Church Tradition & The Textual Integrity Of The Bible
M S M Saifullah, Qasim Iqbal & Muhammad Ghoniem
© Islamic Awareness, All Rights Reserved.
Last Modified: 31st August 1999
The basis of evaluation of any hadîth (story or report) in Islam of any text concerned particularly with religion is based on the study of matn (i.e., text) and its isnad (i.e., chain of narration).
A hadîth (pl. ahâdîth) is composed of two parts: the matn (text) and the isnad (chain of reporters). A text may seem to be logical and reasonable but it needs an authentic isnad with reliable reporters to be acceptable; cAbdullah b. al-Mubârak (d. 181 AH), one of the illustrious teachers of Imâm al-Bukhârî, said, “The isnad is part of the religion: had it not been for the isnad, whoever wished to would have said whatever he liked.”
The Christian ‘hadîth’ is composed of matn (text) but no isnad (chain of narration). Without isnad, as cAbdullah b. al-Mubarak said, anyone can claim anything saying that it is coming from the authority. The authorities in the case of Christian ‘hadîth’ are the Apostles and later day Church Fathers. But how can one be sure that the Christian ‘hadîth’ is not mixed with falsehood without the proper isnad and its verification?
The Old Testament, to certain extent and the New Testament in toto lack chain of narration. When this argument was put forward, the Christian missionary Jochen Katz wrote:
On 8 Oct 1998, Jochen Katz wrote (on a different thread):
> That is a bogus argument from an Islamic point of view.
Missionaries when cornered try to wiggle out of the argument by calling names. According to Katz, the Islamic argument of using the chain of narration, i.e., isnad, is ‘bogus’ because the New Testament and major part of Old Testament lacks it and above all it is a Muslim argument. By calling the Islamic argument of isnad ‘bogus’ Katz thought that he is already refuted it. Unfortunately, the Orientalists like Bernard Lewis who read this ‘bogus’ Islamic tradition and compares it with the Christian scholarship say that:
From an early date Muslim scholars recognized the danger of false testimony and hence false doctrine, and developed an elaborate science for criticizing tradition. “Traditional science”, as it was called, differed in many respects from modern historical source criticism, and modern scholarship has always disagreed with evaluations of traditional scientists about the authenticity and accuracy of ancient narratives. But their careful scrutiny of the chains of transmission and their meticulous collection and preservation of variants in the transmitted narratives give to medieval Arabic historiography a professionalism and sophistication without precedent in antiquity and without parallel in the contemporary medieval West. By comparison, the historiography of Latin Christendom seems poor and meagre, and even the more advanced and complex historiography of Greek Christendom still falls short of the historical literature of Islam in volume, variety and analytical depth.
So, after all this Islamic science of hadîth, called ‘bogus’ by Katz, was so advanced that its Christian counterparts were far far away from its sophistication. Futher where does it sophistication lie?
. . . it would have been easy to invent sayings of Muhammad. Because the cultural background of the Arabs had been oral the evidence that came to be expected was the chain of names of those who had passed on the anecdote containing the saying . . . The study of Traditions rapidly became a distinct branch of the studies of the general religious movement. It was soon realized that false Traditions were in circulation with sayings that Muhammad could not possibly have uttered. The chains of transmitters were therefore carefully scrutinised to make sure that the persons named could in fact have met one another, that they could be trusted to repeat the story accurately, and that they did not hold any heretical views. This implied extensive biographical studies; and many biographical dictionaries have been preserved giving the basic information about a man’s teachers and pupils, the views of later scholars (on his reliability as a transmitter) and the date of his death. This biography-based critique of Traditions helped considerably to form a more or less common mind among many men throughout the caliphate about what was to be accepted and what rejected.