Give It a Second Thought: Dealing with Apparently Problematic Hadiths
For more on this topic, see Hadith Series
1 Qur’an 21:10.
2 Qur’an 5:103.
3 “[T]he Qurʾanic mode of thinking is not empirical or rationalist, historical or systematic, apodictic or pedagogical, analytical or descriptive. It is none of them and yet all of them at once. It combines conceptual analysis with moral judgment, empirical observation with spiritual guidance, historical narrative with eschatological expectation, and abstraction with imperative command.” See Ibrahim Kalin, Reason and Rationality in the Qurʾān, p. 9.
4 Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī writes, “There is no demonstration, argumentation, disjunction, or admonition built upon the general categories of knowledge afforded by reason and revelation that the Book of Allah has failed to articulate; it has mentioned them, however, according to the customary [speech habits] of the Arabs and not in accordance with the intricate methods of the theologians.” See al-Suyūṭī, al-Itqān fī ʿUlūm al-Qurʾān, vol. 4, p. 60.
5 Al-Ghazālī, Qānūn al-Taʾwīl, p. 9.
6 Fūdah, al-Sharḥ al-Kabīr, vol. 1, pp. 38-40.
7 When vocalized as mukhtalif (active participle) it refers to ḥadīths that ostensibly conflict with one another; when vocalized as mukhtalaf (verbal noun) it refers to the difference between the apparently contradictory ḥadīths. See Khayyāṭ, Mukhtalif al-Ḥadīth bayn al-Muḥaddithīn wa al-Uṣūliyyīn wa al-Fuqahāʾ, pp. 25-26.
8 Abū Shahbah, al-Wasīṭ fī ʿUlūm wa Muṣṭalaḥ al-Ḥadīth, pp. 442-43.
9 On whether Ikhtilāf al-Ḥadīth is an independent work or part of al-Umm, see al-Sūsah, Manhaj al-Tawfīq wa al-Tarjīḥ, pp. 32-34.
10 The accurate title of this book is “Bayān Mushkil Aḥādīth Rasūl Allāh (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) wa Istikhrāj mā fīhā min al-Aḥkām wa Nafy al-Taḍād ʿanhā.” See al-ʿAwnī, al-ʿUnwān al-Ṣaḥīḥ li al-Kitāb, pp. 64-65.
11 Al-Baghdādī, al-Kifāyah, pp. 432-33; cf. al-Haytamī, Ilṣāq ʿUwār al-Hawas, pp. 223-26.
12 It is not uncommon to find commentaries (e.g. al-Munāwī’s Fayḍ al-Qadīr) expounding on the meanings of ḥadīths that are arguably unreliable. One reason for this is that the commentator did not believe the given ḥadīth to be unreliable or he commented with the hope that, if an authentic route of transmission were located later, his commentary might be of help. See, for instance, al-Ṭaḥāwī, Sharḥ Maʿānī al-Āthār, vol. 4, p. 331. Beyond this, explanations of such ḥadīths can also be useful since they indirectly provide commentary for material that, at times, is also found in reliable ḥadīths for which commentary is not easily accessible.
13 Ibn al-Jawzī, al-Mawḍūʿāt, vol. 1, p. 189.
14 Al-Qārī, al-Asrār al-Marfūʿah, p. 217.
15 Al-Ṭahāwī sets out to explain the apparent problems and disharmony between reports “transmitted from the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) via acceptable chains of transmissions related by those of circumspection, honesty, and suitable delivery.” See al-Ṭaḥāwī, Sharḥ Mushkil al-Āthār, vol. 1, p. 6.
16 Al-Khaṭīb, al-Jāmiʿ li Akhlāq al-Rāwī wa Ādāb al-Sāmiʿ, vol. 2, p. 212.
17 The route of ʿĀʾishah is cited in Muslim, al-Musnad al-Ṣaḥīḥ, no. 1007, and the route of Buraydah in Aḥmad, al-Musnad, no. 22998, among others.
