Shaykh al-Azamī Replies to Some Orientalist Deception Concerning Hadith

In the following article, On Calder’s Organically Grown Text with Emphasis on Muwatta of Malik, which is taken from, Shaykh Muṣtafā al-A’ẓamī responds to the false claims of an Orientalist surrounding the Ḥadīth literature. His central claim is that the Fuqahā’ invented Ḥadīths to justify their juristic opinions:

1. Abstract:
Norman Calder’s work: “Studies in Early Muslim Jurisprudence” was published by Oxford University Press in 1993.
He has studied six legal texts of three Muslim legal schools, These are:
1. Mudawwana of Sahnun
2. Muwatta of Malik
3. Some Hanafi text
4. The Kitab al-Umm of Shafi’i
5. The Mukhtasar of Muzani
6. Kital-al-Kharaj of Abu Yusuf
He started with Malik; then Hanafi and afterwards the Shafi’i school of law. In his conviction he proved that not only these six books, no, but all the Islamic Arabic literature which claim to be of the 1st., 2nd. and early 3rd. centuries have all gone through organic growth and a multi-level redactional process.

For his research of the above topic he has chosen the secular historians discipline and invites Muslim scholars to “participate more widely in the game and in the rules ….” (p. viii). Due to the time limitation, I will discuss only the case of Muwatta, with special reference to the ‘cat hadith’ which has been used by Calder to prove that this hadith was invented after the completion of Mudawwana, after 250 A.H. and was endorsed into Muwatta of Malik (d. 179 A.H.). This is an essential basis for his theory that all early Islamic text is organically grown text.

1.1 Methodology Used by Muslim Scholars:

It is fundamental to every area of research, in any topic, that one has to understand the text, and to understand the text one has to follow the rules governing the subject.

The following is a very brief explanation of the method used by early Muslim scholars in collecting and transmitting information.

All Muslims, not just to speak of Muslim scholars, believe the Qur’an is of divine origin revealed to the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.s This Book imposes on Muslims, both as individuals and collectively, and the State to follow the orders and manners of the Prophet s.a.w s. (For details see On Schacht’s pp 5-25). The Prophet’s orders were put into practice. His statements and deeds were put into practice, memorised and written down. In a very literal sense several thousand booklets containing the sayings and deeds of the Prophet s.a.w.s. were in the hands of scholars in the first and early second century Higra. (for details see: Studies in Early Hadith Literature by Azami, pp 34-182).

To ensure the purity of the text two methods were applied, for two different stages:

1. The disclosure of the sources. In the final stage the source must lead to the person who had direct contact to the highest authority to whom the statement belonged.

2. A continuous chain of the middle authority must be preserved.

3. Everyone who has taken part in transforming the knowledge must be trustworthy, which means: he must possess the following moral and academic qualities; must be a Muslim, madure, not tell a lie not suffer from any mental disqualification, must be of righteous conduct with the literary accuracy (Hadith Methodology by Azami, pp 58-59).

1.2 Preservation of the Book:

The second stage: when the materials were collected in booklets or books big or small, it was not pemissible for anyone to obtain a copy of any book and utilize it. The book must be obtained through recognised legitimate methods, such as reading to the author, or having it read by him etc. (see Hadith Methodology by al-Azami, pp 16-22 for details).

1.3 Reading Certificate: Its Main Achievements:

After completion of the reading a certificate was given, and a note was written by the trustworthy scholars, many times signed by the teacher himself explaining who had taken part in learning this particular book, and therefore, who had the right to teach it. After receiving the book through proper channels the scholar was not entitled to teach the book, for example Sahih of Bukhari, from any edition of Bukhari. It had to be the same copy for which he had the reading certificate, or another copy made from the same copy, and thoroughly revised after copying etc. and thus, this scholar became a part of the chain of the book.

These certificates were surrounded by lines so no one could add any further names. If a man’s name was written between the lines, or with a different pen or ink then he was accused and defamed. These certificates sometimes ran to one or two hundred pages with different handwritings and dates. (see Ibn Maja, Taimur Pasha – Cairo).

