It is obligatory upon Muslims, after being loyal to Allah the Exalted and His Messenger, to be loyal to the believers, as the Quran declares, especially to the scholars who are the inheritors of the Prophets, whom Allah made like stars that serve as guides through the darkness of the land and the oceans. Muslims are in agreement as regards their guidance and understanding. For prior to the advent of our Prophet Muhammad, the scholars of the earlier [prophet’s] communities were less inclined to good, whereas the scholars of the Muslim community (ummah) were deemed to be the finest as they carried the mantle of knowledge bequeathed by the Prophet and they revive whatever was forgotten of his Sunnah. Through them the Quran is established, and they act upon it; the Quran speaks through them, and they articulate whatever the Quran contains.
It should be known that none of the Imams who are generally accepted by the Muslim ummah would intentionally oppose the Prophet in any aspect of his Sunnah, whether small or great. This is because they are in profound agreement regarding the obligation of following the Prophet. They believe that the words of anyone other than the Prophet may be accepted or rejected. If any of their opinions was found to be in opposition to an authentic hadith, then there must be a just excuse for that and these excuses fall under one of the following three categories:
- Firstly, the scholar did not believe that the Prophet [actually] uttered the hadith.
- Secondly, the scholar did not think that the issue in question was [actually] intended to be covered by the Prophetic hadith.
- Thirdly, the scholar believed the ruling [contained in the hadith] to have been abrogated.
These three categories can be further divided into a number of more specific reasons:
The First Reason:
The hadith did not reach the concerned scholar; and whoever is not aware of a hadith, is not held responsible for not knowing its ruling.
Thus, if the hadith did not reach the scholar and he gave a judgement regarding a particular question on the basis of the apparent meaning of a verse or another hadith or on the basis of analogy or the presumption of continuity (istishab), then his opinion might fortuitously agree with the hadith in one case while opposing it on another.
This is the most likely reason for most of what is found in the opinions of the Pious Predecessors (Al-Salaf Al-Salih) that oppose certain hadiths. Indeed, it is simply not possible for any single member of the ummah to know all the hadith of the Prophet. The Prophet used to speak, issue legal verdicts (fatawa), pass judgement, or perform actions which were heard or seen by those who were present at the time and they, or some of them, would convey it to others who would in turn convey it to others until it would reach whomever Allah willed among the scholars from amongst the Companions of the Prophet, their Followers and those who came after them.
And in another assembly, such matters would be heard or seen by those who were absent from the first gathering and they [too] would convey it to whomever they could. Thus, the first group would know what was not known by the other and vice versa and so the scholars among the Companions and those who came after them would surpass each other in the relative levels of the extent of their knowledge or the quality of it.
[As we have said], it is impossible to claim that any one person could encompass all of the hadiths of the Prophet and this can be illustrated through the example of the Righteous Caliphs, who were most knowledgeable regarding the affairs of the Prophet, his Sunnah and other matters relating to him, especially [Abu Bakr] Al-Siddlq, who was never far from the Prophet whether at home or when he travels. In fact, he was with him most of the time to the extent that he used to stay with him at night to deal with the Muslims’ affairs. This is also true of ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab; you will find many hadiths in which the Prophet said, “I entered with Abu Bakr and ‘Umar” and “I went out with Abu Bakr and ‘Umar.”
Despite this, when a grandmother asked Abu Bakr for her share of inheritance, he replied, “There is nothing prescribed for you in Allah’s Book, nor do I know anything for you in the Sunnah of the Prophet of Allah, but I will ask the people [about it].” So when he asked fellow Companions Al-Mughirah ibn Shu’bah and Muhammad ibn Maslamah came forward and testified that the Prophet had given the grandmother a sixth of the inheritance. This Sunnah was also reported by ‘Imran ibn Husayn.
Thus, even though none of these three Companions was of the same stature as Abu Bakr and the other caliphs, they were the only ones who knew this particular Sunnah on whose practice the ummah has since agreed.
