CHAPTER 32: HAZRAT MIRZA’S REVIEW OF THE DEBATE BETWEEN MAULVI CHAKRALVI AND MAULVI BATALVI

Maulvi Abdullah Chakralvi

Maulvi Abdullah Chakralvi, a resident of the town of Chakrala in Mianwali district, was a fanatic follower of the Ahl-e-Hadithsect. Later, he did an about face and totally rejected the importance of Hadith.

He began referring to the Books of Hadith as trash andeven tried to extract the form of the daily prayers from the Quran. Maulvi Chakralvi and like-minded people came up with so many different versions of how to pray from the Quran that one was reminded of the Persian proverb: “Many troubled dreams, and yet evenmore interpretations!”

On November 20, 1902, someone pointed out to Hazrat Mirza that Maulvi Chakralvi had altered the form of the daily prayers by excluding the entire portion of the prayer offered in the sitting position (qadah) including the salutation on the Holy Prophet, and by making other changes. Hazrat Mirza regretted this development, and termed the innovations of Maulvi Chakralvi as dangerous.

In those days, a debate had taken place between Maulvi Chakralvi and Maulvi Muhammad Husain Batalvi, who was a leading cleric of the Ahl-e- Hadith sect of Muslims. Hazrat Mirza felt that both the clerics had adopted extreme positions on either side of the golden mean and that it was a special grace from God that He had kept Hazrat Mirza and his followers on the straight path. Hazrat Mirza expressed his intention to write a review of the debate in order to expose the extremist positions of the two clerics. Hazrat Mirza then said:

Prophets always bring two things with them — a book, and their prac- tice (Sunnah); one is the word of God, and the other is the exposition of the word through their own practice. Even worldly affairs require the exposition of both theory and practice. For example, a teacher first expounds the subtleties of a problem and then practicallydemonstrates its solution.

Just as the word of Allah is certain, the practice of the prophets is also definitive. We thank God that He has kept us firmly rooted on the straight path. The Ahl-e Hadith have gone to one extreme by proclaiming the Books of Hadith to be a judge over the Quran, thereby relegating the Quran to a position of a plaintiff before the Books of HadithMaulvi Chakralvi has gone to the other extreme by rejecting all the Hadith outright.

Such notions can cause harm and must be corrected. God has appointed me as an arbiter, and I will expose this fallacy through a public pronouncement…A little reflec- tion on the path that God has shepherded us on fills one with pleasure. 

Indeed, how rightly has the Quran judged when it states: “In what announcement after this will they then believe?” (7:185) and in another place: “In what announcement will they then believe after Allah and His signs?” (45:6) This is a kind of prophecy about these Wahabis (Ahl-e-Hadith sect). And for those who reject the practice of Prophet Muhammad (the Sunnah), it is stated: “If you love Allah, follow me: Allah will love you.” (3:31)

Review of the debate between Maulvi Chakralvi and Maulvi Batalvi

Hazrat Mirza’s landmark review of the debate between Maulvi Chakralvi and Maulvi Batalvi was published on November 27, 1902 in the form of a public pronouncement. 

This review is a model of the right path and the excellent beliefs that Allah had bestowed anew to the Muslim nation through the Reformer of the era. The entire pronouncement is available in a published form and is well worth a read. The introductory section of the review is presented below for the benefit of the reader:

The statements of the two parties reveal that the reason for the debate on this topic was that Maulvi Abdullah (Chakralvi) Sahibconsiders the traditions (hadith) of the Prophet to be trash, and uses language that cannot be used in civilized discussion.

On the other hand, Maulvi Muhammad Hussain (Batalvi) Sahib asserts that if the Books of Hadith are trash, absurd, and unreliable then a major portion of the forms of worship and of the Islamic jurisprudence will be rendered void because the details of the Quranic commandments are known only through the Hadith.

Otherwise, if the Quran alone is considered to be sufficient then where is the evidence from the Quran that the obligatory part of the prayer in the morning (Fajr) is two rakahs, of the sunset (Maghrib) prayer is three rakahs and those of the other three prayers is four rakahs? Although there is a flaw in this argument, this objection is nevertheless powerful in its style. This is the reason why Maulvi Abdullah Sahib did not give any convincing reply; just some idle talk that is not worth repeating.

However, as a result of this objection, Maulvi Abdullah Sahib had to invent a new type of daily prayer whose similitude does not exist in any sect in any part of the Islamic world. He eliminated the al-tashah-hud prayer, the salutation on the Holy Prophet (darud) and all other prayers reported from the Holy Prophet, and replaced them with Quranic verses. He has probably made many other changes to the daily prayer as well. So is it true that the Hadith are as useless and absurd as Maulvi Abdullah Sahibthinks? God forbid, absolutely not!

The fact of the matter is that both the parties have adopted extreme posi- tions. The first contending party i.e., Maulvi Muhammad Husain Sahib is correct in asserting that those hadith whose chain of narrators can be traced back to the Holy Prophet are not such that they can be considered as trash and absurd.

