The Truth About ‘The Study Quran’ Part 3: Al-Maturidi and Who Are The Theological Modernists?

It has become necessary to embark on this article and others like it because under ideological and financial pressure from Salafis and other fringe elements, most Muslim groups purporting to follow ‘Classical Islam’ have instead falsified and fabricated astonishing amounts in its name.

A prominent example is pretending that those hadiths, fatwas and narrations emphasised and accepted by puritanical groups such as Salafis and their fellow travellers (sadly very often Brelwis and Deobandis) are in fact accepted by everyone through Islamic history. This exercise in revisionism means that the unsuspecting layman is lead to believe that, for example, every narration of Bukhari or some controversial hadith were accepted ‘unanimously’ and that ‘no one disagreed’. The names of the famous scholars of Islam are frequently wheeled out for this purpose – their reputations merely a stepping stone and a sacrifice to fabricating evidence for an a prior fringe position.

Having undertaken the first ever English critical edition of Imam Maturidi’s Magnum Opus ‘Kitab ut Tawhid’ (a task whose omission by many others despite calls for it even by Orientalists speaks volumes about the intentions of many of his ‘followers’. Please notice the surfeit of editions and translations of the works of latter day salafist favourites like Ibn Taymiyya and the latter day founders of other ‘sects’ from the Deobandis to the Ikhwaanis to ‘Hizb Ut Tahrir’), I had been asked repeatedly about Imam Maturidi’s authoritative yet untranslated positions and fatwas. Add to this that Maturidi’s Arabic, of the Central Asian style, is uniquely complex and Muslims are subjected to deliberately poor translations and ‘commentary’ by puritans of even the Quran itself. My fear is that having tried their best to ignore Maturidi and not translate him at all, his ‘followers’ will now do their best to censor and mistranslate him.

Thus I have endeavoured to mention those excerpts of Maturidi’s which are most intellectually and practically relevant and helpful to Muslims (and others) today (as I did here: https://sulaimanahmed.com/2016/01/20/black-magic-and-the-perfection-of-the-prophet/). And make no mistake – relevant and stimulating they most certainly are, which is why they are so carefully kept from the Muslim laity today.

As the most widely followed doctor of Islamic creed, Maturidi’s scope, influence and authority is astonishing. It is my intention to show that this original and fearless thinker is relevant today – and is much more than the caricature that many who ‘follow’ his school claim him to be.

Here I just want to post an example for readers on hadith as we did previously on Black Magic.

Prophet Moses Naked?

 

We all know of the Hadeeth which is narrated by Imam Bukhari and other authors of Hadeeth collections about Prophet Musa/Moses PBUH.

The general story they relate has variations but says that Moses was a very shy person – so he used to hide his body from peoples gaze. When he would bathe with his nation, they would do it communally but Moses would go far away from then and bathe in a different part of the river.

Some people from his nation allegedly used to use this to make up insults against him. They said; ‘He has cut off his genitals, that’s why he is ashamed to show himself to us naked’ or; ‘He has big testicles, [or a scrotal hernia] that’s why he doesn’t take off his clothes’.

And many other insults.

God wanted to prove them wrong. Prophet Moses was taking a ‘shower’ (unclothed) in the river far from the people, and he left his clothes on a rock. This rock suddenly came to life and took his clothes and ran towards the people who insulted him. Moses in turn took his staff and ran after the clothes. When rock stopped, he started beating the rock and cursing it. People who were sitting there saw that the naked body of Prophet Moses didn’t have any of what they used to insult him with.

This is the story which is narrated with some differences (we mentioned it here by meaning – incidentally as most hadith are) in a number of collections and is repeated as an ‘explanation’ for Surah Al Azab verse 69 onwards by numerous classical commentators of the Quran and even by the recent ‘Study Quran’ by Nasr et al: Here is the ayat in, perhaps appropriately, the translation of Muhammad Asad, who lost his parents in the Holocaust:

 

O YOU who have attained to faith! Be not like those [children of Israel] who gave offence to Moses, and [remember that] God showed him to be innocent of whatever they alleged [against him or demanded of him]: for of great honour was he in the sight of God. (33:69)

 

The ‘Study Quran’ actually follows the methodology of most today and attributes the accusations against Moses in this part of the Quran to his alleged ‘physical defect’. Although the authors avoid relating the hadith and details of the story in full (they do not mention the animate rock or the naked running etc, perhaps out of embarrassment), they use the explanation of Quranic exegetes Ibn Kathir and Qurtubi, both beloved of Salafists for their alleged anthropomorphism.

