Islamic Terrorism as a Genetic-Cultural Selective Pressure on Muslim Populations

On the origins of Islamic terrorism, the dangerous loophole within Sunni Islam that enables it (hadith-primacism), and the powerful new Sunni Criterionist position, already adopted by millions of educated Muslims, that uses the Quran to cripple extremist ideologies.

The Western Origins of the Islamic Terrorism Germ

The United States invented modern Islamic terrorism in 1979 as part of its efforts to fight the Soviet Union’s influence in Central Asia, that all-important part of the world, control of which is necessary for any would-be world hegemon.

The groundwork had been laid by the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that started out as a welfare and education society but grew too powerful for its own good. Its major political work was their helping in the war against an army of Jews eager to repeat the Hebrew Bible’s conquest of Canaan by systematically killing Palestinian men, women and infants1 in a poetic reenactment of the Book of Joshua.

From the perspective of Quranic law, the Muslim Brotherhood’s involvement in the war against these terrorists was justifiable, as the Brotherhood wasn’t acting independently, unlike today’s Islamic terrorists. It was helping in a conflict that involved existing sovereign states (Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, members of the Arab League). The Muslim Brotherhood’s war was exactly the opposite of conflicts launched by modern Islamic terrorists, it was an anti-terrorist force in the conflict, helping governments fight terrorists that were carrying out bombings and massacres, intent on terrorizing all Palestinians into leaving the territories that these Jews had decided belonged to them as God’s Chosen People.

The Brotherhood’s power grew to the point that it developed its own intelligence and covert operations arm, known as al-Jihaaz al-Sirri (The Covert Apparatus), which was involved in assassinations and bombings, such as the assassination of Ahmed El-Khazindar Bey, President of Egypt’s Court of Appeal, and Mahmoud El Nokrashy Pasha, Prime Minister of Egypt, both in 1948. Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Brotherhood, condemned both of these assassinations, but he had practically lost control over his organization, since powerful factions within it wanted violence, and they had the power to bypass al-Banna’s wishes.

The Egyptian intellectual Sayyid Qutb, well-known among Egypt’s intelligentsia and student of the famous Egyptian journalist Abbās Mahmūd al-Aqqād, reverted to Islam after a life of secularism and adopted the Brotherhood, while also, perhaps without realizing its true consequences, building the intellectual foundations necessary for the Brotherhood’s violent arm to carry out its insurgencies. If Sayyid Qutb’s highly partisan biographer is to be trusted2, his house was used as a meeting place for Gamal Abdel Nasser and his friends as they planned the 1952 July 23 Revolution in Egypt against the British occupation.

Once president of Egypt, Nasser wanted Qutb on his side, offering him high government positions, which Qutb always refused.3 Once he despaired of Qutb joining him, he started persecuting him and his associates, imprisoning him for a decade. Nasser ordered Qutb’s hanging on 24th of August, 1966, after a show trial. These events turned Qutb into the perfect martyr, a secular convert to Islam, a literary critic, a warrior for social justice, and a revolutionary who was stabbed in the back by Western-friendly seculars that he had supported into power.

The Brotherhood distanced itself from Qutb, going back to its early position of advocating peaceful activism (at least openly), but extremists around the world wishing for a resurgence of Islam continued to follow him as their primary source for both knowledge and for inspiration.4

By the 1970’s, the time was ripe for any would-be terrorist to launch his own holy war against whoever he disliked. The CIA jumped right into the action, training, arming and encouraging these terrorists as tools for protecting US interests abroad and fighting its major enemy, the Soviet Union. Operation Cyclone, conceived by the Jewish US foreign policy strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski, armed and financed jihadi warriors in Afghanistan to use them as a buffer against Soviet influence from 1979 until after 1992, to the tune of $630 million per year in 1987.

What judgment to render on all this is a matter of perspective. Asked in 1998 if he had any regrets about having helped instigate Soviet intervention in Afghanistan5, Zbigniew Brzezinski, in many respects the god-father of Operation Cyclone, reacted with astonishment. “Regret what?” he replied. “That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it?”

The interviewer pressed the point. Hadn’t subsequent rise of radical Islamism tranished that victory? Not in Brzezinski’s view. “What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?”6

Check out Edmonds’ interview with Pat Buchanan’s American Conservative magazine: Who’s Afraid of Sibel Edmonds?

This brilliant program to manufacture Islamic jihadists to fight America’s enemies resulted in the creation of Operation Gladio B, the United States program to train al-Qaeda terrorists and their affiliates, exposed by the FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds.

In her interview, Edmonds  insisted that after its initial exposé, the Times’ investigation had gone beyond such previous revelations, and was preparing to disclose her most startling accusations. Among these, Edmonds described how the CIA and the Pentagon had been running a series of covert operations supporting Islamist militant networks linked to Osama bin Laden right up to 9/11, in Central Asia, the Balkans and the Caucasus.

While it is widely recognised that the CIA sponsored bin Laden’s networks in Afghanistan during the Cold War, U.S. government officials deny any such ties existed. Others claim these ties were real, but were severed after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989.

But according to Edmonds, this narrative is false. “Not just bin Laden, but several senior ‘bin Ladens’ were transported by U.S. intelligence back and forth to the region in the late 1990s through to 2001”, she told this author, “including Ayman al-Zawahiri” – Osama bin Laden’s right-hand-man who has taken over as al-Qaeda’s top leader.

“In the late 1990s, all the way up to 9/11, al-Zawahiri and other mujahideen operatives were meeting regularly with senior U.S. officials in the U.S. embassy in Baku to plan the Pentagon’s Balkan operations with the mujahideen,” said Edmonds. “We had support for these operations from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, but the U.S. oversaw and directed them. They were being run from a secret section of the Pentagon with its own office”.

Edmonds clarified, “the FBI counterintelligence investigation which was tracking these targets, along with their links to U.S. officials, was known as ‘Gladio B’, and was kickstarted in 1997. It so happens that Major Douglas Dickerson” – the husband of her FBI co-worker Melek whom she accused of espionage – “specifically directed the Pentagon’s ‘Gladio’ operations in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan at this time.”

In testimony under oath, Edmonds has previously confirmed that Major Doug Dickerson worked for the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) under the weapons procurement logistics division on Turkey and Central Asia, and with the Office of Special Plans (OSP) overseeing policy in Central Asia.

[…]

Edmonds said that the Pentagon operations with Islamists were an “extension” of an original ‘Gladio’ programme uncovered in the 1970s in Italy, part of an EU-wide NATO covert operation that began as early as the 1940s. As Swiss historian Dr. Daniele Ganser records in his seminal book, NATO’s Secret Armies, an official Italian parliamentary inquiry confirmed that British MI6 and the CIA had established a network of secret “stay-behind” paramilitary armies, staffed by fascist and Nazi collaborators. The covert armies carried out terrorist attacks throughout Western Europe, officially blamed on Communists in what Italian military intelligence called the ‘strategy of tension’.

“You had to attack civilians, the people, women, children, innocent people, unknown people far removed from any political game” explained Gladio operative Vincenzo Vinciguerra during his  trial in 1984. “The reason was quite simple. They were supposed to force these people… to turn to the State to ask for greater security.”

While the reality of Gladio’s existence in Europe is a matter of historical record, Edmonds contended the same strategy was adopted by the Pentagon in the 1990s in a new theatre of operations, namely, Asia. “Instead of using neo-Nazis, they used mujahideen working under various bin Ladens, as well as al-Zawahiri”, she said.7

The US tradition of spreading the American ideals of peace and liberty in the Middle East by funding and training Islamic terrorist groups continues to ISIS, also known as ISIL and Daesh.

James Shea, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Emerging Threats at NATO – now that’s a lovely title – recently gave a talk at a private club in London on the Islamic State/Daesh. Shea, as many will remember, made his name as NATO’s spokesman during the NATO war on Yugoslavia in 1999.

After his talk Shea engaged in a debate with a source I very much treasure. The source later gave me the lowdown.

According to Saudi intelligence, Daesh was invented by the US government – in Camp Bacca, near the Kuwait border, as many will remember — to essentially finish off the Shiite-majority Nouri al-Maliki government in Baghdad.

It didn’t happen this way, of course. Then, years later, in the summer of 2014, Daesh routed the Iraqi Army on its way to conquer Mosul. The Iraqi Army fled. Daesh operatives then annexed ultra-modern weapons that took US instructors from six to twelve months to train the Iraqis in and…surprise! Daesh incorporated the weapons in their arsenals in 24 hours.

In the end, Shea frankly admitted to the source that Gen David Petraeus, conductor of the much-lauded 2007 surge, had trained these Sunnis now part of Daesh in Anbar province in Iraq.

Saudi intelligence still maintains that these Iraqi Sunnis were not US-trained – as Shea confirmed – because the Shiites in power in Baghdad didn’t allow it. Not true. The fact is the Daesh core – most of them former commanders and soldiers in Saddam Hussein’s army — is indeed a US-trained militia.

True to form, at the end of the debate, Shea went on to blame Russia for absolutely everything that’s happening today – including Daesh terror.8

The Cognitive-Psychological Stress of Terrorism on the Muslim Mind

Terrorism is an extremely stressful phenomenon for Muslims. It uses Islamic rhetoric to justify acts that disgust and horrify most Muslims. For Muslims, the problem with terrorism, and the reason they still haven’t figured out what to do about it, is that it is something entirely new. We Muslims are like the American Indians who were exposed for the first to time to European germs they had never faced before when Columbus discovered the Americas. Most of these native Americans had no defenses against these germs, and so they succumbed to them by the millions. Our societies, too, have no defenses against terrorism-supporting extremist ideologies because terrorism was never a threat before.

Terrorism, this new European-incubated germ (if we think of Americans as Europeans, for their European genes and culture), forces two choices on the average Muslim just trying to get on with their life. The first choice is to renew their allegiance to Islam, to convince themselves that these terrorists aren’t acting according to the true version of Islam. This argument feels weak, but they don’t know anything better, so they try not to think about it too much and instead direct their hatred at terrorist groups such as ISIS, to absolve themselves of the guilt they feel. Some of the kindest and most admirable people they know are fellow devout Muslims, so while they cannot consciously tell what the fundamental difference is between Muslim terrorists and peaceful, devout Muslims, they know in their hearts that the difference exists.

The second choice is to entirely abandon Islam as something evil, outdated and barbaric. Every major terrorist attack renews the pressure on Muslims to take this choice, and many do. And from their newfound post-Islam position, they attack Islam as the embodiment of all that is evil in this world.

We are caught between a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam that claims to be the only true version of Islam, and that provides the fuel that drives these terrorists into doing what they do, and a secularism that entirely abandons Islam. Evey new terrorist attack creates intense cognitive dissonance where we have to continually repeat to ourselves that this is not true Islam, hoping to preserve our faith until we can forget about the massacre and go on with our lives.

Terrorism is nothing but an intense genetic-cultural evolutionary pressure9. We are faced with two ways forward:

  • We remain in our present state of weakness, continuing to provide fertile ground for the FBI and the CIA to recruit terrorists among us and use them for their own purposes, becoming nothing but dehumanized tools of war among empires. More and more of us would feel pressured to abandon Islam, and in this way Islam fails and becomes extinct, as our children, deciding to be more enlightened than us, abandon Islam in favor of a secularism that feels much more sensible and civilized.
  • We evolve into a new type of Muslim population whose very foundations reject and cripple the terrorist ideology that has been so perfected by the peaceful and freedom-loving geniuses at the CIA.

If we are to evolve, this evolution has to happen at the level of our intellectuals, scholars and preachers, who are the midwives responsible for birthing Islam into the 21st century.

Hadith-Primacism: The Scholarly Pandora’s Box that Enables Terrorist Ideologies

The Islamic scholarly tradition is divided into two major turfs; the scholars of fiqh (jurisprudence, i.e. Islamic law), and the scholars of hadith (narrations relating to the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him and his tradition). The scholars of fiqh, among whom are such giants of Islamic scholarship as Abu Hanifah, Imam Malik, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, Khateeb al-Baghdadi, Fakhradeen al-Rarzi, Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn al-Qayyim support a rationalistic approach toward hadith, believing that even if a hadith narration’s chain of narrators is entirely trustworthy, if the narration’s content is not supported by the wider context of the Quran and hadith, then that narration is subject to doubt and skepticism, and that it cannot be used to derive any laws or principles.10

Their policy toward singular but authentic hadith narrations is summarized by the scholar al-Shashi as follows:

شرط العمل بخبر الواحد ألا يكون مخالفا للكتاب والسنة المشهورة.

The condition for applying a singular hadith narration is that it should not go against Scripture [the Quran] and the well-known Sunnah [traditions of the Prophet.]

The rationalistic approach toward hadith is taken further by Abu Hanifah, who writes:

ونبي الله لا يخالف كتاب الله، ومخالف كتاب الله لا يكون نبي الله، فرد كل رجل يحدِّث عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم بخلاف القرآن ليس ردًّا على النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم ولا تكذيبا له، ولكن ردّ على مَن يحدث عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم بالباطل، والتهمة دخلت عليه وليست على نبي الله صلى الله عليه وسلم. (أبو حنيفة، رسالة العالم والمتعلم)

The Prophet of God does not defy the Book of God, and whoever defies the Book of God cannot be a Prophet of God. Refuting any man who mentions a narration of the Prophet peace be upon him which goes against the Quran is not a refutation of the Prophet peace be upon him, and is not an act of calling him [the Prophet] a liar, rather, it is a refutation of someone who speaks falsehood regarding the Prophet peace be upon him, and the accusation [of speaking falsehood] is against that man and not the Prophet peace be upon him.11

The Hanbali scholar Ibn al-Jawzi advocates this principle when handling hadith:

فكل حديث رأيته يخالف العقول وأن يناقض الأصول، فاعلم أنه موضوع فلا تتكلف اعتباره.

Any hadith that you can recognize as going against reason or contradicting principles, then know that it is a fabrication, therefore do not consider yourself compelled to act by it.

The rationalistic approach toward hadith is supported by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) himself, in an authentic narration included by Ibn `Asakir in his Tareekh Dimashq (History of Damascus). The narrators of this narration all have many narrations in Sahih al-Bukhari, meaning that they satisfy the highest standards of hadith authentication:

إنها تكون بعدي رواة يروون عني الحديث، فاعرضوا حديثهم على القرآن، فما وافق القرآن فخذوا به، وما لم يوافق القرآن فلا تأخذوا به.

There will be after me narrators of hadith. Expose their narrations to the Quran; any of them that agree with the Quran, then follow those, and those that do not agree with it, then do not follow them.

Scholars of hadith, on the other hand, reject this rationalistic approach toward hadith in favor of their processes of authentication, which entirely focuses on the form of hadith and ignores its content. As long as the chains of narration satisfy their criteria, they accept the hadith as authentic, even if it goes against the Quran and common sense. As an example, the hadith scholar al-Nasaa’i considers this narration authentic, in which the Prophet says:

لا يدخل الجنة ولد زنا

One who is born to adultery does not enter Paradise.12

Ibn al-Jawzi, who as mentioned belongs to the fiqh group, rejects this narration, despite the authenticity of its chain of narration, using the following verse of the Quran:

وَلَا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَى

No one carries the burden of the sin of another person.13

The modern hadith scholar Ibn Baaz (of whom I think highly when it comes to most things) uses authentic hadith narrations to prove that the earth isn’t round. There are many hadith-primacist scholars in Saudi Arabia who use authentic narrations to prohibit women from driving cars or using the Internet without a man’s presence.

There is an intellectual battle raging between rationalism on the one hand, and hadith-primacism on the other (giving primacy to hadith at the Quran’s expense), with hadith-primacist scholars often entirely ignoring the Quran and reason if they can find authentic narrations to back up their claims. As an example, hadith scholars continue to consider as authentic narrations from Umar ibn al-Khattab and Abdullah ibn Umar in which they mention the Prophet saying that a dead person can be punished for the weeping of their relatives on them, even though there is an authentic narration by Aisha, wife of the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him, in which she refutes what Umar and Abdullah say using verses of the Quran, and saying that Umar has misremembered.

Ibn al-Qayyim and Ibn Taymiyyah reject an authentic narration of the Prophet (mentioned in Sahih Muslim) in which he describes the stages of the creation of the earth as seven days, saying that since the Quran says the earth was created in six days, this hadith must be false regardless of its authenticity. To hadith-primacist scholars this doesn’t matter; the narrators are trustworthy, so it must be true, even if it clearly contradicts the Quran.

Hadith-primacist scholars make up a loud minority among the scholarly tradition which viciously attacks anyone who dares to use rationalism and Quran-derived principles to justify skepticism toward particular narrations, since to them, once a narration has been given the stamp of authenticity, any questioning of it mounts to heresy.

By giving preference to hadith in their thinking and ignoring Quranic principles, hadith-primacist scholars create Islam’s Achilles’ heel; on the one hand, extremists can make up any interpretation of Islam they desire as long as they can find authentic narrations to support their views, and on the other, the rest of the population is prohibited from countering the views of these extremists using the Quran, because…all of the narrations these extremists use are perfectly authentic, and any attack on them amounts to an attack on the hadith-primacist scholars, the loud minority that is only too happy to assassinate the character of anyone who incurs their wrath.

It does little good that 500 scholars sign some declaration against terrorism, their feeble arguments can be trivially defeated by the seemingly bullet-proof reasonings of militant extremists, who are just as well-versed in the scholarly tradition. Our scholars continue trying to build anti-terrorism castles in the sand, incapable of withstanding the simplest attacks of extremists.

Once the hadith-primacist view is adopted and goes unchallenged, it becomes futile to mention verses like 5:32 that mention the infinite worth of human life, because there is always that one extremist who comes along and says “This verse is overruled by that [Quranic verse or hadith narration], so no, the infinite worth of human life only applies to Muslims, and even then, to a tiny minority of Muslims.” And if you mention a verse like 2:62 that promises paradise to pious Christians living today, they will always say “Nope, this is abrogated by 5:17, which says Christians are infidels.”

Hadith-primacism enables extremists to enforce almost any and all preconceived prejudices they may have on Islamic belief and practice, opening the way for terrorist bombings and massacres. All that an extremist needs to support terrorism is a few well-chosen hadith narrations that corrupt the Quran in a way that presents a view of the world as a battlefield between good and evil, and which presents all of humanity as infidels that can be destroyed at will if they get in the way of extending God’s rule.

The Criterion

The “Criterion” is one of the names that the Quran uses for itself14. The entire 25th chapter is known as al-Furqaan, “the Criterion”, and its first verse shows that this name refers to the whole Quran:

Blessed is He who sent down the Criterion upon His servant, to be a warning to humanity.

Our scholars can never win the ideological war against terrorism as long as hadith-primacism goes unchallenged. Until our scholars develop sufficient courage to admit that the Quran is superior to hadith, and to admit that the Quran is the criterion by which we can judge all other texts, the loophole would remain wide open for extremist thinkers to encourage youth to carry out terrorist atrocities.

Stoning: Over 1000 Years of Rejecting the Quran

The hadith-primacist view is so dominant that to this day only a handful of scholars can be found who give precedence to the Quran’s principles on sexual crimes over hadith. One such scholar is the great Egyptian Islamic scholar Muhammad Abu Zahra (d. 1974), who in a 1972 conference rejected the punishment of stoning, saying that he had kept has view secret for 20 years in fear of the backlash he would receive if he made it public.

The Quran’s overall philosophy is that when faced with two evils, one must choose the lesser evil. No one, except a sadist, enjoys hurting others, even if it is justified. For the crime of adultery (people cheating on their spouses), the Quran prescribes a punishment that will be explained. But first it is important to understand why punishment is necessary.

Islam’s view is that adultery is a matter of men’s, women’s and children’s rights. Islam wants to make adultery unthinkable within a devout Muslim society. By removing people’s freedom to cheat on their spouses, Islam creates a better freedom. It creates a society that is free from the stress and damage of flirtation, cheating and seduction. Husbands and wives can go about their days confident in the knowledge that their families are stable and that there are no threats to their family lives, either from lecherous men or seductive women.

From a men’s rights perspective, being harsh on adultery means that men can be sure children born to their wives are their own. They are also freed from the intense stress and turmoil of having to deal with a wife who is talking to other men behind their backs.

From a women’s rights perspective, it means that women can be sure there are no other women, anywhere, at all, eager to take their husbands away from them, and thus they can be confident that their social status and the father of their children is not threatened by other women.

From a children’s rights perspective, it means children are spared the turmoil and damage caused by either of their parents cheating on the other, and the possible divorce and broken family life that would come from it.

Punishing adultery harshly is the lesser evil that prevents the greater evils mentioned above. Islam doesn’t shy away from dealing with such matters, the way modern Christians do. Letting adultery go unchecked doesn’t mean it will not do damage. It just means the problem will continue to grow until more and more families break apart and birth rates go below replacement rates (i.e. the society starts to shrink in the long term) as people shy away from marriage and family life due to the cynical attitude promoted by rampant infidelity and sex outside of marriage.

Before we talk about the punishment, note that Islam places stringent requirements on proving adultery. Four witnesses to the act of copulation are necessary, it is not sufficient to find a man and woman naked in a room together. Only someone who shows the most flagrant contempt for society’s rules by carrying out adultery (or other sexual acts) in the view of many witnesses will be subject to this law, and even then, only if the witnesses are forthcoming and the case goes to court.

Also note that Islamic law is not something that is forced upon people, it is something that people democratically choose as their own law. Non-Muslims wouldn’t be subject to it, though in a multi-religious society, Muslim-majority cities and states would have the right to banish non-Muslims who commit mortal sins like adultery, as otherwise there would be a loophole allowing non-Muslims to run brothels in Muslim cities, the way the Jews did all over Christian Europe in the 19th century.15

For the crime of adultery, the Quran prescribes a hundred lashes:

The adulteress and the adulterer—whip each one of them a hundred lashes, and let no pity towards them overcome you regarding God’s Law, if you believe in God and the Last Day. And let a group of believers witness their punishment. [Quran 24:2]

While flogging someone for a crime would seem uncouth and barbaric to the modern Western reader (who also can’t bear to watch a cow slaughtered, yet eats beef), Muslims voluntarily choose it as an acceptable punishment in certain cases because it is far more efficient than imprisoning people. Prisoners require food and care, which is a great waste on society, and a crime against the children and elderly who far more deserve that food and care. Instead of spending $50,000 caring for an imprisoned adulterer for a year, they are administered 15 minutes of public shaming and then let go, and if the money exists that was to be used for the care of prisoners, it would go toward helping the poor and the needy instead, who far more deserve it.16

Note that due to the rarity of adultery in a Muslim society, and the difficulty in proving it, actually floggings would be extremely rare. An entire country might only see a case or two in a decade. These would be ceremonial events, similar to the execution of traitors in the US, where the individuals in a society voluntarily choose to reassert that standards of manner and custom are being preserved. If flagrant adultery goes unpunished, within a decade or two the nature of the society would easily transform into a typical Western one, where people are cynical about marriage and relationships, and where birth rates are always below replacement.

