A Tiptoe through the Hadiths

Most Christians know of the importance of the Quran in Islam, but not much about the Hadiths; the second most authoritative text after the Quran. The major difference between the Quran and Hadiths is: the former contains what Muhammad claimed are Allah’s words while the latter contains Muhammad’s words and acts as reported by his close followers.

Since the Quran presents Muhammad as the “perfect example” for Muslims (33:21), no Muslim can really practice Islam unless he emulates Muhammad and no Muslim can emulate Muhammad if he relies on the Quran alone. This is because it doesn’t contain much details about him. The hadiths contain “what was transmitted on the authority of the Prophet, his deeds, sayings, tacit approval, or description of his sifaat meaning his physical appearance.” (M. Azami, Studies in Hadith Methodology and Literature, 1978, 23)

Muhammad’s lifestyle are called Sunna. Both the hadiths (sayings) and his sunna (examples) form the basis of Sharia- the legal code of islamic jurispudence. An 11th century islamic scholar, Yusuf ibn abd al-Barr wrote that: “The Sunna is divided into two types…whoever rejects the consensus [of the sunnas] has rejected one of Allah’s textual stipulations and committed apostasy.” (Jami’ Bayan al-llm, 2:33).

Islamic scholar, Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah declared:
“The teachings of Islam are based primarily on the Quran and the Hadith, and, as we shall presently see, both are based on divine inspiration.” (Introduction to Islam, p 23)

A new movement within Islam are the Quranist (or Quran-only) Muslims. They reject all hadiths as forgeries or fraud, apparently because of the monstrous image and absurd practices of Muhammad in them. But without the hadiths, there is no Islam because the rules and rites governing the “5 pillars” of Islam- the creed, fasting, prayer, almsgiving and pilgrimage- are in the Hadiths, not the Quran. Neither the companions (sahaba) of Muhammad nor the first generations of Muslims (tabium) ever dreamed of the concept of “Quran only.”

Validity of the Hadiths

The hadiths used today were collected and recorded by Muslims in the 9th and 10th centuries whereas Muhammad died in the 7th century leaving a gap of 250 years between Muhammad’s time and the time the hadiths were collected. Since his sayings and practices were orally transmitted for over a century and half, many of the hadithic accounts and stories had been shapened by a progression of transmitters. Many traditions attempted to elevate Muhammad above mediocrity. At a point, there were about 600, 000 hadithic accounts of him, each claiming to be authentic.

Devoted Muslims then decided to collect the sayings of Muhammad into books. The first authentic collection is the Sahih Bukhari, by Abu Abdullah al-Jafari. He compiled his hadith within 16 years into 97. Though, he seemed to have collected them based on “suitability” instead of “reliability.”

The second was sahih Muslim collected by Abul Husain Muslim (Bukhari’s student). There were also the collections of Sunan Abu Dawuud and other lesser known hadiths such as Mishkatu’l Masabih. Islamic scholars generally classify hadiths as: Sound (sahih), Good (hasan), Weak (daif) and Fabricated (maudu).

Islamic scholar and translator, Muhammad Khan states:
“It has been unanimously agreed that Iman Buhkari’s work is the most authentic of all other works in Hadith literature put together…the religious learned scholars of Islam said concerning him: ‘The most authentic book after the Book of Allah [the Quran] is Sahih Bukhari.” (The Translation of Sahih Bukhari, 1979, p xiv)

Absurdities in the Hadiths

The teachings and sayings of Muhammad in the hadiths are a public relations nightmare to Islam. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are from the Bukhari hadith:

I. Ibn Umar reported Allah’s messenger as saying that a non-Muslim eats in 7 intestines while a Muslim eats in one intestine.” (Muslim 3:5113)

Plain nonsense.

II. “Whenever a strong wind blew, anxiety appeared on the face on the Prophet. [fearing it might be a sign of Allah’s wrath]” (Bukhari 2:144)

I wonder why Allah didn’t explain to him that strong winds are natural phenomena.

