Monday, August 18, 2008

Shari'ah: A Muslim's Declaration of Independence - Part 3

The Issue of Ijma

Ibn Hanbal also was often very deferential to the various pronouncements of the results of a given spiritual deliberation concerning the nature of the Sacred Law which were given by some of the Companions of the Prophet – often referred to as a fatwa. However, he attached an important caveat to using such pronouncements as aides to arriving at a spiritual determination in a given issue or problem, and this proviso stipulated that the Companions had to have been unanimous in their agreement with such a pronouncement in order for it be accepted as a possible resource to use in seeking spiritual determinations concerning the nature of Sacred Law.

This foregoing idea of ijma, or consensus, is more complicated than it appears. First and foremost, one faces the question of: Who is going to be counted as a Companion of the Prophet?

For example, is mere acquaintanceship sufficient to qualify someone as a Companion? There were likely to have been many individuals – especially during the later Medina period -- who may have seen and heard the Prophet but who might not thereby necessarily have satisfied the conditions – whatever these may be -- of what it means to be a Companion of the Prophet.

Furthermore, and irrespective of how one decides to identify who is a Companion of the Prophet, one also must deal with the methodological problem of determining whether, or not, all Companions were actually in agreement with some given fatwa issued by one of the other Companions.

If someone does not speak in relation to some given spiritual determination, does such silence necessarily imply consent? Maybe someone who may disagree with such a pronouncement remains silent for personal reasons or out of a wish not to generate dissension or further problems.

Moreover, can one be sure that all Companions knew about such a pronouncement or that they had been asked to give their opinion in relation to that pronouncement? Can one be sure that all of the Companions continued to be in agreement concerning such a pronouncement throughout their lives?

Aside from the foregoing considerations involving the issue of consensus, there is another aspect of ibn Hanbal’s approach to seeking to understand the nature of Sacred Law. For him, the issue of ijma or consensus only had relevance and importance in relation to those individuals who lived in the time of the Prophet. Consequently, a consensus of opinion among religious scholars who lived at some point after the time of the Prophet did not necessarily carry much weight as far as ibn Hanbal was concerned.

One of the major reasons why questions like the foregoing are important to raise is because they should induce one to pause and reflect on just what relevance the idea of ijma or consensus has with respect to the issue of determining how one might approach Sacred Law and shari‘ah. For example, if there were consensus concerning some matter of Sacred Law, then, possibly, such a state of affairs might carry considerable spiritual authority in shaping how one proceeds with respect to engaging the nature of Sacred Law.

Many people refer to a hadith which is attributed to the Prophet in which he is reported to have said that “my community will never agree in error.” Consequently, if some facet of shari‘ah is unanimously agreed upon, then, one might conclude, on the basis of what has been attributed to the Prophet, that whatever has been agreed upon must be free of error and, therefore, true.

Unfortunately, there are those who define ijma, or consensus, in terms of the religious or theological teachings of certain groups, religious scholars, mullahs, and so on who came after the lifetimes of the Companions of the Prophet. In other words, according to this kind of an understanding, if some post-Companion group decides unanimously that such and such is an important facet of, say, shari‘ah, then, those who advocate such a perspective claim that this sort of consensus has a binding authority upon other members of the Muslim community.

Furthermore, individuals who think in this manner often cite the aforementioned Hadith which has been attributed to the Prophet – namely, ‘my community will never agree in error.’ The primary problem with this approach to things is that assumptions are being made concerning what the Prophet meant when he is reported to have said the foregoing statement.

Was the statement of the Prophet concerning his community only intended to refer to decisions made by his Companions? If so, the fact of the matter is that available historical records indicate there were very, very few instances in which the Companions were all asked a question concerning some facet of the shari‘ah and with respect to which they all answered in, more or less, the same way, and, as well, none of the Companions responded by silence with respect to such questions or changed their position concerning such a question.

Did the statement of the Prophet about his community never agreeing in error refer only to certain religious groups or scholars or legal experts who would arise in subsequent times? If so, what is the basis for such a claim, and why would the Companions be excluded from consideration in such matters? Moreover, if the Companions are not to be excluded, then, surely, one is brought back to the default position in which, relatively speaking, there were very few issues which could be shown to have enjoyed unanimous agreement on the part of the Companions, let alone on the part of the Companions as well as whatever subsequent group one wished to cite.

If a group of religious scholars, theologians, or jurists reaches a consensus – that is, a unanimous agreement – on some issue concerning the nature of the Sacred Law, this, in and of itself, says nothing at all about the correctness of what is being agreed upon by that group. The value of such consensus becomes even more suspect if there are other groups of religious scholars, theologians, or jurists who do not share such a perspective on the matter in question.

On the other hand, there may be those who might wish to argue that ijma, or consensus, doesn’t necessarily mean unanimity of agreement. For those individuals who might want to argue in this fashion, they are going to have to come up with an authoritative argument from the Qur’an which indicates that such is the case, and these sorts of individual are also going to have to plausibly justify and explain just what the Prophet meant when he said that his community would never agree in error if ijma does not mean unanimity of agreement on any given point being addressed.

Certainly, there is nothing wrong with considering various positions on a given issue and trying to determine which, if any, of the positions being engaged may be giving expression to the truth. However, the fact that some group has reached consensus on something carries no prima facie binding authority over one unless what is being said can be shown or proven to be stating the truth of a matter, and this means that it is not consensus, per se, which is the source of such binding authority, but rather, it is the truth which carries binding authority upon one – although even here, one has a choice to accept or reject such truth.

Finally, although one can certainly take into account the conduct of the Companions as a possible guide in relation to how one might proceed with respect to understanding and engaging the issue of Sacred Law, there is nothing in any of the foregoing considerations which requires one to follow their example. More specifically, the Companions of the Prophet pursued their particular modes of seeking the truth concerning the nature of Sacred Law according to their individual experiences, historical circumstances, life histories, cultural influences, capacities, needs, and so on. The understandings which arise out of all of this may, or may not, be relevant to the task of struggling toward finding a viable mode of understanding the nature of Sacred Law for life in today’s historical circumstances according to the varying needs of different peoples in different historical and cultural circumstances with varying spiritual capacities – there are many, many factors to consider when engaging such matters.

