The Hadis (or Hadith) is the collection of biographic reports about the sayings, customs and doings of Mohammed and his companions; they also reflect on what Mohammed enjoined and tolerated in his presence or forbade.
In the introduction to the Mishkat, a collection of Hadis, we read:
"I have left you two things and you will not stray as long as you hold them fast. The one is the Book of God and the other the Law (Sunnah) of his Prophet." (Mishkat 1:120, Volume I, page 173).
"Whoso obeys me (i.e. Mohammed) shall enter Paradise and whoso disobeys me, has indeed rejected truth." (Mishkat 1:97, page 159).
"He who seeks the Quran will seek 'sunnah', because it is the commentary of the Quran and its explanation. Gabriel (the angel) revealed 'sunnah' to the Prophet as he revealed the Quran to him." (ibid. Introduction, page 5).
"From the above verses, traditions and sayings of theologians it is now beyond question that all Muslims to whatever ages and climes they belong, must necessarily follow the Hadis of the Holy Prophet." (ibid).
"That which the Prophet of God has made unlawful is like that which God himself has made so."
"Verily, the best word is the word of Allah, and the best rule of life is that delivered by Mohammed."(Hadis as recorded in "Dictionary of Islam", page 639).
Sunnah (or Sunnat) and Hadis are technically synonymous terms, but sunnah
If Mohammed is reputed to have done something it is "sunnah" to his followers. This obviously applies also in the negative sense: if Mohammed rejected or condemned something, it is forbidden to all Muslims.
In the Hadis the Muslim seeks guidance for his actions in every aspect of daily life. To copy the sayings and doings of Mohammed, is (to the Muslim) the safest way to live a life pleasing to Allah. Therefore salvation is sought by copying as closely as possible the life of the Prophet, who is considered to be the greatest of all human beings. Most Muslims believe that Mohammed's life and everyday talk were as inspired as the Quran itself. Sober scrutiny will cast doubt on the reliability of the Hadis, however. To give an example: Abu Da'ud, one of the collectors of Hadis, accepted only 4 800 traditions out of 500 000 and even in his careful selection, he states that he had written down only "those which seem to be authentic and those which are nearly so." (Ibn-Khallikan Volume I, page 590).
Of 40 000 persons who had been instrumental in handing down Traditions, al-Bukhari acknowledges only 2 000 as reliable authorities. From 600 000 Hadis he selected 7 200 of which about half are duplicates of others. The selection thereof was done according to the judgement of one individual collector.
He selected 1,2% of the available traditions well over 200 years after the recorded events took place. (Today we would have to think in terms of happenings that had been verbally transmitted from the time of the composer Frederick Händel or Frederick the Great of Prussia).
We must conclude that these traditions cannot reflect a true and reliable picture of Mohammed, although a methology for the determination of reliability has been developed. ("Dictionary of Islam", page 640).
The fact that many Muslims insist that a Hadis is only acceptable if it does not contradict the Quran, underlines our problem.
There is the Hadisu's-sahi, a "genuine Tradition", handed down by truly pious persons, distinguished for their integrity. Then there is the Hadisu'z-Za'if, which is a "weak Tradition". Another school divides them into "exhorted Traditions", "restricted Traditions" and "intersected Traditions". Yet another school divides the Hadis into "undoubted Tradition", "well-known Tradition", "rare Tradition" "poor Tradition" and a "single saying". All this after having been extensively sifted by the collectors!
From the host of Tradition-collectors, Muslim scholars have singled out six of some 1 465 collections as being the "correct books" (Sihahu's-Sittah):
In addition must be mentioned the Mishkat (or "Mishkat-ul-Masabih").
Since only few people are sure of the morality of their actions, it has always been considered a "good" way to do what most people do. To copy the one who was Allah's chosen Prophet, who must have been well-pleasing to Allah is surely to follow the best example. (J. Christensen).
So every good Muslim follows, and in doing the right actions seeks the favour of Allah. As we saw earlier, Mohammed directly and indirectly agreed with and encouraged Sunnah.
A brief look at some traditions will illustrate what this involves:
Abd-ullah ibn-Umar was seen riding his camel round and round a certain place. In answer to an enquiry as to his reason for so doing, he said: 'That I know not, only I have seen the Prophet do so here." Ahmad-ibn-Hambal would not eat watermelons, because although he knew the Prophet ate them, he did not know whether he ate them with or without the rind, or whether he broke, bit or cut them. Even so his action was not 'Sunnah', for Mohammed ate watermelons!
Muslims proudly regard Islam as the "natural religion" in which every aspect of life is considered and regulated: from prayer to the cleaning of teeth; from the pilgrimage to marriage and the raising of children. The pattern for this is largely provided in the Hadis. Basically this leads to submission to a long set of rules for behaviour, rather than getting to the heart of the human condition. To put it Biblically:
"Gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot perfect the conscience of the worshipper, but deal only with food and drink and various ablutions, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation (i.e. during the time of the dispensation under the Law of the Old Testament. G.N.) (Hebrews 9:9-10).
Jesus Himself taught us: "Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and so passes on? But what comes out the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man." (Matthew 15:17-20).
We should like to make ourselves clear: We do not criticize good habits! We do not want to discourage anyone from following a good example - on the contrary!
