The Science of Hadith – Part III (Importance of the Hadith)

HADITH1Although the utterances of the Prophet (saws) acquired significance only after the Qur’an had begun to come down, it were his utterances alone that, for long duration, served the functions of Divine Revelation thereafter. There were long and short spells during which the Qur’anic revelations did not come. During such spells Prophetic words filled the void. The Prophet answered questions, made decisions and uttered what became the Law.

It was of course obvious to his earliest followers that what the Prophet said carried Allah’s approval. Had He not appointed him His Envoy? If they doubted any of his statements, it meant doubting the first statement that gave him the right of audience: “I am the Messenger of Allah.” Therefore, when he demonstrated to them how they were to make ablution, they realized that it had Divine approval. All that the Prophet told them was that Jibril had come down and taught him how to make ablution. But, had his followers refused to perform ablution in the manner he instructed – on grounds that there was no revelation to that effect in the Qur’an – they would have become unbelievers. Thus, acceptance of hadith as an authoritative discourse was part of faith from the earliest days of Islam.

To elaborate, anyone who denied the hadith, denied that the Prophet was a Messenger. The earliest revelations spoke of quite a few things, but did not say that Allah had appointed him a Messenger. Those who believed in the Prophet, or rejected him, did it on the authority of the hadith – the spoken word of the Prophet. When he said, “I am a Messenger”, they had to believe in him. At best he could say – to strengthen his position – that he had received revelation, and then read out a few verses. But those verses did not say he had been appointed a Messenger. How many individuals have not been recorded by history who claimed they received revelations, but did not claim that they were messengers of God?! The earliest Qur’anic revelations were themselves proof that the Prophet had received revelation – but they did not make any statement to that effect. It was hadith which said that he was a Messenger also. Thus, in the earliest days whoever denied the hadith was an unbeliever.

In fact, to the first few followers Hadith was more important than the Qur’an. They depended on Hadith to distinguish between Divine Words and the Prophet’s own. It was Hadith which told them about what were his (the Prophet’s) words and what were Divine. Without that information coming through hadith, the Companions would not have known the difference between the two. The problem was so real that in early stages the Prophet had to instruct them not to write down the hadith fearing a mix up between the two. It is indeed on the authority of the hadith that the Qur’an we have in our hands has been compiled. Had the Prophet not instructed – through hadith – what was the Qur’an, and what was the Hadith, we would not have been able to distinguish to the finest accuracy.

The above clarifies the point that although it was the Qur’anic revelation which accorded importance to the hadith and sanctioned it as worthy of belief, in the eyes of the earliest followers it was the Hadith which came first. The Prophet (saws) had to speak about his mission in his own words. That became the first hadith. If his audience inquired if he had received revelations, and he said yes, then, that became the second hadith. When inquired about what exactly belief in Islam constituted, and he explained that they were required to worship none but Allah, be kind and dutiful to the parents, the neighbors, the poor and the destitute, etc., then those statements, whether yet revealed in the Qur’an or not, became the third, fourth and fifth hadith. Thus the mass of Hadith grew, with or without the Revelation keeping in pace with it; and whether or not the hadith was being preserved.

Dependence on the Hadith

At all events, it was a necessary assumption on the part of the early followers, that the Prophet’s words, if not Divine, had Divine authority. As time went by something else strengthened their belief. It is as follows: When the Prophet spoke on a topic – and by necessity he spoke on many topics – the Qur’an did not touch upon it. This meant that Divine Will extended approval to the Prophet filling the gap.

