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Hadith: Between Muslim Conviction & Western Criticism | Dr. Jonathan Brown


Lecture by Dr. Jonathan Brown | Transcribed by Zara T.

[The following is the video and transcript of Dr. Jonathan Brown’s lecture given at Zaytuna College’s First Academic Conference entitled ‘Hadith: Between Muslim Conviction & Western Criticism.‘ The transcript includes slight modifications for the sake of readability and clarity].

[youtube 2J4uzCZ8ZRA]

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Dr. Mahan Mirza, Dean of Faculty at Zaytuna College: I’m very excited to introduce our next speaker, Dr. Jonathan Brown, who is a professor at Georgetown University. He received his doctorate in near-eastern languages and civilizations from the University of Chicago in 2006. He specializes in the field of hadith and he has written a number of publication and articles and books. And I had mentioned this about Dr. Jackson once before, but with the emergence of the scholarship in English, we are seeing that just as Farsi, Urdu, Turkish and all of these languages from Muslim countries became great languages of Muslim civilization, now with the works of people like Dr. Brown and Dr. Jackson and others, that English is now a language of Islamic Civilization.

The topic today is: Hadith Between Muslim Conviction and Criticism, and this is a question a lot of us may have, we talk about hadith, we may have our uncles that will talk about hadith in various ways, critically, or we may meet Muslim that have a lot of skepticism and a lot of non Muslims that have a lot of skepticism about the hadith and the hadith sciences. And so inshaAllah he will be talking about how do we navigate the divide between our unshakable convictions and the controversial dilemmas that arise from the western studies and criticism of the prophetic hadith. So without further ado, Dr. Jonathan Brown.

Dr. Jonathan Brown: Asalamulaykum. A’udhu billahi minashaythan nir rajeem, Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem…

I feel bad because I’m fairly confident that I am going to repeat some things that some people have heard me say before and I suppose I should apologize for that. But also, some of the things that I’ll repeat, I think are very important. So I’m not entirely contrite on this issue. Whenever I think about hadith or when I talk about them to students or to audiences, I always try to keep the words of a wise figure in my mind, a wise, not really a person, more of a creature, which is of course Yoda from Star Wars, not the later Star Wars movies where he’s like a psychiatrist, the earlier ones where he’s more dignified. Yoda, if anyone remembers, from the early Star Wars movie, he takes Luke Skywalker to this cave and Luke has to go into the cave as part of his training to become a Jedi knight and Luke Skywalker asks Yoda, “What will I find in the cave?” and Yoda says “Only what you take with you. Only what you take with you.”

It’s a very important point when we think about the past, when we think about history, and when we think about reading texts, when we think about reading things like the Quran or the hadith, or anything, when we look into the past, what we’re really seeing is oftentimes more a reflection of ourselves than something about the text or about the past. We always see what our background program wants us to see. This is very important because if you realize this, you realize that often times the problem we encounter when we’re doing things like reading hadiths or when we hear hadiths, occur because we’ve been programmed to think that there are certain universals that everybody agrees on. Like for example, common sense. How many times have you heard someone say “Well that’s just not common sense,” or “This hadith contradicts common sense”? what is common sense? There is actually no such thing as common sense.

If you imagine a human being who’s raised on a desert island with no culture, this person’s not going to know anything about common sense. If you say “The sky is above you and the earth is below you,” yeah, the human being will know that, but so many other things that we think human beings just all agree on are actually just one particular culture or the conventions of one culture or of one class, or of one part of a society, and often times actually a lot of the biggest disagreements, especially in politics, have to do with conflicting common senses. For example, whether or not the government should cut spending during a financial crisis or not-everyone says it’s common sense, you know, when you’re sitting around your kitchen table if you’re having a financial crisis, well you gotta stop spending so much money. You gotta manage your budget, you gotta cut down your spending. But when it comes to a government most economists say ‘No, the government has to spend more money to stimulate the economy.’ So this is an instance where common sense is actually wrong. Or for example the idea that in order to reduce population growth, you have to improve health care. That’s not really common sense. More people to live longer…that’s going to reduce population growth? Well actually, from the perspective of development and statistics that groups like the Gates Foundation work on, they know very well that if you want to decrease population growth, you actually increase healthcare. I don’t know how that works, it just does. These are instances in which what we think is common sense is actually just our own way of looking at the world and it’s not actually true.

Why is this an important issue when we look at hadith? It’s very important because as the actual topic of this speech phrases it, I didn’t actually pick the topic but I’m very happy that it was chosen this way because it demonstrates very clearly how the issue of hadith is framed. There’s western, objective, rational, critical, neutral, reading of hadith or analysis of hadith, and then there’s the Muslim faith-based fideistic, traditional method of looking at hadith. Muslims accept this, Muslims have kind of integrated this into their own worldview and so they feel that as a Muslim the way you look at hadith is traditional, faith-based, versus the Western way which is rational and critical.  But as I mentioned before, these descriptions of how people look at texts really tell you more about the people or their background, their world view, than about the texts themselves.

How is that? well, a lot of times when you think about the Western critical reading of hadiths, we think that Western scholars have these critical tools and ways at looking at sources that Muslim scholars didn’t have-that nowadays we have modern science so we know that certain hadiths aren’t true, we’ve collected lots of different material and we have a modern way of criticizing historical sources and this allows us to approach or analyze the authenticity of hadiths in a way that Muslim scholars didn’t have. This is kind of a big claim, but I think now I’ve seen enough evidence that I‘m prepared to make the claim and if I’m wrong then I’ll adjust it.

Everybody knows controversial hadiths, you know, what about the hadith that says you know, the hadith of the fly, pushing it into your drink..and there’s the hadith of the sun going beneath the Earth and prostrating before the throne of God and asking to rise again, everyone has heard these hadiths and people always talk about them and they get in debates over them over Eid dinner or whatever the Muslim equivalent of Thanksgiving dinner is. There’s not one controversial hadith today that was not also controversial a thousand years ago and then Muslim scholars didn’t actually identify the exact same question a thousand years ago and find some satisfactory answer to it.

