Hadith Sciences

The Position of Ḥadīth in the Study of Islam


As the final and more perfect heavenly religion, Islam consists of a set of beliefs, teachings and practical programs for both individual and group as reflected in two fundamental sources, namely the Qur’an and adīth.

When we say that Islam is the final heavenly religion, it means that from its emergence up to the end of the world, which takes place with the Resurrection, it addresses all human needs in the realm of religion. For this reason, alongside its description as the “final” religion, the expression “the most perfect” heavenly religion must also be emphasized because the philosophy behind the emergence of numerous religions with heavenly origin – notwithstanding their uniformity in religious foundations, in terms of the profundity of the teachings and scope of the religious law, they have gradually moved toward perfection – is to conform each of them with man’s intellectual level.[1] The end of acceptance of the emergence of a new heavenly religion and the sealing of the book of revelation mean the acceptance and reaching of the caravan of humanity at the last stages of rational perfection.

In view of the astounding advancements of human knowledge and man’s unbelievable dominance over nature and the emergence of thousands of modern phenomena such as the satellite, computer and others, particularly in the last century, no one has any doubt in accepting that the caravan of humanity has reached its optimum stages. For instance, today’s human being – being inebriated by all these victories – celebrates his seemingly absolute mastery over the world. Now, it is worthy to ask this question: how can a religion that emerged fourteen centuries ago – notwithstanding the simplicity of social relations and the lack of modern life equipments [at that time] – be able to respond to the religious or spiritual needs of today’s man?

A logical answer free from any empty rhetoric can be given to this very important question if and when we actually ask those who ask questions to present to Islam their queries and issues in the realm of religion. Then, if, notwithstanding all their skepticisms, they find out that like a great and inexhaustible treasure, Islam can provide answers to all the questions, then the argument (ujjah) of God is fully presented to them and nothing is also expected from them except submission and acknowledgment of this heavenly and eternal religion.

The fact is that as viewed by friends and even by candid enemies, Islam has time and again passed the test with flying colors, thereby proving its eternalness and universality to the people of the world.[2]

Now, it is appropriate to pose this question: given the temporal, geographical and cultural limitations of the time of its emergence, how can Islam teach today’s man who is inebriated and wandering how to think and live [properly]? Can it only be done by the help of the Qur’an? Without any doubt, the answer is negative, for the Muslims, even during the time of the revelation of the Qur’an, would refer to the Prophet () for their questions regarding religion and the Qur’an.[3] Obviously, this point has been very clear to them. If this fact has been well understood by the Muslims during the time of revelation of the Qur’an notwithstanding the simplicity and superficiality of much of the questions, how can one entertain the idea that after the passage of fourteen centuries and the raising of thousands of new questions, one must seek the help of the Sunnah alongside the Qur’an?

The insistence of some Sunnī scholars (‘ulamā) such as Ghazālī[4] and some Akhbārīs that the Qur’an – alone – can respond to all the questions including those questions that are outside the realm of religion by citing sometimes the existence of esoteric meanings (bawāṭin) of Qur’anic verses[5] and at times by regarding the Imāms (‘a) as having exclusive knowledge of the answers is something illogical. In addition, such a claim is inconsistent with the teachings of the Qur’an as well as the emphasis of the religious leaders on the position of the Sunnah in knowing the religion. No benefit can be gained from establishing the “universality” of the Qur’an – the way they conceive it – because if the acceptance of such a claim is convincing to them, how can one refer to the esoteric meanings of verses which are inaccessible or the infallible Imāms (‘a) who are currently not present among the people in answering the questions of today’s humanity?

By stipulating the status of the Prophet () in elucidating the Qur’an alongside its conveyance,[6] the Holy Qur’an itself has put emphasis on obedience to the commands of the Prophet () as equal to obedience to God,[7] his wholesome and meritorious pattern of example,[8] and the authority and credibility of all teachings of the Noble Messenger ()[9] on the status of the Sunnah in knowing the religion. For instance, the credibility of the Sunnah as the second fountainhead of understanding the religion has been made clear in the sayings and intellectual approach of the religious leaders. Also, in his most enduring sermon during the Farewell Pilgrimage (hajj al-widā’), the Noble Messenger () has made mention alongside the Qur’an (as the greater thiql or Weighty Thing) of the “progeny” (‘itrat), that is the transmitters of the Sunnah, as the lesser thiql and his second valuable legacy.[10] The Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) have also called to mind time and again this point that “God has reflected in the Qur’an and the Sunnah the answer to the human needs.” For example, Imām Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq (‘a) said:

مَا مِنْ شَيْء، إِلاَّ وَفِيهِ كِتاب أَوْ سُنَّة

“There is nothing except that its explanation is mentioned in the Book or the Sunnah.”[11]

And Imām Muḥammad al-Bāqir (‘a) said:

.(إِنَّ اللهَ تَعالىٰ لَمْ يَدَعْ شَيْئاً يحْتاَج إِلَيْه الأُمَّة، إِلاَّ أَنْزَلَهُ فِي كِتاَبَه وَبَيِّنَة لِرَسُولِهِ (ص

