IN the previous chapter we have noted the rise of tradition, and have referred to some of the principal causes which operated to give the alleged sayings of Muhammad an authority and prestige practically equal to that enjoyed by the Qur’an itself. We have also shown that Muhammad, whilst apparently disapproving of the practice of committing his words to writing, did undoubtedly encourage their oral transmission. If the traditions we have already quoted are to be accepted as genuine, he also fostered the belief that his words were to be accepted as having something more than the mere weight of his own personal authority. But it would be manifestly unwise to attach too much weight to those statements. Muhammad himself unquestionably conceded the relative inferiority of the hadith in these words:

كلامي لا ينسخ كلام الله وكلام الله ينسخ كلامي.

‘My words do not abrogate the words of God, but the words of God abrogate my words.’ 51 Yet the great majority of Muslims throughout the world have undoubtedly held that the traditions are to be accepted as inspired, and to be treated as formative for rules of faith and practice. Al Qastalani correctly represents the orthodox belief when he says, ‘Verily the science of the sunna of the prophet is, after the Qur’an, the greatest science in degree, and highest in nobility and glory, because upon it is founded the rules of Islamic law and through it appears a detailed statement of all the Qur’anic verses. And why should it not be so, seeing that its source is from what was not expressed as a result of (personal) desire: rather it is an inspired revelation.’ 52

Thus not only the words, but the very actions, of the prophet came to have a Divine authority, and to be looked upon as carrying with them the obligation of slavish imitation. The result is seen in a mass of traditions full of puerile details of the prophet’s manner of life: as to how he cleaned his teeth or performed his ablutions. Indeed many a wordy battle was waged between later zealots as to whether the right or the left foot should be washed first in the ablutions preceding prayer! In their zeal these early disciples seem to have far outrun their master; for there are not wanting traditions, even amongst the most authoritative collections, which seem to indicate that he, at any rate, knew of no such Divine compulsion, and conceived himself as free, at any time, to alter such ceremonial practices, or establish new ones, as he thought best. Thus Bukhari has preserved a tradition to the effect that Muhammad said,

لولا أن أشق على أمتي لأمرتهم بالسواك مع كل صلاة.

‘Were it not that it would involve hardships to my followers, I would certainly command them to clean their teeth with every prayer.’ 53

The well-known incident of his forbidding the artificial fertilization of the date-palm is also in point. It is related in the Mishkat that when Muhammad arrived in Medina, after his flight from Mecca, he forbade the practice which was a common custom in those parts. The result was a poor harvest; and when his perplexed and disconcerted followers informed him of the result, he is reported to have said,

إنما أنا بشر إِذَا أَمَرْتُكُمْ بِشَيْءٍ مِنْ أمر دِينِكُمْ فَخُذُوا بِهِ، وَإِذَا أَمَرْتُكُمْ بِشَيْءٍ مِنْ رَأْيٍ فَإِنَّمَا أَنَا بَشَرٌ.

‘I am only a man. When, therefore, I command you anything concerning your religion, then accept it; but when I command you anything as a matter of my own opinion—then, verily, l am only a man.’ 54

The question before us, then, is twofold. First, to what extent did Muhammad intend his words and actions to be binding upon his followers, as of Divine authority, and as a standard for their imitation, and, secondly, how far can the present mass of tradition, as found in the standard collections, be regarded as faithful records of what the prophet said and did. We think the two traditions quoted above will serve to indicate to some extent the trend of the prophet’s intentions. He certainly never intended to pose as one whose every act was performed under Divine guidance. The following story, handed down by Ibn Mas’ud, conclusively shows that the prophet regarded himself simply as a man, subject to all the frailties of human nature. It is as follows: On a certain occasion Muhammad performed the mid-day prayer in five raq’ats (or series of prostrations). Therefore it was said to him, Have the prostrations been increased (from four to five)? He said, What do you mean? They replied, You made five series of prostrations. Then, after the salam, he made two prostrations, and said,

إِنَّمَا أَنَا بَشَرٌ مِثْلُكُمْ أَنْسَى كَمَا تَنْسَوْنَ فَإِذَا نَسِيتُ فَذَكِّرُونِي.

‘Verily I am only a man like you. I forget as you do. Therefore when I forget, do ye remind me.’ 55

Even if it could be shown that Muhammad did intend that his followers should make his life, in all its details, their example and precept, yet the evidence for the authenticity of the multitude of traditions which have come down to us is so weak that we cannot know with certainty that any one of them truly represents what the prophet said or did. We referred on page 10 to the class of hadith known as mutawatir, i.e. an undoubted tradition which has been handed down by many distinct chains of reporters, and which, as a result, has always been accepted as authentic. The fact that Muslim theologians only regard five, out of all the thousands of traditions, as belonging to this class, 56 is in itself sufficient evidence of the doubts attaching to the remainder.

