Review by: Waqar Akbar Cheema
Atabek Shukurov wrote a book called “Hanafi Principles of Testing Hadith“, translated by his student Sulaiman Ahmed. Here is a factual review of the book:
The past century and a half has been marked by scores of books, and articles written to question the authority of hadith in varying ways. Some of the proponents of these ideas were blunt and bold enough to say that they considered no hadith as a valid source of Islamic law and etiquette. There were and still are, others who do not claim to reject all hadiths but through their ad hoc approach they provide for themselves the laxity to reject almost every hadith at will. The common, identifying aspects of these groups is in their frank and loud disavowal of the traditional knowledge stream.
Atabek Shukurov’s work Hanafi Principles of Testing Hadith, with translation and commentary by Sulaiman Ahmed, is however different because it makes no sweeping claims of the kind. In fact, it uses the name of the earliest and most widely followed scholarly stream within the broader Sunnite tradition. The central and incessantly repeated clamour on almost every page of the book is about rejuvenating and resuscitating the hadith approaches of the Hanafi school. And it is under this label that all the claims are made against hadith, the second primary source of the Islamic worldview.
Knowing the tree by its fruits.
The third manifestation of practical application of Hanafi methodology is in the arguments about hadith reports about the Holy Prophet (ﷺ) being affected by Black Magic. Claiming that the Qur’an is “quite clear”, and that those who claim the Prophet (ﷺ) was affected by magic are wrongdoers and that, if these reports were accepted, they would raise doubts about revelation. The author after rejecting them based on asinine assumptions about the traditional explanations offered, proceeds to claim that accepting these hadith reports and yet being outraged at the publications of the Prophet’s caricatures, “alludes to double standards” (p.241). Finally, as in the beginning of the book (p.4) it is claimed that Abu Mansur Al-Maturidi (d. 333) rejected the hadiths on this account, and denied that the last two chapters of the Qur’an were revealed on this background (p.242). It is, however, striking to note that far from rejecting the hadith and the incident of magic affecting the Prophet (ﷺ), Al-Maturidi actually finds in it, a two-fold proof of Prophethood (wajhān fi ithbāt risālatahu wa nabuwatahu). (Ta’wilāt Ahlul Sunnah, Vol.10, 653) Besides Al-Maturidi, the major Hanafi authority in Hadith, Abu Ja’far Al-Tahawi (d. 321) also accepted the hadith about magic affecting the Prophet (ﷺ) (Sharh Mushkil Al-Athār, Hadith 5935). Among Hanafis Al-Jassās (d. 370) surely rejected the hadith on the subject but this rejection was due to his theologically Mu’tazalite inclinations rather than his expertise as a Hanafi jurist.
Factual errors, insinuations, frauds
The work is also riddled with factual errors, insinuations and even outright fraudulent statements. For instance, it is claimed that Abu Hanifa (d. 150 AH) had “students who were Maturidi in theology” (p.8) when the founder of the Maturidi school was born no earlier than 235 AH. It is like saying Ibn Mas’ud (d. 32 AH) or ‘Alqama bin Qais (d. 70 AH) were Hanafis.
In arguing against the preservation of hadith the author claims that while we have the divine guarantee for protection of the Qur’an there is no such promise in favor of the hadith reports (p.109). In an attempt to refute the “salafi” claim that Qur’an 15:9 entails the same promise for hadith as well, the author states, “why God does not say what he means if he indeed meant ‘hadith’ when he says ‘Qur’an’” (p.110) while the verse in question (i.e. Qur’an 15:9) does not really use the word “Qur’an” it simply says “dhikr”. It is, however, pertinent to note that just a few pages later the verse is translated correctly and the word ‘Qur’an’ is mentioned only in parenthesis (p.118), apparently because unlike in p.110, there the purpose was not to neutralize an argument for hadith preservation.
In his mention of ‘problems’ with the black magic hadith, in the prologue to the book there is another factual misrepresentation by Atabek Shukurov. He mentions “Abdullah ibn Omar Al-Baidawi”, the author of Anwār Al-Tanzil as “a Hanafi scholar from the thirteenth century” (p.4) whereas in reality Al-Baidāwi was a recognized Shafi’i scholar as evident from his juristic discussions in his tafsir and also from the accounts in biographical dictionaries. That his tafsir is largely a condensation of Hanafi_in_Fiqh Al-Zamakhshari’s tafsir and many later Hanafis wrote glosses over it is not enough to classify Al-Baidāwi as a Hanafi.
