Refuting Taj Hargey: hadith and McCarthyism
Taj Hargey had a lengthy whinge printed in The Times last Friday, in which he complained of having been “victimised, like other forward-looking Muslims, by a campaign of classic McCarthyism”:
Just as Senator Joseph McCarthy ruined the lives of countless Americans during the 1950s when he and his committee smeared innocent people as communists, the Muslim hierarchy in Britain have used witchhunts to maintain their unquestioned theological power. Any Muslim freethinker is automatically branded as heretical or un-Islamic and excommunicated from the community - and debate is shut down.
A little bit of background on Hargey: he is somebody hardly anyone had heard of until 2005, when he appeared on the Panorama programme, A Question of Leadership, in which John Ware alleged that the community was led by reactionaries who fostered hostility to outsiders. Hargey was introduced as someone who had set up an institution to promote “progressive, inclusive Islam”, a term which set alarm bells ringing as it was similar to schemes which had already run their course in North America, which publicly slandered mainstream Islam and Muslim leaders before collapsing amid bitter acrimony. He was allowed to smear the community by claiming that we referred to non-Muslims as kafirs in conversation amongst ourselves (which is true of some people but not others) and that this fostered what he called a “virtual apartheid”, an obvious, sensational exaggeration. A bit of research demonstrated that Hargey had been involved in various enterprises which did not last long, among them a so-called Crescent University and a fund-raising drive for a “Black newspaper” in South Africa.
He has no real record of service to the Muslim community, unless you count MECO, which is his own vehicle and which is taken very seriously by the non-Muslim media, despite its insignificant following. His complaint about “McCarthyism” is laughable, because it is only in the Muslim community’s press that he does not get an airing, and that is because he is not trusted and in any case, that press has a very limited reach. Only the Muslim News, a freesheet available in some Muslim bookshops (which have been diminishing because of rising London rents and online competition) and Emel, a glossy “Muslim lifestyle” magazine aimed at middle-class women, have published consistently; Q-News seems to have given up the ghost and Islamica has disappeared in the last couple of weeks. Hargey, meanwhile, gets on Panorama and coverage in national broadsheets; his victory over the Muslim Weekly was covered in three of the four broadsheets (the Independent, Times and Telegraph). McCarthyism drove people out of mainstream media.
Over the past few year or so, I’ve gained the impression that Hargey is an outright hadeeth denier, which is someone who claims that the hadeeths are either so unreliable that they should all be dismissed, or that it is shirk (idolatry or polytheism) to obey or honour other than God, including a prophet whose only function, they allege, is to deliver a sacred text, or both. Last November, MECO hosted a lecture by Edip Yuksel, a noted hadith denier based in the USA who also owns the “19.org” website, and another entitled “Why Qur’an Alone Through Reason”, at its forum event. The article Hargey had printed last Friday left me less sure of this, but it clearly indicates that he has a very unorthodox and eccentric attitude to the hadeeth:
We need a reformation that saves Islam from foreign-inspired zealots. That reformation is already under way, with Muslims going back to the pristine teaching of the transcendent Koran, not taking on trust the hadith (a compilation of sayings of the Prophet Muhammad recorded some 250 years after his death by non-Arabs) or the corpus of medieval man-made Sharia (religious law). But because this reformation is still in its infancy, the reactionary clergy and its supporters is doing everything to strangle it.
Most if not all the thorny problems of faith that British Muslims face today - whether it is apostasy, blasphemy, jihad, women’s oppression, homosexuality, religious intolerance or the democratic deficit in and outside the community - can be traced either to fabricated hadith or the masculine-biased Sharia.
Although the Koran repeatedly declares that God’s revelation is conclusive and sufficient guidance for Muslims and that there is no need for any supplementary legal authority in Islam, the traditional Muslim clergy defies this explicit divine assurance. They falsely convince their flock that they cannot be true believers without the hadith. They falsely assert that this source of Islam is at the heart of being a real Muslim. Most Muslims have been told that the hadith are the sacred authentic words of the Prophet, but the plethora of fictitious and forged hadith proves otherwise.
Granted, there may be some useful guidance in the thousands upon thousands of hadith but they need to pass a rigorous double test. First, they cannot contradict the Koran and, second, they must not defy reason and logic. Unfortunately, most Muslims have been programmed to regard hadith as sacrosanct teachings that cannot be challenged. This holds all Muslims hostage to the antiquated prejudices or distortions of the narrators and recorders of the prophetic traditions.
There are many Islamic problems with all this, but let us address the obvious factual errors first: jihad, the objection in Islam to homosexuality and some of what he calls “women’s oppression” are in fact partly based on the Qur’an. It is not for the first time that I have come across someone claiming “it’s not in the Qur’an”, so as to dismiss hadith-based parts of Islamic law, when in fact what they are talking about is indeed in the Qur’an. It is also not true that the problems of “jihad”, where the term is used to mean terrorism, is to be blamed on “fabricated hadith” or the Shari’ah. A substantial body of scholarship rejects suicide bombings, a tactic borrowed from the atheist Tamil Tigers, and most scholars actually condemn terrorism against civilian populations.
The notion that Islamic teaching should be wholly or almost entirely based on the Qur’an is a completely ahistorical one, as the Companions certainly did not refuse any instruction from the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) just because it did not appear in the Qur’an. Doubtless he is expecting his audience to think the Qur’an to be like the Bible, a collection of stories mostly of declared human authorship, which it is not. The Companions learned how to practise Islam from the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) and transmitted this knowledge to the next generation, who relayed it to the next, and so on. A substantial part of the hadeeth are mutawatir, meaning that they have more than one independent chain of narrators; they were repeated among groups of people - male and female, in those days - who were only two or three degrees separated from the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam).
