by Ahmed Qerni

It is considered foolhardy to wade into matters of Islāmic theology relating to the narrations of the Prophet (saw). However, we have to do so, for four main reasons:

  1. Ahādith are the driving force behind the *salafi *movements of all stripes, including extremists.
  2. Ahādith are sometimes used to disguise Arabic customs as Islamic edicts.
  3. Ahādith are a very valuable resource that can augment, rather than negate, the eternal guidance of the Quran.
  4. We may be at the cusp of a renewed demand in understanding the Islamic scriptures.

The extant science of Hadith is solid and remarkable in its preservation and there is no need to negate it.  However, if we assume that the current method is a solid base but is fixated in time, while the availability of all types of historic books in so many new formats has reached unprecedented levels in the information age, do we have a choice but to formulate a meta-structure using modern methods that helps to guide the seeker and prevents misunderstanding and misguidance?  If we have to choose then, we have two good choices:

  1. Keep debating the *Ahadith *that the various schools of thought think are valid using the established methodology of categorization and focusing on the character and reliability of the narrators.  This methodology, while very useful, yields few new approaches, as those who documented the compilation of the narrators are removed from us by 40 generations or more, and their mutual contradictions are now etched in stone.  It is no surprise, then, that while the elements of faith are quite settled, we have had little progress on secondary matters for more than 1000 years.  These secondary matters, propelled by the Internet and print media, are now used to differentiate into niches, incite hatred and foster ignorance in some matters.
  2. Establish the obvious framework from the Quran, and then take primary guidance from the Sahih (Authentic) Mutawatir (Recurrent) Ahadith over which there is no conflict. The rest of the Ahadith will then constitute secondary guidance that is not binding, but illuminating.  These narrations will then provide support according to their inherent contribution in terms of culture, period, relevance and import.  In this way, the muhkamat of the Quran remain as solid as they are, and the similes (mutashabihat) become a blessing.

In short, we have nothing to gain from circular loops of reasoning.  We have two choices to break out of it: Labour over the ever-receding characters of narrators or consider the flexibility of the Quranic framework as a blessing into which the narrations fit. The choice is obvious: one allows us to live in the future, while the other relegates to us a life transported into the unsolvable and murky past.  The future is ours to take, while the past can never change.  When the average scholar had a few books to study from his school of thought, life was easy.  With the multiplicity of the sources of information available, scholars will have to consolidate, or keep ceding ground to extremists and niche manipulators.