Devout Muslims would never be guilty of adultery. The punishment is for freeloaders who want to enjoy the fruits of Islam (faithful wives and husbands, basic income, peaceful cities and very low crime rates) while flaunting their contempt for its rules. Such people are a threat to an Islamic society’s long-term survival, and they are dealt with as such. The flogging makes a lesson out of such people, teaching that they cannot enjoy the fruits of Islam while working to destroy the very foundations that enabled such fruits to exist in the first place.

If flogging seems unkind, it should, because it is meant to be unkind. It is an evil meant to prevent a greater evil. All that Islam asks of people, if they want to avoid this punishment, is to not have sex outside of marriage in the view of witnesses. And if someone really wants the right to have sex outside of marriage in the view of witnesses, they are free to leave Islam and enjoy this privilege.

To this day, the scholarly tradition has defended the idea of punishing people for leaving Islam, some even recommending the death penalty. This, above all, is a demonstration of the critical need for rationalism within the Islamic tradition, because the Quran says “There is no compulsion in religion,”17, and forcing people to stay Muslim is just as much compulsion as forcing people to become Muslims. Even a child should be able to see this, but thanks to the authoritarian doctrine of hadith-primacism, scarcely a scholar can be found with the spine and intelligence to support the Quran’s principle of religious freedom against apostasy-punishing hadith narrations.

While flogging is what the Quran prescribes for adultery, hadith narrations mention accounts of the Prophet ordering the stoning of adulterers, in accordance with Jewish law18 (at the beginning of his rule in the city of al-Madinah, the Prophet appears to have followed Jewish law if no Quranic law existed that could handle a particular case). So of course, our scholars follow the view of hadith instead of the Quran, considering stoning a valid punishment. Today, even Western-educated converts to Islam can be found who defend stoning.

Verse 4:25 of the Quran says this regarding women born to slavery:

When they are married, if they commit adultery, their punishment shall be half that of free women.

How exactly do you administer half a stoning to someone? Stoning is meant to be a form of execution, how do you half-execute someone? Would the Quran be foolish enough to prescribe a punishment that could never actually be applied in real life? The verse makes perfect since if it referred to the Quranic punishment for adultery, flogging.

As if that wasn’t sufficient evidence against stoning, the Quran goes on to supply this verse:

Those of your women who commit fahishah [“wantonness”, an umbrella term that includes adultery along with other sexual crimes], you must have four witnesses against them, from among you. If they testify, confine them to the homes until death claims them, or God makes a way for them. 19

If the punishment for adultery is execution by stoning, then what could this verse be talking about? How could God make a way for someone He Himself commands to be executed? This reminds me of Terry Pratchett’s novel Pyramids, in which a woman is sentenced to death for refusing to volunteer to be sacrificed.

From the Quranic point of view the point of the verse is clear. It is telling Muslims to be better than Christians, who as late as the 20th century would disown and throw out women who were convicted of adultery, along with their children, to become prostitutes and beggars. The verse requires that the woman’s family, clan, or tribe, instead of disowning her, should continue to care for her as one of their own. As is usual with the Quran’s system of checks and balances, this burden (of caring for an undesirable criminal) comes with added powers. The family is allowed to prevent the woman from going out until they age and die, or until “God makes a way for them”. This second clause provides for various possibilities in dealing with adulterers:

  • For adulteresses and unmarried women who have sex outside of marriage, they can be confined to their homes by the family, as the verse suggests, until they show repentance and agree to abide by Islamic society’s rules. There are fatwas (official rulings) by many respected scholars (Shaykh Muhammad Salih al-Munajjid, Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradhawi, Dr. Nizar Rayyan, Dr. Ali al-Sartawi) that require a husband to keep a cheating wife as his wife if she shows repentance. Once she is found to have truly given up the thought that sex outside of marriage is OK, then she is allowed to re-enter society. By giving the Muslim family the power to prevent such women from going out, the law closes an important loophole that would exist otherwise. If the family didn’t have this power, a woman could practice prostitution while having the legal power to force her family to accommodate her and provide for her. The law requires adulteresses to decisively choose their fates (repent or leave Islam), instead of existing within legal gray zones.
  • As mentioned, such people have the option of leaving Islamic society to live as non-Muslims, if they do not believe in repenting and re-entering Islamic society. By renouncing their Islamic duties, they also renounce their Islamic privileges (their families would no longer have any duties toward them), such as guaranteed basic income for women, and the earnings of the wealth and speculation tax (zakat earnings), though they would still have all basic rights and duties that the government’s constitution enforces for all of its citizens, Muslim and non-Muslim.
  • If there is an overseas nation that offers to accept all adulterers and adulteresses as refugees, they can be sent to that nation.
  • A male who is known to promote adultery (a lecherous person who constantly seeks to seduce women and is convicted of sexual crimes multiple times) or engages in prostitution (such as by running a brothel) can be banished using laws against the spreading of corruption.

The Quran goes on to supply this verse, laying down marriage rules for adulterers:

The adulterer shall marry none but an adulteress or an idolatress; and the adulteress shall marry none but an adulterer or an idolater. That has been prohibited for the believers. 20

If the punishment for adultery is execution by stoning, what could be the point of talking about marriage? While if the punishment is flogging, then the verse makes sense. The Quran is forbidding marrying an adulterer until they have shown clear repentance. And those who haven’t and will not show repentance, those cannot ever be married by Muslims.

The Quran itself contains sufficient evidence to nullify stoning once and for all. But our scholars, blinded by their education, continue to support the barbaric Jewish punishment. Luckily, Muslim rulers, the scholars of fiqh, and the Muslim populace, have often been very sensible regardless of the things written in books of law21, so that the cases of actual stoning in Islamic history are just a handful.22

For sexual crimes, the Quran never prescribes execution. That is a corruption introduced by the hadith-primacist tradition. No, it even ensures the rights of the adulteress, preventing her family from casting her out.

We can be thankful that we already have respected scholars who have taken steps toward restoring the Quran’s status as Islam’s principal authority, such as the Egyptian scholars and Azhar University professors Muhammad al-Ghazali (d. 199623) and Yusuf al-Qaradhawi24, widely known and highly respected figures in modern mainstream Islam in the Middle East. One of the important works in this field is al-Ghazali’s revolutionary 1989 book al-Sunnah al-Nabawiyyah baina Ahlal Fiqhi wa Ahlal Hadeeth (“The Prophetic Tradition Between the People of Jurisprudence and the People of Hadith”), in which he clarifies the division between the scholars of fiqh and scholars of hadith and calls for abandoning hadith-primacism in favor of rationalism.

The Quran: Ender of Terrorist Ideologies

Once we reject hadith-primacism and put Islam’s focus back on the Quran, it becomes practically impossible to justify terrorism on the one hand, and it becomes trivial to defeat extremist intellectuals and their ideologies on the other. The only cases in which violent conflict is justified in the Quran are in matters of statecraft, when a Muslim government had to deal with threats around it. In the Quran, there is not a single justification for groups of Muslims taking the law into their own hands and carrying out terrorist attacks.

In fact, the Quran advocates the exact opposite. It tells Muslims to follow the example of the prophets,

Those are the ones to whom We gave the Scripture and authority and prophethood. But if the disbelievers deny it, then We have entrusted it to a people who are not therein disbelievers. Those are the ones whom God has guided, so from their guidance take an example. Say, “I ask of you for this message no payment. It is not but a reminder for the worlds.”25

The major predecessor of Prophet Muhammad in the Quran is Prophet Moses (whose name is mentioned over 130 times, versus 5 mentions of Muhammad’s name). Moses, this rightly guided prophet that Muslims are encouraged to follow, had about 600,000 Israelites under his guidance in Egypt26. Did he encourage this army to launch a war against the Pharaoh, this killer of infants and enemy of God?

No, instead, he asked them to be patient in their suffering, without raising a hand against their oppressors:

127. The chiefs of Pharaoh’s people said, “Will you let Moses and his people cause trouble in the land, and forsake you and your gods?” He said, “We will kill their sons, and spare their women. We have absolute power over them.”

128. Moses said to his people, “Seek help in God, and be patient. The earth belongs to God. He gives it in inheritance to whomever He wills of His servants, and the future belongs to the righteous.”

129. They said, “We were persecuted before you came to us, and after you came to us.” He said, “Perhaps your Lord will destroy your enemy, and make you successors in the land; then He will see how you behave.”

130. And We afflicted the people of Pharaoh with barren years, and with shortage of crops, that they may take heed.

131. When something good came their way, they said, “This is ours.” And when something bad happened to them, they ascribed the evil omen to Moses and those with him. In fact, their omen is with God, but most of them do not know.

132. And they said, “No matter what sign you bring us, to bewitch us with, we will not believe in you.”

133. So We let loose upon them the flood, and the locusts, and the lice, and the frogs, and blood—all explicit signs—but they were too arrogant. They were a sinful people.

134. Whenever a plague befell them, they would say, “O Moses, pray to your Lord for us, according to the covenant He made with you. If you lift the plague from us, we will believe in you, and let the Children of Israel go with you.”

135. But when We lifted the plague from them, for a term they were to fulfill, they broke their promise.

136. So We took vengeance on them, and drowned them in the sea—because they rejected Our signs, and paid no heed to them.

137. And We made the oppressed people inherit the eastern and western parts of the land, which We had blessed. Thus the fair promise of your Lord to the Children of Israel was fulfilled, because of their endurance. And We destroyed what Pharaoh and his people had built, and what they had harvested.27

In the Abraham chapter of the Quran, Moses tells a story of previous prophets in his effort to encourage the Children of Israel to be patient:

11. Their messengers said to them, “We are only humans like you, but God favors whomever He wills from among His servants. We cannot possibly show you any proof, except by leave of God. In God let the faithful put their trust.”

12. “And why should we not trust in God, when He has guided us in our ways? We will persevere in the face of your persecution. And upon God the reliant should rely.” 28

The Quran encourages the Prophet to be patient in the face of the persecution he used to receive (for 13 years, in fact, even as his following continued to grow), and to follow the examples of the prophets before him, instead of becoming a terrorist and using his army of followers to violently take over his small city:

So be patient, as the messengers with resolve were patient, and do not be hasty regarding them. On the Day when they witness what they are promised, it will seem as if they had lasted only for an hour of a day. A proclamation: Will any be destroyed except the sinful people?29

The entire Quran is a call for peaceful resistance against oppressors. If you think otherwise, I encourage you to read the Quran 50 times in the original Arabic, like I’ve done, and then explain to me tell me how it is otherwise.

The Quran, among many other things, also acts a military manual for Muslims, since war requires law, and the Quran is the primary source for Islamic law. Casual readers of the Quran will be shocked at the numerous descriptions of violence it contains, not realizing that the Quran has to act like a military manual, and that every modern military has a similar manual containing descriptions of cases where killing can be done legally, and cases where it cannot be done.

Christians critics of Islam ignore the far more violent Old Testament, whose God approves of stoning30, killing innocent children for their father’s sins31 burning people alive, and killing hundreds of thousands of women and infants alongside men to make room for Israel32

When the Old Testament’s violence is mentioned by Muslims, the usual reply is that all Abrahamic religions are equally violent and horrible, so we should abandon them all. But the Quran has nothing to do with the evil and genocide in the Old Testament. An example of a “violent” verse of the Quran is this:

You will find others who want security from you, and security from their own people. But whenever they are tempted into civil discord, they plunge into it. So if they do not withdraw from you, nor offer you peace, nor restrain their hands, seize them and execute them wherever you find them. Against these, We have given you clear authorization. 33

This verse legalizes using deadly force against tribes who occasionally attacked the Prophet’s state when they saw an opportunity for gain, but who publicly declared allegiance to the Prophet to protect themselves from punishment34. A law was needed to deal with these people, and this verse provides that law. These people are publicly given a choice: Withdraw, offer peace, and restrain yourselves from violence, or continue doing what you do. If they agree to the verse’s offer, then they will be left alone, but if they break their word one more time like they’ve done countless times in the past, the law legalizes a decisive attack on them to end the menace once and for all.

A favorite passage of the Quran for Islam’s detractors is the following, from its second chapter:

190. And fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not commit aggression; God does not love the aggressors.

191. And kill them wherever you overtake them, and expel them from where they had expelled you. Oppression is more serious than murder. But do not fight them at the Sacred Mosque, unless they fight you there. If they fight you, then kill them. Such is the retribution of the disbelievers.

192. But if they cease, then God is Forgiving and Merciful.

193. And fight them until there is no oppression, and worship becomes devoted to God alone. But if they cease, then let there be no hostility except against the oppressors.
35

These “violent” verses rule that if a group attacks a Muslim state and conquers a part of it, then the state is allowed to launch a counter attack until the conquerors are entirely defeated and their laws and practices banished. They rule that, for example, if a conqueror takes up a part of Malaysia, and establishes a new constitution and official religion there, then, during the same conflict, once Muslims retake the land, they are required to restore Malaysia’s constitution and religious practices there (while respecting the right of individuals to choose their own religion, as ruled by 2:256). If the Muslim peasantry had been forcefully converted to another religion, they would be asked to embrace Islam again, and perhaps they will be offered gifts and support in return for converting back to Islam. Those who personally prefer the new religion will be left alone.

A fair-minded reader will see that these verses are actually placing limitations on violence instead of promoting it, by requiring that only aggressors be fought, and that if aggressors cease and offer peace in good faith, Muslims should accept their offer. Naturally, an enemy could abuse this law by offering peace when the war gets too hard for them, only to start it again once they are ready for another go. Other verses deal with such cases.

The Quran, taken as a whole, contains far more calls for patience, peace and co-existence than for violence, so that when it legalizes violence, it is always done as a matter of last resort, when all other avenues have been explored.

The United States government, compared to the type of government advocated by the Quran, is frankly Stone Age barbaric. In violation of the Quran’s laws, it arms, finances and trains terrorist groups that carry out wholesale slaughter throughout the world. It props up evil dictatorships throughout the world when it fits its interests. It finances bloody coup d’états against peaceful governments when it wants, like it did in Iran in 1953, Iraq in 1963, Ghana in 1966, Greece in 1967, the Dominican Republic in 1971, Fiji in 1987, Albania in 1991, Afghanistan in 2001 (the Afghan government asked for proof of Osama’s complicity in 9/11 before handing him over), Iraq in 2003, and Ukraine in 2014.36

America’s Christians will naturally absolve themselves of their government’s sins, since to them, atrocities that are far enough removed are not atrocities. They may even complain about what their government is doing abroad, just as they continue voting for the same congressmen and women who enabled and continue to enable their government’s worldwide campaign of terror. Who cares if their local congressman supports murdering millions to further the US government’s worldwide power grab, he is a nice Christian man from Kentucky!

And then certain Christian evangelicals have the audacity to talk about how the Quran is violent. Teach us about the way of Christ, of turning the other cheek, just as your chosen congress continues to support bombing our countries, financing murderous terrorists and assassinating the best of our leaders. Help us out of our barbaric ways with your civilized bombs!

Islam Evolves

And say, “The truth has come, and falsehood has withered away; for falsehood is bound to wither away.” —The Quran, 17:81

If today’s Muslim intellectual leaders are not brave enough to clean up Islam and reject the practice of discarding the Quran in favor of hadith, then their versions of Islam will not survive the terrorism germ. Their followers will either abandon Islam or move on to better versions of it.

From a Darwinian genetic-cultural perspective, it is guaranteed that Islam will adapt in such a way that makes terrorism nearly impossible, the question is not whether the adaptation will happen, the question is who will be brave enough to enable this adaptation, who will dare to go out of their comfort zones, put their careers on the line, and go against the millennium-old bureaucracy to rebuild Islam with the Quran at its foundation?

This evolutionary process has already progressed a great deal among the educated Muslim classes, who, supported by a few brave scholars, will eventually bring down hadith-primacism The good thing is that no one owns Islam. Time is the ultimate judge of truth and falsehood.

In an ecological system, germs and predators carry the important function of ensuring the fitness of species by killing off weak specimens and ensuring that species remain in a permanent state of renewal. The germ of terrorism, and the predation of the CIA and other evil Western organizations on Muslim populations, while causing great evil, also cause the creative destruction of Islam’s weaknesses, forcing our scholars to re-evaluate their practices and purify Islam from the rust it has accumulated over the centuries, so that a version of Islam can emerge that is fresh, relevant, more civilized than Judaism and Christianity, and capable of surviving the foreseeable future.

17. He sends down water from the sky, and riverbeds flow according to their capacity. The current carries swelling froth. And from what they heat in fire of ornaments or utensils comes a similar froth. Thus God exemplifies truth and falsehood. As for the froth, it is swept away, but what benefits the people remains in the ground. Thus God presents the analogies.

18. For those who respond to their Lord is the best. But as for those who do not respond to Him, even if they possessed everything on earth, and twice as much, they could not redeem themselves with it. Those will have the worst reckoning; and their home is Hell—a miserable destination.

19. Is he who knows that what was revealed to your from your Lord is the truth, like him who is blind? Only those who reason will remember.

20. Those who fulfill the promise to God, and do not violate the agreement.

21. And those who join what God has commanded to be joined, and fear their Lord, and dread the dire reckoning.

22. And those who patiently seek the presence of their Lord, and pray regularly, and spend from Our provisions to them, secretly and openly, and repel evil with good. These will have the Ultimate Home.

23. Everlasting Gardens, which they will enter, along with the righteous among their parents, and their spouses, and their descendants. And the angels will enter upon them from every gate.

24. “Peace be upon you, because you endured patiently. How excellent is the Final Home.”37

Footnotes

  1. See the Deir Yassin Remembered website, run by a Jewish man who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

    Since it was Jews carrying out terrorism and genocide, rather than whites, those who carried out these atrocities are celebrated as heroes, rather than being universally condemned for the Jewish replicas of the Nazis that they are. The Jewish Lenin, inspired by the Jewish Marx, supported by his mostly Jewish Bolsheviks, was responsible for starting the process of murdering 11 million innocent Christian men, women and children, which was completed by Stalin. Imagine if Marx and Lenin had been Christian fundamentalists who had murdered 11 million Jews. But since it was Jews who did it, it never happened. Christian whites must be made to feel guilty about the Nazis every day of their lives, just as Jewish leftists in Western universities shamelessly continue their staunch support for their beloved Jewish Hitler, Lenin.

    David Ben-Gurion, who commanded the ethnic cleansing of 700,000 Palestinians, has an Israeli international airport and a major Israeli university named after him. Moshe Sharett, one of the terrorists who carried out the King David Hotel Bombing, in which Israelis dressed as Arabs bombed the offices of the British Mandate in Palestine, killing 96 people, would later go on to become foreign minister and then prime minister of Israel. The Israeli war hero Ariel Sharon, 11th Prime Minister of Israel from March 2001 until April 2006, oversaw the execution of the Sabra and Shatila massacre, killing 3000 innocent men, women and children. [See Amnon Kapeliouk, ‎Khalil Jahshan, Sabra & Shatila, Inquiry Into a Massacre, 1984, p. 84.]

  2. Dr. Salah Abdul Fattah al-Khalidi, Sayyid Qutb min al-Milaad ila al-Istishhad (“Sayyid Qutb from Birth to Martyrdom”), 1994, Second Edition, Daar al-Qalam.
  3. Dr. Salah Abdul Fattah al-Khalidi, ibid.
  4. Note that I actually love Sayyid Qutb and consider his commentary on the Quran, Fi Dhilaal al-Qur’aan, one of the great Arabic-language literary works. His works show that it is highly unlikely he would have supported today’s Islamic terrorists. He made the mistake of thinking that a political group of Muslims, if they were threatened with obliteration by an evil and oppressive state, had the right to take up arms to defend themselves. This may sound like a logical position, but it is not the position of the Quran (which advocates peaceful resistance), and has the dangerous consequence of justifying terrorism.
  5. Which led to the murder of 562,000 to 2,000,000 innocent Afghan men, women and children. They weren’t Jewish, so there aren’t 57 museums in the US to teach our children to feel sorry for Afghans, the way there are for Jews.
  6. Bacevich, Andrew J., America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History, Random House Publishing Group, 2017, p. 60.
  7. Ahmed, Nafeez Mosaddeq, “Why was a Sunday Times report on US government ties to al-Qaeda chief spiked?”, Ceasefire Magazine, May 17, 2013, retrieved April 3, 2017.
  8. Escobar, Pepe, “Daesh, Creature Of The West”, SputnikNews, March 24, 2017, retrieved March 28, 2017.
  9. See my essay The Gene-Culture for a clarification of what I mean by the term genetic-cultural.
  10. Such narrations are known as aheedeth al-aahaad (“singular narrations”). Among scholars whose policy is to doubt such narrations regardless of the chains of narration are: Abu Hanifah, al-Sarkhasi, Malik bin Anas, al-Shatibi, Ibn al-Arabi, al-Kalbi, al-Nawawi, Ibn Hajar, al-Zarkashi, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, Khateeb al-Baghdadi, Fakhraddeen al-Razi, Abul Khattab al-Hanbali and Ibn Qudamah.
  11. Abu Hanifah, Risaalat al-Aalimi wal Muta`allim.
  12. Al-Nasaa’i, Al-Sunnan Al-Kubra, vol. 9, no. 276.
  13. The Quran, verse 6:164.
  14. See the Quran, verses 3:4 and 25:1.
  15. See Darkmoon, Lasha, “Sex and the Jews: Letter to a Jewish Correspondent“, The Occidental Observer, August 29, 2010, retrieved March 29, 2017.
  16. Islam has a system of universal basic income for women (paid for by their male relatives, in an Islamic society, no woman can ever be homeless, and no woman will ever have to work unless they want to), and a tax on uninvested wealth and speculative investments that goes directly to the poor.

    In Islam, the poor (who can be thought of as the bottom 50% of society, anyone who doesn’t own a house and a car) charge a 2.5% annual interest on the uninvested and speculatively invested wealth of the rich. Since Islam prohibits usury (the charging of interest), the wealthy (and their corporations) are forced to either productively invest their wealth into business ventures (and thus create jobs) or have 2.5% of their wealth given to society every year.

    In the Islamic economic system, if a country’s entire economy is run by robots, the poor would be better off, not worse off, like it would happen in modern Western economies as the poor lose their jobs to robots. By using robots, businesses get to earn more cash, which they would either invest productively, or lose 2.5% of it to the poor. Such a system, if implemented in the US, could result in annual cash dividends of $50,000 to every poor family in the country. Just as the poor receive cash, the number of job openings would skyrocket, since new businesses would be popping up everywhere as the wealthy try to avoid paying the wealth tax (which is unlike ordinary US taxes, which are only on income, a wealth tax means far more lost wealth, since it is on the whole amount of wealth, not just income). Wages would go up as companies compete with each other for available talent, and the income provided to the poor from the system means that people will not be desperate for jobs, so that businesses will have to start to offer higher wages, and to respect their employees more, if they want to have workers.

