Defense of the Sunnah
The Sunnah Should Be Proof (Dalisl)
In his “11th Flash,” Bediuzzaman describes the Prophet’s (saas) Sunnah as follows:
“The Most Noble Prophet (saas) said: ‘Whoever adheres to my Sunnah when my community is corrupted shall receive the reward of a hundred martyrs.’
It is necessary in religion for Sunnah to be proof. These proofs are of various kinds, and all have been definitively proven and unanimously agreed upon by the scholars among the Ahl al-Sunnah.
Seven articles show that the Sunnah represents proof in Islam:
First proof: `Ismah (the Prophet’s [saas] infallibility)
The first proof is that Allah (swt) protected the Prophet (saas) from any imperfection and error. He is free of anything that might have impacted negatively upon communicating the message, and all scholars concur that Allah (swt) did not allow him to fall into error or make a mistake in such matters.
Thus, all reports regarding the message are true and comply with what is in Allah’s (swt) sight, and Muslims must abide by them.
The Prophet’s (saas) words on rulings have also been protected from falsehood and are items of religious proof.
The following saying of the Prophet (saas) is a proof that he is protected against error:
“O people, I do not command you [to do] anything except what Allah (swt) has commanded you. I do not prohibit to you anything except what Allah (swt) has prohibited to you.”
The fact that the Prophet (saas) is free of error in all reports regarding the message is by itself sufficient evidence that all types of Sunnah are proof, because each is, in fact, part of the message. His entire life constitutes Islam’s pillars, and his social and family life, Companions, battles, manners of eating and drinking, and everything else are all exemplary forms of behavior that explain Islam to the community.
The Prophet (saas) is also protected against whatever might harm the message. This makes his every action, advice, command, recommendation, and prohibition a clear proof. In other words, there is no need for any further report. Our blessed Prophet (saas) has been protected from error and honored with the status of `ismah.
Second proof: Allah’s (swt) approval of the Prophet’s (saas) companions’ following the Sunnah
Our Prophet (saas) encouraged his community to cling tightly to the Sunnah and told them not to oppose him. Thus, the Companions obeyed his commands and followed his every word, thought, and deed to the best of their ability. They regarded all things emanating from him as matters requiring obedience and regarded his every action as a religious proof.
In the event of worldly matters requiring resolution (ijtihad), they consulted with the Prophet (saas) and asked him how and why this should be done.
Sometimes, when they could not understand a command, they asked the Prophet (saas) about it and tried to grasp its underlying truth and wisdom (hikmah). In addition, when something happened to them they did not seek an explanation only in the Qur’an. As long as the possibility existed, they sought the Prophet’s (saas) advice on all matters.
If something happened to a Companion when he was far away, he would first seek a resolution in the Qur’an, then in the Sunnah, and only when the Sunnah provided no answer would he resort toijtihad. When he returned to the Prophet’s (saas) side, he would relate the matter to him to learn if his decision had been correct. The Prophet (saas) would either approve of his decision or point out his error so that he would not make the same mistake again.
Allah (swt) has approved of all events that happened at the time of the Prophet (saas) and the Companions, for there is no mention of their having made mistakes in their behavior. Approval of something at the time of the revelation is a strong proof at the same level as revelation.
Third proof: The noble Qur’an
The Qur’an, Allah’s (swt) Book of truth, contains numerous verses on how the Sunnah is a proof in itself. These verses have been classified into several groups. Sometimes, a verse may appear in more than one group.
