Part I: The Real Sharia

Practices of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)

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Two Types of Sunnah سنة

The Sunnah (سنة) is currently understood as the manner of life of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) in all the details that are mentioned in the books of traditions (Ahȃdith). The verbally transmitted record of his teachings, his deeds, his sayings, his silent permissions (or disapprovals), his habits of eating, his clothing, his hair and beard style, the type of shoes and clothes he wore, and similar details transmitted from various reports of his Companions and the Companions of the Companions is now included under the concept of Sunnah. According to widespread belief among Muslims, in particular the Ahl-Hadîth (e.g. Wahȃbîs and Salafîs) all practices and sayings of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) are to be adhered to in fulfilling the divine injunctions, carrying out religious rites, and molding life in accordance with the Will of God. The Qur’ânic verses 4:64 and 4:95 are commonly cited for this belief.
Unfortunately, most Muslims do not differentiate between the two types of the practices of the Holy Prophet [Sunnah]: the Sunnat al-‘Ibȃdiyat, سنٌة العبادية, and the Sunnat al-‘Âdîyat, سنة العادية. Those that raise all sayings of the Prophet to the level of religious law on par, or even superseding the teachings of the Holy Qur’an cite Qur’ânic verses such as “And We sent no Messenger but that he should be obeyed by the leave of Allah” (4:64) and “Obey Allah and obey the Apostle” (4:95) to support their claim. However, the words “obey Allah” and “…to be obeyed by the leave of Allah” only demand that we follow those religious injunctions that fall under Sunnat al-‘Ibȃdîyat, injunctions that are related to worship, morality, ethics and Muslim rituals of prayer, fasting, pilgrimage and social welfare endorsed by the Holy Qur’ȃn. Obedience to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is strictly within the Qur’ânic text and its teachings and does not encompass imitating his habits of daily life, which were not a result of Allah’s Commands, such as eating dates or growing a long beard. These personal habits are the Sunnat al-‘Âdîyat of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and are not a part of Qur’ȃnic teachings, nor are they included under the definition of taqwa (piety and righteousness) as described in all details in the Holy Qur’ȃn.

Practices of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)

Righteousness and Virtue is Sunnah Ibȃdîyyah

The Holy Qur’ȃn lays great importance and a heavy emphasis on righteousness (taqwa) throughout its pages. What is meant by taqwa and what is virtue? The following verse summarizes the answer:

لَّيْسَ الْبِرَّ أَن تُوَلُّوا وُجُوهَكُمْ قِبَلَ الْمَشْرِقِ وَالْمَغْرِبِ وَلَـٰكِنَّ الْبِرَّ مَنْ آمَنَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَالْمَلَائِكَةِ وَالْكِتَابِ وَالنَّبِيِّينَ

“It is not the sole virtue that you turn your faces to the East or the West but true virtue is theirs, who believe in Allâh, the Last Day, the Angels, the Book, and in the Prophets” (2:177)

Here, the word used for virtue is al-Birrun الْبِرَّ. In Arabic, birrun بِر means, to discharge one’s obligation towards God, but also includes the meaning to give people their due right. Al-Birrun الْبِرَّ is a general obligation, including the articles of Faith (Imȃn إيمان) and rights and obligations towards humankind. Thus, all acts connected with faith, equity (in the sense of fairness), kindness and the rights of next of kin, obligations of contracts and agreements, and ethical principals are encompassed by this word al-Birrun الْبِرَّ. This explanation is given in this verse. This verse begins by stating that the birrبِر is not a collection of empty rituals – just turning one’s face to the east or the west. What carries weight is to fulfill our obligations to our Creator and, crucially, also our fellow-beings:

وَآتَى الْمَالَ عَلَىٰ حُبِّهِ ذَوِي الْقُرْبَىٰ وَالْيَتَامَىٰ وَالْمَسَاكِينَ وَابْنَ السَّبِيلِ وَالسَّائِلِينَ وَفِي الرِّقَابِ وَأَقَامَ الصَّلَاةَ وَآتَى الزَّكَاةَ وَالْمُوفُونَ بِعَهْدِهِمْ إِذَا عَاهَدُوا ۖ وَالصَّابِرِينَ فِي الْبَأْسَاءِ وَالضَّرَّاءِ وَحِينَ الْبَأْسِ ۗ أُولَـٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ صَدَقُوا ۖ وَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُتَّقُونَ

“and who give away their wealth (and substance) out of love for Him, to the near of kin, the orphans, the needy, the wayfarer and to those who ask (in charity) and in ransoming the slaves; and who observe the Prayer, who go on presenting the Zakât (- the purifying alms) and those who always fulfill their pledges and agreements when they have made one, and those who are patiently persevering in adversity and distress and (steadfast) in times of war. It is these who have proved truthful (in their promises and in their faith) and it is these who are strictly guarded against evil.” (2:177)

There is another verse that clarifies this subject matter further:

