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Islamic Secondary Sources => Discussions => : antediluvian November 22, 2011, 06:55:31 PM

: Status of Sunna (as distinct from Hadith)
: antediluvian November 22, 2011, 06:55:31 PM
I was going through the interesting articles on your site, and while I agree that Sunna is distinct from Hadith, and is often conflated with the latter by traditional Muslims, I would also like to know your opinion on the following:

Do you feel that the Sunna (the practice of the early community) is binding on future generations of Muslims, particularly if it is not contravening any Quranic command?

As you may be aware, Javed Ghamidi is one scholar who answers this is in the affirmative, but then he also restricts Sunna to being only religious practices of the Prophet in nature (ie- not inclusive of all his practices). In fact, Ghamidi's teacher, Amin Ahsan Islahi who was a profound scholar from the subcontinent, critiqued the Quran-aloners with the argument that they are reducing the Prophet to be similar to a mere postman who delivered the Quran and went away in history.

I would be grateful for your opinion on the same, and the reasons thereof in either case (yes or no to my question).
: Re: Status of Sunna (as distinct from Hadith)
: Joseph Islam November 22, 2011, 08:25:18 PM
Dear Antediluvian,

Salamun Alaikum.

My humble efforts to study God's scriptures may have left me with a more nuanced position as compared to others who you may be implying by citing the term 'Quran-aloners'.
Albeit this is a general observation and not a criticism against you personally, I feel such an epithet against anyone who attempts to uphold the veracity and judgment of God's scriptures is not only crude, but equally crass.

When understanding the traditions of an ancient people that have sought best practice (their Sunna) in light of the Quran, we need to exercise 'hikmah'. Not reject it, but ardently understand it. After all, the Quran references itself as huda (2:2 - guidance), a furqan (25:1 - criterion of right and wrong) and a 'meezan' (42:17 - a balance, weighing tool). This I have comprehensively mentioned in other articles which is a sentiment I trust you will concur with.

As far as your pointed question is concerned, and in particular reference to a certain 'Sunna' (practice) being 'binding', I find this unsupportable from the Quran. The Quran does not in my view make any practice of a people 'binding'. It only makes 'binding'  its own instructions which as far as the Prophet and his contemporaries were concerned, took into account the immediate audience, their societal norms, practices and beliefs.

If the Prophet was alive today, it can be convincingly argued that any revelation to him would have first taken into account his immediate societal settings and dealt with any immediate difficulties with respect to his ministry in his own context.

With respect, and as one being well aware of Javed Ghamidi's position, it is to be proven that the Quran 'authorises' as religious decree, a certain Sunna of a people. I contest that there is no such authorisation in the Quran. Whereas brother Ghamidi may be comfortable in 'binding' certain practices and what 'may' and 'may not' constitute Sunna, these are with respect, his own assertions. Others may find this a subjective approach and not wholly cogent in light of the Quran.

However, I do agree with brother Javed who if I understand correctly, does separate 'religious' practices (Sunna) with those of the Prophet's 'personal practices'. This is in my humble view and in light of the Quran, absolutely correct.

Indeed certain religious practices such as prayer find immediate sanction in the Quran. Now a Sunna supporting this religious instruction may present a guide as to how the earliest Muslims thought best to practice this religious instruction of prayer, such as prayer in Arabic, where to put one's hands etc, but the Quran did not seek to define such a specific ritual.

The details of 'form' and 'utterance' (content) are absent in the Quran. This does not sanction a 'sunna' but allows for 'fluidity'. So whether one binds their hands on their navel, chest or neither, is not instructive.

By binding a prayer, for example in 'Arabic' who has no understanding of the Arabic language is in contradiction of so many verses, not least of the implied 'instruction' not to approach prayer - hatta ta 'lamu ma taqulun (until you know what you are saying) 4:43. Albeit it can be argued that 'sukara' can capture any state in which a mind is not in mental equilibrium, the implied instruction that one must know what they are saying is present.

Here it can be argued that the 'hikma' behind such silence as not to prescribe 'content' or in a particular language allowed for the recognition of God's complete creation which He created with varying languages (30:22).

Sunna needs to be understood in light of the Quran. Nothing is binding in my view apart from the direct instructions in the Quran. However, 'religious sunna' should also not be ignored and fully appreciated in so much as to at least understand how the earliest communities best understood the Quran's commandments and sought to implement them.

The noble prophet applied an inspired revelation to him which carried many timeless edicts to his immediate time specific context. We need to understand this with 'hikmah' (wisdom). This point I humbly feel, is sometimes overlooked by some Muslim theologians.

The Quran remains final judge for believers (6:114).

I hope this helps.

: Re: Status of Sunna (as distinct from Hadith)
: antediluvian November 23, 2011, 02:35:45 PM
thank you for your insightful reply- I agree the Quran is the final judge, the Mizan, the Furqan and the Muhaymin for all tradition and previous scripture.

One could potentially understand Salah from the Quran and arrive at more or less the same form but I do get your overall idea. Also, did you know that the Hanafi jurists (one of the 4 schools) originally allowed one to say Salah in any language, gradually this ruling was forgotten..

btw, I mentioned the term "Quran-aloners" just to illustrate that there is a fallacy in their argument as well- that of rejecting any tradition whatsoever- I believe we should be content with calling ourselves Muslim, rather than Muqallid, Ahl-i-Hadith or Ahl-i-Quran or Ahl-us-Sunna. Well, even Muslim was turned upside down by the Submitters group of Dr Khalifa..