Using weak and even fabricated hadith reports to emphasize textual criticism
Regarding the treatment of specific narrations, while the undertone across all chapters of the book is that as per Hanafi methodology isnād analysis alone is not enough to separate the chaff from the wheat, and that textual (matn) criticism is very important, what we find is that in many cases the examples brought are hadith reports that are isnād-wise signally, weak and at times outright fabrications.
On p.36 a report reading “The first thing that was created was a horse, then himself [God]. Then the Prophet (ﷺ)” is mentioned. Besides the fact that the translation is not faithful the hadith has been recognized as a fabrication. In fact the reference cited for this narration is a Shafiite Al-Suyuti’s “Al-La’ali Al-masnu’ah fi Al-ahadith Al-mawdu’ah” (The Fake Pearls in Fabricated Hadiths), and yet right after quoting the above report it is stated that, “even if the chain is authentic according to the Shafi’is, this is irrelevant to Hanafis” (p.36), which clearly insinuates that Shafi’is somehow accept the chain of this report as authentic.
As an example of “an ahād hadith that is accepted as ‘Sahih’ (according to Shafi’is and Salafis)” contradicting the Qur’an, the author quotes the narration from ‘Umar given by Abu Dawud etc. “The husband will never be asked [by God] concerning the reason for hitting his wife” (p.118). However, many prominent scholars including the ‘celebrated’ salafi hadith scholar Al-Albani have declared it as weak. Others who showed its weakness or graded it as such include ‘Ali bin Al-Madini (as quoted by Ibn Kathir in Musnad Al-Fārūq), Ibn Mulaqqan Al-Shafi’i, Ahmad Shakir, Muhammad bin ‘Abdul Muhsin Al-Turki, Mustafa Al-’Adwi, and Shu’ayb Al-Arna’ut.
There is more queer stuff in an example of ahād reports contradicting theology which as quoted in the book reads, “Then above the seventh heaven there is a sea, between whose top and bottom is a distance …” This has been referred to as “a Sahih hadith narrated in Abu Dawood and Ibn Majah …” (p.124) and the citation for this is the Al-Risalah’s First Edition (2009) of Sunan Abu Dawud Hadith 4723 (p.293), but if we check this work we find that the editor Shu’ayb Al-Arna’ut has categorically stated that the report is “da’if” (weak). Likewise, the Salafi scholar Al-Albani has also graded it as weak. One wonders how the author fabricated the notion of hadith being “Sahih” in the first place when the very citation he brings mentions its weakness.
Along with the hadith reports from the Messenger of Allah, there is a similar oblivion with regards to a narration from Imam Abu Hanifa. On p.11 the author refers to a report from Tarikh Baghdad wherein it is alleged that Abu Hanifa called a hadith (which is narrated in Sahih Bukhari as well) a “delusion”. However, as clarified by the editor of the referenced edition the report is dubious as it is related on the authority of a weak narrator.
More play on narrations
At one place the author takes exception to a hadith reported by Abu Dawud etc. condemning people who do one of four things including “twisting one’s beard” (p.65). The hadith is clearly mistranslated. The hadith actually condemns “one who ties (a knot in) his beard” (man ‘aqada lihyatahu). Moreover, the author not only refuses to see the actual context of condemnation in the practice being a remnant of the pre-Islamic (jahili) practices, he claims that the hadith was largely unknown and that “Umar had the habit of twisting his beard as did other Sahabah”, and as a reference he provides Al-Tabarani’s Al-Mujam Al-Kabeer, Hadith 54 is cited (p.282). Yet, when we check the cited source we find that it mentions Umar’s twisting of the mustaches, and not beard, in state of anger. The author, as we can see, resorts to two-fold fraud (twisting for tying and beard for mustaches) to cast aspersions on an otherwise authentic hadith.
