The Hadith and Sunnah of the Holy Prophet(saw)

No Comments | May 2010

The founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. In 1891, he claimed on the basis of Divine revelation, that he was the Promised Messiah and Mahdi whose advent had been foretold by Muhammad, the Holy Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and by the scriptures of other faiths. His claim constitutes the basis of the beliefs of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community.

This series sets out, in the words of the Promised Messiah, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as), a summary of some outstanding topics. The original compilation, in Urdu, from which these extracts have been translated into English, was collated with great care and diligence by Syed Daud Ahmad Sahib(ru). The English rendering is by the late Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan(ra), and is quoted from The Essence of Islam, Volume 2. All references throughout, unless otherwise specifically mentioned, are from the Holy Qur’an.

To hold fast to Islamic injunctions, the Muslims have three things.

Sources of Islamic Guidance

First, the Holy Qur’an, which is the Book of God more than which we have no conclusive and certain statement. It is the Word of God and is free from all doubt and speculation.

Secondly, the practice of the Holy Prophet(saw), which is called the Sunnah. Here we are not speaking in terms of the terminol­ogy used by the Ahl-e-Hadith [People of Hadith]. We do not regard Hadith and Sunnah as one and the same thing, as is done by traditional scholars of Hadith. They are distinct, Hadith is one thing and Sunnah is another. By Sunnah we mean the practice of the Holy Prophet(saw), to which he adhered and which appeared along with the Holy Qur’an and will accompany it. In other words, the Holy Qur’an is the Word of God Almighty and the Sunnah is the practice of the Holy Prophet(saw). It has ever been the way of God that the Prophets bring the Word of God for the guidance of people and illustrate it in practice with their conduct so that no doubt should remain in the minds of people with regard to the Divine Word. They act upon it and urge others to do the same.

The third source of guidance is Hadith, by which we mean those Traditions which were compiled from the statements of diverse narrators a century and a half after the Holy Prophet(saw).

The distinction between Sunnah and Hadith is that Sunnah is a continuous practice which was started by the Holy Prophet(saw). It is only next to the Holy Qur’an in its certainty. As the Holy Prophet(saw) was commissioned for the propagation of the Qur’an, he was also commissioned for establishing the Sunnah. As the Holy Qur’an is certain so is the continuous Sunnah which he practised. Both these tasks were performed by the Holy Prophet(saw) as his duty. For instance, when the Prayer services were made obligatory, the Holy Prophet(saw) illustrated by his action how many rak’as [prescribed positions taken by Muslims during formal Prayer each standing up and bowing down etc. making up one ‘Raka’a’] were to be performed in each Prayer service. In the same way, he illustrated the performance of the Pilgrimage. He thus established thousands of his Companions on his practice. The practical illustration which has been continuous among the Muslims is the Sunnah. On the other hand, the Holy Prophet(saw) did not have the Hadith recorded in his presence nor did he make any arrange­ment for its compilation. Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra) had collected some Ahadith and then had them burnt out of greater caution as he himself had not heard them from the Holy Prophet(saw) and did not know their reality. When the time of the Companions of the Holy Prophet(saw) had passed some of their successors thought of compiling the Ahadith and they were compiled. There is no doubt that most of the compilers of Hadith were very pious and righteous. They tested the accuracy of Ahadith as far as it was possible and tried to steer clear of those which, in their opinion, were manufactured. They rejected every Hadith any narrator of which was of doubtful veracity. As all this activity was ex post factum, (after the fact) it was no more than conjecture. Yet, it would be most unfair to say that all Ahadith are vain and useless and false. So much care was taken in compiling the Ahadith, and such research and criticism were employed in the task, that they cannot be matched in any other religion.

