The Authority of Sunnah

As the Ummah continues on the path of revival, a growing number of Muslims have begun to realise that after decades of fumbling through various possibilities thrown at them by the Kuffar, Islam still remains as the only correct solution to their problems. However, many faulty concepts and twisted facts still obstruct the Islamic mentality and sentiments from becoming crystallised. Perhaps the only obstacle remaining between Muslims and their full realisation of Islam remains in certain distorted concepts.

The Muslim Ummah must utilise the intellectual struggle against the faulty ideas and view this as vital to its revival. They must commit themselves to correct the erroneous ideas and replace them with clear, well-defined concepts.

The notion that the Qur’an provides the sole source of legislation and the Sunnah fulfilling a secondary, supportive role that supplements the total message, still remains as a common misconception among many. In fact, the Sunnah constitutes a primary source on an equal footing as the Qur’an itself.

In many ayat, the Qur’an mentions repeatedly the obedience to the Prophet (saw) side by side with the obedience to Allah (swt):
"It is not for a believer, man or woman, when Allah and His Messenger have decreed a matter that they should have any option in their decision. And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he has indeed strayed in a plain error"
[Qur'an, al-Ahzab 33:36]
"Say (O Muhammad), Obey Allah and His Messenger. But if they turn away, then Allah does not like the disbelievers" [Qur'an, Ali-Imran 3:32]
"And Obey Allah and His Messenger that you may attain mercy"
[Qur'an, Ali-Imran 3:32]
"O you who believe! Obey Allah and His Messenger, and those of you who are in authority. If you differ in anything amongst yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger, if you believe in Allah and in the Last Day. This is better and more suitable for final determination" [Qur'an, an-Nisa’a’ 4:59]
"...and whosoever obeys Allah and His Messenger will be admitted to Gardens under which rivers flow, to abide therein, and that will be the great success" [Qur'an, an-Nisa’a’ 4:13]
"And whoso obeys Allah and the Messenger, then they will be in the company of those on whom Allah has bestowed His Grace, of the Prophets, the Siddiqun, the martyrs, and the righteous.." [Qur'an, an-Nisa’a’ 4:69]

Consequently, Muslims must reject any thoughts or suggestions that attempt to de-emphasise and marginalise the Sunnah or categorise it as a supplement to, and not an integral component of, the Message of Islam. To emphasise the authority of the Sunnah, the Qur’an has mentioned the disobedience to the Prophet (saw) as equal to the disobedience to Allah (swt):
"And whosoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger and transgresses His limits, He will cast him into the Fire, to abide therein; and he shall have a disgraceful torment" [Qur'an, An-Nisa’a’ 4:14]
"...and whosoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger, then verily, for him is the Fire of Hell, he shall dwell therein forever" [Qur'an, al-Jinn 72:23]
"And whoever contradicts and opposes the Messenger after the Right Path has been shown clearly to him, and follows other than the believers’ way, we shall keep in the path he has chosen, and burn him in Hell - what an evil destination"
[Qur'an, an-Nisa’a’ 4:115]
"...that whoever opposes and shows hostility to Allah and His Messenger, certainly for him will be the Fire of Hell to abide therein. That is extreme disgrace"
[Qur'an, at-Tauba’ 9:63]
"On that day those who disobeyed the Messenger will wish that they were buried in the earth, but they will never be able to hide a single fact from Allah"
[Qur'an, an-Nisa’a’ 4:42]

After reflecting upon these ayat, no Muslim should look upon the Sunnah with any less emphasis than the Qur’an, because Allah (swt) states clearly that the authority of the Messenger constitutes a component of the revelation itself. Nowhere in the Qur’an does Allah (swt) de-emphasised the Sunnah or reduce its rank below the level the Qur’an by even a marginal amount.

Even those who do give the Sunnah the authority it deserves fail to perceive the Sunnah in its correct context. Contrary to contemporary belief, the Sunnah cannot be perceived in a general, ambiguous manner. In order to represent the Sunnah in the affairs of the Ummah as correctly and accurately as possible, Muslims must view the Sunnah in a structured, categorical framework to understand what aspects of the Sunnah bear relevance to their lives and to avoid the pitfalls of misapplication and ambiguity in defining the Sunnah.

