By: Dr. Mansoor Alam

In order to provide a measure of continuity, first we provide a brief summary of the important points from the previous article.

  • The Quran is the final word of God.
  • It has been preserved exactly as it was revealed to the Prophet (PBUH).
  • The Prophet (PBUH) left only the Quran in written form since he forbade writing of hadith during his life time (Sahih Al-Muslim).
  • The Quran was written by very honorable scribes (80:16).
  • There were many companions who had memorized the entire Quran word by word.
  • Unlike the authenticity of hadith, there is no dispute among scholars (Sunni or Shi’ia) about the authenticity of the Quranic verses.
  • There are six Sunni books of hadith which are normally referred to as “sa’hha sitta” (six true books). Shi’ias have their own four important books of hadith. These were compiled and written based on (a chain of) oral narration mostly in the third century Hijrah or later.
  • Scholars agree that the chain of narrators transmitted the meaning of hadith and not the exact words of the Prophet (PBUH).
  • It is generally agreed that the chain of narrators, no matter how reliable, were humans and subject to human errors. Consequently, their narrations are subject to errors. The Quran is the only Book beyond error.
  • As a consequence, ahadith are classified into several categories starting from “correct” on one side to “coined” on the other. (Verses of the Quran do not have such classification.)
  • Shi’ia scholars do not accept Sunni books of hadith. Even among the Sunnis, there are some ahadith which are accepted as ‘correct’ by one group of scholars (Ahlul-Hadith, for example) but not by other groups (like Ahlul Fiqh and others).
  • The authenticity of hadith is not equal to the authenticity of the verses of the Quran.
  • “The sayings of the Prophet (PBUH) and the sayings we find in the books of ahadith are not necessarily one and the same.” (Maulana Maududi, Rasayel-o-Massayel, Volume I, 1951 edition, page 270).

Brothers and Sisters! Let me repeat once again, before we move on, that every Muslim is required to believe in the sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH). But what is the sunnah? What is obedience to the sunnah? And what is the goal of obeying the sunnah? This article addresses these questions.

Sunnah – A Binding Force

Although Islamic scholars talk a great deal about sunnah, most of them overlook its goal. Should sunnah, like the Quran, be a binding force for all Muslims? We, (Muslims, both Shi’ia and Sunni), as believers in the Prophet’s sunnah, should ask ourselves the following questions: Are we united or divided in practicing his sunnah? Why is our practice of sunnah not achieving the same goals as did the Prophet (PBUH) and his companions (R)?

One reason is, our Islamic scholars do not even agree on a common definition of sunnah, let alone be united in its practice. Different sects, under the direction of different religious leaders, practice sunnah in their own ways. Why is this so? Is it because, as Maulana Maududi says, the sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH) and the sunnah attributed to him in the books of hadith are not necessarily one and the same? [Maulana Maududi is considered to be one of the most famous scholars of the twentieth century (MINARET: Muslim Personalities of the Century, July/August 1999).]

While most of us Muslims pretend we are not divided over the practice of sunnah, in fact, we feel quite complacent and satisfied within our own religious sects and groups. The Quran describes this mentality in verse 30:32 thus: “Those who split up their religion, and become (mere) sects – each party rejoicing in that which is with itself.” Modern psychology describes this mentality as the “collective psyche” of the group, which provides a sense of satisfaction and false hope to individuals within the group. However, within the group, the followers do not, or, are not allowed, to question the leaders (imams). Those who do challenge them or who do not follow the prescribed line of thought (or lack of thought?) are quickly labeled as deviated.

Since the very nature of “groups” dictates conformity, it becomes very obvious that different religious leaders practicing their own sunnah will demand group members to step into line. What is not so obvious, however, is why we have split up into sects and groups when the Prophet (PBUH) clearly condemned division? And how can we, as one Muslim ummah, step back from these divisions?

