Rejecting Hadiths: The Fitnah of the Quranists
Mohamad Mostafa Nassar
There are some “Muslims” in our times who follow a recent new movement (19th-20th century) which rejects hadiths, hence, deviating from the path of mainstream Islam. They pose and comment on many issues related to Islam from their viewpoint and reject many fundamental aspects of our religion. Worst of all, they try to present their views as the mainstream opinion.
It should be made clear that they do not represent mainstream Islam or Muslims in any way or form. The ummah (nation) of Muhammad (pbuh) accepts the Qur’an and hadiths as legitimate forms of sources for deriving Islamic laws. We, the mainstream Muslims, acknowledge that both, the Qur’an and hadiths, are a guidance from Allah.
During the colonial period, when most of the Muslim world came under the subjugation of the West, some “scholars” arose in places like Egypt (Taha Hussein), India (Abdullah Chakralawi and Ghulam Ahmed Pervaiz), and Turkey (Zia Gogelup), who began questioning the authenticity and relevance of hadith.
It was not that some genius had found flaws in the hadith study that had eluded the entire ummah for thirteen centuries. It was simply that the pressures from the dominant Western civilization to conform were too strong for them to withstand. They buckled. Prophetic teachings and life example — Hadith — was the obstacle in this process and so it became the target.
About Their Movement
It is a movement that holds the Qur’an to be the most authentic criterion in Islam. Quranists (a common name for them) generally reject the religious authority of hadith (cataloged narratives of what the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is reported to have said and done), as they consider it inconsistent with the Qur’an. This in contrast to the Sunni, Shia and Ibadi doctrines which consider hadiths essential for the Islamic faith.
However, we the mainstream Muslims (whose ideology has existed since the time of the Prophet (pbuh)) believe that hadiths are necessary and are a legitimate form of extraction for divine guidance. We believe that Qur’an and hadiths go hand in hand and one explains the other. The Qur’an is general and the sunnah is specific and detailed.
Hadiths are the explanation of the Qur’an by the Prophet (pbuh). The Quranists’ rejection of hadiths have led them to turn the Qur’an into a toy which they interpret based on their own intellect and desires. The hadiths, the mainstream Muslims say, preserve the meaning of the Qur’an. This is why Allah tells us in the Qur’an [meaning of which is]:
And We revealed to you [O Muhammad] the message [Qur’an] that you may make clear to the people what was sent down to them and that they might give thought. [Qur’an 16:44]
His HADITHS are that clarification!
There are also numerous verses in the Qur’an where Allah specifically commands the Muslims to obey the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), for example:
And We did not send any messenger except to be obeyed by permission of Allah. [Qur’an 4:64]
But no, by your Lord, they will not [truly] believe until they make you, [O Muhammad], judge concerning that over which they dispute among themselves and then find within themselves no discomfort from what you have judged and submit in [full, willing] submission. [Qur’an 4:65]
He who obeys the Messenger has obeyed Allah; but those who turn away – We have not sent you over them as a guardian. [Qur’an 4:80]
And when it is said to them, “Come to what Allah has revealed and to the Messenger,” you see the hypocrites turning away from you in aversion. [Qur’an 4:61]
Just as We have sent among you a messenger from yourselves reciting to you Our verses and purifying you and teaching you the Book and wisdom and teaching you that which you did not know. [Qur’an 2:151]
The above verses show that the Messenger (pbuh) plays a big role in addition to the Qur’an. This is how the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) understood the religion as well. They understood that not everything is in the Qur’an. For example, it is narrated from Abdullah bin Khalid that he said to Abdullah bin Umar, a companion of Muhammad (pbuh) and the son of the second caliph of Islam:
“We find (mention of) the prayer of the resident and the prayer in a state of fear in the Qur’an, but we do not find any mention of the prayer of the traveler. Abdullah said to him: ‘Allah sent Muhammad (pbuh) to us, and we did not know anything, rather we do what we saw Muhammad (pbuh) doing.” (Reported by Ibn Majah, Ibn Qayyim said it is authentic and Al-Albaanee declared it saheeh in Saheeh Ibn Majah (no.881))
The prophet (pbuh) warned us against them in a hadith which they of course deny:
“Soon there will come a time that a man will be reclining on his pillow, and when one of my hadiths is narrated he will say: ‘The Book of Allah is (sufficient) between us and you. Whatever it states is permissible, we will take as permissible, and whatever it states is forbidden, we will take as forbidden.’ Verily, whatever the Messenger of Allah has forbidden is like that which Allah has forbidden.”(Reported by Ahmad, Abu Daawood, Ibn Maajah and at-Tirmidhee, who declared it hasan. Al-Albaanee declared it saheeh in Saheehul-Jaami’ (no.8186))
Now, in my discussion with some of them, they will acknowledge that yes even the companions of Muhammad (pbuh), who saw, lived, learned, and met the last prophet (pbuh) himself, did not reject hadiths as a whole (they may differ on or doubt individual hadiths) but rather followed them and derived rulings from them. So what’s the problem? Their response: “They were just human beings and made mistakes. We shouldn’t accept it just because they did it.”
