Thursday, December 6, 2018

The concept of Sunnah and at the Time of the Prophet

Professors Izutsuand Hallaq  claim that the emerging Qurʾānic Weltanschauung during the revelationary period was not completely divorced from its pre-Qurʾānic one. Although the Qurʾān is to be considered an
independent ethico-religious and linguistic entity with its own worldview, it did not claim a complete epistemological break with pre-Qurʾānic Arabia. Over the revelationary period of some two decades, the Qurʾān rejected, modified, condoned and accepted the socio-cultural values and moral of Arabian tribal communionism of pre-Qurʾānic Arabia in accordance with the budding Qurʾānic ontological and ethico-religious value system. The foundation of this emerging Qurʾānic view of “reality” was, quite naturally, the Qurʾān as embodied by the Prophet himself.

The notion of Sunnah was, as we argued earlier, a well-known concept in pre-revelational Arabia understood as a normative action-behavioural system set by an individual worthy of tribe’s emulation, in the post-revelational period logically ascribed to the bearer of Revelation himself.  With the Prophet amongst their midst, the early Muslim community had a direct access to the living commentary of the Revelation, and through him a living link to the Divine. The Prophet’s persona and character as a source of Revelation-based authority and normativeness for his contemporary adherents and believers in his Prophethood was a natural fact and a matter of common sense. With the Prophet alive in Makkah/Medina, the Muslim community was witnessing his activities daily and was subject to his instructions directly, that is without an intermediary. The community did not engage in systematically debating the questions of nature and the scope of the Prophetic authority. When the need arose they could seek advice and consult him in matters needing personal or communal clarification.

Indeed, in the Qurʾānic verses such as 59:7 and 4:64, the Qurʾān mentions the necessary intervention of and obedience to the Prophet in the affairs of the community. These, however, were not dogmatic in nature,
i.e., did not pertain to the realm of beliefs.

The Qurʾān, therefore, can be said to testify to that fact that the Prophet enjoyed extra-revelational authority based on “right and just practice”, but that this privilege was always exercised in conjunction with concepts of mutual consultation with the community in a most balanced and delicate way. Additionally, Dutton further substantiates this point. Based on his study of Mālik’s Muwaṭṭa he asserts that, “for Mālik the Prophet is clearly a source of extra-Qurʾānic judgment but this ‘extra- Qurʾānic’ element is considered to be within the general principals outlined by the Qurʾān rather than a separate one.” Elaborating on this point of organic, directly interwoven Sunnah- Qurʾān dynamic at the time of the Prophet in Mālik’s Muwaṭṭa, Dutton
also remarks that:

Many of the fundamental obligations of the Qurʾān, such as doing the prayer, paying
zakāt and going on hajj, could not have been put into practice unless there were some
practical demonstrations of how to do so, and the obvious model for this of course was
that of the one who first put thee obligations in practice, i.e. the Prophet. The Qurʾān
could not, therefore, be divorced from its initial context, i.e. the life of the Prophet,
and, although its supremacy of the text remained beyond question, it was always seen
in the light of its first practical expression, namely, the Sunnah of the Prophet.74

Thus, due to the nature of Qurʾānic content it was in need of Sunnah, that is, in need of both Deutungsbeduerftigkeit and of a practical manifestation in actu. This organic link between the Message and the Messenger is captured best by often-repeated Qurʾānic phrase exhorting the believers to “Obey God and the Prophet”. This unity of “prophetic-revelatory event”, to use Graham’s phrase, has from the very beginning and throughout the first 150 years of the formative Islamic thought reflected the early Muslim understanding of the function, nature the scope and the relationship between the Qurʾān and Sunnah. This interdependent, symbiotic relationship between the Qurʾān and Sunnah enjoyed wide-spread acceptable in early Islam. In this context Graham maintains that:

It appears [that] for the Companions and the early Followers of the Prophet, the
divine activity manifested in the mission of Muhammad was a unitary reality in which
the divine word, the prophetic guidance, and even the example and witness of all who
participated in the sacred history of the Prophet’s time, were all perceived as complementary,
integral aspects of a single phenomenon.

Similarly, this hermeneutically intimate relationship is also noted by Sachedina who avers the following:

Explication of the divine intention of the revelation was among the functions that the
Qurʾān assigned to the Prophet. The Prophet functioned as the projection of the divine
message embodied in the Qurʾān. He was the living commentary of the Qurʾān, inextricately
related to the revelatory text. Without the Prophet the Qurʾān was incomprehensible,
just as without the Qurʾān, the Prophet was no prophet at all.

Similarly, in his investigation of an early Ḥanafī jurist, ʿIsa b. Aban (d. 221/836), Bedir asserts that at this time the hierarchy of the Qurʾān and Sunnah was not yet clear. This unity of “prophetic-revelatory event”,
to use Graham’s phrase, has from the very beginning and throughout the first 150 years of the formative Islamic thought reflected the early Muslim understanding of the function, nature the scope and the relationship
between Qurʾān and Sunnah. This interdependent, symbiotic relationship between Qurʾān and Sunnah, therefore, enjoyed wide-spread acceptability in early Islam. It was expressed in a phrase kitāb (i.e. the Qurʾān) wa sunna. Thus, similar to the Qurʾān the concept of Sunnah (but not ṣaḥīḥ Ḥadīth as by product of ʿulūm al-ḥadīth sciences) can be seen as a type of wahy.

