Hadith in the Ahmadiyya Theology
By Munir D. Ahmed
The Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam was born in British India during the last quarter of the 19th century; a period in which great changes in thinking of the Indian Muslims were taking place under the impact of the British rule and the confrontation of Islam with Christianity and a revivelist Hinduism. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908), the founder of the Ahmadiyya, was one of the champions of Islam in this age, whose defence of Islam, as he himself used to characterize his work, culminated in the establishment of a movement which was to be called from 1901 onward by the name of Ahmadiyyat. He never admitted that a good part of his ideas were taken directly from his contemporary but considerably older Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, whom he nevertheless revered very much for his "identical thinking in certain cases". One of these cases happened to be their common belief that 1) the Qur'an occupies the central position in Islam and that 2) this book interprets itself; 3) is a complete code of life and 4) nothing which stands in conflict with its injunctions should be accepted.
The school of thought of Ahl-i Hadith, which was flourishing in those days in India accepted virtually the entire corpus of hadith as genuine and regarded it to be the principal source of Islamic law (shari'a). In their opinion only hadith, which they called "concealed revelation" (wahy-i khafi), can interpret the "open revelation" (wahy-i jalli), the Qur'an. This position was untenable in the opinion of both Khan and Ahmad, as it presupposed in somewhat uncritical manner the authenticity of the entire corpus of hadith irrespective of the faulty methodology of the 'ilm al-hadith (The Science of Hadith), which was mainly based on the formal criticism of the reliability of the individuals in the chain of reporters (isnad), rather than a criticism of the text of the hadith. How, they asked, such an uncertain thing should be given the position of being the sole interpreter of the Qur'an, rather having precedence over the Qur'an itself?
The diametrically opposit position was taken by the fundamentalist splinter-group of Ahl al-Qur'an by rejecting hadith altogether and declaring the Qur'an to be the only revelation (wahy) the Prophet Muhammad had received and which covers all fundamental spheres of life for the Muslims. There is absolutly no need for hadith and no place is left for it as a source of law?
It is no surprise that both Khan and Ahmad were again unisono in rejecting the view-point of Ahl al-Qur'an regarding hadith . But before we shall examine closely the ideas of Ahmad about hadith, let us recall that Khan regarded three kinds of hadith to be authentic: 1) Those which are in consonance with the Qur'an and repeat its injunctions; 2) those which explain or elucidate these injunctions; and 3) those which deal with basic legal formulations not touched upon in the Qur'an. Any hadith which contradicts an injunction of the Qur'an is necessarily a fabrication.
Ahmad regarded hadith to be a collection of by and large transmissions by a single chain of reporters (ahad), whereby only a negligible small number can be taken as inter-connected without a gap among its transmitters (mutawatir). Therefore hadith can at the best be taken as presumptive (zanni) having no comparison with the Qur'an, which in contrast to hadith constitutes "replete revelation" (wahy-i matlu). Also the safe and complete transmission of the Qur'an to this day is undisputed, whereas the transmission of hadith is liable to dire doubts. Even a very scrupulous checking of its chains of transmitters (isnad) is not suitable to bring hadith at a par with the Qur'an.
Ahmad, whose affiliation with Ahl-i Hadith had been very close in the early days of his public life was basically no adversary to the hadith, which constituted in his opinion the third cource of the the Islamic law (shari'a). The first and the paramount source was the Qur'an, followed by the sunna (practices of the Prophet Muhammad) as the second source, both of which ranged as certain (yaqini). Accordingly hadith occupied the third place as a souce of law. Ahmad strictly differentiates between sunna and hadith.
Historically the collection of hadith got started as late as the middle of the second century after the Muslim calendar. For over a hundred years the Muslim society practiced all the rituals of prayers, pilgramage, fasting etc. without having any textual evidence, solely through the transmission of the example of the Prophet Muhammad by those, who had seen him performing those rituals. This transmission by example is called sunna, for which textual evidence was collected at a much later stage by the scholars of hadith. Inspite of the fact that everything which sunna constitutes today has become part and parcel of hadith at least since the second half of the second century according to the Muslim calendar, it cannot be denied that sunna has never required the authenticiy of hadith for its spread among the Muslims throughout the world. That is why sunna was regarded also by the classical jurisconsults to be the second source of the Islamic law.