Just think about that for a moment. The very people who were extremely involved with the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) on a daily basis and learned directly from him were somehow collectively mistaken on the issue of following hadiths.
I mean we have direct quotes from them acknowledging the sunnah and their strong desire to follow it to the best of their ability for God’s sake! Wouldn’t the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) have clarified to them to follow the Qur’an alone and not his hadiths? But somehow they were all wrong and this newly formed sect figured it all out. Completely absurd!
As for their delusional claim that hadiths were not written down until hundreds of years later, then I have already discussed this issue in a different post. If they were not written down, then why did Abu Hurairah say:
“There is none among the companions of the Prophet (pbuh) who has narrated more Hadiths than I except `Abdullah bin `Amr (bin Al-`As) who used to write them and I never did the same.” (Bukhari)
In addition, I would also refer you to Mufti Taqi Usmani’s book on the topic, especially the last 20 pages or so, where he completely obliterates this argument and proves that hadiths were in fact written down during the time of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), era of his companions, and the generation immediately following the companions. He references numerous manuscripts and names of books that were written much before Bukhari and Muslim came into existence. Therefore, this popular argument of theirs is completely debunked!
These hadith rejectors will criticize the sunnis for relying on hadiths while it was these same sunnis who preserved the Qur’an generation after generation! For some reason, they have trouble understanding the fact that if they do not trust our preservation methods when it comes to hadiths, then why do they trust our preservation method when it comes to the Qur’an?!
If one of the replies, “because the Qur’an was compiled during the time of the Prophet (pbuh).” This is completely false! It was compiled after the time of the Prophet by the same people who today call themselves Ahlu Sunnah wal Jama’ah (i.e. SUNNIS)!
The ironic thing is if one were to ask them about the history of the Qur’an, they would have to go to hadiths else there is no other way. The Qur’an itself does not give its own history. Hence, they will go to hadiths when it suits their agenda and ideology. The reality is that there are numerous verses which cannot be understood without hadiths, for example:
Why [is it that] when a disaster struck you, although you had struck with one twice as great, you said, “From where is this?” Say, “It is from yourselves.” Indeed, Allah is over all things competent. [Qur’an 3:165]
When did this verse come down? What disaster is this verse talking about? What was struck twice as great?
And what struck you on the day the two armies met was by permission of Allah that He might make evident the [true] believers. [Qur’an 3:166]
What two armies? And on what day? What happened that day exactly? Where is this information in the Qur’an? It isn’t there but it is in hadiths.
Allah has already given you victory in many regions and [even] on the day of Hunayn, when your great number pleased you, but it did not avail you at all, and the earth was confining for you with its vastness; then you turned back, fleeing. [Qur’an 9:25]
What is Allah speaking about here? What is the Day of Hunayn and its victory? What exactly happened on that day? You cannot provide any of these details from the Qur’an.
If you do not aid the Prophet – Allah has already aided him when those who disbelieved had driven him out as one of two, when they were in the cave and he said to his companion, “Do not grieve; indeed Allah is with us.” [Qur’an 9:40]
Those who disbelieved had driven him out of where? What cave were they in and how did they get there? Who was his companion in the cave? None of this information is provided in the Qur’an but is available in hadiths!
