Ittibaa - Following the Prophet (Sunnah)
Ittibaa means to follow the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) in all that he commands and abstain from all that he has prohibitted, to follow his Sunnah. The word ittibaa is also used in contrast to taqleed (to blindly follow normally a particular imam). For this article we will limit ittibaa to following the Sunnah and not deal with the issue of taqleed. Concerning ittibaa of the Messenger of Allah, Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) says:
"Say, if you love Allâh, follow me and Allâh will love you and forgive you your sins." [Quran: Surah Ali Imraan 3: Ayah 31]
"O Prophet, sufficient for you is Allâh and those who followed you of the believers." [Quan: Surah 8: Ayah 64]
"(The believers say:) Our Lord, we have come to believe in what You revealed and followed the Messenger. So write us among those who bear witness." [Quran: Surah 3: Ayah 53]
"Say: This is my way. I call to Allah with sure knowledge, I and whoever follows me." [Quran: Surah 12: Ayah 108]
Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) also tells us that the best example for us is to follow is the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) with His saying: "There is surely a good example for you in the Messenger of Allah, for the one who hopes (to meet) Allah and the Hereafter and remembers Allah abundantly." [Quran: Surah al Ahzaab 33: Ayah 21]
Importance of Following the Sunnah
Quran speaks of the importance of the Sunnah:
(a) Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) says: “He who obeys the Messenger has indeed obeyed Allah . . .” [Quran: Surah al-Nisaa’ 4: Ayah 80]. Here Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) described obedience to the Prophet (pbuh) as being a part of obedience to Him. Then He made a connection between obedience to Him and obedience to the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) (peace be upon him): “O you who believe! Obey Allah and obey the Messenger . . .” [Quran: Surah al-Nisaa’ 4: Ayah 59]
(b) Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) warns us not to go against the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) (peace be upon him), and states that whoever disobeys him will be doomed to eternal Hell. Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) says (interpretation of the meaning): “. . . And let those who oppose the Messenger’s commandment beware, lest some fitnah (trial, affliction, etc.) befall them or a painful torment be inflicted on them.” [Quran: Surah al-Nur 24: Ayah 63].
And, Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) emphasises this warning with a threat: “And whoever contradicts and opposes the Messenger (Muhammad) after the right path has been shown clearly to him, and follows other than the believers’ way, We shall keep him in the path he has chosen, and burn him in Hell — what an evil destination!” [Quran: Surah al-Nisa 4: Ayah 115]
(c) Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) has made obedience to His Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) a religious duty; resisting or opposing it is a sign of hypocrisy: ”But no, by your Lord, they can have no Faith, until they make you [Muhammad] judge in all disputes between them, and find in themselves no resistance against your decisions, and accept (them) with full submission.” [Quran: Surah al-Nisaa’ 4: Ayah 65]
(d) Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) commands His slaves to respond to Him and His Messenger: “O you who believe! Answer Allah (by obeying Him) and (His) Messenger when he calls you to that which will give you life . . .” [Quran: Surah al-Anfaal 8: Ayah 24]
(e) Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) also commands His slaves to refer all disputes to him: “. . . (And) if you differ in anything amongst yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger . . .” [Quran: Surah al-Nisaa’ 4: Ayah 59]
Sunnah itself indicates the importance of the Sunnah:
(a) Al-Tirmidhi reported from Abu Raafi’ and others that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) (peace be upon him) said: “I do not want to see any one of you reclining on his couch and, when he hears of my instructions or prohibitions, saying ‘I don’t accept it; we didn’t find any such thing in the Book of Allah.’” Abu ‘Eesaa said: This is a saheeh hasan hadeeth. (See Sunan al-Tirmidhi, Shaakir edition, no. 2663).
Al-’Irbaad ibn Saariyah (رضی اللہ عنہ) reported that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) (peace be upon him) said: “Would any of you think, reclining on his couch, that Allah would only describe what is forbidden in the Quran? I tell you, by Allah, that I have warned and commanded and prohibited things that are as important as what is in the Quran, if not more so.” (Reported by Abu Dawud, Kitaab al-Khiraj wa’l-imaarah wa’l-fay’).
(b) Abu Dawud also reported from al-’Irbaad ibn Saariyah (رضی اللہ عنہ) that “the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) led us in prayer one day, then he turned to us and exhorted us strongly . . . (he said), ‘Pay attention to my sunnah (way) and the way of the Rightly-guided Khaleefahs after me, adhere to it and hold fast to it.’” (Saheeh Abi Dawud, Kitaab al-Sunnah).
Scholars’ consensus (ijmaa’) affirming the following of Sunnah:
Al-Shafi (رحمه الله) said: “I do not know of anyone among the Sahaabah and Taabi’een who narrated a report from the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) without accepting it, adhering to it and affirming that this was sunnah. Those who came after the Taabi’een, and those whom we met did likewise: they all accepted the reports and took them to be sunnah, praising those who followed them and criticizing those who went against them. Whoever deviated from this path would be regarded by us as having deviated from the way of the Companions of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) and the scholars who followed them, and would be considered as one of the ignorant.
Common sense indicates importance of following the Sunnah:
The fact that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) is the Messenger of Allah indicates that we must believe everything he said and obey every command he gave. It goes without saying that he has told us things and given instructions in addition to what is in the Quran. It is futile to make a distinction between the Sunnah and the Quran when it comes to adhering to it and responding to it. It is obligatory to believe in what he has told us, and to obey his instructions.
The ruling of the ijmaa, concensus, of the scholars of Islam, concerning those who deny the importance of the Sunnah, in that they knowingly and actively oppose it or reject, is that they are not Muslims, rather they have disbelieved in Islam, because they deny and reject a well-known and undeniable part of the religion of Islam.