Islamic Perspectives

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Dr. Ahmad Shafaat


A NOTE ON TRANSLITERATION OF ARABIC WORDS: Long vowels are indicated in bold, e.g. hadith. If a word itself is in bold, the long vowels are indicated by the ordinary font, e.g. hadith. Also, note that underlining instead of dotting is used to distinguish between related letters (e.g. h and h). If a word itself is underlined, then absence of underlining indicates the letter that would otherwise be indicated by underlining, e.g. hadith. Finally, a word that has been once written with proper diacritical indicators may subsequently be written without such indicators. Thus hadith may be written simply as hadith. Diacritical indicators may also be omitted from well-known words like allah.



Chapter 1: The Qur’anic Usage of the Words “Sunnah” and “Hadith”

Chapter 2: The Message and the Messenger

Chapter 3: How Far the Sunnah is Binding


Chapter 4: Ahadith concerning the Role of the Sunnah and the Hadith

Chapter 5: Traditions about the Companions concerning the Role of the Sunnah and the Hadith

Chapter 6: Traditions about the Transmission, Collection, and Writing of the Hadith


            Chapter 7: Historical Traditions

Chapter 8: Widely Quoted Ahadith Known to be Unauthentic

Chapter 9: Ahadith in Recognized Collections           

Chapter 10: “Sahih” Ahadith

Chapter 11: Ahadith Found in More Than One “Sahih” Collection

Chapter 12: Ahadith With the Best Possible Documentation


Chapter 13: Reviewing the Older Methodology

Chapter 14: Overcoming Some Hurdles in the Way of Reviving the Hadith          


Chapter 15: Organizing the Hadith Project




(Part I was published in this Journal, Vol. 4, No. 1, January-December, 2000. This part is reproduced, with minor changes by the author, from the Journal of the Muslim Research Institute, Vol. 6, No. 1, January-March, 2001)


In Part I we examined some basic questions about the Sunnah/Hadith in the light of the Qur’an. In this part we examine the same questions in the light of the traditions. Let us recall from the definitions given in the Introduction that in this book the term “tradition” covers both the reports about the Prophet (Hadith) and the reports about other early Islamic personalities and communities. It is helpful to look at all the traditions, especially those pertaining to the time of the companions, because the teachings and orders of the Prophet created a certain understanding among the companions and by looking at the traditions we can determine some of that understanding which in turn throws light on the message of Islam itself.

That the way the revelation was understood by the Prophet and his first followers is decisive in determining the meaning of the revelation is fairly clear but some Qur’an-only Muslims confuse the issue a little by saying that the Qur’anic revelation transcends any particular time and place, including the time and place of the Prophet and the companions, and hence its fuller understanding is an unending and gradual process. An implication of this is that it is possible for us to understand the Qur’an better than the Prophet and the companions. But from the Qur’anic verses discussed in Part I it is clear that the Prophet’s understanding of the revelation is decisive and is the norm for Muslims. And since the companions were the first eyewitnesses of what the Prophet taught and did, their testimony becomes decisive in determining the Prophet’s understanding of the revelation. It is possible that in case of some verses about Nature our understanding can increase with time by scientific development, but it is inconceivable in the light of the Qur’an that we can know better the religious teachings of Islam than did the Prophet and his companions, especially when it comes to the basic questions of the type we are concerned with in this book, e.g., is the Sunnah/Hadith a source of Islam, is it revelatory, does it have an authority exactly like that of the Qur’an, and to which extent it is binding?

Interestingly, some of the more compelling arguments of the Qur’an-only people are not based on the Qur’an but on the Hadith – yes, the very Hadith that they so vehemently reject. From the Hadith and the other traditions it becomes clear (see Chapter 6) that the Prophet and the companions did not consider it necessary to produce authoritative comprehensive collections of the Hadith for the guidance of the people, which is incomprehensible if the Hadith or the Sunnah is viewed as an independent and primary sources of Islam, along with the Qur’an. This favors some aspects of the views of the Qur’an-only Muslims, although, not their main contention that the Hadith has no revelatory value and is not a part of Islamic teachings.

Traditions discussed in Part II

In Chapter 4 we discuss those prophetic traditions (ahadith) that have a bearing on the role of the Sunnah and/or the Hadith. These include, but do not consist entirely of, ahadith that are often mentioned in the classical hadith collections under the subject of the Sunnah as a source of Islam, e.g., kitab al-‘itisam bi al-kitab wa al-sunnah in Sahih al-Bukhari. Chapter 5 discusses traditions about some leading companions that reveal their attitude towards the Sunnah/Hadith. A particular class of traditions, those concerned with the transmission, collection or writing of the Hadith is discussed separately in Chapter 6.

This part of the book not only serves the purpose defined above – to examine the basic questions about the Sunnah/Hadith in the light of the Hadith -- but it also contributes to the subsequent parts of the book. We discuss here many ahadith in some detail and comment on their authenticity. In this way we will provide several examples of unauthentic traditions that are found in sahih collections. The process will be continued in Part III and will show that the ahadith in the existing collections are much more subject to doubt than is generally admitted.


Chapter 4

Ahadith concerning the Role of the Sunnah and the Hadith

There is a large number of ahadith in which the Prophet reportedly talks about his Sunnah and Hadith and their role in his work. As we now proceed to show, the authenticity of most of these ahadith is subject to reasonable doubt. That does not mean, however, as is sometimes concluded, that for the Prophet his Sunnah was not part of Islamic teaching. After the Qur’an repeatedly commanded the believers to follow him or obey him in the clearest terms, he probably did not feel the need to state the principle afresh in his own words. It is the Muslim community after him that felt the need to express the principle by reference to his Sunnah. In his life the principle of obeying and following him had a relatively simple meaning and application: Believers should listen to his words, look at his example, and just follow them. If at times they misunderstood or misapplied his words or example, he could simply correct them. But when he departed from this world he could no longer be heard or watched and no longer guide them in new situations or correct them when they made mistakes. At first his companions simply went by the vivid memories that they had of their presence with him, but as years passed and the number of companions began to reduce in comparison to the rest of the Muslims, these memories began to fade away. Obeying and following the Prophet under this circumstance was naturally understood to mean following the Sunnah that his coming had established. The traditions that talk about the need to follow the Sunnah or the Hadith express this idea. To the extent they imply that the Prophet’s example and his commands are a part of Islam, these traditions express a legitimate aspect of the teaching of the Prophetic message. But to the extent these traditions identify the Prophet’s example and commands with the practices prevalent in the community, they are only partially valid. For, although the Prophet’s Sunnah and the practices prevalent among the companions as a group were not sharply distinguishable and they could be assumed with considerable justification to be identical, this became less and less the case as time passed and the Muslim ummah expanded rapidly.

We divide the ahadith to be discussed in this chapter under the headings that correspond to the basic questions that have been discussed in Part I in the light of the Qur’an and have been repeated above, that is: Is Sunnah a source of Islamic guidance/law? Is it revelatory? Is it an independent or a secondary source? How far it is binding? How far reason is to be used in interpreting it? Did God promise its preservation?

Sunnah as a source of Islamic guidance

We discuss here ahadith that in a general way talk of the importance of the Sunnah/Hadith in Islam and thus suggest that the Sunnah/Hadith is a source of Islamic guidance.


We begin by a hadith that has the earliest documentation, being reported by both Ibn Ishaq and Muwatta.

Ibn Ishaq as quoted by Ibn Hisham records that the Prophet in his address to the people at his farewell hajj said:

I have left with you something, to which if you hold fast, you will never fall into error – a clear direction, the Book of God and the Sunnah of His prophet, so give good heed to what I say.

Despite having the earliest documentation, this hadith raises some doubts about its authenticity. Thus note the way the Prophet refers to his Sunnah as “the sunnah of His Prophet”. One should expect him to say “the Book of God and my sunnah”. The words “the Book of God and the Sunnah of His Prophet,” although possible as words of the Prophet himself, are much more natural on the lips of the Muslims, who probably often repeated that we should hold fast to the Book of God and the Sunnah of His Prophet. This formula, it seems, has influenced the formulation of the above hadith. Later versions of the hadith in al-Hakim (d. 405) “improve” the earlier version by changing “the Sunnah of His Prophet” to “my Sunnah”.


It may also be noted that the very use of the word Sunnah by the Prophet in reference to his practice is somewhat problematic, since it reflects a discontinuity with the Qur’an. As we saw in Chapter 1, the Qur’an uses the word Sunnah mostly to refer to the divine punishment of the people in past history and not the customs and ways established by the Prophet. This comment, of course, applies to all the ahadith in which the Prophet talks of his Sunnah as a source of guidance.


Muwatta also records a saying similar to the one above, but without mentioning the occasion of the farewell address or any other occasion:

Yahya related to me from Malik that it had reached him that the Messenger of God said, “I have left two matters (amarayn) with you. As long as you hold to them, you will not go astray: the Book of God and the Sunnah of His Prophet.” (Also, found in al-Hakim; in some versions there is the addition: “they will not separate till they meet me on the hawd, the pool in paradise)”.

It is noteworthy that neither Ibn Ishaq nor Malik gives any isnad for the hadith. Malik simply tells us that it has reached him that the Messenger of God said the above words. He does not claim that he knows from where this saying is coming. Serious doubts can be raised, and are often raised by the muhaddithun, about the authenticity of a hadith like this one, which has no isnad or at most has broken isnad. There is also the additional fact that this saying of the Prophet is not found in Bukhari.

The absence of isnad in Ibn Ishaq and Muwatta may be due to the fact that farewell address was delivered in front of many people and was well known. No particular chain of links was prominent or necessary for its transmission. If so, many differences in the various versions of the address show that the transmission was not faithful, and hence doubt is raised about whether the transmission of the above hadith, which is a particular part of the farewell address, has been faithful. In fact, we can be more specific and show that the words attributed to the Prophet in the above hadith has suffered important changes before being recorded by Ibn Ishaq and Muwatta. Thus Muslim gives a version of the farewell address in which the Prophet mentions only the Book of God and not the Sunnah:

Then [during his farewell hajj the Prophet] came to the bottom of the valley, and addressed the people saying: “…. I have left among you the Book of God, and if you hold fast to it, you would never go astray….”.

Muslim does give the isnad for this hadith, which is part of a long hadith describing the farewell pilgrimage. His isnad are: Ja’far bin Muhammad from his father Muhammad bin ‘Ali (bin Husayn bin ‘Ali bin Abi Talib) from Jabir bin ‘Abd Allah from the Prophet. This is not necessarily a case of isnad being invented as time passed, since the important omission of the Sunnah in Muslim’s version and many other differences between his version of the farewell address and that of Ibn Ishaq may well mean that he had access to information independent of Malik and Ibn Ishaq. With time Hadith scholars were able to collect many more traditions from many varied sources and may well have found isnad for ahadith that earlier scholars knew without isnad. In the particular case at hand the isnad has intrinsic plausibility since it is a personal account of Muhammad bin ‘Ali, told by his son, of his meeting with the companion Jabir bin ‘Abd Allah who was present at the farewell hajj. Hence Muslim may well have preserved some authentic material, including the underlined words in the above quotation. If so, the Prophet mentioned only that he was leaving the Book of God (Qur’an). A reference to the Sunnah was added later.

There is further evidence that the Prophet did not talk of the Sunnah as the second independent source along side the Qur’an. Thus Ibn Ishaq records another hadith set on the occasion of a farewell situation. Some months after his farewell hajj and just before his death the Prophet joined the prayers when Abu Bakr was leading. After the prayer he addressed the people and said:

O men! The fire is kindled and rebellions come like the darkness of the night. By God you cannot lay anything to my charge. I allow only what the Qur’an allows and forbid only what the Qur’an forbids.

Here again there is no mention of the Sunnah. The words “I allow only what the Qur’an allows etc.” could be interpreted to mean that the Prophet made certain things lawful and others unlawful and in this way we can consider here the concept of Sunnah as implicit. But that is a matter of interpretation. At the very least we have to admit that in this hadith the Sunnah is not an independent source. It is completely secondary and subordinate to the Qur’an. It allows nothing that is not allowed by the Qur’an and prohibits nothing that is not prohibited by the Qur’an. This is a far cry from some other traditions where the Prophet is reported to have said that he allows and prohibits things just like the Qur’an (see further below).

In Bukhari and Muslim the Prophet does not address the people after praying behind Abu Bakr. But in a farewell type of address set at Khumm the Prophet says in a hadith recorded by Muslim that he was leaving behind two things. The first is the Book of God but the second is NOT Sunnah:

It is related from Yazid bin Hayyan that he said: I, Husayn bin Sabrah and 'Umar bin Muslim went to Zayd bin Arqam. When we sat down with him Husayn said to him, “Zayd, you have been able to acquire a great virtue that you saw God’s Messenger, listened to his talk, fought by his side in (different) battles, and prayed behind him. Zayd, you have in fact earned a great virtue. Zayd, narrate to us what you heard from God’s Messenger.” He said: “I have grown old and have almost spent my age and have forgotten some of the things I remembered concerning God’s Messenger; so accept whatever I narrate to you, and what I do not narrate compel me not to (narrate) it.” He then said: “One day the Messenger of God stood up to deliver a sermon at a watering place known as Khumm situated between Makkah and Madinah. He praised God, extolled Him and delivered the sermon and exhorted (us) and said: amma ba‘d! O people, I am a human being. I am about to receive a messenger (the angel of death) from my Lord and I, in response to God’s call, (would depart from you). But I am leaving among you two weighty things. The first is the Book of God in which there is right guidance and light, so hold fast to the Book of God and adhere to it. He exhorted (us) (to hold fast) to the Book of God and then said: (The second are) the members of my household (ahl bayti). I remind you of God regarding the members of my family.” He (Husayn) said to Zayd: “Who are the members of his household? Aren’t his wives the members of his family?” Thereupon he said: “His wives are the members of his family (but here) the members of his family are those for whom acceptance of zakah is forbidden.” And he said: “Who are they?” Thereupon he said: “ ‘Ali and the offspring of  ‘Ali, ‘Aqil and the offspring of ‘Aqil and the offspring of Ja‘far and the offspring of ‘Abbas.” Husayn said: “So these are the ones for whom the acceptance of zakah is forbidden.” Zayd said: “Yes”.

In the above hadith the reference to the ahl al-bayt is vague. Muslims are not exhorted to hold fast to ahl al-bayt as a source of guidance as they are exhorted to hold fast to the Qur’an. For, the Prophet only says, “I remind you of God concerning the ahl al-bayt” which could mean simply to be kind and just to them. But ahadith similar to the above are found in many later books, where the ahl al-bayt become a second source of guidance along with the Qur’an:

I have left among you that which if you abide by, you will never go astray: the Book of God, and my family, the members of my house (ahl al-bayt) (related by al-Tirmidhi, Ahmad, Ibn abi ‘Asim, al-Hakim, al-Tabarani, al-Dailami and al-Tahawi).

