Far too often I’ve been witness to, and party to, debates that sometimes rage out of control because of differing views about the Sunnah or the correct application thereof. Let’s ignore the irony of that for now and consider what actually gives rise to these debates.
The debates, in my opinion, are always centred around the interpretation of the ahadith being discussed, which is often fuelled by the absence of context within which the actual event related to in the hadith actually took place. What I mean is that we take one hadith, read its meaning or translation, and then expand the scope of the discussion to include other ahadith that relate to different but similar events and then insist that they must be considered as a whole.
So the question for me is really simple. If such consideration was demanded, would the Prophet (SAW) not have provided such comprehensive guidance to the companions (RA) at the time of giving them the advice or instructions as contained in the hadith in question? Would we not have received specific instructions, like we do with so many other issues, that confirm when one revelation abrogates another, or when one practice is no longer allowed because its time had passed?
This all reminds me of the hadith where two of the companions (RA) returned from a journey and the one complained to Rasulullah (SAW) that the other had read the full four units of prayer instead of shortening it to two, to which Rasulullah (SAW) replied that both were correct in what they did. Isn’t that confirmation that variations in practices or the Sunnah, except where specifically and clearly forbidden in the Qur’an or Ahadith, is entirely acceptable?
If I am mistaken or misguided, please correct me. But I often wonder how much of the problems of the Ummah is related to our excessive questioning and over analysis of the Sunnah which obviously breeds more intolerance and divisions rather than uniting us through the beauty and simplicity of Islam?