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Friday, September 01, 2006

Sunnah/ Hadeeth

The Sunnah is the second source of Islamic law. Sunnah is an Arabic word which means "Method". It was applied by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as a legal term to represent what he said, did and agreed to. Its authority is derived from the text of the Quran. The Quran says,

"For you the life of the Prophet is a model of behaviour" (33:21).

Sunnah is the traditions or known practices of the Prophet Muhammad, many of which have been recorded in the volumes of Hadith literature. The resources include many things that he said, did, or agreed to -- and he lived his life according to the Qur'an, putting the Qur'an into practice in his own life. During his lifetime, the Prophet's family and companions observed him and shared with others exactly what they had seen in his words and behaviors -- i.e. how he performed ablutions, how he prayed, and how he performed many other acts of worship. People also asked the Prophet directly for rulings on various matters, and he would pronounce his judgment. All of these details were passed on and recorded, to be referred to in future legal rulings. Many issues concerning personal conduct, community and family relations, political matters, etc. were addressed during the time of the Prophet, decided by him, and recorded. The Sunnah can thus clarify details of what is stated generally in the Qur'an.

Many books of traditions were compiled by the companions of the Prophet (p.b.u.h.). These were later on incorporated in the great collections of Hadith (i.e. traditions) Books of Bukhari, Muslim etc. The collectors of traditions adopted a very scientific system in collecting the Traditions. They did not record any tradition except with the chain of narrators. Every tradition gives the name of the last narrator of the tradition from whom he learnt the tradition and so on back to the Prophet or Companion of the Prophet. The Sunnah, which is established through reliable narrators, is fully dependable as legal element.

Muslims should take the Hadith- Sunnah as a source of Islamic Law as it has been advocated by the Holy Qur'an itself:

"Ati'ullaha wa ati'urrasula wa ulil amri minkum"

"And We have sent down unto you also the Message that you may explain clearly to man what is sent for them, and that they may give thought."

Thus, one of the Prophet (PBUH) duties was to interpret the Qur'anic injunctions.

"Obey Allah and obey the Prophet and render not your actions in vain."

"Whoever obeys the Messenger, he indeed obeys Allah."

Similarly, the Prophet (PBUH) has stressed the importance of his Sunnah. During the course of Khutbah al Wada'ah (Farewell Sermon) the Prophet (PBUH) is reported to have said:

"I leave behind two things, if you hold fast unto them you shall never go astray: the Book of Allah and my Sunnah."

Generally the Holy Qur'an lays down the broad aspects of the Law and Shari'ah obligations which cannot be fulfilled without resorting to the Sunnah of the Prophet the Prophet (s.a.w.s.). For instance, the Holy Qur'an orders Muslims to 'establish Salah' but does not provide the details for its method nor its specific timings. The details are found in the Sunnah. Again, the Holy Qur'an allows one to bequeath a share from one's estate to any person and does not stipulate the maximum limit for such a bequest. The Prophet (s.a.w.s.) is the one who fixed its maximum limit at one third of one's estate only.

In other words then, the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) interpreted the verses of the Holy Qur'an and explained their meanings and implications to the Sahaabah (ra.) for practical application. In the process he (the Prophet) also made provisions for those aspects of the Law which were not specifically provided for in the Holy Qur'an. Likewise, all rules pertaining to sawm (Fasting), Hajj (annual Pilgrimage to Makkah) and Zakaat (compulsory charity) were laid down by the Prophet (s.a.w.s.).

It would be appropriate to point out here that in the Hadith literature there exist specific laws which have not been addressed by the Holy Qur'an. For example, the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) prohibited his followers from indulging in mut'ah (temporary marriage) at the time of the Battle of Khaybar. Likewise, the consuming of donkey meat and the meat of any carnivorous animal was declared by the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) to be Haram (forbidden), while no mention of such prohibition is expressed in the Qur'an. These are only two of many other examples which unequivocally establish the authoritative stance and position of the Hadith in matters of the Shariah.



1. What is Sunnah/Hadith?
2. What is the importance of Hadith?
3. How is the position of Hadith in Islamic jurisprudence?

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