Qaradawi’s book: Approaching the Sunnah - ii

(Continued from the previous issue)

By Md. Mokhter Ahmad

The author says the Sunnah is equally important as a source in Preaching and Guidance. Religious teachers, preachers and guides can and should draw on the Sunnah for their lessons and sermons. In this case, they should rely on the authentic sources of hadiths including the Sahih of Al-Bukhari and the Sahih of Muslim. According to Qaradawi, the scholars of hadith should make source critique and exposition of the rank of all hadiths mentioned in different hadith books so that these people may rely on them. In the meantime, a lot has been done in this regard; still many things are yet to be accomplished.

Though everyone is under obligation to check out the authenticity and import of a given hadith before its presentation, but in many cases it is not done by the preachers and admonishers. Thus sometimes they mumble from the hadiths what moves people, has touching effect on them and creates emotion and sensation among them, while these hadiths are either feeble or rejected or fabricated. By way of example, he mentioned the hadiths “The first [entity] that God created is the light of the Prophet”, “Whoever is called by the ‘Muhammad’, intercession for him is obligatory”, and “The scholars of my Community are like the prophets of the Israelites”.

Dr. Qaradawi does not support the opinion of some people that weak hadiths may be accepted in case of admonition and stimulation (targhib and tarhib). He says that Allah and His Apostle are independent of leaving any vacuum to be fulfilled by someone. Islam is complete and does not require anything extra. He then draws our attention to some certain realities: Firstly, Rejection of weak hadiths even on Targhib and Tarhib; Secondly, non-adherence to the conditions stipulated by the majority (i.e., a weak hadith will be accepted on fulfilling three conditions: the hadith is weak but not extremely weak, it conforms with the established legal principles, and not attributing it to the Prophet); Thirdly, prohibition of narrating in a style of certainty (narrating a weak hadith in the style of a positive, definitive statement saying that ‘God’s Messenger said this and this’); Fourthly, the sufficiency of the Sahih and the Hasan hadiths; Fifthly, warning against unbalancing the order among the deeds (as giving to some righteous deeds a value greater than their due, or giving to some bad deeds a punishment greater than is proper to them); Sixthly, a weak hadith cannot itself establish an injunction. For example, a well-circulated fabricated hadith “Whoever is generous in giving to his kith and kin on the day of ‘Ashura’, God will be generous to him for the rest of his years”, and it is seen that people make much of this day throughout the Muslim world, sacrificing animals, considering it to be an ‘Id or a day fixed for regular annual remembrance, whereas it is certain that some ignorant Sunnis fabricated this hadith to rebut the exaggerations of the Shi’a. And Finally, two complementary conditions for the acceptance of a weak hadith, (a) the hadith should not contain exaggerations offensive to reason or Law or language, (b) the hadith should not contradict a Legal proof stronger than itself; for example the so-called hadith, “‘Abd al-Rahman ibn ‘Awf entered Paradise on all fours on account of his wealth”, whereas he is one of the ten given glad tidings of Paradise.

Dr. Qaradawi says the preachers should not transmit anything that is ambiguous or unclear to people. He then mentions a hadith for detailed examination and shows how people were absorbed in absurdities concerning a hadith due to misunderstanding. The hadith is the one narrated by Anas, that he heard the Prophet saying, “Every age is worse than what preceded it.” Some people have taken this hadith to justify sitting back from taking action, from striving for reform, change and deliverance, while some others held back from or refuted accepting this for a number of reasons. First, it encouraged hopelessness and despondency. Second, it urged negativism in facing up to oppression from deviant rulers. Third, it opposed the idea of progress. Fourth, it moved away from the historical reality of the Muslims. And fifth, it opposed the habits that have come on the appearance of the khalifa who will fill the earth with justice…

