Sunnah: The Second Source of Islamic Law
The Sunnah of the Holy Prophet Muhammad ( ) has been accepted as an important source of Islamic law, next in importance only to the Holy Qur’ân. This status of the sunnah has remained unchallenged and undisputed throughout the centuries. There have been many differences among Muslims in their juristic opinions, but the authority of the Holy Qur’ân and the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet () was never denied by any jurist. Leaving aside some scattered individuals who separated themselves from the main stream of the Muslim population, nobody has ever refused to accept the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet ( ) as a sacred source of the Islamic law.
The position is still the same, but some non-Muslim orientalists and some of their followers have tried, during the last century to cast some doubts in the authority or the veracity of Hadîth and to develop a suspicious attitude towards the Sunnah. That is why some Muslims who are unable to study Islam through its original sources, when they read such books, often become a bit skeptical in the subject.
The present article intends, therefore, to provide an objective and simple account of the SUNNAH based on the original sources of Islamic learning. The purpose is not to indulge in a hot atmosphere of argumentation which has no bounds or limits, but to narrate the truth as it stands.
Definition of Sunnah
The Sunnah has been defined by the scholars of the science of Hadîth as follows:
“A word spoken, or an act done, or a confirmation given by the Holy Prophet Muhammad ( ).”
“Confirmation” in this definition is termed in Arabic as Taqreer. What is meant by this term is like somebody said something, or acted in a particular manner, and his saying or act came to the knowledge of the Holy Prophet ( ) and he either confirmed it in express words or remained silent without given any indication of disapproval. Such silence, being an implied approval of the Holy Prophet ( ) is also included in the term Sunnah.
As the Sunnah, with all its three kinds (saying, act and confirmation) relates to the Holy Prophet ( ), its true status in Islamic law cannot be ascertained without ascertaining the status of the Holy Prophet ( ) himself.
The Status of the Holy Prophet ()
So, the first pertinent question in the subject is: What status does a prophet occupy when he is sent to the people? Has he no higher a status than that or a message-carrier or a postman who, after delivering the letter, has no concern with it whatsoever? The answer is certainly in the negative. The prophets are not sent merely to deliver the word of Allâh. They are also required to explain the divine Book, to interpret it, to expound it, to demonstrate the ways of its application and to present a practical example of its contents. Their duty is not restricted to reciting the words of the Book, rather they are supposed to teach it and to train people to run their lives in accordance with its requirements. The Holy Qur’ân leaves no doubt concerning this point by saying:
Allâh has surely blessed the believers with His favor when He raised in their midst a Messenger from among themselves, who recites to them His verses and makes them pure and teaches them the Book and the Wisdom, while they were, earlier in open error. (3:164)
He (Allâh) is the One who raised up, among the unlettered, a Messenger from among themselves who recites the verses of Allâh, and makes them pure, and teaches them the Book and the Wisdom. (62:2)
The same functions were attributed to the Holy Prophet ( ) in the prayer of Sayyidna Ibrahim ( ) when, according to the Holy Qur’ân, he prayed:
Our Lord, raise in their midst a messenger from among themselves who recites to them Your verses and teaches them the Book and the Wisdom and purifies them… (2:129)
These are the terms of reference given to the Holy Prophet ( ) which include four distinct functions and the Holy Prophet ( ) has been entrusted with all of them:
(1) Recitation of the Verses of Allâh.
(2) Teaching the Book of Allâh.
(3) Teaching the Wisdom.
(4) Making the people pure.
Thus, the Holy Qur’ân leaves no ambiguities in the fact that the Holy Prophet ( ) is not supposed to merely recite the verses and then leave it to the people to interpret and apply them in whatever manner they like. Instead, he is sent to “teach” the Book. Then, since teaching the Book is not enough, he is also required to teach “Wisdom” which is something additional to the “Book.” Still, this is not enough, therefore the Holy Prophet () has also to “make the people pure,” meaning thereby that the theoretical teaching of the Book and the “Wisdom” must be followed by a practical training to enable the people to apply the Book and the Wisdom in the way Allâh requires them to apply.
These verses of the Holy Qur’ân describe the following functions of the Holy Prophet ( ):
(a) He is the authority in the way the Holy Book [the Qur’ân] has to be recited.
(b) He has the final word in the interpretation of the Book.
(c) He is the only source at which the wisdom based on divine guidance can be learned.
(d) He is entrusted with the practical training of the people to bring his teachings into practice.
These functions of the Holy Prophet () can never be carried out unless his teachings, both oral and practical, are held to be authoritative for his followers, and the Muslims who are given under his training are made bound to obey and follow him. The functions (b) and (c), namely, the teaching of the Book and Wisdom require that his sayings should be binding on the followers, while the function (d), the practical training, requires that his acts should be an example for the Ummah, and the Ummah should be bound to follow it.
It is not merely a logical inference from the verses of the Holy Qur’ân quoted above, but it is also mentioned in express terms by the Holy Qur’ân in a large number of verses which give the Muslims a mandatory command to obey and follow him. While doing so, the Holy Qur’ân has used two different terms, namely the “itaa’ah” (to obey) and “ittibaa’” (to follow). The first term refers to the orders and sayings of the Holy Prophet ( ) while the second relates to his acts and practice. By ordering the Muslims both to “obey” and to “follow” the Holy Prophet ( ), the Holy Qur’ân has given an authority to both his sayings and acts.
