Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Ramadan 2014 - Day 15-16, Learning about Shari’a Part 3

(This is the third installment of my read through "Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence" by Mohammed Hasim Kamali, you can find part two here)

My last blog post on shari’a law discussed all sorts of factors that scholars look at when reviewing hadiths to determine whether they are credible or not. One of those criteria was seeing if the hadith should have been known to many people but is only reported from one source then its authenticity might be questioned. But what if the hadith came only from a single source and in the circumstances would only have been recorded by either one or a few people? These are entire category of hadith called “ahad” hadiths (‘ahad’ means solitary).

Many (most?) hadiths are actually ahad hadiths. Rather than hadiths that were announcements made at mosques or in front of large groups of people, most were simply recordings of conversations or events one person or a group of individuals had with the Prophet Mohammed. Here’s an example:

Narrated A’isha that she was asked about the bath of the Prophet. She brought a pot containing about a Sa of water and took a bath and poured it over her head and at that time there was a screen between her and the questioner. (Al-Bhukari, Book of Ghusl, chapter 3, hadith 188)

Needless to say I doubt there were a lot of people around when this occurred. We don't even know who the original questioner was.

Because ahad hadiths cannot be confirmed through multiple sources Islamic scholars are even stricter about the scrutiny they put these types of hadiths through. Most schools of Islam are careful about how they consider ahad hadiths and are reluctant to incorporate them into overall Shari’a Law without a lot of corroborative evidence, but again the level of acceptance amongst the various schools differs from one another. It was noted that the Four Caliphs had been known to act on teachings from ahad hadiths so such types of the hadiths cannot be discounted completely.

So most Islamic schools have established numerous criteria for when the lessons in ahad hadiths should be considered obligatory for Muslims to follow. Character of the transmitter and narrators is key since there is little other evidence to determine whether the ahad hadith is authentic. My book lists the following:

 The transmitter is a competent person (so cannot be a child or mentally ill). Gender, status and non-mental disabilities are not considered so women, slaves, blind people, are all considered competent persons.
 The transmitter must be a Muslim. I'm assuming this is due to the lack of corroborative evidence to support ahad hadiths so the narrator has to be someone who would, as a pious Muslim, be highly unlikely to lie about the Prophet Mohammed (and see the next bullet). If the narrator was a convert to Islam it's fine as long as he narrated the hadith when he was a Muslim, even if the event occurred before his conversion.
 Similar to the above, the transmitter must be an upright person at the time of reporting the hadith. This means the person has not committed any major sins and does not persist in committing minor ones that they know is wrong. There must be positive evidence of the transmitters’ pious and upright character, whether through narratives by others or perhaps testimony at a court or similar legal hearing.
 The narrator (or chain of narrators) must be known to have possessed an excellent memory, and similar narrations by those people rarely have any mistakes or errors. If a narrator is known for having errors in memory it is unlikely scholars will trust an ahad hadith from that narrator.
 The narrator must not have a reputation for distorting or embellishing hadiths or stories.
 And the transmitter of the hadith must have met with and heard the hadith from the source.

So again we see how it can be a fine line between determining whether a hadith is authentic or not, especially an ahad hadith. If one school of Islam considers the transmitter to be trustworthy while another is less convinced then numerous hadiths could be either accepted or discounted, and as a result of followers of the different schools will follow different Shari’a.

Next Chapter: turning sources into Laws.

(Part 4 of this series can be found here)

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