Lecture 1 in the Jumuah series: UNPACKING THE QURAN-CENTRIC SCHOOL OF THOUGHT by Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider on Friday 7 July 2017 (12 Shawaal 1438) at the Ahlul Bait (a.s) Islamic Centre, Ottery, Cape Town.
Today we start a series of very important discussions which has always been the subject of debate across the world and more specifically in our own society.
Somebody presented me with a little pamphlet, entitled “Quran challenges Bukhari” and the spirit in which this was written explains that the Holy Quran and the written/ recorded Sunnah of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWAS) as per the Hadith compilation of Bukhari are in complete contradiction.
Therefore we have to decide which path to take, namely:
1. we either follow the Holy Quran as the prime, principle, most reliable and authentic source of understanding Islam and the guidance and commands of Almighty Allah (SWT) ; or
2. we should follow the RECORDED Sunnah of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWAS), which is according to this approach, in contradiction to the teachings and principles of the Holy Quran.
This approach is centrally Quran based, and these people who adopt this approach call themselves as Quran-centric, rather than Hadith/Sunnah focussed. This particular trend of thinking has the tendency to say that only the Holy Quran is THE authority for understanding and knowing the commands of Allah (SWT) for us.
WHY NEED SUNNAH IF QURAN IS DIVINE AND UNTAMPERED REVELATION?
This is a very relevant discussion these days, and the arguments on either side undoubtedly do have substance
This Quran-centric group are in the extreme minority. The majority of Sunni and Shia throughout history place a heavy emphasis on both Quran and Sunnah as both being major sources of Shariah (Jurisprudence) and understanding of Islam and following the commands of Almighty Allah (SWT).
There are a number of aspects to unpack in this regard. We will start this discussion from a very important premise, namely, that there is absolutely no doubt that the Holy Quran is THE MOST authentic and THE ULTIMATE reliable source of our knowledge of Islam and commands of Allah (SWT). This is not an issue of dispute, for a number of reasons:
1. There is absolutely no possibility of deviation or alteration of the Holy Quran. We are absolutely certain that the verses of the Holy Quran are Divinely revealed from Allah (SWT). There is not even one dot or letter that we can doubt, from the first verse, till the last verse.
2. There is absolutely no doubt of anything being removed from the Holy Quran. There is universal consensus on this fact.
3. Similarly, there is universal consensus that nothing has been added to the Holy Quran, not even a single dot!
So everything in the Holy Quran is beyond any iota of doubt the Divine and pristine revelation from Almighty Allah (SWT). That is the main foundation to say that the Holy Quran is our prime, most reliable source of guidance.
WHAT IS SUNNAH?
There is unfortunately no certainty and consensus when we speak about the understanding and interpretation of this very same Holy Quran. Those who are Quran-centric cannot deny or dispute this unfortunate reality.
So, we have no doubt that the words of the Holy Quran are from Almighty Allah (SWT), but the meaning and interpretation is understood differently by different groups of society. And the conclusions reached on the different understanding of the respective Quranic text cannot be claimed with absolute certainty to be what Allah (SWT) meant. Rather it is the individual understanding of what is meant.
And there is the critical point, which takes us to the deep-dive on what does Sunnah mean. Sunnah refers to the words, actions and approval (tacit or otherwise) of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWAS).
Remember that we said we are absolutely certain beyond any doubt that the Quranic text is indeed the revelation of Almighty Allah (SWT), from start to finish. However, when it comes to the Prophetic Sunnah, we are sitting with 2 problems:
1. We are unable to prove conclusively, without any spec of doubt, the words, actions and approval of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWAS). There is unfortunately a great deal of turmoil in the dark history of Islam which has resulted in reliable and unreliable recording of Prophetic traditions in compilations of Hadith.
Also, the simple human reason for this dilemma is that Hadith recordings were completed by the imperfect nature of human beings. The Holy Quran was also compiled by human beings but at the same time there was a Divine intervention to protect it. Verse 9 of Surah Hijr (chapter 15 of the Holy Quran) refers:
إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا الذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُ لَحَافِظُونَ
We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption).
This guarantee is not there in the case of Sunnah, and therefore, as the fallible nature of human beings, there is the possibility of error, forgetfulness, and also unconscious bias originating from the influence of your own thinking, society and cultural influences, political and social pressures, etc. This resulted in the RECORDED Sunnah not carrying the guarantee which Quranic text does.
2. We are unable to understand and interpret conclusively what our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWAS) meant with his recorded words, actions and approvals. This is the same problem as with conclusively understanding and interpreting the verses of the Holy Quran. We cannot conclusively claim to know what our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWAS) meant, in the same way that we cannot conclusively claim to know what Almighty Allah (SWT) meant with the verses of the Holy Quran.
CAN QURAN AND SUNNAH CO-EXIST?
Understanding and interpretation vary when it comes to both Quran and Prophetic Sunnah.
Does this then mean that the Prophetic Sunnah has NO ROLE in understanding the Holy Quran and Islam as a whole? This is completely not the case, even though the Quran-centric mentality tries to assert this thinking.
The problem in understanding and interpreting the Prophetic Sunnah is clearly a big problem, but it is not to the point where its role can be nullified in understanding the Holy Quran and Islam. Why?
1. The Holy Quran itself makes reference to its heavy dependence on the explanation of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWAS), saying that you need to understand Prophet Muhammad (SAWAS) in order to understand the Holy Quran. That is the gateway. So, by saying that the Holy Quran is sufficient for us, is actually in contradiction with the principle of the Holy Quran.
