A Quick Conversation on Hadith: Its Science and Logic

While discussing with a sister the topic of Hadith and its key role in the practice of Islam, she responded as follows (edited for publication):

“Ok Yunus, you might be right. I’ll give you one example regarding a hadith I used to come across frequently in hadith books (that’s all I read at the time!).
The hadith says:
“The Prophet (SAW) used to love eating garlic, so much that he (SAW) ate it all the time and recommended that others eat it for their health. He (SAW) also loved the taste of it…

Now another hadith I ran into said that “The Prophet (SAW) hated garlic (i.e., the taste of it) but wouldn’t forbid eating it: he (SAW) simply would not eat it, and he (SAW) didn’t mind if others ate it, so long as it was not before attending the masjid.”

And lastly, the final one I came across said, “The Prophet (saw) would not eat garlic, and he (SAW) told others not to eat it either.”

Now who could believe the hadith collections after seeing such contradiction?
Our religion was not made to be complicated! I hate how humans messed up the translation of the Prophet’s (saw) life and made our religion harder and look bad.

Explain this please!”

The sister had a point. Today, many people get confused when they see contradictory messages within the deen. And sheytan loves to use such confusion to stir up fitna, create doubt, and whisper to the Muslim to encourage him or her to interpret hadith in the fashion that suites their own desires.

As a response to the sisters excellent question, I wrote the following. Perhaps others may find it useful as well. For this reason, I share it here (edited for publication):

“Good question! This topic is a very deep one but unfortunately I can only afford a quick response as I am now at work. Before I get started, let me say that my own understanding of the hadith you referenced is that the Prophet (SAW) said the angels don’t like the smell of onions and garlic and so not to eat onions and garlic before attending the masjid or doing a group zhikr.

However, to better understand your own line of questioning, there are two things we need to know about hadith:

1. Hadith can be fabricated (meaning, like you mention, some evil or self-centered people added their own hadiths). This is the problem with most religions: they were changed over time. However, if one studies the deeper science of hadith collection, you quickly find out that hadith have ‘rankings’ of weak, sound, strong, and authentic (and maybe some others). This is because the collectors of hadith researched the chains of transmission through known “non-liars.” For example, they met a shaykh of good character and reknowned for his adab (manners), ethics, and following the shariah. They know he is good. They ask him about any hadith he knows, and he tells about the hadith and they ask then: “Who did YOU learn it from?” And based on the known character/ethics/shariah observance etc of the transmitter(s) they would then rank the hadith. If a hadith had only a small number of transmitters, the strength of the hadith was reduced, and if it had a lot, the strength was increased. Now, you should know that more than once the hadith compilers came upon a hadith that they very much felt was a good and true hadith. But because the transmitter was of questionable character, they excluded the hadith from the collection. My point here is to illustrate the soundness of the various hadith collections (such as Tirmidhi, Muslim, Bukhari, Ibn Majah, etc.)

2: Hadith are collections of what he (SAW) said and did. However, many times, the context of the hadith is removed. For this reason, it is strongly recommended that “beginners” not simply run to the hadith collections. This is because they risk picking and choosing hadith to suite their own desires and needs. Many groups of Muslims do that today (and end up making other Muslims such as yourself very disgruntled!).

Now in answer to your question, I want to illustrate that it is possible for all three hadith to be perfectly true.

For example, you can legitimately tell two different people different things about a particular subject. Now later, when these people are asked about what you said, they both reveal it. However, because you were telling each something according to your own relationship with them, WHAT you said differs.

For example: If you taught at the masjid, and you disliked garlic, you would say: “Don’t eat garlic and onions before coming to the Masjid”
You then go home, and guess what? Of course: you STILL dislike garlic, so you turn to your husband (with whom you are intimate) and you say: “I HATE garlic, don’t you EVER eat it!!!!!!”

HA! See? This simple example very quickly explains that two of the three hadith you asked about could very well be accurate.

Now to PROVE that all three hadith could very well be real and possible: (just to restore your faith in the hadith): Think of how often your food preferences changed over the course of your life? I remember as a child, I HATED, HATED tomatoes!!!! I also know many people LOVEEEEEEEEEED Ice cream and candies and sweets as children!!!!

But… After growing up, I find that now I LOVE tomatoes and all these people who used to love ice cream and sweets HATE them because they developed lactose intolerance and heart issues ;-)

So, you see, when applying the hadith, one must understand the context in which Rasool (saw) said the utterance, to whom, and what was the Hikma behind it.

God bless you for having spent the time to read this short note and inshAllah it will help remove any doubt you might have harbored regarding why some hadith appear contradictory.

Ma Salaama and Barakallahu Feekum,
Br. Yunus

5 Responses to “A Quick Conversation on Hadith: Its Science and Logic”

  1. Musa says:

    I depend on the Quran only. I find the Hadith to corrupt. The amount of prejudice I read could not have been spoken by the Prophet (sws). So I just do not refer to them at all.

  2. Yunus says:

    For people who reject hadith / sunnah, I am always curious to know how they pray? How they determine the number of rakat in the prayer? How to calculate Asr? How to make Hajj? What to say in the prayer? How to calculate Zakat?

    Some say that they pray the way people in Medinah and Mecca pray… Not realizing that by saying that, they are by definition following a type of Sunnah (practice derived from hadith): Those pious people learned from their parents who learned from their parents (ad Naseum) back to the time of Muhammad (SAW). It is a chain of transmission.

    And if one only obeys the Quran, then what about the verses that tell us about how Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was on a GREAT character! And how he (SAW) is great and excellent example for us. How do we practice that verse (in coming to know Prophet Muhammad, SAW, and his character) if we simply throw out all the hadith!

    We must watch that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  3. Rawa says:

    ^ Musa, you cannot depend on JUST the Qur’an because Allah (swt) requires us to follow Him and the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (sAw). Ex. Allah (swt) requires us to pray but how do we know how without using His Prophets way as the perfect example? The sunnah is necessary because it gives us the details of how we should behave and worship. The science of hadith has never been taken lightly. It is clear cut and direct in telling us whether it’s a weak/ strong source. Even schools of thought differed in opinion but they all used the Qur’an AND hadith as references through ijtihad. Ultimately, you have intellect to choose, accept, or reject what your mind and heart leads you to. But to disregard hadith altogether is denying the sunnah. Wa Allahu A3lam.

  4. Tami Mejia says:

    This hadith does not appear in any of the famous hadith collections (Sahih Bukhari, Muslim, Dawud, Tirmidhi), and can be easily refuted.

  5. Yunus says:

    @Tami, there were three (differing) hadith mentioned. Do you mean all three or only one of them? Also, just because a hadith doesn’t appear in those four collections does not make it “easily refuted.” There are other hadith collections that are accepted by the Muslim ummah (including Ahmad (by Ibn Hanbal, ra), Ibn Majah, Abu Dawood, etc.). It is not the book in which it is found, it is the isnad that determines whether a hadith is “easily refuted.”

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