The Status of Hadith in the Shari'ah
Question: You have somewhere said: "The fact that Hadith is also a form of divine revelation is a man-made argument. The Prophet (sws), it is clear from the Qur'an, did receive revelation that was outside the Qur'an. I can prove it from the Qur'an. However, whatever divine revelation has been revealed outside the Qur'an, whether to Prophet Muhammad (sws) or other Prophets, all of it is subservient to the Qur'an. The Qur'an has come to dominate over everything else. If this point is not accepted then, the least that can be said is that the true status of the Qur'an has not been appreciated."
So where should Muslims get their religious guidance from primarily? Wouldn't Hadith fall within the ambit of primary sources?
Answer: The question as to where we get our religious guidance from is a serious one. It cannot be decided on the basis of mere emotional attachments to one school of thought or another. It has to be based on carefully considered realities. My understanding on the issue is as follows.
There are two unchallengeable sources of shari'ah from where we get all its injunctions: the Qur'an and the Sunnah. Both are equally authentic in the way they were transmitted to the ummah. Hadith, if properly transmitted, is the most important secondary source of information which explains and clarifies what has already been given in the Qur'an and the Sunnah. It does neither add anything to what has been given as shari'ah in the original sources nor does it take away anything from them.
The Qur'an is the word of God, fully preserved by God Himself (15:9) through the process of memorizing. There were scores of huffaz (those who had memorized the entire text of it) in the first generation of Muslims, who were followed by hundreds and thousands in the later generations.
There has been no single day when Muslims have been without the complete Divine Book in the original, pure form after the demise of the Prophet (sws).
The case of the Sunnah is no different. The Prophet (sws) introduced certain practices as part of the Islamic shari'ah, which started getting followed immediately in a way that continuity of practice has been meticulously maintained from day one. All Muslims have been following these religious practices given to them by the Prophet from the beginning of the Muslim history. The daily prayers, zakah, h~ajj, fasting, funeral prayers, jumu'ah prayers, 'id prayers, circumcision of male children etc., are some of the examples.
Books of Hadith, that contain a record of what the Prophet (sws) said, or did, or what happened during his times were compiled – apart from Mu'atta of Imam Malik– in the third century AH. Despite the fact that the information contained in these books is in some cases an extremely well-preserved record of the Prophet's era, as much as humans could manage at that time, what these books contain cannot add a single item to the list of injunctions that are called shari'ah. All that A%hadithdo is that they explain and clarify what is already there in the Qur'an and Sunnah.
There are a number of reasons why the above claim should be accepted as correct. I'll mention here one that is the most important of them all.
It is a well known fact that the authentic books of A%hadithwere compiled and published in the third century of hijrah calendar. Mu'atta of Imam Malik, which is not one of the sihah sittah, was introduced in the second half of the second century hijrah. Prior to the compilation of these books, A%hadithwere not available to the ummah. Only a few individuals had them, and nobody – not a single individual – had them all. If A%hadithwere a necessary source of shari'ah that were to explain some aspects of Islamic law that are not there in the Qur'an and Sunnah, then it will have to be acknowledged that almost the entire ummah lived for the first one-and-a-half century, God forbid, without complete information about the Islamic law. What we believe is that the first three generations were the best of the ummah! Alhamdulillah, they were fully informed about the entire code of Islam through the Qur'an and the Sunnah, which, as explained earlier, were introduced to the entire ummah from day one.
Difference between Hadith and Sunnah
Question: I have a question concerning the difference between Sunnah and Hadith. Although you have tried to distinguish between the two, the problem is how to identify and categorize them accordingly. This becomes more difficult when it is said that Islam deals with all spheres of life and not just its religious aspects. This would mean all aspects of Prophetic life directly concern Islam, which would mean that all A%hadith become Sunnah. For example, eating habits are sometimes considered to have divine origin where only right handedness is meant to be righteous. Kindly throw some light on this issue.