If in some ahadith ahl al-bayt are mentioned as the source of guidance next to the Qur’an, in the following hadith, also set in an unspecified farewell situation (probably similar to the one assumed in Ibn Ishaq’s tradition quoted earlier), the rightly guided khulafa become the source along with the Sunnah:

‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Amr as-Sulami and Hujr ibn Hujr said: We came to al-‘Irbad ibn Sariyah who was among those about whom the following verse was revealed: ‘Nor (is there blame) on those who come to you to be provided with mounts, and you tell (them): I can find no mounts for you.’ We greeted him and said: We have come to see you, in your illness, and obtain benefit from you. Al-‘Irbad said: One day the Messenger led us in prayer, then faced us and gave us a lengthy exhortation at which the eyes shed tears and the hearts were afraid. A man said: ‘O Messenger of God! It seems as if it were a farewell exhortation, so what injunction do you give us?’ He then said: ‘I enjoin you to fear God, and to hear and obey even if it be an Abyssinian slave, for those of you who live after me will see great disagreement. You must then follow my Sunnah and that of the rightly guided khulafa. Hold to it and stick fast to it. Avoid novelties, for every novelty is an innovation, and every innovation is an error.’ (Abu Da`ud; this hadith with some variations is also found in Ahmad, Tirmidhi, and Ibn Majah).

The italicized part in the above quotation is also found in other ahadith. Thus in Bukhari, it is related on the authority of Anas: The Prophet said, “Listen and obey (your chief) even if an Ethiopian whose head is like a raisin were made your chief.” A version much closer to the tradition in Abu Da`ud is also found in Ibn Sa‘d (Tabaqat), where the farewell situation is that of a sermon during the farewell hajj:


Umm al-Husayn narrated: I saw the Prophet on the night of ‘Arafah on a camel. …And heard him say: O people! Hear and obey, even if it were some deformed Abyssinian slave who establishes the Book of God among you.


Notice that the condition here for the obedience to an amir is to establish the Book of God. Unlike the hadith in Abu Da`ud, here there is no mention of the Sunnah of the Prophet much less the sunnah of the khulafa.


The idea that the sunnah of the khulafa is part of the right religion is, however, found as a view held by the companions in a tradition in Bukhari. The view is voiced by ‘Abd al-Rahman and accepted by other companions. After gathering the people and announcing the choice of ‘Uthman as the third khalifah, ‘Abd al-Rahman says:


When all of them had gathered, ‘Abd al-Rahman said, “None has the right to be worshipped but God,” and added, “Now then, O ‘Ali, I have looked at the people’s tendencies and noticed that they do not consider anybody equal to ‘Uthman, so you should not incur blame (by disagreeing).” Then ‘Abd al-Rahman said (to ‘Uthman), “I give the oath of allegiance to you on condition that you will follow the Sunnah of God and of His Messenger and of the two khulafa` (after him).” So ‘Abd al-Rahman gave the oath of allegiance to him, and so did the people including the muhajirun (emigrants) and the ansar (helpers) and the chiefs of the army staff and all the Muslims.


Notice that the sunnah of God has assumed here a meaning with little correspondence to the Qur’anic usage (see Chapter 1), where the word is never used for the commandments of God through revelation. The view implied here that the sunnah of the khulafa` is to be followed might have been expressed by ‘Abd al-Rahman in response to the need of the occasion. In any case, it was not part of a standard oath of allegiance, for, Bukhari also records the following tradition that gives the oath of allegiance by ‘Abd Allah bin ‘Umar in which there is no reference to the sunnah of the khulafa`:


‘Abd Allah bin ‘Umar wrote to ‘Abd al-Malik bin Marwan swearing oath of allegiance to him: “I affirm (uqirru) to hear and obey what is in accordance with the sunnah of God and the sunnah of his Messenger as much as I am able to.”


It seems therefore that the view that the sunnah of the khulafa` is a part of religion first developed among some companions and then was attributed to the Prophet.


Thus for the type of ahadith discussed above we have the following situation: these ahadith report that the Prophet at a time close to his departure from this world said that he was leaving behind some source(s) for the people’s guidance. At least one version mentions only the Qur’an, some versions mention the Qur’an and Sunnah and some other ahadith mention the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet and of the khulafa`. Still other ahadith mention ahl al-bayt but omit any reference to the Sunnah. This last hadith is not found in any of the earliest books, Muwatta, Ibn Ishaq, and Bukhari. It seems clear that we cannot affirm the authenticity of any of these ahadith with much confidence, since there is no consistency. My best judgment is that in some farewell situation, the Prophet did say that he was leaving for the people the Book of God, to which they should hold fast. He did not refer to his Sunnah or ahl al-bayt or khulafa. All these are changes made by later Muslims.


Nevertheless it is important to underline that what these ahadith are saying is a valid expression of the teaching of Islam. As noted earlier, they express the Qur’anic principle of obedience to, and following of, the Prophet in a new situation, years after his departure. Even the reference to the sunnah of the khulafa` is justified, since beliefs and practices on which the four khulafa` or even the first two of them were in agreement was very likely an authentic expression of the Prophet’s teaching or in harmony with it. The only problem here is that we have to be careful to distinguish between what is reported to be the Sunnah of the Prophet and the khulafa` and what was actually their Sunnah. Also, we should be careful not to deduce from the validity of the idea that the Sunnah is part of Islamic guidance that the ahadith expressing that idea are authentic words of the Prophet. Some have argued for the authenticity of these ahadith on the ground that they are perfectly in keeping with the teaching of the Qur’an. In this connection a particular mention is made not only of the verses where the obedience to, and following of the Prophet is enjoined, but also of those that mention the Book and Wisdom, 2:129, 2:151, 2:231, 3:164, 4:113, 33:34 & 62:2). But this by itself does not establish the authenticity of the ahadith under consideration. As we shall see (Part III), there are many ahadith that are consistent with the Qur’an but are known to be incorrectly attributed to the Prophet.


In the ahadith discussed above we saw that the earliest version probably did not refer to the Sunnah and focused entirely on the Qur’an. The reference to the Sunnah was added later. We now look at some other examples of this type of modification of earlier traditions. One such example concerns the question about who should act as the imam in prayers.

Abu Mas‘ud al-Ansari reported God’s Messenger as saying: The one who is most versed in the Book of God should act as Imam for the people, but if they are equally versed in reciting it, then the one who has most knowledge regarding Sunnah, if they are equal regarding the Sunnah, then the earliest one to emigrate; if they emigrated at the same time, then the earliest one to accept Islam. No man must lead another in prayer where (the latter) has authority, or sit in his place of honor in his house, without his permission. In his narration (of this hadith) al-Ashajj used “older” in place of “earliest one to accept Islam”. (A’mash has narrated a hadith like this by the same chain of transmitters.) (Muslim).

Here after the ability to recite the Qur`an the knowledge of the Sunnah is said to determine who should act as imam. But Muslim records another hadith by a different line of communication but from the same companion, Abu Mas’ud al-Ansari, in which there is no reference to the Sunnah! This hadith reads:

Abu Mas’ud al-Ansari reported: The Messenger of God said to us: The one who is well versed in the Book of God and is the most advanced in recitation should act as imam for the people; if they are equally versed in reciting it, then the earliest one to emigrate; and if they emigrated at the same time, then the oldest one in age. No man must lead another in prayer in latter’s house or where (the latter) has authority, or sit in his place of honor in his house, except that he gives you permission or (he said) with his permission.

This second version not only omits the important reference to the Sunnah but also differs from the other version in another way. The last criterion in this version is age and not, as in the first version, priority in acceptance of Islam.

There are other ahadith in Muslim and Bukhari that further suggest strongly that the earliest criteria to decide who should act as imam are: the ability to recite the Qur’an and age. The knowledge of the Sunnah was no part of these criteria. Thus Muslim reports the following ahadith:

Abu Sa‘id al-Khudri is reported to have said that the Messenger of God said: Whenever there are three (among you) let one of them act as their imam and the one most deserving to be the imam is the best reader (of the Qur’an) (aqra`u).

Malik bin al-Huwayrith said: We came to the Messenger of God and we were all young men of nearly equal age. We stayed with him for twenty nights, and as the Messenger of God was very kind and tender of heart, he thought that we were eager (to see) our family. So he asked us about the members of the family that we had left behind and when we informed him, he said: Go back to your family, stay with them, and teach them and exhort them, and when the time for prayer comes, one amongst you should announce the adhan and then the oldest among you should lead the prayer.

Muslim records another version of this last hadith:

Malik bin al-Huwayrith reported: I came to the Messenger of God along with a companion, and when we intended to return from him, he said: When there is time for prayer, give adhan, pronounce iqamah, and the older among you should lead the prayer.

A hadith of this type is also found in Bukhari:

Malik bin al-Huwayrith said: We went to the Prophet and we were all young men. We stayed with him for about twenty nights. The Prophet was very merciful. He said, “When you return to your place, teach them (the people there) and tell them to offer such and such a prayer at such and such a time and such and such a prayer at such and such a time. And at the time of the prayer one of you should pronounce the adhan and the oldest of you should lead the prayer.”


Again notice the various discrepancies. The most striking of these is that in Muslim’s second version Malik bin al-Huwayrith visits the Prophet with only one companion while in the other two versions there are several companions. In view of the fact that Bukhari and Muslim both agree on the version in which there are several persons, it may be concluded that this version is more original. If so, the change from several to two persons might have been made in order to support the rule that congregational prayer requires a minimum of two persons. Recall the hadith from Abu Sa‘id al-Khudri in which this minimum number seems to be three.


Here are two more ahadith about who should act as the imam in prayer:


Ibrahim ibn al-Mundhir related to us saying: Anas ibn ‘Iyad related to us: It is related from ‘Ubayd Allah from Nafi’ that ‘Abd Allah bin ‘Umar said: When the earliest emigrants came to al-‘Usbah, a place in Quba`, before the arrival of the Prophet, Salim, the slave of Abu Hudhayfah, who knew the Qur’an more than the others used to lead them in prayer (Bukhari).


Ibn ‘Abbas reported God’s Messenger as saying, “Let the best among you call the adhan for you, and Qur’an-readers (qurra`) act as your imams.” (Abu Da`ud).


It may be possible to reconcile some of these ahadith. Thus one may argue that when the Prophet told Malik bin al-Huwayrith and his companions that the older among them should act as imam he was not stating a general rule but applying it to this special group. It may be that all the persons in this group were similar in their knowledge or reading of the Qur’an. Yet when we read all the ahadith together we are struck by the absence of any reference to the knowledge of the Sunnah in all but one of them. This strongly suggests the conclusion that this one reference is a later addition and was no part of the authentic words of the Holy Prophet.


A request for a teacher of the Qur’an and the Sunnah

(It has been reported) from Anas bin Malik that some people came to the Messenger of God and said to him: Send with us some men who may teach us the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Accordingly, he sent seventy men from the Ansar. They were called qurra` (reciters) and among them was my maternal uncle, Haram. They used to recite the Qur’an, discuss and learn (its meaning) at night. During the day they brought water and poured it (in pitchers) in the mosque, collected wood and sold it, and with the sale proceeds bought food for the people of the Suffah and the needy. The Holy Prophet sent the reciters with these people, but they fell upon them and killed them before they reached their destination. (While dying), they said: ‘O God, convey from us the news to our Prophet that we have met you (in a way) that we are pleased with you and you are pleased with us.’ (The narrator) said: A man attacked Haram, the maternal uncle of Anas, from behind and smote him with a spear that pierced him. (While dying), Haram said: ‘By the Lord of the Ka'bah, I have met with success.’ The Messenger of God said to his companions: Your brethren have been slain while they were saying: O God, convey from us to our Prophet the news that we have met you in a way that we are pleased with you and you are pleased with us (Muslim).

There is very strong evidence that the reference to the “Sunnah” is a later addition in this hadith. We have versions of the above story in several other sources earlier than Muslim (d. 261) such as:

Musa bin ‘Uqbah (d. 141), Sirah

Ibn Ishaq (d. 151), Sirah

Ibn Sa‘d (d. 230), Tabaqat

Bukhari (d. 256), Sahih

None of these versions say that the companions were sent to teach the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Muslim also has several other ahadith referring to the story, but they do not mention the Sunnah. There are also significant differences between this hadith and other versions of the stories in earlier documents that do not inspire confidence in the reliability of its details and therefore in its reference to the Sunnah. Thus:

1)      This hadith says that the Holy Prophet sent 70 companions. But according to Ibn Ishaq the number was forty. Musa bin ‘Uqbah does not mention any number. Ibn Ishaq and al-Waqidi mention names of many of those killed but all these names add up to no more than 16 men. Even if we assume that half of the less important names were forgotten the actual figure is around thirty.

2)      The reason given for the dispatch of the group varies considerably. This particular hadith says that group was sent at the request of some people. Musa bin `Uqbah gives the following account from al-Zuhri: “‘Amir bin Malik bin Ja‘far who was called ‘the one who plays with the spears’ came to the Messenger when he was a polytheist. The Messenger explained Islam to him and he refused to accept it. He gave the Messenger a present which he refused saying that he would not accept a present from a polytheist. `Amir said: ‘O Messenger, send with me those of your messengers you wish and I will guarantee their safety.’” This account is not clear as to the exact purpose of why the group was requested. The description of the group as “messengers” suggests what later in Ibn Ishaq becomes more explicit: “If you send some of your companions to the people of Najd and they invite them to what you preach (lit. your affair), I have good hopes that they would give you a favorable answer.” But Ibn Sa‘d records a tradition, on the authority of Anas bin Malik, which reports: People from Ri’l, Dhakwan, `Asiyyah, and Bani Lahyan came to the Messenger of God and sought help against their people. He assisted them with 70 ansar.” In Bukhari we read: “The Prophet sent seventy men, called al-qurra` for some purpose. The two groups of Bani Sulaym called Ri’l and Dhakwan, appeared to them near a well called Bi`r Ma‘unah. They said, ‘By God, we have not come to harm you, but we are passing by you on our way to do something for the Prophet.’” But in view of the earlier testimony of Musa bin ‘Uqbah and Ibn Ishaq the reason for sending the companions was to invite people to Islam. This agrees in substance with what we read in the hadith under consideration except that the general request for messengers to invite the people to Islam has been expressed as a request to teach the Qur’an and the Sunnah.

3)      This hadith suggests that the news of the martyrdom of the qurra` reached the Holy Prophet miraculously through divine inspiration. Earlier versions, however, state that the news traveled through a survivor. Thus in Musa bin `Uqbah we read that one of the companions was captured and later released. “When he came to the Messenger of God the latter said to him, “Are you the only survivor?” Ibn Ishaq gives a similar account with greater detail.

In view of the fact that this hadith differs significantly from the earlier versions of the story of Bi`r Mu‘anah and, in particular, the fact that no reference to the Sunnah is found in the earlier versions, it is probable that this reference is secondary. Some further indication of this is provided by the hadith itself. Thus the people who are sent by the Prophet are called qurra`. This term applies to the reciters of the Qur’an. It is said about the qurra` that “they used to recite the Qur’an, discuss and ponder over its meaning at night.” Nothing is said here that they also used to spend time in remembering or learning the Sunnah, which is something that we should expect if the reference to the Sunnah was an integral part of the story from the beginning. Finally, we may refer to the following hadith which also talks of learning and teaching the Qur`an in mosques:

Abu Hurayrah reported God’s Messenger as saying: … He who treads the path in search of knowledge, God would thereby make easy a path for him to paradise and those persons who assemble in a house among the houses of God and recite the Book of God and they learn and teach the Qur'an, there would descend upon them the tranquillity and mercy would cover them and the angels would surround them and God makes a mention of them in the presence of those near him … (Muslim).

This hadith also suggests that at first the Muslim community concentrated primarily on learning and teaching the Qur`an.

Learning from the Qur’an and the Sunnah.