I want to repeat that because I’m not sure I’m making as much sense as I want. There’s no controversial hadith that you hear about that has not already been, whether its 500 years ago or a thousand years ago, or 1300 years ago, has not been looked at by Muslim scholars and they found exactly the same thing that bothers you.

Why is this important? Because what’s the difference then between let’s say me when I think a hadith is controversial and I don’t like it and I refuse to accept it and I say, “This is nonsense, I can’t accept this, I don’t want this to be a part of my religion.” What’s the difference between me and that scholar 1,000 years ago? It’s not about something in the hadith or some critical faculty that I have that this classical Muslim scholar didn’t have..we both found exactly the same problems. The issue is what we do with that understanding. That’s the difference. It’s how we react to it.

The big difference between the reaction that Muslims today have to controversial hadiths and the reaction that classical Muslim scholars had is the difference in our world views, the difference in what we expect from religion, how we think religion should look and smell and feel, and guess where those differences come from? They don’t come from Islamic tradition. They come from the fact that as communities that live in the west or maybe came from areas that lived under western colonization or western educational systems, we’ve actually adopted many ideas into our own understanding of the religion that have no original existence in the Islamic tradition. So for example, when I tell you a hadith, this is in Sahih Bukhari and other books, where the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) says to Abu Dharr, his companion:

 Do you know where the sun goes after it sets, Oh Abu Dharr? and Abu Dharr says, God and His Prophet are more knowledgeable. Tell me, and the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) says The sun goes goes down and it prostrates before the throne of God…it prostrates before the throne of Ar Rahman and it asks His permission to rise again and one day it will rise from the West.

Now it’s very interesting, you see in the early twentieth century, Muslim scholars who were kind of modernist scholars start reacting very strongly to this hadith. They said it contradicts astronomy and this hadith contradicts the certainties of modern science because nowadays we know that the Earth actually goes around the Sun and not vice versa and classical Muslims didn’t know that and that’s why they accepted this hadith so we need to go back through the hadiths and analyze them to see which ones are scientifically impossible and which ones are acceptable. This was a big debate and we still have this debate today.

Guess what? Classical muslim scholars, going back to the ten hundreds, said exactly the same thing. Because if you’re a muslim scholar, one of the things you do before you had clocks on your phone and everything is to calculate prayer times and living in a place, I need to tell people what time the prayers are. And what they found very quickly is that prayer times differ based on latitude, longitude..and they knew that the sun was always up in certain places. You can go to certain parts of the earth where the sun never sets.

So they looked at this hadith and they said how do we understand it then? Oh, it must mean that the sun prostrates to God metaphorically like in Surah Rahman Najmu washajaru yas judaan..the stars and the trees prostrate to God.

It doesn’t mean literally the star is doing little sujud up in the sky. It means it’s surrendering to God’s will, it follows God’s will. So they had no problem, they just said this hadith is obviously figurative. And that was exactly the same criticism that these modern Muslim scholars are making, exactly the same. They identified the fact that the sun does not actually go under the earth and disappear. It’s always above the earth somewhere. So what’s the difference then between this modern Muslim scholar  and classical ones? It’s not about whether or not they’re critical or whether or not they’re scientific, whether or not they’re willing to question hadiths. They all are.

All classical Muslim scholars were always very happy to question hadiths. It’s how much weight they gave to notions of truth outside of their religion, outside of the texts, scripture of their religion. S

o in modern period, part of modernity is the idea that truth doesn’t exist within a religious tradition. Religions don’t have monopoly on truth. Any one religion doesn’t have a monopoly on truth. There’s no scripture that contains truth. Rather, the modern approach in the west is that scriptures are all actually doctored. They’re all the product of kind of conspiracies to attribute certain human writings to a divine source. So once in the western tradition, once people came up with that conclusion, they immediately became suspect of things like the Bible, the Old Testament, the New Testament, and any time they saw anything in those texts that seemed to contradict new scientific discoveries or anything like that, they immediately considered this to be a fault in the text or the scripture for them. They immediately considered this to be another piece of evidence that their scripture was actually manufactured by human hands and was not really suitable to be the carrier of truth for a civilization.

The difference between that approach and a classical Islamic approach was that classical Muslim scholars, they believed that the Quran contained the truth. They believed that the message of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), if it’s preserved accurately, it also contains truth. And that anything outside the scriptures that’s true, can be reconciled with the Quran and the authentic sunnah.

I may be wrong, but I can’t think of a single example of a Muslim scholar before lets say 1890 who ever got into any trouble for scientific discoveries, that I can think of. They got in trouble for being philosophers, for having mystical ideas that other ‘ulema considered to be problematic but they never ever ever got in trouble for scientific discoveries, because it was assumed that anything you discovered empirically around you in the world had to be congruent with the truth of scripture, there had to be some way to understand them.

So if you discover that the sun actually doesn’t go below the earth and disappear from human sight, that it’s actually always up somewhere in the world, then what do you do with that hadith I just told you about? You just interpret it figuratively, just interpret it figuratively. When I said before that Muslim scholars were always willing to be critical hadiths, a lot of Muslims are surprised by this. They think that the hadith tradition is kind of this gullible, fideistic, uncritical approach to scripture where Muslim scholars just look at who’s in the isnaad of the hadith and what’s the train of transmission for the hadith and they don’t want to use their brains, they don’t want to look critically at the context of the hadith, that’s not true at all.

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Jonathan Brown is the Alwaleed bin Talal Chair of Islamic Civilization in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, and he is the Director of the Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim Christian Understanding. He received his BA in History from Georgetown University in 2000 and his doctorate in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago in 2006. Dr. Brown has studied and conducted research in countries such as Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, South Africa, India, Indonesia and Iran. His book publications include The Canonization of al-Bukhari and Muslim: The Formation and Function of the Sunni Hadith Canon (Brill, 2007), Hadith: Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World (Oneworld, 2009) and Muhammad: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2011), which was selected for the National Endowment for the Humanities' Bridging Cultures Muslim Journeys Bookshelf. His most recent book, Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenges and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy (Oneworld, 2014), was named one of the top books on religion in 2014 by the Independent. He has published articles in the fields of Hadith, Islamic law, Salafism, Sufism, Arabic lexical theory and Pre-Islamic poetry and is the editor in chief of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Law. Dr. Brown’s current research interests include Islamic legal reform and a translation of Sahih al-Bukhari.



