The Authority of Inherited Practice

The Authority of Inherited Practice
Mawlana Shaykh Haydar Hasan Khan al-Tonki
(1281 – 1361 H/1864 – 1942 CE)

It is known that in the time of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace), and likewise in the era of the Sahabah (may Allah be pleased with them), the teachings of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) were not recorded in any document or writing besides the Book of Allah (Glorified is He), and they would only act on what the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) taught them from his Sunnah of the religion of Islam, consisting of beliefs and rulings, and they preserved it in their breasts.

And when Iraq was conquered in the era of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him), and the people of those lands entered into Islam, ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) sent ‘Abd Allah ibn Mas‘ud (may Allah be pleased with him) to the people of Iraq, to teach them Islam and the Sunnah of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace). Ibn Mas‘ud was the most knowledgeable of them of the Sunnah, and the one who most resembled him from amongst them in terms of conduct, practice and features.

Hence, he (may Allah be pleased with him) taught them Islam and the Sunnah, of that which he preserved in his breast and he practised, and his teaching and his practice became widespread amongst the people of Iraq.

During the seasons (of Hajj), the people of Iraq would frequent the illuminated (city of) Madinah and the honoured (city of) Makkah, and likewise the people of Hijaz, from the Sahabah (may Allah be pleased with them), would frequent Iraq, amongst them ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) who had sent Ibn Mas‘ud (may Allah be pleased with him). Hence, they witnessed the people of Iraq praying and fasting as Ibn Mas‘ud taught them from the Sunnah of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace).

It has not been reported or narrated from any of the Sahabah, neither from ‘Umar nor other than him (may Allah be pleased with them all), that he challenged them in the teaching of Ibn Mas‘ud (may Allah be pleased with him), in that he taught them (teachings that were) against the Sunnah of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) in Salah and other rulings.

And it is very farfetched of the companions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) that they see anyone acting against the Sunnah, and then keep quiet about it. This is something in which there is no doubt. Neither Ibn Mas‘ud’s teaching the people of Iraq, nor the prevalence of this teaching in the time of the Sahabah, were condemned. Hence, there was consensus of the Sahabah on [the validity of] this teaching, with tacit unanimity, like the consensus over the collection of the Qur’an.

Then after Ibn Mas‘ud, his two companions, ‘Alqamah and Aswad, sat in his place, teaching them as he taught them, and they too were not condemned, neither in this teaching nor in practising upon it, and so on, until there came the period of the imams of Iraq that were recognised for jurisprudence and fatwa, and they comprehended the varying narrations and hadiths from the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace), from which were some that opposed the teaching of Ibn Mas‘ud (may Allah be pleased with him) and the practice of it, upon which they took recourse to the inherited practice, which they regarded as a measure for criticising varying narrations and hadiths. I mean the practice of the pious Salaf, the vast majority of their scholars.

Since the Imams observed that a narrator of hadith narrates it and does not practice upon it, and a hadith is narrated from him and a practice that is contrary to it is reported from him, they interpreted the hadith, and they acted on the practice of the narrator. This is because it is very farfetched of the scholars of the Sahabah (may Allah be pleased with them) and likewise the Tabi‘in, and the masses amongst them, that they narrate a hadith and do not act upon it, because opposing a hadith in terms of practice eliminates integrity. Thus, it must be that the hadith is not acted upon either because it is interpreted or abrogated or due to some other reason.

And they were in the best of generations with respect to whom it was revealed: “And the first and foremost of the emigrants and helpers and those who followed them,” (Qur’an, 9:100) and also “and those who break away from the Messenger after guidance has become clear to him and he follows other than the way of the believers” (4:111). Hence we were ordered to follow them and imitate them in the religion and in the practice of the Sunnah.

This is why the people of Iraq determined a principle, that when a hadith is established from a narrator and his practice is contrary to it, the hadith will not be acted upon, but the practice will be acted upon. Likewise, when conflicting hadiths occurred, Imam Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) would act only on the practice of the people of Madinah.

Indeed the Salaf, people of the first generation of the Sahabah and Tabi‘in, would narrate many hadiths from the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace), and yet not act on them; like the hadith of Ibn ‘Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) combined between Zuhr and ‘Asr and Maghrib and ‘Isha in Madinah without fear or rain.

Likewise the hadith of the Salah in the illness of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) that he commanded Abu Bakr to pray with the people, so he stood and prayed with them, whereupon the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) arrived, while Abu Bakr was praying with the people, and then he prayed to the side of Abu Bakr, and the people followed Abu Bakr and Abu Bakr followed the Prophet. Thus, there came to be two imams, with two opening takbirs. This is what the hadith points to, and none of the narrators of this hadith acted upon it, neither from the Sahabah nor from the Tabi‘in.

Likewise, the hadith that the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) would place his right hand on his left (outwardly) includes the posture of standing (after ruku‘), yet it has not been transmitted from the Salaf to fasten (the hands) in this posture, so practice came to be contrary to the hadith in this issue.

Likewise, the hadith, “That which you caught (from the prayer of the imam), pray, and that which escapes you, make up,” includes the one who missed ruku‘ with the imam and he caught the two prostrations and the tashahhud. Yet, despite this, he makes up what he prayed with the imam (in this situation) by consensus, and this opposes the generality of, “That which you caught, pray.”

