Qaradawi’s book: Approaching the Sunnah - i

Book: Approaching the Sunnah: Comprehension & Controversy
Author: Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi
Publisher: IIIT, London, UK & Washington, USA
Year: 2006. Page: 215. ISBN 1-56564-418-2
Md. Mokhter Ahmad

Dr. Yusuf Qaradawi does not need any introduction. He is the most widely respected and most prolific living scholar of the Muslim world. He is best known for his modern, moderate and original approaches to every issue facing the Muslim Ummah while remaining within the parameters of Islam. He is the creator of a large number of masterpieces with different titles including the world-class Islamic Awakening Between Rejection and Extremism and The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam. He has been voted to be the third most influential living public scholar of the world[1].

Dr. Qaradawi’s book Approaching the Sunnah: Comprehension and Controversy is a masterpiece in the study of the Sunnah [2] of the Prophet Muhammad (pubh). The author, himself an authority in this field, has extensively dealt in this book with the issue of the Sunnah and discussed almost everything related to its study. This is a timely presentation by Dr. Qaradawi, for the Ummah has long been confronted with many challenges and objections, borne sometimes out of sheer misunderstanding, misrepresentation and ignorance, and sometimes out of prejudice, ulterior motives and enmity, against the Sunnah. The author established that the Sunnah still provides the stable moral framework - the grammar - that enables Muslims, by formal rules and inward sense, to know the right from the wrong. This book explains how the Sunnah can function as the grammar of a living, adaptive language, capable of guiding the mainstream.

The Sunnah occupies a great status in Islam. This is the only valid explanation of the Qur’an and the second source of Islamic Shari’ah. It promulgates rules often independently and often dependently. The Qur’an has categorically ordained the believers to offer their unconditional and unqualified obedience to the Prophet and made it an integral part of their faith[3]. Still there is growing tendency among some people to deny the authority and authenticity of the Sunnah on various pleas. The development of the menace was well-predicted by the Prophet himself when he said: “I have indeed been given the Qur’an and something similar to it besides it. Yet, the time will come when a man leaning on his couch will say, ‘Follow the Qur’an only; what you find in it as halal, take it as halal; and what you find in it as haram, take it as haram.’ But truly, what the Messenger of God has forbidden is like what God has forbidden.”[4]

The author conveniently divides the book into three chapters. The first sets out the qualities that characterize authentic application of the Sunnah: universality, coherence (so that different spheres of human responsibility are not split), compassionate realism, moderation, and humility. The second explains standards and procedures for determining the Sunnah in the fields of jurisprudence and moral instruction. The third chapter illustrates through examples common errors in understanding the Sunnah reading hadiths singly without sufficient context, confusing legal and moral injunctions, means and ends, figurative and literal meanings... and it proposes remedies for these errors.

According to the author, the Sunnah is distinguished by comprehensiveness and completeness in its length, breadth, and depth. It is comprehensive in length because it covers vertically every dimension from birth to death, indeed even what comes after death. It is comprehensive in breadth because it comprehends horizontally all spheres of life, while in length it covers even the deeper dimensions of human life like thought and intentions. The Sunnah is also characterized with a balanced and moderate attitude towards everything. It does not put more emphasis on one aspect of life at the cost of another. Islam does not recognize any dichotomy between various aspects of human life dividing those between secular and religious, and this philosophy of Islam is expounded by the Sunnah. For example: on seeing the excess of ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Amr in fasting, keeping vigil, and recitation of the Qur’an, the Prophet ordered him to be moderate, saying: “Indeed, your body has a right over you, your eyes have a right over you, and your family has a right over you… (p. 3). It is also integrated, realistic and easy. Neither does the Sunnah regard people as if they are winged angels, nor does it consider them to be originally/intrinsically sinners[5]. It made the lifestyle easy and convenient. The Prophet said: “Assuredly, God did not commission me for affliction, nor for bringing affliction to others; on the contrary, He commissioned me as an educator and as means of ease for others” (p. 9).

Dr. Qaradawi, who wrote extensively on many issues facing the Ummah ranging from educational to jurisprudential to cultural to preaching of Islam, this time he picked up the issue of the crisis facing the Muslim. He said: ‘The foremost crisis facing the Muslims in this time is the crisis in thought. According to Dr. Qaradawi, what most clearly represents that crisis in thought is the crisis in insight into the Sunnah and its applications (p. 11). Thus it is incumbent on Muslims to learn how to become proficient in insight into the Sunnah, how to apply it in their lives. But he warned of three evils which the Prophet indicated in one of his statements: “From every generation its just and upright ones will carry this knowledge, expelling from it the distortion of the extremists, the deviation of the falsifiers, and the interpretation of the ignorant.”

The author then expounds a few fundamental principles for the application of the Sunnah, so that one can purge it of the deviations of the falsifiers, the distortions of the extremists, and the interpretations of the ignorant. Firstly, one should verify the proof of the Sunnah and its soundness in terms of sanad [narrators] and matn [text] according to the scientific methodology established by the learned predecessors. Secondly, one should be proficient in understanding the Prophetic text in harmony with the meanings indicated by the language. In this case, one should know the particular circumstance of any hadith, the totality of the purposes of Islam, the general intent of the hadith, the distinction between a legislative and a non-legislative Sunnah etc. (p. 20).