  1. Pingback: Rejecting Hadiths: The Fitnah of the Quranists | Islamic Students' Blog

    • Sheireen

      April 24, 2016 at 11:00 PM

      Assalamualaikum I think that the Quran is already complete without Hadith

  2. Pingback: Minaret of Freedom Weblog » News and Analysis (4/25/14)

  3. The Salafi Feminist

    April 25, 2014 at 12:18 PM

    Excellent talk, mashaAllah, and deeply appreciated.

    One question, if someone could fwd this to Dr. Jonathan Brown somehow:

    “In the chapter of Sahih Muslim that deals with this issue, the first report in that chapter is an opinion of Abu Hurayrah, it’s not a prophetic hadith, it’s an opinion of Abu Hurayrah. A group of muslims in Madīnah, this is after the death of the Prophet ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), a group of muslims in Madīnah are debating whether or not there’s more women or men in heaven. They come to him [Abu Hurayrah] and ask him what his opinion is and he thinks and he says there’s more women in heaven. Why? Because the prophet said that this group of people who enter heaven, each man will have two wives. Therefore there are more women than men in heaven.”

    Is there somewhere online I can find the exact wording of this opinion of his, as well as the opinion of Imam Ibn Hajr? I’d appreciate the exact wording as well as the exact source – jazaakAllahu khayran.

    • Sarah

      April 25, 2014 at 1:04 PM

      It’s funny – that hadith never really bothered me because we know that one of the signs of the Hour is that women will highly outnumber men on earth…so the logical conclusion for me is that there are more women in hell and heaven.

    • Umm ZAKAriyya

      April 25, 2014 at 10:44 PM

      Me too.

      And also it’s possible some of those women in hell are there only temporarily ( as in case if believers) until they have paid for all of their sins. The sin being ‘ ungrateful to husband ‘ and backbiting . Which is why perhaps rasoolullah gave a very specific advice.

      • Bigmo

        March 19, 2015 at 6:05 AM

        He is not being honest about Quranist. Quranist don’t have problems with many hadiths because of Western influences as he claims, they have problems with many hadiths because they contradict the Quran and make binding what the Quran did not.

  4. Pingback: Critical Reading of Hadiths | WISDOM 2.0

  5. Reed

    April 25, 2014 at 2:24 PM

    This is an excellent article. I learned quite a bit. Still, I’d like to respond to one point, where he said:

    “They don’t want the prophetic presence interfering in their lives. They don’t want to find a statement from the prophet that can give them guidance, that might have wisdom for them. and you see this so often, especially with hadiths dealing with gender, and I know this is a controversial topic.”

    That’s undoubtedly true with many, perhaps most, people who reject hadiths. At the same time, it leaves out a portion of people who want the prophetic presence, but don’t believe that a particular hadith is really authentic despite it being in one of the six collections. They might be wrong about it’s not being authentic and they might not understand its meaning correctly. What they’re objecting to in this case is their own wrong understanding.

    • Mahmud

      April 26, 2014 at 6:12 PM

      Well, in case anyone was confused, hadith rejectors ARE kuffar. There are some people among this Ummah who come across a hadith and find their nafs’s object to it or it’s understanding.

      Islam is submission. It isn’t easy except if Allah makes it easy.

      • vhmcadmin

        April 29, 2014 at 11:21 AM

        chill bro, chill.

      • ZAI

        April 29, 2014 at 12:45 PM

        Br. Mahmud,
        You need to be careful with your pronouncements.
        In Abu Hanifa’s madhhab, ahad hadith can be rejected or de-prioritized if it is seen to “restrict” a Quranic verse and in Maliki madhhab it can be rejected in favor of amal of Madinah. It’s not as simple as black/white position of submission or kufr unless you consider Abu Hanifa and Malik to be kafirs bro!

        • O H

          April 30, 2014 at 10:49 PM

          Shaykh Saaalih Ibn Uthaymeen said the following regarding this in one of his fatawa:

          “Denying (the sunnah) could be of two types: a denial with regards to interpretation or a denial of rejection. If it is a denial of rejection, in the sense that one might say, “Yes, I realize that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said this, but I reject it and don’t accept it,” then the person is a kaafir (unbeliever) and has committed apostasy. Thus, it would be impermissible to pray behind him. If, on the other hand, it is a denial of interpretation, then he is granted a respite, if the interpretation is possible and warranted by the language, and he knows the sources of Islamic law and its resources. In this case, it is not an act of kufr, but rather under the category of those who innovate incorrect practices in the religion (if his interpretation is such).”

          May Allaah grant us all understanding of the deen, Ameen.

          • ZAI

            April 30, 2014 at 11:23 PM

            Brother OH,
            Have to keep in mind that many hadith are weak…and that includes some hadith found in the sitta. Further many hadith could have been abrogated by other hadith or even by Qur’an. It is on THIS basis that Imam Abu Hanifa and Imam Malik prioritized other things over certain hadith. It is therefore not as stark a choice as denial of interpretation or denial of rejection.

            Whether the prophet even said it, whether the hadith was abrogated and both of those things weighed against stronger clear evidences in Qur’an, stronger hadith or, in Malik’s case, aml Madinah play a role.

            This is why weak ahad hadith are also not used for hukm, especially in the case of hadd and also why individual ahad hadith are not incumbment in determining kufr or imaan. These are the positions of recognized, valid schools of thought.People who prioritize or prefer the Hanbali and Sha’afi positions are free to disagree, but even in disagreement it is going too far to call it kufr.

            As for Shaykh Uthaymeen’s comment, some context is required: was he talking about mutawattir, qati that has unanimous ijma, sahih,weak or what? The quote doesn’t clarify. If it relates to the first two Hanafi and Maliki scholars would agree…but if relates to the other three it is more complicated than a stark choice of either/or and would have to respectfully disagree with the shaykh. There are other factors involved. He has a right to his opinion, but we are not all Salafis nor do we all follow sha’afi or Hanbali fiqh…and we don’t think our positions make us kafir.