1.4 Rare Examples of Adding External Material in the Body of a Book:

Most of the people who listened to ahadith and copied them out had their own books. Students felt at liberty to include additional material even in a fixed text to clarify some obscure word, or thei own opinion or some such thing. As any additional material would have a completely different isnad or the name of the inserter, there was no danger of spoiling the the text. In Appendix IV of Studies of Early Hadith Literature by al-Azami, there appears a very explicit and clear example of this sort, where the copyist has added two lines even before completing the sentences. There is another example of Abu Sa’id, the transmitter of the book Al-Muhaddar, where he adds two lines. There is clear evidence of this nature in Sahih of al-Bukhari, where al-Firabri adds extraneous material, giving his isnad, (for details see Studies in Early Hadith Literature pp. 204-205).

Because the sources were known, and the isnads of the books were known, a comparison of the texts narrated by different scholars showed if there had been any variations due to human error, or deliberate mischief.

Khatib al-Baghdadi (392-463) quotes in his book, Tarikh, a case of a Hanbali judge who added two ahadith in the musnad of Ibn Hanbal which contains some 28,000 hadith, who was later caught. A memorandum was written and was signed by different scholars. We have the work of Imam Malik, the Muwatta, which has been edited in the sixth and seventh centuries Hijra using almost dozens of the manuscripts from the third to the sixth century.

This is a very brief and cursory sketch of Muslim scholars method in learning, teaching, accepting and rejecting these materials.

2. Western Methodological Approach to the Study of Islam:

The methodology outlined in Part 1 is completely unacceptable to the western mind. As examples, let us consider; the Albert Einstein memorial lecture by J. Wonbrough in 1986, titled “Res Ipsa Loquitur, History and Nemesis”. Then there was an article by J. Koren and Yahuda D. Nevo from Midereshet Ben Gurion, Israel, (Der Islam 1991) titled “Methodological Approaches to Islamic Studies”. These learned scholars discuss the different approaches at work.

These are:

– The traditional approach: This does not mean the Muslim scholars traditional approach. Not at all, it actually refers to all the Western scholars who utilize Islamic sources, hoping to find some- where some facts in the pile of rubbish and distortions (lies), which is totally unacceptable to these above mentioned scholars.

– The “revisionist approach”: Here, they discuss the approach of Wansbrough, and the situation for Wansbrough is so bad that he had little hope of finding anything concrete. Then, they discuss their own approach, that is the ultra revisionist approach. Some of the findings of this highly sophisticated method are:

Muslims did not conquer Syria nor did they conquer Palestine etc. they did not defeat the Romans. It was a peaceful transfer of control from Byzantine to the Arabs (p. 101). Perhaps we may add, it was given to the Arabs on a silver plate!

Another finding is that “archaelogical work has revealed no traces of Jewish settlements at Medinah, Xaybar, or Wadi Qurra” (p. 102) ` Even the very Kaba at Mecca is doubtful. The early sketch of Kaba in Jahili literature shows center cubic buildings in Nageb and not in Mecca. (p. 103)

However, new players are coming into the field, marching with Goldzihar, J. Schacht, Patricia Crone, Yahuda Nova and Wansbrough etc.

Talking about the dog and its effect on the purity of water, he says “The text has grown organically.”

In analysing the text of Mudawwana, Dr Calder points to the development of legal thought in generalisation, of what constitutes the water unfit for purification purposes.

“It is clear that the dog emerged as a problem……..Presumably the law developed that wild animals………rendered water unfit for purification. In this context, the dog (domestic, not wild) is not a problem, and Malik is seen to state, at Paragraph 2.1 just that: dogs do not render water unfit for purposes of purification. However, it came to be felt that the category of animals which rendered water unfit was the category of carrion-eating or predatory animals. According to this interpretation, the dog was a problem and the question presented itself why, being a carrion-eater, the dog did not render water impure? This problem is what is expressed throughout 2.2.a,b and c. First, Ibn al- Qasm states that Malik did not treat the dog like other animals of the same kind…..” (p.7)

The question which Sahnun asks at 2.3 relates to a Prophetic hadith which will be discussed in Chapter 2, Section V of these studies. The reply ascribed to malik indicates that he knows the hadith but he “does not know the truth about it”. The series of comments thereafter indicate how the emergence of the notion that Prophetic hadith are authoritive disrupted the natural development of legal thought and drafting technique.

