Islam is not merely a theology, or a statement about Allah and his relationship with His creatures. Besides containing doctrinal and creedal material, it deals with social, penal, commercial, ritualistic, and ceremonial matters. It enters into everything, even into such private areas as one’s dress, marrying, and mating. In the language of the Muslim theologians, Islam is a ‘complete’ and ‘completed’ religion.
It is equally political and military. It has much to do with statecraft, and it has a very specific view of the world peopled by infidels. Since most of the world is still infidel, it is very important for those who are not Muslims to understand Islam.
The sources of Islam are two: the QurAn and the HadIs (‘Sayings’ or ‘Traditions’), usually called the Sunnah (‘customs’), both having their center in Muhammad. The QurAn contains the Prophet’s ‘revelations’ (wahy); the HadIs, all that he did or said, or enjoined, forbade or did not forbid, approved or disapproved. The word HadIs, singular in form (plural, ahAdIs), is also used collectively for all the traditions taken together, for the whole sacred tradition.
Muslim theologians make no distinction between the QurAn and the HadIs. To them both are works of revelation or inspiration. The quality and degree of the revelation in both works is the same; only the mode of expression is different. To them, the HadIs is the QurAn in action, revelation made concrete in the life of the Prophet. In the QurAn, Allah speaks through Muhammad; in the Sunnah, He acts through him. Thus Muhammad’s life is a visible expression of Allah’s utterances in the QurAn. God provides the divine principle, Muhammad the living pattern. No wonder, then, that Muslim theologians regard the QurAn and the HadIs as being supplementary or even interchangeable. To them, the HadIs is wahy ghair matlU (‘unread revelation’, that is, not read from the Heavenly Book like the QurAn but inspired all the same); and the QurAn is hadIs mutwAtir, that is, the Tradition considered authentic and genuine by all Muslims from the beginning.
Thus the QurAn and the HadIs provide equal guidance. Allah with the help of His Prophet has provided for every situation. Whether a believer is going to a mosque or to his bedroom or to the toilet, whether he is making love or war, there is a command and a pattern to follow. And according to the QurAn, when Allah and His Apostle have decided a matter, the believer does not have his or her own choice in the matter (33:36).
And yet situations do arise when the guidance is lacking. It is said of ImAm ibn Hanbal (AH1 164-241 = AD 780-855) that he never ate watermelons, even though he knew that the Prophet had done so, because he did not know his manner of eating them. The same story is related even of BAyazid BistAn, a great Sufi, whose mystical teachings went against orthodox QurAnic theology.
Though the non-Muslim world is not as familiar with the Sunnah or HadIs, as with the QurAn, the former even more than the latter is the most important single source of Islamic laws, precepts, and practices. Ever since the lifetime of the Prophet, millions of Muslims have tried to imitate him in their dress, diet, hair-style, sartorial fashions, toilet mores, and sexual and marital habits. Whether one visits Arabia or Central Asia, India or Malaysia, one meets certain conformities, such as the veil, polygamy, ablution, and istinjA (abstersion of the private parts). These derive from the Sunnah, reinforced by the QurAn. All are accepted not as changing social usages but as divinely ordained forms, as categorical moral imperatives.
The subjects that the HadIs treats are multiple and diverse. It gives the Prophet’s views of Allah, of the here and the hereafter, of hell and heaven, of the Last Day of Judgment, of ImAn (faith), salAt (prayer), zakAt (poor tax), sawm (fast), and hajj (pilgrimage), popularly known as religious subjects; but it also includes his pronouncements on jihAd (holy war), al-anfAl (war booty), and khums (the holy fifth); as well as on crime and punishment, on food, drink, clothing, and personal decoration, on hunting and sacrifices, on poets and soothsayers, on women and slaves, on gifts, inheritances, and dowries, on toilet, ablution, and bathing; on dreams, christianing, and medicine, on vows and oaths and testaments, on images and pictures, on dogs, lizards, and ants.