It is untrue, even if it is relevant, that the collections were made by non-Arabs. While many of them did originate from cities in Persia (which included large parts of other neighbouring countries at that time, including Iraq, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan), those countries had been conquered by Arab Muslims, and Arab Muslims had been settled in them. Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal belonged to the Shaybaani tribe. Imam Muslim was of the Arab Qushayri tribe. Imam Tirmidhi belonged to the Beni Sulaim, an Arab tribe originating in the Najd; Imam Abu Dawud belonged to the Arab Azd tribe. No doubt they spoke Persian as well, but even though Persian became an important language of Islam later, Arabic was the language of Islam at that time. While it is now common for Islamic scholars to mostly speak another language, particularly Urdu, the idea of any such scholar being taken seriously then was preposterous. In addition, the two biggest hadeeth collections, by Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim, did not contain just any hadeeth, but only those they deemed absolutely the most authentic.
However, the validity of these hadeeth collections has no relevance to the validity of the Shari’ah, because it is not based on them. The four major imams lived and worked before any of those collections were made; in fact, with the exception of Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal, they were dying around the time the major hadeeth-collecting imams were being born. They lived at a time when there were many people around, known as taabi’een, who actually knew the Companions and the first of them (Abu Hanifa) actually knew some of them himself. They were certainly not working from unreliable hadeeth several generations removed from the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) but from a community of people with very close personal connections to him. I accept that it would be a matter of huge difficulty to reconstruct the Shari’ah now, even though we have the Qur’an and the hadeeth collections, but that is not what the imams did. They did not need to.
Hargey’s contention that hadeeths must not contradict the Qur’an to be deemed authentic is not accepted in Islam; authentic hadeeth are considered to be a revelation in themselves, because they are the words of a prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam). The words are treated differently, as they are not a sacred text in the same way as the Qur’an is, so a Muslim is permitted to touch volumes of Imam Bukhari’s collection without being in a state of ritual purity, but the meanings are deemed to have the weight of revelation (wahy), and as such may qualify or even abrogate a ruling contained in a verse in the Qur’an.
When Hargey attacks specific groups within Islam, he concentrates on the Wahhabis and the Tablighi Jama’at, as if these were the only groups which use hadeeth and accept the Shari’ah, when in fact every other traditional Islamic group, including the Bareilawis and the other Sufi-based groups, do as well:
Although Muslims have their own specific territorial cultural traditions, there is no such thing as an Islamic culture. Therefore the modern trend among British Muslims blindly to emulate Arab ethnic dress or grow beards or for women to wear the Wahhabi-sanctioned niqab or face masks has nothing to do with the Koran but everything to do with the primitive tribal mores and sexist practices of Arabia.
The relentless importation of Wahhabi-influenced theology and tradition into the body politic of the Muslim community is mainly the result of two factors. First, the Saudis control Mecca and Medina, the centres of Islam. This gives the Wahhabi Saudis both a spurious legitimacy and a captive market to peddle their sectarian poison.
Second, with their petrodollars the Saudis can afford to export the most horrendous brand of Islam around the globe. Here in Britain, conservative mosques and madrassas receive funding from the despotic Saudis and in turn extol their nefarious interpretation of Islam.
The fact is that niqaab, of one form or another, has existed among Muslims since the earliest days of Islam; there are clear records of female Companions covering their faces, and it is not limited to Wahhabis; the Tablighi Jamaat are not Wahhabis, and in fact the gulf between them and the Wahhabi/Salafi movement has grown enormously in the past ten years as both have admitted that there is more similarity between the Deobandis (the movement out of which the TJ emerged) and Bareilawis, and other traditional Sufi Muslims, than between Deobandis and Wahhabis. Niqaab was common for Muslim women, particularly in urban areas, until the arrival of the western colonisers. As for the Deobandis, they are different from some other Muslims only in style, and in a small number of peripheral legal and doctrinal issues. They actually have good relations with non-Wahhabi scholars outside India, and have been involved in refuting the ideas put forward by the Wahhabis.
Hargey presses one button after another to raise sympathy for his “cause” among his non-Muslim audience, labelling his opponents as foreign fanatics and calling for a “British Islam” free of their supposedly “nefarious” influence. Why on earth we should let any “British Islam” be based on the demands of a South African interloper who advocates rejecting most if not all of the hadeeth - ideas associated mostly with a Pakistani thinker (Ghulam Ahmad Perveiz) and an Egyptian one, based in the USA (Rashad Khalifa), is not explained. The reality is that he will never fool Muslims, who know their shaikhs and love them, and know nothing about this self-publicising Johnny-come-lately drifter with his strange ideas. In fact, he will not deceive a lot of non-Muslims, who know that the Qur’an itself is not a pacifist manifesto by any stretch of the imagination. Whoever he deceives outside the Muslim community, Muslims know that what he promotes would not be recognisable to any Muslim as Islam, and that it is based on ideas which have no basis whatsoever in the history of Islamic thought.
Possibly Related Posts:
- Make no mistake: "halal hysteria" is malicious
- Taj Hargey is wrong: there is no ‘British Islam’
- Outbreak of media splaining over niqaab
- Britain’s mosques are not a ‘swamp’
- What’s an imam to do?