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Books Section > Testimony of the Holy Quran > Reliability of Hadith


Chapter 1:
Reliability of Hadith:

Links present on this page:
|| Introduction || Details of Religion Found only in Hadith || Hadith as Source of Islamic History || Hadith must be Accepted unless Contradicted by the Quran || Hadith only Traces Origin of Prevailing Practice || Prevailing Practice Provides Strong Evidence || Prophecy about Promised Messiah in Hadith || Other Related Prophecies Fulfilled || Hadith Prophecies about Islam || Fulfilment of Worldly Aspect of Prophecies ||


Taking the first of these three points, it should be made plain that no one in the world can dispute that the Hadith contains the clearest prophecy about the Promised Messiah. In fact, almost all Muslims agree that, according to Hadith, there will certainly come a man whose name will be Jesus, son of Mary. This prophecy is to be found in such abundance in collections of Hadith, for instance, Bukhari, Muslim and Tirmidhi, as to satisfy the mind of a just person, and one is compelled to accept the common factor that a Promised Messiah is to arise. It is true that most of these traditions individually are not above the rank of isolated reports [ahad] [Note 1]. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that, looking collectively at all these reports which have been recorded through diverse channels, it is proved definitely and certainly that the Holy Prophet, may peace and the blessings of God be upon him, did indeed foretell the coming of the Promised Messiah.

To these traditions in the hands of the ahl as-Sunna, if we add the traditions relied upon by other sects of Islam, for example the Shiah, this further shows the strength and weight of repetition. And when hundreds of books of the Sufis are studied, they give the same testimony. After this, when we study external sources, i.e. Christian works, the same news is also found there, and along with this the verdict of Jesus concerning the descent of Elijah from heaven makes it appear from the Gospels that such prophecies are not meant literally. This report of the coming of the Promised Messiah is found to prevail so widely in every age that it would be the height of ignorance to reject its repetitive currency. I say truly that if all the books of Islam through which this prophecy has been progressively published, are arranged according to century and put together, they would not number less than a thousand. It is, however, difficult to make a person comprehend this who is ignorant of Islamic literature. In fact, people raising such objections are so ignorant, due to their misfortune, that they cannot discern that a certain matter is supported by strong and weighty evidence. So the objector, having heard from somewhere that most reports of Hadith are of the isolated type [ahad], has promptly concluded that all the accepted Islamic sources, except the Holy Quran, are unfounded and dubious, not being conclusive or certain at all.

Details of Religion Found only in Hadith:

This belief, however, is a very great misconception, the first effect of which is to destroy one’s faith. For, if it is true that all the records of the Muslims, other than the Holy Quran, are just a collection of falsehood, lies, fabrication, conjectures and uncertainties, then very little would remain of Islam. The reason is that we learn all the details of our religion from the traditions of the Holy Prophet. For instance, the prayer which we perform five times daily, although the obligation to do it is proved from the Holy Quran, but from where is it learnt that the morning prayer has two raka‘hs as fard. and two as sunna, the mid-day prayer has four raka‘hs as fard. and four and two as sunna, the sunset prayer has three raka‘hs as fard., and the late evening prayer has four fard.? Similarly, for details of the Zakat, we are entirely dependent on Hadith reports. The same is the case with thousands of details, concerning matters such as worship, worldly dealings etc., which are so commonly known that to cite them would be to waste time and prolong the discussion.

Hadith as Source of Islamic History:

Besides this, the Hadith is the source of the history of Islam. If we do not consider its reports to be reliable, we cannot believe with certainty that Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali -- may God be pleased with them -- were Companions of the Holy Prophet, who succeeded him in this order, and also died in this order. If Hadith is considered unreliable, then there is no evidence to definitely believe that these holy personages existed. It would be possible, in that case, that all these names were fictitious, and in fact there had not been an Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman or Ali, because according to Mr Ata Muhammad, the objector, all these traditions are isolated, and these names are not given in the Holy Quran. So according to this principle, they cannot be accepted as authentic. Similarly, the Holy Prophet Muhammad’s father having the name Abdullah, his mother having the name Amina, and his grandfather having the name Abdul Muttalib; one of his wives being called Khadija, one Aishah and one Hafsa, and his wet-nurse being called Halima; the Holy Prophet’s withdrawing to the cave of Hira for worship, the emigration of some of his Companions to Abyssinia, his staying in Makka for ten years after the Call, and then all those battles no mention of which is to be found in the Holy Quran -- all these facts are known only from Hadith. Should all of these be denied on the grounds that Hadith is not reliable? If this is true, Muslims would not be able to give any details of the life of the Holy Prophet, may peace and the blessings of God be upon him.

