Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Koran and the Hadith

Abdullah, the gentleman who posted replies to some of my earlier posts is engaged in a debate on beliefnet over whether the Hadith (the collected sayings of the Prophet) should be considered as authoritative as the Koran itself. Here are some of the passages from the Koran he cites to support the authority of the Hadith.

Say: Obey Allah and the Messenger, but if they turn their backs, Allah loves not the disbelievers. (3:32)

And whoever obeys the Messenger, thereby obeys Allah (4:80)

And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger has gone astray into manifest error. (33:36)

As a relatively new, but careful student of Islam, I appreciate seeing the Koran citations for why Muslims should follow the Hadith. I can understand why a reasonable person would interpret these passages this way, but I do not think that is the only possible interpretation of those texts.

These commands to obey and heed the messenger refer to Muhammad himself, and seem to me to be only applicable to people who could actually speak directly to him. When Muhammad was alive, it was obviously important that the Ummah accept him as its leader, otherwise there would have been chaos in this newly-formed and militarily threatened community. However, I see no reason to infer from this command that Muslims a thousand years later should pour over old documents and infer the existence of prohibitions that are not even explicitly stated in the Hadiths themselves.

The alleged prohibition against music is the example that bothers me the most, particularly since almost all of my music teachers have been Muslims. I don't think it is " obeying the prophet" to take a Hadith which says something like "when society starts to deteriorate people will behave badly, and some of those badly behaved people will play music" , and infer that no one should play music today. (particularly since there is ample documentation that the Muhammad permitted members of the Ummah to play music.) Firstly, If Muhammad had wanted people to not play music in his time, he would have said straight out "Don't play Music". Secondly, there is no reason to assume that all commands given by Muhammad to his Ummah should be automatically applicable today. Part of Muhammad's greatness lies in the fact that he was not only a religious leader, but a military and political leader is well. All military and political decisions have to be made to deal with the contingencies of the moment, and there is no reason to assume that all such decisions are as universally applicable as the moral truths found in the Koran.

Saying that one should follow the prophet means "do what the prophet tells you to do". Muhammad was both a saint and a genius, and if such a person were leading my community, I would definitely accept him as my leader. But now that the Prophet is no longer with us, he can't tell us to do anything. One should remember that Muhammad is the last prophet, which means that no Imam or group of Imams that came after him should be given the same kind of authority as the prophet in the flesh. I think it is important to read the Hadith, because they contain much wisdom and inspiration, and because they provide the context that enables us to understand the complete meaning of the Koran. But that doesn't mean they should be given the same authority as the Koran itself, or as words spoken directly to you by Muhammad himself.

As a non-Muslim, I can only offer these thoughts for your consideration. I will however quote two highly regarded scholars: Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi and Imam Malik. They state that any attempt to construct prohibitions from the Hadith violates this passage in the Koran: Say: Have you considered what provision Allah has sent down for you, how you have made of it lawful and unlawful? Say: Has Allah permitted you, or do you invent a lie concerning Allah?” (Yunus: 59) They take this passage to mean that no one should construct prohibitions that are not specifically stated in the Koran.

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