The Sunna as Evidence
The Probativeness of the Sunna
(Hujjiyya al-Sunna)
by Dr. G.F. Haddad ©

[1] The Probativeness of the Sunna

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

Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim

{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 . The meaning of the verse {And obey the Prophet} (4:59, 5:92, etc.) is not that the Prophet is also a judge whose orders and prohibitions are law issuing from him rather than Allah. Allah declared the obligatoriness of obeying the Prophet 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 . 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 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 command would not have been binding upon us.

Conditions For Using Hadith As Proof

By consensus, using a hadith narrated from the Prophet 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 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 "Seceeders" or Khawarij said that there is no way to establish that a hadith actually issued from the Prophet 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 . 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 . 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 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.

[2] The Probativeness of the Sunna

  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 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 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 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 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 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 necessarily 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 , 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 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 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

This ends the preliminary remarks, future posts will consist in listing the various evidence for the probativeness of the Sunna insha Allah.

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).

[3] The Probativeness of the Sunna


1. The Prophet's Immune State Dictates That Hadith is Revelation

By consensus, the evidentiary miracle is proof that the Prophet is immune (ma`sum) from the deliberate commission of anything that might compromise his Message. In addition, the most correct position is that he is also immune from error in that regard, while those who hold the possibility of error for him concur that such possibility is conditional upon his immediate divine appraisal and self-correction. It follows that every divinely-sanctioned discourse on his part is by consensus truthful and in conformity with what comes from Allah, therefore it is obligatory to accept and conform with it. This proof leads us to establish the probativeness of the following:

- His saying about the Qur'an that it is Allah's Word.

- His saying before every hadith qudsi: "The Lord of Glory said..." or some similar wording.

- His narration from al-Miqdam ibn Ma`dikarb: "Lo! I have been given the Qur'an and something like it. Soon a man will say, leaning on his couch with his stomach full: 'Follow this Qur'an, whatever you find in it to be [declared] permissible then declare it permissible, and whatever you find in it to be [declared] prohibited then declare it prohibited.' Lo! The meat of the domestic ass is prohibited to you. So is the meat of beasts of prey with fangs. So is a find belonging to the beneficiary of a treaty unless its owner does not want it. If one or more people arrive among some people the latter must receive them hospitably; if they do not, they must give them the amount equivalent to their hospitality."1

- His saying: "Here is Gibril, the Messenger of the Lord of the worlds, who has breathed into my innermost that no soul dies until it receives its sustenance in full, even if it is slow in coming. Therefore, beware Allah and ask Him gracefully. Let not delay in sustenance push you to apply it [once received] toward disobeying Allah. Lo! Allah - one does not obtain what He has except through obedience."2

All these reports come from one who is exempt from lying and therefore constitute proofs showing that revelation is divided into two kinds:

a) The Book, which is the evidentiary miracle used to worship by means of recitation.

b) Everything else, namely: the hadith qudsi and the Prophetic hadith, whose meaning was revealed but whose wording was chosen by the Prophet . If all this is from Allah, then all this constitutes inescapable proofs for human beings until the Day of Resurrection.

Also established as probative on the basis of his exemption from lying in the course of delivering his Message are sayings such as the following:

- "The claimant must produce clear proof, and the disputant has to swear an oath." (al-bayyina `ala al-mudda`i wa al-yamin `ala man ankar)3

- "Islam is built on five things."4

- "O people! Verily I do not command you except what Allah has commanded you, and I do not prohibit you except what Allah has prohibited you. Therefore be graceful in your requests from Him. By the One in Whose hand is Abu al-Qasim's life, the sustenance of each one of you shall surely come to him just as his term of life shall surely come to pass. Therefore, if you find yourself in difficulty because of some need, ask for your sustenance through obedience to Allah."5

- "Pray as you see me pray."6 The establishment of the probativeness of this hadith means that all his prayer-related actions are established as probative.

- "Take your pilgrimage rites [from me], for I may not perform pilgrimage again."7 The probativeness of this order and that of the acts and details of pilgrimage are similar to that of the previous report.

- "I exhort you to beware of Allah. I exhort you to hear and obey even if your leader is a black Ethiopian. Lo! Whoever of you lives shall live to see great divisions. You must follow my Sunna and the Sunna of the rightly-guided, upright caliphs after me. Hold on to it firmly, bite upon it with your very teeth! Beware of newfangled matters. Every new matter is an innovation, and every innovation is misguidance."8 The establishment of the probativeness of this order to follow the Prophet's Sunna is tantamount to establishing the probativeness of all the different kinds of the Sunna such as the verbal Sunna (al-sunna al-qawliyya), the active Sunna (al-sunna al-fi`liyya), and the confirmative Sunna (al-sunna al-taqririyya).

