Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Critical Readings of Scholars' Biographies

I was once reading this book on al-Bukhari's biography, and, of course, the writer(s) made him appear like a saint. (k, I'm sure he was.) So, It was as though the guy had absolutely no faults or something! It was also to ensure the reader that whatever hadiths were compiled by Bukhari were/are indeed authentic, right, so at one point, it was mentioned that one day, when he was at a certain place trying to collect more hadiths, he came across this one man who he was told was honest and upright. But when Bukhari was about to approach him, the man was fooling his horse by pretending to give him some food/grass so that it'd come to the stall with him. And Bukhari thought to himself, "No, I can't trust this man. If he can fool his horse, he can fool me and others, too. I must not request any hadiths from him."

The first thing that went through my mind was: How do we know this? Was someone watching him from afar, witnessing this, was able to read Bukhari's mind? No, that cannot be possible. The person may have seen that Bukhari stopped for a moment at someone's place but then went away, but how did he know why Bukhari chose not to get any hadiths from the man?

Or did Bukhari say that himself in writing? If so, should he really have said this? I mean, think about it: "Well, you all should trust the hadiths I'm presenting in my volumes because I'm a very honest man. For example, I don't trust men who fool their horses; lemme narrate to you one instance in which this happened, in fact...."

No doubt Bukhari must have been an amazing person, an honest and upright individual. My point isn't to say he wasn't; it's not whether what's being said about him is true or not -- it's how do we know what's said about him is true? We shouldn't trust all of what's written about others. It's perfectly fine to read it, understand it, be aware of it, but don't believe that it's all truth. It may not be. Always ask questions like, "Who said this? How do we know this?" Often, such things are passed down only verbally, and when something's passed down verbally from person to person, generation to generation, it never (never, ever) remains fully intact; it's more than often exaggerated as well.

And, no, questioning whether what's said about someone is true or not isn't heresy or blasphemy -- or un-Islamic in any way. In fact, we are encouraged to verify whatever we know or are told because it might be false, and false knowledge can be dangerous and unhealthy.


  1. false knowledge i indeed dangerous and unheathy. what else can be a good example of it than superstitions! etched in our minds from different sources, so difficult to shake off. taking us away from the time we live in!

  2. You have raised good points but Imam Bukhari wasn't an ordinary man and must have been surrounded by dozens if not scores of students all the time. So there's room for possibility that one of his students may have relayed this story. Allah knows best!

  3. Interesting insight! I haven't studied the science of hadith compiling, but InshAllah one day.

    I agree on asking questions and pondering over these things because the Quran mentions to do this so many times, very clearly.

    Hadith are quite tricky because they were compiled many years after the Prophet.It reminds me of the debate around the Bible. Muslim scholars say that the Bible is not to be taken seriously because it was compiled so many years after, so how could people know for sure about what Jesus did and said. But, isn't it the same with Hadith? Sorry, that was kind of on another tangent, but it just popped into my head. I'm not exactly sure how to explain what I mean, but I hope you get the gist. I'm horrible at conveying things.

  4. Thank you, thank you, great folks, for your comments!

    Welcome to my blog, Kochaye! :)

    @ Anonymous, what does "ordinary" mean? Do non-ordinary humans really exist, and how can we identify them?
    Now, let's assume that, yes, one of his students said that about him (the part about how Bukhari wanted to get some reports from the horse owner but decided against it after he saw the guy fooling his horse). You think Bukhari told his students what happened, and the students wrote it down? Possibly, sure, but in that case, we should be even more skeptical of what's been written, just like we should be of all other oral reports.

    Rukhpar Mor, I hear ya, girl! And, no, you're not horrible at conveying things at all, crazy! lol. You're right on target 'cause this post is going to lead to my all-time favorite ones -- those on hadiths and whether we should trust them as much as we do. We've given them a higher status than we have given the Quran, sadly, and you're right to make that comparison about the Bible and Muslims' reluctance to consider it reliable! So true!

