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June 10, 2022 Special Dispatch No. 10010

Egyptian Journalist: The Problem Is Not Statements Insulting The Prophet But Uncritical Acceptance Of Unreliable Traditions About Him

June 10, 2022
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 10010

Recent remarks by two officials of India's ruling party disparaging the Prophet Muhammad  aroused fury throughout the Muslim world, sparking demonstrations, official condemnations, calls to punish the officials, and calls for boycotting Indian products. Some Muslim countries summoned India's ambassadors to lodge their protest over the statements. The two  officials, who have since been removed from their positions in response to the outrage over their statements, commented on the Prophet Muhammad's marriage to his third wife 'Aisha when she was six years old and his consummation of the marriage when she was nine,[1] as stated in a hadith (Prophetic tradition) that even appears in the most authoritative hadith compilations: Sahih Al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim.       

Against this backdrop, Egyptian journalist Sahar Al-Ga'ara wrote, on her regular column in the Al-Watan daily, that the real problem is not the statements of the Indian officials. The problem, she said, is that this hadith is considered reliable even though it contradicts the Quran, the Sunna (i.e., the actions and teachings of the Prophet), and common sense. It is accepted as authentic, she added, just because it appears in the hadith compilations of Al-Bukhari and Muslim, which are treated as highly authoritative even though they too include hadiths that are unreliable and should be discarded.

Al-Ga'ara also mentioned the efforts of Saudi Arabia, spearheaded by Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, to reexamine the hadith literature and omit traditions that are unreliable.[2] The opposition of some Islamic scholars to this initiative, she said, stems from fear that it will detract from their religious authority. However, these scholars should allow an intellectual debate and a reexamining of the sources, without fearing that this will weaken people's faith, she wrote.

Al-Ga'ara also implicitly criticized the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Ahmad Al-Tayeb, who firmly refuses to take part in the initiative of Egyptian President 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi to reexamine Islamic tradition and the Prophet's Sunna, and to reform the religious discourse in order to combat religious extremism.[3]


From Twitter campaign calling to boycott Indian products (Source: Twitter.com/EsRaaOuda281, June 4, 2022)

The following are translated excerpts from her column.[4]

"The hashtag 'Modi, just not Allah's Messenger,' which on Saturday evening was the leading hashtag on Twitter, expressed the fury of Muslims, or so-called 'Islamic zealotry,' which is sometimes a commendable kind of zealotry. In a tweet, the official spokesperson of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP], headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, wondered why the Prophet Muhammad married 'Aisha when she was not yet ten years old, [a question] that infuriated Muslim social media users in the Arab world.

"Now let me pose the most important question: Who was it that hurt the lady 'Aisha, the Indian politician, or we Muslims? Who besmirched the biography of the Prophet of Mercy? The Indian [politician] or Al-Bukhari's [compilation of hadiths]? According to a well-known hadith, which almost every Muslim knows and which appears in Al-Bukhari's and Muslim's [hadith compilations], the Prophet, Allah's peace and prayers be upon him, married the Mother of the Believers, 'Aisha, when he was 50 and she was six, and had intercourse with her when she was a child of less than nine. This hadith received a stamp of immunity [from doubt] just because it is included in [the compilations of] Al-Bukhari and Muslim, even though it contradicts everything it can possibly contradict: the Quran and the authentic Sunna [i.e., authentic traditions about the Prophet], as well as reason and common sense!!

"This is not the only allegation made about our honorable Prophet by the priests of Al-Bukhari [i.e., religious scholars who blindly accept every hadith included in this compilation]. The real fight is not over 'Aisha's age, but over religious authority. For, if Allah's [self-appointed] representatives on earth allow to open the gates of ijtihad [i.e., to apply individual judgement in matters of jurisprudence][5] and to question Al-Bukhari and Muslim and the authenticity of the hadiths they attribute to the Prophet, these [scholars'] control and hegemony over people will collapse – along with [the authority of various] religious institutions, local or continental, such as the International Union of Muslim Scholars, headed by [Yousuf] Al-Qaradawi, which Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain have designate as a terror organization!   

