The Significance of Sunna or Hadith of the Prophet
Journal of THE ISLAMIC UNIVERSITY of MADINAH MUNAWWARAH – 1403 A.H
Sunna or Hadith is the second source from which the teachings of Islam are drawn. In effect, it covers the sayings, the practices and actions of the Prophet, and also his silent approval of the action or practice of another. Allah has ordained the obedience of His messenger.
Several verses of the Quran may be quoted in this effect which go to prove that Sunna or Hadith provided the second source of the principles of the religion.
It is incumbent in Muslims to act upon it in demonstration of their obedience to Allah and His messenger. It is abandonment, on the other hand, would be a repudiation of Allah’s Book and a rejection of Hid ordinance as set out in the following verses of the Holy Quran:
هَـٰذَا بَلَـٰغٌ۬ لِّلنَّاسِ وَلِيُنذَرُواْ بِهِۦ وَلِيَعۡلَمُوٓاْ أَنَّمَا هُوَ إِلَـٰهٌ۬ وَٲحِدٌ۬ وَلِيَذَّكَّرَ أُوْلُواْ ٱلۡأَلۡبَـٰبِ
(This is a clear message for mankind in order that they may be warned thereby, and that they may know that He is only One God, and that men of understanding may take heed.) (14: 52)
وَأَقِيمُواْ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ وَءَاتُواْ ٱلزَّكَوٰةَ وَأَطِيعُواْ ٱلرَّسُولَ لَعَلَّڪُمۡ تُرۡحَمُونَ
(Establish worship and pay the poor-due and obey the messenger, that haply ye may find mercy.)
(24 : 56)
مَّآ أَفَآءَ ٱللَّهُ عَلَىٰ رَسُولِهِۦ مِنۡ أَهۡلِ ٱلۡقُرَىٰ فَلِلَّهِ وَلِلرَّسُولِ وَلِذِى ٱلۡقُرۡبَىٰ وَٱلۡيَتَـٰمَىٰ وَٱلۡمَسَـٰكِينِ وَٱبۡنِ ٱلسَّبِيلِ كَىۡ لَا يَكُونَ دُولَةَۢ بَيۡنَ
ٱلۡأَغۡنِيَآءِ مِنكُمۡۚ وَمَآ ءَاتَٮٰكُمُ ٱلرَّسُولُ فَخُذُوهُ وَمَا نَہَٮٰكُمۡ عَنۡهُ فَٱنتَهُواْۚ وَٱتَّقُواْ ٱللَّهَۖ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ شَدِيدُ ٱلۡعِقَابِ
(That which Allah giveth as spoil unto His messenger from the people of the townships, it is for Allah and His messenger and for the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer, that it become not a commodity between the rich among you. And whatsoever the messenger giveth you, take it. And whatsoever he forbiddeth, abstain (from it). And keep your duty to Allah. Lo! Allah is stern in reprisal)(59 : 7)
وَمَن يُطِعِ ٱللَّهَ وَٱلرَّسُولَ فَأُوْلَـٰٓٮِٕكَ مَعَ ٱلَّذِينَ أَنۡعَمَ ٱللَّهُ عَلَيۡہِم مِّنَ ٱلنَّبِيِّـۧنَ وَٱلصِّدِّيقِينَ وَٱلشُّہَدَآءِ وَٱلصَّـٰلِحِينَۚ وَحَسُنَ أُوْلَـٰٓٮِٕكَ رَفِيقً۬ا
(Whoso obeyeth Allah and the messenger, they are with those unto whom Allah hath shown favour, of the prophets and the saints and the martyrs and the righteous. The best of company are they!) (4 : 69)
مَّن يُطِعِ ٱلرَّسُولَ فَقَدۡ أَطَاعَ ٱللَّهَۖ وَمَن تَوَلَّىٰ فَمَآ أَرۡسَلۡنَـٰكَ عَلَيۡهِمۡ حَفِيظً۬ا
(Whoso obeyeth the messenger hath obeyed Allah, and whoso turneth away: We have not sent thee as a warder over them) (4 : 80)
إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ وَمَلَـٰٓٮِٕڪَتَهُ ۥ يُصَلُّونَ عَلَى ٱلنَّبِىِّۚ يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ صَلُّواْ عَلَيۡهِ وَسَلِّمُواْ تَسۡلِيمًا
(Lo! Allah and His angels shower blessings on the Prophet. O ye who believe! Ask blessings on him and salute him with a worthy salutation.) (33 : 56)
ٱلَّذِينَ يَتَّبِعُونَ ٱلرَّسُولَ ٱلنَّبِىَّ ٱلۡأُمِّىَّ ٱلَّذِى يَجِدُونَهُ ۥ مَكۡتُوبًا عِندَهُمۡ فِى ٱلتَّوۡرَٮٰةِ وَٱلۡإِنجِيلِ يَأۡمُرُهُم بِٱلۡمَعۡرُوفِ وَيَنۡہَٮٰهُمۡ عَنِ ٱلۡمُنڪَرِ
وَيُحِلُّ لَهُمُ ٱلطَّيِّبَـٰتِ وَيُحَرِّمُ عَلَيۡهِمُ ٱلۡخَبَـٰٓٮِٕثَ وَيَضَعُ عَنۡهُمۡ إِصۡرَهُمۡ وَٱلۡأَغۡلَـٰلَ ٱلَّتِى كَانَتۡ عَلَيۡهِمۡۚ فَٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ بِهِۦ وَعَزَّرُوهُ وَنَصَرُوهُ
