Praise be to Allah. The Qur’an is the one and only holy book that Muhammad was commanded to read and to convey to us, peace be upon him.
What’s the difference between applying Islam by reading and understanding the Qur’an and applying Islam through other media, such as the hadiths or through watching Islamic films? It’s such a big difference that it can’t be measured.
Reading the Qur’an is the right approach to Islam
The Qur’an is a book of light. The Qur’an is 100% error-free. The Qur’an was arranged by Allah himself. The Qur’an is the truth and it touches your soul like a key in a lock. It brings peace and submission to the chest of a human being. Reading it returns us to our good nature.
The Qur’an is consistent. The Qur’an was made easy. The Qur’an is protected. The Qur’an was sent as a mercy. The Qur’an is the reminder. The Qur’an is a criterion. The Qur’an is a revelation from God.
Not Muhammad, nor any other messenger of Allah, has described the hadith collections with these terms. Not as revelation, not as the truth, not as a mercy, not as the reminder or the criterion. Some of the hadiths may carry these aspects in some quantities, but not in an absolute sense.
The hadiths or ahadith (‘ahadith’ is the arabic plural of ‘hadith’) contain a percentage of truth, and some portion of light, but not the pure light or the pure truth.
The Qur’an calls us to the Qur’an, not to the sunnah
I have a version of the Qur’an which has an index. This copy is a hardback version distributed by the Saudi government. It has both Arabic and English text. In the index of that Qur’an, there is a list of headwords indicating various topics found within the Qur’an, and next to each headword, is a series of references indicating where the Qur’an mentions that topic – in which surah and in which ayat or ayaat.
For example, the entry for ‘Noah’ lists all the references in the Qur’an to Noah or his story. Under the headword ‘Noah’, there are 36 references, occurring across 29 chapters of the Qur’an.
The index entry for ‘Qur’an’ takes up almost a whole page of the index. More than the entry for Noah. This shows us that the Qur’an talks a lot about the Qur’an. As for ‘sunnah’, there’s no entry in the index for it. The Qur’an has never mentioned the sunnah of the messenger using the term ‘sunnaturasul’ (‘sunnaturasul’ means ‘the sunnah of the messenger’). That’s right. There’s no entry for ‘sunnah’ in the index of the Saudi government English language manuscript of the Qur’an.
Although significant aspects of the life of the messenger have been shown in the holy Qur’an, and they are indeed part of the messenger’s sunnah, nevertheless this material is not presented in the Qur’an as ‘the sunnah’ or ‘the messenger’s sunnah’. It’s just not quranic phrasology.
And that’s signifcant because Allah calls us to read the Qur’an in order to learn about the universe, the social world, and the messengers. The Qur’an is the sourcebook for learning about Muhammad, peace be upon him, yet it doesn’t have a chapter called ‘the sunnah’ and it doesn’t introduce this phrase at all, anywhere, ever.
The closest the Qur’an comes to the sunnah phrasology is to say “you have indeed, in the messenger of Allah, a good example…”. Even then, the verse is contextual (Q 33:21), referring to faith and commitment in religion, and doesn’t call for the detailed life description that has taken place.
I’m not trying to attack the sunnah. I’m simply noting that describing and analysing the life of Muhammad in as much detail as possible and making the study of it a cornerstone of the religion, is not an act that the Qur’an has explicitly called for, although the Qur’an does say “and as for the blessings of your Lord, then tell stories about them” (Surah 93), which seems to me to permit it.
The benefits of the description of the life of Muhammad are no doubt great, but the errors that have come from it are also great. The point of this article to correctly understand what the sunnah is and what it’s role is.
I believe that a wise Muslim will accept the good things that come from learning the messenger’s sunnah, but will yet focus on learning Islam through studying and reciting the book of God, the Qur’an.
Reading the Qur’an will lead you to understand the messenger’s life and it will give you the most important parts. Of course, the Qur’an teaches a Muslim about everything.
The fact that the sunnah paradigm is not part of the Qur’an shows us that ‘Muhammad’s sunnah’ should not be the primary paradigm for understanding or practicing Islam.
The case of someone who can’t read the Qur’an
If a simple-minded Muslim couldn’t understand the Qur’an and wanted to view Islam through the example of a Muhammad, the great exponent of Islam, then learning from the sunnah might appear to be another option. However, did Allah command this person to take such a path? Does Allah command anyone to read the sunnah instead of the Qur’an? No. So it doesn’t seem like a wise option after all. Allah is wise and if Allah doesn’t call us to do it, then it’s not wise thing to do.
If the sunnah was taken as a Muslim’s primary paradigm, it would open the door to speculation and error, as it’s a source that was not codified in revelation. Rather, it was documented by regular humans with regular pens, and it thus contains human error. I believe we should love the sunnah of the messenger, and that is not a primary source of the religion. I don’t call it a primary source of Islam. Allah knows best.
Thank you for reading this article. Allah is the Most Gracious.