Channel: Jonathan Brown
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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 Hadeeth. And he has written a number of publications 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 or do Turkish, and all of these languages from various Muslim countries became great languages and 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 talked about Hadith, we may have our uncles that will talk about Hadith in various ways critically, we may meet Muslims that have a big a lot of skepticism and a lot of non Muslims that have skepticism about the Hadith and the headed sciences. And so inshallah we 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
how the government shutdown the regime is similar to him in Hamdulillah, Illa
Salatu was Salam ala rasulillah
salam, ala alihi wa sahbihi.
Thanks very much for inviting me to thanks to zaytuna for inviting me to present today. And I'm happy that I don't want to sit on the chairs because I'm wearing outrageous socks, which would have been displayed had I been sitting down
this aisle to feel bad because I'm fairly confident that I'm going to repeat some things that people have some people have heard me say before, and I suppose I should apologize for that. But also, I think it's some of the things that I repeat, I think are very important. So I'm not entirely contrite on this issue.
The whenever I think about edits, and when I talk about them, to the students or the audiences, I always try to keep the, the words of a wise figure in my mind 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 Trek movie, Star Wars movies, sorry, he, he takes Luke Skywalker to this cave. And Luke has to go into the cave as part of his training for it 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, we think about reading things like the Quran, or the Hadith, or anything.
Look into the past, who we're really seeing is oftentimes more a reflection of ourselves, then something about the text or about the past, we always see what our background programs us to see.
This is very important. Because
if you realize this, you realize that oftentimes, the problems we encounter when we're doing things like reading PDFs or when we hear deeds are
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 Hadeeth contradicts common sense. What is common sense? There's no there's actually no such thing as common sense. And if you imagine a human being who's raised on a desert island with no culture, this person is not going to know anything about common sense. If you say, you know, the skies above you and the Earth's below you Yeah, the human being will know
But so many other things that we think human beings just all agree on are actually just the one particular culture or the conventions of one culture, or of one class, or if one part of a society. And oftentimes, actually,
a lot of the biggest disagreements, especially in politics have to do with conflicting common senses. Like, 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 got to stop spending so much money, you got to you got to manage your budget, you got to cut down your spending. But when it comes to a government a lot, most economists say no, you have to the government has to spend more money to stimulate the economy. So this is an instance where common sense is actually wrong.
And, or, for example, the idea that, in order to reduce population growth, you have to improve health care. This is not really common sense. We want more people to live longer, that's going to reduce population growth will 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 health care. 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 it, 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 good, 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,
reading of Hadith, or analysis of Hadith. And then there's the Muslim faith based Fidel stick, traditional method of Hadees, of looking at Hadees. And this is, you know, Muslims accept this, Muslims have kind of integrated this into their own their own worldview. And so they feel that as a Muslim, the way you look at deeds is traditional faith based versus the western way, which is rational and critical. But
as I, as I mentioned before, these descriptions of how people look at texts really tell you more about the people or their background, their worldview than about the texts themselves.
How is that? Well, it's a lot of things we think about, you know, the western critical reading and hadiths. We think that Western scholars have these critical tools, and ways of looking at sources that Muslim scholars didn't have, that nowadays, we have modern science. So we know that certain ideas aren't true. We have, you know, 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 her deeds in a way that Muslim scholars didn't have.
But, and this is, I mean, 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, if I'm wrong, then I'll adjust it right? There is no Hadith.
Everybody knows controversial Hadees you know, what about the Hadith that says, you know, the Hadith of the fly, push pushing into your drink, and there's the Hadith of the sun, you know, going beneath the earth and prostrating before the throne of God and asking to get to rise again, everyone is here, these idiots, and we always talk about them and get debates or debates over them over eat dinner, or whatever the Muslim equivalent of Thanksgiving dinner is. And they we all know these, not one of these idiots. There's not one controversial idea today. That was not that was not also controversial 1000 years ago.
And then Muslim scholars didn't actually identify the exact same question 1000 years ago
and find some satisfactory answer to it.
So I want to repeat that because I'm not sure that I'm making as much sense as I want. There's no controversial Hadith that you hear about.
That has not already been, whether it's 500 years ago, or 1000 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, why is this important?