There is one famous dictum of the prophet, hinted at in the previous chapter, which automatically gives the lie to a very large proportion of the traditions now current. We refer to his challenge that every alleged tradition be brought to the tribunal of the Qur’an. What agrees therewith, he tells us, is true; whilst all that disagrees with it, is false: by the Qur’an must the traditions stand or fall. His words are as follows,

وإنه سيفشوا عني أحاديث فما أتاكم من حديثي فاقرأوا كتاب الله واعتبروه فما وافق كتاب الله فأنا قلته وما لم يوافق كتاب الله فلم أقله.

‘Verily traditions will be circulated concerning me; therefore whatever of my traditions comes to you, read the word of God (the Qur’an) and consider it carefully. For whatever agrees with the word of God, I have said it; and what does not agree with the word of God, I have not said it.’’ 57

In another tradition, mentioned in the same place, Muhammad is reported as saying, ‘Compare my tradition with the word of God: if it agrees therewith it is from me, and I have said it.’

Ibn Majah preserves a curious utterance of the prophet to the effect that he said,

 اقْرَأْ قُرْآنًا مَا قِيلَ مِنْ قَوْلٍ حَسَنٍ فَأَنَا قُلْتُهُ.

‘Read the Qur’an. Whatever good saying has been said, I have said it’, 58 which his commentator, Al Hadi, explains to mean,

أقرأ قرآنا حتى تعرف به صدق هذا الحديث من كذبه.

‘Read the Qur’an in order that you may know by it the truth of this tradition from its falsehood.’

It would almost seem that false traditions began to be circulated even in the prophet’s lifetime. At any rate, he is repeatedly reported to have warned his followers against later fabricators of tradition. Many such warnings have been handed down. Muslim has preserved several, from which we cull one or two by way of illustration.

عن أبي هريرة عن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم إنه قال سيكون في آخر أمتي أناسٌ يحدثونكم ما لم تسمعوا أنتم ولا آباؤكم فإياكم وإياهم.

‘It is related from Abu Hurairah from the apostle of God that he said, There will be amongst my later followers men who will relate to you what neither you nor your fathers have heard. Therefore beware of them.’ 59 Another saying of the prophet is to the effect that,

يكون في آخر الزمان دجالون كذابون يأتونكم من الأحاديث بما لم تسمعوا أنتم ولا آباؤكم فإياكم وإياهم لا يضلونكم ولا يفتنوكم.

‘There will be in later times deceivers and liars, who will bring you traditions which neither you nor your fathers have heard. Therefore beware of them, that they do not lead you astray nor seduce you.’

In the Al Jam’i as-Saghir it is hinted that the number of such false traditions will not be small. Thus we read that the prophet said,

إياكم وكثرة الحديث عني.

‘Beware of many traditions (related as) from me.’ 60 It was even felt necessary by Muhammad to condemn those who would knowingly repeat false traditions; and so he is reported as saying, ‘Whoever, seeing a tradition concerning me to be false, yet relates it, he is one of the liars’. 61

The prophet’s fears were well-founded; for there is incontrovertible proof that he was scarcely in his grave before spurious traditions in their thousands began to be circulated. In other words, the manufacture of false traditions was not confined to men of later generations. On the contrary, the very ‘companions’ of Muhammad himself are proven to have been utterly unscrupulous in their behaviour in this respect. Even men who were esteemed ‘pious’ by their generation, on the principle, apparently, that the end justified the means, were as ready to falsify as those of less upright character. Thus Muslim has preserved a tradition to the effect that,

حدثني محمد بن أبي عتاب قال حدثني عفّان عن محمد بن يحيى بن سعيد القطان عن أبيه قال لم نرَ الصالحين في شيء أكذب منهم في الحديث.

‘Muhammad bin Abi ‘Atab informed me that ‘Affan informed me from Muhammad bin Yahya bin Sa’idu’l-Qattan from his father, that he said, I have not seen the pious given to falsification in anything more than in the traditions.’ 62 Some of these ‘pious’ fabricators are mentioned by Muslim. One was named ‘Abad bin Kathir. It was said of him that, when he repeated the traditions, he brought forward weighty matters; but, the narrator continues,

إِذَا كُنْتُ فِي مَجْلِسٍ ذُكِرَ فِيهِ عَبَّادٌ أَثْنَيْتُ عَلَيْهِ فِي دِينِهِ وَأَقُولُ لَا تَأْخُذُوا عَنْهُ.