    The system turns workers into a rare and highly desired commodity, achieving as much as the best unions and worker protection laws achieve, and not just for a specific industry, but for all of the workers in the country.

    Islam creates that holy grail of basic income systems, a system that provides for the poor while encouraging employment by encouraging the wealthy to productively invest their wealth. Note that such a system has not been implemented properly anywhere in the Islamic world as far as I know. All Muslim states allow usury and make the wealth tax a voluntary payment. Most of the wealthy, naturally, don’t pay it.

  17. The Quran, verse 2:256
  18. See the Hebrew Bible, Deutronomy, chapter 22. Sanhedrin, Chapter 7.
  19. The Quran, verse 4:15.
  20. The Quran, verse 24:3.
  21. Iran’s Shiite scholars have legalized prostitution through what they call a temporary marriage. Iran’s educated middle class rejects this legalization and continues to consider it evil and disgraceful. Anyone known to be guilty of it is cast out of respectable society. Even though the scholars are corrupt, the people themselves, or at least the educated ones, keep to the true spirit of Islam, since they focus on the Quran and take their guidance from it, while the scholars focus on the 100-volume-strong Bihaar al-Anwaar hadith collection.
  22. See Rudolph Peters, Crime and Punishment in Islamic Law, Cambridge University Press,  2005.
  23. Not to be confused with the more famous Sufi scholar and mystic Abu Hamed al-Ghazali, d. 1111.
  24. Who in one of his books (I think it was Fiqh al-Awlawiyyaat) expresses respect for Muhammad Abu Zahra’s rejection of stoning, though he doesn’t go so far as to support it directly.
  25. Quran 6:89-90.
  26. If the Old Testament’s figures are to be trusted, see Exodus 12:37–38 in the King James Bible.
  27. Quran 7:127-137
  28. Quran 14:12-13
  29. The Quran, verse 46:35.
  30. See Deuteronomy, chapter 22.
  31. Read about the killing of Saul’s children to make up for their father’s sins in II Samuel 21.
  32. See Samuel 15. In Judges 21, all men, women and children of a tribe are slaughtered except for the virgin females, who are taken to be used as wives for the Jewish tribe of Benjamin. The entire Book of Joshua is a guide to the Jewish art of warfare: Kill every living thing by the tens of thousands, man, woman, child and suckling, and then burn down their cities. See Joshua, chapters 8 to 19, the King James Bible.
  33. The Quran, verse 4:90
  34. Imam Fakhr al-Deen al-Razi, c. 1200 CE, al-Tafseer al-Kabir, commentary on verse 4:90, Daar al-Kutub al-`Ilmiyyah, 2004 reprint.
  35. The Quran, verses 190-193.
  36. For an in-depth treatment of the US government’s worldwide campaign of terror against governments that don’t suit its interests, see Stephen Kinzer’s Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, (Macmillan, 2007).
  37. The Quran, verses 13:17-24

8 thoughts on “Islamic Terrorism as a Genetic-Cultural Selective Pressure on Muslim Populations

  1. Rawa Muhsin

    Assalamu ‘alaikum Ikram.

    I found the initial part of your essay useful and informative. From the part on abrogation onwards, however, I disagree with many of its points. Many objections could be raised here, but I will mention some of them here briefly:

    – The traditional Sunni scholars were divided on whether an ayah can be abrogated by the sunnah or not. But if you read any real scholarly treatise on abrogation you will notice that hardly any example exists in which an ayah is abrogated by a hadith, and even some of them rejected the notion simply because there was no example of it.

    In fact in one contemporary eminent scholarly work the main example mentioned is the obligation of writing a wasiyyah for parents and relatives before one’s death. The language of the ayah on this (كتب عليكم إذا حضر أحدكم الموت إن ترك خيرا الوصية للوالدين…) suggests it is obligatory, while there is an authentic hadith from the Prophet in his farewell hajj indicating that Allah has determined the shares of the relatives in inheritance, hence there is no longer need for wasiyyah. But even this example is disputed as constituting abrogation of an ayah by a hadith for reasons that are beyond the scope of our discussion here.

    My point of all this is to show that in traditional Sunni Islam the idea of abrogating an ayah by a hadith has never been a prominent issue and hardly even a single accepted example of it exists. So I believe you are exaggerating the significance of this particular point in advancing your entire thesis, and might at times be confusing abrogation with specification of exceptional cases from a general ruling (takhsis or taqyid).

    – Hadith was not first written down 200 years after the Prophet’s death, and I am sure you know that well. We have hadith compilations from the early 100s of the hijra, and even before that time. Bukhari and Muslim are simply the two top authentic compilations, not the earliest, and certainly not the only ones. Just because hadith was written down a bit later than Qur’an doesn’t make it unreliable, especially when one actually takes a close look at how the science of hadith authentication actually works.

    Furthermore, how do you know that the entire Qur’an was written down during the Prophet’s time? This is not indicated in the text of the Qur’an itself. Nor do we have very many early manuscripts of the Qur’an (let alone complete manuscripts). Ironically we know this fact (of the Qur’an being written down in the Prophet’s time) through hadith literature itself, that which you call unreliable. We could extend this discussion further to talk about the reliability of the Qur’anic text itself (from the perspective from which you are attacking hadith’s reliability), but I believe that will take us away from our scope here.

    – I find it irrelevant to claim that the Qur’an has the promise of divine protection while hadith doesn’t, if by this one means the overall body of hadith in general. The Qur’an explicitly says that the mission of the Prophet is (وأنزلنا إليك الذكر لتبين للناس ما نزل إليهم). If according to this ayah the mission of the Prophet is actually to explain the Qur’an, how much sense does it make that Allah will preserve the Qur’an itself but not preserve the Prophet’s explanation (which itself is also divinely inspired, as indicated by the Qur’an itself) for us?

    – I believe you are exaggerating the effect of abrogation on promoting Islamic terrorism. Like seriously, how much do you really think this holds true? Do you think if we were to suddenly remove abrogation from our scholarly tradition there would be no more room for some people to justify evil acts by scripture?

    I often emphasize the robustness of the Qur’anic text when discussions of this matter come up, but here I have to put the emphasis on the other side of the coin, namely that the Qur’an is versatile enough to justify any act of any sort if a person is willing to utilize it for their own purposes. There are loads of Qur’anic ayat about war, and it is sufficient for our imagined terrorist here to misquote some ayat from surah Taubah or Anfal or Muhammad out of (textual AND historical or hadith-based) context to justify his evil acts.

    So I actually think the misappropriation of scripture for violent actions will continue just it is now even if there was no concept of abrogation, and that the culprit here is the terrorist’s mentality not the concept of abrogation. Furthermore, as mentioned in my next point, abrogation is not a game for anybody to claim it in any case they like. You need to have textual evidence that statement A abrogates statement B, otherwise any claim to it will simply be empty and worthless.

    – Of course we both agree that emphasizing parts of scripture while ignoring or nullifying other parts of it is wrong, and it is actually part of the problem here. But abrogation is not an easy statement to make and requires actual proof that aya A abrogates aya B. This requires evidence of their chronological order of revelation, as well as a textual proclamation that the latter in fact abrogates the former. Without such evidence any claim of abrogation is simply discarded.

    In fact you can see this clearly within Sunni Islam when you look at some uncritical works on abrogation on the one hand, and the critical scholarly works on abrogation on the other hand. The former tend to claim abrogation for anything that seems remotely incongruent to them, while the critical works are always diligent in trying to clearly establish which cases in particular have evidence for them.

    This is not a new matter and eminent scholars of the past and present have taken to this task and we already have major works on this, such that if you actually count the instances of abrogation both within the Qur’an and within hadeeth it all amounts to around 20 instances or so, but even here many cases are open for discussion and within the Qur’an there are only a handful for which a powerful case for abrogation can be made.

    Even within Sunni Islam as we come to the modern age there are scholars who more or less reinterpret even these few cases of abrogation and try to remove the concept entirely. But I personally find this argument weak and inconsistent with the texts of the Qur’an itself.

    – You emphasize the danger of abrogation (which I think you are highly overstating) too much, so I feel I should say a few more words about the underlying logic of this particular argument of yours. Here is how I see your argument being made:

    *Abrogation can be used by terrorists to justify terrorism.
    *Therefore abrogation should be rejected in toto.

    This is a weak argument, and it can be applied to any part of Islam. Certain entire surahs of the Qur’an can be claimed to promote terrorism, and on this argument we should be pushed to advocate for their removal. People are already utilizing this argument with hadith, and I have even seen one case where it was taken to this extreme (advocating for removal of certain ayat).

    Just because a certain tenet of belief can potentially lead to a certain undesired consequence (which I believe is being overstated here) doesn’t mean that we should reject the belief itself, especially when the said belief is well established by the Qur’an itself, and by Prophetic hadith. The Qur’an points to this idea in the ayah (إن الصفا والمروة من شعائر الله فمن حج البيت أو اعتمر فلا جناح عليه أن يطوف بهما), which becomes clear when it is read in conjunction with the narration explaining it.

    – Abrogation is something thoroughly established by the Qur’an itself, and I find the attempts of trying to reinterpret the ayat on this subject to be weak attempts. Since one of the ayat on this subject clearly states that it is God who performs the abrogation (ما ننسخ من آية أو ننسها نأت بخير منها أو مثلها) no genuine reader can make any claims for abrogation unless they have an explicit Qur’anic or Prophetic statement establishing the abrogation. It is false to claim that anybody can claim abrogation where they see fit. That is why anybody actually making such a baseless claim (of an unproven abrogation of an ayah) is saying something about Allah about which they have no knowledge of (a super-major sin according to the Qur’an).

    – It is highly dismaying how you characterize hadith and ‘the books of Bukhari and Muslim’. There are countless Qur’anic ayat to show that the Prophet’s sayings and actions are both divinely sanctioned and obligatory for Muslims to follow. I cannot see any logic in claiming that Allah would preserve the Qur’an but not the general body of hadith. The Prophet’s sayings are divine revelation just as the Qur’an is divine revelation, differing only in the fact that the former are in the words of the Prophet himself.

    That is why comparing the body of hadith (i.e. the Prophet’s sayings and actions, that are also a form of divine revelation) to the Talmud is a false analogy.

    – As a matter of fact even traditionally abrogation is recognized in a number of forms. One is in which an existing verse in the current canon of the Qur’an is abrogated by another verse. Another is one in which the text of the verse is no longer in the Qur’an but its ruling remains (like the ruling on stoning). And the third is one in which both the text and ruling of the verse have been abrogated. There are examples for all of these. So in fact what you mentioned about the ‘more logical position’ has not been ignored at all, but is rather only part of the wider umbrella of abrogation.

    – I have always been highly critical and suspicious of claims of interpreting the Qur’an only by the Qur’an itself. Of course I accept the first premise that certain parts of the Qur’an can (and do in fact) interpret other parts, but this can easily be abused and extended to various claims of intertextual relations and conclusions that are ill-founded and baseless.

    Letting that aside, going further and claiming that the Qur’an can sufficiently be interpreted solely based on itself is patently false, because the Qur’an itself establishes that the Prophet’s job was to clarify it for the people (the ayah I mentioned above), hence rendering his explanation necessary for its proper understanding. This is not to mention that certain Qur’anic ayat cannot be properly understood at all if one is not aware of their occasion of revelation.

    And I actually think that those who supposedly write Qur’an-Qur’an exegeses can never actually do an unbiased job at it, because they already have a background wealth of hadith knowledge and Islamic heritage that shapes their thinking and the intertextual relations they make, so that their apparently successful attempts are not purely Qur’anic. Try to imagine what you would come out with if you had no previous knowledge of Islam at all and were to read the Qur’an for the first time and try to write an intertextual exegesis of it. Do you really think you would reach sound conclusions?

    – In the abrogation of alcohol you didn’t mention the relevant verses. The real issue, as I see it, is the ayah that characterizes wine as a favor (تتخذون منه سكرا ورزقا حسنا). It is inconceivable that this statement would be made in a time when alcohol was haram (you cannot mention as a divine favor something that is divinely made haram).

    A second, though less formidable, indication is the ayah (لا تقربوا الصلاة وأنتم سكارى حتى تعلموا ما تقولون). I know that a puritan would say that technically this is not saying anything about its being forbidden or not. But seriously, how many more examples of this sort can you find in the Qur’an where a forbidden act is so casually mentioned as though it is no different from janabah (the second example following the above injunction)? It just sounds like a very bad example of takalluf, and the more reasonable inference to make here is to note that this was revealed at a time when it was still halal.

    Not to mention that there are explicit reports of how xamr was initially halal and then made haram, so I am not trying to ‘infer’ abrogation here.

    – Almost no one that I have heard of has claimed that abrogation applies to creedal issues. In fact it is always explicitly mentioned in discussions of naskh that it specifically applies to matters of fiqh and law. That is why I believe the example you mentioned of post-Islam pious Christians going to heaven being abrogated is a false example, since it is a matter of belief not fiqh, and no scholar would support such an example.

    Both the Qur’an and hadith establish that if someone hasn’t heard of Islam then their questioning will be different, so I think you are sensationally misrepresenting the traditional scholarly position when you imply that they do not make such a distinction.

    – Stoning for adultery is well-established by multiple authentic reports, incidents, and early Islamic law that its authenticity is beyond reasonable doubt. Ironically (considering your suggestion for reinterpreting the Qur’anic references to naskh as referring to verses that are now removed from the canon) there was even a Qur’anic ayah about it that said something like:
    والشيخ والشيخة إذا زنيا فارجموهما البتة نكالا من الله والله عزيز حكيم

    That ayah is not in the Qur’anic corpus now because its text has been abrogated but not its ruling. ‘Umar bin al-Khattab specifically mentions that the people are already creating doubts about rajm because it is not in the Qur’an (ironic, isn’t it?), and that were it not for the fear that people would say that he has changed the Qur’an he would have put this ayah back in the mus-haf (i.e. he is not doing so because the text has been abrogated but not its meaning).

    You might find this idea hard to swallow, but that is precisely why the idea of abrogation is a difficult test, just like you yourself mentioned. Perhaps there is even an indication to this point at the end of the ayah on naskh itself (ألم تعلم أن الله على كل شيء قدير)? It is as though the ayah already predicts the difficulty people will have in submitting to the concept, but then reminds them of Allah’s power over all things and hence hinting at the necessity of submission when it comes to this topic.

    I find it unwise to venture to label as ‘stupid’ a ruling so well-established by a non-canonical Qur’anic verse, numerous authentic narrations, and the entire Islamic scholarly tradition for 14 centuries. Don’t you think that the objections you mentioned (e.g. the punishment for female-slaves, whose rulings, by the way, are in many aspects different from free persons, not just in this one) have already been discussed in detail and well-reconciled in the 14-century-long scholarly tradition? At least you could take a look at their discussions before embarking on this.

    Your speculations about the subsequent verses on zina are really just speculations, and that is what results from personal reflections on the Qur’an without consideration of its wider historical and hadith-elucidated context. I believe part of the reason for the confusion and wild speculations here is your lack of distinction between premarital fornication and postmarital adultery.

    – The discussion of rejecting hadiths on whim (under whatever motive or title one promotes it) is another long discussion that I do not wish to enter into here as it will take up a lot of space. But I believe that before one becomes overawed with any seemingly revolutionary work by a certain scholar one should first do a careful study of how traditional hadith authentication works. It is a very sophisticated and intricate science, and only somebody from outside who has only ‘heard’ of its general tenets can make ill-informed judgments about it, thinking that it is only a mechanical algorithmic process that doesn’t take into consideration the meaning of the hadith and its correlation with the Qur’an.

    That is why I believe the graphs you have made are misrepresenting the traditional Sunni position. One could argue that what you call ‘Sunni Criterionism’ is no different from traditional Sunni Islam, and that what you are promoting as ‘Sunni Criterionism’ is in fact a form of hadith rejectionism (often called by the misleading and inappropriate title of ‘Qur’anism’).

    The problem with any sort of whimsical hadith rejection is that it is, at the end of the day, whimsical. I reject this whole bunch of ahadeeth even though by every standard of authentication they are totally authentic, just because they don’t agree with MY understanding of the Qur’an. MY understanding of the Qur’an tells me otherwise, hence I should just delete this other part of revelation (which is really what hadith rejectionism is, a form of denying some parts of revelation).

    Once a person admits to a form of whimsical hadith rejectionism there is no limit to it. The only logical extension to this is to reject just about any hadith (no matter how authentic or how well-reported it is) that one doesn’t ‘like’, claiming that it doesn’t agree with THEIR understanding of the Qur’an, as though championing the cause of the Qur’an in the process.

    And as I mentioned above, claims of using the Qur’an itself as the criterion for accepting or rejecting hadith is a dubious one and, at worst, disingenuous. What the claim really amounts to is ‘using a particular person’s understanding of the Qur’an as the criterion’, for any example that is perceived as a conflict by that person might be seen as perfectly complementary and non-conflicting by another person.

    If you are going to cite examples of apparent conflict between hadith and Qur’an as justification for this attitude, then one could cite countless examples of apparent intra-Qur’anic textual conflicts as a counter example. Just because there is apparent conflict doesn’t justify that we reject one and affirm the other, but rather the correct attitude, which has been the traditional attitude anyways, is to reconcile both texts, whether they be both of the Qur’an, both of hadith, or mixed.

    That is why I find your mischaracterizations of traditional Muslim scholars as the greedy gatekeepers of Islamic knowledge who want to keep the masses undeducated, while the shining heroes of Ghazali and Qaradawi championing the cause of the people, as grossly misleading.

    And as I mentioned previously, claiming to construct a congruent monolithic peaceful narrative out of the Qur’an alone and by itself is a very tenuous claim, and is simply one that cannot be achieved in reality. Your subsequent explanation of the issue of warfare betrays this, as it is not really solely ‘Qur’an-based’, but rather loaded with background assumptions and inferences based on your pre-existing knowledge of ‘unreliable’ hadith collections. You are obviously picking and choosing what suits your ‘Qur’anic’ interpretation, and this is simply the same that the terrorists can do in return to justify a hadith-free Qur’an-inspired case for their terrorism.

    I recognize that you have good intentions in your essay and in the position you are promoting, and I agree with many of its other points that it is making. But I also felt that I should point out those aspects of it with which I disagree, as from objections and discussions we can improve our positions, regardless of whether we agree with the objections or not.

    Excuse my tone if it sounds hostile in some sections. 🙂

    Take care.

    Wassalam.

    Reply
    1. Ikram Hawramani Post author

      Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah Rawa,

      Thank you for taking the time to write this out. 🙂 I’m sure answering these points thoroughly would be an important step forward, and it has already helped me reform some of my ideas.

      A few points:

      1. I am in no way advocating for throwing out hadith or discarding the scholarly tradition surrounding it. The work of interpreting Islam naturally relies on both the Quran, hadith, our understanding of Arabic, our understanding of history, and our present culture. These things are inseparable.

      2. My major point is that the nature of the Quran is different from the nature of hadith. I don’t think this should be a revolutionary idea by any interpretation. My points supporting this assertion are:

      a. The language of the Quran is written specifically to make it easier to memorize and remember, with much repetition of central ideas to ensure error-free transmission. In other words, my assertion here is this: “The Quran’s text lends itself to more reliable transmission than hadith” (note that I do not say that the Quran’s transmission is 100% accurate while hadith is only 10% accurate, the difference might be something like 99.9% compared to 95%.

      b. More care was taken with the writing of the Quran than hadith. We know this from hadith narrations (yes, hadith narrations, because, as I said, I consider most hadith valid), that there were scribes during the Prophet’s lifetime writing it down, and that Uthman took care to gather the texts. We do not know of any significant effort toward writing hadith in very early Islamic history. My assertion here is this: “More care was taken in early Islamic history to preserve the Quran than hadith”, the difference in the amount of effort cannot be known for certain, but it shouldn’t be revolutionary to think that Muslisms took more care with the Quran than hadith.

      c. The Quran promises that God will preserve it, and this has come true, we do not have any major conflict in the versions of the Quran that we have. Compare this to the hadith landscape, with the vast amount of difference and conflict in how the narrations are viewed. I’m not making a revolutionary claim here, the state of the Quran is superior to that of hadith. We cannot reliably tell by how much, but the fact of it is easily visible. I don’t think it is logical to extend God’s protection to hadith. The Quran says God will protect the “dhikr”. From a general understanding of Islam, it should be clear that this is only talking about the Quran. I know this is inherently fuzzy thinking, but as I will mention below, the entire science of hadith is based on fuzziness.

      Why would God protect the Quran and let hadith become corrupted? Because the Quran is sufficient guidance for anyone who seeks to please God. Hadith acts an assistant toward this. Evil only comes about when people misguide themselves by focusing on hadith at the expense of the Quran, like so many hadith-centric people do.

      3. I (and Ghazali) only want to make a relatively minor reform to the way the science of hadith works, which is to consider the Quran’s rulings and philosophy among the many other criteria that are used to verify the authenticity of hadith narrations. This is not something revolutionary and has already been applied, though inconsistently, by hadith scholars.

      Abu Hanifah rejects the sahih hadith that says a Muslim cannot be executed if they kill a non-Muslim, using the Quran (5:45, al-nafsa bil nafsi, and 5:49, an ihkum bainahum bima anzala Allah) as evidence for rejection of the hadith. al-Ghazali mentions that a Bedouin Arab had killed an American engineer and the traditional hadith scholars were using this hadith to justify protecting the bedouin from punishment.

      Malik bin Anas rejects the hadith (present in the Sahihs of Bukhari and Muslim) in which the Prophet says that if a dog drinks from a utensil, the utensil should be washed seven times (Sahih Bukhari, Ablution, 172, Sahih Muslim, Purity, 279) based on the Quranic evidence from 5:4 that says one may eat a hunted animal caught by a dog, saying the hadith is illogical considering the Quran’s ruling.

      Al-Nawawi mentions in his commentary on Sahih Muslim that a woman mentioned a ruling of the Prophet (saw) regarding her after she was divorced, and when Umar heard of this, he said the woman’s statement is false, and mentioned a verse of the Quran (65:1) that nullified what she had said, even though this is a woman who claims to have heard the Prophet himself make a ruling specifically regarding her. Umar’s view was that since her narration went against the Quran, it couldn’t possibly be from the Prophet.

      In Sahih Bukhari and Muslim (1272, Kitaab al-Janaa’iz, and 927, Kitaab al-Janaa’iz), on the authority of Umar ibn al-Khattab and Abdullah ibn Umar, there is a narration that says dead people are punished for certain cases of their living relatives crying over them. Aisha rejects these narrations, saying Umar misremembered, and that the Prophet actually said this while the corpse of a Jew was being carried away, saying that he is being punished as his people cry over him. (Sahih Bukhari, 1288, Kitaab al-Janaa’iz, Sahih Muslim, 931, Kitaab al-Janaa’iz).

      There is an entire book by al-Zarkashi on various narrations in which Aisha refutes what other companions have narrated.

