23 يوليو, 2018 - 10 Dhu-al-Qi'dah 1439

Did the Sunnah exist during the Prophet’s life time?

Did the Sunnah exist during the Prophet’s life time?

The Prophet’s Sunnah (God's peace and blessings upon him) is a revelation just as the Quran which ceased after the Prophet’s death.

One of the strangest accusations that is leveled against the Prophet’s Sunnah (God's peace and blessings upon him) is the grave claim that the Sunnah as we recognize it today did not exist during the lifetime of the Prophet (God's peace and blessings upon him) but rather was established centuries later. While it is true that there did not exist books such as the Sahihs of Muslim and Bukhari, the statement remains flawed.
This grave claim has one of two meanings, the first meaning is that the Ummah invented the Sunnah and attributed it to the Prophet (God's peace and blessings upon him). The second meaning is that they claim that the Sunnah was not documented during the lifetime of the Prophet (God's peace and blessings upon him) and was later collected and documented.

In discussing the first, we have addressed this allegation extensively in our previous articles by proving the fallacy inherent in this claim. In short, the Ummah’s meticulous efforts in filtering, preserving and documenting the Prophet’s Sunnah is sound. As for their second claim about not documenting the Sunnah during the lifetime of the Prophet (God's peace and blessings upon him), this will be the subject of this article.

When dissecting the lives of the Prophet’s companions (God be pleased with them) we find that their lives revolved around acting upon the Prophet’s Sunnah (God's peace and blessings upon him) and inculcating it in all of their actions. For the companions, the Sunnah was the practical application and the embodiment of the teachings of Islam. Therefore, the Prophet’s Sunnah was subjected to meticulous scrutiny and a scrupulous process of filtration along with a thorough study of its texts just like the Quran.

The Prophet Muhammad (God's peace and blessings upon him) continued to receive divine revelation for around 23 years. All of his actions, sayings, states, approvals, characteristics, travels, and conquests were under the companions’ meticulous observation. It was also commonplace for the companions to memorize the words and actions of the Prophet (God's peace and blessings upon him) as well. In other words, the Prophet’s Sunnah became the companions' own system of living. What actually helped the Prophet’s companions in establishing this process was their great love for the Prophet (God's peace and blessings upon him), as they were a group of men and women that would (and often times did) sacrifice their own lives for his. What is actually significant about the life of Prophet Muhammad (God's peace and blessings upon him) is that his life is not surrounded with dark secrets which needed to be concealed. It was never reported that the Prophet (God's peace and blessings upon him) ordered any of his companions or wives to refrain from narrating something they had heard or seen from him, and for this reason we find that the most intricate and private details of the Prophet’s life were reported.

This great attention that the companions paid to the Prophet’s Sunnah was not only because of their utter love for him, or in response to the Quranic command of obeying the Prophet (God's peace and blessings upon him). The Prophet’s Sunnah is divine revelation in that the Prophet did not do actions except that he was guided by God to do. God says, “Nor does he speak from [his own] inclination. It is not but a revelation revealed” (Quran 53: 3-4).

There are a few key differences between the two revelations, one of which is that the Quran is a recited revelation used for worship, in which it's verbatim recitation is a requirement because both the words and meanings are from God. As for the Prophetic narrations, they are brought to us via the meaning and words of the Prophet (God's peace and blessings upon him), with the exception of Prophetic traditions that are titled as Sacred Traditions. These are brought to us with the meanings being directly from God while the words are from the Prophet (God's peace and blessings upon him). The Prophetic narrations are not to be used in acts of worship.

As for the discussion on the existence of the Sunnah of the Prophet during his lifetime, the examples are too numerous to be counted. The companions’ methodology in seeking knowledge and its practical application stemmed from God’s command in which He says, “And it is not for the believers to go forth [to battle] all at once. For there should separate from every division of them a group [remaining] to obtain understanding in the religion and warn their people when they return to them that they might be cautious” (9:122). This means that if a group of Muslims went out for Jihad another group of Muslims should remain by the Prophet’s side to gain religious knowledge and teach it to those who were away. This means that learning from the Prophet in both his actions and deeds is mandatory and to transmit this prophetic knowledge to others is an obligation as well. God says in the Quran “Certainly did God confer [great] favor upon the believers when He sent among them a Messenger from themselves, reciting to them His verses and purifying them and teaching them the Book and wisdom, although they had been before in manifest error” (3:164). These two verses were part and parcel as to why the companions made it a point of preserving the words of the Prophet (God's peace and blessings upon him).

