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I am studying law and I am taking a subject called Islamic jurisprudence. I read that the Sunnah, along with the Qur’ân, is a source of Islamic legislation. How can this be justified since the Sunnah was complied long after the death of the Prophet (peace be upon him)?

Answered by

Sheikh Nâsir al-Mâjid, professor at al-Imâm University in Riyadh
The Muslim Ummah is unanimously agreed that the Sunnah is the second source of Islamic knowledge. Al-Suyûtî says that whoever denies that the hadîth of the Prophet (peace be upon him) is a source of religious knowledge and legal evidence in Islam has fallen into disbelief and left the fold of Islam.

Al-Shawkânî says: “The validity of the Sunnah and the fact that it is sufficient evidence for determining Islamic Law are fundamental tenets of Islamic belief. No one denies this save those who have no share of Islam.”

The evidence for this is as follows:

Allah says the following:

“Whatever the Messenger gives you take it, and whatever he forbids you abstain from it.”

“Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and beware. For if you turn back, then know that it is the Messengers duty only to convey the Clear Message.”

Allah orders us to refer all our matters of dispute back to Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him):

“O you who believe, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. If you fall into dispute about a matter, then refer it back to Allah and His Messenger if you believe in Allah and the Last Day.”

Allah calls the Prophet (peace be upon him) the best example:

“You have in Allah’s Messenger an excellent example of conduct for those who put their hopes in Allah and the Last Day and remember Allah often.”

Al-Tirmidhî says that the “best example of conduct” that we have of our Messenger (peace be upon him) is realized by emulating him and following his Sunnah.

There are many other verses that convey a similar meaning.

Ibn Hazm says: “Once we make it clear that the Qur’ân is the authority that we refer back to in Islamic Law, we look within it and find that it obliges us to obey Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him). We also find within it that it says about the Messenger: ‘He does not speak of his own desire. It is but revelation that is revealed to him.’ From this, we know that the revelation from Allah to His Messenger (peace be upon him) can be divided into two categories: the Qur’ân and the Sunnah.”

We can clearly see the necessity of the Sunnah in that it explains in detail many of the commands and rulings that are given by the Qur’ân in only the vaguest of terms. The Qur’ân commands us to pray, fast, pay Zakâh, and perform the pilgrimage. However, there is no way that we can perform these pillars of Islam without recourse to the Sunnah. This goes for many of the general commands and prohibitions of the Qur’ân.

However, it is not enough for us to apply the Sunnah only in matters to which the Qur’ân makes reference. Such a policy on our part would be quite arbitrary, since the Qur’ân commands us to follow the Sunnah without restricting that command only to matters in which the Qur’ân makes reference. Applying such a rule to the Sunnah would actually be accepting part of the Qur’ân’s command and rejecting part of it. Allah rebukes the Jews for doing precisely the same thing. He says: “So do you believe in part of the book and disbelieve in part of it? The recompense of whoever among you does so is nothing but disgrace in this world, and in the Hereafter he will be sent forth to the severest of punishments.”

When we look at the practice of the Companions, we can have no doubt about the fact that they accepted what the Prophet (peace be upon him) brought them. They took all of their disputes before him. After his death, they referred to his Sunnah whenever they disagreed or had a question on a matter. This practice was continued by those who came after them up to the present day.

The Sunnah comes with commands that are not found in the Qur’ân. For example, the prohibition of being married to a woman and her aunt at the same time is only found in the Sunnah. This ruling is a position of consensus among all Muslims, though it only reaches us through a single hadîth narrated by Abû Hurayrah.

Rejecting the Sunnah is a way of nullifying one’s faith and uprooting Islam from its foundation. This is why so many Orientalists in the West are so keen on spreading this idea throughout Muslim lands. They hope ultimately to make the Muslims doubt their religion.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “I was given the Qur’ân and something else like it. I fear lest a man will sit contentedly reclining and say: ‘You must follow this Qur’ân. Whatever you find therein permissible, then permit it, and whatever you find therein prohibited, then forbid it.’ Indeed, whatever Allah’s Messenger has prohibited, it is as if Allah had prohibited it.”

May Allah make His path clear to us all and protect us from trials and misconceptions. And may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Muhammad, his family