  5. On the subject of how this story came known could be as simple as him telling someone himself what he was thinking about the horseman. However, God forgive me if I’m ignorant, the reasoning behind him not approaching the man is a bit silly!
    How else does a horse (amongst other animals) get to do something without being fooled/driven to it by certain means? It’s all a little strange to me to base an idea of someone’s honesty through how they dealt with a horse. You either talk to an animal (like a house pet that gets what you're saying through training) or fool them towards something (like a horse or cow!) or else you beat the crap out of it and make it go to where you want it to go (and THAT is cruel for all animals! A person capable of that can be categorised as a cruel one). The nicest way to treat an animal is by talking to one or fooling one! Do you get what I’m trying to say?
    Besides, what if that guy wasn't fooling his horse at the time Al Bukhari was passing by? Would he have taken his word for what he would have said then? How many others would have struck it lucky as coming across as honest people because no one witnessed them being dishonest?
    That said, personally I feel the Quran makes life easy to live, and some of the Hadith’s are making it harder. If someone was to follow every single Hadith to the T, they would probably end up being paranoid over how many “wrongs” they did. I also think some of them contradict the Quran, how they are still in the Hadith’s book as authentic baffles me.

  6. Good points, Hina.
    See, I understand that he wanted to be exercise ALL caution to ensure that the reports he was getting from people were 100% accurate, not made-up against the Prophet (pbuh), and he had to ask many people around to make sure that the people whose reports he was trusting were really reliable -- "honest and upright," according to the criteria in hadith science. So if others ever gave him a negative impression of a potential reporter, Bukhari would completely reject their reports or not ask them at all.

    Now, here's the problem: In the case above, yes, MAYBE the horse owner was not reliable, fine, but this is only because he himself saw something about the man that he didn't approve of or that gave him a negative vibe. What about all the reports that he got from the men whom he hadn't seen such things from? Meaning, there's such a strong possibility that (most of) the hadith reports he got from others may not be reliable after all. Yes, no doubt Bukhari tried his very best, but that doesn't mean everything he got that's categorized as "authentic" is indeed authentic. It's just like what you said: "What if he wasn't fooling the horse at the time Bukhari was passing by? Would he have taken his word for what he would have said then?" Exactly!

    More on this another time, but yeah.

    LOL. I totally get what you're saying You're right about that if you don't "fool" animals into the stalls like this, how else would you get them in? The point, though, I think was just to show that "See? See, all you skeptics out there? Bukhari was SO careful that he woudln't accept the reports of someone who was even as practical as this but still gave a hint of deceit to Bukhari!"

    Absolutely agree with you that the Quran makes life far much easier than some (I'd say most) hadiths. I, too, am tryina understand how and why the ones that contradict the Quran (and other hadiths at times!) are still categorized as "authentic"! But then again, even Muslims (talking specifically of extremist/conservative Muslims) can't agree on whether ALL of the ones labeled authentic are really authentic. People will often tell you, "ALL of Bukhari and Muslim are authentic. Just go by them." (P.S. Abu Dawud becomes authentic when it comes to dictates on how women should dress, though ;)! Interesting stuff, yeah?) But then people from the same group will say, "Well, now we are finding a lot of hadiths that've been categorized as authentic but aren't really authentic after all." THIS, I find quite fascinating! Love the "after all" in it.

  7. You make such wonderful points in this post! I agree with you wholeheartedly.

    I also really liked Rukhpar Mor's point on how the Bible was collected, it is indeed incredibly relevant to the collection of Hadith. Also, the church did have several meetings amongst the first scholars/priests/theologists in order to decide which gospels were closest in time to Jesus and most true, whereas many gospels weren't included, because they weren't considered accurate. So there are many many parallels to the collections of hadith.

  8. Exactly, Becky! The Church meetings on how to decide which Books the Bible should contain is very similar to the meetings/discussions of hadith scholars, who determined which hadiths were authentic enough to be included in which books and why to include un-authentic hadiths in the books as well!

    Thanks for making it that obvious! I'd never seen it that way -- that the reason the other gospels are not a part of the Bible is that they were not considered "authentic" enough or not reliable enough. I'm sure you've seen Muslims (especially on the "" website! :S) citing verses from the "unauthentic" gospels to prove Christianity wrong or to say that Christianity is an unreasonable religion! It's quite disgusting! But when anti-Muslim/anti-Islam folks quote unauthentic hadiths, we are like, "Oh, that doesn't count because it's not authentic anyway." :| Dude, we do the same thing to them!

  9. I know! It drives me crazy when people attack someone for doing one thing, then turn right around and do it themselves. Happens way way too often these days. :(


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