and Sunnah are generally taken as synonymous terms. This is not
a correct impression. The words Hadith
and Sunnah have entirely different connotations, and each one holds
a different status in the Shari`ah. If we assign the same meaning
to both the terms, it would create a lot of complications. For a proper
understanding of the science of Hadith,
therefore, it is necessary to know precisely the difference between Hadith
implies the narration of a saying, or of an act, or of an approval (Taswib)
of the Prophet (sws), irrespective of whether the matter is authenticated
or still disputed. The Muhaddithin
(the scholars of Hadith)
use the word Taqrir to express Taswib.
It implies that while doing something in the presence of the Prophet (sws),
a Muslim acted in a particular manner and the Prophet (sws) observed it
and did not disapprove it. In this way, that person received the tacit
approval of the Prophet (sws) regarding that particular action.
employ the term, Khabar for Hadith.
A Khabar bears the possibility of being either right or wrong. In
other words, the Muhaddithin
believe that a Khabar may be authentic or it may be false. On this
account, the Ahadith
(plural of Hadith)
are also termed as Zanni
(presumptive or undefined). This means that a Hadith
could be anything ranging from Sahih
to Hasan, Da`if, Mawdu`,
Therefore each one of these categories
should be treated on its own merits.
Classification of Hadith
or Khabar into two main classes:
(multiple evidence Hadith)
(single evidence Hadith)
Baghdadi, the author of "al-Kifayah
defines Khabar-i-Tawatur as
It is that Khabar which is quoted by such a large
number of persons that in normal circumstances it is impossible that on
a manifest subject so many people would, at one and the same time, agree
on a false matter, when there is no evidence of any pressure on them too.
To my knowledge, no Hadith
exists which satisfies the definition of Khabar-i-Tawatur.
Sometimes a Hadith
is assigned the status of a Khabar-i-Mashhur3.
However, on investigation, it is discovered that during a span of three
periods only one or two narrators could be established, whereas their number
was found to increase during the period of the third or fourth period.
Likewise, in my opinion, such Ahadith
as have been declared as Khabar-i-Mutawatir stand in need of investigation. If they come up to the prescribed standard,
only then should they be accepted as Mutawatir.
Without this investigation, it would not be correct to accept anything
as Mutawatir. It must, however,
be remembered that so far as the Sunnah is concerned, it does hold
the status of Tawatur (continuity),
as we shall explain further. And this Tawatur
is not verbal, but practical.
is that Khabar which is not as authentic as Khabar-i-Tawatur.
Even though the narrators in this case too be more than one, their number
is not so large that one is able to assert that there is no possibility
of doubt or falsehood in the Khabar. It is actually this category
which has contributed to the greater part of our treasure of Hadith.
Gradation of Akhbar Ahad
on the Basis of their Acceptance or Rejection
The author of "al-Kifayah"
has graded the Akhbar-i-Ahad
into three categories from the point of view of their being worthy of acceptance
(a) Narrations the veracity of which
is crystal clear.
(b) Narrations the factitious character
of which is crystal clear.
c) Narrations the character of which
we have not yet been able to determine.
Now let us elaborate on these.
(a) Narrations the Veracity of
which is Crystal Clear: The author of "al-Kifayah"
has assigned the top category to narrations which possess the following
i) Narrations which are endorsed by
human intellect and wisdom as geniune and which are readily acceptable
to common sense.
ii) Narrations which aptly elaborate
the immutable commandments of the Qur’an
iii) Narrations which have been accepted
by the Ummah.
It must be clearly understood that
"acceptance by the Ummah" in this case signifies acceptance by that
section of the Ummah which has not allowed itself to be influenced
by religious innovations (bid`at) or blind-following (taqlid).
The Prophet (sws) is said to have said:
A section of my Ummah shall invariably stick to
verity. Whosoever tries to dissociate himself from them will not be able
to harm them in any manner; so much so that when they will depart from
this world, they will still be firm in their beliefs. (Muslim: Chapter
(b) Narrations the Factitious Character
of which is Crsytal Clear: The author of "al-Kifayah"
has placed in the second category narrations that bear the following characteristics:
i) Narrations which are rejected by
human intellect and wisdom.
ii) Narrations which are contrary
to the immutable commandments of the Qur’an
and Mutawatir Sunnah,
or clash with them.
iii) Narrations which cover such important
subjects that people require positive and precise information about them
for guidance, but they do not provide such information; or narrations which
are related to some important event and, therefore, should have been narrated
by a sufficient number of narrators, but instead they are found to have
been narrated by very few of them.
