noticing!(1)

Although the Muslims claim that the Qur’an was completely written during Mohammed’s life time, but there is no acceptable evidence to support such a claim. It is logical to believe that the Qur’an was not properly written in the first thirteen years of Islam while Mohammed was still in Mecca because he simply didn’t have the resources to do it. One would expect writing the Qur’an to be Mohammed’s first priority after he assumed power in Medina, but he was too busy in wars to think of it (an hadith is ascribed Umar saying: why are we doing something that Muhammad didn’t do (i.e. writing down the Qur’an)??).

After establishing his Islamic state in Medina, Mohammed could have ordered a formal recording, indexing and safe keeping of the most important document of Islam. Even he could have stamped it because he owned a stamp. But Mohammed did nothing of that, which indicates that he never took the matter seriously. In fact, there are reasons to believe that Mohammed actually benefitted from that chaotic state of the Qur’an. An undocumented Qur’an gave Mohammed the freedom to change his mind or contradict himself and get away with it because the earlier verses were forgotten or faded away from memory. Recording the ‘revealed’ verses in Medina took place in a casual manner that was carried out by whoever was available from those volunteering scribes. Some verses were written by more than one scribe, causing confusion, while others may never had the chance to be written at all, causing even more confusion.

The Qur’an was revealed in the seventh century in Arabic, a language that had not yet a well developed script. Many Arabic words with different meanings shared the same script. The Arabs solved this problem by adding different numbers of dots to the letters that share the same appearance, but that solution came years after Mohammed’s death. As an example, the Arabic word harb, which means war, has the same appearance like a dozen other words with completely different meanings, like these:

(The above words mean: war, damaged, party, tried, sadness, rewarded, caused pain, stored)

If you strip the letters from their dots, all the words look exactly the same, and it was left to the readers’ common sense and intelligence to work out which particular word was meant by a particular script.

Ideally, for a better preservation of the Qur’an, Allah should have educated Mohammed and created the dots before ‘revealing’ the Qur’an.

The Arabs claim that their language is a superior language, hence chosen by Allah as His official means of communication. Other Muslims agree with that claim and praise the language as the most beautiful, without even speaking the language. The truth is that Arabic is a complicated language that is difficult to develop especially that it is now attached to the Qur’an, which is holding it back.

Even in our time, and after the ‘invention’ of the dots, reading an Arabic text is still a guess work. Arabic books and newspapers are printed without the diacritical marks to reduce the clutter around the words. The diacritical marks were ‘invented’ over a century after the dots. Without the diacritical marks, the fourth word in the above example, Jarab, could be read as follows: Jarraba=tried, Jurriba=has been tried, Jarab=plague, Jurub= suffering of plague!

Writing technology in Arabia was very primitive and employed poor quality and perishable writing materials like palm leaves and bones.

Although we only read the Islamic history from it’s heavily biased Islamic sources, but we frequently stumble upon some historical facts like the following:

Ibn Massoud was renowned among Mohammed’s companions as the most notable in his knowledge of the Qur’an; it is claimed that he recorded his own copy which he kept with him. Ibn Massoud’s copy of the Qur’an was significantly different from the official copy of Uthman, which he refused to recognize (2). Some verses were lost, even the ones kept in Mohammed’s own house! Aysha admitted that she used to keep the stoning verse under her bed until it was eaten by a goat! (3)

Al Hajaj Ibn Youssef Al Thakafi, the ruthless ruler of Iraq during the Umayyad dynasty, made many changes to the official Qur’an many years after Uthman (4).

Political corruption, power struggle and instability characterised the period of Uthman’s rule. It was in such unhealthy political climate when Uthman ordered the compilation of the Qur’an.

Uthman sent four copies of his official Qur’an to the various regions of the expanding Islamic state and kept one copy in Medina. None of those copies seem to have survived. There is no evidence that any of the old copies of the Qur’an we have today dates back to Uthman’s time. The oldest copy available, which is the manuscripts of Sanna/Yemen, dates back to many decades after Uthman and contains significant differences from the current copies of the Qur’an (5).

Many Muslim scholars are aware of the weakness of the argument that the Qur’an was documented during Mohammed’s time. They claim that the Qur’an was preserved mainly in the Muslims chests, the written documentation was only a backup! Unfortunately for them, making such a claim is like digging the grave for the Qur’an because the main reason behind writing a formal copy of the Qur’an, and burning all the others, was to stop the disagreements between Muslims. The Qur’anic verses that were preserved in the Muslims’ chests were so different that they accused each other with kufr (unbelieving)!

The Qur’an is probably the! least authentic document in Islam as evidenced from the state of confusion and disagreements that prevailed among the early Muslims. The early Muslims disagreed on what constituted part of the Qur’an and what didn’t. Ibn Massoud’s copy of the Qur’an included two chapters less than Uthman’s copy because he did not believe the last two chapters were actually Qur’anic chapters (2). Others reported that surat Tauba (chapter nine, which contains 129 verses) used to be as long as surat Bakara (chapter two, which contains 286 verses) before the verses gone missing (2). Abdullah Ibn Umar reportedly said, ‘
Let none of you say, “I have got the whole of the Qur’an.” How does he know what all of it is? Much of the Qur’an has gone’. Let him say instead, I have got what has survived (6). The enormous amounts of repetitions and contradictions could be an indication of some degree of duplication and manipulation of the original text.

According to the existing Qur’an, the penalty of adultery is only described in verses Q. 24:2 (flogging hundred lashes) and Q4: 15 (house detention) and nowhere in the Qur’an is stoning mentioned. However, Muslims agreed for fourteen hundreds years that the penalty of adultery is stoning to death because the verse, which abrogated the above two verses, was there and remains effective in its orders hukman even though its words were cancelled kawlan. We can add this logic to the pile of other bizarre justifications used by Muslims to understand the Qur’an. However, we have the right to ask: why Allah keeps in the Qur’an the obsolete verses and omits the valid ones?

1. Ali Dashti, 23 years, a study of prophetic career of Mohammed.
2. Al Itqan fi ulum al Qur'an - Al Suyuti. ‘Arabic’
3. Ibn Maja,1944, Musnad Ahmed 25784 ‘Arabic’
4. Al Masahif- Sajistani ‘Arabic’
6. Abu Bakr al Suyuti, "al Itqan fi `ulum al Qur'an", 1935/1354, pt 2, p. 25) ‘Arabic’



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