The Jews also had compilations of narrative record and Jesus(as) was opposed by that sect of the Jews who followed the narrative record, but it is not proved that the Jewish compilers of narrative record had exercised that care in compiling their collec­tions as the Muslim compilers of Hadith did. Neverthe­less, it would be a mistake to imagine that until the Ahadith were compiled, the Muslims were unaware of the details of Prayer services or did not know the proper way of performing the pilgrimage. The practical illustrations of the Sunnah had taught them all the limits and obliga­tions laid down by Islam. It is true, therefore, that even if the Ahadith, which were collected after a long time, had not been compiled this would not have affected the real teaching of Islam for the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah had fulfilled this need. The Ahadith only added to that light and Islam became light upon light and the Ahadith became testimonies for the Qur’an and Sunnah. Of the many sects that subsequently appeared in Islam, the true one derived great benefit from the true Ahadith.

The correct way, therefore, is neither to treat the Ahadith as having greater authority than the Qur’an, as do the Ahl-e-Hadith of this age, and not to prefer the statements in the Ahadith which are contradictory of the Qur’an to the Qur’an itself; nor to regard the Ahadith as vain and false as is the belief of Maulawi ‘Abdullah Chakralvi. The Qur’an and Sunnah should judge the Ahadith and those that are not opposed to them should by all means be accepted. This is the straight path and blessed are those who follow it. Most unfortunate and foolish is the person who rejects the Ahadith altogether without regard to the test that we have proposed.

It should be the duty of the members of our Community that a Hadith which is not opposed to the Qur’an and Sunnah, should be accepted and followed, however weak might be its authority, and it should be preferred to the rules framed by jurists.

[Review on the debate between Batalwi and Chakralvi, Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol.19, pp.209-212]

Authoritative Books

The books that we accept and believe in and consider trustworthy are the following:

First is the Holy Qur’an. It should, however, be remem­bered that only that interpretation of a verse of the Qur’an is correct and trustworthy which is testified to by other verses of the Qur’an, inasmuch as some verses of the Qur’an interpret other verses. If certainty of meaning should not be guaranteed by other verses of the Qur’an, then the meaning should be confirmed by some true and reliable Hadith. According to us, the interpretation based merely on one’s opinion is not permissible. Everyone who raises an objection against the Holy Qur’an should keep this rule in mind.

Of the other books that are accepted by us the Sahih of Bukhari ranks as the first. All its Ahadith which are not opposed to the Holy Qur’an are in our view authoritative. Next comes Sahih Muslim. We accept its authority subject to the condition that it should not be opposed to the Holy Qur’an and Sahih Bukhari. Next to them are the compilations of Tirmidhi, Ibn-e-Majah, Muattah of Imam Malik, Nassa’i, Abu Da’ud and Dar Qutni, which we regard as authoritative so long as they are not opposed to the Holy Qur’an and Bukhari and Muslim. These are our religious books and these are the conditions under which we accept them…Every critic must confine himself to these books and these conditions.

[Arya Dharam, Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol.10, pp.86-87]

Book of Allah to be Preferred to All

Regarding the Book and Sunnah as authorities, I believe that the Book of Allah is to be preferred above all others. If the purport of a Hadith is not opposed to the Book of Allah, it would be accepted as authoritative, but we will not accept an interpretation of a Hadith which is opposed to the clear text of the Holy Qur’an. So far as possible, we shall try to interpret a Hadith so that it should be in accord with the clear text of the Book of Allah, but if we come across a Hadith which is opposed to the text of the Holy Qur’an, and it cannot be interpreted in any other way, we would reject it as spurious, inasmuch as God, the Glorious, has said: In what discourse apart from Allah and His commandments will they believe? (Ch.45:V.7)

This means that if the Holy Qur’an is conclusive and positive about a matter and its meaning is clear, a be­liever should not accept a Hadith which is clearly opposed to it. To the same effect is the verse: In what thing will they believe thereafter? (Ch.7:V186). According to these verses a believer must accept the Book of Allah without condition and should accept a Hadith conditionally. This is my stand. [Al-Haq, Mubahasa Ludhiana, Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol.4, pp.11-12)

A person who is bestowed the understanding of the Qur’an by Divine grace, and who finds that a Hadith is opposed to a verse of the Qur’an, should, out of respect, so far as it is possible, so interpret the Hadith as to bring it into accord with the Holy Qur’an, but if this is not possible and cannot by any means be achieved, he should regard the Hadith as spurious. This is better for us. We should seek an interpretation of a Hadith which is not opposed to the Holy Qur’an, but if this should not be possible it would be heresy and disbelief that we should give up the Qur’an for the sake of Ahadith, which have been conveyed to us by human hands and with regard to which it is not only a possibility, but a certainty, that they have got mixed up with human statements.