      I know that you may get the feeling that I’m saying based on these facts, that we should just throw out all hadith narrations willy-nilly. But that’s exactly what I’m not saying. I’m saying one of our criteria for considering whether a hadith is sahih or not should be whether it makes sense in light of the Quran. This is, at least partially, or in certain cases, the method of Abu Hanifah, Imam Malik, Umar and Aisha, even though they never clearly state it. The wording of the hadith of Umar rejecting that woman’s claim with a verse of the Quran shows how superior he thought that Quran compared to people’s statements, that the fact there was a verse of the Quran in contradiction of the woman’s statement made it clear, beyond all doubt, that the Prophet never had made the ruling, even if the woman claims he had. This is, of course, my interpretation of it, but everything within Islam is an interpretation, so what?

      Ibn al-Jawzi, in his book on the science of hadith, al-Maudhoo`aat, makes this statement regarding the authentication of hadith narrations:
      فكل حديث رأيته يخالف العقول وأن يناقض الأصول، فاعلم أنه موضوع فلا تتكلف اعتباره.
      He is saying that if a narration is against sense and principles, then it can be rejected. Now, I know one could say how do we define sense, and aren’t those principles from hadith itself?

      But if we get caught up in such arguments, then the science of hadith could never actually be practiced.

      My, and Ghazali’s, interpretation of the Islamic heritage is that the Quran is more reliable than hadith, and so, it is only logical that any hadith that goes against the Quran should be rejected, like respected scholars are known to have done in certain cases. We are saying that this principle should be extended to its logical conclusion, that the Quran should be used as a criterion to judge all hadith by, that the Quran should never be ignored in our study of hadith.

      The highly respected Shafi`i hadith scholar al-Sakhawi mentions that one of his principles for deciding between authentic and fabricated ahadith is that fabricated narrations contain the promise of extreme punishments for unimportant matters, and the promise of extreme rewards for unimportant matters. Sahih Bukhari is full of such narrations.

      Ibn al-Jawzi and Sakhawi’s principles would be applied along with various other principles, but the fact that the science of hadith can support such principles, that logic and sense (with all the fuzziness these notions contain) could be used in the authentication of hadith, is very important. You cannot reject the using of the Quran as a criterion just because there is some fuzziness within it. Fuzziness is part and parcel of the science of hadith.

      From my point of view, of attempting to seek the truth and to serve God in the best way possible, it is only a small step forward and instate the new principle that all hadith should be judged by the Quran.

      You imply that the fact that hadith affects our understanding of the Quran means that we cannot use the reverse process, of having the Quran affect our understanding of hadith. My understanding is the opposite, that each helps us understand the other, and since the Quran is far more reliable, then it only makes sense to have a principle that gives precedence to the Quran.

      You said you are suspicious of Quranic interpretations of the Quran, suggesting that there can be no understanding of the Quran without hadith. At its root this is a misapplication of standards. If we can use the less reliable hadith narrations to improve our understanding of the Quran, why can’t we use some verses to improve our understanding of other verses? This is what a Quranic interpretation of the Quran does; the meaning of the verses are considered in light of other verses. This is also my own personal process when reading and understanding the Quran.

      The Quran would probably make perfect sense even if we had no hadith narrations (though some details would be missing, such as the details of the salah and hajj); pre-Islamic and post-Islamic Arabic poetry and prose probably contains sufficient information to fully decipher all parts of the Quran that can be deciphered, and as for those parts that are too mysterious to decipher, first they are not very important toward the practice of Islam, and second cannot be perfectly elucidated with hadith, thanks to the existence of differing narrations and conflicts within them. Note that here I’m only defending the concept of interpreting the Quran using itself; I think it is an entirely valid process. It is the process I’ve followed throughout my life, and no book of tafsir has helped me significantly improve my understanding of the Quran (making me think “Wow, I was completely wrong about that! If it hadn’t been for that one hadith, I would have never properly understood that verse!”). The Quran is an extremely simple book, and I think it a weak defense of scholarly gatekeeping to say that we cannot understand it without hadith.

      I am not saying that hadith is useless. My thinking of the Quran is that it is the Master, and hadith is the student. The student can help us understand the Master, but in the majority of cases the Master is sufficiently lucid and eloquent to fully clarify things for us without any need to listen to students.

      I understand that the present Sunni dogma is to consider the Quran and the Sahihs of Bukhari and Muslim as part of Islam’s “canon”, and any questioning of them scandalizes most scholars (yes, there are other hadith collections, but these are the two most important ones in the thinking of our scholars).

      What is so special about hadith narrations that I should shut down my brain when reading them? Why should I be forbidden from questioning them and using the very same methods of the scholars of hadith to decide for myself what is true and what is false?

      I wholeheartedly reject the view of hadith scholars that they have acquired some type of special knowledge from their studies so that mere mortals like me cannot be allowed to use their brains when reading the Sahihs of Bukhari and Muslim because they themselves have done my thinking for me. They want me to act like a container for them to pour their conclusions into my head without questioning.

      There is nothing magical about the science of hadith, and at its roots it is meant to rely on sense and logic. I and Ghazali have every right to use our own brains when dealing with hadith, and we have every right to reject those narrations that insult our intelligence, even if a thousand scholars before us have accepted them.

      4. The matter of abrogation is extremely important when considering several matters that decide the fate of Islam for the foreseeable future. The problem is not abrogation itself, but the abrogation mindset, the type of thinking that ignores the Quran in favor of hadith, considering them somehow equal, and even allowing hadith to overrule the Quran. For lack of a better word, I will call this abrogationism.

      I will need further thinking and study to be entirely sure whether abrogation is really the root of the problem (like it currently seems to me) or a symptom. It seems to be the root, because even a single case of allowing hadith to overrule the Quran creates a precedent that can entirely corrupt our view of Islam, putting hadith and Quran on the same footing, and crippling our capacities of questioning and using logic, because scholars pretend that any such use of our brains is heresy.

      Establishment scholars defending the Bedouin killer using evidence from hadith is a good example of this type of thinking, and it is everywhere within the Islamic tradition. I don’t know if abrogation was used in their arguments for defending that killer, that is not relevant. What is relevant is that they thought they could use evidence from hadith without regard for any conflict that might exist with the Quran. This is a common type of thinking, it is not a rarity, and in my view it is a corruption of Islam by the hadith-focused priesthood.

      I have the right to attack them as a priesthood, because they use their large volumes of work to pretend that religion is outside the grasp of ordinary people, that they themselves must be the gatekeepers, that we are not allowed to question, that only they themselves are allowed to question.

      That’s Judaism and Catholicism. That’s not Islam.

      And again, I don’t think most scholars are guilty of this type of thinking. But there is a very loud minority that will terrorize anyone who dares to go against them.

      You do not need to mention particular examples of abrogation to youth to convince them that terrorism is OK, all that is needed is to prove to them that all scholars support abrogationism, and then to mention various hadith narrations that completely and perfectly support terrorism, and use these to prove to these youth that the scholars are misguided in their support for peace. These youth will not dig into the technicalities of abrogation, all they need to know is that hadith is just as important as the Quran, and from there the rest easily follows.

      If the generally accepted mindset among Muslims was that the Quran is the unquestionable source of authority, if the general mindset was like that of Umar in having particular verses in mind to shut down anyone who says something that goes against the Quran, then these extremists wouldn’t find it so easy to recruit youth for terrorism. Talk to any extremist and you will see for yourself, it is the abrogationist mindset, their reliance on hadith at the Quran’s expense, that defines Islam for them. I have talked to extremists who are perfectly capable of bringing up various hadith narrations and quotations from various books they follow, what they do not do, what they cannot comprehend doing, is using the Quran as a final judge of truth and falsehood.

      Again, scholars fall on a spectrum, from those who mostly focus on the Quran to those who mostly focus on hadith. The problem is the fact that abrogationism creates a type of fuzziness within Islamic thinking that makes it incapable of responding to attack. What I want to do is to remove this fuzziness, to create a simple and powerful Islam that follows the Quran first, and uses hadith as a provider of details and historical contexts. I’m not saying that by abandoning abrogationism there would never be terrorism-supporting extremists. My target is not these extremists, those who support terrorism do it for political reasons, and I already consider them a lost cause. My target is young Muslim youth who are seeking a purpose in life and seek glory by serving God through action. Such youth are fertile ground for extremist thinkers, and it is abrogation that opens the door for these extremists to convince these youth to carry out terrorism. Our scholars have already conditioned these youth to consider hadith as important as the Quran. Extremists only need to pick and choose those hadith narrations that fit their views. Our scholars disable the power of our youth to reject o these extremists, since they prohibit them from using the Quran to reject hadith. Putting the Quran and hadith on the same footing gives extremists extreme power to confuse and beguile people, while if the Quran was the undenied authority, extremists would be forced to use it to justify terrorism, except this would encourage these youth to read the Quran, and reading it, they would see that terrorism can ONLY be justified if the verses are taken out of context.

      5. The matter of the article was terrorism, that is why I focus on it. It is not my belief that Islam needs to be re-written to prevent terrorism, it is my belief that terrorism goes against Islam as I (and most respected scholars) understand it, AND (and this is the mental step that scholars do not take) that there are particular weaknesses within the Islamic tradition that facilitate terrorism. Terrorism is a symptom of Islam’s weakness and stagnation, brought about through scholarly enforcement of abrogationism and their shutting down of the Islamic traditions of skepticism and the use of logic and commons sense.

      I believe no matter what we do, there will be those who can corrupt Islam to justify what they want, and rejecting abrogation will not entirely solve this, but it will greatly strengthen Islam in responding to its critics, in attracting new people to it, and in teaching our youth to reject terrorism and other barbaric acts.

      I do not reject abrogationism because of terrorism, I rejected abrogationism probably more than a decade ago, without any regard for terrorism. My thinking at that time was focused on various things within Islam that I found unnecessary or nonsensical (such as the anti-Christ dajjal the punishment of the grave and the coming back of Jesus, which, I know, we’ve talked about before, and I know most would consider it heresy to reject these [and I do not outright reject them, but consider them questionable and thus things that we cannot know the truth about, and thus they are unnecessary for our understanding and practice of Islam–the Quran, as supported by hadith, is sufficient for our guidance. When hadith makes questionable additions, they should be considered questionable]).

      Note that I do not entirely reject abrogation. My view is that since the Quran is more reliable than hadith, no hadith should be allowed to overrule the Quran. Second, my view is that since there can never be 100% sureness regarding what abrogates what, the whole Quran should be accepted as true, that abrogation should be considered one of the hidden matters that the Quran says we will never attain a full knowledge or interpretation thereof. If this contradicts what I say in the article, I will have to rewrite the relevant parts of the article.

      6. The Quran acknowledges that there is benefit in alcohol, and the verse you mentioned (16:67) makes sense without abrogation. Let’s assume abrogation doesn’t exist. The verse is not talking specifically to believers, but to all of humanity, there are various indications of this throughout the passage, for example later on it says:
      وَاللَّهُ جَعَلَ لَكُمْ مِمَّا خَلَقَ ظِلَالًا وَجَعَلَ لَكُمْ مِنَ الْجِبَالِ أَكْنَانًا وَجَعَلَ لَكُمْ سَرَابِيلَ تَقِيكُمُ الْحَرَّ وَسَرَابِيلَ تَقِيكُمْ بَأْسَكُمْ كَذَلِكَ يُتِمُّ نِعْمَتَهُ عَلَيْكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُسْلِمُونَ (81) فَإِنْ تَوَلَّوْا فَإِنَّمَا عَلَيْكَ الْبَلَاغُ الْمُبِينُ (82) يَعْرِفُونَ نِعْمَةَ اللَّهِ ثُمَّ يُنْكِرُونَهَا وَأَكْثَرُهُمُ الْكَافِرُونَ (83)

      Verse 83 says they (the listeners) recognize God’s blessings, yet they reject them, and most of them are disbelievers. We also know from various indications that this is a Meccan verse.

      This is a verse in the Quran that’s talking about the fact that humanity enjoys certain benefits from alcohol, and says there is a lesson in this:
      تَتَّخِذُونَ مِنْهُ سَكَرًا وَرِزْقًا حَسَنًا
      The lesson to a believer today would be that both good and evil can be created from God’s blessings. While to the unbelievers who were listening, it is reminding them of the benefits that they take from God’s blessings, including the benefit, acknowledged by the Quran in another part, of alcohol.

      I know to someone who is conditioned to think of alcohol as a great Satanic evil this verse cannot be made sense of. How can the Quran acknowledge any good in alcohol? But the Quran acknowledges good in alcohol here and in another part. The Quran doesn’t deny the good, but says, in another part, that the evil outweighs the good, and in yet another part, that God forbids it.

      The verse that says do not pray in a state of drunkenness, it too makes sense without abrogation. Hadith tells us that it came before the clear prohibition on alcohol that was eventually to come, but the verse doesn’t contain any falsehood that has to be “abrogated”. There is nothing to abrogate. It is still fully in keeping with the rest of the Quran and with the historical narrative of hadith. From this case we cannot derive a rule that tells us one part of the Quran nullifies the other, but that one part of the Quran can supercede another without nullifying it. The prohibition on praying while intoxicated remains, and then a general prohibition is also instated that adds to it. It is the Quran adding to itself, there is nothing here to tell us about the Quran nullifying itself.

      So my point here is this: If we consider the whole Quran valid, then none of the verses on alcohol contradict themselves. They all make perfect sense within both the historical context, and the modern-day context.

      7. As for adultery, my thinking on it is no worse a speculation than the thinking of scholars. If Umar rejected a woman’s evidence based on the Quran’s evidence, I too can reject someone else’s evidence, even if they are alive today and watched the prophet order the stoning of someone after the Quran’s ruling, based on the Quran’s evidence.

      Since we have a more reliable source saying something, and a less reliable source saying something else that goes against it, we can follow the more reliable source. If we follow the general principle that Quranic principles should be used as one of the criteria, among the rest, for deciding whether a hadith is authentic or fabricated, then the Quran’s evidence can be used to reject stoning.

      8. You can say that I haven’t studied with respected scholars and haven’t read 50 books on the science of hadith, so I am not allowed to make any such pronouncements. But I know highly intelligent people who have done this, and who support my type of thinking, so the matter is not as clear-cut as you seem to think. I am open to education, and I do plan to never stop studying, but I trust my own mind and intelligence in recognizing the truth, and while at my current level of education I may not be able to properly defend my thesis, I know that I am close to the truth.

      I know that my thinking is fuzzy, but I also know that my mind excels at this type of thinking, at gathering data from large amounts of sources and deriving general conclusions from it.

      I know that the common attack on people like me is that we are not members of the scholarly establishment, so we have no right to speak. My answer is that as a fellow lover of God and seeker of truth, I have every right to speak. I have the right to express Islam the way I understand it, and others, if they have better arguments and evidence, they are free to show them to me so that I may be guided.

      9. I do not consider most scholars to be greedy gatekeepers of Islamic knowledge, or Ghazali and Qaradawi as somehow opposite to them. I think most scholars are good and kind people and well-meaning, and I consider Ghazali and Qaradhawi as members of that group, not enemies of them, who have taken just one small step in the right direction, in promoting common sense and logic and trust in the human capacity for understanding, and in promoting the Quran as superior to hadith, which is also the sense I get from reading the sayings of such ancient authorities as Imam Malik.

      I know that I’m not a typical person. I wholeheartedly reject all what I call “holy cows”, authorities that try to shut down thinking and questioning instead of using logic and sense to counter attacks on them, and yes, there are sections among the scholarly tradition, some more than others, who think that their positions as respected keepers of tradition is sufficient for them to viciously attack well-meaning questioners. I don’t think most scholars are like this.

      If there is some truth that could prove to me that I’m wrong in considering the Quran as a criterion upon hadith then I will be happy to know about it. I don’t think my positions are revolutionary in lights of the Quran and hadith. If I’m so capable at finding truths that others are incapable of finding when it comes to other matters, it is highly unlikely that I could be wrong on this matter, but I will continue to study.

      I know that the treatment I will receive will be similar to the treatment Sayyid Qutb (in his commentary of the Quran) and Ghazali received; that they were somehow highly intelligent when it came to most matters, but somehow broken, possessed by some devil, when it came to a few very specific matters. This is not a logical or sensible position.

      10. You mentioned a slippery slope that would come about if we make the highly sensible decision of using the Quran to judge hadith. What I’m saying is that there is already a slippery slope, and we are already near its bottom.

      Abrogationism has caused Islam to become a priestly religion, where scholars viciously attack anyone who questions, anyone like me who dares to read and understand the Quran for himself instead of getting the stamp of approval of 20 scholars on my forehead.

      For the general population, abrogationism has turned Islam into a religion of ceremonies where particular acts are focused on (doing charity in Ramadan, staying up for Lailatul Qadr) and the true message of Islam, the Quran, is ignored. Friday sermons are full of mentions of how this one particular deed on this particular day will forgive 50 or 100 years of sins, or how one can spend their entire lives worshiping God and then enter the Hellfire because of one single mistake (a man was being punished in their grave because they didn’t wipe their urine properly, and the Prophet planted something on their grave to ease their suffering). And it is all in sahih books of hadith. My response to these types of statements and narrations in my mind is “What utter nonsense!”, though I try to be pious by not condemning them publicly and by giving them the benefit of the doubt.

      Criterionism would not create a slippery slope. It would simply help us reject vast amounts of superstition and nonsense that has crept into Islam, without significantly changing anything of our beliefs or laws. It would give us the power to reject stoning and to put Islamic mythology into question, things like the anti-Christ, the coming back of Christ and the punishment of the grave, things that complicate the religion and turn people away from it without adding any value.

      Daily life would go on as before, and almost all of Islamic law would stay as before. One appreciable difference would be that Friday sermons would contain more Quranic verses and fewer insults to the intelligence of the listeners.

      I don’t see how there can be any slippery slope when well-meaning people try to apply Criterionism by having stricter rules for authenticating hadith narrations. Misguided people and people with bad intentions can corrupt it, but that can be done with any version of Islam. What needs to be considered is not such people, but mainstream thinkers who seek to please God.

      Criterionism would empower such people by finally giving them a reliable, logical and sensible tool that provides guidance, general or specific, for every occasion. Anyone who advocates something unethical or illogical, or attacks Islam using something not supported by the Quran, can be defeated using the Quran, even if they can bring up narrations from Bukhari and Muslim that support their views. The Quran would be our judge on truth and falsehood, and we would carry it in our minds to judge everything by it.

      I believe this is the way of the Prophet, his best Companions and the earliest scholars of Islam, such as Imam Malik. I’m saying we should go back to this.

      11. My understanding of hadith is not whimsical. I suggest you take a look at al-Ghazali’s al-Sunnah al-Nabawiyyah (available for free online). It is a short and simple book. As he shows, there is sufficient evidence within the Islamic tradition itself to support my view, as part of the various differing views, even if there isn’t enough to conclusively prove it. You cannot reject it out of hand merely by saying I’m ignorant. Al-Ghazali and al-Qaradhawi know far more than I know about Islam, they are good people, and yet they support this view. It is unjust to simply reject it without considering it.

      I have seen how people like al-Ghazali are viciously attacked based on small technicalities, using these to prove that he is somehow a servant of the devil. My own view of humanity is that what matters most is whether someone has a good heart (قلب سليم), if they do, then regardless of their mistakes or wrong beliefs, this is sufficient for me to love them and respect their views, while reserving the right to question and reject anything they say that goes against my sense of truth.

      This is what allows me to love Salafi scholars like Ibn Baaz and Ibn Uthaymeen on the one hand, “heretics” like Sayyid Qutb, moderate reformers like Qaradhawi and Ghazali, and Christians like Newton and Tolkien.

      God is not petty. And God wants us to question. It is my duty to question everything, and I mean everything, and reject all that I find evil and abhorrent. I do not respect man-made holy cows. Scholars say it is heresy to question Sahih Bukhari and Muslim, I say it is common sense.

      It is my view that no one is above God, and since the Quran is God’s word, nothing can ever be above it. Hadith is an appendix to the Quran that shows us how the Prophet and his Companions tried to apply the Quran in their lives. Hadith has no other job besides this. Hadith is not Islam. Hadith is a version of Islam in action, and if we ever see it deviate from the Quran, we have to reject it for the sake of the Quran.

      12. I realize that I have probably contradicted myself a number of times and also contradicted what I’ve written in the article. I will have to rethink and rewrite everything to create something more consistent. One could then ask why I published this article if I’m not 100% sure of its content. Because there is nothing to be lost by publishing it, as I’m already sure of its main principles. Unlike scholars who think a single wrong word is sufficient to turn a Muslim into an infidel, I believe we should be able to sit down, question and crimethink all we can, only then we can be sure we are on a right path.

      I’m of course not 100% sure of my actions, but I’m reasonably sure I’m on the right track, while also always questioning myself and being ready to abandon a track if I find that it is going in the wrong direction.

      13. I have updated the article to remove the description of scholarly support for stoning as “stupidity”, you are right that it takes away from my message.

      Wassalam

      Reply
  2. Rawa Muhsin

    Assalamu ‘alaikum, Ikram.

    Thank you for taking the time to read my comment. I also appreciate your reply to it.

    I have follow-up comments on a number of the points raised by your reply, but I will try to focus on the main ones so that our discussion doesn’t become unnecessarily large and unwieldy.

    Before that, though, I should point out a few points about myself that I may not have stated clearly in our numerous correspondences over the last several years.

    It has been 6-7 years now that I have stopped attaching importance to the ideological or factional loyalties of scholars and writers. You might remember that over 8 years ago I was more or less a formal Salafi (in the modern and common sense of the word), with the usual loyalty baggages that come with that mindset.

    That means I was overawed with certain individual scholars (I was an Albani groupie) whom I thought were the only real criteria for judging other scholars and writers, I was preoccupied with refutations, and I was obssessed with the minutiae and technicalities of what they call aqeedah (which I now consider mostly useless), using the latter to approve or reject any personality if they were to stray from any one element of what was understood to be orthodoxy within general Salafi thinking.

    But that mindset more or less ended around 7 years ago. Since then I have been progressively more open to taking and benefiting from any and all people, no matter what their background or loyalties, no matter what their religion or intellectual orientation. What I have cared about for these last 7 years have been ideas and knowledge, rather than who is presenting that knowledge and to what background they belong.

    I believe it has been a while now that this new mindset has almost reached its extreme, so that now any book by any writer whose subject matter interests me enters my reading list without giving any consideration to the loyalties of the writer (as opposed to their academic background which is important for the quality of the material they have written). If Satan had written a book I would want to read it.

    So I can identify with you when you state that you love or admire various different personalities with noticeably different backgrounds and philosophies.

    The first reason why I mentioned all of this was so that you don’t misunderstand my intention when I advised against fixating on Ghazali’s book on hadith. It is not because Ghazali was in someway ‘unorthodox’ or whatever, as that has no significance for me at all now. My point was rather somewhat academic.

    If you want to accurately judge Ghazali’s book and determine its significance in the field it is better to attempt this against a background knowledge of traditional Sunni hadith scholarship. Once you have a good grasp of the orthodox understanding then you can more accurately judge in what aspects Ghazali’s work differs from the traditional understanding and whether he is justified in holding that position.

