Critique of Dr. Jonathan Brown Hadith: Between Muslim Conviction & Western Criticism

“Indeed, the worst of living creatures in the sight of Allah are the deaf and dumb who do not use reason.” (Holy Qur’an 8:23)

I would encourage you to watch this 1/2 hour presentation by Dr. Jonathan Brown here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2J4uzCZ8ZRA

What was particularly disheartening about this discussion of Dr. Jonathan Brown was his blatant characterization of those skeptical of the ahadith.  What was exceptionally odd about this lecture was his quote from Master Yoda. In the scene from Star Wars where Luke Skywalker is asked to go inside of a cave Master Yoda ask Skywalker to remove his weapons,  “Only what you take with you.” 

Of course Dr. Jonathan Brown is very comfortable with talking about the suppositions of others; but yet has it dawned on the respected Dr. Brown that maybe he himself hasn’t taken ‘the trial of the cave’?

That will be come obvious after closer examination.

After all we have another teaching of Master Yoda:  “You must unlearn what you have learned.”

Now once again, I only write entries like this because of the sweeping statements and generalizations made by people like Dr. Jonathan Brown are not helpful for fruitful dialogue.

My concern is primarily with 28:59 where he says,

“When we are confronted with issues about hadith and we often are. Muslims are always confronted with hadith that seem bizarre or unusual or that they reject or they cant accept as part of their religion or seems stupid or vulgar right. Ask yourself where’s the problem here?  Is the problem really in hadith?  Or is the problem with my…with me? Why am I jumping to the conclusion I do? Why am I reading the hadith in the way I do?  Why…why aren’t I willing to look at other interpretations might be…they might actually they find something valuable in this hadith. I think often times when Muslims have a skeptical or suspicious approach to hadith its because they have adopted a skeptical and suspicious approach to religion really.  And…that they need to look in their hearts. And ask themselves rather do they really want a world that is full of God a world with a prophetic presence in it. Because if you do if you wanna look for wisdom in the Prophet’s legacy than you can take on more of the mindset of those classical Muslim scholars, and its not uncritical and its not irrational its not fideistic or simplistic. Those classical Muslim scholars were just as smart just as critical often times just as scientifically aware just as we are today. So when you look at these things remember the words of Yoda often times what your finding their what your  objecting to is what you take with you.”

This is really sad.  This is fanaticism couched in intellectualism. The whole of the lecture, aims to ask others to look at their suppositions, but it doesn’t occur to the speaker that he himself needs to understand the statement of ‘only what you take with you.’

Nor does does it seem the respected Dr. grasp the teaching of Master Yoda, “you must unlearn what you have learned.

Probably the most bizarre part of this excerpt is the following:

“I think often times when Muslims have a skeptical or suspicious approach to hadith its because they have adopted a skeptical and suspicious approach to religion really.  And…that they need to look in their hearts. And ask themselves rather do they really want a world that is full of God a world with a prophetic presence in it. Because if you do if you wanna look for wisdom in the Prophet’s legacy than you can take on more of the mindset of those classical Muslim scholars.”

Let us analyze this shall we?

“I think often times when Muslims have a skeptical or suspicious approach to hadith its because they have adopted a skeptical and suspicious approach to religion really.”

Lesley Hazleton gives a very thorough refutation of Dr. Jonathan Brown here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ORDQFh0Byw  An excellent lecture entitled “The doubt essential to faith”  Very well done!

Especially the part from 6:04 powerful stuff!   Though this woman proclaims herself an agnostic; where as I would argue that  Lesly Hazleton has indeed more faith, and more humility, than a lot of ‘believers’ that I know.

In his latest video lecture Dr. Jonathan Brown has flat contradicted himself. On the one hand Muslims are supposed to not be skeptical and on the other hand we are to be skeptical!

@ 10:47 “Finally you get to be very careful of what you read. You have to be very careful of what you read because the world is full of people who love to make Islam look bad love to make Muslims look bad and you really have to be skeptical. You really have to be skeptical. In fact that’s the-Muslims should be skeptical people. Because were not supposed to believe things unless there is evidence.”

The other issue that Dr. Jonathan Brown and others are going to have to contend with is the very hard fact that Allah (swt) has given a falsification test for the Holy Qur’an.

“And if you are in doubt about what We have sent down upon Our Servant , then produce a surah the like thereof and call upon your witnesses other than Allah , if you should be truthful.” (Holy Qur’an 2: 23)

There are others that we could mention but this should suffice.

Where is the falsification test for the hadith?

So those verses above ‘if you are in doubt’  are only directed towards people who ‘have adopted a skeptical and suspicious approach towards religion’  really?

So those verses are not directed towards Polytheist, Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, etc?

What a sweeping and dogmatic statement by  our brother, Dr. Jonathan Brown.

Dr. Jonathan Brown says,

“And…that they need to look in their hearts. And ask themselves rather do they really want a world that is full of God a world with a prophetic presence in it.”

This is where the lecture takes a very dark turn under the guise of offering guidance and light.  You see if you do not agree with the suppositions of people like Dr. Jonathan Brown and the sectarian position of the Sunni scholars than you must have some problem with your heart.

These kind of statements lodged at believers again and again are carefully crafted to shut down dialogue.  It immediately shuts down all conversation.

It seeks to say: ‘Well than your heart must be under a wax of darkness‘. ‘It is spiritually vexed because you have questioned the sectarianism scholarship of the Sunni‘ (or if it was a Shi’a speaking you can replace the word Sunni with Shi’a).

The one who knows what is in the breast of men is Allah (swt).

