THE TRADITIONS IN ISLAM
THE ORIGIN OF TRADITION
ACCORDING to Muhammadan writers, there are four foundations upon which the doctrines of Islam are based. These are the Qur’an, the traditions, ijma’, 3 or the unanimous consent of Muslim theologians, and qiyas, 4 or the analogical reasoning of the learned with regard to the teaching of the Qur’an and the traditions. The first two foundations are called the roots, and the latter, as being derived from and dependent upon them, the branches. For all practical purposes, therefore, Islam may be said to be founded on the alleged revelation given by God to Muhammad in the Qur’an and the traditions. Muslim theologians, however, make a distinction between the revelation of the Qur’an and that of the traditions. By them the former is said to be wahi matlu (وَحِى مَتْلْو), or ‘recited revelation’, whilst the traditions are described as wahi ghair matlu (وَحِى غَيْر مَتْلْو), or ‘unrecited revelation’. In the first case, the Qur’an is said to have been recited to the prophet, generally by the angel Gabriel, and by him, in turn, repeated, word for word, to his followers. The traditions, on the other hand, are the reputed oral records of the sayings and actions of Muhammad as handed down by his early followers, and ultimately committed to writing by later Muslims. Thus it is seen that the Qur’an is, according to Muslims, a purely objective revelation, whereas in the traditions, on the other hand, the inspiration is subjective only. It should be remarked here, however, that all traditions do not deal with the sayings or doings of Muhammad. There are not a few traditions which have for their subject-matter the sayings or doings of the ‘companions’, or the immediate ‘successors’ of Muhammad. Thus a distinction is made by Muslim theologians between a marfu’ 5 tradition, which has to do with the prophet himself, and a mawquf 6 tradition which refers only to the sayings or doings of his companions’. There is also maqtu 7 tradition, which does not go back farther than the first generation after Muhammad, in other words, which deals with the sayings or doings of the tabi’un’, 8 or followers of the companions’.
The word usually employed by Muslim writers to denote the traditions is hadith (plural, ahadith). This word originally meant conversation, record or narrative, and is now technically used to indicate either a single tradition, or a whole collection of traditions. Another term frequently used for Islamic tradition is sunna. This word signifies a custom, habit or usage of the prophet Muhammad; and the doctrine of the inspiration of the traditions is based upon the Muslim belief that Muhammad, in all he said and did, was supernaturally guided, so that his words are to be regarded as the very words of God. Thus the theologians deduce the doctrine that God has given commands and prohibitions to men, not only by the Qur’an, but also by the mouth of the apostle Muhammad. This doctrine finds its basis in the reputed sayings of Muhammad, ‘Have I not been given the Qur’an, and with it that which is like it . . . verily what the apostle of God hath made unlawful is like what God hath made unlawful’. 9 ‘I have left you two things, and you will not stray so long as you hold them fast. The one is the word of God, and the other is the sunna of his prophet.’ It is also related that Muhammad used to say, ‘Science (i.e. religious knowledge) consists of three things: well-ordered verse, well-observed sunna and just law.’
In the introduction to the Mishkatu’l Masabih, a very celebrated collection of traditions, the word hadith is defined as being applied to the record of ‘the words of the prophet, and his actions, and what he permitted’. The last mentioned is explained as being something said or done by others in the prophet’s presence, which he neither denied nor forbade. Muhammad himself is reported to have encouraged his followers to preserve his words; and there is a tradition to that effect that he once said, بلغوا عني ولو آية ‘Transmit from me, even if it be but one verse.’ He is also reported to have said, ‘May God bless him who hears my Words, and keeps them, and understands them and transmits them’. On another occasion, on being asked who be his successors, he replied, ‘Those who report my sayings, and instruct men in the same.’ 10 Yet there is evidence that the prophet forbade his followers to write down his various utterances; and he is reported as saying, لا تكتبوا عني ومن كتب عني غير القرآن فليمحه وحدثوا عني فلا حرج ومن كذب عليّ متعمداً فليتبوأ مقعده من النار ‘Do not write down (anything) from me; and whoever writes down (anything) from me, except the Qur’an, let him erase it. But narrate from me, for that is not forbidden; and whoever intentionally relates about me falsely, let him find his resting place in the fire’. 11 The same authority is responsible for the statement that Muhammad forbade his followers committing his ordinary utterances to writing, out of fear that they would be confused with the words of the Qur’an, many of which were written down. This certainly suggests that the prophet, at least, intended to convey the idea that there was an essential difference between his own words and the words of the Qur’an. Whatever be the reason, the evidence is full and clear that, at first, the traditions depended for their transmission upon the precarious memories of men, and were, for many years, handed down orally from one generation to the next.
