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It is a Muslim’s obligation to obey and follow the Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) based upon verses of the Noble Qur’aan itself. It should be clear that since adherence to the sunnah is an obligation, there must be a means by which Muslims could fulfill their obligation. The only way to completely do so is to know exactly what the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) said and did. Therefore we must turn to the reports and record of the Prophet’s words and deeds, meaning the hadeeth.
The Hadeeth is the Second Type of Revelation
The hadeeth is the second type of revelation from Allah the Almighty. From the hadeeth do we derive the sunnah of the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam). These terms are often used synonymously, though a hadeeth is specifically a report or narration of a statement, action, description of character and features, or tacit approvals of the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) while the sunnah is specifically the ruling or principle derived from the hadeeth. When we use the term sunnah in general it of course encompasses both definitions. A widespread and common mistake on the part of many is the misapplication of the term sunnah based upon thefiqhi (jurisprudence) usage of the term which is: That which is less than fardh or waajib (obligation) and therefore if it is performed one is rewarded but if one does not perform it then no punishment or sin is incurred. For this reason, one often hears from the tongues of Muslims “I don’t do it because it is only a sunnah” when in fact the matter which they have neglected may actually be a ‘fardh’ or ‘waajib’ in the fiqh sense.
For example, a person may neglect eating and drinking with the right hand or a man may not grow his beard with the understanding that such actions were merely the personal habits (also sunnah) of the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) which one may or may not follow, without realizing that the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) in fact ordered Muslims to do so and any order of the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) becomes an obligatory duty upon the believers. Allah in His Book says:
“And We did not appoint the Qiblah on which you were earlier but that We might know the people who follow the Messenger as distinct from those who turn back on their heels.” [Soorah Al-Baqarah 143]
At the early stages of Islam in Madinah, the Muslims faced Jerusalem in prayer as Qiblah for seventeen months. The Qur’aan itself abrogated this by requiring that the Muslims face Masjid Al-Haraam in Mecca (see 2:144). The verse above was revealed as an answer to the objections of the disbelievers who criticized the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) for changing the direction of the Qiblah. It is key to note that the previous order to face Bait Al-Maqdis (Jerusalem) is found nowhere in the Qur’aan yet Allah states in the verse quoted above that He appointed it as Qiblah! And We did not appoint the Qiblah on which you were earlier but that We might know the people who follow the Messenger… It was not the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alaih wa sallam) who arbitrarily decided to make Jerusalem the Qiblah, rather it was revealed to him by Allah to do so though it was not a part of the Qur’aan!
There are at least 15 other verses of the Qur’aan that prove that Muhammad (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) received revelation other than the Qur’aan. It is made very clear in that case that the hadeeth and the sunnah contained within are none other than revelation and that a true Muslim has no choice to ought but adhere to and obey what is contained therein.
The Statements of the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) Himself Oblige Muslims to Obey Him
If the previously stated premise is accepted then we can move to the next stage, which is bringing hadeeth that call upon Muslims to obey the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) in all affairs. Though we have not yet tackled the issue of authenticity of the hadeeth, we feel compelled to transmit a few hadeeth that are known to be authentic by the scholars of hadeeth, that illustrate the point of the obligation to follow the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam).