Consider the following verse:

“And whoever acts hostilely to the Apostle after that guidance has become manifest to him and follows other than the way of the believers, We will turn him to that to which he has [himself] turned.” [Qur’an, 4:115]

The foregoing ayat is given by some as support for the idea of ijma -- that is, there is an equivalence being established between the idea of ijma and the Quranic phrase: “the way of the believers”. However, the way which is being alluded to refers to Divine guidance concerning the path to truth, and this becomes ‘the way of believers’ only when those believers follow the indicated path.

As such, this is not a matter of God giving authority for believers to define what that way is and, then, permitting them to proceed to impose that path, so defined, on others. Secondly, the ayat makes clear that the warning being given only becomes operative after proper understanding has come to someone [that is, become manifest] concerning the truth of the guidance, and, then, such an individual proceeds to not only pursue some other path but to do so in a manner which is hostile to the Prophet. Only at such a juncture will God close the path to truth and allow the individual to stray in error along the path which he or she has chosen.

Although there are various exceptions to what is about to be said, for the most part, ijma or consensus is irrelevant to matters of shari‘ah because the latter is an individual pursuit not a collective activity. To be sure, the pursuit of shari‘ah carries ramifications for the collective, because through such a journey or struggle, the individual, God willing, may acquire qualities of character, understanding, knowledge, wisdom, faith, and adab that can be shared with others and which, God willing, have a constructive, beneficial impact upon society. However, the actual spiritual journey does not require the consensus of others in order for one to be able to proceed even though such consensus, if and when it does occur, can help inform the spiritual journey of the individual, and, moreover, such an individual would be well-advised to carefully consider what has been established through such consensus.

Notwithstanding the foregoing considerations and given that in the time of the Prophet, or shortly thereafter, there were very, very few issues on which consensus had been reached, it is unlikely that consensus will ever be meaningfully established in any way which extends beyond the consensus reached by people during the times of the Prophet. To be sure, there is consensus about the importance of the five pillars, but there are both agreements on, as well as differences concerning, how, specifically, to go about implementing these pillars and the nature of any degrees of freedom one may have in relation to such implementation.]. There is consensus about the importance of the Qur’an, even while, once again, there is no consensus with respect to what the Qur’an necessarily means – although there may be agreement on this or that ayat/verse. There is consensus about the importance of loving the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and having love and respect for the other members of the Prophetic tradition, but there is no consensus on how one should give expression to this love. There is consensus on the importance of the basic principles of faith or iman, but there are differences of understanding with respect to how such faith is to be incorporated into one’s life. There is consensus that everything one does should be done for the sake of Allah, but there are differences about how all of this might fit in with a person’s understanding concerning the nature, purpose, and potential of life. There is consensus that one must strive and struggle with life … that one must make efforts and that one has been given the capacity to choose between good and evil, but there are differences of opinion about what constitutes the good and what constitutes the evil or how to make the best use of the freedom one has been given.

Beyond the foregoing sorts of consensus, one is likely to find very little consensus in relation to matters either public or private. So, rather than canvassing 1.3 billion Muslims, or canvassing this or that group which seeks to arrogate to itself – rather arbitrarily -- the title of “consensus authorities” and allocate to themselves the sole right to establish, or not establish, spiritual consensus -- one might be better off to realize that shari‘ah really is an individual journey during which one may consider this or that perspective of others but with respect to which one will, by and large, find no consensus, and, therefore, as indicated earlier, the notion of ijma is relatively unhelpful when it comes to pursuing and struggling with shari‘ah.

“No soul benefits except from its own works, and none bears the burden of another. Ultimately, you return to your Lord, then He informs you regarding all your disputes." [Qur’an, 6:164]


As was the case in relation to both Abu Hanifa and Malik, my primary interest with respect to ibn Hanbal has little to do with whatever spiritual determinations may have been reached by him in conjunction with some particular problem or issue involving the nature of Sacred Law. In fact, as was pointed out previously, ibn Hanbal gave specific instructions that his spiritual determinations and judgments concerning particular cases not be written down in order to deter people from blindly adhering to whatever conclusions might be generated by ibn Hanbal, and in this respect he is advocating a position which is very similar to the one voiced by Abu Hanifa, and noted earlier, concerning the importance of properly understanding an issue rather than seeking to blindly apply a determination or judgment with little or no understanding of what one is doing.

Like Abu Hanifa and Malik, ibn Hanbal was not interested in establishing a codification of the Sacred Law. Like Abu Hanifa and Malik, ibn Hanbal was not trying to make claims that his particular approach to understanding the nature of Sacred Law was the only way of making spiritual determinations or judgments. Like Abu Hanifa and Malik, ibn Hanbal had his own unique way of approaching the challenges of life, and he engaged such sources as the Qur’an or the sunna of the Prophet from his own perspective of appropriateness and correctness. Like Abu Hanifa and Malik, ibn Hanbal sought to do what he could to constrain the tendency of people to try to generalize a given spiritual determination arrived at in conjunction with a particular set of circumstances to cases which were beyond the specific situation being considered.


The birth of Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi‘i is said to have occurred in 150 AH on the very same day that Abu Hanifa passed away. al-Shafi‘i died in 204 AH.

During his various travels and studies, al-Shafi‘i spent time with Malik in Medina. He also is said to have spent time and studied with an individual who had been a close student of Abu Hanifa.

al-Shafi‘i rooted his perspective in the Qur’an and especially the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). al-Shafi‘i believed that what the Prophet said constituted a law which was incumbent upon the community. He felt that the Prophet’s sayings did nothing more than to explain, complement, or particularize the teachings of the Qur’an.

