God Almighty says, “Know well that His is the creation and His is the command. Blessed and Supreme is God, the Lord of the worlds” (A’raf, 7:54). The Divine actions pertaining to either taqwin (creation) or tadbir (providence), concern the universe together with all the creatures in it. Everything follows the path and trajectory which has been ordained for it.
God’s acts of taqlif (the Divine decrees prescribing what human beings are enjoined to perform and commanded to refrain from) pertain to His commandment and control. The Prophets are the messengers who convey these divine actions that are of taqlifi quality and demonstrate how they must be applied throughout their lifetimes, interpreting these according to the time in which they live. In other words, they are representatives of the Divine intervention with regards to human life. The textual context of this verse explicitly conveys this.
Prophet Muhammad differed from other Prophets in that he was the last to shape this divine intervention on a universal scale, forming this intervention based on his Sunna, or way of life, sayings and confirmations. The Sunna, then, is the official name of the Divine intervention represented by the Prophet. And his sayings, the Prophetic Traditions, naturally form the information and documentation of this representation.
In line with this, when we look at the Sunna of the Prophet, we can see the extent to which his personality and his life bears significance for us. One other thing also becomes evident: everything pertaining to the wholeness of this representation is important. Daily human practices, as well as messages pertaining to the metaphysical world are very important from the perspective of their representing Divine intervention within their own domains. The Prophet’s wife ‘A’isha’s observation and assertion that, “His conduct is (the embodiment of) the Qur’an” (Muslim, Musafirin, 139) becomes all the relevant at this juncture.
Holding the Sunna to different and scientific characterizations within itself is one thing, while viewing it as ‘the representation of a divine intervention,’ with regard to its basic function and structural unity is another more important and meaningful task. The latter expresses the originality and stance of the Islamic and faith identity of those who consider themselves as one of the Muslims.
Prophet Muhammad also produced rulings that are not found in the Qur’an. There is no doubt that scholars and interpreters of Islamic law are in consensus that the sunna constitutes the second most important source of Islamic law and that acting according to its rulings is mandatory. In drawing such a conclusion, rely on the many Qur’anic verses which command obedience to the Prophet and consider obedience to him to be obedience to God. Let us look at few examples to this end:
“Obey God and obey the Messenger (whose commands are based on Divine Revelation), and be on the alert (against opposing them). If you turn away (from obedience to them), then know that what rests with Our Messenger is only to convey the Message fully and clearly.” (Ma’idah, 5:92)
“He who obeys the Messenger (thereby) obeys God.” (An-Nisa, 4:80)
“Say (to them, O Messenger): "If you indeed love God, then follow me, so that God will love you and forgive you your sins.” God is All-Forgiving, All-Compassionate." (Al-‘Imran, 3:31)
“Whatever the Messenger gives you, accept it willingly; and whatever he forbids you, refrain from it…” (Al-Hashr, 59:7)
We know, as a requisite of Islamic belief, that we are the subjects of Divine intervention in this world; that is, that we are in a state of examination in servanthood to God. We are aware of this. We also know that success in this continuous test of servanthood, experienced on an individual basis from puberty until death, is contingent on us being taught servanthood to God. This comes to mean that this test is not just one of knowledge or information, but one of deeds and practice – an examination of life – and thus one which requires a practical handbook and a guide.
The fact that this deepest need is met by the Prophet is truly a great favor. Hence the Qur’an, noting the facets of Prophet Muhammad looking to believers, provides a clear illustration of this:
لَقَدْ مَنَّ اللَّهُ عَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ إِذْ بَعَثَ فِيهِمْ رَسُولا مِنْ أَنْفُسِهِمْ يَتْلُوا عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتِهِ وَيُزَكِّيهِمْ وَيُعَلِّمُهُمْ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ
“Assuredly, God has done the believers a great kindness by raising among them a Messenger of their own, reciting to them His Revelations, and purifying them, and instructing them in the Book and the Wisdom...” (Al-‘Imran, 3:164).
He himself has asserted, from differing perspectives, his position before his followers in statements beginning with, “My position...” Thus, saying “What falls to you is to follow my example,” he has revealed that his relationship with us is that of obedience and conformity. As stated in the Qur’an: “…follow him so that you may be rightly-guided.” (Al-A’raf, 7:158).
On the other hand, God has determined the basis of our relationship with the Prophet as follows: “النَّبِيُّ أَوْلَى بِالْمُؤْمِنِينَ مِنْ أَنْفُسِهِمْ ” (The Prophet has a higher claim on the believers than they have on their own selves…) (Al-Ahzab, 33:6). Thus we are faced with the fact that “acceptable servanthood is that in accordance with the Sunna. This is because God has presented the Messenger to us as “the best life example.”
لَقَدْ كَانَ لَكُمْ فِي رَسُولِ اللَّهِ أُسْوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ لِمَنْ كَانَ يَرْجُو اللَّهَ وَالْيَوْمَ الْآخِرَ وَذَكَرَ اللَّهَ كَثِيرًا
“Assuredly you have in God's Messenger an excellent example to follow for whoever looks forward to God and the Last Day, and remembers and mentions God much.” (Al-Ahzab, 33:21)
Following God’s Messenger is surely only possible through adapting our lives to his way of life, his Sunna. In other words, emulating his life is a requirement of belief. And this is certainly not merely an imitation, but on the contrary, emulation by way of following him in order to attain the Islamic identity and character. In order to live religion, it is necessary that his authentic life is followed as much as is possible.
Following the Sunna, on the condition that it is not done unconsciously, will allow for believers to live in a constant state of vigilance and thus a state of self-confidence. This is because following the Sunna of the Prophet is based on the principle of doing everything in way in which he did. And this develops in believers the awareness of taking him as an example in their work and conduct. As such, the spiritual presence of Prophet Muhammad finds a place in their daily lives as a maintaining element. This brings a level of spiritual ease and comfort into one’s life. This is because in the briefest of definitions, following the Sunna is living as a Muslim.
The first Muslims were able to free themselves from the darkness of Ignorance and attain the light of Islam through following Him. They differentiated the permissible from the prohibited and attempted to lead happy lives within the sphere of the former, and searing their sins in the fire of repentance and brought light to their lives. For the Companions, the rule was to follow the Qur’an and the Messenger as its embodiment, and emulate him.
This being so, those wishing to lead their lives as Muslims must immerse themselves in the Qur’anic kawthar (heavenly river) and strive to lead lives in accordance with the Sunna of God’s Messenger.
Englightement, modernity, post modernity, late capitalism and globalization all demand a ‘me’-centered human being. According to them, all values can be changed, for example a brick that is to be used in a structure. If the brick does not suit the area in which it is to be placed, then it is trimmed and transformed accordingly. Playing with the essential unchangeable elements of Islam is thus. The end point of intervention in the sources and tampering with values is a huge unknown.
The solution is to impart the most accurate and beneficial religious knowledge with patience to society, explain the uniqueness of Islam, and develop an awareness of our rich cultural heritage by being a living example of Islam and following the Sunna of the Prophet.
How much of this are we able to realize? How much room do we allocate in our lives for the one who taught us Islam? This is the question that we should be asking ourselves today…