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Prophetic Sunnah and the Orientalists

The primary focus of this article is to elaborate on the allegations that Orientalists have made against the Prophetic Sunnah. This includes topics like Hadith Codification, Hadith Narrators, Chains of Narrators, and Subjects of Narration.

As  aftermath of the Crusades, Christian churches and European monarchs acknowledged that the devastation of Islamic values and norms through war was impossible and unattainable. The invasions of Muslims in Spain terrified Christian majorities. As a response, they made massive efforts to repress and suppress Muslims. However, Salah al-Din Yusuf Ibn Ayyub stood against European oppression, leading them to research the Holy Quran, Prophetic Sunnah, Islamic History, etc., rather than engaging in the study of language, literature, culture, history, and religion of the East; this phenomenon is known as Orientalism. They conducted their research, often with bias. Many of them were Christians and Jews attempting to spread falsehoods and misunderstandings about Islamic norms and values. On the other hand, Muslim scholars also reacted against Orientalist activities. Figures like Musthafa Assibai, Hasan Hab, Mazin Miqta, Umar Farrukh, Muhammed Twahir al-Jawabi, and Mahmud Hamdi Saqq responded to Orientalist claims in their respective fields. Today, books by Muslim scholars exist as responses to Orientalist allegations in areas like the Holy Quran, Prophetic Sunnah, Islamic History, Jurisprudence (Fiqh), and Sufism (Tasawuf).

The primary focus of this article is to elaborate on the allegations that Orientalists have made against the Prophetic Sunnah. This includes topics like Hadith Codification, Hadith Narrators, Chains of Narrators, and Subjects of Narration.

The Quran and Hadith are the two fundamental texts of Islam. Orientalists attempted to create confusion and doubt around these foundational elements to undermine Islam. They conducted extensive studies, such as Hungarian Jewish Orientalist Goldzihr's works like "Muhammadan Studies" and "Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law," Joseph Shakh's "Origins of Muhammadan Jurisdiction," and A.J. Wentzink's criticisms of Hadith. Influenced by Orientalist ideas, figures like Ahmad Amin ("Muhl Islam" and "Fajrul Islam") and Mahmud Abu Rayya wrote against Hadith. Despite their efforts, they could not undermine the teachings of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). Muslim Scholars strongly opposed these reactionary activities, as evident in works like "Dirasan fil Hadithinnabawi Tariqu Tadwinihi" by Mustafa Alami, "Al Hadisu Wal Muhaddisan" by Muhammad Abu Sahwi, and "Abu Hurairah Rawiyatul Islam" by Muhammad Ajjaj Al-kithab. These books address the accusations against Hadith and provide detailed responses. The following are just a few examples that shed light on Orientalist methods.


Western Scholar and Orientalist Leon Kani expressed that Sanads were rewritten in the second and third centuries. According to him, the method of reciting Sanad did not exist until the time of Abdul Malik Ibn Marwan. Most of the Sanad seen today were compiled by Hadith scholars in the second and third centuries.

Other Orientalists have expressed similar opinions. Besides Hadith Sanad, there have been more accusations regarding the content. Orientalists claim that Muslim scholars mainly attempted to correct the Sanad. If a Hadith was narrated by trustworthy individuals, it was accepted without dispute. Consequently, many contradictory and illogical Hadiths were fabricated and accepted. Chains of narrators were often constructed to validate implausible and untrue Hadiths based on the credibility of honest individuals. Consider the following Orientalist quotations:

Goldzhir proclaims: “After the death of the Prophet (PBUH), many changes occurred within the Muslim community. Hadith narrations were altered as desired. The authenticity of Hadith explaining the five pillars of Islam is questionable.”
Wetzink asserts that “The Shia dynasty altered many Hadiths during the Umayyad era.” However, this argument can be refuted, as they tended to favour only weak Sanads and Mathn that supported their subjective views.
Wetzink, a prominent Orientalist researcher on Hadith, selectively referenced rare and contradicting Hadiths to support their arguments.


Another area of Hadith study that Orientalists have focused on is the Hadith narrators. They have undertaken this effort with the mistaken belief that casting doubts on prominent Hadith narrators could undermine the foundations of Hadith.

Abu Hurairah, a Companion of the Prophet (PBUH), and Imam Ibn Shihab Assi from the Tabi's are among the most criticized. This criticism was led by the Jewish Orientalist Goldzihr. The primary reason for criticizing Abu Huraira is that he reported the most Hadiths among the Sahaba.

On the other hand, Imam Zuhri, who officially began the codification of Hadith on the instructions of Umar Abdul Aziz, is held in high regard. He is unanimously respected among Muslim scholars, with Imam Malik stating, “When Imam Zuhri arrived in Madinah, no scholars would narrate Hadiths until he left.” Among his students, Ibn Shihab is prominent. One of the most significant chains of narrators traces back through Salim and Salim's father, Abdullah ibn Umar. Numerous prominent Hadith scholars have cited Hadiths from Imam Zuhri without opposing him.

However, Goldziher was the first to cast doubt on him. Goldziher's main allegation against Imam Zuhri is his relationship with the Umayyads. It is improbable that a scholar like Imam Zuhri would fabricate Hadiths for them based solely on this relationship. If he had such intentions, why did later scholars not dispute them? Goldziher himself acknowledges that severe attacks took place during the Umayyad era. Then why did his mentor, Saeed ibn al-Musayyab, not challenge Imam Zuhri's association with the Umayyads? Why did Imam Malik, who agreed with him, cite Hadiths from him? It's plausible that they remained silent due to fear of the Umayyad rulers. Additionally, scholars like Imam Ahmad, Imam Bukhari, Imam Muslim, and others from that time praised him.


Some Western-educated Muslim scholars embraced Orientalist arguments more strongly. Influenced by Orientalist ideas, they incorporated these notions into their books and teachings, presenting them as significant academic discoveries. Figures like Mahmud Abu Raya, Muhammad Amin, Twaha Hussain, and others have prominent roles in this trend. They advocate for accepting only the Quran and have even come up against Hadith with false arguments. The truth is that some of them were misled by Orientalist references, leading them astray from the Islamic perspective. Therefore, it is crucial to critically assess their sources.

In conclusion, there exists a laundry list of misunderstandings and falsehoods about Islamic norms and values. The pursuit of Orientalist research knows no bounds. They will continue their efforts to undermine Islamic values and erase them from human consciousness. It is our responsibility to deepen our understanding of Islam and remain vigilant against Orientalist accusations related to the Quran, Hadith, Islamic History, and more


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