Because what's the difference then between, let's say me when I think I need this controversial, and I don't like it, and I refuse to accept it, and I say this is, this is nonsense. I can't accept this. I don't want this to be part of my religion. What's the difference between me and that scholar 1000 years ago, it's not about our something in the Hadith, or some critical faculty that I have that this classical Muslim scholar didn't have. Because 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 deeds, and the reaction that classical Muslim scholars had is the difference in our worldviews. The difference in what we expect from religion,
what we how we think religion should look and smell and feel.
And guess where those differences come from. They don't come from the 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 and Western educational systems, we've actually adopted many ideas into our own understanding of religion.
They have no original
existence in the Islamic tradition. So for example,
when when I tell you a Hadith, this is in Sahih, Bukhari and other books were
the Prophet says they sell Salaam says, without his companion, and he held held Runa aina yet ethical hiding Shamsi.
Do you know where this son goes after it sets Oh, Buddha.
And with our says, God and His Prophet are more knowledgeable, tell me. And the Prophet says the sun goes below, it goes down it prostrates before the throne of God, prostrate before the throne of man, and asked his permission to rise again. And one day will rise from the west.
Now, it's very interesting. You see, in the in the early 20th century, Muslim scholars who are kind of modernist scholars start reacting very strongly to this idea. They said it contradicts astronomy, and this could be studied contradicts a certainties of modern science. Because, you know, 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 idea. So we need to go back through the heads and analyze them to see which ones are scientifically impossible and which ones are acceptable.
This was a big debate, and this is we still have this debate today.
Guess what? classical Muslim scholars, going back to the 10, hundreds said exactly the same thing.
Because if you're a Muslim scholar, one of the things you do before you have, you know, 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 you know, latitude and longitude. And they knew that the sun was always up in certain places that you can go to certain parts of the earth, where the sun is never sets.
So they looked at this Hadeeth and they said, what how do we understand it then? Oh, it must mean that the Sun prostrates to God, metaphorically? Like cinturato rough man in
nedjma chateauroux. yes to that, right. The stars and the trees, they prostrate to God, doesn't mean literally the star is you know, doing little sujood up in the sky means it's, it's surrendering to God's will. It follows God's will. So they had no problem. They just said, Oh, this Hadeeth 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 modern scholars, 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 heads. They all are.
Almost classical Muslim scholars were always very happy to question Hadees it's how much weight they gave two notions of truth outside of their religion outside of the text, the scripture of their religion. So in the 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 than the modern approach, in the West, is that scriptures are all actually doctored, you know, they're all the product of kind of conspiracies to, 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 they were very anytime they saw anything in those texts that seemed to contradict
your new scientific discoveries or anything like that, they immediately considered this to be a fault in the text of the Scripture for them, they immediately consider this to be a another piece of evidence that their scripture was actually manufactured by human hands, I was not really suitable to be the carrier of truth for a civilization.
So when, what's the difference between that approach and the classical Islamic approach was classical Muslim scholars, they believe that the Quranic contain the truth, they believe that the message of the Prophet alayhi salam, if it's preserved accurately, it also
And that anything outside the scriptures, that's true, must be able to, can be reconciled with the Quran and the authentics. And so that's why you never ever find, I can't think of a single example, I may be wrong, but I can't think of a single example of a Muslim scholar before, let's say, 1890, who has ever,
ever gotten into any trouble? for scientific discoveries
that I can think of, they got in trouble for being philosophers for having mystical ideas that others are considered to be problematic, but they never ever got in trouble for scientific discoveries. Because it was assumed 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 Hadeeth I just told you about you You just interpreted figuratively
interpreted figuratively, so one of the, the the major when I said before that Muslim scholars were always willing to be critical of heads, a lot of Muslims are surprised by this. They think that the heady tradition is kind of this
fit a stick, uncritical approach to Scripture, or Muslim scholars, they just look at who's in the snatch of the Hadeeth. And what's the chain of transmission for the Hadith, and they don't want to use their brains, they don't want to look critically at the contents of the Hadeeth. That's not true at all. That's not true at all. In fact, there is not, there is no kind of modern criticism
of the contents of ahaadeeth. There is no type of criticism that I've come across in the modern world of the contents of Hadeeth, that does not have precedent amongst Muslims. And I don't just mean you don't have to go and you know, find the Morteza lights and how, you know, Muslim rational. So even Sunni scholars, even Sunni scholars, who nowadays are seen as the kind of arch, you know, proto selfies like shamsudeen, a bit heavier and even handler or Buhari, these scholars who are often seen as the archetypal kind of, I don't want to say sort of insulting word become brainless headed scholar, these were actually the most oftentimes the most critical of the contents of Hadith.