In other words, what the latter day Muslims had to be taught as a basic Islamic tenet was simply a matter of fact and necessity for the first generation Muslims. They had to, for all practical purposes treat the Qur’an and the Hadith alike. And, the need remained to the end of the Prophetic carrier. That was because the Qur’an never took up for exposition what the Prophet took up. For instance, the Qur’an spoke on how the Muslims were to Pray when faced up with an enemy in the battle-field. But such occasions were few. Had the Qur’an not spoken on that topic, Muslims would not have been at a great loss. What if they prayed in the regular manner, or did not Pray at all on those rare occasions of war? Yet the Qur’an took up the topic and explained in detail how they were to offer their Prayers on such occasions. On the other hand, the Qur’an did not say a word on how to pray in times of peace: which was the norm, and which was more important to speak of since the Muslims were required to pray five times every day. Obviously, if the Qur’an did not do it, despite the importance of Prayers in Islam, it was because the Prophet had done so, in words and in practice. In fact, the Qur’anic injunctions about how to shorten the Prayers would have been meaningless, had the Prophet not explained how to offer complete Prayers in normal circumstances. If you do not have the fuller version, how are you to comprehend the shorter version? This demonstrates that the Divine Revelation took account of the Hadith.

Zakah is another example. The Qur’an did not mention Prayers without mentioning Zakah. It spoke of Zakah and common charities hundreds of times, threatening those who did not pay up with severe chastisement. But it never explained what Zakah meant, what amount of one’s earning was due, when, at what intervals, out of what levels of wealth or earnings, on what commodities, etc. These were details without which mere exhortations or threats of punishment did not serve any purpose. But the Qur’an gave no details whatsoever. Why? For the reason that the Prophet (saws) had spoken and given all the essential details. Once again, a major issue, but the Qur’an did not touch upon it, leaving its followers dependent on the Hadith.

Usury is another case in point. The Qur’an spoke of its unlawfulness in such harsh terms as of nothing else. It declared war, with Allah and His Messenger as the combatants, against those who deal in usury.  But it did not say what constituted usury, without which the threats were but empty words. But, were they, after the Hadith statements?

In short, while the Qur’an dealt with both the major as well as minor issues – but not all – the Hadith too touched upon both the major as well as minor issues: those that the Qur’an had ignored. The two then, complement each other. By not speaking on what the Prophet (asws) had spoken, even if something very important, the Qur’an gave the unmistakable message that the Muslims had to look into the Prophetic words for guidance. His words removed the need for their appearance in the Qur’an, thus, incidentally helping to shorten it. They acquired a permanent character, very similar to those of the Qur’anic statements. Hence the Prophet’s words, “I have been given the Qur’an and something similar to it.”

Qur’anic Directives

It is in this scheme of things then, that one finds directives in the Qur’an to follow Prophetic commandments, prohibitions, and exhortations. It said:

وَأَنزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الذِّكْرَ لِتُبَيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ مَا نُزِّلَ إِلَيْهِمْ وَلَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ

And We have revealed to you (O Prophet) the admonition (i.e., the Qur’an) so that you may explain it to the people what has been revealed for them; hopefully they will ponder” (Al-Nahl, 44).

Thus, a study of the Revelation was not all to know the Divine Will. Although the Revelation was in their language, and, they spoke and understood high quality Arabic, the people were nevertheless to seek to know from the Prophet what exactly the Revelation was saying. To the question that arises, what was the legal standing of the explanations of the Prophet? The answer given by the Revelation was,

وَمَا آتَاكُمُ الرَّسُولُ فَخُذُوهُ وَمَا نَهَاكُمْ عَنْهُ فَانتَهُوا

And, accept that which the Messenger gives you (of the meanings and commands) and refrain from that which he prohibits you” (Al-Hashr, 7).

In other words, prescriptions and proscriptions of the Prophet (saws) were to be treated as equal to those in the Revelations. To remove any lingering doubt, the following was revealed (AlNisa’, 80):

مَّنْ يُطِعِ الرَّسُولَ فَقَدْ أَطَاعَ الله

“Whoever obeyed the Messenger, obeyed Allah.”

The Qur’an in fact declared the acceptance of the Prophet’s judgment as a litmus test for one’s faith in Islam. Mere obedience of the Prophet was not considered enough. They had to submit their will to him. If they held any reservations, against the Prophetic judgment, they were not Muslims. A tough demand, but a demand all the same, and which explains why so many fell out. The Qur’an said,

فَلاَ وَرَبِّكَ لاَ يُؤْمِنُونَ حَتَّىَ يُحَكِّمُوكَ فِيمَا شَجَرَ بَيْنَهُمْ ثُمَّ لاَ يَجِدُواْ فِي أَنفُسِهِمْ حَرَجًا مِّمَّا قَضَيْتَ وَيُسَلِّمُواْ تَسْلِيمًا

No, by your Lord, they will not (truly) believe until they accept you as a judge in matters of dispute between themselves, and then, find no displeasure in their hearts for your judgment, and submit themselves in total submission” (Al-Nisa’, 65).

But the demand on Muslims was greater than stated in the above verse. It was not merely to submit themselves in total submission, physically, and at heart, but, to accept his ways, manners, and behavior as a model for themselves. Another reason why many who claim to be Muslims, shirk, wriggle and wrestle with the hadith. They do not wish to relinquish their right to freedom to this level. The revelation told those who professed faith in Islam,

لَقَدْ كَانَ لَكُمْ فِي رَسُولِ اللَّهِ أُسْوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ

Surely, there is a good example for you in the ways of the Prophet” (Al-Ahzab, 21).

Where are his examples now, save in the recorded traditions? Indeed, the Qur’an made no distinction between its own decrees and those of the Prophet. It declared the Prophet as the law-making authority by saying,

الَّذِينَ يَتَّبِعُونَ الرَّسُولَ النَّبِيَّ الأُمِّيَّ الَّذِي يَجِدُونَهُ مَكْتُوبًا عِندَهُمْ فِي التَّوْرَاةِ وَالإِنْجِيلِ يَأْمُرُهُم بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَاهُمْ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ وَيُحِلُّ لَهُمُ الطَّيِّبَاتِ وَيُحَرِّمُ عَلَيْهِمُ الْخَبَآئِثَ

Those who follow the unlettered Messenger-Prophet, whom they find written with them in the Tawrah and Injil.. He orders them the virtuous and forbids them the evil; and he declares unto them lawful the good things, forbidding them the unclean…” (Al-A`raf, 157).

There is another way in which the Qur’an bound its adherents to the utterances of the Prophet. It achieved this by its method of narration so that without the Hadith a good portion of the Revelation remains ambiguous. For example, Allah said (24: 15-17),

إِذْ تَلَقَّوْنَهُ بِأَلْسِنَتِكُمْ وَتَقُولُونَ بِأَفْوَاهِكُم مَّا لَيْسَ لَكُم بِهِ عِلْمٌ وَتَحْسَبُونَهُ هَيِّناً وَهُوَ عِندَ اللَّهِ عَظِيمٌ . وَلَوْلا إِذْ سَمِعْتُمُوهُ قُلْتُم مَّا يَكُونُ لَنَا أَن نَّتَكَلَّمَ بِهَذَا سُبْحَانَكَ 

يَعِظُكُمُ اللَّهُ أَن تَعُودُوا لِمِثْلِهِ أَبَداً إِن كُنتُم مُّؤْمِنِينَ هَذَا بُهْتَانٌ عَظِيمٌ

When you were picking up with your tongues and uttering with your mouths that about which you had no knowledge. You counted it an inconsequential thing while with Allah it was something very serious. Why did you not say, when you heard of it, ‘It is not right of us to speak of this. Glory to You (O Allah), this is a great slander.’ Allah forbids it to you and warns you not to repeat the like of it forever – if you are believers.”

What is it the people were ‘picking up’ which earned Allah’s rebuke in such strong terms? What was it that they were uttering? What is it that the people had heard? Allah forbids. But what is it He forbids? It is important to know these details, since committing the same error would render a man an unbeliever? Can we know the answer without referring to the Hadith?

To cite another example, the Qur’an said, (9: 74):

يَحْلِفُونَ بِاللّهِ مَا قَالُواْ وَلَقَدْ قَالُواْ كَلِمَةَ الْكُفْرِ وَكَفَرُواْ بَعْدَ إِسْلاَمِهِمْ وَهَمُّواْ بِمَا لَمْ يَنَالُواْ وَمَا نَقَمُواْ إِلاَّ أَنْ أَغْنَاهُمُ اللّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ مِن فَضْلِهِ فَإِن يَتُوبُواْ يَكُ خَيْراً لَّهُمْ وَإِن يَتَوَلَّوْا يُعَذِّبْهُمُ اللّهُ عَذَاباً أَلِيماً فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالآخِرَةِ وَمَا لَهُمْ فِي الأَرْضِ مِن وَلِيٍّ وَلاَ نَصِيرٍ

They swear by Allah that they said no such thing. But, in actual fact, they did say the word of unbelief, disbelieving, after their surrender (to Islam), and strove to achieve what they could not. And they took not revenge but (for the fact) that Allah had enriched them by His grace, and (so had) His Messenger.”

The above alludes to another incident. But, what is it that the Qur’an is talking about? Who are the people that have been referred to? What was it that that Allah had disapproved and which rendered them unbelievers? What was it that they tried to achieve? How had the Prophet enriched them? Can we get answers to these questions without referring to the hadith literature? Does not a precautious believer wish to know what had turned people before him unbelievers?

We might quote the following as the third example of our dependence on the Hadith literature for understanding the Qur’an. Allah said (33: 37),

فَلَمَّا قَضَى زَيْدٌ مِّنْهَا وَطَراً زَوَّجْنَاكَهَا لِكَيْ لا يَكُونَ عَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ حَرَجٌ فِي أَزْوَاجِ أَدْعِيَائِهِمْ إِذَا قَضَوْا مِنْهُنَّ وَطَراً وَكَانَ أَمْرُ اللَّهِ مَفْعُولاً

So, when Zayd had accomplished what he would of her, We gave her to you in marriage, so that there should not be any hindrance for the believers with regard to the wives of their adopted sons, when they have accomplished what they would of them. And, Allah’s command had to be fulfilled.”

Now who was Zayd? What were the favors shown to him by Allah and His Messenger? Why did he want to divorce his wife? How do we identify his wife that he divorced and Allah gave her in marriage to His Messenger? Did the Prophet have a wife whom he took without the officiating ceremony? How are we to understand the passage in question without resorting to hadith reports?

The Prophet’s Own Emphasis

On his part, the Prophet also elaborated on the issue and added his own emphasis to the Qur’anic directives. He said in a report:

(صَلُّوا كَمَا رَأَيْتُمُونِي أُصَلِّي (البخاري

“Pray in the manner you see me Praying” (Bukhari). In another report he said,

خذوا عني مناسككم

“Take your (Hajj) rites from me” (Muslim).

He also emphasized that nothing short of the Qur’an and Sunnah would do for salvation. He said,

(إني قد تركت فيكم ما إن اعتصمتم به فلن تضلوا أبدا كتاب الله وسنة نبيكم (الحاكم

“I am leaving behind me two things. So long as you adhere to them you will not lose the way: the Book of Allah and the ways of your Prophet” (Hakim).

He also warned against negligence of the Hadith. He said,

ألاَ إنّي أُوتِيتُ الْكِتَابَ وَمِثْلَهُ مَعَهُ ألاَ يُوشِكُ رَجُلٌ شَبْعَانُ عَلَى أرِيكَتِهِ يَقُولُ: عَلَيْكُمْ بِهَذَا الْقُرْآنِ فَمَا وَجَدْتُمْ فِيهِ مِنْ حَلاَلٍ فَأَحِلّوهُ وَمَا وَجَدْتُمْ فِيهِ مِنْ حَرَامٍ فَحَرّمُوهُ.

(ألاَ لاَ يَحِلّ لَكُم الْحِمَارُ الأهْلِيّ وَلاَ كُلّ ذِي نَابٍ مِنَ السّبُعٍ (أحمد و أبو داؤد

“Lo! I have been given the Book and the like thereof. Lo! It may happen that a full-stomached man may recline in his couch and say, ‘Hold on to the Qur’an. What you find therein as lawful, declare it lawful and what you find therein as unlawful, declare it unlawful” (The report, although not too strong, is in Ahmed, Abu Da’ud. There is another in Tirmidhi, altogether differently worded, but of same meaning, which strengthens this one).

Finally, he warned that refusing to accept the guidance shown by him will lead to entry into the Fire. He said, as in a hadith of Bukhari,

كُلُّ أُمَّتِي يَدْخُلُونَ الْجَنَّةَ إِلا مَنْ أَبَى قَالُوا يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ وَمَنْ يَأْبَى قَالَ مَنْ أَطَاعَنِي دَخَلَ الْجَنَّةَ وَمَنْ عَصَانِي فَقَدْ أَبَى

“Everyone of my Ummah will enter Paradise, except he who refused.” The Companions asked, “And who will refuse, Messenger of Allah?” He replied, “He who obeyed me entered Paradise, while he who disobeyed me, it is he who refused (entry into Paradise).”

It is natural therefore, to discover that during the early Madinan phase, when the people of the outlying areas declared their faith in Islam, it was not a copy of the Qur’an that they received from the Prophet, following which they could practice their religion. That should have been the case if Qur’an had been enough for guidance. It would have been in fact preferable since, purer of the Arabic language and more skillful at its eloquence, the desert Arabs could appreciate the Qur’an better than the city-dwellers. But, instead of receving a copy of the Qur’an, they were required to travel to Madinah, and spend time there learning their religion under the instruction of the Prophet (saws). Interestingly, although when they arrived at Madinah they were not treated as state guests, (they had to arrange for their own lodging and meet with their living expenses), they needed the Prophet’s permission to return back to their villages. It was he who judged if they had learned enough from him or not. This too demonstrates the importance of Hadith.

Some of those who came to Madinah for learning Islam requested the Prophet to dictate a few commandments of special relevance to them, which he did. The Prophet did not tell them that they had the Qur’an which should suffice. Incidentally, the first hadith collections were thus being compiled.

To take a specific example it is reported in Ibn Is-haq’s “Seerah Rasulullah” that a messenger of the Himyar ruler arrived carrying a letter which announced their Islam. This was after the Prophet’s return from Tabuk, by which time the greater part of the Qur’an had already been revealed. The rulers concerned were: Al-Harith b. ‘Abd Kulal, Nu`aym b. ‘Abd Kulal, Nu`man – the companion of Dhu Ru`yan, Ma`afir and Hamdan. When the representative arrived, the Prophet (saws) wrote them a letter instructing them about what their rights and duties were. He also wrote about the rates of Zakah as well as of Jizyah to be levied on those who had remained on Judaism or Christianity. The Prophet did not send them Qur’anic verses to impress upon them that the Qur’an was enough for their guidance.

Similarly, the people of Bahilah tribe sent Mutarrif b. al-Kahin Bahilil to the Prophet. It was after the fall of Makkah. He embraced Islam and secured the Prophet’s promise of peace for his people. The Prophet wrote a document for him in which he mentioned Zakah details. Thereafter, another person called Nahshal b. Malik Wa’ili of Bahilah came up. He too embraced Islam. The Prophet wrote another document for him and for his people explaining what Islam stood for. Why did the Prophet write documents for them instead of handing over a copy of the Qur’an, is a question that those who do not wish to accept validity of the Hadith may ask themselves.

Finally, it is well recorded by history that the Prophet wrote letters to emperors, kings and rulers of the world inviting them to Islam. He informed them that he was a Messenger, admonished them, and threatened them with unpleasant consequences if they rejected his call to submit. But he did not send them copies of the Qur’an. Strikingly, he did not even send its relevant passages. As if he was saying, in effect, accept the Hadith, and you will get a copy of the Qur’an.

(To be continued).

Source: Young Muslim Digest, Editorial, September-2005

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