Chapter 2, Hadith & Seerah, The Authority of Sunnah / Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

A number of verses in the Holy Quran establish the authority of the Holy Prophet (SAWS) as a legislator or a law-maker.

Some of those are reproduced below:

1) The Holy Quran says:

“And My mercy embraces all things. So, I shall prescribe it for those who fear Allah, and pay Zakah (obligatory alms), and those who have faith in Our signs, those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet whom they find written down in the Torah and the Injeel, and who bids them to the Fair and forbids them the Unfair, and makes lawful for them the good things, and makes unlawful for them the impure things, and relieves them of their burdens and of the shackles that were upon them. So, those who believe in him, and honor him, and help him, and follow the light that has been sent down with him – they are the ones who acquire success” (7:157)

The italicized words in this verse signify that one of the functions of the Holy Prophet (SAWS) is “to make lawful the good things and make unlawful the impure things.” This function has been separated from ‘bidding the Fair and forbidding the Unfair’, because the latter relates to the preaching of what has already been established as Fair, and warning against what is established as Unfair, while the former embodies the making of lawful and unlawful, that is, the enforcing of new laws regarding the permissibility or prohibition of things. This function of prescribing new religious laws and rules is attributed here not to the Holy Quran, but to the Holy Prophet (SAWS). It, therefore, cannot be argued that the ‘making lawful or unlawful’ means the declaration of what is laid down in the Holy Quran only, because the declaration of a law is totally different from making it.

Besides, the declaration of the established rules has been referred to in the earlier sentence separately, that is, ‘bids them to the Fair and forbids for them the Unfair. The reference in the next sentence, therefore, is only to ‘making’ new laws.

The verse also emphasizes ‘to believe’ in the Holy Prophet (SAWS). In the present context, it clearly means to believe in all his functions mentioned in the verse including to make something ‘lawful’ or ‘unlawful’.

The verse, moreover, directs to follow the light that has been sent down with him. Here again, instead of ‘following the Holy Quran’, ‘following the light’ has been ordered, so as to include all the imperatives sent down to the Holy Prophet (SAWS) either through the Holy Book or through the unrecited revelation, reflecting in his own orders and acts.

Looked at from whatever angle, this verse is a clear proof of the fact that the Holy Prophet (SAWS) had an authority based, of course, on the unrecited revelation, to make new laws in addition to those mentioned in the Holy Quran.

2. The Holy Quran says:

“Fight those who do not believe in Allah and the Hereafter and do not hold unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful” (9:29)

The italicized words signify that it is necessary ‘to hold unlawful what Allah and His Messenger made unlawful’, and that the authority making something unlawful’ is not restricted to Allah Almighty. The Holy Prophet (SAWS) can also, by the will of Allah, exercise this authority. The difference between the authority of Allah and that of the Messenger is, no doubt, significant. The former is wholly independent, intrinsic and self-existent, while the authority of the latter is derived from and dependent on the revelation from Allah. Yet, the fact remains that the Holy Prophet (SAWS) has this authority and it is necessary for believers to submit to it along with their submission to the authority of Allah.

3. The Holy Quran says,

“No believer, neither man nor woman, has a right, when Allah and His Messenger decide a matter, to have a choice in their matter in issue. And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger has gone astray into manifest error.” (33:36)

Here, the decisions of Allah and the Messenger both have been declared binding on the believers.

It is worth mentioning that the word ‘and’ occurring between ‘Allah’ and ‘His Messenger’ carries both conjunctive and disjunctive meanings. It cannot be held to give conjunctive sense only, because in that case it will exclude the decision of Allah unless it is combined with the decision of the messenger – a construction too fallacious to be imagined in the divine expression.

The only reasonable construction, therefore, is to take the word ‘and’ in both conjunctive and disjunctive meanings. The sense is that whenever Allah or His Messenger, any one or both of them, decide a matter, the believers have no choice except to submit to their decision.

It is thus clear that the Holy Prophet (SAWS) has the legal authority to deliver decisions in the collective and individual affairs of the believers who are bound to surrender to those decisions.