So there's one Hadeeth in it's actually in the son of a Timothy, where the one of the companions describes the Prophet les Salaam, that one day he came out of his house, and he had two books, one on each hand, and in these books was written all the names of all the people, all human beings from the beginning of time till the end of time. You know, what tribe they're from, where they live, and whether they're going to go to heaven or hell.
So what does that have been, and anybody who knows anything about the famous scholar shamsudeen, that heavy knows this person, he hates logic, he hates philosophy. He hates these theories with their qalam hates anybody who's trying to use their brain too much. He doesn't like them. What does he say about this idea? He says, This is impossible because these books
would be so big that no human being could possibly carry them. You'd have to have like donkeys, you know, a mule train or something to carry these books with you. Three rejects the Hadith. But why is it that? Why is it that then it's very rare that we see classical Muslim scholars, engaging in the kind of criticism I did? Why, you know, they might find a problem with the Hadith, like the Hadith of the Son,
prostrating before the throne of God, they might look at it and say, Hmm, I don't understand this, this seems to be problematic to me. Why is it that they don't just throw it out, like a lot of modern people do. Because their worldview, the place they came from, was a worldview of humility, of deference to to God, of acceptance of prophecy, and acceptance of the presence of a prophetic message in the world.
So they was very interesting about Muslim scholars in the pre modern period, they wanted to believe her deeds, they wanted to believe her deeds. 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 connection to the Prophet. Whereas today, you know, Muslims,
you know, they're reacting to the world around them, they're reacting to the environment around them. And its environment. It's an environment that wants the world to be disenchanted. You know, once a disenchanted world wants a world that's empty. If God wants a world where, you know, if you believe in God, you just believe that he created the world and it was like a watch. And there's no, there's no miracles, there's nothing that can ever change in a world that's just totally material.
They don't want the prophetic presence interfering in their lives. They don't want to find something, a statement from the Prophet that can give them guidance that might have wisdom for them. And you see this so often. So often, especially with Heidi's dealing with gender.
And I know this is a controversial topic, one of the one of the things that I was doing research on for this book that I'm almost done with now
is, you know, the studies that talk about whether or not there's, you know, that there's more women in Hellfire than men.
Do you know that actually, the in the chapter of Sahih Muslim that deals with this issue. The first report in that chapter is the opinion of Abu huraira. It's not a hypothetical opinion of Abu huraira. And a group of Muslims in Medina is after the death of the Prophet later, salaam, goodwill, Muslims in Medina are debating whether or not there's more women or men in heaven. And Abu huraira says, they come to him and they asked 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's more women than men in heaven.
And then you see, wait, but there's other heads where the Prophet says, Alyssa Salaam says that the women are the smallest number of people in heaven. Men are the greater number. And this is very interesting. What does a great scholar like even Hunter, Alaska, Kalani is a famous, probably the most famous kind of medieval Hadees scholar, he's from Cairo, he died in 1449. He says,
this person narrating this Hadeeth probably made a mistake. Because this person thinks that if there's more women in hell, there have to be less women in heaven. Whereas if women are the majority of mankind, even hunter says, If women are the majority of mankind, then even if you have exactly half of all men going to hell and exactly half of all men go into heaven, and exactly half of all women going to hell and exactly half of all women go into heaven, you still have more women in both heaven and hell. And so this is he says, This is my explanation for these idiots.
He's very flexible. And in fact, Muslim scholars were always very flexible when they were dealing with these issues, because they knew they were dealing with the realm of the unseen the afterlife, which none of us can can ever possibly understand. That's why they would always use the famous saying of the companion in our best release, if it doesn't even matter if it's in the last man. There's nothing in this world that's in the next world except names. The only thing we know in communism names, we can't possibly understand the details or the exact nature of the afterlife.
But why is this important? Because this is the kind of things that Muslims become obsessed with when they find these ideas. Oh, the prophet. You know, this is this misogynist idea. This is a sexist indeed. No, it's not. Because the very people, not only the companions of the Prophet, but generations and generations of Muslims scholars after them. Never thought this was saying that actually
There are more women in Hellfire than men. They never interpreted like that.
