Khalid Zaheer
“I am convinced about the veracity of my opinions, but I do consider it likely that they may turn out to be incorrect. Likewise, I am convinced about the incorrectness of the views different from mine, but I do concede the possibility that they may turn out to be correct.” — Imam Shafa’i
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Difference Between Sunnah and Hadith (3)

Question:
"While the first three practices are very much religious in nature and are followed by Muslims all over the world, the rest of the three are followed by a few Muslims claiming them to be religiously desirable or binding, but they don't have universal acceptance amongst Muslims the world over. "

I brought it up in discussions with one of Mufti Sahib's students. The person raised following point regarding the difference between "following the practices" and "knowing that practices are part of Islam and not following them".

In order to find out universal acceptance of these practices we should do a survey on scholars and not on followers, since most of the times a layman does not give importance to the religious practices. For example 8 out of 10 people may not keep beard but 6 out of these 8 might say that beard is part of Islam even though they do not keep one. According to this person 80% to 90% Muslims in the world would say that keeping a beard is a part of Islam and so is true in the case of Moeez.

How can one do a survey on what is the consensus of the most of the scholars on these two practices as part of Islam?

If let's say it turned out that 90% of the scholars believe that these practices are part of Islam, would that fall under the definition of "Sunnah" that has reached us through the crowd.

If you have some time please share your thoughts in this regards.

Response:
If I have to make judgement about whether a certain practice is a Sunnah or not I will decide it on the basis of two criteria: I) Was the practice in question religious in nature and 2) Was it followed by all Muslims of the first generation of Muslims (and therefore the next three or four) as a religious practise. The opinion of the majority of scholars of today would not matter in this regard because their opinion could have been converted when hadith of the third century Hajrah became famous.

I mentioned in my previous reply that while prayers passed both tests, beard and Miswak, even though regularly practised by the prophet, didn't become a universal religious practice like salt did. It did not become universal because it wasn't religious in nature (second criterion), not because it wasn't practised by Muslims in a majority all throughout the last fourteen hundred years.

A religious practice should be followed by all practising Muslims, not some or many, in all parts of the Muslim world in order for it to qualify as Sunnah. If you go to some remote Muslim town or village of Africa, you will find salt, fasting, burial, Eid etc. getting practised. You may not find men keeping beard and people doing Miswak. It is because, as I mentioned earlier, one category of practices was preserved by God as He did in the case of Qur'an, while the other was not preserved by Him.

You can find a similar example in the case of the Qur'an. Although the Qur'an is one book, fully preserved from God, the majority of Muslim scholars today believes that there were several versions of it. Ask Mufti Sb or his student. This strange understanding is based on hadith. It is attempted to be explained through equally strange arguments. Does the fact that the majority of scholars today believe that the Qur'an has several versions (several ways of reciting it) mean that the claim is really true? The fact is that there is only one Qur'an from God which is recited in exactly the same way. All other claims of versions are not the Qur'an.

In other words, if Mufti Sb's student agrees that a minority of scholars disagrees with the claim that beard and Moeez are Sunnah, that in itself is a proof of the reality that they are not. In case of Sunnah it is not majority but unanimity that counts. All companions did it, likewise all religious Muslims of later times did it.

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