By Dr. Adis Duderija, NewAgeIslam.com
University of Melbourne, Islamic Studies
February 20th, 2012
This article is an excerpt taken from the author’s article with the same title published by Arab Law Quarterly, 23, 1, 2009. It should be read in conjunction with other article on hadith and Sunna I published on this website.
During the pre-classical period of Islamic thought the Qurʾān and Sunnah discourse was considered to be organically intertwined or symbiotically interdependent as these two sources were conceptualized as a single, coherent hermeneutic unity. Furthermore, they were not textually fixed and were often understood as more abstract ethico-religious concepts whose purpose was to facilitate the benefit t of the community and alleviation of hardship based on principles of ethically objective values such as maʿruf (that which is commonly good) and ʿadl (justice). Based on these considerations, I have elsewhere proposed a new methodology of Sunnah that is in agreement with this overall approach to conceptualising and interpreting Qurʾān and Sunnah.
According to this new approach, I first argued that, based on the uniformly acknowledged need of the Qurʾān to be interpreted, i.e. its Deutungsbeduerftigkeit, and the subsequent premise that Prophet’s embodiment of the Qurʾānic message as one of its most authoritative (if not the most authoritative) interpreters, this interpretational vacuum was filled by taking recourse to the concept of Sunnah that appears in the Qurʾān in the of repeated form of ‘Obey Allah and His Messenger’. Sunnah was a well known pre-Qurʾānic concept existing among Arabs of the region, connoting an authoritative source of knowledge/practice or a normative example to be followed.32 The usage of the term Sunnah of the Prophet (Sunnahan-Nabi) existed early on most likely at the time of the Prophet himself.33
Furthermore, I contended that the Qurʾān and Sunnah existed in a conceptually unified and symbiotic hermeneutical relationship. Thus their scope and nature were considered to be the same. Put diff erently, they were considered as two sides of the same coin. By scope I mean that they accommodated extra-textual sources of knowledge to the same extent and by the term nature I mean that they concern themselves with a number of dimensions of human existence including belief, ethics, law and ritual. As such I also argued that Sunnah consisted of four elements reflecting the nature and the elements of the Qurʾānic discourse, namely: Sunnah aqidiyyah (belief-based Sunnah), Sunnah akhlaqiyyah (ethics-based Sunnah), Sunnahfi qhiyyah (law-based Sunnah) and Sunnah ʿibadiyya/ ʿamaliyyah 34 (ritual and/or practiced-based Sunnah).
According to this approach, all of the components of Sunnah, apart from its ʿibadiyya/ ʿamaliyya dimension which is in essence in a ctu and requires no interpretation and which is not dependent on written transmission of knowledge but is practically perpetuated, are hermeneutically directly linked to that of the Qurʾān. This, in turn, implies that the Sunnah compliance or otherwise of certain principles, beliefs or actions is entirely dependent on the way Qurʾān is interpreted. Therefore, the most crucial and decisive factor in establishing Sunnah is linked to methodologies pertaining Qurʾānic interpretation, i.e. the questions pertaining to Qurʾānichermeneutics even if the Qurʾānic literal text itself is silent on the issue under consideration and not an automatic default deferral to Ḥadith body of literature as either authenticated by the Muḥadīthūn or ʾUsūliyyūn. As such this method restores Sunnah’s conceptual and hermeneutical link with the Qurʾān that was evident in the pre-classical Islamic scholarship.
Importantly, this approach to Sunnah/Ḥadith dynamic and their role in the overall ʾusūlu-l-fiqh theory is also not constrained with the hierarchical classical ʾusūlu-l-fiqh theory described above as it dislocates and displaces the central role of Ḥadith body of literature which, alongside the principle of ijmāʿ, largely determines the hermeneutic playing field within which Qurʾān and Sunnah could be interpreted.
New interpretational possibilities of Qurʾān and Sunnah could be developed by putting in place new Qurʾānic hermeneutic models that, for example, give more scope to non-textual sources such as reason or which are based on objective-based nature of ethical value or which permit amore contextual-based approaches to Qurʾāno–Sunnahic interpretation or which are based on the notion of giving hermeneutic primacy to ethicomoralor objective-based (maqasid) approaches to ʾusūlu-l-fiqh theory. New Criteria in Establishing the Function and Value of Ḥadith in
Where do the above insights lead us in relation to the function and the significance of Hadith in Islamic thought and in ʾusūlu-l-fiqh in particular?
