Hadīth and Sunnah are generally taken as
synonymous terms. This is not a correct impression. The words Hadīth and Sunnah
have entirely different connotations, and each one holds a different status in
the Sharī’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 Hadīth,
therefore, it is necessary to know precisely the difference between Hadīth and
Hadīth implies the narration of a
saying, or of an act, or of an approval (Taswīb) of the Prophet (sws),
irrespective of whether the matter is authenticated or still disputed. The
Muhaddithīn (the scholars of Hadīth) use the word Taqrīr to express Taswīb. 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.
The Muhaddithīn employ the term, Khabar
for Hadīth. A Khabar bears the possibility of being either right or wrong. In
other words, the Muhaddithīn believe that a Khabar may be authentic or it may be
false. On this account, the Ahādīth (plural of Hadīth) are also termed as Zanni
(presumptive or undefined). This means that a Hadīth could be anything ranging
from Sahīh to Hasan, Dha’īf, Maudhū’, or Maqlūb.
Therefore each one of these categories
should be treated on its own merits.
Classification of Hadīth or Khabar
The Muhaddithīn divide Hadīth or Khabar
into two main classes:
1. Khabar-i-Tawātur (multiple evidence
2. Khabar-i-Wāhid (single evidence
Khatīb Baghdadi, the author of
defines Khabar-i-Tawātur as follows:
“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 Hadīth exists which
satisfies the definition of Khabar-i-Tawātur. Sometimes a Hadīth is assigned the
status of a Khabar-i-Mashhūr.
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 our
opinion, such Ahādīth as have been declared as Khabar-i-Mutawātir stand in need
of investigation. If they come up to the prescribed standard, only then should
they be accepted as Mutawātir. Without this investigation, it would not be
correct to accept anything as Mutawātir. It must, however, be remembered that so
far as the Sunnah is concerned, it does hold the status of Tawātur (continuity),
as we shall explain further. And this Tawātur is not verbal, but practical.
Khabar-i-Wāhid is that Khabar which is
not as authentic as Khabar-i-Tawātur. 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 of Hadīth which has contributed to the greater part of our treasure of
Gradation of Akhbar Ahād on the Basis of
their Acceptance or Rejection
The author of “Al-Kafāyah” has graded
the Akhbār-i-Ahād into three categories from the point of view of their being
worthy of acceptance or rejection:
(a) Narrations the veracity of which is
(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-Kafāyah” has assigned the top category to
narrations which possess the following characteristics:
i) Narrations which are endorsed by
human intellect and wisdom as geniune and which are readily acceptable to common
ii) Narrations which aptly elaborate the
immutable commandments of the Qur’ān or Sunnah.
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 (taqlīd). The Prophet (sws) is said to have said:
“Hazrat Thauban (may Allah’s blessings
be upon him) narrates that the Holy Prophet said: A section of my Ummah shall
invariably stick to verity. Whosoever would try to dissociate himself from them
would not be able to harm them in any manner; so much so that when they would
depart from this world, they would still be firm in their beliefs.” (Muslim:
(b) Narrations the Factitious Character
of which is Crystal Clear: The author of “Al-Kafāyah” 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’ān and Mutawātir Sunnah, or clash with them.
iii) Narrations which cover such
important subjects that people require positive and precise information about
them for guidance, but the narrations do not provide such information. Or
narrations which are related to some important event and, therefore, should have
ben narrated by a sufficient number of narrators, but instead they are found to
have been narrated by very few of them.
In case of (‘Umūm-i-balva) ie, where the
situation calls for narrations from a number of sources), the Hanafites do not
attach any importance to Akhbār-i-Ahād. In such matters, they generally prefer
Ijtihad and Qiyās (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-Kafāyah” 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
In such cases, we are of the opinion
that the wording of the narrations should be carefully scrutinized in the light
of the immutable commandments of the Qur’ān and Sunnah and other aspects, and
then the most suitable narration be adopted.
Literally, the word ‘Sunnah’ means ‘a
clear path’, ‘busy path’, ‘trodden path’, ‘beaten path’, ‘smooth path’, etc.
The manner in which the Almighty deals
with nations---and which holds true for all nations---has been termed in the
Holy Qur’ān 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.” (33:38)
“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 Sharī’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’ān
“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-Sharī’ah (teacher of the Sharī’ah) and
Muzakki-i-Nufūs, (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’ān 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’ān, 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 regard
to prayers, fasts, pilgrimage, zakat and other obligations and rites have, no
doubt, been laid down in the Holy Qur’ān. However, there are no details
mentioned on any of these subjects; so much so that the Qur’ān 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’ān 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 Dīn of Prophet Ibrahim 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’ān. That is why the Prophet (sws) has observed:
“I have been given the Qur’ān and
besides it , something similar to it.” (Abu Daud, Kitāb-us-Sunnah, Ch 6)
Therefore, the Sunnah is binding on us
as much as the Qur’ān itself. Allah the Almighty appointed for us the Messenger
for this very purpose so that the Qur’ān 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’ān and Sunnah is that of the soul and the body. In other words,
the soul or the spirit of the Qur’ān 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’ān And The
Sunnah---A Natural Affiliation
The interrelation which has been
established between the Qur’ān 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 Dīn of Allah on earth. It is, therefore, very essential that
the religious minded people devoted to spreading the light of the Dīn 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 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’ānic verses, etc.
THE SUNNAH IS NOT BASED ON AHĀDĪTH BUT ON
THE PERPETUAL ADHERENCE OF THE UMMAH
The Sunnah has not been founded on
Ahādīth, 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’ān is proved by
perpetuity in verbal adherence, likewise the veracity of Sunnah is equally
proved by there 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 Akhbār-i-Ahād 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
The creed of the Malki School of Fiqh
whereby they prefer the practice of the people of Madina to Akhbār-i-Ahād, 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 Akhbār-i-Ahād on problems
which relate to ‘Umum-i-Balva, 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 Khulāfa-i-Rashidīn is obligatory for you.” (Ibn Mājah, 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’ān 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’ān, and still deny the Sunnah. It is hard to understand
their logic, since, as the Qur’ān is proved by the 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’ān.
There is hardly any difference in the credentials of either.
It is rather important that the
difference between Hadīth 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 Ahādīth was construed to mean the denial of the Sunnah. Thereafter,
whatever doubts were invented against the Hadīth by the non-believers of Hadīth
were extended by them to deny the Sunnah as well, though the denial of the
Sunnah is tantamount to denial of the Qur’ān itself, as already explained.
Those who are familair with the history
of the denial of Hadīth are fully aware that this mischief actually raised its
head over a few Ahādīth 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 between Hadīth 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 Hadīth
stretched their doctrines so far as to touch the bounds of Kufr (disbelief), and
the supporters of Hadīth, on the other hand quite unnecessarily dragged the
Sunnah as well along with the Hadīth 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 Mecca, 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 Hazrat ‘Umar or Hazrat ‘Abdullāh Ibn ‘Umar (May Allah’s
blessings be upon them), and does not adopt the one practised by Hazrat Aishah
or Hazrat ‘Abdullāh Ibn Masūd (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 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
(Translated from Islahi’s “Mubādī-i-Tadabbur-i-Hadīth”)