Author Topic: Informative book review of "Hadith as Scripture" by Aisha Musa  (Read 1211 times)


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Informative book review of "Hadith as Scripture" by Aisha Musa
« on: February 23, 2014, 07:06:42 AM »


This handy volume of Aisha Musa makes some solid contribution to Islamic discourse - to a crucial debate that has been of concern to Muslims of all walks of life throughout Islamic history: Does the Hadith have authority as a source of religious law and guidance in Islam? Unveiling hitherto unknown, extant literature - a commendable effort in itself - Musa finds that the challenge to the Hadith as an authoritative source in Islam is almost as old as Islam itself and that such opposition was widespread in early Islam. Interestingly, she finds echoes of the arguments used against the authority of the Hadith in early Islam in the contemporary anti-Hadith movement as well.

Musa delves into the discussions of early Muslim scholars on both sides of the debate for and against the authority of the Hadith. She harps more on the question of authority than that of authenticity. The latter issue has tended to dominate the discussions of later Hadith critics. In raising the issue of authority and its ongoing importance, Musa rightly points out that even though the Hadith has eventually come to hold a high status among mainstream Muslims, opposition to it never completely died down. Such opposition reemerged at different points in history and it has persisted for more than a century in modern time. She notes, "Thanks to dramatic improvements in the worldwide publication and communication of ideas, the debate now involves Muslims in all walks of life from around the world, making it a topic of concern to Muslims today as it was in the past" (Musa, p. 4).

Musa's research also sheds light on two other related, yet important questions: one is about whether the anti-Hadith movement is influenced by Western-Orientalist ideas and the other is about whether a similar movement is found in the case of any other religious tradition. Her work demonstrates that the movement against the authority of the Hadith is very much homegrown - a development from within Islam and "an inherently Muslim response to an inherently Muslim concerns" (Ibid, pp. 1, 3). And she finds that there is a close parallel between the anti-Hadith movement in Islam and the anti-Mishnah, anti-Talmud movement led by Karaites in Judaism, but she observes that the latter movement did not influence the movement in Islam. This has been a movement in both Islam and Judaism to protect the Book of God as a sole scriptural authority from other, manmade books.

Musa notes that opposition to the Hadith as a competing source of religious authority began early in Islam and is found in a text that Muslim tradition holds to be a letter from the Kharijite Abd Allah Ibn Ibad to the Caliph Abd al-Malik in or around 76 AH/695 CE. Though the authorship and dating of this letter are in some dispute, it still predates al-Shafii (d. 204 AH/820 CE) and its importance as a challenge to the authority of the Hadith remains undented. A key passage of this letter criticizes the Kufans for taking "hadiths" for their religion abandoning the Quran. "They believed in a book which was not from God, written by the hands of men; they then attributed it to the Messenger of God" (Michael Cook, Muslim Dogma, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1981, p. 9; cited in Musa, p. 38).

Musa's work shows how curiously in the third century after the Prophet's death, al-Shafii elevated the Hadith to the status of divine revelation, using the concept of the duality of divine revelation, one for the Quran and the other for the Hadith. Because the early Hadith rejecters' works were not directly available, Musa chronicles the early objections to the Hadith by looking at the works of al-Shafii and Ibn Qutayba (d. 276 AH). She examines al-Shafii's Kitab Jima`al-`Ilm and Risala (Musa includes in her book a translation of Kitab Jima`al-`Ilm). Musa extensively draws on the works of these two figures as well as on Taqyid al-Ilm of Al-Khatib al-Bagdadi (d. 463/1071 CE) about two and a half centuries after al-Shafii's death to document the arguments used in the early years of Islam both in favor of and against the Hadith.