Your point about time-space context of the application of the Revelation is important, though you may be interested in knowing that Javed Ghamidi actually says that the source of Din is not the Quran, but the Prophet himself and thus, he raises Sunna to a second authority (albeit the Sunna defined by him are only a handful of practices like Salah, Zakah, Hajj, Jumuah, Eid, Ghusl, circumcision, et al).

I believe yes, sooner or later the large Muslim communities will have to reach to the point that tradition is fluid and it is the Quran only that is timeless. Albeit what I see is that even many converts in the West are not really reverting to a great idea but to a spiritual tradition (maybe due to the overponderance of materialism). A reconstruction of Islam is very much the need of the hour, and it has to be based on the Quran.

Take care.
: Re: Status of Sunna (as distinct from Hadith)
: Joseph Islam November 23, 2011, 03:46:41 PM
Also, did you know that the Hanafi jurists (one of the 4 schools) originally allowed one to say Salah in any language, gradually this ruling was forgotten..

Peace brother Antediluvian

Thank you for your response.

You are absolutely correct with your above statement.

I cited this as an example in one of the articles I wrote dealing with prayer. I'll reproduce the excerpt below which I cited. I have been rather surprised over the course of some discussions, even with the traditional clergy, that this point is not so well known.

Please find below the citation along with the article in which I made use of it.

"...It was Abu Hanifah (b. about 81 A.H.) who started a new and more serious controversy by his declaration that it was permissible to recite the Qur'an in Persian in prayer, whether the reader knew Arabic or not. His followers extended this permission to Turkish, Hindi, Syriac, Hebrew and other languages of the non-Arabs.18 To interpret the Qur'an in its own language, or in any other, was from the days of the Prophet up to the days of Abu Hanifah generally allowed and widely practiced. This is a safe inference not only from the injunction of the Qur'an itself,19 but also from the increasing number of non-Arabs, with different racial and linguistic backgrounds, who embraced Islam.20

Abu Hanifah's Persian origin cannot alone be the explanation of his daring opinion. It seems that genuine religious concern and practical considerations combined to shape his opinions. Let us not overlook the fact that he did not pronounce on the translation of the Qur'an as a whole; he merely tried to solve an obvious difficulty of non-Arab believers who were required to recite in prayer certain short chapters or verses only.21 Unfortunately Abu Hanifah's opinion on this matter, and indeed on other matters, is known only through the gloss of his followers.22 But neither of his two chief disciples, Abu Yusuf and ash-Shaibani, went as far as their master whose licence was unconditional.23 They both made the permission to recite the translated Qur'an in prayer conditional on the inability to recite it in Arabic.24 Since prayer was communion with God - so the Hanafi argument goes - it was lawful either through God's Word for those able to recite it in the original, or through the translated meaning for those unable to do so, since "obligation is according to ability."25"


18 Cf. Nasafi, Kanz ad-Daqa'iq (Dehli, 1309), I, 53.

19 Cf. Surah V, 71 : "O Messenger, deliver that which has been sent down to thee from thy Lord." Cf. Surah XVI, 46, 60.

20 Cf. contemporary practice of teachers of the Qur'an to the Berbers in Morocco, a practice which has been handed down from generation to generation since early times: the meaning is first explained in local dialect, and then the Arabic text is taught. Memorizing the Arabic is not required before the meaning has been explained. Majallat al-Azhar, VII, No.3, 192.

21 It is related that al-Habib al-'Ajami, an associate of al-Hasan al-Basri (b. 21 A.H.) used to recite the Qur'an in Persian in prayer "owing to speech difficulty in Arabic":

22 In the fiqh books, chiefly under the subject of prayer (see next note), but not as a rule in other works. Thus bab as-salat in al-Khawarizmi, Jami' Masanid al-Imam al-A'zam (Hyderabad, 1332), I, 293 ff. prescribes the recital of the Fatihah in prayer, but contains nothing about the permission to recite it in Persian or other languages.

23 Some of Abu Hanifah's followers even said that he approved reading something of the Torah, the Gospel or the Psalms in prayer provided the reader was certain it was not corrupted (muharraf). See al-Kashani, Bada'i' as-Sana'i (Cairo, 1327) I, 113.    [1]


[1]  TIBAWI. A.L, The Muslim World Volume 52, Issue 1, pages 4-16, January 1962, Citation * Paper read at the XXVth International Congress of Orientalists on Friday 12th August, 1960, in the University of Moscow.




: Re: Status of Sunna (as distinct from Hadith)
: antediluvian November 24, 2011, 05:05:10 AM
many thanks for your references. I think we can also appreciate the fact that the motivation of the jurists in curbing the inherent flexibility of Islam was maybe to maintain social order. It seems after the death of the Prophet (sws) when Muslims spread outside Arabia, they encountered a plethora of new ideas and maybe that caused efforts to have structural limits on Islamic tradition.

In any case today, the preservation of the Quran is not so much an issue, especially with digitization available. I had read Prof. Fazlur Rahman's work sometime back and he comes to conclusions not much dissimilar from yours.