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IslamQA: The Problem with Quranism

What do you think about Quranism? (The idea that we should rely on the Quran, augmented by reason and experience, for our spiritual and ethical lives, and not the Hadith? It makes a lot of sense to me that God would want us to follow his message, with the aid of the gifts of feeling reason and sensation that he has given us, and that if he had wanted us to follow the Hadith (e.g including Muhammad in the Shahada) he would have included them in the Quran. But I appreciate this is controversial!❤️

I used to somewhat lean toward that, though I never liked complete Quranism where all hadiths are rejected. I realized that almost everything that is problematic in Islam is caused by hadith, so I supposed that if we take most of our religion from the Quran rather than hadith then that would be better for everyone. But as I learned more I realized that the traditional view of the Quran and hadith is mostly correct. 

Quranism is based on a few dishonest arguments, such as the saying that the Prophet’s traditions were merely his personal attempts at applying the Quran, meaning that we have the right to make our own attempts. This is the “channels of revelation” problem; some claim that the Quran was the only channel of revelation that the Prophet had, so that all of his own interpretations were personal interpretation attempts. But hadith tells us this is false; we have a hadith where a person asks the Prophet about a technical issue related to the pilgrimage and the Prophet receives non-Quranic revelation at that time that allows him to answer the question. This shows us that the Prophet was not merely an interpreter of the Quran; he was an *additional* source of guidance besides the Quran who received information that is not in the Quran (such as how to perform the formal prayers).

If we believe that God is all-powerful and all-knowing, then we should ask why God failed to tell us that we should only follow the Quran and that the Prophet is merely an interpreter. The reality is the opposite; the Quran tells us to follow the Prophet and to bow to his judgments.

As I have greatly increased my knowledge over the past few years, I have realized that an honest look at the situation shows us that we are required to consider the Quran our main source of guidance, supplemented by hadith wherever necessary. The Quran is perfect, hadith is imperfect. The Quran is fully reliable, hadith is only partiality reliable and very few hadiths reach the level of authenticity of the Quran.

So the honest conclusion is that we should hold onto the Quran very strongly. In this I differ from many scholars who believe that the Quran and hadith are equal. They think that the Quran and the hadith collections stand side-by-side as equal sources of guidance. My view is that the Quran stands above everything else; it should be the criterion by which we judge hadith. But the honest conclusion is also that we are required to love and abide by hadith; hadith is indispensable and irreplaceable.

Quranism is attempt to simplify the life of the Muslims by giving them a single clear source of guidance. But simplification can be bad if it is over-simplification; and that is what Quranism is. It throws out an essential part of Islam by thinking that it knows better. So I am with the traditionalist scholars in believing in holding onto the Quran and hadith, while I disagree with many of them (but not most of them, recent Azhar university scholars like Shaykh Muhammad Abdullah Draz have my view) on the importance of the Quran, since I believe the Quran is much more important than hadith.

I invite you to take an honest look at the situation. You can never be fully sure that Quranism is the right way because the “channels of revelation” question at the very least puts it in a gray area, since there is always the possibility that hadith contains additional material that we are required to have as Muslims. One can never be sure if throwing out this material is the right choice, and the justification for it (that it simplifies life, or that the Quran is the only fully reliable source) is not a good enough justification.

We should start by thinking of the fact that God is all-powerful and that He could have prevented the present situation from coming about if He had wanted, and He could have given us clear guidance that we should only follow the Quran. But He didn’t do that. So we should reflect on this choice that God has made in not telling us to follow the Quran only. By leaving the matter vague, the honest conclusion is that we required to follow both the Quran and hadith and to struggle with hadith despite its complexity and problematic aspects. This is what almost all scholars have agreed on. They too were honest and sincere humans doing their best to make sense of an imperfect situation. The struggle is not easy, but we should conclude that we are meant to have this struggle. It is a test; do we choose to throw away hadith because it is problematic and break away from the Muslim community and the scholars out of our personal desires, or do we overcome our desires, and for the sake of unity and love remain within the traditional Muslim community and go through with the struggle and prevent it from being a cause for division and hatred.

I used to have a very negative view of the intelligence of past scholars because of some their ridiculous statements that I knew about. But as my knowledge has increased, as I have benefited from dozens of Western non-Muslim sources that studied the lives and works of these scholars, my love and admiration for them has only increased.

I recommend that you humble yourself before God and admit the fact that He has put you in this imperfect situation in order to struggle with it without giving up your honesty and your principles. We have the choice to be arrogant, proud and to think that we know better than others. We also have the choice to be humble and to treat the scholars and the Prophet’s hadiths with love and appreciation. I have chosen the path of love.