The first group of verses:
These verses show the obligatory nature of belief in the Prophet (saas). Belief in the Prophet (saas) means to recognize and accept his prophethood as well as what he relayed from Allah’s (swt) presence, whether or not they are mentioned in the Qur’an. Such verses state that opposing the Prophet (saas) and refusing to recognize his stipulations are incompatible with belief:
So believe in Allah and His Messenger, and in the Light We have sent down. Allah is aware of what you do. (Surat at-Taghabun, 8)
Say: “O humanity, I am the Messenger of Allah to all of you, of Him to Whom the kingdom of the heavens and Earth belongs. There is no deity but Him. He gives life and causes to die.” So believe in Allah and His Messenger, the unlettered Prophet, who believes in Allah and His words, and follow him so that, hopefully, you will be guided. (Surat al-A‘raf, 158)
Al-Qadi `Iyad (544/1149) said: “Belief in Prophet Muhammad (saas) is specifically obligatory; no belief is complete without it.” (Al-Qadi `Iyad, Al-Shifa', 2:1)
Imam al-Shafi`i (204/819) said: “Allah has made the completion of the beginning of belief - to which everything else is subordinate - belief in Allah and then in His Messenger. So if a person believes in Him but not in His Messenger, the designation denoting completion of belief does not apply to him until he believes in Him and His Messenger." (al-Shafi`i, Al-Risalah, p. 75)
Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah (751/1350) said: “The verse incorporates, among the requisites of belief, that they do not go anywhere - when they are with him - except with his permission. It is all the more fitting that they do not adopt any position or enter any path of knowledge except after his permission…" (Ibn al-Qayyim, I`lam al-Muwaqqi`in, 1:58)
The second group of verses:
These verses indicate that the Prophet (saas) elucidated and explained the Qur’an in line with Allah’s (swt) command and that he taught both the Book (the Qur’an) and wisdom (the Sunnah) to his community. Imam al-Shafi`i and other scholars interpreted wisdom as the Sunnah.
We have only sent down the Book to you so that you can make clear to them the things about which they differ, and as a guidance and a mercy to people who believe. (Surat an-Nahl, 64)
Allah showed great kindness to the believers when He sent a Messenger to them from among themselves to recite His signs to them, and to purify them and teach them the Book and Wisdom, even though before that they were clearly misguided. (Surah Al ‘Imran, 164)
Imam al-Shafi`i said:
The third group of verses:
These verses show that absolute compliance with the Prophet’s (saas) commands and prohibitions are obligatory, that obeying him is the same as obeying Allah (swt), and that any opposition to him or change in his Sunnah is forbidden.
Obey Allah and the Messenger so that, hopefully, you will gain mercy. (Surah Al ‘Imran, 132)
O you who believe, obey Allah and obey the Messenger. Do not make your actions worthless. (Surah Muhammad, 33)
Obey Allah and the Messenger and beware. If you turn your backs, know that Our Messenger is only responsible for clear transmission. (Surat al-Ma’ida, 92)
Ibn al-Qayyim said:
Allah (swt) reveals the importance of obedience to the Messenger:
Any good thing that happens to you comes from Allah. Any bad thing that happens to you comes from yourself. We have sent you to humanity as a Messenger. Allah suffices as a Witness. Whoever obeys the Messenger has obeyed Allah. If anyone turns away, We did not send you to them as their keeper. (Surat an-Nisa’, 79-80)
The fourth group of verses:
These verses reveal that obeying the Prophet (saas) in all of his words and deeds, as well as adopting him as a role model is necessary in order to be loved by Allah (swt).
Say: “If you love Allah, then follow me and Allah will love you and forgive your wrong actions. Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Surah Al ‘Imran, 31)
You have an excellent model in the Messenger of Allah, for all who put their hope in Allah and the Last Day and remember Allah much. (Surat al-Ahzab, 21)
Muhammad ibn `Ali al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi said:
The fourth proof: The Prophet’s (saas) Sunnah
Many hadiths and accounts show the Sunnah as proof. These have been classified into three groups:
The first group of hadiths:
The Prophet (saas) is free of falsehood in those matters revealed to him in the Qur’an and in the form of hadiths.
The Prophet’s (saas) expounded and stipulated rules were Allah’s (swt) expositions and stipulations. They emanated from Allah’s (swt) presence; not his.
Acting according to the Sunnah is acting according to the Qur’an.
Allah (swt) commanded the ummah to accept and practice the Prophet’s (saas) words, obey his commands, and follow his Sunnah.
