Excerpts from "Open Letter To The Nation’s Leaders And Intellectuals" written by Dr. Kassim Ahmad from Malaysia
The time may have come for us to do a final reckoning with ourselves, our people, and the international community. Never in the history of mankind have we faced such total collapse as we do today.... Where has morality gone? Where on the face of this earth is a group or groups of moral human beings?... There is a limit to human endurance of suffering without protest; that limit has been passed!
When a group of our people in Malaysia wants to bring back the Quran to the hearts of the populace today, this is the significance and the implication. For a thousand years, Muslims have strayed so far away from God’s teachings and lived in such ignorance that they are powerless to destroy the evil perpetrated before their eyes. Western civilization too has strayed far away from the teachings of the prophets, including Moses and Jesus.... Both East and West must return to God’s teachings, particularly the Quran, His final, complete, perfect, and detailed scripture.
Alas, when Jema'ah Al-Quran Malaysia (Quranic Society of Malaysia or JAM) was formed precisely for this mission, a number of our leaders and intellectuals leapt up and protested. "Anti-Hadith group! Anti-Hadith group!" they screamed in accusation. What? Bringing the Quran to the people so that they would understand, this is anti-hadith? So, letting the people remain Quran illiterate, as in the past five hundred years in Malaysia, is acceptable?
I write this open letter to the nation’s leaders and intellectuals in all communities in the hope that we can study this matter calmly and rationally, without hurling accusations and threats and creating an atmosphere of animosity and tension. It is with a sense of responsibility and humility that I ask this, for it is not a matter involving religious ritual, but one of life and death for our people.
In 1986, this writer published a book, Hadis - Satu Penilaian Semula (its English translation, Prophetic Traditions, A Re-evaluation will also be published, God willing) with the intention stated above. Many of the hadith compiled by Bukhari, Muslim and others that we use today, according to this writer’s study, are in conflict with the teachings of the Quran. I give instances in three areas:
One, adulation of or unquestioning acceptance of the teachings of a leader. Since this principle was instilled, Muslims have feared others besides God; they have been afraid to question leaders. Hence they became slaves of the leaders, whereas the Quran exhorts us to free ourselves of all forms of subservience, except to the One God....
Two, prohibiting the use of the rational mind. Generally, Muslims are taught not to use their minds in religious matters. This teaching is spread through some false hadith. Purportedly, the use of the mind in religious matters would lead us astray. If the mind may not be used in religious matters, why may it be used in other matters? Are religious and secular matters to be kept separate? Indeed, this is what has paralyzed the intellects of Muslims in comparison with others. The minds of Muslims have been dead for a thousand years, killed by these false hadith. On the contrary, the teaching of the Quran give the mind a noble place. God deems human beings who do not use their minds worse than animals! (7:179) God bars those who do not use their minds from the fold of the faithful. (10:100)
Three, suppression of creativity. It is evident that for a long time, Muslims have not been creative. Since the thirteenth century when Islamic civilization began to decline, modern scientific discoveries and technological inventions have been made by others, particularly those who hold that human beings may know and may create progress. In the early days, Muslims were highly creative because they adhered to the Quran’s dynamic teachings, which urge Muslims to work and strive for success in this world and the next. But since they turned to the teachings of the hadith, their creativity declined, for these false hadith teach resignation to taqdir (divine pre-destination) or fatalism. Purportedly, good and evil are from God. The Malay proverb, "If you are fated to gain a cupak (a small measure of rice) you will not gain a gantang (a big measure of rice)," reflects this world-view.
All three teachings from certain false hadith are clearly in conflict with teachings in the Quran. The Islamic education system from the village pondok (rural religious seminary) right up to the Azhar university, based on rote learning and unquestioning acceptance, teaches that hadith cannot possibly be in conflict with the Quran. This would be true of hadith that are really from the Prophet. But history tells us that the hadith compilations by Bukhari and others were made between 200 and 250 years after the Prophet’s death. These compilations are the responsibility of Bukhari and others, not of the Prophet. The Prophet’s responsibility as God’s messenger was to convey the Quran....
Some religious leaders label as apostates those who adhere to the Quran, accusing them of being anti-hadith. According to certain hadith, apostates are punished by being put to death. Are they not aware that leaders of Christian Church during the Middle Ages in Europe also put to death apostates from Christianity? Thus, this is not punishment under God’s law, but one from the age of ignorance which entered the hadith through the Torah (Old Testament), which had been tampered with. (Refer to Deut. 13;5-10) Do our people know that according to the teachings of the Quran, one is given full freedom to choose one's religion? Thus, killing someone for religion is totally forbidden by God and is a great sin.
