The Status of Hadith in the Shari‘ah
Hadith & Sunnah
Question asked by .
Answered by Dr Khalid Zaheer

You have somewhere said: “The fact that Hadith is also a form of divine revelation is a man-made argument. The Prophet (sws), it is clear from the Qur’an, did receive revelation that was outside the Qur’an. I can prove it from the Qur’an. However, whatever divine revelation has been revealed outside the Qur’an, whether to Prophet Muhammad (sws) or other Prophets, all of it is subservient to the Qur’an. The Qur’an has come to dominate over everything else. If this point is not accepted then, the least that can be said is that the true status of the Qur’an has not been appreciated.”

So where should Muslims get their religious guidance from primarily? Wouldn’t Hadith fall within the ambit of primary sources?


The question as to where we get our religious guidance from is a serious one. It cannot be decided on the basis of mere emotional attachments to one school of thought or another. It has to be based on carefully considered realities. My understanding on the issue is as follows.

There are two unchallengeable sources of shari‘ah from where we get all its injunctions: the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Both are equally authentic in the way they were transmitted to the ummah. Hadith, if properly transmitted, is the most important secondary source of information which explains and clarifies what has already been given in the Qur’an and the Sunnah. It does neither add anything to what has been given as shari‘ah in the original sources nor does it take away anything from them.

The Qur’an is the word of God, fully preserved by God Himself (15:9) through the process of memorizing. There were scores of huffaz (those who had memorized the entire text of it) in the first generation of Muslims, who were followed by hundreds and thousands in the later generations.

There has been no single day when Muslims have been without the complete Divine Book in the original, pure form after the demise of the Prophet (sws).

The case of the Sunnah is no different. The Prophet (sws) introduced certain practices as part of the Islamic shari‘ah, which started getting followed immediately in a way that continuity of practice has been meticulously maintained from day one. All Muslims have been following these religious practices given to them by the Prophet from the beginning of the Muslim history. The daily prayers, zakah, hajj, fasting, funeral prayers, jumu‘ah prayers, ‘id prayers, circumcision of male children etc., are some of the examples.

Books of Hadith, that contain a record of what the Prophet (sws) said, or did, or what happened during his times were compiled – apart from Mu’atta of Imam Malik – in the third century AH. Despite the fact that the information contained in these books is in some cases an extremely well-preserved record of the Prophet’s era, as much as humans could manage at that time, what these books contain cannot add a single item to the list of injunctions that are called shari‘ah. All that Ahadith do is that they explain and clarify what is already there in the Qur’an and Sunnah.

There are a number of reasons why the above claim should be accepted as correct. I’ll mention here one that is the most important of them all.

It is a well known fact that the authentic books of Ahadith were compiled and published in the third century of hijrah calendar. Mu’atta of Imam Malik, which is not one of the sihah sittah, was introduced in the second half of the second century hijrah. Prior to the compilation of these books, Ahadith were not available to the ummah. Only a few individuals had them, and nobody – not a single individual – had them all. If Ahadith were a necessary source of shari‘ah that were to explain some aspects of Islamic law that are not there in the Qur’an and Sunnah, then it will have to be acknowledged that almost the entire ummah lived for the first one-and-a-half century, God forbid, without complete information about the Islamic law. What we believe is that the first three generations were the best of the ummah! Alhamdulillah, they were fully informed about the entire code of Islam through the Qur’an and the Sunnah, which, as explained earlier, were introduced to the entire ummah from day one.



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