Travelling long distances to gain Prophetic knowledge: The Prophet’s companions used to spend their time with the Prophet (God's peace and blessings upon him) to receive his teachings and then return to their families to teach them what they had been taught by the Prophet. Malik ibn al Huwayreth said, “We had come to the Prophet (God's peace and blessings upon him) when we were young and stayed over for twenty days and nights. We found the Prophet merciful and gentle with us. When the Prophet felt that we missed our families, he asked us who we had left behind and we told him so he said, “go back to your families and stay among them and teach them what you have learned. Pray in the same way you saw me praying, and when the time of prayer comes, one of you should call for the people to pray, and let the senior among you lead you all.”

Taking turns and shifts in seeking knowledge and listening to the Prophetic traditions:
The Prophet’s companions like other people were busy with their businesses, professions, and families. Yet, they were also keen on attending the Prophet’s sessions in an effort to listen to the Prophetic traditions. In their zeal to attend the Prophet’s sessions, they would go to attend, and the others would go to work only to later switch roles.

‘Umar ibn al Khattab narrated saying, “I was with a neighbor of mine from the Ansar in the tribe of Umayyah ibn Zayd and he was from the upper part of Medinah. We used to take turns to go down to the Prophet (God's peace and blessings upon him) as each of us would go down one day and fill in the other with what he missed” (Bukhari).

Lady ‘Aisha (God be pleased with our spiritual mother) for example was keen on gaining Prophetic knowledge to the extent that she wouldn’t come across something she didn’t know except she asked about it and learned it.

The companions of the Prophet (God's peace and blessings upon him) were not shy to ask the Prophet: The shyness of the companions did not prevent them from asking the Prophet (God's peace and blessings upon him) about their private matters, as they were keen on gaining religious knowledge about these detailed matters. If it happened that one of the Prophet’s companions was shy about asking a certain question, he would ask another to pose the question on his behalf. Women as well were keen on gaining religious knowledge and were not driven away from asking due to their shyness or the like.

Therefore, the Prophet’s Sunnah was the basis for the practical application of the Quran in the life of the companions of the Prophet (God's peace and blessings upon him). As for the claim that the Prophet’s Sunnah was collected after the Prophet’s death (God's peace and blessings upon him), even if we agreed and believed this erroneous assumption, it would not invalidate the fact that the Prophet’s Sunnah existed at the time of the Prophet (God's peace and blessings upon him). It is rather a solid evidence of its existence as it was memorized by the companions or written down, both scenarios agreeing that the companions preserved the tradition prior to his death. The companions were applying them and studying them day and night. In addition, Arabs were known for their strong ability to memorize, most Arabs were illiterate, and therefore their lack of writing sharpened their memory.

The preservation of a certain text is either through verbatim memorization, writing it down, or through grasping its meaning and expressing it with clear words without ambiguity or misunderstanding. Any of these three kinds are enough for preservation as long as the conveyor of the information is known as being righteous according to the Islamic tradition (there are various conditions to be met to acquire the rank of being righteous). Memorization for Arabs was a powerful tool for preservation, even more than writing as they were not familiar with it. This writing ability weakened their memorization ability as they were subjected to forgetfulness and mistakes. For this reason we find that those who were blind had a better memory to record what they heard than those who were not blind, this is due to the blind person concentrating more than others on memorizing unlike the one who is able to see, and had the ability to depend on a book.

Therefore, we say to those who deny the existence of the Prophet’s Sunnah that even if we accepted the false argument that the Prophet’s Sunnah was documented and written down after the Prophet’s death, the powerful tool of memorization which was accompanied with deep understanding, meticulous discernment, and continuous revision of what was memorized is a solid proof of the preservation of the Prophet’s Sunnah.