The Obedience (Itaa’ah) of the Messenger
It is in this background that the Holy Qur’ân insists repeatedly on “the obedience of the Prophet” so much so that is is mentioned side by side with the obedience of Allâh:
Say: Obey Allâh and the Messenger, but if they turn their backs, Allâh loves not the disbelievers. (3:32)
And obey Allâh and the Messenger so that you may be blessed. (3:132)
O those who believe, obey Allâh and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. (4:59)
And obey Allâh and obey the Messenger and beware. (5:92)
So fear Allâh and set things right between you, and obey Allâh and His Messenger if you are believers. (8:1)
O those who believe, obey Allâh and His Messenger and do not turn away from him, while you are listening. (8:20)
And obey Allâh and His Messenger and do not quarrel with each other, and so lose heart. (8:46)
Say: Obey Allâh and obey the Messenger; then, if you turn away, upon him rests what is laid on him, and upon you rests what is laid on you. If you obey him, you will be guided. (24:54)
O those who believe, obey Allâh and obey the Messenger and do not make your deeds vain. (47:33)
So establish salaah and pay zakaah and obey Allâh and His Messenger. (58:13)
And obey Allâh and obey the Messenger but if you turn your backs, Our Messenger has only to deliver the manifest message. (64:12)
In these verses, “the obedience of the Messenger” has been ordered as an obligatory command. There are other verses in which the results of the “obedience of the Messenger” have been described. Here again the “obedience of the Messenger” has been combined with “the obedience of Allâh:”
And whoever obeys Allâh and His Messenger, Allâh shall admit him in the Gardens underneath which rivers flow. (4:13)
The same words have been repeated in (48:17) also.
And whoever obeys Allâh and the Messenger, they are in the company of those who Allâh has blessed. (4:69)
All that the believers say, when they are called to Allâh and His Messenger that he may judge between them, is that they say, “We hear and we obey”: it is these who are successful. Whoever obeys Allâh and His Messenger and fears Allâh and has awe of Him: it is these who are the winners. (24:52)
And whoever obeys Allâh and His Messenger, he has won a great success. (33:71)
And the believers, men and women, are friends of each other; they bid the fair and forbid the unfair; they establish sAllâh and pay zakaah and they obey Allâh and His Messenger. These are those upon whom Allâh shall have mercy; Allâh is All-Mighty, All-Wise. (9:71)
If you obey Allâh and His Messenger, He will not diminish you anything of your deeds. (49:14)
The Holy Qur’ân has also made it clear that “the obedience of the prophet” is not a new principle, nor is it limited to the Holy Prophet Muhammad ( ). The same principle applied to all the former prophets who came before him:
And we sent no messenger, but that he should be obeyed by the leave of Allâh. (4:64)
It is also clarified by the Holy Qur’ân that the prophets are the spokesmen of Allâh’s pleasure. Hence, the obedience of the prophet is actually obedience of Allâh Himself.
And whoever obeys the Messenger, thereby obeys Allâh. (4:80)
As the obedience of the Holy Prophet () has been stressed by the Holy Qur’ân and has been combined with the “obedience of Allâh,” in the same way “disobedience” of him has been warned against and is combined with the “disobedience of Allâh:”
And whoever disobeys Allâh and His Messenger and transgresses His limits, He shall admit him to Fire where he shall remain forever. (4:14)
And whoever disobeys Allâh and His Messenger has gone astray into manifest error. (33:36)
And whoever disobeys Allâh and His Messenger, for him there is the fire of Jahannam. There they shall remain forever. (72:23)
And whoever makes a breach with Allâh and His Messenger, then Allâh is severe in punishment. (8:13)
Did they not come to know that whoever opposes Allâh and His Messenger, for him there is the fire of Jahannam? (9:63)
Thus, both positive and negative aspects of the obedience have been dealt with in the Holy Qur’ân and the “obedience of the Holy Prophet ( )” in each one of these verses has been mentioned separately, alongwith the obedience of Allâh.
It is noteworthy that whenever the “obedience of Allâh” is mentioned in the Holy Qur’ân, it is always followed by the “obedience of the Prophet” which has never been missed even in a single verse. There is no verse in the entire Book where the “obedience of Allâh” has been mentioned alone with no reference to the “obedience of the Messenger.”
On the contrary, there are some verses where only the “obedience of the Messenger” has been mentioned, and there is no reference to the obedience of Allâh:
And establish salaah and pay zakaah and obey the Prophet so that you may be blessed. (24:56)
And if you obey him (the Prophet), you shall find the right path. (24:54)
On that day those who disbelieved and disobeyed the Messenger will wish that the earth might be levelled with them. (4:42)
And whoever makes a breach with the Messenger after the right path has become clear to him, and follows a way other than that of the believers, We shall let him own what he chose and shall admit him in the Jahannam, and it is evil as a returning place. (4:115)
The reason for so much stress upon the “obedience of the Prophet” is that the obedience of Allâh cannot be carried out except through the obedience of the Prophet. Allâh does not address each and every individual to tell him what He requires from him, as the Holy Qur’ân puts it:
And it is not possible for a human being that Allâh should speak to him, except by revelation, or from behind a curtain or that He should send a messenger and reveal by His leave what He wills. (42:51)
Therefore Allâh conveys His injunctions only through His prophets and His obedience cannot be carried out except by the obedience of the messengers. So, when a prophet bids something or forbids something, he does not do it in his private capacity, rather he does so in the capacity of a messenger of Allâh. When Allâh Himself has given an express command to “obey the Messenger,” the obedience of the Prophet ( ) is actually the “obedience of Allâh,” though in an indirect manner. This point has been clearly established by the Holy Qur’ân in the following words:
And whoever obeys the Messenger, thereby obeys Allâh. (4:80)
So, whenever only the “obedience of the Messenger” has been mentioned in the Holy Qur’ân, it includes, without saying, the “obedience of Allâh” because the Messenger does not say anything in the capacity of a Messenger unless he is guided by a revelation from Allâh:
And he (the Prophet ( ) does not speak out of his own desire. It is not but a revelation revealed (to him). (53:3-4)
Looked at from this angle, the obedience of the Prophet ( ) represents the obedience of Allâh and the reference to the former always includes the latter. That is why the Holy Qur’ân in some verses deemed it sufficient to refer to the obedience of the Messenger only, for the practical way to obey Allâh is only to obey the prophet.
