Lecture 5 in the Jumuah series: UNPACKING THE QURAN-CENTRIC SCHOOL OF THOUGHT by Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider on Friday 4 August 2017 (12 Dhul Qa’dah 1438) at the Ahlul Bait (a.s) Islamic Centre, Ottery, Cape Town.
In continuation of our discussion about the role of the Prophetic Sunnah in the understanding of the religion of Islam (Deen) and Jurisprudence (Shariah) and its authenticity, we concluded all the important points proving the undisputable position and role of our Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAWAS) in understanding Shariah citing numerous verses of the Holy Quran.
To summarise, the Holy Quran establishes in numerous verses:
1. The supreme status of Rasulullah (SAWAS) as capable of receiving revelation, which is not an ordinary job!
2. Rasulullah (SAWAS) as the conveyer to the people of the revelation he received.
3. That he is responsible for explaining and interpreting the revelation, and manifest the revelation. This goes beyond simply delivering the message!
4. That obedience of Rasulullah (SAWAS) by us is compulsory, to the same extent as it is compulsory upon us to obey Almighty Allah (SWT). This obedience goes beyond revelation and the verses of the Holy Quran. It encompasses compulsory obedience to all his words and actions as well.
5. Rasulullah (SAWAS) is the perfect example to follow!
PURPOSE OF PROPHETHOOD IS ALSO PURIFICATION!
Almighty Allah (SWT) clarifies the spirit and philosophy of Prophethood in the Holy Quran, by stating that their objective was to also perform PURIFICATION. Verse 2 of chapter 62 (Surah Jumuah) refers:
هُوَ الَّذِي بَعَثَ فِي الْأُمِّيِّينَ رَسُولًا مِنْهُمْ يَتْلُو عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتِهِ وَيُزَكِّيهِمْ وَيُعَلِّمُهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَإِنْ كَانُوا مِنْ قَبْلُ لَفِي ضَلَالٍ مُبِينٍ
“He it is Who raised among the inhabitants of Mecca an Messenger from among themselves, who recites to them His communications and purifies them, and teaches them the Book and the Wisdom, although they were before certainly in clear error”.
If the job of Prophets (SAWAS) is confined to only reciting the verses of the Almighty Allah’s (SWT) revelation, then what is the meaning of purification in this verse?
Therefore, it is very important to note that the Holy Quran places NO RESTRICTION on the exemplary position of Rasulullah (SAWAS). The guarantee that Almighty Allah (SWT) places in his infallibility goes beyond perfection in the delivery of the Divine message. He (SWT) provides the comprehensive protection and perfection of the entire makeup and existence of Rasulullah (SAWAS). Therefore we believe in the complete infallibility of our Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAWAS).
The Holy Quran is abundantly clear in establishing Rasulullah (SAWAS) as the COMPLETE example to be followed in EVERYTHING!
This is also how Almighty Allah (SWT) explains the supreme status of Nabi Ibrahim (AS) in the same conclusive and inclusive manner, in verse 4 of Surah Mumtahina (chapter 60 of the Holy Quran):
قَدْ كَانَتْ لَكُمْ أُسْوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ فِي إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَالَّذِينَ مَعَهُ إِذْ قَالُوا لِقَوْمِهِمْ إِنَّا بُرَآءُ مِنْكُمْ وَمِمَّا تَعْبُدُونَ مِنْ دُونِ اللَّهِ كَفَرْنَا بِكُمْ وَبَدَا بَيْنَنَا وَبَيْنَكُمُ الْعَدَاوَةُ وَالْبَغْضَاءُ أَبَدًا حَتَّىٰ تُؤْمِنُوا بِاللَّهِ وَحْدَهُ إِلَّا قَوْلَ إِبْرَاهِيمَ لِأَبِيهِ لَأَسْتَغْفِرَنَّ لَكَ وَمَا أَمْلِكُ لَكَ مِنَ اللَّهِ مِنْ شَيْءٍ ۖ رَبَّنَا عَلَيْكَ تَوَكَّلْنَا وَإِلَيْكَ أَنَبْنَا وَإِلَيْكَ الْمَصِيرُ
“Indeed, there is for you an excellent example in Ibrahim and those with him when they said to their people: Surely we are clear of you and of what you serve besides Allah; we declare ourselves to be clear of you, and enmity and hatred have appeared between us and you forever until you believe in Allah alone– but not in what Ibrahim said to his father: I would certainly ask forgiveness for you, and I do not control for you aught from Allah– Our Lord! on Thee do we rely, and to Thee do we turn, and to Thee is the eventual coming”.