Disregard for Interpretive devices. Boldness in rejecting hadiths
For the authentic reports discussed, the author is always in a hurry to reject the hadith reports and seeks to attribute rejection of them by Hanafi scholars. He makes no mention of the use of interpretative devices like ta’wīl (interpretation other than the apparent), takhsīs (specification), tansīkh (abrogation), or tatbīq (reconciliation) etc. It reminds one of Al-Tahawi complaining that one interpreting the hadith differently should not be accused of rejecting it (Sharh Ma’āni Al-Athār, Vol.2, 134). It seems Atabek Shukurov and co. who claims to revive the Hanafi methodology has taken the approach of intra-Islamic polemicists that Al-Tahawi -arguably the most prominent hadith scholar among the Hanafis ever-once encountered, but they are doing it to a more dangerous end.
Atabek Shukurov takes up the issue of another hadith translated in his book as, “When two people engage in a transaction, each of them has the right to choose to annul it as long as they haven’t parted and are still together …” (pp.10-11) Using the statements of the scholars who differed with Imam Abu Hanifa’s position and accused him of going against it, Shukurov brings it as an example of “some hadith which are completely rejected based on a variety of principles” (p.10). The reality of the matter, however, is simply that Imam Abu Hanifa interpreted the hadith differently. He said the parting mentioned in the hadith is not in the physical sense, but rather in the sense of agreement. (Sharh Mushkil Al-Athār, Vol.13, 272)
However, it is to be noted that in the above quoted translation of the hadith, the words “and are still together” are unwarranted and actually against the interpretation made by Imam Abu Hanifa. Among “the hadiths [that] are rejected by Hanafi principles”, according to the author, is a “hadith narrated in Abu Dawood by Abu Hurairah; “the illegitimate child is the most evil of the three [meaning out of the mother, father and child”” (p.119). Al-Tahawi Al-Hanafi, however, feels no qualms in accepting this hadith because he brings a report in which Aisha, the mother of the believers, explained the right context of the narration, in that it was actually about a specific person. Al-Tahawi further elucidates that the hadith is not general about every illegitimate child, rather it was specific to a person who hurt the Prophet (ﷺ), and the Prophet (ﷺ) pronounced that he was more evil than his mother and the man who illegally begat him. (Sharh Mushkil Al-Athār, Vol.2, 367-369).
The author then brings the hadith “in Tirmidhi that “whoever drinks wine, then, lash him. If he return to it, then on the fourth time kill him”” as an example of reports contradicting the action of their narrators. He then argues, “this hadith was completely ignored by the Sahabah and never implemented” and therefore, he says, “the Hanafis also reject this hadith” (p.121). Hanafis, like others, do not question the authenticity of this hadith and instead argue that it was in fact abrogated as stated by Al-Tahawi (Sharh Ma’āni Al-Athār, Hadith 4944).
As already noted not all Salafi and Shafi’i scholars have accepted the hadith translated in the book as, “The husband will never be asked [by God] concerning the reason for hitting his wife” (p.118). Furthermore, whereas the author alleges that it contradicts the Qur’anic verse, “If women are obedient do not oppress them” (4:34), it is important to note that the scholars who accepted it (or did not dwell on its authenticity) actually reconciled it with the Qur’an and understood it within the parameters of the said verse.
Since the first part of the verse 4:34 mentions conditional permission to correct wives, Mulla Ali Al-Qari (Al-Hanafi) says “it is for someone who remains mindful of the stipulations and limits regarding hitting” (idha ra’a shurut al-darb wa hududahu) his wife which naturally include not being harsh to her if she remains obedient. (Mirqat al-Mafatih, Vol.6, 375). Worryingly, the notion of a contradiction is fabricated by inserting the words “by God” in the translation of the hadith. In reality the hadith is not by the way of information as to what is not questionable in the sight of Allah, rather it is an instruction to the people that if a husband hits his wife to the extent permissible then they should not infringe their privacy by questioning him about it as is evident from the context in which ‘Umar narrated it (Musnad Ahmad, Hadith 122).
On the science and narrators of hadith
The producers of this book seem to be on a mission to reject everything that Muslims in the West, the vast majority of whom are uninitiated in the Islamic sciences find difficult to comprehend. Thus we find that besides attacks on peculiar hadith reports, the axe also falls on the very science of hadith. It is alleged that the “chain of a hadith can be fabricated quite easily” and that “an expert forger” can work in ways “ensuring that the narrators and chains are acceptable” and he, the forger, “can then add any text to this chain and after a few generations when it has been become [sic] widespread it is considered a Sahih hadith, … especially if this tradition is then later narrated in one of the highly respected canonical collections of hadith” (p.110). In hardly minced words the seed of doubt has been sown with regards to all the hadith collections and hadith reports. The emphasis on textual criticism over and above isnād criticism has taken an override and as an unfortunate consequence, isnād criticism is laid to rest.