Whoever obeys the Prophet (saas) and holds fast to the Sunnah obeys Allah (swt) and attains the true path of guidance.
Faith is complete only if one adheres to all that he brought. He speaks nothing but the truth. The best guidance of all is his guidance.
Anything not brought and approved of by the Prophet (saas), but which people invented according to their whims and desires, is an innovation that must be rejected and avoided.
In his Al-Madkhal, Imam al-Bayhaqi relates that Talha ibn Nudayla narrated:
Narrated from `Abd Allah ibn `Amr by Ibn Hibban (354/966):
The Prophet (saas) said:
Narrated from Ibn `Abbas:
The Prophet (saas) said:
Narrated by al-Bayhaqi:
`Abd Allah ibn `Amr said:
The second group of hadiths:
The common subject matter in this group may be summarized as Muslims finding the truth by adhering to the Sunnah and being prohibited from practicing only what is in the Qur’an and from making do with independent opinions in abandoning the Sunnah.
Ibn Majah narrates from Anas, Thabit, and Aisha (ra) that the Prophet (saas) said:
The third group of hadiths:
These hadiths tell Muslims to heed, memorize, and then transmit the Prophet’s (saas) words to those who will come later. They promise a great reward for those who engage in these activities.
These commands of the Messenger of Allah (saas) necessitate that the Sunnah is proof.
Al-Bayhaqi (451/1066) said:
It is narrated from Abu Hurayrah that the Prophet (saas) said:
The fifth proof: The Qur’an is to be understood with the Sunnah
No one, in the absence of a revelation descending upon oneself, can possibly understand Islam’s rulings and details from the Qur’an alone. Therefore, one should look into the Sunnah, which was revealed together with the Qur’an, for the Prophet (saas) inferred this through his own ijtihad and Allah (swt) approved it. There is no other way.
If the Sunnah were not a proof (the source for rulings), then it would be unreliable for any scholar to look into it and draw support from it. In that event, nobody would understand their exact responsibilities, rulings would disappear, and obligations would be cancelled.
It is impossible for scholars (mujtahid) to act alone and according to their personal opinions on this matter, because the Qur’an is at the highest level of miraculous inimitability (i`jaz). Due to its eloquence alone, it contains many secondary meanings, secrets, and treasure troves of knowledge that only Allah (swt) knows.
The Prophet (saas) expounds the Qur’an, and no one can devise rulings based only on it. In fact, explaining the Qur’an is one of his duties. In the Qur’an our Almighty Lord says:
It is not devoutness to turn your faces to the East or to the West. Rather, those with true devoutness are those who have iman in Allah and the Last Day, the Angels, the Book and the prophets, and who, despite their love for it, give away their wealth to their relatives and to orphans and the very poor, and to travelers and beggars and to set slaves free, and who establish salat and pay zakat; those who honor their contracts when they make them, and are steadfast in poverty and illness and in battle. Those are the people who are true. They are the people who have taqwa. (Surat al-Baqara, 177)
This verse shows that praying (salat) and giving zakat are obligatory observances. But how exactly are Muslims supposed to pray, and when? How many rak‘ahs (prayer cycles) are called for? Who has to pray? We can find answers to these questions only in the Sunnah, for through it our Prophet (saas) demonstrates the correct way to pray and thus enlightens us. The same is true for zakat and other obligations.
In another verse our Lord reveals:
So [give] glory to Allah when you start the night and when you greet the day. (Surat ar-Rum, 17)
From this verse, it appears that, in essence, the time of glorifying is at the morning, evening and night. But what is meant by “[give] glory” here, we learn this from our Prophet’s (saas) Sunnah. Is it the salat commanded in the verse “do salat”? Or is it reciting “Subhan Allah”? Were we not told by the Prophet (saas) we would be unaware that this expression was related to the morning, evening, and night prayers.
As for giving in His way, our Lord tells us: “As for those who hoard up gold and silver and do not spend it in His Way, give them the news of a painful punishment” (Surat at-Tawba, 34). What does “spend” mean in this verse? Giving away all assets, as understood by the Companions at the time of the verse’s revelation, or just a part of them? If so, how much?
