In the previous episode we highlighted certain traditions from the Ahlulbayt which are present in a number of reliable Hadith books from the Shi’i school. These traditions established the three core principles which formed the basis for the edict of permissibility in worshipping according to any Islamic school. The tradition which spoke about the situation of the judge was particularly noteworthy as it clearly indicated that the criteria for an action is evidence and not its correctness. If the criteria was on the action or verdict being correct then the judge mentioned in the tradition would be in Heaven and not Hell, but we see that the Imam has made it very clear this is not the case.
Question: Can we find similar traditions from the Sunni Hadith books? Do the Sunnis have traditions which support this idea? Yes, you will find traditions within the Sunni literature which pretty much resembles what we have in the Shi’i literature, and I will now show you a few of these. Our first example is a tradition taken from Sunan al-Tirmiḍhī and it is one of the most clear-cut traditions which clearly advocates the understanding we have explained, and my advice is for you all is to remember this tradition and memorise it well. The Prophet says:
من قال في القرآن برأيه فأصاب فقد أخطأ
“Whosoever interprets the Qur’ān with his opinion and is correct has sinned”
What is the meaning of opinion? Is it an opinion based on evidence and knowledge or not? If it is based on knowledge and evidence then this (will be something acceptable as his) opinion will have probative force for him as we have discussed previously. So when the tradition mentions opinion it is clear to see what is being referred to is baseless speculation without any proper framework or sound methodology, something for which there is no proof neither is there any Qur’ānic backing. The tradition then mentions that his opinion is correct, meaning he reached the truth, he spoke correctly, yet amazingly the Prophet says he has sinned! Why?! Because the criteria and the pivotal axis under discussion is not to do with reaching the truth but rather in relation to the evidence and knowledge that is being used. This is similar to what we read about the judge whose judgement was correct but did so without any knowledge or evidence. Will they be rewarded for reaching the truth? No, as a matter of fact they will be punished!
The second tradition, which is exactly the same letter for letter to the first tradition mentioned, can be found in al-Sunan al-Kubra of Imām Nisā’ī. I have mentioned this source just so we can see how many times and in how many different books this tradition has been recorded. The fact that great scholars like Tirmidhī and Nisā’ī, both outstanding scholars of the traditional sciences, accepted this tradition speaks volumes of its legitimacy and reliability in the Sunni school. This tradition can also be found mentioned in al-Itqān of Suyūti, Tabari in his tafsīr, Khalīlī in his Irshād and so forth. For those who wish to see the sources are all there.
From here it is imperative to restate the underlying fundamental principle in our epistemology that has been backed up with textual evidences. We do not accept the validity of dreams, supposition, guesses and definitely not mystical visions. Whoever has evidence for a certain action or a certain belief, not only is it permissible for them to act upon that but in fact it is obligatory for them to do so, and if they fail to act upon the evidence and their knowledge then their actions will be invalid. This is irrespective of whatever creed he is, if he is Ash’ari, Mu’tazili, Hanbali, Zaydi, you name it! If they have evidence for their action then this will suffice for its correctness and permissibility. If they were to act according to the school of the Ahlulbayt this will not be acceptable, just like the case of the judge who acted correctly but did so unknowingly. What is paramount is that a person acts in accordance to the evidence and the knowledge he has, irrespective of it being wrong or right.
Sadiq Meghjee is a frequent contributor to Iqra Online and has been studying in the seminary of Qom for 6 years. Prior to entering the seminary he pursued an accounting qualification and worked in London. His field of interest is intellectual history.