The Prophetic Tradition
وإنك لعلى خلقٍ عظيم ٤
And you are truly ˹a man˺ of outstanding character. Quran 68:4
Imitation is one of the first skills a child learns following his birth. From the day he begins to perceive the world around him, he quickly observes and copies the two individuals that are around him the most: his parents. The only source of our manners as children was our parents or anyone else that had a similar magnitude of influence on us. Then, as we grew older, our parents exposed us to the world beyond our homes; we went to school and observed how other students and the teachers behaved. As we exposed ourselves more to the real world, we began to mold and shape our personalities that ultimately dictate how we behave today.
Therefore, we note that in any society, “good manners” and “correct etiquette” are prone to change with time. As Ja’far b. Abi Talib describes, the following was what one society considered to be morally correct:
“O King! we were plunged in the depth of ignorance and barbarism; we adored idols, we lived in unchastity, we ate corpses, and we spoke abominations, we disregarded every feeling of humanity, and the duties of hospitality and neighborhood were neglected; we knew no law but that of the strong…"
Then, Ja’far introduces to the King of Absynnia a man who became the source of new law, moral, and etiquette. His etiquette and morals did not change with time, rather it served to be as a guide for humanity until the last one of us remains:
…when Allah raised among us a man, of whose birth, truthfulness, honesty, and purity we were aware; and he called to the Oneness of Allah , and taught us not to associate anything with Him. He forbade us the worship of idols; and he enjoined us to speak the truth, to be faithful to our trusts, to be merciful and to regard the rights of the neighbors and kith and kin; he forbade us to speak evil of women, or to eat the substance of orphans; he ordered us to flee from the vices, and to abstain from evil; to offer prayers, to render alms, and to observe fast"1
“Those who Disregard my Tradition are not from Me”
History reveals that the Holy Prophet did not just come to preach the oneness of God, but to also perfect our morals. The believer professes submission to Allah with his tongue, and holds firmly to faith in his heart, but what good is our faith when we do not show it in our actions? Indeed, the best example of someone who represented his faith through his actions was none other than the final Messenger of Allah ﷺ. The Quran further strengthens the value of our Prophet’s way of life, as Allah says:
وما ينطق عن الهوى
إن هو إلا وحي يوحى
“Nor does he speak of his own whims. It is but a revelation revealed [to him.]” 53:3-4
Therefore, when the Messenger of Allah does something, it is not because of his worldly desires or a fluctuating mood, but rather his actions were approved by Allah the Almighty. For this reason, Muhammad ﷺ does not approve the actions of those who decide to invent their own worship of Allah. Some women reported to Rasul Allah that their husbands would not go near them, not eat meat, and not smell perfume. Rasul Allah chastised the men for their actions, and proudly admitted that he “eats meat, smells perfume, and goes to women.” Then, he stated the famous words stressing the importance of keeping to his example:
“A Little from the Sunnah is better than an Abundance of Innovation”
We often discuss the topic of Tarawih among our circles and during our discussions with the majority sect; when the common Shi’i hears the word “Innovation” or “Bid’ah,” the first example that comes to mind is Tarawih. Our scholars explain to us that the practice of Tarawih was established during the time of the second caliph where he instructed the Muslims to perform the optional prayers at night in congregation; the caliph described this practice as a “good innovation.”
This matter was brought to our fifth Imam, al-Baqir, peace be upon him, when his companions Zurarah, Muhammad b. Muslim, and al-Fudhayl b. Yasar inquired about praying the optional prayer at night during the month of Ramadhan in congregation. Imam al-Baqir related a sermon from the Holy Prophet that he delivered following a period of three nights during which his companions were praying the optional prayer in congregation behind him. In the sermon, he declares to the public that such a prayer is an innovation and that all innovations is a misguidance that lead to hell. Then, he descended from the pulpit and stated the following:
قليل في سنة خير من كثير في بدعة
A little from the Sunnah is better than an abundance of innovation. 4
Ultimately, this is the moral of the story that many neglect; we must apply the Prophet’s words to any innovation in life we encounter. Not only is our Prophet telling us to keep to the tradition he himself established, but he also reminds us that we are in no authority to choose our own methods of worshipping Allah. Indeed, those who invented the Tarawih prayer acted on their own emotions, but the Qur’an confirms that what Rasul Allah tells us is never based on his emotions or whims, therefore his method of worshipping Allah is the only method prescribed for us.
