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. 


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.


I’m currently reading Tarif Khalidi’s new book, Images of Muhammad.

I found the following excerpt interesting:

The portrait of man in the Qur’an may be summarized as follows: man is forgetful, inconstant, impatient, fickle, frivolous (Q. 4:137). Without belief, man is jahili, a creature of whim, running after shadows and illusions. Man is quick to call on God in misery and quick to abandon Him when he is at ease (Q 41:51). Man is by nature argumentative (Q 18:54), boisterous, torn in different directions, divided in desires.

In a striking image, the human soul is compared by the Qur’an to a personality (in whom quarreling partners share) (Q 39:29). Man is habitually prone to factionalism, and is often hypocritical. The beliver’s soul, by contrast, is steadfast, patient, remembering.

This portrait of man highlights not sinning man but frivolous man. It does not pass a blanket psychological judgement on man as does, say, the doctrine of original sin. Rather, it views man as a fragmented and deeply divided personality in need of discipline, the discipline of patience, communal prayer in ranks, of obedience to God, of steadfastness, of reflection.

I find this portrait fascinating.  On the one hand, it fits with what I perceive human nature to be – neither good nor bad but easily influenced by context, i.e. society. On the other hand, does this mean that humans cannot be good without the discipline provided by worship or belief in God? Or is this referring a different type of goodness?

I have long been against arguments that suggest that morality can only stem from religion/belief and worship in a God/Gods. I believe that an atheist can be just as good of a person as a believer, and in fact it is often the case that believers take religion to an extreme whereby they become bad people.  It is very unfortunate that today many Muslims go on & on about how non-believers are evil and “bad” when in fact we see just as many Muslims being unfriendly, stealing, raping, etc. I don’t think morality is tied directly to a religion. That said, I do see the benefits in being disciplines, which is one major reason why I love prayer, especially communal prayer. It is humbling and brings the community together in a way nothing else can.  However, I do not believe that discipline through religious worship is the only way to inner peace/reflection/goodness.

What do you guys think?