A critique on Sheikh Nasiruddin Albani’s Methodology

A critique on Sheikh Nasiruddin Albani’s Methodology

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Sheikh Mohammad Nasir uddin Albani was an influential Islamic scholar who passed away towards the end of the last century (2nd October, 1999). The Sheikh remains a divisive figure in the Muslim community. There are some who revere  him as one of  Islam’s biggest  reformer. While there are others who utterly disregard his work.

Scholar Albani
Sheikh Nasir uddin Albani

Sheikh Albani was the one who revived  the term Salafi in modern times and used it as a specific label. The Muslims who adhere to this label,  place him among the great scholars of the past like Ibn Taymiyyah.

Sheikh Albani was a well read individual particularly on the subject of classical Islamic literature of Hadeeth. As his name indicates, he was born in Shkodër, Albania in 1914. After receiving his early education from his father, he acquired formal education in Islamic theology from Syria. He also got education on the Hanafi Fiqh (jurisprudence) although later in life he departed from his Hanafi roots. By profession, he was also a carpenter and a watchmaker.

The notable work of Sheikh Albani is the re-examination and filtering of Hadeeth. The Hadeeths are the collection of  reports claiming to quote what the prophet Mohammad (PBUH) said verbatim on any matter. In the sunni sect, the Books of Hadeeth that fall in the category of Sihah Sitta (Authentic Six) are considered canonical. The Hadeeth are considered to be of paramount importance in understanding of the Quran and also for deriving Islamic laws. Much of Sunni creed is based on literature present in these books. Although these books appeared around two hundred years after the passing away of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), a great amount of investigatory effort and rigorous research was carried out to ensure that only the most authentic reports were included.

Therefore any criticism  on Hadeeth particularly those recorded in the canonical books has historically been an extremely sensitive issue. This is true particularly for the Sunni sect as it challenges their entire understanding of Islam. Sheikh Albani’s work of recategorizing Hadeeth present in the Sihah Sitta into authentic and inauthentic therefore does not sit well with many scholars.

There are scholars who have meticulously scrutinized Sheikh Albani’s work and  pointed out glaring mistakes. These errors can be looked up from the following link.

Sheikh Hamza Yusuf points out that Albani comes across as a person that may be well versed in the hadeeth literature but was not fully trained in Fiqh.  To an extent this statement bears credence as Sheikh Albani rejected the idea of following a particular school of thought and in doing so he also shunned major aspects of fiqh.

One example of this as Hamza Yusuf quotes can be found in his book Salat an-Nabawi (the prayer of the prophet in the light of authentic hadeeths). This book was sub titled “The Prophet’s Prayer From The beginning To The End As Though You See It”. In this book Sheikh Albani has selected the hadeeths about the daily prayers that according to him are the most authentic. Hamza Yusuf argues that the problem the book title creates is the idea that any prayer, other than the way mentioned in his book, is invalid.

Sheikh Hamza Yusuf further elaborates “The book contradicts the prayers as set in the Maliki school of thought. Imam Malik, on whose name this school is distinguished, learned his prayers from Nafi who learned his prayers from Ibn Umar. It should be noted that Ibn Umar learned directly from the prophet (PBUH). And Ibn Umar among all people,  is known to have followed sunnah (way of the prophet) more than any other Sahabi (contemporaries of the Prophet PBUH). This brings up the question, didn’t Imam Malik know how to pray?”

There are many practices within the early Muslim community that were prevalent but had not been recorded in text. They were passed on as oral traditions. The “call to prayer” or the Azan is one such tradition that cannot be found in the earliest books. The Maliki school preferred to follow the prayers of the early Muslims of Madina as they witnessed it. They preferred it over the authority of written traditions, particularly  ones that originated beyond the confines of their city.

Therefore when following the book Salat an-Nabawi, one is actually following the priorities set by Nasir uddin Albani and not necessarily the Prophet (PBUH) himself. On the other hand  if one follows a school of thought than the person is also follwing thousands of scholars who have mandated the prayer and themselves have practised it.

The criticism of Albani’s methodology boils down to a simple question. Should more weight be given to a solitary hadeeth (albeit sound) or should the established and prevalent practice be given priority? Sheikh Albani in most cases chose the former.

One other criticism that is levelled against Albani is his preferential treatment of hadeeth that he saw complying with Wahabi ideology. Dr. Tahir ul Qadri has thoroughly researched the work of Albani. One of the earliest book that was written on Islamic mannerism was “Al Adab al Mufrad”. It was written by Imam Bukhari, the very person who brought scientific method to the field of   hadeeth collection. In this book, Hadeeth regarding kissing the hand, kissing the feet and standing up for the respect of the prophet (PBUH) have been reported. However in Albani’s version of the same book, all those hadeeth have been removed.

It would be unfair not to mentioned that Sheikh Nasir uddin Albani also stood up against certain aspects of Saudi Wahabi doctorine. He was against the warped literalism of the extremist. Furthermore he published a book called “Niqab”, in which he supported the view that a full face veil was not binding for a women. This infuriated many in Saudi clergy and his contract for the faculty position in Islamic University of Madina was not renewed. He was made persona non grata for his non conforming views in more than one country.

Sheikh Albani was against political activism and vigilantism. This was in line with the traditional salafi practice of inner purification. Note that this is one area where Wahabism differs from Salafism.

The legacy of Sheikh Nasir uddin Albani is polarized. There are mosques, where the sermons resonate with sentences like ” This Hadeeth has been mentioned in Bukhari and confirmed by Albani”. On the other hand there are people who wish his work is lost in history.

A critic can only be fair if a degree of empathy is kept for the one being criticized. There are Hadeeth in Sihah Sitta that Muslims in general understand are controversial and go against their understanding of Islam. These hadeeth are generally not followed or taught. Nonetheless, there is perhaps some wisdom in keeping those hadeeth because they remind us that only “The Quran” is the word of almighty and is free of any errors. They remind us that the Hadeeth should be looked in the ambit of Quranic teachings rather than the other way round. On one hand Albani’s work is admirable because it re-prioritizes  Quran over hadeeth. However on the other hand it also shakes the foundation of the Sunni creed.

Sheikh Nasiruddin Albani should be commended for his untiring efforts that reinvigorated scholarly work both among his followers and his critics.

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