III. Abdullah ibn Salam asked him 3 questions to test his prophethood: The first sign of the end of the world, the first meal taken in paradise and why a child resembles his father. Muhammad replied: “the first sign of the hour will be a fire that will bring together people from the East to the West. The first meal of the people of paradise will be extralobe of fish liver…If a man has sexual intercourse with his wife and get his discharge first, the child will resemble the father and if the woman gets her discharge first, the child will resemble her.” (5:546)

This was where Muhammad dug a big pit for himself. Its easy to see why the Jews and Christians of that time rejected his claims as God’s prophet.
IV. “The prophet rushed out of fear to pray on eclipse and continued his prayers until the eclipse came to an end. Allah show him the unseen during the eclipse.” (7:676)

Allah showed him “unseen things,” but didn’t explain to him that eclipses are natural and need not be feared. How convenient.

V. Some Bible characters were mentioned in the hadiths too, with legendary flavours:
“…so once Moses went out to take a bath and put his clothes over a stone and that stone ran away with his clothes. Moses followed that stone saying ‘my clothes, o stone! My clothes, o stone! Till the people of Bani Israel saw him and said ‘by Allah, Moses has got no defect in his body.’ Moses took his clothes and began to beat the stone.” Abu Huraira added ‘By Allah, there are still 6 or 7 marks present on the stone from that excessive beating.” (1:5:277)

Moses, a great Bible prophet is protrayed as an insane man running around butt naked, chasing a stone. What a harebrained book.

VI. “Allah created Adam, making him 60 cubits tall.” (4:543)

That means Adam was 90 ft tall! (like the height of a 3 storey building). Subhanallah, isn’t Allah great?

VII “The Prophet said, ‘Fever is from the heat of the [Hell] fire, so cool it with water.” (7:619)

Everyone knows water cools down a hot body, but to claim body heat is from hell is a cave man thinking.

VIII. When one of his men asked: “What about the bone and animal dung?’ He said ‘They are of the food of the jinns [demons].” (5:58:200)

That shouldn’t be a surprise. The jinns told Muhammad they loved his Quran (Q 72:1). If they loved the Quran, they will also find dung appealing.

IX. The Prophet said, ‘By Allah, though I am the Apostle of Allah, yet I do not know what Allah will do to me.” (5:266)

If the person you are following or emulating is saying he doesn’t know what will become of him after death, then its foolishness to follow him.

Sunna or Silliness?

Any educated, reasoning person who has not been blinded by cultish devotion, who reads the hadiths will be terribly disappointed (if not shocked) at the draconian laws and silly rules that permeates its pages. Here are some:

1. Eating garlics/onions forbidden.

“Whoever has eaten garlic or onion because of hunger or otherwise should not come near our mosque.” (1:812)

Why would God be offended by our mouth odour?

2. Playing chess forbidden

Allah’s apostle said:
“he who played chess is like one who dyed his hand with the flesh and blood of swine.” (Muslim 4:5612)

3. Looking up during prayer forbidden.

Muhammad said “people should avoid lifting their eyes towards the sky while supplicating in prayer, otherwise their eyes would be snatched away.” (Muslim 1:863:1573)

4. Rules on drinking and touch.

Muhammad said: “Whenever any of you drinks water, he should not breathe in the drinking utensil, and whenever any of you goes to a lavatory, he should neither touch his penis nor clean his private parts with his right hand.” (1:4:156)

5. Holy Spit.

“By Allah, whenever Allah’s Apostle spitted, the spittle would fall in the hand of one of them [i.e his companions] who would rub it in his face and skin.” (3:891)

6. Flatulence forbidden.

“The prayer of a person who does Hadath (passes urine, stool or wind) is not accepted till he performs [repeats] the ablution…What is Hadath? Abu Huraira replied ‘Hadath’ means the passing of wind from the anus.” (1:4:137)

I think it was Muhammad himself who was offended by flatulence so he made it into a law.

