TRADITION AND THE QUR’AN
IT is no easy task to define the relationship between the traditions and the Qur’an. On the one hand, a large body of tradition is obviously an expansion of the teaching of the Qur’an. This is very evident in those sections which treat of the resurrection and judgment, and in the descriptions of Paradise. Most of the social legislation of the Qur’an has also been defined and expanded in hundreds of traditions which are attributed to Muhammad. Thus, as has been already pointed out in an earlier chapter, 152 the traditions have, to a large extent, exercised the functions of a commentary. Indeed it is to the traditions that the earliest commentators of the Qur’an refer for the exegesis of difficult passages and the historical setting of innumerable personal allusions in the Qur’an. There they found, ready made, and stamped with the imprimatur of the prophet himself, solutions to all the difficulties of Qur’an exegesis. It mattered not that a certain tradition transgressed every canon of decency and morality, or that it taught an absurd science, or a false cosmogony: there it stood, with its isnad leading up to the prophet, and, therefore, must be accepted without question or demur! Only thus can one account for the presence in the commentaries of the Qur’an of the puerilities and obscenities which disfigure those works. We shall revert to this subject in the succeeding chapter; but we just note, in passing, that one of the principal functions of the traditions was to preserve the alleged comments of Muhammad upon various passages of the Qur’an.
Yet this is only a very partial statement of the connexion subsisting between the two. It has already been remarked that a very large number of the traditions are directly opposed to the teaching of the Qur’an, and must, therefore, according to the dictum of the prophet himself, that ‘what does not agree with the Qur’an is not true’ be rejected as false. Some of these traditions were the result of controversy: the direct offspring of a diseased imagination which insisted upon the glorification of Muhammad at all costs, and his exaltation in rank above all other prophets. In this class must be placed that large group of traditions which professes to describe the alleged miracles of Muhammad. We have already shown in an earlier chapter 153 that, in the Qur’an, Muhammad consistently disclaimed the power to work miracles. Yet a very large number of traditions have been manufactured for the purpose of exhibiting the prophet of Islam as a great wonder-worker. These are obviously the invention of a later age; and we do not propose to deal further with the subject here.
Another class of traditions voices the felt needs of the human heart: needs which failed to be met by the teaching of the Qur’an. In this class must be placed the many traditions which picture Muhammad as the great intercessor for sinners at the last day. This felt need of the Muslim heart for a mediator refused to be satisfied with the cold negations of the Qur’an; and the many traditions which now declare that Muhammad will intercede stand as a mute witness to the strength of this great hope of forgiveness through the merits of another. It is admitted that the testimony of the Qur’an on this subject is not always consistent; yet there are not a few passages which state unequivocally that there will be no intercession. Thus we read,
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ أَنفِقُواْ مِمَّا رَزَقْنَاكُم مِّن قَبْلِ أَن يَأْتِيَ يَوْمٌ لاَّ بَيْعٌ فِيهِ وَلاَ خُلَّةٌ وَلاَ شَفَاعَةٌ.
‘O believers, give alms of that with which we have supplied you, before the day cometh when there shall be no trafficking, nor friendship, nor intercession.’ 154 Again we read,
ثُمَّ مَا أَدْرَاكَ مَا يَوْمُ الدِّينِ يَوْمَ لاَ تَمْلِكُ نَفْسٌ لِّنَفْسٍ شَيْئاً وَالأَمْرُ يَوْمَئِذٍ لِلَّهِ.