Similarly, ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab did not know the Sunnah relating to “seeking permission” (isti’dhan) [before entering a dwelling] until informed about it by Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari who cited the Ansar in support of his narration, and this is while ‘Umar was more knowledgeable than the one who related this Sunnah to him. Likewise, ‘Umar did not know that the wife inherits from the blood money of her deceased husband. Rather, he thought that the blood money belonged to the ‘aqila until Al-Dahhak ibn Sufyan Al-Kilabi, who was appointed by the Prophet as a governor of a certain region, wrote to ‘Umar informing him that the Prophet gave the wife of Ashyam Al-Dibabi [a share] of her deceased husband’s blood money. As a result, ‘Umar abandoned his opinion in favor of this hadith and said: “If I had not heard this hadith, I would have judged contrary to it.”
Umar also did not know the ruling of jizya (Poll Tax) for the Magians [followers of a fire-worshipping religion] until he was informed by ‘Abd Al-Rahman ibn ‘Awf that the Prophet said, “Treat them as you treat the People of the Book.” Moreover, when ‘Umar reached Sargh [near Tabuk] and was informed that a plague had stricken Al-Sham [the region of greater Syria], he consulted the early Muhajirun who were with him at the time. He then asked the Ansar, then he asked those who accepted Islam at the time of the conquest of Makkah, but none of them knew of a Sunnah from the Prophet [concerning the matter at hand] until ‘Abd Al-Rahman ibn ‘Awf came and told him of the hadith of the Prophet with regard to plagues, namely: “If the plague appears in a land while you are in it, do not depart in flight from it, and if you hear that it has appeared in a land, do not enter it.”
On another occasion, ‘Umar discussed with Ibn ‘Abbas the problem of one who has experienced doubts concerning his prayer [i.e. whether he had missed an element of it or not] and ‘Umar was not aware of any Sunnah pertaining to this matter. He was then informed by ‘Abd Al-Rahman ibn ‘Awf that the Prophet said that “the one performing the prayer should ignore his doubt and base his action on whatever is certain to him.” Finally, ‘Umar was once travelling on a particularly windy day. He asked: “Who can tell us [from the Prophet] something with regard to the wind?” Abu Hurayrah said: “I was informed of ‘Umar’s request while I was at the rear of the caravan so I spurred my riding camel to hasten forward until I reached him and narrated to him the Prophet’s instruction as to what a Muslim should say when the wind rages.”
Thus, these were the issues that were not known to ‘Umar until he was informed about them by those who were not his equals in rank and legal knowledge. Indeed, there were other issues in which ‘Umar did not know the Prophet’s guidance concerning them, and as a result, the judgement and fatwas he made on them might not have been in [direct] conformity with the Sunnah. An example of this is his judgement on the blood money for fingers, namely that they are different from one another based on their different functions, whereas both Abu Musa and Ibn ‘Abbas, who were of lesser knowledge than ‘Umar, knew the Prophet’s saying on this matter, namely, “This and this are equal,” meaning the thumb and the little finger. This Sunnah reached Mu’awiyah during the time of his rule, and he judged in accordance with it and Muslims felt that it was incumbent upon them to follow it. The fact that ‘Umar was not aware of this hadith should not be considered a shortcoming on his part.
Another example is that ‘Umar, his son ‘Abdullah as well as other notable scholars prohibited the wearing of perfume by the one who is about to enter into a state of ritual consecration (ihram) and by the one who is about to go to Makkah for circumambulation of the Ka’bah (tawaf) after throwing the stones at Jamarat Al-‘Aqabah, in opposition to the hadith of ‘Aishah in which she said: “I perfumed the Prophet for his ihram before he entered into the state of ihram, and I also perfumed him before performing the Hajj circumambulation (Tawaf Al-Ifada) (i.e. after the first state of ihram ends).“
‘Umar also used to allow the one who wears leather socks to wipe over them until he takes them off without any time restriction. This was adhered to by a group of the early Pious Predecessors because the hadith regarding the time restriction on wiping (that was authenticated by some of those who were not their equal in knowledge) had not reached them. This hadith was narrated from the Prophet through various authentic chains of transmission.
