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IOL response to Kugle February 11, 2006

Posted by Rasheed Eldin in Islam, Responses, Shari'ah.

While researching the last post on Daayiee Abdullah, I had a look through the excellent section at Islam Online on The Hadith and its Sciences. In particular, an article on The Modernist Approach to Hadith Studies, by Noor al-Deen Atabek, contains a rare analysis of the contentions of Scott “Siraj al-Haqq” Kugle, who appeared on the UK Channel 4 documentary on “Gay Muslims” (my response to him here). Atabek’s comments surround Kugle’s article on Sexuality, Diversity, and Ethics in the Agenda of Progressive Muslims.

The Modernist Approach to Hadith Studies 

You would need to read the whole article to understand properly, but I reproduce the relevant excerpt below if you just want a quick look!

The Liberalist Approach

What Tariq Ramadan categorizes as liberal or rationalist reformism is rather the olla podrida of the modernist movement: Though fundamentally different in its approach from the other three modernist sub-schools, it is nonetheless a miscellaneous rubric. “Liberal” here, according to Ramadan, refers to the modern Western definition of the  term, meaning favoring the primacy of the individual, and advocates of this methodology often identify themselves in contrast to the “fundamentalists”—an amoebic term, “which to their way of thinking covers all other tendencies than their own.” Extreme strains of the liberalist school go so far as to challenge the authority of the Qur’an and prophetic Sunnah in a Muslim’s life, as can be seen in the article “Sexuality, Diversity, and Ethics in the Agenda of Progressive Muslims” by Scott Kugle in the liberalist publication Progressive Muslims:

It is very difficult to establish the authenticity of most reports that circulate in the name of the Prophet Muhammad. … In the contemporary period, there are less and less scholars who are trained in Hadith criticism. Wahhabi and Salafi scholars, who may have such training, have no motive to critique Hadith, for in their zeal to escape history and return to the Prophet’s own time, they reify Hadith as unquestionable building blocks for their monolithic iconic image of the Prophet’s exemplary behavior.

Conservative liberalists, on the other hand, may be indistinguishable from the Salafi outlook. Even so, while it is difficult to pigeonhole the liberalists as a whole, they are clearly a product of the West through either naturalization or colonization.

Ironically, the liberalist intelligentsia frequently mirrors the approach of its Salafabi adversaries by fashioning its arguments and subsequently establishing legitimacy for them through novel interpretations of the Qur’an and Hadith. Kugle’s article represents such an approach to “revisionist” Hadith studies. In an attempt to establish legitimacy for homosexuality in Islam, the author writes:

A review of Hadith from the two most reliable collections (Sahih Muslim and Sahih al-Bukhari) reveals no evidence that the Prophet asserted, in word or deed, that homosexual relations were a hadd crime, or were to be equated with adultery, or ever punished any persons for “crimes” related to homosexuality. Nor is there any Hadith in these two most authentic collections in which the Prophet discusses [Lot] in relationship to sexual acts or relationships. This writer further suspects that the very terms Luti and Liwat are not found in the authentic Hadith, although this would take more research to substantiate.

In effect, Kugle is limiting the gamut of legally applicable Hadith to those found in the two most authentic collections, thereby rendering the vast majority of Hadith irrelevant. Reminiscent of the Wahhabi approach, Kugle is performing naïve adherence (taqlid) on almost an absolute level to the Hadith found in the Sahihs of Al-Bukhari and Muslim, though unlike the Wahhabis, he discards all other Hadith in order to substantiate his preexisting argument. The “general conclusions about Hadith” that Kugle derives after his glib and unscholarly research are astonishing:

Most reports in which the Prophet reportedly condemns same-sex activities have weak chains of transmission and are found in Hadith collections that are not the most authoritative. Hadith scholars in the medieval period (when Hadith criticism was still actively pursued in Muslim communities) explicitly debunked some of them for having forged chains of transmission. In the earliest period, jurists did not agree as to which Hadith might be authentic and strong enough to form the basis of legal opinions. [emphasis added]

That medieval scholars debunked some Hadith and that they did not agree unanimously to their levels of authenticity are unconvincing reasons to discard the bulk of the Hadith corpus. By this rationale, the Hadith found in the Sahihs of Al-Bukhari and Muslim can be discarded, for a handful of later scholars disagreed to their level of authenticity as well. Furthermore, Kugle states that most Hadith condemning same-sex relations carry weak chains of authority, while one could venture to say that most Hadith that report the virtues of reciting the Qur’an are reported according to weak chains of authority, though no scholar (or layman) has ever used this to prove that reciting the Qur’an is not a virtuous deed. One can assume that if all Hadith that condemn homosexual relations were weak in their chains of authority, Kugle would have been vociferous in pointing this out. That he specifically states that “most Hadith” are weak is strong grounds to believe that there exist Hadith to the same purport with strong chains of authority.

Kugle’s attitude towards Hadith studies is extreme in its oversimplification but not unusual in the modern era. Nevertheless, it represents a clear break from the other three modernist schools, which maintain at least some deference towards the opinions of classical scholars.


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