‘Who shall teach thee what the day of judgment is? It is a day when one soul shall be powerless for another soul. All sovereignty on that day shall be with God.’ 155
If these statements of the Qur’an be compared with the traditions, the reader will be able to appreciate the vast and essential difference which exists between the teaching of Muhammad and that of his later disciples on this important subject. For example, in a tradition, the following words are ascribed to Muhammad, who, after describing how, in turn, at the last day all other prophets will decline to intercede on account of personal unworthiness, relates that, ‘Then the Mussulmans will come to me; and I will ask permission to go into God’s court, which will be given. And I will see Almighty God. I will prostrate myself before Him, and He will keep me, so long as he wills, and then will say, Raise up your head, O Muhammad, and say what you wish to say; it will be heard and approved; and ask grace for whoever you like, it will be approved; and ask what you want, it shall be given. Then I will raise up my head, and praise and glorify my Cherisher in a strain which he will teach at that time. After that, I will intercede for them, and God will say, Intercede for a particular class. Then I will come out from the presence, and bring that particular class out of hell-fire, and will bring them into paradise. After that I will go to God’s court to ask grace for another particular class, and will bring them out of hell, and enter them into paradise. After that, I will go into paradise; and in this way will I do for all Mussulmans, so that none but the infidels will remain in hell.’ 156 Another tradition makes Muhammad to say, ‘I am the beloved of God, and without boasting; and I shall be the bearer of the standard of praise on the day of resurrection; and under it will be Adam, and all the prophets besides. And I shall be the first intercessor, and the first whose intercessions will be approved of on the day of resurrection.’ 157
These traditions, and scores of similar ones, voice a deep-seated need of the human heart for a mediator. This cry of sinful souls refuses to be stifled; and, despite the teaching of the Qur’an to the contrary, all over the Muhammadan world to-day men and women are looking to the fancied intercession of their prophet to save them from the consequences of their sins. Man in all parts of the world, and in all ages, has felt his need of a saviour; and Muslims, like the rest, have clung to a belief in the mercy of God mediated through the person of a divinely-appointed saviour. Thus the traditions of Islam reflect the thoughts and hopes of Muslims, who have worked out in fulsome detail stories such as those we have quoted above.
Another felt need, deep-rooted in the heart of man, is the need of an atonement for sin. All down the ages men have clung to the conviction that only through the shedding of blood can there come the remission of sins; and sacrifice, in some form or other, has been found almost everywhere where the human race exists. The Qur’an, however, gave the lie to this God-given instinct, and taught that there is no atoning efficacy in sacrifice. Thus we read, ‘And the camels have we appointed you for the sacrifice to God. Much good have ye in them. Make mention therefore of the name of God over them (when ye slay them) as they stand in a row; and when they are fallen over on their sides, eat of them and feed him who is content (and asketh not) and him who asketh. Thus have we subjected them to you, to the intent ye should be thankful. By no means can their flesh reach unto God, neither their blood; but piety on your part reacheth him.’ 158
But here, again, the Muslim heart refused to be deaf to the voice within, and so the traditions are full of the subject of substitutionary sacrifice, and picture Muhammad as offering sacrifices both for himself and for his people. That he slaughtered camels in sacrifice is probably historically true, but it is difficult to believe, in face of the Qur’anic passage just quoted, that he uttered the words attributed to him in the traditions. At any rate, the fact stands clear that the great central festival of the Muslim world to-day is the ‘Idu’l-Azha’ or Feast of Sacrifice. It is to the traditions, and not to the Qur’an, that we must go for details, albeit mixed up with much legendary material, of the institution of this great festival; and it is the traditions which put into the mouth of Muhammad sentiments far removed from the doctrine of sacrifice set forth in the passage of the Qur’an we have just quoted. Thus Muslim has preserved a tradition to the effect that Muhammad, when offering sacrifice,
أخذ الكبش فأضجعه ثم ذبحه ثم قال بسم الله اللهم تقبل من محمد وآل محمد ومن أمة محمد ثم ضحى به.
‘Seized the ram and threw it on its side; then he slaughtered it. Then he said, In the name of God, O God accept (this) from Muhammad and from the family of Muhammad, and from the people of Muhammad. Then he offered it as a sacrifice.’ 159 In another tradition Muhammad is reported to have sacrificed two rams, saying, as he did so,
اللهم منك ولك عن محمد وأمته بسم الله الله أكبر.
