The Koran’s important — but don’t forget the Hadiths

by Hesperado on July 24, 2012

in "moderate muslims", dhimmitude, Hadith (traditions of Muhammad), Hesperado (team member), Islam, Qur'an, Shari'a, tafsir

Chibli book cover

by Hesperado

A rather common factoid I see time and time again implies that the Koran is more important for Muslims than the Hadiths. Sometimes people — even learned analysts who should know better — imply that the Koran is the main, or even only, text that explains Muslim thought, speech and actions.

A typical example of this is in a piece by James M. Arlandson published on Jihad Watch.

At one point in his presentation, Arlandson writes:

“Nonetheless, most hadith were rejected if they contradicted the Quran.”

He offers no evidence for this sweeping generalization. In fact, someone far more learned than Arlandson about the subject — Professor of law and of Islamic legal history Chibli Mallat — indicates that his claim is inaccurate.

Before I present the money quote, if the reader doesn’t know, the Sunnah (from which comes the word “Sunni”) is the vast corpus of texts and tradition in Islam derived mainly from the following sources:

Hadiths (sayings of Mohammed, among which are four collections especially deemed authentic, or sahih, with the most authentic being the collection by Bukhari)

Tafsirs (commentaries on the Koran by Muslim scholars over the centuries)

Siras (biographies of Mohammed written long ago)

Fiqh (traditions of rulings on legal decisions going back centuries, and apportioned out among four major “schools” of law. The fiqh are based mainly in the hadiths, but also rely on the tafsirs and siras, and all together this constitutes the Sunnah — which forms and represents the backbone of all Sharia law which, in turn, is really the daily meat and potatoes of Islam itself — for Muslims individually, in the context of family, in terms of ritual worship, and for defining and controlling politics).

Back to Professor Chibli Mallat and what he wrote in an academic journal on the subject:

“…none [of the 4 schools of Islamic law] would disagree with the statement attributed to the Syrian jurist Awza’i (died 774 a.d.) that the Book [the Koran] is in greater need of the sunnah than sunnah is of the Book.”


“Islamic to Middle Eastern Law a Restatement of the Field (Part I)” by Chibli Mallat, The American Journal of Comparative Law, Vol. 51, No. 4 (Autumn, 2003), p. 724

Why is this important? Because the inaccurate impression that is reinforced, that the Koran is the be-all and end-all of Muslim thought and behavior, can often help Muslim sophists tap-dance their evasive way out of the mountain of grotesque barbarities and violent fanaticism enshrined in the sahih hadiths, simply because “it’s not in the Koran” — as though Muslims limit themselves to the Koran, and are not, rather, positively bound by and slavish admirers of the outrageously hideous and dangerous hadiths and of all the Sharia lawmaking and laws that depend on them (not to mention all the fatwas and “answers” clerics give in their “Islamic Q&A” to so many millions of Muslims seeking anxiously fanatical “advice” on everything under the Sun from what shampoo is haram to how to beat one’s wife to whether it’s okay to have sex with your goat to finding artful ways for women to work alongside males who are not her family members by allowing them to suckle on her teats, and on and on and dry-heavingly on…).

I’m not sure if Chibli Mallat is a Muslim or a Lebanese Maronite Christian. The Wikipedia page on his father, Wajdi Mallat, notes that …he established Mallat law offices [in Lebanon] in 1949. As a lawyer, he defended celebrated cases in Lebanese modern advocacy, winning landmark judicial victories on behalf of the Vatican and the Beirut Maronite Church.

If Chibli is the latter, I have yet seen no title among his published works that would disabuse me of the suspicion that he’s pretty much a Useful Dhimmi if not a flaming stealth Islamochristian (as Hugh Fitzgerald has defined that term he coined): i.e., either way, it would be prudent to suspect him of being a stealth jihadist. (If “flaming stealth jihadist” sounds self-contradictory, it’s only because the West is currently so stupid about the danger of Islam that stealth jihadists (Muslims or Dhimmis) can pretty much operate in full view without raising an eyebrow.)