The opposition to the Hadith as reported by al-Shafii in his Jima`al-`Ilm was much during his time. Both Al-Shafi'i and Ibn Qutayba refer to the opponents of the Hadith as Ahl al-Kalam. Al-Shafii's work responded to a group that rejected all Prophetic reports and for this rejection their basic argument was that God declares the Quran as an explanation of everything (16:89). In relation to Al-Shafii's position on Wisdom and obedience to the Messenger, they suggested that "the Wisdom is found only in what God has revealed (i.e., the Qur'an); so that whoever submits to that is obeying the Messenger..... obeying the Messenger meant obeying only the Qur'an that God has sent down to him, and that when the Qur'an mentioned the Book together with Wisdom, the Wisdom was the specific rulings of the Book" (Musa, pp. 41, 56). Such arguments are also used in modern Quran-alone or Quran-only discourse. Al-Shafii also mentions a group that accepted only those reports that are in agreement with the Quran. Ibn Qutayba dealt with criticisms of particular Hadiths. Musa notes, "Both Al-Shafii and Ibn Qutayba indicate that the objection to Prophetic reports was widespread. Al-Shafi'i states that so many people presented so many arguments to him that he could not exactly remember who said what. Ibn Qutayba makes it clear in his introduction [of his work Ta'wil Mukhtalif al-Hadith] that the opponents of the Hadith had written books containing scathing criticisms of the proponents of the Hadith. To date, none of these books has come down to us." (Ibid, p. 21)

Analyzing the arguments of al-Shafii and those of his opponents, Musa concludes that al-Shafi in fact does not have a well-defended position in favor of the Hadith. She observes that al-Shafii fails to address two key points: one relates to her failure to address the point that opposition to the Hadith was a homegrown development, not inspired by any external influence; and the other is al-Shafii's failure to address the opponents' point that the Quran declares itself as tibyanan li kulli shayeen (an explanation of everything). "These two points," Musa contends, "are at the heart of the modern-day opposition to the authority of the Hadith" (Ibid, p. 80).

The relative authority of the Quran and the Hadith has in fact been an important issue since the time of the Prophet Muhammad and his closest companions. Musa chronicles the Prophet Muhammad's reported prohibition on the writing of the Hadith and his direction for erasing all collected Hadith. The proponents of the Hadith recognize this prohibition, but contend that this prohibition was later withdrawn by a statement from the Prophet, which, if true, would tend to suggest a compromise of his earlier prohibition on the Hadith that seemed to hold sway during his lifetime. Musa documents in detail Caliph Umar's strong, unequivocal objections to the writing and transmission of the Hadith by looking at two works: al-Tabaqat of Ibn Sa'd (d. 230/845), a well-regarded biographer of early generations of Muslims, including the Prophet, and Musannaf, an early Hadith collection, by Abd al-Razzaq (d. 211/827). Musa examines several reports about Umar's position in Tabaqat, including one that says that "Umar called on the people to bring them [the collected Hadith] to him, and when they brought them to him, he ordered them to be burned" ((Ibid, p. 24). "According to the stories [taken together]," Musa comments, "Umar strongly opposed both the writing and transmission of Hadith - not because he disapproved of writing or sharing the information, but because he feared that they would gain a status equal to or even greater than that of the Qura'n itself" (Ibid, p. 25). By probing the stories attributed to Umar as reported in Abd al-Razzaq's Musannaf, Musa reinforces her conclusion that Umar considered the Quran "sufficient as an authoritative source of guidance" ((Ibid, p. 28). During the Prophet Muhammad's final illness when he wanted to write something for his followers, Umar is quoted as saying, "They have the Qura'n, and the Book of God is enough for us." Musa cites in this context Linda Kern's remark in her 1996 Harvard dissertation that Umar's declaration that the Book of God was "sufficient" not only lessens Muhammad's role as an interpreter of the Quran, but it also changes the conception of revelation in relation to the Quran.