Malik first suggests a category distinction (dogs are members of the household) which within the developing system might have sufficed. He then apparently concedes some force to the hadith but continues to argue against it on moral and practical grounds.” (p.8)

“There was a considerable resistance in the implication of the hadith referred to (not cited) in the text.” (p.8)

Norman Calder did not close the case of the dog in Mudawwana, where he has found a ruling of Malik “as minor concessions to the anti-dog lobby ……..” (p.15). He dicovers a way to fight against the dog hadith ascribed to the Prophet in Muwatta, with so many far reaching consequences, he quotes from Muwatta the following hadith:

Yahya from Malik, from Ishaq b. “Abdallah b. Abi Talha, from Humayda bint Abi Ubayda ibn Farwa, from Kabsha bint Ka’b b. Malik, daughter-in- law of (the Companion) Abu Qatada.

1. She said that Abu Qatada came in one day and she poured out for him his water for ablutions. A cat arrived, desiring to drink at the water, and Abu Qatada tilted the vessel to let it drink.

2. She said that Abu Qatada, on seeing her watching him said, Are you surprised? Yes, she replied. He said, The Prophet of God said, They are not polluting (najis); they are amongst those (animals) which are always around you, both male ones and female ones (innama hiya min al-tawwafin ‘alayhum aw al-tawwafat).

3. Yahya said, Malik said, There is no harm in it except when some polluting filth can be seen on its mouth (p.25).

Calder commenting on the hadith of the cat’s lapping of the water says: “In the text of the Mudawwana, it was possible to detect that a juristic problem arose when the condemnation of predatory (wild) animals as conveyors of pollution was generalised to cover also the household dog (and cat). The response, initially casuistic, and focused on the dog, took the form of a category explanation based on the assertion that household animals costituted a category relevantly different frm pedatory (wild) animals. There was, however, embarassment in the face of a Prophetic hadith, alluded to but not cited in the Mudawwana, which proposed an extreme condemnation of dogs as particularly polluting. This hadith about the cat is clearly a response to the same problem. It is charmingly circumstantial, it avoids the contentious dog, and yet it points firmly towards the fact that the cat here is to be seen as representative of a category, namely that of animals which are habitually around human beings. It is clear that this represents a juristic advance on the situation reflected in the Mudawwana in two respects. First, and simply, it makes a clear statement of a category distinction and thereby transcends some of the confusion that has crept into the Mudawwana. And secondly, it responds to a Prophetic hadith in the only form in which an authoritative response could be made, namely in the form of another Prophetic hadith. It is inconceivable that this hadith could have been made available by Malik, in or before 179, with the backing of Prophetic authority and in a situation where Prophetic authority counted, and yet not have affected the text of the Mudawwana, which exhibits after all not only a need for authority on this matter but also a broad concern to gather all relevant material. The elevation of Prophetic authority is a marginal feature of the Mudawwana; it was the continued development and ultimate ascendancy of this principle- after the completion of the Mudawwana- that led to the emergence and formulation of this hadith, and its incorporation into a canonical work assiciated with the city of Cordoba.” (p.24-26)

His concluding remark is: “It is a fitting and reasonable conclusion that the familar Muwatta’ in the rescension of Yahya was a product of Spanish Cordoba during that period when Baqi and Ibn Waddah were introducing, with the backing of the court, reforms of which the central component was a stressing of hadith at the expense of ra’y. It is a book specifically designed to reformulate the Maliki system of law in formal subordination to Prophetic authority. Such a need can hardly have been recognized in Spain prior to the period of political influence of Baqi b. Makhlad and it is to that period that the Muwatta’ should be dated, i.e. c270.” (p.37)

2.1 General Remarks:

2.2 No attention for suitable material for research:

Dr Calder does not pay any serious attention to the different natures of these two books. The Mudawwana belongs completely to the Maliki school, while Muwatta’ has two types of material; one is the Prophetic traditions; and the other of the Companions and the late authorities. This is the heritage for all Muslims, without confining it to a certain school. we find that those materials, specially the Prophetic traditions from Muwatta’ have been transmitted and acted upon in the light of their juristic thinking, in every rival school, so to say, such as Hanafi, Shafi’ and hanbali. Mudawwana however is a school text. It’s main purpose is to collect the legal opinions of the school, mainly Malik.

