The Way Of The Believers
Are the Traditions (Sunnah) mandatory,
conclusive and binding? Or, can a Muslim ignore or reject them?
To make clear that adherence to the path of the believers is obligatory,
the Quran itself says:
opposeth the Messenger after the guidance (of Allah) hath been manifested
unto him, and followeth other than the believers' way, We appoint
for him that unto which he himself hath turned, and expose him unto
Hell - a hopeless journey's end." (Quran
This warning to those who follow
a way other than the " believers" way is indeed stern.
They have been condemned as deserving of the penalty of Fire. What
then is the believers' way?
Are the sayings and deeds of the
Prophet (saws) (i.e. the Sunnah and the Traditions) to be considered
conclusive as a source of law and regarded as the guiding principles
of life or not?
When we turn to Islamic history and
tradition to find out how the earliest Muslims conducted themselves
in this regard the following incidents stand out.
(I) It is stated in Taareekh
al-Khulafaa' that whenever a dispute came up before Abu Bakr he,
first of all, looked into the Quran and decided the case accordingly,
if he found it there. But if he did not find it in the Quran,
he referred to his knowledge of the practice of the Prophet (saws)
and decided the case accordingly. If he failed to find it there
also, he inquired from other Companions about it. In some instances
many Companions came forward and informed him of the Prophet's (saws)
decision in a similar case. On such an occasion Abu Bakr would exclaim:
"Praise be to Allah Who hath created among us men who remember
the sayings of the Prophet." (saws).
(ii) The first and most perplexing
problem to arise after the death of the Prophet (saws) was that
of succession. The Companions sought the solution for this also
in the Sunnah of the Prophet (saws).
In books like Tabaqaat of Ibn Sa'd
and Taareekh al-Khulafaa', 'Alee is reported to have said that "on
the Prophet's (saws) death we deliberated over the matter (i.e.
the question of succession) and felt that in his lifetime, the Prophet
(saws) had appointed Abu Bakr to lead the prayer service (i.e. to
function as Imam). Hence, we chose for our world whom the Prophet
(saws) had chosen for our faith and made Abu Bakr his successor."
It is further related in Taareekh
al-Khulafaa', on the authority of Ibn Mas'ood, that on the death
of the Prophet (saws) the Ansaar were heard to say that "there
should be one Ameer (i.e. leader) from among us (i.e. Ansaar) and
another from among you (i.e. the Muhaajireen or emigrants)."
Upon it, 'Umar went to the Ansaar and said: "O Ansaar! Don't
you know that the Prophet (saws) had appointed Abu Bakr to lead
in Salaah? If you do, tell me who has the heart to take precedence
over Abu Bakr." On hearing it, the eyes of the Ansaar opened
and they cried out passionately: "We seek refuge in Allah against
taking precedence over Abu Bakr." (Taareekh al-Khulafaa')
In other words, when the Sunnah of
the Prophet (saws) was brought to the knowledge of the Ansaar, they
were satisfied and accepted it wholeheartedly.
(iii) Another problem that
arose on the death of the Prophet (saws) concerned his burial. There
was disagreement over where his body should be laid to rest, and
that too was settled in accordance with the Traditions.
In the history already cited, as
well as in some others such as Taareekh al-Kaamil, it is stated
that when the dispute arose, Abu Bakr related that he had heard
the Messenger of Allah say that "a Prophet (saws) is buried
at the same place where he breathes his last. So his bed was lifted
and he was buried there" (al-Kaamil, Vol. 2, p225). All differences
disappeared immediately after this and the Prophet (saws) was buried,
by general consent, in the sacred ground of the room in which he
(iv) A most important event
in the history of Islam is that of the compilation of the Quran.
When 'Umar suggested to Abu Bakr that the whole of the Quran
should be put together and preserved between the covers of a single
volume, the latter initially hesitated. "How can I undertake
a task", he would say again and again, "which the Prophet
(saws) himself did not take in hand?" Later, when Abu Bakr
was convinced, he wanted to assign the work to Zayd ibn Thaabit.
But Zayd too was hesitant for the same reason. When, however, Allah
caused his heart to open and brought certainty to his mind on the
correctness of the stand taken by the two Shaykhs (i.e. Abu Bakr
and 'Umar), he consented. (Bukhari, Jaami' al-Quran).
The object of narrating this incident
here is to underline the fact that the Companions habitually sought
guidance from the Sunnah of the Prophet (saws).
(v) It is stated in Imam Maalik's
al-Muwatta that once the grandmother of a person who had died came
to Abu Bakr and claimed her share in the property left by him. Abu
Bakr said to her: "Your claim is not established by the Quran
and I am not aware of anything in the Sunnah of the Prophet (saws)
to support your claim. You should, therefore, go back at present
so that I may inquire from other people."
Afterwards, when Abu Bakr made the
enquiry he was told by Mugheerah b. Shu'bah that the Prophet (saws)
had in his presence awarded one-sixth of the property of a deceased
man to his grandmother. Abu Bakr then asked him to bring a witness
to support him in his narration, and Muhammad b. Maslamah supported
Mugheerah. Abu Bakr, thereupon, accepted the Hadith and allotted
one-sixth of the legacy to the woman (al-Muwatta, Meeraath al-Jaddah).