وَٱتَّبَعُواْ ٱلنُّورَ ٱلَّذِىٓ أُنزِلَ مَعَهُ ۥۤۙ أُوْلَـٰٓٮِٕكَ هُمُ ٱلۡمُفۡلِحُونَ
(Those who follow the messenger, the Prophet who can neither read nor write, whom they will find described in the Torah and the Gospel (which are) with them. He will enjoin on them that which is right and forbid them that which is wrong. He will make lawful for them all good things and prohibit for them only the foul; and he will relieve them of their burden and the fetters that they used to wear. Then those who believe in him, and honour him, and help him, and follow the light which is sent down with him: they are the successful.) (7 : 157)
إِنَّمَا ٱلۡمُؤۡمِنُونَ ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ بِٱللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِۦ وَإِذَا ڪَانُواْ مَعَهُ ۥ عَلَىٰٓ أَمۡرٍ۬ جَامِعٍ۬ لَّمۡ يَذۡهَبُواْ حَتَّىٰ يَسۡتَـٔۡذِنُوهُۚ إِنَّ ٱلَّذِينَ يَسۡتَـٔۡذِنُونَكَ
أُوْلَـٰٓٮِٕكَ ٱلَّذِينَ يُؤۡمِنُونَ بِٱللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِۦۚ فَإِذَا ٱسۡتَـٔۡذَنُوكَ لِبَعۡضِ شَأۡنِهِمۡ فَأۡذَن لِّمَن شِئۡتَ مِنۡهُمۡ وَٱسۡتَغۡفِرۡ لَهُمُ ٱللَّهَۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ غَفُورٌ۬ رَّحِيمٌ۬
(They only are the true believers who believe in Allah and His messenger and, when they are with him on some common errand, go not away until they have asked leave of him. Lo! thosewho ask leave of thee, those are they who believe in Allah and His messenger. So, if they ask thy leave for some affair of theirs, give leave to whom thou wilt of them, and ask for them forgiveness of Allah. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.) (24 : 62)
Now the Quran had made it clear that obedience to the Prophet is a pre- requisite of true faith, and it has also given order in conjunction with caution for prospective offenders. The Holy Quran, however is the first source and the structure on which the Sunna is based. It therefore, provides the origin of all proofs as the Almighty God said :
إِنَّآ أَنزَلۡنَآ إِلَيۡكَ ٱلۡكِتَـٰبَ بِٱلۡحَقِّ لِتَحۡكُمَ بَيۡنَ ٱلنَّاسِ بِمَآ أَرَٮٰكَ ٱللَّهُۚ وَلَا تَكُن لِّلۡخَآٮِٕنِينَ خَصِيمً۬ا
(Lo! We reveal unto thee the Scripture with the truth, that thou mayst judge between mankind by that which Allah showeth thee. And be not thou a pleader for the treacherous;)(4 : 105)
وَيَوۡمَ نَبۡعَثُ فِى كُلِّ أُمَّةٍ۬ شَهِيدًا عَلَيۡهِم مِّنۡ أَنفُسِہِمۡۖ وَجِئۡنَا بِكَ شَہِيدًا عَلَىٰ هَـٰٓؤُلَآءِۚ وَنَزَّلۡنَا عَلَيۡكَ ٱلۡكِتَـٰبَ تِبۡيَـٰنً۬ا لِّكُلِّ شَىۡءٍ۬ وَهُدً۬ى وَرَحۡمَةً۬
(And (bethink you of) the day when We raise in every nation a witness against them of their own folk, and We bring thee (Muhammad) as a witness against these. And We reveal the Scripture unto thee as an exposition of all things, and a guidance and a mercy and good tidings for those who have surrendered (to Allah).) (16 : 89)
وَمَآ أَنزَلۡنَا عَلَيۡكَ ٱلۡكِتَـٰبَ إِلَّا لِتُبَيِّنَ لَهُمُ ٱلَّذِى ٱخۡتَلَفُواْ فِيهِۙ وَهُدً۬ى وَرَحۡمَةً۬ لِّقَوۡمٍ۬ يُؤۡمِنُونَ
(And We have revealed the Scripture unto thee only that thou mayst explain unto them that wherein they differ, and (as) a guidance and a mercy for a people who believe) (16 : 64)
بِٱلۡبَيِّنَـٰتِ وَٱلزُّبُرِۗ وَأَنزَلۡنَآ إِلَيۡكَ ٱلذِّڪۡرَ لِتُبَيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ مَا نُزِّلَ إِلَيۡہِمۡ وَلَعَلَّهُمۡ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ
(With clear proofs and writings; and We have revealed unto thee the Remembrance that thou mayst explain to mankind that which hath been revealed for them, and that haply they may reflect. ) (16:44)
