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Part II: AHADITH ABOUT RAJM

In Part I we saw that if we start by accepting rajm as truly an Islamic punishment for adultery prescribed by God and his Messenger, then there is no reasonable explanation of why the Qur`an prescribes 100 lashes for zina` without ever mentioning rajm. Most supporters of rajm say that the Qur`anic penalty is for the unmarried person and rajm is for the married one. But as we saw in Chapter 1 there is incontrovertible evidence that the Qur`an covers both cases when it talks about zina` and its punishment. Moreover, this view does not offer a reasonable explanation of why the Qur`an left out the more important married case. This leads to the conclusion that there is real conflict between the penalty of rajm and the Qur`an. Recognizing this, some supporters of rajm have resorted to other explanations – that the Qur`an was abrogated by the ahadith about rajm or that the Qur`an did prescribe the penalty but the relevant verse was removed or got lost. But these explanations were seen to be no more tenable than the one that limits the Qur`anic penalty of 100 lashes to the unmarried case.

The reason that a vast majority of Muslims came to accept rajm is that they accepted the authenticity of ahadith that talk about it. But in view of the fact that the penalty of rajm is in conflict with the Qur`an or is at least problematic in the light of the Qur`an, the authenticity of the ahadith about rajm comes under serious suspicion. This requires that at the very least we should carefully examine these ahadith for their authenticity before accepting them, if not to reject them outright because of their contradiction with the Qur`an. But such an examination has not been done by the supporters of rajm. They are simply content to make a general appeal to the argument that rajm is prescribed or assumed in a large number of ahadith found in many Hadith collections with varied asanid and that therefore these ahadith are authentic.


This general argument is based on the common but mistaken idea that a large number of traditions found in large number of books have to be substantially historical. But it is a well-known phenomenon that once an idea gets created it begins to find many different expressions with time and even begins to generate various mistaken reports of events supporting the idea. For example, once the idea of flying saucers was created it generated an increasing number of sightings of such alien objects. This large number of reports of sightings is no proof that the flying saucers come to earth from outer space on a regular basis. Another example is provided by Jesus’ crucifixion, which is mentioned in a great variety of Christian and even non-Christian traditions. These traditions are documented within decades of Jesus’ departure from this world, in contrast to the ahadith about rajm whose documentation starts no earlier than hundred years after the Holy Prophet. There are long accounts of how Jesus was arrested, how he was tried, sentenced, and flogged, and how he was taken to a place outside the city of Jerusalem and then crucified there and how his clothes were divided by the executioners and he was given vinegar to drink  and was mocked and how he finally died. There are many precise details with names of places and persons involved and with references to dates and times of the day at which various events took place. These details are far more extensive than the details provided in the ahadith about rajm that sometimes mention names of persons stoned for adultery and of places where the stoning took place. Just as the traditions about rajm are found in most Hadith books so also the traditions of Jesus’ crucifixion are found in all the canonical gospels, in most apocryphal gospels, and in many other early Christian documents. In many cases one can even provide asanid that look even better than the asanid for the traditions about rajm.  For example, the first canonical gospel, which records a detailed account of the crucifixion, is said to be written by Matthew who was an eyewitness of the events of Jesus life. The same is true about the fourth gospel which is said to be written by John, another eyewitness disciple of Jesus. The second gospel is written by Mark who is said to have learnt the gospel traditions from Peter who was an eyewitness disciple. These asanid look better than those in the ahadith about rajm because they have at most one link between a document and an eyewitness, whereas in case of ahadith about rajm we have in most cases more than two links.



Yet when you go beyond the first impression created by the ubiquity of the references to the crucifixion in the Christian writings from the earliest times and subject the various traditions to a critical and historical analysis, to make sense of them within the context of other related events, it becomes clear that the crucifixion and hence its elaborate accounts are fictional (see my book, The Mysterious Disappearance of Jesus and the Origin of Christianity). The Qur`anic rejection of the crucifixion of Jesus in fact makes it an Islamic belief that an incident reported in many ways in many different sources and accepted and commemorated by millions of people can be fictional. To hold otherwise and accept an event as historical simply because it is found in many varied reports and a great many people believe in it is, therefore, inconsistent with the Qur`an.


It is also worth noting here that the Hadith literature itself provides examples of ahadith that have come down to us in many different forms and with many different chains of transmission from numerous Companions and that are recognized by scholars to be unreliable. Thus, al-Nawawi in the Introduction of his famous collection of 40 ahadith says:

 
It has been related to us from ‘Ali bin Abi Talib, ‘Abd Allah bin Mas ‘ud, Mu ‘adh ibn Jabal, Abi al-Darda`, Ibn ‘Umar, Ibn ‘Abbas, Anas bin Malik, Abu Hurayrah, Abu Sa‘id al-Khudri through many lines of transmission and in varied forms that the Messenger of God said: “Whoever memorized for my ummah 40 traditions relating to their religion will be raised by God on the day resurrection in the company of jurists and scholars”. … Scholars of Hadith (huffaz) are agreed that this is a weak tradition despite its many lines of transmission. … Religious scholars are agreed on the permissibility of putting a weak hadith in practice if it concerns virtuous actions.


Thus multiplicity of reports about an incident or saying is no proof of its authenticity. So what is the criterion to decide whether a series of ahadith supporting an idea is reliable?

 

When we have a large number of reports repeating a theme, we need to look at each report separately. The reliability of the whole group of reports is no greater than that of the most reliable of the individual reports. Consequently, if we do not find any one tradition that can be confidently declared as reliable, the whole group cannot be declared reliable. Moreover, in case of ahadith about rajm we need to use the strictest possible standards of reliability, since, as noted several times earlier, there are strong objections to their reliability on the basis of the Qur`an and since accepting them means taking a human life by a very painful method.


In this part of the book we examine the ahadith about rajm and show that none of them meets the required standard of reliability and therefore the penalty of rajm cannot be reliably attributed to the Prophet of Islam. It should be rejected in favor of the penalty prescribed in the Book of God.