The hadith and the Qur’an


I recently had the pleasure of hearing Asma Barlas speak, which was amazing. She’s one of the first people I read when I started reading about Islamic feminism, and her book Believing Women in Islam had a huge effect on me. What I found especially interesting about her talk was what she said about the hadith. Usually when critical Islamic thinkers speak or write, they tend to either ignore the hadith or approach it in a very all-or-nothing way (which usually means rejecting all the hadith). 

Asma on the other hand argued that the hadith shouldn’t be completely rejected, but rather that they should be interpreted through the Qur’an. In other words, the Qur’an should act as a filter through which we approach the hadith. If the Qur’an says one thing and there is a hadith that contradicts this, why would we take the hadith as more authoritative? Many Islamic scholars today seem to be doing the opposite of what Barlas advocates – reading the Qur’an through the hadith. This places the hadith either alongside the Qur’an, or above it, which is a problematic view.

Barlas’ approach is very useful, because it combines both the Qur’an and hadith, but with the Qur’an as the ultimate word of God. The only thing is that it will always depend on how you interpret the Qur’an. If you see it as a gender equal text, then you will filter the hadith that way. But this is inescapable – we all read and interpret the Qur’an from our own subjectivities. 


I spent the last week in Madinah and Makkah doing Umrah, which was an extremely beautiful experience that I will blog about as soon as I’ve settled back into daily life. I just wanted to share a quick story with you, based on my experience of Friday’s khutba at the Masjid al Haram in Makkah.

The khutba was given by Abdel Rahman al Sudais, who is one of the most famous imams in the world, and one of the imams of the Masjid al Haram. In the khutba he discussed corruption, and ended by talking about what was happening in Syria. What struck me was that during the khutba he began crying several times. Once or twice he even had to stop speaking because he was so overwhelmed. It made me think about dominant forms of masculinity in Islamic and Arab communities, and how strange it is to hear a man cry over – well – anything. 

Yet here was one of the most influential Islamic men in the world, openly crying in front of hundreds of thousands. It’s interesting that in dominant representations of Islamic masculinity  we would never hear about instances like these, that show the humility and emotion experienced by men, especially in the presence of God or extreme suffering such as in Syria. 

Right after the khutba my dad made a comment about how emotional al Sudais had been, and seemed very impressed by it. The Prophet himself is said to have been emotional and to have cried very often. So why is it so taboo in our communities? Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate how we view masculinity in Islam?

Certainty and conviction

What is the difference between certainty and conviction? Conviction is indirect and belongs to the mind, being the result of purely mental processes such as argument. But certainty, being always direct, can be the result of sensory perception; hearing or touch or sight can give certainty. But in it’s spiritual sense, when it has for object the Transcendent, certainty is the result of Heart-knowledge. Failing this knowledge in its fullest sense, those elements which are nearest the Heart at the summit of the soul must also be considered as faculties of direct perception, albeit in a fragmentary way; and through the light which these faculties of intuition receive in virtue of the transparency of the barrier, a soul may claim to be possessed of a faith which is no less than certainty.

– Martin Lings

The need for religion

The words their hearts grow pliant can be glossed ‘their hearts grow less hard.’ The barrier in question may be spoken of as hardness of the heart or rust on the heart or clouds over the Moon or as a dragon that guards access to the Fountain of Life. If it were not for this barrier, there would be no need for religion in the ordinary sense, for Revelation could come directly to each man in his Heart which would then refract the Message to the mind and to the rest of the psychic substance. There would thus be a perpetual flow and ebb between the Self and the self. But as things are, a special Messenger has to be sent that he may transmit to others what his Heart receives.

– Martin Lings

Becoming a Sufi

If it be asked what qualification is necessary for entry into a Sufi order, or what is it that impels anyone to seek initiation, the answer will be that the clouds in the night of the soul must be thin enough to allow at least some glimmer of Heart-light to penetrate the gloom.

A Shaykh of this century, when asked how it was that would-be novices came to him although his disciples made no attempt to proselytize, replied that they came because they were “haunted by the thought of God.” In other words, they came because the clouds were not thick enough to keep out the awareness of spiritual reality.

– Martin Lings

Sufism and labeling

Today Sufism is a name without a reality. It was once a reality without a name. In the time of the Prophet, this name did not exist, but its reality was inside of everyone. Now the name exists without the reality. In the first 3 generations of Islam mysticism was too general too have a special name. But when worldliness spread and men tended to become more and more bound up with the ties of this life, those who dedicated themselves to the worship of God were distinguished from the rest by the title of Sufis.

– Martin Lings

The Qur’an

The Qur’an is a flow and a ebb – it flows to them from God and its verses are miraculous signs which will take them back to God.

On one occasion, when returning from a battle, the Prophet said: ‘We have come back from the lesser Holy War to the Greater Holy War.’

By this he meant the war against the soul.

On Sufism

From time to time a Revelation “flows” like a great tidal wave from the Ocean of Infinitude to the shores of our finite world; and Sufism is the vocation and the discipline and the science of plunging into the ebb of one of these waves and being drawn back with it to its Eternal and Infinite Source.

There is only one water, but no two Revelations are outwardly the same. Each wave has its own characteristics according to its destination, that is, the particular needs of time and place towards which and in response to which it had providentially been made to flow.

The vast majority of believers are concerned with the water which the wave deposits in the cavities and hollows in the path of the wave, which the wave deposits in these receptacles and which constitutes the formal aspect of the religion.

Mystics on the other hand are by definition concerned above all with the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven and therefore the mystic is the one who is consequently more preoccupied by the ebbing wave than by the water which it has left behind.

The full-grown Sufi is conscious of being, like other men, a prisoner of the world of forms, but unlike them he is also conscious of being free, with a freedom which immeasurably outweighs his imprisonment. He may therefore be said to have two centers of consciousness, one human and one Divine, and he may speak now from one and now from the other, which accounts for certain apparent contradictions.

Different stages

Know that man’s essence, in his original condition, is created in blank simplicity without any information about the world’s of God. Man gets his information about the world’s by means of perception. Man is created with the sense of touch, of sight, of sense, of hearing, of taste, and of intellect.

Beyond the state of intellect there is another stage. In this stage another eye is opened, by which man sees the hidden, and what will take place in the future, and other things, from which the intellect is as far removed as the power of discernment is from the perception of intelligibles and the power of sensation is from things perceived by discernment.

The very essence of ignorance is for a man to have no supporting reason except that it is a stage he himself has not attained and for him it does not exist; so he supposed that it does not exist in itself.

Now if a man born blind did not know about colors and shapes from constant report and hearsay, and were to be told about them abruptly, he would either understand them nor acknowledge their existence. But God has brought the matter within the purview of His creatures by giving them a sample of the special character of the prophetic power: sleeping. For the sleeper perceives the unknown that will take place, either plainly, or in the guise of an image the meaning if which is disclosed by interpretation.

If a man had no personal experience of dreaming and someone were to tell him: “There are some men who fall down unconscious as though they were dead, and their perception, hearing, and sight leave them, and they then perceive what is “hidden,” he would deny it and give apodeictic proof of its impossibility by saying: “The sensory powers are the causes of perception. Therefore one who does not perceive such things when his powers are present and functioning a fortiori will not perceive them when his powers are suspended.”

Just as the intellect is one of man’s stages in which he receives an “eye” by which he “sees” various species of intelligibles from which the senses are far removed, the prophetic power is an expression signifying a stage in which man receives an “eye” possessed of a light, and in its light the unknown and other phenomena not normally perceived by the intellect became visible.

– al Ghazali
In “Al Ghazali’s path to Sufism”