4. The Holy Quran says,

“Whatever the Messenger gives you, take it, and whatever he forbids you, refrain from it.” (59:7)

Although the context of this verse relates to the distribution of the spoils of war, yet it is the well known principle of the interpretation of the Holy Quran that, notwithstanding the particular event in which a verse is revealed, if the words used are general, they are to be construed in their general sense; they cannot be restricted to that particular event.

Keeping in view this principle, which is never disputed, the verse gives a general rule about the Holy Prophet (SAWS) that whatever order he gives is binding on the believers and, whatever thing he forbids stands prohibited for them. The Holy Quran thus has conferred a legal authority to the Holy Prophet (SAWS) to give orders, to make laws and to enforce prohibitions.

It will be interesting here to cite a wise answer of Abdullah ibn Mas’ud (RA), the blessed companion of the Holy Prophet. A woman from the tribe of Asad came to Abdullah b. Mas’ud (RA) and said, ‘ I have come to know that you hold such and such things as prohibited. I have gone through the whole Book of Allah, but never found any such prohibition in it’.

Abdullah b. Mas’ud (RA) replied, “Had you read the Book, you would have found it. Allah Almighty says:

“Whatever the Messenger gives you, take it, and whatever he forbids you, refrain from it.” (59: 7)

By this answer Abdullah b. Mas’ud (RA) pointed out that this verse is so comprehensive that it embodies all the orders and prohibitions of the Holy Prophet (SAWS) and since the questioned prohibitions are enforced by the Holy Prophet (SAWS) they form part of this verse, though indirectly.

5. The Holy Quran says:

“But no, by your Lord, they shall not be (deemed to be) believers unless they accept you as judge in their disputes, then find in their hearts no adverse feeling against what you decided, but surrender to it in complete submission.” (4:65)

The authority of the Holy Prophet (SAWS) established in this verse seems apparently to be an authority to adjudicate in the disputes brought before him. But after due consideration in the construction used here, this authority appears to be more than that of a judge. A judge, no doubt, has an authority to deliver his judgments and the parties concerned are bound to obey his judgments, but the submission to his judgments is not a condition for being a Muslim. If somebody does not accept the judgment of a duly authorized judge, it can be a gross misconduct on his part, and a great sin, for which he may be punished, but he cannot be excluded from the pale of Islam on this score alone. He cannot be held as a disbeliever.

On the contrary, the verse vehemently insists that the person who does not accept the verdicts of the Holy Prophet (SAWS) cannot be held to be a believer. This forceful assertion indicates that the authority of the Holy Prophet (SAWS) is not merely that of a customary judge. The denial of his judgments amounts to disbelief. It implies that the verdicts of the Holy Prophet (SAWS) referred to here are not the normal verdicts given in the process of a trial. They are the laws laid down by him on the basis of the revelation, recited or unrecited, that he receives from Allah. So, the denial of these laws is, in fact, the denial of the divine orders which excludes the denier from the pale of Islam.

Looked at from this point of view this verse gives the Holy Prophet(SAWS) not only the authority of a judge, but also confers upon him the authority to make laws, as binding on the Muslims as the divine laws.

6. The Holy Quran says:

“They say, ‘we believe in Allah and the Messenger, and we obey.’ Then, after that, a group of them turn away. And they are not believers. And when they are called to Allah and His Messenger that he may judge between them, suddenly a group of them turn back. But if they had a right, they come to him submissively! Is it that there is sickness in their hearts? Or are they in doubt? Or do they fear that Allah may be unjust towards them, and His Messenger? Nay, but they are the unjust. All that the believers say when they are called to Allah and His Messenger that he (the Messenger) may judge between them is that they say, ‘We hear and we obey.’ And they are those who acquire success. And whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger and fears Allah and observes His Awe, such are those who are the winners.” (24:47-52)

These verses, too, hold that, in order to be a Muslim, the condition is to surrender to the verdicts of the Holy Prophet (SAWS). Those who do not turn towards him in their disputes inspite of being called to him cannot, according to the Holy Quran, be treated as believers. It carries the same principle as mentioned in the preceding verse: It is the basic ingredient of the belief in Allah and His Messenger that the authority of the Messenger should be accepted whole-heartedly. He must be consulted in disputes and obeyed. His verdicts must be followed in total submission, and the laws enunciated by him must be held as binding.


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