“Indeed, Allah is Knower of the unseen of the heavens and earth.Indeed, He is Knowing of that within the breasts. (Holy Qur’an 35:38)

It is a powerful psychological mechanism used all to often. What makes this line of ‘argumentation’ interesting is I personally know Sufi orders that are ‘traditionalist’, and ‘follow schools of jurisprudence’, and are ‘Sunni’, and they would all take Dr. Jonathan Brown, to task for not submitting to the authority of their respective Sheikhs!

I don’t know about you but I can think of no creation more pure than angels. They are said to have been created from pure light.  However, the angels have questioned too.

“And  when your Lord said to the angels, “Indeed, I will make upon the earth a successive authority.” They said, “Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood, while we declare Your praise and sanctify You?” Allah said, “Indeed, I know that which you do not know.” (Holy Qur’an 2:30)

Do the angels have impure motives? They questioned Allah (swt) about the purpose of humanity.   Allah (swt) answered them with an answer that is sufficient, due to the state of the angels. If Allah (swt) is All-knowing, which the angels recognize than the response by Allah (swt) is sufficient for them.

However, we cannot extend infallibility, absolute wisdom and absolute knowledge to the compilers of ahadith, the schools of jurisprudence etc…

I think it can become apparent now why the 12er Shi’a attempted to do such with their Imams.  They were obviously trying to circumvent such issues of people questioning authority.  The Sunni have tried to take a page out of the 12er Shi’a book by building up a mythos around the scholars and learned in our tradition.

They have done this to the point that to question them is tantamount to sin!

Lets look at this interview with Dr. Jonathan Brown. He was asked what made him embrace Islam.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tCyqvR7QtQ&hl=en-GB&gl=SG

Now, I don’t know about you but that doesn’t seem very inspirational at all.  However, Al hamdulilah that Allah (swt) has guided our respected brother to Islam.

Yet,  what if we were to pose the following questions to the respected Dr. Jonathan Brown.

What was it about Christianity that drove you away from it?  What is it about the Christian tradition that you couldn’t find answers for with in the Christian tradition?

Did Dr. Jonathan Brown not find satisfaction in Christian theology?  What books or scholars did he consult with before his decision to ‘leave the faith’ ?

Did Dr. Jonathan Brown find issues with the text of the New Testament?  What books or scholars of Bible believing Christians did he consult before his decision to ‘leave the faith’?

So than I am sure we could turn this around and surmise that Dr. Jonathan Brown simply ‘has something in his heart that veils him from ‘he light of Christ‘.  I am certain he wouldn’t appreciation such a characterization of his journey to Islam. It would be duly unfair.

So if we want to live in a world filled with God and a prophetic tradition than according to Dr. Jonathan Brown we will, “look for wisdom in the Prophet’s legacy than you can take on more of the mindset of those classical Muslim scholars.”

I wonder when he said  ‘classical Muslim scholars’ just actually who he had in mind? Those of his own sect perhaps?

Also, if Dr. Jonathan Brown is asking us to look for possible interpretations for ahadith that we find troubling, I’m curious as to why he couldn’t have found a better description for people who are skeptical of certain hadith rather than to paint them as ‘people who are suspicious and skeptical of religion’.

Lastly, I want to say I don’t believe in saving something or defending something just for the sake of  defending or saving it!  I’m not going to defend American foreign policy just for the sake of defending America’s integrity.  Because I believe in certain principles that I believe are higher than simply defending something at all cost.

Allah (swt) has commanded us to a higher calling than this.

“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not your own desires, lest you swerve, and if you distort justice or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do.” (Holy Qur’an 4:125)

What do I mean by this?

In my studies I have looked at the methods and answers that certain hadith scholars have given us and I just do not find them satisfactory.

I’ll give you an example using the New Testament.

There is an account in the New Testament on how Judas committed suicide.

One account has it that he fell head long into a field, most likely jumping from a cliff.   However, another account has it that Judas hung himself.

You can see an attempt from Christians to reconcile this.

http://carm.org/bible-difficulties/matthew-mark/how-did-judas-die-hanging-or-falling-down

Peter left out the important detail about hanging and this is not a minor detail.

How does a person get the angular momentum to fall ‘head long’.

The Christians reconcile it by saying he attempted to hang himself‘ and that ‘the rope broke’.

There is a lot at stake for admitting that this is a blatant contradiction.  It would mean that Biblical inerrancy is a myth.

To say that a Christian believer who would come across these text, and finds the attempts to reconcile the accounts unacceptable, and than to label that person as someone ‘skeptical and suspicious of religion‘, or worst still ‘a person who doesn’t want to live in a world filled with God or a prophetic tradition’, is simply an abuse.

That is not scholarly.  That Sheikh Hamza Yusuf would allow this kind of diatribe to be pass as scholarship is sad.

Any ahadith that I find to be problematic I first allow an attempted explanation and an attempt at reconciliation.  However, if I don’t find the answers believable I simply don’t find them believable.  As I stated, I don’t believe in defending something just for the sake of defending it. There has to be intellectual honestly. Not only that but ultimately I do believe Allah (swt) gave us a conscience; and that conscience will eat away at the very core of our soul, if we knowingly accept something, that we know is false.

The Christians better not expect me to do that. No government better expect me to do that. My family better not expect me to do that. My Muslim brothers and sisters better not ever expect me to do that either.

I leave you with the words of our Creator.

“Indeed, the worst of living creatures in the sight of Allah are the deaf and dumb who do not use reason.” (Holy Qur’an 8:23)

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

3 responses to “Critique of Dr. Jonathan Brown Hadith: Between Muslim Conviction & Western Criticism

  1. Stephen Cooper

    Good reasoning Jason. I like your insight into intellectual honesty and the pangs of conscience. Thanks,
    Steve

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Hadith: Muhammed’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World | primaquran

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s