          • O H

            May 17, 2014 at 3:07 AM

            Well obviously the Shaykh Uthaymeen statement is a general one to summarise the issue for the laymen where the denial of rejection is sort of highlighted and its danger. The reasons many muhadith & scholars may reject hadith are obviously plenty and are definitely not of the category of rejecting hadith knowingly without any valid shariah reason. A study in mustalah al- hadith, usool al hadeeth, usool al Fiqh, etc is needed for a more comprehensive & detailed answer. What we do have to be careful is knowing the grave danger of outright rejection of hadith without a valid shariah reason. For example if a person rejects the ahadeeth of hadd punishments because he/she feels its morally reprehensible.

  6. Umm.Esa

    April 25, 2014 at 4:02 PM

    It says, 5 comments. I only see two :(

    • Umm.Esa

      April 25, 2014 at 4:07 PM

      I really found this video/lecture highly informative and extremely beneficial. It is more crucial for our ummah to know this stuff than what Shaykh Yasir’s position is on Salafism. Question in the grave will be about the Messenger of Allah (SAW), not the strand/flavor of Islam. May we all find lessons, wisdoms and peace in the sayings of our beloved Muahmmad (SAW).

  7. Diah

    April 25, 2014 at 10:17 PM

    what an amazingly well researched and eloquently expressed talk. mashaALLAH!

    • Diah

      April 25, 2014 at 10:34 PM

      When I was in high school and was studying Islam, I came across all of the controversial hadiths and after a-lot of research, sleepless nights due to constant reflection and research, I concluded at the age of 17, “anything that sounds or seems weird in Islam is not because its lacking wisdom, but its because I LACK wisdom to comprehend it at the time. My intellectual capacity only allows me to understand as much Allah has permitted but people with slightly higher comprehension ability explain complex sciences and math like its a piece of cake. If that slight difference in comprehension can make such a huge difference in IQ level and comprehension ability, then how can the deen given to us by the “All Knowing, All wise” not make sense. Its only my intellectual short-coming that Its not making sense to me at the time but in due time I will learn and I will get the wisdom to understand. Even if I die not understanding the particular hadith, at-least I know its because of my own intellectual imperfection but this Deen is PERFECT”

      And that was always the case. I understood the wisdom behind many things with age and with time.

      You know how they say, “The more I know, The more I know that I DON’T KNOW!”

  8. gunal

    April 26, 2014 at 12:16 PM

    Best lecture I have ever listened to. Very well written and very well delivered. I loved it! Took out a lot of of my frustration. I didn’t think it was possible to explain this problem of people reading, even, the Qur’an with critical minds. ..Well Done

  9. Tariq Ahmed

    April 26, 2014 at 3:13 PM

    How I love Dr. Brown for the sake of Allah! :)

    As I read the article that love really grew inside me. May Allah be pleased with him and protect him.

  10. Tariq Ahmed

    April 26, 2014 at 3:27 PM

    Wish a link were added to skip down to where Dr. Brown begins to speak. But this is a great speech, walhamdolillah, and I am glad for the transcript.

  11. Mahmud

    April 26, 2014 at 6:07 PM

    Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    I remember watching in NOVA that the Sun DOES actually move up and down through the galaxy……………………………………………………

    And since the throne is above is, maybe that is it’s form of Sajda.

  12. A reader

    April 27, 2014 at 7:39 AM

    As Salamu Alaikum,

    Truly an excellent talk by Dr. Brown. He explained critical questions of how we deal with hadiths in a clear and almost poetic way. I really appreciated his insistence made that the point isn’t accepting *beyond all shadow of doubt* any specific hadith ‘really came’ from the Prophet (s).

    Rather, the point for us when dealing with hadiths is recognizing what baggage/word view we carry with us when we read hadiths (especially ‘disturbing ones’). The point is to assume the best about our Prophet (s), and take whatever wisdom and guidance we can from hadith in leading our lives.

    With all that being said, I don’t think the issues regarding (certain) hadith and gender has been fully dealt with: for those of us who are troubled by these hadiths, I don’t think the issue is that we don’t want Prophetic guidance in our lives, or even that these hadiths are bizarre.

    My reaction to a hadith that states that my (female) nature comes from being made of a ‘bent rib’ and therefore can’t be ‘corrected’ is far different from a hadith which says that the sun ‘goes down’ and prostrates to the throne of God.

    The bent rib hadiths (and others like it) ***hurt*** – they really hurt…while the sun hadith is simply an intellectual curiosity.

    My reaction would be very different if the hadith had said ‘women are made of a different essence than men. Therefore, women and men think/behave/act differently. Those who want happy marriages simply accept this, and don’t try to change their spouse to think/act like them.’ Excellent advice indeed!

    The question remains why certain hadiths regarding women have to be so painful. Why must women plow through hurtful messages which we see as demeaning our nature, or creation, in order to pluck bits of wisdom, profound as the wisdom is?

    I do not know of any hadiths specifically regarding the male gender which are so painful– no hadiths which specifically state that men’s nature/intelligence/creation/behavior etc (as compared to women’s) is deficient in any way. (Please correct me if I am wrong here!)

    Of course, Dr. Brown is probably right even here: that the fact these hadith hurt is also due to baggage that we carry. In Arabian society around the time of the Prophet (s), where females were given almost no rights until Islam, where girls were buried alive in graves, being told your creation is derivative (women created from a part of a man, while men were the original item) and your nature is crooked was probably less of a big deal than it is today, where we expect (rightly or wrongly) expect equality or equity between the genders.

    Anyway, just some food for further thought…certainly not issues that can be fully covered in a 30 minute lecture on hadith as a whole!

    • The Salafi Feminist

      April 27, 2014 at 10:33 AM

      I think that the problem of us viewing various gender-related ahadith as ‘hurtful’ is not because of the wording of the ahadith themselves – but rather, how those ahadith have been translated, related, and explained to us by those who are the scholars/ du’aat of our regions (who in turn have been taught by the people of their era and regions, which include cultural connotations and attitudes that were not necessarily included by the original transmitters of the ahadith).