‘When I was in the assembly, ‘Abbad was mentioned therein. Then I praised him concerning his religion, but I said, Do not accept (traditions) from him.’ 63

Another ‘pious’ fabricator of traditions was one Zayad bin ‘Abdullah. The tradition concerning him runs thus,

زياد بن عبد الله مع شرفه يكذب في الحديث.

‘Zayad bin ‘Abdullah, in spite of his honourable reputation lies in traditions.’ 64

Ibn ‘Abbas was a ‘companion’ of the prophet. The following tradition shows, how, even in his lifetime, the practice of forging traditions had spread. It is quoted by Muslim, and runs thus: ‘It is related from Mujahid that he said, Bashir Al ‘Adi came to Ibn ‘Abbas and began relating to him a tradition, and said, “The apostle of God said . . .”. But Ibn ‘Abbas neither listened to the tradition nor looked towards him (the speaker). Therefore he said, O Ibn ‘Abbas, what have I done that I do not see you listening to my tradition which I am relating from the apostle of God? Ibn ‘Abbas replied, We, once upon a time, when we heard any man say, “The apostle of God said” so and so, used to look upon him with our eyes and listen to him with our ears, but now, when men are no longer distinguishing truth from falsehood, we accept from men nothing which we do not know (to be true).’ 65 Muslim quotes other traditions to the same effect; and Ibn Majah (vol. i, p. 8) also records the same with slight variations.

Abu Bakr, the successor of Muhammad in the Khalifate, and one of his most trusted companions, also bears unequivocal testimony to the prevalence of false and contradictory traditions. Thus we read in a tradition from Murasil bin Abi Malikat that,

إن الصديق جمع الناس بعد وفاة نبيهم فقال إنكم تحدثون عن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم أحاديث تختلفون فيها والناس بعدكم أشد اختلافاً فلا تحدثوا عن رسول الله شيئاً فمن سألكم فقولوا بيننا وبينكم كتاب الله فاستحلوا حلاله حرموا حرامه.

‘Verily, As Siddiq (i.e. Abu Bakr) gathered the people together after the death of their prophet, and said, Verily you are relating concerning the apostle of God traditions in which you contradict one another, and the people after you will be still more forward in contradiction. Therefore do not relate anything concerning the apostle of God. And whoever asks you anything, say, The Book of God (i.e. the Qur’an) is between us. Therefore make lawful what is lawful in it, and regard as unlawful what is unlawful in it.’ 66

In a similar manner the Khalifa ‘Umar discouraged the recital of traditions because of his knowledge of the unlimited opportunities which oral transmission gave to unscrupulous persons for the fabrication of false traditions or the alteration of what were true. Thus there is a tradition from Ibn Qatada that, ‘‘Umar was strong in his repudiation of those who multiplied traditions or who brought forward information concerning laws for which they had no witnesses. And he used to order them to relate less traditions, wishing thereby that men should not multiply them and so bring into them a mixture of truth and falsehood, and lest there should take place tampering of isnads and general falsification through the agency of hypocrites and wicked men and desert Arabs.’ 67

It is refreshing, after what has been written above, to turn to some of the ‘companions’ whose consciences were not so dead. One such was ‘Abdullah bin Jubair (‘Abdullah bin Az-Zubair). Of him it is related that a man said to him,

إني لا أسمعك تحدث عن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم كما يحدث فلان وفلان فقال إما إني لم أفارقه ولكن سمعته يقول من كذب علي فليتبوأ مقعده من النار.

‘I do not hear you recite traditions concerning the apostle of God as does so and so. He replied, Yet I never left the apostle; but I heard him say, He who relates falsely concerning me, let him find his resting-place in the fire.’ 68 This tradition is also related by Ibn Majah with slight variations (see vol. i, p. 10). The remark of the latter’s commentator, Al Hadi, is instructive. He says, the meaning is, ‘That which restrains me from relating traditions is the fact that it leads, through carelessness and neglect, to addition and subtraction.’

