Muhammad (sws) has delivered the Qur’an to the world. Apart from it, whatever he has given to the world in the capacity of religion can be placed in the following three categories:
1. Independent directives and teachings that have not been originated by the Qur’an.
2. Explanation of independent directives and teachings whether these directives and teachings are in the Qur’an or extraneous to it.
3. An example of practically following these directives and teachings.
All these three categories constitute religion. It is mandatory upon every Muslim to accept and obey what these categories constitute. Once a person is satisfied that they are correctly ascribed to Muhammad (sws), no believer can dare deviate from them. It is only befitting for him that if he wants to live and die as a Muslim, he should submit to them without any reluctance.
Our scholars designate all these three categories by a single term: Sunnah. I personally do not regard this to be appropriate. In my view, the first of these should be called Sunnah, the second “explanation and elucidation” (tafhim and tabyin) and the third as “the exemplary way” (uswah-i hasanah). The reason for this classification is to remove the misconceptions that arise by placing the principle and its corollary under the same name and in the same status.
This is only a difference of terminology. As far as the reality is concerned, there is not the slightest difference between our early authorities and myself. Had my critics carefully read my book Mizan,they would have understood this fact and would not have remained in any misconception. I do not expect this from them even now. However, serious students of religion do deserve that some apects of my view be explained to them.
Firstly, a large part of the Sunnah that has been transmitted to us consists of Abrahamic practices that have been revived and reformed. All researchers agree to this. However, this does not mean that Muhammad (sws) has only made small additions to it. Certainly not. He has added independent directives to it as well. If anyone wants to find its examples, he can look up Mizan. Similar is the matter of the Qur’an. The directives that originate from it span almost three hundred pages of Mizan. I regard it to be a requisite of faith to accept and follow each one of them. Hence, it is absolutely baseless to accuse me of not granting the Qur’an or the Prophet (sws) the authority to give any additional directive or add anything to the contents of religion, apart for some previously existing and known directives.
Secondly, I have devoted a complete section to explain the determinants of the Sunnah under Mabadi Tadabbur-i Sunnat (Principles of Determining the Sunnah) in the chapter “Usul-o Mabadi” (Fundamental Principles) of MizanThese determinants are seven. On their basis, every person of learning can decide whether something is a Sunnah or not. I have also made a list of Sunan (plural of Sunnah) on the basis of these determinants. It can be added to or subtracted from. I have continued to revise this list at various instances once I became aware of any mistake in my research. I have never disregarded any possibility of this.
Thirdly, apart from this list, I have catergorized some of the sayings of the Prophet (sws) – which in the capacity of religion have been cited in various narratives – as “explanation and elucidation” (tafhim and tabyin) and some as “the exemplary way” (uswah-i hasanah). Similar is the case of narratives which elucidate faith ad beliefs. Whatever occurs in this category in the narratives can be seen in the chapter of I%maniyat (Faith and Beliefs) of my book Mizan.They are also of the nature of “explanation and elucidation” (tafhim and tabyin). In my opinion, this is the right term for whatever has been handed down to us from the Prophet (sws) with regard to these. If their ascription to him is established, then I regard every directive, verdict and explanation of the Prophet (sws) as mandatory to be followed. The slightest deviation from them amounts to rejection of belief in the Prophet (sws).
(Translated by Dr Shehzad Saleem)