      The Sahabiyaat were the greatest of women, as well as incredibly intelligent, strong-willed, and determined… as well as being amongst those who transmitted huge numbers of the ahadith. If anyone was going to feel hurt by these ahadith, it would have been them – yet they did not express such hurt as we do today.

      We have our own cultural baggage and emotional hurts attached to these ahadith NOT because of the ahadith themselves but because of how these ahadith have been manipulated and wielded against women for so long, by so many people who clearly do not have a holistic understanding of the Sunnah.

      For myself, recognizing the emotional baggage we carry within ourselves has helped a great deal in how I approach these ahadith. Once again, it is NOT the ‘fault’ of the ahadith but rather of those who taught a warped understanding of them.

      • A reader

        April 28, 2014 at 12:02 PM

        Jazaki Allahu Khayran, Salafi Feminist!

        I need to more and more to be sure, but I think you are likely right right, for at least a majority of these hadiths.

        Even though only a day passed since my post above, I’m already getting a bit more clarity…

        1. As per the explanation of Sr. Amel regarding the ‘rib’ hadith below, it makes all the difference what words we use for translation (‘curved’ which has a neutral connotation, versus ‘crooked’ which definitely has a negative connotation).

        2. In certain instances, it seems that the Female companions (RA) did take into account ‘questionable’ hadith narrations from male counterparts (RA) with regard to gender…

        [Edited from

        Abu Huraira reported: THE MESSENGER OF ALLAH (may peace be upon him) SAID: A WOMAN, A DONKEY AND A DOG DISRUPT THE PRAYER, but something like the back of a saddle guards against that. (Sahih Muslim, Book 004, Number 1034)

        Narrated ‘Aisha: The things which annul the prayers were mentioned before me. They said, “Prayer is annulled by a dog, a donkey and a woman (if they pass in front of the praying people).” I said, “You have made us (i.e. women) dogs. I saw the Prophet praying while I used to lie in my bed between him and the Qibla. Whenever I was in need of something, I would slip away, for I disliked to face him.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 9, Number 490)

        Anyway, much more for me to learn!

    • mamlukman

      August 29, 2015 at 3:41 PM

      “We have revealed the Qur’an in clear verses. God gives guidance to whom He will.” (Qur’an 22:14–there are other places it says the same thing.)

      OK, if you believe that the Qur’an is “clear,” then I think you have to ask yourself why it’s NOT clear: why do you need hadith to explain “clear” passages? Why do Muslims believe in abrogation (some verses have been declared null and void or replaced by other verses)? Why do you need an elaborate fiqh to explain “clear” directives???

      Either it’s “clear” (because the Qur’an is the infallible word of God) or it’s NOT “clear” and you need all this other stuff to explain it. To me–a non-Muslim–this is a logical contradiction.

      Brown’s lecture reveals something of his Anglican background, although he probably doesn’t see it and wouldn’t admit it even if he did. In other words, you need to go beyond the literal meaning of a passage and ask yourself what the overall message is. As a technique, I think that’s the correct way to do it. But Muslim try to turn black into white: for example, on the issue of women. It’s clear from multiple verses of the Qur’an and a lot more hadith that women weren’t exactly equal, or even close. Muslims weren’t too worried about that until they began to be criticized by the West; then they tied all sorts of contortions to justify Islam’s position on women. If you believe all the verbal gymnastics, good for you, but it’s just not logical. Women are inferior in Islam. That’s it. If you like that, remain a Muslim; if you don’t, leave.

      • Gunal

        August 30, 2015 at 10:50 AM

        Dear mamlukman, with your citation of the Qur’an at the beginning of your comment you have already answered yourself but you do not see it. God indeed gives guidance to whom He will. I believe He gave me guidance through your citation… an insight really, to your (a non-muslim person’s) thoughts about our religion. Your problem isn’t and cannot be with our holy book. Because I fear Qur’an already dismisses you in revealing itself to you. However, that is only my opinion God knows your heart best. You might understand Qur’an better than I do. That is not an issue I want to point out in my comment.

        You said “Brown’s lecture reveals something of his Anglican background, although he probably doesn’t see it and wouldn’t admit it even if he did.” I think you are right. That might be why it had appealed to me so greatly. And having an Anglican take isn’t a bad thing. After all that is part of our history; our own religion.

        But you are wrong about your implications that Islam is the only religion unequal towards women. Why do you think your so called “West” had their fair share of problems with Women’s Rights Movement…Feminism… ! Gender discrimination is global. Yes there are people who hide behind the scriptures and claim it is their God-given right to dominate women and treat them the hell they want. I liken those people to the people who goes around saying God’s words ” Thou shall not kill”, yet draws an overall conclusion that it is all right to kill perhaps sometimes. Well we will all see on the judgement day!

        May God prevent us all from hatred, anger, and wanting to dominate one another.

  13. Amel

    April 27, 2014 at 12:44 PM

    As-salamu Alaykum,

    I’m not exactly qualified to interpret hadeeths, but I thought I’d weigh in on the specific hadeeth you mentioned (the “bent rib” hadeeth).

    I am a professional translator and have seen many times how easy it is to mistakenly convey a meaning that was not necessarily intended by the original author or speaker.

    In English, the words “crooked” and “bent” have negative connotations because they are words we use to describe people who are dishonest or evasive. If you look into this hadeeth, however, you will see other translations of the same hadeeth using the word “curved.” I don’t know about you, but I feel that “curved” is more about the shape of a rib and not about whether it is defective. It is a statement of fact that a rib is curved, bent, or even “crooked,” if one wants to use that word in translation…just like a road can be curved or crooked without making an assumption about whether this is positive or negative.

    One version of the hadeeth reads:

    “Treat women kindly, for they were created from a rib, and the most curved part of a rib is its uppermost. So, treat women kindly.”

    Like you, I have seen the various explanations, even scholarly ones, saying that the hadeeth refers to a woman’s deficiencies or shortcomings.