Though Musa notes that objections to the Hadith continued throughout Islamic history, she did not include in her scope of study such objections as reemerged during the intervening period between early Islam and modern time. The later-day ahl al-kalam group or the Mutazilites were strong opponents of the Hadith. The arguments they used and those used by two fourteenth century scholars: Abdur Rahman b. Abu Bakr Suyuti (author of Tadrib ar-Rawi, ed. by A. R. Latif, Cairo, 1379) and Ibn Hajar (author of Hadyal-Sari, Cairo 1383), and those of the late 19th century and early 20th century important Hadith critics Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-1898) of the Indian sub-continent and Muhammad Toufiq Sidqi (d. 1920) of Egypt are not covered in her study. Musa briefly mentions Sidqi's contribution by referring to his article "al-Islam huwa ul-Qur'an Wahdahu" ("Islam is the Qur'an Alone") that appeared in the Egyptian journal al-Manar and touched off debates surrounding the Hadith in Egypt at the turn of the 20th century (Ibid, p. 6). After briefly noting and criticizing the anti-Hadith contribution made by Ghulam Ahmad Parwez of India, Musa documents in detail the positions of four key modern opponents of the Hadith: Egyptian-Americans Rashad Khalifa and Ahmad Mansour, Kassim Ahmad of Malysia, and Turkish-American political and religious writer and activist Edip Yuksel. As mentioned earlier, after examining their anti-Hadith arguments, she finds that the new writers use more or less the same arguments as were used by their counterparts in early Islam.

Musa's treatment of the subject is scholarly and balanced. Her focus on the issue of authority of the Hadith visa-a-vis its authenticity and reliability is crucial and quite appropriate in the sense that if there is no authority, questions relating to authenticity and reliability become redundant and irrelevant. Yet, it is important and advantageous for Muslims to know how authentic and reliable the Hadith is for them to follow. Furthermore, authority and authenticity are inter-twined. Authority is crippled, if it is not backed up by authenticity. Authority hinges mainly on the theological side of the argument, especially on the requirement of validation by the Quran. Authenticity and reliability require information concerning historicity, i.e., genuineness of the historical basis, as well as objective accuracy of the Hadith. Traditionally the historical basis questions have focused on the soundness of the isnad (the chain of narrators) of each Hadith and accuracy of the matn (the content) of each Hadith, but there are other questions involved as well such as interference involved, if any, from politicians and theologians in Hadith writing, selection, and compilation, the very strength of the matn criteria used, and overall objective consistency of Hadith texts with the Quran, science, and reason. Hence, such questions concerning authenticity and reliability of the Hadith as are missing in Musa's study are as important as those relating to authority. Much of Hadith criticism has turned its attention to issues related to Hadith authenticity and reliability. Muslims should not miss it, as they need to know for certain what constitutes their genuine religion. My book "Exploring Islam in a New Light: A View from the Quranic Perspective," 2010 (earlier version "Exploring Islam in a New Light: An Understanding from the Quranic Perspective," 2008) that came at about the same time as Musa's book contains a critique of the Hadith on all grounds - theological, historical, and objective.

This is a book that well deserves to be read widely by academics and non-academics alike who are interested in Islam. It's a little pricey now. It should be available in cheaper paperback and kindle or ebook versions.
All information in my posts is correct to the best of my knowledge only and thus should not be taken as a fact. One should seek knowledge and verify: 17:36, 20:114, 35:28, 49:6, 58:11. My articles


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Re: Informative book review of "Hadith as Scripture" by Aisha Musa
« Reply #1 on: February 24, 2014, 09:13:02 AM »

There's a lecture by her up on youtube where she discusses this book.
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Re: Informative book review of "Hadith as Scripture" by Aisha Musa
« Reply #2 on: February 25, 2014, 05:38:00 AM »
Very interesting. I wish people studied such books and asked themselves questions.

David Saidi

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Re: Informative book review of "Hadith as Scripture" by Aisha Musa
« Reply #3 on: February 25, 2014, 06:17:07 AM »
Peace be upon you

In this website, you can find another Aisha Musa's articles and other scholars
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