Al-Qastallani, 12 the famous commentator of Al-Bukhari, states very clearly that لم يكن الصحابة ولا التابعون يكتبون الأحاديث إنما كانوا يؤدونها لفظاً ويأخذونها حفظاً ‘neither the companions (of Muhammad) nor the immediate successors (of the companions) used to write down the traditions. They only passed them on by rote, and preserved them by memory.’ 13
A tradition is technically divided by Muslim theologians into two parts. There is, first, the isnad, 14 the support or authority on which the tradition rests. This consists of the names of the succession of reporters by whom the particular tradition was handed down. This isnad, to be complete, must begin with the name of the original person who actually heard the words spoken by Muhammad, and must continue in an unbroken chain up to the name of the last reporter from whom the written record was made —when, of course, oral repetition automatically ceased. The second part of tradition consists of the actual text of what Muhammad is reported to have said or done. This is called the matn (مَتَن) 15 or text. We now give below two specimens of traditions: one reporting an actual saying of Muhammad; the other relating his sunna or custom during a certain religious observance. ‘Abu Kuraib said to us that Ibrahim ibn Yusuf ibn Abi Ishaq said to us from his father from Abu Ishaq from Tulata ibn Musarif that, he said, I have heard from Abdu’r-Rahman ibn Ausajah that he said, I have heard from Bara ibn ‘Azib that he said, I have heard that the prophet said, “Whoever shall give in charity a milch cow, or silver, or a leathern bottle of water, it shall be equal to the freeing of a slave”‘ 16 The second is as follows: ‘Walid bin Muslim said that Al Awzai said to us from Qatada that he wrote to him to inform him from Anas, the son of Malik, that he said to him, “I prayed behind the prophet and Abu Bakr and ‘Umar and ‘Uthman, and they began (repeating Surat’l al-Fatihah) with the words, “Praise be to God the Lord of the worlds’; and they did not repeat the words, ‘In the name of God the most merciful’ either at the beginning of the recital or at the end of it.”’ 17
It would appear therefore, from what has been written above, that Muhammad encouraged his followers to preserve in their memories and hand down to their successors the teaching which he gave them from time to time. But there were other reasons for the practice. Even among the heathen Arabs it was considered a virtue to follow the sunna or custom of one’s forefathers. 18 It is obvious, however, that the Muslims could no longer follow the customs and usages of their heathen ancestors. What could he more natural, therefore, than that they should adopt the sunna of their prophet and make his divinely-guided life, in all its details, their model and pattern. This, as a matter of fact, they did; and so his every word and act became for them a divine rule of faith and practice. Such being the case, it is not difficult to understand the eagerness with which, after Muhammad’s death, his every word and action were recalled. Those who had been his most intimate companions were never tired of repeating, and, it must be added, of amplifying, his words. They loved to dwell in the past, and to cheer and comfort each other with recitals of the words and deeds of the wonderful man who had united the jarring, warring tribes of the Arabian desert into one great nation, embracing some of the fairest lands of the East. Indeed, we are told that it was an early custom of the Muhammadans when meeting one another, for one to ask for news (hadith) and for the other to relate a saying or anecdote of the prophet. This custom increased as time went by, until, when a generation arose which had not known the prophet, thousands of enthusiastic converts hung upon the lips of the ‘companions’, as Muhammad’s contemporary followers came to be called, and drank in the stories of how he spoke and ate and lived. No detail was too trivial, no story too commonplace for the men, who looked with envy and pride upon those who had been privileged to converse with the prophet and listen to his teaching. The desire to imitate Muhammad was carried to almost idolatrous lengths, so that a generation of men arose who refused to do anything which he had not done, or to eat anything which he had not eaten, even although its lawfulness was unquestioned. Thus it is related that the Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal would not eat water melons, although he knew that the prophet ate them, because he could not learn whether he ate them with or without the rind, or whether he broke, bit, or cut them! The same man is said to have forbidden a woman to spin by the light of torches passing in the streets by night, which were not her own property, because the prophet had not mentioned whether it was lawful to do so, and was not known to have ever availed himself of a light belonging to another person without asking that person’s permission. 19
Such men looked with superstitious reverence upon all who had known the prophet; and they listened to stories of him as of one endowed with supernatural power and surrounded with a halo of supernatural glory. ‘Is it possible, father ‘Abdullah, that thou hast been with Muhammad?’ was the question addressed by a pious Muslim to Hodzeifa in the mosque of Cufa. ‘Didst thou really see the prophet, and wert thou on terms of familiar intercourse with him?’ ‘Son of my uncle, it is indeed as thou sayest.’ ‘And how wert thou wont to behave towards the prophet?’ ‘Verily we used to labour hard to please him.’ ‘Well, by the Lord,’ exclaimed the ardent listener, ‘If I had but been alive in his time, I would not have allowed him to put his blessed foot upon the earth, but would have borne him on my shoulders wheresoever he listed.’ 20
As the years passed by, and the founder of Islam became gradually farther removed from those who embraced the faith, so his portrait gradually came to assume more and more a semi-divine character. Fancy ran riot, faith degenerated into superstitious credulity, and, acting on as Shafi’i’s maxim that, ‘In the exaltation of Muhammad to exaggerate is lawful,’ traditions in tens of thousands began to be manufactured for the glorification of the prophet. It would seem that Muhammad himself astutely suspected the danger of such exaggeration, for he is reported as warning his disciples in these words إياكم والظن فإن الظن أكذب الحديث ‘Beware of imagination, for magination is the falsest tradition.’ 21
