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Living Without Hadith: A Survivor’s Story

J.S. Mair discovered that life without hadith was lonely and couldn’t compare to the knowledge of the Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) words.

Much has been written on how the Qur’an and hadith complement each other, and I suspect most Muslims know the main arguments – that Allah (SWT) specifically instructs us in the Qur’an to follow our beloved Messenger (SAW), the best of creation, the perfect servant of Allah (SWT), our example, our teacher, our guide. Indeed, it has been said that only through the Messenger (SAW) can we practice our deen and worship Allah (SWT) correctly. For example, while the Qur’an tells us that we must pray at different times during the day, it is only through the Messenger (SAW) that we know exactly when and how to do it; the same is for fasting, zakat, the hajj, and the list goes on. Indeed, the argument is made that it is only through the thousands of ahadith that we can truly understand what it means to be Muslim. Yet there are always some who turn away from the Hadith, which is hard for many Muslims to understand. But I understand – I have been there.

Shortly after I converted, I started reading a translation of the Gardens of the Righteous. What began as an enthusiastic learning endeavor soon became a source of fear. If I am recalling correctly, the tipping-point ahadith for me were those describing which foot to use when leaving and entering different places. I felt completely overwhelmed: how could I possibly remember all of the thousands of hadith in the book? I also felt disillusioned: would Allah (SWT) really be upset with me if I used the wrong foot to enter my house? How could these – what I perceived as minor –  movements possibly make me a better Muslim?


Around the same time, I began to learn that there were disagreements among Muslims concerning many ahadith. One person would tell me a hadith was weak and could not be followed; another person would say that it was weak but could be followed in certain circumstances, and another person would tell me that the same hadith was sound. As a newbie, the disagreements appeared to put unnecessary strife in the Ummah and they undermined my confidence in the ahadith’s authenticity. I decided to play it on the safe side – focus solely on the Qur’an, the undisputed word of Allah (SWT), on which all Muslims can agree, and this approach satisfied me for a while.


But then I began to feel disconnected: disconnected from the deen, disconnected from our beloved Prophet (SAW), disconnected from Allah (SWT). I missed hearing the Prophet’s (SAW) words, glimpsing precious moments of his life, learning how he was loved and about his love for Allah (SWT); I yearned for his (SAW) insight and explanations of the Qur’an. I felt lonely. But my worries still remained: how could I possibly do everything mentioned in the thousands of ahadith and how could I reconcile the disagreements about the hadith?


My first concern turned out to be a relatively easy fix. I realised that I didn’t have to do everything. I would start slowly with a few of the practices. And to my surprise, I wanted to do more and more. I realised that when I think about which foot to lead with, I remember the Prophet (SAW) and that by following the Prophet (SAW), I am obeying and remembering Allah (SWT). So the once-perceived “minor” movement becomes an act of worship and causes me to remember Allah (SWT) at a time that I might not have otherwise remembered Him.  I also realised that beyond obedience and remembrance, there might be additional wisdom behind a certain practice of which I am not aware. I began to appreciate that if the Prophet (SAW) teaches us to do something, even something seemingly small, it is full of blessings.


But how could I be sure that the Prophet (SAW) did indeed say or do what he was purported to say or do? Dealing with the disagreements about ahadith proved to be a more difficult issue to resolve. But I did – but only after extended research. When I decided to focus solely on the Qur’an, I didn’t know much about the hadith collections. I had heard that the hadith were meticulously researched and validated by great Muslim scholars, but until I actually researched the process of collection and the character of those who reported and collected them did I realise that the hadith collections are unlike any other historical document or report in their authenticity. It also made perfect sense to me how these disagreements could arise and, to my surprise, the fact that there were disagreements ceased to bother me.


Most profoundly, when I once again embraced hadith, my love for Allah (SWT), my love for Islam, and my love for the Prophet (SAW) increased. And that love is what encourages me to become a better Muslim, what keeps me going when I fall short, and what defines who I am. So, far from playing it safe, for me at least, not appreciating the role of the hadith in my deen, actually put my deen in jeopardy.


May Allah (SWT) include us among those whom He loves, and who love Him, through His Grace and Noble Generosity.


Say (O Muhammad): “If you love Allah then follow me, Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Al-’Imran: 31)


J. Samia Mair is the author of three children’s books, Amira’s Totally Chocolate World, The Perfect Gift and How I Help My Neighbors. Two more children’s books are expected to be published this year, insha Allah. She is a Staff Writer for SISTERS Magazine and Discover, The magazine for curious Muslim kids and has published in magazines, books, anthologies, scientific journals and elsewhere.