CC ISSUE: APR 2012 Last updated: Apr 5, 2012
Please stop abusing the Prophet
Abdul Malik Mujahid
It is abusive to partially quote the Prophet Muhammad, God’s peace and blessings be upon him and thus distorting what he said. You might have heard a Hadith quoted by some Muslims and scores of Islamophobes: “Paradise is under the shadow of the swords?” I assumed that the Prophet, surrounded by enemies, must have said this to encourage fellow believers to defend his peace sanctuary (al-Haram) of Madinah. Well, that’s only partly true.
Here is the full text of what the Prophet actually said:
“Do not look for a fight with the enemy. Beg God for peace and security. But if you do end up facing the enemy, then show endurance and remember that Paradise is under the shadow of the swords.” (Recorded by Sahih al-Muslim.)
The complete Hadith is in sync with the historical context and the character of the Prophet. He was sent as a mercy to humanity, and cared deeply not just about human beings, but animals and other creatures as well. He prohibited hunting animals and cutting trees in his peace sanctuary. He never harmed anyone. He would go out of his way to maintain peace and avoid a war, unless the enemy forced him to it. That is why there is no word in Islam that translates to “holy war”. War is never holy. It was always a last resort forced upon the Prophet. Even then, in his entire life, the Prophet did not spend more than six days in war.
Unfortunately, it is the partial reading of the Hadith that is oft repeated by the Taliban-types and Islamophobes, since it fits into their theologies of anger and hate. However, the complete Hadith negates that culture.
On one occasion, I heard a Muslim argue with the help of another partial Hadith: “Help your brother whether he is wronged or is a wrong doer.” The person was using it to justify political support of Muslims, regardless of whether they are right or wrong. This behavior goes against the Quran which asks Muslims to be just even towards their enemies, even at the risk of hurting their self-interest. (Quran 4:135). The Prophet cannot go against the Quran. What he said in a lengthy statement included the explanation that “the way you support your wrong doer brother is by stopping him from that bad action” (as recorded by Sahih al-Muslim). This selective use of Hadith to support nationalistic behavior is contrary to Islamic principles. Muslims must never subscribe to the “My Country Right or Wrong” theory.
A false attribution to the Prophet may land a person in Hell: “A person who intentionally attributes a false statement towards me will find a place for himself in Hellfire.” (as recorded by Sahih al Bukhari).
It is important to remember the etiquettes of narrating a Hadith. Based on the above explanation, it would be a good idea to adopt the following Adab (etiquette):
Avoid stating a Hadith if you do not know the accurate wording.
Avoid sharing a partial Hadith, since you risk losing the sense of what the Prophet was reportedly saying.
Don’t draw big conclusions from a small statement unless you study the context.
Remember that the first principle of testing the authenticity of a Hadith is that it must not contradict the Quran.
The potential abuse of Hadith was probably the major reason why my teachers at the Darul Uloom Madrasah (Islamic seminary) which included one of the grand muftis of Pakistan, wanted us to first study all other disciplines of Islamic knowledge. It was only after we studied the Arabic language, grammar, literature, Quran, Fiqh, Usoolul fiqh, Usoolul Hadith, Usoolut Tafsir, philosophy, logic and rhetoric that we begin reading Hadith texts. This enabled us to be equipped with the methodology of interpreting Hadith in a proper context with the right tools. This is a standard method at most Madrasahs in South Asia.
A Hadith could be right or wrong. Scholars have sifted through hundreds and thousands of Hadith to classify them based on the authenticity level since many Hadith were fabricated. Islamic scholars came up with the twin disciplines of knowledge essentially to defeat this hadith fabricating chaos: Ilmul Rijal and Ilm Usulul Hadith. These disciplines deal with the biographies of Hadith narrators and use that information to classify a level of authenticity for the chain of a Hadith. Islamic scholars compiled hundreds of thousands of biographies of those who claimed to be narrating a saying of the Prophet. They evaluated them on the basis of trustworthiness, chronology, memory retention and the probability of their meeting the Prophet directly or meeting another narrator.
The scholars of Hadith focused essentially on determining the authenticity of the chain of narrators. The scholars of Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) on the other hand equipped with the multidisciplinary tools worked on determining how a Hadith will be used in reaching a conclusion. They took into account the whole spectrum of Islamic knowledge as well as skills of logical reasoning.
The best in the chain of Hadith is a Sahih Hadith. However, many Sahih Hadith including some in Sahih- al Bukhari are not used by Islamic scholars for multiple reasons: one being that it contradicts the Quran or does not fit in the overall prophetic teachings.
We must especially avoid Dhaeef (weak) Hadith. A Dhaeef Hadith is one whose chain of narration includes a proven liar. Unfortunately many people go around quoting and writing Dhaeef Hadith. The Tablighee Jamaat does good work; however, their main book, Fazaael-e-Aamaal, contains a large number of Dhaeef Hadith as well as stories which are not even Hadith. One such example is the story of the Prophet allegedly extending his hand from the grave to greet a poet.
If you are serious about basing your Islamic knowledge directly on Muatta Imam Malik, Sahih Al Bukhari, or Sahih Muslim, three of the top collections of Hadith or other classic Hadith collections, you should spend some time learning how a Hadith should be used and understood. The relevant disciplines of Islamic knowledge which deal with this topic are Usoolul Hadith, Usoolul Fiqh, and Ilm al Maqasid.
Until then, it is a good idea to stick to the Hadith collections compiled for the layperson, like Riyadhus Saliheen of Imam Nawawi, instead of heavy- duty classic Hadith books. If you are trying to figure out an Islamic opinion on a matter it might be better to look it up in a fiqh book instead of a Hadith book since fiqh scholars have mastered all the disciplines of Islamic knowledge.
A companion of the Prophet, Anas, May Allah be pleased with him, was so careful that when he narrates a Hadith, he would add “Or the way the Prophet might have said it.” My teachers at the Madrasah also used to say this after narrating each Hadith.
The Prophet left for us the Quran and his Sunnah, without which we would be lost. My request for us to be careful is not to be confused with those who reject the whole body of Hadith literature. Rather, I am advising that we avoid the tendency to partially quote a Hadith or form an opinion only with a partial Hadith, ignoring the complete teaching of the Quran and the Prophet, God’s Mercy and Blessings be upon him.
May God forgive us for not being careful with our tongue. He is indeed All-Merciful and All-Forgiving.
Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid is president of Sound Vision, parent company to Radio Islam.