Archive for the ‘Middle Ages’ Category

A few thoughts on hadiths and religion in general:

I had a difficult relationship with religion while I was growing up. As a child, I used to be a voracious reader and stumbled upon lots of things, including the Hadith collection my parents had. Now there was one particular Hadith that I read when i was about 10 – which was a real shock to the system. I cannot emphasize how shocking – and how much impact it had – but in any case, it’s something that troubled me for a long long time. Frankly I couldn’t believe it. And it wasn’t something you could speak about to people – a) it was extremely indecent or so I felt as a child ( and the horror of having found it in a Hadith collection, can you imagine) and b) not the sort of thing you can broach to ‘religious’ people very easily – and plus the whole ‘ forbidden areas of thinking’ thing. I felt terribly alone – had anyone else read this stuff? what did they think about it if they had? no answers for a long time.

Now fast forward to the days where you can look up anything on the net -hooray ! and ask all sorts of people questions on the internet and generally find out more about what’s going on in other people’s heads. I’ve had some discussions about this hadith – but not too many -and then I tracked it down just to be sure i hadn’t dreamed it up, thanks to the USC MSa Compendium of Muslim texts which is searchable and a handy resource.

And of course as a child I had no idea about sex slavery or concubinage (whatever you want to call it) – or that islamic fiqh had regulated the conditions of slavery. of course the war booty thing ties in with the ‘taking women ransom’ but I’d never heard such justifications back then. If i had, i’m sure my feelings at the time of the Iraq invasion would have been even more complicated. {and plus all the stories you hear from relatives in bangladesh about the pakistani soldiers raping women in the war} These sorts of things are everywhere, but you don’t expect to read about them in compilations of ‘religious texts’. Why doesn’t it bother more people that’s what I wanted to know, what I still want to know, or how it can be ‘rationalised’. Some people are thinking about these knotty issues, but most people will brush them under the carpet. I daresay that is the natural thing to do – avoid controversy.

The Hadith in question is taken from Sahih Muslim, Book 8 which is the The Book of Marriage” (Kitab Al-Nikah)


Book 008, Number 3371:

“Abu Sirma said to Abu Sa’id al Khadri (Allah he pleased with him): 0 Abu Sa’id, did you hear Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) mentioning al-’azl? He said: Yes, and added: We went out with Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) on the expedition to the Bi’l-Mustaliq and took captive some excellent Arab women; and we desired them, for we were suffering from the absence of our wives, (but at the same time) we also desired ransom for them. So we decided to have sexual intercourse with them but by observing ‘azl (Withdrawing the male sexual organ before emission of semen to avoid-conception). But we said: We are doing an act whereas Allah’s Messenger is amongst us; why not ask him? So we asked Allah’s Mes- senger (may peace be upon him), and he said: It does not matter if you do not do it, for every soul that is to be born up to the Day of Resurrection will be born.

So that’s pretty much what rocked my boat: I don’t know what people manage to rationalize as adults but as a child that was pretty damn shocking to me, particularly given what I was told by my Mother about the ‘morals of sexuality in Islam’.

The next few narrations in Sahih Muslim which touch on this as well:

Book 008, Number 3372: A hadith like this has been narrated on the authority of Habban with the same chain of transmitters (but with this alteration) that he said:” Allah has ordained whom he has to create until the Day of judgment.” Book 008, Number 3373: Abu Sa’id al-Khudri (Allah be pleased with him) reported: We took women captives, and we wanted to do ‘azl with them. We then asked Allah’s Messen- ger (may peace be upon him) about it, and he said to us: Verily you do it, verily you do it, verily you do it, but the soul which has to be born until the Day of judgment must be born. Book 008, Number 3381: Abu Sa’id al-Khudri (Allah be pleased with him) reported that Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) was asked about ‘azl, whereupon he said: The child does not come from all the liquid (semen) and when Allah intends to create anything nothing can prevent it (from coming into existence). Book 008, Number 3377: Abu Sa’id al-Khudri (Allah be pleased with him) reported that mention was made of ‘azl in the presence of Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) whereupon he said: Why do you practise it? They said: There is a man whose wife has to suckle the child, and if that person has a sexual intercourse with her (she may conceive) which he does not like, and there is another person who has a slave-girl and he has a sexual intercourse with her, but he does not like her to have conception so that she may not become Umm Walad, whereupon he (the Holy Prophet) said: There is no harm if you do not do that, for that (the birth of the child) is something pre- ordained. Ibn ‘Aun said: I made a mention of this hadith to Hasan, and he said: By Allah, (it seems) as if there is upbraiding in it (for ‘azl).”