The oral form in which these so-called traditions were handed down gave full opportunity for the manufacture of spurious traditions, and before the era of written collections of traditions arrived, the historic records of the prophet’s life had come to be almost obliterated by the mass of utterly legendary material which came into existence, and was repeated with ever-increasing exaggeration. Proof of these charges will be given in the next chapter; it must suffice here to remind the reader that the great Bukhari, who died in the year 256 of the Muslim era, retained as trustworthy only some 7,275 traditions out of the 600,000 which he had, with infinite pains, collected from all over the Muslim world! One of the greatest of Western students of Islam thus describes the process, ‘Familiar intercourse with heavenly messengers, thus countenanced by the prophet, was implicitly believed by his followers, and led them, even during his lifetime, to regard him with superstitious awe. On a subject so impalpable to sense, and so congenial with imagination, it may be fairly assumed that reason had little share in controlling the fertile productions of fancy; that the conclusions of his susceptible and credulous followers far exceeded the premises granted by Mahomet; that even simple facts were construed by excited faith as pregnant with supernatural power and unearthly companionship; and that, after the object of their veneration had passed from their sight, fond devotion perpetuated and enhanced the fascinating legends. If the prophet gazed into the heavens, or looked wistfully to the right hand or to the left, it was Gabriel with whom he was holding mysterious converse. Passing gusts raised a cloud from the sandy track; the pious believer exulted in the conviction that it was the dust of the Archangel with his mounted squadrons scouring the plain as they went before them to shake the foundations of the doomed fortress. On the field of Bedr, three stormy blasts swept over the marshalled army; again it was Gabriel with a thousand horses flying to the succour of Mahomet, while Michael and Seraphil, each with a like angelic troop, wheeled to the right and to the left of the Moslem front. Nay, the very dress and martial uniform of these helmed angels are detailed by the earliest and most trustworthy biographers with as much naiveté as if they had been veritable warriors of flesh and blood; while the heads of the enemy were seen to drop off before the Moslem swords had ever touched them, because the unseen scimitars did the work more swiftly than the grosser steel of Medina! 22
It is worth noting that most of the ‘companions’ were born later than Muhammad, and could have known little or nothing of his birth and early childhood; and yet there is no period in the prophet’s life which reveals more clearly the unchecked rovings of a vivid imagination, as seen in the fabulous stories concerning that period of his life, than the period of his birth. These ‘inventions of a playful fantasy’ are clearly the creations of a later age foisted upon the ‘companions’ in order to secure for them the credentials necessary for their acceptance. The same remark applies to the large mass of tradition which professes to relate the miracles of Muhammad. There is a well-known saying of the prophet to the effect that whatever contradicts the Qur’an is not true. 23 Judged by this standard, thousands of traditions purporting to relate the miracles of Muhammad must he totally rejected as spurious and unhistorical; for the testimony of the Qur’an is clear that Muhammad worked no miracle. Amongst a wealth of passages the following must suffice here:
وَأَقْسَمُواْ بِاللّهِ جَهْدَ أَيْمَانِهِمْ لَئِن جَاءتْهُمْ آيَةٌ لَّيُؤْمِنُنَّ بِهَا قُلْ إِنَّمَا الآيَاتُ عِندَ اللّهِ وَمَا يُشْعِرُكُمْ أَنَّهَا إِذَا جَاءتْ لاَ يُؤْمِنُونَ.
‘With their most solemn oath have they sworn by God that if a sign (miracle) come unto them they will certainly believe it. Say (O Muhammad), Signs are in the power of God alone, and he teacheth you not thereby, only because when they were wrought ye did not believe.’ 24
وَقَالُوا لَوْلاَ أُنزِلَ عَلَيْهِ آيَاتٌ مِّن رَّبِّهِ قُلْ إِنَّمَا الآيَاتُ عِندَ اللَّهِ وَإِنَّمَا أَنَا نَذِيرٌ مُّبِينٌ أَوَلَمْ يَكْفِهِمْ أَنَّا أَنزَلْنَا عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ يُتْلَى عَلَيْهِمْ.
‘And, they say, “Unless a sign be sent down to him from his Lord—” say, Signs are in the power of God alone, and I am only a plainspoken warner. Is it not enough for them that we have sent down to thee the book to be recited to them?’ 25 This testimony of the Qur’an is so clear that Syed Amir Ali, one of the greatest scholars that Indian Muhammadanism has produced, says candidly in his Life of Mohammed that, ‘they asked for miracles. Remark his reply, “God has not sent me to you to work wonders, He has sent me to preach to you” . . . Disclaiming every power of wonder-working, Mohammed rests the truth of his divine commission entirely upon his teachings.’ 26
We shall have occasion, in a later chapter, to notice the different classes into which Muslim scholars of a later age divided the traditions. Amongst these is a class of tradition known as the hadithu’l-mutawatir. This term is applied to an undoubted tradition which has been handed down by many distinct chains of narrators, or rather by a chain of unanimous generations, and which has, therefore, always been accepted as genuine and authentic. The number of such traditions is acknowledged by Muslim scholars to be exceedingly small. Now it is a most significant fact that not a single tradition relating to an alleged miracle of Muhammad is found in this class. 27
If traditions were invented in order to glorify the prophet Muhammad, no less surely were they invented in order to apologize for the many blemishes in his character. Judged by normal standards, there are many things in the life and character of the founder of Islam which will not bear investigation. This is especially true of his dealings with women; and his later apologists have not been slow to set up a special standard in order to meet this obvious difficulty. These attempted excuses, after the event, bear upon them the mark of barefaced forgery, and themselves constitute the strongest indictment of the prophet’s character. Thus a late biography of the prophet, the Siratu’l-Halabiyya, 28 has a whole section devoted to what it terms the ‘special privileges of the prophet of God’. What these are like may be gathered from the following illustration:
أنه صلى الله عليه وسلم إذا رغب في امرأة خلية كان له أن يدخل بها من غير لفظ نكاح أو هبة ومن غير ولي ولا شهود، كما وقع له صلى الله عليه وسلم في زينب بنت جحش رضي الله عنها كما تقدم، ومن غير رضاها، وأنه إذا رغب في امرأة متزوجة يجب على زوجها أن يطلقها له صلى الله عليه وسلم.