In the very valuable introduction to the Sahih of Muslim a number of men are named who were noted for their falsification of traditions. We can only mention one or two here by way of illustration. Such was Amru bin ‘Abid. This man ‘related from Al Hasan’’ and said, ‘The man who becomes intoxicated from drinking wine (nabidh) should not be scourged. (Hajaj) replied, Verily he lied, for I heard Al Hasan say that the one intoxicated from wine should be scourged.’ 69 Another noted falsifier of tradition was Al Hasan bin ‘Amarat. It is related that Jarih bin Hazim said, ‘It is not right to repeat traditions from Al Hasan bin ‘Amarat, for he lies. Abu Da’ud said, I said to Sha’bat (the narrator), And why is that? He said, He (Hasan) related as from Al Hakam a certain thing for which we found no foundation. He said, I said to him, And what was that? He replied, I said to Al Hakam, Did the apostle of God pray over those who were killed at (the battle of) Uhud? He said, He did not pray over them. But Al Hasan bin ‘Amarat affirmed, as from Al Hakam, who related from Maqsam as from Ibn ‘Abbas that the prophet of God prayed over them and buried them.’ 70 Here we see that the notorious Al Hasan not only invented a false tradition, but also concocted a full isnad to match! Muslim mentions another extraordinary person who claimed to know 70,000 traditions! Little wonder that we read of him that,

اتهمه الناس في حديث وتركه بعض الناس.

‘The people suspected his traditions, and some of the people left him.’ 71 Many other fabricators of tradition are named by Muslim, but limits of space prevent a fuller treatment here. One noted forger, however, must be mentioned. He was Ibn Abi Awja. This man was executed in A.H. 155, after having confessed that he himself had put into circulation no less than 4,000 false traditions! 72

The almost incredible extent to which the forgery of traditions was carried on can best be understood by the statement already made, that Bukhari collected 600,000 traditions, but only retained as trustworthy 7,275. Similarly Muslim is said to have retained, after deleting repetitions, only some 4,000 out of the 300,000 which he had collected. 73 Whilst Az-Zaraqani, the learned commentator of the Muwatta of Ibn Malik, says that,

إن مالك روي مائة ألف حديث وجمع منها الموطأ عشرة آلاف ثم لم يزل يعرضها على الكتاب والسنة ويختبرها بالآثار والأخبار حتى رجعت إلى خمسمائة.

Verily Malik related 100,000 traditions, from which he compiled the Muwatta, containing 10,000. These he continued to compare with the Book and the Sunna, and to test them by traditions and histories until they were reduced to 500.’ 74

Some Muslims evidently tried to steer a middle course between those who abstained altogether from the recital of traditions from fear of inadvertent falsification and those who freely forged to suit their own purposes. Thus it is related that certain men said,

إذا روينا عن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم في الحلال والحرام والسنن والأحكام شددنا في الأسانيد وإذا روينا عن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم في فضائل الأعمال تساهلنا في الأسانيد.

‘If we had related to us as coming from the apostle of God traditions dealing with things allowable or prohibited, or the practice or decisions (of the prophet) then we would be strict about the isnads; but if we had related to us as coming from the prophet of God traditions dealing with virtuous actions, then we would be lax about the isnads!’ 75 These good people apparently felt some compunction about altering canon law, whilst having no scruples with regard to such trifling matters as ‘virtuous actions’!!

The most notorious fabricator of tradition, whose name has come down to us, was a ‘companion’ of the prophet, generally known by his nickname Abu Hurairah. It is related of him that,

إن أبا هريرة صحب رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم نحو من ثلاث سنين وأكثر الرواية عنه وعمر بعده نحو من خمسين سنة.

‘Verily Abu Hurairah companied the prophet for about three years. And he multiplied traditions concerning him; and lived after him for a period of about fifty years.’ 76 We give the text of this tradition, because of its great importance. It states very clearly that this man only lived with Muhammad for a period of three years. In other words Abu Hurairah, as we know from other sources, was only converted to Islam three years before the prophet’s death. Yet the most extraordinary stories have come down to us of this man, which show conclusively that he was, without doubt, the most unscrupulous forger of traditions which Islam has ever produced. And yet, despite this fact, the great collections of traditions extant to-day contain more traditions from Abu Hurairah than from any other ‘relator’. Not only was he a forger of traditions, but his general character was far from being above reproach. This is shown by the following incident. It is related that when ‘Umar assumed the Khalifate, he appointed Abu Hurairah to the governorship of Bahrein. But the latter abused his trust, and was eventually recalled and disgraced for misappropriating monies belonging to the state, being made, we are told, to disgorge 12,000 (another report says 10,000) dirhams. The story, which is told by Al Baladhuri from Qasun bin Salam, relates that when the Khalifa ‘Umar met Abu Hurairah on his return from Bahrein he accosted him in these words, يا عدو الله وعدو كتابه أسرقت من مال الله ‘O enemy of God and enemy of His book, hast thou stolen the money belonging to God’? 77 Hurairah, of course, denied the charge, but he was unable to convince ‘Umar of his innocence, and was compelled to hand over his ill-gotten wealth.