On the contrary, the Holy Qur’ân did not deem it sufficient to refer to the “obedience of Allâh” without referring to the “obedience of the Messenger,” to remove even the remotest excuse for ignoring the “obedience of the Prophet” and to leave no doubt whatsoever in the fact that the obedience of Allâh is not complete unless the obedience of the Prophet ( ) is fully observed with all its implications.
Ittibaa’ (Following) of the Prophet
The second term used by the Holy Qur’ân in respect of the prophets is the ittibaa’, i.e. to follow:
Say, if you love Allâh, follow me and Allâh will love you and forgive you your sins. (3:31)
Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find written down with them in the Torah and the Injeel… (7:157)
Believe, then, in Allâh and His Messenger, the unlettered Prophet, who believes in Allâh and His words, and follow him so that you may be on the right path. (7:158)
Allâh has surely relented towards the Prophet and the Emigrants and the Helpers who followed him in an hour of difficulty. (9:117)
O Prophet, sufficient for you is Allâh and those who followed you of the believers. (8:64)
(The believers say:) Our Lord, we have come to believe in what You revealed and followed the Messenger. So write us among those who bear witness. (3:53)
Say: This is my way. I call to Allâh with sure knowledge, I and whoever follows me. (12:108)
The closest of the people to Ibrahim are those who follow him. (3:68)
And We set in the hearts of those who followed him (Jesus) tenderness and mercy. (57:27)
And warn the people of the day when the punishment comes on them and those who did evil shall say: Our Lord, defer us to a near term and we shall respond to Your call and shall follow the messengers. (14:44)
And We did not appoint the Qiblah on which you were earlier, but that We might know the people who follow the Messenger as distinct from those who turn back on their heels. (2:143)
He said: My people, follow the messenger! (36:20)
(Hârűn said:) And your Lord is the Rahmaan (the All-Merciful), so follow me and obey my command. (20:90)
So they (the disbelievers) said: Shall we follow a single human being from among us? Then, indeed we should be in error and insanity. (54:24)
All these verses, with different styles and connotations, lay a strong emphasis on the necessity of “following the prophets” and indicate that whoever believes in a prophet is bound to “follow” him. The reason is obvious. The prophets are sent to the people to set a practical example of what they teach and preach. Their message is not confined to their oral teachings. Their acts are equally important in any effort to discover, learn and follow the right way of living. The Holy Qur’ân is quite explicit on this point when it was said in Surah al-Ahzaab:
There is surely a good example for you in the Messenger of Allâh, for the one who hopes (to meet) Allâh and the Hereafter and remembers Allâh abundantly. (33:21)
It is an established fact that mere theoretical education cannot be sufficient for reforming a people. The natural way of reformation is to set a practical example which people may follow. Mere reading of books cannot make a person perfect in a science or art, unless he is simultaneously trained by a senior scholar or a skillful artist of that field. If somebody studies the books of medical science, but does not work under the supervision of an experienced doctor, he, despite his thorough study, cannot claim to serve as a doctor, nor can such a person be allowed to play with the lives of the patients.
If somebody studies books of law, he cannot claim to be a lawyer unless he acquires a practical training from a senior lawyer and remains for a considerable time under his juniorship.
Even a plain enthusiast who wants to cook a good meal cannot do so perfectly by merely studying the books written on the subject, although all the ingredients required for cooking the food are mentioned in the book and even the minute details of the process are fully described. But a person who has never cooked that meal before cannot prepare it just right and perfect with the sole help of a cookbook unless he is practically trained by some expert. That expert sets a practical example for him and he, by following the example, gradually learns how to cook that good meal.
It clearly shows that human beings are always in need of a practical example in order to learn an important subject. The same is true in the matter of religious teaching and training.
That is why Allâh did not choose to send the divine books only. He always sent a messenger with the book. There are many prophets who came without a new divine book. But there is no divine book sent down without a prophet. The disbelievers of Makkah, too, demanded many times that the Book should be revealed to them without the mediation of the Holy Prophet ( ). But the demand was rejected and the Book was sent through the Holy Prophet ( ).
The reason is obvious. Humanity did not need a divine book only. It also needed a teacher who could teach them the contents of the Book. It also needed an instructor who could train them and could set a practical example for them without which they could not benefit from the Book in their practical life. It was for this reason that the Holy Prophet () was sent with a clear direction to all human beings that they are bound to obey and follow him and to learn the details of Allâh’s pleasure through the practical example set before them by him. It was also clarified in the foregoing verse of the Holy Book that the “obedience of the Messenger” is actually the “obedience of Allâh” and that the latter cannot be carried out except through the former, because whatever the Holy Prophet ( ) says or does in the capacity of a prophet is based on the revelation received by him from Allâh. Thus, his sayings and acts both, even though they are not contained in the Holy Qur’ân, are inspired or confirmed by the divine revelation.