Thus the Holy Quran is given precedence over the Sunna as a basis of the religion and a source of its basic principles. The Sunna or the Hadith becomes subservient to it and interpreter of its rulings.
This is due to the certainty of the contents of the Holy Quran both as a whole and in detail, which is not the case with the Hadith. The latter could be deemed certain only if viewed as a whole and not in detail, for while the Prophet’s sayings, acts and rulings are sure to have imanated from him and constituted what is known as Sunnah, no particular one of them could be taken for granted unless it has been commonly reported, which is a rare case, or otherwise presumed through study and the consideration of available evidence by news reporting and verification rules.
The Quran therefore, should have a precedence over the Hadith, being definitely certain and not supposed. The Companions of the Prophet after his death, are reported to have been used whenever a case was referred to them or advice, to consult the Holy Quran the first place then the Sunna in the absence of a relevant Quranic ruling, otherwise they contrived an opinion of their own if they failed to find the answer in the Sunna. This procedure had received the Prophet’s approbiation. If we consider to what extent can teachings of Islam, its principles and its laws, be drawn from the Sunna of the Prophet, we can see that the Holy Quran generally deals with the broad principles or essentials of religion, and going into details in very rare cases. The details were generally supplied by the Prophet himself, either showing in his practice how an injunction shall be carried out or by giving an explanation in words.
Since Islam covered the whole sphere of human activities, many points had to be explained by the Prophet by his example in action and word.
On the moral side his was the pattern which every Muslim was required to follow. The Holy Quran has made clear this point in the following verse:
لَّقَدۡ كَانَ لَكُمۡ فِى رَسُولِ ٱللَّهِ أُسۡوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ۬ لِّمَن كَانَ يَرۡجُواْ ٱللَّهَ وَٱلۡيَوۡمَ ٱلۡأَخِرَ وَذَكَرَ ٱللَّهَ كَثِيرً۬ا
(Verily in the messenger of Allah ye have a good example for him who looketh unto Allah and the Last Day, and remembereth Allah much.) (33: 21)
Every Muslim, therefore, stood in need of both the Holy Quran and Hadith.
To clear this point we can take as examples two most important religious institutions of Islam; Prayer and Zakat. When the injunctions related to prayer and zakat were delivered no details were supplied, and it was the Prophet himself who by his own actions gave the details of the performances of the Prayer. And yet it was the Prophet who gave the detail rules and regulations for the payment and collection of Zakat. These are but two examples.
The companions of the Prophet knew well that his actions and practices were to be followed, should no express direction be met with in the Holy Quran. It is related that MuadIbnJabal, on being appointed governor of Yemen by the Prophet, was asked how he would judge cases, his reply was, ‘by the book of Allah’. Asked what he would do if he did not find a direction in the Book of Allah, he replied: ‘by the Sunna of the Apostle of Allah’. And what he would do if he did not again find a direction in the Sunna, he replied : ‘I will then contrive an opinion’. Where upon the Prophet approvingly said: ‘Thanks be to God for having guided the emissary of God’s messenger to God’s path’.