Despite this towing of the ‘party line’ (so to speak), the authors of the ‘Study Quran’ were subjected to a sustained campaign of attack and anathematisation from a strange coalition of Salafi and other scholars and interests. (of relevance here, Asad, attributes the reason for the revelation of this part of the Quran to the issues in the beginning of Numbers 12 as opposed to the story related by ‘The Study Quran’ and Co.)

Here is the actual text of Bukhari;

Study Quran P2 1

(Bukhari narrated this hadeeth Number 3404 from Abu Huraira);

‘Prophet PBUH said; ‘Moses was a shy and reserved man. None of his skin would be seen due to his shyness. Some people from Sons of Israel insulted him and said; He doesn’t hide himself except for some defect in his skin, either vitiligo or scrotal hernia or some other defect. Then God wanted to defend Moses from this insult. Once Moses was alone and took off his clothes and put them on a rock. Then he went for a bath. Once he finished, he came to take his clothes, but rock started running with his clothes on it. Moses took his staff and went looking for the rock. He started calling; ”O rock, my clothes! O rock, my clothes!”

He kept on walking until he reached the place where group of Sons of Israel were sat. They saw his body as most perfect shape that God created. That is how God defended him from what they used to accuse him of. Then the rock stood, and Moses took his clothes and put them on. Then he beat the rock with his staff. I swear by God that rock has three or four or five scars on it from striking by the staff.

That what is the meaning of the verse; ”O believers! don’t be as those who have hurt Moses, then God freed him from their accusation. Indeed he [Moses] was very glorious in front of God”’.

However, Abu Mansur Maturidi flatly rejected it in his Tafseer (Quranic exegesis) Volume 4, Page 138:

Study Quran P2 2

Abu Mansur gives the following reasons for rejecting this hadeeth;

1. Prophet Moses used to order them to cover their private parts as a matter of religious observance (still followed by Jews today), that is why it is not possible that they will hope or try to bathe with him in the very first place.

2. It is not possible that they would wish to look at his private parts

3. It is not possible that a rock will be able to run away with the clothes of the Prophet Moses

Maturidi doesn’t even look at its chain and narrators, doesn’t even look at which collection is it narrated in, doesn’t consider that it is in the collection of Bukhari, neither does he try to show his excuses to Bukhari. But he does very frankly show only the above three rational reasons and comments on the narration using two very harsh names;

1.’Outlandish interpretation’

2.’Bizarre or strange statement’

Based on this we can see that Abu Mansur makes his analysis to reject this hadeeth based on intellect with the support of general accepted principles based on The Quran…

It also looks as if Abu Mansur holds the rank of Prophets in very high regard, and shows a lot of respect towards them.

No doubt that Abu Mansur Maturidi is the highest ranked Hanafi scholar, other than the eponymous founder of the school. And were we to respect his authority and reasoning, even if we were to disagree, then that would be that. However, this opinion and methodology employed by Maturidi, as with so many of the luminaries of Islamic scholarship, is an inconvenient truth for the partisans that the Muslim laity find themselves surrounded by today. They will not and cannot allow a scholar, regardless of his rank and authority, to disregard any of the hadith they wish to be accepted, in particular those of their canonical collections such as Bukhari etc.

The reason is not any insistence by Imam Bukhari himself (who never stated that he intended each and every one of his hadith to be accepted into faith nor acted upon, and often included hadith for documentary as opposed to theological or juristic reasons) but rather due to the self interested, partisan and inclusive criteria these groups and individuals have towards (certain) hadith narrations. If it becomes widely known that some narrations later canonised by these interests were in fact rejected by luminaries of the past, then the game is, as they say, up.