Two Kinds of Revelation
It follows from the foregoing discussion that the revelation the Holy Prophet ( ) received from Allâh is of two different kinds:
(i) the revelation of the Qur’ân, the Holy Book, named in the Islamic terminology as al-wahy al-matluww (the recited revelation, i.e. the revelation which can be recited in the prayers). This kind of revelation is confined to the verses of the Holy Qur’ân and is written verbally in its folds.
(ii) the revelation received by the Holy Prophet ( ) from time to time to let him know the pleasure of Allâh in day-to-day affairs and the details of the principles laid down in the Holy Qur’ân with their correct interpretation. This kind of revelation is called al-wahy ghair al-matluww (the unrecited revelation). This kind of revelation is not conveyed to the people verbally. It has been demonstrated through the sayings and acts of the Holy Prophet ( ).
The Second Kind of Revelation Proved by the Holy Qur’ân
This second kind of revelation is not contained in the Holy Qur’ân, but the Holy Qur’ân itself not only refers to it frequently but attributes its contents to Allâh Almighty. Some verses of the Holy Book are reproduced below which clearly prove that the “revelation” is not confined to the Holy Qur’ân, but there is another kind of “wahy” which does not form part of the “Holy Book,” yet it is the revelation from Allâh Almighty:
First Example: The Holy Qur’ân says:
And We did not appoint the Qiblah on which you were earlier, but that We might know the people who follow the Messenger as distinct from those who turn back on their heels. (2:143)
In order to understand the verse, it is necessary to know the background in which it was revealed:
In the early days of Madani life, after the Holy Prophet’s ( ) migration to Madinah, the Muslims were ordered to direct their faces in prayers towards Baytul-Maqdas (Jerusalem) which had been appointed as Qiblah of the Muslims. Up to seventeen months, the Muslims had been observing the Baytul-Maqdas as their Qiblah. It was after seventeen months that the Holy Qur’ân abrogated the earlier order and the Muslims were required to observe the Holy Mosque of Makkah as their Qiblah and turn their faces towards it while praying. The following verse was revealed to appoint the new Qiblah:
…So turn your face towards al-Masjid al-Haraam. (2:144)
This new order was criticized by some disbelievers and they objected on it as to why the Baytul-Maqdas was appointed as Qiblah earlier. The above quoted verse (2:143) was revealed to answer this objection. The answer was that the appointment of the former Qiblah was in order to test the people whether or not they follow the Messenger. To quote the meaning of the verse again:
And We did not appoint the Qiblah on which you were earlier, but that We might know the people who follow the Messenger… (2:143)
Here the appointment of the previous Qiblah has been attributed to Allâh Almighty, which is a clear indication to the fact that the appointment of Baytul-Maqdas as Qiblah was done by the order of Allâh Almighty Himself. But this order is nowhere in the Holy Qur’ân, and there is no verse in the Holy Book which directs the turning of faces towards Baytul-Maqdas. This order was given to Muslims by the Holy Prophet () with no reference to any verse of the Holy Qur’ân. Still, this order was mentioned by the Holy Qur’ân in the above quoted verse as the order of Allâh: The words,
“We did not appoint the Qiblah,” instead of the words,
“The Holy Prophet did not…” are too clear on this point to need more explanation.
This statement of the Holy Qur’ân, thus, evidently proves that the previous order given by the Holy Prophet ( ) was based on a revelation which did not form part of the Book. And this is exactly the “unrecited revelation.” The verse of the Holy Qur’ân (2:143) quoted above proves the following facts:
(a) The Holy Prophet ( ) used to receive some revelations which are not contained in the Holy Qur’ân.
(b) These revelations were from Allâh Almighty, so much so that the orders based on such revelations were attributed to Allâh Almighty.
(c) The orders based on such revelation were as binding on the believers as the orders of the first kind of revelations, i.e. the verse of the Holy Qur’ân.
(d) These orders were sometimes given so as to test whether or not the Muslims follow the Messenger ( ) irrespective of the question that his orders are contained in the Holy Qur’ân or not.
Second Example: In the beginning, one of the rules followed by the Muslims in respect of the fasts of Ramadan was that even a short nap after iftaar (breaking of a fast) would nullify the permissibility of having sexual intercourse with one’s wife. So, if someone would sleep for a short while after iftaar and wake up again, he would lose the opportunity of sleeping with his wife during the rest of the night, despite that the fast was over. This rule was prescribed by the Holy Prophet ( ) and was not contained in the Holy Qur’ân. But some Muslims broke the rule by sleeping with their wives after having a post-iftaar nap. Referring to these events, the Holy Qur’ân first admonishes those people who did not follow the rule. Then, by abrogating the same, allows the Muslims in future to sleep with their wives even when they had a nap after iftaar. In this context the Holy Qur’ân says:
It is made lawful for you, in the nights of fasts, to have sex with your women. They are a cover for you, and you are a cover for them. Allâh knew that you were betraying yourselves; so, He relented towards you and pardoned you. So, now you can have sexual intimacy with them, and seek what Allâh has destined for you, and eat and drink until the white thread of the dawn becomes distinct from the black thread; then complete the fasts up to the night. (2:187)
The following points with respect to this verse are worth consideration:
(a) The verse confirms that having sex during the nights of Ramadaan was not lawful before.
(b) The people who had sex during the nights of Ramadaan before this verse was revealed are admonished by describing their act as “betraying themselves.”
(c) The words, “so He relented towards you and pardoned you,” indicate that their sexual act was a sin, because “relenting” and “pardoning” occur only after a person commits a sin.
(d) The words “so now you can have sexual intimacy with them” denote that it is only now that the sexual act during the nights of Ramadaan has been made lawful.
All these points confirm the fact that the earlier prohibition of having sexual intercourse during the nights of Ramadaan was validly made by a competent authority, and the Muslims were bound to abide by it.