In Bukhari we find the following hadith:

Muhammad bin Kuthayr related to us: Sufyan informed us: Al-A‘mash related to us from Zayd bin Wahb: Hudhayfah related, saying: The Messenger of God narrated to us two ahadith. I have seen one (realized), and I am waiting for (the realization of) the other. He told us: Trust (al-amanah) descended into the very roots of the hearts of people. Then the Qur’an was revealed and they learnt (it) from the Qur’an and they learnt (it) from the Sunnah. Then he (the Holy Prophet) told us about the removal of trust. He said: The man would have a wink of sleep and trust would be taken away from his heart leaving the impression of a faint mark. He would again sleep and honesty would be taken away (further) so that its trace will resemble the trace of a blister as when an ember is dropped on one’s foot which would make it swell, and one would see it swollen but there would be nothing inside. People would be carrying out their trade but hardly will there be a trustworthy person. It will be said, ‘in such-and-such tribe there is an honest man,’ and later it will be said about some man, ‘What a wise, polite and strong man he is!’ though he will not have in his heart faith equal even to a mustard seed.” No doubt, there came upon me a time when I did not mind dealing (bargaining) with anyone of you, for if he was a Muslim his Islam would compel him to pay me what is due to me, and if he was a Christian, the Muslim official would compel him to pay me what is due to me, but today I do not deal except with such-and-such person.

The following points are noteworthy about this hadith:

1)                  The hadith is also found in Muslim. The agreement between the versions in Bukhari and Muslim is so close in Arabic that the two scholars are in all probability following a written document reaching them from different sources. Biographical information provided by Ibn Hanbal, al-Hakim, and ‘Ali bin Ja‘d confirms that Sufyan, one of the transmitters of the above hadith, wrote traditions from al-A‘mash (61– 147), another of the transmitters, who in turn wrote hundreds of traditions from earlier sources. Yet if we read the isnad in Bukhari or Muslim we would not be able to tell that they are using written sources. They use words like haddathana (related to us), akhbarana (informed us), and ‘an (from). This is because when muhaddithun used written sources they did so after verifications by a chain of transmitters going back to the authors of the written documents, so that the living voices of people rather than the documents were viewed as the primary sources. The documents were simply a secondary means to aid the process of transmission. Not realizing this, many students of the Hadith with a superficial knowledge of the Hadith literature concluded that ahadith were transmitted only orally for century and a half before the appearance of Ibn Ishaq, Muwatta etc. Yet it becomes clear that the written material frequently accompanied the oral transmission of Hadith from much earlier period. That, of course, does not mean that the transmission was faithful, as is shown by non-Islamic religious traditions. Thus in the Christian tradition writing started within a few decades after the departure of Jesus and yet it is full of fabricated material. The particular hadith under consideration itself was not transmitted with complete faithfulness, as the following observations show. 

2)                  One difference between the versions in Bukhari and Muslim is that in Muslim, after comparing the traces left of trust and honesty with the blister caused by an ember, there are the additional words: “the Prophet took a pebble and rolled it down over his foot.”  This is one indication that some changes in the hadith were made during at least the later stages of its transmission. But some other more significant changes might also have taken place even in the earlier stages in the part that is common to both Bukhari and Muslim. Notice how in the beginning we are told that Hudhayfah has witnessed the fulfillment of the first part of the hadith and is still waiting for the fulfillment of the second. But from his comments on the hadith at the end it seems that even the second part of the hadith has been fulfilled. For Hudhayfah has stopped trusting people to the extent that he does not do business with people except a very few. It is, however, possible that the two ahadith to which Hudhayfah refers might correspond to the two sleeps or stages in which the al-amānah will be removed. In one stage honest dealings will be rare but still some trace of iman will be found in the heart while in the second stage no iman will remain in the hearts just like a blister caused by an ember has nothing inside. Hudhayfah has seen the first stage and he is waiting for the second.

The hadith seems to be authentic in substance. To understand its core idea it is necessary to interpret al-amanah in a sense much wider than simple honesty in business dealings, even if this latter meaning is what is received as a first impression. Hadith commentators have suggested that al-amānah means the trust mentioned in Qur’an 33:72: We did indeed offered the trust (al-amanah) to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but they refused to bear it and were afraid from (being unfaithful to) it. Man, (on the other hand), bore it (unconcerned with unfaithfulness to it). For he is a transgressor, ignorant. This interpretation explains why in the hadith al-amānah descends first while the Qur’an descends afterward. For al-amānah was given to man at the time of his creation (cf. the reference to fitrah in 30:30). Revelation confirms what is already found in the true nature of man and reminds him of it. However, by sleep (forgetting God and getting lost in the life of this world) he begins to loose al-amanah. A time will come when it will be completely lost from the hearts; only a superficial mark of it will be left.

But what about the reference to the Sunnah? Is this authentic? There are, at least to my knowledge, not enough versions of this hadith, or other traditions clearly linked with it, to reach any definite conclusion in this regard. There is only the general improbability of the Prophet using the word sunnah in the sense of the extra-Qur`anic guidance that he provided, to which improbability we have already drawn attention. In any case, the hadith cannot be used to support any independent role for the Sunnah. It simply states that people learnt al-amanah from the Sunnah without saying any thing about the precise role of the Sunnah within Islam.

THE BEST GUIDANCE (Hady)        


In some traditions the Qur’an is called hadith and what we call Sunnah or Hadith is called hadyu Muhammad:

Jabir bin ‘Abd Allah is reported to have said: When the Messenger of God delivered the sermon, his eyes became red, his voice rose and his anger increased so that he was like one who gives a warning against the enemy saying: “The enemy (faces) you in the morning and in the evening too.” He would also say: “The last Hour and I have been sent like these two,” and he would join his forefinger and middle finger; and would further say: “amma ba‘d, the best hadith is the Book of God and the best guidance is the guidance (hady) of  Muhammad. And the worst matters are the muhdathat (the new things introduced into the religion) and every innovation is error.” … (Muslim)

Bukhari also has traditions containing the underlined words, but they are attributed to ‘Abd Allah and not to the Prophet:

Adam bin Abi Iyas related to us: Shu‘bah related to us: ‘Amr bin Murrah informed us that he heard Murrah say that ‘Abd Allah (bin ‘Umar?) said: The best hadith is God’s Book, and the best guidance (hady) is the guidance of Muhammad, and the worst matters are muhdathat; and whatever you have been promised will surely come to pass, and you cannot prevent (it).

Bukhari records another version of this tradition:

Abu al-Walid related to us: Shu‘bah related to us: It is reported that Mukhariq said: I heard Tariq say: ‘Abd Allah said: “The best hadith is God’s Book, and the best guidance is the guidance of Muhammad.”


Shu‘bah heard from two independent sources the underlined words from ‘Abd Allah without any reference to the Prophet. Hence the attribution of the words to the Prophet is under some doubt. Some scholars have suggested the following principle to take back to the Prophet words that are attributed to a companion: if a statement attributed to a companion is such that only the Prophet is expected to have the knowledge implied by it, then it may be attributed to the Prophet. For example, if a companion speaks about past events, about which one cannot learn by ijtihad, and the companion is known to be uninformed about earlier scriptures, then it may be assumed that he is speaking on the basis of what he heard from the Prophet. Or, if a companion predicts events or talks about what will happen on the judgment day or about rewards and punishments for some actions then it can also be assumed that he or she is speaking on the basis of what he or she learnt from the Prophet. Similarly, if a companion says that they used to do such and such in the day of the Prophet or that the Sunnah is such and such, then also one may assume that he or she is reflecting the teaching of the Prophet. This principle is of only partial validity but in any case it does not apply to the tradition in question since there is nothing in the thought expressed here that could only come from the Prophet. The first part of the hadith (“the best hadith is God’s Book”) is based on the Qur’an (39:23) while the second part (“the best guidance is the guidance of Muhammad”) could come from any Muslim teacher. The saying in fact is part of the traditional addresses given on Fridays. It appears that it became part of these addresses quite early as the expression amma ba‘d in Jabir’s version shows and then got attributed to the Prophet.

Here is another hadith talking about the guidance (hady) of the Holy Prophet:

It is narrated from Hudhayfah bin al-Yaman: The people used to ask the Messenger of God about the good but I used to ask him about the evil lest I should be overtaken by it. So I said, “O Messenger of God! We were living in ignorance and in the worst atmosphere when God brought to us this good (i.e., Islam). Will there be any evil after this good?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Will there be any good after that evil?” He replied, “Yes, but it will be tainted (not pure.)”‘ I asked, “What will be its taint?” He replied, “(There will be) some people who will guide others not according to my guidance (hady).  You will approve of some of their deeds and disapprove of some others”…. (Bukhari)

In the saying of ‘Abd Allah (the best hadith is the Book of God and the best hady is the hady of Muhammad), hady means only the Hadith since the Qur’an is mentioned separately. But in the above hadith, the Qur’an is not mentioned. One may interpret al-hady to include the whole way of the Prophet revealed both by the Qur’an and authentic Hadith, but “my hady” suggests the guidance that the Prophet provided in explaining and elaborating the Qur`an. Some people will not use this guidance and understand the Qur`an in other ways. This will “taint” the good. Notice a rather mild condemnation of ignoring the hady of the Prophet: it is not equated with evil but only a “tainted” good.



In a hadith narrated in Muslim and Bukhari on the authority of Abu Bakrah the Prophet after teaching that the blood and property of a Muslim is sacrosanct commands: “Let the one who is present convey to the one who is absent. It may be that the one who is being conveyed to may be more heedful than the one who heard (in person).” The hadith, as expected, comes with several different versions with significant variations, even in the words that we have quoted. Yet the general sense is the same. Here is one version:

Abu Bakrah related from the Prophet who said: “Time has come back to its original state which it had when God created the heavens and the earth. The year is twelve months, of which four are sacred; (and out of these four) three are in succession – Dhu al-Qa'dah, Dhu al-Hijjah and Muharram, and (the fourth one) Rajab Mudar which is between Jumad (al-Thani) and Sha‘ban.” (He then asked us:) “Which month is this?” We said, “God and his Messenger know better.” He kept quiet so long that we thought he might call it by another name. Then he said, “Isn’t it Dhu al-Hijjah?” We said, “Yes.” He asked, “What city is this?” We said, “God and his Messenger know better.” Then he kept quiet so long that we thought he might call it by another name. He then said, “Isn’t it al-baladah (Makkah)?” We said, “Yes.” He asked, “What is the day today?” We said, “God and his Messenger know better.” Then he kept quiet so long that we thought that he might call it by another name. Then he said, “Isn’t it the day of al-nahr (sacrifice)?” We said, “Yes.” Then, he said, “Your blood and your property,” (Muhammad, one of the narrators, said: I think he also said: “and your honor”) “have sanctity for one another like the sanctity of this day of yours, in this city of yours, in this month of yours. You shall meet your Lord and he will ask you about your deeds. Beware! Don’t go astray after me by striking the necks of one another. Lo! Let the one who is present inform the one who is absent for perhaps the one informed might be more heedful than the one who heard it (in person).” (Bukhari)

The command, “Let the one present convey to the one absent” also occurs in some other types of ahadith. For example:

Yasar, the client of Ibn ‘Umar, said: Ibn ‘Umar saw me praying after the break of dawn. He said: O Yasar, the Messenger of God came to us while we were offering this prayer and said: Those who are present should inform those who are absent: Do not offer any prayer after (the break of) dawn except two rak‘ahs (Abu Da`ud).

But in such instances the command is less natural than in the hadith of Abu Bakrah and seems to be imported from it. The command is in all probability authentic and shows that the Prophet wanted at least some of his words to be transmitted beyond the time and place where they were spoken.



There are several ahadith reported from numerous companions that condemn with varying degree of strength falsely attributing something to the Prophet. These ahadith are indicative of the importance that the Prophet himself or his early followers attached to the reports about him, that it, to the Sunnah/Hadith.


The ahadith are reported in three different forms, each with many different chains of transmission.


Whoever  reports … thinking that it is false


Muslim in the introduction (muqaddimah) to his sahih has reported the following hadith from two companions:


It is reported from al-Mughirah bin Shu‘bah and Samurah bin Jundub that the Prophet said: “Whoever reports from me a report, thinking that it is false, is one of the liars”.


Muslim has called this hadith mashhur (widely known) because in differing words it is related on the authority of numerous companions. A commentary on Muslim collects the following facts: Bazar in his Musnad narrates it from 40 companions. It is reported from 60 companions according to Abu Bakr Sayrafi, 87 companions according to Ibn Mundah. Some have mentioned 200 companions while others have mentioned 62 including the ‘asharah mubashsharah (the ten who were promised paradise), adding that this is the only hadith reported from more than 60 companions or by the ‘asharah mubashsharah. Most of these numbers are probably estimated by considering all the ahadith that in some way or another condemn the act of falsely reporting something about the Prophet, and not just the ahadith of the type quoted. In particular, the ahadith in which hell fire is the fate of those who tell a lie about the Prophet are also counted.


Anyone who tells a lie about me …


Muslim in his muqaddimah relates the following ahadith:


It is related from Anas bin Malik that he said: I am prevented from relating too many ahadith to you by this that the Messenger of God said, “Anyone who deliberates (ta'ammada) a lie about me will surely take his seat in the fire”.


It is related from Abu Hurayrah that he said: The Messenger of God said, “Any one who deliberately tells a lie about me will surely take his seat in the fire”.


It is related from Rib‘iyy bin Harash that he heard ‘Ali addressing the people and saying: The Messenger of God said, “Do not lie about me. For if any one lies about me, he will go to the fire”.


It is related from ‘Ali bin Abu Rabi‘ah al-Walbi that he went to the mosque when al-Mughirah was amir of Kufah. He said that al-Mughirah stated that he heard the Messenger of God saying, “To tell a lie about me is not like telling a lie about anyone. So if anyone deliberately tells a lie about me, he will surely take his seat in the fire”.


Bukhari also reports similar ahadith, some going back to companions other than the four mentioned by Muslim in the above ahadith. Although, the authenticity of the saying in Muslim and Bukhari is supported by the multiplicity of its chains of transmission from the Prophet, it still suffers from some weaknesses.


Thus Muwatta does not record this type of hadith. We do find in Muwatta a hadith in which the words “will take his seat in the fire” are connected with “false” statement, but the context is quite different:


Yahya said, Malik related to us from Hisham ibn Hisham ibn Utba ibn abi Waqqas from ‘Abd Allah ibn Nistas from Jabir ibn ‘Abd Allah al-Ansari that the Messenger of God said, “If someone swears a false oath near this mimbar of mine, he will take his seat in the fire”.


It is possible that this saying and the one in Muslim and Bukhari are both authentic. There is a reasonable explanation why this saying in Muwatta is not more widely reported: outside Madinah it will not have much practical relevance, since the mimbar of the Prophet existed only in Madinah, unless one understands mimbar of the Prophet as mimbar in any mosque. It seems more probable, however, that the original saying has found here an application in the law court. Some litigants being judged in the Prophet’s mosque might have been suspected of making false statements under oath. So the saying about false attribution to the Prophet has been adopted here to discourage this behavior. One could argue that Muwatta, being of earlier date, has preserved the more original saying that was later changed into a condemnation of all false attribution to the Prophet. But in view of the numerous chains of transmission of this latter form, it is more likely that the hadith in Muwatta is a later adaptation of the other hadith. If so, this is yet another illustration, that an earlier document does not always preserve the more original tradition. We saw another example of this in the hadith “I have left two matters with you…. the Book of God and the Sunnah of his Prophet”, which is probably preserved more faithfully by Muslim who omits the reference to the Sunnah.