If you analyse the hadiths, you will find hadiths narrated from many of the Salaf, where a practice contrary to their narration is reported from them, and since the Salaf were guided guides, we were ordered to imitate them in religion, so in their opposition to the narration is clear evidence that the narration has a defect due to which they did not practise upon it. This is why the Salaf from the imams of Iraq considered the measure of criticising narrations, when they differ, the practice of the righteous Salaf, from the scholars of the Sahabah and Tabi‘in, who were in the best of generations.

That is because the future generations were ordered to imitate them in religion and Shari‘ah based on the verses we recited to you, and based on his (Allah bless him and grant him peace) saying, “My companions are protectors for my ummah…,” narrated by Muslim and based on his (Allah bless him and grant him peace) saying, “What I and my companions are upon.”

Hence the practice of the majority of them from the seniors of the ‘ulama’ became a proof in the Shari‘ah, as one of the Shar‘i proofs. Do you not see the practice of the ummah in the recitation of the Qur’an and its completion in Tarawih, when this was neither narrated from the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace), nor from the Sahabah in his (Allah bless him and grant him peace) time, that it may be (regarded as) tacit approval (taqrir), and that it was only established from the practice of the Salaf?

Likewise congregational prayer in Tarawih; the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) prayed with them and then left it, and he did not authorise them to pray it in congregation, so it became akin to an abrogated (practice), and nor has not been transmitted after his omission of it that they prayed it in congregation in his (Allah bless him and grant him peace) time, that it may become a tacit approval of it. Instead, congregation in Tarawih is only a practice of the Salaf (may Allah be pleased with them).

Hence, their practice is a Shar‘i proof and the jurists (may Allah have mercy on them) have stated this clearly. So once you recognise this, it should become clear to you that the fiqh of the imams of Iraq was derived from the teachings of Ibn Mas‘ud (may Allah be pleased with him) on which the practice of the Iraqis from the Salaf was based, and the fatwa and practice of Ali and Ibn ‘Abbas agreed with him in many issues, and the fiqh of Iraq is close to the fiqh of Imam Malik (may Allah have mercy on him).

Hence, this is the fiqh of Iraq and Hijaz which the imams of the towns were upon, from the scholars who were present at the start of the second generation, which is the second century after the prophetic migration (on its bearer be blessing and greeting).

As for the fiqh of the later ones, I mean the fiqh of the imams who appeared after the predecessors, at the end of the second century and the start of the third century, after time progressed and the Tabi‘in and those who accompanied them from the imams who followed them passed away, when the practice of this generation vanished from view, these imams flourished, who did not observe the practice, and only narrations reached them with great variation, so they were forced to criticise narrations by the narrators, and this is why they established discourse about narrators in terms of criticism and accreditation, and in terms of assessing (their) trustworthiness and weakness, and this discourse and investigation was called the science of “the names of men” (asma al-rijal). Hence, they acted on the narrations of those whose narrators they recognised to be upright based on the criteria of asma al-rijal. Hence, this is the measure of the later imams in the criticism of narrations.

It is not hidden to the one who has studied the books of asma al-rijal that from amongst the narrators are those that are upright to one imam and not upright to another, and that is because the basis of criticism and accreditation is the view of one who accompanied the narrator, not those after him, because there is no means to recognising one they did not accompany; and there is no doubt that from amongst the contemporaries were some who recognised the uprightness of a narrator based on his apparent condition and anything which contradicted his uprightness was hidden to him, while others who accompanied that narrator were privy to his faults, so the criticism of the narrator became widespread based on the view of another contemporary; thus, the views of contemporaries differed in terms of criticism and accreditation. This is why they established the principle that “criticism is given precedence over accreditation.”

It was because of this measure that a diversion grew between the two fiqhs: the fiqh of the early ones and the fiqh of the later ones; since the later ones perceived narrations the narrators of which they claimed are reliable and they rejected other narrations that oppose their narrations, whereas those narrations were authentic consisting of narrators that were reliable in the view of the early ones. And despite this, the narrations which the early jurists acted upon – even if conceded that they contained weak narrators –, the practice of the majority of the first generation makes them sahih. This is a rule from the rules of Usul, that a weak narration is made sahih by practice.

[Understand] this.

It is known that the Islamic beliefs recorded in books are on two methodologies, one from the way of the Salaf and one from the way of the Khalaf, “and for each is a direction to which he turns it” (2:148). From them are those who gave preference to the first due to a reason and from them are those who gave preference to second for a reason, and then after them, whoever wished analysed this subject and reflected on the two methodologies and selected from the two paths whichever his analysis and reflection led him to.

Likewise, the distinction between the two aforementioned fiqhs, the fiqh of Salaf and fiqh of Khalaf. Hence, the measure of the first is the practice of the first generation, and the measure of the second is discourse about the narrators in terms of criticism and accreditation.

The one who expands his observance of the books of asma al-rijal, he will find in them wonders, in that from amongst the narrators is one that is a pillar from the pillars of religion, yet the statements on his criticism are many. You find him in asma al-rijal as though he corrupted the religion, as though he is equivalent to ‘Abd Allah ibn Sabah in this ummah in terms of corrupting the religion of Islam. And likewise from amongst the narrators is one who was an enemy of religion from the extreme Mu‘tazilah, and those destroyed by Shiism and Rafidism and disgusting innovation, and despite that, they declared his narrations sahih. So whoever investigates this subject and knows the distinction between the two measures, the practice of Salaf and the reports of the narrators, let him adopt the madhhab of whichever madhhab he wishes and take the fiqh of whichever fiqh his insight and analysis leads him to.

Al-Imam Ibn Majah wa Kitabuh al-Sunan 86-91