The Development of the Term ‘Sunnah’: An Essay

Examine critically the usage and development of the term Sunnah in early Islam.

In this essay I will critically examine the term Sunnah by discussing two important aspects; its usage in the early period of Islām and its development on the one hand and the issue of its authoritativeness as theorised by the German Orientalist Joseph Schacht on the other. Accordingly, this essay is divided into two parts although they both compose one organic whole. In the first part I will examine the different definitions of the term Sunnah from a linguistic point of view and trace its mode of use through different Islamic fields of knowledge to which it was exposed including Qur’ānic studies, the Science of Traditions, theology and jurisprudence.  From this it will be shown that the term was quite fluid thus containing different meanings and usages; however by the beginning of the second century it had been standardised and restricted to one particular signification.

The second part of the essay will deal with Schacht’s central contention that the term Sunnah was originally understood by the ancient schools of law to mean ‘the living tradition’ or the ideal practices of the community and not the Sunnah of the Prophet which was a concept first opined by the eponym of the Shāfi῾ī school of law Muḥammad b. Idrīs al- Shāfi῾ī (d.204AH). This essay will argue that although the term Sunnah may have been utilised varyingly the concept of the Sunnah of the Prophet as an authoritative source was in existence from a much earlier stage than Schacht proposed.

Significations of the Term Sunnah 

The famous Arab lexicologist, Ibn Manẓūr defined the word Sunnah in his magnum opus Lisān al-῾Arab as a line of conduct, course or way or mode of life whether it be good or bad[1]. He also states that the term Sunnah itself originally signified a path which was traversed by the early people which subsequently became a path for those after them[2]. The root verb from which the word derives itself means to institute or establish a custom or practice which may be good or bad and to originate such in order to be followed by others after him[3]. The collocation or idiom sanna ṭarīqatan means to pursue a way, course or mode or manner of acting or conducting life. The term Sunnah is synonymous according to Lane with the word ṭarīqah[4]. The seventh century litterateur, Ibn al-Athīr discusses the term by mentioning that it originally signified a path and way of life[5]. However, when utilised religiously it denotes what the Prophet Muḥammad had commanded, forbidden and recommended whether through statements or actions and which is not articulated in the Qur’ān. For this reason he states, when referring to the evidences of the Sharī’ah one says The Book and the Sunnah meaning the Qur’ān and the Ḥadīth[6].

However the signification of a path and way of life was a later linguistic development predating Islām for we find, as Anṣārī posits, that the trilateral verb sanna originally meant ‘to flow’ and it denoted the ‘continuity of a thing with ease and smoothness’[7]. It also later extended to include the face itself following the collocation masnūn al-wajh referring to a person with a smooth and well shaped face[8]. It further evolved to incorporate the meaning of human behaviour and still retaining the sense of ease and smoothness it went on to denote a mode or way that could be adopted without difficulty[9]. Finally, it came to be used to refer to the Sunnah of so and so referring to ‘moral appropriateness and normativeness’[10].

Its use in the Qur’ān is less than conspicuous as it is mentioned 16 times being used in the genitive as Sunnatullāh (Sunnah of Allāh) eight times, Sunnatinā (Our Sunnah) two times Sunnat al-Awwalīn (Sunnah of the Ancients) four times and Sunnata man qad arsalnā qablaka min rusulinā (Sunnah of those who We have sent before you from our Messengers) two times[11]. Each occurrence in the Qur’ān contains a specialised meaning so for example the Sunnah of Allāh refers to His modus operandi[12], path to His obedience or His Sharī῾ah[13]. Sunnat al-Awwalīn refers to the manner in which God dealt with those who disbelieved and rejected His message[14] whilst the last phrase also denotes a similar meaning although referring to those who persecuted the Messenger in Makkah[15].