Another possible weakness in the saying arises from the fact that it has not been reported with the same wording. Thus Abu Hurayrah’s version has ta'ammada while other versions have kadhaba. Also, in the version going back to ‘Ali we read, yalij al-nar (will go to hell) instead of falyatabawwa` maq‘ad hu fi al-nar (he will surely take his seat in the fire).” It may be that the Prophet himself used different words at different times, but it seems more probable that the variants developed during the process of transmission. If so, we have here an illustration of what is observed elsewhere in the hadith literature: even the most reliable sayings of the Prophet are not transmitted with complete exactness.


Versions of the hadith in Bukhari are subject to some other weaknesses.


a) Thus in one hadith in Bukhari we read:

It is reported from ‘Abd Allah bin ‘Amr: The Prophet said, “Convey (ballighu) from me even if it were a single ayah, and relate (haddithu) from the children of Israel, there is nothing wrong (in that). And whoever tells about me a lie intentionally, will surely take his seat in the fire”.

The two parts of this hadith, the one granting permission to relate traditions from the Jews and the other condemning the false attribution of words to the Prophet do not seem to belong together originally. This is also a common phenomenon in the hadith literature: two ahadith originally separate are brought together. In the above hadith the purpose of bringing the two separate parts is a noble one: to try to stop those people who were relating traditions from the Jews and then falsely attributing them to the Prophet. The hadith is saying that you may relate Jewish traditions but do not make them into hadith by attributing them to the Prophet.

The authenticity of the first part of the hadith is doubtful because it seems to contradict another hadith:

It is narrated from Abu Hurayrah: The people of the book used to recite the Torah in Hebrew and explain it in Arabic to the Muslims. On that God’s Messenger said, “Do not believe the people of the book or disbelieve them, but say: ‘We believe in God and what is revealed to us….’ “ (2.136).

Unlike the earlier hadith, this one does not encourage relating traditions from the Jews.

b) Another hadith from Bukhari reads:

It is narrated from al-Mughirah: I heard the Prophet saying, “Ascribing false things to me is not like ascribing false things to anyone else.  Whosoever intentionally tells a lie against me, he will surely take his seat in the fire.” I heard the Prophet saying, “The deceased who is wailed over is tortured for that wailing”.


In this hadith also originally separate traditions have been put together in a single hadith, but this case is somewhat different. Here the separate sayings remain separate and even the words “I have heard the Prophet saying” are repeated twice. Bukhari does that probably when he finds two or more ahadith side by side in the same source with exactly the same chain of transmission.


The last statement in the above hadith is rejected by ‘Aishah in another tradition in Bukhari:


It is narrated from Hisham’s father: It was mentioned before ‘Aishah that Ibn ‘Umar attributed the following statement to the Prophet, “The dead person is punished in the grave because of the crying and lamentation of his family”. On that, ‘Aishah said, “But God’s Messenger said, ‘The dead person is punished for his crimes and sins while his family cry over him.’” She added, “And this is similar to the statement of God’s Messenger when he stood by the (edge of the) well which contained the corpses of the pagans killed at Badr, ‘They hear what I say.’” She added, “But he said, now they know very well what I used to tell them was the truth.” ‘Aishah then recited (the verse): “You cannot make the dead hear.” (30.52) and “You cannot make those who are in their graves, hear you” (35:22), that is, when they had taken their places in the fire.


If this criticism by ‘Aishah of the last statement – which also conflicts with the Qur’anic principle that every soul is responsible for what it earns – is accepted as authentic and correct, then other statements in the above hadith may also have been falsely reported.


c) We may also briefly examine the following hadith from Bukhari:


Narrated Wathila bin al-Asqa: The Messenger of God said, “Verily, one of the worst lies is to claim falsely to be the son of someone other than one’s real father, or to claim to have had a dream one has not had, or to attribute to the Messenger of God what he has not said.”


Notice that here the Prophet is referred to in the third person (“to attribute to the Messenger of God what he has not said”). The wording is such that any early Muslim teacher could have spoken the saying. Hence it is possible that the “hadith” was originally the words of a prominent Muslim. It is interesting that Muhsin Khan translates “to attribute to the Messenger of God what he has not said” as “to attribute to me what I have not said”. This is an example of how our understanding can change the words that we are translating or reporting.


None of the above-mentioned weaknesses, however, are decisive enough to overturn the support provided by the multiplicity of chains of transmission and so on balance the saying seems to be authentic.


It is sufficient for a man’s lie …


The third type of ahadith about false reporting of traditions in Muslim’s muqaddimah read as follows:


Hafs bin ‘Asim is reported to have said that the Messenger of God said: It is sufficient for a man’s lie that he reports all that he hears.


This version is mursal (i.e. does not mention the companion who heard the hadith from the Prophet). Imam Malik and Imam Abu Hanifah accept a mursal hadith if the successor who reports it is trustworthy and known to omit only trustworthy transmitters. Imam Shafi‘i accepts a mursal hadith if it is confirmed by a different chain even if by a mursal hadith or by a hadith with weak isnad. His criterion will apply to the above tradition, because we have another isnad for it:


Hafs bin ‘Asim is reported to have related from Abu Hurayrah similar words from the Prophet.


Here the isnad goes all the way to the Prophet. However, several traditions stop at companions or even later scholars and do not take the saying to the Prophet.


Abu ‘Uthman al-Nahdi is reported to have said that `Umar bin al-Khattab said, It is sufficient for a man’s lie that he reports all that he hears. 


‘Abd Allah (bin Mas‘ud) is reported to have said: It is sufficient for a man’s lie that he reports all that he hears.


‘Abd al-Rahman bin Mahdi (died 198) is reported as saying that a man cannot be a leader to be followed unless he holds back some of what he hears.


Ibn Wahb is reported to have said: Malik said to me: A person is not safe (from lie) if he reports all that he hears and he can never be a leader while he reports all that he hears.


To the above traditions quoted by Muslim we may also add one quoted by Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr in his jami‘ bayan al-‘ilm wa fadlihi:


Ibn abi Laylah (20-83) used to say that only when one is able to reject some of the ahadith and accept some others could a person be credited with the knowledge of Hadith.


A glance at the above traditions shows that we are dealing here with two distinct sayings:


1)      To be a leader or expert on the Hadith one must not accept and pass on every tradition one hears. In other words, one must use some critical judgment and evaluate what one hears, which would necessarily result in the rejection of some traditions.

2)      If one does not use any critical judgment and one reports all that one hears, then one does not have any concern for what is true and this lack of concern will necessarily mean that he will not hesitate to tell lies knowingly, which means that he is a liar.


The first saying is only attributed to the successors and subsequent scholars: Ibn abi Laylah, Malik, and Ibn Mahdi. The second saying is attributed not only to Malik but also to companions like ‘Umar and ‘Abd Allah bin Mas‘ud and also to the Prophet. Notice that when Malik and Ibn Mahdi utter the sayings they do not say whether they are quoting earlier persons, but the sayings do not seem to originate from them. If so, here we have an example of how sometimes traditionists could express an idea using earlier traditions without telling us that they are doing so. This makes it possible that ‘Umar and/or ‘Abd Allah bin Mas‘ud may be reporting a hadith without saying so or without the subsequent transmitters understanding so. On the other hand, it is also possible that words of a companion could be attributed to the Prophet. Hence when a saying is attributed to both the Prophet and a later Muslim, there arises a doubt about whether it is prophetic saying or not. Only some very clear indications can resolve the doubt.


As noted earlier, it is said by some scholars about a saying of a companion that its attribution to the Prophet is understood when the saying expresses something that only the Prophet is expected to know. But this principle does not apply to the tradition in question since there is nothing in the thought expressed here – to be a liar it is enough to report all what one hears – that could only come from the Prophet. Indeed, the words look like a proverb that could have originated at any time and at any place and then spread from there. So it seems that in view of the fact that many versions attribute the saying only to some companions or later scholars, its attribution to the Prophet is very doubtful.



The confession of faith that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his Messenger is found in many ahadith, although with some variations. It is part of adhan and of the daily and jum'ah prayers, all of which are mentioned in the Qur’an and were instituted well within the lifetime of the Prophet. Hence there is overwhelming probability that in some form the shahadah goes back to the Prophet. The significance of this observation for our subject is that the shahadah talks about God and the Prophet and not God and his Book. If the only function of the Prophet was to deliver the Qur’an, then we should expect a shahadah like the following: There is no god but Allah and the Qur’an is his book. The fact that the shahadah mentions only the persons of God and his Messenger means that after God it is the Messenger who occupies the primary significance. The Qur`an and the Sunnah/Hadith are the means by which the Messenger is known in history and he continues his function of conveying God’s message. Those traditions that make the Qur’an the focus of attention can be easily understood if, as suggested in Part I, we think of the Qur’an (which calls itself the best hadith) as the core of the Sunnah/Hadith that was to be especially guarded and preserved.

Revelatory character of the Sunnah/Hadith


Narrated Sa‘id bin al-Musayyab: Abu Hurayrah said that God’s Messenger said, “I have been sent with jawami‘ al-kalim (the shortest expressions with the widest meaning) and have been made victorious with awe (cast in my enemy’s hearts), and while I was sleeping, I saw that the keys of the treasures of the world were placed in my hand.”

The jawami‘ al-kalim probably refers to the words of the Prophet and is not identical to the Qur’an. Being sent with jawami‘ al-kalim suggests that they constitute some type of revelation.


Narrated Safwan bin Ya‘la bin Umayyah: Ya‘la used to say, "I wish I could see God's Messenger at the time he is receiving inspiration." When the Prophet was at al-Ji‘ranah and was shaded by a garment hanging over him and some of his companions were with him, a man perfumed with scent came and said, "O Messenger of God! What is your opinion regarding a man who assumes ihram and puts on a cloak after perfuming his body with scent?" The Prophet waited for a while, and then the divine inspiration descended upon him. ‘Umar pointed out to Ya‘la, telling him to come. Ya‘la came and pushed his head (underneath the screen which was covering the Prophet) and behold! The Prophet's face was red and he kept on breathing heavily for a while and then he was relieved. Thereupon he said, "Where is the questioner who asked me about  ‘umrah a while ago?" The man was sought and then was brought before the Prophet who said (to him), "As regards the scent which you perfumed your body with, you must wash it off thrice, and as for your cloak, you must take it off; and then perform in your ‘umrah all those things which you perform in hajj" (Bukhari).

Here the divine inspiration is clearly not Qur`anic revelation, since the rule given about ‘umrah is not found in the Qur`an. Hence, according to this hadith, at least some of the extra-Qur`anic teaching of the Prophet was the result of revelation.


In Abu Da`ud and Darimi it is related by ‘Abd Allah bin ‘Amr that he used to write down everything (kuntu aktubu kulla shay) he heard from the Prophet in order to memorize it. The Quraysh stopped him from this, saying that the Prophet was human and might have said some things in anger. ‘Abd Allah bin ‘Amr stopped writing after hearing this and mentioned the matter to the Prophet. The Prophet pointed to his tongue with his finger and said, “Under no circumstances anything false comes out of this (tongue).” Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr in his jami‘ bayan al-‘ilm wa fadlihi records a similar tradition:

‘Abd Allah bin ‘Amr asked the Prophet: “Shall I write everything I hear from you?” The Prophet replied, “Yes, everything… I do not speak anything but the truth.”


But in contrast to the above hadith, another tradition reports the Prophet as saying:

“I am but a human being; what I have told you about God is the truth; what I have stated to you on my own account, bear in my mind that I am only human, I may be right or I may be wrong.”

Muslim records the following hadith containing similar words:

It is related from Talha: I passed by people near the date-palm trees in the company of the Messenger of God. He said: “What are these people doing?” They said: They are grafting, i.e. they combine the male with the female (tree) and thus they yield more fruit. Thereupon God’s Messenger said: “I do not think that this is of any use.” The people were informed about it and they abandoned (this practice). God’s Messenger was informed about it, whereupon he said: “If there is any use of it, then they should do it, for it was just a personal opinion of mine, and do not go after my personal opinion; but when I say to you anything on behalf of God, then do accept it, for I do not attribute lie to God, the Exalted and Glorious.”

Muslim records two more versions of this hadith.

It is reported from Rafi‘ bin Khadij that God’s Messenger came to Madinah and the people grafted the trees. He said: “What are you doing?” They said: We are used to doing that, whereupon he said: “Perhaps if you do not do that, it may be better for you.” So they abandoned (this practice and trees) and reduced (their yield naqasat, or, the narrator said they did not give any fruit, nafadat). They mentioned it (to the Holy Prophet), whereupon he said: “I am a human being, so when I command you about a thing pertaining to religion, do accept it, and when I command you about a thing out of my personal opinion, keep it in mind that I am a human being.”

It is reported from Anas that God’s Messenger passed by a group of people who were grafting the trees. Thereupon he said: “If you did not do it, it would be good.” (So they abandoned this practice) and the yield was not good. He passed by them (and said): “What has gone wrong with your trees?” They said: You said so and so. Thereupon he said: “You know your affairs of the world better.”

As we examine the three versions we notice the following significant differences:

In the version reported from Rafi‘ the Prophet simply raises a possibility (“perhaps, if you did not do it, it would be better”) whereas in the other two versions he expresses a more definite opinion (“If you did not do it, it would be good” or “I do not think that this is of any use.”). In the version attributed to Rafi‘ it is said that when the people stopped grafting the trees the yield reduced, in the version of Anas it is said the yield was defective, and in the version of Talhah nothing of the sort is mentioned. The words of the Prophet after people stopped grafting are also significantly different in the three versions. This is probably not a case of the whole story being created out of imagination. Rather, the differences are arising from the story and its significance being told in the transmitters’ own words.

In any case, the story does not disprove the view that the Hadith is revelatory. For, as noted earlier in Part I, mistakes of the prophets get corrected either by God or by the prophets themselves and this correction becomes part of the revelation. In this particular story the correction of the mistake, assuming that there was a mistake, teaches the following important lessons or principles that are as fit to be part of divine revelation as almost any other lesson or principle:


1)                  Do not take past knowledge as above question. Always ask questions in matters of science.

2)                  No human being, not even prophets know everything (Qur’an 5:116, 6:50, 11:31, 27:65). Hence the leaders should admit limits of their knowledge and let the experts in various fields make technical decisions.

3)                  In case of ahadith, especially those that are not commandments, we should use reason, experience and experiments to determine how and how far to apply them.


Although prophets can make mistakes, this particular hadith is not necessarily a case of a mistake on the part of the Prophet Muhammad. He simply asked a question and then tentatively suggested something. This is especially clear in the version of Rāfi‘, where the Prophet says: “perhaps if you did not do it, it would be better”.




The following hadith, found in two versions in both Bukhari and Muslim, could suggest on first impression that the Prophet could make mistakes even when acting as a judge among some disputants:


‘Abd al-‘Aziz bin ‘Abd Allah related to us, saying: Ibrahim ibn Sa‘d related to me from Salih from Ibn Shihab who said: ‘Urwa bin al-Zubayr informed me that Zaynab bint Umm Salamah informed him that her mother Umm Salamah (the wife of the Holy Prophet) informed her: God’s Messenger heard some people quarreling at the door of his dwelling. He came out and said, “I am only a human being, and opponents come to me (to settle their problems); maybe someone amongst you can present his case more eloquently than the other, whereby I may consider him true and give a verdict in his favor. So, if I give the right of a Muslim to another (in this way), then it is really a portion of fire that he has the option to take or give up (before the day of judgment).” (Bukhari) The other version omits the reference to the Prophet hearing some people quarreling at the door. Otherwise it is substantially the same.


