Should Muslims be sufficed with the Quran without the Sunnah?
The first misconception which is leveled against the Prophet’s Sunnah is that religion is complete solely with the Quran and without the Sunnah. Some self claimed scholars denied the necessity of the Prophet’s sunnah and believed that the Quran alone can act as a sufficient reference point to respond to Muslims’ needs. They also claim that the Sunnah is not part of religion but only unnecessary surplus. Moreover in their opinion, the Sunnah is not considered the second source of Islamic legislation as religion is complete only with the Quran away from the Sunnah.
To support their claim they cite some evidence such as saying that the Prophet did not explicitly state that the Sunnah is the second source for legislation. They also say that the verse which says “Today I have completed your religion” (5:3) which was revealed towards the end of the Prophet’s life is an evidence to the sufficiency of the Quran as the Sunnah- according to their claim- did not exist at that time and was only collected later and according to their stance if religion and its completion was based on the Sunnah, the previous verse should not have been revealed.
They also cited some other Quranic verses to support their claim such as “We have not neglected in the Register a thing. Then unto their Lord they will be gathered”. 6:38, and “is it not sufficient for them that We revealed to you the Book which is recited to them? Indeed in that is a mercy and reminder for a people who believe”. 29:51.The Quran also encompassed all the intricate details of all matters and therefore does not need any other explanatory source, God says in the Quran “And We have sent down to you the Book as clarification for all things and as guidance and mercy and good tidings for the Muslims. 16:89
So they wonder if the Quran was all encompassing to all matters and did not leave out any details, why there would be a need for the Sunnah? This question indicates their denial of the Sunnah as an authentic source of legislation.
The answer to their claim can be done through a number of points,There are numerous Quranic verses which explicitly advocated for holding tight to the Prophetic Sunnah and Prophet Muhammad himself stated numerously that true guidance lies within following his Prophetic sunnah and therefore commanded Muslims to abide by it and warned those who go against it. The Quran is the first source of legislation from which theology, juristic rulings and ethics are taken along with the second source of legislation which is the Sunnah. God bestowed the Muslim nation with the ability to preserve its religion and secure it from fabrication or alteration through mass memorization of the Quran through out the Ummah which guarantees its authenticity and validity and same goes for the prophetic hadiths which went through a meticulous process of filtration and a specific scientific methodology was adopted to guarantee the accuracy and truthfulness of the reported Prophetic traditions.
The meticulous care for the Prophet’s sunnah aimed at preserving this great heritage from alteration and change and for this reason Prophet Muhammad was surrounded with a kind of preservation that was not given to any other prophet. The narrators of the prophetic traditions have transmitted to us the sayings of Prophet Muhammad in all matters big or small and even in the intricate details which might seem insignificant. They have transmitted the details of his different states in eating, drinking, waking up, sleeping, standing, sitting to an extent that the one who reads closely the books of the prophet’s sunnah can’t help but feel that the narrators did not leave anything out without documenting it.
The Muslims’ care for preserving the Prophet’s sunnah is a well known matter that can be easily traced through history and civilization and one can’t help but wondering how this evident fact is being denied by some self claimed scholars and what kind of logic they used to arrive to such grave conclusions. Isn’t it a known fact that the one on whom the Quran was revealed is the one who is the carrier of the sunnah? Is not the carrier of the Sunnah –Prophet Muhammad- is the one who was described with honesty and truthfulness who does not utter a word out of his own desire? Aren’t the narrators of the Quran are the same ones who narrated the Sunnah and were highly praised in the Quran for their righteousness and well manners. How come the deniers of the Prophetic sunnah which was transmitted through the companions of the Prophet accept their narration of the Quran while denying their narration of the Sunnah?
The Prophet’s companions and followers of later generations followed the same methodology in memorizing, preserving and documenting both the Quran and the Sunnah. They placed primary importance to the Quran as the first source of legislation but did not neglect the prophetic sunnah which is placed as the second source of legislation. Those who deny the prophet’s sunnah fell into the mistake of doubting one of the special gifts which God bestowed the Muslim nation with which is the gift of (isnad) or chain of narration. This gift was the reason for preserving the Quran and the Sunnah from alteration and change. Those who deny the sunnah belie the Quran in which God promised to preserve both the Quran and the Sunnah, God says “Indeed, it is We who sent down the Qur'an and indeed, We will be its guardian. 15:9
There are numerous Quranic verses which commanded Muslims to obey the Prophet and his sunnah such as Say, [O Muhammad], "If you should love Allah , then follow me, [so] Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful." 3:31
It was narrated that the reason of revelation for this verse is that a group of people went to the Prophet saying “O Muhammad we love our lord” so God revealed this verse which indicates the Prophet’s love as the gateway for attaining God’s love.