Thirdly, one should assure himself of the safety of the text from contradiction by what is stronger than it from the Qur’an and other hadiths which are more abundant in sources, or more sound in proof of authenticity, or more consonant with original principles, or more fitted to the purpose of the legislative measures. He then mentioned that one should ensure the authenticity of Sunnah of both legislation and guidance.

But, surprisingly, many people are seen to be more concerned with the authenticity of the legislative Sunnah and do not care about the authenticity of Sunnah for general guidance. This is why the books of preaching and what softens the hearts, and the books of Sufism abound with false hadiths. He refuted the proposition of some people that they mention false and fabricated hadiths even knowingly with the objective of promoting good among people. He expressed his consternation saying that these people dared presumably to correct God or strengthen His Messenger through manufacturing hadiths as if God did not or could not perfect the religion, and thus it needs their help!!

According to the author, this is another dangerous tendency seen among many people to reject sahih hadith, out of caprice or pride or presuming to know better than God and His Messenger. Rejection of Sunnah is not a new phenomenon. Since ancient times, heretics and innovators have raised doubts and allegations in refutation of the Sunnah. In our times, the missionaries and the orientalists or people tutored and/or influenced by them, directly or indirectly are raising doubts about the Sunnah. Sometimes the enemies use subtle arguments to reject the Sunnah saying that the Qur’an is sufficient as the guide (and hence no need for Sunnah), considering the fact that there is detailed exposition in it of everything. Sometimes, sahih Sunnah is denied because of miscomprehension, like poor understanding or reckless haste in explaining a hadith. For example: many people rejected the hadith narrated by ‘Aishah (“He would command me to put on izar, then would be intimate with me, while I was having my monthly period”], on the plea that this is at variance with the Qur’anic verse[6], or the hadith from Abu Hurayrah from the Prophet [“God will send to this Community at the head of every century one who will renew for it its religion”] on the plea that religion is not subject to renewal, it is firmly established and does not change, or the hadith narrated by Ibn ‘Umar and others [“Islam is founded on five (foundations)...”] on the plea that the hadith does not mention jihad, despite its great importance in Islam. But these people failed to understand the first hadith in fact provides commentary on the Qur’an, because the Qur’an prohibited bodily intimacy of sexual intercourse while the Sunnah clarifies that mutual pleasure between husband and wife other than that is not prohibited during menstruation.

Likewise, renewal of religion in the second hadith does not mean alteration or brining a new edition of it. It only means returning it to its original status and freeing it from all superstitions and bad elements interpolated into it over time. The third hadith too is misunderstood, because though jihad is important and obligatory, it is not so for everyone always while the five foundations are required in generally of all people (p. 30-37).

Dr. Qaradawi also explained the stance of ‘A’ishah on certain hadiths and said that the rejection of those hadiths is based on mere conjecture. Take for example the hadith narrated by Ahmad ibn Hanbal through ‘Alqamah: “We were with ‘A’ishah. Then Abu Hurayrah entered, so she said: Are you the one who narrated the hadith that a woman tormented a cat, confining her and then not feeding her, not giving her water?” Then he said: “I heard it from him” meaning the Prophet. She said: “Do you know what the woman was? At the time she did (that) she was an unbeliever. Indeed the believer is more noble with God, the All-Powerful and Sublime, than that He would punish him for a cat! So when you narrate a hadith from the Messenger of God, then watch how are doing so.” According to Qaradawi, ‘A’ishah misunderstood the hadith, because the woman was to suffer for the hardness of her heart and cruelty to God’s weak creatures, and the conspicuous absence of the greatest human value in her character, that is compassion towards the weak.

Qaradawi arranged chapter two of his book with two sub-headings where he discussed a large number of issues. He said that the Sunnah is a source for both Jurisprudence and Preaching. Imam Al-Awza’i even said, “The Book is more in need of the Sunnah than is of the Book.” Though there are many exaggerations on this point, the author referred us to Al-Shawkani who said: “The conclusion is that the need for the Sunnah is established, and its independence [as a source] for the legislation of the injunctions is a religious necessity. No one disagrees on that except one who has no share in the religion of Islam.”

Qaradawi says that the books of jurisprudence abound in hadiths with which scholars of different schools of thought, whether those are affiliated to the school of ra’y or to the school of hadith, reached their conclusions. He then vehemently refutes a false propaganda that Imam Abu Hanifa[7] affirmed the authenticity of only seventeen hadiths. The author then discussed the necessity of linking hadith and fiqh in a way that the hadith specialists should master the science of fiqh and vice versa – the absence of which had done a great damage to both of these sciences. Most hadith practitioners are not good in fiqh and its principles and the same is applied to the fiqh practitioners. This is why the books of fiqh are replete with weak and fabricated hadiths, and according to him, it does not only apply to the so-called ahl al-ra’y, it also applies to all the surviving schools of Islamic Law (p. 50). He says: “I myself have noted, while researching the fiqh of zakat, a number of hadiths that scholars of fiqh of still-followed schools rely on, and which have been challenged by the leading scholars of hadith. For example: “There is no sadaqah on vegetables”, “’Ushr and kharaj do not combine”, “There is no duty (right) on wealth besides zakah” (p. 48). So the duty of the learned scholars of our time is to review the legacy of fiqh with the objective of sorting out injunctions based on weak hadiths. For example, the hadiths regarding bloodwit for non-Muslims and bloodwit for the women.

To be continued in the next issue