The book highlights criticism of ‘Ikrama, the freed-slave of Ibn ‘Abbas (pp.133, 227-228) and goes on to claim that “it is agreed by consensus that he was from the Khawarij” (p.228). Besides the questions around merit and the truth of this allegation against ‘Ikrama, the claim of consensus on this point is certainly false. Ahmad, Al-‘Ijli and Al-Tabari are reported to have vindicated ‘Ikrama of this accusation. (Fath Al-Bāri, Vol.1, 428).
Likewise, the claim that Imam Al-Bukhari “does not narrate from Hanafis” (p.134) is erroneous. Mufīḍ Al-Rahman Al-Shātghāmi’s treatise on the subject, Al-Wardah Al-Hāḍirah, wholly refutes this claim.
Among the weirdest things is the comparison of Muslim narrators and their reports with those of St. Paul and other Christians. In criticism of ahād reports the rhetoric leads the author to say, “if the chain was authentic we would accept the testimony of one person (or a few) that Jesus was indeed crucified or that he was the pre-existent ‘son’ of God? Or how about the testimony of Paul that he saw Jesus on the road to Damascus?” (p.41). This is truly ridiculous as the author conveniently overlooks the simple issue of the reliability of the narrators in the first place and conflates apparent incongruity between the Qur’an and Hadith, with the Judaeo-Christian beliefs that are plainly refuted in the Qur’an. The absurdity of this line of reasoning reaches the ultimate level when the author goes on to refer to St. Paul as “Tābi’” (p.42) in attempting to fabricate brownie points against hadiths. It is however, interesting to consider how this rhetoric originally aimed at ahād reports focuses on the tabi’un
One of the claims often repeated in the book is about Abu Huraira not being a faqīh (pp.56, 187-188). To this end he uses an anecdote mentioned by Al-Sarakhsi and ‘Abdul ‘Aziz Al-Bukhari about Ibn ‘Abbas’s comment regarding Abu Huraira’s narration on performing ablution (wudu’) for carrying a dead person(p.56). The anecdote is reported without any isnād in the said works. The issue is similar to the better known anecdote in which Ibn ‘Abbas raises a similar question regarding Abu Huraira’s narration on performing ablution for taking something cooked on fire. Just as the ruling for performing ablution, and for taking something cooked on fire is explained by the interpretive device of tansikh (abrogation), which is supported by a narration of Abu Huraira himself (Abu Yusuf’s Kitāb Al-Athār, Hadith 41), this ruling can also be specific in some ways or considered to be abrogated, if verified for its authenticity in the first place. There is proof that Ibn ‘Abbas asked Abu Huraira to give a legal verdict on the more complex subject of divorce, (Muwatta Mālik, Hadith 2110, Sharh Ma’āni Al-Athār, Hadith 4478). ‘Abdul Majīd Al-Turkamani has addressed this issue in his work, Dirāsat fi ‘Ulum Al-Hadith ‘ala Manhaj Al-Hanafiyya p.236-241, and has given names of Hanafi scholars who have categorically mentioned that Abu Huraira was indeed a faqīh. ‘Abdul ‘Aziz Al-Bukhari from whom the author quotes the above-mentioned anecdote himself writes just a few pages later, “We do not accept that Abu Huraira was not a faqīh. Indeed he was a faqīh.” (Kashf Al-Asrar, Vol.2, 559)
The author also claims about those known for the ability and qualities of narration, unlike those recognized for knowledge and the ability of giving rulings, “if their narration conflicts with analogy, then the analogy takes precedence due to necessity of independent reasoning,” and mentions Abu Huraira and Anas bin Malik as examples (p.54). He further writes, “When there is conflict between analogy and the narration of non-faqīh Sahabi, Imam Karkhi gives priority to the narration whereas Imam Eisaa ibn Abbaan gives priority to analogy and his position is the official stance (‘mu’tamad’)” (p.58). The citation for this claim is Nizamuddin Al-Laknawi’s “Fawatih Al-Rahamut”, whereas in reality the author of the cited work makes no claim for any “official stance” on the issue and merely describes what ‘Eisa bin Aban (and Abu Zaid Al-Dabusi) preferred. Al-Turkamani in his earlier mentioned work (pp.210-243) has treated the subject at length and shown that unconditional preference of narration over analogy is the opinion authentically narrated from Abu Hanifa, Abu Yusuf, Muhammad bin Al-Hasan Al-Shaibani and the majority of Hanafi scholars. Conditional preference of analogy over narration is a minority opinion. Naturally, the opinion of the founders of the school and the majority is the one that matters.