18 The route of Ibn ʿAbbās is cited in al-Bukhārī, al-Adab al-Mufrad, no. 422 and al-Ṭabarānī, al-Muʿjam al-Kabīr, vol. 11, p. 55. The route of Abū Hurayrah is cited in al-Bazzār, al-Musnad, no. 9200; Ibn Mandah, al-Tawḥīd, no. 92; al-Aṣfahānī, Ḥilyat al-Awliyāʾ, vol. 8, p. 307; and al-Bayhaqī, Shuʿab al-Īmān, vol. 13, p. 482.
19 See Jamīl Abū Sārah, Athar al-ʿIlm al-Tajrībī fī Kashf Naqd al-Ḥadīth al-Nabawī, pp. 212-19.
20 There is disagreement among jurists on the sequence of these steps. Although the majority of scholars arrange the steps as outlined here, the sound view in the Ḥanafī school of law is that a person will first seek out abrogation, then preference, then harmonization. See al-Turkumānī, Dirāsāt, pp. 499-502.
21 Ibn Rajab, Fatḥ al-Bārī, vol. 5, pp. 155-56; Ibn Ḥazm, al-Iḥkām, vol. 2, p. 21; al-Ṭaḥāwī, Sharḥ Maʿānī al-Āthār, vol. 4, p. 274. Related to this is Ibn al-Qayyim’s priceless observation that every time a ḥadīth is reported with multiple, conflicting permutations, it constitutes poor methodology to dismiss them as multiple occurrences, instead of attributing a flaw to one of the transmitters. See Ibn al-Qayyim, Zād al-Maʿād, vol. 2, p. 273. For an extensive study on employing ‘multiple occurrences’ as an interpretive tool for conflicting ḥadīths, see Dr. Ḥamzah al-Bakrī’s Taʿaddud al-Ḥādithah fī Riwāyāt al-Ḥadīth al-Nabawī.
22 Muslim, al-Musnad al-Ṣaḥīḥ, no. 2099.
23 Al-Bukhārī, al-Jāmiʿ al-Ṣaḥīḥ, no. 475; Muslim, al-Musnad al-Ṣaḥīḥ, no. 2100.
24 Al-Khaṭṭābī, Maʿālim al-Sunan, vol. 4, p. 120; cf. al-Ṭaḥāwī, Sharḥ Maʿānī al-Āthār, vol. 4, p. 280.
25 Indications that one ḥadīth is abrogated can take several forms: an explicit directive from the Prophet ﷺ, a statement from a Companion on the Prophet’s final practice, dating the ḥadīths to determine the latter of the two, and the consensus of the community upon one of the ḥadīths. See al-Nawawī, al-Minhāj, vol. 1, p. 35.
26 Al-Bukhārī, al-Jāmiʿ al-Ṣaḥīḥ, no. 112; Muslim, al-Musnad al-Ṣaḥīḥ, no. 3004.
27 Ibn Qutaybah, Taʾwīl Mukhtalif al-Ḥadīth, p. 412; al-Khaṭṭābī, Maʿalim al-Sunan, vol. 4, p. 184.
28 Al-Nawawī, al-Minhāj, vol. 1, p. 35. On these factors, see al-Ḥasanī, Maʿrifat Madār al-Isnād, p. 87 ff.; al-Turkumānī, Dirāsāt, pp. 509-531.
29 Al-Bukhārī, al-Jāmiʿ al-Ṣaḥīḥ, no. 608; cf. Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ al-Bārī, vol. 2, p. 85.
30 Al-Nasafī, al-ʿAqīdah al-Nasafiyyah, p. 2.
31 “Reason, both theoretical and practical, is our accumulated and critically organized common sense and contains a normative kernel of widely accepted values and ultimate ideals.” See Shabbir Akhtar, The Qurʾān and the Secular Mind, p. 58. One has to be cautious not to confuse certain constructions of reason, such as the Aristotelian-Neoplatonic tradition, as synonymous with ‘human reason’ per se. See Sherman Jackson, On the Boundaries of Theological Tolerance in Islam, p. 19 ff.; idem, Islam & the Problem of Black Suffering, pp. 38-40. In the present day, many charges of Islam as being irrational stem from the fact that rationality “as developed in the Islamic intellectual tradition contravenes the main thrust of modern and postmodern notions of rationality that have arisen in the West since the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.” See Kalin, Reason and Rationality in the Qurʾān, p. 2.
