THE INSTITUTION OF THE

SUNNAH


By Al Haj Maulana Shaheedullah
(formerly J.G. Lenanard of U.K.)


       It has become the common practice in modern times for Western-educated people in Islamic countries to claim to be able to re-interpret Islam by reference to the Holy Qur'aan only, disregarding entirely the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (May the blessings and peace of God be upon him) on one pretext or another. Unwittingly or wittingly by this means they strike at the very foundation of Islam on which it has been firmly based for the last fourteen centuries. The aim of these attempts is to reduce Islam to a set of general principles, many of which are of their own conception, or derived from their study of western literature, and so to enable them to live a life patterned on Western Europe while fixing the label of Islam to it. This practice has become so common in its various forms that it is time that the position of the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet of Islam (may the blessings and peace of God be upon him) be made clear to those Muslims, who for lack of essential knowledge of the structure of the religion of Islam may be entered into this misguided way of thinking. The spread of these so-called "modern" ideas would have incalculably disastrous effects on the thought and practice, and collective life of the world of Islam.


       It should be well understood that the exponents of this new-fangled theory (new-fangled with relation to the original authorities of Islam, though it has been tried out on various occasions in Islamic History) are themselves entirely devoid of the essential knowledge required for expressing any opinion about Islam. The Holy Qur'aan has been studied in translation and there is no solid grounding in the Arabic language. The books of Hadiths and the earliest sources of Islamic law have not been studied at all, Even Islamic history is only known at third or fourth-hand. How anyone with such a hopelessly inadequate preparation can have the effrontery to pontificate about such a deep subject as Islam is one of the tragedies of the modern era. In previous more enlightened times he would have been dismissed as a mischievous ignoramus, but today even the flimsiest superficiality passes for learning, and mere mental aberrations for thought. History is blatantly contradicted, logic is flouted, as if these two essentials of intelligent human thinking are of no value. Indeed, they are of no value to those who wish to put forward pure fictions of their imagination as truth, for history and logic are their worst enemies.


       We intend to show here that the Sunnat of the Holy Prophet is an integral part of Islam in addition to the Holy Qur'aan. No one denies or can deny that the Holy Qur'aan is the foundation of Islam being the direct word of God to man. All principles of thought and action, spirituality and morality, private and social life in Islam are ultimately derived from the Holy Book. But the Holy Book itself was sent through the Holy Prophet (May the blessings and peace of God be upon him). In fact the Holy Prophet is the guarantee of the Holy Book. It is necessary, in order to be a Messenger of God, to be free from any possibility of error and deviation, for any possibility of error would affect the reliability of the Holy Book. This is why the profession of faith of a Muslim consists of two fundamentals only, belief in the divinity and unity of God and the truth of the Prophethood of Muhammad (May the blessings and peace of God be upon him). The truth of the Holy Qur'aan follows from these two basic postulates, and so is not mentioned separately. But perhaps our present-day "reformers" do not accept the "Good Word" (Kalima Tayyiba) which has from the beginning been the mark distinguishing the believer from the unbeliever, for it is not mentioned in the Holy Qur'aan. To what depths of absurdity the misused logic of man can sink!


       A Messenger of God, being necessarily free from error, receives continuous and permanent guidance from God. This guidance has been described most meaningfully by God Himself in the Holy Qur'aan:


"Thou art indeed of the envoys, on a straight path" (36 iii & iv).


The Holy Prophet cannot take any step but that it will be on the straight path; it is impossible for him to deviate from the path even an inch on to a crooked one. God has elucidated the meaning of this straight path on another occasion:


"Indeed, my Lord is on a straight path" (111 vii).


       It is the path of God, the path of truth and guidance, and the Holy Prophet has been assured by God that he is without question and without intermission on this path. Not only this, God also states of Himself that:


"He guides whom He will to a straight path" (2, cxlii),


       and then again assures the Holy Prophet that:


"Thou indeed guidest to a straight path" (4,lii),


i.e., not only the Holy Prophet himself is on the straight path, but his guidance too has been confirmed by God's guidance. The Holy Prophet, like all Muslims used to pray:


"Guide us to the straight path"


in the Sura-Al-Fatiha, for the continuous guidance he received was not of himself, but of God, and as servant of God he was continually in need of it, but God has in his case permanently granted this prayer in the Qur'aan itself:


"Thou art indeed of the envoys, on a straight path," (36, iii & iv).


It is established by these verses of God's word that the Holy Prophet (May the blessings and peace of God be upon him) is guided permanently and absolutely by God, and this guidance is not merely confined to the receiving and transmitting of the Holy Qur'aan. God's assurance in this regard is without any provisions or limitations. But the "modernists" not only claim that the guidance given to the Holy Prophet is confined to the Qur'aan, but also that his function as a Prophet is confined to the delivering of the Holy Qur'aan, that the rest of his activities were only carried on in the capacity of the leader of the community, and consequently have no permanent significance. But God has given us a Book "in which there is no doubt," and the Prophet's functions have been enumerated in detail.