At any rate, Chibli Mallat is no academic slouch; his CV indicates a solid scholarly career:

Princeton, 2006-7

Yale law school, 2005-2006

Virginia Law School, 2006, 2008

professor in the law department of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London (where apparently he received his PhD in 1990), and Director of its Centre of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law,

EU Jean Monnet Chair of European Law and Director of the Centre for the Study of the European Union at the University of Saint Joseph, Beirut, and SJ Quinney

Presidential Professor of Law and Professor of Law and Politics of the Middle East at the University of Utah.

A look at his published work is also impressive:

Also see:

P.S.: As the reader may have noticed, I write “hadiths” where others denote the plural without the s. The most proper Arabic form of the plural is ahadith. But I say the hell with it, because that diabolical language Arabic does not deserve to be orthographically respected, except of course where necessary for our anti-Islamic purposes (similarly, I generally refuse to write “Koran” as “Qur’an” — with that arrogant Q, that presumptuous u, and most of all, that annoyingly ubiquitous Arabic apostrophe).

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 1389 July 24, 2012 at 8:15 pm

I don’t speak Arabic, but AFAIK, “that annoyingly ubiquitous Arabic apostrophe” represents a glottal stop. Of course, you are perfectly free to ignore it and to use the more familiar Westernized spelling.

I tend to use the apostrophe so that it will come up when more scholarly types search this blog. I particularly enjoy pulling their chains.

2 Hesperado July 25, 2012 at 2:42 am

1389, Yes that’s one good reason to retain the proper orthography (though at least I have it in the list of terms in my header). Another thing that annoys me about Arabic is its tendency to have double vowels; and also the seemingly promiscuous variability of the transliterations, where sometimes a word has two a’s, or sometimes a word endding in a ends in “ah”, etc.

Lawrence Auster [LA] has actually echoed this attitude of mine about Arabic:

“Resisting linguistic deference to Islam—and the costs of doing so”

LL [some reader of Auster’s blog] writes:

Notice how the press and other media are all falling into lockstep with the spelling “Quran.” (Can the addition of that stupid needless dhimmi apostrophe be far behind?) Bless you for sticking with the less alien variant, “Koran.”

LA replies:

I made that very point in May 2008. In a post about Robert Spencer’s call for U.S. authorities not to be excessively apologetic to Muslims about a G.I. in Iraq who had shot at a Koran, I wrote:

But it occurs to me, if Spencer doesn’t want Americans to express an inappropriate attitude of deference—let alone of submission—to Islam, why does he, in all his articles and books, spell Koran as “Qur’an”? Why not use the standard, familiar English spelling, “Koran”? What is gained for English-speaking readers by the use of the Arabic apostrophe or diacritical mark, which cannot be pronounced, and which conveys absolutely no information to readers unfamiliar with Arabic? And what is gained by using the exotic “Q” instead of the “K”?

Spelling Koran as “Qur’an” comes across at best as an affectation, at worst as a gesture of gratuitous deference to the religion that Spencer calls a mortal threat to our civilization.

3 black hat July 25, 2012 at 9:13 am

Hi, just wanted to tell you, I liked this article. It was practical. Keep on posting!

4 grego July 25, 2012 at 11:47 am

LA is right about Spence. I have always been suspicious of the man. I have never heard him say that muhammad is a liar or the koran is a BS book. I have never heard him say he rejects everything about islam. I also love everything after the PS in this article.”ubiquitous Arabic apostrophe”……I love those words.
Good read. :mrgreen:

5 Hesperado July 25, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Thanks blackhat and grego.

grego, I don’t necessarily find Spencer suspect; I just think he’s often being incoherent when he regularly documents how obviously pernicious Islam is, and how many Muslims manifest this perniciousness daily — but then refuses to condemn Islam or Muslims. I think he’s trying to have his cake and eat it too — the cake being his Christian universalism and hope for all humans (including Muslims) to be saved.