32 In The Outer Limits of Reason, Noson Yanofsky provides fascinating and engaging examples of the limits of reason and its related areas: science, technology, logic, and mathematics. See, for instance, the chessboard and dominoes example, the ship of Theseus, Russell’s paradox, and the problem of induction on pp. 2, 31, 85, 236, and 340-45, respectively.
33 Ibn Taymiyyah, Darʾ Taʿāruḍ al-ʿAql wa al-Naql, vol. 5, pp. 297-8; Kalin, Reason and Rationality in the Qurʾān, p. 7.
34 See Shabbīr al-ʿUthmānī, al-ʿAql wa al-Naql, pp. 87-95. Mawlānā Shabbīr al-ʿUthmānī asks rhetorically: have we applied, say, our sense of touch to the point that we have touched everything that can be felt or our sense of hearing to the point that we have heard all there is to hear? When we accept that we have not—and could not have—utilized these senses to their full capacity, how can we then expect to achieve a complete grasp of our rational faculties? See ibid., p. 33. Allah informs mankind about the limits of their knowledge, “You may dislike something although it is good for you, or like something although it is bad for you: Allah knows and you do not” (Qur’an 2:216) and “You have only been given a little knowledge” (Qur’an 17:85).
35 Ibn Khaldūn writes, “The intellect, indeed, is a correct scale. Its indications are completely certain and in no way wrong. However, the intellect should not be used to weigh such matters as the oneness of God, the other world, the truth of prophecy, the real character of the divine attributes, or anything else that lies beyond the level of the intellect. That would mean to desire the impossible. One might compare it with a man who sees a scale in which gold is being weighed, and wants to weigh mountains in it.” Ibn Khaldūn, The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History, trans. Franz Rosenthal, vol. 3, p. 38.
36 Brown, Misquoting Muhammad, p. 144; idem, Muhammad: A Very Short Introduction, p. 76.
37 Qur’an 34:28.
38 Al-Subkī, al-Ashbāh wa al-Naẓāʾir, vol. 2, p. 135. For other qualifications to this maxim, see ibid., pp. 136-37.
40 There is obvious nuance in categorizing the practices (sunan) of the Prophet ﷺ vis-à-vis their value as legal rulings. Dr. Sulaymān al-Ashqar divides the actions (afʿāl) of the Prophet ﷺ into ten categories. Among them, actions that were jibillī (innate) [e.g., ordinary activities like walking and sleeping], ʿādī (customary) [e.g., lengthening the hair and wearing certain attire], dunyawī (mundane) [e.g., political strategies] do not allow for more than general permissibility unless external evidence suggests otherwise. See al-Ashqar, Afʿāl al-Rasūl wa Dalālatuhā al-Sharʿiyyah, pp. 215-48. That being said, Shaykh ʿAbd Allah al-Ghumārī explains that legal theorists have stated that a person will be rewarded for following the customary practices of the Prophet (e.g., wearing certain types of clothing or eating certain types of food) out of love and emulation of the Prophet ﷺ. ʿAbd Allah ibn ʿUmar is on record for his scrupulous emulation of the Prophet ﷺ even in these matters. See al-Ghumārī, al-Nafḥah al-Ilāhiyyah, p. 157. According to Abū Shāmah al-Maqdisī (d. 665 AH) and Tāj al-Dīn al-Subkī (d.771 AH)—and Ḥadīth scholars in general, as related by al-Ghazālī—emulation in these practices are desirable, albeit the lowest form of desirability (istiḥbāb). See Abū Shāmah, al-Muḥaqqaq min ʿIlm al-Uṣūl, pp. 270-71; ʿAwwāmah, Ḥujjiyat Afʿāl al-Rasūl, pp. 56-60.