Inconsistencies or manifestations of ad hoc approach
Besides, the merits of the positions taken, the book is internally inconsistent as well. While the author first alleged that Hanafis “completely rejected” the hadith about two people engaged in a transaction and the choice to annul it (pp.10-11), later in the book he presents the same hadith as a case of “when the hadith has many meanings … The narrator acting on one of the meanings does not eliminate the possibility of other meanings being correct,” (pp.186-187).
At one place the author finds fault with the hadith; “If a woman marries without the permission of a representative, her marriage is not valid” for being “narrated from one lady Sahabiyah” (i.e. Aisha) and contradicting the principle of “‘Umum Al-Balwaa’” (p.37), but later the same is presented as an example of a case where “the hadith is accepted” (p.186).
Et Cetera Et Cetera
On p.116 the following statement regarding the enumerated eight “Types of Opposition” is translated in a weird and possibly misleading way.
و قبلها الإمام الشافعي رحمة الله في رواية عنه اكتفاء بظاهر الاتصال. و في رواية ردها
The translation of this statement is given as, “In one narration Imam Shafi’i rejects all these categories due to their implicit disconnection and in a second narration he accepts them.” This translation is problematic; one can only wonder why there is an alteration in transposing the sequence of narrations, by placing the acceptance for connection second and the rejection due to disconnection first. Was it to highlight the alleged narration on Al-Shafi’i’s rejection of those categories?
Referencing is also sometimes faulty. A couple of examples from those cross examined include the citation simply “Abu Bakr Al-Rāzi Al-Jassās, “Al-Fusul fi Al-Usul”, Volume 2” without the publisher’s name or a page number (p.286), and for the hadith of Aisha “narrated by Tirmidhi” related to marriage (p.186) the reference is a report from Sunan Abu Dawud, from the chapters on purification.
The index is equally as poor. There is no entry for certain proper names such as, Abu Yusuf, Al-Tahawi and Ikrama. Against the entry “Khawarij” five pages (139, 2014, 205, 206, 243) are mentioned and you do not find anything about Khawarij on these pages.
Finally, while the whole book is about the rant on ‘delivering’ contemporary Hanafis from the ‘Shafi’i Musatalah’, it is ironic that for a qualification of a condition of tawatur (p.25, note 40), the only citation presented is Nuzhat Al-Nazr of “Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani Al-Shafi” (p.270).
The only thing worthwhile in the book is its binding and the quality of paper used. Content wise it is poor, erroneous, misleading and even carelessly worked out. Far from being a good source to know the Hanafi positions on issues in Hadith sciences, the book altogether misrepresents the school and tries to put a traditionalist garb over the heretical agendas of hadith rejecters. No matter how much the author may have attempted to preempt the expected reaction about his book by creating an air of innocence around him, the fact remains it is clearly an attempt to bereave the Ummah of confidence in hadith and implicating the bastions of Hadith and Sunnah in this sinister game.
 Here we quote for our readers relevant passage from Al-Maturidi’s tafsir’s on Surah Al-Falaq;
قيل: إن واحدًا من اليهود سحر رسول اللَّه – صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيهِ وَسَلَّمَ -، فنزل هذا.
قال أبو بكر الأصم: ذكروا في هذه السورة حديثا فيه ما لا يجوز؛ فتركته.
قال الفقيه – رحمه اللَّه -: ولكن عندنا فيما قيل: إن رسول اللَّه – صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيهِ وَسَلَّمَ – سحر – وجهان في إثبات رسالته ونبوته.
أحدهما: بما أعلمه بالوحي أنه سحر، وذلك فعل فعلوه سرا منه، ولا وقوف لأحد على الغيب إلا بالوحي.
