The Unique Position of Quran in Islam Part 7: The Words ‘Hadith’ and ‘Sunnah’ in Quran

The Traditionalist Position: Quran tells us to obey, follow and be judged by The Messenger. This necessitates us to have the information captured in the Hadith and Sunnah.

The Quranist Response: The words ‘Hadith’ and ‘Sunnah’ are universally known in the Muslim world respectively as ‘the sayings, doings and abstentions of The Messenger’ and the ‘well established practices attributed to the Messenger’. However, does The Quran actually use these two words to connote such meanings.

A. The term ‘hadith’ in Quran means news or event. The Quran uses the word in a number of ways:

a. The best hadith

اللَّهُ نَزَّلَ أَحْسَنَ الْحَدِيثِ كِتَابًا مُتَشَابِهًا مَثَانِيَ تَقْشَعِرُّ مِنْهُ جُلُودُ الَّذِينَ يَخْشَوْنَ رَبَّهُمْ ثُمَّ تَلِينُ جُلُودُهُمْ وَقُلُوبُهُمْ إِلَى ذِكْرِ اللَّهِ ذَلِكَ هُدَى اللَّهِ يَهْدِي بِهِ مَنْ يَشَاءُ وَمَنْ يُضْلِلِ اللَّهُ فَمَا لَهُ مِنْ هَادٍ (الزمر: 23).

Allah has revealed (from time to time) the most beautiful Message in the form of a Book, consistent with itself, (yet) repeating (its teaching in various aspects): the skins of those who fear their Lord tremble thereat; then their skins and their hearts do soften to the celebration of Allah’s praises. Such is the guidance of Allah: He guides therewith whom He pleases, but such as Allah leaves to stray, can have none to guide (39/23)

This above verse is universally understood to be referring to the Quran. Even though the word ‘Quran’ is not present, the flow of the context from this verse to 39/28-29 shows that it does indeed refer to Quran. Coupled with 39/21-22 and read as a passage, it can be seen to link Quran with our real life experiences. In any case, it does not refer to the Hadith of Muhammad.

b. Hadith not invented

لَقَدْ كَانَ فِي قَصَصِهِمْ عِبْرَةٌ ِلأَوْلِي الأَلْبَابِ مَا كَانَ حَدِيثًا يُفْتَرَى وَلَكِنْ تَصْدِيقَ الَّذِي بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ وَتَفْصِيلَ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ وَهُدًى وَرَحْمَةً لِقَوْمٍ يُؤْمِنُونَ (يوسف: 111).

There is, in their stories, instruction for men endued with understanding. It is not a tale invented, but a confirmation of what went before it,- a detailed exposition of all things, and a guide and a mercy to any such as believe (12/111)

Comment: Once again, Quran uses the word ‘hadith’ to refer to the sum collective of its stories. Its stories are highly elevated to be confirming what is between its two hands and a detailing of all things.

c. Quran uses ‘hadith’ in a negative way:

وَمِنْ النَّاسِ مَنْ يَشْتَرِي لَهْوَ الْحَدِيثِ لِيُضِلَّ عَنْ سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ بِغَيْرِ عِلْمٍ وَيَتَّخِذَهَا هُزُوًا أُولَئِكَ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ مُهِينٌ (لقمان: 6).
وَإِذَا تُتْلَى عَلَيْهِ آيَاتُنَا وَلَّى مُسْتَكْبِرًا كَأَنْ لَمْ يَسْمَعْهَا كَأَنَّ فِي أُذُنَيْهِ وَقْرًا فَبَشِّرْهُ بِعَذَابٍ أَلِيمٍ (لقمان: 7).

But there are, among men, those who purchase idle Hadith, without knowledge (or meaning), to mislead (men) from the Path of Allah and throw ridicule (on the Path): for such there will be a Humiliating Penalty.
When Our Signs are rehearsed to such a one, he turns away in arrogance, as if he heard them not, as if there were deafness in both his ears: announce to him a grievous Penalty. (31/6-7)

Comment: the above passage starts from 31/1-5 which gives a decisive programme of action. 31/6 contrasts this with idle hadith which means events which distract us from the path of Allah. 31/7 then contrasts it with ‘our signs’ which, given the ‘hearing’ element, obviously refers to Quran.

d. In which hadith…?