These questions can only be resolved by our turning back to the sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH) because, if we continue to follow different religious (shi’ia or sunni) leaders, our condition as a whole will never change. These sectarian divisions have been plaguing us for the past fourteen hundred years. Remember, the Prophet (PBUH) was beyond all these sectarian divisions of Sunni, Shi’ia, Maliki, Hanbali, Hanafi and Shaafa’I, (schools of actions, not just thought) and if we follow the real sunnah, it should unite us and enhance our overall position in the world. If this is not happening, then we cannot really claim to be following the sunnah, no matter how much we talk about it. Sunnah is action, not just talk or rituals. This action is required for any social change to occur; the actions of the prophet (PBUH) based on the Quran, brought actual social change in Makkah and Medina.

Sunnah – Social Change and Religious Rituals

One simplistic belief we hold is that “the practice of the rituals is sufficient to complete our iman.” Today, there are more “practicing Muslims” than at any time in history. Muslims are praying, fasting, performing Hajj and ‘Umra in record numbers. In fact, today, many more Muslims than can be accommodated safely, want to perform Hajj. With this display of enthusiasm, then, we can no longer blame Muslims for not practicing the rituals. But, the burning question continues to plague us: Why are Muslim communities ailing even though the rituals are faithfully carried out? Surely, the answer lies beyond the traditional, ritualistic-based solutions we offer so readily. For too long now, we have emulated only the prayer, fasting, and Hajj performance of the Prophet (PBUH). We need to emulate, as well, whatever he did the rest of the time. To do this, we need to examine closely the life of the Prophet (PBUH). Did he devote the major time of each day to practicing the rituals and the remaining time to earning a living? Or vice versa? Or, did he also devote considerable time each day to actions, based on Quranic injunctions, to bring social change? We must emulate that part of the sunnah. Do you seriously believe the Prophet (PBUH) and his companions (R) brought about such major social change merely by performing daily rituals?

Another simplistic belief prevalent among us is that “we will go to heaven simply because we are Muslims.” (Remember! The Jews, Christians, and others have a similar belief.) Allah, in the Quran, clearly orders the Prophet (PBUH) that “We have sent down to thee the Book in truth, that thou must judge between people by that which Allah has revealed to thee; so be not an advocate for those who betray their trust (4:105).” Therefore, we need to question beliefs such as those germinated during the Umayyad kings and which matured during the time of the Abbasi dictators – a time when the message of the Quran was removed from its rightful position as the central constitutional authority, and was relegated, instead, to the position of only earning reward for individuals for the hereafter. Muslims were told that Islam is a private and subjective relationship with God, and that it can be achieved by observing the rituals. It was in this way, that, over time, the Lord of the heavens and the earth was assigned to rule only the heavens, as in other religions, while the kings, dictators, political and religious leaders assumed the control of the earth. This situation continues till today.

Sunnah – and Dictatorship

A third simplistic belief we have come to accept as a corollary of the foregoing is that ” we can be good practicing Muslims under any system.” True, we can worship God under any political system. In fact, this is what we are doing today. But we cannot obey Allah until His Book is in charge of our collective affairs, because, obeying Allah means obeying His Book. And obeying His Book means we have to conduct our entire private and public affairs according to its injunctions. The Quran says that those who do not judge matters according to it are, in fact, disobeying Allah: “… If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) Unbelievers.” (5:44)

Since this verse clearly disallows obedience to any man-made laws that are in conflict with the Quran, it became a problem for the Ummaya kings and Abbasi dictators. To remove “this problem,” the kings re-instituted the priesthood which our Prophet (PBUH) had abolished. The new priesthood, consisting of scholars and muftis, obliged the kings by changing the core belief of Islam from “obedience to Allah” to “worship of Allah.” This combination of kingship and priesthood worked very well for the benefit of both the kings and the priests: the priests blessed the kings for exercising earthly powers, while the kings let the priests exercise divine authority over the people.

The Quran, however, is very clear on the existence of both these institutions: it does not allow any kind of political dictatorship (3:79, given below) or religious dictatorship. “There is no compulsion in religion (2:256),” it declares. How, then, can the priests speak in the name of God? The Quran tells us that the Jewish and Christian priests wrote a book with their own hands and attributed it to God (2:79). And, sadly enough, this is what the priests in Islam did as well. It is not a mere coincidence that most of the Shi’ia and Sunni hadith books (as described in the first part of this article) were compiled and written during the rule of the Abbasi dictators. It is just as obvious that no shari’ah could have been implemented without their seal of approval. (If there is any doubt about their authority and power, we need only look at the power being exercised by present Muslim kings, dictators, and mullahs.)