One should consider this, that the entire sequence of the life of our leader and master: how he lived in Makka before the Call, the year in which he began to preach, the order in which the early converts joined Islam, the various kinds of persecution to which the disbelievers of Makka subjected him for ten years, the causes and the extent of the early battles, the battles in which the Holy Prophet himself took part, the lands to which the rule of Islam had extended by the time he died, whether he sent epistles to the neighbouring monarches inviting them to Islam, and if so, what was the result; then the conquests of Islam in the time of Abu Bakr after the Holy Prophet’s death, the difficulties faced, the lands conquered during the time of Umar -- all these events are known only through the traditions of the Holy Prophet and the sayings of his Companions. If Hadith is of no value, it would not only be difficult, but well-nigh impossible, to ascertain the happenings of those times. In that case, the opponents would have the opportunity to forge every sort of falsehood about the events of the time of the Holy Prophet and his Companions, and we would be giving them a great chance to extend their attacks. We would have to concede that the events and life stories discovered from Hadith are all valueless and unreal, so much so that even the names of the Companions cannot be accepted with certainty.

Hadith must be Accepted unless Contradicted by the Quran:

To believe, therefore, that no conclusive and authentic information can be found through Hadith, is to destroy much of Islam with one’s own hands. The true and correct position is that whatever has come through Hadith, unless contradicted by the Holy Quran in plain and clear words, must be accepted. For it is acknowledged that man by nature tells the truth, and resorts to falsehood only on account of some compulsion because it is not in his nature to do so. Then, as regards the Hadith reports which, by manifesting themselves in the form of prevailing beliefs and practices, have become the distinctive signs of the various sects of Islam, to dispute their firm authenticity and repeated occurrence is, in fact, a kind of insanity and madness. For instance, would a person today be right to argue that the number of raka‘hs of the five daily prayers which the Muslims pray is a matter of uncertainty because there is no verse in the Holy Quran saying, for example, that one must pray two raka‘hs in the morning, and two for the Friday prayer and also the ‘Id prayers, and the Hadith reports are mostly of the isolated type, not guaranteeing certainty? If such a view of Hadith is accepted, prayer is the first thing we lose, since the Holy Quran has not illustrated the form of prayer, and it is only by relying on the authenticity of Hadith that prayers can be performed.

If the opponents (of Islam) were to object that the Holy Quran does not teach the mode of prayer, and that the form which the Muslims have adopted must be rejected because Hadith reports cannot be relied upon, how would we answer this objection if we ourselves held the position that Hadith is worthless? We would have to concede the objection. In that case, the funeral prayers of Islam would also be baseless because the Quran nowhere speaks of a prayer having no bowing down or prostration. So consider and see what remains of Islam by rejecting Hadith.

Hadith only Traces Origin of Prevailing Practice:

