Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim was-salaat was-salaam `ala Rasulillah


Part I. Introduction

"Probative: adj. providing proof or evidence." -Webster's.

"The Decision Rests With Allah Only"

Allah Almighty is the one and only judge and ruler according to the Qur'anic texts "The decision rests with Allah only" (6:57, 12:40, 12:67) and "Whoso judges not by that which Allah has revealed: such are disbelievers" (5:44) and there is Consensus that obedience to His judgment is definitely binding upon all. However, the specifics of this judgment are not disclosed in these verses but in other verses of the Book as well as in the Sunna, the Consensus, legal analogy, and other sources of the Law. The meaning of the expression "probativeness of the Sunna" is that the Sunna points to Allah's judgment, either as definitive knowledge (`ilm) or as assumed knowledge (zann), bringing it out and disclosing it for us. We understand Allah's rulings by means of the Sunna and it becomes binding upon us to put its content into practice. The real meaning of probativeness is therefore disclosure (izhar) and proof-inference (dilala) necessitating obligatory practice of their result because the latter is Allah's decision.

"And Obey the Prophet"

It would be incorrect to say, based on the preceding argument, that the probativeness of the Sunna creates laws external to the Qur'an and legislated by the Prophet -- Allah bless and greet him. The meaning of the verse "And obey the Prophet" (4:59, 5:92, etc.) is not that the Prophet -- Allah bless and greet him -- is also a judge whose orders and prohibitions are law issuing from him rather than Allah. Allah declared the obligatoriness of obeying the Prophet -- Allah bless and greet him -- only in the sense that He made it obligatory for us to obey him in whatever he orders and makes obligatory for us to do. It is Allah Who makes it obligatory for us both to obey and to do, except that the order for some of the acts are formulated by the Prophet -- Allah bless and greet him. Such formulation is only a proof or sign of Allah's own binding order. The meaning of "And obey the Prophet" is therefore "Know that whatever the Prophet -- Allah bless and greet him -- commands or forbids you to do, it is I Who commands and forbids you to do" as explicited in the verse "And whatsoever the Messenger gives you, take it, and whatsoever he forbids, abstain from it" (59:7). Without such order, the Prophet's -- Allah bless and greet him -- command would not have been binding upon us.

Conditions For Using Hadith As Proof

By consensus, using a hadith narrated from the Prophet -- Allah bless and greet him -- as proof for either doctrine or legal rulings hinges on two conditions:

a) Establishment of the principle that the Sunna is one of the proofs and foundations of legislation (tashri`).

b) Establishment that such a hadith actually issued from the Prophet -- Allah bless and greet him -- through a reliable narrative chain. This condition does not apply to the Companions who actually heard him say it.

Differences in Relying Upon Hadith Transmission

There have been differences among the Muslims in relying upon hadith from the second of the two perspectives outlined above, that of transmission.

1. The Khawarij

The "Seceders" or Khawarij said that there is no way to establish that a hadith actually issued from the Prophet -- Allah bless and greet him -- whether as definitive or assumed knowledge or whether by mass transmission or lone transmission. On this basis they rejected putting into practice anything and everything that was narrated from the Prophet -- Allah bless and greet him. They did this not because it issued from him, or because what issues from him is not a proof, but only because they deemed its transmission unreliable. Al-Suyuti describes their reasoning in the first pages of his book Miftah al-Janna fi al-Ihtijaj bi al-Sunna:

There are those who rejected using the Sunna as proof although they affirmed prophethood for Allah's Messenger -- Allah bless and greet him --. They did this on the basis of their claim that the caliphate rightly belonged to `Ali - Allah be well-pleased with him -- and that when the Companions conferred it upon Abu Bakr - Allah be well-pleased with them --, they all committed apostasy according to those lost souls - may Allah curse them! They also declared `Ali an apostate - may Allah curse them! - for not demanding his right. Upon this basis they built the rejection of all hadiths because, they claimed, they are narrated by disbelievers. We belong to Allah and to Him is our return.

2. The Mu`tazila

The "Isolationists" or Mu`tazila said that a hadith is reliably established to issue from the Prophet -- Allah bless and greet him -- only through mass transmissions. They rejected all lone-narrated hadiths.

3. Ahl al-Sunna

They accept both mass-transmitted and lone-narrated reports to establish the reliability of hadith, but differ upon the conditions of acceptance.

4. The Shi`a

They only accept the hadiths narrated through their imams or those that follow their creed, considering that whoever did not side with `Ali - Allah be well-pleased with him --, cannot be trusted.

The General Probativeness of the Sunna

We now turn to the first of the two conditions stated for using hadith as a proof, namely, the establishment of the principle that the Sunna is one of the proofs and foundations of Islamic legislation.

