Chapter 3 How Far the Hadith is Binding


Let us now examine the questions: Is the Hadith binding in law? Is it an independent source of binding Islamic regulations? To answer these questions we should examine the verses where the believers are commanded to obey the messenger.
 
 
The Qur'anic injunction to obey the messenger

The Qur'an lays down a general principle that the messengers are sent only to be obeyed by the permission of God (4:64). As a result, prophets from Noah to Jesus come and say:

    I am a faithful messenger unto you. Fear God and obey me! (26:107-108, 125-126, 143-144, 162-163, 178-179, cf. 3:50, 20:90, 26:110, 26:131, 26:150, 43:63, 71:2).

This general principle is then again and again stated in the case of the last of the prophets:

    O believers! Obey God and obey his Messenger and those of you who are in charge of ( your) affair. But if you have a dispute concerning any matter, refer it to God and his messenger if you are believers in God and the last day. That is a source of good (now) and is best in the end (4:59; see also 47:33, 64:12).

    The saying of (true) believers when they appeal to God and his messenger for judgment between them is only that we hear and we obey (24:51)

    These are the limits (set by) God. He who obeys God and his Messenger, he will make him enter gardens under which rivers flow, where such will dwell forever (4:13).

    Say, Obey God and his Messenger. But if they turn away, lo! God loves not the disbelievers (3:32, see also 3:132, 5:92, 8:1, 8:20, 8:46, 24:54, 47:33).

    O believers! Respond to God and to the Messenger when he calls you to that which gives you life, and know that God comes in between a man and his heart, and that he it is unto whom you will be gathered (8:24).

    Never, by your Lord (O Prophet), will they be believers, unless they make you judge of what is in dispute between them, then find no dislike whatsoever in their hearts regarding your decision, and submit completely (4:65).

    Establish regular prayer and establish regular charity and obey the Messenger that you may find mercy (24:56; see also 58:13).

Some writers also refer to 59:7:

    That which God gives as spoil unto his Messenger from the people of the townships is for God and his Messenger and for the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer, that it becomes not a commodity between the rich among you. And whatever the messenger gives you, take it. And whatsoever he forbids, abstain (from it). Be mindful of God. Lo! God is stern in reprisal (59:7).

The words "whatever the Messenger gives you, take it. And whatsoever he forbids, abstain (from it)" have been taken to mean that the Sunnah is binding. But it is possible to argue that in their context these words apply only to the distribution of spoil in the Prophet's lifetime and that they should not be lifted out of their context and applied to the whole of the Sunnah for all times. Consequently, we will concentrate only on the other verses where believers are commanded to obey the Messenger.

Now there are three ways to understand the injunction to obey the messenger:

    The injunction pertains to the position of the Prophet as the head of the community and is similar to the injunction to obey the ul al-amr.

This interpretation is often given by the Qur'an-only Muslims. But let us see if this makes sense. First of all, we have seen considerable evidence above that the Qur'an views the prophetic role of the Messenger as more than just a deliveryman for the Qur'an, so that he headed the Muslim community not just as any leader but as a prophet. Second of all, even the verses under consideration, especially 4;59 do not support the position of the Qur'an-only sect. Verse 4:59 first says "Obey God" and then says "obey his Messenger and those of you who are in charge of your affair (ul al-`amr)". The way in the second statement the messenger and ul al-amr are put together might suggest that the messenger is like the other ul al-amr in the matter of obedience except that he is the overall head of the community and a chief among them while others are in charge of various local and more specialized tasks. But subsequently the verse says: "But if you have a dispute concerning any matter, refer it to God and his messenger". Now in this statement the messenger is moved apart from those in charge of your affairs. His mention has moved with that of God. If the messenger were like other ul al-amr, then there should be a possibility of a dispute between him and some of the other Muslims and we should expect the verse to instruct that all disputes be referred to God, that is, to the ongoing Qur'anic revelation. The fact that the disputes are to be referred to God and the Messenger means that the obedience to the Messenger is of a type different from that to the ul al-amr.