Answer: In order to distinguish between Sunnah and Hadith, we (I mean the school of thought I am representing) tend to highlight a few features:
i) Sunnah is always an act of the Prophet (sws) while a Hadith is a report of his statement, act, silent approval or an incident that took place in his life.
ii) Sunnah has come down to us from generation to generation while Hadith has been reported, in most cases, by one individual to another. Thus the act that qualifies as Sunnah is undoubtedly authentic – quite as authentic as the Qur'an itself – while Hadith, at best, carries a strong probability that it may have been correctively reported. This is because God Almighty arranged the two sources to be the way they are: He arranged Sunnah to remain completed beyond doubt, because it was to be a part of His last message and allowed Hadith to be a human effort at preserving information about the Prophet (sws).
iii) Sunnah is clear in what it stands for where as the context of a hadith had to be understood (and therefore interpreted) by all the narrators involved in the chain of transmission. The process of interpretation has also got to be done now by whoever is to benefit from a Hadith.
iv) Sunnah has to be religious because the Prophet (sws) like all other Prophets came to give God's message in the form of religion to mankind.
The last point of differentiation is quite clear, but has been made to appear not quite as such by the people who have attempted to present Islam as a way of life. The question is that if it was a way of life in which everything – including the minute details of practical life – had to be taken from the Prophet's life, then it should have been the Prophet himself who should have told people to do so. When he clarifies that he had come only to deliver what is religion from God, who else has the authority to alter that understanding?
As for the question as to how can we distinguish a Sunnah from a non- Sunnah in the literature of Hadith, we'll have to look for practices that are mentioned in Hadith literature which are also being universally followed amongst Muslims as such. Prayers, jumu'ah prayers, funeral prayers, bathing of the dead and many other practices are the ones that are mentioned in the Hadith literature, and Muslims have adopted them in their lives as part of their religion.
Interestingly, this test of universality is the best guide in knowing the antithesis of Sunnah – bid'ah – as well. If there is a practice that has gotten introduced in the name of religion in a certain region but is confined to a certain region alone, it is a bid'ah, like the rituals performed in the subcontinent after the death of a dear one.
We know that the Prophet (sws) travelled on camels, horses, and donkeys; he advised people to resort to medicines that were available during his times; he had his own taste for dishes which were different from the tastes of others; and he fought battles with swords and other forms of equipment of warfare that were available during his times. Muslim scholars have never considered any of these acts of him as Sunnah, because they have nothing to do with religion.
I agree that at times there can be a difference of opinion on certain acts of his whether they were religious or not. This difference of opinion occurred during the time of the Prophet (sws) as well. In such cases, it seems that the following criterion would help. Any act that belongs to any of these categories is religious, otherwise it is not:
i) Worship, remembrance of God etc.
ii) Physical cleanliness
iii) Cleanliness of edibles
iv) Ethics and morality
Reciting Surah Fatihahupon the Dead
Question: Surah Fatihahis a request which also includes a research review of two groups of past people. It reflects a practical approach for the interested person. I would like to know what is the link of this surah with the dead, and what's the significance of reciting it upon their graves? Please advise.
Answer: Your question is based on the assumption that the practice of some of the Muslims, especially those belonging to the Indo-Pak subcontinent wherein they recite Surah Fatihahfollowed by Surah Ikhlasthree times is correct, when indeed, this has no basis whatsoever in the tradition of Prophet Muhammad (sws). People died during his times, he arranged for their funeral prayer, he recited a prayer after the burial, and that's about it! There weren't any other practices that were conducted by the Prophet (sws), and so was true for his companions. Whatever that is suggested to the Muslims in religious matters, which has no basis in the practice of the Prophet (sws), is an innovation (bid'ah), and if anything, it needs to be condemned.
By its very content, Surah Fatihahhas nothing to do with the soul of the departed. It is a prayer offered by each individual for his/her own benefit. No question, thus, about it benefiting anybody else! Any intent and action diverging from the intent of the surah and the practice of the Prophet (sws), needs to be curbed and so must we resist from it.
Remembering Allah and Placing Trust in Him
Question: Is this report reliable, and if it is, could you please explain the significance or the intent of the message:
The Prophet (sws) reported that Allah said: "I [will respond according to] what my servant thinks of Me, and I am with him when he remembers Me. So if he remembers Me in secret, I will remember him in secret and if he remembers me in a group, I will remember him in a better group." (Muslim, No: 4,832)
Answer: My inclination is, and Allah knows best, that the first part of this Hadith is inviting believers to have trust in Allah Almighty. Obviously, we need to have trust in Him only in a way that is acceptable to the teachings of Islam. What it means is that we should do our part of the job and then trust Him in matters that are legitimate. We should not be unnecessarily overawed by the circumstances if there is an important objective to be achieved. The Almighty would do according to the extent of trust an individual has reposed in Him.