‘O God (this) is from thee, and for thee on behalf of Muhammad and the people of Muhammad. In the name of God. God is great.’ 160
It is noteworthy that ‘Abdul-Haqq, the commentator of the Mishkat, renders the words ‘from thee’ and ‘for thee’ by the words ‘from thy favour, and for thy satisfaction.’
Another striking utterance attributed to Muhammad by later Muslims, and handed down in the form of a tradition, is the following: ‘Man hath not done anything on the day of sacrifice more pleasing to God than shedding blood; for verily the animal sacrificed will come, on the day of resurrection, with its horns, its hair, and its hoofs: and verily its blood reacheth the acceptance of God before it falleth upon the ground.’ 161 This tradition, it will be noticed, contains a specific verbal contradiction of the Qur’an statement that neither the flesh nor the blood of the victim sacrificed reaches unto God; in other words, it directly inculcates a belief in the atoning efficacy of sacrifice.
Perhaps the most remarkable statement, however, in the traditions regarding the expiatory value of sacrifice is that contained in the following tradition, in which Muhammad is represented as affirming that, at the resurrection, Jews and Christians will be cast into hell as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of Muslims!! The tradition, which is preserved by Muslim, is as follows,
قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ إِذَا كَانَ يَوْمُ الْقِيَامَةِ دَفَعَ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ إِلَى كُلِّ مُسْلِمٍ يَهُودِيًّا أَوْ نَصْرَانِيًّا فَيَقُولُ هَذَا فِكَاكُكَ مِنْ النَّارِ.
‘The apostle of God said, At the day of resurrection God will hand over a Jew or a Christian to every Muslim, and will say, This is a (means of) your redemption from hellfire.’ 162 In this tradition we have substitutionary sacrifice taught to its fullest extent, for, as ‘Abdul- Haqq, the commentator remarks in loc,
گویا کافر عوض اور بدل مومنوں کے ہیں۔ بیچ جگہوں ان کے کہ دوزخ میں ہیں۔
‘It is as if the Kafirs became the substitutes of the believers in their place in hellfire.’
Another Muslim custom, mentioned in the traditions, but originally derived from Arab heathenism, is the ceremony known as ‘aqiqa. This consists in shaving the head of an infant child on the seventh day after birth, and then offering in sacrifice on its behalf one or two sheep according to the sex of the child. It is distinctly stated in the Mishkat that this was a pre-Islamic custom. Thus we read that, ‘Buraidah said, We used, in the times of ignorance, when a boy was born to any one of us, to slay a goat and rub his head with the blood. Then when Islam came, we slew a goat on the seventh day, and shaved the child’s head and rubbed saffron on it.’ 163 This rite does not seem to be even alluded to in the Qur’an, but the traditions have laid the foundations for a practice that has become almost universal amongst Muslim. Our interest in it here arises from the fact that it, too, bears clear testimony to a doctrine of substitutionary sacrifice in Islam. In the traditions Muhammad is represented as sacrificing a ram each for Hasan and Husain. He is also reported to have instructed his followers to sacrifice for their children, in these words, ‘He to whom a child is born should sacrifice on its behalf. Let him sacrifice two sheep for a son, and one sheep for a daughter.’ 164 In another tradition from Samra the prophet is represented as saying ‘Every male child shall be redeemed by his ‘aqiqa, which is to be sacrificed for him on his seventh day; and so evil shall be removed from him.’ 165 The following prayer, which is offered at the ‘aqiqa ceremony, leaves no doubt as to the modern significance of the rite, and shows how far Muslims have outgrown the Qur’anic conception of sacrifice. ‘O God, this is the ‘aqiqa sacrifice of my son so and so; its blood for his blood, its flesh for his flesh, its bone for his bone, its skin for his skin, its hair for his hair. O God, make it a redemption for my son from the fire; for truly I have turned my face to Him who created the heavens and the earth, a true believer.’ 166
Thus in the conception of sacrifice found in the traditions we see the Muslim response to that innate belief in the atoning efficacy of sacrifice which is all but universal amongst the nations of the earth. If that belief, implanted there by God Himself, contradicts the teaching of the Qur’an, then—so much the worse for the Qur’an!