The question is why should a distinction be made today between sunna and hadith, as all that was known during the first century solely through the examples of others going back to the Prophet is incorporated in the collections of hadith? In fact Ahmad used the term sunna in this connection at a relatively later stage. In his earlier writings he employed the term silsila-i ta'amul (perpetual usage), whereby his intention was to distinguish between two catagories of hadith; one which is related to legal formulations ( ahkam, hudud, fara'id) and the second related to historiography ( akhbar, qisas, waqi'at ). The first category of hadith is acceptable to him without reservations. He would, of course, in this case accede to the formal criterions for the verification of the hadith. Otherwise he even drops the basic principle to assertain the authenticity of a hadith proposed by Khan and also withheld by him, that an authentic hadith must be in consonance with the Qur'an. In the case of a hadith belonging to this group, he would accept its contents even if they supplement the injunctions of the Qur'an for matters otherwise not dealt with in the Qur'an.
He further suggests that in case an apparent contradiction between the injunctions of the Qur'an and a hadith is found, every effort must be exerted to solve the contradiction, failing which that hadith must be rejected and regarded as spurious. Interesstingly enough, he regards Bukhari's sahih as the most authentic collection of hadith, which is practically void of spurious hadith. Even so also a hadith from this collection can be regarded authentic only if it is in consonance with the injunctions of the Qur'an. Muslim's sahih ranges as the next most authentic collection of hadith and consequently its hadith is only authentic, if it is in consonance with the injunctions of the Qur'an and the contents of Bukhari's sahih. He even rejected in a certain case a hadith solely because Bukhari had not included that particular hadith in his collection. A hadith, he said, which was not chosen by Bukhari for inclusion in his collection must be rejected.
Ahmad bases his claim mainly on the Qur'an, but he would also make use of hadith whenever it suites his purpose, sometimes even indiscriminatly. It is very seldom that he pays attention to critical remarks of the scholars of the Science of hadith (muhaddithun ) regarding the authenticity of a particular hadith quoted by him in favour of his argumentation. He claimes to have come as an arbitrator ( hakam ) with the authorisation "to take this heap of hadith and to discard the other one". As an arbitrator he was not bound to the opinion of the muhaddithun. He quoted Sayyid Ahmad Sirhindy, who had foretold that when the promised Messiah (masih-i mau'ud) shall come, the scholars would accuse him of being self-opinioned (ahl ar-ra'y), whose subjective opinion is based on his individual judgement. He would reject hadith and follow only the Qur'an. Ahmad sees this prophecy fulfilled in his person as he had claimed to be the promised Messiah and also rejected hadith although only partially.
He asserts that not a single verse in the Qur'an is against his claim to be the promised Messiah and mahdi, as well as against his belief that Jesus had died a natural death and that the person who was to come in the name of Ibn Maryam (Jesus Christ), as was foretold by the prophet Muhmmad, was nobody else but him. He claims that in this regard "almost all Traditions are in harmony with the Qur'an and support our calims. But if as an exception there is a hadith which is against the Qur'an, we shall either discard it or we shall find some harmonising interpretation for it".
Maulawi Muhammad Husain Batalwi, the known ahl-i hadith scholar, had mentioned in his review of "barahin-i ahmadiyya" by Ahmad that certain past scholars including Sayuti and Ibn 'Arabi had claimed of having verified the authenticity of some hadith from the Prophet Muhmmad directly in the state of a vision. Ahmad mentions this many a time in his writings, but never claims to have had such an experience himself. He, however, said that God had revealed to him that the whole lot of Traditions which were being presented by his opponents against his claims contained either verbal or semantic distortions, or they were outrightly spurious. He claims to have been given extraordinary knowledge of the Qur'an as well as a sound understanding of the hadith, which enabled him to solve contraditions between the injunctions of the Qur'an and hadith. He at least once tried to prove that the Prophet Muhammad was mistaken in understanding a certain unclear revelation (wahy-i mujmil). In the same way also Abu Huraira was mistaken in his belief that Jesus would come again in person.
