Minatory hadith against liars in tradition; the 'qussas'. Hadith as a study. — Method of Muslim criticism. — The categories of hadith. — Ibn Kaldun's verdict on tradition. — Modern criticism by Muslims.

WE have examined some of the influences which were at work during the formative period of Islam, and seen how they have all left their mark on tradition. It now remains to review briefly the criticism of hadith by Muhammadans themselves. It is quite impossible here to attempt to give a résumé of the opinions formed by the principal Arabic writers. In general, perhaps, it may be said that, like most Oriental authors, without feeling themselves in any way bound to take into account the trustworthiness of their sources, they used the hadith literature as a quarry from which to extract whatever they considered relevant to their purpose. Some writers who were not afraid to subject the canonical literature to some sort of criticism will be noticed.

The two judgments which Muhammadans themselves have passed on hadith have been admirably summarized by Dr. Nicholson: 1 'While every impartial student will admit the justice of Ibn Qutayba's claim that no religion has such historical attestations as Islam — laysa li-ummatin mina 'l—umaini asnadun ka-asnadihim — he must at the same time cordially assent to the observation made by another Muhammadan:

1 A Literary History of the Arabs, London, 1907, p. 145.


"In nothing do we see pious men more given to falsehood than in Tradition" (lam nara 'l-salihina fi shayin akdhaba minhum fi 'l-hadition).' The latter statement was made by 'Asim al-nabil (d. 212): almost the same words are reported to have been said by Yahya b. Sa'id (d. 192); both of them were active nearly a century before the compilation of the first corpus of canonical tradition. Al-Zuhri is reported to have said that the reason he wrote down hadith was because of the prevalence of traditions emanating from the East whose authenticity he denied. 1

A most significant recognition within hadith itself of the untrustworthiness of guarantors is to be found in Bukhari. 2 Ibn 'Umar reports that Muhammad ordered all dogs to be killed save sheep-dogs and hounds. Abu Huraira added the word au zar'in; where-upon Ibn 'Umar maker the remark, 'Abu Huraira owned cultivated land !' 3 A better illustration of the underlying motive of some hadith can hardly be found.

Weighty pronouncements against what was becoming a universal evil produced a reaction. Man came to see that the union of truth and falsehood might result in the overthrow of apostolic tradition. A most remarkable feature of the reaction was that the theologians borrowed the weapons of the liars. In order to combat false traditions they invented others equally destitute of prophetic authority. An extra-ordinary number of Companions are cited as witnesses

1 JASB, 1856, p. 322.

2 Kitabu-l-Said, Bab. 6.

3 Cf. Tirmidhi, i, p. 281, and MS, ii, p. 49 and the notes there (to which add Ibn Maja, Bab Qatli-l-kilabi, illa kalb saidin an zar'in). I do not find Ibn 'Umar's damaging observation on Abu Huraira in Krehl or Houdas in loc.


that the prophet said, 'Whoever shall repeat of me that which I have not said, his resting-place shall be in hell.' 1 A study of the theological systems of the world would hardly reveal a more naïve attempt to tread the siratu-l-mustaqim! Other pseudo-prophetic hadith portray Muhammad warning his people against liars who will seek to mislead the community while claiming his authority for so doing.

However, the threat of eternal damnation was not thought to be sufficient in itself to secure the community against the forgeries of the unscrupulous. The matter soon, moreover, became one of political urgency. Such chapters as we now find in the canonical traditions dealing with the merits of the heroes of the different factions of Islam had a profound influence on the popular mind. Obviously much might be done by promulgating the Fadail 'Ali,2 or, on the other hand, the Fadail 'Uthman, in a province which had heard of neither. In fact, according to the express statement of Muslim, criticism of hadith owed its rise to the great dynastic struggles of the second century, when the empire was split into hostile camps, each of them supporting their pretensions by a claim to apostolic authority. Criticism of hadith was keenest in those regions where political and religious differences were most notable in the Iraq. As we have seen, it centred not on the subject-matter but on the chain of guarantors, though perhaps, since Orientals are the best judges of Oriental mentality, the result was very

