Responses to Islamic Awareness

On The Nature Of Hadīth Collections Of Imām Bukhārī & Muslim

In a recent article, Khazrajī, Ghoniem, Saifullah, and Hannan [who for the sake of brevity, will be referred to as KGSH] objected to a response that I wrote entitled Are There any Early Hadith? A large portion of this article is composed of name calling and personal attacks, to which I will not respond for several reasons. The first, and most important, reason is that Jesus Christ spoke the truth in love and so did God's Prophets - while Muhammad, by comparison, frequently cursed and insulted those who disagreed with him. I always strive to follow the example of the former and eschew the poor example set by Muhammad. The second reason is that, in philosophical and historical discussions, such discourteous behavior actually insults many thinking members of the Muslim community - although it may appeal to some of the community's less sophisticated members. Most readers can easily see that KGSH are attempting to substitute the ad hominem for a good and logical argument, and, it is to these Muslim and Christian brothers and sisters that I provide this reply.

Moving past the name calling and petty insults, there were several issues raised in their paper which need to be addressed. KGSH's paper is, for the most part, an argument that they DID NOT WRITE in response to something that I DID NOT explicitly say. In fact, much of KGSH's response was copied WITHOUT citation or proper credit from Mr. 'Abdur-Raheem Green's article Uncomfortable Questions : An Authoritative Exposition, which was a response to Joseph Smith! Keeping this in mind, please note how KGSH question my scholarship and honesty throughout this discussion.

Issue 1 : "Boastful Claims", "Foolhardy statements", "Puerile Enthusiasm" and more "Feisty Statements"

KGSH focused on a statement in the afore-mentioned article:

The problem with this argument is : how do we know that the "chain" of transmission is authentic? In fact, it is difficult, in spite of the Muslim "science" of Hadith to know which traditions are strong or weak! For example, Bukhari collected over 600,000 reports, but kept only 7,397 as true! [KGSH ended my quote at this point, however, I continued - ] To make matters even more confusing, there are contradictions among the "accepted" Hadiths (ikhtilaf al-hadith). There are many hadiths which record conflicting accounts of the same event!

I wonder why they did not comment on the omitted portion? There are several points which should be noted:

1. I said that Imam Bukhari "kept only 7,397 as true", I did not say that he rejected the rest as completely false. Jay Smith may have said that they were false, I did not, so please either write your own thoughts, or at least, cut and paste those portions of Mr Green's article that are relevant to the discussion at hand.

2. I am well aware that many traditions, out of the 600,000 in question, were not exclusively separate narratives, something that could be implied from my comment on the ikhtilaf al-hadith.

KGSH tell us:

Yet, the neophyte, Andrew Vargo seems to be living under the delusion that the 600,000 ahādīth of Imām Bukhārī's collection somehow means 600,000 separate narrations or bodies of text. His sloppy study of this issue becomes clear when one learns that a hadīth is comprised of both a text (matn) and a chain of transmission (isnad). In the science of hadith, the same text with ten chains of transmission is regarded not as one hadīth but rather as ten hadīths, despite the fact that the text attached to each chain is the same in every case.

Compare this to Mr. Green's response:

Smith is somehow under the delusion that 600,000 hadiths means 600,000 separate bodies of text! He fails to remember that a hadith consists of both a text (matn) and a chain of transmission (isnad), in the science of hadith the same text with ten chains of transmission is not one hadith but rather ten hadiths (despite the fact that the text attached to each chain is the same in every case.)

Apparently, KGSH omitted their isnad, as well as a proper citation, for these, and several other, quotations in their paper!

Issue 2 : Who said that the rejected Traditions were false?

As can be seen from the original article, it was not I. However, some Muslims do make this claim!

Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad (Prime Minister of Malaysia) tells us:

Two hundred years after hijra, Bukhari collected a total of 600,000 hadiths. Out of these, he only verified 7,000 and rejected about 593,000 which he believed were false and not genuine. From "Towards The 21st Century: Reformation And Challenges For Muslims In The Region" Institut Kefahaman Islam Malaysia (IKIM)

A popular Muslim website Al-Islam says:

......The Hadith was collected and categorized in the latter part of the third century of Hijrah resulting in six canonical collections (Al-Sihaah Al-Sittah): Sahih of Al-Bukhari, d.256 A.H: 7275 (2712 Non-duplicated) out of 600,000."

The article continues:

By the year 200 H.: Total of 600,000 Hadiths were in existence, out of which 408,324 Hadith were fabricated Hadiths by 620 forgerers (Al-Ghadeer, Al-Amini, Vol. 5, Page 245).

