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Rival Interpretations of Hadith

After the Koran was compiled under the third caliph, Uthman, stories about Muhammad continued orally, stories about Muhammad's activities or what he had said, stories passed on from one person to another and then written down. The Arabic word describing this is Hadith.

Early on there were those who viewed these stories with skepticism or rejected them as false, stories such as the Prophet Muhammad having performed miracles, including his feeding a multitude from food hardly adequate for one man, a story of the Prophet touching the udders of dry goats and the goats then giving milk, or the Prophet healing with his touch and exorcizing demons. And there was a story of the Prophet loving his enemies.

Hadiths that survived were written down at the start of the Abbasid period. Some contradicted each other or supported differing views on matters. Recognized Muslim scholars worked at evaluating them – to be called the science of Hadith. Eventually most Muslims considered Hadith essential supplements to and clarifications of the Koran, and Hadith became a part of traditional Islamic jurisprudence and for many Muslims a source of religious inspiration and a tool for determining a way of life.

With truth being difficult to agree upon, three traditions of Hadith developed. There was the Sunni tradition, which solidified more than 230 years after the death of Muhammad. The Shia rejected Sunni Hadith as unreliable or false, and among the Shia were divisions as to which Hadiths were true. There was the Ibadi branch of Islam, which accepted some Sunni Hadiths and rejected others. Muslims, in other words, were experiencing the trend toward variety in belief that had been and would continue to be among others.

The trend since the Stone Age had been toward a diversity of ideas. The unity of brotherhood that Muhammad the Prophet had in mind for Islam was not making itself an exception, especially with the Sunni-Shia divide.

The Ibadi

The Ibadi movement has been described as beginning less than 50 years after the death of Muhammad. They saw themselves as the True Believers. They were to be found primarily in the Oman region of Arabia. They were in agreement with the Sunni in recognizing the legitimacy of the first caliph, Abu Bakr. On other issues that divided the Shia and Sunni, some sided with the Shia and some with the Sunni. They believed that the Koran was created by God at a point in time in Islam's history, while the Sunni held to the view that the Koran was created by no one but God.

Mutazilites

There were those involved with other Muslims in examining Greek and Hellenistic philosophies, and they became known as Mutazilites. They flourished in Mesopotamia from the 700s to the 900s. They tried to synthesize reason and revelation. They clung to a belief in the power of reason and that the Koran provided truth where reason failed. They addressed the question of evil's source. Whereas Christianity had demons, evil angels or spirits and the devil to explain evil, the Mutazilites also believed that evil was created not by God, of course, but by people committing erroneous deeds. They held that those who commit grave sins and die without repentance do so not as Muslims.

The Kharijites

Another variation was created by the Kharijites. They were involved in Islam's civil war in the 650s. They believed that warfare produced justice. God, they believed, revealed the true leader of Islam on the battlefield, which put them at odds with the Shia, who had lost on the field of battle. The Kharijites insisted on the right to revolt against any ruler who deviated from the example of the Prophet Muhammad or the first two caliphs, Abu Bakr and Umar.

The Murji'ah

A theological school opposed to the Kharijites came to be known as the Murji'ah. They addressed early controversies regarding sin and definitions of what is a true Muslim. They believed Muslims committing grave sins would remain Muslim and would be eligible for paradise if they remained faithful. The Murjites split with the Sunni on the issue of hellfire, the Murji'ah declaring against hellfire while the Sunni held that some Muslims would enter hellfire temporarily. There Murjites emphasized love, brotherhood and equality among all Muslims. Believing in equality they did not believe in authority, clerical hierarchy or that Muslims should fight one another in contests regarding political power.

Sufi

Muslim believers in Sufi claim the Prophet Muhammad as the first Sufi. There are writers from the mid-600s and early 700s, Uwais al-Qarni, Harrm bin Hian, Hasan Basri and Sayid ibn al-Mussib, who are regarded as Sufi. Sufi believed they could gain oneness with God through moral purification. During imperial expansion and the glory of conquest, Muslim spirituality was more focused on the external. When conquests came to an end, the view of Allah as a god of war diminished. The Sufi focused on God as a loving friend the way Christians saw Jesus. Sufis believed that a bit of God was in everyone – in accordance with the statement in the Koran where Allah speaks about having breathed into every living being its soul. The Sufis believed that one could be united with God by tuning into that part of oneself that was a part of God. Sufism was an organized movement that opposed the worldliness of many Muslims, and they traveled about trying to attract Muslims with their devotion to God.

Sources

The Formation of Islam: Religion and Society in the Near East, 600-1800, by Jonathan P Berkey, 2003

The Encyclopaedia Britannica

In Search of Muhammad, by Clinton Bennet, 1998

The History of Medieval Islam, J.J. Saunders, Barnes and Noble, 1965 (available in full online)

No god but God, Reza Aslan, 2005

The Monotheists, by F E Peters, 2003

Copyright © 2007-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.