That the Prophet is not just another Muslim leader when he was not delivering the Qur'an is shown also by 4:65, where it is a condition of faith that those who call themselves believers make the Prophet a judge in their disputes and then feel no hesitation in their hearts to accept his decision. This is something not true of other ul al-amr. One can accept the decisions of all other Muslim leaders grudgingly or altogether dispute their decisions, but not so in the case of the Prophet. There are yet more passages in the Qur'an that set the Prophet apart from other Muslim leaders or ul al-amr. Thus in 24:63 the Qur'an tells the believers not to make the calling by the Prophet like calling by one of them of another. In 48:10 the Qur'an says: Surely, those who swear allegiance to you (O Prophet) do but swear allegiance to God. The hand of God is above their hands. Therefore whoever breaks (his pledge), he breaks it to the injury of his own should and whoever fulfils what he has covenanted with God, he will grant him a great reward (48:10). In 4:80 we read: He who obeys the Messenger obeys God and he who turns away, (he will reap the consequences of his choice, for). We have not made you (O Prophet) a warder over them. Another verse tells the believers: do not put yourselves forward in the presence of God and his messenger ... lift not your voices above the voice of the Prophet nor shout when speaking to him as you shout one to another, lest your deeds come to nothing while you perceive it not (49:2). Even more, the Qur'an says that the Prophet is to be preferred by the believers over themselves and his wives are like their mothers (33:6) who are not to be married to any other man after him (33:53). Can all these things, or even most of them be said of any other Muslim leader? The Qur'an-only Muslims point to 33:43 where God and the angels are said to bless (salla) believers just as they are said to bless (salla) the Prophet (33:56) and conclude from this that there is no real difference between the Prophet and other believers. But the fact that in some matters the Qur'an speaks about the Prophet and the other believers in a similar way does not mean that the Prophet is like the believers. The verses mentioned above, which are ignored by the Qur'an-only Muslims, clearly show otherwise.

We may thus justifiably conclude that the obedience to the messenger cannot be considered as obedience to him as simply a leader and head of the community. This leads us to the consideration of another possibility.

    The injunction to obey the Prophet pertains to his role as the messenger of God but since his role is that of the deliveryman the obedience to him is obedience to what he delivers  the Qur'an. In other words, the obedience to the messenger is the obedience to the Qur'an;

This is another interpretation favored by the Qur'an-only sect. But this too should be excluded. We have presented above considerable evidence from the Qur'an to show that the messenger cannot be regarded simply as the deliveryman. Moreover, the obedience to the messenger is often mentioned along with obedience to God. If obedience to the messenger is the obedience to the Qur'an, then what is the obedience to God? One may take obedience to God as a much wider concept, so that it is not exhausted by obedience to the Qur'an. Thus if in a particular matter it somehow becomes clear to us (through ilham and nur mentioned earlier) that a certain course of action is the right one, then we are duty bound to follow that course of action even if it is not clearly indicated in the Qur'an. In that case, it would be possible to take obedience to the messenger as obedience to the Qur'an. That is, the meaning would be: obey God in whatever guidance he shows you through whatever means but also obey the revelation sent down on the messenger (Qur'an). Such an interpretation, however, will not support the contention of the Qur'an-only sect. For, the moment it is admitted that the believers may be guided by some God-given resources within them apart from the Qur'an they would have to admit that the Prophet could also provide some guidance by God-given resources within him apart from the Qur'an and his resources are much more trustworthy than those of the rest of us.

Thus in the verses under consideration, the obedience to the messenger is neither obedience to him as a mere leader of the community nor is it simply obedience to the Qur'an. It must be interpreted in the remaining, third, sense:

    (Conclusion). The injunction to obey the Prophet pertains to the position of the Prophet as the messenger of God and means that at least some part of his Sunnah should be obeyed.

