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 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 Hadīth, therefore, it is necessary to know
precisely the difference between Hadīth and Sunnah.
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.
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 Āhadīth (plural
of Hadīth) are also termed as Zannī (presumptive or undefined). This means that
a Hadīth could be anything ranging from Sahīh to Hasan, Da`īf, Mawdū`, or
one of these categories should be treated on its own merits.
of Hadīth or Khabar
Muhaddithīn divide Hadīth or Khabar into two main classes:
Khabar-i-Tawātur (multiple evidence Hadīth)
Khabar-i-Wāhid (single evidence Hadīth)
Baghdādi, the author of “al-Kifāyāh fī`ilm al-Riwāyah”e
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.
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 my
opinion, such Āhādith 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.
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 Hadīth.
Akhbār Āhād on the Basis of their Acceptance or Rejection
The author of
“al-Kifāyah” has graded the Akhbār-i-Ahād into three categories from the point
of view of their being worthy of acceptance or rejection:
the veracity of which is crystal clear.
the factitious character of which is crystal clear.
the character of which we have not yet been able to determine.
Now let us
elaborate on these.
the Veracity of which is Crystal Clear: The author of “al-Kifāyah” has assigned
the top category to narrations which possess the following characteristics:
which are endorsed by human intellect and wisdom as geniune and which are
readily acceptable to common sense.
which aptly elaborate the immutable commandments of the Qur’ān or Sunnah.
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:
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:
the Factitious Character of which is Crsytal Clear: The author of “al-Kifāyah”
has placed in the second category narrations that bear the following
which are rejected by human intellect and wisdom.
which are contrary to the immutable commandments of the Qur’ān and Mutawātir
Sunnah, or clash with them.
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 (`Umūm-i-balwah)
ie, where the situation calls for narrations from a number of sources), the
Hanafites do not attach any importance to Akhbār-i-Āhād. In such matters, they
generally prefer Ijtihād and Qiyās (analogical deductions).
the Character of which is not yet Determined
Third place in
the classification has been allotted by the author of “al-Kifāyah” 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’ān and Sunnah
and other aspects, and then the most suitable narration be adopted.
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 --
as 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
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’ān as follows:
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)
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.
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
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-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.
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 regarding
prayers, fasts, pilgrimage, zakāt 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 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’ān. That is why the Prophet (sws) has observed:
I have been
given the Qur’ān and besides it, something similar to it. (Abū Da`ūd, Kitāb al-Sunnah,
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
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.
Between the Qur’ān and Sunnah: A Natural Affiliation
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.
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
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 the Āhadīth
The Sunnah has
not been founded on Āhadīth, 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 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 Akhbār-i-Āhād 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 Mālkī School of Fiqh whereby they prefer the practice of the people of
Madīna to Akhbār-i-Āhād, is based on this very principle. They regard the
practice of the people of Madīna as a conclusive evidence and say `among us the
Sunnah is like this'. The Hanafites, likewise, do not attach any importance to
Akhbār-i-Āhād on problems which relate to `Umūm-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
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
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 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 Āhadīth 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
Those who are
familiar with the history of the denial of Hadīth are fully aware that this
mischief actually raised its head over a few Āhadīth 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
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.
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.
the narrations with regard to Tashāhhudd*
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 Tashāhhud which
is associated with Hadrat Umar or Hadrat Abdullah Ibn Umar, and does not adopt
the one practised by Hadrat `Āishah or Hadrat Abdullah Ibn Mas`ūd (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.
from Mubādī Tadabbur-i-Hadīth by S. A. Rauf)