And God knows best.
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6 thoughts on “The Problem with Quranism

  1. Anonymous

    Bukhari is the man that was born 200 years after prophet Muhammed PBUH. His collections are corrupted as evidence of his couple of hundred thousandth hadiths he collected he kept approximately seven thousand or so in his collection. If we had any product with such failure rate in any study, the production would never go on. Think of a car company that had such high rate of failure. The hadiths are hearsay ” I heard it from such and such” this not accurate enough to base religious law that impacts so many lives. Some of the problems in Islamic world today are based looking from religious stand point come from hadiths as you said. In some of the hadiths messenger of GOD is portrayed in most negative way. This is why enemies of Islam call him “pedophile” because of general belief that Aisha was 9 at the time of marriage. In fact she was most likely 19 y/o at the time, but this has justified child bride marriage in Muslim world. Not to mention things like views on dogs, women rights or do not wear gold or silk and the list goes on and on. I understand that to expect that hadiths can simply be kicked out will not happen so easy. To many power structures in Islamic world depend on them to maintain power over Muslim minds. I believe as a start they have to be placed in historical context and what ever goes against spirit of Quran should be discarded. Change is coming and this is the beginning where muslim take their faith back form wahabbis and coservatives. We have to join the modern world and we can not sit on the sides anymore.

    1. Ikram Hawramani Post author

      I used to think somewhat like you in the past. To address your points:
      1. Sahih al-Bukhari is not meant to be an encyclopedia of hadith. It is a selection of hadith meant to be useful for legal scholars. So it is not in any way surprising that he limited himself to only a small number of hadiths; that was his purpose from the beginning. For the details see the highly respected book The Canonization of al-Bukhari and Muslim by Jonathan Brown.
      2. You mentioned that hadiths are corrupted. There is a hadith collection known as the Musannaf of Abd al-Razaq al-Sanaani that was made before al-Bukhari. The Western, non-Muslim scholar Harald Motzki has deeply studied it using scientific methods and his conclusion is that the collection is extremely unlikely to be made up of forgeries. The hadiths show every (scientifically-accepted) sign of being authentic transmissions. For the details see: Analysing Muslim Traditions by Harald Motzki.
      Regarding Aisha’s age (may God be pleased with her) see:

      I agree that there will be reform and progress. But it will not be made through polemical and emotional attacks against hadith, but by diligent and honest-minded scholars seeking the truth, such as Harald Motzki and Miklos Muranyi. And the works of these scholars so far totally support the views I expressed above. There is no evidence for wide-spread corruption and forgery among respected scholars, and in fact the evidence (such as from Motzki’s work on the Musannaf) is extremely strong (scientifically) in support of the traditional view of hadith (that most hadiths found in authentic collections are in fact truly authentic).

      1. Anonymous

        First let me thank you for this blog.
        Lets say you are right. Also I want to say that we should not abandon hadiths it because one has to be realistic about it. Islamic world would not accept that. I also like the idea that history is being preserved. My question is how to reform it, I know its a dirty word because Muslims fear Islam will change or be corrupted. But just look at nightly news and you will see that our house is on fire. Shia vs suni, Dictators vs people. Religious establishment directly supporting the strong man. Saudi genocide against Yemen, kurdish persecutions in the countries they live in . Muslim youth joining cult, like isis. Men literally blowing them self up by the thousands thinking they dine with the prophets. Yet someone draws stupid cartoons about our prophet and we are all up in arms mostly destroying our own cities in these riots. I some countries half of population cant live their lives freely ( meaning women, other minorities). This ideology finds its legitimacy backing in these hadiths. this how wahhabis were able to corrupt suni muslims. Lets not forget they rose with the British to fight against Ottomans the last Muslim caliphate. Our lands are slaves to the masters in Washington DC and other western states. Just look at the pressure on the Palestinians to accept this current peace plan from UAE and Saudi Arabia. I could go on with these examples but to what point when we all know this truth.
        So my question is how do we reform ( can we?). How to give new meaning to these hadiths and its interpretations in a modern age.
        I believe we should no be afraid of the future. Reformist are wahabbis and literalist who fight against traditional peaceful Islam with every breath they take. Selam

        1. Ikram Hawramani Post author

          I understand and share your worries. I believe the biggest problem is not about Islam at all, but about the cultural development of Muslim countries. Saudi Arabia was able to establish Wahhabism-promoting schools in Pakistan because the Pakistani population was uneducated and ignorant, but they have had very little success in spreading Wahhabism among well-educated populations (such as Malaysians). So I am very optimistic about the spread of university education in the Islamic world (Indonesia went from having 6500 university students in 1950 to having 4.2 million university students in 2009. This is going to lead to tremendous cultural change over time.)

          As for reforming Islam and especially hadith, I believe that the best line of reform at the moment is to throw away the old idea that hadiths can only be authentic or non-authentic and instead using a numeric system that tells Muslims exactly how authentic a hadith is. I have taken the first step in creating such a system which as far as I know no hadith scholar is aware of:

          In the above essay I discuss how this method shows us the hadith prohibiting music in Sahih al-Bukhari is actually extremely weak.