6 traeh August 19, 2012 at 10:02 pm

Excellent article, Hesperado. However, I don’t think your Chibli Mallat quote proves what you claim.

We don’t know the five pillars of Islam without the Sunna’s explanations. Often we can barely interpret the Qur’an without the Sunna. But it doesn’t logically follow that Arlandson is wrong in saying that where there is a contradiction between Qur’an and Sunna, Qur’an usually wins. There is no necessary logical contradiction between the Chibli Mallat words you quoted and Arlandson’s statement you quoted.

Here’s why. The Qur’an usually wins in the case of a contradiction with the Sunna, because the Qur’an is deemed to be the Inlibration of Allah. The Hadith and Sira and so forth are merely human testimony, though often deemed inspired. Even as “inspiration,” though, the Sunna traditions are a big step down in numinosity from the Qur’an. The sense in which Mallat’s words are to be taken is that the Hadith are more important than the Qur’an as an explanation of the Qur’an. The Qur’an is not self-explanatory. The Sunna tells Muslims how to live, what the Qur’an means.

So there is no necessary contradiction between the Mallat and Arlandson quotes.

7 traeh August 19, 2012 at 10:20 pm

Hesperado, an excellent article, as I said before.

The way to show that the Hadith are essential for Muslims is not to deny that the Qur’an has a certain preeminence over the Hadith. The way to show that the Hadith are essential to Islam is to point out

1) the dozens of verses in the Qur’an where “Allah” tells Muslims to obey Muhammad;

2) the verses in the Qur’an where “Allah” says Muhammad is the best example of human conduct. These Qur’an verses make Muslims profoundly dependent on the Hadith and Sunna, which show how Muhammad lived, what he permitted, forbade, commanded.

3) the fact that Muslims cannot even know all the five pillars of Islam, and cannot understand much of the Qur’an, without the context provided by the Sunna.

4) the words of numerous Muslim experts who testify that the overwhelming majority of the world’s Muslims consider the Sunna absolutely essential to being a Muslim.

8 traeh August 19, 2012 at 11:20 pm

An example of how there need be no contradiction between the Mallat and Arlandson quotes:

Suppose Muhammad was on an expedition, and there were 30 units of booty of which a certain amount was given to Aisha, and a certain amount to Ali. But the Qur’an doesn’t say how much Muhammad gave each, just that the total was 30 units.

Now the Qur’an tells Muslims dozens of times to obey Muhammad in everything, and that he is the best example of conduct, so Muslims want to know every detail of his life. So they find it imperative to know, for example, how much of the booty was given to the female, Aisha, vs. the male, Ali. So Muslims look through the canonical hadiths to find out if the incident with Ali and Aisha is quantified, and all other details.

So, say the Muslims find a hadith that says that after the expedition in question, Aisha got, say, 10 units, and Ali got 20 units, and the total booty was 30 units. And say the Muslims find a second hadith that says Aisha got 5 units and Ali got 45 units, and that the total booty from that expedition was 50 units.

What happens? The Muslims reject the second hadith, because the Qur’an, in talking about that expedition, contradicts the second hadith and says there were 30 units of total booty (not 50 as the second hadith claims). (In other words, Arlandson’s quote is right.) And yet the Muslims still consider other sahih hadiths essential to being a Muslim, because the Qur’an itself says to obey and follow the example of Muhammad, which example Muslims believe can be known from the sahih hadiths. Further, one cannot understand the Qur’an without the hadiths. (So Mallat is right also.)

So no necessary contradiction between the Arlandson and Mallat quotes.

9 Hesperado August 20, 2012 at 12:19 am

Thanks traeh,

You pose a good argument. However, I think at a certain level, this is a case of relative emphasis, not of factual error one way or the other.

My essay didn’t intend to revolve around Arlandson; I just cited him as an example of the type of thinking that assumes Koranic primacy.