In case of (`Umum-i-balwah)
ie, where the situation calls for narrations from a number of sources),
the Hanafites do not attach any importance to Akhbar-i-Ahad.
In such matters, they generally prefer Ijtihad and Qiyas (analogical deductions).
c) Narrations the Character of
which is not yet Determined
Third place in the classification
has been allotted by the author of "al-Kifayah"
to narrations which convey certain commandments of the Prophet (sws) that
are found to be contradictory and, consequently, it is difficult to decide
which version should be followed in actual practice.
In such cases, I am of the opinion
that the wording of the narrations should be carefully scrutinized in the
light of the immutable commandments of the Qur’an
and Sunnah and other aspects, and then the most suitable narration
Literally, the word ‘Sunnah’
means ‘a clear path’, ‘busy path’, ‘trodden path’, ‘beaten path’, ‘smooth
The manner in which the Almighty deals
with nations -- and which holds true for all nations -- as been termed
in the Holy Qur’an as the Sunnah
of Allah. For instance:
It was the practice [approved] of God amongst those of
old that have passed away. And the Command of God is a decree determined.
Now are they but looking for the way the ancients were
dealt with? But no change will thou find in God's way [of dealing]:
No turning off wilt thou Find in God's way [of dealing]. (35:43)
In the discussion which follows, we are
going to discuss the Sunnah of the Prophet (sws). This means the
way of life which the Prophet (sws) taught the people in theory and practice
and for which, in his capacity as a teacher of Shari`ah (Islamic
Law), he laid down ideal standards of leading a life which one should meet
to earn Allah's approval through complete submission to His Commandments.
This assignment was a necessary corollary to his status as a Prophet and
has been mentioned in the Holy Qur’an
God did confer a great favour on the Believers when He
sent among them a Prophet from among themselves, rehearsing unto them the
Signs of God, purifying them and instructing them in Scripture and Wisdom,
while before that they had been in manifest error. (3:164)
You have indeed in the Prophet of God a beautiful pattern
[of conduct] for anyone whose hope is in God and the Final Day, and who
engages much in the praise of God. (33:21)
No doubt, in every sphere of life we have
before us ideal examples set by the Prophet (sws) for our guidance. Whatever
Commandments and rules of conduct of Islam we are supposed to know and
learn have been demonstrated by him for us through actual practice.
The view point of those who do not
believe in the Sunnah viz that the role of the Prophet (sws) is
simply that of a courier who delivers the post is absolutely baseless and
nonsensical. The Prophet (sws) is not only the Messenger who delivered
the Book to humanity, but is simultaneously a Mu`allim-i-Shari`ah
(teacher of the Shari’ah) and Muzakki-i-Nufus,
(purifier of souls). His entire life is the highest ideal for us, and we
can cast our lives in a truly righteous and Islamic mould only if we follow
in his footsteps in each and every sphere of life.
Need for Sunnah
The religion with which we have been
blessed by Almighty Allah through the Qur’an
only lays down broadly the fundamentals for life. It does not embrace all
the details of expositions thereof. Comprehensive education of the Ummah
in the matter of details has been left entirely to the Mu`allim-i-Qur’an,
the Prophet (sws) himself. The overall structure of Islam has been raised
and completed through the Sunnah of the Prophet (sws). For instance,
basic commandments with regarding prayers, fasts, pilgrimage, zakat
and other obligations and rites have, no doubt, been laid down in the Holy
Qur’an. However, there are
no details mentioned on any of these subjects; so much so that the Qur’an
does not even mention the details of such an extremely important matter
as prayers, for example their timings, total number, and the number of
rak`ats in each prayer. The same is true of all other modes of worship
and of other commandments and laws. For instance, the Qur’an
lays down the cutting of the hands as a penalty for theft. However, the
details have been left to the Prophet (sws) to explain -- as what is the
definition of `theft' with reference to the value thereof, or what is the
point where the hand should be severed etc. Now if we rule out Sunnah
as a source of Islam, we might acquire a good knowledge of its fundamentals,
but we would remain ignorant of their practical version in the same manner
as were the followers of the Din of
Prophet Abraham (sws) during the pre-Islamic dark ages. Some of them had
reclined against the walls of the Ka`bah and had cried out: `O,
Allah, we know not the right way to worship You. If only we knew it, we
would have done so accordingly'. This explains that it is but the Sunnah
which elaborates the Qur’an.
