The Hadith: Review of Bias in Warner’s
Dr Chris James
Discrimination against Muslims in the west has always existed, but since 9/11 it has become intensive. This paper is a response to the growing bias towards Muslims. In particular it addresses, what I view as an offensive post 9/11 work, titled The Hadith: The Traditions of Mohammed by Bill Warner, PhD. In my opinion, the work by Bill Warner, calls into question, what is a fair critique of modern-day Islam, what is permissible as credible academic literature and what constitutes bigotry and Islamophobia. I am not a Muslim, I am a scholar of religions and have a particular interest in Islam, its future and what it means for humanity in general. I present this review because the aforesaid work and its interpretation of the Hadith, is in my view, misleading, vitriolic and unhelpful to the analysis and progress of philosophical studies and debate, but unfortunately it is not the only example, just the one I choose to focus on here. Post 9/11, Muslims are experiencing an unwarranted social and political backlash. Many Muslims were killed in the terrorist attacks on the US World Trade Centre in 2001 and the majority of Muslims condemned the violence. Nonetheless, Muslims are still perceived as threatening and unwelcome in many quarters of the western world. The problem appears to be, not so much one of race, but religious doctrine. From time to time all religions come under scrutiny, but in this respect, Islam stands alone from all other forms of religious examination because the scrutiny is relentless. Warner’s work is a typical example of this attack and it needs to be challenged.
This paper is in response to a book titled The Hadith: The Traditions of Mohammed, by Bill Warner, PhD. Bill Warner established the Centre for the Study of Political Islam (CPSI), an acclaimed educational organization, which states it provides “factual knowledge about political Islam”1 A short biography of Dr Warner gives the reader an overview of “a life-long interest in religions, including Islam, and their effects on history and civilization.” Warner’s aim, according to his biography, is to make the “Islamic political doctrine, which he says, impacts non-Muslims, available to the average person.”2 Warner’s work is based largely on the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) whereby he uses statistical methods to identify, what he calls “dualism” and “submission” as the foundational principles of the Islamic doctrine.3 However, Warner’s interpretation of these criterion is significantly incomplete and in my view, biased.
The Hadith is one of a series of books included in Warner’s “Self-Study Course on Political Islam”. The course is taught in two levels, the first A taste of Islam, which is based on four books, The Sira Law for Non-Muslims, The Hadith, The Koran and The Sharia. The second level also contains four books, Persuasion, Slavery, Women, and Christians and Jews. I have limited my critic to The Hadith.
I am always dubious when an outsider steps up and produces a critical treatise on something s/he has not had first-hand experience in. Academic critique of works is a crucial component in scholarship, but balance and context are also important. The Hadith as prescribed by Warner, “is a condensed version of the Islamic Hadith Collections,” but in my opinion, it is deliberately negative and presents Islam as an archaic system of superstition, oppression, violence and persecution. I am not a Muslim, but I am a scholar of Hebrew and Islamic studies and in my reasoning, I would suggest that Warner’s work is extremely offensive to anyone who identifies as Muslim. Literary critique and political polemic are not the same thing. I have respect for the right to critique religious and political texts, but fair academic critique should not be weighted solely on the side of disparaging statements that are devoid of contextualization and a cross fertilization of scholarly interpretations. Further, Warner’s post 9/11 work is not the only example of discrimination and angst against Muslims or their supporters. There are in my opinion, two levels of global attack against Muslims, one is in the prevalent dismissal of bias and hate speech, the other is to ignore the wars, persecutions, hardships and attempted genocides that have been an integral part of world history and our modern society. Warner’s examples of the Hadith texts are replete with unexplained violence. Wars were carried out against Muslims in the time of Muhammad (PBUH) and his followers and they are still being carried out against Muslim populations today. Some Muslims have reserved the right to fight back, but this is not an act of advocating or condoning violence, but one of survival. We must face the realities; the world is divided and when one side bullies the other side it will strive to retaliate and mediation is a delicate process.