However, in the Qur’an, God says: “And if all the trees in the earth were pens, and the sea, with seven more seas to help it, were ink, the words of Allah could not be exhausted.” [31:27]. Therefore, since the Word of God is infinite in nature, that Word cannot be exhaustively explained nor exhaustively particularized – not even by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Saying the foregoing does not in any way diminish or denigrate the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), but, rather, it is a way of trying to allude, however inadequately, to the greatness and plenitude of the Divine mystery. In fact, this is a perspective which the Prophet would have been the very first to acknowledge as having priority over everything else.

In addition, this issue of the possible relationship of the sayings of the Prophet in relation to the meaning and significance of Quranic teachings points in the direction of a further matter of considerable importance. More specifically, in a tradition or Hadith narrated by Abu Huraira (may Allah be pleased with him), the messenger of God was informed that some people were writing down his sayings. The Prophet took to the pulpit of the mosque and said, "What are these books that I heard you wrote? I am just a human being. Anyone who has any of these writings should bring it here.” Abu Huraira said we collected all these writings and burned them.

Ibn Saeed Al-Khudry (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:

"Do not write anything from me except Qur’an. Anyone who wrote anything other than the Quran shall erase it."

Abu Bakr Siddiq (may Allah be pleased with) had a collection of some 500 hadiths of the Prophet. However, upon hearing about the dire consequences which might befall anyone who perpetrated untruths concerning what the Prophet said, this close Companion of the Prophet -- after he had spent an entire night struggling over the issue of whether, or not, to retain his set of traditions -- burned his collection of Prophetic sayings.

In another tradition, some thirty years after the Prophet had passed away, Zayd Ibn Thabit, another close companion of the Prophet, visited the Khalifa Mu'aawiyah and related a story about the Prophet which Mu'aawiyah liked. Mu’aawiyah ordered someone to write the story down. But Zayd said: "The messenger of God ordered us never to write down anything of his hadith."

The Qur’an does say:

“He who obeys the Messenger obeys God, and whoever turns back, We have not sent you as a keeper over them.” [4:80]

And again:

“Whatsoever the Messenger ordains, you should accept, and whatsoever he forbids, you should abstain from.” [Qur’an, 59:7]

Thus, if the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) gives a specific directive to someone, then, according to the foregoing two verses of the Qur’an, complying with what the Prophet indicates in such a matter is something that is sanctioned and encouraged by God. However, when one attempts to move from, on the one hand: instances in which the Prophet directed people to whom he was speaking or to people in his immediate physical community to do something, to, on the other hand: concluding that, therefore, such directives are intended for all people and all times and all circumstances, then, one is making a very sizable assumption – an assumption which needs to be demonstrated as viable or which can be proven to be correct.

The clearest evidence which stands in opposition to the viability of making an assumption along the foregoing lines with respect to questions concerning the identity of those to whom the Prophet, on any given occasion, is giving specific directives or which stands in opposition to jumping to conclusions with respect to identifying those who are being addressed by the Prophet is given expression through the Prophet’s act of prohibiting the writing down of his sayings. If the Prophet had wanted his specific directives to carry over to the circumstances, times, and conditions which would arise after he passed away, then, he would have indicated that what he said should be written down and passed on – yet, such an indication is just the opposite of what he actually instructed the people in his physical community to do.

Furthermore, however one wishes to understand such matters, nonetheless, as the remainder of Surah 4, Ayat 80 cited previously indicates, neither the Prophet nor the believers have been given the responsibility of assuming the role of keepers over those who turn back from following the Prophet. Even if one were to accept the idea that what the Prophet said more than 1400 years ago still applies to Muslims living in today’s world, the Qur’an is also giving an indication that God has not authorized anyone to be a keeper over people with respect to such issues.

When the imperative mood is used in grammar, many people wish to interpret this to mean that whatever is being said in this manner constitutes an obligation, command, ordinance, duty, order, or law. Generally speaking, however, the imperative mood is meant to give expression to an intention which is designed to influence a listener’s behavior or understanding.

To say that something is a command, ordinance, duty, order, or law certainly all constitute ways intended to influence another person’s behavior or understanding. Nevertheless, to urge someone to do something, without commanding or ordering that person to perform such an action, or to try to persuade someone, or to indicate to someone, or impress on someone concerning the importance of some given activity – all of this still gives expression to the imperative mood because one’s intention is to influence the behavior of the individual being addressed, but doing things in this way is not necessarily in the form of a command, order, ordinance, or law.

If there is a cliff toward which someone is unknowingly running, and I seek to influence the behavior of that individual to stop running in the problematic direction, I am not necessarily ordering or commanding or ordaining that the individual should stop running. Furthermore, I am not necessarily saying that there is a law which stipulates that one must stop running when approaching a cliff, nor am I necessarily saying that the person has a duty to stop running.

What I am trying to do is somehow impress on the individual that difficulties may lay in store for that person if she or he continues to run in the same direction and, thereby, fails to give proper cognizance to the warnings being given. What I am trying to do is impress upon the individual in question that there is a potential benefit associated with listening to what is being said.

God has said: “There is no compulsion in Deen.” [Qur’an, 2:256] To place someone else under an obligation, duty, ordinance, or legal injunction are all forms of compulsion.

On the other hand, if one chooses to heed the counsel, advice, or warning which is given, then, one is acting in accordance with the information which has been communicated, but one is not necessarily acting in this manner in order to fulfill a perceived duty or obligation or because what is being communicated is a legal injunction of some kind which is incumbent on one to obey. One has chosen to comply with some warning, advice, counsel, or guidance because one has been persuaded – for whatever reason -- by what has been said to the point where one is willing to permit one’s behavior to be influenced in a certain way.

When one sees the truth of something, one is not obligated to act in accordance with such truth. At the same time, when one comes to understand the truth of something, one is not necessarily inclined to act contrary to the manner in which such a truth informs one’s understanding and manner of engaging certain facets of life.