‘When the prophet of God longed for any unattached woman, it was his privilege to go in to her without the word “marriage” or “gift " or without any marriage-agent or witnesses, as happened to him in the case of Zainab bint Jahsh, as has been said before, and without her consent. And if he longed for any married woman, then it became incumbent upon her husband to divorce her for the prophet.’ 29
Another special privilege of the prophet, mentioned in the same book, was his right to choose any female prisoner from the spoils of victory before the regular division was made!
In a similar manner it was felt by later Muslims that some apology was needed for the prophet’s ruthless plundering and raiding, which are detailed at such length by all his biographers. Hence a tradition was concocted in which it was asserted that this, too, was a special privilege of the founder of Islam. It is found in the celebrated Mishkatu’l Masabih, and runs as follows:
إِنَّ اللَّهَ فَضَّلَنِي عَلَى الْأَنْبِيَاءِ أَوْ قَالَ أُمَّتِي عَلَى الْأُمَمِ وَأَحَلَّ لِيَ الْغَنَائِمَ.
‘Verily God has given me precedence over the prophets.’ Or he said (according to another tradition), ‘He has given my followers precedence over other nations by the fact that he has made plunder lawful for us.’ 30
Besides the reasons mentioned above, there are other causes which were largely responsible for the manufacture of false traditions. Amongst these may be mentioned the new conditions arising out of the wide spread of Islam. With the conquest of Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Egypt, countries containing much higher civilization than the people of Arabia had ever seen or imagined, new ideas and institutions borrowed from Christians and other conquered races soon made their influence felt. Social customs, religious movements, and political relationships with other peoples all called for legislative action; and new and unforeseen circumstances were constantly arising for which the Qur’an made no provision. ‘The Arabs, a simple and unsophisticated race, found in the Coran ample provision for the regulation of their affairs: religious, social, and political. But the aspect of Islam soon underwent a mighty change. Scarcely was the prophet buried, when his followers issued forth from their barren peninsula resolved to impose the faith of Islam upon all the nations of the earth. Within a century they had, as a first step, conquered every land that intervenes from the banks of the Oxus to the farthest shores of Northern Africa, and enrolled the great majority of their peoples under the standard of the Coran. This vast empire differed widely from the Arabia of Mahomet’s time; and that which sufficed for the patriarchal simplicity of the early Arabs was found altogether inadequate for the multiplying wants of their descendants. Crowded cities, like Cufa, Cairo, and Damascus, required elaborate laws for the guidance of their courts of justice; widening political relations demanded a system of international equity; the speculations of a people before whom literature was throwing open her arena, and the controversies of eager factions on nice points of doctrine, were impatient of the narrow limits which confined them; all called loudly for the enlargement of the scanty and naked dogmas of the revelation, and for the development of its rudimental code of ethics.’ 31 Such was the problem. It was solved by recourse to the traditions. Where these did not exist, they were created, and henceforth all recitals regarding the life of the prophet acquired a new and unlooked for value. Henceforth his sayings and practice were to supplement the Qur’an, and provide a magic key to open every lock. Thus was met the demand for a fuller legal code and a more comprehensive social legislation. Judgments professing to proceed from Muhammad, or to be founded on principles enunciated by him, were gradually framed and promulgated, until his reputed utterances became invested with the force of law as well as the authority of inspiration. Thus by the aid of analogy and fictitious traditions an exhaustive treasury of precedents was established for every possible contingency.
