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On the unreliability of the hadith narrations mentioning 73 Muslim sects, 72 of which are doomed to the Hellfire

There are a group of hadith narrations, not found in al-Bukhārī and Muslim, but found in various other collections, in which the Prophet Muhammad mentions that the Muslims will divide into 73 groups, 72 of which will enter the Hellfire, meaning that only one among these 73 groups will be saved. This one group is known as al-firqa al-nājiya (“the group that attains salvation”).

These narrations have unfortunately been a favorite polemical tool. Each group can claim to be al-firqa al-nājiya to imply that the members of every other group will enter the Hellfire:

But they tore themselves into sects; each party (self-righteously) happy with what they have.1

The truth of the matter is that these narrations are all likely corrupted or fabricated, and there is no authentic evidence whatsoever for the part that says “all of them will enter the Hellfire except one”.

The Kuwaiti Islamic scholar Dr. Ḥākim al-Muṭayrī (b. 1964, holds PhDs in Islamic studies from Birmingham University and University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morocco) has conducted a study (Arabic PDF – 3 MB) of all of the relevant hadith narrations regarding this issue. He mentions that Ibn Ḥazm rejected the narration, and that al-Shawkani considered the part that says “all of them are doomed save one” a fabrication. In the conclusion, he writes:

وعلى كل فكل طرق هذا الحديث مناكير وغرائب ضعيفة ومنكرة، وأحسنها حالا حديث أبي هريرة وهو حديث حسن، مع تساهل كبير في تحسينه لتفرد محمد بن عمرو به، وهو صدوق له أوهام خاصة في روايته عن أبي سلمة عن أبي هريرة، ولهذا كان القدماء يتقون حديثه كما قال يحيى بن معين.

All of the ṭuruq (the chains of narrators) of this hadith are objectionable and unauthentic. The best of them is the hadith of Abū Hurayra, which is a ḥasan hadith (i.e. not good enough to be considered authentic, but having an acceptable meaning and not clearly fabricated), provided that we extend it great latitude (i.e. lower our standards) for the fact of Muhammad bin ʿAmr being its only transmitter, who is known to be a truthful person who has awhām (plural of wahm, "confusion" or "delusion", meaning he gets confused and mixes up narrations), especially in his narrations from Abū Salama, from Abū Hurayra, and for this reason the early hadith scholars were cautious of his narrations, as Yaḥyā bin Maʿīn has mentioned.

Note that this best hadith that Dr. Muṭayrī refers to does not have the part that says “all of them will enter the Hellfire save one” (see page 24 of the PDF). The most we can learn from these narrations is that the Muslims will possibly divide into 73 sects (which could possibly be a randomly chosen number used to imply “a great many”, as is typical in Arabian usage).

In conclusion, there is no justification whatsoever for using these narrations to imply that Muslims from other groups will enter the Hellfire; anyone who says such a thing has uttered a falsehood, either out ignorance or dishonesty.

The Muslim World on the Eve of Europe’s Expansion by John J. Saunders

The Muslim World on the Eve of Europe’s Expansion (published in 1966), at only 136 pages, is a short and enjoyable history of the Muslim world in the early modern period, with interesting articles on the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal Empires, the Mamlukes, the Uzbeks, Islam in Southeast Asia and Africa, the remnants of the Mongols in Russia, the Indian Ocean trade and the naval struggle between the Ottomans and the Christian powers.

Many interesting scenes from history are presented in the book; the siege of Vienna by the Ottomans; celebrations in Rome on the fall of Granada, the last Muslim principality in Spain; an Italian traveler who performs the Hajj in 1503 disguised as a Muslim.

The book is a collection of excerpts from other works. Each section is introduced by the fair-minded and able British historian John J. Saunders. The book is recommended to anyone who wants to enjoy a lighthearted and non-politicized introduction to the state of the Islamic world during the rise of European power.

Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy [Short Book Review]

Professor Jonathan Brown’s Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy is one of the best English-language books about Islam written by a Muslim (he converted to Islam in 1997). While the book’s focus is on the issues surrounding the authenticity and interpretation of hadith, it provides a good general history of the development of Islam’s intellectual tradition.

The book will contain many eye-openers for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. While rising many questions, the book does not generally provide conclusive answers.

The issue of violence against women (as in verse 4:34) is covered in great detail, although no solution is reached (see my essay A New Interpretation of Wife-Beating in Verse 4:34 of the Quran for a potential solution). On the issue of the stoning of adulterers:

...and so strong was the sense of duty to avoid carrying them out that Cairo’s senior judge chose exile over agreeing to execute two adulterers.

