Friday, September 12, 2014

Reconciling with Hadith

A’uzu Billahi Min ash-Shaitain ir-Rajeem.
Bismillah ir-rahman ir-raheem.
Al Hamdu Lillahi Rabbil ‘Alameen.
Wasa’atu Wassalamu ‘Ala Muhammad wa ‘Ala Alihi was Sabhihi was Sallim
Al-hamdu lillah, Ahmaduhu Wa Assta’eenuh, Wa Asstahdeenhi, Wa Asstaghfiruh, Wa oominu Bihi Jalla wa ‘Ala wa Laa Akfuruh.  Praise be to Allah; I praise Him and I seek His assistance. I believe in Him, the Exhalted, and I will not disbelieve Him

The title of my khutbah today is “Reconciling with Hadith

I have never been a big fan of hadith. Even before I became a Muslim, when I was just studying Islam, I was highly suspicious of them. I’m not talking about the ‘how you pray’, or the practice of zakat, or going on hajj – I’m ok with the rituals. What bothered me were the sayings you would hear that , to me, were trying to enforce behavioral norms or cultural institutions, were often misogynistic or not very respectful of other faiths. Things like “a group with a woman as a leader will never flourish”, “if you pray and a woman, a black dog, or a donkey walks in front of you, your prayer is invalid”, “there are more women in hell than men”, and all the heavy restrictions on music, any depiction of the human form, and a general dismissal of any literature that was not the Quran. There were many restrictions on the fine arts in Islam, or at least, according to these hadith I kept hearing.

Then, a few years after I converted, I discovered one of my favorite hadith stories was considered “weak”. This is the story of how Prophet Muhammad would walk through the streets of Mecca along the same route every day and this woman would always throw garbage on his head. One day, there was no garbage. The Prophet went to her house and asked if she was ok, turned out she was sick, too unwell to upend the slop bucket. When she saw how genuinely concerned the Prophet was for her well being, she later converted.  I love this story, but someone told me, “Oh, that is considered a weak hadith. It’s probably made up, it probably never happened.”

That made me really frustrated. Here is one story which I think truly illustrates the mercy and forgiveness of our Prophet, and I’m being told that it’s a forgery? Whereas the one about women in hell is a solid hadith? It just didn’t make any sense to me, and at about this time I declared to my husband that I was going to be a “Quran-only” Muslim. He ignored me.

Many years later, I found out that I was not the only one who was frustrated with hadith and I am not the only “Quran only” Muslim. When we started to write our own khutbahs, I knew that in all khutbahs you are supposed to mention Quran, sunna, and hadith. I felt that in all fairness to the hadith tradition, I would have to give them a second chance. So I started to read this incredibly awesome book called “Hadith; Muhammad’s legacy in the medieval and modern world” by Jonathan A.C. Brown.  I’m still not a big fan of hadith, but I feel that with this book I at least have a better understanding of the hadith sciences and where some of my problems come from.

I can’t sum up all this book, but I’ll try to highlight a few points so you can understand my reconciliation process. Prof. Brown says the hadith sciences are similar to modern journalism. If you are a journalist and you have a source who says something about the President, before you publish anything you are going to check out the reputation of the source, see if the source has been reliable in the past, and maybe do some fact checking with other sources or witnesses to corroborate the story. Now if the story is something big like “the President is planning to change his economic policy” you are going to do a lot of fact checking to make sure that story is true before you publish it. Your reputation is on the line. But if the story is something like, “the President is planning to change his favorite ice cream flavor from chocolate to strawberry”, then you might not do much fact checking. You might think the story is so unimportant, you publish it as is. What I learned from this hadith book, is that when it came to legal matters- how to raise taxes, how much charity to give, legal contracts, inheritance, the hadith scholars were extremely careful in their fact checking. However, when it came to more everyday things, stuff the local preacher might say trying to get people to behave and be more God-conscious, they weren’t so careful. The jurist scholars figured it might be good for everyone to have the fear of God in them and how many people are going to come to court complaining that they only got ten houris in paradise instead of seventy? Later developments in the hadith culture then elevated these ‘weak’ hadith, into ‘fair’ and sometimes a few centuries later from ‘fair’ into ‘authentic’. If you want to understand more about this process, you have to read the book.