Despite its obvious absence in the Qur’ān, the usage and concept which has influenced the formation of Muslim thought the most is the term ‘Sunnah of the Prophet’[16]. However, its complete signification and discussion over its authoritativeness will be dilated upon in the second half of this essay. In this section I will discuss the use of the term al-Sunnah as used in Islamic jurisprudence, the science of traditions and works of theology. According to the early jurists (fuqhahā’), the term al-Sunnah has one of four possible meanings[17]; the first being a traversed path in the religion which is not obligatory. Secondly; an action persistently practiced by the Prophet but he did not indicate to it being obligatory. Thirdly; it denotes an action that is sought from the subject of the law strongly despite it not being obligatory. Fourthly; it refers to an action for which one deserves reward for its accomplishment and does not incur a threat of punishment for non-implementation.  In the lexicon of the Uṣūlīs it refers to the consensus that it is a Sharī῾ah evidence by which judicial rulings can be deduced and it includes what is mentioned from the Prophet in terms of his sayings, actions or tacit approvals[18].

This last usage is similar to the definition posited by traditionists in defining adīth (traditions) although the more refined definition is ‘what was attributed to the Prophet in terms of sayings, actions, tacit approvals or descriptions’[19]. Accordingly, it is evident that the Sunnah was equated with traditions due to the fact that ḥadīths were the repositories of the Sunnah[20].

Finally, the term Sunnah came to be used to refer to everything that was the antithesis of innovation (bidah). The expansion of the Islamic empire brought under its control diverse peoples and their cultures some of which was retained by these converts and syncretised with the original Islām. Additionally, access to Hellenistic philosophical works led to the proclamation of ideas, which according to the traditionists who saw themselves as the preservers and defenders of the Sunnah, were heretical. As a result, some authored works which sought to clarify the correct creed which was propagated by the Prophet and his Companions. Such works were typically entitled ‘al-Sunnah’, so we find Uṣūl al-Sunnah of Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal (d.241), the eponym of the Ḥanbalī School of law, Shar al-Sunnah of al-Barbahārī (d.329) and al-Sunnah of Ibn Abī ῾Āṣim (d.287) setting out to achieve such an aim[21].

The contents of such works not only included creedal matters but also juristic issues such as wiping of the socks for ritual ablution which was an issue rejected by some sects. With such a variety of issues incorporated in these treatises it is obvious the word al-Sunnah[22] to them denoted more than just creed and more than just what the Prophet proclaimed. In fact, this particular use also included the Sunnah of the Rightly Guided Caliphs. Evidence of this use lies with the eighth century Ḥanbalī jurist and traditionist, Ibn Rajab (d.795) who provided a holistic definition of the term Sunnah which conceptualises this particular feature by stating that the Sunnah is the trodden path which includes strongly adhering to what the Prophet was upon and his Rightly Guided Caliphs in terms of beliefs, actions and statements[23]. This, he says while conceding some later scholars utilised it exclusively to refer to doctrinal matters,  is the complete Sunnah which is why the Ancient Predecessors (Salaf) would not apply the term al-Sunnah to anything except to the totality of what was mentioned[24].

Schacht and the Sunnah

In his seminal work on Islamic law entitled ‘The Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence’ Schacht paints a different picture when he examines the historical development of legal theory beginning with Muḥammad b. Idrīs al-Shāfi῾ī back to the earliest stages in the growth of Islamic jurisprudence[25]. One of his central arguments was that the ancient schools of law originally understood by the term Sunnah ‘the living tradition’ or ‘al-amr al-mujtama alayh[26]. Essentially, as Forte notes, the ‘Sunnah of the Prophet’ was used only theologically in the early years and not with a legal meaning and according to Schacht it was not ‘a shorthand version of the positive legal rules of the Prophet’[27]; a view which contradicts al-Shāfi῾ī’s postulation in his al-Risālah. Although he goes on to posit further arguments as a result of this assumption, our primary focus in this section will be on evaluating some of the evidences Schacht produces to substantiate his argument in this regard.

