And We have sent down unto thee (also) the Message (i.e. the Qur’an); that thou mayest explain clearly to men what is sent for them, and that they may give thought. (16:44)
According to the above ayah yet another most important duty of the holy Prophet is to interpret and explain the Qur’an. He is the final authority in the interpretation of the Qur’an. The Qur’an further says:
And We sent down the Book to thee for the express purpose, that thou shouldst make clear to them those things in which they differ, and that it should be a guide and a mercy to those who believe. (16:64
The message is clear that who else can understand the Book and its commandments than the one on whom it was revealed. The Qur’an unequivocally establishes here that the basic function of the holy Prophet is to explain the Holy Book and to interpret the revelation sent down to him.
One most important point to understand here is that when the Arabs already knew the language of the Qur’an, what did they further need to understand the Book?
It is obvious that they did not need any translation of the Qur’anic text as the Qur’an was revealed in their own mother tongue. Although they were mostly illiterate; yet 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. Therefore, they needed no teacher to teach them the literal meaning of the Qur’anic text.
It is therefore, quite obvious that the explanation entrusted to the holy Prophet was something more than the literal meaning of the Book. It was an explanation of what Allah Almighty intended, including all the implications involved and the details needed. These explanations and details which the holy Prophet made to interpret and elucidate the Qur’an were also received by the holy Prophet through the unrecited revelation which is nothing but the hadith and the sunnah.
The Qur’an had already declared it that the further explanations of the Qur’an will also be taught to him by Allah:
Then, it is on Us to explain it. (75:19)
This ayah is self-explanatory on the subject. It clearly means that the interpretation of the Qur’an made by the holy Prophet overrides all the possible interpretations. Hence, he is the final authority in the exegesis and interpretation of the Qur’an. His word is the last word in this behalf. That is why the hadith is the most important source to understand the Qur’an. Without the hadith it is impossible to understand the text of the Book in its letter and spirit let alone the deeper interpretations and meanings of the ayat. It further makes us understand that Islam and its Shari‘ah as it is, the complete way of life, is fundamentally based upon the Qur’an and its firsthand interpretation, explanation and implication taught by the holy Prophet through his hadith. So the hadith is not a mere source of history but primarily a source of tafsir of the Qur’an and most importantly a source of the Islamic law itself.
For the sake of remaining specific let us understand some instances of Prophetic explanations of the Qur’an. These examples will also show the amount of loss the Muslims will have to face if we ignore the sunnah of the holy Prophet.
1. The command to offer five times salah (prayer) which is undisputedly held as the first pillar of Islam after having faith has ordered more than 73 times in the Qur’an to observe it. Despite this there is no ayah in the entire Book to explain how to perform and observe it.
Some components like ruku‘ (bowing down) or sujud (prostration) or qiyam (standing) are, no doubt, mentioned in the Qur’an. But the complete way to perform salah as a composite whole has not been explained. It is only through the sunnah of the Holy Prophet that we learn the exact way to perform it. If the sunnah is ignored, all these details about the correct way of observing salah are totally lost. This is not without some wisdom behind it. The point that seems to have been made deliberately is one of the significance of the sunnah.
Moreover, it is mentioned in the Qur’an that the salah is tied up with some prescribed times. Allah Almighty says:
Surely, the salah is a timed obligation for the believers. (4:104)
What are those times is not mentioned in the Qur’an in explicit terms? Even that the daily obligatory prayers are five in number is never disclosed in the Holy Book. It is only through the sunnah of the holy Prophet that we have learnt the exact number and specific times of the obligatory prayers.
The same is the position of the number of rak‘at to be performed in each salah. It is not mentioned anywhere in the Qur’an that the number of rak‘at is two in Fajr, four in Zuhr, ‘Asr and ‘Isha; it is only in the sunnah that these matters are mentioned.
If the sunnah is not believed, all these necessary details even about the first pillar of Islam remain totally unknown, so as to render the salah too vague an obligation to be carried out in practice.
4. The same is the case of zakah (alms-giving), the second pillar of Islam. It is given at the rate of 2.5 % of the whole surplus property upon which a full Islamic year has passed. But this 2.5 % is nowhere mentioned in the Qur’an. That is why some liberal Muslims who don’t understand the importance of the sunnah deny this fixed percentage. Why don’t they deny the details of the salah on the same logic also, is not known to us.
One question needs our attention here. Why the Qur’an has not given details of such very important actions? By avoiding the details about the very important and basic pillars of Islam, the Qur’an has saved itself from becoming a huge voluminous book. More importantly, it is pointed out that the Qur’an is meant for giving the fundamental principles only. The details are left to the explanations of the holy Prophet. This is to make the Ummah understand that the holy Prophet is not a mere ‘postman’ (na‘udhu billah) who’s job was to simply convey the message, but he was the Mu‘allim-e-A‘zam (The Great Teacher) besides being the Muballigh-e-A‘zam (The Great Preacher). That is why the Qur’an has testified in unequivocal terms that:
You have indeed in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful pattern (of conduct) for any one whose hope is in Allah and the Final Day, and who engages much in the Praise of Allah.
And the holy Prophet said:
I have left behind among you two things: the Book of Allah and my sunnah. So long as you hold them fast, you will never get deviated.
Sunnah, constitutes one of the two normative fountainheads of the Islamic tradition. Its position and status is only after the Qur’an. It is of fundamental importance in not only understanding all the branches of Islamic knowledge; including Islamic law and politics but in fact it is the important source of Islam as such. \
True Islam has always been the same—the one that has been revealed in the Qur’an, explained by the holy Prophet and understood by his Sahabah and then their followers down the ages. But for quite some time now we have been hearing a new term ‘modern Islam’ which has been coined by the antagonists of true Islam to bulldoze the whole edifice of the Islamic tradition from within.
The argument is like this: The Qur’an contains everything. It is easy to understand. Anybody knowing Arabic Language can understand it. Further, there is no standard interpretation of the Quran. So we can understand it according to our own time without turning to any authority for a standard interpretation. Thus the resultant Islam arrived at after one’s own understanding without considering the interpretation of the holy Prophet and the understanding of the Sahabah is the Islam with faith without a manifestation shaped by the uswah of the holy Prophet. That is the ‘modern Islam’. And what keeps this ‘modern brand of Islam’ quite different from the true Islam is the Sunnah being the fundamental fountainhead to the later and alien to the former.