The General Probativeness of the Sunna

We now turn to the first of the two conditions stated for using hadith as a proof, namely, the establishment of the principle that the Sunna is one of the proofs and foundations of Islamic legislation.

There is no doubt that some of the scholars of Islam have rejected the probativeness of the Sunna with regard to specific issues and according to certain conditions. For example, some denied that the Sunna is independently probative for legislation apart from the Qur'an. This is refuted for every single Companion who heard and applied the Sunna directly from the Prophet -- Allah bless and greet him -- either before Qur'anic revelation or with only partial knowledge of it. It is also refuted in the case of hadiths of definite or specific meaning that apparently contradict - but in fact clarify - verses of assumed or general meaning. It is also refuted in the case of the Sunna for which no precedent is found in the Qur'an, as in the ruling of the Prophet -- Allah bless and greet him -- in favor of al-Zubayr at the revelation of the verse {But nay, by your Lord, they shall not believe until they make you judge of what is in dispute between them and find within themselves no dislike of that which you decide, and submit with full submission} (4:65). Al-Shafi'i pointed out that this decision is stipulated in the Sunna, not the Qur'an, and that had it been in the Qur'an there would have been no cause for specifying that by rejecting it they would not be believers.1 Further, their belief is invalid until they submit specifically to that ruling, i.e. the Sunna, independently of the Qur'an.

Others denied that the Sunna may abrogate the Qur'an and there is disagreement concerning this point.

We are not addressing the above specifics here but only the establishment of the Sunna as proof on the whole. Did any of the ulamas ever deny the latter or claim that the Sunna is in no way whatsoever probative? The answer is no.

In fact, it cannot be imagined that one reject the entire probativeness of the Sunna and remain a Muslim. For the foundation of Islam is the Qur'an, which cannot be described as Allah's word when one unconditionally rejects the probativeness of the Sunna since the fact that the Qur'an is Allah's word was not established by other than the Prophet's -- Allah bless and greet him -- explicit statement that this was Allah's Word and His Book. That statement is obviously part of the Sunna. Therefore, to say that the Sunna is no proof is no different than a denial of an integral part of the Religion and an attempt to undermine the basis of the Religion.

As for the claim that the Qur'an is established as Allah's word through its nature as an evidentiary miracle (mu'jiza) and not through the Sunna, the answer is that the Qur'an does describe itself as an evidentiary miracle - and therefore Allah's word - as a whole, and also as one sura, and also as three verses. This attribute, however, does not apply to single verses or pairs of verses. We know that single verses or pairs of verses are Allah's word only because the Prophet -- Allah bless and greet him -- said so. Yet we use single verses or even parts of single verses as proofs in doctrine and legal rulings. We could not do this without the Prophet's -- Allah bless and greet him -- assurance, meaning without the probativeness of the Sunna. Since the fact that a single verse or part of a verse must be necessarily known to be part of Allah's word, and the fact that their probative force must be necessarily known, both hinge on the probativeness of the Sunna, it follows that the latter must be neccasrily known as well.

It is further inconceivable that the probativeness of the Sunna not be necessarily known when so many of the issues around which the consensus of jurists has formed, and which themselves are necessarily known - such as the number of prayer-cycles in obligatory prayers - hinge on it. How could the necessarily known hinge on something not necessarily known? As for the claim that those issues can be understood from the Book alone, it is an attempt to do the impossible. The imams of the past were much more able than us, yet they admitted their inability to do it as indicated in the following report:

Al-Hasan al-Basri narrated that while the Companion 'Imran ibn Husayn was relating hadiths from the Prophet -- Allah bless and greet him --, a man said to him: "O Abu Nujayd! Talk to us from the Qur'an." Whereupon 'Imran said to him: "You and your friends all read the Qur'an, so can you tell me about the salat, what it contains specifically and what its features are? Can you tell me in what consists the zakat for gold? camels? cows? the different types of goods? No. But I witnessed it, and you were not there." Then he said: "Allah's Messenger -- Allah bless and greet him -- imposed upon us such-and-such in the zakat etc." The man said: "You have given me new life, may Allah give you new life also!" Al-Hasan said: "This man did not die before he had become one of the authoritative jurists of the Muslims."2

If all the above necessary issues hinge on the probativeness of the Sunna, then how can a believer come and argue against it, when such argument targets those issues as well? And to argue against the necessity of those issues constitutes apostasy, since belief consists in confirming what the Prophet -- Allah bless and greet him -- brought concerning what must be necessarily known in the Religion. Ibn 'Abd al-Barr said:

The Sunna is divided into two types. The first is the consensus transmitted from the masses to the masses. This is one of the proofs that leave no excuse for denial and there is no disagreement concerning them. Whoever rejects this consensus has rejected one of Allah's textual stipulations and committed apostasy. The second type of Sunna consists in the reports of established, trustworthy lone narrators with uninterrupted chains. The congregation of the ulamas of the Community have said that this second type makes practice obligatory. Some of them said that it makes both knowledge and practice obligatory.3

1In al-Risala (p. 83).

2Narrated by Abu Dawud in his Sunan with a chain declared sound by Ibn Hajar in Lisan al-Mizan (1:3) and by al-Hakim (1:109-110) with a sound chain as confirmed by al-Dhahabi. Cf. al-Suyuti, Miftah al-Janna (p. 73 #131, p. 23-25 #23).

3Ibn 'Abd al-Barr, Jami' Bayan al-'Ilm (2:33).

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