(This is an abridged English translation from
the Urdu transcript of the interview)
Question: The Qur'ān says: وَمَا آتَاكُمُ الرَّسُولُ فَخُذُوهُ وَمَا نَهَاكُمْ عَنْهُ فَانتَهُوا (59: 7) (And whatever the messenger gives you, accept it, and whatever he forbids you, abstain from it, (59:7)).The religious and intellectual circles in our country hold the view about your religious understanding that you have not brought any new insight. Instead it is merely a reflection of the tradition of modernity that had started with Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, and at which Ghulam Ahmad Parvez reigned for several years. Today, you have become a representative of the onslaught of the philosophy of the west (that is at a cultural level) and are trying to give new interpretations to religion. The common factor in all these interpretations is the argument for the role of Hadīthin the sharī'ah.It is believed that you deny the Ahādith. Why do you not believe in Ahādith?
Answer: While you have heard what our religious and intellectual circles say about me, you may also have read my books. I have written about Islam at length, more or less as I understand it, in my book called Mīzān. If you open this book, you will find that it begins with the statement that the basic source of our religion is the Prophet (sws). I have written: "Religion is the guidance which was first inspired by the Almighty in human nature and after that it was given by Him with all essential details to mankind through His prophets. Muhammad (sws) is the last of these prophets. Consequently, it is now he alone who in this world is the sole source of religion. It is only through him that man can receive divine guidance and it is only he who, through his words, deeds or tacit approvals, has the authority to regard something as part of Islam until the Day of Judgement." This is how my book starts and subsequently, I have described the forms in which this faith has been received by us. If you translate the verse that you quoted in the beginning and put my words side by side, you will find that there is no difference. In my view what makes our religion is that which has been sanctioned by the Prophet (sws): what he said, what he did, and whatever he maintained forms religion. I do not consider even the most minor deviation to be right.
This is my view. I feel that those who say what they do have neither read Sir Syed nor Parvez sāhib, nor they have not read my writings.
Question: If we paraphrase what Parvez sāhib has written, he does not consider Hadīthto have any role in religion or religious law. He views the Prophet's (sws) advice to be temporary or based on emergent situations. If we read what you have written in your book, you say that whatever the Prophet (sws) did in his period of prophethood should be weighed for historical accuracy against sources contained in the Qur'ān. It is not within the purview of Hadīththat it could become the source of a new order or instruction. Later on you state that Hadīthdoes not add to any belief and practice of religion. So, what is the difference between what you and Parvez sāhib says. Both seem to be holding exactly the same views.
Answer: I have neither said the things that you are attributing to me in that manner, nor have I written them so. Please understand the difference between him and myself. We are poles apart. The difference is that he takes the Qur'ān and all that it contains to be the only source of religion; I say that the Prophet (sws) is that source. His persona is the source of religion. Then I go on to say that we have received guidance from the Prophet (sws) in various forms. The first source is the Qur'ān. The second source is his Sunnah. They are both conclusive sources, and we infer our faith from both of them. Then the question arises about what we have received through isolate reports called Hadīth. In the beginning of my book, I have laid out the parameters of Hadīthin terms of its contents. Hadīthis either a clarification of some religious understanding, or throws light on the how the Prophet lived and his routines and actions. I have written: "Narratives which record the words, deeds or tacit approvals of the Prophet (sws) generally called Hadīth cannot add anything to the beliefs and practices of religion. This is because it is an irrefutable reality about these narratives that the Prophet (sws) never made any arrangement for their dissemination or preservation; it was left to the discretion of the viewers and listeners whether to communicate them or not. Whatever is mentioned in them with regard to religion is only an explanation and elucidation of the religion which is confined in the Qur'ān and Sunnahand also describes the exemplary way in which the Prophet (sws) followed this religion. This only is the sphere of Hadīthwhich falls within the ambit of Islam. Outside this sphere, there exists no narrative which can be called or accepted as Hadīth." Who else has made such a clear and obvious elucidation of Hadīthas an argument of faith?
Question: You say that one should obey the Prophet (sws) in whatever he has said or taken a decision on. You also say that Hadīthadds nothing to belief or practice of religion. Does one statement not contradict the other?