    That is why I personally have no qualms about reading his book. It is actually misleading for me to say that I have no qualms about it. I not only have no qualms about reading orientalist literature on the Qur’an and hadith but I am actually looking forward to a detailed study of it and have a form of enthusiasm for it. If this is my attitude towards orientalists you can be certain that my attitude towards a Muslim scholar is much more welcoming.

    But currently I have many reading projects ahead of me, and that is why I will postpone reading his book to some time in the future. Moreoever, I would like to read it in the context of a wider project of studying hadith, starting with traditional orthodox Sunni writings, then examining these ‘alternative’ views, and then embarking on orientalist literature. I believe this approach would be more fruitful for me.

    The second reason why I mentioned all those personal details above was to focus on something I noticed from your writing both in the original post and in your reply. It seems the major problem you notice in the people around you is not that they use abrogation too much, but rather that they focus on hadith too much and give almost no attention to the Qur’an. You see undesirable consequences from this mindset, and you are tackling it through an attack on abrogation.

    This is related to my personal details above because for a certain period of my life I lived like this. I know how it is like for a person to have their mind fixated mostly on hadith, and not only hadith but also the sayings and actions of the companions and their successors, and even later people including scholars and those who are mysteriously tagged as ‘righteous’ so that their sayings and actions gain a certain degree of respectability and authority such that the average Salafi takes them as a source of inspiration and methodology for their daily life and beliefs.

    All of this is given considerable attention while the Qur’an sits quietly at the back, perceived more or less as a repetitive and informationally limited book that has nothing more to offer than a few fiqh rulings, descriptions of heaven and hell, and some stories of old nations, most of which are repeated countless times so that the book doesn’t seem to offer much guidance apart from a few obvious lessons that everyone assumes they already know (لا يعلمون الكتاب إلا أماني).

    I have lived this mindset and I know what it is like to be both inside this mindset and then to look at it from outside. This has allowed me to maintain a balanced position, between fixating on hadith and ignoring the Qur’an on the one extreme, and fixating on the Qur’an and ignoring hadith on the other extreme.

    And I have had countless arguments about these issues with a number of Salafi acquaintances over the past several years, always stressing the importance of focusing on the Qur’an rather than taking as criteria the sayings and actions of companions, successors, and scholars, or even focusing mostly on hadith while being oblivious to the Qur’an (giving it attention only in matters of tajweed and qira’ah). Not to mention how many countless arguments I have had with them about not taking being partisan when it comes scholars and writers and not blindly following certain speakers in dissing other speakers and writers (such as Sayyid Qutb) and shunning them based on this.

    And it is ironic that if I were to even now argue with a person with the above mindset I would be presenting many arguments that are in many ways similar to those you have mentioned here (as I have been doing for the last several years with a few people), but now since I see you going towards the opposite end of the extreme I have to shift my attention and focus in the opposite direction to focus on the points in your view that I disagree with.

    In light of all this I write the following comments.

    I still think your characterization of abrogation as the root of the problem is unjustified, both from an academic point of view and from a reality point of view. The reality point of view is what I mentioned in my first comment regarding whether in reality it is abrogation that extremists use to justify their actions, or whether it is their misquotation of ayat and hadith to justify their ends. I believe that abrogation (per se) doesn’t play a significant role in this matter in real life. It is possible that one cause of the problem is that these people do not give enough attention to the Qur’an and instead focus on hadith and sayings of companions and scholars, but this has nothing to do with abrogation.

    From the academic point of view I think you are conflating abrogation with specification (taqyid and takhsis). As an example, the command to fast is a general command issued to all Muslims, young and old, male and female, sick and healthy, at home and on travel. But then extra revelation (whether in Qur’an or in hadith, in this case in the Qur’an itself in the subsequent ayah) ‘specifies’ or limits this command and excludes a few members of society from the obligation (like the sick and the traveller). This is not abrogation per se (though some classical authorities from the first few generations called it thus linguistically) but rather it is a form of making exceptions to a general command or statement. This is rampant throughout the Qur’an and hadith and there is no denying it.

    So perhaps what you sometimes specify as abrogation rather falls under this category, and hence in my view you become even less justified in rejecting a certain hadith narration based on this apparent conflict.

    As an example, the Qur’anic command that a nafs is for a nafs is a universal command that includes all types of people in all types of scenarios. But then this command can be limited in scope by other ayat and ahadith. In Surah Nisa in a discussion of the hypocrites the ayah talks about killing them if they are to turn away (فإن تولوا فخذوهم واقتلوهم حيث ثقفتموهم). So if this command is applied on a particular munafiq (for charge of treason, let us say) and he is killed, will the executioner of the munafiq have to be killed back so that the ‘nafs for nafs’ ayah is still upheld? Apparently not. Hence we have a Qur’anic exclusion to the nafs for nafs principle.

    It is well-recorded in the seerah that the Prophet ordered the killing of a poet in Madinah who was spreading anti-Islam propaganda (I believe his name was K’ab ibn Lu’ai). This guy hadn’t killed anyone, but he was still executed. There are a number of other similar cases as well. Was the nafs for nafs ayah applied here? No. So there we have another exception. In fact any form of capital punishment in Islam or executions ordered by the Prophet that were not due to a murder committed by the person in question would constitute an exception or limitation to the ‘nafs for nafs’ ayah.

    In light of all this it should become less shocking and repugnant if there was a statement of the Prophet specifiying that a Muslim is not killed for a kafir, or that a father is not killed back if he kills his son. I am not defending these two particular positions currently as I haven’t studied them in depth to settle my position on them (even Ibn ‘Uthaimin, I remember, more or less rejected the latter, though stressing that its isnad had issues).

    My point is not with these two particular examples, but with the general principle. If specification or limitation of general commands and statements is ubiquitous throughout the Qur’an and hadith, why should we accept some of them but have qualms about certain others? So in reality the issue is not that the hadith goes against a Qur’anic command, but rather that we are not ‘comfortable’ with the specification that the hadith introduces in that particular case.

    I am still highly suspicious about the criterionism position, mainly because of its elasticity and indeterminate nature. Some of the examples you mentioned further feed my suspicion, and I shall comment on them briefly to illustrate my point.

    How do the numerous and well-narrated ahadith about the punishment of the grave go against the Qur’an or against logic? What exactly is the point of conflict between these and the Qur’an so that we can say we reject them based on this conflict? The ahadith not only do not go against the Qur’an, but the Qur’an actually contains an almost direct reference to the punishment of the grave (in the discussion of the punishment of Fir’aun and his ilk: النار يعرضون عليها غدوا وعشيا ويوم تقوم الساعة أدخلوا آل فرون أشد العذاب, cf Surah Ghafir).

    The same applies to the coming back of Jesus. How exactly does this conflict with the Qur’an? There are detailed discussions on both sides (those who affirm and those who reject) of the linguistics of the ayat regarding his ascent to heaven, so that at the most it can only be said that they are inconclusive (though I may not agree with this). If they are inconclusive about it and the well-reported ahadith add extra detail and inform us that he didn’t in fact die and will in fact return, then what exactly is the conflict here on the basis of which we can claim to reject the ahadith?

    In fact there is an interesting ayah which fits very nicely with the ahadith, and that is the one in Surah Zukhruf when talking about Jesus (وإنه لعِلْمٌ للساعة فلا تمترن بها), both in the canonical reading of the word عِلْم (with a kasra under the ‘ayn and a sukoon on the lam), and especially in one of the unorthodox (or shadh) versions of it where it is explicitly عَلَم (with a fat-ha both on the ‘ayn and on the lam).

    The same discussion applies to the dajjal. The Qur’an itself describes a fantastical and unnatural event that occurs near the end of times, and that is the mysterious dabba that comes out of the earth and speaks (saying that ‘for sure people have been uncertain about our ayat’). My gut feeling is that if this was only found in a hadith and not mentioned in the Qur’an you would reject it because it sounds too fantastical, but since it is in the Qur’an you would hold back and accept it as true. If that is the case with the dabba why and on what basis should you reject the authentic narrations about the dajjal? For my part I don’t believe you are justified in claiming that they go against the Qur’an.

    As a quick side note, I am still a bit puzzled as to why exactly these three points (grave punishment, return of Jesus, and dajjal) have become so contentious in recent times. I still cannot figure out what the big deal is.

    Then there are the ahadith about certain good deeds being rewarded with disproportionate rewards. This has clear precedent in the Qur’an as well. If a single night can be better than a thousand nights (cf Surah Qadr), and if God can transform all the bad deeds of the person simply if they repent and do good deeds (cf Surah Furqan, if we take a literal interpretation of the ayah), and if God’s mercy is unimaginably wide and human life extremely short to be able to do enough good deeds to earn jannah, then it becomes understandable that God in His mercy and favor has facilitated for us several ways through which we can multiply rewards and have our sins forgiven, and hence it should come as no shock that saying a certain dhikr a certain number of times will issue you a 100 rewards, or that fasting the day of ‘Arafa cleanses the (minor) sins of the previous year, and so on. The problem only arises when preachers unintelligently present these ahadith without situating them in their proper context and the bigger picture.

    My point in mentioning all these specific examples was not to get caught up in the details and focus on the particulars. My aim was to illustrate a central point: I, as a Muslim who has a pretty decent knowledge and understanding of the Qur’an (as compared to the average), according to MY understanding of the Qur’an and MY Qur’anic image of God, I see no conflicts whatsoever between these ahadith and the Qur’an, and hence I see no reason to reject them, but rather I take them as complementary and explanatory of what is stated only briefly in the Qur’an.

    You see my point here? According to the criterionism position who is to say that I am wrong? You see the inherent unchecked relativism in this position? And to be clear, I’m not stating the above position purely as a hypothetical thought experiment just for the sake of argumentation. I do honestly believe that those examples you mentioned are quite compatible with the Qur’an.

    But if I’m saying this honestly for these examples, just imagine how easy it is to take this approach to the furthest extreme in both directions. Bring any hadith forward and at least someone will be able to present a coherent case for why it tunes in perfectly with the Qur’an and poses no conflict to it, so that the ‘criterion’ part of the criterionism position completely goes away. Likewise in the other direction whenever anyone dislikes a hadith or finds that it doesn’t ‘make sense’ to them they can claim that it conflicts with the Qur’an and hence reject it based on that.

    Note that I am not presenting a consequentialist argument here (‘since this position can lead to such undesirable outcomes we should avoid it’), but rather trying to point out that the real criterion in the criterionism position is not the Qur’an itself, but a particular person’s understanding of the Qur’an and their particular version of common sense, and this immediately turns into unchecked relativism, which renders the criterion practically useless. That is why I see it fit to call it ‘whimsical hadith rejectionism’, not as a derogatory term, but as an apt descriptive term.

    Based on the last discussion I really suspect whether you truly reject ahadith purely because they conflict with the Qur’an or because you do not like their content or find that they do not agree with the conclusions you have independently reached or find fantastical elements in them.

    I remember our correspondence regarding your book ‘Why God Allows Evil to Exist’ when you first published it (before the renovation and before rewriting it as the article on this website). In your discussion of predestination you had completely ignored all the authentic and well-reported ahadith of the Prophet, apparently because they didn’t agree with the conclusions you yourself had reached.

    But I see a fundamental flaw in this. We cannot reach all truths independently with our own thinking, simply because our knowledge databases and our reasoning processes are limited. Revelation is there to help us guide our thinking and notify us of wrong conclusions should we come to any. This doesn’t make revelation irrational, it simply points out the limited reasoning of human beings.

    But this revelation for us includes both the Qur’an and (authentic) ahadith. If you are going to disable a complete arm of this two-winged mechanism you are definitely liable to reach wrong conclusions that might appear to you to be in line with one of the arms (the Qur’an). Worse yet, you are swapping roles with the other arm (hadith) and making yourself the judge over them, so that those ahadith that do not agree with your conclusions you reject as illogical and unquranic.

    So you are effectively discarding the role for hadith, and here is why: either the hadith doesn’t agree with your conclusions, and hence you reject it as illogical or unquranic, or it agrees with your conclusions and hence you do not need it because you have already reached the conclusion yourself.

    Worse still, I think hadith and narrations from other companions and later generations will become a device for confirmation bias should the need for them arise. You mentioned the narrations from ‘Umar, Malik, and Abu Hanifa. The irony is that these narrations themselves are narrations and are subject to the same authentication process as other narrations are. It seems now that it doesn’t matter whether the narrations are authentic or not, but just because they agree with your position they become worthy of being quoted.

    On the other hand, and as you yourself mentioned in your reply regarding ahadith, narrations from these ancients are so numerous that you can often find conflicting reports from them about many matters. I could almost state with certainty that were you to trace more narrations from these figures (or others) regarding this particular topic you are very likely to find statements and actions of theirs that go against the principle you are trying to establish here, and then I assume you will have to disagree with them.

    As for the particular examples you mentioned (a Muslim killing a non-Muslim, the dog licking the utensil, the woman’s narration, and any other like them) they can all be objected to based on what I explained above, namely that the hadiths in question didn’t conflict with the Qur’an, but with that particular person’s understanding of the Qur’an, and the hadiths can actually be shown to be fully compatible with the Qur’an with a more nuanced reading of them. Additionally, these individual acts of theirs (if it can be authentically traced to them) cannot be justifiably turned into a coherent overarching methodology to employ in the process of hadith authentication.

    And even though Sakhawi’s statement by itself doesn’t constitute evidence (nor any other particular statement of any scholar, for any of us), I can assure you he didn’t have in mind things like 100 rewards for a certain dhikr or other similar sahih examples you have in mind. Perhaps you should take a look through fabricated ahadith to see how doubly fantastical and exaggerated things are down there, so that his statement is more appropriately targeted at them. The same applies to Ibn Jawzi’s statement (with the added difficulty of defining العقول).

    I do not agree that the original authentication process of hadith is as fuzzy as the criterion of using (one’s understanding of) the Qur’an to judge its authenticity. I actually think the isnad authentication process is much more digital and exact than that.

    The role of hadith (according to the Qur’an) is to clarify and complement the Qur’an, hence the default state is that yes hadith clarifies Qur’an and not the other way around. Of course I don’t deny interdependence and a two-way relationship between the two, but the original and more significant one is the explanation of the Qur’an by the hadith (as the Qur’an itself states). Furthermore, what you are suggesting here is not merely using Qur’an to understand hadith, but rather you are advocating using (one’s understanding of) the Qur’an to REJECT and DISCARD hadith, and this is a totally different matter.

    I didn’t deny the significance of intra-Qur’anic hermeneutics, and I clearly stated that I affirm its role. But I rejected the supposition that this by itself can suffice to clarify the entire Qur’an, since it can easily be misapplied to reach false conclusions, and according to the Qur’an itself the Prophet’s explanation (hadith and seerah) is needed for its understanding, that is why according to the Qur’an itself this is not a sufficient modality for interpretation.

    Hadith science is not an esoteric practice that is exclusive to the scholars of hadith, and I didn’t imply that at all. You can think of it as any other specialized field in academia. You cannot reach conclusions about issues in quantum mechanics unless if you have actually studied the field and understood the current literature about it. It is unreasonable to claim that you are entitled to have a say in it without studying it.

    The same applies to hadith science. It is not exclusive to a few special chosen people. But if you want to have an educated say in it, you actually have to study the principles and the technicalities of the field, and this doesn’t just mean whether the hadith ‘makes sense’ or not, but has a lot to do with isnad verification that requires detailed knowledge of the narrators, their relations, known ‘ilal, and lots of other technicalities. I am not suggesting it is above you or anybody else, but I’m simply asserting that to be able to have a respectable say in the matter you need to study it on its terms first.

    What I understand from your discussion of the abrogationism mindset and how it makes youth liable for the arguments of extremists is that hadith simply adds more text for the young man to catch up with and analyze, while if it was only the Qur’an that was the main text or the final judge then things would be simpler. I know you didn’t put it this way, but this is the only logical reasoning behind it that I see, and I don’t think it is reasonable.

    Just like you said that if extremists were forced to only use the Qur’an they could only quote verses out of context, so I can say that I don’t believe any authentic hadith supports terrorism and that only quoting individual hadiths out of context (i.e. without considering them in the context of all related texts on the matter) can enable the extremist to use them to deceive the youth.

    So the real issue wouldn’t be a problem with hadith, but with how much data there is for the young man to analyze to reach his conclusion, and this doesn’t constitute an argument to reject the abrogation.

    I wasn’t inferring abrogation based on the two verses on alcohol that I quoted. I simply pointed out that these do not seem to fit in the final state of affairs, and that they make more sense at a time when alcohol still wasn’t haram.

    There was a time in the past in which I was dismayed by the idea of abrogation and wanted all cited examples of abrogation to be resolved so that the concept doesn’t hold, but then over time I lost faith in the argument and concluded that it is more in line with the Qur’an itself to accept abrogation and avoid takalluf in reinterpreting the ayat in which the case for abrogation is strong.

    The two ayat about xamr I mentioned are not examples of abrogation per se, because their content isn’t nullified, but even at that time when I was trying to resolve abrogation they didn’t seem to fit in without a case for a change of ruling on alcohol in place. It doesn’t seem likely to me that God would mention as a favor something that is haram. This is different from saying that alcohol has some benefits. This is mentioning it as a favor, and it would be similar to mentioning maysir or pork or any of the various other harams as a favor. The same with the ayah about not approaching prayer while drunk. While it is technically not nullified, it really only makes sense in an earlier stage of revelation when xamr is still not haram; otherwise it now looks like a superceded command with much less applicability.

    Friday sermons have to do with the intelligence of the preacher in choosing what to talk about and how to talk about it. I myself am significantly dissatisfied with most sermons that I hear and on many occasions the only drive that pushes me to go to the Friday prayer is that it is obligatory. But I don’t see this as having a strong relation to the lack of criterionism. You can say it has a relation to that mindset wherein Qur’an is ignored and hadith and scholarly statements are given precedence, but not to abrogation or criterionism.

    I agree with your initial points regarding the superiority of the Qur’an to hadith. But I still argue that the promise of protection should agree to the general body of hadith, mainly because of the many Qur’anic statements about the Prophet’s role with regards to the Qur’an and our obligation to follow him.

    As I pointed out in my original comment if the Qur’an states that the Prophet’s mission is to CLARIFY the Qur’an for the people (وأنزلنا إليك الذكر لتبين للناس ما نزل إليهم) this means there is actually something to clarify, and that this clarification is necessary for understanding, and hence the Qur’an itself is not sufficient. And since this clarification is sanctioned by the Qur’an itself and is considered as another form of divine revelation (وما ينطق عن الهوى and others), then it doesn’t make much sense that the book itself will be preserved while the divinely-ordained and revealed explanation of it will not be.

    Excuse the length of the comment. This is the problem with written discussions. They take a lot of time to participate in, and present many obstacles to mutual understanding. But they still have their merits.

    Wassalam. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Ikram Hawramani Post author

      Assalamu alaikum Rawa,

      Thank you for the reply, you have helped me greatly in re-examining my thoughts.

      I think the main difference between you and me is in the way we view and compare the Quran and hadith. You (and traditional scholars) view them as similar books, extensions of one another, together providing with the full version of Islam.

      In my view, the Quran is a completely different thing from hadith, comparing them is like comparing mountains to horses. The Quran and hadith are both made of text, the same way that mountains and horses are made of atoms, but that is where the similarity ends. The Quran is God’s word, it is our guide in life. Islam is what happens when you apply the Quran in real life. Islam has no existence of its own, it is what you get when humans accept the Quran and apply it in their lives:

      The Quran * Real Life = Islam

      Note how there is no hadith in that picture. Where does hadith come in?

      The Quran * Real Life of the Prophet’s Time (saw) = Islam of the Prophet’s Time (Hadith)

      Hadith is nothing more than an instance of the application of the Quran in real life, done by our Prophet. It wasn’t the Prophet’s job to add to “Islam”, but to be an example to us all in the proper way of applying the Quran in real life (and he made mistakes in this regard, as documented by the Quran).

      The Prophet was nothing more than a servant of God and a teacher of the Quran, showing us how a society and culture can be created through this book’s guidance.

      Note that in this worldview, hadith has zero relevance of its own, it is always thought of as a derivation of the Quran and the Prophet’s time.

      So what’s the equation for Islam in our time?

      The Quran * Our Time = Islam in Our Time

      And where does hadith come in? Hadith provides us with an image of Islam as it was created by our Prophet, providing us with major guidance and inspiration toward properly applying the Quran in our time.

      Islam is all about the Quran, and hadith provides practical details toward applying the Quran in real life. We compare our application of the Quran to the Prophet’s application of it, and from this we are better guided.

      ==

      I don’t think the Islamic sciences bear any comparison to quantum mechanics. And I don’t think the fact that I haven’t studied the Islamic sciences has any bearing on the argument, even though I’m sure this will scandalize traditional scholars. I have a functioning brain and good knowledge of Arabic. I can read the primary sources for myself and fully understand them. All of the Islamic sciences are derivations of the Quran and hadith. They are theories created to derive general principles from these primary materials.

      What you are saying is like saying I am not entitled to talk about Plato after reading his books because I haven’t read books on Plato by other scholars that present general principles derived from his books. This is nonsensical to me, I have the right to read his books and derive my very own principles with no regard to what principles other people derive from them, and if my derivation is better than other people’s derivations, I have every right to challenge their derivations. This is what I follow when I study any area of knowledge, why should Islam be any different? And this is Criterionism, giving people the right to read the primary materials and derive their own conclusions, instead of allowing scholars to enforce their derivations on us.

      ==

      So the question is a matter of rights. The traditional view, which you support, is that understanding of this massive derived scholarly structure that we have is necessary to properly understand and talk about Islam. My view is that understanding the primary materials is sufficient. You have a deep distrust for my method, of interpreting the Quran and hadith for myself and deriving my own principles, while I have a deep distrust for the traditional scholarly view, which thinks that understanding of the derived structure is needed before one can be allowed to have their own interpretation of the Quran and hadith.

      My distrust for it comes from the fact that the scholarly tradition is a man-made derivation, but it pretends to be more than this, to somehow have a holy right to decide for the rest of the world how Islam is thought of and interpreted. I distrust pretentiousness. Scholars need to come down from their high towers and humbly admit that the entire scholarly tradition is nothing more than the work of fallible humans deriving principles from primary sources, a process that anyone with intelligence and knowledge of Arabic can follow to derive their very own principles.

      I have followed this process, and it has led me to the conclusions I have presented; that the common view of hadith is false, that the Quran is the definer of Islam, and that hadith is nothing more than a fallible tool that helps us with practical details when necessary.

      Traditional scholars present Muslims with the Quran and the books of hadith and say “Believe in all of it or you are a heretic!” Criterionism is far more humble, saying, “This is the Quran, believe in it and make it your guide in life. As for hadith, take from it what is necessary, and ignore what conflicts with your sense of justice and truth.”