2. Understanding the Holy Quran is not clearcut. We see that even those who follow a Quran-centric approach have plenty differences of opinion, as you can see with the different commentaries (Tafsir) of the Holy Quran. Each one has its own understanding and interpretation!
The Holy Quran presents the case for following the Prophetic Sunnah from various angles.
PROPHETIC SUNNAH IS EMBODIMENT OF DIVINE REVELATION
Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-As was a recorder of Hadith of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWAS). He was asked whether he documented EVERYTHING, including the context and mood of Prophet (SAWAS). A supposed example is that the utterances of Rasulullah (SAWAS) could be influenced by when he is happy or unhappy.
He mentioned this to Rasulullah (SAWAS) who pointed to his lips and said write whatever emerges from these lips as I take an oath from Almighty Allah (SWT) that whatever I say is the whole truth and nothing but the truth!
Furthermore, in the last part of the life of Rasulullah (SAWAS) he insisted on people writing down what he wanted to convey to them, but there was resistance by those who said that Rasulullah (SAWAS) was under heavy fever and therefore not by his senses!! And those resisting to his plea for pen and paper said that “the book of Allah (SWT) is sufficient for us”. Rasulullah (SAWAS) became very upset by this statement. This unfortunate incident is recorded in Bukhari and Muslim.
So this is the background to this problem. The point to affirm in this first discussion is that the Holy Quran itself presents a number of approaches to Sunnah.
WE DISGRACE RASULULLAH (SAWAS) BY CALLING HIM A POSTMAN!
The first approach of the Holy Quran is that if you want to understand and interpret it in its pristine form, then you should look at Rasulullah (SAWAS), who is the prime exemplar of the Holy Quran. Verse 44 of Surah Nahl (chapter 16) clarifies this unequivocally:
وَأَنْزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الذِّكْرَ لِتُبَيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ مَا نُزِّلَ إِلَيْهِمْ وَلَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ
We have revealed to you the Reminder that you may make clear to men what has been revealed to them, and that haply they may reflect.
The unfortunate reality of the Quran-centric approach is that they relegate the status of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWAS) to that of a messenger. So, all that Rasulullah (SAWAS) did was convey the message of Almighty Allah (SWT) and that’s it. Their reference to him is in the form of a postman who delivers the message to you but has nothing to do with the contents of the post! What a highly demeaning insult this is to the greatest of creation!
This verse commands Rasulullah (SAWAS) to explain the message, not only deliver it! And the last part of this verse amplifies the point, namely, that they may reflect! This goes way beyond simply being a messenger, conveying the words of Almighty Allah (SWT).
This concludes the prelude to our discussion under the theme UNPACKING THE QURAN-CENTRIC SCHOOL OF THOUGHT, which we will unpack in this series of Jumuah lectures.
INTERNATIONAL NEWS – QATAR SAGA EXPOSES DOUBLE-STANDARDS AND LACK OF RELIGIOUS LEADERSHIP
We see the very tense situation in the Middle East continues unabated in Palestine, where it has reached new limits of suffering by the ordinary masses. All this while the corrupt Arab rulers are losing their last straw of dignity and openly collaborating with the Zionist enemy, under the leadership of the cancerous Saudi monarchy.
They no longer have any sense of shame left whereby they openly announce their co-operation with the Zionist state of Israel. Their hate for the Islamic Republic of Iran and followers of Ahlul Bait (a.s), and in fact anyone who has even a small resistance is clearly evident.
The internal fight amongst Arab regimes is also taking a new shape in their bitter feud with Qatar. They show their ugly face more and more prominently every day. One of the demands coming from these Arab countries who have Qatar on lockdown, is that Qatar must shutdown Al-Jazeera News.
Al-Jazeera is nothing special for Muslims, and in fact we should not forget when this news agency broadcasted the most poisonous propaganda against Islam and Islamic resistance, together with the followers of Ahlul Bait (a.s).
I certainly have no sympathy for this news agency, but the question is that these corrupt regimes who are calling for the shutdown of a news agency are openly supported by those Western powers who supposedly stand for democracy and media freedom. How does one reconcile these clearly visible double-standards, which is an open reality and not a conspiracy theory? What type of world are we in really?
This conflict of Qatar with other Arab countries has not only shown the state of the political leadership, but it has also shown the distinct level of ineptitude of the religious leadership. You have the Grand Mufti hosted in Qatar, who has changed his opinions and directions a number of times. Today, he is sitting with a mess and does not know which direction to take! This shows the embarrassingly low level of religious leadership!
NATIONAL NEWS – ANC POLICY CONFERENCE ON ISRAEL RELATIONS
In our own country, South Africa, we are witnessing developments at the Policy Conference of the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC). We are rightfully critical of how the country is being managed by them, but indeed we should be very proud once again on their position towards the Palestinian cause, where they have expressed intent to downgrade the level of diplomatic relations with Zionist Israeli. This is certainly not enough, but indeed admirable as a step in the right direction, given the pressure from the Saudi forces and Zionist lobbies and its allies to drag South Africa away from its support for the resistance movements.
LOCAL NEWS – VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND CHILDREN CONTINUES
The Western Cape Religious Leaders Forum has made this a permanent point to be addressed and I want to once again highlight the disgusting scourge of violence and abuse against women and children. Again, a number of incidents reported during the past week.
We have a serious problem here that each of us have a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable in society.