Hundreds of other matters are only mentioned in the Qur’an and then fully explained in the Sunnah. Our Prophet (saas) elucidates the Muslims’ forms of religious observance, what these are and the shape they take, and how they are to be implemented through his own example.
In his Al-Ihkam, Ibn Hazm says: “Where in the Qur'an does it state that: Dhuhr prayer is four rak`ahs? Maghrib is three rak`ahs? Ruku` is done in such-and-such a way? Sujud is done in such-and-such a way? Qur'anic recitation in the prayer is done in such-and-such a way? Salam is given at the conclusion of prayer in such-and-such a way? What one must avoid when fasting? The modality of zakat for gold and silver, sheep, camels, and cattle? The determination of the zakatable capitals and amount of their zakat? The rituals of hajj from the time one stands in `Arafah? The modality of prayer at `Arafah and Muzdalifah? The modality of stoning at the three jimar in Mina? The description of the pilgrim's sacralized state (ihram)? What must be avoided while wearing ihram? Cutting off the thief's hand? What prepared foods are prohibited? The description and definition of butchering and sacrificial slaughter? The modalities of penal rulings (ahkam al-hudud)? The description of enacting divorce? The rulings that pertain to selling? The exposition of usurious transactions (al-riba)? The modalities of juristic verdicts and appeals? Those of solemn oaths, water-dams (al-ahbas), life tenancy resulting in ownership of the tenant's heirs (al-`umra), collection of sadaqah, and all the other topics of the Law?
We find in the Qur'an only comprehensive clauses (jumal). In all of this, the reference is none other than what is transmitted from the Prophet (saas). It is the same with scholarly consensus (al-ijma`) for the latter formed over but a few matters that we all gathered in a single book. ... Therefore, it is indispensable to refer back to the hadith.” (Ibn Hazm, Al-Ihkam fi Usul al-Ahkam, 2:79-80)
Other hadiths state that we cannot understand the Qur’an solely with our own reason, and that this is impossible without the Sunnah. The Companions and the Followers narrated countless hadiths about this truth and reached complete agreement on this issue. Some relevant traditions are as follows:
Al-Bayhaqi (in Al-Madkhal) and al-Lalika'i (in Sharh Usul I`tiqad Ahl al-Sunnah) narrated that Umar (ra) said:
Abu Hatim (354/965) reports Ibn Mas‘ud as saying:
Ahmad ibn Hanbal narrates that `Imran ibn Husayn (ra) said:
Narrated by Abu Nadra by Ibn al-Mubarak in Al-Zuhd: The people were rehearsing the narrations of hadith, whereupon a man stood and exclaimed:
Similarly, Ibn `Abd al-Barr narrates the following reply: Mutarrif ibn `Abd Allah ibn al-Shikhkhir replied:
Al-Lalika'i narrates (in Sharh Usul) from `Abdus ibn Malik al-`Attar that: Imam Ahmad said:
Jabir ibn `Abd Allah (ra) said:
These verses, hadiths, and narrations show that the Sunnah is a blessing that enables us to understand and apply the Qur’an in our daily lives.
The sixth proof: The Sunnah is also based on revelation
What emanates from the Prophet (saas) is either words or deeds designed to communicate the message of Allah (swt), or other forms of behavior that lie outside that communication.
The first part:
This is a sure and certain revelation. As we know, the Messenger of Allah (saas) was protected against error here. Hanafi scholars refer to this as “manifest or external revelation” (wahy zahir). The revelation in this part is sometimes revealed with a statement showing that it is a Divine revelation and sometimes in another way. That which comes with an accompanying statement to the effect that it is Divine, implies either worship (ta‘abbud), miraculous inimitability (i‘jaz) or challenge (tahaddi), in other words, the Qur’an.