There is no doubt that some of the scholars of Islam have rejected the probativeness of the Sunna with regard to specific issues and according to certain conditions. For example, some denied that the Sunna is independently probative for legislation apart from the Qur'an. This is refuted for every single Companion who heard and applied the Sunna directly from the Prophet -- Allah bless and greet him -- either before Qur'anic revelation or with only partial knowledge of it. It is also refuted in the case of hadiths of definite or specific meaning that apparently contradict - but in fact clarify - verses of assumed or general meaning. It is also refuted in the case of the Sunna for which no precedent is found in the Qur'an, as in the ruling of the Prophet -- Allah bless and greet him -- in favor of al-Zubayr at the revelation of the verse "But nay, by your Lord, they shall not believe until they make you judge of what is in dispute between them and find within themselves no dislike of that which you decide, and submit with full submission" (4:65). Al-Shafi'i pointed out that this decision is stipulated in the Sunna, not the Qur'an, and that had it been in the Qur'an there would have been no cause for specifying that by rejecting it they would not be believers.1 Further, their belief is invalid until they submit specifically to that ruling, i.e. the Sunna, independently of the Qur'an.

Others denied that the Sunna may abrogate the Qur'an and there is disagreement concerning this point.

We are not addressing the above specifics here but only the establishment of the Sunna as proof on the whole. Did any of the ulama ever deny the latter or claim that the Sunna is in no way whatsoever probative? The answer is no.

In fact, it cannot be imagined that one reject the entire probativeness of the Sunna and remain a Muslim. For the foundation of Islam is the Qur'an, which cannot be described as Allah's word when one unconditionally rejects the probativeness of the Sunna since the fact that the Qur'an is Allah's word was not established by other than the Prophet's -- Allah bless and greet him -- explicit statement that this was Allah's Word and His Book. That statement is obviously part of the Sunna. Therefore, to say that the Sunna is no proof is no different than a denial of an integral part of the Religion and an attempt to undermine the basis of the Religion.

As for the claim that the Qur'an is established as Allah's word through its nature as an evidentiary miracle (mu'jiza) and not through the Sunna, the answer is that the Qur'an does describe itself as an evidentiary miracle - and therefore Allah's word - as a whole, and also as one sura, and also as three verses. This attribute, however, does not apply to single verses or pairs of verses. We know that single verses or pairs of verses are Allah's word only because the Prophet -- Allah bless and greet him -- said so. Yet we use single verses or even parts of single verses as proofs in doctrine and legal rulings. We could not do this without the Prophet's -- Allah bless and greet him -- assurance, meaning without the probativeness of the Sunna. Since the fact that a single verse or part of a verse must be necessarily known to be part of Allah's word, and the fact that their probative force must be necessarily known, both hinge on the probativeness of the Sunna, it follows that the latter must be necessarily known as well.

It is further inconceivable that the probativeness of the Sunna not be necessarily known when so many of the issues around which the consensus of jurists has formed, and which themselves are necessarily known - such as the number of prayer-cycles in obligatory prayers - hinge on it. How could the necessarily known hinge on something not necessarily known? As for the claim that those issues can be understood from the Book alone, it is an attempt to do the impossible. The imams of the past were much more able than us, yet they admitted their inability to do it as indicated in the following report:

Al-Hasan al-Basri narrated that while the Companion 'Imran ibn Husayn was relating hadiths from the Prophet -- Allah bless and greet him --, a man said to him: "O Abu Nujayd! Talk to us from the Qur'an." Whereupon 'Imran said to him: "You and your friends all read the Qur'an, so can you tell me about the salat, what it contains specifically and what its features are? Can you tell me in what consists the zakat for gold? camels? cows? the different types of goods? No. But I witnessed it, and you were not there." Then he said: "Allah's Messenger -- Allah bless and greet him -- imposed upon us such-and-such in the zakat etc." The man said: "You have given me new life, may Allah give you new life also!" Al-Hasan said: "This man did not die before he had become one of the authoritative jurists of the Muslims."2

If all the above necessary issues hinge on the probativeness of the Sunna, then how can a believer come and argue against it, when such argument targets those issues as well? And to argue against the necessity of those issues constitutes apostasy, since belief consists in confirming what the Prophet -- Allah bless and greet him -- brought concerning what must be necessarily known in the Religion. Ibn 'Abd al-Barr said:

The Sunna is divided into two types. The first is the consensus transmitted from the masses to the masses. This is one of the proofs that leave no excuse for denial and there is no disagreement concerning them. Whoever rejects this consensus has rejected one of Allah's textual stipulations and committed apostasy. The second type of Sunna consists in the reports of established, trustworthy lone narrators with uninterrupted chains. The congregation of the ulama of the Community have said that this second type makes practice obligatory. Some of them said that it makes both knowledge and practice obligatory.3


1In al-Risala (p. 83).
2Narrated by Abu Dawud in his Sunan with a chain declared sound by Ibn Hajar in Lisan al-Mizan (1:3) and by al-Hakim (1:109-110) with a sound chain as confirmed by al-Dhahabi. Cf. al-Suyuti, Miftah al-Janna (p. 73 #131, p. 23-25 #23).
3Ibn 'Abd al-Barr, Jami' Bayan al-'Ilm (2:33).