European Journal of Law Reform

Article

Credibility of Sunnah

Keywords Sunnah, Hadith, traditions of Prophet Muhammad, sources of Islamic Law, rules of Hadith acceptance
Authors Ahmad Alomar
Author's information

Ahmad Alomar
S.J.D Candidate at IU McKinney School of Law, Faculty Member at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals.
  • Abstract

      Islamic Law (Sharia) consists primarily of the Qur’an, the actual word of God revealed to Prophet Muhammad during his lifetime. The Qur’an itself is relatively short, compact and immutable. It was revealed in Classical Arabic and in a very poetic and elaborate format. Many parts of it are not easy to understand even for educated speakers of Arabic. In order to understand the meaning of some of its provisions and to be able to apply its teachings to changing times and societies, recourse is often made to other sources of Islamic law, first and foremost the Sunnah, or traditions of the Prophet Muhammad. The Sunnah consists of historic records of things the Prophet did or said in various situations during his lifetime. Because of the Prophet’s exalted position as God’s messenger, his words and deeds are considered supreme guidance for Muslims anywhere, as they are seeking to understand the teachings of Islam and its application to their lives. The problem with the Sunnah is, however, that the historic record of the words and deeds of the Prophet is not always clear and reliable. Therefore, giving the force of law to these words and deeds can be problematic. Distinguishing reliable and unreliable Sunnah is critically important. Muslim believe in many hadiths that may directly contradict the Qur’an, scientific evidence, fundamental principles of law and human rights, or each other. This article examines the Sunnah and the science of verifying hadith and argues that a more cautious approach should be taken and that Muslims around the world are being taught many rules that are supposedly rules of Islamic law where at the very least we cannot be sure. Instead of declaring thousands of weak hadith to be binding elements of Islamic law, we should be more discerning between strong and weak hadith and only treat those that are verifiable as binding. Other rules can still be persuasive if they meet certain conditions, in particular compatibility with the Qur’an itself, but they must not be used to impose rules on Muslims against their will, let alone against the provisions of the Qur’an.

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