"There is a very thin boundary between action that benefits mankind and religion and action for the purpose of gaining benefits, capital and influence to the point of terrorism… When anyone makes a move [to reexamine] the hadiths that are called ahad,[6] which Saudi Arabia intends to omit from the Sunna, this threatens the influence [of the religious scholars] and deprives them of their primary tool of religious control. This is because it deprives them of the 'tradition,' which the Sheikh of Al-Azhar regards as constituting three quarters of religion, whereas Saudi Arabia's Council [of Senior Scholars] is examining this tradition with the intention of omitting the weak hadiths that are falsely attributed to the Prophet… 

"[The scholars] think that this religion [Islam] is 'fragile' and that any intellectual discussion or interpretation threatens to crack it… These large-turbaned [scholars] froth at the mouth and make bombastic statements to defend it, and even demand to declare war and reactivate the guillotines because [they believe] that every touch and every hint can shake the steady foundations of religion, and therefore heads must fly in order to preserve its stability. Are they not the ones whose faith is weak and are who are not convinced that religion has God to defend it?

"I wish one of them would read the novel 'Azazeel, [by Egyptian author Youssef Ziedan]. This book angered the Christians,[7] yet nobody banned its circulation in Egypt or elsewhere, and [eventually] it won the [Arabic] Booker prize. [I wish one of them would]  realize that the Vatican tried to ban [Dan Brown's] The Da Vinci Code,  but the book was published and made into a film that was aired on the Arabic MBC2 channel, even though it deals with descendants of Jesus. I wish one of them would watch the movie The Two Popes, which criticizes the church and accuses it of corruption!! [I wish] they would watch Morgan Freeman's documentary series ["The Story of God"], which deals with the essence of beliefs, religion, spirituality, resurrection and faith. None of these works destabilized Christianity or caused it to disappear, because no novel, film or cartoon can expunge faith.

"In this country [Egypt], Christians have been accused of heresy more than once, and mobs attacked the church itself, yet the Christians did not howl in fear that their religion would be lost or that their [faith in its] tenets would be undermined. [O Muslim scholar],  beware: Your tradition, which attributes pre-Islamic customs to our honorable Prophet, will not endure in the face of the [new] 'reliable compilation' [of hadiths] that is about to come out of Riyad."[8]

 

[1] Appearing on a recent television show, Nupur Sharma, spokesperson for India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), asked one of the panelists whether she had to speak about the Prophet Muhammad, who married "a six-year-old girl" and "had sexual intercourse with her when she was nine." Subsequently, Naveen Kumar Jindal, the head of the party's media bureau in Delhi, also posted controversial tweets about the Prophet Muhammad. After their statements sparked fury across the Muslim world, Sharma was suspended from her post and Jindal was expelled from the party.

[2] To mark the fifth anniversary of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 in April 2021, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sat down to a lengthy and comprehensive interview with journalist 'Abdallah Al-Mudaifer, which was aired on several Saudi television channels. In the interview, which included far-reaching statements regarding the religious character of the Saudi kingdom and the sources for its legislation, bin Salman stated that legislation should rely only on explicit directives in the Quran and the Sunna, and that it is always possible to apply ijtihad (independent judgement) in interpreting the shari'a, so as to adapt it to the spirit of the time and place. The crown prince added that, in relying on the Sunna, it is best to follow hadiths transmitted by multiple people (hadith mutawatir), which are few but whose authenticity is very much substantiated. He added that even their interpretation is subject to ijtihad, depending on time, place and on the understanding of their content. See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1575 – Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman's Far-Reaching Statements On Religion Herald Further Reforms In The Kingdom, May 4, 2021.

In an interview with the U.S. magazine The Atlantic, bin Salman stated that there are tens of thousands of hadiths, many of which have been judged unreliable, yet various elements – such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS – cite them as justification for their positions and actions. He noted that Saudi Arabia is currently engaged in an effort to examine all the Prophetic traditions and identify the ones whose authenticity is beyond any doubt. The project, he added, is in its final stages and may be complete within two years. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 9822 – Saudi Dailies Publish Full Transcript Of Saudi Crown Prince Bin Salman's Interview With 'The Atlantic': Wahhabi Islam Is Not Synonymous With Saudi Arabia; Social And Cultural Reforms Serve Our Interest; We Oppose A Weak Nuclear Deal With Iran; Israel Is Not An Enemy, March 11, 2022.

[4]  Al-Watan (Egypt), June 6, 2022.

[5] This, in contrast to the traditional perception in Sunni Islam that the gates of ijtihad closed in the 10th century, namely that applying such judgement has been forbidden since then.

[6] The term ahad refers to hadiths that were transmitted by only one or by a relatively small number of narrators, and are therefore considered less reliable than the hadiths that are called mutawatir, which were transmitted by a significant number of narrators and whose chains of transmission are all considered reliable.

[7] The book discusses the Coptic church in the fifth century.

[8]  Al-Watan (Egypt), June 6, 2022.

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