In other words, it is important to differentiate between the acts which are designated to the Ummah and acts which are designated exclusively for the Prophet (saw). Types of Sunnah:

  • Qawli (verbal): Consists of the sayings of the Prophet (saw) on any subject. For Example: "He who cheats is not one of us"
  • Taqriri (approval): Consists of the approval of the Prophet (saw). If something was done in front of him (saw) and he (saw) didn’t disapprove of it, then it is considered an approval. As an example, the Prophet (saw) approved the way women prayed in the mosque separated from men, but in the same room.
  • Faili (actions): Consists of the Prophet’s (saw) deeds and practices, such as the way he (saw) used to pray or perform Hajj. The actions of the Prophet (saw) are divided into the following subcategories:
Actions of the Prophet (saw) :

Actions as Part of the Prophet’s (saw) Nature
These actions include the way he stood, sat, ate, or drank. For example it is reported that when he (saw) walked and wanted to turn his head to another direction, he (saw) would turn his entire body. This type of action has no legislative impact, except in certain cases where he (saw) recommended doing a particular action. Then such an action would be considered Mandub.
For example, there is a Hadith telling a Sahabi (ra) to eat with his right hand, shifting the action from Mubah (permissible) category to Mandub (recommended) category. The Sunnah also excludes specialised and technical knowledge, such as medicine, engineering, agriculture, or computers, because such technical expertise is not considered a part of the function of Prophethood.

Actions Limited Specifically for the Prophet (saw)
Allah (swt) has sent the Messenger (saw) with rules that are specifically related to him (saw) only. For instance, he (saw) was ordered to pray Tahajjud and the Ishraq Salah as Fard; he (saw) was allowed to continue his fasting throughout the night; his (saw) marriage contracts did not have include a dowry (Mahr); his wives could not remarry; and he (saw) was allowed to marry more than four wives at a time.
Whoever performs any of these actions is sinning because these actions are exclusively for the Prophet (saw).