In any estimate of the causes leading up to the origin of the traditions the political factor must be given a prominent place. For twenty-five years after the death of Muhammad Islam remained, under the Khalifas Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and ‘Uthman, an undivided empire. With the assassination of the latter, however, the political unity of Islam was rent in sunder, and civil war deluged the kingdom in Muslim blood. With the death of ‘Ali four and a half years later, the Umayyad dynasty was firmly established at Damascus, and thenceforth, until the ‘Abbasides came into power in Iraq a hundred years later, history records a succession of rebellions, murders, and civil wars in which the rival parties freely anathematised each other, and just as freely based their mutual denunciations upon the alleged authority of the prophet. It is scarcely surprising, under such conditions, to find tradition being called in to the help of the various parties. A striking illustration of this is mentioned by Gairdner in his Mohammedan Tradition and Gospel Record. He writes as follows: ‘Arabia being very anti-Umayyad, while Jerusalem was a chief centre of their power, the Umayyad Sultans sought to encourage the idea that a pilgrimage to Jerusalem was as meritorious, or even more meritorious, than one to the haramain (i.e. Mecca and Medina). And a hadith was produced in which Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem were mentioned as the three places of pilgrimage, with the following startling appendix: “And one prayer in Jerusalem is better than a thousand prayers in other places.” Again, when the proud Umayyad Sultans led the Friday prayers, the old custom whereby the leader delivered the address standing, and after the prayer, became distasteful for obvious reasons. The Moslem historians freely admit that the Umayyads took in hand the alteration of the custom. The unfailing remedy —a hadith — was to hand, and this time it was another pious official theologian, Raja bin Hajwa, who was impressed into the service; and a hadith was produced which stated that ‘Uthman had delivered the second of the two khutbas (address) sitting.’ 32
On the other hand, we find ‘Ayesha, the favourite wife of the prophet, producing traditions in order to blacken the character of the Umayyads as a race of profligate usurpers! Thus she is reported to have addressed Merwan in these words:
سمعت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول لأبيك وجدك أبي العاص بن أمية أنهم الشجرة الملعونة في القرآن.
‘I heard the apostle of God say to thy father and grandfather, i.e. to Al-’As’bin Umayya, that they were the accursed tree (mentioned) in the Qur’an.’ 33 Another tradition of the same nature runs as follows:
عن جبير بن مطعم كنا مع رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم فمر الحكم بن العاص فقال النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم ويل لأمتي مما في صلب هذا.
‘It is related from Jabir (bin) Mat’am that we were with the apostle of God when Hakim bin passed by. Then the apostle of God said, Woe to my followers who are in the loins of this (man).’ 34 Still another tradition, obviously the offspring of political faction, runs as follows:
عن حمران بن جابر الجعفي قال سمعت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول وَيْلٌ لِبَنِي أُمَيَّةَ ثَلاثَ مَرَّاتٍ.
‘It is related from Hamran bin Jabir al-Ja’fi that he said, I heard the apostle of God say three times, “Woe to the Bani Umayya”! 35
In the same way, traditions were put into the mouth of Muhammad which tended to almost deify ‘Ali, the prophet’s son-in-law, and to secure for his descendants the exclusive right to the Khalifate.
The manufacture of spurious traditions, however, was by no means confined to political parties. The great theological debates, which, after the death of the prophet, shook Islam to its foundations, were prolific in the production of false traditions. Each party supported its own particular dogma by pretended utterances of the prophet, and Mu’tazilahs, Shiahs, Kharijites and a host of other sects freely used the name of the prophet to gain acceptance for their various shibboleths. Thus, for example, we are told in the introduction to the celebrated Mishkatu’l Masabih that the Kharajites were not to be trusted in their use and quotation of tradition; and the reader is warned against accepting such traditions as they bring forward, for, the writer continues:
وَلَا شَكَّ أَنَّ أَخْذَ الْحَدِيثِ مِنْ هَذِهِ الْفِرَقِ يَكُونُ بَعْدَ التَّحَرِّي وَالِاسْتِصْوَابِ وَمَعَ ذَلِكَ الِاحْتِيَاطِ فِي عَدَمِ الْأَخْذِ لِأَنَّهُ قَدْ ثَبَتَ أَنَّ هَؤُلَاءِ الْفِرَقَ كَانُوا يَضَعُونَ الْأَحَادِيثَ لِتَرْوِيجِ مَذَاهِبِهِمْ.
‘There is no doubt that the accepting of traditions from these sects can only be done after due selection and approval, and notwithstanding that, the watching against them should take the form of non-acceptance, because it has been proved that these sects used to forge traditions for the spread of their particular parties.’ 36 Often these good people contrived to produce the traditions they needed in order to substantiate their particular theological position, and there is an unusually candid admission of this fact recorded for our edification. It needs no comment, and runs as follows:
إذا هوينا أمراً صيرناه حديثاً.
‘If we want anything, we put it into circulation as a tradition.’
Another version is:
إذا رأينا رأياً جعلناه حديثاً.
‘If we entertain a (legal) opinion, we make it into a tradition.’ 37
It is the existence of contradictory traditions which is largely responsible for the great diversity which exists up to the present day in the religious practices of the various sects. An instructive illustration of this is to be found in the Mishkat where there is a well-attested tradition from Wail bin Hujr to the effect that:
رأيت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم إذا سجد وضع ركبتيه قبل يديه وإذا نهض رفع يديه قبل ركبتيه.
‘I saw the prophet when he bowed down, he placed his two knees before his hands (i.e. he knelt first before placing his two hands to the ground). And when he rose up from prostration he raised his hands before his knees.’ On the other hand, there is another tradition, equally well-attested, that
قال (أبو هريرة) قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم إذا سجد أحدكم فلا يبرك كما يبرك البعير وليضع يديه قبل ركبتيه.
