What do you think?

Fatima Mernissi, one of the most famous female Islamic scholars, once wrote about an infamous hadith (Prophetic tradition) and how it has come to define the way we think of women and authority:

Those who entrust their affairs to a woman will never know prosperity.

I’m sure many of you have heard this hadith as it is one of the better-known ones. Mernissi tried to find out whether it was really authentic or not, even though it is in Sahih Bukhari’s collection.

It was narrated by someone named Abu Bakra, and to cut a very long story short, she comes up with the following historical facts:

  • She gives a detailed historical overview that shows that Abu Bakra had a lot of reason to say something like this, since he had just refused to fight for Aisha.
  • Abu Bakra came up with other opportunistic hadith at very convenient moments.
  • He was convicted of and flogged for false testimony by the Caliph ‘Umar (which should have disqualified him from hadith narration since hadith scholars and collectors had VERY strict codes on who could narrate, and if one’s reputation had suffered, then he was automatically disqualified).
  • Even after Bukhari included this hadith in his collection, it was highly debated by many scholars. Tabari, for example, did not see it as sound enough to disqualify women from education or politics.

Moving on to Abu Hurayra, one of the famous hadith narrators.  It’s hilarious reading Mernissi’saccount of him, since she obviously doesn’t like him much 😀 One of his hadith:

“The Prophet said that the dog, the ass, and woman interrupt prayer if they pass in front of the believer, interposing themselves between him and the qibla (direction of Makkah).”

Aisha’s response:

“You compare us now to asses and dogs. In the name of God, I have seen the Prophet saying his prayers while I was there, lying on the bed between him and the qibla. And in order not to disturb him, I didn’t move.”

Interestingly, Bukhari did NOT include Aisha’s version in his collection – even though he usually includes all the conflicting hadith.

Another encounter between them:

Aisha:

“Abu Hurayra, you relate hadith that you never heard.”

Abu Hurayra:

“O Mother, all I did was collect hadith, while you were too busy with make-up and your mirror.”

Interesting!

Another hadith Abu Hurayra narrated, “he whom the dawn finds sullied (referring to sullying by the sex act) may not fast”, was refuted by both Aisha AND Umm Salama, who both said the Prophet would spend the night sullied without making any ritual purification, and would then fast in the morning.  Abu Hurayra was confronted with this, and then he confessed, under pressure, that he had not heard it from the Prophet, but from someone else.  He later retracted his words completely.

Again…interesting! Why, then, was he still considered a narrator of hadith?

Mernissi writes,

“Aisha insisted on these corrections because she was conscious of the implications of what was being said. Pre-Islamic Arabia regarded sexuality, and the menstruating woman in particular, as a source of pollution, as a pole of negative forced.”

Aisha on Aby Hurayra:

“He is not a good listener, and when he is asked a question, he gives wrong answers.”

There are also accounts that say ‘Umar threatened to exile Abu Hurayra if he did not stop recounting hadith!

Interestingly, Abu Hurayra spent 3 years with the Prophet, and remembered 5,300 hadith…even Bukhari included a hadith in his collection nothing that Abu Hurayra recounts TOO MANY hadith!

So has this changed the way you see the hadith addressed here? Why/why not?  If it has, has it changed the way you see hadith in general?

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23 thoughts on “What do you think?

  1. Doesn’t change it for me, just confirms how I feel. You have to take hadith with a grain of salt especially if they go against the character of the prophet or the Qur’an.

    Yay for Aisha btw. Thank God for that girl standing up for her rights. We would be lacking a lot of information on rules for women if she hadn’t asked so many questions.

    • “especially if they go against the character of the prophet or the Qur’an.”

      It seems like a common sense idea but yet somehow a lot of Muslims don’t do this.

      Then again jihadists think the Prophet was a jihadist, so….

  2. Great post! I have always been skeptical about how authentic any hadith can be, or at least, how confident it’s possible to be about it. I think people are often more confident than they should be, because they just don’t want to acknowledge the uncertainty.

    The type of reasoning you quote from Fatima Mernissi is interesting – and amazing that it is sometimes possible even after all this time to separate the true from the false like that. I really admire that Bukhari at least preserved some conflicting hadiths and didn’t try to make them all agree; it should force readers to take a realistic perspective on their accuracy (but unfortunately, doesn’t always 😉 ).

    • It’s true, many Muslims rely on the hadith way too much without doing background research…

      Good point about Bukhari…it is amazing that he included conflicting hadith. His collection is amazing in general, I just don’t agree with what Muslims are doing – raising it to the level of the Qur’an (or higher sometimes!)

  3. Is it just me or does it seem like Aisha herself was already feeling the frustrations we feel about the status of women in the popular interpretations of Islam?

    • Yes … or, it was from the culture at the time …. so maybe not necessarily from “Islam”, or from Prophet Muhammad’s (saw) behavior/words – but from the existing misogynistic environment.

  4. It is interesting to me that this discussion about questioning even Bukhari Hadith is taking place among young people. You don’t hear it much either with older Muslims or in the heartland (Arabic countries like in the Gulf, etc).

    When Christians are confronted with the fact that St. Paul said women should cover their heads, they just respond, Yes, that is written in the text but we don’t do it anymore.

    More traditional Muslims can’t do that with the Hadith – they find it difficult to just say, “We don’t do that anymore.” For example, when the brouhaha came up a few years ago about the Hadith where Muhammad said women could only be with a man who was not a Mahram if she breastfed him, Dr. Atiyah at al-Azhar replied, “”The fact that the hadith regarding the breastfeeding of an adult is inconceivable to the mind does not make it invalid. This is a reliable hadith, and rejecting it is tantamount to rejecting Allah’s Messenger and questioning the Prophet’s tradition.”

    Most of you, I gather, would say, “That’s just crazy!”

    • It is very true that is seems to be easier for Christians to not practice things that are in their texts, whereas Muslims seem to have developed some weird paranoia where they have to practice every little thing the Prophet did otherwise they are bad Muslims.

      But yes, the questioning Bukhari thing seems to be happening more and more.

    • @staringattheview – I recently found out that the results of historical-critical Biblical scholarship are taught as standard knowledge in divinity schools, including the finding that a lot of what is attributed to Paul in the NT was not actually written by Paul. This does not seem to filter down to what is taught in churches, but it is mainstream scholarship. Critical Islamic scholarship is obviously way behind this.

      Maybe the reason that thinking Muslims need to question the authenticity of hadiths, even though scholars are not leading the way in that, is because Muhammad’s example is regarded to be a mechanism of communication from God – therefore it can’t be allowed to be flawed. Or maybe it’s just because the content of some hadiths is so much more objectionable than even some of the worst verses attributed to Paul.

      In any case, I think it is right to question their authenticity. But I do think we should all do what you have done and read the seerahs and tafseers along with the Quran. It is right to take it all with a grain of salt in terms of authenticity, but surely letting a sympathetic interpreter (such as Armstrong or Ramadan) dictate the character of the prophet and the religion to you is no better than letting a critical orientalist or extremist interpreter do that. We should all do it for ourselves.

  5. It seems to me that more and more thinking Muslims (and Muslimahs) are willing to question the seerah and even the Hadith, but this stops with the Quran. Why is it such a challenge to question whether it really is from God, or just from Muhammad.

    Last year in Saudi Arabia I visited the Nabatean tombs at Madain Salah. To my surprise, tour guides told groups of tourists two completely different stories. We were given the historical facts – these were tombs built by the Nabateans about 2000 years ago. Muslim tour groups passing through on the package Umrah tour were given the Quran story – these were the houses built by the “Thamudians”. The reality is that Muhammad knew nothing about the Nabateans, and thought their tombs were houses.

  6. Hmm wrote a lot but it was not published lol..so here comes the shorter version.
    The father of cats has never been in high esteem by shias or the earlier muslims. He lived with the prophet in maximum 3 years and was delivering more hadiths then the closest of relatives and friends (how many hadiths do you guys know come from Imam Ali, the adopted son and brother of the Prophet).
    http://www.al-islam.org/abu-hurayra/
    A book written by a shia alim with differend proof about Abu Hurrayra. We are seen as kuffar, unbelievers because we question men like Abu Hurrayra. Funny…

    As for Saudarabie, its famous for destroying old buildings and graves, so i find it weird that they would show tourists in Saudi about tombs and towns from times before islam.

    • Bahlool – that’s exactly Mernissi’s problem – how did Abu Hurayra transmit so many hadith when he only spent 3 years of the Prophet. Added to this is the fact that Aisha disagreed with him on numerous hadith…

  7. Salaam,

    Enlightening post!

    What are the references of this post- which book? I’ve heard of Fatima Mernissi only passingly and would like to follow-up.

    P.S. Chic blog going on here, huh!?

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