Very often in conversations the following retort is heard: ‘The Prophet (peace be upon him) did not do that; the Companions did not do that.’ It is often marshalled in lines of argumentation concerning many topics, tacitly being used as a form of condemnation. Although not explicitly said, the implication behind the retort is that there is a tacit prohibition or censure concerning something, because the Prophet (peace be upon him) and / or his Companions did not do it.
Often it is also used to subjugate others into silence during conversations or disputes. For dramatic effect, it is said while looking aghast; shouted out, or expressed with raised arms. A form of brow-beating, to silence others with what its adherents think is a principle of the law: ‘The Prophet (peace be upon him) did not do that; the Companions did not do that.’ The word employed to designate the retort is ‘Tark’, which literally means leaving but is understood as being non-performance and / or abandonment.
Yet the law doesn’t operate upon this basis. Neither does it operate upon the basis of whims, desires and assumptions. No matter can be judged or determined by an appeal to something that doesn’t exist or hasn’t happened. Even worse is where there is resort to: ‘a gut feeling’, or ‘I think it is so’, or other such trite empty declarations.
One of the core aspects of Tawḥeed, is that Allah alone has the prerogative of command. In order words, unto him and him alone belongs the ultimate, final supreme sovereignty. Only he – the exalted and majestic, determines the precise parameters of law. He alone retains this by his very self or essence, with no partner whatsoever.
One cannot claim to believe in Tawḥeed and at the same time try to argue that there is an existent law-giver or law-maker that can supersede the command of Allah.
The Nature of Revelation
The final revelation that Allah sent to mankind, that which was sent down to the seal of the Prophets Muḥammad (peace be upon him) is complete. In totality, the Dhikr is protected. It is self-contained; no aspect of revelation is missing or lost and Allah himself declared in the Qur’ān (see: ch. 5 verse 3) that this Deen is complete.
Furthermore, there is no textually established report, either in the book of Allah or in the Prophetic Sunnah where it states: ‘Whatever the Prophet left / did not do, you must not do.’ Or perhaps being expressed differently as ‘Whatever I don’t do, you mustn’t do.’ And no report of this type exists either in relation to his Companions (may Allah be pleased with them).
It would be incredulous to assert that the Prophet (peace be upon him) was incapable or unable to articulate his wording. He was sent with Jawāmi’ al-Kalim, as recorded by Bukhāri and others:
حَدَّثَنَا سَعِيدُ بْنُ عُفَيْرٍ، حَدَّثَنَا اللَّيْثُ، حَدَّثَنِي عُقَيْلٌ، عَنِ ابْنِ شِهَابٍ، أَخْبَرَنِي سَعِيدُ بْنُ الْمُسَيَّبِ، أَنَّ أَبَا هُرَيْرَةَ، قَالَ سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ بُعِثْتُ بِجَوَامِعِ الْكَلِمِ[/arabic-font]
Sa’eed bin Ufayr narrated to us al-Layth narrated to us ‘Uqayl narrated to me from Ibn Shihāb: Sa’eed bin al-Musayyib reported to me that Abu Hurayrah said: I heard the Messenger r of Allah (peace be upon him) saying: ‘I have been sent with Jawāmi’ al-Kalim…’
‘Jawāmi’ al-Kalim’ is the shortest expression with the widest meaning, being able to utilise concise sentences that contain wide meanings as well as conveying deep wisdom. Moreover, the Prophet (peace be upon him) is the infallible seal of the Prophets. He (peace be upon him) did not speak upon a whim our out of his own desire; as clearly stated in the book of Allah (53: 2/5):
[arabic-font]مَا ضَلَّ صَاحِبُكُمْ وَمَا غَوَىٰ ، وَمَا يَنطِقُ عَنِ الْهَوَىٰ ، إِنْ هُوَ إِلَّا وَحْيٌ يُوحَىٰ ، عَلَّمَهُ شَدِيدُ الْقُوَىٰ[/arabic-font]
Your companion does not err, nor does he go astray; nor does he speak out of his own desire. It is but revelation that is revealed to him, the Lord of mighty power has taught him.
Imām Ibn Ḥibbān records the following tradition in his Ṣaḥīḥ with a strong chain of transmission:
أخبرنا عمر بن محمد الهمداني قال: حدثنا عبد الملك بن ثعيب الليث بن سعد قال: حدثني أبي عن جدي عن محمد بن عجلان: حدثني زيد بن أسلم عن أبي صالح عن أبي هريرة عن رسول الله صلی الله علیه وسلم وذاد فيه: وما أخبرتكم أنه من عند الله فهو الذي لا شك فيه[/arabic-font]
Umar ibn Muḥammad al-Hamdāni reported to us he said Abdal-Malik bin Shu’ayb al-Layth ibn Sa’d narrated to us he said my father narrated to me from my grandfather from Muḥammad bin ‘Ajlān: Zayd bin Aslam narrated to me from Abu Ṣāliḥ from Abu Hurayrah from the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him): Whatever matter I’ve reported to you, undoubtedly it is from Allah.
Allah has explained clearly the Prophet Muḥammad (peace be upon him) is the ‘ustwatun ḥasana’, the most perfect and complete exemplar:
[arabic-font]لَّقَدْ كَانَ لَكُمْ فِي رَسُولِ اللَّهِ أُسْوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ لِّمَن كَانَ يَرْجُو اللَّهَ وَالْيَوْمَ الْآخِرَ وَذَكَرَ اللَّهَ كَثِيرًا[/arabic-font]
Certainly, you have in the Messenger of Allah an excellent exemplar, for him who hopes in Allah and the latter day and remembers Allah much.