“Abu Hurairah said, the apostle of God said, When any one of you prostrates himself, then let him not sit down as a camel sits down, but let him place his hands before his knees (i.e. he should place his hands on the ground in front of him).’ 38 The result of these contradictory traditions is that Abu Hanifa, Shafi’i and Ahmad bin Hanbal follow the tradition of Wail, and kneel before touching the ground with their hands, whereas Malik and Awz’u adhere to the tradition of Abu Hurairah and put their hands on the ground before their knees.
It is interesting to note here that the author of the Hidayah, a work in four volumes, written in reply to the Izharu’l-Haq, has given a list of over ninety contradictory traditions relating to various religious duties of Islam. 39
Another set of traditions, with a theological bias, which are obviously the products of a later age, are those in which sects, which came into existence after the death of Muhammad, are represented as being mentioned by him. Thus, for example, there is a tradition foisted on to Ibn ‘Abbas to the effect that he said,
قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ: صِنْفَانِ مِنْ أُمَّتِي لَيْسَ لَهُمَا فِي الإِسْلامِ نَصِيبٌ: الْمُرْجِئَةُ وَالْقَدَرِيَّةُ.
‘The apostle of God said, Two sects of my followers will have no part in Islam; the Murjiyahs and the Qadariyahs.’ 40
To such an extent was the manufacture of spurious traditions carried on for dogmatic and controversial purposes, that it has been shrewdly remarked that these themselves furnish a not unreliable history of the later controversies of Islam. This great mass of literature teems with contradictions, which stand to the present day in all the great collections, such as those of Bukhari, Muslim and others. Referring to this subject in his well-known Life of Mahomet, Sir William Muir tells us, by way of illustration, that ‘A score of persons affirm that Mahomet dyed his hair. They mention the substance used. Some not only maintain that they were eye-witnesses of it during the prophet’s life, but after his death produced relics of hair on which the dye was visible. A score of others, possessing equally good means of information, assert that he never dyed his hair, and that, moreover, he had no need to do so, as his grey hairs were so few that they might have been counted.’ 41
Yet another factor in the manufacture of traditions was the new spirit produced by Muslim contact with Christian nations, resulting in a growing knowledge of the historic Christ. With a fuller knowledge of the dignity and majesty of the Messiah, as depicted in the Gospels, it became imperative to attribute to Muhammad a dignity worthy of the last and greatest prophet, and so he came to be enveloped in a halo of almost supernatural glory. Christ worked miracles; so must Muhammad. The son of Mary is a great Intercessor at the throne of grace, and so, in spite of Qur’anic verses to the contrary, Muhammad is depicted as the greatest intercessor. Indeed, all the chief prophets in turn, at the last day, will decline the great commission and will plead unworthiness, and then Muhammad will stand forth as the one hope for sinful men. So, again, the heavenly glory which accompanied the annunciation of the birth of Christ to the shepherds of Bethlehem is eclipsed by a supernatural light which, it is alleged, attended the birth of Muhammad, and lighted up the whole land ‘from Basra to Sham’. The doctrine of the pre-existence of Christ is matched by the blasphemous teaching regarding the ‘Light of Muhammad’: his original essence, which was existent before all created things, and for whose sake God is declared to have created the world. The reader will gain some idea of the extravagance of language in which later writers indulged from the following quotation from the Maulud Sharif of Ghulam Imam Shadid. ‘Ye that are lovers of the face of Mohammed, and ye that be enamoured with the curls of Ahmad, know and be well aware that the light of Mohammed is the origin of all existing things, and the essence of everything that hath a being. Because that when it pleased the great Creator to manifest His glory, He first of all created the light of Mohammed from the light of His own unity, and from the light of Mohammed produced every existent thing. Now this glorious personage was made the last of the prophets, solely on this account, that as the rising sun chaseth away the splendours of moon and stars, so doth the glory of the religion of Muhammad supersede all other religions; so that if that pre-existent light had displayed its brilliancy from the first, then would all other prophets have shrunk into obscurity and been shorn of their apostolic dignity.’ 42 The quotation is from a modern work, but its extravagant statements find their bases in reputed traditions of the prophet himself. Thus the opening chapter of the Qisasu’l-Anbiya relates a story, with, of course, its long chain of narrators,. as to certain Muslims who were sitting with Muhammad, when one of them, Jabir bin ‘Abdallah by name, asked a question as to what was the first thing God created. In reply Muhammad is represented as saying that ‘The first thing God created was my light’; and then follows an extraordinary story of how this light wandered for a thousand years, ‘one day of which equalled a thousand years on earth’ engaged in the praises of God! 43
The subject of Muhammadan attempts to eclipse the Gospel records by similar or greater stories concerning Muhammad has been absolutely exhausted by S. W. Koelle in the second part of his Mohammad and Mohammadanism. Koelle there describes the picture of Muhammad in tradition as ‘a repulsive and truly blasphemous caricature of the divine beauty of the Son of Man’, and he goes on to show how almost every detail of the Gospel record of the life of Christ has produced a Muslim imitation.
In the traditions the miracles of Jesus are topped by a whole series of puerile prodigies. Water flows from between Muhammad’s fingers or, at his bidding, wells up from parched fountains. Trees and stones salute him by the way, or co-operate to shade him from the midday sun. A wooden pillar weeps because he desists from leaning against it; maniacs are cured at his word; the hunger of crowds of men is satisfied by a single cake; and the record of Christ’s transfiguration and converse with messengers from the other world is eclipsed by the story of Muhammad’s journey in person to the very sanctuary of heaven, where he holds familiar intercourse with the Deity himself!