[Al-Haq, Mubahasa Ludhiana, Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol.4, p.21)

Authenticity of Ahadith

The Ahadith are divided into two parts. One part is that which is completely protected by practice, that is to say such Ahadith as are strengthened and are carrying the degree of certainty by the firm and strong and certain method of practice, and which are comprehensive of all religious needs and worship and covenants and dealings and the commandments of the law. Such Ahadith are doubtless certain and are fully proved. The strength of these Ahadith is not derived from the art of compilation of Hadith, nor from their inherent force, nor from the reliability of and confidence in their narrators, but is bestowed by the blessings of practice. I accept these Ahadith so far as they are supported by practice up to a certain degree of certainty. But the other portions of Ahadith which are not related to practice and are accepted on the basis of the truthfulness of their narrators are not held by me as being beyond the status of conjecture. At the most they can be employed as useful conjecture inasmuch as the manner in which they have been com­piled is not certain and conclusive, but leaves room for perversion.

[Al-Haq, Mubahasa Ludhiana, Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol. 4, p.35]

An objector hears from someone that the Ahadith are not reliable and he immediately concludes therefrom that with the exception of the Holy Qur’an all other authori­ties in Islam are baseless and doubtful and fall far short of certainty and conclusiveness. This is a great mistake, the first result of which is to destroy faith and religion; for if it were true that with the exception of the Holy Qur’an all other sources are false, imposture, conjectures and imagination, then little would be left of Islam for all the details of our faith have come down to us through Ahadith. Our Prayer services have been made obligatory by the Holy Qur’an, but it is nowhere laid down in the Qur’an that the Dawn Prayer (Fajr) comprises two rak’as of Fard and two rak’as of Sunnah, and the Noon Prayer (Zuhr) comprises four rak’as of Fard (Obligatory Prayers) and four and then two rak’as of Sunnah, and the Sunset Prayer (Maghrib) comprises three rak’as of Fard and the Evening Prayer (‘Isha) comprises four rak’as of Fard. In the same way, we have to depend upon Ahadith to discover the details of Zakat. There are thousands of details relating to worship and dealings and covenants which are derived from the same source. Besides, the principal source of Islamic history is Ahadith. If Ahadith are not to be relied upon you cannot take it as certain that Abu Bakr and ‘Umar and ‘Uthman and ‘Ali (may Allah be pleased with them) were the Companions of the Holy Prophet(saw), who became his successors in that order and died in that order. If Ahadith are not to be relied upon, we cannot be certain about the existence of these great personalities and it might be possible that all these names are fictitious and that there was no Abu Bakr(ra), no ‘Umar(ra), no ‘Uthman(ra) and no ‘Ali(ra)…In the same way, we shall deny that the name of the father of the Holy Prophet(saw) was ‘Abdullah, and the name of his mother was Aminah, and the name of his grandfather was ‘Abd-ul-Muttalib, and one of his wives was named Khadijah and another ‘A’ishah, and another Hafsah (may Allah be pleased with them) and that the name of his foster-mother was Halimah, and that he used to withdraw to the cave Hira’ for worship and that some of his Companions migrated to Abyssinia, and that for ten years after his advent, the Holy Prophet(saw) resided in Makkah and that thereafter there were all those battles that are not even mentioned in the Qur’an, simply because these facts are established by Ahadith and the Ahadith amount to nothing?

