Islam A Short History
The following is a reproduction of some observations I made while reading the first chapter of Karen Armstrong’s book “Islam: A Short History” well over a year ago.
All quotes and page numbers are from the e-book here
She writes;

” … the opposition grew, led by Abu al-Hakam (who is called Abu Jahl, “Father of Lies,” in the Quran), …” (p.12)

The Qur’an no where mentions Abu Jahl explicitly, what to say of giving him this title.

Islamic tradition would later assert that there had been 124,000 such prophets, a symbolic number suggesting infinity.” (p.8)

Clear reflection of the mythological orientalist belief that Hadith is a later “invention”

“On one occasion his most intelligent wife,Umm Salamah, helped to prevent a mutiny.” (p.16)
This is a reference to short lived reluctance of the companions to put off ihram at the eve of Hudaybiya. Giving it the name of mutiny can be the work of an orientalist genius only.

Giving plain injunctions the sense of mere “tradition”

One instrument often used by the orientalists and otherwise Muslim writers following their line is to put the garb of “tradition” on the plain injunctions of Islam. This is important because it exposes the plain narratives of Qur’an (and Hadith) to natural outburst against tradition.

“The Quran prescribes some degree of segregation and veiling for the Prophet’s wives, but there is nothing in the Quran that requires the veiling of all women or their seclusion in a separate part of the house. These customs were adopted some three or four generations after the Prophet’s death. Muslims at that time were copying the Greek Christians of Byzantium, who had long veiled and segregated their women in this manner; they also appropriated some of their Christian misogyny.” (p.16)

There can’t be greater ignorance of the Qur’an than this. See the wording in the Qur’an;

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ قُلْ لِأَزْوَاجِكَ وَبَنَاتِكَ وَنِسَاءِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ يُدْنِينَ عَلَيْهِنَّ مِنْ جَلَابِيبِهِنَّ

“O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments.” (33:59)

Pragmatism and planning- the underpinning of Prophet’s maneuvers

The most crucial issue is about the attributing every kind of pragmatism to the Prophet (ﷺ) to ward off any idea of revelation guiding his course.

It starts with the attributing the change the Prophet (ﷺ) eventually brought to Arabia’s urge for something of the kind as if the Prophet (ﷺ) merely cashed what was just imminent. This is out-rightly false.

“There was also spiritual restlessness in Mecca and throughout the peninsula” and feeling of being left out of the divine plan (p.3) She repeats the same on p.7

Talking of the physical concomitants of revelation she writes;

“In purely secular terms, we could say that Muhammad had perceived the great problems confronting his people at a deeper level than most of his contemporaries, and that as he “listened” to events, he had to delve deeply and painfully into his inner being to find a solution that was not only politically viable but spiritually illuminating. He was also creating a new literary form and a masterpiece of Arab prose and poetry.” (p.5)

This is to say  revelation was not communication with divine but some extra-ordinary internal thought process. But she was well short of Watt’s all time record of verbal gimmicks on this particular subject.

Then she mentions the rise of religions bracketing Islam with rationalism of Europe. And further that;

“The Axial Age prophets and reformers all built on the old pagan rites of their region, and Muhammad would do the same.” (pp.7-8)

And then without any mincing or game of words;

Muhammad had been greatly excited by the prospect of working closely with the Jewish tribes, and had even, shortly before the hijrah, introduced some practices (such as communal prayer on Friday afternoons, when Jews would be preparing for the Sabbath, and a fast on the Jewish Day of Atonement) to align Islam more closely with Judaism. (pp.16-17)

But some of the Jews in the smaller clans were friendly and enhanced Muhammad’s knowledge of Jewish scripture. He was especially delighted to hear that in the Book of Genesis Abraham had two sons: Isaac and Ishmael (who became Ismail in Arabic), the child of his concubine Hagar …. This was music to Muhammad’s ears. (p.17)

In short, they would accept Prophet as a great politician, reformer, manager, leader, statesman but nothing close to someone on a mission from God.
One may ask what else should one expect from non-Muslims? The point is not about expectation from non-Muslims, rather it is about the effect it has when a Muslim reads them with awe and preconceived notion of objectivity on their part. It can create havoc as their writings slowly erode or dim the idea of revelation being the cornerstone of the entire Islamic rubric.
For more information and insight into the orientalist approach towards the life of the Holy Prophet (ﷺ) see this translation of a paper by Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi.