With the ‘Sunnah of the Prophet’ notion acquiring authority much later than believed by Muslim scholars, the early reality of Sunnah, according to Schacht, was composed essentially of three types. During the Caliphate and early Umayyad reign it consisted of long-standing traditional Arab customs and practices which apparently formed the ‘bulk of the legal rules in Arabia’[28]. Secondly, local customs and Umayyad administrative rules applied in newly conquered territories created a ‘parallel sunna’[29]. Finally, doctrines arising from schools of law which further developed these laws and customs called the ‘living tradition’ went on to form the third type of Sunnah[30].

Critics of Schacht’s theory, such as Azami, have argued that the authority of the Prophet is explicitly stated in numerous verses of the Qur’ān which exhorts and orders the believers to render themselves in obedience to the Prophet without question[31]. Importantly, Schacht failed to consult the Qur’ān as part of his study into the authoritativeness of the Prophet as a legal actor. Azami quotes the Qur’ān as describing the Prophet as the expounder of the Qur’ān[32], one endowed with legislative power[33], an excellent model to be emulated[34] and one who should be fully obeyed[35]. The Qur’ān, Azami notes, does not state that the source of law as such is the Sunnah however[36], what it does do is clarify the concept; a concept which predated the definition of the term Sunnah[37].

Schacht’s view that the Iraqians were the first to coin the term ‘sunna of the Prophet’[38] is questionable. Evidence for the concept of the Sunnah of the Prophet carrying primary authoritative status is found in early ḥadīth literature in which the Prophet, according to traditionists, utilised the term himself. The problem with this type of evidence lies in the fact that traditions are viewed with great scepticism in Orientalist discourse, especially since the nineteenth century as is evident in the works of Goldziher et al. Nevertheless, in the Musnad of Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal a tradition is narrated from the Companion al-῾Irbād b. Sāriyah in which he relates the Prophet delivered a stirring sermon ordering them to hear and obey no matter who is put in charge of them and to adhere to his Sunnah and the Sunnah of the Rightly Guided Caliphs after him[39].

Ansari quotes evidence demonstrating both the wide use and authoritative nature of the term Sunnah of the Prophet in the early first century of Islām. For example, ῾Umar explained the function of his officials as including instructing people ‘in their religion and the Sunnah of their Prophet’[40]. Furthermore, after the death of ῾Umar the two leading candidates for the Caliphal role; ῾Uthmān and ῾Alī, were both questioned as to whether they would work according to not only the Sunnah of the Prophet but also of the two preceding Caliphs[41]. Finally, in a letter from the famous ascetic Successor al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī, which he wrote to the Umayyad Caliph ῾Abd al-Mālik defending his doctrinal position regarding the issue of pre-decree he elicits the doctrine of the Salaf in his defence by adding that they followed the Sunnah of the Messenger[42].

One argument Schacht adduces to substantiate his view that the old idea of the Sunnah was not the same one that Shāfi῾ī came to define, is the words of Ibn Muqaffa’; ‘a secretary of state in late Umaiyad and early ῾Abbāsid times’[43]. Ibn Muqaffa’, claims Schacht, came to the conclusion that ‘the Caliph was free to fix and codify the alleged sunna’[44]. In the eyes of Ansari and Azami this is problematic since Ibn Muqaffa’ was not a jurist but a government official and litterateur whose focus was on administrative issues; areas in which ra’y (informed opinion) was utilised in the absence of any textual guidance[45]. In fact, a holistic reading of Ibn Muqaffa’s treatise, according to Azami, provides the exact context and the precise meaning of his words become crystal clear so to speak. He, in fact, believed that the Caliph was bound by the Sunnah of the Prophet and that of the Rightly Guided Caliphs[46]. Accordingly Azami concludes it is difficult to see how this piece of text was used by Schacht to deduce the view ‘that law in the first century was not based on the Qur’ān and Sunnah’[47].

Motzki on the other hand criticises Azami for not understanding Schacht’s reasoning for mentioning Ibn Muqaffa’[48]. He states that Schacht did not wish to draw the conclusion from this particular source that neither the Qur’ān nor the Sunnah formed the basis of law in the first century as Azami appears to understand it, rather he was reporting a descriptive observation from Ibn Muqaffa’[49]. However, it appears to this writer that Azami was responding to the implication of Ibn Muqaffa’s statement as quoted by Schacht which gives the impression that the Sunnah of the Prophet did not hold authoritative status with the early Muslims – a conclusion Schacht seeks to demonstrate throughout the whole of his book.