There is a difference between, on the one hand, stating that something is an ordinance which is incumbent on the individual who is listening to what is being stipulated and, on the other hand, stating that performing certain actions would be in a person’s best interests. The former invites one to do little more than obey without necessarily having any understanding as to why she or he is doing something, whereas the latter approach to things invites a person to explore the relationship between what one is being advised to do and the issue of trying to determine what might constitute one’s best interests.

If one comes to understand the operative principle involved in what might happen to someone if he or she runs off a cliff, then, such understanding tends to shape one’s way of engaging certain aspects of existence. However, once this sort of understanding takes root, one does not necessarily feel under some duty or obligation to keep such understanding in mind, nor does one necessarily consider such understanding an ordinance or command or legal injunction of some kind even as one does understand that acting in accordance with such an understanding may be in one’s best interests.

Divine guidance is not necessarily about duties, ordinances, legal injunctions, commands, or obligations. True guidance is about assisting an individual to come to an understanding of the way things are and to help such a person to learn how to act in accordance with such an understanding.

One is free to accept such guidance or reject it. However, one rejects the guidance at one’s own risk because the guidance is seeking to communicate to one something of essential importance about the nature of how things are with respect one’s potential and the relationship of that potential with respect to the rest of existence.

Aside from the fact that the Qur’an indicates that there can be no compulsion in matters of Deen, the Qur’an also indicates that “tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter”. [2:191]. To seek to impose Sacred Law onto people is to oppress them even if one’s intention is a matter of seeking to do that which one believes will be of assistance to them. Sacred Law is something which must be realized, not something which can be imposed.

Whatever one does in the way of assistance with respect to other individuals, this cannot involve oppression. One can talk with people. One can debate in good ways with them. One can seek to persuade others provided that one does not exceed due limits. One can engage in research and discussion in the hopes that people may see the value of what one is saying … but one cannot oppress them.

Moreover, God has not given authority to anyone to oppress other human beings. Rather, the guidance is precisely the opposite – to struggle against oppression and to help terminate the latter.

Or, if one engages the issue of the Sacred Law from the perspective of justice and equitability, then, one is not doing justice to others if one takes away their freedom to choose between good and evil. Life is meant to be a struggle, and it is a struggle in which not everyone may succeed so far as spiritual issues are concerned.

One of the rights which others have over us is the right to be free from being oppressed by us. When shari‘ah – which is, in actuality, the spiritual journey toward seeking to understand the nature of Sacred Law -- is imposed on others, then one is violating such a right, just as much as someone who rejects shari‘ah is violating the rights of others when the former seeks to impose his or her way of doing things on those who wish to pursue shari‘ah.

People have the right and they should have the freedom to choose between good and evil. People do not have the right and they should not have the freedom to impose such choices on others.

The basic right to choose between good and evil is integral to the path of shari‘ah. The issue of providing the sort of environment in which people are free from any sort of oppression, exploitation, or abuse which would interfere with, or undermine, such a basic right is the province of governance – that is, the regulation of the public space or commons so that the freedom to pursue shari‘ah is protected.

Whatever force is used – and one cannot transgress due limits here with respect to the use of force – such compulsory measures can only be used to ensure that no one is oppressed with respect to the right to choose as they please as long as their choices do not spill over into the lives of others and, thereby, introduce oppression into the community. Indeed, one of the primary tasks of any government is to protect the public space so that it is free from oppression of any kind. The task of government is not to ensure that people follow a particular understanding of Sacred Law or to compel them to pursue a particular spiritual journey [i.e., shari‘ah] toward understanding the nature of Sacred Law.



Mohamed said...

Schacht asserts that hadiths, particularly from Muhammad, did not form, together with the Qur'an, the original bases of Islamic law and jurisprudence as is traditionally assumed. Rather, hadiths were an innovation begun after some of the legal foundation had already been built. "The ancient schools of law shared the old concept of sunna or ‘living tradition’ as the ideal practice of the community, expressed in the accepted doctrine of the school." And this ideal practice was embodied in various forms, but certainly not exclusively in the hadiths from the Prophet. Schacht argues that it was not until al-Shafi`i that ‘sunna’ was exclusively identified with the contents of hadiths from the Prophet to which he gave, not for the first time, but for the first time consistently, overriding authority. Al-Shafi`i argued that even a single, isolated hadith going back to Muhammad, assuming its isnad is not suspect, takes precedence over the opinions and arguments of any and all Companions, Successors, and later authorities. Schacht notes that:

Two generations before Shafi`i reference to traditions from Companions and Successors was the rule, to traditions from the Prophet himself the exception, and it was left to Shafi`i to make the exception the principle. We shall have to conclude that, generally and broadly speaking, traditions from Companions and Successors are earlier than those from the Prophet.

Based on these conclusions, Schacht offers the following schema of the growth of legal hadiths. The ancient schools of law had a ‘living tradition’ (sunna) which was largely based on individual reasoning (ra'y). Later this sunna came to be associated with and attributed to the earlier generations of the Successors and Companions. Later still, hadiths with isnads extending back to Muhammad came into circulation by traditionists towards the middle of the second century. Finally, the efforts of al-Shafi`i and other traditionists secured for these hadiths from the Prophet supreme authority.

Goldziher maintains that, while reliance on the sunna to regulate the empire was favoured, there was still in these early years of Islam insufficient material going back to Muhammad himself. Scholars sought to fill the gaps left by the Qur'an and the sunna with material from other sources. Some borrowed from Roman law. Others attempted to fill these lacunae with their own opinions (ra'y). This latter option came under a concerted attack by those who believed that all legal and ethical questions (not addressed by the Qur'an) must be referred back to the Prophet himself, that is, must be rooted in hadiths.These supporters of hadiths (ahl al-hadith) were extremely successful in establishing hadiths as a primary source of law and in discrediting ra'y. But in many ways it was a Pyrrhic victory. The various legal madhhabs were loath to sacrifice their doctrines and so they found it more expedient to fabricate hadiths or adapt existing hadiths in their support. Even the advocates of ra'y were eventually persuaded or cajoled into accepting the authority of hadiths and so they too "found" hadiths which substantiated their doctrines that had hitherto been based upon the opinions of their schools’ founders and teachers. The insistence of the advocates of hadiths that the only opinions of any value were those which could appeal to the authority of the Prophet resulted in the situation that "where no traditional matter was to be had, men speedily began to fabricate it. The greater the demand, the busier was invention with the manufacture of apocryphal traditions in support of the respective theses."