Now we turn to the Traditions which Ahmad has quoted in his writings. They fall into two categories: The first, and by far the most important category, comprises hadith which are quoted by him in support of his claims. Those of the second category have no direct bearing on his claims. Therefore, we shell discuss in the follwoing only Traditions of the first category, as these are the only one which matter.
Traditions about the coming of the mahdi are most frequently quoted in Ahmad's writings. In fact his views in this regard are somewhat contradictory. On one hand he summarily rejects all Traditions about mahdi as spurious, a view which is also shared by the majority of the scholars of hadith (muhaddithun). But on the other hand he regards the hadith in Ibn Maja: "la mahdi illa 'isa" ( Mahdi is nobody else but 'Isa) as "extraordinarily sahih (correct and trustworthy). This being his own claim to combine Mahdi and 'Isa in his person.
The second most quoted hadith by Ahmed is the one about the eclipse of the moon and the sun in the month of ramadhan as a sign for the advent of the mahdi, which like all the other Traditions about the coming of the mahdi, have been critizied by the scholars of hadith as a sheer concoction. Ahmad regards this hadith to be sahih, "as the fulfillment of the prophecy has proved beyond doubt that this hadith is genuine".
He also quotes the following hadith in this regard: hatta yab'atha fihi rajulan minni (Till a man is raised in this umma in my spirit). The interpretation of this hadith in the words of Ahmad reads as follows: "He would inherit my attributes, character, perfection, wonders and my wonderous speech, and shall be a zilli nabi (Shadow Prophet)". He was obviously pointing to himself as the fulfillment of this hadith. The application of the next hadith to his person was also claimed by him: yuwati ismuhu ismi wa ismu abihi ismu abi (His name would tally with my name and the name of his father with the name of my father). Ahmad thinks that in both cases the Prophet only intended to empasize the close relationship between himself and the mahdi . He does not touch the question regarding the difference between his name and the name of the Prophet as well as the obvious difference between the name of his father and the name of the father of the Prophet Muhammad.
The Tradition: yadha al-harb (He would put the war off) denotes in his opinion that the mahdi shall be born in a time of peace under the reign of a just ruler. He thinks that this hadith also applies to him for his being born under the British rule, which had pacified India. He claims further that the Tradition: wa yutrak al-qilas fala yus'a alaiha (The Kamels would be discarded and riding on them would come to a halt) was a prophecy about his time, for camel riding has been stoped in his age for the purpose of human transportation.
Also the following hadith, he claims, has come true in his person: lau kana al-iman mu'allaqan bil-thurayya lanalahu rajulan min faris (Even if the faith shall be clinging to the Pleiades, a man from among the Persians shall fetch it to the earth). He even pushes aside the consideration that the application of this Tradition on him would necessitate his Persian descent, whereas he had repeatedly claimed his Mughal lineage. It was revealed to him, he claimed, that his real lineage was Persian and not Mughal. Apart from two rather unconvincing attempts by Ahmadi writers to prove this claim, no historical study has been made in this regard. In an article by Bashir Ahmad Rafiq, former Imam of the Ahmadiyya Mosque in London, it was argued that if a person can acquire the citizenship of a country after a stay of four to five years, why the same should not apply in the case of this family, which had lived in Persia for decades, if not centuries.
The second important subject-matter which involves a number of Traditions is about the advent of 'Isa or Ibn Maryam (Son of Mary). Ahmad partly rejected the Tradition: yanzilu 'inda al-manara sharqi dimashq (He will descend on or toward the east of the minaret of Damacus). He rejected the notion of a physical descent of 'Isa from heaven, but had no hasitation of applying it to his own birth place which happend to be situated eastward of Damascus. He further suggested that the word yanzil suggests that either he himself or some of his disciples will travel to Damascus.
