I read almost all of your articles about the position of hadith in Islam. I agree that the hadith is secondary and not a primary source of Islam.
The problem I had in understanding your articles was that you kept saying that we follow the Qu’ran and Sunnah, which are primary, and the hadith as a secondary source should not contradict them. During the life time of the Prophet (saws) and his companions and the next two generations they probably knew how to practice the sunnah with out the writing down of hadith. And the sunnah was past down from generation to generation through practice.
In explaining my problem with your use of Sunnah, I would like to know that whether or not the Sunnah can be still followed in this same way? I personally do not think that it can, and can only be followed through hadith. What I mean, is that, unless you follow one of the four schools or any other scholar in what he commands you of the Sunnah without looking for the evidence, you need to be able to look at hadiths collected by Bukhari, Muslim, etc., that are considered authentic, or are re-examined today and considered authentic, in order to know how to practice the Sunnah. Example: How many takbirs for the Eid prayer, is recorded in the hadiths. The marriage Khutbah Hajjah is also found in hadiths. How many rakahs per Sala’h is recorded in hadiths.
Is there any outside source, outside of that of the hadiths that constitute the Sunnah, which is considered as a primary source of Islam, outside of the hadith?
Please explain as detailed as you can, what you mean by Sunnah, And whether it can be followed outside of hadith at the present time?
I would highly appreciate this.
Your brother in Islam.
The primary source of the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh) is, indeed, still the universal and consensus-based actions of the Muslim community spread throughout the various parts of the world. There is hardly, if at al, any difference in those Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh), which were meant for the common man. The actions entailed in the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh) have so strongly and forcefully been transmitted through the generations that most of them have become embedded as religious traditions among the Muslims. On investigation1, we find that these religious traditions have always remained in vogue among the Muslims during all the previous generations, including that of the companions of the Prophet (pbuh).
The only problem in the determination of the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh) is that in some Muslim cultures, some traditions, in the name of religion, may have found their way into the lives of the Muslims, which may actually not be a part of the teachings of the Prophet (pbuh). However, a scholar can, with some investigation, quite easily distinguish between these “later additions” to the religious traditions of the Muslims from the genuine elements of the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh). Even though I have not yet come across any Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh) which is not universally agreed upon by the Muslims or even any non-Sunnah practice, which has somehow gained universal acceptance and adherence of all the Muslims at all times and places, yet, purely from a theoretical perspective, some of the important steps of this investigation can be:
Point No. 1: Is the particular tradition followed universally by the present-day Muslims, living throughout the various parts of the world;
Point No. 2: If the answer to point-1 is ‘No’, then the time of the induction of the tradition among the particular group of Muslims shall be investigated, on the one hand and the reasons for the lack of adherence of other Muslims to this tradition shall be determined, on the other;
Point No. 3: If the answer to point-1 is ‘Yes’, then it shall be seen whether there is any reliable historical record which suggests that the tradition was induced into the Muslims at a time later than that of the companions of the Prophet.
Point No. 4: All the information gathered from the foregoing investigation shall be analyzed and corroborated to determine whether the particular tradition in question was one promoted by the Prophet (pbuh) among his followers as an essential independent part of the corpus of Islam.
As should be clear, Hadith can be one of the primary resources to carry out this investigation. Nevertheless, the primary source of the Sunnah, as have been mentioned earlier, remains the universal and consensus-based practices of the Muslim community spread throughout the various parts of the world.
I am sure that you should be able to find answers to most of your questions, in the light of the explanation given above.
January 11, 2002
 It should, however, be kept in mind that this can sometimes be a highly technical ‘investigation’ and can only be effectively undertaken, therefore, by the experts of the field.
A Follow Up Question
You explained that even now Sunnah is determined based on consensus of the Muslims.
I’ve come to know quite a large number of Muslims and scholars who don’t even recite Surah-Fathihah in afternoon prayers (namely Zuhar and Asar). They don’t hold it to be ‘compulsory’ to recite it in every Prayer and are contented with the Imam’s recitation? Does it mean that reciting Surah-Fathihah in every Prayer loses the status of Sunnah since there is no consensus among the Muslims?
Recitation of Surah Al-Faatihah during prayers is a Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh), [this fact is clearly established by the audible recitation of the Surah] (statement in parenthesis added later), during the first two rak`ahs of all those prayers in which recitation is done audibly by the Imam. On the basis of this Sunnah, it is generally derived that the Surah shall also be recited in all other prayers in which the recitation is not done audibly.
As for your information that:
… quite a large number of Muslims and “scholars” who don’t even recite Surah-Fathihah in afternoon prayers (namely Zuhar and Asar).
I do not consider this to be a very accurate presentation of the opinion of the referred “scholars”.
Firstly, these “scholars” make no distinction between the afternoon prayers and the other prayers. Their opinion is the same for all prayers;
Secondly, these “scholars” do not hold that it is not necessary to recite Surah Al-Faatihah during prayers. On the contrary, these “scholars” hold that the recitation of the Imam is done on behalf of the whole congregation. In other words, the recitation of the Imam is considered by these “scholars” as the recitation of each individual member of the congregation. As a corollary of this opinion, these “scholars” hold that while praying in congregation, it is not “compulsory” for every member of the congregation to make the recitation, individually.
It should be clear from the foregoing explanation that this opinion does not affect the status of Sunnah for the recitation of Surah Al-Faatihah during prayers.
I hope this helps.
March 16, 2002