Ram Swarup (1919-1998) graduted from the University of Delhi in 1941 and had been an original writer and thinker ever since. He participated in his country’s struggle for independence, courting imprisonment. For some years, he was a close associate of British- born Mira Behn (Miss Slade), Mahatma Gandhi’s adopted daughter. In the fifties he led a movement warning against the growing danger which international communism presented to the newly won freedom of the country. Around 1957, he took to a life of meditation and spiritual refection, and since then he had made a deep study of the scriptures of different religious traditons.
Ram Swarup was a noted writer in many fields. His previous books and brochures include Communism and Peasantry: Implications of Collectivist Agriculture of Asian Countaries, Foundations of Maoism, and Buddhism vis-à-vis Hinduism. His Gandhims and Communism stressed the need to raise the struggle against communism from a military to a moral and ideological level. The brochure caught the attention of several US Congressmen, and some of its ideas were adopted by the Eisenhower administration in its agenda for the Geneva Conference in 1955. His Gandhian Economics, small but seminal, shows that the present industrial production system suffers form circularity, a deep internal technological contradiction- coal and iron, and a hundred other commodities symbolized by them, producing and consuming one another in a crescendo, round and round. His magnum opus, The word as Revelation: Names of Gods, is on Linguistics, Philosophy, Vedic exegesis, and Yoga. It shows how a religion of ‘many Gods’ represents authentic spirituality.
Islam is not merely a theology, or a statement about Allah and his relationship with His creatures. Besides containing doctrinal and creedal material, it deals with social, penal, commercial, ritualistic, and ceremonial matters. It enters into everything, even into such private areas as one's dress, marrying, and mating. In the language of the Muslim theologians, Islam is a "complete" and "completed" religion.
It is equally political and military. It has much to do with statecraft, and it has a very specific view of the world peopled by infidels. Since most of the world is still infidel, it is very important for those who are not Muslims to understand Islam.
The sources of Islam are two: the Quran and the Hadis ("Sayings" or "Traditions"), usually called the Sunnah ("customs"), both having their center in Muhammad. The Quran contains the Prophet's "revelations" (wahy); the Hadis, all that he did or said, or enjoined, forbade or did not forbid, approved or disapproved. The word Hadis, singular in form (pI. ahadis), is also used collectively for all the traditions taken together, for the whole sacred tradition.
Muslim theologians make no distinction between the Quran and the Hadis. To them both are works of revelation or inspiration. The quality and degree of the revelation in both works is the same; only the mode of expression is different. To them, the Hadis is the Quran in action, revelation made concrete in the life of the Prophet. In the Quran, Allah speaks through Muhammad; in the Sunnah, He acts through him. Thus Muhammad's life is a visible expression of Allah's utterances in the Quran. God provides the divine principle, Muhammad the living pattern. No wonder, then, that Muslim theologians regard the Quran and the Hadis as being supplementary or even interchangeable. To them, the Hadis is wahy ghair matlu ("unread revelation," that is, not read from the Heavenly Book like the Quran but inspired all the same); and the Quran is hadis mutwatir, that is, the Tradition considered authentic and genuine by all Muslims from the beginning.
Thus the Quran and the Hadis provide equal guidance. Allah with the help of His Prophet has provided for every situation. Whether a believer is going to a mosque or to his bedroom or to the toilet, whether he is making love or war, there is a command and a pattern to follow. And according to the Quran, when Allah and His Apostle have decided a matter, the believer does not have his or her own choice in the matter (33:36).
And yet situations do arise when the guidance is lacking. It is said of Imam ibn Hanbal (b. A.H. 164, d. A.H. 241 = A.D. 780-855) that he never ate watermelons, even though he knew that the Prophet had done so, because he did not know his manner of eating them. The same story is related even of Bayazid Bistan, a great Sufi, whose mystical teachings went against orthodox Quranic theology.
Though the non-Muslim world is not as familiar with the Sunnah, or Hadis, as with the Quran, the former even more than the latter is the most important single source of Islamic laws, precepts, and practices. Ever since the lifetime of the Prophet, millions of Muslims have tried to imitate him in their dress, diet, hair-style, sartorial fashions, toilet mores, and sexual and marital habits. Whether one visits Arabia or Central Asia, India or Malaysia, one meets certain conformities, such as the veil, polygamy, ablution, and istinja (abstersion of the private parts). These derive from the Sunnah, rein- forced by the Quran. All are accepted not as changing social usages but as divinely ordained forms, as categorical moral imperatives.
The subjects that the Hadis treats are multiple and diverse. It gives the Prophet's views of Allah, of the here and the hereafter, of hell and heaven, of the Last Day of Judgment, of iman (faith), salat (prayer), .zakat (poor tax), sawm (fast), and hajj (pilgrimage), popularly known as religious subjects; but it also includes his pronouncements on jihad (holy war), al-anfal (war booty), and khums (the holy fifth); as well as on crime and punishment, on food, drink, clothing, and personal decoration, on hunting and sacrifices, on poets and soothsayers, on women and slaves, on gifts, inheritances, and dowries, on toilet, ablution, and bathing; on dreams, christianing, and medicine, on vows and oaths and testaments, on images and pictures, on dogs, lizards, and ants.
