This article discusses the importance of the Sunnah from the consensus of the early scholars of Islam. All of them agree that it is obligatory to stick to the Sunnah and to refer to it; to ignore every view contradictory to it, no matter how great the holder or propounder of that view. This is because the status of the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) is far greater, and his example is far better. It would be beneficial to give some of the sayings of the Imaams regarding it, for this will perhaps admonish or remind those who follow the opinions of the Imaams – (or, of those far below the Imaams in rank) – blindly, sticking to their madhhabs or views as if these had descended from the heavens! But Allah said, which means:
“Follow (O men!) the revelation given to you from your Lord, and follow not, as friends and protectors, other than Him. Little is it you remember of admonition.” (Al-A’raaf 7:3)
This is the sort of taqleed (blind following) which Imaam Tahaawi was referring to when he said:
“Only someone with party-spirit or a fool blindly follows opinion.” (Quoted by Ibn ‘Aabideen in Rasm al-Mufti, vol 1, p 32 from the compilation of his essays).
SAYINGS OF THE SCHOLARS IN RELATION TO FOLLOWING ONLY THE SUNNAH
Imaam Aboo Haneefah
The first of the early scholars is Aboo Haneefah Nu’maan ibn Thaabit, whose companions have narrated from him various sayings and warnings, all of them alluding to one thing: the obligation to accept the hadith, and to give up following the opinions of the Imaams which contradict it: some of his sayings are:
1. “When a hadith is found to be saheeh, then that is my madhhab.”
Ibn ‘Aabideen quoted from Sharh al-Hidaayah by Ibn al-Shahnah al-Kabeer, the teacher of Ibn al-Humaam, as follows:
“When a hadith contrary to the madhhab is found to be saheeh, one should act on the hadith, and make that his madhhab. Acting on the hadith will not invalidate the follower’s being a Hanafi, for it is authentically reported that Aboo Haneefah said, ‘When a hadith is found to be saheeh, then that is my madhhab’, and this has been related by Imaam Ibn ‘Abdul Barr from Aboo Haneefah and from other Imaams.”
This is part of the completeness of the knowledge and piety of the Imaams, for they indicated by saying this that they were not versed in the whole sunnah. And Imaam Shaafi’ee elucidated it thoroughly (see later). It would happen that they would contradict a Sunnah because they were unaware of it, so they commanded us to stick to the Sunnah and regard it as part of their madhhab. May Allah shower His mercy on them all.
2. "It is not permitted (halaal) for anyone to accept our views if they do not know from where we got them.”
If this is what they say of someone who does not know their evidence, what would be their response to one who knows that the evidence contradicts their saying, but still gives verdicts opposed to the evidence?! Therefore, reflect on their sayings, for it alone is enough to smash blind following of opinion; this is why one of the muqallid shaikhs, when I criticised his giving a verdict using Abu Haneefah’s words without knowing the evidence, refused to believe that it was a saying of Abu Haneefah!
In one narration, he said: “It is prohibited (haram) for someone who does not know my evidence to give verdict (fatwa) on the basis of my words.”
Another narration adds, “... for we are mortals; we say one thing one day, and take it back the next day.”
In another narration, “Woe to you, O Ya’qoob! (Imaam Aboo Haneefah’s illustrious student, Aboo Yoosuf) Do not write down everything you hear from me, for it happens that I hold one opinion today and reject it tomorrow, or hold one opinion tomorrow and reject it the day after tomorrow.”
The Imaam said the above because he would often base his view on qiyaas (analogy). After this a more potent analogy would occur to him, or a hadith of the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) would reach him, so he would accept that and ignore his previous view.
Sha’raani’s words in Al-Meezaan (1/62) are summarised as:
“Our belief, as well as that of every researcher into Imaam Aboo Haneefah is that, had he lived until the recording of the sharee’ah, and the journeys of the Preservers of hadith to the various cities and frontiers in order to collect and acquire it, he would have accepted it and ignored all analogies he had employed. The amount of qiyaas in his madhhab would have been just as little as that in other madhhabs. However, since the evidences of the sharee’ah had been scattered with the Successors (Taabi’een) and their successors (Taba Taabi’een), and had not collected in his lifetime, it was necessary that there be a lot of qiyaas in Aboo Haneefah’s madhhab compared to that of other Imaams. The later scholars then made their journeys to find and collect ahadith from the various cities and towns and wrote them down; hence, some ahadith of the sharee’ah explained others. This is the reason behind the large amount of qiyaas in his madhhab, whereas there was little of it in other madhhabs.”