If we adhere to the universal right to freedom of religion then it is important to call out any limits imposed upon that freedom, be they individual or en-mass. Just a peripheral glance at the statistics on social bifurcation, pain and displacement of the worlds’ peoples’ today, the vast majority who are suffering are Muslims. In my opinion Warner’s book incites further hostility and suffering, it does nothing to close the gap.
Warner’s book dedication is to the “millions of victims of jihad over the past 1,400 years.”4 If we were to relocate this dedication to Two World Wars alone, fought largely in the west, we would be remembering the warriors on all sides as heroes, not victims, albeit there are no winners in wars. Importantly, the word’s “jihad” and “victims” put together carry a very heavy payload, they form part of a common and very selective vocabulary aimed at targeting one particular group and labelling them the enemy of western civilization. Muslims are not the enemy of the west. Governments trade with them, share their achievements and celebrate mutual international agreements. Many Muslim migrants make a huge contribution to public life and the western economies. Why then are they so alienated?
Warner’s note to his readers, tells us that after the attack on the World Trade Centre Towers in 2001, “no one knew the doctrine of Islam”, he therefore devoted his life “to educating the world about its political doctrine.” The very nature of this goal draws concern. To devote one’s life to targeting and exposing a particular group of difference is, in my view, far from helpful or indeed, healthy. Warner goes on to say his work “contains objective knowledge, not opinion.”5 Perhaps the word “selective” would be more appropriate. The quotations marked for his volume are extremely selective and misleading. In the following paragraph Warner tells his readers, “the common dismissal of Islamic doctrine is that moderate Muslims do not follow it. He states, “the book is not about Muslims, moderate or extreme, but about Islamic political doctrine and history.” Warner, then pushes back against this statement by saying, “You will only get a personal point of view when you ask a Muslim about Islam. And what kind of Muslim do you ask, a moderate Muslim or a jihadist? Both moderate and jihadis all submit to the Sunna of Mohammed and the Koran.”6 The statement speaks for itself, all Muslims are tarnished with the same brush, there is no individualism and no Muslim is worthy of consideration.
There is not a Biblical or classical text in history that is free of some kind of violence or innuendo. The one most important piece of information missing from the debate is that the Qur’an contains both the Hebrew Torah and the Christian New Testament. Hitherto, if one is a portrait of violence then all must be viewed from this perspective. However, the measure of attack against the Jewish or Christian Scriptures is in no way measurable at the level of that against the Qur’an and other relevant Islamic discourses.
Dr Maurice Bucaille in his work The Bible, the Qur’an and Science (1987) tells us that Muhammad’s own attitude (PBUH) towards the Qur’an was quite different than that of his personal sayings because the Qur’an constituted the teaching of Allah and was proclaimed by him as a Divine Revelation.
Over a period of twenty years the words were classified with what had to be written down and what had to be learned by heart to become part of the liturgy of prayers. The Hadiths, according to Bucaille, are in essence an account of the Prophet’s deeds and personal reflections, but he left it to others to find an example in them for their own behaviour and to make them public however they liked: he did not give any instructions.7 We can deduce from this that only a very limited number of the Hadiths may be considered as the Prophet Muhammad’s thoughts (PBUH). The Hadith then is dealing with the thoughts of men of his time, hence when compared to the Qur’an there are profound and anticipated differences, both in context and theological articulation. The differences serve to highlight the extraordinary chasm between the Revelation given to the Prophet (PBUH) and the lives of those upon whom the knowledge was bestowed.
