The Language of Hadith

Dr. Maurice Bucaille has brought out many books and articles on the subject of the veracity of the Qur’an. He has proved by scientific argument that the Qur’an is the Book of God.

He does not, however, place the Hadith on the same plane as the Qur’an. Expressing his doubts regarding the authenticity of the hadith, he holds that some traditions are authentic, but that others are either dubious, or should be rejected outright. (p. 243)

This comment is based on a misunderstanding. There is a hadith, for instance, which explains that the intense heat of summer is due to blasts of wind from hell. He failed to understand the meaningfulness of this hadith, because he took it quite literally. Actually, this hadith is only one of the many that are couched in symbolic language.

Let us take just one instance for illustration. It was the custom among Arabs for people of rank to follow funeral processions on horseback or camelback. When the Prophet once saw some people riding on horses alongside a cortege he asked: “Are not you ashamed that the angels are walking on foot while you are riding on horses?” (Sunan ibn Majah)

This does not mean that the angels have feet like ours, and were literally walking on foot. The Prophet in fact wanted to stress the point in a symbolic way, that when a man has completed his term of trial, and is on his way to the Hereafter, it is a time for humility and modesty. In keeping with this spirit, it is only proper to walk on foot with the funeral. That is to say, it is a time for the humble servants of the Lord to walk on foot rather than indulge in the luxury of conveyance.

The simile in the hadith are all meant for illustration. They should be understood as figures of speech and not taken literally.