    However, I do not take from this hadeeth that women are crooked or deficient in any way. What I understand from these words is that women are created with a specific nature, and putting undue stress on them may cause them to break. A rib is curved by design, and you would not try to manipulate its shape because it would then cease to maintain its proper function. I don’t think we think of ribs as deficient due to being curved; rather they are evidence of Allah’s perfect creation.

    As I stated at the beginning, I am not qualified to interpret hadeeths and would not want to mislead anyone, but I actually think that this hadeeth is quite lovely and comforting if you think about it on a deeper level.

    • Amel

      April 27, 2014 at 12:55 PM

      I just wanted to clarify that my post was in response to “A Reader” above and not to the author of the article, who addressed the matter of this hadeeth on the second page of his article (which I did not realize when I wrote my post).

    • gunal

      April 27, 2014 at 3:04 PM

      I think there are so many words in religious texts that are chosen very carefully. Most convey more than just one simple meaning. And what is magical about it is the fact that they all can be interpreted negatively. I say magical, because, whatever your mood is when you are reading, you will be supported in your ideology. For example, if you read them with scepticism in mind, you can see almost everything contradictory and supporting your scepticism. And if you read them with dark mind, with no respect for women, you will be supported in those claims too. I noticed this when I was reading the Qur’an (and the Bible). I have noticed that I was reading them as if they were written directly for me. So if I am told I am made from a bent/curved rib. I would question how I might relate to that statement? I have respect for my God and I know with that statement He is trying to help me. Some days I interpret it as ‘I can be unbearable’, some days I interpret it as ‘I am vulnerable and fragile (need extra special protection from Him)’, and some days I feel ‘very precious, unique’… If a man, however, tells me viciously I am made from a bent rib, I will never change and I am inherently bad… this to me is nothing but someone who read the text when in a bad mood and trying to take it out on me. I will seek refuge in God.
      You might ask; why then, God made everything with negative meanings? Because, the religious texts are so magical that every individual can relate them into their own personal lives. And all of us lead different lives. And not every day is ever the same. And, most importantly, we all are given a choice in how we practice the things we learn.

      • A reader

        April 28, 2014 at 12:28 PM

        Jazaki Allahu Khayran Sr. Gunal for your very thoughtful answer. Definitely something for me to reflect on…

        I guess the only issue (baggage?) that comes up for me is that it seems that texts regarding women specifically seem to be capable of being interpreted negatively. As you mention, they can also be interpreted positively or neutrally, but the negative interpretation seems to be right on the surface for most. Its the neutral/positive interpretations that we have to struggle to get at more.

        Texts regarding men just do not seem to have the similar issues.

        Again, perhaps this is more my cultural baggage, or our shared cultural baggage as a human Muslim society more than what is in the texts themselves?

        • gunal

          April 28, 2014 at 7:55 PM

          A reader, when you are reflecting could you ask this question to yourself: Why is it important for you that there are no such texts regarding men? Vengeance? Unfairness in a religion you desperately want to trust? … If you haven’t found any such texts, this might indicate that you mean well, otherwise you would have found a lot of them by now…

          I apologise, I must have sound like someone who feels positive most of the time. When it comes to me I am my own worst enemy (if I may say, I feel you are no different). I don’t think it is just the baggage that affects our thoughts. Even the weather can make us feel negative and make us see our glass half empty. It can help the baggage to surface.

          ‘Cultural baggage’. I can see this affecting me. Most of us are concerned too much about what everyone else thinks and what everyone else does. It is wonderful that you are reflecting. Try and reflect on yourself only. Yes, baggage! See what baggage you have and how they are affecting your thoughts and behaviour. Are your thoughts and behaviour unattached to the thoughts of others? No one can understand you better than God, and then your own self. Therefore, my reflections are between God and I. The rest is irrelevant.

          ‘Shared cultural baggage’. You should not share the cultural baggage. Because everyone is in the same position as you (at least they ought to be) –trying to sort the baggage out. No one can sort any of it out for others but only for themselves.

        • O H

          May 3, 2014 at 9:04 PM

          In a Hadith Qudsi Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) said
          Allah, the Exalted says, ‘I am just as My slave believes me to be and I am with him when He remembers Me’. This is part of a bigger hadith.

          Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allah have Mercy upon him) said: “Most people – in fact, all of them except those protected by Allah – assume other than the truth, and assume the worst. Most people believe that they are deprived of their rights, have bad luck, deserve more than what Allah gave them, and it is as if they are saying: ‘My Lord has wronged me and deprived me of what I deserve,’ and his soul bears witness to this while his tongue denies it and refuses to openly state this. And whoever digs into his soul and comes to know its ins and outs will see this in it like fire in a triggered explosion…And if you dig into anyone’s soul, you will see that he blames fate and would rather have something else happen to him than what actually did, and that things should be this way or that…So, dig into your own self: are you protected from this? If you are safe from this, you have been protected from something great. Otherwise, I do not see that you have been saved.” [Zad al-Ma’ad]

          We have to be extremely careful when it comes to what assumptions we have with regards to Our Lord, His commandments and every other aspect of the Deen.

          “This is because they hate what Allah has sent down, so He made their deeds fruitless.” [47:9]”

          Allaah Subhana wa ta’ala has mentioned in His book a quality of the disbelievers and an attitude which could render all our deeds vain-a nullifier of the shahada as scholars have commented on this ayah!

          I am not saying that any such thing has occurred with your statements but it is an advice to myself and others that assuming good of Allaah & his Verses plus assuming good of the Prophet (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) and his ahadeeth/narrations is an absolute necessity for the contrary could lead to misery in this life and the next, Allaahu’l Musta’an!

          • Reed

            May 4, 2014 at 11:04 AM

            @ O H. I agree with all that you said. There is still an issue, however, in determining (1) what the Prophet (pbuh) said (is this hadith authentic or not), (2) the meaning of what was said, (3) the context in which it was said, and (4) its applicability (is it generalizable or specific to the context). It’s not impossible for someone to assume good of the Prophet (pbuh) and still have problems with a translation or interpretation of an authentic hadith or problems believing (based upon one’s understanding of the Quran) that a particular hadith is authentic.