In summary, Goldziher sees in hadiths "a battlefield of the political and dynastic conflicts of the first few centuries of Islam; it is a mirror of the aspirations of various parties, each of which wants to make the Prophet himself their witness and authority." Likewise,

Every stream and counter-stream of thought in Islam has found its expression in the form of a hadith, and there is no difference in this respect between the various contrasting opinions in whatever field. What we learnt about political parties holds true too for differences regarding religious law, dogmatic points of difference etc. Every ra'y or hawa, every sunna and bid`a has sought and found expression in the form of hadith.

And even though Muslim traditionalists developed elaborate means to scrutinize the mass of traditions that were then extant in the Muslim lands, they were "able to exclude only part of the most obvious falsifications from the hadith material." Goldziher, for all his scepticism, accepted that the practice of preserving hadiths was authentic and that some hadiths were likely to be authentic. However, having said that, Goldziher is adamant in maintaining that:

In the absence of authentic evidence it would indeed be rash to attempt to express the most tentative opinions as to which parts of the hadith are the oldest material, or even as to which of them date back to the generation immediately following the Prophet’s death. Closer acquaintance with the vast stock of hadiths induces sceptical caution rather than optimistic trust regarding the material brought together in the carefully compiled collections.

From Daniel Brown Muslim Scholar from America

The relevance of the past: classical conceptions of Prophetic authority

The word sunna predates the rise of Islam and is well attested in pre-Islamic sources. The word sunna was likely to be applied to Muhammad even during his lifetime (p8).

The Quran never mentions sunna-al-nabi (sunna of the Prophet). The application of the term sunna is likely to be post-Quranic, especially when applied exclusively to Muhammad.

Early muslims did not give precedence of Muhammad's sunna over other sunnas, such as the sunna of the early caliphs or early companions. The sunna term was not exclusive to Muhammad. There were no rigid distinctions about sources of religious law, i.e. it wasn't concrete that Muhammad's sunna could be used as a source of law.

Shafi was born in 204 AH (193 years after Prophet Muhammad's death). He was the first to argue the Prophet's sunna as a source of law, identified to authentic prophetic hadith, and give it an equal footing to The Quran. Different attitudes to sunna existed during Shafi, al-kalam (a particular group or school of thought) rejected hadith altogether in favour of The Quran alone. Shafi's view was also oppossed early by schools of jurisprudence in Hijaz, Iraq and Syria, who applied the term sunna to Muhammad, his companions and the early caliphs as well.
After Shafi, it is rare to find the term sunna applied to other than Muhammad. Al-kalam argued the sunna of Muhammad should never be allowed to rule on The Quran and described the science of hadith (as in the methods used to collect hadith) as arbitrary. Evidence of this was the hadith was filled with contradictory, blasphemous and absurd traditions. [top]

Challenges to the view of the organic relationship between The Quran and sunna are not completely unprecedented in the history of Islamic thought. Some of the opponents of Shafi argued that The Quran explains everything (e.g. 16:89) and needs no supplement, this was because one of Shafi's central arguments was the need to clarify The Quran. This opposing viewpoint was snuffed out after the triumph of the traditionist view. However and it was not until the 19th and 20th centuries that the argument was seriously revived. One of the reasons Daniel Brown gives for the defeat of the opponents of Shafi was that they could not deny the authority of the Prophet. If for example, you found a hadith that was truly authentic then there is no way you can deny it because as it states in The Quran the Prophet was a very good example. Also, Shafi emphasised that to obey the Prophet was to obey God. Under this pressure, the opponents of Shafi were defeated. Rarely does the author address how specific arguments were defeated unfortunately, which was the most disappointing aspect of this book.

The question arose: how is it possible to determine which hadith were authentic and which were not?

In the 19th and 20th centuries, increased criticism and scrutiny by Western scholars of Islam showed Muslims that the hadith could not stand up to the criticism, whilst The Quran could. It made Muslims look back on the hadith and reflect more and examine their basis and origin in Islam.

The authenticity of hadith

The great compilations of the hadith took place in the 3rd century AH (i.e. beginning about 189 years after Prophet Muhammad's death, with the 6 books being complete about 280 years after his death), p83. In the eyes of most Muslim scholars sahih (reliable/authentic) hadith could with a high degree of confidence be considered to represent the actual words and deeds of the Prophet. On the other hand, few scholars would have argued the system was full proof. Any information in the hadiths was no absolute truth, it had to be classified as conjecture. The opponents of the hadith at the start were a minority. It was not seriously questioned.
Goldziher was unquestionably the most important 19th century critic of hadith. He became the first scholar to subject the hadith to a systematic historical and critical method. His study was published in 1896. Joseph Schacht "origins of Muhammadan jurisprudence" in 1950 was published. Like Goldziher, he concluded that few, if any traditions originated with the Prophet.
Even the Prophet recognised that there were people among his companions or those living during his lifetime were spreading lies about him. This is testified to in a hadith in Bukhari (p85). There is documented evidence that the companions disagreed with each other and criticsed each other, for example Aisha and Ibn Abbas were reported to have criticised Abu Hurayra. A number of companions demanded evidence for the truth of reports passed onto them. Umar alledgedly questioned a report from Fatima bint Qays. Umar is also reported to have confined three companions to Medina to keep them from spreading traditions. Abu Huyrara was only with the Prophet for 3 years, yet he is alledged to have been the most prolific in transmitting hadith. Biographical literature provides ample material for criticism for Abu Huyrara's character, Umar called Abu Huyrara a liar for example. Aisha criticised Anas for transmitting traditions as he was only a child during the life of the Prophet. And Hassan called both Umar and Zubair liars.