Actions of the Prophet (saw) that Carry Legislative Consequences
The kind of actions which carry a legislative consequences are of three types:
The actions of the Messenger of Allah (saw) that provides an explanation for text.
If this explanation was for rule or text that was obligatory, then the explanation also becomes obligatory. If the explanation was for a rule that was Mandub, then the explanation takes the same status as the rule.
For example, the Qur’an obligates the establishment of the Salat. Any explanation of performing the Salat by the Messenger (saw) is thus also an obligation. For example, he (saw) recited Surah al-Fatihah while standing, and always recited the Surah during each Rakah. Except for people who are excused due to physical disabilities, reciting Surah al-Fatihah must be done while standing in Fard prayers.
Also, Allah (swt) ordered the Messenger (saw) to rule the people with what was revealed to him (saw). Thus, the way the Messenger (saw) ruled the people (by Islam) is an obligation. Some argue that the Messenger (saw) did not leave details regarding the function of ruling, but rather left general principles, and that it is left to our intellect to innovate and initiate new forms of ruling. Many Muslims believe this point and are using democracy and parliamentary processes to rule the Muslims.
However, because any order that is addressed to the Messenger (saw) is also addressed to all Muslims, the order to rule by the revelation is an order for all Muslims. The Qur’an warns us that those who do not rule by Islam are either Dhalimoon, Fasiqoon, or Kafiroon. The Seerah contains an abundance of details related to ruling by Islam. For example it was related in the Books of Seerah that the Messenger (saw) said:
"Prophets were sent to the Children of Israel. Every time a Prophet died or was killed, another Prophet would succeed him. However, there will be no Prophet after me and there will be Khulufa and they will be many. So the Sahabah asked, ‘what should we do?’ He said, fulfill the Bay'ah to the first and then one who succeeds him and give them their rights for Allah (swt) will hold them accountable for their responsibilities." [Muslim
In addition, the Prophet (saw) said that there should be only one Khilafah; "If the Ba’yah is given to two Khalifahs, then kill the latter one." [Muslim
He (saw) also told the Muslims that whoever backs away from his Bay'ah, Allah (swt) will be angry with him. The Seerah also defines the pillars of the State’s ruling system as consisting of the Head of State, Delegates and Executive Representatives of the Head of State, Governors, Provincial governors, the Amir of Jihad, the Judges of the Judicial Branch, The Majlis of the Ummah (Consultation Assembly), and the Administrative Council. 
Because these aspects were detailed as an explanation of the order to rule by Islam, this explanation takes the same status as the order and is thereby mandatory for Muslims to implement. This explanation should refute any claim by any person that utilising a democratic, parliamentary, republican, monarchical, or dictatorial method of ruling is within the boundaries of Islam. 
In addition, Allah (swt) ordered the Messenger (saw) to carry the Islamic Da’wah. Allah (swt) says:
"Say (O Muhammad): this is my way (sabeel), I and whoever follows me. Call and invite to Allah…" [Qur'an, Yusuf 12:108
and He (swt) also says:
"Invite to the way of your Lord with Hikmah, and a magnetising speech (maw’ithatul-hasanah), and debate with them with what is better (ahsan)"
[Qur'an, an-Nahl 16:125
These Ayat obligate the Muslims to carry the Islamic Da’wah the way the Messenger (saw) did. The Messenger of Allah (saw) performed the Da’wah as part of a group or party. He (saw) did not compromise any rule in Islam. He (saw) never adopted the principle of "If you can’t beat them, join them." 
The Messenger (saw) and his Companions (ra), confronted the Meccan society, attacking their Aqeeda (doctrine), laws, rulers, concepts, and always proposing Islam as the only alternative. 
This group never engaged in any material struggle such as in terrorist actions, military actions, or sports training. Their struggle involved a political struggle with the leaders of the Meccan society like Abu Jahl, Abu Lahab, and Walid bin al-Mughirah and an ideological struggle of addressing the practices of cheating in the scales, burying the daughters alive, worshipping idols, etc. Consequently, carrying the Islamic Da’wah today cannot be done except with this same prototype in mind. 
Unfortunately, many movements are trying to patch and mend the illegal Kufr regimes that are ruling over them, and others have joined the cabinets of these regimes, or have participated in the system. Some groups believe that this needs to be done because the system can either be subverted by studying the details of the system from within. These naive and Haram actions are invalid because the actions of the Messenger (saw) in explaining the Da’wah are the only actions that are binding upon the Muslims, based on the principle that if the rule is an obligation, then the explanation of the rule is also an obligation. 

The actions of the Prophet (saw) which falls under the category of Mandub and Nafilah 
Examples of such actions are fasting 6 days during the month of Shawwal, making special Dhikr on occasions, and praying Sunnah Salat. 

The actions of the Prophet (saw) which fall under the category Mubah 
Because these actions are permissible, they result in neither attaining the pleasure nor the displeasure of Allah (swt). An example of such an action is the duration of ten years for the treaty of Hudaybiyah. This period is not fixed or set limit for treaties to be signed by the Khilafah. Consequently, it is Mubah for the Khilafah to sign a treaty for five or fifteen years. Another example is digging the ditch in the Battle of the Ditch. This tactic was used to defend Medinah, and today, digging the ditch can be replaced with another tactic. 

Uswah (The example):
"Indeed in the Messenger of Allah, you have a good example to follow for him who hopes in Allah and the Last Day and remembers Allah much"
[Qur'an, al-Ahzab 33:21

Following the Uswah (example) of the Messenger (saw) means to perform the action in the same way he (saw) performed it. If he (saw) carried out an action as Mandub, the Muslims must then be follow him (saw) in performing that action as Mandub. If the action is done as a Fard, then the emulation of that action has to be done as Fard. 

Nobody can switch this around and say that he (saw) did a particular action as a Fard and make it into a Sunnah, or vice versa. There are, however, some who feel that actions falling under this category are Fard (mandatory). Their opinion is arrived at without a deep and comprehensive study of all of the evidences and Daleel.