A Tradition in Muslim's sahih foretells that at the time of his advent the Promised Messiah shall be wearing a yellow garment. Ahmad thinks that this could be an indication of some kind of a sickness, which the Promised Messiah could be inflicted with. He cites the age old Science of the Dream Interpertation ('ilm ta'bir al-ru'ya'), which regards seeing yellow garment in a dream as an indication of an approching sickness. This could mean that 'Isa shall be suffering from some kind of a sickness at the time of his advent. Another version of this hadith speaks of two yellow garments, in which the Promised Massiah shall be wrapped. Ahmad thinks that this also applys to him, as he was suffering from diabetes and migraine which caused him sleeplessness.
It has been mentioned earlier that Ahmad did not believe in physical ascension of Jesus to heavan. He argued that the Qur'an speaks only of his spiritual ascension (rafa') and explicitly mentions his death on earth. To prove that this was also the opinion of the Prophet Muhammad, he quotes a hadith from Bukhari, in which the Prophet is reported to have said that on the day of Judgement a group of his followers will pass near him on their way to Hell. He would try to intervene but will be told that he did not know what his followers had been doing after his death. On this, he said, "I will axclaim in the words of my brother 'Isa: "I was a witness over them so long as I remained among them. But since You caused me to die, you have been the watcher over them". In this hadith the word tuwuffiya has been used for both the Prophet Muhammad and Jesus and aught to convey the same meaning in both cases. This would mean that the Prophet Muhammad was of the opionion that Jesus had died.
In the same way in another hadith the Prophet Muhammad is quoted that nobody living on that particular day shall be alive after a century. Ahmad employed this hadith to prove that the Prophet did not believe in a living Jesus who would return to earth after so many centuries. It did not disturb him that such a hadith is a total improbability and against all human experience. There are people in every age, who live beyond the limits of a century.
Then the Tradition: lau kana musa wa 'isa hayyain lakana min ittiba'i (Were Moses and Jesus alive today, they would be among my followers) also indicates that the Prophet regarded both of them as dead. Yet another hadith records the statement of the Prophet that Jesus lived upto the ripe age of 120 years and every succeeding Prophet had lived upto half of the age of his predecessor. Therefore, the Prophet was to live to about 60 years. This again is a doubtful statement and as such hardly a genuine hadith. This would mean that the predecessor of Jesus should have died at the age of 240 years, and his predecessor must have lived up to the age of 480 years.
So far as the time of the second advent of Jesus is concerned, the Tradition: al-ayat ba'd al-mi'atain (a sign after the second century) is said to indicate that it was to be after the 12th century according to the Muslim calendar. Then the Tradition: wa yaksir al-salib (he would break the cross) showes that at the time of his second advent the Christian faith shall be at its height. The Tradition: yakhruj fi akhir al-zaman dajjal (he would appear in the time of the dajjal of the later days) hints at the time of the advent of 'Isa, whereby this hadith indicates that there would be more than one dajjal.
The Tradition: fa yanzil 'isa fa-yatazawwaj wa yulad lahu ('Isa would come, marry and beget children) has special meaning in Ahmad's opinion. The very fact that the marriage of the promised Messiah was deemed fit to be mentioned, denotes that this was going to be a special marriage in an exalted family of sadat (the descendants of the Prophet) and the prophecy required the birth of well-disposed ( tayyib) children out of this wedlock. Ahmad married for the second time in a sayyid family of Delhi and his marriage was graced with the birth of children, one of whom was destined to become his successor and about whom Ahmad had published a prophecy, calling him to be the muslih mau'ud (The foretold Reformer). Incidently his sons are proud of their mughal lineage, but his daughters are regarded to be sayyid.