1 Cf. Muir, LM, 1912, p. xxxvi. The saying is to be found in all collections.

2 The hadith extolling his merits and establishing his claim to the highest place in the prophet's estimation.


much the same. Hadith was not criticized from the point of view of what was inherently reasonable and to be regarded as worthy of credence, 1 but from a consideration of the reputation which the guarantors of the tradition bore. However, the doctrine of Ijma' may have had a restraining influence on purely subjective criticism, for quite early it had been extended to cover the sphere of hadith, and what the community agreed upon was above serious questioning.

However, there was still a large circle outside the orthodox thinkers who rejected the whole system of hadith. They were not concerned to adopt those which happened to fit in with the views and doctrines of the doctors, or even with those which might fairly be held to support their own view of life. So far from being impressed by the earnestness of the traditionists who scrupulously examined the isnad, or by the halo of sanctity which had gathered round the early guarantors of tradition, the independent thinkers of the second and third centuries openly mocked and derided the system as a whole and the persons and matters named therein. Some of the most flagrant examples of these lampoons will be found in the Book of Songs, where indecent stories are cast into the form in which tradition was customarily handed down to posterity.

Nor were these careless free-lances alone in attacking the elaborate system which was being built up on the foundation of the supposed utterances of the prophet. Popular as such literature was among savants and

1 I except, of course, the great philosophical historian Ibn Khaldun, who expressly says, 'the rule for distinguishing what is true from what is false in history is based on its possibility or impossibility,' quoted by Nicholson, LHA, p. 438.


vulgar alike, a more serious enemy to the orthodox entered the field. The many mutually contradictory traditions coined to establish dogmatic and legal points were intolerable to contemporary philosophers, who eagerly seized upon the hadith which had been discredited by the conscience of Islam. The presence of folk-lore and fable whose heathen origin was well known to the learned could not but excite contempt, and the hadith which were borrowed direct from Jewish Haggada and Christian legend were especially vulnerable to attack. Their presence is deprecated by speeches attributed to the prophet in other hadith, and Ibn Qutaiba boldly throws them overboard. As Ibn Khaldun says, the Arabs were an ignorant race, with no literary nor scientific knowledge, and when they wished to probe the mysteries of creation and the universe they turned for information to the Jews who had accepted Islam. These, says this learned author, were no less ignorant than the surrounding Arabs; but they brought over into Islam a mass of their own traditions, especially those dealing with the origin of the creation and with the future of the human race. Commentaries were soon filled with their stories. So great was their reputation with the Muslims that their fables and pseudo-prophetic hadith were accepted despite the fact that all proof of the speakers' veracity or the intrinsic probability of the stories were lacking. These Jews included natives of the Yaman such as Ka'bu-l Abbar (d. 32) and Wahb b. Munabbih (d. 114) and 'Abd Allah b. Salam (d. 43).

The popularity of these moralizing stories, whatever their source, among the Ascetics and Moralists, and also among the general public, has ensured them


a permanent place in Muslim tradition. Despite their vulnerable isnads, the later collectors accepted them for the sake of their valuable influence in the sphere of morals and ethics. Nemesis followed hard on this weakness, for, as we have seen, the fables were on the one hand a cause of embarrassment in dealing with the attacks of the learned; and the public on the other hand showed a marked preference for the lying and impudent inventions of the street story-tellers, the qussas, who clothed their nonsense in the garb of a canonical sanad.1 Unless the ears of the simple believer had been tickled and his curiosity stimulated by these haggadic stories the qussas could never have entered into competition with the muhaddithun. So great was the effrontery of these street orators and fablemongers that the saintly Ibn Hanbal had to flee before them.

