The Usefulness of Tradition in Islamic Religion

  August 03, 2021   Read time 2 min
The Usefulness of Tradition in Islamic Religion
By the ninth century, two hundred years after the death of the Prophet, the resort to tradition, and more specifically, to the Prophet’s tradition, had become a central concern in shaping the behavioral contours of a Muslim life.

The littérateur al-Jahiz (d. 886 c.e.) oVered his readers this explanation of the presence of a large body of “reports” (hadith) emanating from the Prophet that were circulating in Islam. God knows that man cannot of himself provide for his own needs, and does not intuitively understand the consequences of things without the benefit of the example of messengers, the books of his ancestors, and information about past ages and rulers.

And so God has assigned to each generation the natural duty of instructing the next, and has made each succeedinggeneration the criterion of the truth of the information handed down to it. For hearingmany unusual traditions and strange ideas makes the mind more acute, enriches the soul, and gives food for thought and incentive to look further ahead. More knowledge received orally means more ideas, more ideas mean more thought, more thought means more wisdom, and more wisdom means more sensible actions.

Since God did not create men in the image of Jesus, son of Mary, John, son of Zachariah, and Adam, father of humankind, but rather He created them imperfect and unfit to provide for their own needs . . . He sent His Messengers to them and set up His Prophets among them, saying, “Man should have no argument against God after the Messengers” (Quran 4:163). But most men were not eyewitnesses to the proofs of His Messengers, nor did God allow them to be present at the miracles of His Prophets, to hear their arguments or to see their manner of working. And so it was needful that those who were present tell those who were absent, and the latter attend to the teachingof the former; and He needed to vary the characters and the motives of those who were doingthe transmitting, to show to their hearers and the faithful generally that a large number of people with diVeringmotives and contrasting claims could not all have invented a false tradition on the same subject without collusion and conspiringon the subject.

For if they had, it would be known and spoken of abroad . . . and men would have the greatest of proofs against God, as He said, “That man should have no argument against God after the Messengers”; for He would be enjoining on them obedience to His Messengers, faith in His Prophets and His Books, and belief in His heaven and His hell, without giving them proof of tradition or the possibility of avoidingerror. But God is far above such