(vi) When the land of the
Zoroastrians was added to the Islamic state, 'Umar had to decide
whether or not Jizyah could be levied on them. (It is mentioned
in the Quran that Jizyah should be realized from the People
of the Scripture alone, which, in its terminology, applied only
to the Jews and the Christians). It was only after 'Abd ar-Rahmaan
b. 'Awf had testified that the Prophet had realised Jizyah from
the fire-worshippers of Hajr that 'Umar imposed it on the Zoroastrians
(vii) It is mentioned in Sahih
Bukhari that once a person inquired from Ibn 'Abbaas if a woman
gave birth to a child only forty days after the death of her husband
would her 'Iddah (waiting period) be deemed to have expired with
it. Ibn 'Abbaas replied that the period of waiting will terminate
at childbirth or completion of four months and ten days, whichever
is later. Abu Salmah and Abu Hurayrah were also present at that
time. On hearing the decision of Ibn 'Abbaas, Abu Salmah pointed
out that it was set forth in the Quran that:
"And for those
with child, their period shall be till they bring forth their burden."
What Abu Salmah intended to signify
was that in the case at hand the period of waiting ('Iddah) had
ended. Abu Hurayrah too said that he agreed with the view of his
nephew, Aboo Salmah. Ibn 'Abbaas then sent his servant, Kurayb,
to Umm Salmah who, on learning about the nature of the case, recalled
that Subay'ah al-Aslamiyah was expecting when her husband was martyred.
Forty days after that, her child was born and offers of marriage
began to come to her. The Prophet, (saws) thereupon, saw her married
(Bukhari, Kitaab at-Tafseer).
Commenting on this, Haafiz Ibn Hajar
writes: "It is said that Ibn 'Abbaas changed his opinion as
a result of it, and it is also supported by the fact that the statement
of his disciples is in accord with the view of the general body
of the Muslims."
The practice of the Companions having
recourse to the Sunnah of the Prophet (saws) in the event of a difference
of opinion or an apparent contradiction between two verses of the
Quran, is borne out clearly by this incident.
(viii) Hostilities had been
suspended, for a certain period of time, following an agreement
with the Roman Empire. However, Mu'aawiyah began to march his army
towards the enemy territory with the intention that he would not
restart the war during the suspension but be close enough to the
enemy to launch a sudden attack at the end of the stipulated period.
One day, Mu'aawiyah saw a rider coming towards him, calling out
loudly: "Allaahu Akbar! Allaahu Akbar! The covenant is to be
kept, not broken!" The rider was a Companion of the Prophet
(saws) named 'Amr b. 'Absah. Mu'aawiyah asked him what the matter
was. He replied: "I have heard the Messenger of Allah say that
when anyone entered into a covenant with a community he should not
make an alteration in it till its time has expired or advance information
has been given to the other party." Mu'aawiyah thereupon returned
to the capital with his troops (at-Tirmidhi, as-siyar 1629).
(ix) Once 'Umar set out for
Syria from Madeenah. On reaching the place called Sargh, he was
informed by the commanders of the army that a plague had broken
out violently in that country. 'Umar, then, held consultations with
the Muhaajireen and the Ansaar accompanying him but differing views
were expressed. Some were in favour of returning while others felt
it was out of the question for they had embarked on the journey
in the cause of Allah. On seeing the disagreement, 'Umar asked them
to leave and called for those Muhaajireen of the Quraysh who were
participants in the conquest of Makkah. When they came, they unanimously
supported the idea to go back. 'Umar, consequently, decided to return
but Aboo 'Ubayda disagreed. 'Umar and the others were in this dilemma
when 'Abd ar-Rahmaan b. 'Awf turned up. He had not participated
in the consultation and was, therefore, unaware of the problem.
On learning of it, he observed: "I know a thing in this regard."
"You are reliable and trustworthy. Tell us what you know,"
said 'Umar. 'Abd ar-Rahmaan b. 'Awf said that he heard the Messenger
of Allah say: "When you come to know that an epidemic is raging
at some place do not go there. But if the epidemic breaks out at
a place you live do not move out of it with the intention of fleeing"
(al-Kaamil, Vol. 2, p392).
The disagreement was at once resolved
and 'Umar returned to Madeenah.
(x) In Taereekh al-Kaamil,
Taareekh al-Khulafaa' and all other history books it is stated that
on the death of 'Umar. 'Abd ar-Rahmaan b. 'Awf and the rest of the
Companions chose 'Uthmaan as the Caliph and took the vow of allegiance
to him in these words: "We take the oath of allegiance at your
hand on the condition that you will act in accordance with the Scripture
(i.e. the Quran), the Sunnah of the Prophet (saws) and the
practice of the two earlier Caliphs" (al-Kaamil, Vol. 3, p37).
These ten examples are in truth only
a small and specimen handful. We could have given many more but
these do indeed suffice. For, taking them into account, no fair-minded
person can deny that the earliest Muslims sought guidance from the
Sunnah and the Traditions in all aspects of life.