Answer: If I tell you about what is in the Qur'ān, it would be stating what the content of the Qur'ān is; if I talk to you about the Sunnah, it would be about what the Sunnah is comprised of. Here I am discussing what the Hadīthreally is. The Prophet (sws) gave us the Qur'ān; he then gave us those practices that embodied his personality. He did not give this Sunnah to one or two individuals or in private to a few chosen ones. Whichever elements of the Sunnah that we have obtained were given to all the companions and to the Muslims who were with them at that time. Gatherings were held to communicate these. They were transferred through generations with continuity and did not require any narratives or stories. Even after this, I say that if the Prophet (sws) has said anything, taken a decision, warned anyone, advised people, whether privately or in company, it should be considered as transmission through individuals and I have explained what the parameters of such transmission could be. If anyone wishes to critique me, he should go one step further. He should clarify that if the content is not what I define it to be, what is it really. My submission is that you must first determine what is contained within the Qur'ān. The Qur'ān is the Book of God. If you ask me to explain what it says, I can do so.
The Prophet's (sws) actions are contained in the narratives of the individuals; the explanations that he had provided are collected therein. I am trying to explain the essence of such transmission. Are they not based on the original or are standalone and constant, complete unto themselves? I am suggesting that this is not so. They are not permanent and self contained, but they are further clarifications of what has already been stated within the Qur'ān and Sunnah. They are details on how to emulate the Prophet (sws) and his way of life.
Now if you permit me, I would like to put before you the views that have been held by reputed researchers on the issue. Scholars are, and you too, as a student of religion, should be aware of this. Imām Shātabī in his Al-Muwāfaqāt has made the content of Hadīththe topic. I will introduce this to you, explain what his point of view was and how other researchers and scholars have considered it. Al-Mu'āfaqāt is an extraordinary book on Islamic jurisprudence. Imām Shātabī discusses the question of the nature of the arguments for religious laws prescribed in Islam. He says: "All religious arguments that are presented are either conclusive or conjectural." He has given examples of the conclusive arguments, such as a verse from the Qur'ān, a Sunnah of the Prophet (sws), something that has been transmitted through consensus (ijmā'). He further says:"If something is conjectural, it may be based on something that is conclusive, and is itself its clarification, explanation or corollary, or it may not be based on anything that is conclusive. If it is the former case, there can be no two opinions." That is what I am saying too. If the Prophet (sws) has given a clarification of something, or explained an issue, this is what is contained within the Hadīth. And this is, in fact an account of religion, an interpretation of some verse of the Qur'ān, and the fact is that we possess the original of which it is the commentary and on which it is based. If no mention can be found within the original and if it cannot be found in any basis that is conclusive, then nothing can be done. It cannot be acceptable. How is it possible to inform one individual of some significant factor that needs continuity, or to talk about five beliefs of religion to the world and give information about the sixth only to someone in private? This is what Imām Shātabī says.
Question: So what you really are saying is that this is not just your view, this is also the view held by Imām Shātabī?
Answer: I am saying that these people have not even read what their own early scholars have written. This debate is not a new debate. It is not about whether Hadīthis to be believed or not. This debate is about the content of Hadīth. Imām Shatabī has been trying to say the same thing, and I am doing the same. Look at what the nature of the issue is. God's messenger gave us our religion; he was given the responsibility of transmitting this faith to each and every individual, and he did so. When the Qur'ān was revealed to him, he read it out in gatherings, everyone among the companions heard it; people wrote it down and learnt it by heart. In such a manner, the Prophet (sws) passed on what had been entrusted to him. The religious practices that had been passed on by other prophets were collected and confirmed and then continued by him. He led prayers; people fasted. Meanwhile if God sent an instruction such as the one related to the change of the qiblah, he communicated this to every individual. This is religion and this is the content of religion. It contains instructions that are complete unto themselves; they are to be found in the Qur'ān as well as in the Sunnah. Thus there are things related to beliefs as well as those related to practice. The question then arises that when a few individuals come and tell you that the Prophet (sws) had also said something or done something, this is what has been communicated by some individuals and since it had apparently been said or done before a few people only, there is no question of these ideas being independent by themselves. This is what Imām Shatabī is saying and this is what I am saying too.
Question: The Qur'ān talks about bringing a man who is fair and just, and asking him to make a decision. They can be one, two or more individuals. Why is it then necessary that if the Prophet (sws) had to communicate a religious matter, he must have done it through a crowd, and not through one or two persons? Why can a message not be communicated through a single individual? Why is a particular size of crowd required for us to accept a religious argument conclusively, and until such time that such numbers are achieved, we cannot accept the argument?