          • gunal

            May 5, 2014 at 5:30 PM

            I don’t think the problem is that we cannot justify the authenticity of some Hadiths, (or even particular texts from Qur’an). Everything is written for the very best intentions. All tries to make us understand something that our physical minds cannot easily grasp… On top of that there is the problem of some negative schools of thoughts giving their own negative thoughts on the matter. Naturally you doubt and reconsider your own thoughts on the matter. All this is normal. How can we even consider a thought without two opposing or different arguments?

            However, if you have and show a genuine curiosity in getting answers to your questions, Qur’an promises that even the fishes in the sea will be made to answer your questions.

            What Ibn al-Qayyim said sounds correct OH, however, you cannot ignore the verse about asking questions and Qur’an’s promise in helping you getting the answers. If you asked Ibn al-Qayyi;m; I believe I fall into the category of those people who thinks ‘I am deprived of my thoughts, my Lord has wronged me…’ are you suggesting I should just give up and accept my damnation? Do you think he will say yes? Unlikely! Yet, you are suggesting that is the case. If he did answer yes would that not nullify the verse from Qur’an?… A responsible religious leader would tell you the possible consequences of your thoughts and also help and encourage you to change those thoughts, would give you hope that each day is a present from our God and a wealth of knowledge out there to be gained if you are willing… Not just confirm your wrong path and let you carry on in that wrong path. I cannot believe you can even suggest this therefore, I am beginning to think what you meant in your comment is not what I understood. And this would confirm what Reed pointed out ‘each person might derive different meanings to any given text’.

          • O H

            May 7, 2014 at 12:53 AM

            @gunal: What I meant was quite straightforward, nothing sinister. We have to assume good about Allaah, His Messenger, the Ayaat of the Qur’an and ahadeeth. I have reservations with comments such as the texts for females looking negative on the surface and being susceptible to negative interpretation whereas incase of the texts relating to men this isn’t the case as mentioned by ‘A reader’. Such comments don’t seem fitting and in my initial post I have not condemned reflection and analysis but such rash conclusions. It’s a continuation of the point made by the author of this article that it’s issues in our understanding and approach which may lead us to doubt or have ill understanding of texts.

          • gunal

            May 7, 2014 at 11:11 AM

            I am glad you have replied OH. I didn’t think you meant anything sinister. I would like you to notice something that I have observed. When I listen to people who are claiming to do Dawa, with the first inclination of my wrongdoing they take the position of ‘the judge, the jury and the executioner all in one’.

            If I said ‘I hate something’, with the ayah you have cited: “This is because they hate what Allah has sent down, so He made their deeds fruitless.” [47:9]”, they (so called Dawa people) are quick to condemn me. This type of Dawa or consultation of Qur’an does not serve any benefits. The best way would be; the person (I) should be encouraged to think on this verse whether he/she personally hate what Allah sent. If so, in what ways (as there are millions of ways; they might love some of the things and not love some other things therefore may have not realized that they do hate some of the things).

            You mentioned the scholars’ points of view on this ayah: “Allaah Subhana wa ta’ala has mentioned in His book a quality of the disbelievers and an attitude which could render all our deeds vain-a nullifier of the shahada as scholars have commented on this ayah!” This did sound to me as if you may be prosecuting in the same way. My apologies!

    • A reader

      April 28, 2014 at 12:19 PM

      Jazaki Allahu Khayran, Sr Amel!

      I had two main ‘concerns’ about hadiths which mention women’s creation from the rib, and you clearly answered one of them.

      My first issue was indeed the translation of our nature being ‘crooked’ as we are made of a bent rib. You clearly addressed that the Arabic word does not have to be translated in a negative fashion such as ‘crooked’ but could potentially be translated in a neutral sense ‘curved.’

      I especially took your following statement to heart:

      “A rib is curved by design, and you would not try to manipulate its shape because it would then cease to maintain its proper function. I don’t think we think of ribs as deficient due to being curved; rather they are evidence of Allah’s perfect creation.”

      Right on :D! As a person with extensive training in biology, I agree it would be inefficient and inelegant if the heart/lungs were protected with bones that were straight. In fact, it would look ludicrous (like a robot!!).

      My other issue, does not have to do with being created from a rib per se, as much as that women are stated to be created (from a rib) of a man.

      My interpretation has been as follows: men are the original creation, the archetype of the species, while women are sidekicks/after thoughts.

      After reading Dr. Brown’s article, I realize that much of my interpretation maybe due to my own baggage more than anything else – but this has always been the way I interpreted these hadiths

      Would appreciate any help in ‘unloading’ my baggage :D!

      • gunal

        April 28, 2014 at 8:17 PM

        Only you can ‘unload’ your own baggage A reader. Carry on reflecting… Another important question to think over: What does sidekick means to you? Is it hundred percent a bad thing? Being an after thought? I can find a lot of good things about being an after thought. Imagine the improvements God must have done on us… It is you seeing the glass half empty.If you cannot think positively about your own self then think of an ideal woman. God’s intention perhaps?And then try to be like one. It does seem impossible but nevertheless, God’s intention cannot be bad right?

      • Saliha

        April 30, 2014 at 8:04 AM

        @a reader,
        “Men are the archetypes, while women are the sidekicks.”
        I def can see where you’re coming from, but ask yourself why Hawa(Eve)news created in the first place. Adam was in the best of places, but he still felt deficent/ a lack without a companion. So if anyone was originally deficient, it would have to be man. So that the only ever Being that’s not deficient is Allah (swt). It’s a sexist reinterpretation but just trying to get you to see another side.

      • june

        April 30, 2014 at 9:20 AM

        “men are the original creation, the archetype of the species, while women are sidekicks/after thoughts.”

        I do not want to speak without knowledge but it would seem to me that while it may seem men are “the original, the archetype” Allah, in all His Wisdom, already knew the nature of man when He created him and so already knew He would create the female too. Thus she is not an “afterthought.” And while it may seem women are “derivative” because they were created from a part of man it seems more to me like it makes it so that one is not complete without the other. We compliment and complete each other. I think there is something in the Qur’an about women being like clothing for men AND LIKEWISE men are like clothing for women.