Another verse says “Say, "Obey Allah and the Messenger." But if they turn away - then indeed, Allah does not like the disbelievers. 3:32 These are the limits [set by] Allah , and whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger will be admitted by Him to gardens [in Paradise] under which rivers flow, abiding eternally therein; and that is the great attainment. 4:13 This indicates that God equated between the obedience to the Prophet and the obedience to God because the Prophet was sent from God and what he was sent with is God’s pleasure. This high status of the Prophet indicates that his sunnah is part of religion which Muslims should abide by and refrain from rejecting it. God says, “The only statement of the [true] believers when they are called to Allah and His Messenger to judge between them is that they say, "We hear and we obey." And those are the successful. 24:51
As for the verses which warn us against disobeying the Prophet were revealed to indicate the total misguidance and the miserable destiny of hell fire for those who deny the Prophet’s sunnah. God says in this regard, It is not for a believing man or a believing woman, when Allah and His Messenger have decided a matter, that they should [thereafter] have any choice about their affair. And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger has certainly strayed into clear error. 33:36
The meaning of this verse is that the believer should not give him or herself the right of choice when God and his Prophet had decreed an ordained decree. The believers are asked to obey God and his Prophet and follow the revealed decree as God’s obedience is centered around following the Prophet’s commands.
As for the verses which warn us against disobeying the Prophet, God says “Indeed, We have sent to you a Messenger as a witness upon you just as We sent to Pharaoh a messenger. 73:15 But Pharaoh disobeyed the messenger, so We seized him with a ruinous seizure. 73:16. This verse indicates the necessity of abiding by the Prophet’s sunnah as the Pharaoh was tortured for disobeying God’s prophet.
As for the verses which place Prophet Muhammad in utmost veneration and reverence, God says “And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds. 21:107
And the term “the worlds” is used to indicate everything except God and this means that this word is collective to encompass all creation to which the Prophet was a mercy. Another verse says “O People of the Scripture, there has come to you Our Messenger making clear to you much of what you used to conceal of the Scripture and overlooking much. There has come to you from Allah a light and a clear Book. 5:15
There is no doubt that in these verses among many other similar verses, God commands believers to take the Prophet as their role model and hold tight to his sunnah as he is the one who God has chosen to deliver his message and revelation, to honor and love.
The Muslim ancestors followed the prophet’s sunnah closely and were guided by it in all their affairs and Muslims in our modern world need to follow suit.
The Prophetic Sunnah existed during the lifetime of the Prophet himself as it was the practical way and the true embodiment of the teachings of Islam. The companions of the Prophet in turn passed this prophetic heritage after the Prophet’s death in fear of being sinful of not spreading the prophetic knowledge. As for the issue of writing down the prophetic sunnah, the mere fact of not writing something down does not deny its validity and existence. Also writing down and documenting the Prophetic sunnah is not a necessary condition in its authenticity because another important way of documenting the prophetic sunnah took place which is the solid memory of the companions of the Prophet who memorized the Prophet’s sayings and deeds.
The Quran did not explicitly stated in details all the issues pertinent to Islamic law and Shari’ah matters such as praying, fasting, pilgrimage etc.. as these issues were briefly mentioned in the Quran and left the details to be explained through the Prophetic sunnah. Is not this decisive evidence regarding the importance of the Prophetic sunnah as a valid and authentic source of legislation after the Quran?
The verses that they previously quoted do not actually invalidate the authenticity of the Sunnah but they rather confirm it. For example in the verse of “This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion”. 5:3 The word religion here means both the Quran and the Prophetic sunnah as they both form the revelation on which religion was based. This means that the verse does not indicate that the Quran alone is the source of legislation and the evidence is that the Quranic revelation lasted after the revelation of this verse and other numerous verses which were concerned with important issues like usury were revealed. Even if we assumed that religion in this verse solely means the Quran, this understanding does not invalidate the authenticity of the Sunnah but rather confirms its authenticity as an explanatory source of the Quran as there is no completion of the religion without explaining it.
