Following the Sunnah based on Revelations and Preferences

There are 2 types of ahadith:

1. The hadith that form part of revelation which include Ijtihad of the Prophet (ﷺ) concerning the Shar’iah, which was silently approved or corrected by revelation.

2. The hadith that were based on the Prophet’s (ﷺ) Ijtihad whilst judging between people and personal preferences, and hence not part of revelation.

Kindly clarify the following based on this context:

1. Are we encouraged to follow the second type of Sunnah in addition to type 1? For example, to incorporate the personal likes and dislikes of the Prophet (ﷺ) into our lives. Also, if we do make a point to follow him in such matters, will we be rewarded for it?

2. In cases where we know that the Prophet (ﷺ) didn’t do something, e.g., sleeping after Fajr, and the early generations also disliked the practice, should we refrain from such practices? Is it encouraged to follow practices like his sleeping habits, the way he put on his shoes, the way he cut his nails and so on?

3. Where do we draw a line between things that we should follow and things which we are not required to?

This is a long issue which requires a detailed answer and is actually heavily disputed among scholars. I would like to bring to your attention the following ahadith:

  1. The Prophet (ﷺ) said, "I am only a human being, and you bring your disputes to me. Perhaps some of you are more eloquent in their plea than others, and I judge in their favor according to what I hear from them. So, whatever I rule in anyone's favor which belongs to their brother, he should not take any of it, because I have only granted him a piece of Hell." [1] This hadith is clear evidence that the judgments of the Prophet (ﷺ) between people was based on Ijtihad, not revelation.
  2. After telling his companions not to pollinate trees which led to poor harvest, the Prophet (ﷺ) said, "I am a human being. So when I tell you to do something pertaining to the religion, accept it, but when I tell you something from my personal opinion, keep in mind that I am a human being and you have better knowledge of the affairs of this world”.[2] This is clear evidence that only his statements with regards to the religion are revelation while there are things he said out of his personal opinion.
  3. At the Battle of Badr, the Prophet (ﷺ) chose a specific spot to set up base. Al-Hubab Ibn Mundhir asked him, "Oh Messenger of Allah, this place where we are now, has Allah revealed it to you that we should neither retreat nor advance, or is it a matter of opinion and war strategy?" He replied, "It is a matter of opinion and war strategy." Al-Hubab then told him of a better strategic spot and he followed Al-Hubab's advice and moved the army there. [3] This hadith is clear proof that war strategies were of his own opinion and not revelation and he would consult his companions regarding it. It is also proof that the companions did not regard everything he said as revelation; otherwise they would not have asked such a question.

Besides this, in his book on Maqaasid Al-Shariah, Ibn Ashoor lists 12 types of statements and actions of the Prophet (ﷺ) and mentions which types count as revelation and which do not. [4]

Here are a few quotes from Ibn Ashoor on this issue, "It is our duty to be aware of the situation and take it (the difference between revelation and personal opinion in Hadith) into account when seeking enlightenment on the many issues that trouble many people and cause confusion. The companions used to make a clear distinction between the commands of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) that ensued from his position as a legislator and those that did not." [5]

He further states, "The scholars of Usul-Fiqh have shown that those actions of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) that emanate from his natural disposition (his natural likes and dislikes) are not part of legislation." [6]

For a detailed explanation, read the chapter "The Prophet's intent of Legislation" in Ibn Ashoor's book Maqaasid Al-Shariah.

His primary role is that of a legislator, so the primary consideration of a hadith is that it is revelation, but anything he said or did out of culture, custom, personal likes and dislikes, strategies of war, personal opinion, judgment between two people, personal advice, etc., are not regarded as revelation binding upon people to follow.

However, if someone chooses to follow his personal preferences, like what he ate or wore, out of love for him then some scholars say it is rewarding, due to their intention.

Allah knows best.

References:

[1] Abu Dawood 3:3576

[2] Saheeh Muslim 4:5831 & 5832

[3] Seerah Ibn Hisham, Al-Mustadrak of Al-Hakim

[4] English Translation of Ibn Ashoor's Maqaasid Al-Shariah, pp. 32-47

[5] Maqaasid Shariah, p. 31

[6] Maqaasid Shariah, p. 32

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