The Hadis constitutes a voluminous literature. It gives even in- significant details of the Prophet's life. Every word from his lips, every nod or shake of his head, everyone of his gestures and mannerisms was important to his followers. These are remembered by them as best as they could and passed on from generation to generation. Naturally those who came into greater contact with the Prophet had the most to tell about him. 'Aisha, his wife, Abu Bakr and 'Umar, his aristocratic followers, Anas b. Malik, his servant for ten years, who died at the ripe age of 103 in A.H. 93, and' Abdullah b. 'Abbas, his cousin, were fertile sources of many ahadis. But another most prolific source was Abu Huraira, who is the authority for 3,500 traditions. He was no relation of the Prophet, but he had no particular work to do except that he specialized in collecting traditions from other Companions. Similarly, 1,540 traditions derive from the authority of Jabir, who was not even a Quraish but belonged to the Khazraj tribe of Medina, which was allied to Muhammad.
Every hadis has a text (matn) and a chain of transmission (isnizd). The same text may have several chains, but every text must be traced back to a Companion (as-habi, a man who came into personal con- tact with the Prophet. The Companions related their stories to their successors (tizbiun), who passed them on to the next generation.
At first the traditions were orally transmitted, though some of the earliest narrators must have also kept written notes of some kind. But as the Companions and the Successors and their descendants died, a need was felt to commit them to writing. There were two other reasons. The Quranic injunctions were probably sufficient for the uncomplicated life of the early Arabs, but as the power of the Muslims grew and they became the masters of an extended empire, they had to seek a supplementary source of authority to take into account new situations and new customs. This was found in the Sun- nah, in the practice of the Prophet, already very high in the estimation of the early Muslims.
There was an even more pressing reason. Spurious traditions were coming into being, drowning the genuine ones. There were many motives at play behind this development. Some of these new traditions were merely pious frauds, worked up in order to promote what the fabricators thought were elements of a pious life, or what they thought were the right theological views.
There were also more personal motives at work. The traditions were no longer mere edifying stories. They were sources of prestige and profit. To have one's ancestors counted among the Emigrants or Helpers, to have them present at the Pledge of al-Aqabah or included among the combatants at the Battles of Badr and Uhud-in short, to have them mentioned in any context of loyalty and usefulness to the Prophet-was a great thing. So Traditionists who could get up right traditions were very much in demand. Traditionists like Shurahbil b. Sa'd utilized their power effectively; they favored and blackmailed as it suited them.
Spurious traditions also arose in order to promote factional interests. Soon after Muhammad's death, there were cutthroat struggles for power between several factions, particularly the Alids, the Ummayads, and later on the Abbasides. In this struggle, great passions were generated, and under their influence new traditions were concocted and old ones usefully edited.
The pious and the hero-worshipping mind also added many miracles around the life of Muhammad, so that the man tended to be lost in the myth.
Under these circumstances, a serious effort was made to collect and sift all the current traditions, rejecting the spurious ones and committing the correct ones to writing. A hundred years after Muhammad, under Khalifa 'Umar II, orders were issued for the collection of all extant traditions under the supervision of Bakr ibn Muhammad. But the Muslim world had to wait another hundred years before the work of sifting was undertaken by a galaxy of traditionists like Muhammad Ismail al-Bukhari (A.H. 194-256 = A.D. 810-870), Muslim ibnu'f-Hajjaj (A.H. 204-261 =A.D. 819-875), Abu Isa Muhammad at-Tirrniz i (A.H. 209-279 = A.D. 824-892), Abu Da'Ud as-Sajistani (A.H. 202-275 =A.D. 817-888) and others.
Bukhari laid down elaborate canons of authenticity and applied them with a ruthless hand. It is said that he collected 600,000 traditions but accepted only 7,000 of them as authentic. Abu Dc1'w entertained only 4,800 traditions out of a total of 500,000. It is also said that 40,000 names were mentioned in different chains of transmission but that Bukhari accepted only 2,000 as genuine.
As a result of the labor of these Traditionists, the chaotic mass was cut down and some order and proportion were restored. Over a thousand collections which were in vogue died away in due course, and only six collections, the Sihah Sitta as they are called, became authentic Sahis, or collections. Of these, the ones by Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim are at the top-"the two authentics," they are called. There is still a good deal of the miraculous and the improbable in them, but they contain much that is factual and historical. Within three hundred years of the death of Muhammad, the Hadis acquired substantially the form in which it is known today.
To the infidel with his critical faculty still intact, the Hadis is a collection of stories, rather unedifying, about a man, rather all too human. But the Muslim mind has been taught to look at them in a different frame of mind. The believers have handled, narrated, and read them with a feeling of awe and worship. It is said of 'Ab- dullah ibn Mas'iid (died at the age of seventy in A.H. 32), a Companion and a great Traditionist (authority for 305 traditions), that he trembled as he narrated a hadis, sweat often breaking out allover his forehead. Muslim believers are expected to read the traditions in the same spirit and with the same mind. The lapse of time helps the process. As the distance grows, the hero looms larger.
We have also chosen the Sahih Muslim as the main text for our present volume. It provides the base, though in our discussion we have often quoted from the Quran. The Quran and the Hadis are interdependent and mutually illuminating. The Quran provides the text, the Hadis the context. In fact, the Quran cannot be understood without the aid of the Hadis, for every Quranic verse has a context which only the Hadis provides. The Hadis gives flesh and blood to the Quranic revelations, reveals their more earthly motives, and provides them with the necessary locale.
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