The Story of How I Turned into an Advocate of the Quran-Only Islam

I come from an unenviable, typical Muslim religious (Sunni) background. In my school days, I had been an ardent observant of the shariah-prescribed rituals – so ardent that my brother-in-law (I lost my father in my infancy) who was the Headmaster of the secondary school I attended once wanted to add a “Sufi” prefix to my name. After my school education was over, I was brought to Dhaka for higher education, where I stayed with my eldest brother. I often used to accompany my brother to a healer and spiritual guide, who used to hold dhikr (God’s remembrance) and discussion sessions (halqas) once every week. That marked the beginnings of my close association with my spiritual guide late Shah Aksaruddin Ahmad – a tall, saintly figure, an exceptionally knowledgeable and gifted person, well versed with the Quran, and a staunch proponent of the Quran-Only Islam. But his Quran-Only teachings were vehemently resisted by the traditional Bangladeshi ulama. Before I met him, he had written a booklet on the meaning and essence of prayer in the Quranic light, but he was forced to withdraw the booklet from circulation on the advice of the ulama. Later on, he embarked on writing three books in Bangla: Whither are Muslims Today? (Mussalman Aj Kon Path-e?), The Holy Quran: Bengali Translation and Word Rendering (Pabitra Quran: Banganubad o Shabdartha, the first of the thirty parts of which was completed), and Musings of the Heart in Lyrics (Gaan-e Praaner Kotha,). However, before he could even complete these writings, the ulama came to know about them and filed a suit against him and managed to get a court injunction against his writings.

But he is the person who has left a lasting impact on my life and has been instrumental in bringing about a paradigm change in my religious orientation. I started studying the Quran in earnest. In 1997, I, along with my family, visited our elder son in the United States when I came to know about the writings of Rashad Khalifa, which I found to be remarkably similar to the Quran-Only ideas of my teacher. I also benefited immensely from an excellent book on spirituality titled Creator and Creation (published by the Bangladesh Islamic Foundation in 1986) by Panaullah Ahmad, another student of Shah Aksaruddin Ahmad. (Curiously, the Bangladesh Islamic Foundation published this book despite some tersely critical remarks on the Hadith it contains.) We came to the United States again in December 1999 and have since lived here. Here I concentrated on further studies of the Quran and the Hadith, especially Bukhari, and books of modern Muslim scholars, including some literature that critiqued the Hadith. At some point, I thought of embarking on writing a book in the Quranic light and published my first book Exploring Islam in a New Light: An understanding from the Quranic Perspective (self-published by IUniverse in 2008). The manuscript was first sent to Amana Publications, which first decided to publish it when its review committee head Dr. Jamal Barzinji of the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) commented that the manuscript was of “a superb class and the amount of effort [the] author has put in has been well reflected in his work.” However, Amana Publications rejected the title when some outside reviewers objected to its anti-Hadith content. (They still wanted to go ahead with its publication if I removed all references to the Hadith, but I did not yield to their demand.) It is indeed lamentable that in a country where the freedom of expression is so highly valued – where even anti-Islam and anti-Muhammad speech and writings are so liberally tolerated – the traditional book publishers have become a hostage in the hands of Hadith-accepting traditional Muslim scholars!

At one point, at the suggestion of Brother Edip Yuksel, I got this book republished (with considerable revision and a slight change in the subtitle) by his Brainbow Press in 2010. And now I’ve come up with my third slimmer, updated version with an entirely different title.

Why the Anti-Hadith Stance?
My latest book Rediscovering Genuine Islam: The Case for a Quran-Only Understanding takes account of the contribution made by Professor Aisha Musa in her Hadith as Scripture: Discussions on the Authority of Prophetic Traditions in Islam.[1] I’ve detailed my position on the Hadith in two chapters of my book. Here I’ll make some brief observations.

My first reaction as an unsuspecting Muslim to Hadith criticism was one of surprise. How could the literature that is avowedly supposed to reflect the words and practices (sunnah) of our Prophet be really unreliable? The Quran asks our Prophet to say to his followers: I ask of you no reward for it but the Love (like that) of near kinsfolk (42:23). The Quran also asks Muhammad to say to his followers: If you love God, then follow me; God will love you…(3:31). The Quran also asks us to obey God and obey His Messenger (3:32, 4:59, 8:20). What then led me convincingly to reject the Hadith? My position on the Hadith is that it “is more a detractor of the Quran and the Prophet than a real guide.” It rests on three groups of solid grounds:

  • The Quran itself does not validate the Hadith (Theological ground);
  • The Hadith does not stand the test of historicity (Inherent flaws in historical accounts); and
  • The Hadith fails the test of internal integrity: it contradicts itself as well as the Quran (Objectivity test).