      I don’t think I can convince you that Criterionism is right using particular facts and arguments, any more than I can explain why I am Muslim and convince others to become Muslim through using particular facts and arguments.

      Criterionism is what I arrive at when I take into account the Quran, hadith, human nature and history, creating my own parallel Islamic science that dares to challenge the traditional sciences, since it doesn’t respect scholarly pretensions.

      To me the Quran is the only miracle we have, the only thing we have that we cannot apply human sciences to to show that parts of it are true and other parts of it false. It is the only thing holy and sacred that we have. Everything beyond the Quran should be made subject to modern scientific methods.

      Please consider deeply what I am saying. The Quran is miraculous, so we cannot subject it to our views and interpretations, we are all subject to it, it subjugates us, since it proves its truth to us, and we have no option but to humbly submit once we have read it and decided that it is a true book. There is nothing miraculous about hadith, so we can subject it to deep skepticism like we would any other man-made book.

      The scholarly pretension is the rebellious, blasphemous view that the Quran and hadith are like gold and silver, comparable in value and equally enforceable. To me this is a massive corruption and an insult against God. There is nothing in this world like the Quran, and compared to the Quran, hadith has the importance of an ant relative to the size of the rest of the universe.

      The faith that scholars have in hadith is very similar to the faith that Christians have in the Gospels (the earliest surviving manuscripts are from about 175 years after Jesus left). The Gospels are narrations about Jesus spoken by his closest companions. The Quran praises these companions, so from the Quran’s view they weren’t evil people intent on corrupting his message. And yet, through whatever process of corruption and well-meaning correction, within less than 200 years after Jesus, he has been turned into a son of God in the Gospels, and even very good men (saints who bravely spoke the truth and opposed things like usury) vehemently defended the idea of Jesus being a son of God, and attacked those who said he wasn’t the son of God as heretics and blasphemers.

      Criterionism is the logical position that a similar process could have happened to hadith, therefore a Muslim cannot rely on hadith blindly any more than he can rely on the Gospels. The Gospels were in the hands of educated city-dwelling Christians, many of whom were literate Jewish converts. They had very good powers to copy the Gospels correctly and preserve them, and yet the corruption that happened happened.

      Criterionism doesn’t ask people to disbelieve. It tells people to be their own judges, saying that hadith is not as reliable as the Quran, so if there is something in hadith that offends their sense of justice, then they can ignore that hadith. What matters is for them to follow the Quran and the Sunnah as it helps with the application of to the Quran.

      ==

      To me this is the only intelligent and civilized form of Islam; to respect people’s right to be their own interpreters of the primary materials, and for people to have the right to disagree with hadith regardless of what scholars say. It is my belief that 99% of Islam is the Quran, perhaps more, so that condemning people because they disagree with particular narrations (while wholeheartedly accepting the Quran) is the most self-destructive thing we can do, and at its root, it is a lack of respect for the Quran and God on the one hand, and for people’s intelligence on the other.

      Once a religion asks for blind faith, condemns questioners, and requires entrance into the priesthood before intelligent discussion and disagreement is allowed, that is when it starts to stagnate and die, like Christianity has done.

      My view of Islam is like one of the Companions who loved the Quran. I would never let anyone tell me something about the Prophet that contradicts the sense I get from the Quran, and I would never let anyone define Islam for me, or tell me what I am allowed to question and what I am not, when I have all the necessary tools for having my own understanding of Islam; the Quran, hadith, my intelligence and my knowledge of Arabic.

      I guess you can call this whimsical. But believing in God and following Islam itself is whimsical. There is no demonstrable logic to it. We follow God and His religion because it touches our hearts. It is this very same heart that rebels against blind acceptance of sahih hadith.

      It is true that I would have rejected some fantastical things if they hadn’t been in the Quran. When I was a child I heard someone say that angels had wings, which I found silly and laughed at, but there is a verse in the Quran that says it. Does this prove that my capacity for logical thinking is unreliable? No, it actually proves the opposite; that my capacity for logical thinking is functioning perfectly.

      Laplace writes: “The weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim must be proportioned to its strangeness.” Hume writes: “A wise man … proportions his belief to the evidence”, and “No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish.”

      These ideas are generally shortened to the saying “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” When someone says angels have wings (or any other defined form, such as looking like a woman in see-through clothing like they are portrayed in some Western art), I reject it, unless there is an extraordinary source that backs up the claim, and in this case, there is that extraordinary source, the Quran, God’s textual miracle. The Quran, with its beauty and extreme defense of logic and rationalism, forces my rebellious heart into humble and defeated submission. I read the Quran to disprove it, it disproves my doubts.

      Since the Quran is extraordinary, its extraordinary claims can be accepted. There is nothing extraordinary about hadith, so its extraordinary claims can be rejected.

      Criterionism is the right to question hadith. Yes, it can be abused, but it will also, finally, provide doubting Muslims a way out of their misery. They can love the Quran, pray, fast and do everything else Islam asks of them, while being able to laugh at the stupidity of Friday sermons. This is the blessing I enjoy, and I want to share it with others.

      I know there is danger in Criterionism, and that it could create conflict and confusion. It would take us back to the time right after the Prophet’s death, where we have the Quran, many people with differing opinions, and a big wide world in front of us. The only miracle we have is the Quran, so that no believer is allowed to reject it, and anything beyond it is considered details and commentary, always to be doubted, questioned and re-interpreted, to ensure that the Quran’s message and principles are never lost or ignored.

      I know that your major point is that we shouldn’t reject hadith without deep study. My point is that we should all have the right to reject hadith based on nothing more than our understanding of the Quran and hadith (primary sources) and our sense of truth and justice. A Muslim child should have the right to question hadith, and if they ask an educated Muslim about something in hadith that is not in the Quran and contradicts the sense of the Quran, that educated Muslim can tell them it is not in the Quran, so there is a question mark above it, and so whether they believe in that thing or not is an individual choice. And if the child advocates that we pray six times a day instead of five (since the numbers are not clearly defined in the Quran), we will teach them that the best guidance we have defines them as five, and that we have no good reason to doubt or stray from this path.

      For matters of fiqh, that would still be left to the scholars (now helped by a renewed focus on the Quran). Instead of forcing a choice on Muslims, to either accept sahih hadith unconditionally or become infidels, Criterionism would admit the weaknesses within hadith, and leave it to them to make of it what they will, teaching people that the Quran is the book that defines Islam.

      ==

      There is no need to talk about abrogation, as I realize it is a symptom of the greater issue (of having little respect for the Quran and thinking that it is comparable to hadith). Where I say abrogationism, replace it with hadith-literalism, or Quran-abasement.

      ==

      The punishment of the grave goes against the sense I get from the Quran because it is punishment before judgment. The Quran talks about how when we die and then wake up in the afterlife, we feel like only a few hours have passed, and from there it immediately talks about judgment.

      So while there isn’t sufficient evidence to entirely reject the punishment of the grave, there is sufficient “soft” evidence to consider it highly questionable.

      As for the verse on Pharaoh, it makes far more sense to think they are already in the afterlife, and that God has caused them to wake up and shows them the fire without actually putting them in it. The verse refers to al-Naar (the Fire), which is one of the Quran’s words for the Hellfire. This verse can actually be used to disprove the punishment of the grave, since the fire involved is the Hellfire and has nothing do with the Earth and graves. So while this is a suggestive and confusing verse, and while it can be used to support the idea of punishment before judgment, the verse says that they are only shown to the Fire, and that after judgment, they will be placed into the severest punishment. If they were already being punished, what’s so special about their being placed in the actual Fire after the Day of Judgment? It makes far more sense to think that they are somehow made aware of the Fire without being punished, and that after Judgment Day is when their punishment starts, and in this way, the “punishment” of the grave is disproven, since there is no punishment until after Judgment Day.

      The same goes for the coming of Jesus. At the end of Surat al-Maa’idah, Jesus (peace be upon him) says that “when I was among them, I was a witness on [the Christians], but after you took my life, You were their observer.” (5:117). Again, this is not conclusive proof that Jesus will not come back, but it hints that Jesus had no knowledge of Christians until he wakes up on the Day of Judgment, which provides for none of the Latter Day mythology concerning him. And the fact that the Quran never alludes to him coming back is highly significant. So my Criterionist view of this is that it is a questionable thing and it is not worth talking about or using it in any form of reasoning.

      The same goes for dajjal.

      The important thing about these issues is that they are additions to Islam. From my view, as I have stated, Islam is the Quran as it is applied in real life. Narrations about these mythological things have no place within my Islam and I find them an insult to the Quran.

      You are right, God is great enough to ensure all of these things happen, and to reward and punish for seemingly the most stupid things, but the understanding of God that I receive from His miracle strongly hints at me that these things are false. The God of the Quran is extremely logical and just, while also being merciful and generous. It is extremely unjust to reward an average Muslim with 83 years worth of worship just because they once decided to stay up those nights of the year. The verse doesn’t make it clear that it is talking about reward. What we know for certain is that God is just, while the sense that is propagated by scholars regarding these nights is that these nights are a magic trick to acquire 83 years of worth of worship for a night’s work.

      So this is my problem with the various hadith narrations about punishments and rewards. They propagate the sense that Islam is full of magic tricks, while the Quran constantly presents the view that there are no magic tricks in Islam, that God looks in our hearts and will find out, through hardship and blessings, our true loyalty to Him.

      My Criterionist view is not that all of these things are false, but that we have the right to disregard them as questionable. My view is to follow the rational, just and sensible God of the Quran, not the seemingly Jewish-Christian God of hadith.

      I know that you can say all of these things can be reconciled without a need for Criterionism. This is not my justification for Criterionism.

      ==

      My view of predestination is just as before. I believe that within the confines of logic available to us, any knowledge of future decisions made by free willed agents will immediately nullify said free will. If God already knew everything that is going to happen, every big and small decision that we make, then it would turn this world into one big pointless circus. There is no logical exclusion to this, this is as simple as 1+1=2.

      My mistake was to say that this is what the truth is, while my current position is that this is the sense we get from the Quran and from all logical thought, while admitting the possibility that there are things hidden to us but visible only to God. As for what hadith says in this matter, I still entirely ignore it, because it is illogical and doesn’t agree with my understanding of the Quran. I have never heard anything but weak arguments and nonsense when scholars try to justify predestination.

      I still plan to talk about my view of free will and predestination, while reminding them that there might be things hidden to us. What I want to teach people is that they have the right to reject the predestination nonsense they hear from scholars, acknowledging its self-contradictory nature, telling them that this is a hidden matter and so it is best not to talk about it, the same it is best not to talk about answers to paradoxes like “can God create an object so heavy He cannot move it?” I want scholars to understand that any discussion of predestination immediately leads to paradox, confusion and the weakening of people’s faith, and all for an entirely worthless reason, for something that is not even in the Quran.

      ==

      The problem you mentioned of me ignoring any hadith that disagrees with my preconceived views only exists because the tradition has introduced the immense corruption of putting the Quran and hadith into the same package when they are extremely different things with different purposes. Picking and choosing would be a danger if you think of hadith as the other wing of the Islam “creature”. In Criterionism, we follow and apply the Quran in our daily lives, in our thinking and practice. There is very little need for interaction with hadith once one has learned the various practical details we take from it (how to make ablution, how to pray, the proper way to pay zakat, etc.).

      The Quran is the book that lives among us in our daily lives. Hadith is there for scholars to use in resolving intricate issues of judgment that may come up.

      Since the Quran is what defines Islam, there is no danger in “picking and choosing” hadith. Pick and choose hadith for what purpose? My entire belief system and practice is defined by the Quran, so what benefit can I get from picking and choosing hadith? The only picking and choosing I can do is what scholars already do. For example there are different narrations on praying tahajjud, I prefer to pray it in units of 4-4-3. I’m not doing anything heretical here, it is accepted within the current tradition.

      Once Criterionism is accepted, once the Quran defines Islam for us, then picking and choosing is done only in such matters of individual preference. People are free to seek out particular narrations to find Sunnah good deeds to do as they please. These deeds are already voluntary, so pick and choose all you like.

      Picking and choosing is only an issue if your Islam is derived from hadith. In Criterionism, Islam is derived from the Quran, so there is no such danger.

      You could say I would be picking and choosing in deciding to become Criterionist to begin with, since particular narrations support the view and others do not. But my position doesn’t come from evidence of hadith, it comes from recognizing the Quran’s unmeasurable superiority compared to hadith, and deriving the Criterionist principles from my observations.

      Imagine if you are a non-Muslim who knows good Arabic but who knows nothing about the Islamic sciences, and who comes across the Quran and hadith. They will read the material and try to derive general principles from it to build a cohesive vision of Islam. Would they derive the principle that the Quran and hadith are two wings of the same creature, or wouldn’t it be more sensible for them to consider the Quran as God’s miracle and the definer of Islam, and hadith as fallible supplementary materials that help toward applying the Quran?

      To me, when you approach the primary sources with a naive heart, without preconceived notions, and without respect for tradition, when you try to re-apply the process that led to the tradition we have to begin with (derivation of principles from primary sources), the vision of Islam you arrive at is Criterionism.

      Of course, it is impossible to be perfectly naive and to be perfectly free of preconceived notions, but a sufficiently intelligent person is quite capable of approaching the materials in such a manner, and others, if they do the same, can help in purifying any remnant biases, until a vision of Islam is reached that is free from any particular individual’s notions.

      This is the exact process that has been followed in interpreting Aristotle. Just a few hundred years ago in Europe Aristotle’s teachings were considered so holy that no questioning of them, or divergence from them, was allowed. But as the world progressed, the scholarly tradition ignored the derived conclusions of the rest of the scholars, and instead went back to the primary sources (Aristotle’s books) to re-derive their image of Aristotle. After decades of debate and re-examination, we have reached the present state of things, where scholars are extremely humble about any conclusions they derive from Aristotle, acknowledging the various differing views and interpretations, instead of acting like scholars just a hundred years ago, angrily defending the establishment and one single interpretation against heretics.

      To me, when we approach the Islamic primary sources in a similar manner, then the obvious, logical and rational theory of Islam that we can derive from the sources is to take the Quran as our guide in life, as our script, our entire program, and hadith as nothing more than a provider of practical details. The burden of proof is not on me to prove this view, this is the dhaahir (obvious) view, the one that, to a rational and unbiased examiner of the sources, doesn’t require proof (though I would still try to when I can). To me a rational and unbiased examiner would see that there is no comparison between the Quran and hadith.

      The burden of proof is on anyone who wants to raise the status of hadith to that of the Quran, considering it as somehow a second book that we have to follow alongside the Quran. To me this is tremendous innovation and corruption, and just because almost every scholar believes it does not affect my thinking.

      ==

      In my view,

      وما ينطق عن الهوى

      Refers to the Prophet reciting the Quran.

      As for,

      وأنزلنا إليك الذكر لتبين للناس ما نزل إليهم

      That can be considered a good support for Criterionism, because it is saying the Prophet’s job is to clarify the Quran. That’s been my point all along, that Islam = The Quran applied in real life, and the Prophet is nothing but a helper in this regard. It is not his job to build a new 3000-page Quran that we have to follow alongside the Quran, his only job is to help us apply the Quran in our lives, to be an example to us all as he himself applies the Quran. As Aisha says, “The Prophet’s manners was the Quran.”

      It is not within the scope of his job to add to Islam, to create additional material that has to be attached and pasted on Islam. Islam itself is a derivation of the Quran, and the Prophet’s only job is to be an example as he himself carries out this process of derivation.

      And since hadith is not reliable, whenever the Prophet goes out of the scope of his job to add extra things to Islam or to overrule Quranic principles, we can ignore these as questionable and potentially fabricated, regardless of the authority behind the narration. Even if Umar was alive today and told me that the Prophet said he was a son of God (which would make a 100% authentic narration, since it is Umar saying it), I will ignore him, since the Quran says otherwise. No, even if the Prophet was alive himself and said he was a son of God, I will ignore him too, even though this would be even more reliable than Umar’s saying.

      ==

      Criterionism would make sense even if all the narrations we had were 100% authentic. Imagine if this is the day right after the Prophet’s death (saw), or that the science of hadith has perfectly recreated this day for us, with all of the opinions (and memories) of the companions intact as they were on that day. Criterionism would still make sense, the idea that the Quran is the miracle Criterion and hadith nothing but a provider of practical details. The Prophet (saw) was nothing but a servant of the Quran.

      The main issue, and there might be no way to resolve it using technicalities, is in how we view the Quran in comparison to hadith. My view is that the Quran and hadith are incomparable, while the traditional view is that they are two wings of the same creature, like you mentioned. My view is that anyone has the right to read the Quran and hadith and derive their own principles from them, the traditional view is that we must study the derivations first before we can be allowed to have opinions about these matters. My view is that we can entirely ignore the derivations and still have a perfectly functional example of Islam, guided by the Quran as a miraculous Criterion and hadith as a fallible example of the Prophet’s way.

      Criterionism is something that develops over years, similar to converting to Islam. No technical detail or single logical argument makes much of a difference. But after years of reading the Quran, hadith and thinking, this is what I have arrived at. I don’t deny that I come from a family of Criterionists, supported by both Kurdish scholars and Egyptian ones. I’ve seen that our version of Islam is far better than anything else I’ve heard. It removes all the superstition, irrationalism and questionable things common among most Muslims, while keeping all the good things. We follow the Quran in all things, while considering hadith a fallible teacher that helps toward applying the Quran in life, while always reserving the right to question, challenge and debate any hadith that comes our way. We take a moderate approach toward hadith. If Sunan Abu Dawood say that the Prophet said that a woman who wears perfume is similar to a prostitute, something that speakers occasionally mention, we take these narrations as a recommendation against wearing perfume and our women moderate their use of it, but we will not take the hadith literally and talk about in a gatherings of men and women as if it is fact. A well-educated and diplomatic traditional scholar too may be very lenient toward women wearing perfume, knowing that there are many more important matters, so that instead of insulting such women with such narrations, he will instead call them to the right way with kindness and respectful words.

      But my point is this: Criterionism automatically leads to everyone being like that scholar, in preventing them from using hadith literally to attack people, since all hadith will be considered subservient to the Quran, and since the questioning of hadith will be tolerated. Criterionism, by giving us the right to question hadith, moderates our behavior. We can never take a hadith and run away with it to use it as the foundation for some important point in debate. The taking of hadith seriously becomes a voluntary thing, the best among us follow the Quran and do their best to follow the Prophet’s traditions, but in matters of debate, we limit ourselves to the Quran and its teachings.

      Criterionism promotes a just, open-minded and moderate nation that follows the Quran in its entirety, while carrying out the Sunnah voluntarily according to individual preference, and having respect for individualism as certain people accept particular narrations and others do not. This is already the state of perhaps all Muslim nations. Individuals question hadith, while scholars angrily attack anyone who does so, thus creating a disconnect between Muslims on the one hand and scholars on the other, where people silently question things all the time, while scholars loudly attack this practice. People see these scholars as comical and out of touch, and in this way their respect for Islam is diminished. But if they were taught the Criterionist teaching from childhood (like I was), they would know that they have the right to respectfully disagree with any nonsense they hear, instead of believing the current myth that one has to accept the entire Quran + Hadith package or leave Islam, which leads many people into thinking that Islam is a false religion even if it has many good points and even if most Muslims are nice and kind people. They feel there is something better than that, and since scholars fail to give them that better thing, they leave the religion in their hearts, even if they do not publicly talk about it. They will simply stop praying and stop going to Friday prayers. I’m not showing this as a justification for Criterionism, I’m just showing one of its fruits.

      This hadith-literalism invention of scholars has cost Islam people who would have been its best defenders otherwise.

      You can say that the best Muslims already do this (giving the Quran precedence) even if they follow the scholarly tradition, but the difference is that Criterionism teaches everyone to be this way (and prevents scholars and preachers from terrorizing people who disagree with them), while the scholarly tradition teaches people to be hadith-literalists. Devout Muslims manage to stay on the right path not because of the scholarly tradition, but despite it, because they use their own intelligence in examining the primary sources, secretly creating their own Criterionism in their minds, discovering that the Quran is their guide in life and that hadith is a provider of practical details and voluntary good deeds. This allows them to be respectful and moderate Muslims who never use hadith to attack or criticize people, and who silently ignore any hadith that they find irrational and against their sense of justice.

      I know that my thinking may seem fuzzy and too general, but that is also how I would sound if I were to try to justify my being Muslim. An atheist would find particular technicalities to attack, thinking that finding weaknesses in my thinking proves them right. But what I am presenting is a holistic argument that doesn’t rely on particular technicalities. I’m presenting a 40 kilobyte-long summation of gigabytes of data, any attack on technicalities has a negligible effect on the summation. An atheist can probably find weaknesses in my arguments for why I’m Muslim, the same way you can probably find weaknesses in my arguments for why I’m Criterionist, but in both cases, since my conclusions rely on vast quantities of data, these weaknesses have little effect on my general position, and I’m glad when I can find such weaknesses and fix them, which is why I’ve found atheist writers like Terry Pratchett helpful.

      Before talking about any specific details, what needs to be talked about is the foundation of Criterionism, which can be stated as: “The Quran is a miracle, hadith books are books like any other, derived from human memories of past events, and very similar to the Gospels. There is no comparison between the Quran and hadith.” If you can prove to me this is false, then we can talk about other things. But if someone accepts these as fact, then they too would be Criterionists, even if they disagree with me on specifics.

      Wassalam 🙂

      Reply
  3. Rawa Muhsin

    Assalamu ‘alaikum Ikram.

    Thank you for reading my reply and taking the time to write your response to it. No doubt this discussion will have its effects on my own thinking.

    I have comments to make on many of your points in your last response, especially because I feel in some cases the main points of my previous reply didn’t get through properly, but I think that from your comments two main themes have emerged that seem to constitute the foundational cause of our difference of view, and beyond which any other point for discussion would be irrelevant. That is why I have decided to limit my reply this time to these two points alone.

    1) The first point is about transmission and reliability. I believe your position on the reliability of the Qur’an as opposed to the reliability of hadith is epistemically inconsistent. You unjustifiably assume the Qur’an to be wholly (or almost wholly) reliable (it doesn’t make much of a difference to state this as 100% or 99%; the point is the same). But for hadith you seem not to bother at all about reliability. You seem to ignore the fact that just as ahadith were reported by fallible human beings so was the Qur’an.

    If 10 different companions of the Prophet all reported the same saying from him, and from them 20 trustworthy followers reported it, and from them hundreds of trustworthy students all reported the same thing, this particular hadith may be more reliable than some verses of the Qur’an. If you can reject narrations like this while unquestioningly accepting the entirety of the Qur’an your position will be inconsistent and unjustified.

    You seem to imply that because the Qur’an is to be taken as a miracle (a fuzzy notion which we have already talked about in our correspondences and for which I currently see no justification) then we no longer have to look into the process of its transmission and the issue of its reliability. The Qur’an didn’t come down from heaven directly into our hands. It was reported by a few fallible human beings, less and less in number as we go back to the Prophet’s time. These same human beings also reported the hadith, sometimes in a greater number than some particular ayah was transmitted.

