Why the Row Over Anti-Hadith, But Silence on Quran Illiteracy?
An Open Letter to the Nation’s Leaders and Intellectuals
[First published in The New Straits Times, December 23, 1999]
The time has come for a final reckoning for our people, the international community, and ourselves. Never in the history of mankind have we faced such a total collapse as we do today. Where has morality gone? Where on the face of this earth is a group of moral human beings? There is a limit to the human endurance of suffering without protest, and we have passed that limit!
It is significant that today a group of Malaysians want to bring back the Quran to the hearts of the people. This has implications. For a thousand years, Muslims have strayed so far away from God’s teachings and lived in such ignorance that we are powerless to destroy the evil perpetrated before our eyes. Western civilization too, has strayed far away from the teachings of its prophets, including Moses and Jesus. Both East and West must return to God’s teachings, particularly the Quran, His final, complete, perfect, and detailed scripture.
Alas, when Jema’ah Al-Quran Malaysia (JAM - Quranic Society of Malaysia) was formed precisely for this mission, a number of our leaders and intellectuals leapt up to protest. “Anti-Hadith group! Anti-Hadith group!” they screamed in accusation. What? Bringing the Quran to the people so that they would understand is anti-hadith? On the other hand, is letting the people remain illiterate of the Quran (as is the state of affairs for the past five hundred years in Malaysia) acceptable?
I write this open letter to the nation’s leaders and intellectuals of all communities in the hope that we can study this matter calmly and rationally, without hurling accusations and threats or creating an atmosphere of animosity and tension. It is with a sense of responsibility and humility that I ask this. It is not a matter of religious rituals but one of life and death for our people.
In 1986, I published a book, Hadis - Satu Penilaian Semula (Prophetic Traditions - A Re-Evaluation) with the above stated intention, that is, to let the people know more of about the Quran. Many of the hadith compiled by Bukhari, Muslim and others that we use today, according to my study, are in conflict with the teachings of the Quran. I will cite three examples.
One is the adulation or unquestioning acceptance of the teachings of a leader. Since this principle was instilled, Muslims have feared others besides God; that is, we have been afraid to question our leaders. We became essentially slaves of our leaders. The Quran exhorts us to free ourselves of all forms of subservience, except that to God.
Two is the prohibition on the use of the rational mind. Generally, Muslims have been taught not to use their minds in religious matters. This teaching is spread through some false hadith. Purportedly, the use of the mind in religious matters would lead us astray. If the mind may not be used in religious matters, why may it be used in other areas? Are we to keep religious and secular matters separate? This has paralyzed the intellectual development of Muslims in comparison with others. The minds of Muslims have been dead for a thousand years, killed by these false hadith. On the contrary, the teachings of the Quran give the mind a noble place. God deems human beings who do not use their minds worse than animals! (Quran, 7:179) God bars those who do not use their minds from the fold of the faithful. (Quran,10:100).
Three is the suppression of creativity. It has been evident for a long time that Muslims have not been creative. Since the 13th century when the Islamic civilization began to decline, modern scientific discoveries and technological inventions have been made by others, particularly those who hold to the belief that human beings are responsible for creating knowledge and progress. In the early days, Muslims were highly creative because they adhered to the Quran’s dynamic teachings that urge Muslims to work and strive for success in this world and the hereafter. Since Muslims have turned to the teachings of the hadith, their creativity has declined, for these false hadith teach resignation to taqdir (divine pre-destination) or fatalism. Purportedly, good and evil are from God. The Malay proverb – If you are fated to gain a cupak (a small measure of rice) you will not gain a gantang (a bigger measure of rice) – reflects this world-view.
These three traditions that arose from certain false hadith are clearly in conflict with the teachings of the Quran. Islamic education system, from the village pondok (rural religious seminary) right up to the Al Azhar University, is based on rote learning and unquestioning acceptance that hadith cannot possibly be in conflict with the Quran. This would be true if the hadith were truly the sayings of the Prophet. History tells us that the hadith compiled by Bukhari and others were not made until between 200-250 years after the Prophet's death. These compilations were the responsibility of Bukhari and others, not of the Prophet. The Prophet's responsibility as God’s messenger was to convey the Quran.
Some religious leaders label as apostates those who adhere to the Quran, accusing them of being anti-hadith! According to certain hadith, apostates are punished by being put to death. Are they not aware that leaders of the Christian Church during the Middle Ages in Europe also put to death apostates from Christianity? Thus this is not punishment under God’s law, but one from the age of ignorance that entered the hadith through the tampering of the Torah (Old Testament) (Refer to Deut. 13:5-10). Do our people know that according to the teachings of the Quran, one is given full freedom to choose one’s religion? Thus killing someone for giving up his or her religion is totally forbidden by God. Killing someone who has given up his religion would be a great sin.