میں نے ایک مرتبہ حضرت علّامہ سے دریافت کیا: “حضرت! تحریر میں سادگی اور سلالت کے متعلق یہ جو غل غپاڑہ ہو رہا ہے آپ کا اس کے متعلق کیا خیال ہے؟” یہ سوال میں نے اس لئے کیا تھا کہ حضرت کی شاعری میں محاورے کی بے تکلفی موجود نہ تھی اور اس پر بحثیں ہو رہی تھیں. خصوصا ہندو کہتے تھے کہ یہ شاعری اردو شاعری نہیں، فارسی ہے یا فارسی ترکی آمیز … علّامہ نے فرمایا: “میری تہذیب مرکّب تہذیب  ہے. اس کی روح عربی ہے مگر اس کا لباس ترکی و تتار اور خوانسار و اصفہان نے تیار کیا ہے. میں جو اردو لکھتا ہوں میری تہذیب کی نمائندگی کرتی ہے اور میں اس کو چھوڑ نہیں سکتا. شانِ جلالت، رعب اور دبدبہ اس کی اوصافِ خاص ہیں. میں ہندی سے بھی متاثر نہیں ہوتا ہوں. میرے الفاظ کا ذخیرہ عرب سے پھر سمرقند و بخارا سے ماخذ ہے.” علامہ کی یہ رائے شاعری کے متعلق تھی. لیکن نثر کی علمی تحریروں میں بھی انہوں نے عرب کو نظرانداز نہیں کیا کیونکہ ان کا خیال یہ تھا کہ اردو زبان خصوصا عملی زبان کو وزن دار اور رعب دار ضرور ہونا چاہیے. اور ان کی عِلمی زبان ہی اس کا معیار ہے. اقبال، مولانا آزاد اور ظفر علی خان تینوں سہل زبان لکھنے پر بھی قادر تھے. لیکن وہ اپنی زبان کو اس تہذیب کا ترجمان اور نشان بنانا چاہتے تھے جو برگستواں اور قہستان کا دبدبہ رکھتی ہو. یہ مقامی اور زمینی رنگ اور عورتوں کی بولی قہستانی تہذیب کے حسبِ حال نہیں ہو سکتی. یہ معلوم ہے کہ علّامہ نے کہستان کو قہستان لکھ کر اپنے لہجے اور ذوق کی خارا پسندی کا ثبوت دیا ہے. بعض لوگ اس کو روزمرہ کی مخالفت کہیں گے. بعض دوسرے اس کو مشکل پسندی قرار دیں گے. لیکن ظاہر ہے کہ قلعہ احمد نگر کا معمار قیصر باغ کا معمار نہیں ہو سکتا. ا

ڈاکٹر سید عبدللہ – پیش لفظ “مقالاتِ اقبال” مرتّبہ سید عبدالواحد معینی


Talking of “traditionalism” Frithjof  Schuon writes:

there  is  certainly  nothing  pejorative  about  the word itself, and indeed it is a far broader term and even less open to argument than “esoterism”; as a matter of fact, however, it has come to be associated—arbitrarily and  reprehensibly so—with an image that inevitably devalues its meaning, namely, “nostalgia for the past”; it is difficult to believe that such an idiotic and dishonest circumlocution would  be  freely  employed  as  an  argument  against  strictly  doctrinal positions, or even purely logical ones. Those who look back longingly at  some  past  age  because  it  embodied  certain  vital  values  are  criticized for adhering to these values because they are found in the past or  because  the  critic  would  like  to  place  them  there  “irreversibly”; one might as well say that the acceptance of an arithmetical proof is not the sign of an unimpaired functioning of the intelligence but of a morbid obsession with numbers. If to recognize what is true and just is “nostalgia for the past”, it is clearly a crime or disgrace not to feel this nostalgia.