Ahmad argued in the context of the Tradition: la nabiyya ba'di (There will be no prophet after me) that if no prophet should come after the Prophet Muhammad, how is it possible that 'Isa, who was a prophet after all should return? He claimed prophethood for himself, thereby minimizing its scope to a subservient prophethood giving it the name of "shadow prophethood" (zilli nabi). He argues that this Tradition should be seen in the light of another Tradition: lau kana ba'di nabiyun la kana 'umar (If there were a prophet to come after me, then Umar would have been a prophet). This only negates the coming of a law-giving prophet and at the same time it indicates that nobody outside of his umma will be given this honour. He then argues that according to the Tradition: 'ulama ummati ka anbiya bani isra'il (The savants of my umma are equal in status to the prophets of the Israelits). Moreover the Tradition: inallaha yab'athu li-hazihi 'l-umma 'ala ra's kullu mi'yat sanatin man yujaddidu laha dinaha (Allah will raise for this umma at the beginning of every century someone, who will renovate its creed) is a promise of God, which in this century has been fulfilled in his person. The prophecy contained in the Tradition: tulu' al-shams min maghribiha (Rising of the sun from the West) has also come true through him, as he has made the sun of Islam, which was about to set in the West, to shine there brightly again.
On the whole, the Ahmadiyya holds hadith in great respect. Maulavi Muhammad Ali, the later Amir of the Lahori-Group, published already during the life-time of Ahmad two lengthy articles about the authenticity of hadith, in which he praised in his familiar apologetical manner the unprecedented efforts of the Muslim scholars to collect hadith. His defence of the authenticity of hadith , which in fact comes close to the views of Ahl-i Hadith, is anything but a copy of the views of Ahmad, who on one side had rejected a good part of hadith on historical and methodological grounds, but on the other hand had made rather indiscriminate use of certein Traditions. Ali is convinced that also textual criticism was carried out by the scholars of hadith . He rejects the views of the Orientalists in this regard, although critical remarks of Ahmad about hadith are almost identical with the views of Goldzieher and others. The only plausible explanation could be that the writings of Ahmad were meant for the Muslim readers, who were too much under the influence of the Ahl-i Hadith, whereas Ali's durty it was to defend Islam and its institutions against Christian attacks.
Notwithstanding the great reverence in which the Ahmadiyya holds hadith very little work has been carried out by the members of this community in the sector of 'ilm al-hadith. Ali wrote "A manual of Hadith", which is in line with his above mentioned articles. Mirza Bashir Ahmad and Mir Muhammad Is-haq selected, translated and commented forty Traditions each of general nature. Abu 'l-'ata Jalandhary prepared a small collection of hadith dealing with the women. Bisharat Ahmad Bashir selected and translated a limited number of Traditions into English for missionary purposes. Sayyid Zain al-'Abidin Wali Allah Shah translated Bukhari's sahih into Urdu and wrote explanatory notes. Maulavi Nur al-Din, the first successor to Ahmad, is said to have expressed the wish that the Musnad by Ahmad b. Hanbal should be edited and rearranged into chapters (tabwib) on the lines of Bukhari's sahih. This work was undertaken by his son 'Abd al-Mannan 'Umar, but has not been published so far. He in fact fell out with the Ahmadiyya Community in 1956 and had to leave Rabwah, the head-quarter of the Qadiyani Group. In order to minimize the value of his work of years, it was decided by the high command of the Ahmadiyya that a team of scholars should edit the said Musnad in a very short period of time. The work was carried out in a rather hasty manner by a team of scholars, very few of whom were competent for such a work. The result of this prestige-project was presented in 1959 in the form of a single volume. Since then further volumes have not appeared.
On the whole the scholars of the Ahmadiyya Community make free and rather indiscriminate use of hadith in their works and lectures. They reject Traditions which stand against the Ahmadiyya dogma, irrespective of the grade of authenticity recognized by the scholars of hadith . On the other hand, Traditions which can be interpreted favourably to the Ahmadiyya dogma, are accepted even if they are universally regarded to be spurious.
This is the transcript of a paper which was presented at the 29th International Congress of Orientalists in July 1973 in Paris. An abridged version of the paper was published in the Actes du XXIXe Congres international des Orientalistes. Section organisee par Claude Cahen: Etudes arabes et Islamiques. 1. histoire et civilisation. Vol. 1. 1975. pp. 14-19.