Were that so, it would not be possible for the Muslims to relate any portion of the biography of the Holy Prophet(saw). It should be observed that the events of the life of our lord and master, what kind of life he led in Makkah before his advent, and in what year he called people to his Prophethood, and in what order people embraced Islam, and how were they persecuted by the disbelievers in the ten Makkan years, and how the wars began, and in which of them the Holy Prophet(saw) took part himself, and to what regions the rule of Islam had extended in his lifetime, and whether he addressed letters to the rulers of the time, inviting them to Islam, and if he did so, what was their response, and after his death what were the victories achieved during the time of Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra), and what difficulties he had to contend with, and what countries were conquered in the time of Hadhrat ‘Umar(ra), all these matters are known through Ahadith and the statements of the Com­panions of the Holy Prophet(saw). If the Ahadith amount to nothing, it would not only be difficult but would be impossible to discover the events of those times and in such a case the opponents of Islam would be free to invent whatever they like concerning the events of the life of the Holy Prophet(saw) and of the lives of his Companions, (may Allah be pleased with them). We would thus afford to the enemies of Islam a great opportunity of making baseless attacks against Islam and we would have to confess that all the events related in the Ahadith are baseless and imaginary, so much so, that even the names of the Companions of the Holy Prophet(saw) are not known for certain. To suppose that we cannot derive any certain and conclusive truth from the Ahadith would amount to destroying a great portion of Islam with our own hands.

The true and correct position is that we must accept whatever is stated in the Ahadith unless it should be opposed to the Qur’an in clear terms. It is admitted that it is natural for man to tell the truth and that recourse is had to falsehood under some compulsion, for falsehood is unnatural. To doubt the conclusiveness and correctness of the Ahadith, which through practice had become a characteristic of the different groups of Muslims, would amount to insanity. For instance, if anyone were to contend that the number of rak’as performed by the Muslims in the five daily services is a doubtful matter, inasmuch as there is no verse in the Qur’an prescribing two rak’as for the dawn prayer (Fajr) and two for the Friday prayer (Jum’ah) and two each for the two ‘Eid services and that most of the Ahadith are unreliable, would such a one be in the right? If such an opinion were accepted about the Ahadith, we would first have to forego the Prayer services, for the Qur’an has not prescribed anywhere the method of performance of Prayer services and they are performed only on the basis of the accuracy of Ahadith

This is a serious mistake which has drawn the followers of nature in this age far away from Islam. They imagine that all Islamic practices and ceremonial and worship and biographies and history in connection with which refer­ence is made to Ahadith, are established only on the basis of a few Ahadith. This is a clear error. The practice which the Holy Prophet(saw) had established with his own hands, had become so common among millions of people that even if there had been no trace of the compilers of Ahadith, no harm would have been done. Everyone has to admit that the Holy Teacher and Prophet(saw) had not so confined his teaching as to train only a few people in it and to leave all others unaware of it. Had that been so, Islam would have been so corrupted that it could not have been reformed through the efforts of any compiler of Hadith. The Imams of Ahadith have compiled thousands of Ahadith relating to religious instruction, yet there is no Hadith which was not being acted upon before its being recorded and which was not known to the world. If there is any teaching, or event, or doctrine the foundation of which has only been laid by the Imams of Hadith on the basis of some report and no sign of it is discoverable in practice, nor is it mentioned in the Holy Qur’an, then without doubt such a report which became known a century and a half later, would absolutely lack certainty and would deserve whatever condemnation might be directed at it. Such Ahadith have no great relationship with faith in the history of Islam. If you look with care you will find that the Imams of Ahadith have very seldom mentioned Ahadith no trace of which is found in practice. It is, therefore, not true, as some ignorant ones imagine, that the world has learnt of the hundreds of matters relating to the faith, even fasting and Prayer services, only from the Ahadith compiled by Bukhari and Muslim and others. Were the Muslims without faith for a century and a half? Did they not perform the Prayer services? Did they not pay Zakat? Did they not perform the Pilgrimage? Were they unaware of the Islamic doctrines that are mentioned in the Ahadith? Certainly not.

[Shahadat-ul-Qur’an, Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol.6, pp.298-303]

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