تِلْكَ آيَاتُ اللَّهِ نَتْلُوهَا عَلَيْكَ بِالْحَقِّ فَبِأَيِّ حَدِيثٍ بَعْدَ اللَّهِ وَآيَاتِهِ يُؤْمِنُونَ (الجاثية: 6).
وَيْلٌ لِكُلِّ أَفَّاكٍ أَثِيمٍ (الجاثية: 7).
يَسْمَعُ آيَاتِ اللَّهِ تُتْلَى عَلَيْهِ ثُمَّ يُصِرُّ مُسْتَكْبِرًا كَأَنْ لَمْ يَسْمَعْهَا فَبَشِّرْهُ بِعَذَابٍ أَلِيمٍ (الجاثية: 8).

Such are the Signs of Allah, which We rehearse to thee in Truth; then in what Hadith will they believe after (rejecting) Allah and His Signs?
Woe to each sinful dealer in Falsehoods:
He hears the Signs of Allah rehearsed to him, yet is obstinate and lofty, as if he had not heard them: then announce to him a Penalty Grievous!

Comment: Once again, Hadith is used here to mean event or something present, given that 45/3-5 speaks about creation and 45/6 asks ‘in which hadith after Allah and His signs’ do you believe? 45/7 is even more telling because it denounces liars who create debilitation. 45/8 goes further and mentions hearing not once but twice. Hadith here is information about something present.

e. Hadith as what happens to us.

أَيْنَمَا تَكُونُوا يُدْرِكُّمْ الْمَوْتُ وَلَوْ كُنتُمْ فِي بُرُوجٍ مُشَيَّدَةٍ وَإِنْ تُصِبْهُمْ حَسَنَةٌ يَقُولُوا هَذِهِ مِنْ عِنْدِ اللَّهِ وَإِنْ تُصِبْهُمْ سَيِّئَةٌ يَقُولُوا هَذِهِ مِنْ عِنْدِكَ قُلْ كُلٌّ مِنْ عِنْدِ اللَّهِ فَمَالِ هَؤُلاَءِ الْقَوْمِ لاَ يَكَادُونَ يَفْقَهُونَ حَدِيثًا (النساء: 78).

“Wherever ye are, death will find you out, even if ye are in towers built up strong and high!” If some good befalls them, they say, “This is from Allah”; but if evil, they say, “This is from thee” (O Prophet). Say: “All things are from Allah.” But what hath come to these people, that they fail to understand a single Hadith (4/78)

Comment: here it is very obvious that Hadith refers to an event which happens in daily life. The response is from the believers to the Reader and God responds by saying that almost fail to understand a single event.

B. The word Sunnah in the Quran

The word ‘sunnah’ in Quran is also never connected with the Sunnah of Muhammad. Let us examine some usages of the word by The Quran:

a. Sunan of those before

يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ لِيُبَيِّنَ لَكُمْ وَيَهْدِيَكُمْ سُنَنَ الَّذِينَ مِنْ قَبْلِكُمْ وَيَتُوبَ عَلَيْكُمْ وَاللَّهُ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيمٌ (النساء: 26).

Allah doth wish to make clear to you and to guide you the sunan (plural of sunna)  of those before you; and (He doth wish to) turn to you (In Mercy): And Allah is All-knowing, All-wise (4/26)

Comment: this is the first kind of sunnah. The sunan of those before which refer to the paths or customs of those before

b. Sunnah of the early ones

لاَ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِهِ وَقَدْ خَلَتْ سُنَّةُ الأَوَّلِينَ (الحجر: 13).

That they should not believe in the (Message); but the sunna of the ancients have passed away (15/13)

Comment: once again, the word ‘sunnah’ is said to mean a pattern of the behaviour, of the ancients. Again, there is no Sunnah of Muhammad

c. The sunnah of Allah

سُنَّةَ اللَّهِ فِي الَّذِينَ خَلَوْا مِنْ قَبْلُ وَلَنْ تَجِدَ لِسُنَّةِ اللَّهِ تَبْدِيلاً (الأحزاب: 62).

(Such was) the practice (approved) of Allah among those who lived aforetime: No change wilt thou find in the practice (approved) of Allah (33/62)

Comment: This passage starts with 33/59 which is an address to the Nabi. He was told to enforce certain policies for the protection of the believing women. Allah then responded with His own punishments. This is the concept of sunnah as per Quran.

Summary: The words ‘Hadith’ and ‘Sunnah’ are very much in common usage among Muslims. They are used to refer to the narrations of the sayings, doings and abstentions (hadith) as well as the path (sunnah) of Muhammad. However, these usages do not match the usages as per Quran.

One must ask, if Allah wanted to assert the authority of Hadith and Sunna, why not simply use the phrase ‘hadith ar rasool’ or ‘sunnah an nabi’ in terms of obediences, followings of examples?

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