But ignoring the rule “pay due regard to the status of each,” he puts the status of Hadith on such a high pedestal that its logical consequence is a degradation of the Quran — a position that must be rejected. The Ahl-e Hadith show no concern that they are opposing the Book of Allah and they give preference to the narrations in the Books of Hadith over the narrations that are given plainly in the Quran.

In all eventualities, they consider the accounts given in Hadithsuperior to the words of Allah. This is an outright error and transgresses the bounds of justice. Allah the Glorious states in the Holy Quran: “In what hadith will they then believe after Allah and His ayaat (verses or signs)?” (45:6). Here the generality that is conferred by making the word hadith a common noun shows clearly that any hadith that is con- trary and opposed to the Quran and for which no way can be found to make it conformable with the Quran should be rejected.

There is also another prophecy that is evident from this Quranic injunction. The prophecy is that God, the Most High, points in this verse to a time that will come over the Muslim nation when some indi- viduals of the nation will forsake the Quran and act onsuch hadith that tell stories, which are opposed and contrary to what is expressed in the Quran. 

In short, the Ahl-e Hadith sect isgoing to an extreme by giving precedence to what is written in the Hadith over the testimony of the Quran. If they had actedjustly, and with fear of God, they should have compared these hadith with the Quran. Instead they felt satisfied with forsaking and deserting the definitive Word of God, but did not agree to either reject those hadith whose narratives are contrary to the Book of Allah or to interpret them in a way that is in consonance with the Book of Allah. This is the path of extremism that has been embraced by Maulvi Muhammad Husain.

His opponent, Maulvi Chakralvi, has adopted the other extreme by rejecting all the hadith outright.

Rejection of the Hadith is in a sense also the rejection of the Quran, because Allah says in the Quran: “Say: If you love Allah, follow me: Allah will love you,” (3:31). When the love of God depends upon obedience to Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), and theHadith is one source of inquiry about Prophet Muhammad’s practical examples on which obedience depends, then it follows that the person who abandons Hadith also abandons the path of obedience. Maulvi Chakralvi’s notion that the Hadith are merely astore of doubts and conjectures is a notion that has arisen as a result of inadequate reflection. 

At the root of this notion is a wrongand incomplete division made by Hadith scholars that has misled many people. This is how they make the division: “We have in ourhand two books – one is the Book of Allah and the other, the Hadith. The Hadith is the arbiter over the Book of Allah.” Such talk will definitely mislead everyone. The traditions were collected some hundred to one hundred and fifty years after the Holy Prophet and are not free from human error.

On top of that many of the hadith have only one narrator in each link of the chain of transmission and may be conjectural. The hadith that appear repeatedly (mutavatir) are few and far between. So when it is said that the Hadith is the judge over the Quran, it necessarily follows that the entire religion of Islam is just a heap of conjectures.Obviously, conjectures amount to naught, and the person who clutches at conjectures only, has fallen far below the lofty station of truth.

And Allah, the Most High, states: “Surely conjecture avails naught against Truth,” (53:28) i.e., conjectures are naught before certainty of convic- tion (haqq al-yaqin). So the Quran would be lost because it would not be obligatory to follow itwithout the decree of the “judge sahib” and it would be deserted and forsaken. And the “judge sahib” i.e., the Hadith is only clothed in the shabby garb of conjectures, which cannot dispel false apprehensions definitively because conjectures by definition are not free from the possibility of falsehood. In this situation, we have nei- ther the Quran in our hands nor the Hadith, for the latteris not such that it can be relied upon. In other words, we would have lost both. This is a mistake that has destroyed many people.

The right path, for the manifestation of which I have written this article, is that to stand firmly on Islamic guidelines, Muslims have three things in their hand:

  • The Holy Quran, which is the Book of Allah; there is no other dis- course that is more absolute and definitive; it is the Word of God, and is free from any doubts or conjectures.
  • The second is the Sunnah (the practice of the Holy Prophet). Here, our usage differs from the terminology of the Ahl-e-Hadith. That is, we do not consider the Hadith and Sunnah to be one and the same, as is customary with the traditional scholars of Hadith. Rather, Hadith is one thing while Sunnah is another. By Sunnah, we mean exclusively the practice of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) that has continued without interruption, and that appeared from the beginning together with the Quran, and that shall forever stay together. In other words, it may be said that the Holy Quran is the Word of God, and Sunnah the actions of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Since time immemorial, it has been the tradition of God that when prophets (peace be upon them) bring the Word of God to the people for their guidance, they explain it through their actions, i.e., their practice, so that there is no confusion among the people about understanding the Word; they act upon the Word themselves and make others act upon it as well.
  • The third source of guidance is the Hadith. By Hadith, we mean those traditions that were collected by various narrators in the form of anecdotes approximately one hundred and fifty years after Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). So the distinction between Sunnah and Hadith is that Sunnah is an action that was conductedcontinuously, and that was initiated at the hands of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Interms of certainty, it is second only to the Holy Quran. In the same way as Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was appointed for the propagation of the Holy Quran, so was he appointed for the estab- lishment of the Sunnah. Just as the Holy Quran is certain, the continuous Sunnah is also certain. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) rendered both these services himself, and considered both to be his duties. For instance, when the injunction for daily prayers was given, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) demonstrated thisWord of God openly through his personal actions, and demon- strated practically that the number of rakahs in the Fajr(morning) prayer are so many, in the Maghrib (evening) prayer so many, and so many rakahs for the other prayers. Similarly, he demonstrated how the Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah) was to be performed by performing it himself. Then he personally bound thousands of his companions to follow this act with regularityand thereby firmly institutionalized the ritual. This practical example which can still be witnessed and perceived in the practice of the Muslim nation is given the name Sunnah.

However, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) did not have the hadith (recorded sayings of ProphetMuhammad) written in his presence, nor did he make any arrangements for their col- lection. Some hadith had been collected byHazrat Abu Bakr (peace be upon him), but he burnt his collection out of the fear of God, thinking that his listening was not without bias, and only God knows the actual reality.

When the era of Prophet Muhammad’s Companions (peace be upon them) passed, God inclined the hearts of the followers of the successors to the Holy Prophet’s Companions, (the third link in the chain of tradition narration) to the idea that the hadith should also be collected. 

It was then that the Books of Hadith were compiled. There can be no doubt that most of the collectors ofHadith were highly pious and right- eous people. To the extent it was within their power, they critically reviewed the hadith, and tried to avoid those hadith that were in their opinion unauthentic.

They did not accept the hadith from any narrator of dubious character. They worked assiduously, but since the whole exercise was carried out well after the fact, this work remained at thelevel of surmise. In spite of this, it would be extremely unjust to say that all of those hadith are absurd, worthless, useless andfalse. Rather, the amount of caution that was exercised in the compilation of the Books of Hadith, and the amount of research and critical review that was performed was such that no parallel can be found in any other religion.

The Jews too have their Traditions (hadith). The sect of Jews that opposed Jesus was known as Amil-bil-Hadith (those who act upon the Hadith). But it has not been proven that the Jewish collectors of Tradition exercised the same amount of care as was exercised by the Islamic collectors of Hadith.

Nevertheless, it would be a folly to think that until the Hadith were compiled people did not know the number of rakat in the prayers or were unaware of the rituals of Hajj, because the system of practical performance of religious rituals that had been born as a result of the Sunnah, had taught them the duties and ordinances of Islam.

Hence it is completely true that if these Books ofHadith, which were collected after the lapse of a long period, had never ever existed in the world, it would not have made any difference to the essentialteachings of Islam because the Quran and the system of practice had fulfilled all those needs. Even so, the Hadith served to brighten Islam’s light, so that Islam became “light upon light” (24:35). The Hadith bore testimony to the Quran and Sunnah, and among the many sects that appeared later in Islam, the true sect benefited a great deal from the reliable Hadith.

So the true religion is that one should not hold the belief like that of the present day Ahl-e-Hadith that the Hadith are more important than the Quran. In addition, if the Hadith narratives are contrary to the clear statements of the Quran, then the Quranshould not be given up and the Hadith narratives should not be given precedence over the Quran. And neither should the Hadith be considered as absurd and false, as is the belief of Maulvi Abdullah Chakralvi.

Rather, the Quran and Sunnah should be viewed as the judge over the Hadith. Those hadith that are not contrary to the Quran and Sunnah should be accepted without hes- itation;that is the right path. Blessed is he who adheres to this precept; very unfortunate and foolish is he who rejects the hadith withoutregard to this principle.

It should be the duty of our party to act upon every hadith, even those of ordinary rank, as long as the hadith is not contrary to the Quran and Sunnah, and to give it preference over man-made fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). 

If some issue is not to be found inthe Books of Hadith, and neither in the Sunnah and nor in the Quran, then the Hanafi fiqh should be followed because the large numbers that follow this fiqh is evidence of God’s Will. If the Hanafi jurisprudence is unable to give an appropriate decree because of the changed circumstances of the present days, then Muslim scholars of that system should exercise their God-given judgment. But remain cautious that you do not reject the Hadith for no reason in the manner of Maulvi Abdullah Chakralvi. Yes,when a hadith is found to be contrary to the Quran and Sunnah, it should be abandoned.

Remember that, relative to Abdullah, our party is nearer to Ahl-e- Hadith, and we have no connection with the absurd ideologyof Abdullah Chakralvi. Everyone in our party should be repulsed by the notions that Maulvi Chakralvi harbors about the hadith. And as far as possible, the company of such people should be shunned because this sect is more misguided as compared to other opponents.

Our party should neither go to one extreme about Hadith like Maulvi Muhammad Husain and his band nor shouldthey go to the other extreme like Abdullah but should adopt the middle ground as their creed. That is, they should not be totally fixated on Hadith in a mannerthat the Quran is deserted and abandoned, nor should they declare that the Hadith are absurd and ineffective, for that will result in the Hadith ultimately get- ting lost in totality.

Similarly, they should not reject the finality of prophethood, nor should they understand finality of prophethood to mean that the door of revelation and Divine communication has been closed forever.

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