والثاني: بما أبطل عمل السحر بتلاوة القرآن؛ فيصير لتلاوته في إبطال عمل السحر ما لعصا موسى – عليه السلام …
It has been said (qeel) that a Jew did magic on the Prophet (ﷺ), so this (surah) was revealed.
Abu Bakr Al-Asamm said: They have mentioned regarding this surah some hadith which is impossible. Therefore, I rejected it.
Al-Faqih [Al-Maturidi] said: But to us in what has been said (lakin ‘indana fi ma qeel) about the Messenger of Allah getting affected by magic, there are two ways in proving his prophethood.
First: that he learnt through revelation that magic was performed on him, though it was done secretly. And no one can learn about the Unseen (ghaib) except through revelation.
Second: by the way of removing the effect of magic through the recitation of Qur’an as it happened with the staff of Musa, ‘alaihi al-salam …
Al-Maturidi first refers to the hadith reports about magic affecting the Prophet (ﷺ). He then mentions Abu Bakr al-Asamm, the Mu’tazalite, who rejected hadith reports on this issue. He then responds and mentions his own view in that, it is a two-fold evidence for affirming and proving the Prophet’s truthfulness.
Therefore, regardless of the implications of the word “qeel” in mentioning the hadith about magic affecting the Prophet (ﷺ), it is evident that Al-Maturidi took exception to Al-Asamm’s rejection of the reports on the subject and went on to claim that the reports actually stand among the proofs of Prophethood.
Moreover, careful study of Al-Maturidi’s usage of the word “qeel” in his tafsir, proves that he did not use it to imply weakness of what he related in this way. He used it along with other similar words in the linguistic sense for different reported opinions before forming an opinion about them, and preferring one over the other as mentioned by Dr. Majdi Basallum in introduction to his edition of Al-Maturidi’s tafsir Ta’wilāt Ahlul Sunnah (Vol.1, 331). In the case at hand we see, that he finds no issue with the reports about the incident and rather counts them among the Proofs of Prophethood.
Abu Yusuf, Kitāb Al-Athār, (Beirut: Dar Al-Kotob Al-Ilmiyah, n.d.)Al-Bukhari, ‘Abdul ‘Aziz, Kashf Al-Asrār, (Beirut: Dar Al-Kotob Al-Ilmiyah, 1997)Ibn Hajar, Fath Al-Bāri, (Beirut: Dar Al-Ma’arifa, 1979)Malik bin Anas, Muwatta, (Abu Dhabi, Moassasah Zayd bin Nahyan, 2005)Al-Maturidi, Abu Mansur, Ta’wilāt Ahlul Sunnah, edited by Dr. Majdi Basallum (Beirut: Dar Al-Kotob Al-Ilmiyah, 2005)Al-Qāri, Mullah ‘Ali bin Sultan, Mirqāt al-Mafātih Sharh Mishkāt al-Masābih, (Beirut: Dar al-Kotob al-Ilmiya, 2001)Al-Shatghami, Mufiḍ Al-Rahman, Al-Wardah Al-hāḍirah fi ahadith talamidh Al-Imam Al-Aʻẓam wa-ahadith Al-ʻulamaʼ Al-Ahnaf fi Al-Jamiʻ Al-sahih lil-Imam Al-Bukhari, (Karachi: ZamZam Publishers, 2002)Al-Tahawi, Abu Ja’far, Sharh Ma’āni Al-Athār, (Beirut: Darul Kitab, 1994)Al-Tahawi, Abu Ja’far, Sharh Mushkil Al-Athār, (Beirut: Mo’assasat Al-Risalah, 1994)Al-Tukamani, Abdul Majid, Dirāsat fi ‘Ulum Al-Hadith ‘ala Manhaj Al-Hanafiyya, (Karachi: Madrasa Al-Nu’man, 2009)
A note on Sulaiman Ahmad: He is only a student at best, and no where near the level of even a basic scholar. This is shown by his many blunders on basic matters in his various “fatwas” of fitna, as well as not knowing basic Hanafi usool, as well as his not understanding basic Hanafi terms. One of his former teachers (whom I keep as anonymous, since Atabek and his cult are fanatical Muslims that persecute and attack all of their opponents) considered him a “Jahil aami” with very poor knowledge of Arabic.