If something is “Sunnah” does that make it obligatory?

If something is “Sunnah” does that make it obligatory?


Why does an argument that something is “Sunnah” automatically make an opinion or a practice “the only Islamic one” without even looking into the context? Even for hot button issues like circumcision, polygamy, child marriage in modern times. Should everything that was Sunnah get a pass from us? If so, I guess we can all bring back slavery, right? Slaves for everyone, woohoo! This is why I sometimes wonder if Hadith do more harm than good for Muslims because nobody seems to care about context.

Salaam alykum,

It is assumed that something that is actually Sunnah is indeed from The Prophet and The Prophet did not advocate anything that would harm us or put us in difficulty.

I think the problem is what you associate with what is deemed “Sunnah,” and while someone may declare something as such, that means very little, we must have evidence of this and without evidence, it cannot be valid.

The idea that people “do not look into the context” is simplistic and frankly, more of a problem among young Muslims in the West than even the average Muslim in Muslim majority countries, the inclination towards literalism in all religious matters and in all religious texts is far more clear among Western Muslims than the less educated and less well-off Muslims in many Muslim majority countries.

It is for this reason that I suggest you reassess what you, and others, define as “Sunnah.”

For instance, circumcision, for males, is something that is beneficial from a scientific standpoint and from a public-health standpoint and this is apparent even among non-Muslim populations, illustrated by examples such as this report from NPR.

As far as female circumcision, or more appropriately, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), this is a regional problem and not a “Muslim” problem, as it has no Islamic basis, and I have discussed this before.

As far as the issue of polygamy, this issue is misunderstood from its contextual basis, but even besides that the rate of its use (and many times abuse) today is overblown as a statistical problem relative to the far more pertinent issues, and also provides a very interesting case study in illustrating people’s morality on the freedom of marriage, but that aside, people who argue about polygamy seldom (this is a word of general connotation, if you do not understand this, do not message me)if ever deal with it, understand it, or even discuss it within its actual current or historical practice, whether “for” or “against” it.

As far as child marriages, again, I’ve discussed this before, it is a practice that is not encouraged by the legal systems (as terrible as they are) even in countries which accept the notion that Aisha was 9 at her marriage, it is generally a problem in countries for regional issues, and is actually more of an issue in India and Sub-Saharan Africa among non-Muslim populations, which makes the focus on “Islamic reasons” for child brides to be of curious concern, in my opinion.

Now I actually gave brief explanations for two reasons, first, because what is very interesting is that Muslims have reacted very oddly to things (overwhelmingly negative in nature) that have been declared “Muslim” or “Islamic” by non-Muslims, they have either reacted by disavowing those ludicrous positions and talk about “Islam means peace” or they somehow rationalize how something is “good for us as Muslims” that a non-Muslim declared to be “Islamic.”

The second reason relates to your statement about “If so, I guess we can all bring back slavery, right?” etc.

This is why I suggested you learn what is actually Sunnah, because the Sunnah does not encourage slavery, it does not condone it, neither does The Qur’an, so the only question I have to ask is what do you mean? What does “Sunnah” mean in your mind? I ask these questions because you have not only removed context, you have removed fact in your assertions, so if someone like yourself, who clearly is uncomfortable with many issues (and rightly so, I’m uncomfortable with those who argue for child marriage, etc) has chosen to take the opinions of some and equate them with the actual Sunnah.

Therefore, when you mention about “Hadith” where are the Hadith which encourage slavery? What part of The Prophet’s life did this occur? His life (as The Prophet) was defined as being against slavery, he spent his money on freeing slaves, where he actually adopted a slave as his son (Zaid ibn Harithah) before The Qur’an revealed that outright adoption was impermissible, but Zaid was still like a son to The Prophet and Osama ibn Zaid is described as The Prophet’s adopted grandson.

Your message illustrates the problem that Muslims, especially in the West, have with the Sunnah and the Hadith, in that, no one knows about not only context but sadly even content.

We must understand what is actually Sunnah and we must understand what Hadith mean, but I would suggest, with humility, that you learn about the Hadith themselves because your message reflects a lack of knowledge about the subject that you complain about, and that is equally as damaging to the Sunnah and Islam as the removal of context from understanding injunctions.

I did not mean any of this with disrespect, but I wanted to underline to you that you must reassess your base assumptions, and I hope that you will do so, insha Allah.

I pray this reaches you and your families in the best of health and Iman, insha Allah.

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