Was the Messenger a Delivery-Man?
By Kaleef K. Karim
The Message and the Messenger
Dr. Ahmad Shafaat: The question of the place of the Sunnah/Hadith in the work of the Prophet requires that we closely examine the nature of that work. What does it mean to say muhammad ar-rasul allah (Muhammad is the messenger of God)? Clearly a messenger’s work is to convey a message. But how was this message received and conveyed? Was it received and conveyed only through the Qur’an or did the Hadith also play a part? Also, how far is the messenger himself involved in the conveying of the message? In other words, what is the relationship between the message and the messenger? In this chapter we examine such questions in the light of the Qur’an.
The messenger not just a delivery man
The view of the Qur’an-only Muslims would require us to think that the Prophet performed his prophetic work by simply delivering the Qur’an. Once the revelation of particular verses ended he was like an ordinary Muslim till the next set of verses were revealed. We will now show that the Qur’an does not support this highly mechanical view of the role of the Prophet. In this connection let us first examine the evidence that the Qur’an-only Muslims present in support of their position, of course, from the Qur’an itself. We consider some of the verses that seem to be most favorable to their position:
The messenger is obliged only to convey (the message) (5:99, see also 3:20, 5:92, 13:40, 16:35, 82, 24:54, 29:18, 36:17, 42:48, 64:12).
This statement is interpreted by the Qur’an-only people to mean that the messenger’s function was only to deliver the Qur’an and nothing else. The statement, however, does not say that conveying (the message) is simply reciting the Qur’an. The context shows the meaning to be that the Prophet is not responsible for the belief or unbelief of the people or for their obedience or disobedience to the message. His obligation is to simply convey the message. The verse is not meant to exclude some methods of conveying the message in favor of simply reciting the Qur’an.. In fact, if we use the Qur’an to explain the Qur’an we should consider also the following verse, where it is said regarding some people with very weak or hypocritical faith:
Let them be, but admonish them and say to them a word that effectively reaches their hearts (qawl baligh) (4:63).
Here admonishing and saying qawl baligh cannot be understood as reciting the Qur‟an. Yet it is clearly a part of conveying the message.
But even if we identify balagh with reciting the Qur‟an, the style of the Qur‟anic language does not necessarily oblige us to limit the Prophet‟s divinely appointed functions to that one function. For when the Qur‟an makes statements like “nothing but …” they should not be taken in an absolute and literal sense but some common sense should be used in interpreting them. For example, in 98:5 it is said that the people of the book were not commanded but to serve God exclusively and wholeheartedly and to establish regular prayer and charity. If taken literally this would conflict with the well-established fact, also attested by the Qur‟an, that there were many other commandments that were given to the Jews and Christians. But if interpreted in the light of common sense, the verse means that the basic religious truth behind what the people of the book were commanded consists of these three principles. The rest is either an elaboration of these or is of secondary importance. Similarly, when it is said that the messenger was responsible for nothing but balagh, this need not be understood literally to mean that the Prophet‟s function was simply to deliver the Qur‟an like a postman. It should rather be understood to mean that the Qur‟an was the main instrument through which he performed his divine mission.(Source: Dr Ahmad Shfaat http://www.islamicperspectives.com/HadithProject2.htm)
Muhammed Taqi Usmani explains this subject more in detail:
The Status of the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam)
So, the first pertinent question in the subject is: What status does a prophet occupy when he is sent to the people? Has he no higher a status than that or a message-carrier or a postman who, after delivering the letter, has no concern with it whatsoever? The answer is certainly in the negative. The prophets are not sent merely to deliver the word of Allâh. They are also required to explain the divine Book, to interpret it, to expound it, to demonstrate the ways of its application and to present a practical example of its contents. Their duty is not restricted to reciting the words of the Book, rather they are supposed to teach it and to train people to run their lives in accordance with its requirements. The Holy Qur‟ân leaves no doubt concerning this point by saying:
Allâh has surely blessed the believers with His favor when He raised in their midst a Messenger from among themselves, who recites to them His verses and makes them pure and teaches them the Book and the Wisdom, while they were, earlier in open error. (3:164)
He (Allâh) is the One who raised up, among the unlettered, a Messenger from among themselves who recites the verses of Allâh, and makes them pure, and teaches them the Book and the Wisdom. (62:2)
The same functions were attributed to the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) in the prayer of Sayyidna Ibrahim (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) when, according to the Holy Qur‟ân, he prayed:
Our Lord, raise in their midst a messenger from among themselves who recites to them Your verses and teaches them the Book and the Wisdom and purifies them… (2:129)
These are the terms of reference given to the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) which include four distinct functions and the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) has been entrusted with all of them:
(1) Recitation of the Verses of Allâh.