The HadIs constitutes a voluminous literature. It gives even insignificant details of the Prophet’s life. Every word from his lips, every nod or shake of his head, every one of his gestures and mannerisms was important to his followers. These are remembered by them as best as they could and passed on from generation to generation. Naturally those who came into greater contact with the Prophet had the most to tell about him. ’Aisha, his wife, AbU Bakr and ’Umar, his aristocratic followers, Anas b. MAlik, his servant for ten years, who died at the ripe age of 103 in AH 93, and ’Abdullah b. ’AbbAs, his cousin, were fertile sources of many ahAdIs. But another most prolific source was AbU Huraira, who is the authority for 3,500 traditions. He was no relation of the Prophet, but he had no particular work to do except that he specialized in collecting traditions from other Companions. Similarly, 1,540 traditions derive from the authority of JAbir, who was not even a Quraish but belonged to the Khazraj tribe of Medina, which was allied to Muhammad.
Every hadIs has a text (matn) and a chain of transmission (isnAd). The same text may have several chains, but every text must be traced back to a Companion (as-hAb), a man who came into personal contact with the Prophet. The Companions related their stories to their successors (tAbiUn), who passed them on to the next generation.
At first the traditions were orally transmitted, though some of the earliest narrators must have also kept written notes of some kind. But as the Companions and the Successors and their descendants died, a need was felt to commit them to writing. There were two other reasons. The QurAnic injunctions were probably sufficient for the uncomplicated life of the early Arabs, but as the power of the Muslims grew and they became the masters of an extended empire, they had to seek a supplementary source of authority to take into account new situations and new customs. This was found in the Sunnah, in the practice of the Prophet, already very high in the estimation of the early Muslims.
There was an even more pressing reason. Spurious traditions were coming into being, drowning the genuine ones. There were many motives at play behind this development. Some of these new traditions were merely pious frauds, worked up in order to promote what the fabricators thought were elements of a pious life, or what they thought were the right theological views.
There were also more personal motives at work. The traditions were no longer mere edifying stories. They were sources of prestige and profit. To have one’s ancestors counted among the Emigrants or Helpers, to have them present at the Pledge of al-Aqabah or included among the combatants at the Battles of Badr and Uhud—in short, to have them mentioned in any context of loyalty and usefulness to the Prophet—was a great thing. So Traditionists who could get up right traditions were very much in demand. Traditionists like ShurahbIl b. Sa’d utilized their power effectively; they favored and blackmailed as it suited them.
Spurious traditions also arose in order to promote factional interests. Soon after Muhammad’s death, there were cutthroat struggles for power between several factions, particularly the Alids, the Ummayads, and later on the Abbasides. In this struggle, great passions were generated, and under their influence new traditions were concocted and old ones usefully edited.
The pious and the hero-worshipping mind also added many miracles around the life of Muhammad, so that the man tended to be lost in the myth.
Under these circumstances, a serious effort was made to collect and sift all the current traditions, rejecting the spurious ones and committing the correct ones to writing. A hundred years after Muhammad, under KhalIfa ’Umar II, orders were issued for the collection of all extant traditions under the supervision of Bakr ibn Muhammad. But the Muslim world had to wait another hundred years before the work of sifting was undertaken by a galaxy of traditionists like Muhammad IsmAIl al-BukhArI (AH 194-256= AD 810-870), Muslim ibnu’l-HajjAj (AH 204-261= AD 819-875), AbU IsA Muhammad at-TirmizI (AH 209-279= AD 824-892), AbU DA’Ud as-Sajistani (AH 202-275 = AD 817-888) and others.
BukhArI laid down elaborate canons of authenticity and applied them with a ruthless hand. It is said that he collected 600,000 traditions but accepted only 7,000 of them as authentic. AbU DA’Ud entertained only 4,800 traditions out of a total of 500,000. It is also said that 40,000 names were mentioned in different chains of transmission but that BukhArI accepted only 2,000 as genuine.
