Status Of The Sunnah in Islam
What Is The Sunnah?
“And whatever the Messenger gives you, take it, and whatever he forbids you, leave it. And fear Allah: truly Allah is severe in punishment. ” [Qur’an 59:7]
1) The Qur’an speaks of the importance of the Sunnah, for example:
(a) Allah says: “He who obeys the Messenger has indeed obeyed Allah…” (an-Nisa’: 80) Allah described obedience to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) as being a part of obedience to Him. Then He made a connection between obedience to Him and obedience to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him): “O you who believe! Obey Allah and obey the Messenger…” (an-Nisa’: 59)
(b) Allah warns us not to go against the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), and states that whoever disobeys him will be doomed to eternal Hell. Allah says: “…And let those who oppose the Messenger’s commandment beware, lest some fitnah (trial, affliction, etc.) befall them or a painful torment be inflicted on them.” (an-Nur: 63)
(c) Allah has made obedience to His Prophet a religious duty; resisting or opposing it is a sign of hypocrisy: “But no, by your Lord, they can have no Faith, until they make you [Muhammad] judge in all disputes between them, and find in themselves no resistance against your decisions, and accept (them) with full submission.” (an-Nisa’: 65)
(d) Allah commands His servants to respond to Him and His Messenger: “O you who believe! Answer Allah (by obeying Him) and (His) Messenger when he calls you to that which will give you life…” (al-Anfal: 24)
(e) Allah also commands His servants to refer all disputes to him: “(And) if you differ in anything amongst yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger…” (an-Nisa’: 59)
2) The Sunnah itself indicates the importance of the Sunnah. For example:
(a) At-Tirmidhi reported from Abu Rafi` and others that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “I do not want to see any one of you reclining on his couch and, when he hears of my instructions or prohibitions, saying ‘I don’t accept it; we didn’t find any such thing in the Book of Allah.’” Abu `Isa said: This is a good authentic hadith. (See: Sunan at-Tirmidhi, Shakir edition, no. 2663)
Al-`Irbad ibn Sariyah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Would any of you think, reclining on his couch, that Allah would only describe what is forbidden in the Qur’an? I tell you, by Allah, that I have warned and commanded and prohibited things that are as important as what is in the Qur’an, if not more so.” (Reported by Abu Dawud, Kitab al-Khiraj wal-imarah wal-fay’)
(b) Abu Dawud also reported from al-`Irbad ibn Sariyah (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) led us in prayer one day, then he turned to us and exhorted us strongly…(he said), “Pay attention to my Sunnah (way) and the way of the Rightly-guided caliphs after me, adhere to it and hold fast to it.” (Sahih Abi Dawud)
3) The scholars’ consensus (ijma’) affirms the importance of the Sunnah.
Ash-Shafi`i (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “I do not know of anyone among the Companions and Successors who narrated a report from the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) without accepting it, adhering to it and affirming that this was Sunnah. Those who came after the Successors and those whom we met did likewise: they all accepted the reports and took them to be Sunnah, praising those who followed them and criticizing those who went against them. Whoever deviated from this path would be regarded by us as having deviated from the way of the Companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and the scholars who followed them, and would be considered as one of the ignorant.
4) Common sense indicates the importance of the Sunnah.
The fact that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is the Messenger of Allah indicates that we must believe everything he said and obey every command he gave. It goes without saying that he has told us things and given instructions in addition to what is in the Qur’an. It is futile to make a distinction between the Sunnah and the Qur’an when it comes to adhering to it and responding to it. It is obligatory to believe in what he has told us, and to obey his instructions.”
The Deen Is Complete
“this day have I perfected your religion for you, completed my favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islaam as your religion” (Surah Al-Ma’idah 5:4)
This verse embodies a clear statement that the religion has been completed and so has no need of addition and deletion, and our noble Messenger (SAW) said, “there is nothing that Allaah ordered you with except that I have ordered you with it, and there is nothing that Allaah forbade you from except that I have forbidden you from it” (al-Bayhaqee and others)
And he (SAW) said, “there is nothing that will take you closer to paradise but that I have enjoined it upon you, and there is nothing that will take you closer to hell but that I have warned you from it” (Musnad ash-Shaafi’ee and others).