لَن يَنَالَ اللَّهَ لُحُومُهَا وَلَا دِمَاؤُهَا وَلَـٰكِن يَنَالُهُ التَّقْوَىٰ مِنكُمْ ۚ كَذَ‌ٰلِكَ سَخَّرَهَا لَكُمْ لِتُكَبِّرُوا اللَّهَ عَلَىٰ مَا هَدَاكُمْ ۗ وَبَشِّرِ الْمُحْسِنِينَ

It is neither their flesh nor their blood (of these sacrifices) which matters to Allah but it is guarding against evil [taqwa التَّقْوَىٰ] and devotion to duty on your part that matters to Him. Thus, He has made them subservient to you that you may proclaim the greatness of Allah for His guiding you. And give glad tidings to the doers of good to others” (22:37)

Virtue and righteousness (taqwa) are described and explained in detail in various verses of the Holy Qur’ȃn (cf. 2:177; 3:15–17; 3:133–135; 5:27; 9:3; 16:128; 45:19; 65:2).

Unlike the moral example of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), the imitation of his habits (Sunnat al-‘Âdîyatسنٌة العادية ,) is not mandatory (wâjib, واجب); if it were, it would be a very heavy or even impossible burden for the Muslim community. Some of the Holy Prophet’s (pbuh) actions were the results of his specific personal circumstances and preferences. He was a trader, he rode horses and traveled on the back of camels, he fought with a sword. Sometimes the Holy Prophet (pbuh) would vary his habits, presumably to prevent imitation. For example, the hair on his head was at times short and at other times so long that it touched the ground when he was in a state of prostration (sajdah). We need not follow such of his habits. We are expected to follow only the commands of the Holy Qur’ȃn that he charged us to follow with his own actions (Sunnat al-‘Ibâdîyat, سُنٌة العبادية).

Allah has taught us a beautiful Prayer in the Holy Qur’ȃn:

لَا يُكَلِّفُ اللَّهُ نَفْسًا إِلَّا وُسْعَهَا ۚ لَهَا مَا كَسَبَتْ وَعَلَيْهَا مَا اكْتَسَبَتْ ۗ رَبَّنَا لَا تُؤَاخِذْنَا إِن نَّسِينَا أَوْ أَخْطَأْنَا ۚ رَبَّنَا وَلَا تَحْمِلْ عَلَيْنَا إِصْرًا كَمَا حَمَلْتَهُ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِنَا ۚ رَبَّنَا وَلَا تُحَمِّلْنَا مَا لَا طَاقَةَ لَنَا بِهِ ۖ وَاعْفُ عَنَّا وَاغْفِرْ لَنَا وَارْحَمْنَا ۚ أَنتَ مَوْلَانَا فَانصُرْنَا عَلَى الْقَوْمِ الْكَافِرِينَ

“Allâh charges no soul but to its capacity. It (- the soul) shall be paid for that which it has done (of good) and against it who has incurred (evil deliberately). (Pray.) ‘Our Lord! Take us not to task if we forget or (if) we make a mistake. Our Lord! Lay not upon us the burden (of disobedience) as You laid upon those before us. Our Lord! Charge us not with the responsibility which we have not the strength to bear; therefore overlook our faults and grant us protection and have mercy on us. You are our Master, therefore help us against the disbelieving people’.” (2:286)

The words رَبَّنَا لَا تُؤَاخِذْنَا إِننَّسِينَا أَوْ أَخْطَأْنَاۚ, “Our Lord! Take us not to task if we forget or (if) we make a mistake” (2:286), imply that no severe punishments may apply to involuntary transgressions (khatâ’ خطاء) or forgetfulness (nisyân نسيان). Allâh imposes on every soul only that burden which it has the capacity to bear (cf. 2:233; 6:152; 7:42; 23:62), and He desires to bring ease to His servant. The wordsرَبَّنَا وَلَا تُحَمِّلْنَا مَا لَا طَاقَةَ لَنَا بِهِ , “Our Lord! Lay not upon us the burden (of disobedience)” (2:286), reminds us of our limitations.

With the Qur’ȃnic words “as You laid upon those before us,”كَمَا حَمَلْتَهُ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِنَا (2:286), the Lawgiver intends to lessen the burden of religious prescriptions by reiterating warnings about how the Jews in the time of Moses were obsessed with minute details of their religious law, an obsession that led to a dramatic and unnecessary escalation of religious rules (cf. 2:67–71). These words also tell us that we are not obligated to follow any religious laws promulgated before ours, despite the fact that many were authentic sacred laws of that community and we do not consider such laws to be false. Blind conformity (taqlîd, تقليد) with the opinions of past or contemporary self-proclaimed “men of knowledge” or religious scholars and muftis (legal specialists), amounts to shirk (association of other gods with Allâh) and is not allowed in matters of Divine Laws. Their opinion is permissible only if they have a clear and strong support in the words of the Holy Qur’ân. If no reference is made in the Holy Qur’ân, then no one has the right to “fill in the blanks” of halȃl (permitted) and harȃm (forbidden), and endow their self-conceived injunction with the status of Divine Law (Sharia).

Compare the most common English Quran translations side by side

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