The study of the hadith developed into a complex system in Islam from the 9-15th century. Those early hadith scholars established a method of sifting out the weak hadith and retaining only the genuine ones. However, we must realize that knowledge develops, and one of the conditions for development is freedom to criticize. No philosopher, scientist or scholar is free from weaknesses, and one of the ways of overcoming such weaknesses is through scientific criticism. We have seen the weaknesses of the method used by the early hadith scholars by the existence of many hadith that are clearly in conflict with the Quran, including those compiled by Bukhari (considered most sahih or authentic) and others.
We need to review what we mean by sahih hadith. Does it mean confirmed as genuine only on the basis of isnad (chain of narrators) or also on the basis of matan (textual meaning)? Between isnad and matan, which is more important? As we are referring to the sayings and traditions of the Prophet, the term sahih must be based on matan, that is, in line with the Quran. The sayings and activities of the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. could not possibly be in conflict with the teaching of the Quran.
Clearly, we need a re-evaluation of hadtih. Every Muslim believes in the Quran and puts it above all other teachings. Our problem is the Quran-illiteracy of Muslims whose language is not Arabic, and of Arab Muslims whose language is Arabic. They do not know which of the hadith taught to them are in conflict with the teachings of the Quran and which are not. Many false teachings have been incorporated into the hadith by the foes of Islam in those early days (by Jews, Christians, and Persians) to undermine Islam. If Muslims wish to be great again – and surely we do wish it! – re-evaluating the hadith on the basis of the Quran, and understanding and practicing the teachings of the Quran are mandatory.
Certainly, when this re-evaluation is carried out, certain changes and adjustments will need to be made in our beliefs and practices. As these changes are made with the view of correcting and improving, we need not fear from making them. In fact, we should welcome them. What we should fear is going on practicing wrong traditions after knowing them to be so. These few changes and adjustments however, involve major matters.
First, we must reject adulation of our leaders. We must bow only to God. All human beings are equal - none higher or lower than the other. This will rekindle the spirit of jihad (struggling in God’s cause) among Muslims.
Second, we must reject taqlid (unquestioning acceptance of human authority). We must use our minds to gain knowledge. We must read all books, and critically. We learn from all our teachers, but without dispensing with our critical faculty. In this way, we shall inherit only the good from our ancestors; the bad we shall cast aside. Thus will the Islamic intellect blossom again.
Third, we must reject fatalism. Our fate as individuals and as a nation is shaped by ourselves, not by taqdir (divine predestination). The teaching is that those who strive will attain; those who do not, will not. Man cannot know his capacity until he tries. The Omniscient God knows everything from beginning to end, but man does not know what God knows. This change will revive the creativity of Muslims. Science, philosophy, art and technology will bloom again in the Islamic world.
These are the three major changes we must make as individuals and as a people when we re-evaluate the hadith on the basis of the Quran. Is this impossible? I think not. The best ways of effecting these changes can be discussed and decided by our leaders and intellectuals. As we have seen, the anti-hadith allegations hurled at us are the result of ignorance or misunderstanding on the part of the people and the handful of leaders who fear for their position and authority. These can be overcome through sincere and fair discussions. We all declare ourselves to be Muslims. What then prevents us from holding discussions to find an amicable solution based on truth? If both sides are sincere, adhere to the spirit of brotherhood among the faithful, and base the discussions on the Quran, as God commands, there is no reason why we cannot solve this problem.
We have no intention of toppling the ulama (religious scholars) and leaders, or wresting away their positions. We want Muslims, including leaders and intellectuals in our country, to adhere faithfully to the Quran.
Some claim that this issue need not be re-opened as it was solved centuries ago. These people are like ostriches burying their heads in the sand and saying there is nothing to worry about since they can see nothing! Islamic communities all over the world including our country are bogged down with problems they cannot overcome. Why? Because we live in darkness. How can we see in the dark? We need to get out of the darkness by using a bright torch. That torch is the Quran.
As I stated in the beginning of this letter, the time has come for Muslims and mankind in general to return to God’s teachings. Our society, both national and international, is hit by crisis after crisis. The only way we can overcome these is by returning to the teachings of the Omniscient God, that is, the Quran. Such is the importance of the Quran to us and to the world.