In this hadith the possibility of the Prophet making a mistake as a judge is clearly raised. Yet this seems to conflict with Qur’an 4:65: “But no! By your Lord! They do not become believers until they make you a judge in matters of dispute among them and then do not find any straitness in their hearts about what you have decided and submit to (the decision) completely.” This type of acceptance of the Prophet’s judgment would seem to be more suitable if his judgments were either right or there was a guarantee that God would send down correction of any errors he might make. Consequently, the authenticity of the hadith is in some doubt.


But even if the hadith is authentic it makes an important and valid point, so that it can still be considered revelatory. To understand the hadith more precisely we need to note that a judgment can be wrong in two ways:


1)      It can be wrong in its result, that is, the person in the right was declared in the wrong or vice versa.

2)      It can be wrong in the process used, that is, it is arrived at by a wrong use of the evidence.


A judgment may be right in one of these senses but wrong in the other. For example, suppose that a person is guilty of committing adultery but only one witness saw his action. In this case if the person is acquitted then this judgment will be wrong in the first sense (result), but right in the second (process). On the other hand, if the person is convicted, then the judgment will be right in the first sense but wrong in the second. It is not possible to be always sure that one’s judgment is right in the first sense because it requires omniscience and no human beings, not even prophets are omniscient.


Now once this distinction is made, it becomes clear that the hadith under consideration states only that the Prophet, being a human being and not omniscient, may not always be right in the first sense. The hadith does not mean that he could also be wrong in the second sense, that is, he could make wrong use of the evidence. If understood that way, the hadith does not conflict with the revelatory character of the Hadith. It, in fact, teaches an important lesson to judges: they should judge by what they hear from the disputants and witnesses. Without this principle a sound system of justice cannot be established. This is in any case how Bukhari and other Muslims understood this hadith, as is shown by the fact that after recording the above hadith, Bukhari gives some opinions of jurists as to how a judge should judge:


The people of Hijaz said, “A judge should not pass a judgment according to his knowledge, whether he was a witness at the time he was the judge or before that” And if a litigant gives a confession in favor of his opponent in the court, in the opinion of some scholars, the judge should not pass a judgment against him until the latter calls two witnesses to witness his confession. And some people of Iraq said, “A judge can pass a judgment according to what he hears or witnesses (the litigant’s confession) in the court itself, but if the confession takes place outside the court, he should not pass the judgment unless two witnesses witness the confession.” Some of them said, “A judge can pass a judgment depending on his knowledge of the case as he is trust-worthy, and that a witness is required just to reveal the truth. The judge’s knowledge is more than the witness.” Some said, “A judge can judge according to his knowledge only in cases involving property, but in other cases he cannot.” Al-Qasim said, “A judge ought not to pass a judgment depending on his knowledge if other people do not know what he knows, although his knowledge is more than the witness of somebody else because he might expose himself to suspicion by the Muslims and cause the Muslims to have unreasonable doubt.”




Another type of ahadith in which the Prophet seemingly makes a mistake is comprised of those ahadith in which ‘Umar expresses an opinion; the Prophet decides contrary to ‘Umar’s opinion, but later the Qur`anic revelation favors ‘Umar’s opinion. There are two stories of this type that have some credibility: the story of the funeral prayers for the hypocrite ‘Abd Allah bin Ubayy and the story of the treatment of prisoners of Badr. The first story is found in Ibn Ishaq, Bukhari, and Muslim. There are three versions, one on the authority of ‘Umar himself and two on the authority of Ibn ‘Umar. Bukhari gives all three. Here is one version on Ibn ‘Umar’s authority from Bukhari:

Narrated Ibn ‘Umar: When ‘Abd Allah bin Ubayy died, his son ‘Abd Allah bin ‘Abd Allah came to God's Messenger and asked him to give him his shirt in order to shroud his father in it. He gave it to him and then ‘Abd Allah asked the Prophet to offer the funeral prayer for him (his father). God's Messenger got up to offer the funeral prayer for him, but ‘Umar got up too and getting hold of the garment of God's Messenger said, "O God's Messenger! Will you offer the funeral prayer for him though your Lord has forbidden you to offer the prayer for him?" God's Messenger said, "But God has given me the choice by saying: 'Ask forgiveness for them, or do not ask forgiveness for them; even if you ask forgiveness for them seventy times…' (9.80). So I will ask (forgiveness) more than seventy times." ‘Umar said, "But he is a hypocrite!" However, God's Messenger offered the funeral prayer for him whereupon God revealed: “And never (O Muhammad) pray for anyone of them that dies, nor stand at his grave” (9.84). (Bukhari)

Despite its documentation by Ibn Ishaq, Bukhari, and Muslim, the authenticity of the hadith is subject to some doubt for the following reasons:

1) The isnads for the three versions are:

            Abu Usamah – ‘Ubayd AllahNafi‘ – Ibn ‘Umar

Anas bin ‘Ayad‘Ubayd AllahNafi‘ – Ibn ‘Umar

Ibn Shihab – ‘Ubayd Allah – Ibn ‘Abbas – ‘Umar

Looking at these isnads we see that three people heard the hadith from ‘Ubayd Allah but to know from whom he heard the story and what exactly he heard we have only his word to go by, at least according to what Ibn Ishaq, Bukhari, and Muslim have accepted in their books. (In later books we find other weaker versions with somewhat different isnads).  In the absence of any early confirmation of ‘Ubayd Allah’s story by a second witness, the hadith remains under reasonable doubt.

2) In the version quoted above from ‘Ubayd Allah – Nafi‘ – Ibn ‘Umar, the Holy Prophet gives his shirt to shroud the dead hypocrite Ibn Ubayy and offers funeral prayers for him at the request of his son. But in another version, also coming from ‘Ubayd Allah – Nafi‘ – Ibn ‘Umar the Prophet takes these actions entirely on his own initiative:

When ‘Abd Allah bin Ubayy died, his son came to the Messenger of God who gave his shirt to him and ordered him to shroud his father in it. Then he stood up to offer the funeral prayer …

This difference in the two ahadith with identical isnads from ‘Ubayd Allah to the Prophet shows that at least in some details the transmission of the story has not been entirely reliable.

3) Bukhari and Muslim record words of ‘Umar listing matters on which divine revelation agreed with his opinions:

It is reported from Anas that ‘Umar said: My Lord agreed with me in three things: 1) I said, "O God's Messenger, I wish we took the station of Ibrahim as our praying place (for some of our prayers). So the divine inspiration came: “And take (O people) the station of Ibrahim as a place of prayer (for some of your prayers e.g. two rak‘ah of Ka‘bah’s tawaf)" (2.125). 2) And as regards the verse about hijab of the women, I said, 'O God's Messenger! I wish you ordered your wives to cover themselves from the men because good and bad ones talk to them.' So the verse about hijab was revealed. 3) Once the wives of the Prophet made a united front against the Prophet and I said to them, 'It may be if he divorced you, his Lord will give him wives better than you in your place.' So a verse to this effect [66:5] was revealed" (Bukhari).

It is reported from Ibn ‘Umar that (‘Umar said): “My Lord agreed with me in three things: in the matter of (prayer at) the station of Ibrahim, in the matter of hijab for women, and in the matter of prisoners of Badr” (Muslim).

If the story under consideration is authentic, we should also expect a mention of the matter of the funeral prayers for the hypocrites, in which revelation agreed with ‘Umar’s opinion. The absence of any mention of this matter from both lists casts some doubt about the authenticity of the story.

4) Muslim gives another different account of what happened on the death of ‘Abd Allah bin Ubayy:

Jabir is reported as saying that the Messenger of God came to the grave of ‘Abd Allah bin Ubayy, took him out of the grave, put him on his knees, touched him with his saliva, and clothed him with his shirt. God knows best.

This story agrees with the second version of the hadith of ‘Ubayd Allah – Nafi‘ – Ibn ‘Umar in that here the Holy Prophet acts entirely on his own initiative. But there is no mention here of the Prophet offering funeral prayer and ‘Umar objecting to it. This argument from silence is not conclusive but it does raise some doubt.

5) The Qur`anic verse 9:80 seems to be misunderstood in the story. The Qur`anic words “even if you ask forgiveness for (the hypocrites) seventy times, God will not forgive them” probably mean: “no matter how many times you ask forgiveness for them, God will not forgive them.” That is, “seventy” is an indefinitely large number (see the commentaries on the Qur`an, e.g. Ibn Kathir, Tafsir). But in the hadith of ‘Ubayd Allah “seventy” is taken literally, so that the possibility of forgiveness for the hypocrites is admitted if the Prophet prayed more than seventy times.

Thus reasonable doubt exists regarding the authenticity of the hadith. But even if we accept the hadith as authentic, it does not call into question the revelatory character of the Sunnah/Hadith. Firstly, if it was a mistake on the part of the Prophet to offer funeral prayer for Ibn Ubayy it was corrected and as we have stated earlier a mistake and its correction can become revelatory. Secondly, it is not at all clear that the Prophet made a mistake. The Prophet was well within the rule that God had laid down till the time of the death of Ibn Ubayy. Within that rule he was showing maximum love and mercy even to those who harbored enmity in their hearts for him. This reveals an important religious lesson: without transgressing the limits set by the Qur`an, themselves based on mercy, we should show as much compassion to enemies of Islam and Muslims, and our own personal enemies as possible. Another indication that in this hadith we are not dealing with any mistake on the part of the Holy Prophet is provided by the fact that the Qur`anic passage 9:84 contains no hint that the Prophet had made a mistake. Contrast this with 9:43, 33:37, 66:1, 80:1-10, where some mistakes on the part of the Prophet are clearly indicated.


The second story, as recorded in Muslim, relates that the Prophet asked Abu Bakr and ‘Umar: “What do you think regarding these prisoners” taken in the battle of Badr? Abu Bakr suggested that they should be released in exchange for compensation, but ‘Umar advised killing them. The Prophet opted for the opinion of Abu Bakr. Then Qur`an 8:67 was revealed which is said to support ‘Umar’s position.

Bukhari does not record the story. It is also interesting that in the saying of ‘Umar, listing three matters on which divine revelation supported his opinions, the story of the prisoners is not included in the version accepted by Bukhari. In Muslim, of course, the story is part of the list. Thus Bukhari probably deliberately avoided traditions referring to the story because he did not find the story reliable.

The story is also absent from earlier books of history such as Ibn Ishaq’s Sirah and Ibn Sa‘d’s Tabaqat, both of which devote considerable space to the battle of Badr and refer to the passage 8:67.

Moreover, the story does not explain the Qur`anic passage to which it refers. The passage reads:

It is not fitting for a prophet that he should take captives unless he has fought and triumphed in the land. You desire the fleeting gains of the world, while God desires (for you) the hereafter. And God is mighty, wise. Were it not for an ordinance from God that had already gone forth, surely there would have befallen you a great chastisement for what you had taken (8:67-68).

This passage is not saying that the prisoners taken should be killed, as ‘Umar is reported to have suggested, but that the prisoners should not be taken at all before the battle has been fought to the limit of one’s resources or the enemies of God have been completely subjugated. This is also stated in the following passage: 

So when you meet in battle those who disbelieve, smite their necks until when you have overcome them, then take prisoners, and afterwards either set them free as a favor or let them ransom till the war lays down its burdens … (47:4)

This verse may well be the ordinance that is referred to in 8:68 where it is said: “were it not for an ordinance from God that had already gone forth”. The verse is less categorical in prohibiting taking of prisoners before the battle reaches some natural conclusion and therefore provided some excuse for the conduct of the Muslims in Badr leading to divine forgiveness.

The two passages, 8:67-68 and 47:4 together make it clear that when the Muslims do decide to take prisoners there is no more any option to kill them (unless they do some serious mischief): They should be freed with or without ransom. Furthermore, the first passage provides no hint that the Prophet was at fault. The passage blames the believers and not the Prophet. All this also finds support in the following tradition:

When mujahidun were busy taking the booty and binding prisoners the Prophet saw that there was an expression of disapproval on the face of Sa‘d bin Mu‘adh. The Prophet asked him: “O Sa‘d, it seems that you disapprove of this conduct of the people.” He replied: “Yes, O Messenger of God! This is the first battle in which God has made the mushrikun loose. On this occasion it would have been better to beat them thoroughly instead of saving their lives by taking them prisoners (Ibn Hisham, Sirah).

In this tradition it is taken for granted that to take disbelievers as prisoners is to save their lives. Sa‘d is simply repeating here the idea in the Qur`anic verses, 8:67 and 47:4. Also, the Prophet is no part of what the people were doing.

Even a commentator like Mawdudi who rarely questions the accepted traditions finds the hadith of ‘Umar and the Qur`anic verse at odds with each other. He therefore rejects the hadith as an ahad khabar, which cannot be accepted if it leads to a problematic tafsir.

We may thus conclude that the story of a mistaken decision on the part of the Prophet regarding the prisoners of Badr is not reliable.

Sunnah that did not originate from the Prophet


We have seen above several ahadith that point to the revelatory character of the Sunnah of the Prophet. According to some ahadith, even sunnah not originating from the Prophet could become part of Islam and an expression of divine will. Thus traditions recorded in Muwatta, Bukhari, Muslim and other books state that the exact form of the call to prayers originated with some companions, Bilal or ‘Umar. This was approved by the Prophet and assumed by the Qur’an. Now it is a part of Islamic practice. In a loose sense all Islamic traditions and ideas that blend in perfect harmony with the teachings of the Qur’an and the authentic Hadith are part of Islam and hence part of revelation. (Cf. Qur’an 58:22, where the believers are said to be assisted by the Spirit from God and 8:17 where an action of the believers is attributed to God.) The ahadith which exhort Muslims to follow the sunnah of the companions, or of the four khulafa` or of the ahl al-bayt assume that some sunnah not originating with the Prophet, and even originating after him, are part of Islam. These ahadith talk about the time of the companions, but there is no reason that the possibility of further growth in later times should be excluded.


In some ahadith there is a condemnation of muhdathat or bid‘ah, which seems to exclude any religious validity (or revelatory status) to anything new introduced in Islam. A comment on a hadith in Abu Da`ud makes the point: “Now anything introduced by the Muslims after this period (of the Prophet and the four khulafa`) must have its basis during this period or approved of by the Prophet or agreed upon by the companions.” The comment is on the hadith which reads:


“It is related from ‘Aishah that the Messenger of God said: If anyone introduces into this amr (matter, affair) of ours which does not belong to it, it is rejected” (Abu Da`ud).


But even if such ahadith are authentic, it is possible to take muhdathat or bid‘ah as those practices that do not blend with the Qur`an and the authentic Hadith. This is supported by the tradition in Bukhari, in which ‘Umar characterizes the tarawih prayer in Ramadan as bid‘ah hasanah, a good bid‘ah. To be sure the practice of regular congregational tarawih prayer was introduced and approved during the time of the rightly guided khulafa`, but nevertheless the tradition establishes the principle that a bid‘ah can be hasanah. Indeed, almost a century before Abu Da`ud (d. 275) wrote his Sunan containing the above hadith, Abu Yusuf (d. 183) in his Kitab al-Kharaj quotes the hadith:


            The Prophet said: “Whoever introduces a good sunnah will be rewarded …”


Here there is no restriction on who introduces the sunnah and when. At least Abu Yusuf understands the hadith in general terms; for, in the same passage in which he quotes the above hadith he advises Harun al-Rashid (reigned 170-193) to “introduce some good sunan”.