Dr. Qaradawi extensively deals with the issue of principles for the correct understanding of the Sunnah in the third chapter which is the most important part of this book. He discussed here eight principles and offered many hadiths under each principle for the sake of elaboration and clarification. Fortunately, this chapter of the book solves a lot of problems regarding understanding many hadiths and against which objections were raised by many quarters including the enemies of Islam and the orientalists. These principles are: Firstly, understanding the Sunnah in the light of the Qur’an. It is because the Sunnah is the exposition of the Qur’an. That is why the sahih, established Sunnah is not found to contradict the injunctions of the Qur’an. If people have supposed such contradiction to exist, then it must be a sunnah that is not sahih, or the understanding of which is not sahih, or it may be that the contradiction is not real but merely conjectured. Thus the hadith about the alleged “gharaniq” [the so-called “Satanic Verses”) is undoubtedly rebutted because it is contradictory to the Qur’an. Similarly, the hadith about women which says “Consult with them and then oppose them” is invalid and false because it contradicts a verse of the Qur’an: “And if the two of them desire [to engage a wet-nurse] by mutual consent and consulting one another, then it is no sin for either of them” (al-Baqarah, 2: 233). Again if there is any apparent contradiction between the Qur’an and the Sunnah, then Qur’an should be preferred over the Sunnah. For example, the following hadiths: “There is no sadaqah on vegetables,” “The one burying alive and the one buried are [both] in the Fire,” “Indeed your father and my father are in the Fire,” are rejected or refrained away from because they contradict respectively the following Qur’anic verses: “…and yield up its due on the day of its harvesting” (al-An’am), “And when the infant girl buried alive is asked for what sin she was slain” (al-Takwir, 81:8-9), and “And they are not punished until We have sent a messenger” (al-Isra’, 17:15).

Secondly, gathering relevant [sahih] hadiths on a subject together and juxtaposing the ambiguous alongside the explicit, the absolute alongside the restricted, the general alongside the particularized with the objective of interpreting one with the other making the intended meaning plain and clear. For example, the hadiths on wearing the izar (the lower garment) long where the threat against doing so is made severe, like the one narrated by Muslim on the authority of Abu Darr, “[There are] three to whom God will not speak on the Day of Resurrection: the benefactor who does not give anything except as a favour; the quick profiteer whose commodity is [sold] by a lying oath; and the one who wears his izar long.” If all the relevant hadiths are put together it will be evident that the implication of this hadith is not general or absolute, but is restricted, as is clear from many hadiths, like the following one narrated by Muslim through Ibn ‘Umar: “I heard God’s Messenger, with these my two ears, saying: ‘One who trails his izar not meaning by that [anything] but conceit, then indeed God will not look at him on the Day of Resurrection.’” Similarly, the hadith in al-Bukhari that Abu ‘Umamah saw an implement of tillage (a plough) and said: “I heard God’s Messenger, saying: ‘This does not enter the house of a people except that God causes disgrace to enter it [also].’” Apparently the hadith portrays Islam to be averse to agriculture, which is also exploited by the Orientalists, whereas if the relevant group of hadiths are put together, it will be plain that the aforementioned hadith is confined to a particular context, and that Islam simulates agriculture and cultivation and promises splendid virtues for this. Take for example the following hadith: “[There is] not one from the Muslims who plants a plant or sows a seed, then a bird eats from it, or a person, or an animal, except that from it an act of charity [is recorded] for him.” Umar even asked a person who was in his death-bed to plant his land before death embraces him.

Thirdly, Dr. Qaradawi prefers reconciliation and combination (Tawfiq) between two apparent contradictory sahih hadiths rather than recourse to preference (tarjih) of one of them. For example, the hadiths on restraining women from visiting the graveyards like “God’s Messenger condemned women visitors (zawwarat) to the graves”, and the hadiths on permitting them like the one “I had forbidden you to visit graves, but [now I say:] visit them.” This apparent contradiction between these two categories of hadiths may be resolved through combination and reconciliation that is that the “condemnation” mentioned in the hadith - as al-Qurtubi said - as referring to over-frequent visiting, which is the connotation of (the intensive form of) al-zawwarat, the expression used in the hadith. Similarly, the hadiths on ‘Azl [8] (coitus interruptus): “Through Jabir, he said, ‘We used to practice withdrawal with the knowledge of God’s Messenger, while the Qur’an was being revealed (agreed upon),’” and, Muslim and Ahmad narrated through Jabir, “Practice withdrawal from her if you wish. But indeed there would come to her what is decreed for her,” and the hadith mentioned in Muslim and Ahmad that when the Prophet was asked about it he said, “That is a hidden [form of] burying alive, and she ‘When the infant girl buried alive shall ask…,’ and the hadith in Ahmad from Ibn ‘Abbas, “He forbade withdrawal from a free woman except with her permission.” It would appear from the group of hadiths cited that they demonstrate the acceptability of withdrawal. That is the position of the majority of jurists, except that one may not practice withdrawal from a free woman without her permission and consent in view of her right of enjoyment of the act.

