Prophetic traditions

The prophetic traditions constitute the second root of the law. They are understood to be subordinate to the Quran. There are several reasons for this.

First, prophetic traditions are reports by different narrators. They were compiled two hundred years after the demise of the prophet.

Second, the majority of the traditions (ahadith) are paraphrases of the words of the prophet. Just ten traditions are known to be verbatim, literally the words of the prophet.

Third, there is a lack of consensus about whether the prophet permitted the compilations of his sayings. There is evidence, ironically in the compilations themselves, that at least initially he forbade it, for fear that the words the Quran might be mixed up with his words. There appears to be a dearth of evidence that he relaxed the prohibition.

Fourth, the vast majority of the traditions are solitary, meaning that they are supported by just a single chain of narration. A few jurists feel that single-chain narrations should not be used as a root of the law. According to them, only traditions with multiple lines of narration should be used as roots of the law.

The reason for this was that the reliability of traditions with at least four separate chains of narration was deemed to be higher than that of solitary traditions. 

Fifth, different denominations appear to have different compilations of traditions.

Sixth, there was widespread forgery of traditions taking place at the time. Many traditions were fabricated to support either one or another of several competing parties.

Seventh, the process of verifying the authenticity of the narrations did not pay enough attention to the meaning (matn) of the tradition, and was excessively concerned with the reliability of the narrators.

Eighth, the traditions appear to have left out statements about the intellect and justice, thereby appearing to be excessively focused on formalities.

Ninth, a few traditions appear to depart from the teaching of the Quran on various subjects, such as apostasy.

Jurists generally agree that if a tradition is authentic and agrees with the Quran, relying on it should be acceptable.

[Disclaimer: Readers are advised to check the veracity of the statements made in this post for themselves. If any reader finds an error in this post, kindly inform me].

Blocking the means

This root of the law rests on the assumption that an act may be designated as illegal if its use may facilitate another illegal act. In other words, television could be made illegal because it television might facilitate watching pornographic movies.

The principle rests on the assumption that the means to an end takes on the value of the end. If the end is illegal, so are the means to it.

What is rarely acknowledged is that a particular means may be used to arrive at different ends, where a few may be illegal but others may be legal.

Moreover, what is rarely highlighted is that equating the value of the means with the value of the end also works in reverse: when the value of the end is legal, the means also becomes legal.

If the means takes on the value of the end, then committing mass murder to achieve a caliphate is justified because the end is desirable. The principle is Machiavellian, as it conveys the notion that the end justifies the means.

This “principle” imparts the view that what makes an act legal or otherwise is whether it “leads to” a legal result or not. Thus, this root of the law should be re-examined.

[Disclaimer: Readers are advised to check the veracity of the statements made in this post for themselves. If any reader finds an error in this post, kindly inform me].

Revelation and prophetic traditions

Relationship

What is the relationship between revelation and the prophetic traditions? A few jurists assert that the prophetic traditions are an integral “part of the Quran.”

Yet revelation gave rise to tradition. In other words, tradition is derivative. This is recognized by identifying tradition as the second source of the law. Moreover, Muhammad was forbidden from adding anything to the Quran (Q 69:44). So the assertion that the traditions of the prophet are an “integral part of the Quran” is problematic, to say the least.

Traditions differ from revelation in other ways. The Quran is understood to be the word of God. The prophetic traditions are reports by various persons. They should not be mixed up with one another.

The superiority of revelation over tradition was recognized by jurists when they stated that even though traditions holds the rank of revelation, this is a lesser kind of revelation than that of the Quran.

The prophetic traditions are known as “internal” revelation while the Quran is seen as “manifest” revelation. In this way jurists attempted to preserve the uniqueness and superiority of the Quran over tradition.

Yet a few jurists assert that tradition “rules” on the Quran. This sounds rather impudent. To say that tradition rules on the Quran is to reverse the authority of the two. It is to place the authority of tradition above that of revelation. This is problematic, to say the least.

[Disclaimer: Readers are advised to check the veracity of the statements made in this post for themselves. If any reader finds an error in this post, kindly inform me].

Preface

What went wrong?

The reservations expressed in these posts arose from reading texts on jurisprudence and encountering therein problematic assumptions. For the question of what went wrong in Islam is hardly separable from what went wrong in jurisprudence.

Yet these issues have to be addressed, as not a few of the problems in the world of Islam result from misunderstandings of the Quran by those who are expected to understand it best, the jurists. For Muslims generally trust scholars to provide guidance.

Thus, I share a few of these concerns with the broader public in the expectation that they may contribute to a better understanding of Islam.

Emergence of tradition

The emergence of tradition had an impact not just upon the understanding of revelation but also on the development of jurisprudence. The prophetic traditions, known as the “sunna” or the way of the prophet, were recorded about two hundred years after the demise of the prophet.

Initially, the traditions were expected to “explain” revelation. It appears, however, that the end result was rather the reverse; revelation became harder to access and may even have been superseded to an extent by tradition. This reinforced a prophet-centric perception of the faith.

Designating tradition as revelation expanded the scope of revelation, as well as of the law. The assumed equality of revelation and the sunna in law meant that tradition would be upon an equal footing as revelation revelation in the sharia.

[Disclaimer: Readers are advised to check the veracity of the statements made in this post for themselves. If any reader finds an error in this post, kindly inform me].

Issues in jurisprudence

What is jurisprudence

Jurisprudence is the process of reasoning to derive laws from its “roots.” The roots include the Quran, tradition, majority view and reasoning.