1 The following two illustrations of the methods of these plausible rascals deserve mention, as they are not without humour, and show how incredibly credulous the ordinary ignorant Muslim was:
(a) 'The poet Kulthum b. 'Amr al 'Attabi, who lived in the time of Harun and Al-Ma'mun, collected a crowd round him in a mosque of the capital, and gave out the following hadith in the correct form "He who can touch the end of his nose with the tip of his tongue can be certain that he will never feel the flames of hell." As though a signal had been given the whole company put out their tongues to see whether they had the visible mark of those destined for Paradise.' MS, ii, p. 264. (b) 'They collect a great crowd of people round them: one Qass stations himself at one end of the street and narrates traditions about the merits of 'Ali, while his fellow stands at the other end of the street exalting the virtues of Abu Bakr. Thus they secure the pence of the Nasibi as well as the Shi'i, and divide their gains equally afterwards.' Ib., pp. 165 f.


But in matters of jurisprudence the traditionists refused to yield. On the contrary, one result of the attack on tradition was to enhance its authority, as the following hadith, which are now canonical, will demonstrate: 'Verily I have brought the Quran and along with it that which is similar thereto, yet the rich man on his throne would say, "Hold fast the Quran and its injunctions to enjoy and to refrain." But verily what the apostle of God has declared unlawful God has made unlawful.'... Again! Does any one of you suppose that God has not forbidden anything but what is contained in this Quran? Verily by God that which I have commanded, admonished, and forbidden is like unto the Quran and more than it. And God does not permit you to enter the houses of the People of the Book without their permission, nor to beat their wives and eat their fruit, provided they have paid their taxes.' Nothing could be more explicit that this assertion of the authority of the oral law enshrined in tradition.

But this position involved the giving of some sort of guarantee that traditions were authentic, and so when in the third century the compilation of the canonical collections was begun, a systematic selection of trustworthy traditions — trustworthy, that is, in the uncritical estimation of the collectors—became an integral part of the science of tradition. Inquiries were made as to the character of the guarantors, whether they were morally and religiously satisfactory, whether they were tainted with heretical doctrines, whether they had a reputation for truthfulness, and had the ability to transmit what they had themselves heard. Finally, it was necessary that they should be


competent witnesses whose testimony would be accepted in a court of civil law. 1

In Muslim's day the great importance of hadith, as a study in itself, was clearly recognized, for we find in his collection2 the saying: 'Verily this science3 is a religion: take care on whose authority you receive your religion.' There are also the solemn words: 'The isnad is a matter of religion; and were it not for the isnad any one could say what he pleased' (laula-l-isnadu laqala man sha'a ma sha'a): in other words the isnad was regarded as a protection against forgery and invention, as it well may have been with the religiously-minded Muslims. Muslim himself evidently does not feel comfortable about the selection he has made from the content of Muhammadan tradition. He tells us on the authority of Ibn Sirin that 'people used not to ask questions about the isnad, but when dissension (fitna)4 broke out they said, "Tell us the names of your authorities." So the ahlu-l-sunna were scrutinized and their hadith received, and the ahlu-l-bida' were scrutinized

1 JASB, 1856, p. 53.

2 Bab Al Isnad min al Din.

3The 'Science of Tradition' determines what is to be understood by a saying or action of the prophet which forms the subject of tradition. It is defined in the Dictionary of Technical Terms..., ed. A. Sprenger, Calcutta, 1862, p. 27, thus: 'The science of tradition is that science by which the sayings and doings of the prophet of God are known. As to his sayings, they are in the Arabic tongue, and consequently he who is unacquainted with Arabic is unable to acquire this science. It may be something said by itself or in a context, metaphorical or literal, general or particular, absolute or qualified, explicit or implicit, and so on, according to the rules of Arabic….As to his doings, they are the things which he did of himself, whether he commanded us to follow him therein or not, as for example, actions which he did naturally or out of some individual characteristic.'

4On the double meaning of this word see Bukhari, Kitabu-l-Saum.


and their hadith were not received.' In the same chapter he mentions that traditions — which the context suggests were in some way suspicious — were received as genuine because the people who reported them were notoriously pious Muslims.

