Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Islamic Historical Method

I have often been told that when I quote a hadith I need to make sure it is authentic. For this reason I have read several Islamic books on how to authenticate a hadith. The basic summary is:

1. It must have a complete chain.
2. The narrators in the chain must be reliable.
3. The chain must be historically possible.

But I have come across another important criteria which I now have references for.

g) Traditions containing such remarks of the Prophet as may not be a part of his prophetic vocation, or such expressions as are clearly unsuitable for him, should be rejected. (Muhammad Zubayr Siddiqi, Hadith Literature - Its Origin, Development & Special Features, Cambridge: U.K., The Islamic Text Society, 2008, p. 114)

God willing I shall begin this book with Isma'il son of Ibrahim and mention those of his offspring who were the ancestors of God's apostle one by one with what is known about them, taking no account of Isma'il's other children, for the sake of brevity, confining myself to the prophet's biography and omitting some of the things which Ibn Ishaq has recorded in this book in which there is no mention of the apostle and about which the Quran says nothing and which are not relevant to anything in this book or an explanation of it or evidence for it; poems which he quotes that no authority on poetry whom I have met knows of; things which it is disgraceful to discuss; matters which would distress certain people; and such reports as al-Bakka'i told me he could not accept as trustworthy—all these things I have omitted. But God willing I shall give a full account of everything else so far as it is known and trustworthy tradition is available. (“Ibn Hisham’s Notes”, translated by A. Guillaume in Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, translated as, The Life of Muhammad, Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1998, p. 691)

It seems that for a hadith to be authentic it must also honour Muhammad.

This is a very poor method for doing history because it limits our knowledge of this person to some predetermined standard rather than to the evidence that is available.

Non-Muslim historians actually hold that an embarrassing account from a sympathetic source is more likely to be true because there is no motive to dishonour the person. Therefore, the criteria of embarrassment, rather than providing grounds for rejecting a hadith, actually provide grounds for accepting a hadith.

Ibn Hisham clearly explains how he has edited Ibn Ishaq's sirat and it includes removing "things which it is disgraceful to discuss; matters which would distress certain people." Ibn Hisham's approach seems to be based on the Qur'an itself.

O you who believe! Ask not questions about things which, if made plain to you, may cause you trouble. ... (Qur’an 5:101, Yusuf Ali)

I think it would profit Christians and Muslims to discuss whether this is a valid historical method?

If you know about similar quotes to those I have given please share them as a comment.


Baron Eddie said...

That is something very strange when Muslims categorize "hadith" as weak(as they say in Arabic) or not.

There should two possibilities for "hadith" ... get ready everyone

Either it is true or it is a lie ...

It is mind boggling ...

Wait a minute! ... that is what they are trying to do ...

Solution ... If it is a lie ...
take it out of the book ...

If it is true ... leave it there

I am sick and tired of this game!

simple_truth said...

Of course, it is not a reliable or legitimate method. It is no different than when Muslims reject anything that goes against their preconception of Mohammad or something that sounds incredulous but gets credited to him, whether it is true or not. One does need to study, investigate, and draw a conclusion based upon available evidence which should be dependent upon its veracity.

GreekAsianPanda said...

You're totally right. The practice of using the criteria of embarrassment to argue against historicity should have no place in serious historical investigation, whether the subject be the historical Muhammad or the historical Jesus. I would imagine many Christian debaters have gotten stuck in a disagreement with Muslims who insist on using this criteria when it comes to a hadith.

For Muslims who debate about the truth of Islam, misusing the criteria of embarrassment in this fashion is a bit circular; it assumes in the first place that Muhammad was perfect, which is what they're trying to argue for.

Skýwæłker»» said...

@ David Wood,

I would like to see very much about debate or Discussion "David Wood Vs Zakir Naik". Is it possible!

This Zakir Naik speaks kind of rubbish, like all religions are evolved from Islam.

aaron said...

great to meet you samuel the other week btw can you send me a copy of both those hand outs you gave out at maq uni?

Michael said...

This makes it hard for Muslims and non-Muslims to have any serious dialogue. I remember when I was discussing the Islamic view of paradise with a Muslim friend of mine, I quoted a lot from Ibn Kathir but the person I was speaking with rejected a lot of what Ibn Kathir quoted from Hadith because it was shocking and embarrassing. Now my Muslim friend doesn't trust Ibn Kathir at all.

SGM said...

To me it is sounds really funny when moslims say that this or that hadith is weak. What do they mean by weak? What is being said in the hadith is either correct or wrong, therefore, the saying is either true or it is a lie. So what is this “weak” terminology that they use. Do they mean that it is weak because it can not hold a fifty pound garbage bag, or it is weak because it can not stand straight?

Now here is a question to ponder upon. Islam is based upon the Quran, hadith and the Suna. If according to moslims, a lot of the hadith are “weak” or in other words a lie, then it means that Islam is based upon the literature (hadith) that has lot of lies in it. The funny thing is that moslims themselves admit it that there are lies in the hadith. Now, they have no problem saying that Christian scriptures are corrupted (though without proof) but yet their own religion is based on literature that contain so many lies.

Wasn’t it Bukhari who collected around 300 thousand hadith and kept only less then 3000 which is 1% of the total number. Think about it, only 1 percent of the hadith collected at that time was considered to be authentic. Today, moslims say that even 1% recorded hadith is not all correct. So in other words almost 100% of the originally collected hadith are a lie. If the 1/3 of the Islam’s sacred literature is a lie, according to moslims themselves, then what are we to think of the rest of the 2/3 of their literature which is Quran and the sunna? Just a sample of what is found in the Quran, "the semen is formed between the backone and the ribs". You be the judge whether this is "WEAK" OR STRONG.

goethechosemercy said...

