The hadees-rejector epithet

Responding to it once for all

Folks who engage in religious debates for the sole purpose of winning them have many cards up their sleeves. One such card, to be played when the going gets especially tough, is declaring that their opponent is a hadees-rejector. Such are the emotions involved in these issues that it is supposed to end any debate there and then. It is never made clear what ‘hadees-rejector’ means in the first place. And for good reason; because the card loses its force the moment it is shorn of all its delicious ambiguity.

What typically happens is this: Somebody presents something as a binding belief in Islam. This belief clearly contradicts an explicit Quranic tenet (at worst) or has no basis whatsoever in the Quran (at best). When you ask him to bring evidence from the Quran in support of his position, he cites a hadees instead. You insist that since the Quran is complete when it comes to vital, necessary beliefs, he must either bring proof from the Quran or stop insisting that the belief in question is indispensable. He responds to this by labelling you a hadees-rejector and delivering a comprehensive lecture on how people like you are detrimental to the cause of religion. It could well be that he does it innocently. Alternately, he could be intelligent enough to know the difference between rejecting a hadees and granting it a status where it can add anything new to religion or even overrule the Quran. In either case, the debate, as far as he is concerned, is over, and the issue settled.

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If the discussion continues after this at all, it is never on the original topic. It will instead proceed along a tangent when he challenges your assertion about the completion of the Quran. Little does he realize that he is no longer arguing with you; that he is arguing with the Quran, which explicitly declares that it is complete as far as beliefs are concerned. He asks: ‘Without hadees, how do you know how and when to perform the daily prayers and how much? Do you find that information in the Quran?’ My usual response to this is asking him how he learned to pray. In all my years debating these issues, I have yet to meet one man who has owned up to learning it from a hadees book. Like driving, we all learn how to pray by emulating our elders and teachers. When it comes to matters of practice, can it be any other way? Sure, many prophetic narrations include references to these details; but does that change the way these practices have been transmitted? It is the subject of Sunnat, not Hadees. The difference between the two is fundamental.

God has left nothing that is fundamental to religion at the mercy of the whims of random chains of reporters and transmitters. He has ensured that everything essential was transmitted by consensus and continuity. Beliefs were transmitted by the consensus of the companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) followed by oral continuity down to our time (the Quran). Practices were transmitted by consensus of the companions followed by practical continuity down to today (Sunnat). Islam is quite complete in the Quran and the Sunnat. A single or a few chains of narrations cannot add to or remove anything from the religion that is thus transmitted so meticulously and unmistakably.

God has left nothing that is fundamental to religion at the mercy of the whims of random chains of reporters and transmitters. He has ensured that everything essential was transmitted by consensus and continuity.

I have often unfairly been accused of being a rationalist who cannot wrap his head around some of the miracles reported in the hadees literature. May God preserve us all! Let there be no mistake: If it can be ascertained that something was said by the Prophet (peace be upon him), then that is the end of the debate. The doubt (wherever it is) is always regarding the narrators and the chains of communication. The contexts of the narrations are often missing. To add to that, men often forget; they occasionally lie; they sometimes have genuine misunderstandings. The words themselves have a way of playing tricks, especially when they are not reported verbatim. The connotations change with the choice of words. Over a long chain it can easily become a case of Chinese Whispers. Utmost care is therefore called for when it comes to ascertaining whether a narration did originate with the Prophet (peace be upon him) and that it did not get contaminated along the way. That is where Quran, as the verbatim speech of God, is so indispensable.

It is not at all a matter of judging some things to be too fantastic or ‘unscientific’ for one’s liking. After all, the Quran – which is also given to us by the Prophet (peace be upon him) – talks about the Day of Judgment. What could be more ‘unscientific’ than that? And yet, no Muslim has any qualms believing in it. That is because he is satisfied with the careful transmission.

The Quran calls itself The Criterion. That is, while it will judge all belief; nothing will ever judge it. The insistence of understanding the Quran in the light of the hadees violates this Quranic principle. It should be the hadees instead that should be understood in the light of the Quran. That makes much more sense, because the text of the Quran (not the hadees) is what we are certain about. It is the Quran (not Hadees) that God has promised to preserve. It is the Quran (not the hadees) that forms a coherent book – and from God Almighty, no less!

Hadees is an invaluable resource. It includes history of the life and the times of the last Prophet (peace be upon him) of God. It includes fruitful information about how he viewed religion. It contains many supplications of the Prophet (peace be upon him) (which are especially valuable as most of them have been reported verbatim). Only an extremely foolish man would dispense with hadees or be indifferent to it in any degree. Studied in the light of the Quran, hadees undoubtedly enhances one’s understanding of religion. But hadees never supplants or overrules the Quran. Neither does it add anything new to religion or take anything away from it. That is beyond its very scope.

Hasan Aftab Saeed
Hasan Aftab Saeed
The author is a connoisseur of music, literature, and food (but not drinks). He can be reached at

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