But there is no verse in the Holy Qur’ân to convey this prohibition.. It was enforced only by the Holy Prophet (). Still, the Holy Qur’ân not only confirms it, but also treats it as if it were in its own words. It is due to the fact that the Holy Prophet ( ) did not enforce this prohibition by his own will, it was rather based on a revelation of Allâh Almighty which is not contained in the Holy Qur’ân.
Looked at from this angle, this verse on the one hand proves that there is a revelation which does not form part of the Holy Qur’ân, and on the other hand it reaffirms the status of the Holy Prophet () as a law-giver, and that his injunctions, both orders and prohibitions, are binding on the Muslims.
Third Example: On the occasion of the battle of Uhud, some Qur’ânic verses were revealed to make the Muslims recall the events of the battle of Badr: How Allâh helped them and how He promised to send the angels to their aid, and how He actually did so. These verses are as under:
Allâh has certainly helped you at Badr while you were weak. So, fear Allâh so that you may be grateful. When you (O Prophet) were saying to the believers, ‘Shall it not suffice you that your Lord shall aid you with three thousand angels being sent down? Why not? If you observe patience and fear Allâh and they come to you in this their heat, your Lord shall aid you with five thousand angels having distinct marks?’ And Allâh did not make it but a good news for you so that your hearts might be satisfied. And there is no help except from Allâh, the All-Mighty, the All-Wise. (3:123-126)
The emphasized sentence of these verses attributes the good news of the aid of angels to Allâh Almighty, meaning thereby that the good news of this aid was given by Allâh Himself. But this good news given at the time of Badr is nowhere available in the Holy Qur’ân. In other words, there is no verse in the Holy Book revealed during the battle of Badr which implies the good news of the aid of the angels. What is quoted above is only a reference of that news, made at the time of a later battle, and it is expressly mentioned in this verse that the good news was given by the Holy Prophet ( ). Still, the news is attributed to Allâh.
Thus, it is another example where the words of the Holy Prophet ( ) are held to be the words of Allâh. There is no reason for this expression other than that the words of the Prophet ( ) were inspired by a special revelation, not contained in the Holy Qur’ân, and this is what is called the “unrecited revelation.”
Fourth example: Referring to the battle of Uhud at another occasion, the Holy Qur’ân says:
And when Allâh promised you that one of the two groups shall be for you. (8:7)
One of the two parties referred to in this verse was the commercial caravan of Abu Sufyan, coming from Syria, and the other group was the army of the Makkan disbelievers, led by Abu Jahl. The above verse says that Allâh had promised the believers that they would triumph over one of these two groups. The Muslims, in fact, won the battle against the latter, namely, the army of Abu Jahl.
The point worth consideration here is that the promise of Allâh to give the Muslims victory against any of the two groups is not there in the Holy Qur’ân. This promise was conveyed to the Muslims by the Holy Prophet ( ) without any reference to any verse of the Holy Qur’ân. Still, the verse quoted above atttibutes the promise to Allâh and not to the Holy Prophet ( ).
The only conclusion derivable from this is that the promise was received by the Holy Prophet ( ) through an “unrecited revelation.” Hence it is attributed to Allâh. Guided by this revelation, the Holy Prophet ( ) conveyed the promise to his companions.
Thus, it is another proof of the existence of a kind of revelation which is not contained in the Holy Qur’ân and is called the “unrecited revelation.”
Fifth Example: Once the Holy Prophet ( ) told a secret to one of his wives. She disclosed the secret to some other person. When the Holy Prophet ( ) came to know that the secret has been disclosed by his wife, he sought an explanation from her. She asked him as to who told him about the disclosure. The Holy Prophet ( ) replied that he was informed about it by Allâh Almighty.
This event has been mentioned by the Holy Qur’ân in the following words:
And when the Prophet told one of his wives about a matter secretly; then, when she told about it, and Allâh has disclosed it to him, he made known some part of it, and turned aside from some part; then, when he told her about it, she said, “Who told you this?” He said, “I was told by the All-Knowing, the All-Aware.” (66: 3)
The emphasized sentence of this verse is quite clear in that Allâh told the Holy Prophet ( ) about the disclosure of the secret. This is also not mentioned anywhere in the Holy Qur’ân. So, it is another concrete example where the Holy Prophet ( ) received some revelation from Allâh other than the one contained in the Holy Qur’ân. This is exactly the “unrecited revelation.”
Sixth Example: During the siege of Banu Nadir, the famous tribe of the Jews in Madinah, some Muslims had cut down date-trees from around the fort to compel the enemy to surrender. After the war was over, some Jews objected to the cutting trees. The Holy Qur’ân has answered the objection in the following words:
Whatever date-trees you cut down, or left standing upon their roots, that was by the leave of Allâh. (59:5)
It has been very directly mentioned in this verse that the Muslims cut down the trees with a leave from Allâh. But nobody can point out to any verse in the Holy Qur’ân to the effect that the cutting of trees during the war is allowed. The question is: from where did the Muslims acquire this leave from Allâh? There is no answer to this question except that the leave of Allâh had been conveyed to them by the Holy Prophet () and he received it through “unrecited revelation.”
Seventh Example: It is well known that the Holy Prophet ( ) had adopted Sayyidina Zaid bin Haarithah ( ) as his son. He married Zainab, daughter of Jahsh. After some time their relations began to be strained and, ultimately, he divorced her. In the days of Jahiliyyah an adopted son was treated as a real son in all respects and for all purposes. The Holy Qur’ân, on the other hand, declared that the adopted sons cannot be treated as the real ones.