There are so many other examples where you need hadiths to derive even the context of verses so you can know what is being talked about. Sometimes whole pages need to be properly contextualized to understand what is going on!
Do you know how Quranists respond to such verses? They make claims such as, “What benefit will these details bring me today? How do they help me as a Muslim? I do not need details of such information.” So on the one hand, they claim that the Qur’an is clear by itself and does not need hadiths but when you point to them verses that cannot be explained without hadiths, they resort to such red herring fallacies. In addition, to accept this response, it would mean that there are dozens of pages in the Qur’an which bring no benefit and are a complete waste. No God-fearing Muslim would ever hold such a repulsive belief.
Muhammad Abu Zahra in his fascinating book entitled The Four Imams: Their Lives, Works, and Schools of Jurisprudence gives a great response to one of Quranists’ main arguments. He says:
“How can it be said that the Qur’an is clear when it needs to be elucidated by the Sunna? The answer is that the clarity of the Qur’an is universal and not partial, general and not detailed, and the Sunna fleshes out the details of the generality of the Qur’an. The knowledge of the particular is only achieved through the Messenger.” (pg. 373)
Lastly, those who are actually interested in this science on a serious level should consider studying it in detail. There is an excellent curriculum mentioned here. I assure you that pretty much all of the hadith rejectors have not done even 2% of such a curriculum. They are completely oblivious to what hadith sciences actually consist of and this is one of many reasons they are not really paid much attention to in the Muslim world.
But Isn’t the Qur’an Clear By Itself?
Yes, the Book of Allah is clear in a general sense but still requires expertise and scholarship for deeper study especially when deriving legal or theological issues. I wouldn’t trust anyone without proper background to derive such things from the Qur’an. The companion Ibn Abbas famously described four levels of understanding with regards to the Qur’an:
- Verses whose meaning is known to the Arabs simply because of their command of Arabic.
- Verses whose meaning is known to all Muslims at a basic level, such as those that instruct Muslims to pray or fast.
- Verses whose meaning is known only to experts or scholars.
- Verses whose meaning is known only to Allah.
The above is clear when we delve into the grammatical analysis of the verses, the morphology and word choice, deep understanding of hadiths, and knowledge of how the companions themselves understood the various passages. Knowing the seerah also plays a huge role without which part of the Quran leaves you scratching your head. All of this requires expertise.
And of course there are some verses whose meaning is unknown to us and only Allah knows their meanings as He Himself said:
“He is the One Who has revealed to you ˹O Prophet˺ the Book, of which some verses are precise—they are the foundation of the Book—while others are elusive. Those with deviant hearts follow the elusive verses seeking ˹to spread˺ doubt through their ˹false˺ interpretations—but none grasps their ˹full˺ meaning except Allah.” [Quran 3:7]
Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) Companions Attitude Towards His Sunnah After him
We have numerous historical references where we see the companions of Muhammad (pbuh) being keen on following the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in addition to the Qur’an. If hadiths were not part of the religion, then why were they so obsessed with following them? Imam Bukhari writes in his sahih,
“After the time of the Prophet (pbuh), the Imams used to consult the trustworty scholars regarding the permissible matters in order to adopt the easiest decision. But, if the matter was clarified by the Book or Sunnah, they would look no further – in emulation of the Prophet (pbuh).”
As for some examples from the lives of the companions, then they are as follows:
Umar ibn al-Khattab was once delivering a sermon atop a pulpit, he said, “O People! When the opinion comes from the Messenger of Allah (pbuh), it is correct because it is a guidance that Allah has shown to him. But when it comes us, it is mere conjecture and preciosity” (Jami’ Bayaan al-‘ilm, 2/64).
Ibn ‘Abbas said, “It is only the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Messenger (pbuh). Whoever speaks [concerning the religion] beyond that using his opinion, then I wonder if it would land in his good deeds or in his sins” (Jami’ Bayaan al-‘ilm, 2/32).