In order now to proceed beyond the above very valuable conclusion we need to raise the question whether obedience to the messenger, even in the third sense above, was only meant for the time of the Prophet or whether it is meant for all the generations of Muslims. In view of the Qur'anic belief that the Prophet Muhammad was the seal of the prophets, any Qur'anic injunction is binding for believers till the day of judgment unless it is abrogated or circumstances change in such a way that it ceases to fulfill the very purpose for which it was given in the first place or it is in some other clear way seen to be of temporary validity. Consequently, the injunction to obey the messenger is binding till the day of judgment, for, there is nothing in the Qur'an which suggests that the injunction was temporary. Indeed, this injunction occurs in the middle of the injunction to obey God and the injunction to obey ul al-amr. Since the first injunction (obey God) as well as the third injunction (to obey ul al-amr, when they assume power according to the Qur'anic teachings) are clearly eternal, it is natural to understand the second injunction (obey the Messenger) as eternal also. It may be objected here that since God and the ul al-amr are always with us while the Prophet is not, hence the injunction to obey them is eternal while the injunction to obey the Prophet was applicable only during his lifetime. This objection assumes that for a person to be obeyed he should be present to give orders. This assumption, however, is not valid. For how can we obey God and refer our disputes to him? To be sure, unlike the Messenger, God is present with us always but we cannot hear or see him; hence we can obey him primarily by obeying the Qur'an which has come down to us from centuries ago. In a similar fashion, although, we can see and hear the Prophet no more we can still obey him by obeying his Sunnah that has come down to us from centuries ago. Further support for the eternal validity of the injunction to obey the messenger is provided by the following verse:

    Establish regular prayer and establish regular charity and obey the messenger that you may find mercy (24:56).

Here the injunction to obey the messenger comes alongside the injunctions to establish prayer and charity. These last two injunctions are clearly eternal and it will be completely arbitrary if we singled out the third one as of temporary validity.

An extra-Qur'anic argument of the Qur'an-only Muslims is that parts of the authentic Hadith do not have any applications now. For example, the Madinah Charter, although based on eternal principles confirmed by the teachings of the Qur'an, has no longer any validity. But this argument is shallow because regard for circumstances is necessary even in the application of the Qur'an and some Qur'anic injunctions are no longer generally applicable. For example, the Qur'an enjoins the Muslims to be prepared for defending themselves against aggression and in this connection mentions horses. The underlying principle is eternal, but the form given to it by the mention of horses is no longer generally applicable. Similarly the Qur'an enjoins fasting from dawn to dusk, but one needs to use ijtihad as to what to do in areas of the globe where the time interval between dawn and dusk can be several days or weeks or months. That in the use of the Hadith we have to similarly take into account the changing circumstances is therefore not an argument that it cannot be binding like the Qur'an till the judgment day.

In their search for arguments to support their view the Qur'an-only Muslims have come up with some other arguments. Thus they say that the verses where obedience to God is coupled with obedience to the messenger are explained by other verses where obedience is made due only to God. In this connection they quote verses such as these:

    Say, "I exhort you to do only one thing: that you get up (taqumu) for God in pairs or as individuals, then reflect. Your comrade is not suffering from madness; he is only a warner unto you in the face of terrible doom" (34:46). Turn (anibu) to your Lord and commit (aslimu) to him before the retribution comes to you ... (39:54).

In these verses there is no mention of the Messenger and so, according the Qur'an-only Muslims, only obedience to God, that is, obedience to the Qur'an, is required. But these verses do not really talk about obedience (ta'ah). In any case, if there are verses where only the obedience to God is mentioned, there are others where only the obedience to the Messenger is mentioned. We have already quoted the following verse:

    Establish regular prayer and establish regular charity and obey the Messenger that you may find mercy (24:56; see also 58;13).