It is a remarkable fact that, although Abu Hurairah only lived with Muhammad for a period of three years, yet he produced more alleged sayings of the prophet than those who had been with him from the beginning of his mission. Little wonder that the charge was constantly made that he fabricated his traditions. Some idea of the extent to which this man produced so-called sayings of the prophet may be gained from the fact that in the Musnad of Ibn Hanbal, where the traditions are grouped under the names of their respective reporters, no less than 313 pages are devoted to the traditions said to have been related by Abu Hurairah! Some idea of what these figures mean will be gained if they are compared with the amount of space devoted in the Musnad to the traditions of other prominent ‘companions’ of the prophet. Thus, for example, the traditions related by ‘Ali bin Abu Talib cover eighty-five pages, those of ‘Umar bin Khattab forty-one, those of Abu Bakr twelve, and those of ‘Uthman eighteen. Yet these latter lived for many years with the prophet, and shared with him, not only his successes at Medina, but also his years of adversity in Mecca.

The accounts in which Abu Hurairah is accused of fabrication of traditions are very many in number. One or two illustrations must suffice here. 78 It is said, for example, that

فلما أتى من الرواية ما لم يأتِ بمثله من صحبه من جلة أصحابه والسابقين الأولين إليه اتهموه وأنكروه عليه وقالوا كيف سمعت هذا وحدك ومن سمعه معك.

‘When he brought a tradition the like of which those of the principal people who companied him (Muhammad) and who preceded Abu Hurairah had not brought, they suspected him, and repudiated it, and said, How is it that you alone heard this? Who else heard it with you?’ 79

Bukhari also relates a tradition to the effect that,

إن الناس يقولون أكثر أبو هريرة.

‘Verily the people say, Abu Hurairah relates too much.’ 80 The excuse given by Abu Hurairah was that many of the principal companions of the prophet were busy with their worldly business, whilst he used to remain with the apostle, and so had fuller opportunity of hearing his teaching. This excuse, however, evidently failed to still the angry murmurs of the people, and so the resourceful Abu Hurairah brought forward the following story in order to account for his wonderful memory,

قُلْتُ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ إِنِّي أَسْمَعُ مِنْكَ حَدِيثًا كَثِيرًا أَنْسَاهُ قَالَ ابْسُطْ رِدَاءَكَ فَبَسَطْتُهُ قَالَ فَغَرَفَ بِيَدَيْهِ ثُمَّ قَالَ ضُمَّهُ فَضَمَمْتُهُ فَمَا نَسِيتُ شَيْئًا بَعْدَهُ.

‘I said, O Apostle of God, I hear many traditions from you, which I forget. He (Muhammad) said, Stretch out your mantle. Therefore I stretched it out. He said, Then he took it in his two hands; after which he said, Gather it up. So I gathered it up; and I never forgot anything after that!! 81 No wonder that Al Nawawi, the commentator of Muslim, could tell us that Abu Hurairah knew 5,374 traditions. 82 And yet Bukhari is said to have only retained in his collection 446 of all the traditions related by Abu Hurairah. 83 Many illustrations are given in Muslim books of this man’s fabrication of traditions. One not very edifying tradition regarding purification makes Ayesha and Hafsa, two of the prophet’s wives, to contradict a tradition of Abu Hurairah on the subject. When the latter was brought to book, he said,

إنما حدثني بذلك الفضل بن العباس فاستشهد ميتاً وأوهم الناس أنه سمع الحديث من رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم.

‘Verily, Fadal bin Al-’Abbas related it to me. But (continued the narrator), the fact is, he called to witness a dead man, and pretended to the people that he had heard the tradition from the prophet. But he had not heard it.’ 84 In the book from which we have just quoted, a book written less than three hundred years after Muhammad, other stories are given of ‘Umar, ‘Uthman and ‘Ali contradicting the utterances of this champion traditionist. He himself, in later days, practically acknowledged his fault, and there is a tradition from Abu Salma that,

قلت له أكنت تحدث في زمان عمر هكذا قال لو كنت أحدث في زمان عمر ما أحدثكم لضربني بمخفقته.

‘I said to him (Abu Hurairah), And used you to relate thus in the time of ‘Umar? He replied, If I had related in the time of ‘Umar as I relate to you, he would have beaten me with his arrow.’ 85

There is an instructive story preserved in the Kitabu’l-Hayawan of the days of the Khalifa Harun ar Rashid to the effect that certain doctors of Islamic law were disputing in a Baghdad mosque, when the Hanifite doctor protested against the citation of Abu Hurairah as an authority, on the express ground that Abu Hurairah is suspected of falsehood in what he has written’. 86 And yet, practically the whole Muslim world to-day accepts this man as an authority, second to none, for the life and teachings of the prophet Muhammad!!

