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Identifying Assumptions in the HADITH/SUNNAH DEBATE Too often we become embroiled in arguments over hadith and sunnah with

their advocates before considering the disparate assumptions underlying our opposing viewpoints. The debate that ensues often becomes little more than a game, debate for the sake of debate, or a contest to determine the better debater rather than the truth. This complicates discussions. Perhaps while we are occupied in pointless debate, there are others who sincerely wish to know the truth but who are currently deprived of our insight because our time and energy are being consumed by people who have n o interest in the truth. The assumptions that underlie the respective positions of proponents and opponents of hadith and sunnah generally revolve around what is meant by "discarding" them. The opponents of hadith and sunnah are concerned only with the que stion of sanctity [of upholding Gods word], their proponents, on the other hand, are concerned with the prescriptive vacuum that they fear would be created if all the world's Muslims suddenly do away with their volumes of Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi and the rest of the transcribers of the oral traditions of the early Islamic era. In a given debate, therefore, the Submitter [the advocate of following the Quran alone] may think that "discarding" hadith and sunnah means merely resisting the belief that they cou ld serve as a source of divine guidance, while the advocate of hadith and sunnah may think it means doing away with information valuable for providing insight into certain aspects of early Islamic history. In such a debate, the debaters could reach a conse nsus if each realizes what the other assumes is understood from the outset. In order to carry on more rational debates and, more importantly, to determine whether our prospective opponents in debate are interested in the truth or merely the debate itself, we ought to clarify what our main concern is before we start. Do we wish to debate the ostensibly divine origins of the oral traditions or merely their historical or philological merit? Do we wish to debate the accuracy of their content? Do we wish to discuss the reliability of oral tradition in general, of which the hadith and sunnah are merely transcriptions? To many Submitters the oral traditions are as intriguing as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some may hold hadith philology in the same regard as many of us ho ld nonreligious hobbies. Being Submitters, however, they do not confuse their academic interests with their worship. We should be careful not to encourage an exaggerated fear of the oral traditions, just as the advocates of hadith and sunnah should have s ense enough not to forment an irrational fear of the consequences of carrying on discussions without them. To exemplify my point, I refer to Edip Yuksels responses to three questions from an advocate of hadith and sunnah in the May 95 issue of SP. While his responses are clear and valid, they do not directly

address the assumptions held by the questioner. It is my opinion that, if we are quick to entertain debate before we have considered the assumptions underlying the questions, we are bound to wind up w ith very lengthy responses that do very little to address the central issues. The first question asks whether rejecting the validity of all "trustworthy" (sahih) hadith is warranted on the basis of examination of a few of them. This implies two assumptions: (1) that Submitters base their entire position regarding hadith and sunnah on the identification of a few flaws; and (2) that they reject the possibility outright that some hadith may be accurate historical accounts. However, Submitters reject hadith first and foremost because the Quran specifically requires the faithful to make the Quran their only source of guidance. Textual analysis has nothing to do with it. Analysis of the content of hadith merely serves to corroborate the dictate, after the fact . As for the other point, Submitters do not deny the historical validity of much of hadith. (As Edip Yuksel accurately points out, "we can study hadith to get an approximate idea about the people and events of those times.") However, Submitters do not bother to undertake the difficult task of sorting out truth from falsehood in them because the primacy of the Quran makes the oral traditions utterly irrelevant as far as guidance is concerned. Given the choice of flawless guidance from the Quran and dubious anecdotes from the hadith, only a fool would choose to study the latter in place of the former. The second question is really a restatement of the first. It suggests examination of each hadith individually to assess its veracity. Suffice it to say that the underlying assumptions are the same, and the task suggested could only interest a historian or philologist. It would do nothing to enhance the institution of worship as far as Submitters are concerned. The third question evokes the above -mentioned fear of the prescriptive vacuum: "Suppose we cease to use hadtih as a source of information about the Prophet, his life, and his career. Then we notice that the Quran itself says very little about the Prophet's life. It also says nothing about how the Quran was compiled. The historicity of the Quran is based on hadiths." The first assumption here is that the Quran's validity is supported solely by historical evidence. While the answer to this assumption is obvious to those truly familiar with the Quran, it is wor th noting that the historicity of the Quran is not an issue to those who already accept it as the Word of God. To them, the Quran is the first truth, against which everything else must be compared. Nor does the Quran depend on the opinions of historians to give it importance. Submitters have already

gone through the process of assessing its validity, whether on the basis of what they had learned about its historicity or on the basis of other evidence, such as the patient confirmation of the truth of the miraculous code embedded in its text. No longer finding it necessary to assess the veracity of the Quran, they now seek only to obey it. Finally, there are even bolder assumptions underlying the third question than those I have mentioned. By asserting that "t he Quran itself says very little about the Prophet's life" and that it says "nothing about how the Quran was compiled," the questioner assumes that the information that the Quran leaves out is nevertheless vital to our spirituality. (One might ask how the questioner knows that this information is vital, does it say so in a hadith?) The Quran, as we know, is "fully detailed" (6:114). What this tells us is that it is not up to us to decide what the Quran should tell us. If a given issue is truly vital to our spirituality, we will find it addressed in the Quran. If it is not vital, we should not expect to find it there. Finally, if what is lacking from the Quranic text, how to light a fire, how to bake a cake, how to tie our shoes, really concerns us then let m e just add that our role as Submitters is not merely to follow a list of prescriptions, but to come to understand the wisdom behind them through our observance of them. With this wisdom, which increases over time as long as we keep up our genuine worship, we become progressively more capable of finding the answers to lifes questions ourselves. Indeed, God could merely have given us a list of rules to follow (and it would be no exaggeration to say that may "Muslims" perceive Islam in precisely this way!). The Word of God, on the contrary, is designed to see to our evolution as human beings, not to set up a society of robots who cannot think for themselves. If the Quran, the Word of God, alone is not enough for us, then we should consider whether we can truly identify ourselves as slaves of God, followers of the examples of Abraham and Muhammad. Perhaps all debates should begin with this assumption: that the Quran alone is sufficient as a criterion against which to discuss anything anyone proposes with respect to worship, exactly as it it written, without footnotes. Richard Steven Voss