I’ve at the same time reviewed the Hadith-related literature of many scholars who have viewed the hadith as unreliable such as Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Muhammad Tawfiq Sidqi, Mahmud Abu Rayya, Abdallah Chakralawi, Ghulam Ahmad Parwez, Rashad Khalifa, and several others.

On theological grounds, I find the Hadith untenable as an authoritative source of Muhammad’s message. The Quran itself is emphatic on the point that it has explained everything in the Book and that it’s a Guide, a Mercy and Good News for Muslims (16:89). At one place, the Quran itself refers to the Prophet’s SAYINGS as nothing different from those revealed as the Quran (69:40-43). Islam came with the Quran and was perfected by the Quran (5:3). It does not leave untouched for us anything of religious significance. It gives us even minutest details of etiquette, decency, and decorum with which we should conduct ourselves with others. The Quran states Our Prophet’s duty was only to deliver the Quran (5:92, 99; 13:40; etc.). He was urged by God not to explain it, as God Himself took the burden of explaining (75:18-19). Our Prophet and we have been urged to follow it alone (6:155; 45:6; see also 7:3) and to judge by it alone (6:114; 4:105; 5:48-49). Furthermore, the Prophet himself emphasized, “I follow naught except what is revealed unto me” (6:50; 46:9), and God advised him and us to do the same (6:155; 45:6; see also 7:3).

Major factors that put into dispute the historicity of the Hadith accounts are:

  1. The reported prohibition of the Prophet himself on Hadith writing, and honoring of the same position by his immediate followers;
  2. The inordinately long time gap between the Quran and the Hadith, and the accompanying lack of proper records of the deeds and sayings of the Prophet;
  3. Flawed oral transmission due to weakness of the human sources including their imperfect memories;
  4. The influence of the ruling regimes, of people with wealth and power of the time, and of the disputing theologians on Hadith collection, recording, selection, and compilation;
  5. The weakness of the criteria used to judge authenticity of individual Hadith texts.

Historically, our Prophet himself banned Hadith recording and commanded the erasure of all recorded Hadith. The four pious and close companions of the Prophet – Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Ali – who became caliphs after him all upheld this position. Abu Bakr and, especially, Umar were known to have burned existing collections of Hadith. Even Imam Abu Hanifa who is recognized as the leader of the largest Hanafi Sunnis considered the Hadith unreliable. In early Islam, Hadith criticism was led by Ahl al-Kalam and Mutazilites, and such criticism was widespread. It is the Umayyad and Abbasid regimes that promoted Hadith collection and compilation for their ulterior political motives. The Hadith critics were marginalized. Hadith criticism re-emerged in the 14th century and again in the 19th century and since then it continues to date with a growing number of modern and contemporary scholars overtly taking part in this anti-Hadith, Quran-Only movement.

Most of my Muslim brothers may not be aware that there are two stark facts about the Hadith that raise legitimate questions about their authenticity and reliability. One is that the compilations that have come to be respected by Muslims such as Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, etc. date more than two hundred years after the Prophet’s death. This long lapse of time inevitably gave rise to grave credibility issues for the Hadith reports due to mainly oral, but faulty transmission through questionable, often long, chains of transmission, through concoction and ingenious forging of reports by pseudo-enemies, and, also in part, because of imperfections of human memory. Second, the reports that have been included in the compilations form only a tiny fraction of those that have been collected. Bukhari, for example, chose about 7,000 out of 600,000 in circulation he considered. That means that he discarded some 99% of the collection as reports falsely or dubiously attributed to the Prophet. If the 99% is false or dubious, what’s the guarantee that the picked one percent is sahih or true? I have shown in the book how this one percent also fails miserably in terms of credibility. Aside from these two facts about the Hadith, additional factors that contributed to their fabrication include state patronization of particular Hadith reports and interference in their circulation, and rivalries among theologians to promote their respective favorite reports.[2]

Objectively, I’ve identified and documented in my book numerous texts in the so-called Sahih Bukhari, that contradict the Quran, science, and reason, and that send conflicting or confusing messages. The Hadith has perpetuated the harsh, extremist version of Islam, and created the fanaticism, violence, strife, and inequality seen so often in western portrayals of Islam. I have shown in my book how the Bukhari and other Hadith compilations corrupt our conceptions of religious beliefs and practices, insult and at the same time idolize our Prophet, create misogyny and inequality, create fanaticism and fatalism, encourage intolerance, violence, and terror, encourage cruel, archaic, or medieval punishments, and encourage aggressive jihad against other communities.[3]

Finally, but not the least, I’ve found that the criteria used to authenticate the Hadith are inherently flawed and inadequate. They rather mask or camouflage the real character of the Hadith and thus mislead unsuspecting Muslims.

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[1] I’ve written a review of this book, which can be read here.

[2] For more on this, see my article: Does the Hadith Have a Solid Historical Basis?

[3] See also my paper titled “Fifteen Great Reasons We Should Embrace and Follow the Quran-only Islam.”

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