Another reporter, whose name appears very frequently in the isnads, is ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbas, generally known as Ibn ‘Abbas. In the musnad no less than 160 pages are devoted to traditions purporting to have been related by him. Ibn ‘Abbas is second only to Abu Hurairah as a traditionist, and stood first amongst the Muslims of his day as a commentator of the Qur’an. He is, indeed, the father of Qur’anic exegesis, and hundreds of reputed traditions claiming to throw light upon the obscure texts of the Qur’an are attributed to him. And yet this person was only a boy of fourteen years when Muhammad died, and only spent some three or four of those years in the companionship of the prophet! They must be credulous indeed who can believe that this boy of fourteen years really preserved from Muhammad the hundreds of traditions dealing with intricate expositions of difficult Qur’anic texts, together with the legal decisions based thereon. It is infinitely more probable either that Ibn ‘Abbas forged these traditions himself in later years, in order to secure for himself the honour and prestige attaching to a reporter, or else, which is still more probable, others of a later age fabricated them, and then, to give them the needful authority, forged the necessary isnad leading up to Ibn ‘Abbas. That isnads were forged in large numbers, we know. Thus Muslim relates how a man named Yazid bin Harun suspected Zayad bin Maimum of falsification. To test him, he asked him concerning a certain tradition. This the man gave, together with an isnad. Later on, Yazid again approached Zayad, and this time got a different isnad. This intensified his suspicions; so a third visit was paid, when the same tradition was repeated with still another chain of reporters. If the story had ended here, it might be rejoined that any given tradition may conceivably have, indeed many do have, more than one isnad. But in this case Yazid goes on to say that فنسبه إلى الكذب ‘He attributed it to a lie.’ 87 Another forger of isnads mentioned by Muslim was named ‘Abdul-Karim.

Another concrete example of the way traditions, with isnads to match, were so freely forged is given in the following story,

عَنْ أَيُّوبَ عَنِ الْحَسَنِ عَنْ صَخْرِ بْنِ قُدَامَةَ الْعُقَيْلِيِّ قَالَ: قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ: لَا يُولَدُ بَعْدَ سَنَةِ مِائَةٍ مَوْلُودٌ لِلَّهِ فِيهِ حَاجَةٌ قَالَ أَيُّوبُ: فَلَقِيتُ صَخْرَ بْنَ قُدَامَةَ فَسَأَلْتُهُ عَنِ الْحَدِيثِ، فَقَالَ: لَا أَعْرِفُهُ.

‘Ayub (heard) from Hasan (that he heard) from Sakhar bin Qadama that the apostle of God said, There will not be born after a hundred years a person for whom God has any need. Ayub said, Then I met Sakhar bin Qadama and asked him concerning the tradition. And he said, I do not know it.’ 88 That is to say, Sakhar repudiated a tradition which Hasan had reported as received from him. One of the clearest cases of isnad fabrication is the following from the Jami of At Tirmidhi

عن عبد الله بن الحسن عن أمه فاطمة بنت الحسين عن جدتها فاطمة الكبرى قالت: كان رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم إذا دخل المسجد صلى على محمد وسلم وقال رب اغفر لي ذنوبي وافتح لي أبواب رحمتك.

‘(It is related) from ‘Abdallah binu’l-Hasan from his mother Fatimah, the daughter of Al Husain, from her grandmother, Fatimah the elder, that she said, the apostle of God, when he used to enter the masjid, used to pray for blessings on himself and say, O Lord, forgive me my sins, and open to me the doors of thy mercy.’ 89 Now this isnad is demonstrably false, for, as At Tirmidhi points out, Fatimah, the daughter of Husain never saw her grandmother, Fatimah, the mother of Husain. As a matter of fact Fatimah the elder died when Husain was still a boy of eight years. Yet it is distinctly stated here that Fatimah, the daughter of Husain, heard the tradition from her grandmother Fatimah!