But we must not expect spiritual results from this. The realization of sin; the hatred for sin; true repentance and deep love for God, does not result from keeping laws!
Christians do not despise laws either. What would we do without law and order in this already corrupt and perverse world? Never mind how insufficient and poor these laws often are.
In the New Testament we find that the Law of God is to love Him and to love one another. This love is kindled, like any other human love relationship, by an appreciation of the oblect of our love. This again springs from our occupation with the One we love - or wish to love.
As within a human relationship, we have to probe, make contact, seek information, test and converse. In spiritual terms this means occupation with God's Word, besides our talking to Him in prayer. This means more than the recitation of the Rak'at seventeen times a day or more. No man can honestly claim that he can possibly have intimate contact with God after the first thousand times of recitation, as little as an experienced nurse is moved at the sight of blood.
Adoration, worship, praise and prayer are the overflow of a loving and grateful heart towards God, Who, despite our sinfulness in thought and deed, did not cast us aside, but is willing to receive us back to Himself and to shower His love over us - all by grace, i.e. by presenting this to us as an undeserved gift. This we may accept. Now we in turn can present ourselves to Him. The Bible puts it this way in Romans 12:1-2:
We suggest that there are two ways of achieving submission to God. One is through fear. I fear the consequences of my actions against established rules and laws, and consequently I try to keep them. The relationship between God and man in this case is that between Master and slave. The other is based on love. Because I love God with all my heart, I hate nothing more than to disappoint Him, I hate sin. Anything He likes I endeavour to do, I burn to please Him, as He wants to please me. This is a Bridegroom - bride relationship. The former relationship is predominantly apparent in the Old Testament in God's dealings with a rebellious Israel; the latter relationship begins to appear in the Old Testament, but is unfolded fully only in the New Testament. We need power to overcome sin. Love is the most superior propellant of life, as we all know. Therefore love as a motive is superior to fear. Disregarding polemics. we must state that the following of rules degrades a man to being a mechanical servant. The law is a "schoolmaster" (N.T. Galatians 3:24):
We obverve the shift from mechanical obedience to loving response and to responsible action. We are lifted to a higher plane - promoted to act as free men, bound only by love. This, however, is granted only to those who do indeed love God in a sincere manner, otherwise we have chaos - as is widely seen in this world that professes religion, but does not possess the sincerity to live it.
If, with this in mind, we look at certain sunnah, we must seriously ask what kind of spiritual effect, even by implication, they may produce:
"Jabir reported that Allah's Messenger commanded the licking of fingers and the dish saying: 'You do not know in what portion the blessing lies.' "(Sahih Muslim, page 1 120).
"When anyone eats food, he should not wipe his hands until he had licked it (hands and dish) himself or has given it to someone else to lick it. (ibid., page 1 119).
"Ibn-Umar reported Allah's Messenger as saying: 'A believer eats in one intestine, whereas a non-believer eats in seven intestines.' "(ibid., page 1 137).
Mohammed said: "The angels do not enter a house in which there is a dog or pictures." (Hadis of Abu-Talhah).
"Every maker of pictures is in the fire. Allah will appoint for him, for every picture which he has drawn, a person who will punish him in hell." (Hadis of ibn-Abbas).
Yet even in Islamic countries pictures are painted, photos taken and films viewed - not to mention T.V.
Interpreters today, however, say Mohammed means this to be the extreme and final penalty for incorrigible thieves. However, those who ignore the Hadis and thereby ignore following "such tradition today, would violate the spirit of the Quran."
Allah's Messenger said: "When one of you yawns, he should keep his mouth shut with the help of his hand, for it is the devil that enters therein." (Sahih Muslim, page 1 540).
All the above statements need neither comment nor explanation regarding their usefullness and acceptability in the light of anatomy, medicine, bacteriology and technology.
Of course, we are aware that the above selection does not represent a balanced view of the Hadis. However, an unemotional reader of the Hadis, searching for peace with God and joy in His presence, as we Christians experience it, will find little but detailed rules on how exactly to prostrate in prayer, perform the Hajj, shave the hair of the body, perform ablutions, etc. etc.
Of course, this can be noticed only by those who experience another kind of relationship with God. The man who draws saline water from a deep well in the Kalahari considers it terrific, until he moves to a house with running water, hot and cold.
Without wishing to be superior, we note that anyone comparing life under the New Testament with the life under the Old Covenant must realize the tremendous change and freedom that came with Jesus. Islam leads its followers back under the Law. (Galatians 3 and 4).
Christians, as mentioned earlier, certainly do not live lawlessly. We have been, as it were, promoted from the stage of observing strict ordinances that regulate every aspect of life by detailed commandments, which is basically the situation sought after by the immature. It is no doubt more beautiful to live under the Law of Love, for as Francis of Assisi put it once: "Love God - and then do what you like!" But love also dictates restraint! It is not something that I must force myself to do. I do it to please the One whom my soul loves. We must hasten to add, however, that this applies only to the genuine, practising Christian - not to just any Church member. Here perhaps more than in any other area can we see the difference that the Christian faith makes.
There is no point in stating that Islam and its way aims at just that. It does not. It is a delusion and self-deception to assume that.
QUESTION: Is it reasonable to build or support ones faith for eternity on traditions which are so vague in their rational substance and dependability?
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