To eradicate the Jahili concept of the adopted son, Allâh Almighty ordered the Holy Prophet ( ) that he should marry Zainab ( ) after her having been divorced by his adopted son, Zaid ibn Haarithah ( ). The Holy Prophet ( ) was a bit reluctant in the beginning, for, according to the prevalent custom, it was treated a shameful act to marry the divorced wife of one’s adopted son. But when the Holy Prophet ( ) received a concrete order from Allâh, he married her.
This event has been mentioned by the Holy Qur’ân in the following words:
When you were saying to the one whom Allâh had blessed and whom you had blessed, (i.e. Zaid, before he divorced Zainab), “Keep to you your wife and fear Allâh,” and you were hiding in your heart what Allâh was to disclose and you were fearing people, and Allâh has more right to be feared by you. So, when Zaid finished with her, We made you marry her, so that there may remain no restriction on the believers in respect of the wives of their adopted sons when they have finished with them. And the order of Allâh had to be done. (33:37)
Here the words, “you were hiding in your heart what Allâh was to disclose,” refer to the fact that Allâh had informed the Holy Prophet ( ) that he will marry Zainab ( ) after she is divorced by Zaid ( ). The Holy Prophet ( ) knew that, ultimately, she is going to be divorced by Zaid, but, out of shame, he could not disclose it and when Zaid consulted him in the matter, he advised him to keep to his wife and not to divorce her.
From this it follows that the Holy Prophet ( ) had been foretold by Allâh that Zainab was going to be divorced by her husband. But this information is not contained in the Holy Qur’ân. It was given to him through an unrecited revelation.
The second sentence is more significant in the context, that is, “We made you marry her.” Here Allâh Almighty declares that the marriage between the Holy Prophet ( ) and Sayyidah Zainab ( ) was contracted by an order of Allâh.This order is nowhere mentioned in the Holy Qur’ân. Still, the Holy Qur’ân affirms it. This is another confirmation of an order conveyed to the Holy Prophet ( ) through an “unrecited revelation.”
Eighth Example: The Holy Qur’ân has repeatedly ordered the Muslims to establish salaah (the prayer) and to be steadfast in it. In the following verse, after repeating the same order, the Holy Qur’ân gives a special concession to the Muslims that, in the state of war, when they fear an attack from their enemy, they can perform the prayer in whatever way they can, either riding on horses or camels or walking on their feet. But after the danger of the enemy is over, they are ordered to perform the prayer in its normal way. This principle has been laid down in the following words:
Take due care of all the prayers and the middle prayer; and stand before Allâh in total devotion. But if you are in fear, then (pray) on foot or riding, but when you are in peace, then recite the name of Allâh in the way He taught you. (2:238-239)
A number of points are worth consideration in these verses:
Firstly, the verse assumes that there are more than one prayers obligatory on the Muslims, but the exact number of the prayers has not been given, neither in this verse nor at any other place in the Holy Qur’ân. That the number of obligatory prayers is five is only mentioned by the Holy Prophet ( ). The Holy Qur’ân, by saying “Take due care of all the prayers,” confirms what the Holy Prophet ( ) prescribed for the Muslims.
Secondly, the verse lays special emphasis on the “Middle Prayer,” but does not define it. The definition has been left to the Holy Prophet ( ).
Thirdly, the most important sentence in relation to our subject is, “when you are in peace, then recite the name of Allâh in the way He taught you.” It goes without saying that the “recitation of the name of Allâh” means here “to perform the prayer” as the context does not permit any other meaning.
Now, the Holy Qur’ân directs the Muslims that in the state of peace they should perform the prayer in its normal way which has been taught to them by Allâh. It is an express indication that the normal way of performing prayers has been taught to the Muslims by Allâh Himself. But no such way has ever been mentioned in the Holy Qur’ân. There is no verse in the Holy Book mentioning the detailed way of performing prayer. It is only the Holy Prophet ( ) who educated the Muslims as to how they are to perform it. But the Holy Qur’ân holds the teaching of the Holy Prophet ( ) to be the teaching of Allâh.
It means that Allâh has taught the way of prayer to the Holy Prophet ( ) through some “unrecited revelation” not contained in the Holy Qur’ân, and the Holy Prophet ( ) taught it to the Muslims. Thus, the Muslims have been taught by Allâh through the teaching of the Holy Prophet ( ). However, the teaching of the Holy Prophet ( ) is described in the holy verse as the teaching of Allâh, because it was based on the “unrecited revelation.”
Ninth Example: Certain hypocrites had not accompanied the Holy Prophet ( ) in the expedition of Hudaibiyah. After that, when the Muslims resolved to proceed to the battle of Khayber, the Holy Prophet () declared that only the participants of Hudaibiyah shall be entitled to accompany him on this journey. The hypocrites who did not go to Hudaibiyah were now interested in their participation in the battle of Khaybar because according to their anticipation the Muslims were expected to gain from there sizeable spoils, which the hypocrites wanted to share. But the Holy Prophet ( ), inspite of their requests, did not allow them to participate in the battle.
This event has been referred to in the following verse of the Holy Qur’ân:
Those remaining behind will say, when you set forth after spoils to acquire them, “Let us follow you,”- desiring to change the words of Allâh. Say, “You shall not follow us; so Allâh has said earlier.” (48:15)
The emphasized words indicate that there was a previous word of Allâh barring the participation of the hypocrites in the battle of Khaybar, and confining the battle to the participants of Hudaibiyah. But no such word exists anywhere in the Holy Qur’ân. It was only a prophetic order. Still, Allâh Almighty describes it as His Own word. The reason is obvious. The Prophetic order was based on the order of Allâh received by him through some “unrecited revelation” which is not found in the Holy Qur’ân. Yet, it was a revelation, as certain as any word of Allâh.