In the second section it was argued that isnad- and rijāl-based approach to evaluation of Ḥadith authenticity and reliability as espoused by Muḥadīthūn as well as the epistemological evaluation of Ḥadith by the ʾUsūliyyūn do not systematically and sufficiently well solve the conundrums associated with the Deutuhngsbedueftigkeit of the Qurʾān and the nature of the Sunnah–Ḥadith (and for that matter Sunnah–Qurʾān and Qurʾān–Ḥadith) hermeneutic relationship due to the inherent methodological weaknesses in the underlying premises governing these approaches. Indeed, throughout the entire history of the Islamic thought there have been cases of propounding contradictory or even mutually exclusive views based on unsystematic use of Ḥadith (and Qurʾānic verses/ayat) all claiming to be in accordance with the Qurʾān and Sunnah or the accusation of the Muslim “Other” of not following the “true” Qurʾān and Sunnah teachings, especially among the more literally oriented communities of interpretation as, for example, espoused by ʾAhl-ḥadīth or to lesser extern Hanbali school of thought.36Based on the newly proposed methodology outlined in the third section, it becomes clear that the function and the significance of Ḥadith body of literature in Islamic thought, and in ʾusūlu-l-fiqh disciplines in particular, needs to be established on new criteria that:
a. acknowledge the hermeneutically symbiotic and inter-dependent relationship between Qurʾān and Sunnah that existed during the early formative period of Islamic thought;
b. take into account the conceptually and hermeneutically independent relationship between Sunnah and Ḥadith and by implication that of Qurʾān and Sunnah that was evident during the early formative period of Islamic thought;
c. recognize that the classical formulation of ʾusūlu-l-fiqh theory did not make the above distinction engendering a largely Ḥadith-cantered Qurʾāno–Sunnahic ʾusūlu-l-fiqh theory;
d. acknowledge that in the final analysis, contemporary debates on the assessment and evaluation of the function and the significance of Ḥadith body of knowledge in Islamic thought are not to remain solely within the theoretico-epistemological framework of the classicalʿulūmu-l-Ḥadith sciences under the purview of the classically trained Muḥadīthūn (or the western Muslim and non-Muslim scholars operating within the same) but that these scholarly discourses need to be closely linked to the questions relating to the development of Qurʾānic (or more precisely Qurʾāno–Sunnahic) hermeneutic models, i.e. ʾusūlu-l-fiqh sciences. In this context the most fruitful assessment and evaluation of the value and the significance of each Ḥadith will not solely be conceptualized a priori in terms of its authenticity/reliability or its epistemological value but how its message/text fits into an overall broader hierarchically structured Qurʾāno–Sunnahic hermeneutic model. So the crucial question or questions, in this context, is/are not just whether or not a particular Ḥadith has an impeccable isnad or if is it a mutawatir Ḥadith, but what are the delineating features and underlying methodological and epistemological assumptions governing the interpretational processes of a certain scholar pertaining to conceptualization and interpretation of the nature and the scope of the Qurʾānic and Sunnahic bodies of knowledge who uses this particular Ḥadith in order to argue a particular point of view and where does, according to his/her hermeneutic, Ḥadith fi t into it.
This article argued for a paradigm shift in which the question of the value and significance (rather than just authenticity and reliability) of the Ḥadith body of knowledge in Islamic thought and in particular in Islamic legal theory. It was further contended that classical methods of assessing and evaluating the role of Ḥadith in Islamic thought and practice are unable to offer a systematic methodology that would define and delineate a clear role and function of Ḥadith body of knowledge in relation to Islamic sciences, and particularly those pertaining to Islamic law and Islamic legal theory (but also theology/philosophy/mysticism). Based on a new methodology of conceptualizing the nature and the scope of the Qurʾān and Sunnah discourse and their hermeneutical inter-relationship vis-a-vis each other as well as that of Ḥadith, the author maintained that the questions pertaining to Ḥadīth’s authenticity and reliability become of secondary importance in relation to their function and significance and that the questions relating to their hermeneutic position in the broader Qurʾāno–Sunnahic hermeneutic structure (that is inclusive of Ḥadith) and its underlying epistemological and methodological assumptions are much more important and revealing. Thus, this new methodology of assessing and evaluating the hermeneutical value and significance of Ḥadith call for and highlights a need for syntheses of ʿulūmu-l-Ḥadith and ʾusūlu-l-fi qh fields of knowledge.
Dr. Adis Duderija is a research associate at the University of Melbourne, Islamic Studies. He recently published a book: Constructing a Religiously Ideal "Believer" and "Woman" in Islam: Neo-traditional Salafi and Progressive Muslims' Methods of Interpretation (Palgrave Series in Islamic Theology, Law, and History.