So the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) fulfilled the trust placed upon him by Allaah completely, explaining the religion to the people in it’s inward and outward form, making clear the lawful from the prohibited, the encouraged from the discouraged, even to the extent that he taught us the manners of going to the toilet, the manners of having sex with our partners etc.
Allaah says in His Book,
“and We have revealed to you a Book explaining everything” (Surah An-Nahl 16:89),
and He says,
“We have neglected nothing in the Book” (Surah Al-An’am 6:37).
So in the Qur’aan is explained the principles of the religion, tawheed in all it’s various categories, even to the extent that it teaches us the manners of sitting in circles, visiting other peoples houses, the correct clothing etc.
The Importance of Sticking To The Sunnah
“indeed you have in the Messenger of Allaah an excellent example for the one who hopes in Allaah and looks to the Last Day.” (Surah Al-Ahzab 33:21),
He also says,
“so if you obey him (i.e. Muhammad), then you will be guided” (Surah Al-Furqan 25:54)
The Messenger of Allaah said, “I have left behind me two things, if you cling to them you will never go astray. They are the Book of Allaah and my Sunnah” (al-Haakim)
And he (SAW) also said, “and you will live to see great difference, so cling to my sunnah and the sunnah of the rightly guided caliphs after me, even if it be with your teeth” (Bukhaaree)
The Taabi’ee, the Imaam, az-Zuhree commented, “clinging to the sunnah is to be saved, as Imaam Maalik said, ‘like the Ark of Noah’, he who embarked upon it was saved, and he who did not was destroyed.” (ad-Daarimee)
In these narrations is clear evidence that the way of salvation and safety is to closely follow the Sunnah of our Prophet (SAW), and not to deviate from his path, not accepting the guidance of another individual, nor accepting a corrupted form of the Sunnah. Allaah says,
“and whosoever contends with the Messenger after guidance has been made clear to him, and follows a way other than the way of the believers, We shall leave him in the path he has chosen, and land him in Hell, what an evil destination!”
The People Will Try & Corrupt The Sunnah
We are taught in the revelation that the sunnah shall become corrupted and this corruption would become the norm, so much so that the people who follow the sunnah would become as strangers, and those that call to purifying the sunnah would be slandered and reviled. The Prophet (SAW) said, “Islaam began as something strange, and it shall return as something strange as it began. So Tooba (a tree in paradise) to the strangers.” It was asked, “who are the strangers?” He replied, “those that purify and correct what the people have corrupted of my sunnah” (Tabaraanee in al-Kabeer [6/202])
And what is this corruption? It is none other than innovation, introducing into the pure religion of Allaah new ways of worshipping Him that He has not taught, blemishing His religion with our whims and desires, something that Allaah Himself condemns,
“or do they have partners that legislate some religion which Allaah has not given permission for?” (Surah Ash-Shura 42:21)
The Companion, Abdullaah ibn Mas’ud laments, “how will it be when the trials overcome you, in which the young grow old and the old grow senile. And the people take the bid’ah as the sunnah, and when it changes they say: the sunnah has changed. It was said: when will this be O Abu Abdurrahmaan? He replied: when your speakers are many and your scholars are few, and the wealthy ones are plenty and the trustworthy ones are few.” (ad-Daarimee)
How true this statement is today, that the innovations have become so widespread in the religion that the people have taken then to be the sunnah. And when the true scholar speaks out against these innovations he is labelled as a ‘wahhabi’ by the people because to them it seems that he is changing the sunnah. To Allah we complain of the ignorance of our times!
