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Hadith 28: The Obligation of Following the Sunnah

It was narrated on the authority of Abu Najih al-Irbad bin Sariyah (ra) who said:

"The Messenger of Allah (sas) delivered an admonition that made our hearts fearful and our eyes tearful. We said, "O Messenger of Allah, it is as if this were a farewell sermon, so advise us." He said, "I enjoin you to have Taqwa of Allah and that you listen and obey, even if a slave is made a ruler over you. He among you who lives long enough will see many differences. So for you is to observe my Sunnah and the Sunnah of the rightly-principled and rightly-guided successors, holding on to them with your molar teeth. Beware of newly-introduced matters, for every innovation (bid'ah) is an error."

(Abu Dawud & Al-Tirmidhi, who says it is an authentic hadith - hasan saheeh)


Commentary Summary

Introduction

It was the practice of the Prophet (sas) to give admonition to his companions from time to time, however, without burdening or boring them. The Prophet (sas) was very eloquent. Ibn Rajab points out the characteristics of the Prophet's speeches and admonitions: brief, concise, and conveyed in beautiful understandable manner. He (sas) had the ability to deliver a very powerful message in a very impactful manner. That is why his companions said that their hearts became fearful and their eyes became tearful. When the companions experienced that, their response was to ask him for advice because this sermon seemed like a farewell sermon.

Having Taqwa of Allah

The Prophet (sas) told his companions "I enjoin you to have Taqwa of Allah”. Having Taqwa means is to have this God consciousness and awareness of God in all affairs. Having Taqwa is a pinnacle issue. If someone is able to have God consciousness in all of their affairs then they will be able to live the life of righteousness, devotion and submission to the teachings of Islam.

Listening and Obeying the Rulers

The Prophet’s second advice was “that you listen and obey, even if a slave is made a ruler over you.” The Prophet (sas) emphasizes on the importance and respect for order. Listening and obeying will lead to better management of the affairs of the community, of peace and unity. However, the hadith lays a fact that rightly-guided leadership will be the first Islamic concept to be violated. The Prophet (sas) is informing us that the leadership will become corrupt, and will be given to other than its rightful owners. Also He informed us the leadership might be given to a slave. So if this were to occur then still listen and obey, in order to secure the lesser of two evils, which are putting up with a Ruler who rules without right, or bringing about chaos and a great fitnah through revolt.

Adhering to the Sunnah

The Prophet’s third advice was “observe my Sunnah and the Sunnah of the rightly-principled and rightly-guided successors.” The Prophet (sas) informed his companions of that which was to occur after him of differences and the spreading of evil. Not only he warned them about these evils but he also gave them the advice on how to face them. Following the Sunnah of the Prophet (sas) is the key to facing all evils. When the prophet says follow my Sunnah he is saying follow my way, and his way is how the Qur’an should be applied in real life.

The Prophet's (sas) actions may be classified as follows:

  1. Those that is specific to the Prophet (sas), such as continuous fasting (wisal).
  2. Actions that are related to the culture of his time, such as the turban, keeping long hair or using a walking stick.
  3. Actions resulting from spontaneous or haphazard actions. For example, the Prophet, (sas), used to stop at particular places during a journey or take a certain route for a journey.
  4. Actions that the Prophet, (sas) performed intentionally for the purpose of ibadah.

Scholars state that Muslims are only obliged to follow the last type of action. Note:

An act is considered an ibadah if there are authentic hadiths mentioning that the act is an ibadah, or that it will be rewarded, or that the one who does it is praised, or that the one who does not perform it is blamed or cursed or will be punished.

The Prophet (sas) also ordered his companions to hold on to the Sunnah of the rightly-principled and rightly-guided that will come after him (sas). The Prophet (sas) asked us to follow them because he (sas) knows that there are new issues and situations that will arise. That is why we have to seek the guidance from people who are known to be righteous, people who are known to follow the Sunnah of the Prophet and people who are able to give sound Fatwas in light of the Qur’an and Sunnah.

Beware of Newly-Introduced Matters, for every Innovation (bid'ah) is an Error

The Prophet (sas) here is talking about the innovations that have to do with worship and the teachings of Islam. The innovations that are rejected are rejected because they are acts of worship that truly doesn’t have any foundations in the teachings of Islam. These acts will lead one after another to distortion of the faith and will lead people to worshiping in ways that are not acceptable.

Newly invented matters are of two types:

  1. That matter which has no basis in the Sharee'ah, and this is baatil [rejected] and blameworthy.
  2. That matter which has a parallel or similarity in the Sharee'ah, then this is not blameworthy.

This is because the words 'newly invented matter' and 'bid'ah' are not deemed blameworthy purely on the basis of the words themselves, but due to their indicating opposition to the Sunnah and calling towards misguidance. So someimes they are not considered to be unrestrictedly wrong. For example, 'Umar (rAa) reinstated the Taraaweeh Prayer and said "What an excellent bid'ah is this." The Prophet (sas) had led the Taraaweeh Prayer in congregation for a few days, but then discontinued it due to his fear that the people would think it obligatory. This condition remained throughout the Khilaafah of Abu Bakr (rAa), until 'Umar (rAa) restarted what the Prophet (sas) had already laid a precedent for.

Summary

  • That the first thing advised is to fear Allaah (ie to have taqwaa)
  • That obedience is due to the rulers, no matter who becomes so (as long he fulfills its conditions)
  • That there will be controversy and difference of opinion after the Messenger (sas)
  • That in all cases of difference it is obligatory to stick to the Sunnah, the way of the Messenger (sas) and to the way of the Sunnah of the rightly-principled and rightly-guided
  • That one must be extremely careful about new things in the Deen
  • That one must ensure that everything that one does as part of his religion indeed has proof for it in the Qur'an and Sunnah

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