Another argument of the Qur'an-only Muslims is based on verses where the Prophet is asked to judge on the basis of what God has sent down or of his book etc. For example:

    So judge between them by what God has sent down ... (5:48)

    Those who judge not by what God has sent down are the disbelievers (5:44)

The argument is that the Prophet in his capacity of the Messenger governed, when he was not making time-bound decisions, only on the basis of the Qur'an. But judging by the Qur'an does not exclude judging by some thing else such as the ilham, nur and hikmah that the Prophet was favored with. These verses only demand that the judgment should be completely consistent with the Qur'an. They do not demand that the judgment cannot be extra-Qur'anic. That there could be extra-Qur'anic judgments of the Prophet that should be obeyed is shown by many of the verses discussed above. It is further supported by the following verse:

    And when it is said to them, Come unto what God has sent down and unto the Messenger, you (O Prophet) see the hypocrites turn from you in aversion (4:61).

Here coming to the Prophet means coming to him for guidance and judgment, as is indicated by the previous verse which talks of "coming for judgment (like going to court)" (yatahakamu). And since coming unto the Messenger is mentioned apart from coming unto what God has sent down, it is natural to understand that the judgment of the Messenger was, though consistent with the Qur'an, was not entirely limited to a simple application of it.

Thus at least some part of the Sunnah is binding in some way till the day of judgment. Now we need to ask more precisely what part of the Sunnah is binding and in what way. In this connection the verses about obeying and following the Prophet and looking towards his uswah hasanah imply that it is a collective obligation for the ummah to determine the authentic ahadith of all sort and look at all of them and then seek guidance from them. This guidance may be in the form of recommendations or suggestions or they may be in the form of orders. When guidance in Hadith is in the form of orders it is obligatory for every Muslim to whom it reaches to obey it. In other words to be engaged in the sacred Hadith project is a collective obligation of the ummah and to obey what is found to be regulatory Hadith is an obligation on every Muslim.
 
 
The Hadith not an independent source of guidance/law

We earlier argued that the Hadith is secondary to the Qur'an. In relation to the question of how far the Hadith is binding this means that the Hadith is not an independent source of guidance/law. That is, if it becomes clear that the Qur'an is pointing in one direction while some ahadith point in another, then the Qur'an will be followed and the ahadith will be considered as unauthentic. And of course, the application of both the Qur'an and the Hadith has to take into account the circumstances under which they are being applied.

One way to clarify the question of independence of the Hadith is to consider the question whether the statements in the Qur'an and the Hadith can abrogate each other. There are four possibilities:

    The Qur'an can abrogate the Hadith and the Hadith can abrogate the Qur'an.

    Neither the Qur'an can abrogate the Hadith nor the Hadith can abrogate the Qur'an.

    The Hadith can abrogate the Qur'an but the Qur'an cannot abrogate the Hadith.

    The Qur'an can abrogate the Hadith but the Hadith cannot abrogate the Qur'an.

To say that the Hadith is an independent source is to choose one of the first three possibilities. To say that that the Hadith is not an independent source is to choose the fourth possibility. And repeated affirmation in the Qur'an of its essential completeness (Chapter 2) and the fact that the Qur'an alone has been preserved reliably clearly points in this latter direction.
 
 
The role of the suhabah (companions)

Since the companions of the Prophet played a decisive part in the transmission of the Sunnah and Hadith, it seems fitting to examine what the Qur'an has to say about their role. In this connection the most relevant Qur'anic passages are those where the companions or the Muslims generally are described as the best community or witnesses over humanity:

    You are the best community raised for humanity; you enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in God (3:110).

    Thus We have appointed you a community of the middle (wasat) that you may be witnesses over ('ala) humanity and the Messenger may be a witness over you. And We did not make the qiblah which you (O Prophet) used to turn to except (a means) to distinguish him who follows the Messenger from him who turns back from his heels, and this was surely hard except for those whom God has guided aright. God was not going to make your faith fruitless. For, most surely God is affectionate and merciful to humanity (2:143). And strive in the way of God as is his due. He has chosen you and has not laid upon you in religion any hardship, the religion of your father Abraham. He has named you Muslims before and in this (Qur'an) that the Messenger may be a witness (shahid) over you and you may be witnesses over humanity. So establish regular prayer and practice regular charity and hold fast by God. He is your protecting friend, and what a protector and what a helper (22:78). O Prophet! We have sent you as a witness (shahid) and a bringer of good tidings and a warner (33:45).

