By Sheik Yusuf al Qaradawi
After the Qur’an, the Sunnah comes as the second source for Islam. Its provisions should be accepted and applied, be they in the field of creeds, deeds, legislation, or behavior. In brief, the Sunnah is an essential authority in Islam.
When quoting a text from the Sunnah to affirm a certainShari`ah ruling, one should take into account three important rules:
1. To verify the hadith’s authenticity well and to assess it according to the criteria set by the scholars of Hadith.
2. To make sure that the hadith really denotes the meaning for which it is quoted. Some people misinterpret hadiths and attribute to them meanings never intended by the hadiths or meanings that cannot be reached except through twisting words. On the other hand, some people are too literalist that they pay no attention to the objectives of the Shari`ah or its general principles.
3. To make sure that there is no opposing worthy evidence that requires a non-literal interpretation of the hadith that could be a general one to be specified, an absolute to be restricted, or even an abrogated not to be applied. The evidence mentioned above could be textual or rational; it could be from the Qur’an, the Sunnah, or the fundamentals of the Shari`ah, or it could be based on a certain fact, be it historical or contemporary.
Realizing these three points requires vast knowledge of the sciences of the Sunnah, great acquaintance of its sources, and reference to learned scholars of Hadith.
Besides, proper understanding of the Sunnah necessitates comprehensive understanding of the objectives of the Shari`ah and its general rules derived from the definite provisions of the Qur’an, in addition to mastering the Arabic language and commanding its meanings. It is helpful in this regard to closely study sciences like principles of fiqh (usul Al-Fiqh), principles of exegesis (tafseer), and sciences of Hadith; they provide important keys to understanding the texts of the Qur’an and the Sunnah.