Apparently the reason they seem to talk about this “al-azl” thing so much is all tied up with the permissibility of contraception, or so it seems. So that’s what the men were bothered about: contraception – not – oh is it okay if i just have a quickie with this woman captive/slave girl here? and personally what i found the most shocking was that the Prophet was amongst them at the time – so what was he doing there while these men were ‘enjoying’ the captive women? I really had a lot of trouble with this one – once I’d read that I felt really resentful when as a teenager – time and time again- people would say ‘well we are all very moral people. we do not believe in boyfriends or girlfriends’. Sure aunties and uncles..i wanted to say..how do you explain this stuff then? {but of course good asian girls are not mean to answer back to the ‘community’ are they now, oh no}
Wholesome reading isn’t it. I can’t understand personally when you have lurid tales like these why anyone is bothered about cartoons. It seems to me if there is anything that would defame the character of a Holy Prophet then Hadiths like this one are the culprit. Would I choose to accept this as ‘religious tradition’ – well no of course not. If this is meant to be true then I can’t say honestly that I am impressed at all.
A note on inauthentic and authentic hadiths: These Hadiths are from the Sahih Muslim collection. For a long time I was vaguely aware that there were ‘weak’’ hadiths around – basically Hadiths that were ‘questionable’ and didn’t have a reliable ‘chain’ of narration. So for a while I assumed that this creepy stuff about coitus interruptus with captive women would surely fall into the ‘questionable’ camp, oh no – it turned out to be in Sahih Muslim – which according to Sunni tradition after Sahih Bukharis meant to be the two most reliable ones! ( don’t take my word for it – read the wikipedia links below). Well as far as I know anyway – i’d love it if someone came along and said, actually this stuff is bollocks too. Apparently Shias dismiss Sahih Muslim as inauthentic – I wonder why?
“A Sahih hadith is the one which has a continuous isnad, made up of reporters of trustworthy memory from similar authorities, and which is found to be free from any irregularities (i.e. in the text) or defects (i.e. in the isnad)”

wikipedia tells us that:

Muhammad’s sayings and deeds are called sunnah and are transmitted through hadith. Imam Muslim (full name Abul Husain Muslim bin al-Hajjaj al-Nisapuri) was born in 202 A.H. and died in 261 A.H. He traveled widely to gather his collection of ahadith, including to Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Egypt. Out of 300,000 ahadith which he evaluated, only 4,000 approximately were extracted for inclusion into his collection based on stringent acceptance criteria. Each report in his collection was checked for compatibility with the Qur’an, and the veracity of the chain of reporters had to be painstakingly established. Muslim was a student of Bukhari and Ahmad ibn Hanbal.

It is important to realize, however, that Imam Muslim never claimed to collect all authentic traditions. He tried to collect only traditions that all Muslims should agree on its accuracy. There are other scholars who worked as Muslim did and collected other authentic reports. After Sahih Bukhari, this is the most authentic hadith collection in the Sunni perspective.

According to Munziri, there are a total of 2200 hadiths (with no repetition) in Sahih Muslim. This would bring the total of Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim to 3000 hadiths. According to most Hadith scholars[1], there are 1400 authentic hadiths that are reported in other books (mainly the Six major Hadith collections).

Cross-posted @ shorno.net and sonia.pickledpolitics.com

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Right now the Painted Page exhibition at the new Folio Society Gallery @ the British Library is showing Images of medieval life in the Luttrell Psalter. You can view the original 13th Century illuminated mansuscript in the John Ritblat Gallery also at the BL.

The exhibition uses a mix of facsimile images of the manuscript + technology to make what is usually considered ‘for antiquarian interests only‘ an enjoyable, interactive experience and accessible to the public. There are explanatory notes on what the various icons and imagery might have meant + their social significance: providing insight into the 13th century world and how they may have viewed their reality and their life. Which is what’s interesting about illuminated (i.e. illustrated) manuscripts of course. The metaphorical and allegorical nature of medieval imagery and art is particularly interesting to me. Generally I’m interested in the social aspects of history.
The exhibition is free and runs until 7 January 2007. There is some fantastic technology at work here – the ‘Turning the pages‘ interactive feature is loads of fun and hopefully will soon be out of the ‘innovative’ bracket into ‘usual IT bracket’ : hmm let’s see.
** The John Ritblat Gallery showcases the ‘treasures’ of the British Library drawn from the millions of items they have in their collection: there’s a new room dedicated to the Magna Carta.



Illuminated manuscripts are the most common historical artefacts from the Middle Ages and the best surviving specimens of medieval art. And for some earlier periods of history they often are the only surviving examples of painting.

“An illuminated manuscript is a manuscript in which the text is supplemented by the addition of decoration or illustration, such as decorated initials, borders and miniatures. In the strictest definition of the term, an illuminated manuscript only refers to manuscripts decorated with gold or silver. However, in both common usage and modern scholarship, the term is now used to refer to any decorated manuscript.”

You can find out more on this fascinating topic on wikipedia and the Koninklijke Bibliotheek – the National Library of the Netherlands

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