Two types of sources establish the teachings of Islam.
The first type: Revelations of God Almighty, through
- the Holy Quran, which is free from error and alterations;
- the sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his holy progeny) (i.e. his practical life).
The sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh&hp) must be authentic, verified and established such that its verity is repeatedly and consecutively confirmed (e.g., mutawattir hadith). This type of tradition is transmitted by multiple narrators without the possibility of collusion to fabricate, hence it leads to certainty in its authenticity. An example of a mutawattir hadith is Hadith al Thaqalayn in which the Prophet (pbuh&hp) states. “Verily, I am leaving behind two weighty things (thaqalayn) among you: the Book of God and my family (I’trah), my household (Ahl al-Bayt), for indeed, the two will never separate until they return to me by the Pond (of al-Kawthar) on the Day of Judgment.
The sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh&hp) is demonstrated by:
- his sayings;
- his actions;
- his approval of statements and acts by Muslims.
It is agreed upon by all Muslims that the true Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh&hp) includes these three elements irrespective of the fact that some Muslims have eagerly chosen the name “al-Sunnah” solely (excluding other sects) for their sect.
The second type: General rational/logical and religious fundamentals
There are general fundamental principles and methodologies that jurists implement to address contemporary matters not mentioned explicitly in the Holy Quran or sunnah. These are of two types:
- Incisive principles of reasoning: rational principles that are based on logic; for example, oppression is evil and justice is good.
- General rules derived from the Holy Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad, such as, no harm is allowed in Islam, and everything is considered lawful until a prohibition is ascertained. This general principle is applied in situations where the jurist does not find a proof in the Quran or Sunnah on the prohibition of something, hence it is deemed lawful.
The process of implementing the general principles requires excessive efforts and higher qualifications that require many years of studying various Islamic sciences. After completing all of these studies, a person reaches the status of mujtahid or jurist which is the level at which one has the ability to deduce Islamic laws and render religious rulings/edicts. It is only reasonable that the ordinary person would emulate one of these accomplished jurists because they are not qualified to deduce religious laws themselves. The jurist who fulfills a specific set of requirements established by Islam, in addition to those mentioned above, is emulated by ordinary people and is called a marja.