Aside from the quote I used in my essay, Arlandson also noted, in the same essay I was quoting from, that hadith are the source of Islamic laws not found in the Koran:

“One example is the hadith of stoning the adulterers which takes priority over the verse of the Quran which demands flogging.”

Then there are the examples you gave, of the five pillars, as well as the common tendency to mandate the hijab, which also find little or no directive in the Koran. To those we can also add the clearer indications for circumcision; the clearer homicidal condemnations against homosexuality; and the clearer mandates for killing apostates found not in the Koran as unequivocally as they are found in the Sunnah.

What I find odd then is that Arlandson has no specific example to prove his converse — that:

“…most hadith were rejected if they contradicted the Quran.”

He then cites the definition of “hadith” from the Oxford Dictionary of Islam, which repeats his claim:

“Reports that were illogical, exaggerated, fantastic, or repulsive or that contradicted the Quran were considered suspect”

— again, without citing specific evidence.

So, on one side of the equation we have hadiths informing practice and law and belief not found in the Koran at all (or only vaguely) and those can be demonstrated, while on the other hand we have only the claim that hadiths which contradicted the Koran were “suspect” or rejected.

The main point is the propaganda tool provided to Muslims by the “Koran-only” meme: among other things, it makes Muslims seem more diverse, when they seem to be doing things that cannot be found in the Koran, it reinforces the idea that “See? Muslims are like any other religious followers, they don’t always follow their texts; those things you’re talking about (stoning, circumcision, etc.) are just “cultural”…”

In fact, the Sunnah — whose cement is the hadiths — reveals Muslims to be far more unified than if we don’t account for its powerful hold as important, if not more so, than the Koran. But I’ll settle for “as important”. That’s certainly better than the meme that causes people to scratch their head at that Muslima who insisted on the sanctity of her hijab — “But, but, but… that’s not in the Koran!”

10 traeh August 20, 2012 at 3:02 am

I agree, “as important” (though in different ways). In one respect the Qur’an is more important. In another respect the Sunna is more important.

You’re right of course that the Hadith’s relative importance is a major focus of Islamic disinformation efforts in the West.

I suppose the reason that Arlandson in that essay merely makes the claim (without examples) that hadiths that contradicted the Qur’an have been suspect or rejected, is twofold: 1) Given the most salient features of Islamic doctrine, it must be relatively rare that it has occurred to anyone much acquainted with Islamic teaching to doubt that the Qur’an has authority over the Hadith; and 2) such hadiths as may have been rejected due to contradiction with the Qur’an would of course not be in the primary collections on which most students of Islam focus, namely the sahih or “authentic” collections. The hadiths rejected for contradicting the Qur’an have presumably been relegated to the maudu (fabricated) and da’if (weak) hadith collections.

Maybe the person who could adduce examples would be Mark Gabriel, who I gather was a hafiz by the age of 12, later earned a graduate degree in Islamic studies at Al-Azhar, was invited to be a lecturer there, taught there, but later became disillusioned with Islam and escaped from Egypt to the U.S. Before he escaped, the Egyptian government tortured him in various ways to try to get him to come back to Islam. For example, they threw him into a vat of water where he had to swim all night with rats, which however apparently never bit him. When he finally escaped to the U.S. (having become a Christian), he received a doctorate in Christian education.

11 traeh August 20, 2012 at 3:04 am

Well, he didn’t receive it as soon as he stepped off the plane. It took him a few years.

12 traeh August 20, 2012 at 3:07 am

However, if he has a website, I cannot find it. So cannot ask him…

13 Ahmed August 20, 2012 at 6:42 am

He did have a website at one time but his URL now redirects to a domain hosting service.

14 Hesperado August 20, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Thanks traeh.

In that thread about the Muslima objecting to taking off her hijab for searches, a commenter named “Amelia” has “come out” and said she wants to announce her apostasy. She explains a lot of thoughts and feelings in a couple of comments. One is interesting in light of our discussion here:

“I see it now, I was in so much denial of what Islam really is. I rejected the Hadith almost completely last year and became a de facto “Quran-only Muslim”. I see Quranism as sort of like cannabis and apostacy as like cocaine; it’s like a soft version of apostasy and you eventually go all the way; most of the ex-Muslims I’ve read about abandoned the Hadith and became Quranists before realizing it was all insane and leaving Islam fully.”