"Allaah hath indeed shown grace to the believers in sending them a messenger from among themselves who reciteth unto them His revelations, purifieth them, and teacheth them the Book and wisdom" (3.clxiv).


Here God has told us of four functions of the Holy Prophet, of which only the first refers to the Holy Qur'aan, "reciting His revelations," the other three are besides this, of "purifying," "teaching the Book," and "teaching wisdom." These four functions have been described as the purpose for which God has sent the Messenger, and God's guidance to man will he fulfilled and completed by all and not by one only. All these functions are therefore part of God's guidance through the person of the Holy Prophet (May the peace and blessings of God be upon him). The purpose of sending the Messenger is, apart from "reciting His revelations", firstly to "purify" them, for the proper understanding of the Book and "wisdom", and the ability to put them into practice is unattainable unless a purification of the heart, the centre of the will and intention, has not been already achieved. This purification consists of the spiritual influence of the Holy Prophet's personality; and his continual exhortations to the believers by word and example in the light of the Qur'aan to purify their thoughts and deeds. The next stage after this purification is the "teaching of the Book", that is, apply it to the circumstances of human life in the most excellent way. Finally, the "teaching of wisdom" refers to the development into a science of certain subjects treated in general in the Holy Qur'aan, such as spiritual science, moral science, the science of the Shariat, of Government, etc., regarding all of which we can find valuable guidance both theoretical and practical from the Holy Prophet (may the blessings and peace of God be upon him). These four main functions of the Holy Prophet have been instituted and carried out by the command and under the guidance of God Himself, and constitute an integral part of God's message to mankind. To state that only the first function is of permanent significance is simply to flout the Word of God.


       The Holy Qur'aan is not only "without any doubt" but it is also a "clear Book", and the basic principles of the Islamic faith have been stated by God in the most unmistakable terms. The status and importance of the Sunnah have been decisively asserted in the following verse:


"You have indeed in the Messenger of God a good example for him who looks forward to God and the Last Day, and remembers God much" (33,xxi).


By the use of this expression "a good example" (Uswa-i-Hasana) God has given the Sunnat and the Hadiths of the Holy Prophet (May the blessings and peace of God be upon him) a permanent and vital position in the religion of Islam, and further has mentioned as the qualification of those who will appreciate and accept this position that they look forward to meeting with God and to the Last Day, and as a result always remember God. Following the Holy Prophet's example has been made a part of faith, an accompaniment to faith in God and the Last Day, and anyone who does not accept and follow this example cannot claim, by the evidence of the Word of God itself, to be complete in faith. Here the word "example" has been used absolutely not limited to any particular aspect of the Holy Prophet's life, and so covers his words, his deeds, his permissions and prohibitions, his private and public behaviour, his worship and his administration, his moral qualities and his manners.


       The Holy Prophet's Sunnah is hereby elevated to the position of a divine institution in Islam, and his sayings a divinely authorised interpretation of God's message. In the verse discussed previously, God stated:


"God hath indeed shown grace to the believers in sending them a messenger from
among themselves who reciteth unto them his revelations, and purifieth them, and
teacheth them the Book and wisdom."


The special grace shown to the believers in the Final Message of God to mankind is that God has not only sent an authoritative Book in which the principles of faith and practice are laid down, but in order to make the "straight path" more clearly distinguished and easier to travel, has also sent a living example to show the perfect expression of these principles in human life; in others words, God has granted us that special grace of sending us both the principles and their application. The Holy Qur'aan is the verbal message and the Holy Prophet (May the blessings and peace of God be upon him) is the human message, the projection of the verbal message into the sphere of human behaviour. God has stated that those who look forward to meeting Him and to the Last Day, and who remember Him much, will certainly accept this human message, and the more their faith and their remembrance become firmly established, the more they will be able to profit by it and to identify themselves with it. Those Muslims from the Companions onwards who have always treated the following of the Sunnat as an article of faith were not merely acting on their personal opinion, they were obeying the clear injunctions of the Holy Book, and this explains the utmost care they took to preserve the Holy Prophet's practice and sayings and transmit them to those who came after.


       We have seen that God has defined the functions of the Holy Prophet, and set up his personality in all its aspects as a model in which Muslims should pattern their lives. It remains to discover exactly to what extent this duty has been laid upon them. The reply to this question is immediately forthcoming:


"Obey God and obey the Prophet" (5,xcii),


where we are told that just as Godís orders in the Holy Book are worthy of obedience, so are the interpretations and applications of God's orders by the Prophet equally binding on the Muslim Community. In fact, God's orders and the orders of the Holy Prophet based on them are essentially one, for:


"Whoever obeys the Prophet, he has obeyed God" (4,lxxx).


