By Muntasir Zaman
The example of the intellect is sight free of defects and illnesses, and the example of the Qurʾān is the sun with rays spread out. Hence, the seeker of guidance that dispenses with one of them in lieu of the other is most fit to be included among fools. The one who turns away from the intellect, sufficing himself with the light of the Qurʾān is like one exposed to the light of the sun while closing his eyelids; there is no difference between him and the blind. Thus, the intellect with revelation is light upon light. The onlooker with an eye blind to one of them specifically is drawn in by a deceptive rope.
– Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī (d. 505 AH)
The surge of criticisms in recent times towards supposedly problematic ḥadīths generally rest on the claim that such ḥadīths are absurd, unscientific, impossible, or contradictory. Every ḥadīth whose content is seen as problematic will have a specific explanation, for which relevant literature can be consulted. This article will highlight broad guidelines that are to be kept in mind when dealing with narrations of this nature. After some preliminary thoughts, four points will be proffered for consideration: (1) the limits of human reason and experience; (2) the importance of contextualization; (3) the usage of figurative speech; and (4) the need to distinguish between impossibility and unlikelihood. In no way are these guidelines meant to be exhaustive. As a first response, they can help to assuage the concerns of a Muslim whose conscience is constantly agitated by reading apparently problematic ḥadīths. Detailed discussions on specific ḥadīths can be offered on a case by case basis.
In numerous places in the Qurʾān, Allah calls upon humankind to use their intellect and to contemplate the perfection of His creation. He says, “And now We have sent down to you [people] a Scripture to remind you. Will you not use your reason?” In other verses, He reprimands those who do not use their intellect; “But the disbelievers invent lies about Allah. Most of them do not use reason” is a striking case in point. That the Qurʾān transcends a mere exposition of raw assertion by engaging in a process of argumentation and dialogue—it is the “evincive proof” (burhān) and “conclusive argument” (al-ḥujjah al-bālighah)—is indicative of its appeal to the human mind. Therefore, there exists no incongruity between reason and revelation; the former in fact leads one to appreciate the latter while the latter enjoins and exemplifies the former. There is, however, an important caveat that should not escape our attention: the reasoning has to be sound and the revelation authentic.
From the formative period of Islamic history, scholars have written books to address apparently contradictory ḥadīths, a field known as mukhtalif al-ḥadīth, and ḥadīths that apparently conflict with other evidences or external reality, a field known as mushkil al-ḥadīth. In this vein, Imām al-Shāfiʿī (d. 204 AH) authored Ikhtilāf al-Ḥadīth, regarded as one of the earliest works on the subject. Analogous works include Ibn Qutaybah al-Dīnawarī’s (d. 276 AH) pioneering monograph, Taʾwīl Mukhtalif al-Ḥadīth, Abū Jaʿfar al-Ṭaḥāwī’s (d. 321 AH) peerless compendium, Sharḥ Mushkil al-Āthār, and Abū Bakr Ibn Fūrak’s (d. 406 AH) masterpiece, Mushkil al-Ḥadīth wa Bayānuhū. Scholars also dealt with such narrations in their general Ḥadīth commentaries when the occasion arose. Abū Bakr Ibn Khuzaymah (d. 311 AH) confidently proclaims, “I am unaware of any two authentic narrations of the Prophet that are contradictory. If anyone comes across such narrations, let him bring them to me so that I can reconcile them.” Read the rest of this entry »
On the Retention of the Companions
By Muntasir Zaman
To evaluate the reliability of a narrator, Ḥadīth scholars examined two integral characteristics: probity (ʿadālah) and retention (ḍabṭ). After studying the probity of the Companions (Allah be pleased with them), a person is left with the following question: companionship with the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) does not enhance one’s memory, so even if it is accepted that the Companions were upright, how sure are we that they adequately retained ḥadīths before transmitting them? In other words, did they meet the required standards of memory to transmit ḥadīths? The following explanation does not preclude the fact that they occasionally forgot or erred. It aims to shed light on factors that allowed them to satisfactorily retain the ḥadīths they heard and then transmit them to their students.
