INTRODUCTION: WHY WE RAISE THIS PROBLEM
... Therefore, congratulate My servants who listen to all views, then follow the best. These are the ones guided by God; these are the intelligent ones.
All Muslims are required to uphold the hadith or sunna of the Prophet, i.e. the so-called Prophetic traditions, as a primary source of law apart from the Quran, according to the teachings of classical jurisprudence. Yet not many, indeed very few, realize that the basis of this jurisprudential theory was promulgated two hundred years after Muhammad's death by the famous jurist Imam Shafi`i (d. 204/820). What have come to be known as the `Six Authentic Books' of hadith of the majority Sunnite `orthodoxy' were compiled, precisely after the promulgation of this theory, by Bukhari (d. 256/870), Muslim (d. 261/875), Abu Daud (d. 275/888), Tirmidhi (d. 279/892), Ibn Maja (d. 273/886), and al-Nasa'i (d. 303/915) during the second half of the second and the beginning of the third centuries of Islam, between 220 and 270 years after the Prophet's death.
The `heterodox' Shi`ite minority sect has its own sets of hadith compiled during the third and fourth centuries, by al-Kulaini (d. 328 or 329), Ibn Babuwayh (d. 381), Jaafar Muhammad al-Tusi (d. 411) and al-Murtada (d. 436), who compiled sayings attributed to Ali.
Based on this Shafi`i theory and on what was later termed as the consensus of scholars, the hadith/sunna was propagated to and accepted by the Muslims as interpreter and complement to the Quran, implying thereby that the Quran needs an interpreter and is not complete in itself. Although the Shi`ites have not accepted the classical Sunnite jurisprudential theory in toto, they do accept the doctrine that the hadith/sunna constitutes a source of law on par with the Quran.
Background to this Study
In accordance with this Sunnite tradition, I also accepted this position when I wrote my book on modern Islamic social theory in 1981-82, although I qualified my acceptance according to Ibn Khaldun's formula, which requires all acceptable traditions to be validated by the Quran and rational criteria. However, this position, though a scientific one, is still not clear enough until in 1985 the works of an outstanding Egyptian Muslim scholar, Dr. Rashad Khalifa, particularly his The Computer Speaks: God's Message to the World, Quran, Hadith and Islam and his superb translation of the Quran have opened for me a way to solve the problem of the hadith. I therefore began to re-examine the hadith: how they came about; the social factors that brought them into existence; a review of the classical criticism; the actual place of the hadith in relation to the Quran; their negative effects on the Muslim community; their connections to the decline and fall of the Muslims; and the way out of this impasse.
I am convinced that the time has come for the Muslim community and their intelligentsia to critically re-evaluate the whole heritage of traditional Islamic thought, including theology and jurisprudence. This is because the traditional formulation was made by the society and intelligentsia of that time in accordance with their knowledge and level of understanding, and conforming to needs of that time. Now the situation has changed tremendously and there is no doubt that the traditional formulation must be reconsidered.
Since the emergence of the modern reformism movement of Jamaluddin al-Afghani, Muhammad Abduh and Rashid Ridha at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries, many studies have been made on the decline and fall of the Muslims. These include the works of thinkers like Iqbal, Malek Bennabi and Fazlur Rahman. However, the condition of the Muslim community has not changed very much and continues to be precarious. In comparison with other communities, especially those in Europe, United States, Russia and Japan, the Muslim community is the most backward, especially in socio-economic, scientific, technological and military fields.
What are the reasons for this backwardness? From the point of view of numbers, the Muslims, now more than a billion, have outnumbered the Christians, and from the point of view of natural resources, Muslim countries are among the richest in the world. Why, with such vast resources and possessing an infallible divine scripture, are the Muslims unable to compete with and surpass other nations?
This situation is exactly the opposite of the situation of their early ancestors who, within a short period of time, climbed the heights of success and created a great world empire and a great world civilization. These early successes which had astounded the world must have had their reasons based on the laws of historical change. What are those reasons? This is the greatest challenge facing Muslim intelligentsia at the close of the twentieth century and on the threshold of the twenty-first: to seek the true causes of Muslim decline and thereby to lay the ground for a new Muslim Renaissance.
As we have said, this study and review of our traditional formulation must encompass classical theology and jurisprudence. The hadith, of course, is at the core of these traditional disciplines.
Our present knowledge point to many factors that contribute to the rise and fall of nations, factors that are ideological, political, economic, social, cultural, historical, psychological, demographic, geographical, scientific, technological and military in nature. But it is also quite certain that within this pluralism of factors, not all play equally important roles. Technology can surmount geographical limitations; military strategy can overcome numbers; political leadership can offset economic weakness, and so on. Turning to the Quran as our infallible guide, we find the following statements that can give us a clue to the understanding of the problem under discussion.
"Surely, God does not change the condition of any people until they themselves change."
"That is because God does not change the blessings He had bestowed upon any people, unless they themselves change."
"If only the previous generations had some intelligent people who enjoined them from corruption, they would have been saved. But We saved a few of them, while the rest pursued their material things and became sinners. Your Lord never destroys any community unjustly while the people are righteous."
"We will surely give victory to our messengers and to those who believe, both in this life and on the day the witnesses are raised."
"You shall never waver, nor shall you worry; you are guaranteed victory for as long as you are believers."
All the above Quranic statements point to a people's ideology as the most important component in the determination of their fate. This means that insofar as a people is imbued with a scientific, dynamic and progressive ideology, that far will it climb the ladder of success. Conversely, insofar as a people revert to a previously held anti-scientific, static and regressive ideology, that far will it degenerate. The strong unambiguous statements about victory being granted to believers in both worlds necessarily follow from the definition of believers as those possessing and practicing the true scientific ideology.