Last week, we visited how some people target the Quran, the prophet Muhammad ppuh and the Sahaba (companions of the prophet). But there is an even greater target: the Hadith and their authenticators. And even if the target are people and texts from hundreds of years back, the victims are still very alive: you and me.
You see, the only way to really get a sense and comprehension of the Quran is through the teachings and life of the prophet Muhammad. The Quran and the teachings of the prophet are kind of like the textbook and the teacher. The students read the book, comprehend a good chunk of it; yet, still refer to their teacher for explanation and clarification on certain aspects and topics. These teachings of the prophet are only clear through the Hadith. Basically, a Hadith is a situation that was reported at the time of the prophet Muhammad (i.e. words and/or actions of the prophet)
So in order to discredit the words and actions of the prophet themselves, you must discredit the authenticator that has deemed them worthy. The most renowned authenticator of Hadith is undoubtedly the great scholar Muhammad Ismail Al-Bukhari, commonly known as Imam Al-Bukhari.
Just as a sidenote, it is incredible how the greatest Muslim scholar was only a 4th generation Muslim, from a region in Uzbekistan that is over 3000 km from Mecca and 200 years removed from the time of the prophet Muhammad. It is just remarkable to see how Islam is universal and timeless.
So back on the trail of the detractors of Al-Bukhari. They try to discredit him on one specific front: his incredible memory. Many people are sceptic of his capabilities, and unfortunately, some Muslims also fall into this trap. There have been remarkable people through history, people who have done feats that boggle the imagination; in science, sports, war… Al-Bukhari is an exception, not the rule. When we hear about a 13 year old that has been accepted in university, we find this remarkable, but not impossible. When a teen revolutionizes science with an incredible discovery, we find this amazing, but not impossible. However, when it comes to memorizing over 100 000 narrations (authentic and false narrations), this is seen as impossible. Why? In order to cast doubt!
I am not saying to be gullible and not search on the matter. Actually, do search, learn about Imam Al-Bukhari’s upbringing and you will find out that he was not your regular kid. While still a child, he memorized the Quran (a 600 page book, but this is not uncommon among Muslim children); while still a teen, he was narrating Hadith and authoring books (now that is pretty impressive). By the age of 16, he began his journey in order to seek more sources of Hadith, so he went to Hajj (pilgrimage at the Kaaba in Mecca) and continued his trek that lasted over 16 years (2 years in Mecca, 4 years in Medina, Egypt and Greater Syria twice, Bursa, Kufa and Bagdad, plus multiple other excursions).
While Imam Al-Bukhari was in Baghdad, to test his knowledge, ten of among the most knowledgeable scholars each recited ten different Hadith, the situation as well as the chain of narration. However, they purposely recited an altered version of the chain of narration or the situation in each case to confuse the Imam. After listening to all of the 100 Hadith, Imam Al-Bukhari was able to recite each of the altered chains of narration in chronological order, point of the flaws, and recite the correct version.
This is not your regular Joe; this is a genius who dedicated his life to this knowledge and was the best at it. So don’t listen to someone who tries to rationalize this argument by comparing him to his own capabilities; we are talking about the best of the best in his field throughout history.
As for the following argument that casts doubt on the Hadith is actually how can you certify that a Hadith is authentic to start with? Well in this my friend, your argument is dead even before it is raised. For it is the Muslims who invented all of the actual review process, let’s explore this more in depth.
Hadith have been conserved through time and verified by cross-checking and peer reviews way before any scientific method was put in place (the scientific method was also a Muslim invention). In order for a Hadith to be considered true (Sahih), the narrators of the Hadith must reach back till the prophet himself; meaning that the transfer route must be known (i.e. this companion of the prophet told his son who told his nephew who told a scholar who conserved it in writing who recited it to his students who in turn wrote it down…). Therefore, it can be retraced to have being said by the prophet.
Now, anyone can invent something and say that the prophet said it, right! That is exactly right, and hundreds of people have been doing this since the time of the prophet in order to sabotage Islam. But these false Hadith have been rooted out. How? By examining the characteristics of the narrator. Let’s say someone is known to lie or deform the truth, his narration will not even be considered. Let’s say a scholar started to have Alzheimer or loss of memory, the Hadith he reports will not be considered unless they have been conserved textually before he started having these memory lapses.
Another determining factor is geography. If someone reports a Hadith from someone else and they have never been at the same place at the same time, the Hadith will not be considered true; unless the intermediate is mentioned in the chain of narration.
Now, let’s say a scholar miss-transcribed a Hadith. It will be rooted out by cross-checking with other peers who transcribed the same Hadith. Therefore, the majority overcome the error.
The ultimate criterion of validation is the concordance of the Hadith with the Quran. If the Quran says one thing and the Hadith say something contradictory, then the Hadith is considered void without any further regard. These are but the basic ground rules for affirming or infirming Hadith, yet this domain is way more precise than a few lines written in English. There are people who have dedicate their lives to this knowledge; past and present. As it goes for the past, the soundest book of Hadith is the books of Imam Al-Bukhari. Only verified, cross-checked, peer-reviewed Hadith are present. This does not mean that all the authentic Hadith are present in them; just that all of the 2600 Hadith (7563 with repetition) that are within them have passed this rigorous validation.