Hadith: A Re-Evaluation
Basing ourselves on this premise, we can make the following hypothesis. The rapid rise of the Arab nation from its dark period of paganism prior to Muhammad to become the most powerful and civilized nation in the world then, within a short period of time, is due to the new, inspiring, powerful and dynamic Islamic ideology of monotheism brought by Muhammad. The Arabs, under his and his immediate successors' leadership, discarded their erstwhile polytheism and super-stitions. They united to fight and struggle under the guidance of the Quran and set up a just social order. Because this struggle was based on divine truth and justice as contained in the Quran, it was invincible. It also gave rise to a great social movement, bringing forth with it outstanding political, military and intellectual leaders who helped to create the first scientific-spiritual culture in history.
This hypothesis, in contrast to the modernist or the traditionalist theses, appears to be the most helpful in our effort to understand the history and the decline of the Muslims. The modernist thesis, in brief, states that the Muslims declined because they have remained traditional and have not modernized themselves according to Western secular values. The traditionalist thesis, on the other hand, blame the secularization of Muslim societies and the neglect of orthodox Muslim teachings as the major cause of Muslim decline.
It is obvious that the modernist and the traditionalist theses cancelled each other. Furthermore, the modernists have to explain why the Turkish experiment with Westernized modernization failed. They also have to explain why developed Western societies such as the United States and Europe have been undergoing a multi-faceted crisis since the First World War, and why a new philosophical trend of thought critical of Western-type modernization has developed in Europe and America.
The traditionalists, on the other hand, must explain the failure of their system from the beginning when it was first formulated around the third, fourth and fifth centuries of Islam. Some Arab countries have hardly modernized and had been practicing the traditional system for centuries – why have these not progressed? If they have not progressed, it is idle to expect Muslim countries to progress if they implement the traditional system.
The answer lies in our hypothesis. The early Muslims rose to the pinnacles of success precisely because they were in possession of and practiced the powerful and dynamic Islamic ideology as preached in the Quran. They subjected other knowledge, local and foreign, to the discriminative teachings of the Quran. As long as they did this, they progressed. A time came when other teachings, local and foreign, gained the upper hand and submerged the Quran, as witnessed by the following Quranic prophecy:
The messenger will say, "My Lord, my people have deserted this Quran." We thus appointed for every prophet enemies from among the criminals, and God suffices as Guide and Protector.
After about three hundred years, extraneous harmful teachings not taught by Prophet Muhammad but skillfully attributed to him gradually gained a foothold in the Muslim community and turned them away from the dynamic invincible ideology that initially brought them success. This ideology, as we shall show, is precisely the hadith. This is the main cause of their downfall. It therefore follows that the purging of this harmful ideology, and with it other foreign modern ideologies, from the Muslim community, and their return to the original ideology brought by Muhammad in the Quran is the sine qua non for the regeneration of the Muslim community and for a new Muslim Renaissance.
Age of "Great Disorder"
The time has now arrived for the Muslims to examine their situation more critically and boldly. Actually, this perilous situation is not confined to the Muslims alone; it covers the entire mankind. A number of twentieth century philosophers, historians and social critics have unanimously stated that this century is the most critical century in human history. The late Chinese leader, Mao Zedong, described the century as "Great Disorder under Heaven." The American historical philosopher, P.A. Sorokin, has detailed the crisis of the twentieth century in his able book, The Crisis of Our Age, published in 1941. It is in this century that two terrible world wars occurred, and a third more horrible one might still occur, in spite of the end of the Cold War, to destroy the present civilization.
It is in this century also that an array of philosophies, ideologies, theories, systems that includes liberalism, Marxism, pragmatism, logical positivism, existentialism, Nazism, Fascism, Stalinism, Ghandhism, Maoism and religious traditionalism collapsed. When dominant existing philosophies and systems cannot solve the problems of human security and welfare, it is a sure sign that a very serious crisis is upon us.
A number of modern writers and poets, such as Dostoyevsky, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Y.B. Yeats and T.S. Eliot, had expressed this atmosphere and sense of great crisis in their works. Listen to the loneliness and poignant sorrow of Eliot:
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing;
there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
and the deep despair and earnest prayer of Yeats:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world;
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
This literature of pessimism and absurdity of life beginning in the twenties and thirties and continuing after the Second World War is, of course, a reflection of the great disorder currently existing in the world. This great disorder is evidenced by the great ideological cleavage, the continuous raging of the fires of war, the massive starvation and poverty in the Third World, the steep decline in public morality, world-wide financial and economic crisis and the inability of the United Nations to function effectively.
The Muslims had long lost their intellectual and political leadership of the world. The break-up of their empire in 1258 AD gave way to independent dynasties which continued until they were colonized by European powers beginning in the sixteenth right up to the early twentieth centuries. Then, with the rise of nationalism in Asia and Africa, nearly all of them regained their independence and set up sovereign nation-states.
However, the Muslims had ceased to be creative around the fourteenth century. Their period of intense creativity lasted three centuries from the ninth through to the eleventh. Their last great philosopher was the Arab Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406). Since that time Muslim intellect stagnated and even degenerated and Europe took over to develop dominant philosophies and disciplines along materialist and hedonistic lines.
After more than a century of modern reformism efforts initiated by Jamaluddin al-Afghani and Muhammad Abduh, the Muslim world, a world as disunited as any other, have not progressed much. They have not been able to fight off the ideological influence and domination of the world power-blocs. They are not united in their Muslim purpose. Their economies are dependent and backward. Their sciences and technologies are non-existent. Militarily, they are weak and dependent on the big powers.
However, there has been much talk, since the early seventies, of implementing the Shari`a or medieval Muslim law and the setting up of an Islamic state. This is the slogan of the traditionalists who have taken over the reform movement of Muhammad Abduh. The examples of mullah rule in Iran since the great popular anti-Shah revolution and the Islamization programmes in some countries do not give support to the traditionalist alternative.
The main weakness of the Muslims is their disunity. This disunity takes the form in their inability to cooperate for the good of Muslims in individual countries and the whole Muslim world. It also surfaces in the form of conflicts and wars between Muslims, as typified by the Iran-Iraq war and the civil wars in Lebanon.
What is the cause of this disunity? The Muslims claim that they worship one God and follow His one religion. They also declare their religious brotherhood. How then are they so disunited? This is the mystery that we have to unravel. This is the reason for our re-evaluation of the hadith. Our hypothesis is that the hadith — in principle, a false teaching attributed to Prophet Muhammad — is a major factor causing disunity and backwardness among Muslims. Our study is to prove this hypothesis.