What we're really looking at is the non-Western versus the Western understanding of history.
In the West, we write history in order to look critically and with an understanding eye towards the deeds, words and motives of those who came before us-- as individuals and as societies.
In the rest of the world, people study history not to understand the past or represent it, but to become their ancestors over again.
As a Muslim, you would wish not just to understand Mohammed, you would want to become as much like him as possible.
You would seek or try to create a society that resembled the one in which he lived.
You would do so because non-Westerners identify completely with their ancestors, and so the knowledge of history serves the purpose of creating an immutable society and a predictable life trajectory.
"You are not your ancestors, you are not your history," I have told students and others.
And I mean it.
History as philiopietism, should never be a final authority in any decision.
But in Islam, it is.

cheryl_maree said...

I have this issue with the muslims I know also and everytime I ask about Book 037, Number 6666:
Abu Burda reported on the authority of his father that Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: No Muslim would die but Allah would admit in his stead a Jew or a Christian in Hell-Fire. 'Umar b. Abd al-'Aziz took an oath: By One besides Whom there is no god but He, thrice that his father had narrated that to him from Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him). They answer it is not authentic. I even asked David about this on a show he did, and he said that it was authentic, so what gives???

Walter said...

What I find to be the most interesting about the Muslim historical approach is that it seems that they only use it on the subject of Islam.

If one were to actually have some sort of very strong, rigorous methodology that guarantees the convicted certainty some Muslims display, one would expect them to apply it all the time to different fields of inquiry. Now a Muslim might say that other subjects do not justify the same amount of work, but when we look carefully, the lion's share of the real legwork was done by Bukhari, Muslim, and a few other minor scholars.

So why isn't anyone trying to use hadiths, isnad chains, etc for a history of the late Ottoman empire or the American revolution? I mean as far as chronological separation we are positioned at just the right time to gather orally transmitted tales with the same authority levels as those recorded within the hadiths.

Just think about it. I own the musket one of my ancestors carried in that war, but I know nothing about what happened. Why? Because artifacts, physical and textual, are reliable. Word of mouth stories almost always die out in a generation or two.

gabriella oak said...

I'm happy to display my complete and utter ignorance when it comes to the 'science' of chains of narration.

If, as Samuel says, it is dependent on the reliability of the narrator, how is this decided ? Do the 'deciders' claim to have detailed knowledge of every person mentioned in a chain ? Do they claim that a link in the chain is of bad character or something ? What if the weak link died a hundred years prior to the hadith being recorded, unless the person in question was a famously notorious brigand, how can anyone decide whether or not his testimony was reliable or not ?

I really don't understand....

Cristo Te Ama said...

In Islam it's all about picking what you like and dismissing what you don't, i.e "I wanna believe women are stupid" you just have to believe in the hadith saying they are mentally deficient, I wanna hit my wife because such a weak reason like she woke up late to see where i was going (Aisha)" then all i have to do is believe in this hadith, "I Wanna kill apostates" you just have to believe in those hadiths, wait the Quran also refers about this issue.. I wanna be on a religion where my price is eternal orgy with the most beautiful women a "holy god" can create, you just have to believe in those hadiths, I wanna go out by myself being a women, you just have to dismiss the Hadiths who say the opposite, but i wonder then why are they so sure of the 5 times praying or the way they pray is the correct one, the quran doesn't adress that (even when it's really important for muslims to do it, this also tells a lot from a book who comes to be clear huh), i mean can i be muslim if i pray differently from what the Hadiths say? maybe those Hadiths were "made up by Jews" who wanted Muslims to pray just like Pagans to the Moon God so they could be misslead...

Funny part is that Muslims believe the quran style (with no context, order, etc) is better than the Bible which gives you context and accurate historical data, but they think this is bad because the Bible is "filled with incest, etc" not understanding that it is the Context but not what God ordered... Intellectual dishonesty, that resumes it all...

cheryl_maree said...

Very Well Said Cristo!!!!

Samuel Green said...

@Aaron, send me an email and I will send them to you.

Samuel Green said...

@gabriella oak,

You are right that this raises the question as to who is a reliable narrator. There are biographical books written on this matter. These books list all the narrators and collect the comments on what others thought about them. Bukhari and Muslim also have sections which deal with the virtues of the companions for this reason as well.

gabriella oak said...

Thank you Samuel. :)

The study of isnads appears to be more of an art than a science, really.

Fifth Monarchy Man said...

Hey Samuel,

I have a question.

If a hadith is judged to be inauthentic does that rule it out for historic purposes or just for religious authority?

The reason I ask is, in Christianity a story like the women caught in adultery might be deemed to be uncanonical for some reason (ie its not in the oldest manuscripts) but still be useful for historical study and I’m wondering if it might work the same for a hadith that is unflattering to Muhammad?

just a thought


Samuel Green said...

@ Fifth Monarchy Man

Yes, a hadith that is not totally authenticated may still be used in other ways. This will vary from scholar to scholar.

Tom said...

I have have gone through some of the debates, and I am amazed that muslims are not embarrassed or they have no qualms when they declare that many of their records as fabrication or lies... dont they ever question how did all this get here? especially those collections closer to the death of muhammad!

muslims should throw all hadiths away since there are lies and fabrications, the same way they also declare the Bible unreliable, so the Bible is also put aside... what are we left with, koran!
Now, the koran says refer to the previous scriptures,it also say previous scripture proclaim the coming of muhammad, so where is this previous scripture for us to refer and verify?
Did their allah not envision this situation, since they say he is all knowing... how did their allah screw this up?
Does it not show that koran makes things up when there is no previous scripture to refer to, since muslims declare the Bible corrupt!

There is no 'cherry picking', its all or nothing, that inculdes their hadiths!