It is just a result of lack of reflection to think that the basis of Hadith reports is merely that a statement made by one or two persons is taken to be reliable, and therefore the narration is believed to be a saying of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace and the blessings of God be upon him. The fact is that the system of Hadith is an off-shoot of the system of prevailing practice and custom, and was developed a posteriori. To illustrate by example, the compilers of Hadith saw that millions of people prayed three raka‘hs fard. during the sunset prayer and two during the morning prayer. Besides this, in every raka‘h they recited the Fatiha, uttered Amin, whether loudly or silently, said the at-tahiyyat in the last sitting posture, followed by the Darud and other supplications, and ended the prayer by uttering the salam towards both sides. Seeing this form of worship, the compilers of Hadith became interested in factually tracing the form of prayer back to the Holy Prophet Muhammad and to establish it from authentic, highly reliable, and uninterrupted lines of reporting. Now, although it is true that in order to collect this matter they did not try to discover one thousand or two thousand sequences of narrators for every single saying, but is it the case that it was the compilers who laid the basis of the prayer, and that before them there was no prayer in the world, and people were utterly unaware of it, and that it was only many centuries later (after the Holy Prophet’s time) that the prayer came into being on the basis of one or two Hadith reports? So I stress that it is a serious misconception to think that the proof of the movements and the manner of prayer was merely these few reports which, apparently, do not amount to more than isolated sayings. If this were true, then first of all the basic practices of Islam would be dealt a serious, fatal blow which should be a matter of the highest concern for every self-respecting person calling himself a Muslim. But it is to be remembered that this view (of Hadith) is held only by those people who have never woken up to consider how it is that the history, practices, and acts of worship of Islam came to reach the high level of matters of certainty.

Prevailing Practice Provides Strong Evidence:

Let it be clear that, in order to acquire this certainty, the unanimous practice of the nation is a very satisfactory means of proof. For instance, suppose that the Hadith reports showing the number of raka‘hs in the morning or the sunset prayers are just two sayings, and are no stronger than isolated; the question is: were people not performing their prayers before this research and investigation was undertaken? Were prayers instituted after the reports were researched and their narrators were discovered? On the contrary, millions of people used to say their prayers in the customary manner. Even if we suppose that the whole system of reports and their authorities had not existed, nonetheless the prevailing practice of the Muslim nation would still have proved, definitely and conclusively, that the Islamic teachings about prayer had been constantly the same from age to age and generation to generation. It is true, however, that the tracing of the highly-reliable, continuous transmission of Hadith reports made this light still more splendid.

Hence, if Hadith reports are considered from this principle, it would be a serious error to apply the term ahad [isolated] to the greater part of them, which is supported by prevailing practice. In fact, this is a grevious mistake which has driven the rationalists among the present day Muslims very far from the truth of Islam. They think that all the practices, customs, acts of worship, and biographical and historical details of Islam, in support of which Hadith is cited, are based on just a few reports. This is a clear error of theirs; nay, the system of practices which was established by our Holy Prophet himself spread among millions of people, so much so that it would have suffered no loss even if the compilers of Hadith had not existed in the world at all. Everyone has to acknowledge the fact that this holy Teacher and holy Messenger, may peace and the blessings of God be upon him, did not keep his teachings confined so as to instruct only a couple of people and keep the rest in the dark. Had that been the case, Islam would have become so distorted that no compiler of Hadith could have put it right.

Although the pioneers of Hadith recorded thousands of reports regarding religious teachings, the question is: which was the report that had not been acted upon before they came to write it down, and of the contents of which the world was unaware? If there were any teaching or event or belief the foundation of which was laid by the pioneering compilers of Hadith on the basis of some report, there being no trace of it in the prevalent practice followed by millions of people, nor any mention of it in the Holy Quran, then there is no doubt that such a report, which was even discovered one and a half centuries later, is far below the level of certainty, and whatever might be said as to its unsatisfactory nature would be quite fitting. However, such reports really have nothing much to do with the teachings and history of Islam, and if you think about it, the compilers of Hadith have made little mention of reports of which no trace is to be found in prevalent practice. Hence it is not true, as some ignorant people believe, that the world came to learn of hundreds of essential teachings of the faith, even prayer and fasting, from the Hadith reports compiled by Imam Bukhari, Muslim and others. Were people living without practising the faith for 150 years? Did they not pray, give Zakat, or perform the Hajj? Were they ignorant of the creed of Islam which is recorded in Hadith? Most certainly not. He who thinks so, shows astonishing stupidity.