(2) Teaching the Book of Allâh.
(3) Teaching the Wisdom.
(4) Making the people pure.
Thus, the Holy Qur‟ân leaves no ambiguities in the fact that the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) is not supposed to merely recite the verses and then leave it to the people to interpret and apply them in whatever manner they like. Instead, he is sent to “teach” the Book. Then, since teaching the Book is not enough, he is also required to teach “Wisdom” which is something additional to the “Book.” Still, this is not enough, therefore the Holy Prophet () has also to “make the people pure,” meaning thereby that the theoretical teaching of the Book and the “Wisdom” must be followed by a practical training to enable the people to apply the Book and the Wisdom in the way Allâh requires them to apply.
These verses of the Holy Qur‟ân describe the following functions of the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam):
(a) He is the authority in the way the Holy Book [the Qur‟ân] has to be recited.
(b) He has the final word in the interpretation of the Book.
(c) He is the only source at which the wisdom based on divine guidance can be learned.
(d) He is entrusted with the practical training of the people to bring his teachings into practice.
These functions of the Holy Prophet () can never be carried out unless his teachings, both oral and practical, are held to be authoritative for his followers, and the Muslims who are given under his training are made bound to obey and follow him. The functions (b) and (c), namely, the teaching of the Book and Wisdom require that his sayings should be binding on the followers, while the function (d), the practical training, requires that his acts should be an example for the Ummah, and the Ummah should be bound to follow it.
It is not merely a logical inference from the verses of the Holy Qur‟ân quoted above, but it is also mentioned in express terms by the Holy Qur‟ân in a large number of verses which give the Muslims a mandatory command to obey and follow him. While doing so, the Holy Qur‟ân has used two different terms, namely the “itaa‟ah” (to obey) and “ittibaa‟” (to follow). The first term
refers to the orders and sayings of the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) while the second relates to his acts and practice. By ordering the Muslims both to “obey” and to “follow” the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam), the Holy Qur‟ân has given an authority to both his sayings and acts. (Source: Muhammed Taqi Usmani Chapter 1 http://www.central-mosque.com/fiqh/asunnah1.htm)
The Scope of the Prophetic Authority
The verses of the Qur‟ân quoted in the previous chapter, and the natural conclusions derived therefrom, are sufficient to prove the authority of the “Sunnah” of the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam). Its being a source of Islâmic law stands proved on that score. Yet the Holy Qur‟ân has not only stressed upon the “obedience of the Messenger” as a general rule or principle. It has also highlighted the different shades of authority in order to explain the scope of his obedience, and the various spheres where it is to be applied.
Therefore, we propose in this chapter to deal with each of these spheres separately, and to explain what the Holy Qur‟ân requires of us in respect of each of them.
The Prophet‟s (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) Authority to Make Laws
A number of verses in the Holy Qur‟ân establish the authority of the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) as a legislator or a law-maker. Some of those are reproduced below:
And My mercy embraces all things. So I shall prescribe it for those who fear Allâh and pay zakâh (obligatory alms) and those who have faith in Our signs; those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet whom they find written down in the Torah and the Injîl, and who bids them to the Fair and forbids them the Unfair, and makes lawful for them the good things, and makes unlawful for them the impure things, and relieves them of their burdens and of the shackles that were upon them. So,those who believe in him, and honour him, and help him, and follow the light that has been sent down with him- they are the ones who acquire success. (7:156-157)
The emphasized words in this verse signify that one of the functions of the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) is “to make lawful the good things and make unlawful the impure things.” This function has been separated from “bidding the Fair and forbidding the Unfair,” because the latter relates to the preaching of what has already been established as Fair, and warning against what is established as Unfair, while the former embodies the making of lawful and unlawful, that is, the enforcing of new laws regarding the permissibility or prohibition of things. This function of prescribing new religious laws and rules is attributed here not to the Holy Qur‟ân, but to the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam). It, therefore, cannot be argued that the “making lawful or unlawful” means the declaration of what is laid down in the Holy Qur‟ân only, because the declaration of a law is totally different from making it.