Tenth Example: In the early days of his Prophethood, when the Holy Prophet ( ) received the verses of the Holy Qur’ân revealed to him, he used to recite the same simultaneously, lest he should forget them. It was a strenuous exercise for him, because he felt it was much too difficult to listen to the revelation, to understand it correctly, and to learn it by heart, all at the same time. Allâh Almighty relieved him from this burden when He revealed the following verses of the Holy Qur’ân:
Move not your tongue with it in order to hasten it. It is on Us to gather it (in your heart) and to recite it. So, when We read it, follow its reading. Then it is on Us to explain it. (75:16-19)
In the last sentence, Allâh Almighty has promised the Holy Prophet ( ) to explain the verses of the Holy Qur’ân to him. It is evident that this explanation is something separate from the Holy Qur’ân itself. It is not the Holy Qur’ân. It is its explanation or its exegesis. Therefore, it should necessarily be in some other form, distinct from the words of the Holy Book. And this is exactly what is meant by the “unrecited revelation.” But the two kinds of revelation, though different in their form, are both revealed to the Holy Prophet ( ); both are from Allâh; and both are to be believed and obeyed by the Muslims.
Eleventh Example: The Holy Qur’ân says to the Holy Prophet ( ):
And Allâh has revealed upon you the Book and the wisdom, and has taught you what you did not know and the grace of Allâh upon you has been great. (4:113)
In this verse the revelation of the Wisdom has been mentioned as separate from the revelation of the Book. It indicates that the wisdom referred to here is something additional to the Holy Qur’ân, and it has also been revealed to the Holy Prophet ( ) by Allâh Almighty.
Then the Holy Qur’ân proceeds to say: “And (Allâh) has taught you what you did not know.” It means that Allâh has not only revealed the Book, but has also revealed the Wisdom, and also taught the Holy Prophet ( ) what he did not know before. This teaching includes all kinds of directions given by Him to His prophet, either through the Holy Book or through some “unrecited revelation” in the light of which the Holy Prophet ( ) performed his functions as a messenger of Allâh.
Twelfth Example: The Holy Qur’ân has summarised the various kinds of revelation in the following words:
And it is not possible for a human being that Allâh should speak to him, except by way of revelation or from behind a curtain, or that He should send a messenger and he reveals by His leave what He wills. (42:51)
Now, out of these three modes, the revelation of the Holy Qur’ân was carried out through the third one, namely, through an angel who is identified in the verse by the word, “messenger.” It is clearly settled by some other verses:
Say: Whoever be an enemy to Jibreel (Gabriel, the angel)—it is he who has brought it (the Qur’ân) down upon your heart by the permission of Allâh. (2:97)
And truly it (the Qur’ân) is the revelation of the Lord of the worlds, brought down by the Faithful Spirit upon your heart, that you may be one of the warners, in a clear Arabic tongue. (26:192-195)
These verses are quite explicit on the point that the Holy Qur’ân has been revealed through an angel, named in the first verse as Jibreel, and in the second one as the Faithful Spirit; but the verse (42:51) quoted above describes that there are two more ways of revelation. These two modes have also been used in the case of the Holy Prophet (). It means that the revelation sent down to the Holy Prophet ( ) was not confined to the Holy Qur’ân, but there were other revelations, too. These revelations are termed as “unrecited revelation.”
These are sixteen verses, which affirm not only the existence of the “unrecited revelation” but also its reliability and authenticity, and its binding nature. It is not intended here to produce all the material available in the Holy Qur’ân to establish this kind of revelation. The purpose was to give some examples only, which has, perhaps, been substantially served. But before proceeding further, it will be useful to recollect and summarize the conclusions that stand proved in the light of the Holy Qur’ân as discussed above:
(1) The function of the Holy Prophet () like other prophets is not only to convey the divine Book. He is also to teach the Book, to teach the wisdom and to make people pure by training them practically.
(2) The “Obedience of the Holy Prophet” () is as necessary as the obedience of Allâh; because the latter has always been mentioned in the Holy Qur’ân combined with the former.
(3) The obedience of the Holy Prophet () in practical is the obedience of Allâh; and the latter cannot be carried out except through the former.
(4) The Muslims are bound not only to obey the Holy Prophet ( ), but they are also under an obligation to follow him.
(5) Whatever the Holy Prophet ( ) says or does in his capacity of a Messenger is always based on, or confirmed by, a revelation from Allâh.
(6) This revelation is sometimes contained in the Holy Qur’ân and called the recited revelation, and sometimes it is sent down in addition to the Holy Qur’ân, and the same is termed as “unrecited revelation.”
The Obedience of the Prophet as Distinct from the Obedience of a Ruler
From the above conclusions, which are based purely on the verses of the Holy Qur’ân, another possibility, often overemphasized by some quarters while opposing the authority of the sunnah, is completely ruled out. It is sometimes said that the Holy Qur’ân, when it ordains the obedience of the Holy Prophet ( ), means his obedience in the capacity of a ruler or a head of the state, and not in the capacity of a prophet. Since the Holy Prophet () was also a ruler of the Muslims, they were ordered to “obey” and “follow” him. But after he passed away, his personal obedience is no more necessary. Now, whoever takes over the rule shall stand for the Holy Prophet ( ) in the matter of obedience, and the Muslims should follow him.
This fallacy is based on the misconception that the Holy Prophet ( ) was ordered to be obeyed in his capacity of a ruler, and not in the capacity of a prophet or messenger.
