How should the hadiths be considered?
The Holy Qur’an is absolute. I feel that the hadiths, because they are accounts of the Prophet (pbuh) that were related indirectly, therefore, they cannot be considered absolute because what the Prophet (pbuh) may have said may have been confused or altered. Furthermore, some hadiths may be purposefully false.
Should we hold hadiths to be absolute and binding? Or not?
I know that many blessed scholars researched the hadiths after the Prophet ‘s (pbuh) death, but there is still a margin for error there.
I tend to agree with you to a great extent. Hadith is actually a narration of the words or acts of the Prophet (pbuh), as perceived and transmitted by one or more persons who heard or saw the Prophet (pbuh) saying or performing these acts.
It can sometimes be very difficult to say for sure what exactly were the words spoken by the Prophet (pbuh) and what was the context of these words and stresses in the statements of the Prophet (pbuh). The basic reason for this difficulty seems to be the fact that it is not the Prophet (pbuh) himself who has recorded these words in the various books, such sayings have rather been ascribed to the Prophet (pbuh) by any one or more of such of the Prophet’s companions who was/were present at the particular time the Prophet (pbuh) spoke these words and heard the Prophet (pbuh) say them. Later on, one or more of these companions of the Prophet (pbuh) narrated, in his/their own words such sayings of the Prophet (pbuh) to those who were not present during the time of the Prophet (pbuh). In turn, these people narrated the sayings of the Prophet’s companions, in their own words to those who came after them. This chain of narrators of the sayings ascribed to the Prophet (pbuh) kept transferring such teachings of the Prophet to the generation next to them, till the time when such narrations were recorded by any one or more of the compilers of these narrations, like Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmadhi etc.
If you look closely at the process of the compilation of the various narrations ascribed to the Prophet (pbuh) as is summarized above, you shall notice that because of this process, the narrations ascribed to the Prophet (pbuh), as recorded in the various compilations are prone to a number of errors. One of the most obvious among these errors is the simple fact that in the whole chain of narrators, even if one of the narrators has not properly comprehended the particular saying of the Prophet (pbuh), it would result in a faulty transmission of that particular saying.
One of the methods, among a number of others, for analyzing these narrations is simply to compile all the narrations on the particular topic and see if there is any difference in the words narrated. This may sometimes help in understanding the actual meaning and context of the saying ascribed to the Prophet (pbuh). Moreover, sometimes it may clarify that the words ascribed to the Prophet (pbuh) by one set of narrators are quite different from those ascribed by another. In this way, such an exercise can sometimes help a student of hadith in determining a mistake or an error committed by one or more of the narrators.
Furthermore, according to the established principles of the Muhadditheen (scholars of hadith), no such hadith is accepted to be a true narrative of the words of the Prophet (pbuh), which is against common sense, or against an established directive of the Qur’an or against an established Sunnah of the Prophet or against any thing which is accepted and followed by the Muslims as the Sunnah, or against logic.
In the light of the above explanation, it may be easy to appreciate that I would like to consider every narrative ascribed to the Prophet (pbuh) in the light of the Qur’an and the established Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh). Thus, in my view, a narrative ascribed to the Prophet (pbuh), before being accepted as a true narration of the saying of the Prophet (pbuh) should be considered according to the following criteria:
The subject matter.
First of all, we should see that the source of the particular narrative is reliable or not. Secondly, we should see whether the subject matter of the narrative is in harmony with the Qur’an and the established Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh) or not. If a narrative is found to be acceptable on both these accounts, such a narrative may then be accepted as a true narration of the words of the Prophet (pbuh).
Thus, in my view, hadith, by its very nature should be given a position secondary to the Qur’an and the established Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh).
The work done by the scholars of hadith cannot be held as final and absolute. Obviously, all these scholars were normal human beings, prone to the errors that normal human beings make. I therefore, think that like these great scholars of old, the contemporary scholars too must apply these criteria and only then take a hadith to be a true narration of the words of the Prophet (pbuh).
10th April 1998