“Indeed Allah, the Exalted, has not left out anything needed by the community (ummah) except that it is revealed in His Book and conveyed to His Messenger.”[12]

And because of the complementary role of the Sunnah with respect to the Qur’an, Imām al-Ṣādiq (‘a) has considered both the Book and the Sunnah as the criteria for acceptance of every matter:

.كُلُّ شَيْءٍ مَرْدودٌ إِلىٰ الْكِتاَبِ وَالسُّنَّةِ

“Everything can be referred back to the Book and the Sunnah.”[13]

In spite of [their] emphasis on the sublime status of wilāyah (guardianship) and its superiority to the ritual prayer (ṣalāt), fasting and Ḥajj pilgrimage, even the Imāms (‘a), in reply to the question as to why the name of Ḥaḍrat Amīr (Imām ‘Alī) (‘a) is not explicitly mentioned in the text of the Qur’an, has stressed that the Qur’an suffices itself to mention the generalities while the elucidation of the details has been delegated to the Prophet (). In this manner, the wilāyah (guardianship) of Imām ‘Alī (‘a), like the ritual prayer, has been explained in words of the Prophet () alongside the mentioning of generalities in the Qur’an such as the Verse of Conveyance (āyat al-tablīgh), the Verse of Guardianship (āyat al-wilāyah) and others.[14] Interestingly enough, the notion that “the Qur’an is enough [for us]” has existed from the beginning among some of the Companions (ṣaḥābah), and the Prophet () himself warned of its danger. A number of Sunnī traditionists (muḥaddithūn) have reported this narration from the Prophet ():

.لا الفين أحدكم، متّكئاً على أريكته، يأتيه امر ممّا أمرت به، أونهيت عنه فيقول: لا أدري ما وجدنا في كتاب الله اتّبعناه

“May I not see anyone from among you who reclines on his sofa and whenever he encounters a matter from among my commands and prohibitions, he would say, ‘I don’t know. We follow whatever we find in the Book of Allah.’”[15]

What is more interesting is the following famous statement of the Noble Messenger () which has been recognized as the basis of the Sunnah being the complement of the Qur’an:

.ألا إنّي أُوتيت القرآن ومثله معه

“Be it known that I have been endowed with the Qur’an along with its equal.”[16]

It is stated at the beginning of a narration similar to the previous one that the Holy Prophet () thus said in this narration after the previous sentence:

ألا يوشك رجل شبعان على أريكته، يقول: عليكم بهذا القرآن، فما وجدتم فيه من حلال فاحلّوه، وما وجدتم فيه من حرام فحرّموه؛ ألا وإنّ ما حرّم رسول الله كما حرّم الله

“Be it known that a man whose stomach is full and is reclining on his sofa will soon say, ‘May this Qur’an be with you! Take as lawful whatever you find therein lawful and regard as unlawful whatever you find therein as unlawful.’ Be it known that whatever the Messenger of Allah considered unlawful is as if Allah considered the same unlawful.”[17]

From these two narrations, the following points can be deduced:

  1. To advance the notion “The Book of Allah is enough for us” (ḥasbunā kitāb Allāh) and taking the Qur’an as sufficient in knowing the religion during the time of the Prophet () has roots whose emergence has been the subject of his stern warning. For instance, usually the Prophet’s () warnings had roots during his lifetime and perhaps the warning about the Muslims’ dissension[18] is indicated by the phrase “anyone from among you” (aḥadakum).
  2. “Relying on the sofa” which alludes to power and domination signifies that by relying on the power of government and caliphate, such a person used to insist the separation and independence of the Qur’an from the Sunnah. For instance, the expression “whose stomach is full” (shab‘ān) bespeaks of his possession of wealth and assets which naturally goes along with holding of government power. This point may be indicative of the political motives in presenting such an idea.
  3. The main contention of such notion is the sufficiency of the teachings of the Qur’an and its independence from the Prophet’s () Sunnah as shown by the emphasis: “May this Qur’an be with you!” and “We follow whatever we find in the Book of Allah”.[19]
  4. Alongside the prediction of the emergence of the dangerous notion of “the Qur’an’s sufficiency,” the Prophet () has put forth two proofs to refute it:
  1. Along with the Qur’an, God, the Exalted, has granted him something equal and complementary to it, i.e. the Sunnah and the statement “Be it known that I have been endowed with the Qur’an along with its equal” has three implications: First, that the Sunnah is like the Qur’an [in importance] is based upon divine revelation. Second, the Sunnah is like the Qur’an in the sense of having the same credibility and standing in elucidating and explaining the religion. Third, side by side with the Qur’an, the Sunnah speaks about the Divine precedent (sunnat Allāh) in presenting the religious teachings in these two realms as well as the Sunnah as reference after the Qur’an in the study of religion.
  2. Since the Prophet’s () Sunnah is based upon divine revelation – non-Qur’anic revelation, of course – for the same reason that the commandment and prohibition of the Qur’an are obligatory to follow as they emanate from God, acting according to what is deemed lawful (ḥalāl) and unlawful (ḥarām) by the Prophet () is also obligatory and necessary, and to differentiate these two from one another is not anchored in any logical proof, and thus, it is based upon sheer force and political power!