According to Islamic tradition, the Qur’an is regarded as the literal word of God as recited to Muhammad (PBUH) through the archangel Gabriel and according to tradition Muhammad (PBUH) recited what the archangel Gabriel revealed to him for his companions to memorize and write down. Muslims believe that the wording of the Qur’anic text available today corresponds exactly to that given to Muhammad in the years 610–632,.8
However, language changes over time. The early Arabic script transcribed 28 consonants, of which only 6 can be readily distinguished, the remaining 22 having formal similarities which means that what specific consonant is intended can only be determined by context. It was only with the introduction of Arabic diacritics some centuries later, that an authorized vocalization of the text, and how it was to be read, was established and became canonical. 9 Prior to this period, there is evidence that the text could be read in different ways, with different meanings. We know this from the work of Al-Tabari who wrote history, theology and Qur’anic commentary. He prefaces his early commentary on the Qur’an showing that the precise way to read the verses of the sacred text was not fixed, even in the day of the Prophet (PBUH). As the story goes, two men disputing a verse in the text asked Ubay ibn Ka’b to mediate, and he disagreed with them, coming up with a third reading. To resolve the question, the three went to Muhammad who then asked the first man to read out the verse, and announced it was correct. Then the second man was asked to read the verse. He made the same response when the second alternative reading was delivered. He then asked Ubay to provide his own recital, and, on hearing the third version, Muhammad also pronounced it, ‘correct!’ Noting Ubay’s perplexity and inner thoughts, Muhammad then told him, “Pray to God for protection from the accursed Satan”.10 Clearly, according to the Prophet (PBUH) the text was never definitively absolute.
The Qur’an does not stand alone as the doctrine of Islam. Complimentary information of a legislative nature was sought in relation to the Revelation. These came from an oral tradition. Those who undertook the task were faced with what Bucaille calls very “taxing…accounts of past events.” They nevertheless aimed for accuracy and this is illustrated by the fact that in all of the Prophet’s sayings (PBUH), “the most venerable collections always bear the name of those responsible for the account.” This included an examination of those who first collected the information from members of the Prophet’s family (PBUT) or his companions.11 A number of the Prophet’s words (PBUH) appeared under the name of Hadith, the word means “utterances”, but the Hadiths also covered details of the Prophet’s deeds. The first collections, made after the Prophet’s death (PBUH) were said to be fairly restrained and two hundred years elapsed for more words were recorded, so we might question the accuracy of the statements and attributions. Bucaille tells us that the statements by Al Bukhari are the most reliable, but they are still vulnerable to interpretation. Bucaille warns against translations that are inaccurate or contain untruths, or, to put it differently, those “which are more interpretation than translation.”12 Bucaille informs us that on occasions the Hadiths have had such considerable change that there is no sense in which they contain the real meaning. Indeed, he compares some of the versions with the inaccuracies contained in the Christian Gospels, which are known to be somewhat inaccurate.13 In more recent years a bilingual Arabic/English edition of the Hadiths has been issued by Doctor Muhammed Muhsin Khan of the university of Medina, which promises fewer errors.14
Bucaille has explored the Hadiths just to see how the Prophet (PBUH) expressed himself outside the context of the Revelation, while being aware that the texts were originally from an oral tradition. His focus was on issues of science as quoted in the Qur’an. What Bucaille found was that the Hadiths already set out in sections of the Qur’an and modern science were highly accurate. These are the only Hadiths he was concerned with. However, he tells us that “Hadiths which have as their subject interpretation of certain verses of the Qur’an sometimes lead to commentaries which are hardly acceptable today”15 and many Muslims recognize this, but by the same token, the errors provide a weapon for any opponents.
Bucaille provides the following example of literary embellishment.
(Sura 36, verse 36) dealing with the Sun, “which runs its course to a settled place”.
Here is the interpretation given of it in a Hadith: At sunset, the sun…prostrates itself underneath the Throne, and takes permission to rise again, and it is permitted and then (a time will come when) it will be about to prostrate itself…it will ask permission to go on its course…it will be ordered to return whence it has come and so it will rise in the West…(Sahih al Bukhari).
The original text (The Book of the Beginning of Creation.Vol lV p 283, part 54 chapter lV number 241 is, according to Bucaille, obscure and difficult to translate. Nonetheless, Bucaille says, “this passage nevertheless contains an allegory, which implies the notion of a course the Sun runs in relation to the earth: science has shown the contrary to be the case. Bucaille then tells us that the authenticity of this Hadith is doubtful.16 Hence, differentiating between the Qur’an and the Hadiths is essential, specifically for good scholarship.
