Position of Sunnah with respect to Quran

There is no dispute that the Quran is distinguished from the sunnah and superior to it because its wording is a revelation from Allah and mankind is not able to produce anything like it. But in this article we will deal with an issue, in particular what is the position of sunnah with respect to Quran from the point of hujjah (authority, proof).

There are basically two opinions among the scholars.

1) The first opinion is that Quran takes authority over sunnah
2) The second opinion is that the Quran and sunnah are equal in authority.

Opinion that says Quran takes authority over Sunnah

This is a well-known opinion that the Quran takes precedence over sunnah or in other words, the sunnah gets the second position with respect to Quran.

The most important proofs for this position are follows

1) All of the Quran is mutawaatir , means that the Quran has been transmitted in such a way and by so many people that there is no possibility of all having made the same mistake. But this is not the case with hadith .In hadith literature only small portion are considered mutawaatir. Hence, the Quran must be given preference based on this fact.

2) The following hadith is a important evidence from the sunnah that Quran takes precedence over the sunnah:

“On the authority of person from hims from among the companion of Muaadh ibn Jabal; When the messenger of Allah (p.b.u.h) wanted to send Muadh to Yemen, he said, “How will you judge (between the people) if it so happens that you must judge?’ He (Mu’adh ibn Jabal) said: ‘I will judge according to the Book of Allah.’ He (the Messenger of Allah) said: ‘What if (the legal ruling) is not found in the book of Allah?’ He (Mu’adh ibn Jabal) replied: ‘Then (I will judge) according to the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him.’ He (the Messenger of Allah) then said: ‘What if (the legal ruling) is not found in the Sunnah ?’ He (Mu’adh ibn Jabal) replied: ‘Then I will use my independent judgment and I won’t spare any effort (to try to come to the correct solution).’ He (the Messenger of Allah r) then struck me on my chest and said: ‘All praise is for Allah messenger of the Messenger of Allah is in accord with what pleases His Messenger.’

Critical analysis of this proof.

1) No doubt Quran is mutawaatir and definitively confirmed. But Quran itself speaks for the acceptance of Aahad report if it come through reliable narrators. Please read the article Issue of Aahad hadeeth and its acceptability.

Even if just for the sake of argument if someone want to accept the authority of Quran superior on this basis, then also it is not a sufficient prove that the Quran take precedence over sunnah. This is because its historical confirmation or authenticity is only one aspect in its strength as a proof. Another aspect is how definitive the text is with respect to its indication or meaning
The following example should make this point clearer.

a) Allah says in Surah 4 ayat 23 and 24 about categories of women to whom you can’t marriage and it is end by saying ……. …..“lawful to you are [all others] beyond these”. But it does not speak about the issue of marrying women and her paternal aunt, or a women and her maternal aunt, at the same time. However prophet (p.b.u.h) said …

Al-Bukhaari (5109) and Muslim (1408) narrated from Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him): “One should not be married to a woman and her paternal aunt, or a woman and her maternal aunt, at the same time”.

b) Allah says “Say, “I do not find within that which was revealed to me [anything] forbidden to one who would eat it unless it be a dead animal or blood spilled out or the flesh of swine” ( Surah 6 ayat 145). But our prophet says something more….

Al-Bukhaari (5527) and Muslim (1936) narrated that Abu Tha’labah (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: “The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) forbade the meat of domesticated donkeys”.

These are the evidences which imply that Quran and hadith should be considered equal with respect to authority or proof.

3) Now let discuss shortly about the hadith of Muaadh ibn Jabal (may Allah be please with him). It was recorded by Abu Dawood ,al –Tirmidhi and others. There have been some scholars who have accepted this hadith as hasan or sahi. But many later scholar of hadith like Sheikh Albani and Sheikh Mashhoor Hasan Salaman declared it weak.

According to them hadith has three defects.

a) First according to its strongest narratives, it is narrated by the companion of Maudh ibn Jabal without them mentioning if that they heard it directly from Muaadh. Hence the link between them and the prophet (p.b.u.h) is broken.

b) Secondaly, it is not specified in any of the narrations of this hadith who the companion of Muaadh are. These are unknown narrators and unknown narrators are not acceptable

c) Thirdly, one of the narrators who appears in the chain, al –Haarith ibn Amr,is also unknown.

The argument that Sheikh al-Albani and Sheikh Salman present are strong and it must be concluded that this hadith is weak.

Opinion that says Quran and sunnah are equal in authority.

The second opinion that the Quran and sunnah are equal in authority and are to be taken together as the sources of the Shareeah.

The most important proofs for this position are follows

1) As we know that sunnah is also revelation from Allah. (For more details please read the article Is the Quran only guidance that has been revealed by Allah ?). So those who says that the Quran takes precedence over the sunnah are really saying…..

Since they are both revelation from Allah….

2) Allah says in the Quran

“Obey Allah and his messenger” (surah 5 ayat 92)

“Whoever obeys the messenger verily obeys Allah” (Surah 4 ayat 80).

Furthermore, in reference to obedience to Allah and the prophet (p.b.u.h), the conjunction “AND” is always used while the conjunction “THEN” is never used. So whatever comes from the Prophet (p.b.u.h) we should accept it.

Conclusion: There is no question that both the Quran and the sunnah have as their source Allah. They are both inspiration from Allah, and therefore, they both must be submitted to on an equal basis .In legal authority and purpose, there is no difference between the one revelation that is recited as a part of book and that revelation which is not recited as a part of the book. Together they constitute the guidance for mankind.

Indeed Allah knows the best.


About Dr. K. M. Asif

Student of Knowledge

3 comments on “Position of Sunnah with respect to Quran

  1. Can you please name the scholars who took the opinion that the Qur’an is first in authority before the ahaadith? Jazakallah khayr

  2. Abu ishaq al shatibi famous maliki scholar..Husain al tartoori argue it is also the view of Imam Shaafi..

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