Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Muhammad on lampooning pagan religion?

What Started All This:
(Image from Wikipedia)

Two days ago, I reprised an old blog entry from over a year ago (February 7, 2006) on an opinion piece by Tariq Ramadan titled "Free speech and civic responsibility" (adapted for the International Herald Tribune from an interview with Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels), and I quoted the following statement by Ramadan concerning the very controversial Muhammad cartoons:
[I]n the Muslim world, we are not used to laughing at religion, our own or anybody else's. This is far from our understanding. For that reason, these cartoons are seen, by average Muslims and not just radicals, as a transgression against something sacred, a provocation against Islam.
I noted that Ramadan's point can only be narrowly correct, for even if Muslims don't laugh at non-Islamic religions, they certainly scoff at them.

A generous commenter then posted a hadith from Sahih Bukhari in which Muhammad seems to approve of lampooning pagan religion. According to a hadith found in Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 54, Number 435:
Narrated Al Bara: The Prophet said to Hassan, "Lampoon them (i.e. the pagans) and Gabriel is with you."
The online text lacks any scholarly apparatus, so no explanation appears as to why "them" is identified as "the pagans," but if Hassan is the same person as the "Hassan" in the preceding hadith (4.54.434), then the lampoons would likely be satirical poetry. I assume that the parenthetical identification of "them" as "the pagans" comes from information elsewhere in traditions about Muhammad that identifies who this Hassan was and what he did. At any rate, the hadith shows Muhammad not only approving of lampoons but even going so far as to cite the approval of the angel Gabriel, the same angel who purportedly delivered Allah's revelations to Muhammad.

There would yet remain the question of this hadith's authenticity -- whether strong, weak, unreliable, or whatever.

Can anybody supply more details about this hadith on lampooning?



At 5:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ain't this fun? The same story appears in several places:

4:56:731 (Aisha, long)
4:54:435 (Al Bara, short)
8:73:171 (Aisha, long)
8:73:174 (Al Bara, short)

Why both versions twice? It's in the "Book of manners", twice, where it obviously belongs, because it's kind of about manners. The book of manners is one of the 'lazy' books. Except for special cases, none of which apply here, ahadith in "Mannners" default to 'hasan' (alright). OK, the Isnad is very good: Two first-hand accounts from different persons, no intermediaries, which gives us 'hasan+' Also, both are high quality transmittors, from different 'scenes' of the prophet's household. Make that 'hasan++'. Thus, if these hadith were only in the "Manners" book, lampooning infidels would make for highly recommended practice, but not necessarily a totally bloody serious thing, not to be missed.

The same thing, more ore less, applies to the appearace of the hadith in the "Virtues of the Prophet" book.

But it's also in the "Creation" book (because is makes a statement about Gabriel). This book is in the top drawer. Everything here is "sahih", except if if were also "isolated", which these ahadith are not. The one who's making the statement about Gabril is not Gabriel himself, but Mohammad. This deserves no extra '+'. It's a straight "sahih", maybe even a "sahih-", because the setting is informal, and Gabriel isn't present, only mentioned. Maybe even 'sahih--'.

Let's look further: the dreaded "context". In "Manners" it's straightforward: poetry and its virtues, who does it, who's doning it, and how it is evaluated. In a nutshell: Don't do it against the prophet (is a lie, may kill you, is worse than "pus in your stomach", etc), but do it for the prophet (involves Gabriel, is true, wise). Watch 8:73:166 to 168: The "Labid" it mentions is pre-islamic, but praised. His verses hang inside the Ka'ba. They are about the same procedure: Lampooning the enemy (especially when defeated), so this is not an innovative Islamic practice, but an approved arab custon: A '+' for lots of framing, a big '-' for 'custom only'. Short sum: Sahih-- + 2x hasan++ + '+framing' + '-custom'. Still too close to call, weak tendency 'hasan'. Context in the "Virtues" book: Tribal self-aggrandizement (another '-'). More 'hasan' than 'sahih' by now. Can the "creation" context turn the tide? Gabriel, descending angels, blessing humans for qualities, with positive repercussions in the hereafter. Clearly, a 'good if you do' context, not a 'dammned if you don't' one. Solid recommendation territory, no admonishments, no word of Allah, which would have been a negative sign in a hadith. (paraphrasing Allah in ahadith is looked at with suspicion: He doesn't belong. Allah is Koran subject matter) Very solid '+'. But is it enough to turn the tide? My vertict would be: yes, 'sahih', as far as Bukhari is concerned. The "creation" book should decide the matter, when in doubt.

At 5:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Clearly, all this is half in jest. "Commentary 101" territory, but I'd like to believe I'm not far off. When the isnad is so strong, and when it's in both Muslim and Bukhari, and even in the "creation" book, a 'sahih' is always the safe bet. However, I don't like the translation "lampooning" too much. It's too funny. In 4:54:434 the mood of the poetry is translated as "retort" - in the same setting with Hassan reciting partisan poetry and Mohammed approving. Maybe 'dissing' is the word. Humour is welcome into it, but not the prime mover.

At 5:55 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Half in jest is perfectly appropriate for this blog entry.

Thanks, Erdal, I didn't know that you could do a fatwa -- or whatever one calls judgements of this sort. What is it? -- fiqh?

You see, I know some of the terms but not quite where they belong or how to use them.

But it's fascinating to watch how you dealt with the weighing and balancing even if you were half in jest.

I,too, had wondered about the word "lampoon" -- would "satire" work better?

At the minimum, it seems that some degree of ridicule directed toward other religions -- or at least 'pagan' ones (whatever that word might entail) -- is allowed, possibly even encouraged.