Nevertheless, in responding to Schacht’s view regarding a particular tradition relating to the legal position of divorcing a woman during her menstrual cycle, Motzki argues that Schacht is wrong in attempting to shift its origin to the middle of the second century when in fact the latest time to which it should be attributed is the first quarter of that century[50]. The reason being, according to Schacht’s own common link theory it appears that Ibn ῾Umar was the ‘original source of the Prophetic tradition’[51].  The point which relates to our discussion however is the fact that the early Meccan jurist ῾Aṭā’ referred to this tradition in responding to legal question which demonstrates that he ‘not only held the legal position but also knew the corresponding tradition of the Prophet’[52].

A final cursory point which should be made with regards to evidences Schacht brings throughout his book which seek to substantiate his theory that the Sunnah of the Prophet was not an authoritative concept in the first century of Islām, is in relation to the utilisation of or disregard for traditions in proving judicial rulings among early jurists.  The prominent medieval scholar and jurist commonly referred to as Shaykh al-Islām ibn Taymiyyah (d.728) authored a small treatise entitled ‘Removing the Blame from the Great Imāms’ in which he posits a number of factors which may have led a jurist to base his ruling on other than textual evidence such as traditions – a stark contrast to Schacht’s cynical view on the integrity of early Muslim jurists. Three main reasons are given; firstly, the jurist may not have believed that the Prophet actually made a statement on the topic in hand due to nescience of all available traditions[53] or the belief that the tradition was unsound. Secondly, even if a tradition did exist it may not have, in the jurist’s view been applicable to that issue at hand[54]. Thirdly, the text may have been considered to be abrogated[55]. Such factors it appears may be applied to majority of the cases Schacht quotes.

In conclusion, I have examined the term Sunnah by tracing its definition through time and its various uses in different areas of Islamic knowledge such as in the science of traditions and jurisprudence. I have attempted to show that the term was used varying and with different meanings and that the genitive use of the word Sunnah as in the ‘Sunnah of so and so’ was not only used for the Prophet’s regulatory practices but also his Companions’ practices and even more broadly the practices and customs of others. However, the term Sunnah came to be restricted to the concept of the Prophet’s authoritative words and practice; a concept which had already existed prior to the restriction of the term to this particular concept. I have also examined some arguments posited by Schacht which sought to substantiate his view that the Sunnah of the Prophet was originally not authoritative and attempted to demonstrate the weaknesses they possess. Finally, I have briefly mentioned some legitimate factors which may have caused an early jurist to discard the use of a tradition in support of his juridical position; factors which are less cynical than those put forth by Schacht.                                                     WORD COUNT: 2859

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[1] Ibn Manẓūr, (2003) Lisān al-Arab. Cairo: Dār al-Ḥadīth, v.4, p.716

[2] Ibid, v.4, p.717

[3] Lane, Edward William (1968) An Arabic to English Lexicon. Beirut: Librarie du Liban, vol.4, p.1436, column 2

[4] Loc. cit.

[5] Ibn al-Athīr, Abū al-Sa῾ādāt al-Mubārak (1428/2008) al-Nihāyah fī Gharīb al-adīth wa al-Athar, ed. ῾Alī b. Ḥasan al-Ḥalabī. Al-Dammām: Dār Ibn al-Jawzī, p.449

[6] Ibid. p.449. Interestingly Ibn al-Athīr’s definition is mentioned verbatim in Ibn Manẓūr’s Lisān, v.4, p717.

[7] Anṣārī, Zafar Isḥāq, Islamic Juristic Terminology before al-Shāfi῾ī: A Semantic Analysis with Special Reference to Kūfah, Arabica, T.19, Fasc. 3 (Oct. 1972), p.5

[8] Ibid, p.6

[9] Loc. cit.

