THE TRADITIONS AND REASON
IN the previous chapters we have shown that large portions of the traditions, far from being a divine revelation mediated to the world by the prophet Muhammad, are the fabrications of a later age. We have also seen that many of the sayings ascribed to Muhammad are gross plagiarisms from the Christian Scriptures. Other traditions, again, directly contradict the teaching of the Qur’an, so that it is obviously impossible for the sincere Muslim to accept both. In the present chapter we propose to approach the subject from another angle, and to ask whether the traditions, as they stand to-day, can be accepted as a revelation from the standpoint of reason. Are they of such a character that educated and intelligent men can accept them as indeed a divine revelation? We propose, in this chapter, to very largely let the traditions themselves supply the answer. For ourselves, we are convinced that it is pure ignorance of the contents of such standard collections as those of Bukhari and Muslim—not to mention other less well- known collections—which allows many intelligent Muhammadans to subscribe to the general Muslim belief that the traditions are inspired, and, therefore, to be accepted as a divine rule of faith and practice.
We now propose to quote a number of traditions which are palpably false, because contrary to fact. Others, which we shall quote, are obviously equally false as being a jumble of the most puerile superstition; whilst still others contain such dishonouring representations of God that it becomes impossible for intelligent men to accept them as inspired.
We have already referred to the large number of traditions which describe the fabulous night-journey of Muhammad to Jerusalem, and thence to heaven. In the Siratu’l-Halabiyya 171 and other works it is distinctly stated that Muhammad, having arrived at Jerusalem, tied his wonderful steed, Buraq, to the very post at the temple gates to which previous prophets were wont to tie their steeds, after which, he entered the temple and performed his prayers. Now this tradition is demonstrably false, because the Jewish temple was destroyed by the Roman general Titus in 70 A.D., and was never afterwards rebuilt; consequently there was no temple standing at the time when Muhammad is supposed to have entered it!
In the same way, the traditions contain not a few egregious blunders with regard to the anatomy of the human body. Thus, for example, Muhammad is reported to have said that
فِي الْإِنْسَانِ ثَلَاثُمِائَةٍ وَسِتُّونَ مَفْصِلًا، فَعَلَيْهِ أَنْ يَتَصَدَّقَ عَنْ كُلِّ مَفْصِلٍ مِنْهُ بِصَدَقَةٍ.
‘There are in man three hundred and sixty joints, therefore it is incumbent upon him to give alms for each one of them.’ 172 Now, seeing that there are only about two hundred bones in the human body, it would puzzle Abu Da’ud, who is responsible for preserving this tradition, to explain to us how there could be nearly double that number of joints!
An equally absurd statement, which is attributed to Muhammad, and claims to have been related by ‘Ayesha, is to the effect that, ‘The breaking of the bones of a dead body is the same as breaking the bones of the living.’ 173 That is, as Abdu’l-Haqq, the commentator of the Mishkat, explains, ‘The dead feels pain just as the living does!’
In another tradition Muhammad is reported as saying, ‘If a fly falls into the drink of any one of you, then let him fully immerse it, after which let him take it out; for verily there is disease in one of its wings, and healing in the other.’ 174 According to another tradition, Muhammad is responsible for saying, ‘Do not bathe in water warmed by the sun, because it causes leprosy.’ 175 Muhammad’s knowledge of medicine, or rather the knowledge of those who fabricated the traditions and then foisted them on to the prophet, may be gauged by the following, ‘God has sent down no pain without sending down a remedy for it.’ ‘Fever is from the burning heat of hell, therefore cool it with water.’ 176 The reader will please notice that this childish statement is attested by both Bukhari and Muslim as coming from the prophet himself. Either, then, Muhammad did really utter these words, or else Bukhari and Muslim were both mistaken in accepting the tradition as genuine. In either case the Muhammadan is landed in a serious difficulty; for if Muhammad did really utter the words attributed to him, then they are words which no sane man can accept as inspired. If, on the other hand, he did not utter them, then what value can he attached to the collections of Bukhari and Muslim, or to the canons employed by these men in determining the truth or falsity of the traditions? On the whole, if the traditions are to be believed, Muhammad had more faith in spells and charms than in medicine for the cure of disease, and there are many sayings attributed to him which make one wonder at the credulity of those who gave such traditions a place in their collections. Thus, for example, we read that Muhammad allowed the use of charms in the case of the evil eye, the bite of scorpions, and boils’. 177 He is even reported to have allowed spells which were commonly used amongst the idolatrous Arabs of pre-Islamic days.