One more palpable reason for the widespread manufacture of traditions must be referred to before we pass on to discuss the value and authenticity of tradition generally. We allude to the need, which early arose, for the elucidation of obscure texts of the Qur’an, and for added light on certain details of the prophet’s life which are only briefly alluded to in that book. Every reader of the Qur’an, for example, will have noticed that not a few special revelations are said to have been ‘sent down’ in connexion with the personal affairs of Muhammad. Many of these ‘revelations’, however, are brief and enigmatical, and leave the reader sadly puzzled as to the real meaning of the text. To elucidate such passages was the work of the commentators, who freely filled up the blanks and straightened out the tangles by recourse to traditions. When these were not forthcoming, they were promptly supplied. This is freely admitted by liberal Muslims. Thus Syed Amir Ali writing of the Mir’aj, the famous night journey of Muhammad to heaven, says: ‘This period is also remarkable for that notable vision of the ascension, which has furnished worlds of golden dreams for the imaginative genius of poets and traditionists. They have woven beautiful and gorgeous legends round the simple words of the Qur’an.’ 44 It is, indeed, to the commentators that we are indebted for many of the fabulous details of the prophet’s life; and these are found in such profusion within the commentaries of the Qur’an that one of the greatest of Western students of Islam has expressed the opinion that it would be easier to compile a life of Muhammad without the standard biographies than without the commentaries.
It may not be out of place to quote here, by way of illustration, one or two passages of the Qur’an, and to note the huge superstructure which tradition has erected thereon. The famous passage said to refer to Muhammad’s miraculous journey to heaven is found at the beginning of the seventeenth chapter of the Qur’an verse one. It runs thus, ‘Glory be to Him who carried his servant by night from the sacred temple to the temple that is more remote, whose precincts we have blessed, that we might show him of our signs’. All commentators of the Qur’an agree that the ‘sacred temple’ refers to the temple of Mecca, and that the temple which is ‘more remote’ indicates a supposedly existent temple at Jerusalem. Syed Amir Ali and other intelligent Muslims regard this event as no more than a vision of the night vouchsafed to Muhammad; but in no subject have the commentators given a wider rein to an exuberant fancy than in their expositions of this passage. According to them, Muhammad was not only transported bodily from Mecca to Jerusalem in one night on the back of a mythical steed ‘between a mule and an ass’, but to the very sanctuary of heaven itself, where, after receiving the regular Muslim greeting, salam alaikum, from the angels, he found himself in the awful presence of his Maker. In the commentaries and books of tradition the whole story is dressed up in most fantastic detail, and Muhammad is represented as conversing, not only with God Himself, but with various prophets who had preceded him. The nature of these conversations may be judged from the following quotation from the Mishkat:—
فَفتح فَلَمَّا خَلَصْتُ فَإِذَا مُوسَى قَالَ هَذَا مُوسَى فَسَلِّمْ عَلَيْهِ فَسَلَّمْتُ عَلَيْهِ فَرَدَّ ثُمَّ قَالَ مَرْحَبًا بِالْأَخِ الصَّالِحِ وَالنَّبِيِّ الصَّالِحِ فَلَمَّا جَاوَزْتُ بَكَى قِيلَ لَهُ مَا يُبْكِيكَ قَالَ أَبْكِي لِأَنَّ غُلَاماً بُعِثَ بَعْدِي يَدْخُلُ الْجَنَّةَ مِنْ أُمَّتِهِ أَكْثَرُ مِمَّنْ يَدْخُلُهَا مِنْ أُمَّتِي.
‘Then he opened (the door of the sixth heaven), and when I entered, behold Moses! (Gabriel) said, This is Moses, therefore salute him, so I saluted him, and he returned the salute, and said, Welcome good brother and good prophet. And as I passed by, he wept. And it was said to him, What makes you weep? He replied, I weep because a boy (i.e. Muhammad) has been sent after me of whose followers more will enter heaven than of mine.’ 45
The account of the so-called splitting of the moon, as related in the Qur’an, furnishes another fruitful topic for the commentators. Here, again, the original passage is far from clear. It runs thus, ‘The hour hath approached, and the moon hath been cleft’. 46 The saner exegetes of the Qur’an refer this splitting of the moon to a date still in the future, viz. to the day of resurrection, of which it is said to be one of the signs. Such moderation, however, failed to satisfy the craving for the fabulous; and an ignorant and unscrupulous body of commentators soon arose who have related in circumstantial detail, and with incredible extravagance, a story of Muhammad answering the Arab demand for a miracle by splitting the moon in twain, so that, one half was seen on one side of the mountain, and the other half on the other side’. 47 The limit, however, is surely reached in the following from the Siratu’n-Nabawiyya
إن القمر دخل في جيب النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم وخرج من كمه.
‘Verily the moon entered the prophet’s pocket, and came out at his sleeve’! 48 An-Nawawi, the famous commentator of Muslim, mentions a tradition in which this story is told with the following variations: Two men were arguing about the splitting of the moon,
فقال أحدهما انشق فرقتين دخلت أحدهما في كمه وخرجت من الكم الآخر.