[10] Ibid, p.7

[11] ῾Abd al-Bāqī, Muḥammad Fu’ād (1417/1996) Mu’jam al-Mufahharas li Alfāẓ al-Qur’ān al-Karīm. Cairo: Dār al-Ḥadīth, p.451

[12] Anṣārī, Zafar Isḥāq, Islamic Juristic Terminology before al-Shāfi῾ī: A Semantic Analysis with Special Reference to Kūfah, Arabica, T.19, Fasc. 3 (Oct. 1972), p.8

[13] Al-Handāwī, ῾Abd al-Ḥamīd (2007) Mufradāt Alfāẓ al-Qur’ān al-Karīm by al-Rāghib al-Aṣfahānī in Jāmi῾ al-Bayān fī Mufradāt al-Qur’ān. Riyāḍ: Maktabah al-Rushd, v.1, p.460

[14] Anṣārī, Zafar Isḥāq, Islamic Juristic Terminology before al-Shāfi῾ī: A Semantic Analysis with Special Reference to Kūfah, Arabica, T.19, Fasc. 3 (Oct. 1972), p.8

[15] al-Ṭabarī, Muḥammad b. Jarīr (2001) Jāmi al-Bayān an Ta’wīl Āyā al-Qur’ān, ed. ῾Abd Allāh b. Abd al-Muḥsin al-Turkī. Cairo: Dār Hajr, v.15, p.21

[16] Anṣārī, Zafar Isḥāq, Islamic Juristic Terminology before al-Shāfi῾ī: A Semantic Analysis with Special Reference to Kūfah, Arabica, T.19, Fasc. 3 (Oct. 1972), p.8

[17] Al-Mawsū῾ah al-Fiqhiyyah, (1980) Kuwait: Wizārah al-Awqāf wa al-Shu’ūn al-Islāmiyyah, v.25, pp.264-266

[18] Loc. cit.

[19] Al-Ṭaḥḥān, Maḥmūd (2004) Taysīr Muṣṭalaḥ al-Ḥadīth. Riyāḍ: Maktabah al-Ma῾ārif, p.17

[20] Forte, David (c.1999) Studies in Islamic Law: Classical and Contemporary Application. Landham: Austin & Winfield, p.39

[21] Brown, Jonathan (2009) adīth: Muammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World. Oxford: Oneworld Publications, p.36

[22] By the end of the second century the use of the term Sunnah prefixed with the definite article ‘al’ referred exclusively to the Sunnah of the Prophet as stated in legal books and deductions thereof. See: Azami, M.M. (1992) Studies in adīth Methodology and Literature. Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, p.4

[23] Ibn Rajab, ῾Abd al-Raḥmān b. Shihāb al-Dīn (2004) Jāmi al-Ulūm wa al-ikam eds. Shu῾ayb al-Arnā’ūt & Ibrāhīm Baljis. Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risālah, part 2, p.120

[24] Loc. cit.

[25] Wakin, Jeannette, Remembering Joseph Schacht (1902-1969), Islamic Legal Studies Program: Harvard Law School. Occasional Publications 4; January 2003, p.24

[26] Schacht, Joseph (2010) The Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence. New York: American Council of Learned Societies, p.58

[27] Forte, David (c.1999) Studies in Islamic Law: Classical and Contemporary Application. Landham: Austin & Winfield, p.45

[28] Ibid, p.43

[29] Loc. cit.

[30] Loc. cit.

[31] Azami, M.M. (1992) Studies in adīth Methodology and Literature. Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, p.5

[32] The Qur’ān, 16:44

[33] Ibid, 7:157

[34] Ibid,  33: 21

[35] Ibid, 4:64

[36] Azami, M.M. (1992) Studies in adīth Methodology and Literature. Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, p.7

[37] Loc. cit.