The process of hadith transmission was primarily oral, at least through the first century. Even after written collections of hadith were compiled, oral transmission remained the ideal (p88). Abu Rayya argues that the late date when traditions began to be registered in written form more than 100 years after the Prophet's death became a major obstacle to the fidelity of hadith (p89). Emerged in final form only in the 3rd and 4th centuries

Those who argue that Muhammad's companions began to record hadith in writing during his lifetime must explain the Prophetic prohibition on writing of hadith. Contradictions within the hadith exist regarding this subject. (p91)

Under orders from Caliph Hisham, Shihab al-Zuhri was first assigned to collect hadith. This tradition has commonly been taken to mean that al-Zuhri, under duress, became the first traditionist to violate the Prophet's prohibition on recording hadith in writing. Al-Zuhri is reported to have said: "We disapproved of recording knowledge until these rulers forced us to do so. After that reason we saw no reason to forbid the Muslims to do so." In other words, before al-Zuhri writing was the rare exception; after him writing of traditions became commonplace. This argument is bolstered by numerous accounts that early generations of pious Muslims, including not only al-Zuhri and traditionists like him but also the first four Caliphs, strongly disapproved of writing hadith.
The evidence strongly suggests that early generations of Muslims did record traditions in writing, however having reports about written records is rather different than having the records themselves. Thus, the apparent aversion of pious Muslims to the recording of hadith should be interpreted as reluctance to record an official, public collection of hadith. (p92)

Scholars agree that forgery of hadith took place on a massive scale. The science of hadith developed gradually as a response to this problem. The early written compilations called suhuf were little more than random transcriptions or personal collections. Muslim sources identify the first systematic collection in recording of the hadith with the Ummad Caliph Umar and with the scholars Abu Bakr. No such collection has survived. The earliest systematic collection is the muttawata of Mailk bin Anas, 179 AH (168 years after Prophet Muhammad's death), p94. Isnad (checking of transmissions) was not applied until after the early 2nd century AH according to Schacht. The book studies in early hadith literature stated it was earlier than this. For middle ground see Juynboll: "Muslim tradition". Major works of hadith (p161 footnote 70).

According to some, forgers of hadith became active even during the lifetime of the Prophet. In the Caliphate of Umar, the problem became so serious that he prohibited transmission of hadith altogether. The degree of the problem that resulted can be seen from the testimony of the muhahadithin (those who collect hadith) themselves. Bukhari selected 9000 traditions out of 700 000 (p96). When Bukhari reports that he selected from over 700 000 traditions, he is counting every different transmission chain, even when the substance of the tradition are the same (p99). The point is that hadith criticism did not begin during the 3rd century but was practiced continually from the time of the companions onwards (p99).

Anab Whitehouse said...

Dear Mohammed,
As-Salaam 'alaykum!

Thank you for your very detailed response. I think that in most, if not all, respects your commentary reflects the general structure of what is being said in 'Shari'ah: A Muslim's Declaration of Independence', but your comments do provide some important, additional information concerning these issues.

I feel that what is particularly of value in what you have to say is the following. More specifically, you document some of the evidence which indicates how many Muslim 'scholars' have sought to reframe the nature of Islam in terms of their own theological perspective and, then, those same individuals, along with their followers, have proceeded to try to impose such a perspective on others by transforming their theological likes and dislikes into 'Sacred law' or shari'ah and claiming that everybody had an obligation to follow their understanding of things.

In doing so, such people have taken all too many Muslims far, far, far away from the actual teachings of the Qur'an. Indeed, they have taken people so far away from the actual nature of Islam that the sort of things to which they refer as being Islam and/or 'sacred law' renders the actual teachings of Islam virtually unrecognizable.

Without necessarily disagreeing with some of the points made by Joseph Schacht and Ignaz Goldziher which you quote and to which you allude in your own commentary, I feel it should be pointed out that neither Schacht nor Goldziher were what might be called friends of either Islam or the Prophet, nor were they really even empathetic in relation to the problems which so-called Muslim scholars created for successive generations of Muslims. The two, aforementioned individuals, each in his own way, were card-carrying members of an Orientalist tradition which, for centuries, has sought to control how both non-Muslims and Muslims thought and felt about Islam, as well as to help -- at least conceptually -- destabilize social and political events within the world and, thereby, simultaneously encourage the West to have a largely hostile stance toward Muslims, as well as, to make Muslims [and non-Muslims] more vulnerable to the various forms of propaganda which where based on the Orientalist attempts to contain and control all access routes to accurate information about Islam.

Whatever truths may have been contained in the respective writings of the two individuals in question, neither of them ever bothered to point out that the Muslims they were critiquing weren't really talking about Islam but, rather, such Muslims were merely putting forth their own Muslim theological hermeneutic concerning Islam while trying to convince other Muslims that what these so-called 'scholars' were saying was the 'real' Islam, when, to a very great extent -- and often almost incidentally -- this was never the case. In fact, such Muslim scholars often invented their own systems and simply called their inventions Islam.

Unfortunately, neither Schacht nor Goldziher ever made any serious efforts to point this truth out. Instead, the latter two individuals were content with writing about all the inconsistencies, problems, unanswered questions, and contradictions inherent in such 'traditional' writings and, in the process, the two individuals in question introduced doubts into the minds of both Muslims and non-Muslims concerning the essential authenticity of Islam.

Facts may be facts, but some people seek to use facts to obscure the truth. And, in essence, this is what the two authors to whom you allude spent much of their time doing.

