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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

Hadith interpretations a centuries-old debate

Now efforts in the region are attempting to further consolidate the understanding of certain Hadith verses to counteract the more extreme interpretations

Muslims of different nationalities attend a hadith recitation session at the al-Azhar mosque in Cairo on April 19, 2016.
The traditional practice that has taken place for centuries passes down prophetic sayings to new generations through what the scholars say is an uninterrupted chain of narrators going back to the Prophet Mohammed. Khaled Desouki / AFP
Muslims of different nationalities attend a hadith recitation session at the al-Azhar mosque in Cairo on April 19, 2016. The traditional practice that has taken place for centuries passes down prophetic sayings to new generations through what the scholars say is an uninterrupted chain of narrators going back to the Prophet Mohammed. Khaled Desouki / AFP

Hadith, the reports of the words or actions of the Prophet Mohammed, serve as the second most authoritative source on Islam, but its inaccurate interpretations are often used to promote extremist agendas.

Ahadith, the plural form of Hadith, translates in Arabic to “accounts” denoting how the Prophet’s happenings 1400 years ago were passed down by word of mouth.

It was not until after the Prophet’s death that scholars gathered in the 8th and 9th century and consolidated the oral reports by those closest to the Prophet into a single body of work.

However, since then, disputes of what the actual wording was to each Hadith have been poured over by Islamic scholars for centuries, creating room for interpretation not only between sects but also between different schools of thought over the meaning of any Hadith.

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Sunni Muslims have six books they use as records of the Prophet’s sayings, with the most commonly accepted being the Sahih Al Bukhari and the Sahih Muslim.

Beyond the various records of the Ahadith, interpretations of the verses are often contested as meaning could be derived from even the most basic recorded actions or sayings of the Prophet and used as a guideline to modern Muslim life.

The power of the Hadith is so integral to Islam that even the physical maneouvres of how Muslims should pray five times a day (the kneeling and prostrating) were derived from how the Prophet was said to have prayed.

Although the example of the Prophet is to be emulated as the best method of practicing Islam, the records of his actions are the source of various interpretations.

The verses come in two parts: one being the account of what happened or what was said at the time, and the other is the record of who orally passed down the happenings –often by those closest to the Prophet.

Disagreements derive from both parts, but it is often the attribution the source of debate.

Certain verses have been used by Islamists to lead their followers into believing extremist interpretations of otherwise peaceful teachings.

“Jihad” is often the main Islamic concept used to push impressionable Muslims into committing violent acts.

However, the understanding that Jihad translates to “holy war” is simply an extreme idea of the word, as the literal translation is “struggle” or “effort” and is used to indicate how the Prophet urged all Muslims to strive to be good believers.

Often scholars explain that in the interpretation where it means Holy War, it can mean a non-violent war as Islam also advocates peace above other alternatives and sets a strict set of rules of engagement.

In fact, the Ahadith show that the Prophet’s mention of Jihad is often referring to what scholars call the “greater Jihad” or the effort of a believer to live their Muslim faith to their best ability.

Now efforts in the region are attempting to further consolidate the understanding of certain verses to counteract the more extreme interpretations of what is otherwise meant as a guideline for worship.

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