Re: Hadith Science
- From: Abdelkarim Benoît Evans <kevans@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Sun, 8 Apr 2007 18:12:32 -0500
In article <1174762895.662173.263220@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>,
"DKleinecke" <kleinecke@xxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
Muslim literature in English often uses phrases like "Science of
Hadith" or "Hadith Science" for the technical study of hadiths. The
phrase is meant to be a translation of the Arabic "Ulum Hadith" or
"Ulum al-Hadith". (I do not understand the conditions governing when
the definite article is used.) My question concerns the accuracy of
translating "Ulum" by "Science".
This question was called to my attention when I observed that the
Wikipedia article on "Hadith" referenced the article on "Scientific
Method", but the article on "Scientific Method" did not mention
"Hadith Science" or its even more common cousin "Qur'an Science". And
indeed, in the light of the contents of the article on "Scientific
Method", it is hard to see where "Hadith Science" would fit in.
I do not believe that practitioners of the scientific method as that
method is used in western non-Muslim communities would recognize
Muslim Hadith or Qur'an Science as science in the same sense as they
use the word. I do not believe that Muslim scholars would be
particularly surprised or bothered by this fact. I could be wrong, but
I will continue nevertheless.
If Hadith Science is truly a science, then it is observer-neutral.
That is, if I, who have no credentials at all in hadith study, were to
examine a hadith and pronounce it authentic because each of the links
in its isnad was a link I found somewhere in al-Bukhari that would be
a fully qualified verdict of authenticity. (I did that recently and
was scolded for not being a hadith scholar.)
This means that there is no real use for hadith scholars in the
traditional Islamic sense. All that is needed is a catalog of
acceptable hadith links. Then any one, presented with a hadith, can
verify or deny its authenticity just as well as anybody else.
I have never seen a catalog of acceptable hadith links, but one
probably exists. Certainly an immense amount of work has gone into
studying these links. All we need to do is to put the catalog together
and publish it for everybody to use.
Are Muslims comfortable with this idea?
If not, I suggest a different and better translation of Ulum is needed.
Because we live in a "scientific age", we tend to limit "science" to
particular fields of study, such as physics, chemistry, biology,
astronomy, psychology, etc. We distinguish between life sciences,
physical sciences and social sciences. However, not very long ago many
people refused to accept the category of social sciences since things
like history, sociology and even psychology are not always approachable
using the so-called "scientific method".
The word "science" comes from the Latin "scientitia" and means
"knowledge of something acquired by study". It is only in modern times
that an absolute distinction has been made in academic circles between
the arts (humanities) and the sciences. If English had not been
influenced by Norman French and relied exclusively on Anglo-Saxon words,
we wouldn't need the word "science" in its general meaning. We have a
perfectly good native word: "knowledge".
One of the definitions of "science" given in the Merriam-Webster
Collegiate Dictionary (10th ed.) is, "a department of systematized
knowledge as an object of study <the science of theology>". That
definition is followed by the one you referred to, which is more
specifically related to the "natural sciences".
If, in English, we can properly talk about the "science of theology", I
do not see why there should be any problem in talking about the "science
While degrees in "religious studies" are offered by many American
universities, the same program in many European universities is called
As for your idea of a catalog of hadiths. It is not practical for
several reasons. First, the authenticity of some hadiths is still
doubtful and there is always work to be done in that regard. More
importantly, the hadiths must be interpreted in the light of the social
and historical context in which they were first expressed. It is often
not enough to know the words of the hadith and the degree its
authenticity. To understand its meaning and expecially its application
to Muslims today, we need to know all we can about the circumstances
The same is true for the sayings and practices (hadiths) of Jesus (peace
be on him) that are said to be recorded in the Gospel accounts of
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Those records are considered to be
authentic. Yet, there are many experts and books that attempt to
understand what Jesus said and did. It is not enough to read a few
verses or even in some cases an entire book. Scholars try to situate
Jesus's sayings and deeds in the broader context of his time and place
and the people with whom he interacted. They consider the possiblity of
addition, substraction or alteration in the transmission and recension
of the sayings.
There is still a need and a place in Islam for a field of study that
examines the hadiths. Whether it is called "hadith science",
"hadithology" or "hadith studies" is of no importance.
Peace to all who seek God's face.
Abdelkarim Benoît Evans
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