So the evasions, misdirections, fudges and outright lies begin. Since the easiest course of action, namely to disown and discredit Imam Maturidi himself, is inexpedient due to his authority and following for the past thousand years or so (although this does not stop Salafis openly denouncing him) and as well as this, Maturidi has a ‘built in fan base’, which it would be useful to retain and divert to these groups own, frankly, nefarious ends. Therefore the next line of concealing the truth (that Maturidi and others rejected narrations these groups are fond of) is:

1. Mistranslating

2. Fabricating an absurd ‘context’ for the rejection

3. Claiming that said scholar was idiosyncratic or a lone wolf and naming others who disagreed with him to subtly discredit him – regardless of his or their relative authoritativeness

4. Claiming that, well, he might have rejected it but that we have to follow ‘the majority’, by which they mean them or their group

5. As above but with ‘ijma’ (consensus) substituted for ‘majority’

Number three can be most confusing for the layman.

In the case of this hadith – and many others, we see a game by groups like Salafis and Deobandis of trying to play off the early group of scholars with a more recent cohort that agrees with their preferred, usually ‘gotta’ accept them all’ methodology. The classic example is to claim that well, maybe some early Hanafis believed that this hadith is false but later on other Hanafis fell into line with the hadith collectors. This is a kind of ‘modernism’ and a strangely secular idea that the latest version of the truth is the truth, an idea alien to Islam and for which these same groups anathematise others. The game usually consists of not telling the audience that the ‘later’ scholars were in fact following a methodology, be that in hadith or anything else, that these groups would like you to follow (usually more puritanical or more inclusive of certain hadith) and the earlier scholars were following a methodology (easier and more rationalist) that these groups would not want you to follow.

This is in no way as far as I know the methodology of the ‘Study Quran’, they are merely repeating the claims of some past commentators, but even this did not save them from the ire of those they agreed with. it isn’t enough to agree with ideological extremists it seems unless you agree with them in everything.

So in the above case, the stance of Maturidi was supported by other Hanafi giants such as Isa Ibn Abban (in fact Imam Jassas also narrated this hadith from him), Imam Bazdawi, Imam Sarakhsi, Imam Qadhikhan – and big list of other Hanafi theologians supported the opinion of Isa bin Abban…but Kamal ibn Humam, Lakhnawi and group of other latest Hanafi scholars have rejected the opinion of Ibn Abban.

Thus layman and scholar alike will be unilaterally blackmailed by saying ‘how dare you go against the opinion of the latter (i.e more hadith oriented) group!’- without telling you that these scholars were in fact themselves going against the opinion of the earlier and more authoritative group. The poor Muslim layman is taught ‘earlier is better’ and the merits of the Salaf. But then these same people jettison the opinions of the early and authoritative scholars for their own favourites, later scholars and even scholars with deviant views such as Ibn Taymiyya when it suits them (a good example is the shocking adoption of Ibn Taymiyya by Shah Wali Allah, who is venerated by both of the puritanical and Salafi oriented faux Hanafi groups in the Indian Subcontinent, the Deobandis and their arch rivals the Brelwis).

What is really lamentable is that if anyone today rejects a hadith from ‘Sahih Bukhari’, a lynch mob composed of Salafists, Deobandis, Brelwis and even Sufis is rapidly assembled, but rejecting the teachings of senior Imams and theologians such as Imam Maturidi is considered of no consequence – even by his self proclaimed ‘followers’. What makes this even more egregious is that Imam Bukhari, as stated, seems to have never himself insisted that all his hadith be accepted. In fact, in an ironic twist, Imam Bukhari died alone and isolated, hounded by Hanbali mob for being a ‘heretic’ and a ‘Mu’tazilite’ – he was persecuted by the ideological ancestors of the very people who today insist that not single one of his narrations be rejected. Perhaps it is their way of redeeming for what was done to him, but it nevertheless doesn’t change the fact that Bukhari himself neither insisted his collection was complete nor to be completely followed (for the record, there was friction between Bukhari and some of his local Hanafis too).

In this rush to rewrite Islamic intellectual history to agree with their partisan views, these groups destroy the diversity and heritage that is the right of believers of all faiths. In trying to make everything equally true, or rather the same, they in fact introduce weakness, incoherence and make everything equally false.

Unlike many of these groups, I believe that people are free to believe what they wish and that people can believe that Maturidi and the other Hanafi giants were wrong in their decision and that the hadith is reliable after all. I personally consider the glosses and explanations offered for this hadith by scholars past and present to be outlandish, but the academic tradition in Islam mandates that I hear them out and not shout them down with accusations of heresy, hadith rejection and modernism as these sectarians are so willing to do.

 

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