a) Abu Hurairah (radiallahu ‘anhu) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) said: “All of my ummah will enter Al-Jannah except whoever refuses.” They (the companions) said: “And who would refuse?” He (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) replied: “Whoever obeys me will enter Paradise, and whoever disobeys me will have refused.” [Al-Bukhaari]
b) Jaabir Ibn Abdullah (radiallahu ‘anhu) said: “Whoever obeys Muhammad, obeys Allah. Whoever disobeys Muhammad, disobeys Allah, Muhammad divides between people (between those who believe and obey him and those who disbelieve and disobey him).” [Al-Bukhaari]
c) Abu Moosa (radiallahu ‘anhu) narrated that the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) said: “The example of me and what Allah has sent me with, is like the example of a man who came to a people saying: ‘O my people! I saw the army of the enemy with my own eyes. I am the naked warner (the habit of the Arabs before Islam was that when one wanted to warn his people of an invading army, he did so while naked to be more dramatic). Therefore, escape, escape!’ Some of his people obeyed him and left at night, traveling at ease, and they were safe. Others disbelieved and in the morning they were still in their places. The army attacked them in the morning, destroyed and overwhelmed them. This is the example of whoever obeys me and follows what I was sent with, and the example of whoever disobeys me and disbelieves in what I was sent with of truth.” [Al-Bukhaari and Muslim]
d) Abu Rafi’ (radiallahu ‘anhu) said that the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) said: “Let me not find any of you, and while resting on his couch, that if an order of mine is mentioned in front of him, whether a command of mine or a prohibition, he says: ‘I do not know! Whatever we find in the Book of Allah (the Qur’aan) we follow (otherwise we do not)!’” [Ahmed, Abu Dawood, At-Tirmidhee, Ibn Maajah, At-Tahaawi and others]
e) Al-Miqdam (radiallahu ‘anhu) narrated that the Messenger Of Allah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) said: “Verily I was given the Qur’aan and its equal with it (the sunnah). There may be a man, his stomach is full and he is laying on his couch and saying: ‘Hold fast to this Qur’aan. Whatever you find of permissible matters, take it as permissible, and whatever you find in it of prohibitions, consider it prohibited.’ However, whatever the Messenger of Allah renders impermissible is equal to what Allah renders impermissible…” [Abu Dawood, At-Tirmidhee, Al-Haakim & Ahmed]
f) Abu Hurairah (radiallahu ‘anhu) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) said: “I have left you with two things, that (if you hold fast to them) you will never be misled after them: The Book of Allah and my Sunnah. They will not separate from each other until they meet me at the Hawdh (the pool of river water that flows outside of the gates of Al-Jannah).” [Maalik & Al-Haakim]
The Sunnah Has Become Strange to Many These Days
We often read answers from writers to questions posed by Muslims in English language publications and have read and heard reports of those in Arabic and other languages as well, that clearly show the large extent to which the sunnah is ignored. It is actually quite amazing that such individuals are widely published who consistently give rulings and advice that is incorrect while making broad, sweeping statements like “There is no text from Book (Al-Qur’aan) or the Sunnah…” concerning this or that matter when there are indeed confirmed texts proving the opposite. It is almost incomprehensible that such a situation could continue in the face of the vast wealth of information and work that has been done by the scholars of hadeeth to insure the preservation of authentic reports and Islamic rulings. There are however some reasons that may contribute to ignorance such as the incorrect rules and regulations put forward by some latter day “scholars”.
One such regulation is the statement that hadeeth al-Aahaad are not valid in matters of ‘aqeedah (matters of belief and the unseen). Al-Aahaad hadeeth are those narrations made by a single individual. Certain schools established some rules regarding this type of hadeeth such as: a) They preferred analogy (qiyaas) to establish a ruling regarding a new matter to the aahaad hadeeth. b) Aahaad hadeeth are rejected if they oppose their own established rules and regulations. c) They reject hadeeth that introduce a decree that adds to a rule in the Qur’aan based on the claim that because the sunnah does not abrogate the Qur’aan, acceptance of such ahadeeth constitutes abrogation. d) They say that general rules of the Qur’aan cannot be restricted by aahaad hadeeth based on the claim that a specific rule is overruled by a general one if they are opposed to one another.
Yet another contributor to ignorance of the sunnah is merely blind following (taqleed) of a particular school (madhhab) in all matters of religion. We have however found that much of the source of giving incorrect rulings and discounting the hadeeth is merely due to plain ignorance, lack of scholarship and an unwillingness to submit to the rulings found in the hadeeth. The root causes of a person doing this could be anything from sinfulness to political or social pressure and we seek refuge in Allah from that.