Answer: I have clarified this point earlier. Just as there are no two opinions about the Qur'ān being the most conclusive argument, anyone who reads it will tell you what it contains. Those who know the Sunnah will tell you what the Sunnah comprises of. Similarly, Imām Shātabī tells us that when the entire collection of Hadīthwas researched, it became clear that it did not contain any self-sufficient, independent directives or instructions. It contained those matters that related to descriptions or explanations of religious details or of the actions and practices of the Prophet (sws) during his lifetime. Obviously, they also include narratives related to the incidents that have been reported as well as some of the conditions that existed in society at that time. Here we are talking about religion, so the Hadīthmentions either the clarification of religious matters, or the practices of the Prophet (sws). In my book, Mīzān, I have referred to more than 1200 narratives from the Hadīth.
Question: If I tell my father that although I accept him as my parent, he cannot intervene in any of my business, nothing that he asks me to do will add to my actions and I will not obey him conclusively in anything that he asks me to do. If a Hadīthcannot restrict or diminish, how can it explain or clarify?
Answer: Hadīth can only teach or clarify. The reason is that once the Prophet (sws) has given the religion, and completed it through the Qur'ān and the Sunnah, then saying something in private, answering a query by a companion or giving advice to someone else is something he would do which he does not consider essential to pass to everyone. If it reaches others, it would be good, as their understanding would be enhanced; if it does not, there is no problem. This also follows by taking a reasoning approach. You tell me, what is there in the narratives, in the narratives that we have received through individuals that could be termed as independent and complete by itself?
In Hadīththere is the element of conclusive argument. If you find that the Prophet (sws) gave an instruction or a directive and you are convinced of the authenticity of this Hadīth, it is imperative that you obey it. This is how important it is to follow the Hadīthonce it has been proved conclusively. The other element is its content. The Hadīthis not something complete and isolated unto itself. It is entirely based on what has been stated independently earlier, i.e in the Qur'ān and the Sunnah. This is what Imām Shātabī is saying, and this is what I am saying too.
Question: And this is what Parvez sāhib also says if you take his definition of Hadīthto be of temporary nature or as an explanation of some religious matter. Essentially, all three of you are saying the same thing.
Answer: Parvez sāhib says something different altogether. He says that the Prophet (sws) gave us our religion only in the form of the Qur'ān, and Sunnah has no place in it. My position is that the Prophet (sws) gave us the Qur'ān and the Sunnah. Sunnah embodies direct instructions and does not need to be supported for its source to be found in the Qur'ān. Sunnah actually precedes the Qur'ān. I have written all this in my book. What we are discussing are those things that have been transmitted over the years through individuals related to what the Prophet may have said to someone as an answer to a question, clarified an issue, given some advice or brought attention to some matter. I cannot understand how you can compare Parvez sāhib's point of view with that of mine.
Question: Even if we accept that Parvez sāhib and you have different schools of thought, he takes many religious matters to be temporary and time bound, as being responsive to emerging situations only. Your religious thought also shows a particular division. You say that some of the Prophet's directives were for a few people, others were meant for the whole population. As a consequence, do both of you not stand on the same platform?
Answer: I do not make this division in knowledge derived from the Qur'ān, and other scholars do not do so either.What is the connection here with the debate about Hadīthand Sunnah? You must first decide about our respective positions in principle. His position is that nothing is added to religion from Hadīthor Sunnah: you start and end with the Qur'ān; my position is that the Prophet (sws) is the sole source of our religion: he gave us the Qur'ān which explains the religion to us. He gave us the Sunnah, which is like the Qur'ān in that it provides independent instructions to us. If Parvez sāhib has said the same thing, my request is that people should be just. There is nothing to hide. My point of view should be presented as it is, in the manner it has been given in my book. I would have been very happy if you had kept my book in front of you and then questioned me on what I have written. It is not appropriate to find such questionable linkages for questions. Suppose I say that God is one, and a non believer also says the same thing, will this be a crime as a result? There are many things in the world that may be found common among people, including with those who are thinkers and scholars.