(Khitbah part 2)
Al-Hamdu Lillahi Rabbil ‘Alameen Wassalutu Wassalmu ‘Alakhairil Mursaleen; Muhammadin Al-Nabiyil  Ummiyee, wa ‘Ala alihi wa mahbihi Ajma’een.
Praise be to Allah, the lord of the universe; May the greeting and peace of Allah be upon the best Messenger, Muhammad, the unlettered Prophet; and upon His family and upon all of His companions.

Before I read Dr. Brown’s book, this statement I’m going to read from ibn Hanbal, the founder of the Hanbali legal school, would have driven me crazy, but I’m going to try and interpret it with a bit more patience. Ibn Hanbal said, “You hardly see anyone applying reason (ra’y) [to some issue of religion or law] except that there lies, in his heart, some deep-seated resentment. An unreliable narration [from the Prophet] is thus dearer to me than the use of reason.” Old me would have gone bonkers, did go bonkers, on this one. “What?! Some forged hadith is better than using your brain?! What idiocy!”  But now we have a new me, the 2.0 version, and in the second part of my khutbah, I am going to be as generous as I can in interpreting what I think Ibn Hanbal meant.

What I think Ibn Hanbal was trying to say is that if you look at the Prophet, he had a pure heart. He wanted to be merciful to people, he was generous. For him, a peace treaty was a victory. He knew how to forgive his enemies. He went through everything that he had to go through because he wanted to make the world a better place. It says in Surah 42 ayah 23: “I ask of you no fee therefore, save loving kindness among kindred folk.”

Now contrast the Prophet’s intention with that of people who just use a religious or legal agenda to disguise what is really in their heart. For example, after 9/11 we Americans were asked to go to war with Iraq because our government told us Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.  They showed satellite photos, they had intelligence information, they had fancy presentations, all the major tv news networks supported their assertions. Some people did come out and protest, often at great personal and professional costs. Journalists got fired, university professors were blacklisted, and CIA agents were ‘outed’ for speaking against the government’s ‘reasonable’ plan or action. Even the Dixie Chicks got death threats! In the end, the USA went to war, hundreds of thousands of people were killed, billions of dollars were spent, and I’m not sure Iraq is any better off today. No weapons of mass destruction were ever found. If Bush had said what was truly in his heart, “Saddam Hussein is a troublemaker, he tried to kill my father, and I want his oil” then perhaps things would have turned out differently.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that reason is tricky. It can be a great tool, but if you aren’t careful, it will disguise what is really in your heart.

Your khutbah homework: The next time you hear a hadith that you really disagree with- in your heart or in your head-, I want you to consider a different hadith. This is the first hadith that any student learns when they go to a true hadith scholar. I’m not a hadith scholar, but this is one hadith that I can stand behind and I don’t care how authentic or weak it is.

Have mercy in this earthly world, and He that is in the heavens will have mercy on you.

If you are brave, reply to the person who just said the wacky hadith with this hadith about mercy. If you are even braver (good place to ask God for strength), ask the person whether what they just said is demonstrating mercy to women, homosexuals, Shias, differently pigmented ethnic groups, trombone players, whomever they happen to be bashing . Make that person accountable for what they have said. Confrontation is not easy, particularly if this happens to be a family member, but one of our biggest problems today is that many of us have forgotten how to show mercy towards others. Maybe your hadith quoting uncle will ignore you, but maybe he will hesitate the next time he tries to repeat his hadith. Or even better, perhaps your questioning him will unnerve just him enough that he will seek out a real hadith scholar, ask for a better explanation, and God willing, that scholar will help your uncle’s faith and his mercy to grow.

From Surah 18, al-Kahf, ayah 10: Our Lord! Give us mercy from Thy presence, and shape for us right conduct in our plight.

Rabbana atina min ladunka rahmatan wa hayyi’ lana min amirna rashada. Amin.

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