Do note the important point in this verse being that Allah considers Prophet Ibrahim (a.s) to be an excellent exemplar which also means he can be followed comprehensively. Then it makes an exception and that is that it only excludes his seeking forgiveness for his father (in reality his uncle) who was Mushrik.
But in the case of Prophet Muhammad (sawa), no such exception is made and thus Prophet Muhammad (sawa) is unreservedly referred to as an excellent exemplar in Surah Ahzab Verse 21 when it says:
“Verily in the Messenger of Allah there is for you an excellent example”
The Holy Quran further establishes the supreme status of Rasulullah (SAWAS) in the judiciary and decision making, in verse 36 of Surah Ahzaab (chapter 33 of the Holy Quran):
وَمَا كَانَ لِمُؤْمِنٍ وَلَا مُؤْمِنَةٍ إِذَا قَضَى اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ أَمْرًا أَنْ يَكُونَ لَهُمُ الْخِيَرَةُ مِنْ أَمْرِهِمْ ۗ وَمَنْ يَعْصِ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ فَقَدْ ضَلَّ ضَلَالًا مُبِينًا
“And it behoves not a believing man and a believing woman that they should have any choice in their matter when Allah and His Messenger have decided a matter; and whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he surely strays off a manifest straying.”
What does this mean where the Rasul (SAWAS) of Allah (SWT) decides in the matters of difference?
Verse 65 of Surah Nisa (chapter 4 of the Holy Quran) refers:
فَلَا وَرَبِّكَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ حَتَّىٰ يُحَكِّمُوكَ فِيمَا شَجَرَ بَيْنَهُمْ ثُمَّ لَا يَجِدُوا فِي أَنْفُسِهِمْ حَرَجًا مِمَّا قَضَيْتَ وَيُسَلِّمُوا تَسْلِيمًا
“But no! by your Lord! they do not believe (in reality) until they make you a judge of that which has become a matter of disagreement among them, and then do not find any straitness in their hearts as to what you have decided and submit with entire submission.”
INFALLIBILITY OF PROPHETHOOD IN THE SCHOOL OF AHLUL BAIT (A.S)
Therefore, the very important point in the school of Ahlul Bait (a.s) is the COMPREHENSIVE INFALLIBILITY of Rasulullah (SAWAS).
This is especially relevant when we reflect on the huge number of verses which is calling on our unconditional obedience to Rasulullah (SAWAS) and to take him as the comprehensive example without any exception.
These verses of the Holy Quran therefore make it impossible to accept that part of his existence is infallible (protected from error) and the other part of his existence is fallible and prone to error. The whole authenticity of the Holy Quran will become questionable if we question the infallibility of Rasulullah (SAWAS).
Our access to the Divine revelation is through Rasulullah (SAWAS). So, if we are saying that there is a chance of error with Rasulullah (SAWAS), then what guarantee is there that he did not incur any slight or large error in conveying the Divine message? This guarantee of the Holy Quran itself is based upon the authenticity and infallibility of Rasulullah (SAWAS).
