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Overview of Shari’a, Sunnah and the Science of Hadith  - Part 3

Historical Background.

Shia sect originated from the groups of people who after death of the Holy Prophet held the view that only a descendent of Hazrat Fatima and Ali can be a Caliph and Imam. Abu Bakar was the Holy Prophet's closest companion and great supporter of Islam and had been asked to lead prayers by the Holy Prophet when he was not well. In a gathering of the believers and devotees of Islam people elected Abu Bakar as Caliph. And Hazrat Ali despite opposition of his supporters gave him his oath of allegience. The third Caliph Hazrat Osman was also son in law of the Holy Prophet and belonged to his clan. After death of his wife, Holy Prophet gave another of his daughter in his wedlock. Thus  he is called "Zainu' n Noorain" 

After assassination of Hazrat Osman and Hazrat Ali, the political leadership separated from spiritual leadership as Umayyad seized power and ruled for a century but in different parts of Islamic world the supporters of the movement for election of Imam and Caliph from amongst the descendents of Hazrat Ali continued their Opposition to Ummyads . Kharjites became a political and Spiritual force but they were not liked by the majority of Ummah.

After assassination of Hazrat Ali (RA) in 661 his son Hazrat Hasan (RA) was elected as Caliph. But he preferred to abdicate in favor of Amir Muawiyah (a relative of the Holy Prophet (SWS)) to avoid blood shed among Muslims and Muawiyah became the sole Caliph but the enemies of Islam disguised as Muslims played their role in division of Ummah. Hypocrites from the early days of Islam have been spreading rumors and falsely attributing sayings to the Holy Prophet (SWS) besides spreading false stories about him and his wives and family. In the year 680 the great tragedy of Karbala occurred after the death of Muawiyah his son Yazid took over as Caliph much to the dissent of many companions of the Holy Prophet (SWS) who were pressing for accession of Hazrat Imam Hussain (RA) son of Hazrat Ali (RA). When the attempts of Yazid to get allegiance of Hazrat Imam Hussain failed he used the force and the Tragedy of Kerbala and martyrdom of Hadrat Hussain (RA) took place paving way for further division the Ummah. 

In accepting any ideas or principles, men are advised to make use of their intellects and rational faculties, and not to indulge in blind imitation. Very often, the Qur'an puts imitation of ancestors in direct opposition to reason and intellect: 

"And when it is said to them: 'Follow what God has sent down', they say, 'No; but we will follow such things as we found our fathers doing.' What? Even if their fathers had no understanding of anything, and if they were not guided ? "

Ayatullah Mutahari (Shaheed) Tehran University


The supporters of Ali known as Shia also were divided in different Sub-sects such as Zaidites, Fatimides, Ismailians, the Twelveers, the Karmatians and the Brethren of Purity in different regions due to local influence such as the one in Persia and the other in Egypt.. However, the main Shia sect spread in Iraq and Iran. The following list of Imams recognized by Shias is taken from a book "Know Your Islam" by Yousuf N. Lalljee

Imam Ali Al-Ameeril Mo'mineen (AS) 
          Hazrat Fatima Az-Zahra (AS) 
          Imam Hasan Al-Mujtaba (AS) 
          Imam Husain As-Shaheed (AS) 
          Imam Zain-ul-Abideeen (AS) 
          Imam Muhammad Al-Baqir (AS) 
          Imam Ja'far As-Saadiq (AS) 
          Imam Musa Al-Kazim (AS) 
          Imam Ali Ar-Reza (AS) 
          Imam Muhammad At-Taqi (AS) 
          Imam Ali An-Naqi (AS) 
          Imam Hasan Al-Askari (AS) 
          Imam Muhammad Al-Mahdi (AS) 
Shia believe that the twelfth Imam Hazrat Muhammad al-Mahdi (AS) who was born in 255 AH is still living but in hiding and will appear before the Day of Judgement to establish justice on earth.


After death of close companions of the Holy Prophet (SWS) many Muhaddithiin (scholars of hadith –Traditionalists) emerged who narrated the sayings of the Holy Prophet (SWS) and historical events in different gatherings according to their own political preferences and likes and dislikes. And the Hadiths became a valuable and cherished part of Islamic literature and teachings.

In the second generation of traditionalists we find names of Al Zuhri, Asim b. Umer b. Qatada and Abdullah b.Abu Bakar, Yazid b. Abu Habib in Egypt and there were many more in different parts of the Muslim World. English Orient lists have translated the work Ibne Ishaq who died in 773 CE at the age of 66 after writing biography of the Holy Prophet (SWS) and collection of Hadiths. But from early days Ibne Ishaq was not regarded as reliable by other Ulemas most of whom held Imam Malik in high esteem. 

Devotees of Hazrat Ali and Imam Hussain followed the teachings of their own Imams and most prominent among them was Imam Jaffer Sadiq (RA).

Because of the emphasis laid by the Holy Quran and Holy Prophet (SWS) on acquisition of knowledge literacy started improving and people started committing to writing whatever sayings of the Holy Prophet (SWS) they had heard from their parents and grand parents. Many of the Hadiths were committed to writing in hand and compiled together generations later and error and omissions appeared to have occurred in copying and distribution of handwritten copies of such notes and papers. Those days there used to be professional scribes well versed in calligraphy but they were neither the traditionalist nor any scholar. 

Further, in many Hadith sayings were attributed in the words of narrators and not the exact words of the Holy Prophet (SWS) and narrators gave account interpreting the action or saying according to their own thinking.