Muhammed A. Asadi says:

Imam Bokhari the collector of the narration lived in a period over 230 years after the death of the prophet. Out of the 600,000 hadith (narrations) that he collected, which were initially attributed to the prophet, he threw out as fabrication 592,700 of them and kept only 7300 as being genuine. They further reduce to 2762 hadith after repetition. The margin of error in these numbers is so great, that any rational inquirer can see that accepting the book of Bukhari as containing all authentic hadith or even a majority of authentic hadith is stupidity. YET THE MAJORITY OF MUSLIMS UNQUESTIONABLY ACCEPT IT.

.....However even according to their own standards, they fell into a dilemma. Some hadith exist which have according to them a "sound" chain of narrators i.e it was truthfully narrated but they dispute the text of the hadith. One example of this and their whole system collapses.

Kassim Ahmad tells us:

But the hadith writers are still insistent. According to some, at least Bukhari's hadith is infallible. Why? Because Bukhari is reported to have sifted through more than 600,000 hadiths and had picked only 7,275 to be included in his `authentic' collection. This fact is put forward to impress upon the reader that Bukhari was meticulous and thorough in his life's work. Bukhari merely took 1.25% of all the hadiths he came across as authentic. But a simple calculation will show that these figures are preposterous and impossible to be achieved by Bukhari or any other human being.

If, on the average, a hadith consists of three simple sentences (in truth many hadiths run into paragraphs), then Bukhari would have had to collect, read, investigate, evaluate and record over 1.8 million sentences over a period of 40 years. This is the equivalent of researching (which include the long camel journeys to and fro across the desert) and attesting to the authenticity of over 300 books, each equivalent to the thickness and complexity of a Quran, over a period of 40 years!

Another popular Muslim apologist named Akbarally Meherally tells us:

...As for the Hadiths, any good historian will tell you that they were "manufactured by tons", by all kinds of interested &/or motivated groups, including the enemies of Islam.

Issue 3 : More insults or an interesting paradox?

KGSH go one to cite several quotes, which when combined prove absolutely nothing, in order to defend the veracity and authenticity of Imam Bukhari's Hadith. In contradiction to their claims they say:

Considering the missionaries' abuse of hadīths to denigrate the Prophet of Islam(P), it would be too generous to assume that Andrew Vargo "misunderstood" the nature of the collection of Imām Bukhārī. An honest misunderstanding entails at least some understanding of the issue, which doesn't even seem to be his case.

My question is : if the hadith are authentic and true (as KGSH claim), then how can my use of these traditions, to show the true character of Muhammad, be dishonest or a misunderstanding? Muhammad is either the person who Imam Bukhari describes or Imam Bukhari's hadith is wrong! Which is it gentlemen?

Issue 4 : Questions left unanswered

KGSH chose to ignore several issues that were raised in my original response which I raised after reading A 'Perfect' Qur'an OR "So it was made to appear to them"?, so please allow me to repeat them and, if your mission is to enlighten rather than insult your readers, I look forward to your response. I asked:

Another question which needs to be asked is : where is the manuscript evidence concerning the earliest Hadith? How can we be sure that stories were not erroneously inserted into the traditions, or that existing stories did not undergo editing? After all, if someone can "create" a tradition, what would prevent them from "creating" a chain of narration? It is interesting to note that Bukhari wrote a book about the narrators (Zuafa-us-sagher). What is even more interesting is that Bukhari's book condemns several narrators including: Ata bin abi Maimoona, Ayyub bin Aiz, Ismail bin Aban, Zubair bin Muhammad, At-Tayyimi, Saeed bin Urwa, Abdullah bin Abi Labeed, Abdul Malik bin Ameen, Abdul waris bin Saeed, Ata bin As-Saib bin Yazeed, and Khamsan bin Minhal as unreliable. However, the Hadith-collection of Bukhari in its modern form actually includes many traditions narrated by these very individuals! Obviously, these traditions, which Bukhari rejected, were inserted in his book following his death.

And, a quote from this book says:

Indeed, one publication of Muwatta here in the U.K. - that of Islamic Academy U.K. - has notes relating how this one was chosen from among 50 `versions' of the Muwatta, and only 16 were considered "best transmitted"

So, if there is a "science" of Hadith, which of these 16 "best transmitted" editions of the Muwatta of Malik represents your authentic "early Hadith"?

I sincerely believe that when we study the Traditions of Islam, only God knows what, if anything, is the truth!

Andrew Vargo

Responses to Islamic Awareness
Answering Islam Home Page