It is part of God's infinite wisdom and kindness towards mankind that the main principles of Islam have been stated clearly in the Holy Book, while the application of these principles has been left to the Holy Prophet, but the Holy Prophet's orders are authorised and confirmed by God, so that obedience to the Holy Prophet's order is really obedience to God.


       It is plain from the preceding examination of the Sunnat in Islam and of what Muslims attitude should be towards it, that the whole life of the Holy Prophet (May the blessings and peace of God be upon him) is inspired by God, that he is perfectly guided at every moment by Divine Revelation. It would be impossible otherwise for God to hold him up as an unfailing example to mankind, or to order implicit obedience to him. But the highly illogical stand of the "modernists" is that revelation is confined only to the Holy Qur'aan. This stand, as has already been shown is quite untenable in the light of God's commands to the Muslim Community regarding the personality of the Holy Prophet but it is untenable also for the reason that the Holy Qur'aan makes it quite clear that revelation (Wahy) is not confined to Books of God, but is a continuous process in the lives of the Prophets. There are numerous incidents related in the Holy Qur'aan about Prophets receiving revelation as to a process quite apart from the revelation of Books. For Instance, God said to Adam:


"O Adam, dwell thou and thy wife in the Garden" (2, xxxv),

"and there Lord called them: Did I not forbid you" (7, xxii).


       In the case of Noah:


"and it was inspired in Noah: No one of thy folk will believe save him who hath believed already" (11,xxxvi),

"Load therein two of every kind" (11, xi),

"O Noah, he is not one of thy household" (11, xlvi).


       God states of Abraham:


"That is our argument, which We gave to Abraham against his folk" (6, lxxxiii),

"O Abraham, forsake this" (11, xxvi).


       Jacob said:


"I do indeed scent the presence of Joseph," and when he retrieved his eyesight, he said:
"Did I not say to you that I know from God that which you know not?"
(12, xcivl).


       In the case of Joseph:


"We inspired in him: 'thou wilt tell them of this deed of theirs when they know not' " (12, XV).


       God called to Moses in the valley to Tuwa:


"O Moses, verily I am they Lord" (20, xii)


       and then:


"Hearken to what is inspired."


       Again:


"We inspired Moses saying: ďTake away My slaves by night" (20,lxxvii).


These are only some of the many instances which can be given, in all which references made to revelations from God to the Prophets on occasions which have nothing to do with the revelation of Books.


       We cannot stress too much the point that in order to be a "good example" to Muslims, it is necessary that the Holy Prophet be at all times under the inspiration of God. Matters connected with the preaching of Islam and spiritual training of the believers are specifically stated by God to be under His auspices, but even in the details of worldly life without inspiration it would be impossible to be an example and that too for all Muslims at all times. No man by his own efforts or by dint only of his own natural qualities could personify Islam. It is no argument to bring forward the occasions when the Holy Prophet stated that he was only speaking from personal opinion. These occasions were when the matter concerned did not involve any religious or moral question, such as methods of cultivation, or the placing of troops in battle. Another occasion was when deciding a case after hearing the evidence of both sides, for it is part of deciding a case after hearing the evidence of both sides, for it is part of the Holy Prophet's example, as inspired by God, that cases should be decided on the outward evidence, and anyone who falsifies evidence in such a way that his deceit is not outwardly apparent, may have the case decided in his favour but will have to pay for his deceit before God. The Holy Prophet has been expressly ordered in the Holy Qur'aan to decide matters of worldly expediency after consulting with his followers:


"Consult with them upon the conduct of affairs" (3,clix).


The exercise of human reason on the occasions which warrant it is also part of the Holy Prophet's example, and is under the commands of God. Neither it is a argument to say that the Holy Prophet used to draw conclusions from the Holy Qur'aan by the exercise of reason, for God has made it quite plain, as has already been show, that the Holy Prophet's application of Qur'aan principles is authorised by Himself and is to be taken as from Himself; it therefore follows that the reasoning used by the Prophet for drawing conclusions from the Holy Qur'aan is itself inspired. That God inspires Prophets with reasoning as well as conclusions is expressed the Holy Qur'aan:


"That is Our argument, which We gave to Abraham against his folk" (6, lxxxiii),


where a whole process of reasoning is inspired to the Prophet Abraham.


       To sum up, the Hadiths and the Sunnat of the Holy Prophet (May the blessings and peace of God be upon him) are demonstrated by the Holy Qur'aan to be divinely inspired and to form a permanent part of the message of God to man. Interpretation of the Holy Book by the Prophet is authoritative, and the only difference between the injunction of God in the Qur'aan, and the Sunnat of the Holy Prophet, is that the direct injunctions of God are compulsory, whereas the Sunnat, being an example, is to be performed to the best of one's ability. But deliberate neglect or, as with some of the "modernists", complete denial of the Sunnat is nothing but open contravention of the Holy Book.


End

 

 

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