Bucaille goes on to question other Hadiths that have been given poetic licence. The Qur’an does not give any advice on remedial arts, barring one exception (Sura 16 verse 69) comments on the possibility of using honey as a therapeutic aid. On the other hand, the Hadiths devote a great deal of attention to medicine. According to Bucaille there is a Hadith that certain kinds of date may be used against the effects of magic.17
In the years that followed the Prophet’s death (PBUH) texts were to be recorded with two groups of teachings. Emphasis needs to be put upon the disparity between these two groups of texts. In the years that were to follow the Prophet’s death (PBUH) the first gathering of Hadiths was created 40 years after Hegira, (the shift from Mecca to Medina), while the first collection of Qur’anic texts had been made beforehand under the guidance of Calif Abu Bakr. There are some differences that have never been settled.
Bucaille concludes his investigations by asserting that while the Qur’an appears commonplace, concealing data that science was later to bring to light, certain statements in the Hadiths, which allude to absolute agreement with the ideas of the times, are also opinions that are out of step with science today. Bucaille suggests, “they have slipped into an aggregate of statements concerning Islamic doctrine and legislation, whose authenticity is unquestionably acknowledged, but not in line with Muhammad’s (PBUH) own views.”18
Bucaille concludes, that the truth of the Hadiths, from a religious point of view is beyond question, but when they deal with earthly affairs, they can be called into question. Bucaille tells us that one Hadith gives an account of the Prophet (PBUH), which should be noted first hand: “When I command you to do something related to religion do obey and if I command you do something according to your own opinion (do remember this) I am a human being.”
There is no doubt that many of the Hadiths contradict the Qur’an and Warner’s work gives its impetus to the most negative of literal readings. He writes:
“The Hadiths include brutality by Mohammed and the Muslims. Mohammed ordered that some thieves have their hands and feet removed, hot nails put in their eyes and that they be left to die of thirst lying on sharp rocks in the hot sun.”19
One cannot deny a history of brutality in the regions. It is not a history that is unique to the Middle East. Notwithstanding, who might we blame? It is a philosophical question that has little relevance to today’s reading of Islam. The world has changed and most devotees of religion are seeking unity.
Many Muslims note the unreliability of some Hadiths and they focus on the Qur’an, but this is dismissed by Warner as an excuse and he suggests that the Qur’an does not offer enough information on how to practice Islam. In fact, Warner claims, “if you throw out the Hadiths, you can’t practice Islam.”
Warner puts a strong impetus on the word Kafir to distinguish the Muslim from the Other. In today’s climate the word Kafir is deeply offensive. As part of the ancient Qur’anic discourse, the term typifies all things that are unacceptable and offensive to God. The most fundamental sense of kufr in the Qur’an is “ingratitude”, the wilful refusal to acknowledge or appreciate the benefits that God bestows on humankind, including clear signs and Revealed Scriptures. 20 Kufr is an Arabic term which marks a person as an infidel, a pagan, or someone who rejects Allah, a nonbeliever. The meaning of the word today is politically painful and often used as a demarcation between black and white people.
The term Kufr is used in different ways in the Quran, with the most fundamental sense being ungrateful or thankless towards Allah. Its opposite is īmān or faith. 21 Kafir can be used interchangeably with mushrik, a polytheist. Sometimes overlapping Qur’anic terms for wrong doers are ẓallām (villain, oppressor) and fāsiq (sinner, fornicator).22 Historically, while Islamic scholars agreed that a polytheist/mushrik is a kafir, they sometimes disagreed on the propriety of applying the term to Muslims who committed a grave sin or to the People of the Book. The term has a history of disparity not acceptance.
The Qur’an distinguishes between mushrikun and People of the Book, reserving the former term for idol worshippers. Some classical thinkers view the Christian doctrine to be a form of shirk. In modern times, kafir is used to describe self-professed Muslims, particularly by members of Islamist movements.23 The term is indeed, historical and loaded with separatism and alienation, but this is no reason to continue its use. By implication Warner suggests that Islam is religiously divisive, which in the modern context has no basis since there is more religious unity across beliefs today than ever before. Added to this, Islam is the most open and hospital of all the religions requiring only a belief in Allah as the only one God and the most merciful. Compared to other religions conversion is simple, welcoming and without complex learning or ceremony. It demands that the person be ethical.
