First of all, let's examine some home truths:
- Islam has fractured into a number of Sects (2 Sunni schools of thought, 6 Shia sects, 6 Sufi orders, 2 Kharajite sects, 4 Kalam schools, 7 movements within Sects including Salafism and Wahabbism and 8 other sects). All this despite the Quran (6:159, 10:19) prohibiting Sectarianism.
- Sects differ according to the Hadith and Sunnah (sayings and doings of the Prophet), not according to belief in the Quran as the word of God and the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) as his Messenger nor according to the 5 Pillars of Islam (prayer, alms, pilgrimage, shahada, fasting during Ramadan)
- As most of you will know Hadith and Sunnah were incorporated many years after the death of the Prophet among them some which were considered spurious.
- Thus, Islamic scholars compiled a list of what they considered authentic Hadith that could be validated- known as Sahih resulting in 6 collections of Hadith of which Bukhari and Muslim are most quoted.
- Hadith authentication was mainly based on isnad- the chain of authority from which they originated. Authentication was not based on analysis of the Hadith itself and whether or not it could, logically, be considered something the Prophet would have actually said or done.
- Over centuries Hadith have come to be the principle source of information on how to practice Islam for the majority of Muslims. They have been manipulated and distorted by Muslim clergy and politicians such that the actions of the Taliban, the oppression of women, the killing of innocent lives have all been justifiable through a distortion of Hadith.
Progressive Muslims vary in their level of acceptance of Hadith. Generally speaking, all Progressive Muslims believe that the Hadith has come to replace the Quran as the main source of knowledge for Muslims and that this constitutes a breach of Quranic edicts. All Progressive Muslims advocate for the absolute authority of the Quran and refute the growing authority of Hadith. All Progressive Muslims believe that Islam has lost its way and that the majority of Muslims focus on superficial symbols of religiousity (what is Halal or Haram, to pluck one's eyebrows or not; to have a dog or not; to adorn your house with statues or not- and other such stupidity) in Hadith rather than turning to the principle source of guidance- the Quran.
On one end of the spectrum are those Progressives who completely dismiss all Hadith on the basis that sectarianism is against the teachings in the Quran and has arisen out of Hadith- hence all Hadith must be dismissed. Some can be quite over the top.
There are ofcourse other much more complex arguments about leadership and what exactly constitutes "the message" that Muslims are obliged to obey- but I'm not going to get that deep into it here- maybe another time.
There are also those Progressives who believe that the Hadith must not be accepted at face value and that it must be interpreted according to actual content (remember Hadith was only interpreted according to the line of authority) and according to the context of the day.
Some Hadith actually contradict Quranic edicts- particularly those in relation to the status of women and some have no basis and cannot be validated in the Quran (eg hijab- not in the Quran, only in Hadith and according to which sect you follow might mean anything from a scarf over the hair to a complete covering of face and hands).
Where do I sit?
Well, as you will probably know from reading my blog, I have a lot of problems with the way Islam is practiced today. It seems to me all the disunity among Muslims comes from different interpretations of Hadith. When I ask someone to show me where, in the Quran, Muslims are not allowed to celebrate birthdays, or keep dogs, or pluck their eyebrows, or have statues- they direct me to Hadith. Why? Because it's not in the Quran. These people are actually placing Hadith above Quran as authoritative text!
I don't think that all Hadith should be dismissed but I do strongly believe that God has given each and every one of us the ability to think for ourselves. Through the Quran, God has also charged us to learn, educate ourselves and become better people. Is not plucking my eyebrows going to make me a better person? Is killing innocent Jews and Christians going to make me a better person? Is blowing myself up into a million pieces going to make me a better person? It sounds ludicrous doesn't it- but this is what Islam has become- the illogical, the ludicrous, the ugly!
We teach our kids to recite Quran, we praise those who become Hafeez (memorised the entire Quran) and give Masha'Allah to 8 year olds who can recite Surat Yassin in full. But do we teach them what it means? Do we guide them in applying it to their lives? No we don't- instead we admonish them with "haram" and "ayb".
Imam baqir (the 6th successor of the Prophet), said that the Quran is like an ocean, where everyone benefits from it..... The young pick up pebbles and shells from close to the shore, wehreas the older (advanced) search out the depths of it for it's pearls.
I can be like the majority of Muslims and stand from afar gazing at the Ocean and occassionally admiring its beauty but never really fathoming this wondrous creation.
I can be like the majority of Muslims and sit on the shore line accepting second hand shells discarded by those who know better but never venturing into the ocean, never allowing myself to be overcome by its beauty.
I want to find my own pearls. I want to experience the beauty of the ocean in all its glory. I want to search for truth, for beauty.