Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Manual of Hadith

Picked up in Readings (or it might have been Borders) some time ago A Manual of Hadith by Maulana Muhammad Ali, originally published in Lahore in 1941 (the Empire is treated as matter-of-fact background reality) and reprinted in 2001. The manual is somewhat abbreviated because of wartime paper shortages.

Muhammad Ali was a member of the (Lahore) Ahmadiyya: the more Muslim mainstream part of the Ahmadiyya movement. Mainstream enough to provide a good feel for the hadith.

The manual is written in clear English, very accessibly arranged. Each chapter starts with relevant citations from the Qur’an, as a summary of the various hadith in the chapter. As per tradition, each hadith states who was the original witness. The hadith are presented in both English and Arabic. (Arabic is the sacred language of Islam, the language of Revelation: only the Arabic version is authoritative.) The hadith are footnoted to provide further elaboration of context.

The manual is to help folk be good Muslims. The breadth that covers is indicated by the list of chapters: How Divine Revelation came to the Holy Prophet, Iman and Islam, Knowledge, Purfication, The Mosque, Adhan and Iqamah, Jama’ah (congregation), The Iman, Institution of Prayer, Prayer-Service, Friday Service, Id service, Supererogatory Prayers, Miscellaneous Prayers, Burial Service, Charity and Zakat, Fasting, Pilgrimage, Jihad, Marriage, Divorce, Buying and Selling, Cultivation of Land, Matters relating to Service, Debts and Mortgage, Gifts, Wills and Inheritance, Foods and Drinks, Toilet [meaning apparel, etc], Ethics (Adab), The State.
Islam is not merely a religion of rules, it is a religion of law. The key difference between Christianity and Islam concerning law is who makes it. In Christianity, there is no doubt that people make law. Even canon law is the Church seeking to turn into rules the principles it infers from Scripture and natural reason. There is no pretence that they are other than man-made things. “God’s law” is rhetoric or a reference to Scripture or natural reason—a source from which law is derived, not law itself.

In Islam, God makes law. Shar’ia is God’s law. It makes sense to talk of Islamic jurisprudence in a way it simply doesn’t for “Christian jurisprudence”. It thus makes sense to talk about God being sovereign in a quite direct He-makes-the-law-the-judges-enforce way that does not work for Christianity. Judges are not religious officials in Christianity. They are in Islam.

Life being complex, it has never entirely worked that way. Rulers in Islam have always had reasons to issue extra rules and regulations. In Christendom, the medieval Church had jurisdiction over large areas of life. Religious doctrine underpinned much law even beyond and after that (and still does, as the fight over same-sex relationships indicates). But Church judges were not sanctioned by anything in the New Testament—which propounds a religion of moral rather than social order—whatever the later pretensions of the Church: there is no religious problem with secular judges. Islamic judges are quite directly sanctioned by the actions of the Prophet (a ruler and conqueror) in appointing judges who were to use the Qu’ran as their first point of reference, and the traditions of the Muslim community as their second.

Islam as religion-of-social order has some striking manifestations. Ali points out that Islam turns prayer into institution (p.99). It is a public act rendered in a standard way.

Islam’s appropriation of Jewish and Christian prophetic tradition is extensive. Ali notes Islam accepts the concept of the Anti-Christ (p.125 fn27) but it applies to those who teach the doctrine of Sonship and Atonement (i.e. Christianity):
there is note [sic] the least doubt that the tribulation of the Dajjal means the tribulation of the Christian and materialistic civilisation we are faced with in these days, and the name Anti-Christ given to it is due to the fact that it is opposed to the true teaching of Christ, who never taught the doctrines of Sonship and Atonement.

In a slightly oddly presented hadith (it reads as if he saying something after his own death, which is clearly not meant), the Prophet is quoted as saying:
I have been commanded to continue fighting against people until they say there is no god but Allah; whoever says this will have his property and his life safe unless there is a due against him and his reckoning is with Allah (pp 177-8).
Since this hadith is about the Prophet’s second successor Umar and his first successor Abu Bakr, it is clearly an endorsement of the extraordinary religious conquests of the early Caliphs. But there is no geographical limit to the injunction, which has Qur’anic endorsement (Sura 8:39
And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah altogether and everywhere; but if they cease, verily Allah doth see all that they do).

Sura 8:39 being one of the verses from the Qur’an quoted at the beginning of the chapter Jihad. Ali differentiates (p.203) between jihad as missionary activity (an obligation for all Muslims) and as a physical activity (which only applies in certain circumstances). Ali claims the latter is strictly defensive, but Sura 8:39, the activities of the Prophet and his Companions and successors and more than one hadith is against him on that point, as is the normal Islamic division of the globe. Ali accepts the proper goal of Islam is to be ascendant over the entire globe. This division into missionary and warfighting jihad is somewhat different from the division into inner and outer jihad which has been prominently pushed in recent times.

A disappointment for fans of 13th Warrior such as myself (yes, I know the armour’s crap), there is a hadith of the Prophet banning every drink that intoxicates in specific response to a drink of fermented honey (p.292): alas for one the funnier scenes in the movie.*

Ali argues that the selection of the early Caliphs were clearly democratic in nature (p.334). Well yes, in a rather ad hoc way. But the position rapidly became hereditary: with the Umayyad, Abbasid, Fatimid and Ottoman caliphates. But one can see the “if we could just get back to C7th purity” theme operating which is such a hardy perennial in Islam.

Reading A Manual for Hadith really brings home the extent to which Islam is a whole-of-life religion. A deeply political religion: Islamism makes far more sense as a political philosophy than any “Christianism” does**: indeed, Islamists can quite reasonably claim that they are just being Islamic. In its detail, Islam is far more like Judaism (which the Prophet had far more contact with) than Christianity. Moreover, the Jewish tribes Muhammad had contact included territorial entities. The way Islam divides the globe is another manifestation of its nature as a territorial religion.

Judaism made the transition from a religion of social order to a religion of community order embedded in a wider social order it did not control or direct and had no pretensions to do. But that transition occurred as a result of major disasters (the Babylonian Captivity and the Diaspora). The Ismailis have done so within Islam, but they are also a permanent minority. That is the move Western Muslims are expected to make: the separation of the logic of belief from the logic of believers. (Though the usual suspects complain if Western political leaders say that in so many words.)

The difficulty is: any Western Muslim can look the world of Islam, a civilisation defined by religion, including a league of Islamic States (a league of Christian states seems bizarre and archaic) to feel, not a member of a permanent minority, but of the vanguard of a (rightfully expanding) religiously-defined civilisation. With the more inane fantasies of multiculturalism encouraging Islam as primary identity while being tone-deaf to any issue of reassuring the resident, non-Muslim citizenry (hardly surprising, since they are habitually cast as the locus of problems multiculturalism seeks to fix).

The dynamics of Islam are not the same as those of Christianity or Judaism. Islam has the universalism of the former and the rules-for-the-whole-of-life nature of the latter to be very much a thing in itself. Interesting times.

* Regarding movies, the central role of the angel Gabriel in the Revelation to Muhammad must make the Prophecy movies particularly problematic, though you can just see Christopher Walken’s Gabriel saying to his fellow rebel angels
and do you know what I told that desert monkey boy next?.
** The narrow agenda of conservative political Christians—basically no abortion and enforcement of sexual taboos—highlights this.

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