7. Pictures forbidden.

Gabriel allegedly said: “We angels do not enter a house which contains a picture or a dog.” (4:450)

8. Satan Ties Knots on Muslim Heads.

Allah Apostle said “during your sleep, Satan knots three knots at the back of the head of each of you…” (4:54:491)

Oh my. I wished the knots were described. Do they look like dreadlocks? Brazillian weaving? Rapunzel’s hair?

9. Evil Spirits in your Toilets.

“Whenever the prophet went to answer the call of nature he used to say…O Allah, I seek Refuge with You from all offensive and wicked things (evil deeds and evil spirits).” (1:4:144)

This is why good Muslims temporarily play dumb in the toilet.

10. Defecation Rules.

“If anyone of you goes to an open space for answering the call of nature he should neither face nor turn his back towards the Qibla, he should either face the east or the west.” (1:4:146)

11. Wiping Genitals with Stones.

“…whoever cleans his private parts with stones should do it with odd number of stones.” (1:4:162)

12. Shoe Rules.

“If you want to put on your shoes, put on the right shoe first, and if you want them off, take the left one first.” (7:747)

13. A Fly in the cup.

“If a housefly falls in the drink of anyone of you, he should dip it (in the drink), for one of its wings has a disease and the other has the cure for the disease.” (4:537)

14. Urine stains lead to Hellfire!

“Once the Prophet, while passing one of the grave-yards of Medina or Mecca, heard the voices of two persons being tortured in their graves. The Prophet then added, “Yes! [they are being tortured for a major sin]. Indeed, one of them never saved himself from being soiled with his urine.” (1:57:215)

The same man who could clearly hear the dead talk in their grave eventually ate a poisoned meat which led to his death. How interesting.

15. Let the Beards Hang!

“Trim the moustache and lengthen the beard (let the beard hang). Oppose the fire worshippers.” (Muslim 1:29) This is done to imitate Muhammad whose beard was said to be dense. (2:259).

From these cited examples, its clear that:

(a) Islam is basically a personality cult revolving around the superstitious ideas, teachings and obsessions of one man- Muhammad. The day a Muslim begins to question what his guru taught and practiced on the basis of reason, history or science, his faith in Islam (imaan) will wither and die. This is why its considered a great danger in Islam to speak against Muhammad. To doubt him is to extinguish Islam!

(b) Islam is a legalistic religion without any personal relationship with God. It is rather based on silly, retrogressive traditions: “do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch! These things are all destined to perish with use because they are based on human commands and teachings.” (Col 2:21-22)

Putting Traditions in their Place

In the last two decades, Catholic apologetic has received a steroid boost. Catholics are now being trained to answer Evangelical biblical argumentation with counter biblical argumentation. Books like The Catholic Verses: 95 Verses That Confound Protestants, The New Catholic Answer Bible, The Scriptural Roots of Catholic Teaching, Where is That in the Bible? or Not By Scripture Alone, have been published by lay Catholic apologists utilizing Evangelical approach.

Interestingly, this is coming at a time when majority of Christian bookstores are filled with self-help books, end-of-the-world tomes or miracle stories. Only a few theological works responding to Rome’s attacks make it to the shelves. Against this backdrop, serious Christians need to be prepared with answers to nail off the lynch pin of Catholic argumentation. One of it is the teaching on the authority of Tradition.

What is Tradition?

Catholics present Tradition (they spell the T in upper case) as the historical landmark linking the Catholic Church to the Apostles of Christ 2,000 years ago. The Catholic salesman line goes thus: “How did you know Matthew wrote the gospel of Matthew or Luke wrote the gospel of Luke? You only know this through the Traditions of the Catholic Church!” This argument can be tenable only when the Catholic church shows us the tradition that proves who wrote Hebrews, Job, Esther or the various Psalms.