The author then discussed the issue of abrogation in hadiths and termed some people’s recourse to it hastily without much consideration. He mentions a statement of Imam al-Shafi’i to clarify its policy: “Whenever it is feasible of two hadiths that they be acted upon together, let them be acted upon together, and [let] not one of the two be suspended [in favour of] the other. If nothing is feasible of the two hadiths except [their] difference, then the difference in them [can be regarded from] two distinctions: (a) that one of the two [hadiths] is abrogating, and the other is abrogated, so one acts according to the abrogating, and one leaves the abrogated one, (b) or that the two differ and there is no evidence as to which of the two is abrogating, and which is abrogated. In this case, we are to go for one and leave the other when that one is stronger than the other, or that one is more established than the other, or more comfortable with the Book of Allah…or what the greater number of the Companions of God’s Messenger were on.

Fourthly, the Sunnah is to be understood alongwith the causes, associations, and objectives of a given hadith. According to al-Qaradawi, as one is obligated to know the background of revelation for a proper understanding of the Qur’an, one is also required to know particular circumstances which the hadith text addresses. A penetrating observer will find that many hadiths are based upon particular reasons, or associated circumstances, or aimed to specific intentions. When one is equipped with this knowledge, one will not mix up between what is particular and what is general, what is temporal and what is eternal, what is partial and what is all-comprehensive. For example, the following hadiths: “You know better the affairs of your worldly life”, “I am not accountable for any Muslim who settles [among] the polytheists,” “A woman may not travel except when a mahram is accompanying her,” “The leaders are from the Quraysh.” Many people misunderstood the hadiths whereas these are associated with certain reasons, circumstances and objectives. The first hadith is mistaken by many to be a free license to formulate rules on the issues of economics, civic, and political duties, and the like, because these are of their worldly concerns, whereas these are related with a specific occasion/incident of the pollination of date-palm. Accordingly, the second hadith is mistaken by many to mean prohibition of settling in any non-Muslim country whereas it is absolutely related to the obligation of Hijrah from the land of the polytheists to the Prophet in order to help him after his hijrah to Madinah. The same is also applied to the third and the fourth hadiths.

The Companions of the Prophet and their successors investigated the underlying reasons and circumstances of the texts and acted accordingly. Different attitudes shown by the Prophet and the first two caliphs, and by ‘Uthman, and ‘Ali towards “stray camels” is a case in this regard. The Prophet and the first two caliphs ordered for leaving the stray camels alone in their ways, whereas ‘Uthman ordered them to be sold and the price be given to the owners, and on the contrary, ‘Ali ordered them to be rounded up and kept safe for their owners. ‘Ali and ‘Uthman did not in fact oppose the Prophet, but they looked at the purpose, that is protecting the owners from any eventual loss, and they acted accordingly. The same is applied for the traditional measures of the prophetic period replaced by volume or weight in our time, the traditional two nisabs of gold and silver for calculating zakat replaced by money in our days, and despite the hadiths on zakat al-fitr to be given in between fajr and ‘Id prayers, and to be given in the form of foodstuffs, the ruling is now changed to be allowed to make the payment anytime before ‘Id days and in money, etc.

Fifthly, one is to distinguish between changeable means and stable ends. Failing to do so is one of the primary causes for confusion and error in the understanding of Sunnah. Some people focus their energy and concern upon the medicines, nutriments, herbs, grains, and other things to be Prophet’s prescribed medication for certain bodily diseases, whereas Qaradawi thinks these prescriptions and their like are not of the spirit of the Prophetic medicine, rather its spirit is preservation of the life and health of the human being. The same is applied to the hadiths “The weight is the weight of the people of Makkah, and the measure is the measure of the people of Madinah”, and “Fast upon sighting the crescent and stop fasting upon sighting it”. In the first hadith the Prophet prescribed the weight of Makkah and the measure of Madinah for the sake of standardization and unification with much more precision and because those were the most progressive in that era. Today, we may use any other standard rather than those which will ensure the desired objectives. In the second hadith the Prophet prescribed such a method that is sighting the crescent with the eyes, which was practical and available to the majority of people, one that does not put extra hardship or impediment on them. Qaradawi says today we have a better alternative at our disposal which is the use of definitive mathematical and astronomical calculations and it will better realize the objective of the hadith remaining further from erroneous interpretation or conjecture or falsehood in determining the start and the end of the month.