So, the question, brothers and sisters, is this: Can Muslims practice the sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH) under a king, or a theocratic system, or a secular system? The majority of Muslims have been led to believe that they can. How ironic that the very systems our Prophet (PBUH) abolished have come to be accepted as part of his sunnah. But the wisdom of Almighty Allah in protecting the Quran becomes obvious when we come across the following clear injunction on this matter:

“No human being – even though Allah may have given him a code of laws (Kitab) or the power to enforce (Hukmah) it or even Prophethood (Nubuwwah) – has the right to say to others: “You should obey me rather than Allah” (3:79)

This verse clearly disallows any form of human dictatorship (religious or temporal) over the affairs of other human beings. In a system based on the Quran, everyone is subject to the rule of the Quranic laws. At the time of the Prophet (PBUH), everyone, including the Prophet (PBUH), was subject to the rule (or shari’ah) of the Quran. Unlike the Ummayah, Abbasi, and present-day kings, dictators, and mullahs, our Prophet was not a dictator:

“We know best what they say; and thou art not one to compel them by force. So, present in front of them the Quran so that those who heed Our warnings may learn from it.” (50:45)

The Prophet (PBUH) granted full human rights to everyone because there is no force or compulsion of any kind in Islam (2:256). He is remembered in history for having established in Medina, a social and political system based on the laws of the Quran to which he himself was subject. This, then, is the sunnah that we must emulate.

Sunnah – An Historical Perspective

At the time of our prophet (PBUH), people were living under all kinds of oppressive systems (i.e. man-made political and social laws). J.H. Denison aptly describes the misery of the people:

“It seemed then the great civilization that it had taken four thousand years to construct was on the verge of disintegration, and that mankind was likely to return to that condition of barbarism where every tribe and sect was against the next, and law and order were unknown…. Civilization… rotted to the core, riven by the storms of war, and held together only by cords of ancient customs and laws, that might snap at any moment. Was there any emotional culture that could be brought in, to gather mankind once more into unity and to save civilization?

(J. H. Denison, Emotion as the Basis of Civilization, pp. 267-268 quoted by Allama Iqbal in Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam” pp. 116-117)

Allama Iqbal goes on to comment on Denison’s search for a new culture and wonders as to why should Denison be amazed “that such a culture should have arisen from Arabia just at the time when it was most needed.” He emphasizes the point that there is nothing amazing in this phenomenon and that “it is only natural that Islam should have flashed across the consciousness of a simple people untouched by any of the ancient cultures.” (Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, page 117.)

Islam came to free humanity from all kinds of oppressions. For the primary responsibility of the Prophet (PBUH), according to the Quran, was to release humanity from those man-made chains “… make lawful to them the good things of life, and forbid them the bad things, and lift from them their burdens and the shackles that were upon them [aforetime]. Those, therefore, who shall believe in him, and honor him, and succour him, and follow the light that has been bestowed from on high through him – it is they that shall attain to a happy state (7:157).” The Prophet (PBUH) accomplished this happy state in his lifetime. Shirk (taking partners with Allah by obeying man-made laws) was removed from the society. And if we want to attain to a happy state, we must emulate this part of the Prophet’s sunnah.

Obeying Allah and Obeying The Prophet (PBUH)

Even though the culture of the throne found its way back among Muslims not long after our Prophet (PBUH) left this world and exists until today, there is no reason for us to be disappointed. The Quran that created the above miracle is still with us in its pristine form. It has the power to create the same miracle if we obey it as faithfully as the Prophet (PBUH) did. Since the Quran is for all time, we, too, can set ourselves free by obeying it and our Prophet (PBUH) sincerely and completely, not just by paying lip service to them.

This brings us to the most important question of all: Are obeying Allah and obeying the Prophet (PBUH) two separate duties; one through the Quran and the other through hadith?