[1] For further information, see Sayyid Muḥammad Ḥusayn Ṭabāṭabā’ī, Al-Mīzān fī Tafsīr al-Qur’ān, vol. 5, p. 351.

[2] For information about the opinion of Orientalists in this regard, see ‘Alī Āl Isḥāq Khū’īnī, Islām az Dīdgāh-e Dānishmandān-e Jahān (Islam as Viewed by Scholars Around the World).

[3] There are existing exegetic narrations (riwāyāt-e tafsīrī) of the Prophet () which substantiate this point. See Jalāl al-Dīn Suyūṭī, Al-Itqān fī ‘Ulūm al-Qur’ān, vol. 4, pp. 245-298.

[4] Al-Ghazālī, Jawāhir al-Qur’ān, pp. 28-34; Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad Ghazālī, Iḥyā’ ‘Ulūm al-Dīn, vol. 3, pp. 16-18, 49-50.

[5] Apparently, such a claim can be inferred from Fayḍ Kāshānī in the Seventh Introduction to Tafsīr al-Ṣāfī. See Tafsīr al-Ṣāfī, vol. 1, pp. 56-57.

[6] “We have sent down the reminder to you so that you may clarify for the people that which has been sent down to them.” (Sūrat an-Nahl 16:44)

[7] “O you who have faith! Obey Allah and obey the Apostle and those vested with authority among you. And if you dispute concerning anything, refer it to Allah and the Apostle… Whoever obeys the Apostle certainly obeys Allah.” (Sūrat al-Nisā’ 4:59, 80) “A faithful man or woman may not, when Allah and His Apostle have decided on a matter, have any option in their matter.” (Sūrat al-Ahzāb 33:36)

[8] “In the Apostle of Allah there is certainly for you a good example.” (Sūrat al-Aḥzāb 33:21)

[9] “Take whatever the Apostle gives you, and relinquish whatever he forbids you and be wary of Allah.” (Sūrat al-Ḥashr 59:7)

[10] Ibn Farrūkh al-Ṣaffār al-Qummī, Baṣā’ir al-Darajāt, p. 433; Shaykh al-Ṣadūq, Al-Amālī, p. 500.

[11] Muḥammad ibn Ya‘qūb al-Kulaynī, Al-Kāfī, vol. 1, p. 59.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., p. 89. In Al-Kāfī, the late Kulaynī has allocated a section (bāb) with the heading “All Things Needed by the Community (Ummah) are [Mentioned] in the Book and the Sunnah”. See Uṣūl al-Kāfī, vol. 1, pp. 59-61. The author has detailed discussion of this subject in the forthcoming book Rābiṭeh-ye Mutaqābil Kitāb wa Sunnat (Mutual Relationship between the Book and the Sunnah) by the Institute of Islamic Culture and Thought.

[14] Al-Kāfī, vol. 1, p. 287, “Bāb Mā Naṣṣ Allāh ‘Azza wa Jall wa Rasūlahu ‘alā ’l-A’immah (‘a) Wāḥidan Fawāḥidan.”

[15] For example, see Muḥammad ibn Yazīd al-Qazwīnī, Sunan Ibn Mājah, vol. 1, p. 6-7; Al-Mustadrak ‘Alā ’ṣ-Ṣaḥīḥayn, vol. 1, p. 108; Sulaymān ibn Ash‘ath al-Sijistānī, Sunan Abī Dāwud, vol. 4, p. 200.

[16] Abū ‘Abd Allāh al-Qurṭubī, Al-Jāmi‘ Li-Aḥkām al-Qur’ān al-Karīm, vol. 1, p. 37; Sunan Abī Dāwud, vol. 2, p. 392.

[17] Sunan Abī Dāwud, vol. 2, p. 392; Kanz al-‘Ummāl fī Sunan al-Aqwāl wa ’l-Af‘āl, vol. 1, p. 174; Sayyid Muḥammad Riḍā Ḥusaynī Jalālī has an extensive and well-argued discussion in his study of arīkah (‘sofa’) narrations. See Tadwīn al-Sunnat al-Sharīfah, pp. 352-364.

[18] For further information about the narrations (riwāyāt) on the Muslims’ division into seventy three sects, see Ja‘far Ṣubḥānī, Buḥūth fī ’l-Milal wa ’n-Nihal, vol. 1, pp. 23-41.

[19] In Kitāb al-Umm, Shāfi‘ī (died 204 AH) has mentioned a group that denies the Sunnah’s credibility. See Kitāb al-Umm, vol. 7, p. 287, and in our time the “Qur’ānīs” or “Ahl al-Qur’ān” sect formally insists that the Sunnah has no credibility and the Qur’an is sufficient. For information about the history and ideas of this sect, see Khādim Ḥusayn Ilāhībakhsh, Dirāsāt fī ’l-Firq al-Qur’āniyyūn wa Shubahātuhum Ḥawl al-Sunnah.


(An excerpt from ‘Ali Nasiri, AN INTRODUCTION TO HADITH: HISTORY AND SOURCES, trans. Mansoor Limba (London: MIU Press, 2013), pp. 9-15.

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