Book Review: Authentication of Hadith – Redefining the Criteria by Israr Ahmad Khan

medina mosque II

Mosque of Medina, first built by the Prophet Muhammad, in the first year after migration to the city. A balanced reading of the Hadith will help bridge the sectarian divide among the Muslims and we have the best collection to do that

Summary

  • Hadith are oral accounts of the sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
  • Their authentication has traditionally relied almost entirely upon assessing the chain of narrators.
  • The author considers more emphasis needs to be given to assessing the text of the Hadith.
  • The book is very clearly written, short, and easy to read.
  • I recommend it highly.

Israr Ahmad Khan has a PhD in Theology from Aligarh Muslim University in India and is currently a professor in the Department of Qur’an and Sunnah Studies at International Islamic University Malaysia and has written several works in English on Islam.

In this book he takes a fresh look at the question of the authentication of Hadith which are oral accounts of the sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

As explained in “A Textbook of Hadith Studies: Authenticity, Compilation, Classification and Criticism of Hadith” by Mohammad Hashim Kamali, most of the effort on Hadith authentication has traditionally been spent on the chain of transmission (the isnad) with relatively little emphasis on considering the text of the Hadith. The author considers that greater attention needs to be given to the text of Hadith when considering their authenticity.

An overview of the book

The book is quite short and easy to read, being less than 200 pages, with just eight chapters after the Foreword and Introduction:

  1. Fabrication in prophetic traditions: causal factors and remedial measures
  2. The contribution of Muslim scholars to the authentication of Hadith
  3. The Quran and authentication of Hadith
  4. Authentication of Hadith through rationally authentic traditions
  5. Authentication of Hadith through sound reasoning
  6. Authentication of Hadith through established history
  7. Moderation in relation to authentication of Hadith
  8. Al Bukhari’s chapter on predetermination: an evaluation and interpretation

The comments below with brief extracts from the book are intended to give a general impression of the author’s approach.

Foreword

The book begins with a short foreword written by the London office of the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) who are the publishers of the book. The following quote explains the need for the book:

“Although the misuse and abuse of Hadith is nothing new, in today’s complex and volatile world the consequences of relying on fraudulent and counterfeit Hadith to legitimise extremist behaviour, justify blatant abuse, particularly of women, and issue disturbing fatwas calling for violent acts, is not only far too easy but in fact very dangerous. In addition, given the widespread anti-Islamic sentiment currently dominating mainstream discourse, it is imperative that the issue of fabricated ahadith, extensively publicised and ruthlessly exploited to support the thesis of Islamic violence and backwardness, is addressed. It is consequently the responsibility of Muslim scholars well versed in the Islamic sciences, to root out with honesty and courage those ahadith which have clearly been fabricated, and which not only invite spurious interpretation but also perpetuate ignorance betraying both the Quran and the Prophet.

Any serious study of the content and scope of these traditions must necessarily start at the beginning, in this instance after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. The author traces in precise and careful detail the historical development of the oral and written traditions, as well as the many targeted attempts at fabrication that took place, critiquing in methodical detail certain ahadith which have come to be widely accepted as “authentic.” In any manner of dispute concerning the Hadith, the Quran must be the final arbiter. As such, notes the author, any hadith which seems to go against the Quran must be examined carefully and accurately, and if no interpretation to resolve the contradiction found, it is to be rejected. Further, as Muhammad was the Last Prophet sent to all mankind, interpretations of both the Quran and Hadith are not to be fixated in time, but rather to be carefully examined and reinterpreted to give practical guidance meeting the requirements and challenges of a new age, that is taking into account the time-space factor. It is here that the science of maqasid al-shariah, or the higher intents and purposes of Islamic law, comes into its own as the heart and philosophy of Islamic Law.

So, to answer the difficult question whether there is any real need for research into Hadith authentication we must realistically, and in the footsteps of Islam’s best scholastic tradition, answer yes.”

Introduction

The author begins by pointing out that when it comes to Hadith Muslims fall into four categories:

  1. “Those who totally reject the relevance of Hadith in Islamic life.
  2. Those who fall blindly into accepting everything that appears to be a Hadith regardless of its authenticity.
  3. Those who make indiscriminate selection from Hadith for practical purposes.
  4. Those who believe in the sanctity of the Prophetic traditions but opt for an extremely careful approach with regard to their logical and practical relevance to Islamic life and civilisation.”

The author explains that he regards the fourth category as being “the most justly balanced between the extremes.” He rejects the first category as being contradictory to the injunction in the Quran to obey the Prophet. The second category is criticised particularly strongly:

“Opposed to those who totally deny the validity of Hadith are those whose love for it and the Sunnah is unconditional, being generally semi-literate Muslims who stand misguided and who consequently misguide many, blindly adhering to anything termed a Prophetic tradition regardless of the authenticity of the traditions reported in the sources. Furthermore, if a survey were to be conducted on Prophetic traditions very popular among Muslims today, the findings may be shocking, for in religious circles a great number of such traditions are being narrated, interpreted, and practised as if genuine when in reality they are little more than the remainders of fabricated Prophetic traditions. As such this is one of the main factors behind Muslim backwardness and decline in virtually every field of life including the religious and spiritual.”

The author is also highly critical of “people who select only those Quranic ayat [verses] and only those Prophetic traditions which benefit in one way or another their vested interests and covert agendas. The Quran refers to these Muslims as those in whose hearts is a disease, not sincere to Islam or its cause.”

The author lists the five criteria applied to the chain of narrators when assessing the authenticity of a Hadith:

  1. continuity in the chain of narrators
  2. integrity of character
  3. infallible retention
  4. freedom from any hidden defect
  5. safety from any aberrance

Read more

Buy the book in Amazon

Suggested Reading

Forty Hadiths or Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad about Compassionate Living

A Collection of Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad with Foreword by Mahatma Gandhi

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