There is one other point to be mentioned before we close this chapter. It is this: assuming for the moment that the great mass of the traditions is authentic, in other words, that the great majority do really represent the utterances of Muhammad himself, the question arises, how far are they credible? Can their integrity as true and reliable reports of what Muhammad said be implicitly relied upon? The whole question has been raised in an acute form by the manifest contradictions which exist in the various reports of the prophet’s words. These often involve contradictions in matters of fact, and show clearly the dangers arising from an oral transmission carried over a number of years—and they show incidentally what would have happened to the Qur’an had not the Khalifa ‘Uthman eliminated all danger of having different, varying versions of that book by transcribing one copy, and then burning all the rest! The traditions underwent no such drastic recension, and so stand to-day with their many internal contradictions manifest to all. These are so evident, and are so at variance with any theory of accurate verbal transmission, that soon a doctrine was evolved from a reputed saying of Muhammad, no doubt manufactured for the occasion, that it was sufficient in repeating tradition if the general meaning were retained, without any reference to verbal exactness. Thus it is related that a certain disciple came to Muhammad and said,

يا رسول الله أني أسمع منك الحديث لا أستطيع أن أؤديه كما أسمعه منك يزيد حرفاً أو ينقص حرفاً فقال إذا لم تحلوا حراماً ولم تحرموا حلالاً وأصبتم المعنى فلا بأس.

‘O Apostle of God, I hear traditions from you, but I am not able to pass them on as I hear them from you, for they increase in words and decrease in words. He (the prophet) said, If you do not make the forbidden lawful or the lawful forbidden, but retain the meaning, then it does not matter.’ 90 Hence we are told that As Shafi’i, Abu Hanifs, Malik, Ahmad and Hasanu’l-Basri all recognized the right of Muslims, under certain conditions, to merely give the general sense of a tradition as distinct from an exact repetition of the prophet’s words.

That such verbal alterations were made is unquestionable. Thus it is related that,

كان ابن مسعود إذا حدث قال قال رسول الله كذا أو نحوه.

‘When Ibn Mas’ud related a tradition, he used to say, The apostle of God spoke thus, or something like it.’ 91 Again we read,

عن ابن عون أنه قال كان الحسن وإبراهيم والشعبي يأتون بالحديث على المعاني.

‘It is related from Ibn ‘Aun that he said, Al Hasan, Ibrahim and Ash Sha’bi used to relate the traditions according to the meaning.’ 92 Others also are mentioned, who contented themselves with giving the general tenor of the prophet’s words.

The reply to all this is obvious. Once admit the principle, and where will it end? If the first reporter, who actually heard a certain tradition from the lips of the prophet, repeated it with certain verbal alterations; and the second reporter, in like manner, added his own emendations; and the third, in turn, introduced still more verbal alterations, and so on through, it may be, a dozen reporters, then what guarantee have we that the tradition, as it now stands, even assuming it to have originated with Muhammad, bears any resemblance, even in meaning, to the original saying which left the prophet’s lips. Under the circumstances, we are not surprised to find that such alteration of the meaning did actually take place. An instance is given in the following tradition,

أن حماد بن سلمة كان يريد أن يختصر الحديث، فيقلب معناه.

‘Verily Hamad was wishing to abbreviate the traditions, but he turned its meaning upside down.’ 93

Another fact worth noticing in connexion with the question of the verbal transmission of tradition is that many of the transmitters were non-Arabs, and, as the author of the book quoted above admits, they did not know the Arabic language with its grammatical constructions, and so there occurred in their words many mispronunciations, of which they were unaware, which altered the sense’.

It is sometimes claimed by modern Muslims that the Muhammadan traditions rank, in their degree of inspiration, with the canonical Gospels of the Christian Scriptures: that they are, in other words, ‘the uninspired record of inspired sayings’. But this is obviously incorrect. The writers of the New Testament were inspired men, and recorded the teaching of Christ under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Even the Qur’an itself acknowledges this. Thus we read,

وَإِذْ أَوْحَيْتُ إِلَى الْحَوَارِيِّينَ.

‘(Remember) when I inspired the Apostles (of Christ).’ 94 But it is not claimed that the narrators of the traditions were inspired, or in any way protected from error in the task of handing down the multitude of traditions which soon came into existence; so that, even assuming the authenticity of those traditions—surely an impossible assumption, as we have seen—yet there is absolutely no guarantee that, in the long course of oral transmission, they have not suffered both by subtraction and addition.

The late Syed Ahmad Khan, one of the greatest of Indian Muslims, and the founder of Aligarh College, candidly admits the early falsification of tradition, and assigns the following reasons. He writes thus: ‘There exists no doubt respecting the circumstance of certain persons having fabricated some hadis in the prophet’s name. Those who perpetrated so impudent a forgery were men of the following descriptions:

(1) Persons desirous of introducing some praiseworthy custom among the public forged hadis in order to secure success. Such fabrication is restricted exclusively to those hadis which treat of the advantages and benefits which reading the Qur’an and praying procure to anyone, both in this world and the next; which show how reciting passages from the Qur’an cures every disease, etc., the real object of such frauds being to lead the public into the habit of reading the Qur’an and praying. According to our religion, the perpetrators of such frauds, or of any others, stand in the list of sinners.