The word wasat can mean "best" or "just and balanced". The two meanings are connected by the fact that "best" is where various elements come together in a balanced way. The word shahid, in addition to the usual sense of "witness in a court of law", has two other related senses in the Qur'an:

    Someone who sees what is going on around him in his society and points toward what is just and right by speech, action, and shining example. The ultimate degree to which this role can be performed is to give one's life, if necessary. This is why a person killed in the way of truth and righteousness is also called shahid.

    Someone who on the day of judgment will be brought forward by God to establish his judgment, especially his judgment against the wrong-doers.

The first role can qualify and lead a person to the second role. Thus the Messenger is a witness in both senses:

    O Prophet! Truly We have sent you a witness, a bearer of glad tidings, and a warner, as one inviting to God with his permission and as a light-giving torch (33:45-46). We have truly sent you as a witness, as a bearer of glad tidings, and as a warner. That you (O human beings) may believe in God and his Messenger and may aid him and revere him, and celebrate his praise morning and evening (48:8-9).

In these verses the Prophet is a witness in this world, bearing testimony to truth, justice and righteousness. This naturally leads him to be a witness in the second sense, mentioned in the following verses:

    One day We shall raise from every people a witness against them from among themselves and We shall bring you (O Prophet) as a witness against these (your people): and We have sent down to you the book explaining all things, a guide, mercy, and glad tidings to those who commit (16:89; see also 4:41).

The two senses of the term "witness" are also applied in the Qur'an to the Prophet Jesus. Thus in 5:117 Jesus defends himself on the day of judgment with the words:

    I did not say to them except what you commanded me, that serve God my Lord and your Lord. I was a witness over them so long as I was with them, but when you caused me to die, you were the watcher over them, and you are witness of all things".

Here Jesus is a witness during his life in this world in the sense that he watched over his followers and kept them, or tried to keep them, on the right path by his teaching and example. In the following verse, if it refers to him as is generally understood, Jesus is a witness in the hereafter (in the second sense):

    And there is none of the people of the book but must believe in him before his death; and on the day of judgment he will be a witness against them (4:159).

A witness in the hereafter is probably understood to be a witness against. But this is not necessarily the case for witness in the first sense. This is clear because the Prophets Muhammad and Jesus were witnesses over the community of believers but not witnesses against them.

The suhabah are not explicitly described as witnesses in the hereafter, although there is nothing in the Qur'an that excludes the possibility. Their witness is primarily understood in the Qur'an in the first sense. Some commentators, e.g. Ibn Kathir have taken shahid in the second sense and understood 33:45 to mean that the Prophet and the Muslims would act as witnesses in the day of judgment against other nations who rejected their prophets. This interpretation is supported by a number of ahadith from books like Ahmad and Hakim not known for their reliability. If, however, we read the verse with our mind free from the Hadith, as we must before we have firmly established the reliability of the ahadith used, then it becomes clear that in 33:45 the "witness" refers to a role in this world and not the hereafter.

It is probable that the community entrusted with the role of witnesses in 2:143 and 22:78 is first and foremost that of the companions (suhabah) of the Prophet, since in 22:68 Abraham is described as "your father", a description that is applicable properly to the companions among the Muslims. Thus the progression of Islam in history is divided into two momentous stages. In the first stage the Prophet prepares a community of followers consisting primarily of his own people in the Arabian Peninsula. During this stage he is a witness over the community of his followers. In the second stage the companions take the Islamic message to a large part of the then know world and Islam is forever established as a world religion. In this stage the companions are the witnesses over humanity.

