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Overview of Shari’a, Sunnah and the Science of Hadith  - Part 2

The primary source of Islamic doctrine is Holy Quran and Sunnah is the secondary source. 

Sunnah refers to the practices followed by the Holy Prophet (sws) and denotes his habits, customary procedures, or actions, norms and values.

Shari`ah: The Arabic word shari`ah refers to the laws and way of life prescribed by Allah (SWT) for the believers. The shari`ah deals with the ideology, faith and practices those acquire the force of law, customs or ethical, moral and religious standards. Shari`ah is based on commandments and prohibitions laid down in the Qur'an and the sunnah of the Holy Prophet (sws).

Fiqah: The Arabic word fiqah means knowledge, interpretation, understanding and comprehension. It refers to the legal rulings of the Muslim jurists and scholars, based on their knowledge of the shari`ah; and as such it is the third source of Islamic laws.The science of fiqh started from the first century after Hijrah, when the Islamic state expanded and the need arose to tackle new situations and  issues that were not explicitly covered in the Qur'an and Sunnah.

Different Schools of Thought

As Islam spread in different parts of the world, the dispensation of justice under a unified code became increasingly difficult. Attempts in this regard were frustrated by bigots and attitudes of different rulers, 

The four Sunni schools of thought, Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i and Hanbali, are in principle the same but variations exist in interpretation of about one fourth of rulings based on Hadith and/or interpretation or of their legal conclusions. Differing viewpoints sometimes exist even within the same school of thought. The Imams who developed or elaborated the issues and concepts are;

Imam Abu Hanifa 80-150 (After Hijra) 
Imam Malik 93-179 (A.H.) 
Imam Shafi'i 150-204(A.H.) 
 Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal 164-241 (A.H.) 

Rulings of the Shari`ah

The provisions of shari`ah for our day to day affairs are classified in five categories: (1) Prescribed, (2) Recommended, (3) Permissible, (4) Disliked and (5) Unlawful and Prohibited.

Each of the above is further classified according to the rewards or punishments on their performance or nonperformance. The prescribed (fard) is also referred to as obligatory (wajib), mandatory (muhattam) and required (lazim). It is divided into two categories:
(a) Obligatory for individuals (fard al-'ayn), such as salah and zakah; and (b) Obligatory for the group of Muslims (fard al- kifaya), such as funeral prayers.

The recommended (mandub) is said to be based on sunnah, and classified as preferable (mustahabb), meritorious (fadila), and desirable (marghub fih). Examples are praying at night (tahajjud), and reaffirmation and describing virtues of Allah (zikr).

The performance and nonperformance of the permissible/ allowed (mubah) is neither rewarded nor punished. 

Nonperformance of both the disliked (makruh) and the unlawful/prohibited (haram) is rewarded. Performance of the unlawful is punished, but that of the disliked is not punished.

The Primary Source Of Sunnah

As stated earlier the primary sources of guidance for such rulings and categorization have been  Holy Quran and Sunnah. The primary source of Sunnah from earliest days of Islam continues to be the continuity of the practices of the Holy Prophet (SWS) as followed by the posterity of the relatives and companions of the Holy Prophet (SWS) and the Imams from generation to generation. Secondary source are the Hadiths which are the sayings attributed to the Holy Prophet (sws) or narrations of events involving his actions or personality and told by different persons including common men and women besides companions and the relatives of Holy Prophet (sws). 

From early days the Muhaddithiin (scholars of hadith –Traditionalists) have played important role in spreading Islam and in the evolution of Sharia and generally define Hadiths as 'what was transmitted on the authority of the Prophet, his deeds, sayings, tacit approval, or description of his abilities, qualities and features including his physical appearance, habits and his sayings as well as events involving his personality. However, the personal habits and physical appearance of the Prophet are not included in the definition used by the jurists. Both Sunnah and Hadith form secondary sources of Islamic laws – Holy Quran being the primary source.

Hadiths Spread Through Word Of Mouth And Handwritten Papers.

Word of mouth was the main source of communication as at that time there were no printing presses or photocopying machines. Illiteracy was prevalent. Few people could read or write. Ink and paper or parchments for writing were obtainable with difficulty. 

There were many Hiffaz who had memorized the Holy Quran and recited them in different gatherings. The first Caliph Abu Bakar (RA) had taken steps to preserve authenticated version of Holy Quran in writing in hand and in the reign of the third Caliph Hazrat Usman Ghani official copies were distributed far and wide among scholars, jurists and Government officials.

"Those who follow the messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own (scriptures),-
in the law and the Gospel;- for he commands them what is just and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as lawful what is
good (and pure) and prohibits them from what is bad (and impure); He releases them from their heavy burdens and from the
yokes that are upon them. So it is those who believe in him, honour him, help him, and follow the light which is sent down with
him,- it is they who will prosper." 
PICKTHAL: Those who follow the messenger, the Prophet who can neither read nor write, whom they will find described in the Torah and the Gospel (which are) with them. He will enjoin on them that which is right and forbid them that which is wrong.
He will make lawful for them all good things and prohibit for them only the foul; and he will relieve them of their burden and the fetters that they used to wear. Then those who believe in him, and honour him, and help him, and follow the light which is sent
down with him: they are the uccessful. 


Hadiths have been and would always remain a vital source of understanding Islamic ideology. Almost all Muhadittin of the first and second century analysed the Isnad or other narrations on the basis of degree of veracity and reliability on the understanding or interpretation of the narrators. Hadiths have been classified according to the degree of reliability and include those classified as weak. And none of the Muhadittin worth his salt has vouched that they are infallible despite the fact that they discarded those they thought were not reliable at all. In the early days of Islam hypocrites mischievously narrated many fake hadiths.

Important thing is to understand the logic and objectivity of any saying or action or practice rather than blind and mindless adnerence. Not all Hadiths can be given the force of generalized law or a  mandatory practice for all times to come. The same thing applies to different fatwas and laws of sharia'h. 

For instance in Bukhari Sharif we find different hadiths giving different ways of wadu. Underlying principle in all of them is cleanliness and piety. Similarly the underl;ying principle in use of miswak is keeping the teeth clean. 

Closeminded adherence to the ritual of moon sighting has kept the Islamic calendar out of practical usage. As often seen First of a month falls in Saudia say on Monday but on that Monday we in Pakistan may still be 29th or 30 the of a month until the Ruyite Hilal committee actually sees the moon. The underlying principle of the Hadith is to follow lunar calendar. Many sects follow the Egyptian lunar calendar for all religious festivities 
on this principle.

About music the Haidths quoted gives many Ulema the impression that Holy Prophet condemned musical gathering where prostitutes performed but not the music itself. In case of paintings and statues and graves giving reverence or treating that objecto of worship or idolatry was prohibited.

Important thing is to understand the logic and objectivity of any saying or action or practice rather than blind and mindless adnerence. Not all Hadiths can be given the force of generalized law or a  mandatory practice for all times to come. The same thing applies to different fatwas and laws of sharia'h.