Besides, the declaration of the established rules has been referred to in the earlier sentence separately, that is, “bids them to the Fair and forbids for them the Unfair.” The reference in the next sentence, therefore, is only to “making” new laws.
The verse also emphasizes “to believe” in the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam). In the present context, it clearly means to believe in all his functions mentioned in the verse including to make something “lawful” or “unlawful.”
The verse, moreover, directs to follow the light that has been sent down with him. Here again, instead of “following the Holy Qur‟ân,” “following the light” has been ordered, so as to include all the imperatives sent down to the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam), either through the Holy Book or through the unrecited revelation, reflecting in his own orders and acts.
Looked at from whatever angle, this verse is a clear proof of the fact that the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) had an authority based, of course, on the unrecited revelation, to make new laws in addition to those mentioned in the Holy Qur‟ân.
The Holy Qur‟ân says:
Fight those who do not believe in Allâh and the Hereafter and do not hold unlawful what Allâh and His Messenger have made unlawful. (9:29)
The underlined words signify that it is necessary to “hold unlawful what Allâh and His Messenger made unlawful,” and that the authority making something unlawful is not restricted to Allâh Almighty. The Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) can also, by the will of Allâh, exercise this authority. The difference between the authority of Allâh and that of the Messenger is, no doubt, significant. The former is wholly independent, intrinsic and self-existent, while the authority of the latter is derived from and dependent on the revelation from Allâh. Yet, the fact remains that the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) has this authority and it is necessary for believers to submit to it alongwith their submission to the authority of Allâh.
The Holy Qur’ân says:
No believer, neither man nor woman, has a right, when Allâh and His Messenger decide a matter, to have a choice in their matter in issue. And whoever disobeys Allâh and His Messenger has gone astray into manifest error. (33:36)
Here, the decisions of Allâh and the Messenger (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) both have been declared binding on the believers.
It is worth mentioning that the word “and” occuring between “Allâh” and “His Messenger” carries both conjunctive and disjunctive meanings. It cannot be held to give conjunctive sense only, because in that case it will exclude the decision of Allâh unless it is combined with the decision of the messenger- a construction too fallacious to be imagined in the divine expression.
The only reasonable construction, therefore, is to take the word “and” in both conjunctive and disjunctive meanings. The sense is that whenever Allâh or His Messenger (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam), any one or both of them, decide a matter, the believers have no choice except to submit to their decisions.
It is thus clear that the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) has the legal authority to deliver decisions in the collective and individual affairs of the believers who are bound to surrender to those decisions.
The Holy Qur‟ân says:
Whatever the Messenger gives you, take it; and whatever he forbids you, refrain from it. (59:7)
Although the context of this verse relates to the distribution of the spoils of war, yet it is the well-known principle of the interpretation of the Holy Qur‟ân that, notwithstanding the particular event in which a verse is revealed, if the words used are general, they are to be construed in their general sense; they cannot be restricted to that particular event.
Keeping in view this principle, which is never disputed, the verse gives a general rule about the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) that whatever order he gives is binding on the believers and whatever thing he forbids stands prohibited for them. The Holy Qur‟ân thus has conferred a legal authority to the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) to give orders, to make laws and to enforce prohibitions.
It will be interesting here to cite a wise answer of „Abdullâh ibn Mas‟ûd (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam), the blessed companion of the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam), which he gave to a woman.
A woman from the tribe of Asad came to „Abdullah ibn Mas‟ûd (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) and said, “I have come to know that you hold such and such things as prohibited. I have gone through the whole Book of Allâh, but never found any such prohibition in it.”
„Abdullah ibn Mas‟ûd (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) replied, “Had you read the Book you would have found it. Allâh Almighty says: “Whatever the Messenger gives you, take it; and whatever he forbids you, refrain from it.” (59:7). (Ibn Mâjah)
By this answer „Abdullah ibn Mas‟ûd pointed out that this verse is so comprehensive that it embodies all the orders and prohibitions of the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) and since the questioned prohibitions are enforced by the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) they form part of this verse, though indirectly.