[38] Schacht, Joseph (2010) The Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence. New York: American Council of Learned Societies, p.73

[39] Ibn Ḥanbal, Aḥmad (1416/1995) Musnad al-Imām Amad b. anbal, eds. Shu῾ayb al-Arnā’ūt and ῾Ādil Murshid. Beirut: Mu’assah al-Risālah, vol.28, pp. 367-376 (narrations 17142 and 17144-46)

[40] Anṣārī, Zafar Isḥāq, Islamic Juristic Terminology before al-Shāfi῾ī: A Semantic Analysis with Special Reference to Kūfah, Arabica, T.19, Fasc. 3 (Oct. 1972), p.263

[41] Loc. cit.

[42] Loc. cit.

[43] Schacht, Joseph (2010) The Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence. New York: American Council of Learned Societies, p.58

[44] Ibid, p.59

[45] Anṣārī, Zafar Isḥāq, Islamic Juristic Terminology before al-Shāfi῾ī: A Semantic Analysis with Special Reference to Kūfah, Arabica, T.19, Fasc. 3 (Oct. 1972), p.265

[46] Azami, M.M. (1996) On Schacht’s Origins of Muammadan Jurisprudence.  Oxford: Islamic Texts Society, p.42

[47] Ibid, p.43

[48] Motzki, Harald (2002) The Origins of Islamic Jurisprudence: Meccan Fiqh before the Classical Schools, Translator: Marion H. Katz. Leiden: Brill, p.43

[49] Loc. cit.

[50] Ibid, p.136

[51] Loc. cit

[52] Ibid, p.135

[53] Ibn Taymiyyah, Aḥmad b. Abd al-Ḥalīm (1413) Raf῾ al-Malām ῾an al-A’immah al-A῾lām. Riyāḍ: Ri’āsah al-῾Āmmah li Idārah al-Buḥūth al-῾Ilmiyyah wa al-Ifṭā’ wa al-Da῾wah wa al-Irshād, p.9

[54] Loc. cit.

[55] Loc. cit.

Hadith Qudsi

The following has been translated from Al-Qawl al-Mufīd ‘ala Kitāb al-Tawhīd vol.1, pp. 80-83 of Shaykh Muhammad bin Sālih al ‘Uthaymīn – may Allāh have mercy upon him.

[Definition]

The hadīth qudsī is: that which the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) has reported from his Lord and the scholars of hadīth have included it amongst the Prophetic hadīth due to the fact that it is attributed to the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) as a form of conveyance. It is not part of the Qur’ān according to the consensus even though the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) had conveyed every one of them to his nation from Allāh – the Almighty and Exalted.

[Differing Views]

The scholars – may Allāh have mercy upon them – have differed with respect to the wording of the hadīth qudsī: is it the speech of Allāh the Most High or is it the case that Allāh the Most High revealed its meaning to His Messenger and the wording is that of the Messenger of Allāh (may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)? There are two views in this regard:

The First View: the hadīth qudsī is from Allāh both in wording and meaning because the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) ascribed it to Allāh the Most High and it is well known that the fundamental principle regarding attributed speech is that it is in the wording of the original speaker and not the transmitter especially in the case of the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) who is the strongest person in terms of trustworthiness and the most reliable in narration.

The Second View: the meaning of the hadīth qudsī is from Allāh whilst the wording is that of the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and that is due to two reasons:

Firstly: If the hadīth qudsī was from Allāh in wording and meaning then it would be higher in terms of the chain of narration than the Qur’ān; this is due to the fact that the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) narrates it {directly} from his Lord the Most High without any intermediary as is apparent from the context. As for the Qur’ān it was revealed to the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) by means of Jibrīl as He the Most High stated:

‘Say (O Muhammad) Rūh al-Qudus (Jibrīl) has brought it (Qur’ān) down from your Lord’ al-Nahl (16): 102

He also stated:

‘Which the trustworthy spirit (Jibrīl) has brought down. Upon your heart (O Muhammad) that you may be one of the warners. In the plain Arabic language.’

al-Shu’arā (26): 193-195

Secondly: If the wording of the hadīth qudsī was from Allāh then there would be no difference between it and the Qur’ān because both of them in this regard are the speech of Allāh the Most High. Wisdom necessitates establishing equality in the ruling when two entities agree in origin and it is known that there are many differences between the Qur’ān and the hadīth qudsī:

[Differences Between the Qur’ān and Ḥadīth Qudsī]

1) The hadīth qudsī is not recited to engage in worship meaning that people do not worship Allāh the Most High merely by reciting it, hence one is not rewarded ten good deeds for every one of its letters whereas the Qur’ān is used to perform worship by its recitation with every one of its letters equal to ten good deeds.

