Recently in an internet discussion , I put forward this theme to get few alternate views from friends regarding authority of Prophet’s Sunnah in the juridic framework of Islam:
Is there a tendency in history to suggest that there was some activity based phenomena that can be technically called ‘Islamic Law’ in the pre-formative development period in history of Islamic methodology i.e. primarily the greater part of first century.
I had the following statement of Dr. Fazlur Rahman at the back of my mind:
Now the overall picture of the Prophet’s biography – if we look behind the colouring supplied by the medieval legal mass – has certainly no tendency to suggest the impression of Prophet as a pan-legist neatly regulating the fine details of human life from administration to those of ritual purity. The evidence, in fact, strongly suggests that the Prophet was primarily a moral reformer of mankind and that, apart from occasional decisions, which had the character of ad hoc cases, he seldom resorted to general legislation as a means for furthering the general Islamic cause.
The idea seemed as an echo of lot of other Orientalists like Snouk Hurgronje, Tyan and Anderson. However it was perhaps a part of Joseph Schacht’s oppugning of Prophet’s authority that Rahman was actually delimitating apologetically. Unfortunately the further thesis of Rahman is tantamount to further asserting the skeptic approach towards the same authority thereby breaking the actual position of Sunnah to crumbs.
The contemporary schools’ methodology besides a new interpretation of Quran also generates a public opinion (which I got in response to the discussion theme) that believes in considerable reduction of Prophetic authority. If one look more closely to such opinions, the belief in Prophetic authority seems no more then mere lip service. The discussion which I refered above gave me further clues into the minds of those who are of the opinion that with the demise of the Prophet we are left with only the methods of his deductive reasoning and the actual deductions are either doubtful or of no use as they cannot stand the test of time. This comparatively new approach if seen in the collective perspective of similar but slightly varied thoughts would be tantamount to arguing that Prophet had not made enough arrangements to dispense the justice according to new norms and thus breached the law that he himself had introduced. If this assertion seems bold and exaggerated to a reader, I again borrow few phrases from Dr. Rahman:
For one thing it can be concluded a priori that the Prophet, who was, until his death, engaged in a grim moral and political struggle against the Meccans and the Arabs and in organising his community-state, could hardly have found time to lay down rules for the minutiae of life. 
I dont understand how one would be unjustified to imply an abnegation of systematic legal activities of Prophet. This would consequently lead to denial of the existence of Sunnah of the Prophet, which would logically entails the rejection of validity of whatever may have been described as Sunnah of the Prophet.
Any student of contemporary schools can easily understand that the first causal-link in the above chain of implications is the interpretation of Quranic verses commanding adherence to Prophet’s decisions as a vague guideline for Muslims to observe and not drawing muse from actual decisions of Prophet that are preserved in the form of Hadith. The aim of this piece of writing is not to present a detailed and comprehensive picture of early legal activities to posit a forceful critique of these skeptic opinions. Its just an effort to slightly provide a look at the methodology behind legal activities that took place in the time of Prophet, his dispensing of legal codes and methods of judgment of his companions.
Juridical Administration. For administration of justice, Prophet sent judges to different towns and provinces assigning them with the judicial responsibility. Its hard to imagine that without any systematic legal methodology, a judge can relieve himself easily of his obligations. The methodology behind the activity of Judges of Prophet had complete knowledge of the his decisions in response to different cases and they seldom resorted to their own judgements. Few of his judges were:
- Abdullah ibn Masud
- Abu Musa al-Ashari
- Ali bin Abi Talib
- Amr bin Al-Aas
- Amr Bin Hazm
- Attab bin Asid
- Dihya al-Kalbi
- Hudaifa bin al-Yaman
- Maqal bin Yasar al-Muzani
- Muadh bin Jabal
- Ubai bin Kaab
- Umar bin al-Khitab
- Uqbah bin Amir-al-Juhani
- Zaid bin Thabit
This is not an exhaustive list and even in the city of Basra, there were no less then thirteen judges that took major part in judicial activities of first century. It would be too naive to assume that all these judges just used their understanding of ‘Prophet’s deductive reasoning’ to dispense something as sacred as justice.
Method of Reaching Judgements. The instructions for judges are so evident from history as they were directed to base their judgements on Quran and Sunnah. Letters of Umar to Abu Musa in Basra and Shuraih in Kufa, his advices to judges in general and the advices of Ibn Masud are just few examples. At the same time, the contorversy at the time of Umar’s famous decision of stopping people from doing Tammatu and the statements of Saad and Ibn Umar to give priority to the Sunnah of Prophet are glaring examples of the knowledge and method of reaching judgements at that time. Few more judgements that decribe the necessity for basing judgements on Sunnah of Prophet and reflect upon the method of companions are:
- Abu Bakr put a grandmother on hold for her share in inheritance and relied on Mughira’s report to give her one sixth share rather then exercising his reasoning.
- Umar was unclear about Magians of Hajr and when Abdur Rehmaan Bin Auf informed him of hadith of Prophet, he accepted Jizya from them.
- Usman asked Fura’aia what the Prophet has decided about her Talaaq and based future decisions on that.
- Muaz did not accept any zakat on less then 30 cows and said that he did not hear anything about that from the Prophet.
- Umar asked the pilgrims in Mina about the blood money and Dhahak bin Sufyan told him what Prophet wrote him about that.
- Marwan freed the slave whose hand was about to be cut on stealing a the pith of a palm tree when he heard the hadith regarding it.
The collection of Ahadith are full of such accounts especially the earlier ones like Muwatta of Malik and Musannaf of Abul Razzaq al-Sanani. Judges and governors asked the scholars and did their utmost effort to find an example decision from Prophet himself before basing the judgement on their own opinion. Even the most fearing of them in later generation based their opinions on companions’ decisions and this method continued till the time classical schools of jurisprudence were completely developed. The legal literature of first century was absorbed into the later works and little remains extant today. However the continued research and references to actual books give us ample clues that there were written legal documents that were sent to judges and developed by them.
- Fazlur Rehman, Islamic Methodology of History, [IRI Edition], p. 10.
- Fazlur Rehman, Islamic Methodology of History, [IRI Edition], p. 11.
- It should be correctly appreciated that legal activities in Islamic framework are not merely be taken in the sense of criminal law but also includes functions related to society and individual.
- A valuable information regarding Prophet’s judgements can derived from Ibn Talla’s Aqdiyat Rasulillah as cited by M.Azami in On Schacht’s Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence p. 20
- The complete list with references can be found in M.Azami, On Schacht’s Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence p. 21
- Malik bin Anas, Muwatta
- Malik bin Anas, Muwatta, Faraidh
- Malik bin Anas, Muwatta, Zakat
- Malik bin Anas, Muwatta, Talaq
- Malik bin Anas, Muwatta, Zakat
- Malik bin Anas, Muwatta, Hudad
- Malik bin Anas, Muwatta
- For instance Nabia Abbott, Studies in Arabic Literary Papyri: Language and Literature Vol I & II and F. Sezgin’s works.
- For a detailed handling of these references to early mauscripts in later books see M. Azami, Studies in Early Hadith Literature.