In modern political parlance, this is known as spin, and in sociological terms, it is referred to as 're-framing' issues. The two Western Orientalists to whom you refer criticized Muslim writers not for purposes of ascertaining the truth concerning Islam but for the purpose of obscuring the truth about Islam beneath a litany of factoids which were never pursued in a way which permitted people to glimpse the spiritual truths of islam behind such academic and ideologically motivated trappings.

The heirs to the 'academics' you mention are people like Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Samuel P. Huntington [of the 'clash of civilizations infamy] who are all busying themselves with various exercises in misdirection concerning the nature of Islam so that all too many people fail to see that thee former individuals, through various conceptual sleight-of-hands, are merely seeking to advance their own ideological agendas while claiming to serve the public good by warning people about 'Islamic terrorism', and in the process, such individuals seek to stampede people into a mindless fear of, as well as essential bigotry and bias toward, Islam -- using misinformed and misguided Muslims as their 'evidence' for demonstrating what is allegedly wrong with Islam ... when, in truth, all they have shown is what is wrong with the thinking of certain Muslims who not only claim to speak for Islam, but who, as well, seek to forcibly impose their ideologies onto both Muslims and non-Muslims alike ... the very antithesis of what lies at the heart of Islam.

Thank you again for your comments.

Anab Whitehouse

Mohamed said...

The above article I posted was commentary by Hebert Berg Phd, I do not see any link between Sam Harris and Hitchens with Schacht and Goldziher. For one the two academics wrote their books long before the rise of Islamism so I don't see similar agenda. They just questioned the authenticity of hadith and Shariah. There is another conspiracy against Koran by Sunni/Shia sectarianists:

Abrogation claims of Muslim Scholars

(The biggest lie against the Quran)


The fabricated concept of Quranic abrogation is probably the biggest single lie against the Quran. This fabrication was originally invented during the fourth century A.H. (late 10th century A.D.) by some Muslim scholars notably Ahmed Bin Ishaq Al-Dinary (died 318 A.H.), Mohamad Bin Bahr Al-Asbahany (died 322 A.H.), Hebat Allah Bin Salamah (died 410 A.H.) and Mohamad Bin Mousa Al-Hazmy (died 548 A.H.), whose book about Al-Nasekh and Al-Mansoukh is regarded as one of the leading references in the subject.

According to this concept, it is claimed that numerous verses in the Quran have actually been abrogated and invalidated by other verses!

The verse that is the abrogator they call (Al-Nasekh) while the abrogated verse they call (Al-Mansoukh).

These scholars have come up with hundreds of cases of abrogated verses to the extent that they have formulated a whole science of the subject filling lengthy books and references.

Although the concept was originally invented by Muslim scholars as a result of their poor understanding of the Quran, yet it has been widely exploited by non-Muslim writers to tarnish the perfection and divinity of the book. The claim is based on the misinterpretation of the following verse:

"When we abrogate any ayat, or cause it to be forgotten, we produce a better one, or an equal one. Do you not recognize the fact that God is Omnipotent?" 2:106

The claim of abrogation is in complete contempt of God's words in the Quran:

"The word of your Lord is complete, in truth and justice. NOTHING SHALL ABROGATE HIS WORDS." 6:115

"A.L.R. This is a book whose AYATS HAVE BEEN PERFECTED" 11:1
"……the words of God are UNCHANGEABLE"10:64

As is plainly clear from the above Quranic words, God asserts that the words of the Quran are perfect, harbour no contradictions and cannot be abrogated. Yet sadly these scholars have invented the greatest lie against the Quran, claiming that there are verses in the Quran that abrogate and invalidate other verses.

They base their claim on a corrupted interpretation of two verses:


"Whichever Ayah We relinquish or cause to be forgotten We replace it with its equal or with that which is greater, did you not know that God is capable of all things?" 2:106

What the interpreters claim is that this verse confirms that some Quranic verses are invalidated by others. They interpret ‘Ayah’ in this verse to mean a verse in the Quran.

However the word Ayah, as used in the Quran, can have one of four different meanings:

a- It could mean a miracle from God as in:

"And We supported Moses with nine profound Ayah's (miracles)." 17:101

b- It could also mean an example for people to take heed from as in:

"And the folk of Noah, when they disbelieved the messengers, We have drowned them and set an Ayah (example) of them for all people." 25:37

c- The word ‘Ayah’ can also mean a sign as in:

"He said, ‘My Lord, give me an ‘Ayah’ (sign).’ He said, ‘Your Ayah is that you will not speak to people for three consecutive nights." 19:10

d- It could mean a verse in the Quran, as in:

"This is a book that We have sent down to you that is sacred, perhaps they will reflect on its ‘Ayat’ (verses)." 38:29

Now if we consider verse 106 of Sura 2, we can easily spot that the word ‘Ayah’ in this particular verse could not mean a verse in the Quran. It can mean any of the other meanings (miracle, example or sign) but not a verse in the Quran. This is because of the following reasons:

1- The words "cause to be forgotten" could not be applicable if the word ‘Ayah’in this verse meant a verse in the Quran. How can a verse in the Quran become forgotten? For even if the verse was invalidated by another (as the interpreters falsely claim) it will still be part of the Quran and thus could never be forgotten.

2- The words "We replace it with its equal" would be meaningless if the word ‘Ayah’ in this verse meant a Quranic verse, simply because it would make no sense for God to invalidate one verse then replace it with one that is identical to it!

3- If the word ‘Ayah’ in verse 106 meant a miracle an example or a sign, then all the words of the verse would make perfect sense. The words "cause to be forgotten" can apply to all three meanings and that is what actually happens with the passing of time. The miracles of Moses and Jesus have long been forgotten. We only believe in them because they are mentioned in the Quran.