2) Allāh the Most High challenges the people to bring the like of the Qur’ān or a verse from it and this has not been mentioned with respect to the hadīth qudsī.

3) The Qur’ān has been preserved by Allāh the Most High, far is He removed from any imperfections stated:

‘Verily, it is We Who have sent down the Dhikr (Qur’ān) and surely We will guard it (from corruption).’ al-Hijr (15): 9

The ahādīth qudsiyyah differ in this regard since there are sound ones and fair ones rather even weak or fabricated ones have been added to them. This is the case even though they are not counted amongst them nevertheless reference, deferment, increase and omission have been attributed to them.

4) It is not permitted to recite the Qur’ān in meaning according to the consensus of the Muslims, as for the ahādīth qudsiyyah then the opposite is the case since it is permissible to narrate the Prophetic hadīth in meaning and the majority allow it.

5) The recitation of the Qur’ān has been legislated in the prayer and part of this is that the prayer is not correct without its recitation in contradistinction to the hadīth qudsī.

6) The Qur’ān may not be touched except by one who is pure according to the most correct opinion[1] in contrast to the hadīth qudsī

7) The Qur’ān may not be read by the one in sexual impurity until he bathes according to the predominant opinion in contrast to the hadīth qudsī.

8] The Qur’ān has been established by successively definitive numerous chains of narrations which amount to beneficial certain knowledge. Thus, if one rejects a letter from it which the reciters have consensus upon then he is a disbeliever; this is in contrast to hadīth qudsī; if one rejects something from them claiming that it is not established then he has not disbelieved as for the case in which he rejects it along with the knowledge that the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) had actually stated it then he is a disbeliever due to disbelieving the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

They have responded to the fact that the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) attributed it to Allāh and that the fundamental principle with respect to attributed speech is that it is in the wording of the one who originally stated it with the acknowledgement that this is the fundamental principle. However (they say that) a statement may have been attributed to its originator in meaning and not in wording as occurs in the Noble Qur’ān. Indeed, Allāh the Most High has attributed statements to their speaker while we know that they have been ascribed to them in meaning and not wording as occurs in the “Stories of the Prophets” and others besides them, the speech of the hoopoe bird and the ant; for it occurs in other than the definitive wording.

By this the dominance of this view becomes clear, this difference is not like the difference between the Ashā’irah and Ahl al-Sunnah regarding the Speech of Allāh because the difference between them is in respect to the origin of the Speech of Allāh the Most High. Ahl al-Sunnah state: the Speech of Allāh the Most High is genuinely real which is heard and the One far removed from any imperfections speaks with a voice and letters while the Ashā’irah do not affirm that. They only state: the Speech of Allāh the Most High is the self existent meaning and is not letters or a voice rather Allāh creates a voice by which the self existent meaning is expressed. There is no doubt in the falsity of their view and in reality this is the view of the Mu’tazilah, because they say: the Qur’ān is created, it is the Speech of Allāh and they (Ashā’irah) say: the Qur’ān is created and it is an expression of the Speech of Allāh. Hence, they have agreed that what is between the two covers of the mushaf is created.

Furthermore, if it is said regarding our issue – the speech regarding the hadīth qudsī -: it is more appropriate to abandon delving into this out of fear that it would be from amongst the over stringent acts that destroy its people and that restricting {ourselves} to the statement that the hadīth qudsī is what the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) narrated from his Lord suffices then that would be sufficient and perhaps the most safest and Allāh knows best.


[1] This is questionable according to al-Άllāmah al-Albānī (may Allāh have mercy upon him). Refer to pp. 107-108 of Tamām al-Minnah.