He adds the exceedingly important note that in his day the traditionists (allul 'Ilm) frequently suspected reporters of tradition, but that they did not feel it incumbent upon them to expose their faults and to give a decision against them, except where serious interests were involved. He strongly deprecates this carelessness on the ground that false hadith constitute a standing menace to Islam He urges that the utmost pains should be taken to brand such traditions false and unworthy of credence, and he has only contempt for those who, knowing that traditions are weak, willfully repeat them in order to be accounted learned and pious. 'He that thus treads the path of knowledge has no part in it, and ought to be called ignorant rather than learned,' says Muslim.

The three categories into which all traditions were divided were sound (sahih), fair (hasan), and weak (da'if). One of the great differences between the collections of Bukhari and Muslim1 was that the former refused to regard hadith mu'an'an as standing in the same category as those which contained words like 'I heard' or 'I saw' the Prophet of God, or 'So-and-so informed me'. Unless some word implying personal contact between two guarantors was used in a tradition Bukhari maintained that Islam could not apply it to establish any law. To him and to rigorists in tradition

1 Supra, p. 32.


all other traditions were at the best a sort of apocrypha. It rather looks as if Muslim, when he attacks an anonymous contemporary (ba 'du 'l-muntahali 'l-hadith min ahli 'asrina) and asserts that the expression 'an implies personal contact unless there is direct evidence to the contrary, has Bukhari in mind. He accuses his opponent of inconsistency on the ground that there are several hadith mu'an'an which are accepted as genuine, e.g. Hisham 'an abihi. In this and similar cases, he argues, it would be ridiculous to suppose that there was no personal contact between the two men, and to refuse to regard the tradition as genuine.

The classification of traditions, is a highly technical pursuit, and a new terminology had to be evolved to indicate the numerous kinds of tradition current in the Muhammadan world.

The Muslim doctors' view of tradition, as given by Al Jurjani (d. 816), is both detailed and clear, and is substantially the same as that which has always prevailed among his co-religionists. He says with good reason that the text of a tradition is rarely taken into account, and that criticism is confined to the isnad, He accepts the three categories given above, and defines and subdivides them at length thus:

1. Sahih or sound tradition.

musnad. A tradition which is supported by authorities resting on the prophet.

muttasal. With a continuous uninterrupted isnad. If it does not go back to the prophet it is said to be mauquf stopped.

marfu'. Carried back and attributed to the prophet; i.e. it may be muttasal or mauquf.

mu'an'an. Linked by the word 'from' instead of a word implying personal contact.


mu'allaq. Suspended with the name of a guarantor or more missing. If the name is missing from the middle it is munqata'; if from the end it is mursal (v.i.).

fard. Unique; peculiar to one district. Sometimes it means peculiar to one reporter, in which case it may be weak.

mudraj. One which has been glossed or interpolated by one of the first reporters.

mashhur. Well known, and from many reporters.

gharib. Resting on the authority of only one person.

'aziz. Resting on the authority of two or three persons.

musahhif. Badly written either in respect to the name of a guarantor or with a variant reading in the matn.

musalsal. With a chain going back to the prophet containing the formula 'I heard' and so on.

2. Da'if or weak.

mauquf. Stopped short of the prophet, and therefore no legal proof.

maqtu'. Cut off. Emanating from the 'Followers as to their sayings and doings. Not a legal proof.

mursal. A saying of the Followers that the prophet did or said so-and-so.

munqata'. Severed, i.e. a link is missing.

mu'dal. One or more names missing, e.g. a statement of Malik that Muhammad said.

shadh. At variance with another well-tested tradition.

munkar. A weak tradition at variance with another weak one.

mu'allal. With a hidden fault or inconsistency.

mudallas. With a hidden fault: either personal intercourse is falsely claimed between guarantors, or the name of one has been intentionally disguised by means of an appellative.

mudtarab. Deranged by verbal inconsistencies with another tradition.


maqlub. One known to have come from a person other than the one named.

maudu. Supposititious; hearsay which may be truth or mere invention.