As we have seen, the system our Prophet (PBUH) established was based on the laws of the Quran i.e. when people obeyed the Prophet (PBUH), they actually obeyed Allah (4:80) because the Prophet (PBUH) used to judge all matters according to the Book of Allah (5:48). So, what is the meaning of “Atee-‘ullah –wa- Atee-‘ur-Rasool” (obey Allah and obey the Prophet)? Since there are more than twenty verses in the Quran on this topic, its importance cannot be overemphasized. For example:

“Yaa ayyuhal lazheena aamanu atee’ullaha wa attee’ur Rsoolahu wa laa tawallau ‘anho wa antum tasma’oon” [O you who believe! Obey Allah and His Messenger, and turn not away from him while you are hearing.] (8:20)

In this verse the pronoun used for Allah and the Messenger is singular (‘anho). If the reference had been to two separate obediences then, according to Arabic grammar, the pronoun should have been ‘anhuma (for two).

In addition, we know from history that the people had offered kingship to the Prophet (PBUH) if he would only slightly modify the Quran (to suit the interests of the rich and the powerful). We know his famous response that even if they offered him the moon in one hand and the sun in the other, he wouldn’t do that. This is because the obedience to Allah and obedience to the Prophet (PBUH) are not separate obediences but one and only one obedience, that to Allah. A logical consequence of this is that the Prophet (PBUH) and his companions (R) obeyed only the Quran and nothing else besides it.

Obedience to the Quran as the central constitutional authority can be further illustrated through an analogy: obedience to laws at the federal, state, and local levels. These laws, although at different levels, are meant for the efficient governance of society. But, they must all be subject to, and in accordance with, the U.S. Constitution. No law, which violates the constitution, can be implemented at any level. Similarly, in an Islamic system, the Quran is to be the Constitution and the Supreme authority. Therefore, in an Islamic system , no law that contradicts any principle of the Quran, can be implemented at any level. Also, no one can be above the law in an Islamic state. As we have seen, kings, capitalists, and religious priests would have no place in this system because the Quran does not allow their very existence. No one would be able to manipulate the law in one’s favor either. There is no such thing in the Quran as the Fifth Amendment where a person can refuse to testify on the grounds of self-incrimination. A Muslim, even in this self-incriminating situation, is required to testify because he/she stands as a witness not for the prosecution, and not for the defense, but on behalf of Allah.

“O you who believe! Stand firmly for justice, as witnesses on behalf of Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: For Allah can best protect both. Follow not the desires (of your hearts), lest you swerve, and if you distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do.” (4:135)

If the Prophet (PBUH) was not above the law (6:15, 10:105), then no one can be.

“Say: “I would, if I disobeyed my Lord, indeed have fear of the Chastisement of a Mighty Day.”” (6:15)

“Nor call on any, other than Allah;-Such can neither profit thee nor hurt thee: if thou dost, behold! Thou shalt certainly be of those who do wrong.” (10:196)


This is the essence of our Prophet’s sunnah: establishing the rule of law based on the Quran as the constitution. Since the Quran is universal, addressing all human beings and not just Muslims, its laws guarantee human rights and freedom to all human beings without any discrimination based on nationality, color, ethnicity, language, race, etc. The Quranic system, when implemented, will eliminate all divisions, all barriers that separate human beings and everyone will be entitled to equal respect as a birth right (17:70).

Seem impossible? Fourteen hundred years ago, it must have seemed even more impossible when we remember the condition of the human world at the time our Prophet (PBUH) appeared on the scene. (According to Dennison, this was the darkest period in human history.) We begin to appreciate the real power of the sunnah when we are reminded of the baby girls who were no longer buried alive; of the women who could travel alone from Yemen to Damascus without any fear; of the ordinary woman or man who could question the Prophet (PBUH).

Dear brothers and sisters! The list is long. There are many more concrete examples of our Prophet’s sunnah which elevated humanity to new heights and which we need to emulate in our own characters, individually, as well as, collectively. Some of those examples will be discussed in a future article.





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