- "Satan has despaired of ever being worshipped in your land. However, he is satisfied to be obeyed in everything else from the deeds that you consider despicable. Therefore beware! Lo! I have left among you something which, if you cling to it, you shall never be led astray: Allah's Book and the Sunna of His Prophet."

- "Whoever innovates in this matter of ours something which does not belong to it, such innovation is rejected." This and the previous report, since they come from one exempt from lying, indicate that our Prophet's Sunna is probative in all its aspects which we just mentioned and that there is no misguidance whatsoever in confirming to it. Rather, the misguidance lies in abandoning the Sunna or practicing what contravenes it.

Next Topic: 2. Allah's Approval of the Companions' Conformity With the Sunna


1Narrated with sound chains by Abu Dawud and Ahmad.

2Narrated from Hudhayfa by al-Bazzar in his Musnad - cf. Ibn Hajar, Mukhtasar (1:506 #874) - with a chain of trustworthy narrators except Qudama ibn Za'ida who is unknown according to al-Haythami in Majma` al-Zawa'id (4:71), but the hadith is strengthened by witness-narrations from Ibn Mas`ud by al-Bayhaqi in Shu`ab al-Iman (7:299), Ibn Abi Shayba in his Musannaf (7:79), al-Quda`i in Musnad al-Shihab (2:185), and al-Daraqutni in his `Ilal (5:273); from al-Muttalib ibn Hantab by al-Shafi`i in his Musnad (p. 233) and al-Bayhaqi in Shu`ab al-Iman (2:67); from Abu Umama al-Bahili by Abu Nu`aym in Hilya al-Awliya (1985 ed. 10:26-27); and from Jabir by al-Daylami as mentioned in Kashf al-Khafa' (1:155, 1:268).

3Narrated from Ibn `Abbas by al-Bayhaqi in al-Sunan al-Kubra (10:252) with a sound chain according al-San`ani in Subul al-Salam (4:132) and al-Nawawi as cited by al-Mubarakfuri in Tuhfa al-Ahwadhi (4:475), while Ibn Hajar in Fath al-Bari (1959 ed. 5:283) considers it fair. Al-Bukhari cites it without chain in his Sahih. The second half is narrated from Ibn `Abbas by Bukhari and Muslim and al-Tirmidhi who declares it hasan sahih. This is a nearly-mass-narrated, "famous" (mashhur) hadith narrated from eight Companions in all and counted by al-Kattani in Nazm al-Mutanathir (p. 169-170) as "mass-narrated in meaning."

4Narrated from Ibn `Umar by Bukhari, Muslim, al-Tirmidhi (hasan sahih), al-Nasa'i, and Ahmad. Also narrated from Jarir ibn `Abd Allah by Ahmad.

5Narrated from al-Hasan ibn `Ali by al-Tabarani in al-Kabir (3:84) with a chain containing `Abd al-Rahman ibn `Uthman al-Hatibi whom Abu Hatim declared weak as stated by al-Haythami in Majma` al-Zawa'id (4:71-72), however, the contents of the hadith itself are confirmed by other evidence and Abu Hatim's lone discreditation does not suffice, as he is known for his severity.

6Narrated from Malik ibn al-Huwayrith by al-Bukhari.

7Narrated from Jabir by Muslim, al-Nasa'i, Abu Dawud, and Ahmad. Also by al-Bayhaqi in al-Sunan al-Kubra (5:125) in the wording "Take your pilgrimage rites from me."

8Narrated from al-`Irbad ibn Sariya by al-Tirmidhi (hasan sahih) Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah, Ahmad, al-Darimi, Ibn Hibban in his Sahih (1:178-179 #5), al-Hakim (1:95=1:174) who declared it sahih while al-Dhahabi concurred, al-Ajurri in al-Shari`a (p. 54-55 #79=p. 46), Ibn Abi `Asim in al-Sunna, al-Tahawi in Mushkil al-Athar, Abu Nu`aym in Hilya al-Awliya' (1985 ed. 5:220-221), al-Bayhaqi in al-Sunan al-Kubra (10:114), al-Madkhal (p. 115) and Shu`ab al-Iman (6:67) and others. This is hadith #28 of al-Nawawi's Forty. by GF Haddad ©

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latest update: Sat, 10 Jul 2010


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