To the degree that she’s correct about this, we can see that the Koran by itself does not have the force to hold a Muslim mentally/culturally imprisoned — and for that, one needs the hadiths and the Sunnah which depend primarily on the hadiths. I would maintain that the Koran is really just an inert totem or idol — intellectually and emotionally incoherent and inaccessible — that glows and throbs in the corner of the temple, so to speak, with its sacred power: it’s the hadiths which — through the sacred priesthood of the Fiqh scholars/imams convert the Koran into a psychological and cultural force that brainwashes and binds Muslims into an Islam.

In this respect, the Koran symbolically and pragmatically functions equivalently to the symbolism “God” itself. Most (if not all religions) cannot just bring “God” to the believer and say, “Here, do what God tells you” — they must mediate this “God” to the believer through a complex variety of exegesis & liturgy to get the believer to pledge, and continue to pledge, his allegiance to the subculture devoted to this “God” (even if many of the beliefs that form the structure of this subculture may have little to do with this “God”). Islamic theology bears out my theory here, as it considers the Koran to be co-eternal with Allah and essentially ontologically one with Him.

15 Hesperado August 20, 2012 at 3:08 pm

P.S.: To expand on my theory, I don’t have enough data on the religious practice of Muslims to document this fully, but it’s my impression that Muslims do not consider, or treat, their holy book the Koran in the same way that is cultivated among Christians with respect to their Bible (whether Catholic, Orthodox or various Protestant groups).

Among Christians, it has long become common practice for individuals to actually read their Bible at home, privately, or perhaps with family or friends. While the Orthodox tradition, and the Catholic church (particularly in former centuries) have tended to cultivate a bit of a sacred separation of the Bible from the individual believer — where the Bible’s content tends to be disseminated and mediated through the experience of liturgy in church, not just (as with most Protestants) while sitting back in one’s recliner chair at home on a Thursday evening reading Paul or Isaiah or what have you — still, I’d wager that even in those more rarified traditions the average Christian individual will often own a Bible and will read it on their own, extra ecclesiam, so to speak.

With Muslims, I don’t think they sit down at home and read the Koran in the same way. In Islam, the Koran is much more strictly regulated, and the dissemination of its contents and exegesis (through Sunnah) constitutes the vast bulk of its daily reality. In the West, the Bible has become woven into the fabric of daily life, stories, “Granpa getting out his Bible and reading from Genesis at the breakfast table”, various great men of past centuries — the Founding Fathers among them — often personally and privately studying the Bible (or reading it for their comfort and edification, as even the supposedly skeptical Abraham Lincoln did) — not to mention innumerable Western artists, writers and poets in former times doing so as well. In this respect, for Westerners, the Bible itself is not God nor a divine Piece of God on Earth — but a book documenting the many-splendored story (composed of many stories) of the interactions between God and Man over millennia, as experienced by the latter and transmitted through culture.

16 traeh August 20, 2012 at 9:41 pm


Excellent points.

The Qur’an is to Muslims somewhat like what Jesus Christ is to Christians — the Qur’an the Inlibration, Christ the Incarnation. The Qur’an is counterfeit and malign though, whereas Jesus, I’d hazard, was in some sense uniquely the real thing and brilliantly benign.

As for the Hadith, they are to the Muslims somewhat as the Gospels are to Christians: not identical with God, but inspired by God via the imperfect medium of human beings. But with the same qualification that the one is counterfeit and malignant, the other not.

Interesting what you said about Amelia — that she says that she and many apostates from Islam first tried the soft apostasy of becoming Qur’an-only, but then realized that the Qur’an is evil too, and so exited entirely.

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