That is why the Prophet (sws) has observed:
I have been given the Qur’an and besides it, something similar to it. (Abu
al-Sunnah, Ch 6)
Therefore, the Sunnah is binding
on us as much as the Qur’an
itself. Allah the Almighty appointed for us the Messenger for this very
purpose so that the Qur’an
does not remain ambiguous, but is revealed to mankind in a perfectly tangible
and ideal form -- and by actually acting upon the word of the Book, the
Messenger did just that.
We can see, therefore, that the relation
between the Qur’an and Sunnah
is that of the soul and the body. In other words, the soul or the spirit
of the Qur’an is given, in
the Sunnah of the Prophet (sws), a form for its display. Both go
together to complete the splendid edifice of Islam. Take away any one of
them, and the whole structure falls apart.
Interrelation Between the Qur’an
and Sunnah: A Natural Affiliation
The interrelation which has been established
between the Qur’an and Sunnah
by the Almighty Allah is not a casual matter. On the contrary, this is
what is demanded by common sense and wisdom. Human affairs know no bounds
and cannot possibly be confined to a single book. To cover everything,
you need unlimited records.
Secondly, there are things in which
it is not enough to teach them in theory alone. They must be demonstrated
practically. Otherwise, simply imparting verbal education on such matters
cannot be very fruitful. In fact, matters which call for practical demonstration
can hardly be elucidated orally. It was for this mission that the Prophet
(sws) was chosen, followed by a chain of Companions and later other luminaries
held aloft the torch of the Din of
Allah on earth. It is, therefore, very essential that the religious minded
people devoted to spreading the light of the Din
of Allah do their utmost to act upon the Sunnah of the Prophet (sws).
They must be meticulous in this regard even in minor matters so that they
can inspire others too to live up to the Sunnah of the Prophet (sws).
The Sphere of the Sunnah
In this connection, it must be clearly
understood that the Sunnah is purely related to the practical aspects
of life, ie, actions which are a part of our daily lives. Matters which
concern beliefs or issues of academic interest are outside its domain.
For instance Sunnah has nothing to do with articles of faith, history,
occasion for revelation of the Qur’anic
The Sunnah is not Based on the Ahadith
The Sunnah has not been founded
which have an inherent prospect of either being right or wrong, as we have
seen in the foregoing pages. On the contrary, it is based on the perpetual
adherence of the Ummah to it. Just as the veracity of the Qur’an
is proved by perpetuity in verbal adherence, likewise the veracity of Sunnah
is equally proved by the Ummah's perpetuity in practical adherence
to it. For instance, we have not adopted the prayers, pilgrimage etc, in
all their details because a few narrators explained them to us, but we
act in a particular manner because the Prophet (sws) acted accordingly.
Thereafter, through him learnt the Companions, and through them learnt
the followers of the Companions, and then the successors thereof learnt
through the followers. In this manner, the later generations continued
to learn through their earlier predecessors. In case, the narrative records
also testify to this effect, it should be taken as additional testimony.
However, if the narrations are found to vary in any manner, preference
shall, in any case, go to the perpetual adherence to practice. If it is
observed that in a certain case the Akhbar-i-Ahad differ from the Sunnah, reasons for variation shall be investigated.
However, if the variation cannot be explained, we shall be obliged to give
up the narrations, since in any case the latter are presumptive, whereas
in comparison the Sunnah is a categorical reality.
The creed of the Malki
School of Fiqh whereby they prefer the practice of the people of Madina to Akhbar-i-Ahad,
is based on this very principle. They regard the practice of the people
of Madina as a conclusive evidence
and say `among us the Sunnah is like this'. The Hanafites, likewise,
do not attach any importance to Akhbar-i-Ahad on problems which relate to `Umum-i-Balwah,
and do so with the same principle in view.
We must bear in mind the fact that
the perpetual adherence to practical issues by the Ummah means the
practice of the Prophet (sws), that of the Rightly Guided Caliphs, and
of the Companions of the Prophet (may Allah's blessings be upon them all).
