“How can we be sure that we have the actual uttering of the Prophet?” Dr. Jonathan Brown responds…. “You can’t!”

“And say: “Truth has (now arrived, and Falsehood perished: for Falsehood is (by its nature) bound to perish.” (Qur’an 17:81)

Dr. Jonathan AC Brown-A Crisis of Confidence Amongst Muslims & How We Read Our Scripture.

Please watch this insightful lecture here:

A very interesting and eye opening exchange took place between the good Dr. Jonathan Brown and a member of the audience.  This is my typed transcript of the conversation.

Question to Dr. Jonathan Brown: “How can we be sure that we have the actual uttering of the Prophet?”

Dr. Jonathan Brown responds…. “You can’t!

Now for those who assert that this is insignificant let us consider something.

Imagine if the question was this: “How can we be sure that we have the actual words of Allah?”

Then, imagine that Dr. Jonathan Brown responds…… “You can’t!”

However; he made no such assertion about the Qur’an.  He did however; make the assertion that we can’t be sure that we have the words of the Blessed Messenger (saw).

Read on for the full discussion….

1:22:57  into the discussion listen very carefully to the question the gentleman puts forward to Dr. Jonathan Brown and the answer that Dr. Jonathan Brown gives.

“I mean you, if you wanna talk uhh in terms of epistemological certainty, which by the way Muslim scholars where very happy to do. (pause) I mean they……If you wanna talk about one hundred percent like bet your life, you know trust exercise fall backwards type certainty which I guess isn’t that certain considering people do it on weird corporate retreats but the point is that if you want to talk about real betting your life certainty you can’t be. And by the way no Muslim scholar would say you you can.  I mean even Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal he was asked a hadith you consider authentic ‘sahih’ he said I’ll act on it.  I’ll utilize it to determine law but I won’t, I won’t swear like in court, I won’t swear that the Prophet said it.  Why why is this? You might be shocked by what I’m saying. Because one you came, they have couple different, I mean look in Bukhari’s sahih, a hadith might appear two or three times like the hadith of the rib could appear two or three times with different wording.  Which one did the Prophet say? Either he said this one or he said that one. Which one are his actual words? Which one are you going to swear to God or by your life are his actual words? It’s pretty clear he said something. Like along this lines. We have the gist. And maybe he said it twice and two different companions heard it in different occasions. Maybe he said it and two different people heard it and remembered it slightly differently. Maybe one person heard it one way and than as it was transmitted kind of like a game of telephone there were a little bit of changes introduced. So Muslim scholars weren’t naïve. People think that some how there’s hadith is this science where the words are just preserved one hundred percent.  That’s not the case! No one ever says that. No Muslim scholar ever says that.”

1:25:43 Dr. Jonathan Brown takes another question and goes back to the previous question and continues….

They didn’t say you could be one hundred percent sure. There is no way you get the same level of certainty as the Qur’an; except maybe on a few hadiths. Very few number like, the hadith that says, “Whoever lies about me intentionally, who ever misrepresents me intentionally let him prepare for himself a seat in hell fire.”  This is transmitted so widely nobody can question that the Prophet said that general thing; BUT EVEN in THESE different transmissions there’s difference. In one version it says, “Whoever misrepresents me (no mention of intention) let him prepare for himself a seat in the hell fire.”  Most of the versions say, “Whoever misrepresents me intentionally let him prepare for himself a hadith in hell fire.” I won’t get into it but there’s a big difference between those two versions.  So they would never say I am hundred percent sure that the Prophet said this. What they would say is, “I am sure enough that I’m gonna actually base my behavior on it and I’m very sure that he said something, general gist of this statement. Even though the details I am not quite sure about.”

Now Dr. Jonathan Brown brought up two very interesting points.

#1) The very fact that hadith have come down to us with different wordings.

There are two ways to look at that. I am sure “traditionalist” who favour hadith took a sigh of relief when he mentioned the various possible scenarios that could have happened.

#2) The very fact that even mass transmitted reports have different wordings; and in particular a very important and crucial hadith that is said to be attributed to the Blessed Messenger (saw).

I hope that the truth seekers reading this will understand there is a huge theological difference between these two statements:

“Whoever lies about me intentionally let him prepare for himself a seat in hell fire.”

“Whoever lies about me let him prepare for himself a seat in hell fire.”

We go into that in more detail here: https://primaquran.wordpress.com/2019/10/18/the-blessed-sandals-handling-the-words-attributed-to-the-prophet-muhammed-saw/


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4 responses to ““How can we be sure that we have the actual uttering of the Prophet?” Dr. Jonathan Brown responds…. “You can’t!”

  1. Ammar

    I would also recommend Brown’s latest book, ‘Misquoting Muhammad’

  2. Cafusco

    Actually a lie is always intentional.

    • Cafusco good point.

      Actually that is an excellent point. He could have said there is a difference between intentional lying about me and unintentional misrepresentation.

      I know I have said things that were not factual, but at the time I have said them I did not know they were not factual.. and that is very different than knowing they are not true and than presenting them as true.

      Very good point! Good catch!

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