Responses to Islamic Awareness

Are There Any Early Hadīths?

Jochen Katz wrote [in a newsgroup posting]:

"don't become true just by age. The claim that Jesus is God is a lot older than the claim that the Qur'an is from God. I only have to point to St. Athanasios. Is that satisfying to you? Not really I guess. Well, he was one of the big Christian theologians about AD 300, and your hadiths are collections of sayings written by some of the big theologians of Islam around 250-280 after Muhammad."

Dr. Saifullah responded:

Well, you knowledge of Hadīth is as hollow as your knowledge about Islam. If he ever bother to read he would not be quoting the stupid argument which Joseph Smith vomitted a few years ago. Joseph Smith said that the first hadīths were compiled around 3 centuries after Muhammad(P) which he of course, quoted the from Crone-Cook-Wansbrough material. The same thing is also quoted by you blindly without verifying the facts. Nothing new anyway. The Christian missionaries recycle their trash after every few years hoping that they will trap some unknowledgable Muslims.

Moving beyond the insults and "colorful" language, let us examined Dr. Saifullah's argument. As usual, he gives us a number of references, some are useful, others are not.

Argument 1 : The "Chain" of Transmission

After this "Brief Introduction" let us see the facts:

The Hadiths of Hammam bin Munabbih: A few word on this person will suffice. In the book Arabic Literature To The End of Ummayyad Period we see that:

An example is the Sahifah of Hammam bin Munabbih, (d. 110/719), a Yemenite follower and a disciple of companion Abu Hurrayrah, (d 58/677), from whom Hammam wrote this Sahifah, which comprises 138 hadith and is believed to have been written around the mid-first AH/seventh century.

The author went on to say:

It is significant that Hammam introduces his text with the words: "Abu Hurrayrah told us in the course of what he related from the Prophet", thus giving the source of his information in the manner which became known as "sanad" or "isnad", i.e., the teacher of chain of teachers through whom an author reaches the Prophet, a practice invariably and systematically followed in Hadith compilations.[2]

The problem with this argument is : how do we know that the "chain" of transmission is authentic? In fact, it is difficult, in spite of the Muslim "science" of Hadith to know which traditions are strong or weak! For example, Bukhari collected over 600,000 reports, but kept only 7,397 as true! To make matters even more confusing, there are contradictions among the "accepted" Hadiths (ikhtilaf al-hadith). There are many hadiths which record conflicting accounts of the same event!

Another question which needs to be asked is : where is the manuscript evidence concerning the earliest Hadith? How can we be sure that stories were not erroneously inserted into the traditions, or that existing stories did not undergo editing? After all, if someone can "create" a tradition, what would prevent them from "creating" a chain of narration? It is interesting to note that Bukhari wrote a book about the narrators (Zuafa-us-sagher). What is even more interesting is that Bukhari's book condemns several narrators including: Ata bin abi Maimoona, Ayyub bin Aiz, Ismail bin Aban, Zubair bin Muhammad, At-Tayyimi, Saeed bin Urwa, Abdullah bin Abi Labeed, Abdul Malik bin Ameen, Abdul waris bin Saeed, Ata bin As-Saib bin Yazeed, and Khamsan bin Minhal as unreliable. However, the Hadith-collection of Bukhari in the its modern form actually includes many traditions narrated by these very individuals! Obviously, these traditions, which Bukhari rejected, were inserted in his book following his death.

Argument 2 : The Hadith are the Best [or only] Source of History Concerning Early Islam

The Musannaf of cAbd al-Razzaq al-Sanāni: An article appeared in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies which mentioned about the the Musannaf of 'Abd al-Razzaq al-Sanani as a source of authentic ahadith of the first century AH. Since the article is quite huge (21 pages), I will deal with only the conclusions of the author.

While studying the Musannaf of 'Abd al-Razzaq, I came to the conclusion that the theory championed by Goldziher, Schact, and in their footsteps, many others - myself included - which in general, reject hadith literature as a historically reliable sources for the first century AH, deprives the historical study of early Islam of an important and a useful type of source.[3]

I agree with some of this argument. I DO NOT believe that the Hadith are completely accurate, nor do I believe that they were written anywhere near the time of Muhammad. However, these traditions, however flawed, are among the few historical sources of the history of Islam.

Argument 3 : What About the Muwatta of Malik?

The Muwatta of Mālik bin Anas: Mālik bin Anas (d. 179/795) was the founder of Maliki school of Jurisprudence. The Muwatta of Mālik was compiled in mid-second century AH. This was pointed out by brother cAbdurrahmān Lomax in one of his materials against the writings of Joseph Smith. And this need not be discussed any further.

Now if Jochen's remark that around 250-280 years passed before the collection of the Hadith is rather a false statement. We might also give some more examples like:

Musannaf of Ibn Jurayj (d. 150 AH), Musannaf of Ma'mar bin Rashid (d. 153 AH), Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d. 241 AH)[4]

The Muwatta of Malik provides a good example which illustrates my concerns about the historical accuracy of the Hadith. According to the book A `Perfect' Qur'an OR "So it was made to appear to them"?:

Indeed, one publication of Muwatta here in the U.K. - that of Islamic Academy U.K. - has notes relating how this one was chosen from among 50 `versions' of the Muwatta, and only 16 were considered "best transmitted"

So Dr. Saifullah, which of these 16 "best transmitted" editions of the Muwatta of Malik represents your authentic "early Hadith"? Personally, I do not trust the historical accuracy or authenticity of any of these versions. But, as you say, God knows best!

Andrew Vargo

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