Sixthly, distinction should be made between literal and figurative expressions in the hadiths. The author says that in Arabic there is plentitude of figurative expressions. Being the most expressive in spoken Arabic, the Prophet also made extensive figurative expressions. Some of these figurative expressions convey information while some other conveys injunctions. Thus a distinction is to be demarcated between these two, failing which made some people even in our time prone to prescribe the forbidden and vice versa, making the supererogatory obligatory and vice versa. Dr. Qaradawi says that closing the door to figurative expression in understanding the hadiths has led to many contemporary misunderstandings of the Sunnah by Muslims and non-Muslims. According to Qaradawi, the following hadiths which were exploited by the enemies to trivialize and vilify Islam are to be understood figuratively: “The Black Stone is from the Paradise”, “Know that the Paradise is under the shade of the sword”, “The Nile and the Euphrates are from the Paradise”. Similarly, the author warns against latitude in leaving the literal meaning. For example, the hadiths on Anti-Christ (Masih al-Dajjal) are interpreted by some people to symbolize the now dominant Western civilization.

Seventhly, a proper distinction is to be made between the Unseen and the Visible. The hadiths contain information regarding the Seen and the Unseen world. Qaradawi says that the affairs of the Unseen world should not be interpreted on the basis of the Seen worldly affairs. This is where the Mu’tazilis, the so-called school of rational theology, stumbled.

Finally, Dr. Qaradawi suggests that the Sunnah is to be understood in most of the cases in the light with the lexical meanings of the words in which the Sunanh has come. For words surely change in their connotations from one era to another, which is known to every student of the evolutions of language and vocabularies. Thus people should not read current terms into old texts. A pertinent word in this case is taswir (image) which has come in many sahih hadiths and about those who make image (musawwir), the Prophet threatened them with the severest torment. According to Qaradawi, many people preoccupied with hadiths and fiqh include under the category of musawwir the so-called operators of the electronic device called the camera in our age. These people tend to forget that “copying a form” (shakl) through a device is quite different from “making/curbing an image” (taswir), and that the Arabs did not coin the word taswir to mean this.

In conclusion, through this short synopsis on this great book of Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi I would love to urge every one including the general Muslims and the Islamic scholars, educationists and intellectuals to study the book. In this epoch of human civilization when the attack on Islam is all-round and all-comprehensive, especially centering the Sunnah of the Prophet, this book will help us a great deal to understand the Sunnah, to resolve the cotemporary crises, and to rebut the machinations and false propaganda made by the internmokhteral and external enemies against Islam, especially, against the Sunnah of the Prophet.

[1] The list was unveiled by Foreign policy, the award-winning magazine of global politics, and Britain’s Prospect magazine on Monday, June 23. The two magazines have conducted a global public poll to pick the world’s top intellectuals and thinkers who are shaping the tenor of our time with their ideas. More than 500,000 people voted for their top choices from the original long list of 100 figures, and the results came out with ten Muslims from all walks of life atop 20-figure list. For more details, see: www. islamonline. net/multimedia/library/newsanalysis/2008/06/07. shtml.
[2] Sunnah of the Prophet (pubh) is his sayings, actions and tacit approval.
[3] For more details, see: Kamali, Muhammad Hashim, Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence, Second Revised Edition, ILMIAH Publishers, Malaysia, p. 48-50.
[4] The Hadith is reported on the authority of Al-Miqdam ibn Ma`di Karib and is mentioned in Sunan Ab? Daw? d and D? rim?.
[5] According to Christianity, human beings are originally sinners because of the sinfulness of Adam. This doctrine is known as “Original Sin” in Christianity.
[6] Allah says: ‘They ask you about menstruation. Say: it is a hurt; so keep apart from the women in menstruation, and do not go near them until they are cleansed (of it)’. (Al-Qur’an, 2:222)
[7] Imam Abu Hanifa is the founder of Hanfi school of thought. He is better known as the greatest Im? m (al-Im? m al-A’zam). He is the first in terms of taking any systematic research for Islamic Jurisprudence. Today nearly
70% Muslims the world over are followers of his school of thought.
[8] ‘Azl is the withdrawal of the man from his woman during intercourse, whereby he casts the sperm outside the vulva so that she does not conceive by him.
 The above synopsis has been prepared by Mokhter Ahmad sahib, an Asstt Professor of  International Islamic University, Chittagong.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 January 2013 on page no. 21

We hope you liked this report/article. The Milli Gazette is a free and independent readers-supported media organisation. To support it, please contribute generously. Click here or email us at

blog comments powered by Disqus