But the verses already quoted leave no room for this misconception. The reasons are as under:
(1) Wherever the Holy Qur’ân has directed toward the “obedience of the Holy Prophet” ( ) it has always referred to the “obedience of the Messenger” and not to the obedience of the “ruler”, nor to the obedience of “Muhammad” ( ) in his private capacity. It clearly indicates that he must be obeyed on account of his being a messenger.
When I say, to someone, “obey your father,” it means that his being father is the basic cause of his being obeyed. If I say, “obey your teacher,” it is evident that his being teacher is the cause of his obedience being due. Nobody can reasonably interpret these sentences conversely. So, when Allâh Almighty says, “Obey the Messenger,” how can it be reasonable to say that his messengership is not the cause of his obedience?
(2) At one occasion, at least, the Holy Qur’ân has removed even the remotest possibility of this wrong interpretation, when it said:
O those who believe, obey Allâh and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you.(4:59)
Here, the obedience of the messenger has been separated and distinguished from that of the ruling authorities, which means that the “messenger” and “those in authority” both are to be obeyed in their different capacities.
It is important to note that in the case of the Holy Prophet ( ) both the capacities were combined in him. He was a Messenger as well as a ruler. Therefore, if the Holy Qur’ân intended to restrict the obedience of the Holy Prophet ( ) to his lifetime only, it could easily be said, “Obey Muhammad ( ).” But by avoiding this expression, the Holy Qur’ân explicitly differentiated between his two capacities, and mentioned each of them separately to remove even the slightest apprehension of this misconception, and thus left no room for confusing one capacity with the other.
Moreover, there is another point to note in this verse. The word “Messenger” used here is in singular, while the phrase “those in authority,” is in plural. This is to signify that the Holy Prophet () is the last messenger after whom no prophet will come. So, his obedience as a prophet shall always be confined to himself alone. Nobody can share with him in this obedience in future. On the other hand, the ruling authorities shall be in a large number, coming one after the other. This kind of obedience is not restricted to the ruler present at the time of revelation; it, rather, extends to all the ruling authorities coming after him.
(3) It has been established earlier that the obedience of the Holy Prophet ( ) was based on the “unrecited revelation” he used to receive from Allâh. That is why the Holy Qur’ân has held it to be the “obedience of Allâh” Himself. On the other hand, no ruler or head of state can claim to receive any revelation of any kind.
It is for this reason that a ruler can enjoy an administrative authority over his subjects, but he cannot lay down the rules of Sharî’ah. His orders are purely administrative orders, which are to be obeyed by the citizens in that capacity alone. He cannot override any rule of Sharî’ah enshrined in the Holy Qur’ân and the sunnah, nor can his orders be regarded as imperatives for all times to come, as those of Sharî’ah, because they are not based on any revelation from Allâh. They are effective only in a sphere where the Sharî’ah has not given any definite rule, and left the matter on the discretion of a ruler.
The case of the Holy Prophet ( ) is totally different. He, as a messenger, receives revelation from Allâh, recited and unrecited both. His prophetic orders, therefore, are not just administrative orders based on his personal perception. They are based on the revelation, or, at least, are confirmed by it. Let me now explain both situations:
The orders of the Holy Prophet ( ) are sometimes based on the revelation in the sense that the revelation “recited or unrecited” is their original source. But for this revelation, he would not deliver such orders. There can be no doubt in their divine nature. Hence they form part of the Sharî’ah.
In some cases, however, the origin of the orders is not a revelation. They are based originally on the Holy Prophet’s ( ) own analysis of the affairs. But they are confirmed by a revelation later on. This confirmation again is of two kinds: sometimes it occurs in explicit terms, whereby the decision of the Holy Prophet ( ) is upheld by a revelation, and sometimes it happens to be an implied confirmation. If Allâh Almighty does not object to a certain act of the Holy Prophet ( ), it necessarily implies that the act has been confirmed by Him.
The reason is obvious. A prophet of Allâh, being a spokesman of His pleasure, remains under a constant divine supervision. If he says something or does something, which is not in complete consonance with Allâh’s pleasure, he is always warned about it. In a number of verses, the Holy Qur’ân has expressed Allâh’s disapproval of some acts done or intended by the Holy Prophet ( ). Thus, no act of the Holy Prophet ( ) has ever gone unchecked.
In this perspective, if the Holy Prophet () does some thing or issues an order, and no revelation, recited or unrecited, comes to disapprove of the same, it necessarily implies that the act or order has been approved by Allâh Almighty, because if the converse were true, the revelation would never remain silent; it would certainly come to correct the error, as it came in certain cases where disapproval was conveyed in direct terms to the Holy Prophet ( ).
Thus, whatever he says or does in his capacity of a messenger, and no revelation comes to the contrary, it is deemed to be an implied confirmation of his saying or act.
It is, therefore, true to say that all his orders and acts are either based on the revelation, or confirmed by it, explicitly or implicitly.
No such authority can be attributed to any ruler after him, because the revelation after him came to an end. This is why the Holy Qur’ân highlights the obedience of the messenger as distinct from that of the ruling authorities.
On these three major grounds, there is no room for the misconception that the “obedience of the Messenger” emphasized by the Holy Qur’ân means the “obedience of the ruling authority.” In fact, his obedience is necessary for the sole reaason that he is a prophet, and his orders and acts reflect the pleasure of Allâh. Hence the Sunnah which is nothing but a record of his sayings and acts, enjoys a binding authority on all Muslims who believe in Allâh and His Holy Book.
Last modified 08/12/05 09:25 AM - Iqra - ISSN #1062-2756