The Sunna was therefore recognized in the lifetime of the Prophet as affording in religious matters. The need of the Sunna, its force as law, and its preservation are all traceable to the lifetime of the Prophet. A special importance was, from their first, attached to his sayings amd deeds which were looked upon as a source of guidance by his followers. They were conscious of the fact that these things must be preserved for future generations. Hence they not only kept them in their memory but even restored to write them down for their preservation.
The companions of the Prophet while translating into practice his sayings endeavoured also to preserve them in memory as well as in writing. It is, however, a fact that whatever the companions heard from the lips of the Prophet they tried to keep in their memory as it was chief means of their preservation. It is reported that the Prophet sometimes objected to the writing don of the Hadith, lest it be mixed up with Holy Quran, as it clear from the following report:
The transmission of the Hadith or practices and sayings of the Prophet from one person to another, thus become necessary during the Prophet’s lifetime. In fact, the Prophet himself used to give instructions with regard to the transmission of what he taught. There are ample historical evidences that whenever a people embraced Islam, the Prophet used to send to them one or more of His Companions who not only taught them the Holy Quran but also explained to them how the injunctions of the Holy book were to be carried out in practice. It is also on record that people came to the Prophet and demanded teachers who could teach them the Quran and the Sunna.
“ AbuHuraira is reported to have said : The Prophet of God came to us while we were writing Hadith and said: What it is this that you are writing? We said : Hadith which we hear from you. He said : What ! a book other than the Book of Allah ? You should well know that people before you have missed the path of righteousness because of what they had written besides God’s Book”
Now the objection of the Prophet to the writing down of the Hadith clearly shows fear lest Hadith be mixed up with the Holy Quran, though there was nothing wrong in writing down the Hadith, nor did the Prophet ever forbid it being done, on the other hand, as late as conquest of Makkah we find him giving orders himself for the writing down of a certain Hadith at the request of a hearer. What he feared as the report clearly shows, was that if his sayings were written down generally like the Quran, the two might get confused together, and the purity of the text of the Quran be effected. On the other hand, memory was a reliable means for the preservation of Hadith for the Holy Quran itself was safely preserved in the memory of the Companions of the Prophet in addition to being committed to writing.
The arab had a wonderfully retentive memory, and he had to store up his knowledge of countless things in his memory. In fact, had the Holy Quran been simply preserved in writing, it could not have been handed down intact to future generations. The aid of memory was invoked to make the purity of the text of the Quran doubly sure. Some scholars held the view that the objection to writing down Hadith was only in the early years of Islam when a confusion of the Hadith with the Quran was feared. For the only writing material then that time was leaves and stones which provided only a limited writing space, were the Quran and the Hadith if written together, could be so confused. However, when the Quran later spread among the People, and it was memorized and could be identified, there was no longer any possibility of confusion and the restriction on recording was lifted.
The Companions of the Prophet, their followers and disciples exercised great caution and prudence ion accepting and transmitting reports. Pious and God fearing, they were careful in quoting the Prophet for what he sought to inculcate in them in the way of interpretations of God’s religion, verdicts in reply to questions put to him, or judgements in the disputes he considered. Such was their wonted habit whenever such reports or questions were needed in connection with some incident referred to them. Many of them were also careful to report Hadith in the same words as they had heard from the Prophet except where the wording was forgotten. In the latter case some of the Prophet’s companions took the liberty of transmission according to meaning due to acknowledgement that the text was not the same pronounced by the Prophet.
Most of the collectors of Hadith paid more attention to the investigation of the narrators than the other critical test, and they were justified in this, for their object was to produce reliable collection of Hadith and, therefore, their first concern was to see that the Hadith could be authentically traced back to the Prophet through a trustworthy chain of narrators, the more difficult it would have been to test their reliability, other tests could be applied to any Hadith at any time, and the laps of a thousand years could in no way affect the value of the tests, but the passing away of another century would have rendered the task of examination of the chain of narrators so difficult as to be for all practical purposes impossible. Hence the collectors of Hadith rightly focused their attention on the test. Nor did the work of collecting the Hadith close the door to further critisicm.
The above explanation would determine the role of Sunna or Hadith of the Prophet in expounding Islamic rulings, as a principle of the Religion and the second source of Islamic legislation. And its abandonment would be rejection of the ordinance of the Holy Quran itself as set out in the above Quoted verses. This represents the unanimous attitude and practice of true Muslims at the time of the Prophet and in subsequent.