Today, we see similar cases where instead of practicing confirmed traditions from the Holy Prophet and his Pure Progeny, we instead act on weak or even fabricated reports 5. A common example I see is that on the day of Ashura, some believers will refuse to respond to the salam of other believers because they believe that due to the sad nature of the day, it is not permissible to say salam. This act comes from a good heart, as these people believe that they are honoring the day and the tragedy of Imam Hussain; however, where is the proof that the obligation – legislated in the Qur’an – to return the salam is lifted on the day of Ashura? While there is no evidence for this practice, we do have evidence for a greeting that was taught to us by our Imams 6:
عظم الله أجورنا بمصابنا بالحسين عليه السلام، وجعلنا وإياكم من الطالبين بثاره مع وليه الإمام المهدي من آل محمد (صلى الله عليه وآله ).
Or, another common practice in our communities is to recite the famous Hadith al-Kisa that is narrated on the authority of Jabir who narrates from Fatima (s.a.)7. While the event of the cloak is a confirmed event in Islamic History, the content of this specific hadith has no origin in any of our early books, and it contradicts details mentioned in an authentic version of Hadith al-Kisa mentioned in al-Kafi.8 The point of mentioning this example is not to discourage people from reciting this hadith, but rather to raise the question of why this hadith has become such a popular starter for any majlis, jashn, wiladat, marriage, or even funeral. Even in some weddings I have personally attended, the hosts decide to ignore the recitation of the Holy Qur’an and instead choose to have someone recite this hadith of questionable authority that only a few people in the audience understand. When our community has decided that the recitation of this narration is so fundamental that an event cannot start without it, then we have approached the border of innovation. Would the guests gathered at the wedding not be more enlightened by spending a fraction of the time listening to some verses of the Qur’an in their own language or narrations from the Ahlul Bayt recorded in our classical books? Instead, we choose the abundance of innovation over the simplicity of the Prophetic Tradition.
This post is not meant to serve as an abridged version Mafatih al-Jinan that only contains Sahih acts of worship, but rather the goal is to remind the reader of the sanctity of our Prophet’s legacy and that reinterpreting or changing it based on our own whims will only destroy our communities. I started this post around the end of Safar near the death anniversary of the Holy Prophet ﷺ. I was in disbelief when I saw believers arguing over whether our event flyers should use the word “Wafat” or “Shahadat,” as if this is the biggest problem that needs to be addressed. Indeed, every believer accepts the tragedy that happened to the Prophet shortly after his death; rather, what is more imperative today is to revive the Prophetic Tradition that Muhammad ﷺ gave to us.
I would also like to acknowledge Sayed Ali Abul Hasan and the alBaheth, as some of the arguments and ahadith cited in this article were taken from the Sayed’s lecture commemorating the death of the Prophet.9 I leave the reader with one final narration over which to reflect:
- [1/-] al-Kafi: Ali b. Ibrahim from Muhammad b. Isa b. Ubayd from Yunus from Hariz from Zurara who said: I asked Aba Abdillah عليه السلام about the Halal and the Haram so he said: the Halal of Muhammad is Halal forever unto the day of judgment and his Haram is Haram forever unto the day of judgment, there will be nothing other than it and nothing apart from it will come, and he said: Ali عليه السلام said: no one has innovated a Bid’a except that he has abandoned a Sunna (by doing so).10
Tarikh-i Kamil, vol. II, pp. 54-55 and Dala’il al-Imamah pg. 12 ↩︎
Al Kafi Vol. 5 Book 3, Chapter 139, h. 5 ↩︎
In a similar report found in al-Kafi with a stronger chain (all narrators are trustworthy except for the last one leading to Imam al Baqir), the Prophet repeats a similar message: “I, however, pray, sleep, fast, eat, laugh and weep. Whoever dislikes my tradition and practice is not of my people.” ↩︎
al-Faqih Vol 2 pg. 137 h. 1964 ↩︎
It should be noted that the principle of acting on weak reports in hope (“raja”) of there being reward is confirmed by our scholars. However, many do not know of this principle and treat every dua they read in their dua books as revelation. As for those who are aware of this principle, then why do we prioritize acts of worship that we are merely “hoping” to be true instead of acts that are confirmed to be from the Sunnah? ↩︎
Kamil al Ziyarat pg. 326 ↩︎
See vol. 1 kitab al-Hujjah. One big difference between the two reports is that the authentic version that Kulayni narrates says that the event took place in the home of Umm Salama rather than the home of Fatima s.a. Furthermore, the famous Hadith al Qudsi is not found in al-Kafi, but it should be noted that the message that Allah created the world for the sake of the Ahlul Bayt can be reconstructed from other reports. ↩︎
Muʿjam al-Aḥādīth al-Muʿtabara Book 2, Chapter #3 ↩︎