Ibn Sirin said, “Whenever Abu Bakr came across a case to which he could not find a solution either in the Qur’an or in the Sunnah, he would exercise personal judgement, and then say, ‘This is my opinion; if it is right then it is from Allah, and if it is wrong then ti is from me and from the devil” (I’laam al-Muwaqqi’in 1/57).
Umar ibn al-Khattab once told a man who asked him why he was not enforcing his own opinion on a matter due to his authority as a caliph, “If I was to refer you to the Book of Allah or the Sunnah of His Prophet (pbuh), I would have done that. However, I would be referring you to an opinion, and opinions are shared [by all]” (I’laam al-Muwaqqi’in 1/68).
Umar ibn al-Khattab decided a certain amount of blood money for the injury of fingers. He was then informed about a letter that the Prophet (pbuh) sent to Ibn Hazm in which he said, “For every finger ten camels (are due as blood money).’ So, Umar applied this judgement and abandoned his first one (Al-Faqih wal-Mutafaqqih 1/139).
But what about the hadiths regarding the prohibition of writing down hadiths and reports of Umar during his caliphate forbidding the people from narrating hadiths?
The Muslim scholars have answered these questions and the issue is not as complicated as the hadith deniers make it out to be. It’s actually quite simple and straight forward.
As for some of the hadiths in which it is reported that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) himself used to forbid the companions from writing down his hadiths, then this was only the case in the beginning when revelation was new and the Prophet (pbuh) did not want people mixing the Qur’an and his own hadiths. He wanted to keep a clear distinction between the two so that there is no confusion. We need to remember that the Meccan society during that time could not read or write.
There were only a handful of people that could actually read and write in the city, the remaining relied on their memories for noting down important information. Also, during that early period, the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) focus was on safeguarding his followers from persecution and there were no detailed discussions taking place that would make sense noting them down.
The focus was Qur’an’s theme on tawheed, belief, afterlife, resurrection, judgement, paradise, hell, etc. However, later when Islam became established and strong and the number of followers increased, in addition to more detailed discussions and laws being discussed, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) allowed the literate companions to write it down if they wished. This is why we have later hadiths from his lifetime allowing it while the earlier ones forbidding it. For example, Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-‘As said:
“I used to write everything which I heard from the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). I intended (by it) to memorize it. The Quraysh prohibited me saying: ‘Do you write everything that you hear from him while the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) is a human being: he speaks in anger and pleasure?’ So I stopped writing, and mentioned it to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). He signaled with his finger to his mouth and said: ‘Write, by Him in Whose hand my soul lies, only truth comes out of it.’” (Abu Dawud)
As for the statements of Umar, then they can also be easily explained as noted by scholars. During the time of Umar, the companions were plenty, the religion was safe from corruption, and the sunnah was lived and common in the society without even having to narrate it in formal circles of study. Umar wanted to assure people do not become distracted from the Qur’an because he did not see any need to focus on narrating hadiths when they were so commonly known among them.
He was by no means suggesting a rejection of the prophetic hadiths as a whole and this is why we have examples of him taking from the sunnah to make judgments when he couldn’t find it in the Qur’an! However, later on when the number of companions decreased and corruption started coming into the religion, the scholars started collecting hadiths in formal books due to the need of safeguarding the religion of Allah. Before this formal collection, there were scattered personal collections of hadith of various companions and scholars but nothing for the public at large. Dr. Umar al-Ashqar writes:
“The most common way of narrating the sunnah [in the beginning] was that people would memorize and dictate hadiths of the Prophet (pbuh). Aside from that, there was only Kitab as-Sadaqat and a few other documents that a researcher would only find after rigorous investigation. Thereafter, the need arose for the sunnah to be documented in writing;
Islam had spread, the Muslim territories increased, the conquests continued, the companions dispersed throughout the lands, most of them passed away, their followers were scattered everywhere, accuracy was becoming scarce, and thus the sunnah being lost became a legitimate fear. For these reasons, the scholars were in need of compiling the hadith and preserving it through writing.