The Vatican II Council states: “Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit. And Tradition transmits in its entirely the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ…both Scripture and Traditions must be accepted and honoured with equal feelings of devotion and reverence.” (p 784)

As simple as the above definition sounds, its ambiguity has led to different understanding and mutually exclusive positions within Catholicism. There are two main views of traditions in Catholic theology:

1. The Concept of Two Modes of Revelation.

This holds that oral traditions were passed down to the Apostles and their successors and have been guarded and passed down to the Catholic episcopate (bishops) till date. This view, proposed at the Council of Trent, says that God’s revelation is partly in written Scripture and partly in unwritten traditions, so the Bible is materially insufficient and incomplete. It is also called the partim-partim view (from the Latin word for partly).

The Catholic Encyclopedia (1907, 14:228) says: “In a series of articles (Greg, 1959-61) H. Lennez, S. J. vigorously defended the partim…partim theory and opposed it to the Protestant scripturistic principle. Neither tradition nor Scripture contains the whole Apostolic tradition. Scripture is not materially (i.e in content) sufficient, requiring oral traditions as a complement to be true to the whole divine revelation.”

Some Catholic apologists like Karl Keating adhere to this. In his book, Catholicism and Fundamentalism (1988, 151) he wrote: “The part of revelation that was not committed to writing- the part that is outside the New Testament and is the oral teaching that is the basis of Tradition- that part of revelation Catholics also accept…”

The gaping hole in this view is that historical evidence proves beyond all doubt that Catholicism is replete with novelties such as the Assumption of Mary or Papal Infallibility which were cooked up later in the centuries. These dogmas cannot be supported with a shred of an early church record.

2. The Concept of Material Sufficiency.

This view affirms that divine revelation is contained entirely in Scripture and entirely in tradition (totum Scriptura totum traditione). This is not sola Scriptura; instead a belief that all Catholic doctrines are present, at least implictly, in Scripture. Thus tradition is a system of apostolic interpretation developed over the centuries. This view is hinged on Cardinal Newman’s development hypothesis (that Catholic doctrines, like seeds, have developed through the process of time into their modern forms). This position, however, is a convenient tool for Rome’s apologists to portray Catholicism as “Biblical.”

In a debate with Dr James White, Patrick Madrid says: “It may surprise you to note that the Catholic position allows for what we call the material sufficiency of Scripture. This means that Scripture contains everything necessary for Christian teaching. All doctrines can be found there, implicitly or explicitly, but they’re all there.”

This position is an attempt to mimick Evangelical theological framework, because in the final analysis, it is Rome – not the Bible – that is the final authority of Catholic doctrines. The ‘material sufficiency’ tune is only meant to draw Protestants to Rome the same way moth is drawn to a flame. Other Catholic authorities define tradition in another way. Josef Ratzinger (retired Pope Benedict XVI), wrote about the controversy over the Assumption doctrine being based on tradition saying:

“This argument is compelling if you understand ‘tradition’ strictly as the handing down of fixed formulas and texts…But if you conceive of ‘tradition’ as a living process whereby the Holy Spirit introduces us to the fullness of the truth and teaches us to understand what previously we could still not grasp…then subsequent ‘remembering’ (cf Jn 16:4 for instance) can come to recognize what it had not caught sight of previously and yet was handed down in the original Word.” (Milestones, Ignatius Press, 1998, 58-59)

Obviously. Catholic tradition is like a theological putty that can be mould into whatever form Catholics want in order to fit into their constantly changing system. But there are insurmountable problems with Catholic traditions:

1. What exactly is this oral tradition? Are they early traditions? The consent of the Fathers? The consent of the Doctors of the Church? The consent of the faithful? The charism of the Magisterium? Why does its definitions keep changing from “a body of unwritten teachings of Christ to the Apostles” to a “process of living traditions?” I think the most intriguing aspect of this is that in the last 2,000 years, none of Rome’s pope, clergy or apologist is yet to infallibly or inexhuastibly define or produce the doctrinal content of oral tradition!

2. That a teaching is ancient or can be traced to the early church doesn’t make it orthodox. Catholics accuse us of rejecting the traditions of the church fathers who allegedly were discipled by the apostles. In fact, we are selective on which tradition we accept and which we reject (just as Catholics do). We accept traditions that have a Biblical warrant and reject the ones that oppose or contradict the Bible.