But what about the ages after the companions? In these ages Muslims generally are meant to perform the role of witnesses. For the Qur`an commands all believers:

    O believers! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for God can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you swerve, and if you distort (justice) or decline to do justice, surely God is well-acquainted with all that you do (4:135). O believers! Stand out firmly for God as witnesses to justice and let not hatred of a people incite you not to act equitably. Act equitably, that is nearer to righteousness, and be mindful of God. Surely God is aware of what you do (5:8).

The companions continued the mission of the Prophet by transmitting the Qur'an. They also passed on to other Muslims whatever living memories they had of his words and actions (Hadith), as and when the occasion arose. In transmitting the Hadith the companions followed the normal way of the times in which they lived, for, as we argued earlier it was God's plan to leave the transmission of the Hadith to normal human processes. The companions did not produce comprehensive compilations of Hadith. Only when the time of the companions passed did a more systematic writing of the Hadith started. This was very usual in earlier times. The disciples of a teacher learnt from the teacher but did not write down what he said or did in comprehensive documents. Once the age of living witnesses was over, the writing started. This is the normal human process of transmission to which preservation of the Hadith was entrusted by God.

Some scholars  (e.g. Abu Muhammad ibn Hazm in al-ihkam fi usul al-ahkam) have, however, argued that the preservation of the authentic Sunnah/Hadith is guaranteed by God himself:  

    There is no disagreement among the people of knowledge, both in language and religion, that every revelation from God is dhikr. All revelation is undoubtedly guided and protected by God. All that God has promised to protect and preserve will certainly be preserved, protected, and saved from undetectable corruption … Therefore, the religion with which Muhammad was sent is preserved by God … If the above is the case, then we know for sure that there is not the slightest chance that any hadith of the Prophet, in matters of religion, will be lost or corrupted. Also, there is no chance that ahadith will be mixed with falsehood and that easy detection of such falsehood is unattainable. Otherwise, the preservation of dhikr is not provided, and then, God’s promise [in 15:9] is false and broken. No Muslim can utter such falsehood. If one says, God only meant to preserve the Qur`an (which He did), and not any revelation other than the Qur`an, our response, on the basis of (the word of) God is: This is a false claim because there is no proof for it. It claims that dhikr is only the Qur`an without providing evidence for this restriction. “Say: Produce your proof if you are truthful” [2:111]. Therefore those who spread false claims that have no proof to their truthfulness are liars. Dhikr contains all that God has revealed to his Messenger. The Qur`an and the Sunnah are both revelation.  “We have sent down to you the dhikr that you may make clear to the people what has been sent down to them and that haply they may reflect” (16:44). Thus the Prophet is ordered to explain the Qur`an to the people. There are many general rules in the Qur`an such as the order to pray, give zakah, hajj etc. God ordered us to perform these obligations following the explanation of the Messenger of God. If the Prophet’s explanation is not preserved and guarded, then benefiting from the verses of the Qur`an will diminish and vanish, and the laws obligated on us will also become meaningless. As a result we will not know the correct meaning (of the Qur`an) that God intended, and we will not be able to expose what is false or intentionally fabricated (Ibn Hazm, al-ihkam fi usul al-ahkam)  

Almost everything in Ibn Hazm’s statement flies in the face of logic and historical evidence, as we see from the following comments:

Ibn Hazm’s argument seems to be based on verses 16:44 and 15:9 and may be summarized thus: In the first of these verses al-dhikr is something wider than the Qur`an since its purpose is to explain “what has been sent down to” the people, which is best understood to refer to the Qur`an. Hence it is reasonable to include in al-dhikr the authentic Sunnah/Hadith. Now since the second verse says that God will guard al-dhikr, the verse promises the preservation of both the Qur`an and the Sunnah. The problem with this argument is that in the Qur`an, as indeed in any book, the meaning of a word can get more specialized in one statement while in another statement it could have a more general significance. Thus al-kitab can be used for books other than the Qur`an but in 2:2 the reference is clearly to the Qur`an only. The word al-dhikr itself can have very general meaning but sometimes the word can be specialized to the Qur`an or even to pre-Islamic revelations. Thus one of the two verses quoted above (16:44) is a continuation of the statement: “We did not send before you (O Muhammad) but human beings with revelations. Ask then the people of al-dhikr if you do not know.” (16:43). Here al-dhikr evidently refers to the pre-Islamic revelation. The same is the sense in 21:105 “And We did indeed write in the Zabûr after al-dhikr that the earth is inherited by my righteous slaves”, where al-dhikr is probably the book given to Moses. In 81:19-27 the revelation of the Qur`an is described and then it is said that “it is nothing other than dhikr for the nations” (cf. 36:69). Hence al-dhikr in the two verses, 16:44 and 15:9, may not have exactly identical sense. In the first verse it may include the Sunnah/Hadith while in the second, the reference could only be to the Qur`an.