Similarly the words "We replace with its equal or with that which is greater" is in line with the miracles of God. God indeed replaces one miracle with its equal or with one that is greater than it. Consider the following verse :

"And We have sent Moses with Our Ayah’s (miracles or signs) to Pharaoh and his elders proclaiming : ‘I am a messenger from the Lord of the universe’. When he brought them our Ayah's they laughed at him. Every Ayah We showed them was greater than the one that preceded it." 43:46-48


"When We substitute one Ayat (revelation) in place of another, and God is fully aware of what He reveals, they say, 'You made this up'. Indeed most of them do not know"

The substitution spoken of here is concerned with one of two things:

a- The substitution of one Scripture in place of another.

b- The substitution of one verse or law within a Scripture with another in a subsequent Scripture

a- The first meaning is given evidence to in the following verse:

"Then we revealed to you this scripture, truthfully, confirming previous scriptures, and superseding them." 5:48

Here, the words "superseding them." confirm that the previous scripture were substituted with the Quran.

b- The second meaning is also given evidence to in the Quran where various issues that were prohibited to the previous people of the book were made lawful in the Quran.

As an example, we are told in 2:187 that sexual intercourse between married couples during the nights of the fasting month was made lawful, while it was prohibited previously.

We are also told in 6:146 that God prohibited for the Jews all animals with undivided hoofs; and of the cattle and sheep the fat was prohibited. These were made lawful in the Quran.

This verse 16:101 does not speak about the substitution of one verse in the Quran with another.

The evidence to that is given within the same verse (16:101):
The key to the meaning of the verse lies in the words:

"........they say, 'You made this up"

Here we must stop and ask, who is likely to tell the messenger "You made this up"? And why? For sure it cannot be his followers, his followers are not likely to tell him:

"You have made it up" has to be those who do not believe in him, which focuses on the followers of previous scripture who feared that their scripture was in danger of being "substituted" with the Quran............

What more evidence to that more than the fact that till this day, the Jews and Christians accuse Muhammad that he fabricated the Quran himself! If this accusation is from the Jews and Christians we must then ask, are they accusing Muhammad of substituting one verse in the Quran with another? The Jews and Christians do not care if one verse in the Quran is substituted for another, after all they do not believe in the whole book............. they will not complain that one verse in the Quran is being substituted with another! However, and if their Scripture is being substituted by the Quran, they will immediately accuse the messenger that the Scripture he brings (Quran) is not from God but that he "made it up" himself.

These glorious words "You have made it up" indeed stand as true indicator from God Almighty that the substitution spoken of in this verse is not related to one within the Quran, but indeed a substitution between two scripture.

As mentioned before, the substitution of the previous scripture with the Quran is confirmed in 5:48

As a result of the corruption of the meaning of 2:106 and 16:101, and the claim that some Quranic verses invalidate other verses, the interpreters have demonstrated their failure to uphold two main characteristics of the Quran, those being that the Quran is perfect and harbours no contradictions (11:1) and also that the words of God are unchangeable (10:64).

It is well worth inquiring here into the motive behind the interpreters corruption of the meaning of 2:106 and 16:101.

Perhaps the major reason is not connected to the Quran at all but to the ‘hadith’. It is well accepted among the hadith scholars that the concept of abrogation applies to the hadith since it is found that many ‘hadith’ contradict one another. The examples of these are too numerous. The following are only some examples:

P.S. (the first number is the number of the book (chapter), and second number is the number of hadith. For example Muslim 18/58 means the 58th hadith in the 18th book of Muslim. In other quotations the name of the chapter is given instead of its number.

1- "I am the most honourable messenger" (Bukhary 97/36).
This hadith contradicts the following hadith:
"Do not make any distinction among the messengers; I am not even better than Jonah" (Bukhary 65/4,5; Hanbel 1/205,242,440).

2- "The Prophet never urinated in standing position" (Hanbel 6/136,192,213). This contradicts:
"The prophet urinated in standing position" (Bukhary 4/60,62).

3- "The prophet said, ‘The sun was eclipsed the day Ibrahim (the prophet’s son) died’… (Bukhary 7/page 118)
This contradicts:
"The prophet said, ‘the sun and moon are signs from God, they are not eclipsed for the death or life of any one" (Bukhari 2/page 24)

4- "If two Muslims fight each other with their swords, the killer and the killed will go to hell" (Bukhari 1/page 13, Muslim 18/page 10).
This hadith contradicts the hadith of the ten who were foretold that they will go to heaven by the prophet (Ahmad 1/page 187-188, also narrated by Abu Dawood and Al-Tarmazy). That is because among those ten were those who fought and killed one another in battle, specifically Ali, Talha and Al-Zobair. According to the first hadith they will go to hell but accoding to the second hadith they are foretold paradise!

5- In various hadith, specifically in the chapters of the ‘Hereafter’ in the books of Bukhary and Muslim we read numerous predictions by the prophet detailing what will take place there. This contradicts the hadith by Aesha, the prophet’s wife where she says "Anybody who says that Muhammad knows the future is a liar" (Bukhary 8/ page 166, Muslim 3/ page 9-10)

6- "The prophet said, ‘Take your religion from the words of Aesha (the prophet’s wife)"
This contradicts: "The prophet said, ‘Aesha is immature in mind and faith." (Bukhari and others)

The heart of the matter is directly connected to the following verse:

"Why do they not study the Quran carefully? If it were from a source other than God, they would have detected within it numerous contradictions." 4:82

This verse confirms that anything that contains contradictions cannot be from God, and since the hadith contains numerous contradictions, as shown, it cannot be from God. But the hadith advocates claim that the hadith was inspired by God and that the hadith Al-Qudsy is God’s own words spoken to Muhammad! If that is so, how could they explain the contradictions in hadith? How could it be from God when it is full of contradictions? According to 4:82 nothing that contains contradictions can be from God.

To wiggle out of this tricky situation, the hadith advocates devised the concept of the abrogation of Quranic verses.

The plan was as such: If the Quran can be shown to contain contradictory verses, yet no one will dispute that it is from God, then the hadith with its contradictions can also be described to be inspired by God !!!

Quite a sly plot except for one minor detail:


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