“When the rightly-guided caliph Umar ibn Abdil-Aziz realized that the Prophetic Sunnah was in danger – and he, may Allah bestow mercy on him, was a man of great insight in the religion of Allah – he commanded that the sunnah be compiled. He knew that the scholars among the companions and successors did not compile the sunnnah for a wisdom particular to their times, while that wisdom did not exist in this time, so the fatwa changed due to the changed times.” (History of Islamic Fiqh, pg. 130-131)
This wisdom of Umar ibn Abdil-Aziz is not much different than what occurred between Abu Bakr and Umar when they disagreed whether the Qur’an should be compiled in one book or not. At first, Abu Bakr did not want to do it because he felt this is something the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) never did so how could they do so?
However, Umar made him realize the importance of it due to a need because many of the memorizers of the Qur’an were dying in battles and he wanted to safeguard the Book of Allah. Abu Bakr later agreed with this wisdom of his and realized its importance and the other companions followed suit.
Think of it this way, in the beginning of Islam there was no need to hold classes on classical Arabic grammar because it was well understood and spoken among the masses. However, later on when the Arabic language began to change due to outside influence and the original classical Arabic began to disappear from the masses, the scholars felt the need to note down rules related to the classical Arabic language in books from which it could be studied so that the meaning of the Qur’an is not lost.
Today, a person can never be considered a serious student of Islamic sciences without delving into classical Arabic grammar as well. You are simply not going to be able to understand the Qur’an directly without doing so. The same goes for the hadiths. In the beginning, there was no need to do a formal collective effort because the hadiths were well-known and practiced in society but this changed later, thus, it necessitated collecting them in a formal manner.
Refutations Against Them
Alhamdulillah, they have been refuted profoundly throughout the Muslim world. To appreciate some of the finer details of hadith sciences and how meticulous the scholars of Islam were in grading hadiths, please refer to my explanatory notes on Ibn Hajar’s book Nukhbat al-Fikar.
Following is a list of some refutations against them:
- Ex-Quranist shares his story on why he left the movement after 10 years
- Are Hadith Necessary? An Examination of the Authority of Hadith in Islam
- Qur’anists: Qur’an only or Qur’an and Sunnah – Thought Adventure Podcast
- Ijtihaad of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is obligated to be followed – Dr. Yasir Qadhi
- Countering Hadith Rejection Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 – Adnan Rashid
- A response to the Qur’anists – Br. Iyad Hilal
- Responding to Quranism – Sh. Abdul Wahab Saleem
- The Canonization Of Al Bukhārī And Muslim – Dr. Jonathan Brown
- Hadith: Between Muslim Conviction & Western Criticism – Dr. Jonathan Brown
- Hadith: Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World – Dr. Jonathan Brown
- What are hadiths? – Dr. Jonathan Brown
- The Authority of Sunnah – Mufti Taqi Usmani
- Give It a Second Thought: Dealing with Apparently Problematic Hadiths – Muntasir Zaman
- The Preservation of the Ḥadīth Literature – Muntasir Zaman
- Prophetic Medicine Between Revelation and Traditional Knowledge – Muntasir Zaman
- Can We Trust Hadith Literature? Understanding the Processes of Transmission and Preservation
- Questions that the Quranites Have No Good Logical Responses To
- Early Hadith Literature and Sahih al-Bukhari: A Response to Sherif Gaber
- A Look at Hadith Rejecters’ Claims
- Abu Dawud: A Case Study in Reliability and Authenticity
- The Authority and Importance of the Sunnah
- A Critical Analysis of the Modernists and Hadeeth Rejecters
- Problems With Hadith Rejection – Nouman Ali Khan
- The Quran Defends the Sunnah – Nouman Ali Khan
- Why do we need Hadith if the Quran is enough? – Nouman Ali Khan
- Hadiths: False Tales or Authentic Narrations? – A small article proving that hadiths were in fact written down in the first three generations.
- Studies in Early Hadith Literature – This is an excellent work that refutes many of their claims. It was such a slap in the face of the hadith deniers that it was actually translated into Arabic. This is really rare in Islamic scholarship because usually Arabic works are translated into English.
- Credit Br Rameez Abid from the Thinking Muslim