Another illustration of the nonsense to be met with in the traditions is the following reported utterance of Muhammad: ‘When God created the earth, it began to tremble, therefore He created the mountains, and placed them upon the earth. Then the earth became firm.’ 178
Not more scientific is Muhammad’s explanation of meteors. He declared that meteors were nothing more than darts cast at the devils by the angels, when the former draw near to the portals of heaven to listen by stealth to the converse of the celestial regions! Thus it is stated in a tradition, preserved by Muslim, that, ‘Whilst his majesty’s friends were sitting with him one night, a very bright star shot. Then his highness said, What did you say in the days of ignorance (i.e. before Islam) when a star shot like this? They said, God and his messenger know best. We used to say, A great man was born to-night, and a great man died. Then his majesty said, You mistook, because the shooting of these stars is neither for the life nor death of any person; but when our Cherisher orders a work the bearers of the imperial throne sing hallelujahs, and the inhabitants of the regions who are near the bearers repeat it till it reaches the lowest regions. After that the angels which are near the bearers of the imperial throne say, What did your Cherisher order? Then they are informed, and so it is handed from one region to another, till the information reaches the people of the lowest region. Then the devils steal it, and carry it to their friends (that is) magicians; and these stars are thrown at these devils; not for the birth or death of any person. Then the things which the magicians tell, having heard from the devils, are true but these magicians tell lies, and exaggerate in what they hear?’ 179 Unfortunately for Muhammad, the same superstition is also found in the Qur’an, so that, in this case at least, he cannot be excused its authorship, on the ground that the tradition is not genuine. We refrain from commenting further on this story, which is surely worthy of a place amongst the thousand-and-one tales of the Arabian Nights.
There are few more favourite subjects with the authors of the traditions than the great enemy of mankind; and many are the stories in which his name appears. For downright absurdity the following tradition, related by Bukhari, will be difficult to beat. ‘The prophet said, When any one of you awakes, and after that performs the wudu’ (i.e. ablutions) he must blow his nose, after throwing water into it, because verily the devil takes his post in the nose at night!’ 180
Another equally absurd statement is to the effect that the prophet said, ‘When you hear the cock crow, then supplicate God for an increase of his beneficence; because the cock sees an angel, and crows at the sight. And when you hear an ass bray, seek protection with God from the devil, and say, I take protection with God from the cast-out devil, because the ass has seen the devil’. 181
Another tradition, in which the devil prominently figures, runs as follows, ‘The prophet said, Ye must not say your prayers at the rising or the setting of the sun. Then when a limb of the sun appeareth, leave your prayers, until his whole orb is up; and when the sun beginneth to set, quit your prayers until the whole orb have disappeared; for verily he riseth between the two horns of the devil’. 182 The reason for this prohibition, as given by the commentator of the Mishkat, ‘Abdu’l Haqq, is worthy of the tradition, and is to the effect that the devil takes his post in the air near the sun, and puts his head close to that luminary at the time of his rising and setting; so as to front those who worship the sun at those times, and receive their prostrations. Therefore Muhammad forbade his disciples to pray at those times, that their prayers might not be confounded with those who adored the sun!
The late Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, in his Essay on Mohammedan Tradition, has expressed the opinion that many traditions were invented by early Muslim preachers with a view to collecting large congregations around them, and of amusing their hearers’. What, we wonder, could have been the object in manufacturing the following absurd tradition, which, we are gravely asked to believe, represents the words of Muhammad addressed to a certain writer: ‘The apostle of God said, Put the pen upon your ear, because it assists epistolary style.’ 183 Such puerility is only equalled by the following, which is likewise attributed to the prophet: ‘Whoever eats in a dish, and licks it afterwards, the dish intercedes with God for him.’ 184
In another tradition it is stated that when Muhammad announced that, at the last day, both sun and moon would be cast into hell, Hasan Basri, who heard the tradition from Abu Hurairah, asked in astonishment, for what sin would the sun and moon be thus punished? This, Abu Hurairah was unable to say. 185 The commentators, however, have not been slow to find a reason. Thus ‘Abdul-Haqq gravely informs us that some of the learned have written that the reason of their being cast into hell is that the sufferings of the inhabitants of hell might be increased by their heat!’
One of the saddest, and at the same time most astonishing, characteristics of the traditions is the absolute lack of any moral perspective: the failure of those who manufactured them to appreciate moral values. This strange confusion of thought caused them to place, on one level of wickedness, serious moral crimes and mere accidental omissions in ceremonial observances. With them the slightest breach of some absurd detail of ritual is as heinous a crime as the infraction of any grave moral law, such as adultery. We need scarcely point out what an aspersion this casts on the character of God, and how far short it falls of the teaching of the New Testament. The Pharisees, who found fault with Jesus for healing the sick upon the Sabbath day, were not to be compared in crass inconsistency with those super-Pharisees who were the authors of so many of the traditions, and were the greatest adepts at straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel, that the world has ever seen. Thus we are told by these same people, in the name of Muhammad of course, that, ‘One dirhem of interest. which a man eats, knowing it to be so, is a more grievous offence than thirty-six adulteries.’ 186 Another tradition relates that Muhammad said, ‘The taking of interest has seventy parts of guilt, the least of which is this, that a man commit incest with his own mother.’ 187
As an instance of the extraordinary confusion of thought which places the infraction of mere ceremonial law on a level with the gravest sins we note the following tradition from ‘Abdu’llah bin ‘Umar, who said, ‘I returned with the prophet from Mecca to Medina. When we arrived at some water which was in the Mecca road, a party hastened to perform wudu’ for the afternoon prayers; and they did so in a hurry. And we came up to them, and found that they had not wetted the under part of their feet. The prophet said, Alas on the soles of the feet, for they will be in hell fire. Then he ordered them to perform the wudu’ thoroughly, without the least deviation, so that not even the breadth of a finger nail be dry.’ 188
According to these same legalists, one of the gravest sins is that of wearing the trousers long; for, they make Muhammad to say, ‘That part of the trousers below the ankle is in hell fire.’ 189
In no subject has the imagination of the traditionists run riot more freely than in dealing with the subject of paradise. It is, moreover, significant that the pleasures of paradise are depicted, in the traditions, as almost entirely corporeal, and often grossly sensual. Thus, ‘If you are taken into paradise,’ said Muhammad to a man who loved horses, ‘you will be given a ruby horse with two wings, and you will mount him, and he will carry you wherever you wish.’ 190 To another, he is reported to have said, ‘When a Muslim shall wish for children in paradise, the pregnancy and birth will take place in one hour.’ 191 Whilst, to a third, who loved cultivation, it was promised that, when he reached paradise, ‘He will be permitted to cultivate. And he will sow, and then, quicker than the twinkling of an eye, it will grow, be ripe, and reaped like mountains.’ 192
Just because the pleasures of the paradise of the traditions are sensual, there are whole sections which are so grossly obscene, both in thought and language, that we dare not translate them here. This remark applies with equal cogency to other sections of the traditions, particularly to those dealing with ceremonial ablutions. Many of these traditions are unutterably vile, and we cannot believe that any pure-minded and God-fearing Muslim can ever accept them as of divine origin. For the sake of the reputation of his prophet we imagine he will be unwilling to accept them as genuine reports of his utterances. And yet many of these traditions rest on the same authority—that of Bukhari and Muslim—as do those dealing with canon law. Therefore they stand or fall together. The honest Muslim is thus left with no alternative but to discard the whole body of tradition, together with the Muslim shari’ah founded thereon. This is the only course open to those who value truth above expediency.
Some of the stories told in the traditions reveal an almost incredibly perverted view of the character of God. We have no space for more than two or three illustrations here. The reader will find fuller details in the author’s God in Islam. There is a story, preserved by Muslim, to the effect that a certain Muhammadan, who had, on account of his faith, been released from the fire of hell, was told by God to enter paradise. When the fortunate man arrived at the portals of paradise, it appeared, in his eyes, to be quite full; so he returned and informed God that he found no room there. He was ordered to go again; and again he found heaven full, and returned and reported the fact to his Creator. Then God once more repeated the order, assuring the man, as he did so, that he would receive equal to the whole world and ten times more. To this the man is reported as replying,
أتسخر بي أو تضحك بي.
‘Are you scoffing at me, or laughing at me?’ Then, continues the supposed narrator of the tradition, ‘Uthman bin Abi Shaibat,
لقد رأيت رسول الله صلى الله وعليه وسلم ضحك حتى بدت نواجذه.
‘I saw the apostle of God laugh until his teeth appeared.’ 193 Apparently Muhammad, if he be indeed the author of the legend, treated it as a huge joke; and yet this tradition has been gravely handed down through all the centuries as the true report of an actual occurrence!
In no set of traditions has the character of God been more maligned than in those relating to fate. According to them man is in the grip of a cruel and unrelenting fate which takes no account of his actions, but works out its predestined course with unerring and unfaltering precision. Man himself is but a puppet whose every act, both good and bad, has been predestined from all eternity, and written down upon the preserved table long before the creation of the world. The authors of these traditions apparently failed to see that such a conception of man’s relation to God inevitably leads to the obliteration of all moral distinctions and undermines all sense of human responsibility. Not only so, but carried to its logical conclusions, it makes God the author of sin, and leaves man impotent for either good or evil. We now proceed to give illustrative quotations to show the lengths to which this doctrine, which undoubtedly has its genesis in the Qur’an itself, has been carried in Muslim tradition. There is a tradition in the Mishkat to the effect that, ‘The prophet said, Verily God created Adam, and touched his back with his right hand, and brought forth from it a family. And God said to Adam, I have created this family for paradise, and their actions will be like unto those of the people of paradise. Then God touched the back of Adam, and brought forth another family, and said, I have created this for hell, and their actions will be like those of the people of hell. Then a man said to the prophet, Of what use will deeds of any kind be? He said, When God createth His servant for paradise, his actions will be deserving of it until he die, when he will enter therein; and when God createth one for the fire, his actions will be like those of the people of hell till he die, when he will enter therein.’ 194 That this teaching of the prophet did not meet with universal approval is evident from the objections of Abu Khizamab, who is reported as asking what, if everything be pre-destined, could be the use of the medicine he drank, or of the shield he used in battle? This was a poser for which the prophet was ill-prepared; and there is a tradition from Abu Hurairah that, ‘The prophet of God came out of his house when we were debating about fate; and he was angry, and became red in the face, to such a degree that you would say the seeds of a pomegranate had been bruised on it. And he said, Hath God ordered you to debate of fate, or was I sent to you for this? You forefathers were destroyed for debating about fate and destiny. I adjure you not to argue on those points.’ 195
In another tradition God is represented as pointing out to Adam the spirits of his descendants and dividing them into two hands, one black and the other white. Then pointing to the white children on the right hand he said,
إلى الجنة ولا أبالي.
‘To paradise, and I care not!’ Whilst to those on the left hand he said,
إلى النار ولا أبالي.
‘To hell, and I care not!’ 196
Still another tradition is to the effect that ‘there is no one amongst you whose place is not written by God, whether in the fire or in paradise.’ 197
We do not care to comment further on these dishonouring representations of God. We believe that no earnest and intelligent Muslim who really appreciates their implications will be willing to accept them as the inspired utterances of Muhammad. Like the great bulk of the traditions they are the fanciful creations of a later age.
To sum up: a great part of Muslim tradition is, first of all, false in claiming to be the record of what Muhammad said and did. It was, as we have shown, the product of a later age, much of it the result of Christian influence. In the next place, many of the traditions disagree with the Qur’an, and are, therefore, for Muslims, ruled out of court. And lastly, as we have seen in this chapter, the traditions are full of puerilities and absurdities, which are as derogatory to any claims to divine authorship as are the obscenities which disfigure so many of the reputed utterances of Muhammad.
Let the honest Muhammadan ponder these facts, and he will realize that, for him, there can be no compromise. The traditions must go, and with them the whole superstructure of the canon law reared thereon. He will then be left with a prophet without miracles, who repeatedly asked pardon for his sins, and, in the most explicit language, repudiated the power to intercede at the judgement day. Such a renunciation will not be easy; but he, who is loyal to truth, will have naught to regret and naught to fear.
171. Siratu'l-Halabiyya, vol. i. p. 403.
172. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Bab Salatu'd-Duha.
173. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Bab Dafanu'l-Mait.
174. Zubdatu'l-Bukhari, p. 160.
175. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Kitabu't-Taharat.
176. Zubdatu'l-Bukhari, p. 157.
177. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Kitabu't-Tub wa'r-Ruqqa.
178. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Kitabu'z-Zakat.
179. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Kitabu't-Tub wa'r-Ruqqa. Another form of this tradition is given in the Siratu'l-Halabiyya, vol. i, p. 231. See also, Qur’an as-Saffat 37:6-10 and Qur’an Jinn 72:9.
180. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Kitabu't-Taharat.
181. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Kitab Asma' Allah Ta'ala. This tradition is also given Zubdatu'l-Bukhari, p. 160.
182. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Kitabu's-Sujud.
183. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Kitabu'l-Adab.
184. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Kitabu't-Ta'amah.
185. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Bab Sifatu'n-Nar.
186. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Babu'r-Riba.
188. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Kitabu't-Taharat.
189. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Kitabu'l-Libas.
190. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Bab Sifatu'l-Jannah.
192. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Bab Sifatu'l-Jannah.
193. Sahih Muslim, vol. i. p. 68.
194. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Babu'l-Qadr.
196. Mishkatu'l Masabih, Babu'l-Qadr.