As a result of the labor of these Traditionists, the chaotic mass was cut down and some order and proportion were restored. Over a thousand collections, which were in vogue died away in due course, and only six collections, the SihAh Sitta as they are called, became authentic SahIs, or collections. Of these, the ones by ImAm BukhArI and ImAm Muslim are at the top—‘the two authentics’, they are called. There is still a good deal of the miraculous and the improbable in them, but they contain much that is factual and historical. Within three hundred years of the death of Muhammad, the HadIs acquired substantially the form in which it is known today.
To the infidel, the HadIs is a collection of stories, rather unedifying, about a man, rather all too human. But the Muslim mind has been taught to look at them in a different frame of mind. The believers have handled, narrated, and read them with a feeling of awe and worship. It is said of ’Abdullah ibn Mas’Ud (died at the age of seventy in AH 32), a Companion and a great Traditionist (authority for 305 traditions), that he trembled as he narrated a hadIs, sweat often breaking out all over his forehead. Muslim believers are expected to read the traditions in the same spirit and with the same mind. The lapse of time helps the process. As the distance grows, the hero looms larger.
We have chosen the SahIh Muslim as the main text for our present volume. It provides the base, though in our discussion we have often quoted from the QurAn. The QurAn and the HadIs are interdependent and mutually illuminating. The QurAn provides the text, the HadIs the context. In fact, the QurAn cannot be understood without the aid of the HadIs, for every QurAnic verse has a context, which only the HadIs provides. The HadIs gives flesh and blood to the QurAnic revelations, reveals their more earthly motives, and provides them with the necessary locale.
To clarify certain points, we have also quoted here and there from the Prophet’s traditional biographies, which are no more than ordered traditions arranged chronologically around events in the life of the Prophet. Apart from several maghAzI books (books about the Prophet’s campaigns) which went before, almost the very first definitive biography was that of Ibn IshAq, who was born in Medina in AH 85 and died in AH 151 (AD 768) in Baghdad. Other biographers of note who succeeded him and who amply made use of his labors were Al-WAqidI, Ibn HishAm, and At-TabarI. An English translation of IshAq’s SIrat RasUl AllAh by A. Guillaume is available under the title The Life of Muhammad (Oxford, 1958).
Until now only partial English translations of some HadIs collections were available. Therefore, we must thank Dr Abdul HamId SiddIqI for filling up this gap and giving us a full-scale translation of the SahIh Muslim (Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf). The translation of an Eastern text by an Eastern mind has one advantage: it retains the flavor of the original. It may not be in the Queen’s English and may seem rather exotic to those whose mother tongue is English, but it is faithful and reproduces the atmosphere of the original.
Dr SiddIqI has done more than translate the original work. He has provided copious explanatory notes. In a SahIh containing 7,190 ahAdIs, he provides 3,081 footnotes. In addition to clarifying obscure points and references, the notes give us an authentic taste of traditional Muslim scholarship. In fact, because the notes are set in a well-established scholarly lore, they could be an important subject of treatment in their own right. They show that the role of scholarship in Islam is secondary—that it is the handmaid of the QurAn and the HadIs, unmotivated by any seeking of its own, but capable of cleverness and even brilliance within its self-chosen role of justifying and defending. Here and there, we have also quoted from the notes—about forty-five times—to give the reader a sampling of Islamic scholarship.
Now a word about how the present volume came to be written. When we read Dr SiddIqI’s translation, we felt that it contained important material about Islam which should be more widely known. Islam, having been dormant for several centuries, is again on the march. Even before the Europeans came on the scene, the Muslims had their own variation of the ‘white man’s burden’ of civilizing the world. If anything, their mission was even more pretentious for it was commanded by Allah Himself. Muslims wielded their swords to root out polytheism, dethrone the gods of their neighbors, and install in their place their own God, Allah. That they received plunder and established an empire in the process is another matter. These were accidental terrestrial rewards for disinterested celestial labors....