While the Egyptian scholar Muhammad Abu Zahra is mentioned in the book, his important opposition to the punishment of stoning is not (perhaps Dr. Brown was not aware of it).

This book’s most important contribution, I hope, will be to encourage other Muslims to write works of similar quality; fairly balanced and supported by a great deal of evidence.

[Book Review] Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia’s Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane by S. Frederick Starr

Lost Enlightenment is a highly readable overview of the history of the Persian-speaking cities of Central Asia, an area that gave Islamic civilization the majority of its great philosophers and thinkers (Jabir ibn Hayyan, al-Khwarizmi, al-Farabi, Avicenna, al-Biruni, al-Ghazali)  and many of its great scholars (such as the creators of five of the six “canonical” hadith collections: al-Bukhari, Muslim, al-Nasa’i, al-Tirmidhi and Abu Dawood, the exception being Ibn Majah who, a Persian like the rest, came from Qazvin in Western Iran).

While the book is a good source of information on Islamic civilization’s most advanced and intellectually productive area, it is marred by the writer’s secularist bias. It is often implicit in his writing that he believes the more religiously faithful a Muslim is, the less capable of rational and logical thought they are. He often spends many pages arguing that a particular thinker was actually secular and only paid lip service to Islam (Ibn Sina, Khayyam). As for the devout Muslim thinkers he covers, he often cannot hide his contempt and his belief in the person’s narrow-mindedness and falseness of conscience (as in the case of al-Ghazali).

Errors

Lost Enlightenment is also marred by various errors. The writer’s grasp of the workings of the Islamic religion and its intellectual tradition is amateurish at best (despite his merits as a historian). Starr is guilty of incredible statements like the following:

Going still further, a new governor named Nasr, ignoring the Quran’s demand that apostasy be punished by death, in 741 struck a deal with the Sogdians that abolished all punishments for those who had reverted to their former religions.

He also writes in another place:

But Ghazali branded both thinkers posthumously as heretics and therefore, according to the Quran, punishable by death.

And yet in another place:

Those who follow the philosophers were not merely heretics but, he averred apostates. The Quran quite clear states that apostates must be punished with death.

The Quran does not prescribe a punishment for apostasy anywhere in it! This is an elementary error that even an undergraduate student of Islamic studies should not make.

Starr attributes to the scientist Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi a “weighty commentary” on the Quran, confusing him with Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, who was born two centuries later.

Starr writes:

Quranic prohibitions against depicting the human form were frequently ignored...

The Quran has nothing to say on the depiction of the human form. These elementary errors about Islam’s chief scripture betray a serious ignorance of Islam as a religion, in contradistinction to the author’s wide knowledge of Central Asian history.

Starr mentions al-Hakim al-Nisaburi as a critic and challenger of al-Bukhari who caused him to be expelled from Naishapur. This means that al-Naisburi was able to go back to the time 60 years before his birth to harass al-Bukhari. It seems that Starr confused al-Naisaburi with al-Dhuhali, who fits Starr’s descriptions. Al-Hakim al-Naisaburi was actually a champion of al-Bukhari, critical to the canonization process of al-Bukhari’s hadith collection, as is covered in detail in Jonathan Brown’s The Canonization of al-Bukhari and Muslim. This is all the more strange since Starr quotes Brown’s book multiple times in the pages dealing with al-Naisaburi.

Finally, some nitpicks: He says that Tus is 15 miles northeast of Nishapur. It is actually 43 miles away. He also writes:

Insurgents seized Basra on the Red Sea...

Basra is 700 miles away from the Red Sea.

In summary, Starr’s Lost Enlightenment is a good historical overview of the period it covers. Readers should be aware of its biases and should read books by other scholars to get a more accurate understanding of the topics covered.

A History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani

A History of the Arab Peoples is a great general introduction to the history of the Arab countries and the history of Islam. It was written by the respected British scholar Albert Hourani (of Lebanese Christian descent). While not written by a Muslim, the book’s treatment of Muslims is balanced and fair-minded.

This book does not cover the history of other important parts of the Islamic world, such as Central Asia and the countries of the Indian ocean, therefore it should not be considered a complete history of Islam.

Intelligence: All That Matters by Stuart Ritchie

IQ and intelligence, as a topic of study in themselves, no longer interest me very much because they are largely a foregone conclusion for me. Long ago I was convinced of the very realness and importance of IQ and of the fact that it is largely a genetically-mediated trait. What interests me these days is applying the knowledge gleaned from this field to other areas of inquiry that interest me.

