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The Way of Life (Sunnah) of the Prophet

Sunnah means a system, a path, or an example, referring to the example as practiced by the Prophet Muhammad (pp). It is the detailed description of how Prophet Muhammad (pp) put life in the Qur'aan by living according to its teachings and God's inspiration. The details are included in the meticulously researched, documented, and recorded body of the Prophet's (pp) sayings, comments, and actions done with his approval, which is called the Hadeeth.[1] The Hadeeth provides information about the Sunnah (the examples provided by Prophet Muhammad of how to live by applying the rules of God revealed in the Qur'aan); it was recorded in the two centuries after Prophet Muhammad's (pp) death, in authenticated Hadeeth collections.

The Science and Foundation of Scholarly Research, or "Usui Ul Fiqh"

Applications of the Shari'aa produce a whole body of scholarly research by a class of scholars called learned scholars (fuquahaa; the singular is faqih, scholar) in Islamic research circles and institutions all over the world, regardless of the local language. Shari'aa embodies the whole discipline of scholarly research and the detailed authentication of the codes, references, and rulings. It is called The Science of Origins and Foundation of Scholarly Work (known in Islamic circles as Usui Ul Fiqh). Scholarly research, or the science of Fiqh, is based on the best efforts of the scholars and the scholarly institutions involved in the research.

The opinions and edicts issued by the learned scholars may differ between countries, depending on local circumstances, roots, culture, and intellect. In the United States, one can experience an American federal law that covers the whole country; but at the same time, there are state laws that are specific to each state. That is why Fiqh opinions may vary or change with time and place of implementation, based on new scholarly research examining the applicability of what was ruled earlier in relation to the current needs of the specific situation at hand in a certain particular community or state.

Fiqh classifies human activities into the following five categories:

Divinely required duty or obligation (fard or wajib). Every Muslim is required at a minimum to perform these specific rituals, obligations, and actions (such as prayers, fasting during the month of Ramadan, paying zakah [alms], and performing the hajj [pilgrimage to Makkah], for those who can afford it). Failing to do so is classified as divinely disallowed and forbidden (haram); further, it is considered an offense against the faith, because it violates the established limits of what is acceptable (hudood). Examples of haram activities are the association in worship with others than one God, the consumption of alcohol, and not caring for one's parent and family.

Recommended and encouraged with pleasure, but not mandatory (mandoob or musta'habb). A Muslim is expected to perform these duties only as an extra effort over and above the minimum required, as previously discussed. Those who choose to do it are interested in excelling in the faith, the service of God, and spirituality. The performance of these actions is rewarded, but is not considered a violation if not done. Examples are praying more than the minimum number of required prayers and paying more than is required by the zakah (alms) rulings.

Allowed (mubah). The origin of all Shari'aa rules is that all is allowed, except what has been clearly prohibited. The acceptability of these actions is analyzed by a process of deduction because there was no mention of these activities in the body of the scholarly law (Fiqh), and the books of law (Shari'aa and Fiqh) were silent about such actions.

Hated, disliked, disappointing, and frowned upon with disappointment, but not disallowed (makruh). Although these actions are frowned upon, doing these activities is not prohibited and is not punishable. It is an accepted fact that devout Muslims do not perform makruh.

Divinely unlawful (haram). These actions are clearly prohibited by the law (Shari'aa) and are punishable by penalties specified in the Qur'aan.

The branches of Fiqh (literally, Fiqh means “in-depth understanding”) include but are not limited to worship rules, family law, inheritance law, commerce and trade transactions law, property law, civil law, criminal law, and laws and regulation covering administration, taxation, constitution, international relations, defense, peace and war ethics, and other categories.

Some of the scholarly scientific approaches used to arrive at a ruling and conclusions reached after comprehensive research, deliberation, and documentation are:

The consensus approach (ijma). This includes rulings or edicts that have been agreed upon by the majority of the fuquahaa (scholars; plural of faqih) in Shari'aa. Consensus (ijma) applies to a situation where no clear conclusion can be made from the Qur'aan and the Sunnah. In this situation, the knowledgeable and well-versed and learned scholars (fuquahaa), in the form of a Fatwa Board (a board that includes accomplished scholars and specializes in and is entrusted by the local government with the task of receiving inquiries and issuing edicts or fatwa), will confer and agree on a satisfactory solution to the particular problem by issuing a fatwa (edict — legal Shari'aa-based opinion).

The analogy approach (qiyas). This approach uses reference or comparison of similar circumstances (qiyas), in which the fuquahaa use analogies and make comparisons that will allow them to interpolate and/ or extrapolate the existing rules of Shari'aa and the body of scholarly research (Fiqh). The concept of qiyas, or analogy, is applied in circumstances where guidance from the Qur'aan and the Sunnah is not directly available. A problem is solved by a process of deduction, comparing the current situation to the ruling passed on a similar situation that occurred earlier.

A number of great Muslim scholars and religious leaders (imams)[2] devoted themselves to the collection, compilation, understanding, and application of the scholarly research (Fiqh) and the sources and procedures of the law (Shari'aa) and its practices.

  • [1] The following collections of the Hadeeth are regarded as the most authentic: a. Sahih Al Bukhari, which were collected, strictly and copiously checked, validated, and compiled by Muhammad Ibn Ismail Al Bukhari (from the City of Bukhara, now in Uzbekistan) (194-256 A.H., 809-870 C.E.). b. Sahih Muslim by Muslim Ibn Al Hajjaj (202-261 A.H., 817-876 C.E.). c. Sunan Abu Dawud by Sulaiman Ibn Ash'ath known as Abu Dawud (202-275 A.H., 817-888 C.E.). d. Sunan Ibn Majah by Muhammad Ibn Zaayid (209-303 A.H., 824-915 C.E.). e. In addition to these, Muwatta of Imam Malik (93-179 A.H., 715-795 C.E.). Mishkat Al Masabih of Abu Muhammad Al Husain Ibn Mas'ud (died 516 A.H., 1122 c.e.) and Musnad of Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (164-241 A.H., 780-855 c.e.) are all well-known authorities.
  • [2] References are as follows: a. Imam Jafaar As-Sadiq, founder of the Jafaari or Shi'aa school of thought (madh'hab) in Arabic (80-148 A.H., 699-765 c.e.). b. Imam Abu Hanifa Numan bin Thabit, founder of the Hanafi madh'hab (80-150 A.H., 699-767 C.E.). c. Imam Malik bin Anas, founder of the Maliki madh'hab (93-179 A.H., 715-795 C.E.). d. Imam Muhammad bin Idris Al Shafi'ee, founder of Al-Shafi'ee madh'hab (150-240 A.H., 767-820 C.E.). e. Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal, founder of the Hanbali madh'hab (164-241 A.H., 780-855 C.E.).
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