Thus, on the basis of several traditions it is possible to view revelation as a plant that can continue to grow even after the planter is gone rather than a castle of rocks that a builder builds once for all. I personally hold to this view.


An important difference should, however, be kept in mind between the Sunnah originating from the Prophet and the Sunnah not originating from him. The Sunnah originating from the Prophet is revelatory by the basic teachings of Islam while the Sunnah not originating from him becomes revelatory only if the Prophet and the Qur’an have confirmed it. If a sunnah originated from a Muslim in the time of the Prophet, as in the case of the adhan, then the Prophet’s acceptance of it provides the necessary confirmation. In case of a sunnah originating after the Prophet this confirmation requires showing that the sunnah in question blends perfectly with the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet.


The view that a good sunnah is a part of Islam was one of the factors that resulted in attribution to the Prophet of words and actions that were considered good but that did not go back to him. The Prophet is even quoted as saying: “What is said of a good word, I (can be taken to) have said it.” This was, however, a terrible mistake. The Sunnah set by the Prophet should have been kept by earlier Muslims — and should be kept by us now -- completely separate from the Sunnah set by others so that we can establish the validity of the latter by reference to the former. Since this was not done, it was necessary for some scholars to embark on the sacred hadith project.

Secondary character of the Sunnah/Hadith

Even though the Sunnah/Hadith of the Prophet is revelatory, it may still be either secondary to the Qur’an or have an independent authority similar to that of the Qur’an. The secondary character of the Sunnah/Hadith means that the accepted sunnah/hadith has to be consistent with the Qur’an and in case of inconsistency the Qur’an has to be accepted while the sunnah/hadith is to be rejected. It also means that we need to first thoroughly examine a question in the light of the Qur’an only and then turn to the Sunnah/Hadith for any further elaborations and explanations. Finally, it means that the Qur’an can abrogate the Sunnah/Hadith while the Sunnah/Hadith cannot abrogate the Qur’an.

We now examine in the light of the Hadith the question of whether the Sunnah/Hadith has a secondary or independent authority.



There are, as far as I know, no ahadith clearly stating that the Sunnah/Hadith is an independent source at par with the Qur’an. Probably the following hadith comes closest to affirming such an independent position of the Sunnah/Hadith:

It is related from al-Miqdam ibn Ma‘dikarib: The Prophet said: Beware! I have been given the Qur’an and something like it, yet the time is coming when a man replete on his couch will say, “Keep to the Qur’an; what you find in it to be permissible treat as permissible, and what you find in it to be prohibited treat as prohibited.” But what God’s Messenger has prohibited is like what God has prohibited. Beware! The domestic ass, beasts of prey with fangs, a find belonging to confederate, unless its owner does not want it, are not permissible to you. If anyone comes to some people, they must entertain him, but if they do not, he has a right to mulct them to an amount equivalent to his entertainment (Abu Da`ud; also found in Ibn Majah, Darimi, and Hakim. The version in Ibn Majah ends with the words “But what God’s Messenger has prohibited is like what God has prohibited” and does not mention the examples of things prohibited by the Prophet.).

Here the underlined words (I have been given the Qur’an and something like it. … what God’s Messenger has prohibited is like what God has prohibited) suggest independent authority of the Sunnah/Hadith. From these words Nasir al-Din al-Albani has drawn the conclusion that “all decrees of the Messenger that cannot be found in the Qur’an are considered as if they were in the Qur’an  (al-hadith hujjah bi nafs hi fi al-‘aqa`id wa al-ahkam). But this hadith is found with other isnads and in other versions, where the suggestion of independence is not at all clear:

Narrated al-‘Irbad ibn Sariyah as-Sulami: We alighted with the Prophet at Khaybar, and he had his companions with him. The chief of Khaybar was a defiant and abominable man. He came to the Prophet and said: Is it proper for you, Muhammad, that you slaughter our donkeys, eat our fruit, and beat our women? The Prophet became angry and said: “Ibn Awf, ride your horse, and call loudly: Beware, Paradise is lawful only for a believer, and that they (the people) should gather for prayer.”  They gathered and the Prophet led them in prayer, stood up and said: “Does any of you, while reclining on his couch, imagine that God has prohibited only that which is to be found in this Qur’an? By God, I have preached, commanded and prohibited various matters as numerous as that which is found in the Qur’an, or more numerous (inna ha mithl al-qur’an aw akthar). God has not permitted you to enter the houses of the people of the Book without permission, or beat their women, or eat their fruits when they give you that which is imposed on them.” (Abu Da`ud).

It is related that al-‘Irbad bin Sariyah narrated that the Messenger of God stood up and said, “Does any of you, while reclining on his couch, think that God has not prohibited anything except what is prohibited in this Qur’an? Beware! By God, I have commanded, exhorted, and prohibited various matters as numerous as what is found in the Qur’an, or more numerous. God has not permitted you to enter the houses of the people of the book without permission, or dishonor (darb) their women, or eat their fruits when they give you what is imposed on them.” (Abu Da`ud)

The version that follows is from Shafi‘i but is also found in many later collections:

Sufyan [bin ‘Uyaynah] related to us from Salim Abu al-Nadr – a freed slave of ‘Umar bin ‘Ubayd Allah - who heard ‘Ubayd Allah bin abi Rafi‘ relate from his father that the Messenger of God said: “Let me not find one of you reclining on his couch, and when he is confronted with an order from me, permitting or prohibiting something, saying: ‘I do not know. What we find in God’s Book we follow.’”  Sufyan said: This was related to me by Muhammad bin al-Munkadir who transmitted it from the Prophet without citing the names of (other) authorities. (Shafi‘i, Abu Da`ud; also found in Ahmad, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Bayhaqi in his Dala`il al-Nabuwwah)

As Shafi‘i does not record any of the first three versions, it is possible to regard this last version as the best-attested version. Now the most that the underlined words in this last version or the two preceding it tell us is that the Messenger has commanded or forbidden things that are not commanded or forbidden in the Qur’an. They say nothing about the relative position of the Qur’an and the Sunnah/Hadith, thus allowing us to maintain that the Sunnah/Hadith is secondary to the Qur’an. But the fact is that the authenticity of this whole category of ahadith is subject to doubt for other reasons:

I) The first hadith, the one attributed to al-Miqdam bin Ma‘dikarib, looks towards a future time, for, it states: “the time is coming when a man replete on his couch….”. But in the other versions the reference is to a situation already existing in the Prophet’s time. This contradiction shows that, even if the hadith is authentic in substance, its transmission was not entirely faithful.

II) The fourth hadith, using the authority of Abu Rafi‘ and some versions of the others, do not give any examples of what the Messenger has prohibited, and the ahadith that do give examples give different types.

III) Some of the examples given are of a doubtful nature. Thus we do not have any evidence that compulsory entertainment of a guest to the extent that the guest can bill the host if he is not entertained was part of Islamic practice. Ahmad Hasan comments on the hadith: “There might be compulsory entertainment (of guests) in the early days of Islam. But later on this commandment was repealed.” The words “there might be” show that Ahmad Hasan does not know any evidence that this practice ever existed. His reference to the law being later repealed is pure speculation.


Likewise the prophetic prohibition of eating domestic asses and beasts of prey with fangs is not very well established. Muwatta, Bukhari, and Muslim do report the hadith that the Prophet prohibited the eating of domestic asses on the day of Khaybar but it is not agreed that this prohibition was because of some special circumstance at Khaybar or a general prohibition of the type implied in the hadith attributed to al-Miqdam ibn Ma‘dikarib. Thus Muslim reports ‘Abd Allah bin abi Awfa(y) as saying: “We discussed (the prohibition of eating domestic donkeys) amongst ourselves. Some of us said that it has been declared unlawful forever, (whereas others said) it was declared unlawful (at Khaybar) since one-fifth (of the booty) had not been given (as is legally required).” Muslim also reports Ibn ‘Abbas as saying: “I do not know whether God’s Messenger prohibited (eating domestic asses) due to the fact that they were the beasts of burden for the people, so he did not like their beasts of burden to be destroyed (as a matter of expediency), or he prohibited the use of the flesh of domestic asses (not as an expediency but as a law of the Shari‘ah) on the day of Khaybar.” Malik despite recording the hadith that the Prophet prohibited eating donkeys on the day of Khaybar states that the best of what he had heard “about horses, mules, and donkeys was that they were not eaten because God, the Blessed, the Exalted, said, ‘And horses, and mules and asses, for you to ride, and as an adornment’ (Qur’an 16:8), ‘In cattle, some of them you ride, and some of them you eat’ (6:79), and ‘Mention God’s name over what he has provided you of cattle, and eat of them and feed the beggar (al-qani`) and the suppliant (al-mu‘tarr)’ (22:34)”. Thus for Malik donkeys are not prohibited as food any more than horses are, which other ahadith expressly allow as food.


The situation regarding the beasts of prey with fangs is somewhat similar. Malik, Bukhari, and Muslim all record the hadith from Ibn Shihab that the Prophet prohibited such animals, but in Muslim we have comments by Ibn Shihab which cast doubt on this hadith. Muslim reports the additional words by Ibn Shihab: “I did not hear of this (hadith) from our  ‘ulama` in the Hijaz, until Abu Idris narrated that to me and he was one of the jurists of Syria.” Clearly justified doubts about the authenticity of the hadith arise if Ibn Shihab did not find knowledge of this hadith anywhere in the land where Islam originated and where many long-time companions of the Prophet lived and only heard the hadith when he met a jurist from Syria or he himself went there.

VI) None of the four ahadith under consideration is included by Malik, Bukhari, or Muslim in their collections. At least Bukhari (d. 256) and Muslim (d. 261) probably knew the ahadith since Shafi‘i (d. 204) and Darimi (d. 255), who lived at the same time as or earlier than Bukhari and Muslim and whose knowledge of ahadith was not as extensive as that of these other two scholars, did know about some of them. It may therefore be justifiably concluded that Bukhari and Muslim avoided putting these ahadith in their collections because they did not fit with the criteria of soundness used by them. This is always an argument, though not a conclusive one, against the authenticity of a hadith.

V) These ahadith are contradicted by other ahadith that make Sunnah completely subordinate to the Qur’an (see below).

The fact, however, that versions of the hadith are attributed to three different companions of the Holy Prophet and they are recorded in several books including Shafi‘i and Darimi shows that they are rather early. They seem to reflect the situation after the time of the Prophet and the companions when there emerged a comfortable class of well-fed Muslims, having couches to recline on, who did not want to be bothered by various, often conflicting, rules that the fuqaha were formulating on the basis of the traditions. They wanted to be content with relatively few and simple rules taught in the Qur’an. Here we have one of many indications of the existence in very early times of Muslims who held a Qur’an-only position and were combated by the traditionists.


If one of the above ahadith suggests that the Sunnah is an independent source of Islamic guidance/law, there are other ahadith that state otherwise. Thus we earlier discussed many early ahadith that focus on the Qur’an as the source of guidance/law and do not even mention Sunnah. In particular, we quoted a hadith from Ibn Ishaq in which the Prophet says: “By God you cannot lay anything to my charge. I allow only what the Qur’an allows and forbid only what the Qur’an forbids.” This does not seem to admit that the Prophet has prohibited and permitted things other than those prohibited and permitted by the Qur’an. The same conclusion may be derived from the following traditions in Bukhari:

Whenever the Prophet was asked about something regarding which no verse was revealed, he would either say, “I do not know” or give no reply, but never gave a verdict based on opinion or on qiyas, and that was because of the statement of God: … (judge between people) by what God shows you” (4:105). And Ibn Mas‘ud said, “The Prophet was asked about the spirit, and he kept quiet until the verse came down.”

It is related from Jabir bin ‘Abd Allah: I fell ill and the Messenger of God and Abu Bakr came to visit me, walking on foot. He came to me while I was unconscious. Then the Messenger of God performed wudu and poured the leftover water over me whereupon I became conscious. I said, O Messenger of God! (ya rasul allah, or perhaps Sufyan narrated Jabir as saying ay rasul allah). But the Messenger of God did not give me any reply until the verse about inheritance came.

Earlier we formulated the meaning of the secondary character of the Sunnah/Hadith in terms of three principles:

a)      The accepted sunnah/hadith has to be consistent with the Qur’an and in case of inconsistency the Qur’an has to be accepted while the sunnah/hadith is to be rejected;

b)      We must first examine a question in the light of the Qur’an only and then turn to the Sunnah/Hadith for any further elaborations and explanations;

c)      The Qur’an can abrogate the Sunnah/Hadith while the Sunnah/Hadith cannot abrogate the Qur’an. The next three ahadith clearly state these three principles.


Abu Yusuf [d. 183], al-Radd ‘ala Siyar al-Awzai,

The Prophet said: The hadith about me will spread. So what comes to you about me and is in agreement with the Qur`an is from me and what comes to you about me and is in conflict with the Qur’an is not from me.

Shafi‘i in his al-Risala records the following hadith:

The Prophet said: After my death you will split up on the basis of different opinions. When something reaches you which is attributed to me, compare it with the Qur’an; when it corresponds with the Book, it is from me; that which is at variance with it is not from me.

This hadith also clearly gives primacy to the Qur’an. While Abu Yusuf, who made much more use of reason, accepts it, Shafi‘i [d. 204] calls the hadith weak. He is most probably right, but his rejection of the hadith may not be due only to its weakness. For Shafi‘i the Sunnah/Hadith is an independent source of Islamic guidance and law. In his view, just as we should reconcile two Qur’anic verses if they seem to contradict each other, so also we should reconcile the Qur’an and the Hadith (proven authentic by the isnad method), no matter how glaring the contradiction.


Some companions of Mu‘adh ibn Jabal said: When the Messenger of God intended to send Mu‘adh ibn Jabal to the Yemen, he asked: How will you judge when the occasion of deciding a case arises? He replied: I shall judge in accordance with God’s Book. He asked: (What will you do) if you do not find any guidance in God’s Book? He replied: (I shall act) in accordance with the Sunnah of God’s Messenger. He asked: (What will you do) if you do not find any guidance in the Sunnah of God’s Messenger and in the Book of God?  He replied: I shall do my best to form an opinion and I shall spare no effort. The Messenger of God then patted him on the breast and said: Praise to God who has helped the messenger of the Messenger of God to find a thing that pleases the Messenger of God.

This hadith has been rejected by some muhaddithun on the ground of weakness of its isnad. Tirmidhi says that he knows this hadith only through one chain that is not continuous. One of its narrators, Harith bin ‘Amr is obscure and the companions of Mu‘adh who quote him are unknown. Bukhari also does not know of any other independent chain of transmission and describes the hadith as munkar (denounced). Some scholars have also raised objections on the ground that it puts opinion (ra’y) in the same relationship to the Sunnah as the Sunnah to the Qur’an, something that is unacceptable to them. They say that while ra`y is void when the Sunnah provides guidance on a matter, the same relation does not hold between the Qur’an and the Sunnah, that is, the Sunnah does not become void when guidance on a matter is found in the Qur’an because the Sunnah clarifies the Qur’an and therefore it is essential to search for a ruling in the Sunnah, even if the Qur’an provides guidance. In other words, it is necessary to regard the Qur’an and the Sunnah as being one source with no discrimination between the two whatsoever. However, while we may agree with the rejection of the hadith by Bukhari and Tirmidhi on the basis of weakness of the isnad, this criticism of the matn or contents is hardly sound. For, it makes the assumption that the Sunnah is at par with the Qur’an, which is not satisfactorily established by the Qur’an and the provably authentic ahadith.