As I said, most of them actually believe that there are more women in heaven than men.
What were they interested in, they were interested in the wisdom that the second part of all these idiots, no one ever talks about the second parts of the heads.
Right where the Prophet says to the women he's talking to, he's, he's kind of give them lessons to help them improve their lives. So he says, you know, took land with to,
to fill in land to fill in the last year,
you, you women, you're cursing a lot. And you're being ungrateful to your husbands. And he continues, and he says, What is ungrateful means your husband does
is always good to you. But then one day doesn't do something good for you. And you say to him, I've never seen anything good from you.
And this is a very interesting phrase, I think maybe people in the room have heard the phrase before, right? It's possible. It's very good advice, that Prophet is giving these women they saw. So I'm saying, Be grateful when you're when you have a good husband. And then in other heads, he gives advice to men.
And yet, we still are obsessed with these with our own because of our the worldview from which we come. We're obsessed with reading these studies through this kind of what sometimes people call a hermeneutic of suspicion, we look at these studies. And we're suspicious of them. These are sexist ideas, like the famous Hadith that says that women was created from a bent rib. And if you try to straighten her out, you'll break her. So you have to enjoy her as she is, if you try to straighten out and breaking her, you will be divorced from her. Who is people look at this, oh, this is sexist.
But why is it that we jumped to that conclusion, we should actually just look at the meaning of the Hadeeth first, because and the reason I thought about this is because I was you know, before I got married, I was reading this you know, men are from Mars, women are from Venus book that everyone was telling me I had to read.
And what was it saying? He was saying, Don't try to solve your wife's problems for her. Don't expect her to be like you, you have to accept her for as she is. Don't expect her to change. You just have to be there for her. And you know, and sometimes she's gonna do things that don't make sense. You have to accept that this is because and are from Mars and women are from Venus, right? And then I realized when I read this idea, this is exactly the same message. Here it's talking to men is saying, men, and I guarantee you if you get all the men in this conference in one room, they'll all start talking about how I wish my wife were more reasonable. Why doesn't she just think like I do,
why didn't you just see it this way, and how it makes men sit around like this all the time.
They're going to be miserable, and they're going to end up with miserable marriages. Because you're never going to get your spouse to be exactly like you, you're never going to be able to straighten her out to be like you, you have to accept her for the person she is. And then if you do that, you can have a happy life together. So the reason I thought of this when I was reading this book on
men are from Mars, women are from Venus, I realized this is the same message in the Hadeeth. But no one had ever. You know, actually, there's some scholars like Aveda vomity have actually interpreted that as such. But when you see on, you know, discussion lists, or when Muslims get together, or when there's a conference and some speaker comes and talks about Hadith, there's always someone who gets up in the audience and says, but you know, Brother, what about the Hadith of the crooked rib? And isn't this sexist? Why is it that we always jump on that bandwagon? Why don't we stop and say, maybe the Prophet actually has teachings has wisdom to offer us. And maybe it's actually talking to men in
this case, and telling men that they have to change the way that they look at their marriages and their relationships.
when we when we are confronted with issues about Hadeeth and we often are Muslims are always confronted with ideas that seem bizarre or unusual, or the day they reject or that they can't accept as part of their religion or that seems stupid or vulgar, right?
But ask yourself, where's the problem here? Is the problem really in Hades? Or is the problem with my with me? Why am I jumping to the conclusion? I do? Why am I reading the headlines in the way I do?
Why am I Why aren't I willing to look at other interpretations that might be they might actually find something valuable in the cities.
I think oftentimes, when Muslims have a skeptical or suspicious approach to hygiene, it's because they've adopted a skeptical and suspicious approach to religion really.
And that they need to look in their hearts and ask them selves. Whether they really want
In a world that's full of God, a world with a prophetic presence in it, because if you do,
if you want to look for the wisdom and the prophets legacy, then you can,
you'll take on more of the mindset of those classical Muslim scholars. And it's not uncritical, it's not irrational. It's not as thick or simplistic. Those classical Muslim scholars were just as smart, just as critical, oftentimes, just as scientifically aware as we are today.
So, you know, when you look at these things, remember the words of Yoda, that oftentimes what you're finding there are objective two is really what you've taken with you. Thank you very much.