The Qur'an constantly reiterates the view that the idea of antiquity of an idea is neither the evidence of its falsity, nor is it a testimony of its truthfulness. Antiquity affects material objects; but the eternal truths of existence never become old and outmoded. Truths like: 

God changes not what is in a people, until they change what is in themselves ... (13:11) are true for ever and ever. The Qur'an asks us to face issues with the weapon of reason and intellect. One should neither forsake a belief for fear of becoming the target of others' ridicule and banter, nor should he accept a belief just because it is upheld by some important and well- known persons. We should ourselves study and investigate the roots of all matters and draw our own conclusions. 
Another evidence in favour of the Qur'an's affirmation of the authority of reason --which is more conclusive than that mentioned above-- is the battle it launched against all those agents which obstruct the proper functioning of reason. 

Ayatullah Mutahari (Shaheed) Tehran University


Like Holy Quran the hadiths are not considered infallible and the practices adopted by different Imams in the name of Sunnah show many variations, Main differences exist in the manner of offering Salat (prayers), timings for fast and many other matters relating to every day life such as burials and funerals, inheritance, marriage etc. and thus different sects and fiqahs (codes) emerged That combined with difference of opinion regarding interpretation of the verses of Holy Quran and Hadith has lead the division of Muslims in different sects. 

Caliph Mansur’s Attempts to Maintain Uniformity Failed.
Around 120 years after the death of the Holy Prophet (SWS), Imam Malik complied his collection of Hadith “Muwatta” for the guidance of jurists and teachers in early Abbasid period, which acquired fame and wide acceptance in Medina. He had collected and studied over 8000 Hadiths out of which only 2000 to 4000 were included in some of his collections.  But in other parts of Muslim world including Mecca, Syria beside Spain and Egypt different Imams and traditionalists were following different codes, which varied with each other. 

Caliph Mansur the second Abbaside ruler wanted the Muwatta to be adopted for the entire Ummah to ensure uniformity of practice. But he faced resistance not only from other Imams but also from Imam Malik himself who believed that his work is neither infallible nor complete. 

Further, some of his rulings became controversial as other scholars did not agree with him. For instance his ruling that if a man divorces his wife under coercion the divorce is not valid was questioned by quite a few scholars, Mansur seems to have abandoned the idea to resolve the differences by Ijma (congregation of Ulemas) due to bigotry of many of the Ulemas and because Imam Malik did not change his opinion that Khilafat belongs rightfully to the direct descendants of the Holy Prophet (SWS) and not Abbasides. Similar views about Khilafat were held by Shias who believed that Khilafat and Imamat is dvininely bestowed on the direct descendents of Hazrat Ali and Hazrat Fatima as the Holy Prophet had left not any son surviving.

Unless one maintains objectivity and neutrality in every matter, he is unlikely to think correctly. Reason can function properly only in an atmosphere that is free of selfish desires and motives. 

The Qur'an contains a large number of warnings regarding the evil of submission to personal desires. The following is just one instance of it: 

They follow nothing except conjecture, and what the self desires ... (53:25)
Ayatullah Mutahari (Shaheed) Tehran University


During the reign of Abbasids who had the capital in Iraq, the legal school developed in Iraq under the teaching of Abu Hanifa (d. 767). But Abu Hanifa himself did not accept judicial office and his disciples, Abu Yusuf and Mohammed-Shaibini, held high judicial posts and in their writings organized and developed legal system under the teachings of Abu Hanifa. This school, is called after him the Hanafi school,

There are three books attributed to Abu Hanifah, namely Fiqh Akabar, Alim wa’l-Muta’allim and Musnad. The Fiqh Akabr is a brief treatise on dogmatics, dealing with the same questions and more or less in the same order as the ‘Aqa’id of Nasafi and other writing’s on the subjects.

In his TARIKH (History) of Baghdad, Khatib, quotes Imam Abu Hanifa as follows:
"When I find a command in the Book of Allah, I grasp it. If I do not find it there, I take the Sunnah of the messenger of Allah and those of his narrations which have been transmitted by reliable people to reliable people. If I do not find a command in either the Book of Allah or the Sunnah of the messenger of Allah, then I follow the words of the companions (sahaba) of the messenger of Allah, and in those matters where they differ, I accept the words of the sahabi I want to and reject the one I don't want. But I do not accept the words of anyone  other than these as decisive. As for other people, I have as much of a right to ijtihad as they have." 

In Medina Imam Malik ibne Annas based on his collection of Hadiths and fatwas
developed legal practices and ethical principles and incorporated them in Al-Muwatta (‘the Leveled Path’), and after whom the school is called the Maliki school. 

About four decade later Al-Shafi'i (d. in Egypt 820), a disciple of Malik, developed the juristic science and Al Shafi school of thought gained popularity in Egypt and North Africa. In his Fiqah strict adherence to the Sunnah was given after scientifically analyzing many collections of fatwas, hadiths and traditions. 

Although there are many differences in details but all three schools are based on the broad principles of Holy Quran and Sunnah. Therefore they are not regarded as different sects of Islam and are treated as Sunni sect. At present the Hanafi school is predominant in Western Asia (except Arabia), Egypt, and Pakistan; the Shafi'i in Indonesia; and the Maliki in North and West Africa and Egypt. 

Like Holy Quran the Ahadees 
are not considered infallible.

Hadith have been and would always remain a source of  understanding Islamic ideology rather than a code of law. 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 and include even those considered weak.