Apart from this symbiotic Qurʾāno-Sunnahic relationship stemming from the very nature of the Qurʾānic revelation, another aspect of the Qurʾānic revelation influenced the character of Sunnah as exemplified by
the Prophet. The predominantly ethico-religious character of the Qurʾān and the Qurʾānic legislative dimension, as well as its overriding concern for the moral conduct of humans, translated itself into Prophetic activity which emphasised a person’s moral responsibility and God-consciousness rather than law formulation. This nature and the character of the Qurʾānic revelation and its legislative element embodied and continued by the Prophet, was geared towards certain underlying legislative norms which were based on certain purposes and objectives. Schacht (rightly) observes this fact when describing the origins and development of Islamic Law by saying: “Had religious and ethical standards been comprehensively applied
to all aspects of human behaviour, and had they been consistently followed in practice, there would have been no room and no need for a legal system in the narrow meaning of the term. This was in fact the original ideal of Muhammad.”This claim will be investigated more closely in subsequent parts of this study.

As alluded to above, another phenomenon that needs to be taken into consideration in the context of evolution of the concept of Sunnah is that during the formative period of Islamic thought the oral nature of
transmission and authentification of knowledge as well as oral-based interpretative strategies of the primary sources were considered more authentic and were more prevalent then written-based ones. In this context Souaiaia avers that:

In the practices of scholars and jurists closest to the time of the Prophet , there seems
to be an overwhelming attraction to isnād-based oral reports and momentous lack of
interest in the published literature, a phenomenon that can be documented for at least
one-hundred years after the recording (tadwīn) era.

He also convincingly argues that the processes of formulation, preservation and transmission of religious and legal knowledge was “fully and exclusively oral”.88 The above distinctions are of fundamental importance to this study from the point of view of understanding the evolution of the concept of an authentic Sunnah in relation to that of an ‘authentic’ Ḥadīth.

An additional issue needing clarification is the evolution in the scope of and the function or the employment of the use of reason in the Qurʾān and Sunnah, especially in relation to the assumptions governing the nature of ethical value in the same. To date, the epistemologico-moral boundaries and character of the Qurʾān from the point of view of its own context, that is, divorced from its traditional scriptural interpretation itself, have not
been comprehensively studied”. Modern scholars of Muslim tradition such as Hourani, maintain that the Qurʾān cannot be said to completely disregard the value of ʿaql (inherent human reason) in forming ethical
judgments, while Reinhart asserts that “[T]he Qurʾānic message time and again appeals to impartial knowledge that confirms the Qurʾānic summons”. Moreover, Reinhart argues that ʿaql ’s explicit Qurʾānic endorsement in recognising God’s existence, Unity and Grandeur are considered to favour its implicit usage in the realms of ethics and morality.

In terms of epistemologico-methodological boundaries of the Sunnah at the time of the Prophet, Hourani states that in terms of ethical knowledge, the Qurʾān (and therefore Sunnah) considers revelation its major source but that “it is probable, but unproven, that natural reason is also capable of forming ethical judgments [independent of revelation]”. Furthermore, argues Hourani, in terms of ethical epistemology boundaries the
Qurʾānic nature of ethical value is generally objective, “the use of independent reason in ethical judgments is never ruled out explicitly in the Qurʾān, and there are some considerations that favour implicit assumptions
of its use”. It is further maintained that:

. . . Qurʾān and Muhammad both display a common sense attitude and that we should not expect either of them to claim that for every ethical judgement he makes a man must consult a book or a scholar, or work out an analogy when the book or scholar give no direct answer to the Problem.93

Draz, in his exhaustive investigation of the moral world of the Qurʾān, echoes this view by concluding that, according to the Qurʾānic moral world, the human consciousness in prior to Revelation and that is capable
of divorcing right from wrong without it. The essential common-sensical attitude of the Qurʾān and its message are evident in its discourse of “nature, ʿaql, the cosmos, and their patterns—all [are] appealed to say that the message of the Qurʾān is reasonable”. Thus, rationality and ethical objectivity certainly cannot be considered as alien to the overall spirit of Qurʾānico-Sunnahic teachings.

In summary, at the time of the Prophet then the concept of Sunnah was associated quite naturally with him, and, except from its ʿibadat component, seemed to have been understood primarily as a general, ethico-religious and, in Medina, politico-administrative, concept based upon righteous customary practice that partially reflected some of the pre-Qurʾānic customs and practices not contrary to Qurʾānic worldview. The legislative component of Sunnah, which in no doubt existed, was in consonance with the nature of the Qurʾān as the “most trustworthy mirror of the Prophet’s outlook and teaching”, also primarily conceived in religio-moral rather than positivistic terms. These religious and moral teachings, in fact, functioned as a reference
point for legal evaluation.

taken from the academic article  here

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