— Schuon, Frithjof, Logic and Transcendence, (World Wisdom, 2009) 5

Yellow Journalism

On May 28, 2009 Federal Shariat Court of Pakistan decided on a petition against Hudood Ordinance’s articles about punishment on drinking.

The way Daily Dawn presented it gave the false notion that the Court had ruled that drinking is not a punishable crime. True that the report did not explicitly say so but while it reproduced the contentions of the petitioner in great detail and highlighted some reservations of a judge which were actually not even nuanced in the original petition it failed to mention the most important fact that the Court had totally dismissed the petition calling it “misconceived and without any substance.

You find Daily Dawn’s report HERE

But our ever frustrated and allergic-to-anything-Islamic liberals played to the ingenuous catch of the cunning liberal/secular media. A simple google search tells you how the report was taken to imply that the court ruled drinking was not unlawful or not punishable at least. (Now defunct link on some pages suggest it was later reported by Pakistan Observer as well)

The petitioner, Muhammad Aslam Khaki, had contended that punishment of 80 lashes was unIslamic and there was nothing in Qur’an and Sunnah to support it. Federal Shariat Court (FSC) dismissed it out-rightly on May 28th 2009 (a day before the above piece appeared on Dawn)

Complete decision of the Court published in PLD (vol. LXII, pp. 191-214) is available on the FSC’s website

For the contention of the petitioner see para 1 on p.4.  He challenged Article 8 and 25 of Prohibition Order (Enforcement of Hudood) Ordinance 1979, in which drinking was provided as Hadd, prescribing 80 lashes as punishment for the offense.

The court after detailed discussion ruled.

The upshot of the above discussion is that since there is no Verse or Hadith that contradicts the impugned provision of law in any way, we find this petition misconceived and without any substance and therefore, dismiss it accordingly.

see para 27 on pp.209-210 (pdf file pp.19-20)

It is signed by Justice Dr. Fida Muhammad Khan and other judges agreed to it.

Arguments of the petitioner (Dr. Aslam Khaki) and the ulema, namely; Dr. Yousuf Faruqi and Maulana Tafazzul Ali who was deputed by Mufti Rafi Usmani and Sardar Abdul Majeed, Standing Counsel for the Federation, are also (summarily?) given. Allama Talab Jauhari and Javed Ahmed Ghamidi did not respond to/appear in the court.

What was actually exploited by the liberal media is the note of Prof. Haziqul Haq Khairi towards the end of the decision. It only speaks of reservations on defects and ambiguities in the provisio of Code of Criminal Procedure 1898 for it can lead to imprisonment as well whereas there is no such punishment in Islam for this crime. Thereafter he suggests an amendment in section 4 of the Whipping Ordinance 1979 defining whip. (See, para 8 of the note on p.212 of PLD)


  • The verdict does not say taking intoxicants is permissible.
  • It does not say there is no punishment for intoxication.
  • It rather dismisses the petition against the punishment.
  • The verdict does not declare whipping for drinking un-Islamic.
  • It rather defines whipping.

The twist was about reporting the contention of the petitioner in detail without telling the fact that it was dismissed by FSC. Even while mentioning the ruling, not the decision but the arguments in the dismissed petition are highlighted. The other observation about definition of whip was made on a side note.