41 On the use of a figurative reading of ḥadīths as a tool to explain away problematic content, see Jamīl, Athar al-ʿIlm al-Tajrībī, pp. 146-50.
42 See, for instance, Qur’an 9:67; cf. Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr Qurʾān al-ʿAẓīm, vol. 4, p. 174.
43 Al-Tirmidhī, al-Sunan, no. 692.
44 For a summary of the interpretations of the word ʿArsh, see al-Muṭīʿī, Tawfīq al-Raḥmān, pp. 361-63.
45 See Qur’an 17:45.
46 See al-Bukharī, al-Jāmiʿ al-Ṣaḥīḥ, no. 3199; Shafīʿ, Maʿārif al-Qurʾān, vol. 7, pp. 389-82.
47 Al-Bannūrī, Maʿārif al-Sunan, vol. 5, p. 349.
48 Al-Dihlawī, Ḥujjat Allāh al-Bālighah, vol. 1, p. 158.
49 In a fascinating study, Halim Sayoud conducted an author discrimination analysis—where two texts are studied to determine whether they were composed by the same author—comparing the Qurʾān and the ḥadīths recorded in Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī. By conducting three series of experiments (global form, segmental form, and an automatic author attribution), Sayoud concluded, “First, the two investigated books should have different authors; second, all the segments that are extracted from a unique book appear to have a certain stylistic similarity.” See Halim Sayoud, Author Discrimination Between the Holy Qurʾān and the Prophet’s Statements, Literary and Linguistic Computing, vol. 27 (2012), no. 4, 2012, pp. 427-44. The second conclusion of this study demonstrates that despite the frequent usage of paraphrasing when transmitting the Prophet’s words (al-riwāyah bi al-maʿnā), the ḥadīths maintained an overall degree of stylistic consistency. See Brown, Hadith, 2nd ed., p. 12.
50 Ibn ʿAdī, al-Kāmil, vol. 2, p. 403.
51 Al-Mundhirī, al-Targhīb wa al-Tarhīb, vol. 4, p. 75, no. 4855.
52 Brown, Hadith, 2nd ed., p. 12.
53 Under the ḥadīth “Whoever deceives us is not from among us,” al-Khaṭṭābī writes, “That is, he is not upon our path. He intends thereby that the person who deceives his brother and does not take his best interest to mind has failed to follow me and hold onto my lifestyle. Some have understood this as an exclusion of the person from Islam, but this interpretation is not sound.” See al-Khaṭṭābī, Maʿālim al-Sunan, vol. 3, p. 118.
54 Al-Sibāʿī, al-Sunnah wa Makānatuhā fi al-Tashrīʿ al-Islāmī, pp. 51-52; cf. Mullā Khāṭir, al-Iṣābah fī Ṣiḥḥat Ḥadīth al-Dhubābah, p. 101; ʿAbd Allah al-Ghumārī, al-Qawl al-Jazl fī mā lā Yuʿdhar fīhi bi al-Jahl, p. 11.
55 Al-Bukhārī, al-Jāmiʿ al-Ṣaḥīḥ, no. 3636, 3868; cf. Jamīl, Athar al-ʿIlm al-Tajrībī, pp. 84-88.
56 Mullā Khāṭir, al-Iṣābah fī Ṣiḥḥat Ḥadīth al-Dhubābah, p. 102; cf. Brown, The Rules of Matn Criticism, pp. 393-94.
57 The Muslim scientist and physician Ibn al-Nafīs (d. 687 AH) is one example. Not only was he a skilled physician and scientist, second only to Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna), he also wrote a book on Ḥadīth nomenclature. See al-Subkī, al-Ṭabaqāt al-Shāfiʿiyyah al-Kubrā, vol. 8, p. 305; Meyerhof, M. and Schacht, J., “Ibn al-Nafīs,” in The Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition.