Wednesday, October 8, 2008

On the Methodology of Sami Zaatari and Bassam Zawadi

I'll probably start posting my responses to Sami Zaatari's absurd claims later tonight, but I wanted to address the issue of methodology, which will come up repeatedly in the following weeks and months. Sami is resting part of his defense of Muhammad on an article by Bassam Zawadi (an article which will soon be shown to be completely in error). But to understand the errors these young Muslims continue to make, we need to understand the methodology they use. I'll compare it with my method.

David's Method:
Step One: Assemble the historical records.
Step Two: Apply the principles of the historical method.
Step Three: Come to conclusions based on the data.

Sami and Bassam's Method:
Step One: Figure out, prior to investigation, what they want to believe and what will look best for Islam.
Step Two: Try to find at least some kind of evidence that agrees with the claims they decided to believe prior to any investigation.
Step Three: Throw out or reinterpret all evidence that proves their view false.

To see how Sami reinterprets pretty much everything in the Qur'an and the Hadith concerning violence, just watch our debate here. To see how Bassam does the same thing, consider the following example.

In Ibn Ishaq (Islam's earliest biographical source on the life of Muhammad), we read the following narrative about Muhammad torturing a man to find some treasure:

Kinana b. al-Rabi, who had the custody of the treasure of B. al-Nadir, was brought to the apostle who asked him about it. He denied that he knew where it was. A Jew came to the apostle and said that he had seen Kinana going round a certain ruin every morning early. When the apostle said to Kinana, 'Do you know that if we find you have it I shall kill you?' he said Yes. The apostle gave orders that the ruin was to be excavated and some of the treasure was found. When he asked him about the rest he refused to produce it, so the apostle gave orders to al-Zubayr b. al-Awwam, 'Torture him until you extract what he has,' so he kindled a fire with flint and steel on his chest until he was nearly dead. Then the apostle delivered him to Muhammad b. Maslama and he stuck off his head, in revenge for his brother Mahmud. (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, p. 515)

Bassam admits that he was quite disturbed by the implications of this passage, namely, that Muhammad would torture and kill someone over money. Not surprisingly, he used his methodology to reject the facts about his prophet.

Step One: Conclude that Muhammad would never do such a thing.
Step Two: Look for evidence to support this view. (Oops, there is none.)
Step Three: Throw out sources that prove his view wrong.

Thus, Bassam threw out Ibn Ishaq, which non-Muslim historians generally regard as our most accurate source on the life of Muhammad.

Apart from the fact that Bassam threw out an early story about Muhammad with no counter-evidence, there's an additional problem with his approach. As Sam Shamoun's article here proves, most of the story is confirmed in Sunan Abu Dawud (most notably the part about Muhammad having Kinana killed because he didn't tell him where the treasure was).

So here's what we have.

(i) Ibn Ishaq reports a story about Muhammad torturing and killing a man over some money.
(ii) Abu Dawud confirms most of the story.
(iii) There is no evidence that this event never occured.
(iv) Bassam rejects the story, in spite of the evidence, because it makes Muhammad look bad.

This is a methodology we will see again and again as we examine the claims of Sami and Bassam (especially in their amazing reinterpretation of the battle between Aisha's forces and Ali's forces). Sam's article includes another example of Bassam applying the same methodology to rule out another embarrassing story about Muhammad--his decision to divorce one of his (many) wives because she was no longer physically attractive. Stay tuned for more!


B said...

David Wood: There is a story which is early that says that Muhammad did this and that.

Muslim: Yeah it is early, but is it early and true?

David Wood: The story is early and collected within the first Islamic century!

Muslim: Yes I am aware of that, but is the story early and reliable. Do you know who narrated the story? It doesn't matter if it is early. Its not like everyone back in those times were reliable and trust worthy. Can you prove objectively that those that narrated the story are reliable people?

David Wood: But all non-Muslim historians follow the historical method and according to the historical method if something is early then that means that there are good grounds for believing in it.

Muslim: Well Muslims don't find the historical method utilized by non-Muslims to be logical. Something being early doesn't mean much if we don't know that its source is reliable.

David Wood: But the story is early, can't you understand you foolish Muslim?!!!

Muslim: ummm, when are you going to get the point already?????????????????

David Wood: You Muslims are inconsistent. The story is early, haha i win.

Muslim: okay sureeeee you win, whatever makes you sleep at night buddy!!!

David Wood said...

David: Your earliest (and best) biographer tells a story that is confirmed by one of your most reliable collectors of ahadith.

Bassam: Yeah, but I don't want to believe that my prophet did something as horrible as what we find in our earliest biography. So instead of using Isnad for the purpose is was designed for (namely, confirming the authenticity of certain reports), I'm going to use it for a purpose it wasn't designed for (namely, declaring that reports are false). And if one of those reports happens to be in one of my most reliable collections, who cares? After all, me and Sami know far more than Abu Dawud or Ibn Ishaq. We're their judges! (Sami even knows more than Ibn Kathir!) History shmistory!

David Wood said...


I'm glad you admit that you don't find the method used by actual historians to be logical. Do you really not see the relevance of early testimony? Of course, being early doesn't mean that something is completely reliable. But it seems that the date of a narrative plays absolutely no role in your mind. Hence, a narrative from 5 AH, without a chain of transmission, would be no different in your mind than a narrative from 500 AH with no transmission. But it gets worse. Using your method, if we had an extremely early, eyewitness account (let's say 1 AH), without the person's credentials, you would throw out this source in favor of a narrative from 1000 AH, provided you like the list of names included in the latter. And you say that the methods historians use is illogical???

Let's face it, Bassam. You cling to a distorted version of the Muslim method of historical investigation for one reason: it allows you to reject some of the earliest facts about your prophet--facts you are ashamed of. Your problem isn't history, my friend. Your problem is Muhammad.

B said...

"After all, me and Sami know far more than Abu Dawud or Ibn Ishaq."

Umm, no our top hadith scholars who have analyzed their sources know more than them. Get your facts straight.

David, your arguments wouldn't last a second in an Islamic academic setting. You think you can just quote a story from any Islamic book and get away with it without citing the proper authorities who have analzyed it and approved of it?

"Do you really not see the relevance of early testimony?"

Yes, I do and our scholars try their best to find the shortest isnaads as possible to make it as early as possible.

But the point is that you almost never prove to us when you appeal to our sources that it is both early and true.

As for Kinana, I read Shamoun's article and never really bothered to refute it. However, since I have a feeling that you would be rubbing the Kinana story into my face later on, I would do so in the near future inshallah. I have other articles to refute first.

"But it gets worse. Using your method, if we had an extremely early, eyewitness account (let's say 1 AH), without the person's credentials, you would throw out this source in favor of a narrative from 1000 AH,"

1000 AH??? Don't exaggerate. Our isnads don't go beyond 400 AH (absolute maximum. I don't even think that they go that far.).

Secondly, you are absolutely ignorant of hadith collection. In my debate with you, you had the nerve to say that our hadiths were beginning to get written around 200 A.H. That is absurd. I mean, how can I even respond to such ignorance? You clearly haven't read any proper books on Hadith sciences. I could recommend some for you if you are interested though.

And yes, if there is a quote from 1 A.H. and I can't verify where it came from and ensure that it was from a reliable source, I wouldn't accept it. I mean, why on earth should I?

Abu Bakr and Umar were even implementing isnaads during their caliphates. People at there time could fabricate stories you know. That is possible.

So if that is possible, a quotation from 1 A.H. won't mean much to me if it is not proven where it came from and that the person from whom it came from could be trusted.

Why do you think I reject the New Testament? I can't be certain about who wrote them. Even if I was certain about who wrote them, I am not guaranteed or assured that they are trustworthy or reliable and correct.


David Wood said...


I said that Isnads began to be written 200 A.H.? No, I didn't. Many ahadith were written down before that. But if you're quoting something from al-Bukhari, we have to face the fact that it comes from 200+ A.H. Sure there will be a nice list of names as well, but that list of names isn't going to impress any genuine historian on the planet, especially when Muslims were writing false narratives left and right, and when Muslims were divided and trying to come up with narratives to support their position.

Here's what you don't understand at all. The writers of the Sira literature, unlike the Hadith collectors, weren't obsessed with Isnads. So they recorded credible reports without always listing the Isnads, because Isnads didn't really become all that significant until there were hundreds of thousands of dubious stories going around (produced by the Ummah, of course).

So why do I generally trust something that comes from Ibn Ishaq? He was an early collector of historical reports, and so was his father. His grandfather became a Muslim during Abu Bakr's reign. So here's the question. Was Ibn Ishaq in a good position to know whether Muhammad tortured and killed kinana over money? Absolutely. So should I trust him? Of course. But you say, "Well, he didn't include the list of names that became extremely important in the ninth and tenth centuries." But it's simply your backwards, completely unscholarly method that treats this as if it's a problem. Ibn Ishaq wasn't an idiot. He knew how to investigate things. So the reliability of the reports rests on Ibn Ishaq's ability to investigate history, and I trust that more than I trust a list of ten different names of people I don't know, collected in a time when Muslims were writing false stories with false chains of narrations as if it were an Olympic sport.

Again, the method you use is simply absurd. Let's look at two hypotheses here. These hypotheses are meant to account for certain data we possess, namely, the occurence of this story in Ibn Ishaq and Sunan Abu Dawud.

David's Hypothesis: We have this story about Muhammad torturing a man for money because Muhammad tortured a man for money. Muslims knew about it, and they passed it on.

Bassam's Hypothesis: Muhammad never tortured or killed anyone for money.

Now, does Bassam's Hypothesis account for the data? Not at all. Does Bassam's Hypothesis have any evidence to support it? Not a shred. But there's another problem. You still have to account for the data we have. So you would have to expand your hypothesis to:

Bassam's Hypothesis 2: Muhammad never tortured or killed anyone for money. But some Muslims or pagans invented a story about Muhammad doing this, and Muslim historians such as Ibn Ishaq and Abu Dawud were so convinced by the evidence that they passed on the story as if it were a fact.

(Notice a hidden fact here. Ibn Ishaq and Abu Dawud were convinced BY THE EVIDENCE. You place yourself above them when you say there's no evidence.)

But we find another problem with your hypothesis. Why didn't other Muslims, who studied history carefully, not point out to Ibn Ishaq or Abu Dawud that this story was false? So we see again that you have to expand your hypothesis to explain why no one corrected these men.

Notice the difference between our hypotheses. My hypothesis is simple, it accounts for the evidence, it's powerful, and it doesn't give rise to other problems. Your hypothesis is complicated, it doesn't account for the evidence at all, it's weak, and it gives rise to all sorts of problems.

And yet somehow, in your Muslim mind, your hypothesis is vastly superior to mine. I will never forgive your religion for having this effect on your mind. You can't even investigate evidence properly, because your mind has been so incredibly polluted by a backwards method of investigation.

We can apply this same process of investigation to the Gospels. Like it or not, we know who wrote the Gospels. But let's assume that we didn't. We know, for a fact, that the early Christian community, in association with Jesus' apostles, held the Gospels we have to be reliable records. That's evidence we have to deal with.

David's Hypothesis: The early Christian community treated the Gospels as reliable because they knew they were reliable.

Bassam's Hypothesis: Even though the early Christian community treated the Gospels as reliable, they didn't really know if they were reliable.

Once again, your hypothesis immediately gives rise to all sorts of problems. First, you have absolutely no evidence to support it. Second, how in the name of common sense can you say that people in the first century wouldn't have been able to determine which records were true, when they could easily contact the apostles or the disciples of the apostles, who often travelled from city to city, making sure people knew the truth about Jesus? Third, why do we know of absolutely no one in the first century who questioned the reliability of the Gospels? Here you would have to come up with some conspiracy theories.

So once again, my hypothesis is simple, it accounts for the evidence, it's powerful, and it doesn't give rise to other problems. Your hypothesis, once again, is complicated, it doesn't account for the evidence at all, it's weak, and it gives rise to all kinds of problems.

Bassam, it seems that most of our differences come down to your completely flawed methodology. I would suggest some books on historical methodology, scientific reasoning, hypothesis confirmation, confirmation theory, etc., but you simply have no respect for the tools that have made the West prosper in areas of science, history, and other branches of research. Instead, you prefer the methods that are keeping Muslims in the ninth century.

Nakdimon said...

WOW David!! That is a powerful reply: it's simple and it's true.

El-Cid said...

I laugh so hard every time a Muslim uses the phrase "Hadith science". Ahadith has NOTHING to do with science, and no matter how codified the application of interpretation is, you can NEVER make it scientific. Hadith falls solely in the realms of history and theology.

They are just as out of touch with reality about the Scientific Method as they are with the Historical Method.

The only methods they really seem to understand are the Denial Method, The Rationalization Method, and the Projective Identificataion Method.

Denial, rationalization, and Projective Identification seem to be among the unstated Pillars of Islam.

B said...

David Wood on the Historical Reliability of the Gospels

Christian Missionaries on the Historical Method and Science of Hadith