Only Allaah (SWT) has the right to tell us how to worship Him:
“follow that which has been revealed to you from your Lord, and do not follow as Friends and Protectors other than Him” (Surah Al-A’raaf 7:3)
From the tafseer of this verse we learn that this verse embodies a categorical statement that the privilege to tell people how to worship Allaah belongs to Allaah Alone. And how could it be otherwise when the true meaning of ibaadah is to worship Allaah in a way which He is Pleased with and not according to our desires,
“and who is more astray then the one who follows his own whims and desires devoid of revelation” (Surah Al-Qasas 28:50)
In this regard the Prophet (SAW) said, “I warn you of the newly invented matters (in the religion),and every newly invented matter is an innovation, and every innovation is misguidance, and every misguidance is in the Hellfire” (an-Nasaa’ee)
And he (SAW) used to say at the beginning of his lectures, “and the best speech is the Speech of Allah, and the best guidance is the guidance of Muhammad (SAW), and the worst of all affairs are the newly invented matters (in the religion)” (Muslim)
And he (SAW) commanded us, “whosoever does an action which we have not commanded then it must be rejected.” (Muslim)
And again, “whosoever introduces into this religion of ours that which is not part of it then it must be rejected” (Ahmad)
‘And in this hadeeth is a clear evidence that every action which is not legislated in the sharee’ah must be rejected’ [Jaami al-Ulum of ibn Rajab 1/120]
So every bid’ah that is introduced in the religion has to be rejected because only Allaah and His Messenger (SAW) have the right to legislate in the sharee’ah of Islaam.
Hence in the light of what has preceded we can now give the formal sharee’ah definition of bid’ah:
“a newly invented way (in beliefs and actions) in the religion, in imitation of the Sharee’ah, by which nearness to Allaah is sought, not being supported by any authentic proof, neither in it’s foundations nor in the manner in which it is performed.” [al-I’tisaam 1/231 of ash-Shaatibee]
And in what has preceded is ample evidence for any fair-minded Muslim that all bid’ah is blameworthy, and in fact a major sin. But unfortunately the Muslims are in such a state today that the words of Allaah and His Messenger (SAW) are no longer enough to convince them. And certain groups of people have come up with a new belief to assist them with the destruction of Islaam. The belief of ‘bid’ah hasanah’, i.e. a good bid’ah, meaning that a scholar can introduce a new action of worship in Islaam which can be considered to be good as long it does not contradict any of the principles of Islaam. A belief that has absolutely no foundation in Islaam at all. So we resort to the sayings of the Companions and the Imaams to illuminate the road ahead of these people.
The Sayings of The Companions
Abdullaah ibn Umar (RA) states, “every innovation is misguidance, even if the people regard it as good.” (ad-Daarimee)
This narration is enough to demolish the concept of ‘a good bid’ah’, for you have amongst the most knowledgeable companions of Muhammad (SAW) saying the exact opposite. So who do you choose to follow, ibn Umar or these modern day Shaykhs and Mullahs who are Imaams of their own whims and desires.
Abdullaah ibn Abbaas (RA) said, “do not sit with the people of innovation, for verily their sittings are a sickness for the hearts” [ash-Sharee’ah pg 65 of al-Aajurree (d.360)]
Mu’aadh bin Jabal (RA) used to say, whenever he sat in a circle of knowledge, “and I warn you of what is innovated, for all that is innovated is misguidance” [ash-Sharee’ah pg.55, also Abu Dawood with similar wording]
Abdullaah ibn Mas’ud (RA) said, “follow the sunnah of Muhammad and do not innovate, for what you have been commanded is enough for you.” [ad-Daarimee]
Hudhayfah bin al-Yaman said, “every act of worship that the Companions did not do, do not do it” [Abu Dawood]
Is this not enough? That the Companions tell us to follow the way of Muhammad (SAW) and not to make up new ways of worship? “whomsoever Allaah guides to the truth, none can misguide him, and whomsoever Allaah misguides, none can guide”! [Muslim]
The Sayings of The Second & Third Generation of Muslims
Hasan al-Basree said, “do not sit with the people of innovation, do not debate with them or listen to them” [ad-Daarimee 1/121]
Abu Aaliyah said, “learn Islaam. Then when you have learned Islaam, do not turn away from it to the right or to the left. But be upon the Straight Path and be upon the Sunnah of your Prophet and that which his companions were upon And beware of these innovations because they cause enmity and hatred amongst you, but stick to the original state of affairs that was there before they divided.” [al-Hilya of Abu Nu’aym 2/218]
Sufyaan ath-Thawree, “innovations are more beloved to Satan than sin. Since a sin mat be repented from but an innovation is not repented from” [Sharh Usul I’tiqaad of al-Laalikaa’ee (d.414) no.238]
This is because the innovator believes that he is doing something good and therefore sees no need to repent.