(2) Preachers, with a view of collecting large congregations around them, and of amusing their hearers, invented many traditions, such traditions being only those which describe the state and condition of paradise and of hell, as well as the state and condition of the soul after death, etc., in order to awaken the fear of God’s wrath and the hope of salvation.

(3) Those persons who made alterations in the religion of the prophet, and who, urged by their prejudices, carried the same to extremes, and who, for the purpose of successfully confronting their controversial antagonists, forged such traditions in order to favour their own interested views.             

(4) Unbelievers who maliciously coined and circulated spurious hadis.’ 95

Despite these assertions of the learned Syed, innumerable traditions of the classes named by him still exist in the great collections of Bukhari and Muslim, and confirm what has been said above with regard to the absolute unreliability of those collections.

The fact is, as we have seen, neither the authenticity nor the integrity of Muslim tradition can be established. On the contrary, there is every reason to doubt both. And let it not be forgotten that it is upon the traditions, far more than upon the Qur’an, that the great systems of Muslim jurisprudence are based. The Islam current throughout the greater part of the world to-day is the Islam, not of the Qur’an, but of the traditions; and the Muhammad who is reverenced as a prophet of God by 200,000,000 of the human race is not the weak and erring man described in the Qur’an, but the semi-divine creation of Semitic imagination depicted in the traditions. No intelligent and honest Muslim should any longer tolerate such an anomaly.

51. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Kitabu'l-Iman.

52. Sharah Sahih al-Imam al-Bukhari, vol. i, p. 3.

53. Zubdatu'l-Bukhari, p. 52.

54. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Kitabu'l-Iman.

55. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Kitabu's-Salat.

56. Thomas Patrick Hughes, A Dictionary of Islam, published 1885, p. 640.

57. Mantakhab Kanzu'l-Amal (on margin of Misnad), vol. i, p. 101.

58. Ibn Majah, vol. i, p. 7.

59. Sahih Muslim, vol. i, p. 6.

60. Al Jam'i as-Saghir, vol. i, p. 101.

61. Ibn Majah, vol. I, p. 10.

62. Sahih Muslim, vol. i, p. 8.

63. Ibid.

64. At Tirmidhi, vol. i, p. 203. (Quoted in Gairdner's Mohammedan Tradition and Gospel Record, p. 12.)

65. Sahih Muslim, vol. i, p. 7.

66. Tujiyahu'n-nazar ila usulu'l-athar, p. 12.

67. Ibid., p. 11.

68. Tujiyahu'n-nazar ila usulu'l-athar, p. 11. See also, Sahih Bukhari, Book 3 Hadith 107.

69. Sahih Muslim, p. 11.

70. Ibid.

71. Sahih Muslim, p. 10.

72. MACDONALD: Muslim Theology, p. 80.

73. Al Nawami, Sharah Sahih Muslim, vol. i, p. 38.

74. Az Zaraqani on margin of the Muwatta, vol. i. p. 8.

75. Quoted in Gairdner's Mohammedan Tradition and Gospel Record, p. 20.

76. Tawil Mukhtalifu'l-Hadith, p. 48.

77. Futuhu'l-Buldan, p. 90.

78. The curious will find the subject dealt with at considerable length in Gairdner's Mohammadan Tradition and Gospel Record, pp. 13-15.

79. Tawil Mukhtalifu'l-Hadith, p. 48.

80. Sahihu'l-Bukhari, vol. i, p. 23.

81. Ibid., p. 24.

82. An Nawawi, vol. i, p. 120.

83. Tujiyahu'n-nazar ila usulu'l-athar, p. 11.

84. Tawil Mukhtalifu'l-Hadith, p. 28.

85. Tujiyahu'n-nazar ila usulu'l-athar, p. 13.

86. Quoted in Gairdner's Mohammedan Tradition and Gospel Record, p. 15.

87. Sahih Muslim, vol. I, p. 11.

88. Tawil Mukhtalifu'l-Hadith, p. 120.

89. Jam’iu’t-Tirmidhi, p. 102.

90. Tujiyahu'n-nazar ila usulu'l-athar, p. 299.

91. Ibid., p. 304.

92. Tujiyahu'n-nazar ila usulu'l-athar, p. 308.

93. Ibid., p. 314.

94. Sura al-Ma’idah, verse 111.

95. SYED AHMAD KHAN: Essay on Mohammedan Tradition; quoted in the Dictionary of Islam, pp. 641, 642.