I made an exception for the very short book Intelligence: All That Matters by the young researcher Stuart Ritchie, hoping that it would b an authoritative summary of the field that I can refer other people to in my work. And the book serves this function reasonably well.

The Early Development of Hanafi Usul al-Fiqh by Murteza Bedir

Download [PDF – 23 MB]

Murteza Bedir’s PhD thesis The Early Development of Hanafi Usul al-Fiqh is an interesting study of the development of usul al-fiqh in the Hanafi school. It describes a process of slowly eliminating the freedom of intellect of the early Hanafi school as succeeding generations tried to reform the school to fit more with Shafi`i style orthodoxy. The earliest studied scholar is the Persian Hanafi legal theorist al-Jassas, whose writings provide the foundations for Hanafi legal theory, perhaps in large part due to his preservation of the opinions of earlier legal theorists like Isa ibn Aban.

The above is a download link to the study I am placing it on my site since currently it is available for free on the rent-seeking site Scribd, which makes it difficult to download it. I am guessing Dr. Bedir couldn’t find a better way of offering it on the internet.

The Indo-Europeanization of the Abbasid Caliphate

It is easy to think that the Abbasid caliphate was an “Arab” empire. The emperors themselves were proud to trace their lineage back to Abbas, uncle of Prophet Muhammad. Yet within 150 years of its founding, Arab genes made up 2% of the genetic makeup of the emperors, and this remained so until the very end.

The first significant emperor with Indo-European genes was the half-Persian al-Ma’mun, who had his capital at the Persian city of Merv in Central Asia for ten years before moving to Baghdad. During his reign a trend started for preferring Greek and Persian concubines for producing the next generation of emperors, so that the amount of Arab genes declined to insignificant amounts. Al-Muqtadir, who reigned from 908 – 929 CE was nearly 98% Indo-European.

It can be seen from the table below that the Abbasid caliphate was an Arab empire at its beginning, transformed into an Indo-European empire (with four successive emperors having 97%+ Indo-European genes!) during its Golden Age, then started to increasingly mix with Turkic genes during its decline.