Says the Holy Prophet (sws):
Acting upon my Sunnah and the Sunnah of
my Rightly Guided Caliphs is obligatory for you. (Ibn Majah, Ch 6)
This is the group which is, in fact, the
mainstream of the Muslim Ummah. In our times, a very large section
of the people have adopted practices which are evidently contrary to the
Qur’an and Sunnah. They
are all in the category of heretics. And with regard to heresy the Prophet
(sws) has said that heresy is deviation, and this deviation leads to Hell-fire.
A Question to Non-Believers of the Sunnah
Those who reject the Sunnah
claim to believe in the Qur’an,
and still deny the Sunnah. It is hard to understand their logic,
since, as the Qur’an is proved
by the verbal adherence of the Ummah, likewise the Sunnah
is proved by the practical adherence of the Ummah. If these people
reject the Sunnah, there is no justification to accept the Qur’an.
There is hardly any difference in the credentials of either.
It is rather important that the difference
and Sunnah, elucidated in the foregoing pages, be kept in mind.
When this difference was overlooked, the result was that the denial of
a few Ahadith
was construed to mean the denial of the Sunnah. Thereafter, whatever
doubts were invented against the Hadith
by the non-believers of Hadith
were extended by them to deny the Sunnah as well, though the denial
of the Sunnah is tantamount to denial of the Qur’an
itself, as already explained.
Those who are familiar with the history
of the denial of Hadith
are fully aware that this mischief actually raised its head over a few
of anomalous nature. However, later on this matter turned into a hot-bed
of debates; in the heat of arguments people lost sight of the difference
and Sunnah. In such battles of wits, the attacking party failed
to realize what they were attacking; nor did the defenders knew what exactly
they had to defend and wasted their energies on a different front. In their
ignorance, either side ended up in a loss. The non-believers of Hadith
stretched their doctrines so far as to touch the bounds of Kufr (disbelief),
and the supporters of Hadith,
on the other hand quite unnecessarily dragged the Sunnah as well
along with the Hadith
into the firing-range.
In Any Practice the Sunnah can Vary
The common man appears to be unaware
of the fact that in case of one particular issue there can be more than
one Sunnah. Owing to ignorance on this point, the followers of Sunnah
themselves are divided into different sects, and continue to accuse one
another of disregarding the Sunnah. However, if they are fair to
themselves in this regard, it should not be hard for them to comprehend
that a Sunnah can vary on any single issue.
It has been narrated that on the occasion
of his last pilgrimage to Makkah, the Prophet (sws) sat down at
one place, and people started to approach him in the form of groups for
guidance. Some one explained that he had acted on a certain issue in such
and such manner. The Prophet (sws) replied that there was no harm in it.
Another one observed that in a particular issue he had acted in such and
such manner. The Prophet (sws) approved that action too. Likewise, people
approached him one after the other and asked his opinion on the manner
they had been acting on different matters; according to the narrations,
the Prophet (sws) approved all the different ways of practice of the people
and disapproved none.
Apparently the reason for this could
only be that they must have all been acting within the sphere of the Sunnah.
While carefully preserving the core and essence of a practice, if there
happens to be some variation in its outward form, that practice cannot
be said to have overstepped the limits of Sunnah.
For instance the narrations with regard
are all associated with Companions who were authorities on Fiqh
(Islamic jurisprudence). Although the wording of each one differs, the
spirit underlying each is identical. Now supposing a person chooses to
adopt that Tashahhud which
is associated with Hadrat
'Umar or Hadrat
'Abdullah Ibn 'Umar, and does not adopt the one practised by Hadrat
`Aishah or Hadrat
'Abdullah Ibn Mas`ud (May Allah's blessings be upon them), would it
be justified if we declare his action contrary to the Sunnah? One
can of course discuss, as a point of academic interest, the practice which
might be preferred and the merits thereof. But how can one reject any of
these practices as going against the Sunnah?
To my mind, the same is the position
with regard to the word Amen -- reciting the word Amen audibly and reciting
Amen mutely during the course of prayers; or with regard to folding the
arms below the chest or letting the arms down loose during the prayers.
There is a possibility, even evidence, of these different practices being
reckoned as the Sunnah. In fact, we do have arguments supporting
their status as Sunnah. Owing to certain factors for which this
is not the occasion for elaboration, some of these practices gained greater
popularity than others at certain places. However, none of them can be
set aside as being repugnant to the Sunnah. At the most, one can
raise the question of the degree of emphasis being laid on a particular
practice vis-a-vis others. But one just cannot deny it the status of Sunnah.
(Translated from Mubadi Tadabbur-i-Hadith
by S. A. Rauf)