Abul Hasanaat Al-Lucknowi quoted his words in full in Al-Naafi’ al-Kabeer (p 135), endorsing and expanding on it in his footnotes, so whoever wishes to consult it should do so there.
Since this is the justification for why Aboo Haneefah has sometimes unintentionally contradicted the authentic ahadith – and it is a perfectly acceptable reason, for Allah does not burden a soul with more that it can bear – it is not permissible to insult him for it, as some ignorant people have done. In fact, it is obligatory to respect him, for he is one of the Imaams of the Muslims through whom this deen has been preserved and handed down to us, in all its branches; also, for he is rewarded under any circumstance, whether he is correct or wrong. Nor, is it permissible for his devotees to continue sticking to those of his statements which contradict the authentic ahadith, for those statements are effectively not part of his madhhab, as the above sayings show. Hence, these are two extremes, and the truth lies in between. “Our Lord! Forgive us, and our brethren who came before us into the Faith; and leave not, in our hearts, any rancour against those who have believed. Our Lord! You are indeed Full of Kindness, Most Merciful.” (Al-Hashr 59:10)
Also Aboo Haneefah said:
3. "When I say something contradicting the Book of Allah or what is narrated from the Messenger (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam), then ignore my saying.”
Sha’raani expanded on that in Al-Meezaan (1/26):
“If it is said: ‘What should I do with the ahadith which my Imaam did not use, and which were found to be authentic after his death?’ The answer which is fitting for you is: ‘That you act on them, for had your Imaam come across them and found them to be authentic, he would have instructed you to act on them, because all the Imaams were captives in the hands of sharee’ah.’
He who does so will have gathered all the good with both his hands, but he who says, ‘I will not act according to hadith unless my Imaam did so’, he will miss a great amount of benefit, as is the case with many followers of the Imaams of the madhhabs. It would be better for them to act on every hadith found to be authentic after the Imaam’s time, hence implementing the will of the Imaams; for it is our firm belief about the Imaams that had they lived longer and come to know of those ahadith which were found authentic after their time, they would have definitely accepted and acted according to them, ignoring any analogies they may have previously made, and any views they may have previously held.”
Imaam Malik ibn Anas
As for Imaam Malik ibn Anas, he said:
1. "Truly I am only a mortal; I make mistakes (sometimes) and I am correct (sometimes). Therefore, look into my opinions; all that agrees with the Book and the sunnah, accept it; and all that does not agree with the Book and the Sunnah, ignore it.”
2. "Everyone after the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) will have his sayings accepted and rejected – except for the Prophet.”
3. Ibn Wahb said: “I heard Malik being asked about rubbing between the toes during ablution. He said, ‘The people do not have to do that.’ I did not approach him until the crowd had lessened, when I said to him, ‘We know of a sunnah about that.’ He said, ‘What is that?’ I said, ‘Laith ibn Sa’d, Ibn Lahee’ah and ‘Amr ibn al-Haarith narrated to us from Yazeed ibn ‘Amr al-Ma’aafiri from Aboo ‘Abdur Rahman al-Hubuli from Mustawrid ibn Shaddaad al-Qurashi who said, ‘I saw the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) rubbing between his toes with his little finger.’ He said, ‘This hadith is sound; I had not heard of it at all until now.’ Afterwards, I heard him being asked about the same thing, on which he ordered cleaning between the toes.”
This shows that he left his opinion after he heard the authentic hadith.
As for Imaam Shaafi’ee, the quotations are most numerous and beautiful, and his followers were the best in leaving his saying and sticking to the authentic sunnah.
Ibn Hazm says in Usool al-Ahkaam (6/118):
“Indeed, all the fuqahaa’ whose opinions are followed were opposed to taqleed, and they forbade their companions from following their opinion blindly. The sternness among them in this regard was Shaafi’ee, for he repeatedly emphasised, more than anyone else, following the authentic narrations and accepting whatever the proof dictated; he also made himself innocent of being followed totally, and announced this to those around him. May this benefit him in front of Allah, and may his reward be of the highest, for he was the cause of great good.”
1. "The Sunnahs of the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) reach, as well as escape from, every one of us. So whenever I voice my opinion, or formulate a principle, where something contrary to my view exists on the authority of the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam), then the correct view is what the Messenger of Allah has said, and it is my view.”
2. "The Muslims are unanimously agreed that if a Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) is made clear to someone, it is not permitted (haraam) for him to leave it for the saying of anyone else.”
3. "If you find in my writings something different to the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah, then speak on the basis of the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah, and leave what I have said.”
