Two sources of the Sunnah

Two sources of the Sunnah

After the Holy Quran, the Sunnah of the Prophet is the most important source of Islamic sciences, erudition and laws. Sunnah has three implications: First: Statements of the Prophet with regard to religious matters and duties; Second: Action of the Prophet, which was performed in form of a religious act; Third: Silent approval or silence of the Prophet upon the action of one of his companions, which he performed as a religious act. In terminology, Sunnah also implies tradition and traditional report.

Traditions of the Holy Prophet (s) have played and till now play a very important role in explanation of erudition and laws of religion, because even though the Holy Quran is the most self-sufficient source of Islamic sciences, but in some instances it is needful of explanation and commentary, which are only fulfilled by the traditions of the Prophet and the Holy Imams (a). Some verses are general, absolute or abrogated whose specification, restriction or abrogation is not mentioned in Quran and traditions fulfill this need. It is an act of servitude, whose method of performance or parts and conditions or prefaces, secondary problems related to it are not mentioned in Quran and we are in need of traditions for their explanation.

Or, it is one of the comprehensive laws and whose exposition, interpretation and explanation of secondary matters are needful of traditions.

Basically, some subjects and laws have not come in Quran and have to be derived from the traditions.

The Messenger of Allah (s) has introduced the religion of Islam as a complete and comprehensive religion; which has concern for every dimension of the life of Muslims in the world as well as the hereafter and has framed laws for each and every matter; although from the verses, which have been revealed some fulfill this extensive need, but they were not sufficient. Therefore, the Holy Prophet (s) was appointed from Almighty Allah so that he may fulfill this need. In this regard, he also had the help of divine revelation. Muslims also became duty bound to obey the Messenger of Allah (s).

Quran says:

يَآ أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ أَطِيعُواْ اللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُواْ الرَّسُولَ وَلَا تُبْطِلُواْ أَعْمَالَكُمْ‏

O you who believe! obey Allah and obey the Apostle, and do not make your deeds void.” (47:33)


It also says:

لَقَدْ كَانَ لَكُمْ فِى رَسُولِ اللَّهِ أُسْوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ لِّمَن كَانَ يَرْجُواْ اللَّهَ وَ الْيَوْمَ الْآخِرَ وَذَكَرَ اللَّهَ كَثِيراً

Certainly you have in the Apostle of Allah an excellent exemplar for him who hopes in Allah and the latter day and remembers Allah much.” (33:21)

On the basis of this, Muslims were duty bound to learn the beliefs and laws of religion through the Holy Prophet (s) and to obey his commandments and prohibitions. That is why Muslims paid attention to the statements and actions of the Prophet and what he said was accepted as a divine command. Method of performance of worship acts were learnt through his acts.

In this regard, some companions of the Prophet were more gifted in memorizing the laws and their rules. They got many opportunities to be present in the company of the Prophet and hear his statements; sometimes they also posed queries to him. When they were absent from there, upon their return they asked from their friends about the matters that were discussed in the meanwhile.

Muslims, who lived outside Medina, came to the city when they got opportunities and gained knowledge from the Prophet during some days. For example, Malik bin Huwairith narrates: I came to the Prophet with some men from my tribe and stayed with him for twenty nights. He was kind and merciful to us. When he realized our longing for our families, he said to us, “Go back and stay with your families and teach them the religion, and offer the prayer and one of you should pronounce the Adhan for the prayer when its time is due and the oldest one amongst you should lead the prayer.”[113]

The Messenger of Allah (s) was always concerned about guidance of people and propagation of beliefs and laws of religion. He endeavored to propagate and disseminate religious teachings in Masjid, at home, in streets, bazaar and other places. In addition to the teachings of the verses of Quran, he also explained the matters to them. Sometimes, he taught them to others in order to perform religious rituals. If he noticed an improper act, he issued a reminder and explained its correct method. If they performed it in the right way, he praised them or maintained silence.

Jabir says: On the day of Eid of sacrifice I saw that the Holy Prophet (s) left his camel of conveyance and said: Learn the rituals of the Hajj from me, because it is possible that after this year, I may not get the honor of performing Hajj.[114]

In this way, the Messenger of Allah (s) endeavored to teach the beliefs and laws of religion and companions also paid attention to memorize and learn them. The Messenger of Allah (s) had two aims in this:

First: To make the companions aware of the beliefs and sciences of religion and to teach them the laws of duties of Islam.

Second: Recording and preservation of the laws of religion with aim to propagate them to the coming generations.

On the basis of this, beliefs of religion were recorded in form of traditions for Muslim and remained stored for them throughout the passage of centuries. Ali Ibne Abi Talib (a) was most active of all the companions in fulfillment of this great duty.

On this juncture, it is necessary to mention two points:

First reminder: Although, in sources of our reports there are many traditions, but it is not that every tradition should be reliable and worthy to be acted upon, because traditions are divided into two groups: Solitary reports and widely related reports.

Widely related reports: If a tradition is having a large number of narrators, in such a way that it is usually not possible that it could have been fabricated, such a tradition is called as ‘a widely related report’. Widely related report (Mutawatir) is trustworthy and confirmed, because intellect and common parlance also act on this report.

Solitary report: It is a tradition, whose narrators do not reach to the level of ‘widely related’ (Tawatur): Solitary reports also are further divided into different kinds, like: Authentic, good, trustworthy, weak and chainless report.

Authentic report: It is a tradition, all of whose narrators are Twelver Shia and just.

Good report: It is a tradition, all of whose narrators are Imamites and trustworthy.

Trustworthy report: It is a tradition, all of whose narrators are non-Imamites and trustworthy.

Weak report: It is a tradition, some of whose narrators are weak and untrustworthy.

Fabricated tradition: It is a tradition, among whose narrators there reporters, who are fabricators of traditions.

Unknown tradition: It is a tradition, among whose narrators there are persons, whose life history is unknown.

Chainless tradition: It is a tradition, one of whose narrators has narrated it from someone directly, who was not his contemporary.

Authentic and good traditions are reliable in the view of scholars of jurisprudence and they act on them.

Trustworthy traditions are reliable, according to the view of the majority of the scholars.

But a weak tradition is unreliable, except that it should be accompanied with a context of authenticity or its weakness is compensated in a special manner.

Fabricated traditions are absolutely unreliable.

Second reminder: That, which is mentioned about the finality of the proof of solitary report, is related to traditions, which are narrated about religious duties and responsibilities, but traditions, which are related to fundamentals of belief, morals, natural science, history, matters of hygiene, special qualities of some plants, fruits, nourishments, drinks etc. are not evident legal proofs.

If solitary report is regarding matters, which require faith and certainty, like: Existence of God, monotheism, divine qualities, factuality of resurrection, originality of prophethood and need of sending of the prophets, it is not sufficient to be relied upon, on the contrary, one has to get faith and certainty through discussions and investigation.


[113] Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 4, Pg. 52
[114] Sahih Muslim, Vol. 2, Pg. 943