    If you take these mechanical issues into consideration your position for idiosyncratic hadith rejectionism becomes highly untenable. If you are ready to blindly follow an ayah the reliability of which you have no idea about while you are ready to reject a hadith reported by over 15-20 trustworthy people in each link of the chain this I see as a highly inconsistent and illogical position.

    I don’t agree that we automatically set the Qur’an in a different realm where we don’t give any consideration to the process of its transmission. Just as hadith was reported by fallible human beings with sometimes differing versions, so was the Qur’an transmitted by a limited number of fallible human beings with lots of differing versions (shrinking down through the ages as people wanted to make things more manageable). This is a very important issue for me, and one of the very few issues which can potentially make me reconsider my Islam.

    I am a person who highly prizes consistency. I am no longer clinging to the traditional Qur’an+Hadith vision of Islam because I was first exposed to that or because it is the traditional way. Perhaps the more important reason for me is the issue of consistency. I see it as inconsistent to (unjustifiably) accord a different and unquestioned status (in terms of reliability) to the text of the Qur’an while subjecting hadith (which is transmitted by the same process) to my whimsical picking with no consideration to the issue of reliability.

    If I had seen what you call criterionism as a consistent position I would probably have adapted it much earlier myself, but I have previously (and still now) considered it inconsistent and unjustified, and I see no other viable alternatives; that is why I am keeping to the version I am currently on.

    2) The second point is about inherent value. You believe that when it comes down to it the Qur’an is the only authority while the Prophet’s sayings and actions (hadith) are not an authority per se (with the obvious nuances you mentioned). You seem to consider the Prophet’s sayings and actions as only one possible ‘reading’ or ‘understanding’ of the Qur’an, such that other ‘readings’ can be as equally or even more viable, and such that we can disregard the Prophet’s ‘reading’ of it should we like to. I consider this to be false and inconsistent with the Qur’an’s message itself.

    You mentioned an extreme hypothetical scenario wherein if the Prophet himself were to come in live person and tell you something which you feel to be against the Qur’an you would reject it. Notwithstanding the intended hyperbole and the hypothetical nature of your example, this is quite disturbing. It appears that the question is not one of unreliability of hadith, but an attitude of rejecting the Prophet’s words even when one is 100% certain that he said them, just because these words disagree with one’s understanding of the Qur’an.

    The untenability of this position cannot be overstated. Any emotionally-charged criticism of it I give you would interpret as emerging from my traditionalism, but suffice it to say that this clashes head-on with the Qur’an from every conceivable angle. Quoting any particular ayah here will falsely imply that there is only one or two ayahs at stake, but something like (فلا وربك لا يؤمنون حتى يحكموك في ما شجر بينهم) should do the job.

    Here you seem to suggest that if you have a difference of opinion with the Prophet regarding your understanding of the Qur’an you would choose your own (I am hyperbolizing here just as your example itself was, but the underlying points remain pertinent). And worse still you would be doing this based on your fallible understanding of the Qur’an which enjoys no divine oversee (see below) and which has no basis but the proclaimed criterionism, a highly amorphous and vague concept of relativism which strips it of having any capability of acting as a criterion proper (as I pointed out in my previous comment).

    You seem to ignore the fact that the Prophet isn’t acting or speaking without divine supervision. All of his sayings and actions can be considered as wahyi proper just as the Qur’an is wahyi proper, because all of his actions and sayings were either directly divinely inspired, or in the very least under divine monitoring and ready for divine correction should he make the highly rare mistake that he inevitably would. Hence almost ‘everything’ from the Prophet (regarding matters of deen) is wahyi proper.

    There is plenty of evidence in the Qur’an to indicate the revelatory nature (or divine sanction) of the Prophet’s sayings and actions, and how they are mandatory upon Muslims to accept and follow just as the Qur’an itself is. If you reinterpret all of these ayat (not to mention your disregarding all of the relevant ahadith on this issue) as referring all to the Qur’an itself (which in some cases is not at all tenable) or to only meaning that this is something ‘nice’ for us as followers to do, then there is nothing more we can do to progress past this point.

    And it is puzzling how you can suggest that any rational and unbiased person approaching the Qur’an and hadith will come to the conclusion that criterionism is the most logical and true position. I certainly haven’t reached that conclusion, neither did the thousands of intelligent scholars of the past (I’m not appealing to their authority here). Either we are not intelligent (or unbiased) enough or the claim is unfounded.

    I should note that initially I placed this point first and the one about reliability second, but then I realized that you seem not to care about reliability at all and were willing to reject a hadith from the Prophet’s mouth himself, so that I thought the more important point (this one) should come second and last.

    As I noted in the beginning I have comments and clarifications about many of the other parts of your last reply, especially considering that some of the points from my previous comment don’t seem to have got through as intended, but I believe the crux of the matter rests on the two points above, so that discussing the other, minor issues is no longer relevant.

    Wassalam.

    Reply
    1. Ikram Hawramani Post author

      Assalamu alaikum dear Rawa,

      Thank you for the reply and for focusing on those points.

      To begin with, the matter at issue here is “theory of transmission”. How do we build a theory of transmission?

      One way is to read the scholarly tradition and see what scholars tells us.

      The other way is to build a theory of transmission from scratch by looking at the primary sources alone. To me, this process by itself is sufficient to prove the extreme reliability of the Quran compared to hadith. As the Quran says,

      أَفَلَا يَتَدَبَّرُونَ الْقُرْآَنَ وَلَوْ كَانَ مِنْ عِنْدِ غَيْرِ اللَّهِ لَوَجَدُوا فِيهِ اخْتِلَافًا كَثِيرًا

      This verse specifically refers to the Quran. It is asking us to read the Quran and think about it, it is not asking us to study the history of its transmission. If the Quran had become corrupted, parts of it would be from other than God (من عند غير الله), and when we accept the challenge of this verse to find contradictions in it, we will end up finding those contradictions.

      The entire strength of the Quran’s arguments come from its consistency. The Quran claims that subjecting the book to a process of pure reasoning, of algorithmic skepticism and interpretation, will prove that it is truly what it says it is, God’s uncorrupted words.

      I think the major difference between your way of thinking and mine, and perhaps the difference is genetic, is that you think technicalities overcome totalities, while I believe the opposite. The Quran says it is God’s miraculous, uncorrupted words. I read the book again and again and again, with doubt and skepticism, and the book proves to me, through its totality and not any particular argument, that it is indeed God’s miraculous, uncorrupted words. While to you, reading about technicalities (scholarly books on transmission) is more important.

      The theory of transmission I derive from hadith is the opposite; that it is mostly true, but that it is full of contradiction and unreliability. Note that we are so far ignoring the scholarly opinions, and the science of hadith, we are building a theory using purely the text, since without doing this we can never verify whether the scholarly tradition is telling the truth. We need to be able to derive our own theory then compare it to the presently accepted one.

      So the theory of transmission I obtain from the Quran is that it has reached us entirely untainted and uncorrupted, and the theory of transmission I obtain from hadith is that it is exactly what it obviously is, human memories on past events, with all of the forgetfulness and contradiction that implies. Again, please keep in mind that we are only considering the primary sources.

      So this is the theory of transmission of the Quran and hadith that I arrive at using the form and content of the texts alone. Does this fit the historical narrative? Of course it does. In the Battle of Yamamah, upwards of 700 Companions of the Prophet (saw) died who were memorizers of the Quran, and this was considered a dangerous calamity, motivating a renewed effort to preserve the Quran. What does this anecdote tell us?

      1. At that time, people thought of the Quran as a thing separate from all other things, to be protected and preserved.
      2. There was no such view on hadith.
      3. There was a massive number of Companions who were Quran memorizers.

      It is an injustice to think there could be any similarity between the transmission of the Quran and the transmission of hadith. I would hazard a guess that the effort that went into preserving hadith was only 1% of the effort that went into preserving the Quran, and that shows in the texts.

      I know that from your view this doesn’t prove much, but don’t you see that it is exactly the type of thinking we arrive at from the texts? The Quran is the driver of Islam, Islam’s only unquestionable authority, and hadith is the history of the Prophet’s application of the Quran, that no matter how reliable, cannot be 100% relied on. The death of Quran memorizers was a calamity because it frightened Islam’s leaders that there might actually be a chance that God’s words might be lost, something that up to that point had been inconceivable to them, since there was such intense focus on the Quran and so many Quran memorizers.

      You could say that the loss of those 700 might suggest that some of the Quran may have been lost, but that may have only represented one fourth of the number of Quran memorizers, sufficient to frighten Muslims that the Quran might be lost if further such battles happen.

      I think your thinking that there might be a difference between the earliest ayaat and the latest, since the earliest were only given to a few, is unfounded, because the Prophet (saw) had the opportunity to correct and re-teach the Quran to the people throughout his lifetime. It is said that the Prophet did a review of the Quran every Ramadan with Gabriel.

      To me, if one is not encumbered by scholarly prejudices, then the earliest narratives, and the thinking of early authorities, support my theory of transmission. How could Imam Malik and Abu Hanifah have the audacity to go against hadith using the Quran if they didn’t believe this? Could Ibn al-Jawzi say we could use reason to reject particular verses of the Quran?

      In my reasoning, there is a distinction between the two states of faith and disbelief that you probably didn’t notice. Criterionist arguments only make sense if you have already accepted the Quran as an unquestioned miracle. Based on what authority? Based on its own authority, its form and content. Criterionism starts with the assumption that if you are Muslim, you have already gone through this process and come out of the other end of it, with your doubts removed.

      So you see, we cannot talk about Criterionism until we have clarified the status of the Quran.

      To me, if you question the status of the Quran, then all other argument is moot. This is the matter that has to be worked on first. No argument or historical fact will prove to you the view of the Quran that I believe in (as an unquestionable miracle, and by miracle, I simply mean super-human, extraordinary, able to prove other extraordinary things, because, as Hume says, rejecting the extraordinary things it claims would be even more extraordinary).

      To me, your state (of not seeing the Quran’s extraordinary nature) is far more dangerous than Criterionism. And as a cure for this, I suggest living with the Quran, following the same process as the best of the Companions, Saeed Nursi, Nasir Subhani and Sayyid Qutb, to read at least 1/30 of it every day for years on end.

      Confusing the status of hadith with the Quran, as is promoted by scholars, is a dangerous and soul-corrupting thing. The way you and they talk about the primary Islamic texts is similar to the way (good) Christians talk about their Scripture, thinking of them as historical artifacts, instead of thinking of the Quran as a living and breathing thing.

      Before you become a believer, you naturally think of the Quran as a historical artifact. Once you have accepted the Quran, it stops being a historical artifact, it becomes God’s word, God as He walks with you throughout life, speaking to you and guiding you. If there is any falsehood in it, you shouldn’t believe in it, since it claims to contain no falsehood. And if you believe in it, you have accepted that it contains no falsehood, therefore you have accepted it as God’s words directly given to you.

      I follow Saeed Nursi, Sayyid Qutb and Ghazali’s view, that the Quran is holy, sacred and sublime, something otherworldly and beyond our touch, something to place in the heart and live with every hour of our lives. To me if you fail to achieve this, if you fail recognize the Quran as a timeless and living guide, then there is little else to talk about.

      Criterionism is to recognize the nature of the Quran as I’ve described, and then to see the inferiority of hadith.

      My example of rejecting the Prophet (saw)’s saying was to illustrate two things:
      1. As the messenger of God, God will not allow the Prophet to utter falsehood. Therefore all falsehood supposedly coming from the Prophet can immediately be rejected.
      وَلَوْ تَقَوَّلَ عَلَيْنَا بَعْضَ الْأَقَاوِيلِ (44) لَأَخَذْنَا مِنْهُ بِالْيَمِينِ (45) ثُمَّ لَقَطَعْنَا مِنْهُ الْوَتِينَ (46) فَمَا مِنْكُمْ مِنْ أَحَدٍ عَنْهُ حَاجِزِينَ
      2. Once you have accepted and recognized the Quran in your heart for what it is (God speaking to you), then no claim that goes against it will ever feel right to your heart, and so, yes, you will be able to easily reject such claims. The Prophet’s only authority comes from the Quran, so if he goes against the Quran, he has no authority.

      I can see that from a traditional perspective my example sounds like a dangerous attack on Islam. But from my position (of living with the Quran), the example illustrates obvious things that shouldn’t surprise anyone. I’m saying if a servant of the Quran insults the Quran, I can reject their saying. This is nothing revolutionary, it is just coming from a different world view than yours.

      You believe that the Prophet is inseparable from the Quran, I believe that the Prophet was nothing but a messenger, a carrier of the Quran.

      I might be demanding an impossible mental feat for someone taught by the tradition, but I do believe that my conclusions are the obvious ones if you can get beyond your submission to authorities other than God. I believe that extraordinary evidence is needed to prove that hadith has even a tiny bit of the authority scholars want to claim it has.

      My authority for my beliefs comes from the present-day Quran. At its root, it has nothing to do with history or with the Islamic areas of knowledge. I have been given God’s book and I understand it. What power is there on earth to tell me something about God and His messenger that goes against His book? To me the authority of all the Islamic scholars on earth cannot match the authority of a single verse of the Quran.

      I understand why you are still withholding final judgment on Islam (that you foresee the possibility of abandoning it), and I see it as a sign of the confusion that the scholarly tradition has introduced. The Quran is sufficient guidance for anyone with reason and a humble heart. The tradition introduces the confusion that hadith is equal to the Quran, Christianizing Islam by requiring leaps of faith and a skeptical view of even God’s own words.

      Before you think of abandoning Islam, I strongly urge you to read the Quran over and over gain to give it a chance to overwrite any corruptions and prejudices that other books may have introduced into your thinking. I don’t think reading further scholarly books will do anything for you in this regard. You are ignoring the primary authority in favor of derivations.

      I do not foresee ever abandoning Islam because I live with the Quran, and compared to the Quran, everything else has the importance of an ant compared to the size of the universe. This may sound like an exaggeration, but it is not. Since my belief is that the Quran is God’s own words, then these words are incomparably more worthy and more important than everything else, and when I become skeptical, the Quran itself removes my doubts.

      The process of becoming Muslim works in this way in my view:

      1. The Quran is read with skepticism, as a historical artifact and potentially a work of mythology.
      2. The Quran proves that it is God’s uncorrupted word, and so it is accepted.
      3. Once it is accepted, the Quran stops being a historical artifact. It becomes a book for the present day, the believer thinks of it as God’s words spoken this very day to them. God is “closer than the jugular vein”, and all of His words are as if He is saying them in our ears right this moment.
      4. The Quran becomes a living authority that overrides all other authorities. The Quran starts to reside in the heart, and no cold, calculated logic can ever override it or decrease its importance. This is the step that many traditional scholars fail to take. They entirely ignore the heart and subject the Quran to cold interpretation like a medical examiner carrying out an autopsy. There is no way to properly interpret the Quran, appreciate its status compared to hadith, and appreciate its living authority if the heart is not involved.

      To you the process of becoming Muslim starts with accepting the Quran + Hadith package and the scholarly authority behind it. To me it starts with accepting the Quran, and then using everything else as tools toward applying the Quran. There is no authority that can challenge my faith in the Quran or override its authority, because I have already accepted it as God’s words. What are humans and their works compared to God? How can I ever ignore God’s words in anything whatsoever? Islam’s only miracle is the Quran, and all of its authority is derived from it. It is utterly nonsensical to derive authority from it, give that authority to inherently unreliable hadith, then use hadith to override the Quran.

      Please recognize that this is a fundamental philosophical principle. If you have God on the one hand saying something in your ear this very moment, and a record of a million companions of the Prophet on the other hand saying something different, whose authority do you follow? I will follow God.

      The issue is that you think of the Quran as a dead book, a historical artifact to be considered with the rest. I consider the Quran a living book, a living authority among us, similar to the Prophet, an authority from God who can be relied upon and trusted whenever it says something, even if there is a huge number of other sources saying something else. The Quran cannot be overridden.

      If someone says something about Islam to you that sounds strange, and the Prophet is there for you to go and ask him about it, wouldn’t you go and do that? Today the Quran functions as that, when anyone claims something about Islam, we go and ask it, believing that it and it alone can be the final authority on the matter. The Prophet is dead and some of his message has been corrupted in hadith, but the Quran is alive.

      The hadith-supremacist view is that the Quran is dead. My view, and the views of Sayyid Qutb, Mustafa Mahmud and many others is that the Quran is alive. We believe that the Prophet was the midwife who helped birth the Quran onto the world, and after his death, the Quran went on living.

      I encourage you to recognize the possibility that questioning the miraculous nature of the Quran, thinking of it as a dead artifact, might be far more rebellious than anything I’ve said.

      I don’t consider the Prophet’s application of the Quran as only one possibility among many. I consider it the best possible application, and that no application of the Quran that strays from the Prophet’s can be correct.

      My difference with tradition is that 1. While I consider the Prophet as nothing more than a carrier and applier of the Quran, scholars consider him as something more. 2. This leads the tradition to allow the authority of the Prophet to challenge the Quran’s authority, while my thinking makes this impossible.

      I too believe that the Prophet’s actions were divinely sanctioned and that any mistakes he made were quickly corrected by further revelation.

      The problem arises from not recognizing the Quran’s status, and of confusing the Prophet’s role. The Prophet is nothing compared to the Quran, he is a lowly servant of God being given God’s words, his status and authority come from his being a messenger of God, a carrier of a message, and that message is the Quran.

      Therefore if the Prophet is ever talked about as having gone against the Quran and having defied any of its principles, then that can automatically be rejected as a fabrication, or a misunderstanding of a listener, or something the Prophet said or did before the applicable Quranic verses were revealed.

      You seem to believe that there is some magic in work in the transmission of hadith that protected it from corruption. I believe that there is no magic, that the text speaks for itself, proving that there is much corruption and contradiction in it (similar to the Gospels), while the Quran proves that there is magic in it, or at least, that humans managed to transmit it with extraordinary integrity, since that is what its form and content prove.

      I understand the concept that the Prophet’s actions can be considered revelation (wahyi). I reject it since I believe that the simpler principle (the obvious one) is that all of the Prophet’s actions can be considered derivations of wahyi, and that wahyi is the Quran. The Prophet’s divine inspiration is the Quran, he cannot do anything beyond it, and if he did, more verses of the Quran would be brought down to correct him.

      So there is a difference on what we consider valid channels of wahyi. You follow the traditional/hadith view that the Prophet received extra textual guidance from God independent of the Quran. I follow the view that the Quran was the only means of textual communication between God and the Prophet, and that Gabriel would provide additional guidance only to help the Prophet apply the Quran (such as in teaching him how to pray, or in reviewing the Quran with him). The Prophet was like a small child in front God, God would send His words (Quranic verses) to him via his servant Gabriel, and the servant would help the Prophet when necessary, but the thing that was never, ever, ignored was that everything the Prophet was supposed to do was meant to be a derivation of wahyi, a derivation of the Quran. The Quran is the full record of God’s speech with the Prophet. You are saying it is not.

      You can challenge this using particular hadith narrations, but I’m sure other hadith narrations can be found to support it, and the Quran supports it. Do you know a single verse in the Quran that admits that God spoke laws and principles to the Prophet through channels other than the Quran?

      It admits that the Prophet received divinely inspired dreams in a few instances (such as seeing himself entering al-Masjid al-Haram while he was in Madina and the pagans had control of Makkah, and before the Battle of Badr, God making the Prophet see the enemy’s army as smaller than it really was.). These dreams are merely God creating feelings and ideas in the Prophet for His own purposes, only later to be acknowledged by direct communication in the Quran.

      We also have ahadith qudsiyyah (God’s supposedly non-Quranic spoken words), such as those narrated in Sahih Bukhari. Almost all of these narrations can be explained as the Prophet simply paraphrasing the Quran or speaking about God as he understood Him in order to teach the listeners. It is natural that, with the reverence that the Companions had for him, these words would be given a status higher than mere paraphrasing. These ahadith cannot be used to prove any general principle. All such narrations can be explained as paraphrasings, while also not forgetting that all hadith is subject to doubt.

      I know you can say I’m using my own whims to accept and reject whatever fits my thinking, but what I’m actually doing is deriving principles from the Quran and subjecting hadith to them, instead of deriving principles from hadith and subjecting the Quran to them. I support a Quranic interpretation of hadith, rather than a hadith interpretation of the Quran. When hadith goes out of the scope that the Quran defines (the Prophet as a carrier and applier of the Quran and nothing more), I consider it suspicious, among the shubuhaat, meaning that it should never be used to derive principles or laws, even though we can often not be 100% certain it is false.

      I do not deny that God was present during the Prophet’s life and affected matters as He wanted, but I reject the idea that these can be considered addenda to Islam. God’s formal communication with the Prophet, the one from which all of our principles and beliefs are derived, is the Quran. I reject the view, or at least consider it highly suspicious and unprecedented, that there existed the Quran and there also existed mini-Qurans floating around, of God speaking to the Prophet and guiding him in matters of principle and belief without putting it in the Quran. The is illogical and non-obvious and requires extraordinary evidence to prove it. To me the Quran is complete and doesn’t need supporting Qurans. To you it is incomplete.

      You and the tradition think that hadith represents the “second Quran”, the recording of God’s “other” speech with the Prophet as He told him to do certain things that are not found in, and are unsupported by, the Quran. I wholeheartedly reject this idea. Hadith is not a second Quran, it is a record of the Prophet’s efforts to apply the one and only Quran.

      It is a non-obvious view to think of hadith as an extension of the Quran. The obvious is to think of it as a record of the application of the Quran. It is a non-obvious view to think there was speech other than the Quran between God and the Prophet. The obvious is to think of the Quran as the only speech.

      In both of these, extraordinary evidence is needed to prove the hadith-supremacist position, and there is no such evidence. Hadith is inherently unreliable and unmiraculous, so it cannot prove anything extraordinary.

      If you use hadith to create a derivation of the Quran that supports the hadith-supremacist view, and I use the Quran to create a derivation that rejects the hadith-supremacist view, which one is closer to the truth?

      You are using something unreliable to color your understanding of the reliable thing, while I use the reliable thing to color my understanding of the unreliable thing. Which one is closer to the truth?

      We can argue about the question of reliability, but at its root this is a matter of the heart. I accept the Quran’s status as a miracle, because I have read it and it has touched my heart, and from there, I fully trust God’s power to preserve it. I reject hadith’s status as an extension of this miracle (which is the Trojan Horse that hadith scholars use to put hadith into the Quran’s sanctuary), because the Quran is my only true authority, and it doesn’t support this idea. There is no need to mix a miracle with a human work and make a big mess out of Islam from this like our scholars have done. It is far more sensible to place the miracle above all else, to make it our living and speaking authority that no scholar is allowed to question, deny or override, similar to the way the Prophet would be if he was still among us.

