Early Muslim history needs fresh appraisal—II

Neither Allah nor Prophet Muhammad (SAW) instructed that Ahadith may be recorded or took responsibility of their security

M Aamer Sarfraz

I have been reading early Muslim history for a few decades. Very few books and interesting articles, unless they are unreferenced or in an unknown language, have escaped me. One would assume under these circumstances that there are not many surprises left in this subject area for me. However, this statement cannot be further from the truth. For example, I was on a holiday when I found myself in a beautiful Library during a break from the sightseeing.

While browsing in the Religion section, a book by an unfamiliar author, Leslie Hazelton, caught my eye. It contained the usual material along with the author’s own bias, but a few ‘well-referenced’ twists were hard to ignore.

Ms Hazelton writes that Prophet Muhammad (SAW) had at first approached his uncle, Hazrat Abu Talib, for his daughter Fakhitah‘s hand but he was turned down probably due to his low economic status and future potential.

Therefore, when he formally proposed to Hazrat Khadija afterwards, he had requested his other uncle, Hazrat Hamza, to take the message to her father. She got her own father, very drunk to get him to agree to the proposal, and quickly announced his approval before he recovered.

Ms Hazelton also comments how Prophet Muhammad (SAW) repaid more than his debts to Hazrat Abu Talib who had raised him as an orphan, when his fortunes turned — he raised Hazrat Ali, gave his own daughter (Hazrat Fatima) to Hazrat Ali in marriage, and was always generous to Hazrat Fakhitah later in life except turning her down when she proposed.

The book is well-written and also contains other interesting ‘facts’ and insights. No wonder it has since become a best-seller. Where do such ‘new’ stories and ‘facts’ actually come from? Are they just products of some evil Muslim-hating minds or have some basis in Muslim history?

There is also a historical saga of other books (eg ‘The Apology of Al-Kindy’, ‘Mahomet’, The Satanic Verses’) which has offended Muslims over time for being insensitive or contrary to their firmly held ‘beliefs’. No prize for guessing the contents of these books because the material ‘facts’ were drawn from our own ‘reliable’ books written by esteemed Imams questioning whose wisdom or integrity can push anyone outside the pale of Islam. But, is this really the answer to all these repeated onslaughts on the integrity of a great religion that we close our eyes and curse them, and the rest of the world should follow suit?

Allah revealed and asked Prophet Muhammad (SAW) to preserve the Quran while taking responsibility of its security upon Himself. Muhammad (SAW) narrated and got it recorded, in writing and by heart, by several of his companions at a time. He would also get them to revise it with him and corrected them if necessary. Before leaving this world, he made sure that the Quran was available in writing and preserved in the hearts of hundreds of his people.

Try remembering an interesting meeting you attended with a group of friends several years later. We either forget or remember different versions of it. Now imagine what could be remembered if it was carried forward into three generations over two hundred years

Neither Allah nor Prophet Muhammad (SAW) instructed that Ahadith (sayings of the Prophet)may be recorded or took responsibility of their security. The latter actually instructed that nothing except the Quran should be written from him and whosoever has done otherwise should erase it immediately. He may have permitted one person on an occasion but never instructed him or anyone else to do so. There is firm evidence to suggest that the first two caliphs made people destroy the Ahadith they had collected in pursuance of Prophet’s (SAW) instructions.

Ahadith have been the biggest sourcefor writing early Muslim history. The first recorded and safely found manuscript of Ahadith is by Hamam Ibne Munbah (d.131Hijra).

It has 138 Ahadith and he wrote that he composed them under the supervision of his teacher Hazrat Abu Hurairah (d. 58Hijra). Now just envision that Ibne Munbah could only find 138 Ahadith sitting in Medina within 46 years of Prophet’s death but Imam Bukhari found six hundred thousand Ahadith (recorded two thousand six hundred and thirty — discarded the rest) after approx. 230 years of the Prophet. Others like Imam Hanbal found one million and Imam Yahya bin Moeen found more than a million Ahadith. It is also worth noting that while his student records only 138 sitting in front of him, Hazrat Abu Huraira has reportedly narrated thousands of Ahadith, which are found in different Ahadith collections.

The first acclaimed collection of 300-500 Ahadith is by Imam Malik (d. 179 Hijra). Afterwards, this trend became popular and several collectors of Ahadith came forward. Among them, there are six renowned collections of Ahadith recognised by the Sunnis and four separate collections by the Shias — both sects reject each other’s collections for being unreliable.

The common features of these collections are: all their collectors were of Persian origin — none was an Arab, did not think much of each other, published them after 200 years of Prophet’s death, collected hundreds of thousands of Ahadith but selected a small proportion, relied on personal judgement for Ahadith selection and rejection, and collected Ahadith from verbal accounts without any written evidence.

Try remembering an interesting meeting you attended with a group of friends several years later. We either forget or remember different versions of it. Now imagine what could be remembered if it was carried forward into three generations over two hundred years.

We can argue whether Ahadith can be a reliable source for writing history (or jurisprudence). But that would just be what Muslims have been doing all these years, and then they accuse non-Muslim (and Muslim) historians and writers of insulting their beliefs or having an agenda against Islam. The way things are unfolding in the world at the moment; this situation is only going to get worse.

To be continued

The writer is a consultant psychiatrist and visiting professor based in London. He tweets @AamerSarfraz

Published in Daily Times, November 1st 2018.

Posted in M Aamer Sarfraz.