The same holds for ‘Uthman who did not know that a woman should spend the waiting period following the death of her husband in the house where she lived before his death, until Al-Furay’a bint Malik (Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri’s sister) related to him that when her husband passed away the Prophet said to her, “Remain in your house until you fulfill the waiting period stated in the Quran for this matter [four months and ten days].” ‘Uthman then acted upon this hadith.
‘Uthman also was once gifted a game meat [i.e. while he was in a state of ihram] and upon sitting down to eat it ‘Ali informed him that the Prophet rejected the game meat that was given to him as a present.
And likewise ‘Ali who said: “When I used to hear a hadith [directly] from the Messenger of Allah, Allah made me benefit from all that He desired me to benefit from, whereas if anyone else would relate something to me, I would make him swear an oath and if he did, I would believe him. Abu Bakr told me–and he was being truthful–and he mentioned the well-known hadith related to the Prayer of Repentance (Salat Al-Tawbah).”
‘Ali and Ibn ‘Abbas, among others, issued a fatwa that the woman whose husband died while she was pregnant, must observe the longer of the two specified waiting periods. Obviously, they have not heard of the sunnah of the Messenger of Allah regarding Subay’ah Al-Aslamiyyah. Upon the death of her husband (Sa’d ibn Khawlah) the Prophet told Subay’ah that her waiting period continues to the point of the child’s delivery.
Finally, ‘Ali, Zayd, Ibn ‘Umar and others issued a fatwa regarding the woman who authorizes her husband to determine her dower (almufawwida) that, “if her husband passes away, she is not entitled to any dower.” This wrong fatwa on their part was due to the fact that they were inadvertent of the Prophet’s Sunnah concerning this matter.
This is a vast subject area in which a tremendous amount of narrations is related from the Companions of the Prophet. As for transmissions from those other than the Companions they run into the thousands. This was the position with regard to the Companions who were the most knowledgeable, the most grounded in jurisprudence, the most mindful of Allah and the best among the Muslim community. As for those who came after them, they are lesser in rank and it goes without saying that some of the corpus of the Sunnah was hidden from each one of them. Therefore, it is a grave error to believe that every authentic hadith reached every one of the Imams or indeed any one specific Imam. It is wrong to say that the hadiths have all been documented and compiled and therefore it is unlikely that they would have been unknown. This is because the well-known collections of Hadith were compiled after the demise of the authoritative Imams.
Also, it is incorrect to claim that the hadiths of the Prophet are limited to those found in the specific collections of Hadith. Moreover, even if this were to be the case, no single scholar can possibly know everything in these collections, and this is highly unlikely to be the case with any person; indeed, it is possible that a scholar might possess many collections of Hadith and yet not be aware of all the contents of these collections. In fact, those who came before the emergence of these Hadith collections were by far more knowledgeable in the Sunnah than those who came after them. This is because a large part of the Sunnah that had reached them and had been authenticated by them might not have reached us except through unknown transmitters or a severed chain of narration or might not have reached us at all. Thus, it can be said that their “Hadith compilations” were preserved in their hearts, which contained several times as much as that which is found in the physical collections, a fact attested by those who are well-versed in this issue.
Nor should it be said that whoever does not have knowledge of all the hadiths should not be considered a mujtahid. This is because if we were to stipulate as a condition of the mujtahid that he must be aware of all the Prophet’s words and actions relevant to legal rulings then there would not be a single mujtahid in the Muslim community. Rather, the mujtahids should strive to know most of the hadiths so that only a few of the details will escape him and hence he might only contradict the few details that had [not] reached him.