It may be difficult to recognize a relationship between a narrator’s probity and his retention, but functionally they are definitely intertwined. This is because an upright transmitter will only narrate material the authenticity of which he is certain. Towards the end of his life when Anas ibn Mālik was asked a question, he replied, “Go and ask our master al-Ḥasan [al-Baṣrī]. Indeed, we heard and he heard, but he remembers and we forgot.” A narrator exercises caution when narrating ḥadīths proportionate to his probity; since the Companions possessed the highest level of uprightness, their caution was correspondingly firm. This is more so given their familiarity with the Prophet’s warning, “Whoever lies about me should prepare his abode in the Fire.” Companions like ʿAbd Allah ibn Masʿūd (d. 32 AH) and Abū al-Dardāʾ (d. 32 AH) are on record for following their narrations with phrases such as “similar to this” and “more or less” which they expressed out of caution, not out of doubt. Their cautious attitude even influenced Successors like Ibrāhīm al-Nakhaʿī (d. 96 AH) and ʿĀmir al-Shaʿbī (d. c.103 AH). From this angle, there is a relationship between one’s probity and retention. Read the rest of this entry »
The Life and Works of al-Kamāl Ibn al-Humām
By Shaykh Muḥammad ʿAwwāmah
Translated by Muntasir Zaman
[The following excerpt is an abridged translation of the biography of Ibn al-Humām, the 9th century Ḥanafī legal theorist and jurist, whose erudition was acknowledged in countless fields like language, law, and Ḥadīth. For the entire piece, see Shaykh ʿAwwāmah, Dirāsah Ḥadīthiyyah Muqāranah, pp.221-37]
His name was Kamāl al-Dīn Muḥammad ibn Humām al-Dīn ʿAbd al-Wāḥid, better known as al-Kamāl ibn al-Humām. His ancestry was from [the Turkish province of] Sivas, but he was born in Alexandria and grew up and passed away in Cairo. His student al-Sakhāwī writes, “He was possibly born in the year 790 AH, as I have read from his own writing.” He hailed from a family of knowledge and repute. His father was a judge in Sivas who later became a judge in Alexandria and married the daughter of the Maliki judge of Alexandria; she gave birth to al-Kamāl [lit. perfection]. Read the rest of this entry »
Distinctive Traits of the Islamic System of Inheritance
By Mufti Taqi Uthmani
Translated by Muntasir Zaman
Islamic law has put in place a fair and wise system of inheritance. The Qur’an and Sunnah have meticulously elucidated the subject without leaving it to human reasoning, which is unable to fully grasp the profound wisdom only encompassed by Allah Most High. We, therefore, find that the Islamic laws of inheritance part ways with other religions and legal systems from many angles. These distinctive traits are encapsulated in the following principles laid down by the Shari’ah.
1. All assets of the deceased form part of the inheritance
The first principle in the Islamic system of inheritance is that all assets left by the deceased are inheritable be they of personal use, such as clothes and utensils, or items that accrue profit, such as land, merchandise, and money. According to Islamic law, inheritors are entitled to all of these items, small or large, valuable or cheap. Only three areas are excluded: finance for the burial process, debts, and the bequest, which caps at one third of the remaining wealth. Read the rest of this entry »
As the day of ‘Īd draws near, the exuberance and joy of Muslims becomes increasingly manifest. After devoting an entire month to fasting, worshiping, and other religious obligations, a believer embraces the joyous occasion of ‘Īd al-Fitr spiritually uplifted and reformed. It is with immense grief, however, that during such blessed days we witness reoccurring episodes of futile quarreling in many Masjids, thus stripping the atmosphere of the unity greatly needed in our times. What makes the matter more disheartening is that these arguments too often ensue regarding issues wherein there exists a legitimate scope for differences in Islāmic jurisprudence. A common example, which by now has become somewhat of a cliché, is the issue of moon-sighting, or more sardonically put, “moon-fighting.”
With the possibility of ‘Īd al-Fitr happening this year on the blessed day of Jumu‘ah, there comes along an important question in respect to Islāmic jurisprudence: will a person be absolved from performing the Jumu‘ah prayer due to performing the ‘Īd prayer? As was witnessed on numerous occasions, issues of such a nature serve as a pretext for the unlearned to quarrel and exhibit their intolerance and ignorance.
The excerpt before you is a section from I‘lā al-Sunan of the great Hadīth scholar Mawlānā Zafar Ahmad al-‘Uthmānī pertaining to the issue at hand. The author discusses the various evidences on the subject while cogently substantiating the view of the majority (that is, the view of three of the four schools of Islāmic law and even the view of the Literalist school ) that one is not exempted from performing the Jumu‘ah prayer by virtue of performing the ‘Īd prayer. Nevertheless, according to Imām Ahmad, one will be exempted and therefore the matter will stand as expressed by ‘Allāmah Zāhid al-Kawtharī:
Thus, the follower of evidence is not allowed to depart from restricting the dispensation (of not praying Jumu‘ah due to the ‘Īd prayer) to the people of the village… However, a Hanbalī muqallid is excused for following what is documented in the books of his madhhab, even though the issue may be weak in terms of evidence, as is the ruling for anyone who adheres to the followed Imāms. 
In order to make the article more reader friendly, an idiomatic translation was adopted in several places. Select passages from an article on the subject by ‘Allāmah Zāhid al-Kawtharī were added in the footnotes. These passages and the translator’s footnotes were placed in square brackets.
The following is an excerpt from our abridged translation of the masterpiece, Athar al-Hadīth al-Sharīf fī Ikhtilāf al-A’immah al-Fuqahā’, by the Syrian Hadīth scholar, the teacher of our teachers, Shaykh Muhammad ‘Awwāmah. There were numerous requests for an abridged translation of the work for the benefit of non-Arabic readers, as the original work is relatively lengthy. The abridged translation has now been completed. We will post sections of it in installments and finally publish the complete abridgement in a separate post.
The excerpt before you is a clarification of two common misunderstandings. The first is the notion that the mere authenticity of a narration is sufficient to practice upon it. The second is the notion that there is no need to follow the Imams of madhhabs because Allah has only commanded us to to follow the Messenger of Allāh and not so and so. The author adequately addresses both notions substantiating his answer with numerous statements from luminaries of Islām. He also explains the harms of adopting such an approach and its devastating implications on the blessed Sunnah.
To make the article more reader-friendly, an idiomatic translation was adopted in several places.
Sha‘bān, 25, 1435