Any careful comparison of the traditions with the Qur’an will reveal innumerable discrepancies and contradictions. Many of these have particular reference to the person of Muhammad, who, in the traditions, has been almost deified and raised to a place of honour almost equal to that of God Himself. It would take us too far to attempt a detailed exposition of this point here. Some idea of the extravagance of language used in these traditions may be gained from the following, which is put into the mouth of Muhammad. ‘I am the first man in point of coming out from the grave, and am the guide to man, when he shall go to God’s court. And I am the speaker of grace for men near God, when the prophets will be silent, and I am the asker of grace, when men shall be made to stand up. And I am the giver of joyful news to man of grace, when he shall despond of God’s mercy, and the key of paradise will be in my hand, and all the standard of praise. And I shall be the greatest of the sons of Adam near my Cherisher, particularly on that day; and I shall have a thousand servants waiting upon me, you might say like scattered pearls.’ 167 So great is the prophet’s glory that his very disciples and wives are made to share, for his sake, in the encomiums of God. Thus, for example, Muhammad is represented as addressing a disciple, Ubai bin Kab by name, in these words, ‘Verily, God has commanded me to read the Qur’an to thee.’ ‘Did God mention me by name to thee?’ came the astonished reply. ‘Yes’ said the prophet. ‘Then I have been mentioned by the Lord of the Universe!’ replied the awed Ubai, as he burst into tears. Bukhari mentions another ‘companion’, at whose death, so the tradition runs, ‘the throne of God trembled’! 168 In a still more blasphemous tradition, the angel Gabriel is represented as coming to Muhammad, and asking him to convey the greetings of God and himself to Khadija, the wife of the prophet; and, continued Gabriel, ‘Give her the good news of an abode in heaven.’ 169
We have already remarked that the Muhammad of the Qur’an, in sharp contrast to all the above, is a weak, erring mortal, whose prayers for pardon are again and again recorded, and who is represented as, on one occasion, being reprehended by God for his unjust treatment of a poor blind beggar. 170 The Qur’an knows nothing either of the miracles or the intercession of Muhammad; whilst the traditions are full of both, and in the traditions we have a theory of the substitutionary value of sacrifice which is altogether alien to the Qur’an. Yet the value of contemporary evidence must outweigh that of later times; and there can be no question that the Qur’an represents, much more nearly than the traditions, the real teaching of Muhammad.
One other remark must be made before bringing this chapter to a close. We have referred to the universal belief in mediation and atonement. This great hope of the human heart cannot be permanently stifled; and if earnest Muslims fail to find in the Qur’an any adequate expression of this God given means of salvation, then it is surely their highest wisdom to seek elsewhere the satisfaction of this great instinct of the human heart. They will find it in Christ, who gave His life a ransom for sin, and now sits at the right hand of God, ever living to make intercession for us.
152. See page 22.
153. See p. 9.
154. Qur’an Al-Baqarah 2:254.
155. Qur’an Al-Infitar 82:19. (+ 18-19).
156. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Bubu’l-Haud wa's-Shufa'at.
157. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Bab-Fadd'il Saiyyidu’l-Mursalin.
158. Qur'an Al-Hajj 22:36-37.
159. Sahih Muslim, vol. ii. p. 162.
160. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Babu'l-Adhiyyat.
162. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Babu'l-Hisab.
163. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Kitabu't-Ta'amah.
165. Zwemer in the Moslem World, vol. vi, p. 238.
166. Quoted by Zwemer in the Moslem World, vol. vi, p. 249.
167. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Bab Fada’ll-Sayyidu'l-Mursalin.
168. Zubdatu'l-Bukhari, p. 181.
169. Ibid. p. 189.
170. Qur’an 'Abasa 80:1-11 and Tafsir Baidawi, in loc.