The appeal to tradition cuts in two ways. Both heresy and orthodoxy can be traditional. For example, Docetism dates back to New Testament times. Apostle John contended against it in his first epistle. A modern Docetist can claim historical continuity, like Catholics, and claim “our doctrine has been around for 2,000 years!” Does that make it right? Absolutely not. A falsehood in the 1st century is still a falsehood in the 21st century. The passage of time doesn’t change the nature of a lie. A tradition might have impacted generations, yet it could have been an error. If antiquity equals truth, then Spiritism would be more factual than Christianity.

3. Like I said earlier, there is absolutely no Catholic tradition which can be traced back to the apostles. None! Catholic traditions were made up over the centuries. Even Vatican II acknowledges that “Tradition that comes from the apostles makes progress…there is a growth in insight into realities and words that are being passed on.” (p. 754)

Aagain, this exposes the unreliability of traditions. Oral statements leave no permanent record that can be verified. Unless you have a tape recording of what the apostles taught 1900 years ago, you can’t claim you have their oral tradition. Even if someone in the 2nd century, 50 or 90 years after the apostles, wrote down what he claimed was their oral teaching, that would still leave a gap of oral transmission without verification.

Papias was, according to Ireneaus, a younger student of apostle John. Despite his proximity to that period, his gleanings of Christ’s teachings were meagre, and they seem to have been written much later. Oral transmission suffers from a high decay rate. Aside this, human memory is also too untrustworthy for one to rely on oral transmission over a long period of time, therefor, oral traditions can’t be a substitute for a permanent record.

4. Even written traditions can be falsified and devolve into tools for moral and intellectual freeloaders. Yes, some traditions give us a picture of past practices or doctrines, its highly dubious to give them a binding authority. The Catholic Encyclopedia admits the existence of thousands of forged traditions, and even divides the works of nearly every church father into (a) genuine (b) dubious and (c) spurious. The earliest texts written by Cyprian (d 258) who ridiculed papal supremacy reads: “The other apostles were indeed what Peter was; endowed with the same share of honor and jurisdiction.” Now, there are texts which reads: “The other apostles were indeed what Peter was, but the primacy was given to Peter.” (4:585)

A Catholic historian admits that, “Towards the end of the fifth and beginning of the sixth century, the process of forgeries and fictions in the interests of Rome was actively carried on there. Then began the compilation of spurious acts of Roman martyrs, which was continued for some centuries, and which modern criticism, even at Rome, has been obliged to give up…” (Ignaz von Dollinger, The Pope and the Council, 1860, 78)

Unlike the Word of God which is unchanged and endures forever, Catholic traditions are being constantly modified. The Lord Jesus told the apostles to “go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” The deposit of faith was handed to them and they were never to alter or add to it, but to teach everything He taught. (Matt. 28:19-20) This is “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” (Jude 3) There is no acorn seed growing into an oak. As Jesus has handed it down, so it must remain unaltered. But Catholicism has for centuries added to God’s Word all in the name of “traditions.”

5. If we may ask, how are Catholic traditions “handed down” from one generation to the next? How does a huge volume of material pass from one generation to another? Does it pass mystically through laying of hands or through a spiritual “bluetooth?” Where are these traditions even stored? Are they stored up in the subconscious mind of the bishops (and brought to their remembrance by the Holy Spirit)? Or how can a person memorize such a huge deposit of oral teaching? These questions are crucial, because, if the Catholic hierarchy possess these huge mass of unwritten teachings for 2,000 years, why do they dish them out in snippets? For instance, why wait till the 19th century to declare the immaculate conception or papal infallibility?

Traditions in the Bible

Three Bible texts are usually cited by Rome’s apologists.

(a) 1Cor. 11:12 “Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the traditions as I delivered them to you.