The other verse which they mention says “We have not neglected in the Register a thing. Then unto their Lord they will be gathered.” 6:38 The word kitab here means the preserved tablet in which God has registered all matters pertinent to His creation and does not mean the Quran. Even if we assumed that the kitab in this verse refers to the Quran, the understanding would be that the Quran encompasses all matters of religion whether explicitly through the texts of the Quran or through explaining them via the Prophetic Sunnah.
Their use of the verse “And is it not sufficient for them that We revealed to you the Book which is recited to them? Indeed in that is a mercy and reminder for a people who believe.” 29:51 is a wrong reference because this verse was addressing the polytheists when they said “If God had shown some miracles through Muhammad” so God replied that His book is miraculous in nature and it is sufficient in itself for people to believe in the Prophet’s message. This means that the verse has nothing to do with the Quran being sufficient to Muslims in all aspects without the Sunnah as they claim.
As for the verse “And We have sent down to you the Book as clarification for all things and as guidance and mercy and good tidings for the Muslims.” 16:89 this verse means that the Quran was revealed to clarify everything in religious matters in terms of having an overview of the major maxims as for the intricate details of these maxims, they are clarified through the Prophetic sunnah. For this reason God commanded Prophet Muhammad to explain for people that which was revealed to them through his sayings, deeds, approvals and disapprovals. This simply means that benefitting from the Quran would be impossible without referring back to the Prophetic sunnah.
The keen observer of the Quran would realize after some contemplation that the Quran advocated for three types of holding to the Prophetic Sunnah, The first type is evident through combining between the obedience to God and the Prophet in one sentence. God says in the Quran O you who have believed, obey Allah and His Messenger and do not turn from him while you hear [his order]. 8:20 and also says , “So fear Allah and amend that which is between you and obey Allah and His Messenger, if you should be believers. 8:1.The second type is represented with the obedience to God and the obedience to the Prophet. God says in the Quran “And obey Allah and obey the Messenger; but if you turn away - then upon Our Messenger is only [the duty of] clear notification. 64:12
The third type has to do with independent obedience to the Prophet in issues which God has left for the Prophet to deliver and clarify as there is no mention of these issues in the Quran. Therefore the sole reference point for Muslims in this case is the full dependence on the Prophet’s Sunnah. God says in the Quran, “And whatever the Messenger has given you - take; and what he has forbidden you - refrain from. And fear Allah ; indeed, Allah is severe in penalty. 59:7
This verse warns those who solely depend on the Quran for understanding the textual doctrine. Away from these three types which shows the necessity of obeying the Prophet, there are other verses which state that obeying the Prophet is part of obeying God. God says in the Quran, “He who obeys the Messenger has obeyed Allah ; but those who turn away - We have not sent you over them as a guardian. 4:80
Another verse denies the faith of those who does not abide by the Prophet’s rulings, God says “But no, by your Lord, they will not [truly] believe until they make you, [O Muhammad], judge concerning that over which they dispute among themselves and then find within themselves no discomfort from what you have judged and submit in [full, willing] submission. 4:65 and it is well known that the Prophet’s ruling was not an application of an existing verse in the Quran but rather was his own judgment. Therefore the Quran declared that a true believer is the one who accepts the prophet’s judgment without having any doubts or concerns about it. God also guided us that whenever we encounter disputes over issues, we resort to both the Quran and the Sunnah, God says “And give the women [upon marriage] their [bridal] gifts graciously. But if they give up willingly to you anything of it, then take it in satisfaction and ease. 4:4
Ibn al Qayyem in his commentary on this verse said that God has repeated the term “obedience” twice to indicate the independent obedience to the Prophet without the need to resort back to the Quran to check the validity of the Prophet’s rulings. Therefore the Prophet’s rulings and judgments should be carried out immediately whether it has a foundational base in the Quran or not. But when it comes to obedience to (ulu al amr) or the rulers, God did not command us to have an independent obedience to them away from God and the Prophet’s rulings. The obedience of (ulu al amr) is rather embedded as long as it conforms with the Prophet’s rulings and once they disobey God and the Prophet, they are automatically disobeyed.
Therefore from the above mentioned verses we can clearly see that the Sunnah is the second source of legislation after the Quran and that God’s religion is in no way complete without the Sunnah as it stands side by side with the Quran. Those who deny the Sunnah should meticulously read these verses which if they accepted it, their claims of denying the Sunnah do not stand and if they kept adamant on their position, they would be in a total disagreement with the Quran as they claim that religion was complete without the Sunnah.
In our next article we will discuss further other allegations which are leveled against the Sunnah by its deniers to clarify this important issue for our readers.