Ibn Hazm has described all those who understand the promise of 15:9 in this restrictive sense as liars. This will include most of the commentators, both classical and modern, since an overwhelming majority of them do restrict the promise.  

Ibn Hazm states that there is no proof that in 15:9 dhikr refers to the Qur`an only. But where is his proof that it includes the Sunnah also? The mere fact that dhikr can refer to revelation other than the Qur`an does not lead to such a proof.  

Ibn Hazm also says that the preservation of the Qur`an itself requires preservation of the Sunnah/Hadith, since the Qur`an cannot be interpreted and implemented without the Sunnah/Hadith. This underestimates the Qur`an’s ability to communicate and ignores the repeated statements in the Qur`an that it makes things clear (2:159 etc) and explains everything (16:89). To be sure, in case of prayer, zakah etc. we have additional details that are learnt form the Sunnah/Hadith. But the existing collections of sahih ahadith also often create confusion around the plain teachings of the Qur`an by providing contradictory traditions. Moreover, there are many questions that are left unanswered by the Sunnah. If we can deal with those questions with our own ijtihad, why can’t we deal in the same way with the matters left unanswered by the Qur`an?

The view that the Sunnah/Hadith has been preserved under a Qur`anic promise raises the question, Where can we find the preserved Sunnah/Hadith? We know that there was a great deal of fabricated hadith material and efforts had to be made to separate it from the authentic material. To claim that the Sunnah/Hadith has been preserved is to claim that these efforts have been successful and have resulted in a clearly identifiable collection of entirely authentic traditions. But where is such a collection? Perhaps one answer could be: in sahih of Bukhari and sahih of Muslim. Then what about the ahadith in which Bukhari and Muslim do not agree? Perhaps we could say: Take the ahadith on which Bukhari and Muslim agree. Then what about the ahadith in which Imam Malik and some later scholars differ from both Bukhari and Muslim? What about the Muslims before Malik, Bukhari, and Muslim? How can we know on what ahadith did they agree? In this way we would be led to the relatively small material consisting of those sayings and practices of the Prophet that have come down to us with tawatur. But that will not satisfy scholars like Ibn Hazm who want to affirm that even ahad ahadith reported by “trustworthy” witnesses going back to the Prophet are authentic.

Finally, when it is said that the Sunnah/Hadith is preserved reliably under a divine promise, it is implied that without much difficulty we should be able to point out to exactly those ahadith that are authentic. For historical events connected with the Prophet often took place in the knowledge of many people and were subject of Muslim interest in a continuous way, so that even if partly forgotten or distorted they can be recovered with sufficiently powerful methods. But if this recovery required very complex methods then the promise of preservation is not very meaningful, since by such complex methods we can recover the lost past even without any type of special divine guarantee. Ibn Hazm realizes this and therefore notes that the false ahadith can be easily detected and separated from the authentic ones. This, however, flies in the face of the fact that scholars had to develop a very complex and vast science to separate the authentic from the unauthentic.  

Thus we seem to have little choice but to admit that the transmission of the Sunnah/Hadith took place through normal human processes and not under special divine protection. Whatever alteration and corruption it has suffered in the past is to be corrected by human sciences and it has to be protected from any future alteration and corruption by human care and vigilance.

Hadith and Tradition