The right way to determine a difference is first to find out if they are the same in their principle. I say that the difference between Parvez sāhib and me is the same as that between the North and the South pole. Thus, for him, the original is the Qur'ān, for me it is the Prophet (sws); for him the only source of religion is the Qur'ān; for me it is the person of the Prophet (sws); for him, there is no religion to be found outside the Qur'ān; for me the Sunnah is an independent and constant source and contains such instructions that are to be followed; for him, Hadīthcarries no decisions or instructions that are necessary for me to implement, and were valid only for the time they were issued; for me, if the Hadīthcarries a decision or instruction from the Prophet (sws) and it has been transmitted to me, and I am convinced of its authenticity, it is incumbent on me that I follow it. How can you then declare these views to be the same?
Question: You have said that Hadīthdoes not provide any directive that has a separate and independent origin. In that case, how are things such as punishment in the grave, being questioned by the angels after death and belief in destiny a part of our belief if they are not a part of Hadīth?
Answer: All these matters have been stated within the Qur'ān, and the Prophet (sws) has clarified these as well. Narrators have recorded these explanations. We have read and understood from them. Is it that we are put to sleep when we die, or is it that when we die, we become dust in our graves and that is our end, and we shall only be resurrected on the Day of Judgment? The Qur'ān tells us that is not so, and the Prophet (sws) gives us details of what follows. I have denied none of this. I have devoted a complete chapter to the topic of "Barzakh" (Life After Death) in my book. I have explained the nature of "Barzakh" and what happens to human beings when they are in this condition. I have copied the necessary narratives, and explained their context and times. It is not as if I am denying the significance of Hadīth. The probability is that people think there is no basis for such beliefs in the Qur'ān, whereas, they are all contained therein. This should be considered a service to religion, instead of putting it as denial of Hadīth, and trying to match Parvez sāhib's views with those of mine.
Question: You say that Hadīthdoes not reduce or restrict anything, but a perusal of your book indicates that you are using Hadīthto restrict. For example, there is a verse that says:
وَاللَّاتِي تَخَافُونَ نُشُوزَهُنَّ فَعِظُوهُنَّ وَاهْجُرُوهُنَّ فِي الْمَضَاجِعِ وَاضْرِبُوهُنَّ (34:4)
And as for those [wives] from whom you fear rebellion, admonish them, then refuse to share their beds and then punish them. (4:34)
This verse says clearly that they are to be beaten. But you restrict this through the Hadith which says: غَيْرَ مُبَرِّح (a punishment which does not leave a permanent mark.)So you are specifying and restricting it, and yet you say that there is no possibility of any restriction in it.
Answer: I will read out to you what I have written and explain what is restriction and reduction; many people read and use these terms but often do not know the meanings: "Thirdly, the woman may be punished physically. Obviously, such punishment can be given only in the manner of a teacher punishing his students, or a father punishing his children." This means that this is how I have understood what the Qur'ān has said. Let me try and explain this by a few statements. When we say something, we do so in a certain context, with a certain background, at a certain time and in a certain place. There are always some inherent factors that get automatically eliminated or restricted by using one's common sense. I say to my students that they should all come at 8 am the next day, and if anyone is late, he shall be fined Rs. 10. One student does not come because he meets an accident. Should I fine him? Obviously not! Why not? I had said anyone who does not come shall be fined. So, some restrictions and some reductions are included within the words themselves. These are called restrictions by sense which any sensible human being with a knowledge of the language understands. God has given us permission to give a physical reprimand at a certain stage in a certain situation, and this is what I have understood and written. It is obvious who is giving the punishment: is he the executioner, is this a court giving a sentence, or is it an order to implement torture? No. Whoever reads this sentence will understand that it is meant only in the nature of the same discipline as that of a teacher for his student, a father to his children. If a father thinks he has the right and targets his child for torture, what will you say about him? If a teacher does the same, will you tell him he did right? In other words, the restriction and restraint are contained within the words themselves, and this is also obvious by the context and the background. I have further explained that the Prophet (sws) has defined the punishment to be غَيْرَ مُبَرِّح. He has given words to what the sentence was asking for. People should first determine what the meaning is, and then look for contradictions, if any. I have defined initially what the Qur'ān had meant to say. The sentence was brief and abridged; the Prophet (sws) expanded its meaning. This is the work that messengers do. This is also what scholars do. This is the knowledge that the Prophet possessed that has come to us through the Hadīth. So, one status of the Prophet (sws) is that he gave us the religion; another is that he is the first and the most knowledgeable scholar. There can be no comparison between his scholarship and ours. His knowledge was innocent and infallible and was received by us by transmission through individuals, which you call Hadīth. This is the heritage of wisdom for us. No Muslim, no one who understands Islam, no student of truth can deprive himself of such a great legacy. It is unimaginable.
