Differentiation of sunnah, hadith and etiquette
We’ll read the Quran and follow the sunnah to the best of our abilities. But what about the little things not mentioned in there? For example, all the little incidents about social issues and etiquette. You see we must draw a line between what some call Arabization and others call Islamic etiquette. These things that we have been hearing since childhood are rather difficult to outrightly dismiss, and naturally, we’ll look up to the scholars for reinforcement on a subject. Dr Zaheer, you say that consensus of opinion is invalid, and that a person must follow his/her common sense or what ‘clicks’ for that matter. But isn’t this quite a paradox? Because on subjects that are completely compatible with the Quran and sunnah, doesn’t common sense tell us to follow an opinion that most believe in?
I am following your comments with interest. Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with us.
What is not an established sunnah is not an essential part of our Deen. However, there is much more to Islamic etiquette than what got through to us in the form of the practices of the sunnah. Such etiquettes are mentioned in the ahadith. You have rightly asked as to what would we do given that there is no clear guidance on whether such practices are expected from us to be followed or not. Also, you have rightly mentioned, there is this question whether some of the reported practices were a part of the eternal religion, or whether they were specific to the situation at the time that they were done or mentioned.
My question is: Who should be more interested in ensuring that God’s message should reach us in the most authentic manner: God Almighty Himself and His messenger, or the later Muslims? And if we honestly find that God’s intent is different from that of many of the Muslims, whose intent should we follow? The reason why laying too much emphasis on what hasn’t been clarified in an undisputable manner by the Almighty Himself is that we will, in case we do so, be emphasizing what He Himself didn’t intend and arrange to be emphasized.
Having said that, I do believe that some part of what is contained in ahadith is simply brilliant. Following it enables you to practice your religion better. However, because of the human element in the compilation of this literature, one has to be careful in accepting or rejecting it. Doing it carelessly wrong either way can have consequences. However, I believe, accepting something that was not intended to be religion as a part of it is a much more serious problem. If I know that the prophet, alaihissalaam, used to cover his head with a turban and I place this information in the category of non-religious information, no harm is done, when there is no clear information from God and His messenger that it needs to be taken as a religiously desired practice. However, those who place this information in the category of religious practices, whereas it was not intended to be one, have to respond to the following question: If there are some people who are put off by those who wear turbans, would it not be tantamount to pushing people away from religion?
In case Allah’s religion is silent on a certain matter, and there are a large number of scholars who are agreeing on a certain religious issue, I’ll have to see carefully what this agreement is all about. If the agreement has nothing to do with religion, I will not be bothered much by it. If the issue has to do with religion, I’ll first see what the original sources of Qur’an and sunnah have to say about it. If they say something clearly, I’ll follow my understanding of what these sources are saying. I will give what the majority is saying a good thought, but would not accept its verdict when I know clearly that the Almighty is saying something different. How can I do that? If I am confused, I’ll follow either the majority or the scholars I have more confidence in.
As for the claim that there is any one single opinion about religious matters on which all Muslim scholars of all times agree (ijma’), except for the fact that the Qur’an and sunnah have been authentically transmitted to us, it is, as I have already clarified elsewhere, a completely nonsensical claim.
[This is Dr. Khalid Zaheer’s response to a blog comment.]