          This method has led to other important results, for example in showing that ruqya for jinn-possession is not really part of Islam:

          It has also shown that the hadith that says women cannot be heads of state is relatively weak:

          If we rearrange the hadith material from the most authentic to the least authentic based on this numeric system, Muslims will be able to easily know which Islamic concepts are strongly supported and which ones are weak. The current method of considering everything in Sahih al-Bukhari to be “authentic” is extremely outdated and should be replaced by this numeric method. There are authentic hadiths in al-Bukhari that have a 95% probability of authenticity, and others are below this until there are some that have only have less than a 5% probability of authenticity. This important information has been hidden from Muslims for all of these centuries and we can now make the information available.

          Unfortunately the work of calculating the authenticity probability can easily take 5 hours for a single hadith, so the work has to be done by a large team. But at the least the method can be used to determine the authenticity of certain problematic hadiths like I have done above in order to clarify them.

  2. Anonymous

    I agree it’s more political then religious. Muslim live their faith secular or more religious and reconcile it every day. It is the leadership whether religious or non religious that needs catching up with times. Throughout 19/20th century ruling class in Arab world tried to fast to change societies and failed ( example Arab nationalism). So with such mega disappointment clergy filled the void and went too far with extremism, but still gave no answer to issues of modernity, in most cases they went against it. Not surprising failed it’s failing as witnessed on daily basis. So we got now double failures, hopefully we can learn from out mistakes and build more stable societies. This is a nice article that talks about it, who ever wants to look at it.

    1. Ikram Hawramani Post author

      Most scholars and clergy did not embrace extremism, they remained loyal to the old tradition. It was only a fringe minority in central Arabia that embraced Wahhabism. Wahhabism was only brought to Mecca and Medina in 1925 after the British-supported conquests of these cities by Ibn Saud.

      Extremism since 1980 has almost all been the result of the Pentagon plan (created by Zbigniew Brzezinski) to spread Wahhabism on the Afghan border in order to create radicals to use as cannon fodder in Afghanistan in order to get the Soviet Union to invade the country. The Saudis and the Pakistani government were strong supports of this plan. The Taliban and al-Qaeda came out of this (see America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History by professor Andrew J. Bacevich).

      Since then militant Wahhabism has only spread in countries with strong US intelligence presence, as in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and the Philippines. It is well-known by Russian analysts that the US uses Wahhabi militants as one of its main tools for creating chaos in the countries it wants. In Iraq the terrorists helped create a reason for the US military to stay there after the invasion. In Syria they helped almost bring down the anti-US-and-Israel president Assad. In Libya they helped prevent the rise of another powerful government. In Yemen they are helping fight Iranian influence. In the Philippines they are helping justify the presence of the US military right by China’s doorstep.

      So I believe it is wrong to blame anything within Islam for what is going on today. It is entirely about the big game of superpowers and ensuring the interests of the US and Israel. Militant Wahhabism just happens to be a useful tool for brainwashing uneducated and hot-headed youth to join whatever terrorist program that happens to be in the interests of the US in some country. It is well-known that both Osama bin Laden and the founder of the Philippines’ Islamic terror organization had very strong ties with US intelligence.

      Islam is catching up very well. Malaysia now produces more scientific research per citizen than Japan! Egypt, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco, Indonesia and many other Islamic countries have doubled or tripled their scientific output in just the last 10 years! This is incredible progress.

      But as long as militant Wahhabism continues to be a useful tool, it will continue to be used by the US and Israel for their interests. But there is good news here too. Russia and China are becoming more powerful and are starting to become a force that is preventing these terrorist programs from succeeding. The biggest example is Syria, where Russian intervention prevented the US-Israeli plan for turning Syria into a terrorist war zone by toppling the Assad regime. Russia and China are also strongly invested in Iran and will prevent the US from using its puppet terror organization from attacking the country (the Mujahidin-e-Khalq, which is a terrorist organization whose leaders are not only allowed to walk free in the West, they are actually celebrated and US senators actually join some of their celebrations, and the US is using Albania to host thousands of its terrorists at the moment). The US also tried to topple Turkey’s government and failed, thanks to Russian intelligence according to some sources. Russia and China are getting involved all over the Islamic countries and will likely be a strong force preventing the launch of further terrorist organizations by US intelligence.

      It is incorrect to blame Islamic scholars for what is going on. This has been almost entirely a game of politics that uses Islam because it is a useful tool. The rise of Wahhabism in the 20th century was supported by British money, and this support continued with the Americans afterwards (see Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam by professor Mark Curtis). It doesn’t matter how many anti-terror fatwas the scholars issue (as they have done, al-Azhar University has an entire center dedicated to publishing anti-terror Islamic materials from scholars). The US and Israel will be able to spread their twisted version of Islam as long as there is not another force countering this. The US is becoming considerably weak compared to Russia and China throughout the world, and Russia and China are enabling many countries to become more independent and powerful and less likely to be invaded by the US and its Wahhabi militants, and this is good reason for hoping that the days of Wahhabi terrorism may be close to an end.


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