Then, again, since Islam was flourishing as much before the age of Bukhari, Muslim and other compilers of Hadith, as after their writings, how insolent and foolish it is to hold the view, in an authoritative fashion, that only through the compilation of traditions in the second century (of the Muslim era) did that part of Islam develop and prosper which in the present day is known as Hadith. And it is really to be regretted that, to say nothing of the critics, even the adherents of our religion -- the ignorant ones -- suffer from this misconception. They believe that, after a long time, merely on the basis of the compiled reports of Hadith were people made to accept many beliefs of Islam, having been completely unaware of these teachings prior to the recording of these reports. But the truth, which is quite evident, is that if the compilers of Hadith have put people under a debt of gratitude, it is only to the extent that as regards those matters which, from the very beginning, had been accepted by all in the form of prevailing practice, they investigated and searched for the authorities of their reporting and showed that the beliefs and the practices followed by the Muslims in their times were not novelties that had become mixed up with Islam just then, but were precisely the teachings that the Holy Prophet had imparted to his Companions by word and deed.

It is regrettable that, by misunderstanding the actual fact, people of little wisdom have made a major error due to which they look upon Hadith with much detestation. Although it is true that that part of Hadith which is not to be found expressed in prevailing beliefs and practices, nor supported by the Holy Quran, cannot be accepted with the fullest certainty, yet the other part, which is manifested in practice and which millions of people from the beginning have guarded by their practical conduct, and upon which they have been established, cannot be called dubious or uncertain. The continuing practice of an entire world, openly known to be traceable back from son to father, father to grandfather, and grandfather to great grandfather, the signs of which could be followed all the way back to the original source, cannot leave the slightest doubt, and there remains no option but to consider such continuing tradition as of the highest degree of authenticity. Then, considering that the compilers of Hadith established another system alongside the prevailing practice, tracing the authority for this practice back to the Holy Prophet Muhammad through channels of truthful and reliable reporters, to still raise criticism is really the work of those who have no share of the light of faith or human reason.

Prophecy about Promised Messiah in Hadith:

After this introduction, it should also be made clear that the prophecy about the Promised Messiah contained in Hadith is not such that the compilers of Hadith wrote it down merely on the basis of a few reports. On the contrary, it is a proven fact that this prophecy, in terms of a belief, had been a part of the very life-blood of the Muslims from the beginning. It is as if there were as many testimonies to the authenticity of this prophecy as there were Muslims on the earth at that time, because they had been recalling it from the beginning as a belief. If compilers of Hadith such as Imam Bukhari have discovered anything about this prophecy by their own researches, it is only this, that finding it to be widely known and upon the tongues of millions of Muslims, they, in accordance with their method, traced and established the authorities of the reports on which this prevalent belief of the Muslims was based. And from authentic, highly reliable, and continuously transmitted traditions, a whole mass of which is to be found in their books, they showed the authorities on which these are based. Besides this, one cannot find any reason, if these traditions are -- God forbid -- fabricated, as to why Muslims should have made this fabrication and agreed upon it, nor can one see any compulsion which forced them to do so.

Other Related Prophecies Fulfilled:

Then, when we see that there are in addition plenty of Hadith reports containing the prophecy that, in the latter days, the ulama of this nation will become like the Jews (of Jesus’ time), losing righteousness, fear of God and inner purity, and in that age the religion of the cross will become dominant, the rule and dominion of the Christian faith spreading to almost the whole world, this provides further strong evidence on the authenticity of these traditions. For there is no doubt that this prophecy has been fulfilled in this age, our ulama of this time having in reality become like the Jews, and the dominion and government of the Christians having spread to the whole world in a manner without parallel in previous times.

Given that one aspect of this prophecy has been fulfilled in a clear, explicit and evident manner, what doubt can there be in the truth of the other part? It is acknowledged by every rational person that if, for instance, a hadith is of the isolated type, and moreover is not part of practice and custom, but consists of a prophecy which is fulfilled at the due time, wholly or partly, then no doubt will remain regarding the authenticity of the hadith. For example, there is no doubt that the hadith about "fire in the Hijaz" to be found in Bukhari and Muslim is an isolated report, but that prophecy was fulfilled after about 600 years in an exact manner, which is admitted even by the Europeans, and it came true at a time when centuries had passed since the compilation and publication of those books. Can we now hold the view that because such reports are isolated they cannot be accepted as authentic with certainty? When the truth of these has become manifest, such a view would be stupidity of the worst and most detestable type.

