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THE SUNNA IS THE SECOND SOURCE OF THE ISLAMIC LEGISLATION

The science of Hadith deals with the life of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, especially concentrating on his own sayings and actions, and on the actions he approved in others. In this chapter, we will restrict ourselves to his own sayings and actions.

The sayings of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, include his utterances out of the Quran, described as the Recited Revelation, whose meaning and wording belong to God exclusively. As for his actions, they include those actions whose rule and authority we must follow as law, and those, concerning his personal affairs, which are also a source of spiritual reward and blessing and which we should follow.

The science of fiqh, Islamic Law, does not concern itself with the latter, the personal affairs of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings. The fuqaha’ (scholars of fiqh) or jurists are of the opinion that if those affairs touch upon the voluntary and purposed acts, they are actions in the former sense relevant for law. However, if they are of the kind such as his likes and dislikes which do not constitute a basis for legislation, they lie outside the concern of the fuqaha’. According to the muhaddithun (scholars of Hadith or Traditionists), everything related to God’s Messenger is included in the meaning of Hadith (Tradition) and concerns the Traditionists.

The Sunna of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, being every act, saying and confirmation of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, is the second source of Islamic legislation after the Qur’an. All the scholars of religious sciences and sometimes even natural scientists resort to the Sunna to establish the principles of their fields of study and to solve their difficulties.

The Holy Quran enjoins the Muslims, in many verses, to follow the Sunna, as do numerous authentic Traditions of the Prophet himself. Except by a few who have been charmed by their own intellectual capacity, the Sunna has, from the beginning, been regarded as the second source of or basis for Islam and the Islamic life.

The Sunna is inseparable from the Quran. It clarifies the ambiguities of the Quran, it expands on what is brief therein, specifies what is unconditional therein, enables generalizations from what is particularly stated and particularizations from what is generally stated.

The details of the acts of formal worship - prayer, fasting, alms-giving and pilgrimage - were all established and expounded by the Sunna of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings. Again, it was established by the Sunna that no one can inherit from the Prophet and that a killer cannot inherit from the one he has killed. There are many more examples which show the place and role of the Sunna in embodying the Quranic commands, as well as in establishing new legislation such as, for example, the prohibition of eating the flesh of domestic donkeys and wild animals, and the prohibition of marriage to female cousins of a wife still living. Indeed, the Sunna is relevant to the practice of all aspects of Islam, and every Muslim must design his life according to it. For this reason, the Sunna has been studied almost with the same care as the Quran: it was recorded, it has been studied and transmitted down the centuries through succeeding generations.

During his own lifetime, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, drew the attention of his Companions to his Sunna and ordered them to obey him absolutely. He spoke distinctly so that his audience could understand and memorize his words, and he encouraged them to convey every word of his to future generations; on occasion, he even urged them to write down whatever he uttered and said: Whatever comes out of my mouth is true.

The Companions, may God be pleased with them all, were fully attentive to what God’s Messenger said and showed great desire to appropriate his lifestyle even in his smallest acts. They regarded every word and every deed of this unique member of mankind as a Divine trust to which they must be faithful and tried to follow his example in every step they took. They honored all his pronouncements as a Divine gift, digested and preserved them and transmitted them to the succeeding generations.

Truthfulness being the cornerstone of Islamic character, the Companions were absolutely free from lying. Just as they did nothing to imply any distortion or alteration in the Quran and became the first and foremost means of its preservation and transmission to succeeding generations, so too they did their utmost to preserve the Traditions as they took them from the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, and entrusted them to those coming after them. With the same care they gave to the memorization and recording of the Qur’an, some of them wrote down the Traditions and some others committed them to memory. Among the compilations of Hadith during the period of the Companions, three are very famous: al-Sahifa al-Sadiqa by ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr ibn al-‘As, al-Sahifa al-Sahiha by Hammam ibn Munabbih, and al-Majmu‘ by Zayd ibn ‘Ali ibn Husayn.

The Companions were extremely conscientious in relating the Traditions. For example, ‘A’isha and ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar were so meticulous in relating them word for word as not to change even a letter; Ibn Mas‘ud and Abu al-Darda’ would tremble as if caught by a fever when asked to report a Tradition from the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings.

‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, the Caliph, ordered the recording and compilation of the Traditions which were orally preserved and circulated and the collection of individual compilations. Such illustrious figures as Sa‘id ibn al-Musayyib, Sha‘bi, Alqama, Sufyan al-Thawri and Zuhri pioneered this sacred task. They were followed by the greatest specialists, who practised the utmost care in the transmission of Traditions including the study of their meaning and wording and careful critiques of their narrators.

It is thanks to the tireless energy and meticulous study of the Traditionists (muhaddithun) that we have, after fourteen centuries, the second source of Islam in its original purity, by means of which we can follow the example of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, in designing our life. It is only through following the example of the Prophet that we can gain the good pleasure of God and travel along the way leading to Paradise. Even the greatest of saints receive their light from the ‘sun’ of guidance, the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. As somebody says, the Prophet Muhammad is the ‘sun’ of guidance and virtues, while saints are ‘stars’ sending light to those in ‘darkness’ so that they may be able to find their way.


Recommended Reading:
The categories of the Sunna

Last Updated on August 06, 2000

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