It is important for us to double check the reporting of secular media outlets on everything that concerns Islamic law and Muslims who stand for upholding it.

not from sunnah or against the sunnah

There is a matter that most people do not understand. An act’s “not being from sunnah” is one thing and its being “against sunnah” is another. These two are different. For instance, using electronic appliances is not from sunnah. Now if a person says using electricity or using electric fan is “against sunnah” it will be wrong. An act shall be termed as “against the sunnah” if the Messenger of Allah ﷺ had advised doing it even if only as a recommendation (mustahab). In such a case if a person leaves that act and does otherwise it shall be “against the sunnah.” And whatever act will be “against sunnah” it will be reprehensible (makruh) at least. But if there is something that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ did not do and a person does that it shall not be termed as something “against the sunnah.” For instance, it is reported in a hadith that never was a well baked thin-bread (khubz) prepared for the Messenger of Allah ﷺ nor did he eat it in a small plate (sukrujah)[1]. It does not mean eating thin-bread or eating it in a small plate is “against sunnah.” Rather, it shall be said that the act is “not from sunnah” and an act’s being “not from sunnah” does not necessitate its being “against the sunnah” … Therefore, everything should be understood in its due context and it is not right to exaggerate it.

— Usmani, Muhammad Taqi, Taqrir Tirmidhi, (Karachi: Memon Books, 1999) Vol.2, 361-362

[1] Sahih Bukhari, Hadith 5386, 5415

Sahih BukhariWhenever discussion on the veracity of hadith as such and especially that of Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim comes up, the antagonists quickly refer to al-Daraqutni’s criticism of these works widely understood to the two most authentic hadith compilations. In doing so they tend to suggest that rejection of hadith for spooky reasons that they have is not a new idea and even classical orthodox authorities did the same. Without a doubt their claim is sheer falsehood.

A learned contemporary scholar of hadith, Dr. Jonathan A.C. Brown has produced a paper on al-Daraqutni’s criticism of Bukhari and Muslim’s collections.


It should be read in full for due appreciation and understanding. However, here are some excerpts with emphasis added for the purpose of this post;

Unlike that in later critical works, al-Daraqutni’s tone in the Kitab al-tatabbu’ is overwhelmingly constructive, and he does not aim at challenging the overall authenticity (sihha) of the traditions collected in the sahihayn. As will be demonstrated, the Kitab al-tatabbu’ comprises a formal adjustment of narrations rather than a polemical criticism of any traditions that its author deemed problematic in the sahihayn. This explains the favourable light in which the Sunni tradition came to view al-Daraqutni’s work. Although al-Nawawi devotes a huge amount of energy to rebutting the scholar’s criticisms of Muslim’s narrations, he nonetheless places the Kitab al-tatabbu’ in the acceptable genre of mustadrak works. (p.17)

Mustadrak: it is a genre in which addition is made as per the standard/quality of some other work e.g. al-Hakim’s “Mustadrak ‘ala as-Sahihayn” in which he gathers reports that he thought were according to the conditions of Sahih Bukhari and/or Sahih Muslim.

The nature of al-Daraqutni’s work does not stem from any inherent reverence for the Shaykhayn. Rather, it results primarily from the salient characteristic of his approach to Hadith: he addresses narrations and not traditions. He therefore does not criticize al-Bukhari and Muslim’s individual ahadith, but rather specific narrations of some traditions included in their two books. It would thus be wrong to state that al-Daraqutni criticized Muslim’s hadith in which the Prophet states ‘If I were to take someone from my community as a bosom companion (khalil), I would choose Abu Bakr’; he criticizes just one narration of that hadith, making no statement about the overall authenticity of that Prophetic tradition. In fact Muslim includes five other narrations of this tradition with a completely different isnad.This is the case for the vast majority of the traditions that al-Daraqutni mentions in his  Kitab al-tatabbu’ . Both al-Bukhari and Muslim habitually included multiple narrations for a Prophetic tradition, and al-Daraqutni rarely has occasion to critique a lone narration.(pp.17-18)

Here we must note that at no point in the Kitab al-tatabbu’ does al-Daraqutni object to the theological, legal, or ritual content of any hadith. His criticisms do sometimes involve the texts of the reports, but only to the extent that they contain elements differing from other narrations. (p.26)

