The ulama are unanimous that Sunnah is a source of Shari'ah and that in its rulings with regard to halal and haram it stands on the same footing as the Qur'an.' [Shawkani, Irshad, p. 33.]
The words of the Prophet, as the Qur'an tells us, are divinely inspired (Surah al-Najm, 53:3). While commenting on the Qur'anic ayah which states of the Prophet that “he does not speak of his own desire, it is none other than wahy sent to him”, Al-Ghazali writes that some of the divine revelation which the Prophet received constitutes the Qur'an, whereas the remainder is Sunnah. As for us and the generality of Muslims who have received the words of the Prophet through the verbal and written reports of narrators, we need to ascertain their authenticity. [Ghazali, Mustasfa, I, 83.]
The proof of authenticity may be definitive (qat'i), or amount to a preferable conjecture (al-zann al-rajih); in either case, the Sunnah commands obedience of the mukallaf.
The Sunnah of the Prophet is a proof (hujjah) for the Qur'an, testifies to its authority and enjoins the Muslim to comply with it. The following ayat are all explicit on this theme, all of which are quoted by al-Shafi'i in his renowned work, Al-Risalah (P. 47ff):
“And whatever the Messenger gives you, take it, and whatever he forbids you, abstain from it.” (Surah al-Hashr, 59:7).
“Obey God and obey the Messenger and those who are in charge of affairs among you. Should you happen to dispute over something, then refer it to God and to the Messenger.” (Surah al-Nisa', 4: 59).
“Whoever obeys the Messenger verily obeys God.” (Surah al-Nisa, 4: 80)
“Whenever God and His Messenger have decided a matter' it is not for a faithful man or woman to follow another course of his or her own choice.” (Surah al-Ahzab, 33: 36).
In yet another place the Qur'an stresses that submission to the authority of the Prophet is not a matter of mere formalistic legality but is an integral part of the Muslim faith: “By thy Lord, they will not believe till they make thee a judge regarding disagreements between them and find in themselves no resistance against accepting your verdict in full submission.” (Surah al-Nisa', 4: 65).
The Companions have reached a consensus on Sunnah being a proof next to the Qur'an in all shar'i matters: Both during the lifetime of the Prophet and following his demise' they eagerly obeyed the Prophet's instructions and followed his examples regardless as to whether his commands or prohibitions originated in the Qur'an or otherwise.
The first two Caliphs Abu Bakr and Umar; resorted to the Sunnah of the Prophet whenever they knew of it. In cases when they did not know, they would ascertain if other Companions had any knowledge of the Prophetic Sunnah in connection with particular issues. The Caliph Umar is also on record as having issued written instruction to his judges in which he asked them to follow the Sunnah of the Prophet whenever they could not find the necessary guidance in the Qur'an. [Shawkani, Irshad, p. 36; Khallaf, 'Ilm, p. 38]
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