Revelation without the characteristics of i`jaz and tahaddi is al-hadith al-qudsi. This is also a form of Divine revelation. By using such words as “The Lord of Glory said …” before every hadith, the Prophet (saas) imparted tidings from Allah (swt). Such reports cannot be mistaken or based on deceit. The Prophet’s (saas) report shows that it is Allah’s (swt) word, just as it shows that the Qur’an is His word. If there is no accompanying statement to show that the report is from Allah (swt), then it is a prophetic hadith (al-hadith an-nabawi). These verses show that the Prophet’s (saas) hadiths and practices are of the nature of Divine revelation:
… nor does he speak from whim. It is nothing but Revelation revealed. (Surat an-Najm, 3-4)
“… I follow nothing except what is revealed to me. I fear, were I to disobey my Lord, the punishment of a Dreadful Day.” (Surah Yunus, 15)
… Allah has sent down the Book and Wisdom to you and taught you what you did not know before. Allah’s favor to you is indeed immense. (Surat an-Nisa’, 113)
As stated elsewhere, the “wisdom” referred to here is the Sunnah.
Abu Dawud and al-Bayhaqi identify and establish this report with accompanying statements:
The second part:
This part consists of the Prophet’s (saas) words and behavior that are not specifically concerned with communicating the message. These may or may not have been affirmed by Allah (swt).
If Almighty Allah (swt) has approved an action taken by the Prophet (saas), that action is considered a revelation, even if not openly instructed by way of revelation. Such approval shows that the action is true, correct, and acceptable in His sight. In addition, even if each of his actions has not been reported by way of direct Divine revelation, Allah (swt) tells us to abide by each one of the Prophet’s (saas) words and deeds. This being the case, someone who follows an action done by the Prophet (saas) that has not been imparted by way of revelation has adhered to Allah’s (swt) instruction to obey him. Thus, such matters emanating from him actually enjoy the status of Divine revelation.
This account also supports the subject. The Prophet (saas) said:
Ibn Mas‘ud (ra), like Imam Shafi‘i (ra), has also said that anyone abiding by the Sunnah of the Prophet (saas) will thus be living by the command of the Book of Allah (swt). This is because the obligatory nature of following in the path of the Messenger of Allah (saas) is a provision set out in the Qur’an itself. Those provisions based on the ijtihad of the Prophet (saas) and approved of by Allah (swt) form part of this second section. Hanafi scholars refer to this as “non-manifest or internal revelation” (wahy batin).
Seventh proof: Ijma‘(consensus):
From the first days of Islam right up to the present we see that no mujtahid imam looking at the subject with knowledge and good conscience has ever rejected this notion, that of adhering tightly to the Sunnah and using it as a source of proof and acting in its light as due. On the contrary, we see that they have adhered closely to the Sunnah, acted in the light of the line drawn by it, encouraged others to act in its light, forbidden any opposition to it and have relied on the rules established by it both for themselves and for others. In addition, we also see that they have fiercely opposed any opposition to or trivialization of the Sunnah; indeed, they have regarded it as complementary to and explanation of the Qur’an, and that in the event any sound hadith disagreeing with an ijtihad which had previously been made on the basis of the Book or some other form of proof came to their attention they would immediately revise their opinions and consider the provision in question. It is not without reason that the beloved wife of the Prophet (saas), Aisha (ra) said: “The Prophet’s conduct was nothing but the Qur’an” (Sahih Muslim).
Indeed, the following has come down to us: “If you find any sound hadith, that is my madhhab (school). Put aside any statement of mine disagreeing with it.” (Al-Subki, Majmuat al-Rasa’il Muniriyyah, 2, 98) Most other mujtahids have reported words with a similar significance.
For the Ahl al-Hadith, the common view held by mujtahids and Islamic scholars in general is this: the Ahl al-Hadith are the greatest helpers of the religion and the most powerful protectors against the attacks and doubts of the irreligious. The enemies of basic Islamic truths are only the ahl al-bid‘ah, fajarah (wicked evil-doers) and kafirun (unbelievers).
There is a wide and overwhelming consensus (ijma‘) of opinion among Islamic scholars with regard to the subject of the Sunnah constituting proof; they have agreed on a definitive conclusion.