‘And one of them asserted that it split into two portions, one of which entered by one of his (the apostle’s) sleeves, and came out by the other sleeve.’ Little wonder that intelligent Muslims feel bound, for very shame, to repudiate such travesties of inspiration.
Amongst the many passages of the Qur’an which have given trouble to honest commentators is the following:—
هُوَ الَّذِي يُصَلِّي عَلَيْكُمْ وَمَلاَئِكَتُهُ لِيُخْرِجَكُم مِّنَ الظُّلُمَاتِ إِلَى النُّورِ.
‘He it is who prays for you, and his angels too, to bring you forth out of darkness into the light.’ 49 Some commentators escape the difficulty of God praying by rendering the word yusalli ‘bless’, and it is admitted that the word will bear that construction; but other Muhammadans, impressed by the fact that the ordinary word for ‘pray’ is here used, have considered it necessary to find a tradition to prove that God does indeed pray. This is found in the Siratu’l-Halabiyya in the account of the Mi’raj or miraculous night-journey to heaven. Muhammad is there represented as relating his experiences in heaven and saying,
سمعت منادياً ينادي بلغة تشبه لغة أبي بكر فقال لي قف فإن ربك يصلي.
‘Then I heard a crier crying in a voice resembling the voice of Abu Bakr, who said to me, Stand still, for your Lord is praying.’ Upon the prophet expressing surprise that God should pray, the oracle is then made to say, ‘I only say, praise be to me! praise be to me! my mercy outruns my anger’. And then, the more surely to connect this tradition with the verse of the Qur’an quoted above, Muhammad is commanded to ‘Recite, He it is who prays for you,’ etc. 50
The book in which this story is preserved relates other traditions concerning God praying. Thus it is stated that the Bani Isra’il asked Moses whether God prayed; whereupon, not being able to give an answer, the great law-giver wept! Then, to comfort him, God assured him that he did pray!
Such is the pitiful nostrum which makes up the mental pabulum of multitudes of Muslims all over the world to-day. Muslim tradition, much of it too obscene for translation, has practically usurped the place of the Qur’an and brought multitudes of men and women into subjection to a moral and social law, which is as little the product of divine inspiration as are the epic stories of the Ramayan and the Mahabharat.
We shall have occasion, in later chapters, to give further illustrations of these extraordinary productions of Semitic imagination. We now ask the reader to accompany us in a study of the evidence for the authenticity and integrity of Muhammadan tradition. In doing so, we shall confine ourselves almost entirely to evidence furnished by Muslim authors themselves.
9. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Kitabu’l-Iman
10. Quoted in Klein's The Religion of Islam, p. 25.
11. Tujiyahu'n-nazar ila usulu’l-athar. p. 5.
13. Sharah Sahih al-Imam al-Bukhari, vol. 1, p. 3. Az-Zarqani says the same on p. 10 of his Commentary on the Muwatta.
16. Quoted in Hughes' Dictionary of Islam, p. 640.
17. Tujiyahu'n-nasar ila upilosTathar, p. 339.
18. Encyclopaedia of Islam, vol.ii, p. 189.
19. Edward W. Lane, The Manners & Customs of the Modern Egyptians, p 281.
20. Quoted in William Muir's, Life of Mahomet, Introduction p. xxviii.
21. Zubdatu’l-Bukhari, p. 238
22. William Muir's, Life of Mahomet, Introduction, p. lii
23. The tradition is quoted in full on p. 31.
24. Qur’an al-An’am 6:109.
25. Qur’al-Ankabut, verse 50 and 51.
26. Syed Amir Ali, Life of Mohammed, p. 49.
27. See Imadu’d-Din’s Tawarikh Muhammadi, p, 12.
29. As Siratu’l-Halabiyya, vol. iii. p. 336.
30. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Kitabu’l-Jihad
31. William Muir, Life of Mahomet, Introduction, p. xxix.
32. Gairdner: Mohammedan Tradition and Gospel Record, p. 10.
33. As Siratu’l-Halabiyya, vol. i. p. 346.
34. As Siratu’l-Halabiyya, vol. i. p. 346.
36. Introduction to Mishkatu'l Masabih, p. 5.
37. 'Abdulla bin Lahi’a, quoted in Gairdner's Mohammedan Tradition and Gospel Record, p. 12.
38. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Kitabu's-Sujud.
39. Al Hidayah, vol. ii, pp. 308-319.
40. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Kitabu'l-Iman.
41. MUIR: Life of Mahomet, Introduction, p. lix.
42. Quoted in Muir's The Mohammedan Controversy, p. 77.
43. Qisasu'l-Anbiya, p. 3.
44. SYED AMIR ALI: Life of Mohammed, p. 58.
45. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Babu'l-Mi'raj.
46. Qur’an al-Qamar 54:1.
47. Khalasatu't-Tafasir, vol. iv, p. 321.
48. Al Siratu'n-Nabuwiyya, vol. iii, p. 133.
49. Qur'an Al-Ahzab 33:43, See Palmer's translation in loc.
50. Siratu'l-Halabiyya, vol. i, p. 443.