The study of the hadith has been developed into a complex one in Islam from the 9th to the 15th century. The early hadith scholars established a method of sifting out the weak hadith and retaining only the genuine ones. However, we must realize that knowledge develops, and one of the conditions for development is freedom to criticize. No philosopher, scientist or scholar is free of weaknesses, and one of the ways of overcoming weaknesses is through scientific criticism. We have seen the weaknesses of the method used by the early hadith scholars in the existence of many hadith which are in conflict with the Quran in Sahih Bukhari (Bukhari’s compilation of hadith that are regarded as genuine) and others.
Now we need to review the definition of sahih or authentic hadith. Does it mean confirmed as genuine only on the basis of isnad (chain of narrators) or also on the basis of matan (meaning of text)? Between isnad and matan, which is the more important? As we are talking about the sayings and doings of the Prophet, the term sahih must be based on matan which is in line with the Quran, for the sayings and doings of the Prophet Muhammad could not possibly be in conflict with the teaching of the Quran.
It is clear why we need to do a re-evaluation. Every Muslim believes in the Quran and puts it above all other teachings. Our problem is the Quran-illiteracy of Muslims whose language is not Arabic, and of Arab Muslims whose language is Arabic. They do not know which of the hadith taught to them are in conflict with the teachings of the Quran and which are not. Many false teachings have been slipped into the hadith by foes of Islam in those days (the Jews, the Christians, the Persians) to undermine Islam from within. If Muslims wish to be great again, and surely they do wish it, re-evaluating the hadith on the basis of the Quran and understanding and practicing the teachings of the Quran are unavoidable conditions.
Certainly, when this re-evaluation is carried out, certain changes and adjustments will need to be made in our beliefs and practices. As these changes are made to correct and improve, we need not fear making them. In fact, we should welcome them. What we should fear is going on practicing wrong traditions after knowing them to be so.
But these few changes and adjustments involve major matters:
One, we must reject adulation of leaders. We must bow only to God. All human beings are equal--none higher or lower than the other. This will rekindle the spirit of jihad (struggling in God’s cause) among Muslims....
Two, we must reject taqlid (un-questioning acceptance of human authority). We must use our minds to gain knowledge. We read all books, but critically. We learn from all teachers, but without forgetting our critical faculty. In this way, we shall inherit only the good from our ancestors; the bad we shall cast aside. Thus will the Islamic intellect blossom again.
Three, we must reject fatalism. Our fates as individuals and as a nation is shaped by ourselves, not by taqdir (divine predestination). The law is: those who strive will attain; those who do not strive will not. Man cannot know his capacity until he tries. The Omniscient God knows everything from beginning to end, but man does not know what God knows. This change will revive the creativity of Muslims; and science, philosophy, art and technology will bloom again in the Islamic world.
These are the three major changes we must make as individuals and as a people when we re-evaluate the hadith on the basis of the Quran and when we return to the Quran. Is this impossible? I think not. The best ways of making these changes can be discussed and decided by our leaders and intellectuals.
As we have seen, the anti-hadith allegations hurled at us are the result of ignorance or misunderstanding on the part of the people and a handful of leaders who fear for their position and authority. These can be overcome through sincere and fair discussion. We all declare ourselves to be Muslims. What, then, prevents us from holding talks to find an amicable solution based on truth? If both sides are sincere, adhere to the spirit of brotherhood among the faithful, and base the talks on the Quran, as God commands, there is no reason why we cannot solve this problem.
We have no intention of toppling the ulama (religious scholars or leaders) or wresting away their positions. We only want the Muslims, including the leaders and the intellectuals, in our country to adhere truly to the Quran.
Some claim that this problem need not be re-opened as it was solved long ago. These people are like ostriches, burying their heads in the sand and saying there is nothing to worry about since they can see nothing! Islamic communities all over the world as well as in our country are bogged down with problems they cannot overcome. Why? Because we live in darkness. How could we see in the dark? We need to get out of the darkness by using a bright torch. That torch is the Quran.
As I stated in the beginning of this letter, the time has come for Muslims and mankind in general to return to God’s teachings. Our society, both national and international, is hit by crisis after crisis; the only way we can overcome these is by returning to the teachings of the Omniscient God, i.e., the Quran. Such is the importance of the Quran to us and to the world.