The Greek word for “tradition” is paradoseis which mean doctrine or teaching. While the NT was being written, the early church relied on the oral teachings of the apostles, who were eyewitnesses of Christ. After their death, there was no longer a living apostolic authority, but their teachings which God deemed necessary for the faith and practice of believers down through history were preserved in writing. Not all they said were recorded because not all they said were inspired. So only inspired, permanent teachings were written down.

In vs. 23, Paul stated that he is presenting in writing what he had previously taught them orally: “that which also I [earlier] delivered to you…” The traditions being referred to here are not Catholic traditions which were developed later, because the church was just starting at this point.

(b) 2Thess. 2:15 “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which we have been taught, whether by word or our epistle.”

The Catholic (and the Eastern Orthodox) use of this verse is self-refuting because to maintain their claim, they will have to trace their oral traditions back to the “one, true, holy, apostolic Thessalonian church.” Are we to suppose the “tradition” Paul had in mind was prayers to saints? Lent days? Marian dogmas? The Mass? Let Rome produce the documentation of all the oral teachings Paul taught the Thessalonians 1900 years ago or an infallible interpretation of this text. Problem solved.

Vs 5 says: “Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?” Paul was writing what he had previously taught them in person and he was telling them (and us) to hold to the faith, the gospel of Jesus Christ, which the Thessalonian believers were privileged to learn from him in person at that time of apostolic ministry and by his epistle to us.

(c) 2Thess 3:6 “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.”

The official Catholic position is that traditions were received by bishops, but this verse indicates they were received by the individuals being written to. Vs 10 says: “When we were with you, this [same thing] we commanded you [orally].” The traditions Paul taught them are the same he wrote. This is why we have every reason to reject Catholic traditions because they contradict the Bible.

At no point did the Lord Jesus appeal to oral traditions or bring them on the level of the Scriptures, rather He corrected even the traditions the Jews claimed to have received from Moses with the Scriptures (Mk 7:1-13). Catholics also cite 3 John 13, but John wasn’t comparing oral and written tradition in the past, but a written as opposed to a personal communication in the present. Who wouldn’t prefer a face-to-face talk with a living apostle over a letter from him?

It is argued that the Bible writers appealed to oral Jewish traditions (such as in Jude 9). Definitely, they appealed to them because they were true, but to use this to validate Catholic traditions which they didn’t appeal to is a giant leap. The last time I checked, the church fathers never claimed their teachings were infallible or inspired, so this analogy falls apart. There is a difference between canonically sanctioned tradition and extra-canonically sanctioned tradition.

How God Preserved His Word

God laid down the principle of preserving His revelations by inscripturation for succeeding generations. He told Moses:
“Write this for a memorial in a book and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua…” (Ex 17:14) “Moses then wrote down all the words of the Lord.” (Ex 24:4) and this book was preserved in the Ark. (Deut. 31:26)

“Joshua made a covenant with the people that day and made statutes and ordinances for them…which he recorded in the book of the law of God.” (Josh. 24:25-26)

“Samuel next explained to the people the law of royalty and wrote it in a book, which he placed in the presence of the Lord.” (1Sam. 10:25)

“And Hilkah the high priest said unto Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the LORD. And Hilkah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it.” (2Kings 22:8)

“This shall be written for the generation to come: and the people…shall praise the LORD.” (Psalm 102:18)

God told Isaiah to “take a large cylinder seal and inscribe on it in ordinary letters” and to “inscribe it in a record that it may be in future days an eternal witness.” (Is. 8:1, 30:8)

Daniel had a collection of “the books” of Moses and the Prophets right down to Jeremiah, his contemporary (Dan. 9:2). There were no oral tradition passed down OT times from Moses, David, or Israel, so why would there be for the church? God had intended from the beginning that His revelation be preserved in Scripture, not in established tradition. It is blasphemy to elevate uninspired words of men to the inspired words of God. If a doctrine is not in the Bible, then its not Biblical and if its not in the Bible, then its not inspired. And if its not inspired, then its not binding.