He also said, “so cling to the original state of affairs” [al-Hilya 6/376] meaning stick to the Way of Muhammad (SAW) and his Companions.
Imaam al-Awzaa’ee said, “patiently restrict yourselves to the sunnah, stop where the people stopped, say what they said, avoid what they avoided. Take to the path of the salaf, for indeed what was sufficient for them was sufficient for you.” [ash-Sharee’ah pg. 58]
Ibraaheem al-Masayrah said, “he who honours an innovator has assisted in the demolition of Islaam” [Sharh Usul I’tiqaad 1/139]
The Sayings of The Later Imams
Imaam Abu Haneefah said, “stick to the narrations and the way of the salaf, and beware of the newly invented matters for all of it is innovation” [Sawnul Muntaq of as-Suyutee pg.32]
Imaam Maalik said, “he who innovates an innovation in Islaam regarding it as something good, has claimed that Muhammad (SAW) has betrayed his trust to deliver the message as Allaah says, ‘this day have I perfected for you your religion’. And whatsoever was not part of the religion then, is not part of the religion today.” [al-I’tisaam]
He also said, “how evil are the People of Innovation, we do not give them salaam” [al-Ibaanah of ibn Battah (d.387) no.441]
Imaam Ahmad said, “the fundamental principles of the sunnah with us are:.avoiding innovations and every innovation is misguidance” [Usul as-Sunnah of Imaam Ahmad pg.1]
As for the narrations from Imaam ash-Shaafi’ee in which he categorises bid’ah into two, then it is weak as all of it’s chains of narrations depend upon unknown narrators. [al-Bid’ah of Shaykh Saleem al-Hilaalee, al-Masaabeeh fee Salaatit Taraaweeh of as-Suyutee with Alee Hasans footnotes]. Not only this but in his risalah he rejects the concept of istihsaan because ‘the person doing so has legislated in the sharee’ah’ i.e. without permission from Allaah.
Imaam Bukhaaree said, “I have met more than a thousand scholars.(then he mentioned the names of the more prominent in each of the lands that he travelled in) and I found that they all agreed on the following points: they all used to prohibit bid’ah – that which the Prophet and his Companions were not upon, because of the saying of Allaah, ‘and hold fast to the rope of Allaah and do not separate’” [Imaam Bukhaaree’s article on belief as quoted in Sharh Usul I’tiqaad 1/170. From amongst the scholars he met were: Ahmad bin Hanbal, Abu Ubaid al-Qaasim, ibn Ma’een, ibn Aasim, ibn Abee Shaybah.]
What I have narrated here is just a small number of the many narrations that I have in front of me from various books, I have tried to quote as best to my ability only authentic narrations, and Allaah knows best. It is good to know that the early Imaams were prolific in writing and warning against bid’ah, and even today we have a number of books from them dealing just with this topic. Amongst them: al-Bid’ah of al-Qarnushi, al-Bid’ah of ibn Waddah, al-I’tisaam of ash-Shaatibee and many more.
So once this topic becomes clear, a truth that none can deny, then know that all these innovations in the religions are a clear denial of the above mentioned verses and ahaadeeth, for none were done by the Companions.
So I leave you with the hadeeth of the Prophet (SAW), “so he who follows my sunnah has been guided, and he who follows the innovations has been destroyed.” (Ahmad)
And our Lord the Most High is the One that guides to attaining the truth.