What this Hadith doesn't obviously mean is that an individual should start imagining that the Almighty would do things for him/her which He has already clarified He wouldn't do. For instance, the Almighty has promised forgiveness to His servants if they seek it through sincere repentance. However, if someone, relying on an erroneous understanding of this Hadith, concludes that His God would forgive him anyway, then it would be a very misleading conclusion.
What has been promised to a believer in the second part of the Hadith by God Almighty is something special. You see, when you remember someone by mentioning him/her to others, you may or may not be fully involved in truly remembering the person yourself in your heart. When you remember someone in your heart, that person must be very special for you. Remembering here means, to me, not just a casual thought. It is remembering with fondness. Imagine God Almighty fondly remembering you in His Heart! Can there be a greater privilege than that?
I think the mention of a better group is referring to angels. That's how it has been mentioned in some other A%hadith. Allah knows the best. May the Almighty enable us to belong to that category.
Significance of the Worldly Life
Question: I have a question which is really disturbing me nowadays. I wish I could ask this in person but the burden of studies does not let this be done.
Actually, I heard a preacher quoting a Hadith of the Holy Prophet (sws) saying, "You should strive in the world according to the proportion you have to live here, and strive for the hereafter according to the proportion you have to live there".
While well knowing the amount of time there, when one day would be equal to thousands of days on this earth one can easily infer that the infinite life over there would be greater than million years on the earth. This implies that we should completely forget/ignore this world as it would have infinitesimal value as compared to the hereafter and pass our whole life only in worrying about the life after death.
I personally believe that there should be a balance. I remember an author quoting the daily schedule of the Holy Prophet (sws) that he had divided his day into three (3) portions, i.e., one for worship, one for the people/trade and one for his family. But I'm not sure how far are these A%hadith quoted properly. I need your guidance in this regard.
Answer: The statement you have quoted in your question is correct, but the meanings sometimes construed from it are misleading. Indeed we should devote time for the worldly affairs proportionate to its significance and likewise for the Hereafter. However, that doesn't imply that we should say goodbye to the worldly obligations completely. Had that been Islam's ideal, we would have found the Prophet (sws) not participating in any worldly activity at all. The fact that he fully participated in the worldly affairs is enough reason for us to reject this understanding.
The truth of the matter is that we are expected to earn our rewards for the Hereafter from this very life. That would require us to get involved not only in ibadat but also in ''mundane worldly affairs''. However, in the case of the latter activities, we are expected to abide by the rules laid down by Islam. Thus if we carry out our worldly obligations in accordance with the injunctions and the spirit of Islamic shari'ah, we will be leading a fully akhirah-oriented life.
As for the question of how an individual should allocate his time for various possible engagements that would enable him to get the best results (from the point of view of the afterlife), there can be no one answer for everyone. It depends on many factors: one's circumstances, abilities, and natural inclinations. However, whatever one does, one should be obsessed with the concerns of the life hereafter. Allah Almighty, it is hoped, will be kind in forgiving our minor blemishes.
Practice of the Prophet (sws) on Visiting the Graves
Question: I understand that we should strictly follow the Sunnah of the Prophet (sws). It is stated that he used to visit graves. I would be grateful if you could enlighten me as to what he used to do at the graveyards?
Answer: One of the prayers that the Prophet (sws) is reported to have made while visiting a graveyard was in these words:
Peace be on you, O! the residents of graves. May God forgive you. You have preceded us and we are following your footsteps. (Tirmadhi, No: 1053)
Since graves of relatives are an effective reminder of death, the Prophet (sws) encouraged believers to visit them frequently. Of course, prayers were also rendered for the forgiveness of the dead and for raising their status in the Afterlife.
What I may have emphasized is that no prayer of the Prophet (sws) for the dead contains a mention that indicates that he asked the Almighty to transfer any of his own deeds in favour of any deceased person. That is something completely against the principles of Islam. And Allah knows best.