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

We have so far studied the two types of the Prophetic authority, first being the authority to make new laws in addition to those contained in the Holy Quran, and the second being the authority to explain, interpret and expound the Quranic injunctions.

But before proceeding to other aspects of the Prophetic authority, another issue should be resolved just here.

It is sometimes argued by those who hesitate to accept the full authority of the Sunnah, that whenever the Holy Quran has conferred on the Holy Prophet (SAWS) an authority to make laws or to explain and interpret the Book, it meant this authority to be binding on the people of the Prophet ‘s time only. They were under the direct control and the instant supervision of the Holy Prophet (SAWS) and were addressed by him face to face. Therefore, the Prophetic authority was limited to them only. It cannot be extended to all the generations for all times to come.

This contention leads us to the discovery of the time limits of the Prophetic authority. The question is whether the authority of the Holy Prophet (SAWS) was confined to his own time, or it is an everlasting authority which holds good for all times to come.

The basic question underlying this issue has already been answered in detail; and that is the question of the nature of this authority. It has been established through a number of arguments that the obedience of the Holy Prophet (SAWS) was not enjoined upon the Muslims in his capacity of a ruler. It has been enjoined in his capacity of a prophet. Had it been the authority of a ruler only, which the Holy Prophet (SAWS) exercised, it would logically be inferred that the authority is tied up with his rule, and as soon as his administrative rule is over, his authority simultaneously ceases to have effect.

But if the authority is a ‘Prophetic’ authority, and not merely a ‘ruling authority’, then, it is obvious that it shall continue with the continuance of the Prophethood, and shall not disappear until the Holy Prophet (SAWS) no longer remains a Prophet.

Now, the only question is whether the Holy Prophet (SAWS) was a prophet of a particular nation or a particular time, or his Prophethood extended to the whole mankind for all times. Let us seek the answer from the Holy Quran itself. The Holy Quran says: –

“Say, ‘O mankind, I am the Messenger of Allah to you all’ (7:158)

“And We did not send you (O Prophet) except to the entire mankind, bearing good news, and warning.” (34:28)

“And We did not send you, save as a mercy unto all the worlds.” (21:107)

“Blessed be He Who has sent down the Quran on His servant so that he may be a Warner to all the worlds.” (25:1)

“And We have sent you (0 Prophet,) for mankind as a Messenger. And Allah suffices to be a witness.” (4:79).

And the whole mankind is addressed when it is said:

“O mankind, the Messenger has come to you with the truth from your Lord, so believe; it is better for you. And if you disbelieve, to Allah belongs what is in the heavens and in the earth. And Allah is All – Knowing, All-Wise.” (4:170).

The first five verses need no elaboration. They are self- explanatory on the point that the Holy Prophet (SAWS) was sent to the whole mankind and not to a particular people; his Prophethood was not limited either in time or in place.

The fifth verse addresses the whole mankind and enjoins upon all of them to believe in the Holy Prophet (SAWS). Nobody can say that the belief of the Holy Prophet (SAWS) was restricted to his own time. It is, according to this verse, incumbent upon all the peoples, of whatever age, to believe in his Prophethood.

It is also mentioned in the Holy Quran that the Holy Prophet (SAWS) is the last Messenger after whom no Prophet is to come:

“Muhammad (SAWS) is not the father of anyone of your men, but the Messenger of Allah and the last of the prophets. And Allah is All-Knowing in respect of everything.” (33:40).

This verse made it clear that the Holy Prophet (SAWS) is the last one in the chain of prophets. The earlier prophets were often sent to a particular nation for a particular time, because they were succeeded by other prophets. But no prophet is to come after Muhammad (SAWS). Hence, his Prophethood extends to all the nations and all the times. This is what the Holy Prophet (SAWS) himself explained in the following words:

“The Israelites were led by the prophets. Whenever a prophet would pass away, another prophet would succeed him. But there is no prophet after me. However, there shall be successors, and shall be in large numbers.”

If the realm of his Prophethood would not reach out to the next generations, the people of those generations would be left devoid of the prophetic guidance, while Allah does not leave any people without prophetic guidance.

In the light of the verses quoted above, there remains no doubt in the fact that the Holy Prophet (SAWS) is a messenger to all the nations for all times to come.

If his Prophethood extends to all times, there remains no room for the suggestion that his prophetic authority does no longer hold good, and the present day Muslims are not bound to obey and follow him.

There is another point in the subject worth attention:

It is established through a large number of arguments in the first chapter that Allah Almighty sent no divine book without a messenger. It is also clarified by Allah that the messengers are sent to teach the Book and to explain it. It is also proved earlier that, but for the detailed explanations of the Holy Prophet (SAWS), nobody might know even the way of obligatory prayers.

The question now is whether all these Prophetic explanations were needed only by the Arabs of the Prophetic age. The Arabs of Makkah were more aware of the Arabic language than we are. They were more familiar to the Quranic style. They were physically present at the time of revelation and observed personally all the surrounding circumstances in which the Holy Book was revealed. They received the verses of the Holy Quran from the mouth of the Holy Prophet (SAWS), and were fully aware of all the factors which help in the correct understanding of a text. Still, they needed the explanations of the Holy Prophet (SAWS) which were binding on them.

Then, how can a man of ordinary perception presume that the people of this age, who lack all these advantages, do not need the explanations of a prophet? We have neither that command on the Arabic language as they had, nor are we as familiar with the Quranic style as they were, nor have we seen the circumstances in which the Holy Quran was revealed, as they have seen. If they needed the guidance of the Holy Prophet (SAWS) in interpreting the Holy Quran, we should certainly need it all the more.

If the authority of the Holy Quran has no time-limit, if the text of the Quran is binding on all the generations for all times to come, then, the authority of the Messenger which is included in the very Quran without being limited to any time bond, shall remain as effective as the Holy Quran itself. While ordaining for the ‘obedience of the messengers ‘the Holy Quran addressed not only the Arabs of Makkah or Madinah. It has addressed all the believers when it was said:

“O those who believe, obey Allah and obey the Messenger.” (4:59)

If the ‘obedience of Allah’ has always been combined with the ‘obedience of the Messenger’ as we have seen earlier, there is no room for separating any one from the other. If one is meant for all times, the other cannot be meant for a particular period. The Holy Quran at another place has also warned against such separation between Allah and His Messenger:

“Those who disbelieve in Allah and His Messengers, and desire to make separation between Allah and His messengers, and say, ‘we believe in some, and disbelieve in some’ desiring to adopt a way in between this and that– those are the unbelievers in truth, and We have prepared for the disbelievers a humiliating punishment.” (4:150,151)

Therefore, the submission to the authority of the Holy Prophet (SAWS) is a basic ingredient of having belief in his Prophethood, which can never be separated from him. Thus, to accept the prophetic authority in the early days of Islam, and to deny it in the later days, is so fallacious a proposition, that cannot find support from any source of Islamic learning, nor can it be accepted on any touchstone of logic and reason.

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