These “roots” are not equally authoritative. In traditional jurisprudence the Quran is the highest authority, followed by tradition, majority view and reason.

This ranking or hierarchy is not always maintained. There is a trend to treat tradition and revelation as equally authoritative. This is evident in referring to tradition and revelation as “primary” sources.

By describing both as “primary” sources, the fact that the Quran is the first root of law may be lost on the reader.

The view that the Quran and tradition are equally authoritative is reinforced in the popular mind by the view that “in the shariah” the Quran and tradition stand on “the same footing,” or that a report of multiple reporters is “equal” to a verse of the Quran. The view that the Quran and sunna are “equally” authoritative is also reinforced by the perception that the “sunna is a part of the Quran.”

An example of tradition acquiring a rank even higher than revelation is provided by the view that tradition may “abrogate” revelation. It is hard to see how statements of this kind may be reconciled with the principle of tawhid.

The incorporation of tradition as a root of the law was enabled by designating tradition as revelation, although not quite on par with the revelation of the Quran.

The reason for having to elevate tradition to the ran of revelation may be found in al-Maida, verses 44, 45, and 47 which state that whoever judges by something other than what God revealed is a disbeliever, a wrongdoer or a rebel.

Issues in jurisprudence are due to problematic assumptions that were incorporated for different reasons into the methodology of  jurisprudence. To resolve these issues, it is necessary to address these assumptions.  Among these assumptions are the following:

  1. Tradition is a form of revelation
  2. Tradition is followed in preference to reason
  3. Tradition is needed to understand revelation
  4. Tradition may abrogate revelation

The combined effect of these assumption was to make way for tradition as a source of law, and also as a means for “understanding” revelation.

Tradition is a form of revelation

If tradition were to be used as a root of the law, it had to have the rank of revelation. Otherwise verses 44, 45 and 47 would make it impossible to “judge” by tradition.

Tradition was identified as revelation by asserting that revelation takes two forms: “manifest” and “internal.” The Quran would be an example for the former while tradition would be an example of the latter.

In other words, jurists have enabled tradition to become a root of the law by redefining revelation as it is understood in the Quran. This imparted to revelation a broader meaning than it has in the Quran.

The problem with identifying tradition as a form of revelation, however, is that the Quran does not distinguish between two modes of revelation. .

Tradition is followed in preference to reason

The view that reason is subordinate to tradition is problematic because it justifies blind following of tradition and a belittling of reason.

The view that tradition has to be followed even if it is against reason is hardly consistent with the Quran, according to which God commands what is reasonable. Moreover, it can be used to justify blind following.

Tradition is needed to understand revelation

It appears that reason was not alone in being subordinated to tradition. Revelation was treated similarly.

The subordination of revelation to tradition took place by asserting that tradition judges revelation in  that revelation had to be “explained” by tradition.

[Disclaimer: Readers are advised to check the veracity of the statements made in this post for themselves. If any reader finds an error in this post, kindly inform me].

Tradition may abrogate revelation

The elevation of tradition above revelation is apparent in the theory of abrogation of revelation by tradition. Only a higher authority may abrogate a lesser authority.

The fact that tradition is deemed capable of abrogating revelation indicates that tradition is deemed to be an authority higher than revelation. It is hard to see how the theory of the abrogation of revelation may be reconciled with the view that God is the highest authority.

[Disclaimer: Readers are advised to check the veracity of the statements made in this post for themselves. If any reader finds an error in this post, kindly inform me].

Unity of revelation 

It is important to highlight the continuity of revelation not only because the Quran itself does this. By making Islam appear exclusive, extremists lend credence to the thesis of Huntington that a “clash” of civilisations is taking place. In that way, extremists make the “clash” more probable and thus play right into the hands of the enemies of Muslims. 

Islam is not an adversary of the previous revelations. The “clash” is not between various revelations. “Clashes” typically take place over material assets for example resources. 

[Disclaimer: Readers are advised to check the veracity of the views expressed in this post for themselves. If any reader finds an error in this post, kindly inform me].

Quran confirms previous revelations

The posts under the heading “Towards a better knowledge of Islam” intend to alert persons with an interest in Islam to a few misunderstandings, that have been propagated about Islam. Among of these is the view that the Quran “abrogated” the previous revelations.

By contrast, the Quran informs us in no fewer than twenty verses that it “confirms” the previous revelations. This does not mean that the Quran endorses everything that is found in the recorded versions of the previous revelations. To see where the Quran departs from the recorded versions of the previous revelations, the reader is advised to read the Quran which explains it best.

The view that the Quran “abrogated” previous revelations is wishful thinking. It is typical of parties that propagate an “exclusive” rather than an “inclusive” kind of Islam. Rigid adherence to “exclusive” Islam is found among extremists.

One reason for the view that the Quran “abrogated” the previous revelations is that, as a result of the uncritical following of jurists known a taqlid, commentators refer to the writings of their predecessors rather than the Quran itself. If a jurist commits an error, the following generations repeat that mistake. In this way, such errors  become effectively “institutionalised.”

Moreover, as Muhammad Asad observes in his translation of the Quran, there is not a single tradition in the entire corpus of prophetic traditions that even mentions let alone supports the doctrine of “abrogation.” The Quran itself says that no change will be found in the words of God.

[Disclaimer: Readers are advised to check the veracity of the views expressed in this post for themselves. If any reader finds an error in this post, kindly inform me].