Regarding the Status of the Hadith and Sunnah
Hadith & Sunnah
Question asked by .
Answered by Dr Khalid Zaheer
Question: I used to read the Qur’anic text without knowing what it meant. Only recently, I began reading the translated Qur’an, and tried to solve the issues that were pestering my mind. I took care not to be misled; and cross-checked translations to be sure. It was a mind shattering experience. Blown to bits were the idols created in my mind by my parents, teachers, friends and mullahs. I realized the insignificance of rituals, the importance of deeds, the pitfalls of senseless and dangerous hero-worshipping (our Prophet’s (sws)) that the Muslims of today have gone into, the horrors of the shameful treatment that we mete out to our women in the name of Islam and much, much more. But when I discussed my ideas with a few that I thought were capable of seeing the truth, lo and behold, I walked into open hostility, a dogged disbelief and a plain refusal to even listen to what I had to say. I became confused. I started thinking. Was I the only genius among so many to have understood the message? Are all these people and their stalwarts wrong? Am I looking for shortcuts in my religion to justify my own life-style? Am I being blasphemous? People started advising me to seek the help of ‘ulama. I don’t want to. I would have done that, had I been confused about something in the book. When my Allah says that He tells his message openly, clearly and without any ambiguity, why then should I seek these so-called ‘ulama? I understand Him perfectly, clearly and precisely. I now believe, and very firmly, in the following: Mohammad (sws) was just a messenger and his duty was only to deliver the message (the Qur’an ). There is no place for any Hadith and Sunnah of the Prophet in our religion. It is this practice that has so thoroughly divided, disgraced and demonized our religion (post-Sep 11 events). The only Hadith and Sunnah that is to be obeyed and followed is that of Allah as given in his Book (the only error free document on earth). And nothing is to be sought from any man-recorded document (full of errors). There are, consequently, no sects in Islam and even a, so-called, star-worshipper could be a Muslim if he is following the message in the book. Please let me know your comments on this?


I believe that scholars have an important role to play in informing us about what religion tells us. I agree that their role is sometimes vastly exaggerated by many Muslims. However, like in all other fields, here too, you need to get help from more knowledgeable people to find out what the text says. When you read a translation of the Qur’an, for instance, you are, after all, following a scholar’s views. However, we should be clear that scholars are human too, and therefore, they can go wrong as well. Moreover, we are responsible to the Almighty for our din in our own individual capacities. We will not be able to shift the blame of our faulty understanding and wrong doings on the scholars. Also, we know that scholars disagree with each other considerably. I, therefore, believe that we should listen to what the scholars have to say on various issues of religion but decidedly, form our own honest opinions. However, if we form these opinions without consulting the scholars in one way or the other, we would be committing a bigger fault, because we would then be venturing into a field for which we are not fully equipped to handle independently. I mean, if you claim that a certain verse means one thing and a scholar tells you that the principles of classical Arabic don’t allow that meaning to be acceptable, how would you respond to it?

I agree with some part of what you have quoted above; but with the other part I disagree. For instance, I agree that Hadith compilation was a human exercise. I agree that there could be many errors in it. However, I can’t understand how you can conclude about the Prophet (sws) that his job was only to deliver the Qur’an. Consider the following.

In Surah Jumu‘ah (62), the Qur’an asks believers to gather for jumu‘ah prayers when the call is given to them and to leave aside all worldly businesses (62: 9) The Qur’an has nothing to say about this issue any more. If you carefully look into the matter you would conclude that the Qur’an is accepting a jumu‘ah prayer that was already taking place in Madinah under the supervision of the Prophet (sws). The only role the Qur’an has played in this matter is to ask the believers to be serious about it. In other words, the Qur’an is acknowledging the role of the Prophet (sws) as a religious guide even in matters not mentioned in it. There are other similar examples as well in the Qur’an.

The fact of the matter is that the Prophet (sws) gave us two things: the Qur’an and Sunnah. The meanings of Sunnah have been most certainly confused. Many people wrongly believe that whatever the Prophet (sws) did constitutes Sunnah. The truth is that there are only a few religious practices which the prophet gave to the ummah as Sunnah to be followed. For example, circumcising boys, burying the dead in a formal way, saying ‘id prayers etc. In fact, none of these religious practices was originated by Muhammad (sws) himself but were the Sunnah of all the prophets before him as well.

Hadith are the collections compiled by scholars which contain the record of the Prophet (sws). Most certainly it was the result of a human effort, though its status has been exaggerated by many Muslims. However, the kind of efforts that Muslim scholars have put in to preserve the Hadith record has no parallel in human history. If you accept history written by a single historian seriously, you can’t ignore the record collected by the doctors of Hadith with the help and involvement of hundreds and thousands of narrators, each one of who was thoroughly investigated for his/her character, and memory etc. I am sure that there can still be unacceptable stuff in the Hadith literature, but to ignore it is to ignore an extremely valuable treasure of knowledge about the most important man in the world for us.

If you don’t accept a Hadith because you honestly think that it is against the Qur’an or common sense, you have a right to do so. But to reject the Hadith literature in its entirety is, to me, an exaggerated reaction to a problem that could be solved by being a little careful.

I don’t agree with you that the differences amongst Muslims are because of Sunnah. In fact, Muslims are completely unanimous on a major part of the Sunnah: the hajj, five prayers, Ramadan etc., for instance. Differences could also emerge in the interpretation of the Qur’an as well. For instance, I strongly disagree with you in your understanding that a star worshipper could also be a follower of the Qur’an. The one thing that the Qur’an has clarified to its readers beyond any doubt is that shirk (polytheism) is not acceptable in any form under any circumstances.

I have a feeling that there are some questions in your mind about Islamic teachings that have emerged because of the conventional religious understanding. Your inability to find convincing answers to them from the traditional sources may have led you to the views that you have expressed. If you could talk about them, maybe, you may find my views closer to yours, even with our difference of opinion on the issue of Sunnah and Hadith. There is no doubt in my mind that the Qur’an is the primary source of knowledge in Islam.

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