3. Hasan or fair tradition is that which stands midway between genuine and weak. It may be either genuine or false. It is fair because nothing is known against the character of its reporter, and because it can sometimes be supported by other evidence.

The reader will probably agree with Al Jurjani's saying that 'further examination into the distinction of names, titles, epithets, and degrees appertaining to the science would be a lengthy matter', and be content with a perusal of these and the other technical terms given in the appendix. 1 As an example of the application of this systematic criticism the following extracts from Abu Daud may be of interest: 2

'Dies ist ein verwerfliches (munkar) Hadith, niemand anders hat es überliefert als Yazid al Dalani von Qatada . . . Abu Dawud sagt: Ich habe das Hadith des Yazid al Dalani dem Ahmad b. Hanbal vorgelegt, er hat mich aber hart zurückgewiesen, weil er es als krasse Fälschung betrachtete, er sagte: Was hat Jazid . . . unter den Genossen des Qatada zu suchen, hat er sich ja nicht um Hadith gekümmert!...

'Dieses Hadith ist nicht stark (qawi), Muslim b. Khalid ist schwach (da'if)... Ein schwacher Gewährs-

1 Much information is to be found in the Dictionary of Technical Terms used in the Sciences of the Musalmans, ed. A. Sprenger, Calcutta, sub The Science of Tradition, and in his article in ZDMG, x, 1856, pp. 1—15, Über das Traditionswesen bei den Arabern. See also Edward E. Salisbury, Contributions from Original Sources to our Knowledge of the Science of Muslim Tradition, in JAOS, vii, 1862, pp. 60—142, to whom I owe the foregoing.

2 Abu Daud, Cairo, 1280, 1, p. 20, quoted in MS, ii, p. 251.


mann, beide Hadithe sind falsch (wahm) . . . nach einem Isnad: Al Hajjaj 'an Al Zuhri. Dies ist ein schwaches Hadith, Al Hajjaj hat den Zuhri nie gesehen und nie von ihm gehört, auch Ja'far b. Rabi'a hat den Zuhri nie gesehen, dieser hat nur schriftlich mit jenem verkehrt.' (p. 197.)

The importance and value of the examination of the isnad is obvious. By impugning the bona fides of a guarantor – the process was called jarh or ta'an, i.e. wounding the reputation – thousands of untrustworthy traditions were eliminated from the canonical collections. On the other hand, if the subject-matter (matn) contained an obvious absurdity or an anachronism there was no ground for rejecting the hadith if the isnad was sound. This is the reason why there are so many hadith of a contradictory import in one and the same bab. Historical difficulties within the main could not arise when once the prophetic power of Muhammad was established as an article of faith. The existence to this day of such hadith as those quoted in Chapters V and VI can only be accounted for when the amazing credulity of the Muhammadan community is realized.

It is refreshing, after perusing these, to read the sane remarks of Ibn Khaldun1 on a subject which more than once within living memory has profoundly stirred a Muhammadan country.

'The whole body of Muslims throughout the centuries have held that at the end of the age a man of the family of the prophet must appear who will strengthen religion and make justice manifest. The Muslims will follow him, and he will gain possession of the Muslim kingdoms, and be called Al Mahdi.

1 Al Muqaddima, Beyrut, ch. 52, p. 271.


Al-Dajjal (the Antichrist) will come and afterwards the signs of the (last) hour indicated in the Sahih. Then Jesus will descend from heaven and kill Al-Dajjal; or, as some say, will descend with him (Al Mahdi) and help him to kill Al-Dajjal, and will have the Mahdi as Imam in prayer. On this subject hadith are cited as proof which the Imams have published, though there are not wanting those who deny their authenticity, often comparing them with other reports.

