The Probativeness of the Sunna
(Hujjiyya al-Sunna)
by GF Haddad

"Probative: adj. providing proof or evidence." -Webster's.

{The Decision Rests With Allah Only}

Allah Almighty is the one and only judge and ruler according to the Qur'anic texts {The decision rests with Allah only} (6:57, 12:40, 12:67) and {Whoso judges not by that which Allah has revealed: such are disbelievers} (5:44) and there is Consensus that obedience to His judgment is definitely binding upon all. However, the specifics of this judgment are not disclosed in these verses but in other verses of the Book as well as in the Sunna, the Consensus, legal analogy, and other sources of the Law. The meaning of the expression "probativeness of the Sunna" is that the Sunna points to Allah's judgment, either as definitive knowledge (`ilm) or as assumed knowledge (zann), bringing it out and disclosing it for us. We understand Allah's rulings by means of the Sunna and it becomes binding upon us to put its content into practice. The real meaning of probativeness is therefore disclosure (izhar) and proof- inference (dilala) necessitating obligatory practice of their result because the latter is Allah's decision.

{And Obey the Prophet}

It would be incorrect to say, based on the preceding argument, that the probativeness of the Sunna creates laws external to the Qur'an and legislated by the Prophet -- Allah bless and greet him. The meaning of the verse {And obey the Prophet} (4:59, 5:92, etc.) is not that the Prophet -- Allah bless and greet him -- is also a judge whose orders and prohibitions are law issuing from him rather than Allah. Allah declared the obligatoriness of obeying the Prophet -- Allah bless and greet him -- only in the sense that He made it obligatory for us to obey him in whatever he orders and makes obligatory for us to do. It is Allah Who makes it obligatory for us both to obey and to do, except that the order for some of the acts are formulated by the Prophet -- Allah bless and greet him. Such formulation is only a proof or sign of Allah's own binding order. The meaning of {And obey the Prophet} is therefore "Know that whatever the Prophet - - Allah bless and greet him -- commands or forbids you to do, it is I Who commands and forbids you to do" as explicited in the verse {And whatsoever the Messenger gives you, take it, and whatsoever he forbids, abstain from it} (59:7). Without such order, the Prophet's -- Allah bless and greet him -- command would not have been binding upon us.

Conditions For Using Hadith As Proof

By consensus, using a hadith narrated from the Prophet -- Allah bless and greet him -- as proof for either doctrine or legal rulings hinges on two conditions:

a) Establishment of the principle that the Sunna is one of the proofs and foundations of legislation (tashri`).

b) Establishment that such a hadith actually issued from the Prophet -- Allah bless and greet him -- through a reliable narrative chain. This condition does not apply to the Companions who actually heard him say it.

Differences in Relying Upon Hadith Transmission

There have been differences among the Muslims in relying upon hadith from the second of the two perspectives outlined above, that of transmission.

1. The Khawarij

The "Seceders" or Khawarij said that there is no way to establish that a hadith actually issued from the Prophet -- Allah bless and greet him -- whether as definitive or assumed knowledge or whether by mass transmission or lone transmission. On this basis they rejected putting into practice anything and everything that was narrated from the Prophet -- Allah bless and greet him. They did this not because it issued from him, or because what issues from him is not a proof, but only because they deemed its transmission unreliable. Al-Suyuti describes their reasoning in the first pages of his book Miftah al-Janna fi al- Ihtijaj bi al-Sunna:

There are those who rejected using the Sunna as proof although they affirmed prophethood for Allah's Messenger -- Allah bless and greet him --. They did this on the basis of their claim that the caliphate rightly belonged to `Ali - Allah be well-pleased with him -- and that when the Companions conferred it upon Abu Bakr - Allah be well-pleased with them --, they all committed apostasy according to those lost souls - may Allah curse them! They also declared `Ali an apostate - may Allah curse them! - for not demanding his right. Upon this basis they built the rejection of all hadiths because, they claimed, they are narrated by disbelievers. We belong to Allah and to Him is our return.

2. The Mu`tazila

The "Isolationists" or Mu`tazila said that a hadith is reliably established to issue from the Prophet -- Allah bless and greet him -- only through mass transmissions. They rejected all lone-narrated hadiths.

3. Ahl al-Sunna

They accept both mass-transmitted and lone-narrated reports to establish the realiability of hadith, but differ upon the conditions of acceptance.

4. The Shi`a

They only accept the hadiths narrated through their imams or those that follow their creed, considering that whoever did not side with `Ali - Allah be well- pleased with him --, cannot be trusted.

Later posts address the general probativeness of the Sunna and the proofs for the probativeness of the Sunna.


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