        Your interpretation sounds an awful lot like Anita Sharkesian’s interpretation she made in her “Mrs. Male Character” video in her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. While I appreciate her working to bring awareness and change to the misrepresentation and mistreatment of women in media I certainly thought she was…. wrong when she essentially said Hawa was a trope. It presents a fundamental misunderstanding of how men and women are to be viewed (and function) within Islam.

        While she claims the “Mrs. Male Character” sets up Male as normal and Female as essentially abnormal, this is not the case with creation of man and woman and she was way out of bounds to make that claim/comparison. Unlike in video games, where a female character is often created only to try to appeal to the demographic the industry has systematically shut out over the past few decades or to reinforce certain stereotypes, in Islam women are not (supposed to be) seen as abnormal, derivative, or inferior.

        As for the “sidekick” comparison, think of man and woman as more like the Wonder Twins than as Batman and Robin. Once again, it was already planned to have a male and female, the woman was not an afterthought. She is not a sidekick but an absolute necessity since their powers do not work if they are out of range of each other.

      • mamlukman

        August 29, 2015 at 3:48 PM

        I think you’d have to go back to a classical dictionary, maybe Lisan al-Arab, to see the possible definitions: “curved” or “crooked.” Are both possible? Is one used 90% of the time and the other 10%? Did the author of that hadith use the same word elsewhere? If so, what did it mean there? This is simply “Western” scholarship–not assuming some divine meaning, but simply looking at the facts. If you start by saying “This is the divine word of God,” you automatically rule out any other possibilities. You can do this, of course, but it’s not scientific.

  14. fmarwan84

    April 27, 2014 at 6:37 PM

    SubhanAllah the analysis on the hadiths about “misogyny” really refuted the simplistic claims of non-hadith laymen like Myriam Francois Cerrah and Adam Deen.

  15. archerofmusings

    April 28, 2014 at 1:35 AM

    Mashallah very good article!

    Does anybody know Dr.brown if he is a muslim…if he isn’t I make dua that Allah gives him tawfeeq. Ameen

    • Irfan

      April 28, 2014 at 3:21 AM

      He is. You will notice at the beginning of the transcript that he starts off with the Basmalah. Dr. Brown also delivered a khutba in a Bay Area masjid sometime back.

    • mamlukman

      August 29, 2015 at 3:50 PM

      He’s been a Muslim since he was 20, in 1997. Like all other converts, he never bothered to learn anything about his own religion.

  16. Saliha

    April 28, 2014 at 10:53 AM

    Amazing lecture mA! Can’t wait to read his book.

  17. Zaytuna Staff

    April 28, 2014 at 2:54 PM

    Can you please give proper attribution to the fact that this was at Zaytuna College which was hosting the event! Thank you.

  18. Pingback: Hadith: Between Muslim Conviction & Western...

  19. Reed

    May 8, 2014 at 10:31 AM

    “The difference between that approach and a classical Islamic approach was that classical Muslim scholars, they believed that the Qurʾān contained the truth. They believed that the message of the Prophet ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), if it’s preserved accurately, it also contains truth. And that anything outside the scriptures that’s true, can be reconciled with the Qurʾān and the authentic sunnah.”

    The key question, then, Is a particular hadith “authentic”?

    “So if you discover that the sun actually doesn’t go below the earth and disappear from human sight, that it’s actually always up somewhere in the world, then what do you do with that hadith I just told you about? You just interpret it figuratively, just interpret it figuratively.”

    With a hadith that touches upon a reality that science deals with, you can interpret it figuratively. But with those that don’t, what does one do when the hadith is obviously not in accordance with the Prophet’s (pbuh) character?

    “What’s very interesting about Muslim scholars in the pre-modern period is that they wanted to believe hadiths, they wanted to believe hadiths. If you could come up with any decent argument why this hadith was reliable, they wanted to accept it. They wanted more information that might be traceable back to the Prophet. They wanted more connections to the Prophet.”

    In other words, the scholars had a tremendous amount of confirmation bias that allowed non-authentic hadiths to be classified as authentic.

    “They don’t want the Prophetic presence interfering in their lives. They don’t want to find a statement from the Prophet that can give them guidance, that might have wisdom for them. and you see this so often, especially with hadiths dealing with gender, and I know this is a controversial topic.”

    Again, I imagine that most “don’t want the Prophetic presence interfering in their lives.” But just as that’s true of those who reject hadiths, it’s even more true of those who accept them uncritically because they prefer to conform to their group understanding instead of seeking truth. Rejecting a hadith because one has the wrong understanding of it means that one is really rejecting an understanding that does not accord with the Quran or the Prophet’s (pbuh) character. (Of course, one needs to acknowledge that a hadith might be authentic and that one’s understanding of it is possibly wrong.) Similarly, accepting a hadith with a wrong understanding of it means that one prefers his/her group’s wrong interpretation to what is known of the actual character of the Prophet (pbuh) or of the Quran.

    • mamlukman

      August 29, 2015 at 3:53 PM

      This is a great technique: reject any evidence you think doesn’t support your position; accept as authentic any evidence you agree with. Scientific? I don’t think so.

  20. Muhammad

    June 22, 2014 at 6:43 AM

    Reed, great comment!

    Please speak out and write to the Muslims more!

  21. Pingback: Creation from a crooked rib: Does Islam deride women? | ICRAA

    • mamlukman

      August 29, 2015 at 3:57 PM

      I would be a lot happier with the Qur’an and hadith if:
      1) women could marry 4 men at a time.
      2) women could divorce men by repeating a sentence three times.
      3) women had a straight rib and men had a crooked rib.
      4) women’s testimony were two times as acceptable as a man’s.
      5) women had 72 male sex slaves in Heaven.
      6) get the idea? Women are ALWAYS in the inferior position in Islam. ALWAYS. If you’re a female masochist, Islam is for you.

  22. Pingback: Rejecting Hadiths: The Fitnah of the Quranists | The Thinking Muslim

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