. . . We will now quote the hadith that bear on this matter; the objections which have been made to them; and the ground on which the objections rest. We say, then, that many of the Imams have published hadith about the Mahdi, namely, Al Tirmidhi, Abu Daud, Al Bazzar, Ibn Maja, Al Hakim, Tabarani, and Abu Ya'la al-Mausili. They carry back the traditions to many of the companions like 'Ali, Ibn 'Abbas, Ibn Umar, Talha, Ibn Mas'ud, Abu Huraira, Anas, Abu Sa'id al-Khudri, Um Habiba, Thauban, Qurra ibn Aias, 'Ali al Hilali, and 'Abd Allah b. al Harith b. Juzi. The genuineness of the isnads has often been denied, as we shall explain; but, as the doctors of hadith know, impugning (jarh) precedes justification (ta'dil). If we find any of the guarantors of tradition convicted (ta'an) of carelessness, defective memory, weakness, or lack of judgement, the soundness of the hadith is thereby adversely affected and its value decreased. If it be argued that on these grounds guarantors accepted by the authors of the Sahihan are affected (we may reply) that Ijma' has agreed to accept the works of these two writers, and public conduct ('aml) is based on their contents. Ijma' is the greatest protection and the best defence. No other work can be put in the same sure category (as the Sabihan). Nevertheless we find ground for discussion as to their isnads in what has been handed down by doctors of badith.'

Our author then proceeds to quote a long extract from the work of Al-Suhaili (d. 581) on the authority


of Abu Bakr b. Abu Khaithama (d. 279), of which we give a summary. 'He (apparently Abu Bakr) 1 says: the following hadith rests on the authority of only one companion and comes from al Iskaf:

1. The prophet of God said: "He who disbelieves in the Mahdi is an infidel, and he who disbelieves in Al Dajjal is an infidel," Now he says the same thing of the sun rising in the west — sufficient indication of exaggeration! Moreover, God knows whether he is right in carrying back the tradition to Malik. At any rate, Al Iskaf with the doctors is suspect and an inventor.

2. (a) Tirmidhi and Abu Daud publish a tradition resting on the authority of Ibn 'Abbas2 by way of 'Asim (d. 127), one of the seven readers, Zirr b. Hubaish and 'Abd Allah b. Mas'ud from the prophet. 'Though the world had but a day to exist God would prolong that day until he sent a man of mine or of my family whose name is my name and whose father's name is as my father's name.' So Abu Daud without comment. Now he says in his celebrated epistle that what is cited in his book without comment is true.

(b) Tirmidhi's version is: 'The world shall not pass away until a man of my family and of my name shall reign over the Arabs.' And elsewhere with the variant 'until a man of my family shall be in power' (wala). Both of them are hasan sahih. Moreover,

1 One cannot always determine the author of certain passages. None of the writers systematically documents his sources, and therefore the comments may emanate from our author or his primary or secondary authority.

2 Either this is a mistake for Ibn Mas'ud, as I suspect (Ibn Abbas and Ibn Mas'ud were both named 'Abd 'Allah); or, since they were contemporaries, the tradition was attributed to them both.


he relates them mauquf on the authority of Abu Huraira. Al Hakim says that Al Thauri (d. 161), Shu'ba (d. 160), Zaida, and other Imams of the Muslims relate the same from 'Asim.

The following summary of the judgements passed on the said 'Asim as a traditionist is most instructive:

Al Hakim. Sahih. 'Asim was a Muslim Imam.

Ahmad b. Hanbal (d. 241). An honest, trustworthy man; but Al-A'amash (d. 148) had a better memory; and Shu'ba, too, preferred him to 'Asim. Al-'Ajli (d. 261) did not accept his authorities (Zirr and Abu Wail) (d. 79), and regarded traditions from these men as weak.

Muhammad b. Sa'd (d. 230). Truthful, though he made many mistakes in hadith.

Ya'qub b. Sufyan (d. 288). Confused (mudtarab).