Question: According to you, Hadīthdoes not restrict or particularize an issue, and we have just discussed how, in that case, would be the situation when there are some verses of the Qur'ān where we attempt to decide about the matter in light of the related Hadīth. You have explained about a specific verse that it is not the Hadīth, but the language of the Qur'ān through which we take the decision. There is another similar verse about which it is commonly said that it can be explained only through the Hadīth. The verse says that the son will inherit twice the amount of that of a daughter's. But a Hadīthsays that if a son has killed his father, he cannot be eligible for inheritance. Is this not a specification of a Qur'ānic verse?
Answer: This part of the Qur'ān must be read with great deliberation. These are the 11th and 12th verses of Sūrah Nisā wherein not only the shares of family members have been mentioned, but the basis of this law has also been defined. The decision made by God that a wife, husband, son or daughter is to get so much is based on the relationship of benefit of each to the other. The jurists have to decide whether this benefit of advantage exists for the deceased or not. Under ordinary circumstances, this benefit does exist. But if a son murders his father, or vice versa, this relationship of benefit has turned to one of harm. The Hadīth, therefore has clarified this situation. We must also look at other similar situations. For example, a child may be extremely disobedient and rude to his parents; not only may he have not taken care of his parents, he may have treated them badly, thrown them out of the house, and the father may have disinherited him. If this case comes to court, it will have to see whether this has happened and the same verdict (of disinheritance) will be passed, following the principle of the Qur'ān. Thus the Prophet (sws) has neither added any special aspect to the matter, nor has he restricted it in any way.
Let me clarify a point here. Whenever the word of God is delivered, it contains hidden within itself several special meanings, several restrictions and peculiarities: within the words used, within the structures of the sentences and within the context in which it has been placed, and these meanings are also to be found in the wisdom of the readers who deliberate on its inner depth. These are the particular aspects and meanings that come into existence with the revelation itself. When these are explained, by the Prophet (sws), by jurists, it does not mean that any changes are being made in the word of God, but it is to clarify its real meaning to the world.
I will give you an example. There are certain Islamic punishments such as the cutting of a thief's hand, or giving lashes to someone who commits adultery. Some scholars have advocated the suspension of such sentences according to circumstances and leaving this to the jurisdiction of the judge. Allama Iqbal has expressed this view in his book Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. When he was asked to justify this, he explained by recounting how 'Umar (rta) had suspended these punishments during the great famine of al-Rimādah. The fact is not that it was a directive from God and 'Umar (rta) had suspended it. It was something very different. When we read this verse of the Qur'ān, we find that it contains certain limits and conditions within which it is operable. 'Umar (rta) understood these conditions, and gave the order of suspension according to the conditions therein. The Qur'ān is not saying that the punishment shall be given to everyone who commits the crime. But it says that it can only be given to one who is not handicapped, who does not have any excuse to commit it, who can bear it, whose circumstances did not call upon him to do so. Therefore it is taken as a rule to consider all conditions and also the possibility of forbearance when passing sentences for crimes. 'Umar (rta) acted with remarkable insight into the deeper meaning of the Qur'ān. Unfortunately, people took it as a mere suspension of a sentence.
The same mistake is being made here. We must understand that different aspects of the meaning is contained within the text itself. I have given examples of this in my book, Mīzān. People used to say that the Qur'ān has said such and such a thing, the Prophet (sws) has said something different. On the contrary, this is not a change; this is a misunderstanding of the verse, a lack of reflection on what it really means. When you understand what something means, you understand its relationship, and that is with respect to the text itself. So, the specificity that the word of God contains within itself has been brought out and explained, the hidden meaning has been clarified and expounded. But there has been no change in the word of God; no denial, no reduction, no addition. If now you say that this has been changed, or such and such a verse has been added to, or its meaning specialized to a particular aspect, this is in reality abrogation, changing the word of God.
Question: Right. So, the word contains the parameters of all the possible connotations and peculiarities hidden within it?