Can we conclude that Tariq Ramadan is wrong? Even (shudder) an 'innovator'?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm too tired of T. Ramadan to think about the consistency of his throw-away remarks for the media. Instead, I'll try to correct a point about the hadith categorization that is almost universally misunderstood. Rereading my 1st post I notice that I fell into that trap too.

There is no precise linear relation between the reliability of any given hadith and its normative power! There are 'sahih' hadith nobody is seriously expected to emulate, just as there are 'weak', 'spurious' or even 'fabricated' ones, which wield normative power. Here's why:

Pretend you are Bukhari and have a basketful of hadith about a given topic - let's say: toothbrushes. (this may sound like half-in-jest, but isn't)
#1 says: "Aisha reports: Verily, the prophet brushed his teeth after every meal."
#2 says: "Uthman says that he heard Ibn Whatever say that the prophet was a great advocate of dental hygiene, and abhored foul odors"
#3 says: "Abu Soandso reports that he saw the prophet brush his teeth after every meal. Also, the prophet said that in case you had no teeth left, you should still clean your mouth twice daily. Oh, and even if you didn't eat a thing all day - do still brush your teeth! Gabriel told me."
#4 to 100 basically mirror #1

#1 has a first class isnad (Aisha). Since there are be many very similar hadith, this one will get a 'sahih' mark, and will be included in the collection.
#2 is hearsay. Uthman is fine, but Ibn Soandso is a minor player, known to be a drunkard: 'unreliable'! Can be left out!
#3 Bukhari knows that Abu Soandso is the Grandfather of his ex-scribe, who happens to jockey for a career in theology. He has the suspicion that this man produces these fake hadith for the furtherance of his goal. (Having a grandfather who is mentioned in the same sentence as the prophet is a great career boost) So this gets a 'falsified' label.

Bukhari then concludes that because the prophet was obviously aiming for wider goals, like fightig foul breath and promoting sound teeth, and not prescribing a meal-related whimsical ritual, it may be wise to include #3 because it appears to make valid points, and yet, by marking it down, It won't help the scribe's career much.

And now, even though those in the know are aware that this a fabricated hadith, it is obligatory for the unwashed masses to imitate it. A total net gain!

The vast majority of not so highly rating hadith were downgraded not for questionable content, but for such a questionable isnad. Usually, the content very closely mirrored other ahadith, but people sneaked in names of people of their kin, or tweaked them for political effects.

#4 may get a 'fabricated', #5 a 'questioable', # 6 a 'sahih' ('Ali narrates it) and so on, even though they are verbatim copies of #1. #6 will be included, too, the rest are throw-aways.

The mirror case of a 'sahih' hadith nobody is expected to comply with may work thus:
#1 "Narrates Abu Bakr: The prophet really hated toothbrushes. The people of the Banu XY gossiped about his breath, and the Prophet had them killed for it. God is merciful."

#2+3 have Khadija and Umar narrate the same thing.

The Isnad is good, and they all agree. These are 'sahih' hadith alright. But because of Aisha and Khadija, Bukhari can date these hadith reliably. Aisha's is more recent. Mohammad's filthy example in Khadija's story is to be disregarded. So he includes this hadith, too, but adds a commentary to this effect, maybe in a seperate book, because he doesn't want to dilute the text.

The trouble is, The pro-toothbrush ahadith will go into the book of "manners", the other one into, say, the book of "warfare", not to promote bad breath as an example, but to demonstrate that the Muslims mustn't tolerate infidels gossiping about him, and are justified in annihilating them.

There's a fire. The commentary is destroyed. The books are scattered. 200 years later, 1000 miles away, somebody edits ahadith, and finds Bukhari's collection, almost complete. "Manners" misses some pages. The new compiler thinks: "Oh, somebody neglected to mention in "manners" that the messenger of Allah was opposed to toothbrushes". So he duplicates Khadija's narrative here, and why not? It's 'sahih'. Even Bukhari thought so.

And so it goes. The whole body of hadith suffers uncountable such afflictions. A Shia collector - who bears a grudge against Aisha as a matter of policy - may also try to discredit toothbrushes, because he thinks they're a Sunni plot.

Sombody else may conclude that the Banu XY were a great boon for humanity, because the toothbrush was introduced because of them humbling the Prophet. He interprets the story of their demise as a warning against rashness, and concludes that killing infidels should be banned wholesale, because errors of judgment may creep in, and you will be humbled later on by Allah, thus turning Bukharis opinion on its head entirely.

The salafist conclusion would probably be that toothbrushes are usually a mandatory ritual, but forbidden in warfare, because bad breath will trick the hypocrites into outing themselves. They are also useless to fight tooth decay, because toothless people existed in the early glory days.

Ah, got carried away, again...

At 4:22 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Erdal, you really ought to consider starting your own blog. You could call it "Erdal's Isnads" ... or maybe not that.

Maybe: "Erdal's Is-Nots"

You could parody Bukhari and others along with the various latter-day reasonings of the manifold Islamic groups, especially the Salafists, and your humor would do much to advance free thinking in the Ummah.

Of course, you'd be accused of apostasy and have to lose your head, but freedom has its price. As Crosy, Stills, and Nash used to sing:

Find the cost of freedom,
Buried in the ground.
Mother earth will swallow you.
Lay your body down.

Rather pessimistic for the '68 Love Generation, don't you think? Still, it bears a message for us today in our struggle with the fallen angels flying too close to the ground. (Another lyrical allusion, by the way.)

Enough of this. I need to figure out something to post today...

Jeffery Hodges

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