'Abd al Rahman b. Abi Hatim (d. 327). 'I said to my father "Abu Zara' says that 'Asim is trustworthy." He replied he is not.'

Ibn 'Ulayya (d. 193). All the 'Asims have bad memories.

Abu Hatim (d. 275). Trustworthy and honest in hadith, but he has not a retentive memory. Al Nasal's judgement on him is not consistent.

Ibn Hirash (?Khirash d. 322). Disapproves of his hadith.

Abu Ja'far al 'Aqali (d. 322). He had nothing but a bad memory.

Al Daraqutni (d. 385). Has somewhat to say about his memory.

Yahya b. Al Qattan (d. 198). Every 'Asim I have ever met had a bad memory. I heard Shu'ba say "Asim b. Abu Nujud told me traditions, but I kept my own opinion about them."

Al Dhahabi. As a Quran reader he was trustworthy,


but not as a traditionist, though by nature truthful. His traditions are hasan.

Ibn Khaldun remarks that if it be objected that the two shaikhs have published traditions from 'Asim, it may be replied that they have only done so when his reports have been confirmed by others; not solely on his authority. But God knows best.

The reader would only be wearied by further examples of Ibn Khaldun's exhaustive investigation of the authority for the belief in the coming of the Mahdi. But it is interesting to notice that he makes the point that there is no mention whatever of the Mahdi in Muslim's Sahib; and that of the relevant traditions elsewhere only a few are free from taint. Moreover, a tradition which can claim some measure of support credits the Prophet with the utterance, 'There is no Mahdi except Jesus the son of Mary.' 1

The extraordinary reverence in which the Sahih of Bukhari was held naturally deterred Muslim scholars from criticizing its contents. Within a century of its appearance it was hailed by a writer as the prophet's own book, and the prestige of the work grew with the advancing years. Bukhari was regarded as a saint, and pilgrimages were made to his tomb: the possession even of a copy of his book was held to be a sure protection against disaster.

Although such an exalted position was not attained

1 The Isnad given is: Muhammad b. Khalid Al Jundi from Abban b. Salih b. Abi 'Ayyash from Al Hasan al Basri from Anas b. Malik. The judgements on these are as follows: Yahya b. Ma'in says Muh. ibn Khalid is trustworthy. Al Baihaqi, it is unique. Al Hakim says the isnad occurs in different forms, mursal. Abu 'Ayyash is branded as matruk by Baihaqi; it is munqata'; in short, the tradition is da'if and mudtarab.


by Muslim and his work, yet it has always been bracketed with the Sahih of Bukhari, and they are cited as The Two Sahihs (Sahihan). But inasmuch as the ground of the authority of the Sahihan was their acceptance by the general consent of the Islamic community, and they had not been subjected to any systematic critical examination, some dissentient voices have been raised against them from the earliest times down to the present day. Like the customs they sought to authorize by appeal to apostolic custom and precept, they owe their position to ijma', not to their inherent virtue and faultlessness. Al Daraqutni (d. 385) devotes a book (al Istidrakat wal Tatabbu') to the demonstration of the weakness of many of the canonical traditions, while Abu Daud and his disciples claim for his work a higher position than that of any collection of hadith. Again Ibn 'Abd al Barr (d. 463) and Al Nawawi (d. 676) do not hesitate to assail traditions which seem to them to be contrary to reason or derogatory to the dignity of the prophet. However, though theologians down to the ninth century inveighed against particular hadith in the canonical collections, the authority of the Sahihan as the content of genuine apostolic tradition as a whole was not called in question.

Modern criticism of Tradition by Muslims.

The study of hadith and hadith-criticism in Muslim academies still continues on the lines laid down a thousand years ago, and it is interesting to see how the modern educated Muslim regards this activity.