2.3 Over generalisation:

Dr Calder studies a portion of a single chapter out of some 3000 chapter and imposes his speculative findings on the whole Muslim literature of three hundren years. Let us have a look at Shaibani’s work. One finds in his work Athar, Muwatta’ and Radda’ala Ahl Il Madina, quite good numbers of Prophetic traditions. Compare it with the al-Jami al-Kabir by the same author, that has almost none. This is a very fundamental issue for the research in any field, to choose the right material. From criminal novels one cannot compile a book on the criminal law. Yet, Dr. Calder seems to have tried to do just that.


He does not utilize the materials published on the subject for half a century. Either he does not know them or disregards them as being worthless. Neither does he pay any attention to Schacht critiques, such as “On Schacht’s Origin…..” by al-Azami.

If we look at the case in a little detail on his own terms:

Malik is one of the luckies persons in Islamic history. We still have a record of the name of 1300 of his students, and among them there have been more than 100 students who had transmitted his work, Muwatta, whose locality has been distributed from modern Afghanistan in the east to Portugal in the west; Turkey in the north and to Yemen in the south. In the fourth and fifth century many scholars such as Daraqutni, and Jauhri had written a book describing the differences in some fifteen versions of Muwatta. The work of Daraqutni has been published some forty years ago, other works are still on the shelves. However, still we have the following recession of Muwatta Malik:

1. Muwatta Yahya al-Laithi from Qordoba, Spain, died 234. This has been continuously published many times in 150 years.

2. Muwatta Shaibani, from Kufa, Iraq, died in 188 AH, and it has been constantly published for more than one hundred years.

3. Muwatta Ibn Ziyad of Tunisia, died 183 AH, (a part of it was discovered and published) before 100 AH.

4. Muwatta al-Qa’nabi in Basra, Iraq, died 221. A part of this work has survived and was published in 1392/1972.

5. Muwatta in recession of Abu Mu’ab al-Zuhri, died in Madina 150-242AH. First published in 1412/1992.

6. Muwatta in recession of AbdulRahman b. Qasim, 132-191 AH, from Palestine, later on he lived in Egypt and died there. The hadith material has been re-arranged by al-Qabisi (died 403 AH), which was published 1400/1980 in Qatar.

7. Muwatta in recession of Hadathani from Anbar, Iraq, died 240 AH, which was published in 1990 in Beirut.

8. Muwatta Abdul-Rahim b. Khalid of Iskandaria, died 163 AH, (some 15 years before Malik). One papyrus sheet has been discovered, and published by Nabia Abbot in 1967 in Chicago University Publications.

9. Muwatta in recession of Ibn Bukair, 134-231 AH, in Egypt. A somplified version of this work was published in Algeria in 1907. (This has not been seen by al-Azami.)

10.Musannaf of Abul-Razzaq al-Aan’ani, died 126-211). A Yaminite scholar and student of Malik. Printed in Beirut 1390/1970.

Going through these different versions of Muwatta regarding the “cat hadith” the following result comes out: This particular hadith has been quoted by:

1. Muw. Yahya al-Laithi Vol I, pp.22-23, Cordoba, Spain, (d.234)

2. Muw. Shaibani No 90 p.54, Kufa, Iraq (d.188)

3. Muw. Ibn Qasim No. 123, p. 176, from Eqypt (d.191)

4. Muw. al-Qanabi pp.45-46

5. Muw. Abu Mus’ab al-Zuhri No.54, Vol I, p.25, Madina, Arabian Peninsula (d.242)

6. Muw. Hadathani No.28 p.55, from Afghanistan, died in Iraq 240.

7. Muw. Ibn Bukair Folio No.6B-7a (al-Azhar) from Egypt, (d.231)

8. Mus. AbdulRazzaq, Vol I, p.101, A Yaminite, died in Yemen in 211 AH.

If we analyse these versions we find they belong to Afghanistan, Iraq, Arabian Peninsula, Yemen, Egypt and Spain.