IMPOSSIBLE TO PRACTICE ISLAM WITHOUT SUNNAH
Let us look at the practicality of completely nullifying the Prophetic Sunnah. It will make the religion of Islam impracticable. Let’s take Salaah as an example. Nowhere in the Holy Quran will you find details of how many Rakats each Salaah entails, because the Holy Quran establishes principles and not details. Similarly with other religious practices like Hajj and Zakah for example.
Who will be able to explain this comprehensive inclusivity and completeness of the Holy Quran without the support of the Prophetic Sunnah?
Again, this is the Quranic command to follow the Prophetic Sunnah in understanding it in its sublime essence and not simply its literal sense.
“CONTRADICTIONS” IN THE HOLY QURAN
This is a common question that how can we conclude infallibility of the Prophets (AS) if the Holy Quran explains that they made mistakes?
Indeed, we need to study these verses properly to understand what they are referring to. Are they referring to certain issues which were recommendations that they did not follow ie. Not compulsory?
Do these verses impact on the infallibility of the Prophet (AS) such that they are prone to error in revealing the Divine message?
This question has been repeatedly clarified that it has no bearing on the infallibility of the Prophets (AS) because the scale is heavily tipped in favour of the huge number of verses on the one side which command obedience to Rasulullah (SAWAS) in TOTALITY and not in a selective manner. Therefore, the few verses on the opposite end need to be reconciled with these verses commanding obedience to Rasulullah (SAWAS).
Some people may view this as contradictions in the Holy Quran in the same way that there are apparent contradictions in Hadith too!
However, classifying these opposing positions in the Holy Quran appear as contradictions if one does not have the full understanding, but are not actually contradictions based on the preceding paragraph. These are contradictions in OUR understanding rather than contradictions in the Divine revelation.
CONTRADICTIONS IN THE RECORDING OF HADITH
Unfortunately this is a serious challenge which nobody denies. Political influences and infiltration was indeed there in the early history of Islam. Nobody disputes this but those contradictions do not render the entire role of Hadith as redundant.
If the issue is difference in understanding, then that is possible in the Holy Quran as well. There is no consensus in the understanding of the Holy Quran, even though the words are universally accepted as the undisputed words of Almighty Allah (SWT).
However, you will recall from our first discussion in this lecture series where we discussed this problem of understanding the verses of the Holy Quran, so much so that there are numerous sects which developed across history based on no consensus in understanding.
These divisions even appear among the Quran-centric paradigm. So being Quran-centric does not solve the problem…by running away from following the Sunnah due to contradictions in the recording of Hadith you will get stuck in the Quran-centric approach through a lack of consensus in understanding as well!
So, contrary to their belief, it is not as if the whole Muslim nation can become united by following the Quran-centric approach.
On this point, I will re-emphasise the point that we have repeatedly made in this series of discussions, namely, that the first preference and primary source of reference will always and always be the Holy Quran due to that guaranteed protection of the text of the Holy Quran being the Divine message of Almighty Allah (SWT).
Therefore, if there are Hadith which are GENUINELY in contradiction with the Holy Quran (and not simply appearing contradictory due to our limited understanding) then we have the right to refute the contradictory Hadith in the strongest terms.
AHLUL BAIT (A.S) ARE THE WALKING QURAN!
The sixth Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (a.s) was asked what should be done if a Hadith is found which is in contradiction with the Holy Quran. Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (a.s) responded that it is impossible for them to record something which is in contradiction with the Holy Quran as the Ahlul Bait (a.s) and the Holy Quran are inseparable!
Therefore, contradiction is impossible and if you find this in recordings then you should know that it is not from us Ahlul Bait (a.s).
The challenge in Hadith is that political influence and infiltration and theological inclinations of the people have impacted heavily on Hadith being fabricated. But when you look at the collective treasure of the institution of Hadith then one cannot simply nullify the importance of Hadith as a source of guidance.
We have sciences of Hadith established in academic circles to understand this issue. An example is the whole study of the background of each personality who is included in the chain of narrators. This involves understanding their level of piety, their moral character, etc.