The Holy Qur‟ân says:
But no, by your Lord, they shall not be (deemed to be) believers unless they accept you as judge in their disputes, then find in their hearts no adverse feeling against what you decided, but surrender to it in complete submission. (4:65)
The authority of the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) established in this verse seems apparently to be an authority to adjudicate in the disputes brought before him. But after due consideration in the construction used here, this authority appears to be more than that of a judge. A judge, no doubt, has an authority to deliver his judgments, but the submission to his judgments is not a condition for being a Muslim. If somebody does not accept the judgment of a duly authorized judge, it can be a gross misconduct on his part, and a great sin, for which he may be punished, but he cannot be excluded from the pale of Islâm on this score alone. He cannot be held as disbeliever.
On the contrary, the verse vehemently insists that the person who does not accept the verdicts of the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) cannot be held to be a believer. This forceful assertion indicates that the authority of the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) is not merely that of a customary judge. The denial of his judgments amounts to disbelief. It implies that the verdicts of the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) referred to here are not the normal verdicts given in the process of a trial. They are the laws laid down by him on the basis of the revelation, recited or unrecited, that he receives from Allâh. So, the denial of these laws is, in fact, the denial of the divine orders which excludes the denier from the pale of Islâm.
Looked at from this point of view, this verse gives the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) not only the authority of a judge, but also confers upon him the authority to make laws, as binding on the Muslims as the divine laws.
The Holy Qur‟ân says:
They say, “we believe in Allâh and the Messenger, and we obey.” Then, after that, a group of them turn away. And they are not believers. And when they are called to Allâh and His Messenger that he may judge between them, suddenly a group of them turn back. But if they had a right, they come to him submissively! Is it that there is sickness in their hearts? Or are they in doubt? Or do they fear that Allâh may be unjust towards them, and His Messenger? Nay, but they are the unjust. All that the believers say when they are called to Allâh and His Messenger that he (the Messenger) may judge between them, is that they say, “We hear and we obey.” And they are those who acquire success. And whoever obeys Allâh and His Messenger and fears Allâh and observes His Awe, such are those who are the winners. (24:47-52)
These verses, too, hold that, in order to be a Muslim, the condition is to surrender to the verdicts of the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam). Those who do not turn towards him in their disputes inspite of being called to him cannot, according to the Holy Qur‟ân, be treated as believers. It carries the same principle as mentioned in the preceding verse: It is the basic ingredient of the belief in Allâh and His Messenger that the authority of the Messenger should be accepted whole-heartedly. He must be consulted in disputes and obeyed. His verdicts must be followed in total submission, and the laws enunciated by him must be held as binding.
The Holy Prophet‟s (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) Authority to Interpret the Holy Qur‟ân
The second type of authority given to the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) is the authority to interpret and explain the Holy Book. He is the final authority in the interpretation of the Holy Qur‟ân. The Holy Qur‟ân says:
And We sent down towards you the Advice (i.e. the Qur‟ân) so that you may explain to the people what has been sent down to them, and so that they may ponder. (16:44).
It is unequivocally established here that the basic function of the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) is to explain the Holy Book and to interpret the revelation sent down to him. It is obvious that the Arabs of Makkah, who were directly addressed by the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) did not need any translation of the Qur‟ânic text. The Holy Qur‟ân was revealed in their own mother tongue. Despite that they were mostly illiterate, they had a command on their language and literature. Their beautiful poetry, their eloquent speeches and their impressive dialogues are the basic sources of richness in the Arabic literature. They needed no one to teach them the literal meaning of the Qur‟ânic text. That they understood the textual meaning is beyond any doubt.
It is thus obvious that the explanation entrusted to the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) was something more than the literal meaning of the Book. It was an explanation of what Allâh Almighty intended, including all the implications involved and the details needed. These details are also received by the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) through the unrecited revelation. As discussed earlier, the Holy Qur‟ân has clearly said,
Then, it is on Us to explain it. (75:19).
This verse is self-explanatory on the subject. Allâh Almighty has Himself assured the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) that He shall explain the Book to him. So, whatever explanation the Holy Prophet (Sallallaho Alaihe Wassallam) gives to the Book is based on the explanation of Allâh Himself. So, his interpretation of the Holy Qur‟ân overrides all the possible interpretations. Hence, he is the final authority in the exegesis and interpretation of the Holy Qur‟ân. His word is the last word in this behalf.
( Source: Muhammed Taqi Usmani http://www.central-mosque.com/fiqh/asunnah1.htm)