Perhaps nowhere the relative position of the Qur’an and the Sunnah becomes clarified better than in the question of whether a passage in the Qur’an can abrogate a hadith and vice versa. The following hadith gives an answer for this question.


It is related from Jabir that God’s Messenger said: My word does not abrogate the word of God, but God’s word abrogates my word. Also, one part of His word abrogates another part (Daraqutni).


It is related from Ibn ‘Umar that the Messenger of God said: “Some of our traditions (ahadith) abrogate others like the Qur`an (parts of which abrogate other parts).” (Daraqutni)


These ahadith have not been accepted as authentic by any major muhaddith earlier than Daraqutni (306-385) and for that very reason their authenticity is under considerable doubt. But the answer to the question of abrogation provided by the ahadith is widely accepted by scholars. Let us briefly review the opinions of the scholars.


 The various possible views regarding abrogation can be listed as follows:

1)      A part of the Qur’an can abrogate another part. All those who accept the validity of naskh – and they form an overwhelming majority of scholars -- agree on this.

2)      A sunnah can abrogate another sunnah. All those who accept naskh also accept this. For further refinement of the view we consider the following possibilities:

i)                    A mutawatir hadith can abrogate another mutawatir hadith.

ii)                   An ahad hadith can abrogate another ahad hadith.

iii)                 A mutawatir hadith can abrogate an ahad hadith.

iv)                 An ahad hadith can abrogate a mutawātir hadith.

All scholars who accept the validity of naskh accept the first three possibilities.

3)      The Qur’an can abrogate a sunnah. The majority of scholars accept this type of naskh.

4)      The Qur’an can abrogate only a part of the Qur’an and not a sunnah. Similarly, a sunnah can abrogate only another sunnah and not a part of the Qur’an. This is the view of Imam al-Shafi‘i.

5)      A sunnah can abrogate a part of the Qur’an. This category may be further subdivided into two subcategories:

i)                    A mutawatir hadith can abrogate a part of the Qur’an; this is allowed by Imam Malik, Abu Hanifah, Ahmad bin Hanbal.

ii)                   An ahad hadith can abrogate a part of the Qur’an; this is not allowed by the majority of scholars.

Thus the majority view is that a part of the Qur’an can abrogate a hadith while only a mutawatir hadith can abrogate a part of the Qur’an. A mutawatir hadith is one that is transmitted by a large number of people in each generation starting with the companions. There is no precise definition for a “large number of reporters”, although the numbers four, five, seven, ten, twelve, forty and seventy, among others, have all been suggested as a minimum. A hadith can be mutawatir in substance, that is, the hadith is transmitted in different forms by a large number of transmitters in every generation but in substance all the forms state the same idea.  Or, a hadith can be mutawatir in form, meaning that the hadith is transmitted in the same words or form by a large number of transmitters in every generation. Common examples of mutawatir traditions are many elements of the five daily prayers, fasting, zakah, and the hajj. Among the verbal mutawatir ahadith, the greatest number of companions has reported the following hadith: “Whoever invents a lie and attributes it to me intentionally, he will take his seat in the fire.”  But this hadith has come in many different forms and even in this particular form there are some variations in wording (see above). Other examples of mutawatir ahadith are those related to the description of the hawd al-kawthar in the hereafter, raising the hands at certain postures during prayer, rubbing wet hands on the leather socks during ablution, revelation of the Qur’an in seven modes, and the prohibition of every intoxicant. All these are likewise mutawatir only in substance.


There is also some imprecision in the term ahad. Taken literally, the term should apply to a tradition having only one transmitter at some point in the chains of transmission. However, the term has come to apply to all traditions other than mutawatir. This would have been fine had the meaning of mutawatir been well defined. But this is not the case, since there is no agreement as to the minimum number of transmitters required in each generation for a hadith to be viewed as mutawatir. In any case, if we examine the issues involved, it seems that the distinction between mutawatir and ahad traditions is determined not so much by the number of transmitters but by the degree of authenticity. Mutawatir hadith is one whose authenticity is above any reasonable doubt while an ahad hadith is one whose authenticity can be asserted only with some probability. In Imam Nawawi’s terms, an ahad hadith has zann rajih while a mutawatir hadith is above any zann.

Let us now examine the view that the mutawatir ahadith can abrogate a part of the Qur’an. The Qur’an has come down to us with tawatur in form and not just in substance. A hadith mutawatir only in substance is subject to some reasonable doubt as to its exact meaning. It cannot therefore be considered equal to the Qur’an in terms of reliability and we cannot abrogate more reliable revelation by a less reliable revelation. Only a hadith mutawatir in form can possibly reach the reliability equal to that of the Qur’an. But abrogation of a part of the Qur’an by a hadith mutawatir in form is a mere hypothetical possibility, since there is no hadith mutawatir in form which fulfills the following conditions needed for the abrogation of a part of the Qur’an:

a)      The hadith is inconsistent with a part of the Qur’an, and

b)      Chronologically it is later than that part.

Even as a hypothetical possibility the abrogation of a part of the Qur’an by a hadith mutawatir in form is not a reasonable concept, since it does not explain satisfactorily why in the first place the revelation was divided into two parts, one part described as the word of God and the other as a different type of revelation. More specifically, it does not explain why the few ahadith that are mutawatir in form were not included in the Qur’an. It seems not a mere coincidence that we can find no hadith mutawatir in form which conflicts with a part of the Qur’an and is chronologically later than that part. God from the beginning intended to protect the Qur’an from any reasonable claim that any part of it can be abrogated by any thing except by another part of it.

To conclude this section, the following considerations support the view that the Hadith points to its own secondary character rather than to its independent authority:


a)      There are more ahadith that suggest a secondary character of the Sunnah/Hadith than those that suggest independence;

b)      Ibn Ishaq documents a hadith suggesting a secondary character and in this way provides the earliest documentation for the view. Documentation of the opposite view is later than this.


The secondary character of the Sunnah/Hadith is also supported by purely logical considerations. If the Sunnah/Hadith were an independent source of Islamic guidance/law at par with the Qur’an, then it is not at all clear why Islamic guidance had to be given in the form of two sources. Why a part of the revelation had to be given in the form of the Qur’an and the rest in the form of the Hadith. This together with the fact that the Qur’an is called the word of God while the Hadith is not so described suggests that the Sunnah/Hadith is secondary to the Qur’an.

 How far the Sunnah is binding

Once a sunnah/hadith has passed the criteria of authenticity including consistency with the Qur’an, how far is it binding to obey it? We now examine some ahadith that have bearing on this question. Some of the ahadith discussed talk about obedience to the Sunnah/Hadith in general term, which has suggested to some Muslims that all authentic ahadith are to be followed. However, other ahadith suggest a more limited meaning of obedience to the Sunnah/Hadith.


‘Abd Allah bin ‘Amr narrated that the Messenger of God said: There will come upon my ummah whatever came upon the children of Israel in exact manner like a pair of shoes fit with each other, so much so that if among the children of Israel there was someone who openly committed immoral act with his mother, there will be one in my ummah who will do the same. And the children of Israel were divided into seventy-two sects while my ummah will get divided into seventy-three sects. All of them will go to hell except one. People asked, O Messenger of God, which one will that be? He said, it will be the one following what I and my companions follow (Tirmidhi; Ahmad and Abu Da`ud record a similar hadith on the authority of Mu`awiyah with the following words: “Seventy-two will go to hell and one will go to paradise and this one is the al-jama‘ah. And there will emerge in my ummah groups among whom vain desires will spread like hydrophobia permeates a person suffering from it, entering every vein and joint of his.”  Here al-jama‘ah is probably understood as the jama‘ah of the companions and the majority of Muslims after them.)

This hadith does not explicitly mention the Sunnah. The Holy Prophet says only that the one group that will be saved will be the one following what he and his companions follow or “al-jama‘ah”. Strictly speaking, it is possible to take this to mean a way that is defined only by the Qur’an. But in that case we should expect some reference to the Qur`an. The reference to the way followed by the Prophet and the companions seems to strongly suggest something like the Sunnah and we may take a reference to the Sunnah as implicit here. If so, the hadith clearly states the idea that following the Sunnah of the Prophet is essential for a Muslim. Indeed, to follow the Sunnah/Hadith becomes a condition for escaping the fire of hell.

Abu Da`ud reports another version of the above hadith:

It is related from of Abu Hurayrah: The Prophet said: The Jews were split up into seventy-one or seventy-two sects; and the Christians were split up into seventy one or seventy-two sects; and my community will be split up into seventy-three sects.

This version does not mention the way of the Prophet and the companions or the fate of any of the groups. It could be an abbreviation of a longer hadith of the type reported by Tirmidhi and others or it may be an earlier version while the other versions are its elaboration, in which case its point is simply that the divisions among the Muslims will be more than the people before them. It seems more probable that the shorter version is an abbreviation of a more original longer version.

In another variant 72 are saved while one goes to hell: “Sa‘d bin Sa‘id narrated: I heard Anas bin Malik reporting the Messenger of God as saying, My ummah will get divided in more than seventy sects. All will go to Paradise except one, i.e. the sect of zanadiq. Anas said that in his opinion this one sect is that of qadariyah.” Ibn Jawzi and almost all other scholars have rightly rejected this tradition as a pure fabrication.

Variations in the different versions and the absence of the tradition from Bukhari and Muslim raise some doubts even about the authenticity of the better-trusted version of this hadith.


Muhammad bin Sinan related to us: Fulayh related to us: Hilal ibn ‘Ali related to us from ‘Ata ibn Yasar from Abu Hurayrah that God’s Messenger said, “All my followers will enter Paradise except those who refuse.” They said, “O Messenger of God! Who will refuse?” He said, “Whoever obeys me will enter Paradise, and whoever disobeys me is the one who refuses (to enter it).” (Bukhari).

‘Abdan related to us: ‘Abd Allah informed us from Yunus from al-Zuhri who said: Abu Salmah bin ‘Abd al-Rahman informed me that he heard Abu Hurayrah say: God’s Messenger said, Whoever obeys me, obeys God, and whoever disobeys me, disobeys God, and whoever obeys my amir (that is, a ruler appointed by me), obeys me, and whoever disobeys my amir, disobeys me.” (Bukhari).

Abu al-Yaman related to us: Shu‘ayb informed us saying: Abu al-Zinad related to us that al-‘Araj related to him that he heard Abu Hurayrah say that he heard God’s Messenger saying, “We are the last but will be the foremost (to enter Paradise).” According to the same isnad the Prophet added, “He who obeys me, obeys God, and he who disobeys me, disobeys God. He, who obeys the amir, obeys me, and he who disobeys the amir, disobeys me. The Imam is like a shelter for whose safety the Muslims should fight and where they should seek protection. If the Imam governs with righteousness and justice, then he will be rewarded for that, and if he does the opposite, he will be responsible for that.” (Bukhari).

Muslim also records versions of the above hadith and as often points out some variations. Thus some versions omit the portion: ‘And whoso disobeys the amir disobeys me’ while others have “the amir” instead of “my amir”. All these versions in Muslim and Bukhari go back to a single companion, Abu Hurayrah.

The first part of the hadith “Whoso obeys me obeys God …” reflects the teaching of the Qur’an (4:80, cf. 72:23). The second part expresses a thought not found in the Qur’an. In fact, it conflicts with Qur’an 4:59 which clearly distinguishes obedience to ul al-amr from obedience to God and his Messenger (see Ch. 3). Thus, at least the second part does not go back to the Prophet. It seems to be an attempt to bestow some divine authority on the rulers.


 ‘Umar bin Hafs related to us: My father related to us: al-A‘mash related to us: Muslim related to us from Masruq: ‘Aishah said that the Holy Prophet did something and permitted others to do the same, but some people abstained from that action just the same. This reached the Messenger of God. So he addressed the people and after praising God said, “What is the matter with people that they abstain from something that I do. By God, I know (the will of) God more than they and fear him more than they”. (Bukhari)

This hadith leaves a great deal of vagueness. We are not told what is it that the Prophet did and permitted. But a version in Muslim makes the matter clearer:

‘Umar bin Abu Salamah reported that he asked the Messenger of God: Should one observing fast kiss (his wife)? The Messenger of God said to him: Ask her (Umm Salamah). She informed him that the Messenger of God did that, where upon he said:  Messenger of God! God has pardoned you all your sins, the previous and the later ones. Upon this the Messenger of God said: By God, I am the most God conscious among you and I fear him most among you.

The situation becomes even clearer in the following hadith in Malik:

Yahya related to me from Malik from Zayd ibn Aslam from ‘Ata ibn Yasār that a certain man kissed his wife while he was fasting in Ramadan. This made him very anxious, and so he sent his wife to the Prophet to ask for him about that. She went in and saw Umm Salamah, the wife of the Prophet and mentioned the matter to her, and Umm Salamah informed her that the Messenger of God kisses while he is fasting. So she went back and informed her husband of this, but it increased his error (fa zada hu dhalika sharra) and he said, “We are not like the Messenger of God. God makes permissible for the Messenger of God whatever he wishes.” His wife then went back to Umm Salamah and found the Messenger of God with her. The Messenger of God said, “What’s the matter with this woman?” Umm Salamah related to him the matter. The Messenger of God said, “Didn’t you inform her that I do that myself?” and she said, “I informed her, and she went to her husband and told him, but it increased his error and he said, ‘we are not like the Messenger of God. God makes permissible for His Messenger whatever he wishes.’ The Messenger of God got angry and said, “By God, I am the one with the most taqwa of God among you, and with the most knowledge about his limits.”

The isnad of this hadith ends with ‘Ata who was a successor and does not reach a companion. In his al-risalah Shafi'i quotes this hadith from Malik with exactly the same broken isnad, but says: “I have heard someone who gave the names of all the transmitters of this tradition but I do not remember the names.” This of course does not remove the defect in this hadith. Also, it seems that several companions and subsequent scholars did not know about this hadith, at least not as an authentic one, since they seem to hold views contrary to this hadith. Thus Malik, Bukhari, and Muslim record traditions like the following:

Yahya related to me from Malik that he had heard that ‘Aishah, the wife of the Prophet would say, when she mentioned that the Messenger of God used to kiss while fasting, “And who among you is more able to control himself than the Messenger of God?”

The implication here is that everyone kissing while fasting is not advisable for everyone. This becomes more explicit in the mouth of other companions and scholars:

Yahya related that Malik said that Hisham ibn Urwa ibn al-Zubayr had said, “I do not think that kissing invites to good for people who are fasting.”

Yahya related to me from Malik from Zayd ibn Aslam from Ata ibn Yasar that Abd Allah ibn Abbas was asked about people kissing while fasting and he said that he allowed it for old men but disapproved of it for young men.

Yahya related to me from Malik from Nafi‘ that ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Umar used to forbid kissing and fondling for people who were fasting.

All these traditions are stating in one form or another that kissing while fasting should be avoided by some people, whereas the ahadith we quoted above state that the Prophet was unhappy with people who had reservations about this action, which he himself did not abstain from. This puts the authenticity of these ahadith under considerable doubt.


Jabir bin ‘Abd Allah reported that God’s Messenger went out to Makkah in Ramadan in the year of the victory. He fasted till he came to Kura` al-Ghamim and the people also fasted. He then called for a cup of water that he raised till the people saw it, and then he drank. He was told afterwards that some people had continued to fast, and he said: These people are the disobedient ones; these are the disobedient ones (Muslim).