Answer: Absolutely. When a verse comes into existence, scholars say that no one can identify a single one that does not contain certain limitations that are either natural, or can be determined by applying wisdom. Things are not said without any restraints. I shall give you an example. The Prophet (sws) has said:أُمِرْتُ أَنْ أُقَاتِلَ النَّاسَ (I have been directed to wage war against these people). So, one can determine, with reference to the background, the context and the Qur'ān, that the "people" are the addressees of the Prophet (sws). When you pick up different exegeses, you will find them referring to Yathrab, Makkah, kuffār, or even mankind. So, it is the context and the background that has explained what this means. The Prophet (sws) has said it, and the scholars too have explained it. This is not something that can be called an abrogation, or a change. It is only an explanation. The Prophet's (sws) explanation is to be greatly respected. If a scholar explains something, it should be taken and accepted as his point of view of the meaning of the verses.
Question: In a chapter on the principle of reflecting on Hadīth, you say that all other Ahādīth on the same issue should also be taken into consideration. Yet on the punishment of someone who becomes an apostate, you have decided on the basis of one Hadīththat has been narrated from the Prophet (sws) but you do not seem to have considered several other Ahādīth that are cited on the issue.
Answer: I have considered all other Ahādīth. Actually, I look at what the narrator is saying. Often, the narrator claims to repeat what the Prophet (sws) said without either defining the background and context in which it was said or explaining the time and event at which the discussion took place. When the point was spoken, who were the addressees, is not clarified. It is necessary, therefore, to look at each Hadīthfrom all perspectives. I have looked at it from the Qur'ānic view. I have explained the specific Qur'ānic injunctions on which some of the narrations are based, those on which some of the Ahādīth are founded, and have explained these as well. Until now, an apologetic tone had been adopted, or else narrations which no one today is even ready to believe were being discussed. I have at least clarified that such and such Hadīthwas stated at such a time and place, and it holds a particular relevance in a particular Qur'ānic context.
Question: Talking about qirā'at (variant readings) in your book, you mention Ibn Shihāb al-Zuhrī and his famous narrative on seven ahruf, and you say that it is unacceptable because it does not meet the standard criteria, and that the scholars have said similarly about him. In other parts of your book, some other narratives of Ibn Shihāb al-Zuhrī have been taken. How is it that some of his narratives are acceptable, while others are not? Why the contradiction?
Answer: I do not think you have read this chapter of my book either. I have asked questions that this narrative raises. Then I go on to explain that such questionable narratives are to be found among those from Ibn Shihāb al-Zuhrī that affect the Qur'ān, and are also about 'Ā'ishah (rta) and 'Umar (rta). We should be careful about such narratives. But if the Hadīthscholars have accepted Ibn Shihāb al-Zuhrī, I too do not object to the extent of throwing all of his narrations out. I say that there are certain types of narratives we should be careful of. The care that we should take should be to consider them in the light of the Qur'ān: they should not go against Qur'ānic teachings; they should not go against the Sunnah. Additionally, we should consider if there is anything which goes against our common sense or not. If you take these words out, you should then see what my objections are, if any. Please listen to what I have written in my book, and then decide what it is that I am saying, and what is the meaning that others seem to have attributed to my words. This is what I have written:
"Same is the case of the narratives which record the collection of the Qur'ān in the time of the caliphs Abū Bakr (rta) and 'Uthmān (rta). The Qur'ān specifies that it was arranged and collected in the time of the Prophet (sws) under the direct guidance of the Almighty, as has been referred to earlier. On the other hand, these narratives present an entirely different picture which is not only against the Qur'ān but also against common sense. In the six canonical books, these narratives are primarily recorded on the authority of Ibn Shihāb al-Zuhrī (d. 124 AH). Authorities of rijāl regard him to be guilty of tadlīs and idrāj. Besides these, if some other facets of his personality as referred to by Imām Layth ibn Sa'd (d. 175 AH) in his letter to Imām Mālik (d. 179 AH) are kept in consideration, none of the narratives reported by him regarding such important issues as this is acceptable."
This is what I have written. In matters of lesser importance, there is no harm in accepting his narratives. In such cases, there are other criteria which we keep in mind.