In spite of the limitations of the procedure we have adopted, the SahIh Muslim remains a very comprehensive and informative source on Islamic beliefs and behavior, and we have quoted extensively and faithfully from it. It gives us 7,190 traditions divided into 1,243 chapters. In many instances the same text is reported in several chapters with only minor variations but with different chains of transmission. Therefore, in many cases, one hadIs stands for a number of ahAdIs, and to quote one hadIs is really to quote a whole chapter. In this volume, we have quoted about 675 individual hadIs having this representative character. Another 700 of the ahAdIs we have quoted are group ahAdIs or their summaries. Portions that deal with mere rituals and ceremonies and have no particular importance to non-Muslims we omitted altogether, but we readily included anything that had a deeper ring, although such instances are rather rare. For example, in the long ‘Book of Pilgrimage’ (KitAb al-Hajj), containing 583 traditions, there is not a single one that remotely suggests the idea of the ‘inner pilgrimage’ about which mystics speak so much. Similarly, in the ‘Book of JihAd and Campaigns’, comprising 180 traditions, there is hardly anything that would suggest the sentiment of jihAd’l-akbar, ‘the greater warfare’ directed against one’s own lower nature (nafs). Most of the discussion lacks inwardness.
The SahIh Muslim, like other HadIs collections, also gives very intimate glimpses of the life of the Prophet, an impressionistic view that makes him seem more a living, breathing person than the portrayals given in his more formal biographies. Here one comes to know him, not through his pompous deeds and thoughts, but through his more workaday ideas and actions. There is no makeup, no cosmetics, no posturing for posterity. The Prophet is caught as it were in the ordinary acts of his life—sleeping, eating, mating, praying, hating, dispensing justice, planning expeditions and revenge against his enemies....
The believers are conditioned to look at the whole thing through the eyes of faith. An infidel in his fundamental misguidance may find the Prophet rather sensual and cruel—and certainly many of the things he did do not conform to ordinary ideas of morality—but the believers look at the whole thing differently. To them morality derives from the Prophet’s actions; the moral is whatever he did. Morality does not determine the Prophet’s actions, but his actions determine and define morality. Muhammad’s acts were not ordinary acts; they were Allah’s own acts.
It was in this way and by this logic that Muhammad’s opinions became the dogmas of Islam and his personal habits and idiosyncrasies became moral imperatives: Allah’s commands for all believers in all ages and climes to follow....
In devout Islamic literature, whenever the name or the title of the Prophet is mentioned, it is accompanied by a standard blessing, ‘may peace be upon him’. A similar formula, ‘may Allah be pleased with him’, accompanies the mention of any of his more important Companions. In our quotations from this literature, we have omitted these formulas in the interest of smoother reading.
Diacritical marks are necessary in specialist works, but they do not have the same usefulness in books of a more general nature. Therefore, in order to avoid them as far as possible, we have rendered the letters of the Arabic alphabet by their nearest English equivalents in sound-value. For example, the Arabic alphabet’s se, sIn, and swAd have been uniformly rendered by the English s; te (soft dental) and toe by t; zAl, ze, and zwAd by z. We have also used two diacritical marks: a macron over a vowel sound to indicate that it is long, and an apostrophe (’). The apostrophe generally is used to render another sound called hamza, but we have made it do also for another sound, ain; both have to be learned by ear, but these could be disregarded by non-Arabian readers, for they do not affect the substance of the book.
Shri L.C. Jain, Dr Sisir Kumar Ghose, Shri A.C. Gupta, Shri Kaidar Nath Sahani, and Mrs Francine Ellison Krishna read the manuscript in that order and suggested many improvements. Shri H. P. Lohia and Shri Sita Ram Goel were associated with the manuscript at every stage of its writing. The present edition is due entirely to two Indian friends, one from Bengal and the other from Andhra Pradesh, now both resident in America; they have preferred to remain anonymous. Shri P. Rajappan Achary typed out the manuscript. I thank them all gratefully. I also thank the editors and publishers of Exposition Press for their appreciation and cooperation from the very beginning and for bringing out a very presentable edition of this book.
1After the Hegira.