It is not clear what this hadith is teaching. The Qur`an had already given permission to skip the fast when on a journey. Why did the Prophet fast, and then break the fast without completing it? Perhaps the point is that you can fast when going on a journey, but if the fast becomes too difficult, then you can break it without completing it. But what if you do not find it too difficult? May be those people who did not break the fast with the Prophet felt that they can complete it without much difficulty. Why should such people be described as disobedient ones? Indeed, in regard to this point, the above hadith is contradicted by some other ahadith.

Thus in all three of the early books, Muwatta, Bukhari, and Muslim we have the following report from ‘Abd Allah bin ‘Abbas:


The Messenger of God left for Makkah in Ramadan during the year of the victory, and fasted until he reached al-Kadid. He then broke the fast, and so people also broke the fast. What people used to do was to act according to whatever the Messenger of God had done most recently.


The last part of this tradition (“what people used to do was to act according to whatever the Messenger of God had done most recently”) is omitted by Bukhari, and Muslim says about it: Yahya (one of the narrators) said that Sufyan (the narrator) had stated: “I do not know whose statement it is”. In other words, the report of Ibn ‘Abbas ends with the words:  “He then broke the fast, and so people also broke the fast”. These words leave little possibility for the story in the hadith attributed to Jabir, in which, some people did not break the fast with the Prophet and he describes them as “the disobedient ones”. It is noteworthy that the hadith of Ibn ‘Abbas is not only accepted by Malik, Bukhari, and Muslim but also Muslim puts it as the first hadith in his chapter on the fast of a traveler, which, according to what he says in the Introduction to his compilation, means that he trusts this hadith more than that of Jabir. Thus it is very probable that the words “these are the disobedient ones, these are the disobedient ones” are a fabrication.



Another hadith that teaches that following the Sunnah is essential and condemns those Muslims, who think otherwise, reads as follows:

Sa‘id bin abi Maryam narrated to us: Muhammad ibn Ja‘far informed us: Humayd ibn abi Humayd al-Tawil informed us that he heard Anas bin Malik saying: Three men came to the houses of the wives of the Prophet inquiring about the Prophet’s worship (of God) and when they were informed about that, they considered their worship inadequate and said, “Where are we as compared to the Prophet as his past and future sins have been forgiven.” Then one of them said, “I will offer the prayer throughout the night forever.” The other said, “I will fast throughout the year and will not interrupt my fast.” The third said, “I will keep away from the women and will not ever marry.” God’s Messenger came to them and said, “Are you the same people who said so-and-so? By God, I am more submissive to God and more afraid of him than you; yet I fast and break my fast, I do sleep and I also marry women. So he who turns away from my Sunnah, is not from me (not one of my followers).”

A version of this hadith is also found in Muslim:

Anas reported that some of the companions of the Holy Prophet asked his wives about the acts (of worship) that he performed in private. Someone among them said: I will not marry women; someone among them said: I will not eat meat; and someone among them said: I will not lie down in bed. He (the Holy Prophet) praised God and glorified him, and said: What has happened to these people that they say so and so, whereas I observe prayer and sleep too; I observe fast and stop fasting too; I marry women also? So he, who turns away from my Sunnah, is not of me.

The two versions have the same general idea but they differ in wording and some details, showing that even if the hadith is authentic it has not reached us without some changes. Ibn Sa‘d records a version of the above hadith and then records the following tradition:

It is narrated from Hasan that when God raised Muhammad He said: This is my Prophet, he is my favorite, love him and follow his Sunnah and his way. Doors are not closed behind him nor do guards stand in front of him (like kings). In the morning plates of food are not presented to him or in the evening. He sits on the floor and eats on the floor. He wears coarse clothes and rides on a donkey on which he seats others behind him. (After eating) he sucks his fingers. And he used to say: Whoever turns away from my Sunnah is not of me (Tabaqat)

Here “sunnah” is not understood as a set of specific rules but the general egalitarian way of the Prophet in contrast to the royal ways of the amirs.

The words “he who turns away from my sunnah, is not of me” as applied in the traditions quoted above seem to suggest that the Holy Prophet needs to be followed in everything he did or did not do. The following hadith presents a more limited concept of obedience to the Prophet.


Related to us Isma‘il: related to me Malik from Abu al-Zinad from al-‘Araj from Abu Hurayrah from the Prophet who said: “Leave me with (what) I leave you (unspoken) (da‘uni ma taraktu kum), for the people who were before you were ruined because of their questions and their differences over their prophets. So, if I forbid you to do something, then keep away from it. And if I order you to do something, then do of it as much as you can.” (Bukhari)

Muslim also records the above tradition and gives another version with a different isnad:

It is reported from Abu Hurayrah that he heard God’s Messenger as saying: Avoid what I forbid you to do and do what I command you to do to the best of your capacity. Surely the people before you went to their doom because they had put too many questions to their prophets and then disagreed about them. (Muslim; this hadith has been narrated on the authority of Ibn Shihab with the same chain of transmitters.)

Muslim gives a similar hadith, in which the words of the Prophet are connected with a specific question:

It is reported from Abu Hurayrah: God’s Messenger gave us a sermon, saying, “O people! Hajj has been made obligatory for you, so perform it.” A man asked: “Every year, O Messenger of God.” He kept silent until the man asked him three times. He then said: “Had I said ‘yes’, it would have become obligatory for you and you would not have been do it.” He then added: “Leave me with what I leave you. Surely the people before you went to their doom because they had put too many questions to their prophets and then disagreed about them. So when I command you something, do it to the best of your ability and when I forbid you something, abstain from it.”

These ahadith limit the obedience only to the explicit commands and prohibitions of the Prophet. The authenticity of the ahadith is subject to some doubt because in the first stages of transmission we do not have independent witnesses.

The part in the above ahadith discouraging the asking of too many questions is an authentic Islamic idea regardless of the authenticity of the above ahadith, since it is taught in the Qur`an:

O believers! Do not ask about matters, which if declared to you, might cause hardship to you. If you ask about them while the Qur`an is being revealed, they shall be declared to you. God pardons this, and God is forgiving, forbearing. A people before you indeed asked such questions, and then became disbelievers on account of them (5:101-102).

The matters referred to here can be understood in one or more of the following ways:

1) Matters concerned are legal matters. The statement in verse 102 that “a people before you did ask such questions and then became disbelievers because of that” can then be interpreted thus: The people mentioned here are the Jews and the behavior alluded to is illustrated by 2:67-71, where they are commanded to sacrifice a cow on some occasion and they start to ask for all kinds of fine details about what kind of cow should be sacrificed. The result of such questioning is that new or unimportant rules become part of the sacred law, diverting people from the true purpose of religion (see the following verse, 103, where some of the customs of the pagan Arabs that became sacred over time are mentioned and condemned).

The ahadith quoted above assume this interpretation since they clearly refer to legal matters when they discourage raising questions of detail. In one of the ahadith the matter concerned is how often a Muslim is obliged to perform hajj.

2) Matters concerned are matters related to the hidden or the unseen. In this case verse 102 may refer to 4:153 where Jews asked the Prophet to bring a book from heaven and before that asked Moses to make God visible or to 5:112, where Jesus’ disciples ask for a table to be sent down from heaven. This type of understanding is assumed in a number of ahadith, reported on the authority of Anas bin Malik, which state that the verses in question were revealed when a man with an unknown father asked about his father’s identity.

3) Matters concerned are matters related to theological issues. Thus in Bukhari we have the following hadith in the chapter dealing with the disapproval of too many questions:

Anas bin Malik narrated that the Messenger of God said: “People will not stop asking questions till they say, ‘This is God, the creator of everything, but who created God?”

Probably the Qur`an covers all the above meanings. Most scholars include here a reference to legal matters and some of them have deduced the principle that Islamic Shari’ah consists only of what is obvious (zahir) from the injunctions in the Qur`an and the Hadith. Some of them such as Ibn Hazm do not even allow the use of qiyas to extend the rules to similar situations. This literalist interpretation of the revelation is mistaken, but it remains a sound principle not to extend the Shari’ah beyond what can be clearly deduced from the letter and spirit of the Qur`an and the authentic Hadith. Beyond this point the Muslim individuals and societies should be left free to follow their best judgments. For societies this means that they can use their collective judgment to formulate laws on matters not dealt with by the sources of revelation without viewing such laws a part of the Islamic Shari’ah.

Use of reason in interpreting the Qur`an and the Hadith

The obedience to both the Qur’an and the Hadith is to be done by applying them with the use of ‘aql. This is clear from the fact that the Qur’an encourages reflection (fikr) and use of reason (‘aql) in interpreting and applying the Qur’an (2:219, 2:266, 10:24, 16:44, 30:28) and developing understanding of religion (dīn) generally (9:122). Some ahadith also teach that we have to use our minds in order to understand and apply the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Thus we have already quoted the hadith in which some companions stopped grafting the date trees after the Prophet questioned about it. Later he said to them, “do not go after my personal opinion”. As we noted earlier, this hadith teaches that the words and actions of the Prophet must be followed after due reflection. Another hadith which teaches this lesson in a dramatic way is the following:

‘Ali narrated that the Prophet sent an army and appointed some man their commander. The man made a fire and then said (to the soldiers), “Enter it.” Some of them intended to enter it while some others said, “We have run away from it (i.e., embraced Islam to save ourselves from the ‘fire’ and now we are asked to jump into it).” They mentioned that to the Prophet, and he said about people who had intended to enter the fire. ‘‘If they had entered it, they would have remained in it till the Day of Resurrection.’’ Then he said to others, “No obedience for evil deeds, obedience is required only in what is good.” (Bukhari).

The story is a parable probably created after the time of the Prophet. Yet it makes a perfectly valid point that in following the principles taught by the Qur`an and Sunnah we have to use some reflection. Both the Qur’an and the Hadith teach that Muslims should obey the amir. Yet this commandment to obey the amir is to be applied by the use of ‘aql and other principles taught in Islam.

To summarize the contents of the last two sections, there are several ahadith of varying degree of reliability confirming the idea, already taught in the Qur`an, that in principle a Muslim is obliged to obey the authentic Sunnah/Hadith. A little reflection will show that this obedience means:


1)                  All authentic words and actions of the Prophet should be taken into account in order to formulate rules of Islamic Shari‘ah -- what is permissible, what is obligatory, and what is prohibited. For example, the hadith which relates that the Prophet broke his fast during Ramadan when he was on a journey, if authentic, should establish the rule that one can fast when going on a journey but it is permissible to break the fast without completing it.

2)                  What the authentic Sunnah/Hadith prohibits must be avoided and what it commands must be done.

3)                  In applying all rules of Shari‘ah whether based on the Qur`an or the Sunnah/Hadith we must make use of reason, taking into view the existing circumstances and striking a balance between various rules concerned with a given matter.


It may also be of interest here to briefly review the opinions of Muslim scholars in regard to obedience of the Sunnah/Hadith.


It is the view of an overwhelming majority of scholars that mutawatir ahadith are to be followed whether they concern law or belief (‘aqidah). However, it is a matter of discussion whether ahad traditions are also to be obeyed.


For some scholars like Ibn Hazm all ahad ahadith with complete isnad consisting of trustworthy narrators must be accepted and implemented, if they require implementation. For other scholars all ahad ahadith found in Bukhari and Muslim must be accepted. Still others hold that only those ahad ahadith are to be accepted about whose authenticity there is a general consensus among the scholars, whether they are in Bukhari or Muslim or any other book. This view is rather problematic since a complete agreement on the authenticity of any ahad hadith among the scholars is impossible to demonstrate if we include the important generations of the companions and their successors. Even among later generation of scholars we may not find complete agreement on many ahad ahadith. And if we talk about less than 100% agreement, then a certain imprecision enters into the concept. The correct position seems to be that each Muslim should accept those ahadith that are authentic in his or her view or in the view of the scholar(s) he or she follows at any given time, leaving the possibility of that this view can change with deeper knowledge. This position is not only the most reasonable but is also useful for the further development of the science of hadith in order for it to produce more satisfactory results and better consensus.


A mention may also be made here of the distinction between belief (‘aqidah) and law. Some have expressed the view that while ahad ahadith dealing with law must be accepted if they are found reliable by the hadith scholars such ahadith dealing with belief (matters concerning with the unseen, God, his attributes etc) are not binding, because they have an element of doubt as to their authenticity. This position does not seem reasonable, since there seems to be no valid reason why people should be bound by laws based on teachings that are subject to some doubt while they cannot be bound by certain beliefs on the same basis. Such a differentiation between belief and law also has no basis in the Qur`an or the Hadith or the views of the companions and their successors.


Is the preservation of the Sunnah/Hadith under divine protection?


The protection of a revelation does not mean that people cannot and will not make mistakes in transmitting the revelation or deliberately create false traditions. Therefore when we talk about the preservation of the Sunnah/Hadith we should not expect that the false reports were not created, deliberately or otherwise. It is in any case a well-known fact that there was fabrication of ahadith. Even ahadith admit the possibility of fabrication. Thus one hadith states:


It is related from Abu Hurayrah: The Messenger of God said: In the last age there will arise dajjals and liars who will bring to you ahadith that you had not heard nor your fathers. Protect yourself and be aware of them lest they lead you astray and put you in trial (Muslim, muqaddimah).


In another hadith we read:

The Prophet said: After my death you will split up on the basis of different opinions. When something reaches you which is attributed to me, compare it with the Qur’an; when it corresponds with the Book, it is from me; that which is at variance with it is not from me (quoted but not accepted by Shafi‘i in his al-Risalah; also quoted with monor variation by Abu Yusuf, who accepts it, in his al-Radd ‘ala Siyar al-Awzai).

What then the protection of the Sunnah/Hadith from corruption means? It means that there is a clear and generally understandable way whereby authentic ahadith or parts thereof can be separated from the fabricated ones, apart from some minor details about which uncertainty does not affect the teachings in any significant way. The Qur`anic revelation has been protected in this sense, since although there are allegations of corruption and there are also some variants, these have not been able to effect the written or recited Qur`an in any significant way (See A. Shafaat, Preservation of the revelation received by the Prophets Muhammad and Jesus.) This preservation of the Qur`anic revelation took place under divine protection promised in the Qur`an:


Surely, it is We who have sent down the dhikr and it is We who will be its protecting guardians (15:9)


We may ask, is there a similar promise for the protection of the Sunnah/Hadith? The answer is that neither the Qur`an nor the Hadith give any such promise. Some scholars like Ibn Hazm have argued that dhikr in the above verse includes both the Qur`an and the Sunnah and hence the promise of protection also covers both. But we saw in Ch. 3 that this view is unacceptable for many reasons. It is also contrary to the views of a vast majority of the commentators of the Qur`an.


Once we see that the promise in 15:9 does not cover the Sunnah/Hadith, we are left with no other Qur`anic passage, in which such a promise can be read. There is also no hadith containing the promise, at least not one that has gained some acceptability. The separation of the authentic hadith material from errors or fabrications is therefore a project to be undertaken by the ummah that will be successful only to the degree to which it is pursued with diligence, sincerity, and objectivity, possibly never reaching complete certainty.


In summary, the Hadith leads to the following view: The authentic Sunnah/Hadith is part of the Islamic revelation, though it is secondary to the Qur’an. God did not guarantee the preservation of the Sunnah/Hadith in a pure form. Separating the authentic from the spurious material about the Prophet is therefore a human scientific activity, which is subject to development. At any time any Muslim is bound by the ahadith that are authentic in his or her view, or, if he is not competent in the science of hadith, in the view of the scholar(s) that he or she follows.


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