Reign Name Father Mother Race Indo-European Percentage*
750 – 754 Al-Saffah Muhammad (Arab) Raita (Arab) 100% Arab 0%
754 – 775 Al-Mansur Muhammad b. Ali (Arab) Sallamah (Berber slave) 50% Arab, 50% Berber 0%
775 – 785 Al-Mahdi Al-Mansur Arwi (Yemeni Arab) 75% Arab, 25% Berber 0%
786 – 809 Harun al-Rashid Al-Mahdi Al-Khayzuran (Arab slave) 87.5% Arab, 12.5 Berber 0%
813 – 833 Al-Ma’mun Harun al-Rashid Marajil (Persian slave) 50% Persian, 43.75% Arab, 6.25% Berber 50%
833 – 842 Al-Mu’tasim Harun al-Rashid Marida (Turkic slave) 50% Turkic, 25% Persian,  21.875% Arab, 3.125 Berber 25%
842 – 847 Al-Wathiq Al-Mu’tasim Qaratis (Byzantine Greek slave) 50% Greek, 12.5% Persian, 10.9375% Arab, 1.5625% Berber 62.5%
847 – 861 Al-Mutawakkil Al-Mu’tasim Shuja (Persian slave) 56.25% Persian, 25% Greek, 5.46875% Arab, 0.78125% Berber 81.25%
870 – 892 Al-Mu’tamid Al-Mutawakkil Fityan (Persian slave) 78.125% Persian, 12.5 Greek, 2.734375% Arab, 0.390625% Berber 90.625%
892 – 902 Al-Mu’tadid al-Muwaffaq, son of Al-Mutawakkil and Umm Ishaq, a Greek slave. Race: 56.25% Greek, 39.0625% Persian, 1.3671875% Arab, 0.1953125% Berber) Dirar (Greek slave) 78.125 Greek, 19.53125% Persian, 0.68359375% Arab, 0.09765625% Berber 97.655%
902-908 Al-Muktafi Al-Mu’tadid Jijak (Greek slave) 89% Greek, 9.7% Persian, 0.34% Arab, 0.04% Berber 98%
908 – 929 Al-Muqtadir Al-Mu’tadid Shaghab (Greek slave) 94.5% Greek, 4.88% Persian, 0.17% Arab, 0.02% Berber 98%
946 – 974 Al-Muti Al-Muqtadir Slavic slave 50% Slavic, 47.26% Greek, 2.44% Persian, 0.08% Arab, 0.01% Berber 98%
974 – 991 Al-Ta’i Al-Muti’ Unknown 50% Unknown, 25% Slavic, 23.6% Greek, 1.22% Persian 49.82%
991 – 1031 Al-Qadir Al-Muttaqi, son of al-Muqtadir. Race: 50% Unknown, 47.2% Greek, 2.44% Persian, 0.08% Arab Slave of uknown origin 75% Unknown, 23.6% Greek, 1.2% Persian (Al-Qadir is described as being “white” in history books, therefore it is likely that his mother was Greek or Persian) 24.8%
1031 – 1075 Al-Qa’im Al-Qadir Badr al-Daji (Armenian slave) 50% Armenian, 37.5% Unknown, 11.8% Greek, 0.6% Persian 62.4%
1075 – 1094 Al-Muqtadi Al-Qa’im Urjuman (Armenian slave) 75% Armenian, 18.75% Unknown, 5.9% Greek 80.9%
1094 – 1118 Al-Mustazhir Al-Muqtadi Altun Khatun (Turkic woman, prob. Seljuk princess) 50% Turkic, 37.5 Armenian, 9% Unknown, 2.95% Greek 40.45%
1118 – 1135 Al-Mustarshid Al-Mustazhir Kumush Khatun (Turkic woman, probably Seljuk princess) 75% Turkic, 18.75% Armenian, 4.8% Unknown, 1.47% Greek 20.22%
1136 – 1159 Al-Muqtafi Al-Mustazhir Fatima Khatun (Turkic woman, probably Seljuk princess) 87.5% Turkic, 9.375% Armenian, 2.34% Unknown, 0.73% Greek 10.1%
1160 – 1170 Al-Mustanjid Al-Muqtafi Tawus (“Thawus”) al-Karaji, slave (Most likely Persian, al-Karaji refers to the city of Karaj in Iran in Medieval last names) 50.019% Persian, 43.75% Turkic, 4.68% Armenian, 1.1% Unknown, 0.3% Greek 55%
1170 – 1180 Al-Mustadi Al-Mustanjid Ghaddah (Armenian slave) 52.3% Armenian, 25% Persian, 21.8% Turkic 77.3%
1180 – 1225 Al-Nasir Al-Mustadi Zumurrud (Turkic slave) 60.9% Turkic, 26.1% Armenian, 12.5% Persian 38.6%
1226 – 1242 Al-Mustansir Az-Zahir, son of al-Nasir and unknown mother. Race: 50.14% Unknown, 30.4% Turkic, 13.08% Armenian, 6.25% Persian) Turk Khatun (Turkic slave) 65.2% Turkic, 25% Unknown, 6.5% Armenian, 3.1% Persian 9.6%
1242 – 1258 Al-Mustasim Al-Mustansir Concubine of unknown origin 62.5% Unknown, 32.6% Turkic, 3.2% Armenian, 1.5% Persian 4.7%

Sources: Wikipedia, The Slave Girls of Baghdad by F. Matthew Caswell, Islam in History by Bernard Lewis, Islamic Culture, Volume 2 (1928), various Arabic-language sources.

The table omits emperors who ruled for very short periods of time and/or who did not contribute to the genes of succeeding emperors.

* The values in this column are capped to 98%: Due to the fact that the Y-chromosome can only be inherited from one’s male relatives, and due to the fact that it makes up 2% of the genome, the Y-chromosome of the emperors would have been necessarily Arab, and therefore their percentage “Arab-ness” couldn’t have fallen below 2%, so that the most Indo-European that an Abbasid emperor could be would have been 98% realistically.

Jordan Peterson causes a tripling of interest in The Gulag Archipelago

It has been just a little over a year that Jordan Peterson gained fame from his opposition to a Canadian compelled-speech law (Bill C-16). One of the topics he keeps coming back to is the evil done in the Soviet Union (to the chagrin of so many neo-Marxist leftists), and he often recommends that people read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. Google Trends shows that just as Peterson’s fame took off in November 2016, interest in The Gulag Archipelago increased by a factor of around 3.5 and has remained high since.

And in case you thought this may be accidental, Google Trends suggests “Jordan Peterson” as one of the related topics and queries for The Gulag Archipelago, which shows that there is a high correlation between searches for The Gulag Archipelago and searches for Peterson:

 

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