In one narration: “... then follow it (the Sunnah), and do not look sideways at anyone else’s saying.”
4. "When a hadith is found to be saheeh, then that is my madhhab.”
Nawawee says: “Our companions acted according to this in the matter of tathweeb (using other means other than adhaan to call to prayer), the conditions on coming out of ihraam due to illness; and other issues well-known in the books of the madhhab. Among those of our companions who reported to have passed judgment on the basis of the hadith (ie, rather than the saying of Shaafi’ee) are Aboo Ya’qoob al-Buweeti and Abul Qasim ad-Daariki. Of our companions from the muhadditheen, Imaam Abu Bakr al-Bayhaqi and others employed this approach. Many of our earliest companions, if they faced an issue for which there was a hadith, and the madhhab of Shaafi’ee was contrary to it, would act according to the hadith and give verdicts based on it, saying, ‘The madhhab of Shaafi’ee is whatever agrees with the hadith.’
Shaikh Aboo ‘Amr (Ibn as-Salaah) says, ‘Whoever among the Shaafi’ees found a hadith contradicting his madhhab, he would consider whether he fulfilled the conditions of ijtihaad generally, or in that particular topic or issue, in which case he would be free to act on hadith; if not, but nevertheless he found it hard to contradict the hadith after further analysis, he would not be able to find a convincing justification for opposing hadith. Hence, it would be left to him to act according to the hadith if an independent Imaam other than Shaafi’ee had acted on it, and this would be justification for his leaving the madhhab of his Imaam in that issue.’ What he (Aboo ‘Amr) has said is correct and established. Allah knows best.’
There is another possibility which Ibn-as-Salaah forgot to mention: what would one do if he did not find anyone else who acted according to the hadith? This has been answered by Taqi-ad-Deen as-Subki in his article, The meaning of Shaafi’ee’s saying, “When a hadith is found to be saheeh, then that is my madhhab” (p 102, vol 3): “For me, the best thing is to follow the hadith. A person should imagine himself in front of the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam), just having heard it from him; would there be leeway for him to delay acting on it? No, by Allah ... and everyone bears a responsibility according to his understanding.”
5. Imaam Ash Shaafi’ee said to Imaam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, “You are more knowledgeable about hadith than I, so when a hadith is saheeh, inform me of it, whether it is from Koofah, Basrah or Syria, so that I may take the view of the hadith, as long as it is saheeh.”
Ibn al-Qayyim attributed it definitely to him in L’laam (2/325), as did Fulaani in Eeqaaz (p 152) and then said:
“Bayhaqi said, ‘This is why he (Shaafi’ee) used hadith so much, because he gathered knowledge from the people of Hijaz, Syria, Yemen and Iraq, and so accepted all that he found authentic, without leaning towards or looking at what he had considered out of the madhhab of the people of his land when the truth was clear to him elsewhere. Some of those before him would limit themselves to what they found in the madhhab of the people of their land, without attempting to ascertain the authenticity of what opposed it. May Allah forgive all of us.”
6. "In every issue where the people of narration find a report from the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) to be saheeh which is contrary to what I have said, then I take my saying back, whether during my life or after my death.”
7. "If you see me saying something, and contrary to it is authentically reported from the Prophet (sallallahu alayhe wa sallam), then know that my intelligence has departed.”
8. "For everything I say, if there is something authentic from the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) contrary to my saying, then the hadith of the Prophet comes first, so do not follow my opinion.”
9. "Every statement on the authority of the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) is also my view, even if you do not hear it from me.”
Imaam Ahmad ibn Hanbal
Imaam Ahmad was the foremost among the Imaams in collecting the Sunnah and sticking to it, so much so that he even “disliked that a book consisting of deductions and opinions be written.” Because of this he said:
1. "Do not follow my opinion; neither follow the opinion of Maalik, nor Shaafi’ee, nor Awzaa’ee, nor Thawree, but take from where they took.”
In one narration: “Do not copy your deen from anyone of these, but whatever comes from the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) and his companions, take it; next are their successors, where a man has a choice.”
Once he said: “Following (ittibaa’) means that a man follows what comes from the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) and his companions; after the successors he has a choice.”
2. "The opinion of Awzaa’ee, the opinion of Maalik, the opinion of Aboo Haneefah: all of it is opinion, and it is all equal in my eyes. However, the proof is in the narrations (from the Prophet and his companions).”
3. "Whoever rejects a statement of the Messenger of Allah is on the brink of destruction.”
[Adapted from Sifatu Salaat-in-Nabiyy by Shaikh Muhammad Naasir-ud-Deen Al-Albaanee]