Qur'an: Following the Qur'an or something else

Q540 :The Prophet is known to have said in his farewell speech: "I have left with you two things which ensure that you will never be in error if you hold fast to them: Allah's revelations and my Sunnah." Is it not true that this statement means that we only need to follow the Qur'an and Hadiths in order to ensure that we follow the right path? If so, what need is there to follow a school of thought? Some of my friends argue that a person who does not follow one of the [four] schools of thought violates Islamic teaching. Please explain.

A540 : You have quoted the statement by the Prophet in his farewell speech correctly. Moreover, it is a basic principle of Islam that every Muslim must follow the Qur'an and the Sunnah. This is indeed the practical meaning of the declaration that one believes in the Oneness of Allah and the message of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). As you realize, it is this declaration that brings a person into the fold of Islam. As such, every Muslim is required to follow the Qur'an and the Sunnah. If he does not, he is bound to be in error and he will go astray. Some people seem to think that if they are to follow the Qur'an and the Sunnah correctly, they have to abandon schools of thought and indeed all the work of scholars over the centuries. This is a very mistaken notion. Indeed, the schools of thought and the work of other scholars point for us the way to following the Qur'an and the Sunnah. You may realize that in many cases, the Qur'an and the Sunnah give us general principles without explaining the practical way of following them. The Sunnah may provide details of those principles, but then you need to know the ruling concerning every point of detail. Take for example the case of prayer. Allah has repeatedly said in the Qur'an that Muslims should attend regularly to their prayers. There is nothing in the Qur'an to suggest that we have to pray in a particular fashion or five times a day. We rely on the Sunnah to provide these details. We know that the Prophet has said: "Offer your prayers in the manner in which you have seen me pray." This Hadith gives us a practical example for the fulfillment of Allah's order to pray. However, it is important to know what is obligatory in prayer and what is recommended. Do we have, for example, to read the Fatihah in every rak'ah or not? Do we have to do one bow or two prostrations in every rak'ah? Or is it possible to have the prostrations for all rak'ahs at the end of the prayer, rather than standing up and prostrating oneself in every rak'ah? What happens if one misses out a small part of prayer? What he should do if he cannot remember how many rak'ahs he has already completed? To know the answers to all these, we have Hadiths and reports by the Prophet's companions. Muslim scholars have studied all these details over the centuries and have clarified what a person should do at every point in his prayer, and indeed in all situations in life. They addressed the task of relating Hadiths to practical situations and deducting from the Qur'an and the Hadiths rulings concerning matters of detail. If one is to abandon all schools of thought, he is simply abandoning the long heritage of Islamic scholarship which has helped Muslims over the centuries. He is like one who suffers from a particular illness. Rather than going to a specialized doctor who has spent years pursuing his studies and specialization, and who has treated a large number of people, this sick person goes to a book shop and buys several books on medicine and starts to read about diseases and illnesses. His aim is to try to determine what illness he has and how to treat it. I need not go into the details of what may happen to him as a result, but it is obvious that he could easily be mistaken about his illness and take the wrong medicine which aggravates his condition instead of curing it. If a person does not want to follow a school of thought to the opinion of any scholar, he is actually setting himself a task of determining the Islamic ruling concerning every point of detail, by referring to the Qur'an and the Hadith. He does not know the rules of deduction and he does not have sufficient knowledge to relate different Hadiths which touch on each particular condition. He cannot establish which Hadith is authentic and which is doubtful. As a result, he leaves himself open to committing grave errors. I have explained that to follow a particular school of thought and adhere to it strictly is neither required nor practical. Moreover, it is not done by almost all people. He who has limited Islamic knowledge actually follows the school of thought of the scholar he consults. A scholar normally does not follow a single school of thought, but chooses opinions and verdicts from different schools of thought on the basis of the supporting evidence of each ruling. If he is convinced that the point of one school is more strongly supported, he chooses that. The next minute he may choose an opinion from a different school of thought. What I have tried to explain is that schools of thought cannot be placed in a position of contrast with following the Qur'an and the Sunnah. Indeed, they are methods of following the Qur'an and the Sunnah. No one can claim that by following them, he abandons Islamic teachings. Indeed, by following them he actually follows Islamic teachings.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )