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Do people use Hadith to abuse Islam?

Do people use Hadith to abuse Islam?


Do you agree with this sentiment from Dr. Asma Barlas?: “Many people who are using the hadith are unhappy with the egalitarianism of the Quran. Whatever the Quran opens up, the hadith can shut down.” Going by some of your commentary on the utilization of hadith, it seems as if you would at least agree with her on some level. Anyway, it’s no wonder us Muslim’s are in such a sad state of affairs when it comes to progress- we’ve inadvertently allowed hadith to hold more weight than the word of God.

Salaam alykum,

When people talk about the relative progress of a society, and in this case Muslims’ progress, we like to utilize cultural factors as explanatory markers of socio-economic deficiencies. We essentialize ourselves and have actually inculcated and accepted the view that Orientalism has placed upon us, which is what saddens me the most.

So when people talk about “progress” I’m unsure of what they mean. Through experience, this sentiment is generally directed towards comparing whether Muslim societies have the economic performance of other societies, with the assumed prognosis being that the “unique” social barriers of Muslim countries are the main stumbling block towards the progress of this performance, which disregards educational policies, labor policies, or institutional arrangements.

I find this position to be rather, questionable, at best.

Why? I don’t think any other population’s relative progress is defined by their religious texts, so to sort of “zero-in” on this element is curious to me.

So I would disagree, respectfully, with the statement from Dr. Barlas, especially the concluding sentence that “Whatever the Quran opens up, the hadith can shut down,” for the following reasons:

The issue isn’t about The Quran being egalitarian and the Hadith not being so, because, without context and explanation, The Quran can be misread very easily, and it still is, unfortunately. The problem is that access to information on The Quran is much much easier to have than information on The Hadith. People read collections of Hadith, unaware if the particular Hadith they are reading is a complete Hadith or not, so what are the chances that they will have access to the literature which explains the context of the Hadith? This is of the utmost importance because context is critical towards making sense of a Hadith. In fact, I would argue–in general–that context is even more important when considering a Hadith than it is with an ayah of The Quran.

This fallacy that the Hadith are the sole source of problems, is, in my mind, not just lazy, but simplistic. Any scripture can be abused, The Quran, despite its perfection, is no exception.

The issue is that the access to explanatory texts of the Hadith are far more limited than explanatory texts for the Quran.

If I asked a Muslim “can you name an author of Tafseer (Qur’anic Exegesis)?” I’m sure that they could. Let me ask you, the reader, name one. Ibn Kathir. Razi. Tabari. Etc etc.

Now, name one commentary on the Hadith. Were you able to name more than one? If so, I’m impressed, because most Muslims do not know about Hadith literature.

Also, how many people read Tafaseer (plural of Tafseer) outside of the one that is inside their Qur’an? How many books of Bukhari or Muslim have anywhere near the level of footnotes, explanatory sections, or introductions that any edition of The Qur’an may have? It’s not magic, it’s access to information, and that is severely lacking in the work on Hadith, especially in relation to The Qur’an.

Furthermore, when people discuss Hadith they seldom mention Muwatta of Imam Malik or the tremendous works of Suyuti and others upon Hadith science. There is a fixation on Bukhari and Muslim, and this error of reading the Hadith without context, nuance, or deeper understanding is a charge that applies not only to the ignorant people that Dr. Barlas bemoans, but to the critics of Hadith themselves.

It is far easier to say “ah ha! Hadith are the problem,” than to look at the structural issues I mentioned at the beginning, i.e. issues with education, labor policies, etc. This current of a Quran-only approach routinely omits where the necessary elements of their discourse on The Quran comes from. For instance, how do we know if a Surah is from the period in Mecca or Medina? Even beyond that, Tafaseer are basedon Hadith, and the nuanced, “progressive” understandings of the ayahs of The Quran that people, like Dr. Barlas, cite come from Hadith and as do scholars who can justify these positions through Hadith.

So, I would not agree with this statement. I think the issue is that the access to explanations and analysis of Hadith and the accompanying literature is difficult to access even in Arabic, let alone English. I think the scapegoating of Hadith is a quaint position that tries to find a “smoking gun” for problems that almost entirely exist outside the realm of “formal Islam.”

Again, the “egalitarianism” of The Qur’an that we, today, assume to be there, is the result of work by scholars and Muslims to explain why certain ayahs of The Qur’an say this or that. For instance, take the issue of women as witnesses, and the debate whether it is required that two women equal one man. If you ask many Muslim women they would be able to explain the reasons behind this, in fact, I’ve seen many Muslim women (masha Allah) give multiple levels of explanation for this concept.

Where do we get this perspective though? It is from scholarship, not just from The Qur’an itself, but from sources outside of The Qur’an, i.e. commentaries and academic work on The Qur’an. The work has been done to ensure that The Qur’an’s egalitarianism is emphasized and that whatever could possibly violate that rule is understood in context.

Again, this took work, with an emphasis on historical scholarship of The Qur’an. The Hadith, sadly enough, has not received this sort of work. No one reads Imam Malik’s work, for instance, they simply take a Hadith as is, point to it and say “there you go.” No one tries to go past that, this is a process that is done by both supporters of the Hadith and those who oppose them.

So, when people talk about the Hadith being the “root of all evil,” I shrug, because that’s incorrect. Hadith are critical towards understanding many foundational assumptions of The Qur’an itself, and reading through Quranist positions, whether historic or modern, this becomes true, especially once you witness the application of The Qur’an in their religious lives.

However, another major issue is that Hadith are misunderstood by many for various reasons, such as: how they relate to The Qur’an, how the various collections’ methodology worked, which Hadith are strong and which aren’t, and what the purpose of Hadith are, from a legalistic perspective.

The access to information on Hadith is limited, and that is a major problem, but the other issue is that how the Hadith “work,” functionally speaking, is also misunderstood. The Hadith are not just random moments when The Prophet stood up and said “I declare this.” They have contexts, they have backgrounds, they have reasons as to why something was said and why something else wasn’t.

For instance, when the Republicans take President Obama’s statement that “you didn’t build that,” they are taking a statement out of context. If Obama was, indeed, stating what Republicans believe, then it would be an even larger political problem than it already is.

What is interesting is that those who wish to dismiss the Hadith and those who wish to abuse the Hadith both utilize the same approaches towards the Hadith. They remove context, they dismiss nuance, and they actually both remove the discretion and flexibility of The Qur’an because they assign singular possibilities towards applying The Qur’an in line with their view. Whether we agree or disagree with the relative “goodness” of these positions on The Qur’an is immaterial, as functionally speaking, people have imposed a singular viewpoint onto The Qur’an; and by doing so, not only does this ignore The Prophet’s mundane context (how people lived, what were their choices, etc) but the revolutionary change that the Shariah, utilizing The Qur’an and the Sunnah as its main sources, had upon society.

That’s why I do not agree with this statement of Dr. Barlas, because it assumes that there aren’t people who are capable of abusing The Qur’an in a way that removes egalitarianism, and not even just from the stance of gender, but of a whole host of spheres. So, I think until we have created greater access to Hadith literature, just like we have done with access to The Qur’an and related resources, the Hadith will continue to be abused, not just by internet Muftis, but, because Muslims who aren’t scholars do not know where to start, they do not know how to challenge the claims and interpretations of Hadith they find disagreeable.

Greater access to information will always help, and I think that’s the issue, not the Hadith themselves.

I hope this answers your question, insha Allah.

I pray this reaches you and your families in the best of health and Iman, insha Allah.

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