Similarly, consider that the prophecy about the Promised Messiah also says, in some places directly and in other places indirectly, that he will come in such an age when the power and rule of the Christians will have spread to the whole of the earth, the railway train will have been introduced, most of the earth will be under cultivation, people will be much involved in agriculture so that bulls will become very costly, there will be an abundance of canals on the earth, and it would be an age of peace in worldly terms. Accordingly, we see that this prophecy has been fulfilled in our time, for the star of Christian rule has reached such an ascendance that other governments and states amount to nothing in comparison, and we have also seen the railway train, the canals, and the spread of agriculture. Now consider if this prophecy does not contain that knowledge of the unseen which is beyond the ken of man. Could the decline of Islam be known to anyone at a time when its sword was falling upon the disbelievers like lightening? Can any human be such a master of the unseen as to disclose the news of a new form of transport which did not exist before? Raise your eyes, look, and ponder deeply, whether this prediction is not one of those great prophecies the signifiance and manifestation of which is only encompassed by Divine knowledge, and which cannot be confused with the work of man and the weak plans of mortals.

Hadith Prophecies about Islam:

It should be made clear that these prophecies form a wonderful system, and studded with the jewels of subtle knowledge, fine points and hidden matters, they have been conveyed in an eloquent scheme and orderly arrangement of the highest degree, to the great glory of which man cannot make an approach. For instance, those prophecies are given first which refer to the period of the rise of Islam [Note 2]. In connection with these prophecies it is said that the Chosroes will be destroyed and no Chosroes will arise after him, and the Caesar will perish and no Caesar will arise after him. Islam will progress and spread, and it will enter every nation. Then it is stated that a latter age shall come upon the Muslim nation when its ulama will become like the Jews, losing all righteousness and fear of God. Their faith will consist of false judgments, deception and scheming, and they will be engrossed in worldly greed. Such a strong likeness will they develop to the Jews (of Jesus’ time) that if one of the latter had committed incest with his mother, they would do so as well.

In the same age, the Christians will spread throughout the world and dominate other peoples. Love of true faith will grow cold in the hearts. Deadly evil winds will blow, putting Islam in a constant series of unending dangers. Then will disasters come, and calamities multiply. Muslims will lose goodness from their hearts, and it would be better for a man to live in isolation, surviving on goat’s milk, than to be associated with the Muslim community.

Then it is said that when you see this state of affairs, you should leave all these parties and bite the roots of a tree till the end of your life. In the same connection is then given the news of the advent of the Promised Messiah, and it is prophesied that at his hands will the Christian religion come to an end. It is said that he will "break the cross", not that he will crush their government. This was to refer to the fact that the Promised Messiah’s dominion shall be spiritual, and he will have nothing to do with the governments of the world. On the contrary, he will fight with the power of his blessings, and enter the field of battle with his superhuman signs as weapons, till he breaks the splendour and greatness of the cross and exposes the unholy and profane doctrines of Christianity. For, his light, shining like a sword, will fall like lightening upon the darkness of unbelief till seekers-after-truth come to realise that the Living God is with Islam.

All these prophecies in Hadith are flowing like a river, and are so inter-connected that to deny one implies the denial of another, and to accept one implies the acceptance of another. Then again, who can cast doubt on such constant, orderly, definite and coherent prophecies, other than someone who is more deranged than a lunatic? Can a sensible person suggest even for a moment that these thousands of prophecies disclosing extraordinary matters are merely the fabrication of man? The fact is that these orderly, systematic, and grand prophecies cannot be denied, for their denial amounts to an enormous revolution and changing a whole world.

