ʿAmal and Ḥadith: Two Approaches to the Sunnah

ʿAmal and Ḥadith: Two Approaches to the Sunnah

Over time two views evolved concerning the methodology that should be used to derive and formulate the Sunnah.

One group – the people of Madinah utilized Ḥadith to derive the Sunnah. The Ḥadith they used were not only from the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم, but also from the Sahaabah and Tabiʿiin and Tabiʿu-t-Tabiʿiin. They also used the authoritative pronouncements of the khalifahs, the decision of the qaadis, and the generally practice  which had been agreed upon through the consensus of the ʿulamaa’ of Madinah as sources for deriving the Sunnah.  To them, the sunnah was organic, that is to say, an on going living reality that extended from the time of the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم to their time.

The other group – the Muhadith-thuun (scholars of traditions) believed that sunnah was only derived from Ḥadith going back to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم .

Imaam Maalik, who recorded the ʿAmal (social and behavioral practice) of the people of Madinah in his book Al-Muwatta generally opens each of its legal chapters with a Ḥadith from the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم.  However,  he and the people of Madinah did not believe that the Sunnah was solely derived and formulated from these oral transmission (Ḥadith).  They believed that the Sunnah was best derived and formulated from the living transmission in the form of ʿAmal.  In the case of Imaam Maalik, it was the ʿAmal of the People of Madinah which was consider to be the primary source for deriving and establishing the Sunnah.  The ʿAmal of the people of Madinah was seen as a standard of behavior that was linked to the Sunnah of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم and a living and continuous practice which had passed from father to son from the time of Prophet up until their era. A statement which has been ascribed to Rabiiʿah ibn Abi ʿAbdu-r-Rahmaan one of the teachers of Imaam Maalik sums up the position of Imaam Maalik  and the Madinans on this point:

“A thousand from a thousand is better than one from one.  For one from one would tear the Sunnah right out of our hands”, that is to say, accepting a practice that a thousand people have learned from a thousand people who came before them is better than  accepting a practice which is in base on one Ḥadith that has been transmitted only from one transmitter to another and that stands in direct opposition to that accepted practice or ʿAmal.

Ibn al-Qaasim the chief transmitter of Maalik’s views and his pupil said: in reference to a particular Ḥadith concerning a woman married without the permission of her guardian, “This Ḥadith has come down to us and if it were accompanied by a practice which had been passed on by the predecessor of those from whom we have taken it, it would be right to follow,  but in fact, it is like those other Ḥadith which are not accompanied by practice.” This point of view which has been expressed by Ibn al-Qaasim was rendered after giving Maalik’s  view that the marriage of a woman without the permission of her guardian was invalid although interpretation of the Ḥadith from ʿAa’ishah in which she acted as an agent in the marriage of Hafsah bint Abdu-r-Rahmaan to al-Mundhir bin az-Zubair (without the permission of her father who was away traveling) has given the impression that such a marriage was valid.  Ibn al Qaasim does not challenge the authenticity of the hadith, however he states:

“We do not know what the tafsiir (explanation) of this is, except that we assume that she appointed someone else to actually contract the marriage.”

He further states:

“The ʿAmal (concerning this matter), which is confirmed and accompanied by practice is found in the words of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم  , ‘A woman should not be married without a legal guardian’ and the words of ʿUmar, ‘A woman should not marry without a legal guardian’ and the fact that ʿUmar separated a man and a woman who married without a legal guardian.’ ”

So ḥadiths of this nature were not discredited in principle nor adopted in practice by the Madinans.  They were transmitted from the Companions to the Tabiʿiin and then they were transmitted to the Tabi’u-t-Tabiʿiin all without having been rejected or doubted.  But the Ḥadith which were not exemplified by a traceable on going practice of ʿAmal (behavior) were left aside while what was corroborated by an on going practice was followed.

The above evidence points out the difference between Imaam  Ash-Shaafiʿii  view of what authenticates the Sunnah and that of Imaam Maalik.  According to Imaam Ash-Shaafiʿii  the only valid and authoritative way to authenticate a sunnah practice is to rely on Ḥadith going back to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم.  Ash-Shaafiʿii  is very emphatic on this point and he does not even recognize practice or consensus when they do not conform to the Qur’an and Sunnah.  According to Ash-Shaafiʿii  Sunnat-al-Islam and Sunnah of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم are synonymous.  Imaam Ash-Shaafiʿii  said in his Risaalah:

“When a reliable person relates from a reliable person until it reaches the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم, then it becomes authoritative,  we will not set it aside unless another Ḥadith from the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم becomes available which contradicts it…”  On the other hand, according to Maalik, Sunnah is not merely based on Hadith.  It must also be corroborated as a practice by a traceable  ʿAmal.

Published on July 13, 2010 at 01:02  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I like uthman bin fodio or Muhammad Bello’s contributions on the studies of hadith science.


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