Now, we are facing a problem. Two of the students of Malik who record this hadith in their books died almost within a decade after Malik, a third on 211 AH. Five out of eight died between 230-240. If this hadith was fabricated after Malik’s death (179 AH) or even much better, after 250 AH, after the completion of the Mudawwana, then one has to solve the problem of a dead man’s communication! And how they were able to insert this material, or whether it was done by their legal appointees who carried out this type of activity if they deemed it necessary.

One may say that the works Nos. 5-7 were not available to Dr Calder, but what about 1-4? What about 1 and 2 which have even been mentioned in the bibliography, and have been used by Dr Calder!

To promote a theory, he discredits all Muslim scholarship for three hundred years by (apparently) concealing the evidence at his disposal which is intellectual dishonesty.

To say that the situation in Islam is not now markedly different from that which has been gradually uncovered in the long history of academic inquiry that began with J. Wellhausen’s critical approach to the Old Testament (p.viii) is an absurd statement.

The difference between Islamic literature and rabbinic literature is between day and night. Let me propose a suggestion. Muslim scholars have used something very similar to the law of witness in discussing the historical problem. this is a procedure well established and recognized in courts all over the world. Let us use this method on the New as well as on the Old Testament. If this method were to be used not a single sentence could be proved to be authentic. Even the existence of many big figures would be difficult to prove.

It is not the academic research which leads to the denial of the Muslim victories in Syria and Palestine, or denial of the Jewish settlement in the Arabian Peninsula and denial of all Islamic literature and its validity for three centuries, it is no more than a hidden political agenda which comes in the guise of academic research.

Note: With Dr Azami’s permission I did make a change in the last line.

Daud R. Matthews:

Note: for additional reading on the Ḥadīths of cats and dogs with relation to their purity or impurity, see the following:

“Purifying One of Your Dishes After a Dog Laps Up Its Contents”

“The Cat is Not Impure”


5 responses to “Shaykh al-Azamī Replies to Some Orientalist Deception Concerning Hadith

  1. A few nice plugs in the article 😉

  2. AS

    JazakUllah Kharyan on behalf of the scholars of hadith. I will be sure to tell my teachers of your effort so they can pray for you and your effort to protect the Sunnah. Please continue to share with others the importance of Azami to hadith studies.

    May Allah {swt} reward you, teach you and bless you generation after generation may you lineage carry people who will stand to protect the Sunnah until the time of the Qiyamah.

    Peace and Blessing Be Upon Muhmmad the Seal of the Prophets and Imam of the Messengers and upon his house and his companions



  3. wa alaykum assalaam

    Ameen. Ameen. Ameen.

    And may Allah grant you the same. In sha Allah, as I get time, I will try to mention more from the writings of Dr. Azami and others as well relating to these and other matters. Unfortunately, there is a campaign going on to try and undermine and belittle the Sunnah in the eyes of the Muslims. It originates with the Orientalists and then trickles down to influence the Muslims through the writings of Anti-Hadith factions who shall remain unmentioned. Suffice it to say that they have little to no original scholarship. They are simply parroting the distortions of the Orientalists.

    To that purpose, I am trying in sha Allah,

    (a) to rebut these distortions and misconceptions, and

    (b) to educate Muslims about the reality of the Hadith literature, its compilation, the methods used to preserve it, and the methods developed by the Hadith Masters to critique the narrations of Hadiths as well as their narrators.

    Bear with me as it is hard for me to squeeze out time to write on a blog regularly, but this is something I feel very passionate about.

  4. AS

    Your not alone. Let me know how I can be at your service for the cause.




  5. Pingback: A’zami on Calder | Islamic Studies

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