Fulfilment of Worldly Aspect of Prophecies:

Besides this, these prophecies contain a great sign of their authenticity, namely, that whatever is recorded in them regarding worldly revolutions, though it appeared impossible, all of it has come to pass. From the commencement of the thirteenth century Hijra [Note 3] all the internal and external troubles began to develop, till by the end of the century religion and Islamic glory and rule was finished, and such disasters befell both the religion and the worldly condition of the Muslims that it was as if their world had changed. Keeping these catastrophies in view, if we look at the prophecies recorded by Imam Bukhari and Muslim etc. nearly eleven centuries before, at a time when the sun of Islam was at noon, when the beauty of its internal condition was the envy of (the proverbially handsome prophet) Joseph, and the glory of its external condition was putting Alexander the great himself to shame, the thought of the perfect, holy revelation of our honourable Prophet, and his greatness, glory and spiritual power, brings us to spiritual ecstasy and we shed tears spontaneously. Glory be to God! what a light he was, to whom it was disclosed thirteen centuries ago, how his following would progress in the beginning, how it would advance miraculously, how it would fall suddenly in the latter days, and how in a few centuries the Christian domination of the world would be complete.

It is to be remembered that regarding the same age, in connection with the Promised Messiah, the Holy Prophet has also given the news, recorded in Sahiih Muslim in the words: la-yutra-kanna 'l-qilasu fa-la yus‘a ‘alai-ha. That is to say, in the time of the Promised Messiah, travel by camel will cease, so that no one will ride them at fast pace. This is a reference to the railway train, by the introduction of which no need will remain to make camels run. The camel has been spoken of because it is the largest animal used for transport by the Arabs, upon which they could travel with all the contents of their small homes. And the mention of the largest includes smaller things by implication. Thus the meaning was that in that age a form of transport would emerge which would surpass even the camel, and as you see after the invention of the railway all the work which camels used to do is now being done by trains. Could a prophecy be clearer and more manifest than this! The Holy Quran has also given news of this age, as it says:

i.e. the latter days are those "when camels will be abandoned" (81:4). This, too, is a clear reference to the railway train, and so the hadith given above and this verse contain the same prophecy. And as the hadith plainly makes this statement in connection with the Promised Messiah, it must certainly be concluded from this that this verse is also speaking of the time of the Promised Messiah and making an implicit reference to him. However, despite these clear verses which are shining like the sun, people have doubts about these prophecies. Fair-minded persons can judge whether it is anything but folly to doubt those prophecies the hidden matters disclosed by which have been seen to be fulfilled in front of one’s eyes.

I am sure that what I have written here regarding the prophecy about the Promised Messiah contained in Hadith is sufficient to satisfy the person who, after finding the truth, would not wish to continue unjust opposition. I have not quoted here the actual texts of the Hadith reports, nor given a summary of them all, for these are well-known and on the lips of the masses, so much so that even young school children in villages are familiar with them. Had I quoted all the Hadith reports regarding this issue in this brief booklet, I could have written ten volumes and still not be finished. However, I draw the attention of the readers to studying the original Sihah Sitta [Note 4] or their translations carefully to see the great frequency and intensity of expression with which these traditions occur.

Translator's Notes:

Translator's Note 1: Ahad is a technical term in the study of Hadith, and refers to those reports which are narrated on the authority of only one Companion of the Holy Prophet. [Go to text]

Translator's Note 2: The reference is to the overthrow of the Sasanid (Persian) and the Byzantine (Roman) empires by Muslim conquest; Chosroes and Caesar being, respectively, titles of the heads of these empires. The hadith report referred to may be found in Mishkat al-Masabih , Book of Fitan, chapter II, section I. [Go to text]

Translator's Note 3: The 13th century Hijra began about the year 1786 C.E. [Go to text]

Translator's Note 4: Sihah Sitta means the six reliable books, and is the term applied to the six collections of Hadith recognised as authentic by the Sunni Muslims. These are as follows: Bukhari , Muslim, Tirmidhi , Nasa'i , Abu Dawud, and Ibn Maja. [Go to text]





Promised Messiah in the Holy Quran

Books Section > Testimony of the Holy Quran > Reliability of Hadith


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