      Once you accept the Quran as God’s speech directly given to you, it will always be in the foreground, and anyone that says something that goes against it is like a Companion saying something that contradicts what the Prophet says. If the Prophet is there to ask, why rely on his Companions? And if the living Quran is there to ask, why rely on dead hadith? Hadith is a derivation of the Quran, similar to the way a Companion is a derivation of the Prophet (taught by him and guided by him), why rely on the derivation if you have the primary authority to rely on?

      Within Criterionism, individuals are allowed to question the Quran for themselves and leave Islam if they want. Criterionism is a consequence of accepting the Quran, questions on the Quran’s validity have no bearing on Criterionism’s conclusions, since it already assumes what I have mentioned regarding its status and validity. When I said questioning of the Quran is not allowed, I meant within Criterionism, since it assumes the person who follows it and wants to apply it is already wholeheartedly accepting the Quran. Therefore no one can claim to want to apply Criterionism if they question the Quran’s status along with hadith. Criterionism requires total acceptance of the Quran and skepticism toward hadith.

      To me the chains of narrations, as they apply to the validity of hadith, have little to no importance compared to the greatness of the Quran. They are very useful when trying to find proper ways of applying the Quran in life, but its authority can never override the Quran’s.

      It appears that the fundamental difference between us is that you do not acknowledge the Quran’s status as infinitely superior to hadith. Like I said, if this is not acknowledged, then there is little else to talk about.

      I do not think any truly humble and fair reading of the primary texts could lead someone to condemn my views; my views, at worst, are one valid interpretation among others. Once the Quran is accepted as God’s living word, then using it to question hadith is a simple, obvious and valid consequence.

      I think the root question might be this: Do we treat the Quran like a dead authority, to be considered and interpreted along with everything else, or do we treat the Quran like a living authority? To you and the tradition, the Quran died with the Prophet, so that no understanding of it can be had without understanding the rest of what we know about the Prophet. In this view, there is no such thing as a Quran independent from hadith. While to me the Prophet’s only job was to help the birth of the Quran onto the world, and he achieved that goal. He died, but the Quran lives, and since all other authorities and texts are dead, the Quran colors and overrides everything else. Those of us who understand the Quran and carry it in our hearts know what we mean when we say “The Quran is alive”, we have an undeniable and living authority with us, “alive” in this sense: Since it is God’s own speech, and since God is always with us watching us, the Quran is God speaking to us this very moment. It is always present, always relevant, never to be ignored, never to be forgotten. It is as if we are agents of a King who are carrying device through which the King can always speak to us. The King watches us, and we act according to His authority as it is transmitted to us through His words. Once you believe in the Quran, it is as if God is speaking them to you this very moment.

      So my view can probably be summarized as “The Quran is the authority that continued living after the Prophet died”, and more shortly, “The Quran is alive”. If you say “How could the Quran be considered an authority if it is always subject to interpretation?” I would say that if the Prophet himself was alive today his words too would always be subject to interpretation. If we weren’t sure of something, we’d go and ask him about it, the same way we can always go back to the Quran and ask it our questions. The Quran has never failed to answer my questions. Why would I rely on records when the King can speak directly in my ear? And what great ignorance and injustice to think that the King’s ever-relevant speech can be ignored in favor of records.

      You might think it is a dangerous form of fanaticism to focus on the Quran so much. But to me that’s like saying a Companion is too dedicated to the Prophet. There is no such thing as being too dedicated to God’s living authority. The more you focus on the Quran, the more moderation it creates, as it is a balanced book. Every speech of punishment is balanced by speech of God’s forgiveness and reward. Every mention of violence is balanced by calls for peacefulness, non-aggression and kindness toward others. To me there can be no such thing as a moderate and balanced Islam without extreme focus on the Quran.

      You can question the concepts I appeal to; “God’s living word”, “miracle”, “super-human”, “extraordinary”, “living”. But this takes us to the very root of faith. The only reason I am Muslim is because I believe these things about the Quran, not because I have taken any leaps of faith, but because these are the most obvious consequences of reading the Quran many times, opening one’s heart to it, living with it for many years, while also constantly questioning it. For me leaving Islam would require a greater miracle than the Quran, and I know of no such miracle.

      You can probably notice my thinking evolve from comment to comment and change focus, that is because I haven’t discussed Criterionism with anyone before, I haven’t had to gather arguments in support of it, since the concept was always obvious to myself. And of course, my thinking is evolving.

      I know that the way your mind works, you need detailed technical evidence to prove that there is any validity in my views. I plan to gather together a long list of such evidence which I believe would show to a humble reader that my views are at the very least tolerable.

      Wassalam

      Reply
  4. Rawa Muhsin

    Assalamu ‘alaikum Ikram.

    I appreciate your patience and persistence in following up with the discussion.

    I am getting a bit disheartened by continuously getting lumped with a particular group (in this case the traditional scholars) in your address. This creates the impression that I am somehow dogmatically following along with them, that I somehow have ‘submitted’ to their authority and am continuously blinded by the prejudice they have created in me, that I have raised their status to divinely inspired clarifiers of truth, and that I am not open to the possibility of criticizing or going against any of their positions.

    I would like to make it explicitly clear that I do not subscribe to this, and I do not wish to be perceived as such. This is important not just for my personal preference, but also because it affects the arguments and assumptions that are made in your reply.

    Some of the positions that I hold (or think to be likely) will make any traditional scholar want to jump off a cliff. By conflating my views with those of traditional scholars you will likely reach false conclusions about either or both of the two, and this will impede progress in the discussion.

    To make this more clear, when it comes to the Qur’an every single traditional scholar will outright proclaim that the Qur’an is entirely miraculous. Not just on the whole miraculous, but even every single bit of it miraculous. In fact you can rest assured that the traditional scholars are much more fanatical than you in considering the entire Qur’an both miraculous and ‘alive’. In fact they are so adamant and so loud about it that it often makes me annoyed and angry.

    So when I expressed my provisional view of the Qur’an I wasn’t expressing any traditional view. In fact by any traditional view this is outright blasphemy, not just ‘rebellious’. But I do not care about this. I am trying to have an intelligent and honest discussion here, which is the good thing about you, as this kind of discussion is difficult to be had with most educated people.

    Keeping that in mind, I would like to summarize what the traditional approach would be like in response to your position about hadith:

    1. The Qur’an is the miraculous and supreme word of Allah. There is no question to its reliability.

    2. The obvious conclusion one gets from the Qur’an is that the Prophet’s sayings and actions are divinely inspired/sanctioned and mandatory upon Muslims to accept and follow just like the Qur’an. We verify what the Prophet said through the prcess of authentication and scrutinizing the reliability of the chains of transmission.

    3. Point 2 is supported by narrations from the Prophet himself as well as the attitude of the Prophet’s companions and their successors and later scholars towards hadith and its importance.

    4. Therefore Islam is defined by BOTH the Qur’an AND Hadith.

    That can be presented as the traditional position, and I find it much more obvious and convincing than the criterionism thesis that you are propounding. However, I no longer fully subscribe to it, because I find it unsatisfactory and a bit unjustified, not, as you might expect, due to problems in points 2-4, but rather because of a problem in point 1, and that is the question of the Qur’an’s reliability.

    What I understood from your last reply is that because from multiple readings of the Qur’an you have ‘come to the conclusion’ that it must be from God therefore any investigation of its historical transmission becomes irrelevant, even if the data clashes head-on with your conclusion. And this is pure dogmatism and the ‘leap of faith’ which you denied.

    The point I was trying to make was that I don’t believe that it is justifiable to claim the authority and miraculousness of the Qur’an based on the subjective feelings one gets from reading it. If historical data and present reality (you have around 20-28 accepted versions of the Qur’an at the moment, and you are focusing on only one of them; historically they were closer to 100; it seems you misunderstood my point as talking about ‘earlier’ and ‘later’ ayat) indicate that the Qur’an was subject to the faltering of human memory then you cannot simply ignore this based on your subjective conclusion from reading the Qur’an. This is not logic or rationality, this is subjectivism and dogmatism.

    The reason why I am still a Muslim is that I feel there is something to the Qur’an and I find it propounding the most plausible understanding and way of life at my current level of knowledge and experience. But I cannot extend this argument and make the Qur’an ‘miraculous’. I can easily find a simpler explanation for why you consider the Qur’an to be miraculous. You might be impressed with 10-20% of it, and your brain automatically fills in the gap and drags the remaining 80-90% of it under this impression. You cannot deny the power of the human brain to do this.

    One way through which we can check these prejudices and falsify them is by cross-checking our convictions with historical and factual data. If you are going to reject the historical or the factual data based on your convictions then this simply becomes blind faith. Using the issue of finding internal conflict the way you suggested doesn’t seem satisfying to me. One can easily claim there are contradictions in the current text of the Qur’an, but you (and I) would easily come forward and offer ways of reconciling those seeming contradictions. This thing can easily be extended to hadith and one can easily reconcile anything that seems contradictory in it to remove any claim of contradiction and inconsistency in it (and hence the claim that it is mandmade or heavily corrupted).

    You could wonder that if you were raised a Hindu from childhood and kept reading the Bhagvad Gita or whatever other text of theirs daily and ended up reading it 50-100 times by the time you were your age, one can easily imagine you could have reached the conviction that it was miraculous, and your brain would do the clean-up process of doing away with their version of ‘hadith’ and reconciling what you find problematic in their ‘Qur’an’.

    When you are describing the Qur’an as alive and speaking to you from my view this be can explained in a much simpler and naturalistic way. Anyone spending too much time with a classical text can develop such an intimate relationship with it that they feel it is relevant to their daily life and ready to ‘give council’ on every matter and affair of theirs. Think of John the Savage in Brave New World and his attitude to Shakespeare (a fictional example for an observable reality). So at the bottom of it the way I see it the Qur’an is not talking to you, you are extracting meaning from it for your affairs through the process of your interpretation and linking its ayat to the various aspects of your life (which is the thing I do too, by the way, but that doesn’t lead me into considering it ‘alive’ in a supernatural sense).

    I believe individuals like Sayyid Qutb, Nasir Subhani, and Sa’id Nursi were not different from traditional scholars in their living with the Qur’an and giving consideration to its importance. I really think you should read more about the attitude of traditional scholars to the Qur’an and the importance and majesty they attach to it before you stereotype all of them with a picture that may be inaccurate. They not only made Qur’an memorization and study a mandatory condition before starting studying hadith in their circles, but the importance of the text in their lives would not fade simply when hadith entered the picture.

    Not to forget that the individuals you mentioned (apart from Ghazali) all attach much more significance to hadith and its role in Islam than you would otherwise wish. In fact I remember once reading a short treatise by Sa’id Nursi. The guy was obviously a genius and I am not arguing about that. During his discussion I noticed he filled a few pages with explaining and justifying a particular hadith’s meaning in various elaborate and ingenious ways. The only problem, though, was that in terms of reliability the hadith was a complete fabrication.

    This example was important to mention here because it can operate in the Qur’an as well. Once you consider the Qur’an to be miraculous and authoritative (based on a subjective judgment you develop from a small portion of it) you are going to justify and reconcile every single bit of it, just like Sa’id was doing with that hadith once he had believed it was authentic.

    I don’t think my ‘problem’ is getting overwhelmed with hadith and reading scholarly books, and not having a robust relationship with the Qur’an. For one thing I have had much less readings in Sunni (or in general Islamic) writings for the last few years. Most of my readings have been in non-religious topics, and the few religious writings that I did in fact read were either directly about the Qur’an or about the Arabic language, and that to only make me better understand the Qur’an.

    As for the other reason, I should point out that I read the Qur’an more than any other person that I personally know, perhaps even more than many of the people combined at once. Since the time I finished my Qur’an memorization over 3 years ago I have been revising a significant portion of it (way more than 1/30 of it) every single day until now.

    That is why I believe your assumption about the cause of my problem being the lack of a continuous daily relation with the Qur’an or being overwhelmed by hadith or traditionalism is wrong.

    In fact if I have any doubts about Islam or any reasons for considering abandoning it I don’t see them as having anything to do with traditionalism or accepting hadith so that with criterionism the problem would be solved. Nor was I amused by the suggestion that it has to do with the ‘confusion introduced by scholars’ (again, the charge of blind traditionalism) and the attempt of using this potential case as an example of support for your thesis.

    If anything is going to make me question Islam it would be the Qur’an and mostly or only the Qur’an itself. I have always considered the Qur’an the root and the head, and any particular hadith that could be potentially problematic can easily be questioned in terms of authenticity or reinterpreted in meaning, but the case is not the same with the Qur’an. The Qur’an is either totally from God (i.e. uncorrupted and wholly reliable) and hence miraculous, or it isn’t.

    If with my consistent above-the-average daily Qur’an reading (in addition to my above-the-average knowledge of classical Arabic) I still do not see the miracle then there is either something wrong with me, or there is no real miracle to be found in the first place. This is all without any consideration for historical problems and other issues. Once those other (indispensable) considerations also come into play the problem becomes much more complicated.

    Why was this discussion of the reliability of the Qur’an important and why did I initiate it in my last comment? Because it is intricately tied to the reliability of hadith. The Qur’an didn’t come down from heaven into our hands. It was handed down by those same fallible people who also transmitted the hadith. If you are going to accept their authority for one text and reject it (selectively and whimsically) for the other, then this is inarguably an inconsistent position.

    As far as I am aware of the narrations the incident of Yamama involved 70 reciters, not 700. That extra 0 makes a world of difference. In fact the sense one gets from reading the historical narrations about the Qur’an is opposite to what you conjectured. They would imply that most of the reciters got killed in those two incidents (Bi’r Ma’una and Yamama), that there weren’t many Qur’an memorizers to begin with, and that there weren’t many who would write down the Qur’an. In fact if you were to go looking for authentic narrations about individuals who had memorized the entire Qur’an or those who were involved with writing it down during the time of revelation you will have a hard time finding more than a handful or two for each of them.

    It is true that the companions cared about the Qur’an and gave it the atmost importance, but they did so with applying the Qur’an in their daily lives not with memorizing it. You know the famous (authentic) narration about how they used to memorize 10 ayahs or so and not pass them to the next 10 ayahs before applying them and learning what is in them from wisdom and knowledge. That is why you find so few memorizers of the Qur’an among the companions.

    My aim with mentioning all this is not to discredit the Qur’an or doubt its reliability, but rather to show that it is unjustified and inconsistent to gloss over the process for the Qur’an but bring it to attention with hadith, because the process is more or less the same for both.

    I wish to summarize our discussion now. What I understand to be your position regarding this issue is as follows:

    1. You start by reading the Qur’an as a historical document and potentially manmade. From your repeated skeptical readings you are driven to the conclusion that the Qur’an is miraculous. Hence it gains absolute authority and you no longer care about historical considerations regarding its transmission (even if they potentially go against your conclusion).

    2. From the Qur’an you reach the conclusion that the Prophet’s job was only to deliver and clarify what is already revealed in the Qur’an. He is not there to add anything to it which is not found in it. He is only there to elaborate some minor details of the major points already present in it. Hence the majority of the deen is the Qur’an. Hadith is only occasionally needed to elaborate some practical details.

    3. Following from point two anything from the hadith tradition which you feel to be against the Qur’an you reject, mostly on the premise that it has been falsely attributed to the Prophet. It seems you also entertain the possibility that the Prophet might really have said that, but it doesn’t matter to you because you find it conflicting with the Qur’an.

    4. The general background of your justification for rejecting any hadith is in the premise that hadith is not essential to begin with. That is why any hadith which adds details to the Qur’an (as opposed to clarifying it) is open to rejection. The other justification is when it apparently conflicts with the Qur’an. The criterion for determining the presence of conflict is one’s understanding of the Qur’an.

    On the other hand, my current view can be tentaively stated as follows:

    1. You start by reading the Qur’an as a historical document and potentially manmade. From repeated readings you start to have a sense of its likelihood to have a divine origin. This sense doesn’t extend to proclaiming it miraculous, hence you do not ignore historical and critical analysis regarding its transmission and text in re-considering and re-evaluating your provisional ‘sense’.

    2. Observing a provisional assumption about the divine origin of the Qur’an you take it as authority and keep reading it to derive a methodology for religious epistemology from it. From your repeated readings of the Qur’an you reach the conclusion that the Prophet’s job was to deliver and clarify the Qur’an to the people, and that this clarification includes everything that the Prophet said or did as regards matters of deen.

    Making a distinction between ‘clarifying’ and ‘adding to’ becomes a semantic irrelevance. From repeated readings of the Qur’an you reach the conclusion that everything the Prophet said or did was divinely inspired or at least sanctioned, and that all of it is mandatory upon Muslims to accept and follow.

    3. We determine what the Prophet said or did by examining the narrations attributed to him. We reach varying degrees of certainty in attributing the narrations to the Prophet by examining the number of chains through which a particular narration was handed down to us and the people involved in each chain. Once we reach a certain degree of reasonable doubt/certainty (that is humanly possible) that the Prophet said that, we put the saying or action of his in the wider context of the Qur’an and the other sayings of the Prophet to make sense of it all.

    This process is logical and acceptable because the Qur’an itself was handed down to us by those very same people and was subject to the same process of transmission and to the falterings of human memory. We don’t subject every single verse of the Qur’an to the process of authentication because that is neither possible nor necessary (because of the divine promise to preserve it). We subject hadith to the process because it is possible (we have chains) and because the promise of preservation extends to hadith as a whole not to every single saying attributed by anyone anywhere on earth.

    4. Islam is based both on the Qur’an AND Hadith. The Qur’an being the main program, once it is executed Hadith libraries are automatically and inevitably loaded. Without hadith the Qur’an can still be understood and applied in real life, but some of the conclusions one derives from it will be incomplete, since one is not considering the entire body of revealed knowledge to shape their conceptions fully and correctly.

    I hope that from all this it is clear that our difference doesn’t have to do with technicality vs totality or traditional dogmatism vs rationalism and free enquiry. The causes of the difference are:

    1. You assume that from reading the Qur’an by itself one comes to the conclusion that the Prophet’s sayings and actions are not essential components of the foundation of the deen and hence shouldn’t receive much attention, while I assume that from reading the Qur’an by itself one comes to the conclusion that the Prophet’s sayings and actions are an essential part of the foundation of the deen and should receive significant attention close to that of the Qur’an.

    2. You assume that since from reading the Qur’an one comes to the conclusion that the Qur’an is miraculous hence historical considerations of its transmission become irrelevant. I assume that since from reading the Qur’an one cannot reach the conclusion that the Qur’an is miraculous (any such conclusion is subjective bias) therefore historical considerations of its transmission are still relevant.

    3. Based on point 2 you assume that since hadith (unlike the Qur’an) was liable to distortion through the historical transmission therefore we can reject it any time we assume it is conflicting with the Qur’an. I assume that since the same process of transmission applies both to Qur’an and the hadith if I’m going to accept its reliability for the Qur’an I am also going to accept its reliability for the transmission of hadith (with the various nuances involved in the process of authentication).

    I believe I have stated and repeated the essential points and premises of my view enough times, and likewise I believe I have understood the underlying premises of your views. We disagree about these basic premises, hence anything else said on top of them becomes irrelevant. Thus this is my last contribution to this discussion.

    Hope you all the best.
    Wassalam.

    Reply
    1. Ikram Hawramani Post author

      Assalamu alaikum dear Rawa,

      I apologize for mischaracterizing your position and for not giving your thinking the respect it deserves. I can see that your thinking is more sophisticated than I realized.

      In answer to your reply, I have updated the abrogation part of the article to offer a more nuanced view (with all mentions of abrogation removed), now with an authentic narration of the Prophet (saw) in which he advocates for my position, to use the Quran to judge hadith, saying that we can reject those which go against the Quran.

      ==

      You are right about the Battle of Yamamah, the number of the dead memorizers was 70.

      ==

      Once the Quran proves to the reader that it is God’s word, then it follows that we can trust its promise that God will protect it. It is natural that some difference would appear among memorizers, and that others would take different ones as correct versions of the Quran. This state is not mutually exclusive with God protecting the Quran. The existence of different qira’aat doesn’t mean the Quran has been corrupted, it means we have records of multiple people’s interpretations for how the Quran should be read.

      I admit that the existence of different readings of the Quran is cause for doubt, but it is not unsurmountable. If we had different Qurans with different verses or chapters, and there was difference and confusion on which one to follow, then that would be cause for strong doubt. As the matter stands, we can be sure that the Quran was transmitted with near-perfection, as perfectly as it was possible for humans to transmit such a large body of text at that time. The Quran’s near-perfect transmission doesn’t require a miracle, it is within the realm of possibility, while its miraculous nature provides further support for its reliability.

      When I say that the question of the reliability of the Quran is irrelevant, I mean within my application of the Quran, i.e. within my Islam. I have accepted the Quran as 100% reliable, so my application of it entirely ignores the possibility of it being unreliable.

      As for the question of the Quran’s reliability as a matter separate from one’s application of it, I admit that it is an interesting matter. I am one of the few Muslims who have read Christoph Luxenberg’s powerful attack on the Quran. If someone can prove to me the Quran is false, I will be willing to abandon it. When I say the question of the Quran’s reliability is irrelevant, I mean that when I read Luxenberg’s attack, do I stop praying for a while until I find refutations for his attack? Of course not. My Islam remains internally the same, questions on the Quran’s reliability are outside of it.

      So all of my thinking regarding Islam, its principles and laws, assumes the 100% reliability of the Quran, similar to the way of the scholars. I am willing to entertain questions on the Quran’s reliability, I will even read entire books on it, but this doesn’t affect my Islam. The Quran is a boolean variable to me; it is either true or false. Questions on its reliability can switch the variable from true to false, there is no mid-way value, and until that switch happens, my Islam internally will assume the 100% reliability of the Quran.

      ==

      As for the reliability of hadith, it is sufficient to think that it is not 100% reliable. This is something acknowledged by many scholars, for example ahaadeeth al-ahaad, authentic but singular narrations (that do not have support in the Quran or in the wider context of hadith), are treated with skepticism by scholars of fiqh and not used as a basis for legal principles, even if they are in the books of Bukhari and Muslim.

      The hadith landscape is very different from the Quran landscape, and I believe most scholars would agree. You are of course free to derive your own theory for how different the two landscapes are.

      To me, while the Quran is a boolean variable, hadith has various degrees of truth and falsehood, so that while within my Islam there is no question on the Quran’s reliability, skepticism toward hadith can be tolerated.

      ==

      I do not believe hadith is unimportant. What I believe is that the Quran’s primacy must never be forgotten, and that logic and rationalism must be used to judge hadith, even those that are authentic. All hadith must be judged within the context of the Quran. To simply state the difference, I support skepticism toward authentic hadith, many fiqh scholars also support it (to varying degrees), while hadith scholars generally deny that such skepticism can be allowed.

      ==

      Again sorry for not being more respectful. Your position makes sense, and of course there are millions of intelligent people who submit to something similar. I believe that both of our positions should be tolerated and people should be free which one they subscribe to.

      Wassalam

      [Edit: Corrected Luxenberg’s name.]

      Reply

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