Whatever he (peace be upon him) undertook is not prohibited for the rest of his Ummah, unless that is, he has clearly specified that what he is undertaking is specific to him only. Together with this, he (peace be upon him) will never abandon any matter considered legally obligated (wājib) for his Ummah. On occasion though, he (peace be upon him) may not undertake a recommended matter (mustaḥab) to show that it is not an obligation for his Ummah.
Basic Ruling of Permissibility
As set out above, these are some of the most fundamental principles of Deen. They cannot simply be abandoned or disregarded. Indeed, we have been given very clear and precise instructions by Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) concerning the boundaries of what is obligated and prohibited. The verse in the book of Allah (6: 119) clearly states:
[arabic-font]وَقَدْ فَصَّلَ لَكُم مَّا حَرَّمَ عَلَيْكُمْ [/arabic-font]
He has explained to you in detail what is forbidden to you.
In his collection of Ṣaḥīḥ Imām Bukhāri recorded the following upon the authority of Abu Hurayrah:
حدثنا إسماعیل حدثني مالڪ عن أبي الزناد عن الاٴعرج عن أبي هریرة عن النبي صلی الله علیه وسلم قال دعوني ما ترڪتڪم إنما هلڪ من ڪان قبلڪم بسؤالهم واختلافهم علی أنبیاٸهم فإذا نهیتڪم عن شيٴ فاجتنبوه وإذا أمرتڪم بأمر فأتوا منه ما استطعتم
Ismā’il narrated to us Mālik narrated to me from Abi Zinād from al-‘Araj from Abu Hurayrah from the Prophet (peace be upon him) who said: Leave me as I leave you; for the people who were before you were ruined because of their questions and their differences over their Prophets. So, if I forbid you to do something, then keep away from it. And if I order you to do something, then do of it as much as you can.
Al-Ḥākim cites the next authentic tradition in al-Mustadrak a’la Ṣaḥīḥayn upon the authority of Abu Thalabah al-Khushani:
حدثني علي بن عيسى حدثنا محمد بن عمرو الحرشي حدثنا القعنبي حدثنا علي بن مسهر عن داود بن أبي هند عن مكحول عن أبي ثعلبة الخشني رضي الله عنه قال: قال رسول الله، صلى الله عليه وسلم: إن الله حد حدوداً فلا تعتدوها، وفرض لكم فرائض فلا تضيعوها، وحرم أشياء فلا تنتهكوها، وترك أشياء، من غير نسيان من ربكم ولكن رحمة منه لكم، فاقبلوها ولا تبحثوا فيها
Ali ibn Esa narrated to me Muḥammad bin ‘Amr al-Ḥarshi narrated to us al-Qa’nabi narrated to us Ali bin Mashour narrated to us from Dāwud bin Abi Hind from Makḥoul from Abu Thalabah al-Khushani who said: the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: Verily, Allah has set some limits, so do not trespass them and He has ordained some obligations, so do not neglect them; He has sanctified some things so do not violate them; and He has refrained from mentioning other matters not (out of) forgetfulness, but as a way of being merciful to you, so accept (that) and do not look for them!
Although there are a number detailed evidences that underpin this principle, for the sake of brevity we have chosen to highlight these here. For a detailed discussion of the topic, together with the full set of evidences, these can be studied in the chapters on basic permissibility. We can though summarise the Prophetic statements quoted so far as:
- ‘Whatever matter I’ve reported to you, undoubtedly it is from Allah.’
- ‘Leave me as I leave you; for the people who were before you were ruined because of their questions and their differences over their Prophets. So, if I forbid you to do something, then keep away from it. And if I order you to do something, then do of it as much as you can.’
- ‘Verily, Allah has set some limits, so do not trespass them and He has ordained some obligations, so do not neglect them; He has sanctified some things so do not violate them; and He has refrained from mentioning other matters not (out of) forgetfulness, but as a way of being merciful to you, so accept (that) and do not look for them!’
A Way Forward
The original or default ruling concerning acts, contracts, conditions is one of absolute general permissibility. Expressed differently, what Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) have remained silent about, falls within that realm of permissibility. To establish any matter as being obligatory, recommended, undesirable or prohibited, that will be substantiated by textual evidences and indicators.
Consequently, there is no truth or logic in anyone seeking to claim that what the Prophet left, we must also leave; what the Prophet (and his Companions) didn’t do, we therefore shouldn’t do. These are not reported Prophetic statements, neither are they derived from them. Therefore, it cannot be argued that there is an implicit or implied prohibition because Prophet (and his Companions) didn’t do something. Not undertaking something, is literally nothing. Hence, nothing can be derived from nothing.
Where there is a dispute or disagreement in relation to any matter, the recourse to resolving that is set out in the book of Allah. There should never be an appeal to whims, desires, or incoherent statements.
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُوا الرَّسُولَ وَأُولِي الْأَمْرِ مِنكُمْ فَإِن تَنَازَعْتُمْ فِي شَيْءٍ فَرُدُّوهُ إِلَى اللَّهِ وَالرَّسُولِ إِن كُنتُمْ تُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ ذَٰلِكَ خَيْرٌ وَأَحْسَنُ تَأْوِيلًا[/arabic-font]
O you who believe! Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority from among you. If you differ concerning anything, then refer it to Allah and Messenger, if you believe in Allah and the last day; that is the best and best in result.