Question: In the distinction between Hadīthand Sunnah, you define Sunnah to be the traditions and practices that have come from Abraham (sws), and that were promulgated throughout the Muslim nation by the Prophet (sws) through his actions, words, speech and approval and confirmation. Which religious scholar in our history has defined the Sunnah as the tradition of Abraham (sws)?
Answer: Before answering this question, let us understand first what the elements that we have as Sunnah really are. Make a list of these, and then see from the Qur'ān whether they were really started by the Prophet (sws). Take the most significant: the daily prayers. The Qur'ān tells us that all prophets gave instructions to offer prayers. When Abraham (sws) came and settled Ishmael (sws) in Makkah, they said the same thing. Each prophet has been mentioned and we see that this tradition has been in the world from the very beginning. What would you say about hajj? Did the Prophet (sws) initiate it? It is well known that it is a form of worship that has been in practice since the times of Abraham (sws).The Qur'ān says that when Abraham (sws) built the Ka'bah, God asked for the hajj to be announced as an annual pilgrimage. The same is true of zakāh. These are the facts that I have discussed in my book. I will repeat that religious scholars who have also researched into the matter are well aware of this fact. Shāh Walīullāh has given this list in his book, Hujjatullāh al-Bālighah, and has said that this is a tradition from Abraham's time that was organized and given formal status by the Prophet (sws) through his actions and words and propagated across the Muslim world. I have used three words to signify what the Prophet (sws) did to the tradition that came from other prophets and from Abraham (sws). If it was dead, he revived it; if some distortions or innovations had crept into it, he reformed it; and if it required any addition for completion, he added to it. These were the three things the Prophet (sws) did to the Abrahamic Sunnah and then propagated it. This is exactly the same as what is said in the Qur'ān:
شَرَعَ لَكُم مِّنَ الدِّينِ مَا وَصَّى بِهِ نُوحًا وَالَّذِي أَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْكَ وَمَا وَصَّيْنَا بِهِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَمُوسَى وَعِيسَى أَنْ أَقِيمُوا الدِّينَ وَلَا تَتَفَرَّقُوا فِيهِ (13:42)
He has enjoined on you the same religion which He enjoined on Noah, and which We have now revealed to you, which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, with the assertion: "Adhere to this religion [in your lives] and do not create any divisions in it." (42:13)
This is what I am saying too. Why does this require any arguments?
Question: According to you, the Sunnah has been transmitted through uninterrupted continuity (tawātur). How does one gain access to this continuity? How does one know that the entire community has been in agreement with it and has been practicing it as religion? If you have a definite and final origin of this continuity, there must also be a definitive and final list of the Sunnah. However, we saw that you developed a list, and soon afterwards a revised list was produced. In these additions or reductions of your list of Sunnah, what is the ultimate source that you rely on?
Answer: I have used two words, ijma' (consensus) and tawātur (continuity). We have received the Qur'ān and the Sunnah both from ijmā' and tawātur. These are found within the Muslim nation. You will find these in the Qur'ān, in a religious book, the words of a religious scholar, in what the teacher is saying in a madrasah. The fact will also be in evidence in everyone's acts. Its knowledge will be collective knowledge and a continuous action will be generated. This is the situation of ijma' and tawātur. If I ask you, how you have received the Qur'ān, your answer will be from ijma' and tawātur. All scholars are agreed on this source. Ibn 'Abd al-Barr says that the Sunnah is divided into two: the first is the sort that is being transmitted by Muslims from one generation to the other. No one has the right to refute transmission of Sunnah in this form. If someone does disagree, it is a matter of faith and disbelief. This will only be for the sake of argument and there is no basis to go against it. So, I use the same source for the Sunnah that others use. I have not used any other method to determine its source. The second, according to Ibn 'Abd al-Barr, is what is transmitted through akhbār-i ahād.
If someone asks you, who was the founder of Pakistan, you would answer, the Quaid e Azam. How did you know? Everyone knows. It is written in books, it is taught in schools, and each time it is talked about, the same fact will be mentioned. This is how facts are transmitted through ijmā' and tawātur. What has been obtained through akhbār-i ahād and through the Sunnah are often mixed with each other. I have sorted them out and differentiated each from the other. Having done this, I, too, am a human being, and can be mistaken. There were one or two things I was concerned with and which I thought I could be wrong about. I admitted so, and made these changes.
(Translated by Nikhat Sattar)