His focus on comparing and evaluating individual narrations without addressing their content meant that al-Daraqutni never overtly rejected any of the Prophetic traditions included in al-Bukhari’s and Muslim’s collections. As his æuvre demonstrates, al-Daraqutni was undeniably fascinated with the sahihayn. He clearly deemed them seminal embodiments of the Prophet’s Sunna, and his adjustment of them constituted an act of productive criticism.
Al-Daraqutni certainly never intended to alter the theological, ritual, or legal material of the Shaykhayn with his own opinions. Rather, we must understand al-Daraqutni’s objections to certain aspects of al-Bukhari’s and Muslim’s compilations through specific methodological developments within ilm al-hadith between the third/ninth and ninth/fifteenth centuries. (pp.36-37)

I hope this sheds some light on the actual nature of al-Daraqutni’s work and what the hadith rejecters of our day try to make of it.

And Allah knows best!

reference not found

One of the first lessons that all I learnt from all my teachers of Islamic sciences is the great maxim, “Our opinion is right with the possibility of being wrong and that of others (other recognized schools) is wrong with the possibility of it being right.” I was always told that it refers to furoo’ (subsidiary issues) only.

Lately, however, I observed some liberals using it to speak for producing space for differences on even the fundamentals. Knowing this I decided to search for the original statement.

Khalid Zaheer attributes to Imam al-Shafi’i (d. 204 AH)  and puts it the following way on his site:

“I am convinced about the veracity of my opinions, but I do consider it likely that they may turn out to be incorrect. Likewise, I am convinced about the incorrectness of the views different from mine, but I do concede the possibility that they may turn out to be correct.” — Imam Shafa’i

Many others have also attributed to it to the Imam.

Firstly, I failed to find it attributed to Imam al-Shafi’i in any classical work . The statement was mentioned by al-Hasfaki (d. 1088 AH) and others but the earliest scholar to whom I could trace it is al-Nasafi. Ibn Nujaym al-Hanafi (d.970 AH) in his al-Ashba wal Naza’ir writes:

قال في آخر المصفى: إذا سئلنا عن مذهبنا ومذهب مخالفينا في الفروع، يجب علينا أن نجيب بأن مذهبنا صواب يحتمل الخطأ ومذهب مخالفينا خطأ يحتمل الصواب؛وإذا سئلنا عن معتقدنا ومعتقد خصومنا في العقائد يجب علينا أن نقول: الحق ما نحن عليه والباطل ما عليه خصومنا هكذا نقل عن المشايخ رحمهم الله تعالى


(Al-Nasafi) said at the end of al-Musaffa: “When we are asked regarding our opinion and the opinions of those who differ with us in the issues of secondary nature (furoo’ i.e. issues of fiqh as are differed upon by the mujtahid imams), it is upon us to say that our opinion is correct with the possibility of being wrong and the opinion of those who differ with us is a mistake with the possibility of being correct,and when we are asked about our beliefs and those  of the ones who differ with us regarding them it is upon us to say that truth is on what we stand and falsehood is what on which our opponents are. This is so reported from our teachers, may Allah have mercy upon them.”

See: Al-Ashbah wal-Naza’ir, (Beirut: Dar al-Kotob al-Ilmiyya, 1999) vol.1 p.330

Mark the contrast. The red is about furoo` (subsidiary issues); the blue is about usool-al-din (fundamentals) where differences are not tolerable e.g. hadith as a primary source of law and the first source of Qur’anic commentary.

Before Ibn Nujaym, Ibn Humam (d. 861 AH) mentioned it but Ibn Nujaym traces it back to Abu al-Barakaat al-Nasafi (d.710 AH). To the best of my knowledge this statement cannot be attributed to Imam al-Shafi’i nor is it traced back to anyone before al-Nasafi. If anyone has a due reference suggesting to the contrary, kindly do share.

What further supports this is that Ibn Hajr al-Haithmi (d. 974), a well known scholar of Shafi’i school, discusses the statement in some detail at the end of his Fatawa al-Fiqhiyya yet he does not attribute it to Imam al-Shafi’i.

And Allah knows the best!