Warner implies there are different sets of ethics, one for the Muslim and another for the Kafir. “One set tells how to treat the Muslim and the second that describes how to treat the Kafir” and they are, in Warner’s opinion, not equal.24 This is clearly out of step with the more modern liberalised Muslim beliefs. Warner also puts the focus on Jihad. Warner states, “The suffering caused by jihad, slavery, dhimmitude (non-Muslims), and the killing of apostates is all based upon the duality.”25 According to Pew’s statistics the number of people who leave Islam in the US is about equal to the numbers who join. Further, there is no record of killing those who leave.26
There should be no quarrel between Islam and the other Book Religions. The Qur’an mentions many of the people who are previously mentioned in the Bible. The Islamic view of Revelation is that it is one of three Testaments, the First was the Jews, the Second was the Christians, the Third and final one is Islam. The Testament of Islam is one for our times because as most scholars agree, the world is in a period of crisis. Stories related in the Qur’an usually focus more on the spiritual significance of events rather than the details. The stories are generally comparable, but there are differences between Testaments. One of the most profound differences is the Islamic view of Jesus and the crucifixion. The Qur’an maintains that Jesus was not crucified and did not die on the cross. Jesus was a teacher and prophet, he may well have been killed, but he was not crucified. This is only to reiterate what many have been thinking.
It is often said that the Qur’an is not a book of science, but a book of signs and while the many discourses on science in the Qur’an have been found to be correct, the work is most definitively a tool for changing human behaviour towards a disciplined existence. Warner claims his work uses the scientific method, but in my view, it is neither neutral, nor has it progressed beyond theory. A distinction must be made between a scientific theory and fact. Theory is intended to explain the not already known details which must be tried and tested to gain the facts. Modern science must also be current and purposeful. The only purpose I could find in Warner’s work was to describe a Muslim culture in such a manner that it might elevate the culture of the imperial west and make it sacrosanct.
The Qur’an has been tried and tested over the centuries and it has served to produce harmonious communities across the globe. There is an inner peace to be had away from the politics and worldly competition and skirmishes. The main focus of the Qur’an is not war or hostility it is an opportunity for peace and prayer, that can only be brought about by honour, respect and self-discipline. With this in mind, I find Warner’s interpretation of the Hadith misleading and mischievous. The Qur’an encourages every Muslim to follow Muhammad’s example (PBUH). Warner’s work covers a vast range of topics, but none are presented as peaceful or liberating, while Islam is predicated on a spiritual liberation in this world and the next.
1Bill Warner 2010. The Hadith, The Traditions of Mohammed. UK Centre for the Study of Political Islam www.cspipublishing.com
4Ibid p iii
6Please note I have retained Warner’s spelling which differs from my own.
7Maurice Bucaille. 1987 The Bible, the Qur’an and Science. The Holy Scriptures examined in Light of Modern Knowledge. Paris Seghers p264.
8 John Esposito, Islam the Straight Path, Extended Edition, p.19-20 and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_the_Quran
9Christoph Luxenberg 2007 The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran: A Contribution to the Decoding of the Language of the Koran. Verlag Hans Schiler, p.31.
10Christoph Luxenberg, 2007 p.36
11Maurice Bucaille. 1987 The Bible, the Qur’an and Science. The Holy Scriptures examined in Light of Modern Knowledge. Paris Seghers p260.
19Bill Warner 2010. The Hadith, The Traditions of Mohammed. UK Centre for the Study of Political Islam p12. www.cspipublishing.com
23Emmanuel M. Ekwo Racism and Terrorism: Aftermath of 9/11 Author House 2010 page 143
24Bill Warner2010. The Hadith, The Traditions of Mohammed. UK Centre for the Study of Political Islam p12. www.cspipublishing.com