I would just like to make a brief comment on your reply about keeping dogs.
Firstly, the narrative of the Prophet (pbuh) about washing the hands seven times with water and one with sand is in my opinion sound and decently reported. This is because, according to what I have heard, there is a type of bacteria that live on dogs and these bacteria can only be removed with sand particles (thus “wash once with sand…”). I live in the UK and apparently this is a fact reported by some scientific research foundation (I don’t remember the name). I also heard this on the radio by an Imam on MW 558.
Secondly, I agree that some narrators may “…miss out on reporting an important part of the saying being reported…”. But this being the case, we can’t possibly judge one way or the other if the Hadith in question is accurate or not. So in my opinion the most logical thing to do would be to examine it carefully, and always consider it. Because if you live by the assumption that most (or all) Hadith are have been “poorly transmitted” or “misreported” therefore disregarding them and saying e.g. “it is okay to keep dogs” then what will you do if the hadith you disregarded turns out to be true and you subsequently commit sin by not following the directives of the Prophet?
I am not saying you have this attitude towards Hadith, but sometimes you make a statement like you do.
I really do not have much of a problem with accepting your explanation of the narratives in which the Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have directed the Muslims to wash their utensils six times with water and a seventh time with sand/earth. However, the narrative in which the Prophet (pbuh) is ascribed to have said that Gabriel informed him that the angels do not visit a place where there is a dog, is the one, which I have failed to understand properly, and therefore, have some reservations in accepting it as a true narrative of the words spoken by the Prophet (pbuh). The questions that come to mind, and need acceptable answers to make the narrative under consideration acceptable, may be summarized as:
The Qur’an, in Surah Al-Maaidah 5: 4, has allowed the Muslims to eat the meat of such animals which are caught by such of their animals which have been properly trained in hunting. Obviously, these trained animals also include hunting dogs, besides other animals. It is also obvious from this allowance of the Qur’an that it does not prohibit the keeping and the subsequent training of a dog. Furthermore, the Qur’an has referred to this training of these animals in such words, which clearly refer to God’s mercy and providence. The Qur’an says:
You teach them a part of what God has taught you. (Al-Maaidah 5: 4)
Keeping this directive, as well as this aspect of the training and the attention that an owner of a dog gives to his pet, in perspective, it seems quite strange to me that angels should feel averse toward something, which is not only created by God but also possesses some extraordinary natural and God-gifted qualities, which has traditionally made it man’s best friend.
In Surah Al-Kahaf 18: 9 – 22, the Qur’an has narrated an incident relating to a group of pious and God fearing young men, who, due to their fear of persecution at the hands of the polytheists, took refuge in a cave. The Qur’an, in its narrative of the incident, has also specifically mentioned that these young men also had their dog with them. The Qur’an has referred to the incident as a clear sign of God’s mercy and providence for these men. In the narrative, the Qur’an has stressed on the fact that God showered His blessings on them and safeguarded them from their enemies through the presence of their dog.
One can easily derive from this narrative of the Qur’an that the presence of a dog did not hinder God’s mercy and blessings for these men.
Keeping this narrative of the Qur’an in perspective, the dislike of the angels toward dogs, mentioned in the narrative ascribed to the Prophet (pbuh) under consideration, seems quite inexplicable.
These are two of the major questions that need to be adequately answered before these narratives ascribed to the Prophet (pbuh) are accepted to be a true representation of the words spoken by the Prophet (pbuh). Till such time, we cannot be certain regarding whether or not these words are accurately ascribed to the Prophet (pbuh).
In your comment, you have stated:
… I agree that some narrators may “…miss out on reporting an important part of the saying being reported…”. But this being the case, we can’t possibly judge one way or the other if the Hadith in question is accurate or not. So in my opinion the most logical thing to do would be to examine it carefully, and always consider it. Because if you live by the assumption that most (or all) Hadith are have been “poorly transmitted” or “misreported” therefore disregarding them and saying e.g. “it is okay to keep dogs” then what will you do if the Hadith you disregarded turns out to be true and you subsequently commit sin by not following the directives of the Prophet?
I fully agree with you that in case of narratives ascribed to the Prophet (pbuh) – i.e. Hadith – we can never be certain, whether a particular saying ascribed to the Prophet (pbuh) is accurately narrated or not. However, I would differ with the conclusion you have drawn from this problem of uncertainty that is inherent in such narratives. You have drawn the conclusion that it would be prudent to “always consider it [i.e. such narratives]” as this would save us from the danger of disregarding something which ultimately turns out to be true in its ascription to the Prophet (pbuh), and subsequently, one is saved from being guilty of the sin of ‘not following the directives of the Prophet’.
However, I do not agree with your stance and do not consider it to be in consonance with the general traditional attitude of the Muslim scholars of Hadith regarding the acceptance/rejection of narratives ascribed to the Prophet (pbuh). As I understand it, the basic stress in the work of the Muslim scholars in the science of Hadith has been one of extreme care in acceptance, rather than rejection. In other words, Muslim scholars and Muhadditheen have generally applied strict criteria of accepting a narrative to be a true ascription to the Prophet (pbuh), even if that meant that some narratives, which entailed a chance (even if it was minimal) to be true, were not accepted to be accurate1. This is precisely the reason why the most accepted among the compilations of narratives ascribed to the Prophet (pbuh) are compiled by those who had stricter criteria of acceptance of a narrative, as compared to the others2.
The reason for this strictness in the acceptance of such narratives, it seems, was the general confidence of these scholars in the fact that the information regarding the basic contents of Islam was not dependent on Hadith, but was safely contained in the more reliable sources of the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh), which was transmitted by the consensus and the verbal and/or the practical perpetuation of the companions of the Prophet (pbuh) and all subsequent generations of the Muslims.
In view of the above explanation, it seems that rejecting a narrative ascribed to the Prophet (pbuh) only becomes a ‘sin’, when the person rejecting it has ascertained, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the narrative under consideration, accurately narrates the words or actions of the Prophet (pbuh). Prior to such ascertainment, it is not a saying or a directive of the Prophet (pbuh) that is being rejected, but a saying or a directive of a narrator, which is being considered inaccurate in its ascription to the Prophet (pbuh).
20th April 2000
- For instance, it is obvious that there still exists a chance of accuracy of the ascription of a particular saying to the Prophet (pbuh), even if the chain of narrators is not strong. After all, it is not necessary that a ‘liar’, for instance, would always tell a lie, or a ‘weak’ narrator would always narrate incorrectly. [↩]
- Like, for instance, the ‘Sahih‘ of Bukhari, Muslim, and the Mo’atta of Imaam Maalik. [↩]