The extracts that follow are taken from 'A critical exposition of the popular "Jihad" . . . by Moulavi Cheragh Ali.' 1

'The biographers of Mohammad and the narrators of his campaigns are too lax in enumerating the expeditions led by Mohammad. They have noted down the names and accounts of various expeditions without having due regard to a rational criticism, or without being bound by the stringent laws of the technical requirements of traditionary evidence. Consequently they give us romances of the expeditions without specifying which of them are true and which fictitious. There are many expeditions enumerated by the biographers which have, in fact, no trustworthy evidence for their support; some are altogether without foundation, and some of them are wrongly termed as expeditions for warring purposes.' The writer in a footnote adds: 'The biographers have only compiled or arranged the mass of popular romances and favourite tales of campaigns, which had become stereotyped in their time, but were for the most part the inventions of a playful fantasy.' Further, he observes (p. xxii) of Bukhari's account of Muhammad's wars in the Kitabu-l-Maghazi: 'Even the latter minimized numbers are not deserving of confidence.'

p. cii. 'It is only the Mohammadan Common Law, with all its traditions or oral sayings of the Prophet — very few of which are genuine reports2 — and the supposed chimerical concurrence of the learned Moslem Doctors, and mostly their analogical reasonings (called Hadees, Ijma, and Kias), passed under the name of Fiqah or Shariat, that has blended together the spiritual and the secular, and has become a barrier in some respects regarding certain social and political innovations for the higher civilization and progress of the nation.'

1 Calcutta, 1885, pp. xx ff.

2 The italics are mine. –A.G.


It is not our purpose to examine how the learned Indian author repudiates traditions and traditionists which do not support his own enlightened views, nor to criticize his attitude towards hadith from the same authorities when they tend to glorify the founder of his religion. But it is interesting to see how the hadith literature, and the vast structure built upon it, are viewed by the modern Muhammadan. 1

'It is only a theory of our Common Law, in its military and political chapters, which allow[s] waging unprovoked war with non-Moslems, exacting tribute from "the people of the Book", and other idolaters, except those of Arabia, for which the Hanafi Code of the Common Law has nothing short of conversion to Islam or destruction by the sword. As a rule, our canonical legists support their theories by quotations from the Mohammadan Revealed Law, i.e. the Koran, as well as from the Sunnah, or the traditions from the Prophet, however absurd and untenable may be their process of reasoning and argumentative deductions. The Mohammadan Common Law is by no means divine of superhuman. It mostly consists of uncertain traditions, Arabian usages and customs some frivolous and fortuitous analogical deductions from the Koran, and a multitudinous array of casuistical sophistry of the canonical legists. It has not been held sacred or unchangeable by enlightened Mohammadans of any Moslem country and in any age since its compilation in the fourth century of the Hejira. All the Mujtahids, 'Ahl Hadis, and other non-Mokallids had had no regard for the four schools of Mohammadan religious jurisprudence, or the Common Law.'

The same writer is even more explicit elsewhere2

1 Op. cit., pp. 158 ff.

2 The proposed political . . . reforms in the Ottoman Empire and other Mohammadan States (Bombay, 1883), pp. xix and 147, quoted by Goldziher, MS, p. 232.


'The vast flood of traditions soon formed a chaotic sea. Truth and error, fact and fable mingled together in an undistinguishable confusion. Every religious, social, and political system was defended, when necessary, to please a Khalif or an Ameer to serve his purpose, by an appeal to some oral traditions. The name of Mohammad was abused to support all manner of lies and absurdities, or to satisfy the passion, caprice, or arbitrary will of the despots, leaving out of consideration the creation of any standards of test... I am seldom inclined to quote traditions having little or no belief in their genuineness, as generally they are unauthentic, unsupported, and one-sided.'

It will have become clear how the acute reasoning of this cultured and enlightened Indian gentleman has anticipated many of the conclusions of European Orientalists. His writings are by no means alone in protesting against the authority of tradition. They are symptomatic of a force in liberal Muhammadanism which awaits the opportunity for expression in that Reformation and Renaissance many of the best minds in Islam confidently anticipate.

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