What’s your evidence

This is a question sometimes posed by Muslims to other Muslims regarding a certain action performed – usually in prayer.  The questioner is trying to ascertain which hadith you have based your action on – often because they are trying to posit that your action is wrong.  One of the problems we have as an ummah is that there are a group of people always trying to undermine the actions of others and whilst deep down their intentions are good i.e. to keep the religion pure and safe from deviation, their methodology itself and the way they go about doing things is often itself deviant and inconsistent with the way of the Prophet (SAW) and those of the early generations.

Before we get into the detail, it’s often where the devil is found, let us start by asking some basic questions.

Q1. How do you learn how to pray?

A1. From others.  Put simply, our religion is one based on knowledge and that knowledge is passed down i.e. we acquire knowledge, but it is rarely (at least initially) from books.  No one in the history of Islam has taken their understanding of religion primarily from books.

Q2. When do you learn how to pray?

A2. This question may have preceded the former.  You are likely to learn how to pray at one of three stages in your life:  1) as a child – if born into a Muslim household; 2) as a young adult – when you realise that you have forgotten most of what you learnt as a child and want to start practising Islam; 3) as an adult – when you convert to Islam.

Q3. How do we authenticate our prayer?

A3. This is the crux of the matter.  As a child, we are likely to learn from our parents and if not them, a madressah (supplementary school).  At this stage there is no concept of questioning because you are at the sponge stage and soaking up what you are taught.  No one would conceive of giving a child a book on how to pray and say to them, “Here Johnny, teach yourself how to pray,”  The child is going to learn by watching you pray or you showing them how to pray.

As adults we may have forgotten this stage, but anyone with a child will know that the child will listen to you and observe you and copy you – the next thing you know they are praying by themselves.  As adults, things are slightly different because we can read and we want to often learn by ourselves.  We have an idea of the basics from childhood and set about trying to remind ourselves how to do it.  In our time, it is probably via the internet and often this is where problems start.  If you google “how to pray in Islam”, you are going to get different versions of how to pray.  A person who is interested in Islam will often read books or a translation of the Quran and if they have a friend (or a teacher) they will learn from them or try to self-learn and again it can lead to issues.  I will return to this subject at the end.

Q4. How many ways did the Prophet (SAW) pray?

A4. Although the form of the prayer was consistent, there may have been nuances to the way he (SAW) prayed, but let us work on the understanding that there was one way the Prophet (SAW) prayed – if so, why do I see people praying in different ways and why are there sometimes conflicting descriptions on how to pray?

Q5. The prayer described.

A5. Generally the prayer is split into different parts.  That which is a pillar of the prayer i.e. without it there is no prayer e.g. bowing, prostrating.  That which is a Sunnah i.e. missing it would call for a prostration of forgetfulness e.g.  reciting the duah of qunoot.  That which is a manner of the prayer i.e. missing it does not require any action to be taken e.g. raising the hands during prayer, where to put the hands in prayer, how to sit in the prayer etc.

The pillars of the prayer are very rarely contested because of the vast number of observations of how the Prophet (SAW) prayed.  There are variations regarding what may require the prostration of forgetfulness, but the vast majority of differences we see are on the manners of the prayer, meaning they don’t affect the basis of the prayer.

Q6. To raise my hands or not?

A6. The simple answer is that if your teacher teaches you to raise your hands, you do so, and if they don’t, then you don’t.

Q7. How do I know that my teacher is right?

A7. The question isn’t whether your teacher is right or not, but the question is whether they have the right to be your teacher.  This issue often arises for adults whether they be converts or born Muslim.  You go into a mosque and perhaps you see someone wearing the “Islamic” garb and assume they know about Islam, or people in the mosque start volunteering their advice to you.  This is not how to learn Islam.  You need to find teachers who have studied with teachers, who have taken this religion from teachers back to the early generations of Muslims.

Q8. I have a qualified teacher now, but how do I know if I should be raising my hands or not?

A8. It all comes down to the evidence.

Q9. So what is the evidence and how do I find it?

A9. If you have a qualified teacher, you don’t need to know the evidence.  The reason for this is simply that if you are asking what the evidence is, you are probably not at a level to understand it.  The main scholars from where our current day religious practices originate fall within four broad methodological and analytical schools; Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi and Hanbali.  Each school boasts hundreds of top level scholars over the past 1200 years whose purpose was to pass on knowledge of how the Prophet (SAW) prayed and lived his life and the legal rulings relating to all of this.  These were highly skilled and very pious academics who went to the primary texts – Quran and Hadith – as well as a host of secondary texts and by using various tools of legal reasoning wrote down a formula for us to follow.  The fact that these scholars, working from the same pool of resources, differed demonstrates that because you read a hadith stating one thing it doesn’t mean it leads to act upon it.  There are sciences dedicated to this subject with voluminous works written, thus requiring a high standard of education to understand.

Q10. I still don’t understand – because the Prophet (SAW) either raised his hands, or he didn’t.  Which one was it?

A10. An answer to the question from the Hanafi perspective can be found by clicking here, a summary of which I shall now attempt.  There is a specific hadith from Ibn Umar saying that he saw the Prophet (SAW) raise his hands at the time of bowing, this hadith is found in the authentic hadith books of Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim.  Ibn Umar is the son of Umar ibn al-Khattab and is a prolific hadith narrator and someone upon whom Imam Malik relies very heavily.  Based upon this hadith, Imam Shafi states that the correct way to pray is to raise the hands.  So why do the Hanafis and Malikis not do so?  The Hanafis state other hadith e.g. from Abdullah ibn Masud where he demonstrated the prayer to another person and it was narrated that he “did not raise his hands, except at the initial takbeer”, these are found in hadith collections outside of Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim’s collections.  The Hanafis also state that there are further narrations of how the Prophet (SAW) prayed and the narrators do not mention him raising the hands, nor do they say he didn’t raise his hands.

The hadith dealing with this issue therefore fall into 3 categories:

(1) those which confirm raising,

(2) those which negate raising and

(3) those which are silent on the issue.

The scholars from the Hanafi school therefore went into looking at the hadith in question and decided that the hadith which negate raising and those which don’t mention raising outweigh those that confirm raising – in number, despite the hadith confirming raising being found in the most authentic hadith collection.  The Malikis also used the hadith of Abdullah ibn Masud not to raise the hands but the distinguishing feature was the practice of the people of Madinah where Imam Malik observed the people did not raise their hands in prayer.  As they were the people where the Prophetic legacy was left he felt they were more likely to still be practising the religion in the same way.

This is a rudimentary offering to highlight – not who is right or wrong – but that this issue is not as black and white as people make out.  Each one of the 4 schools will have their own evidences and methodology, each has been around for over 1000 years and each has had the highest calibre of scholarship for 10 centuries.  It would be foolhardy to think that someone in our time or in later times can say that the Prophet (SAW) specifically did one thing or didn’t.

We have only touched the surface here with one issue and simplified it as much as possible. Multiply this by every action in the prayer and then ask yourself how you could possibly know all the evidences unless you have reached a very high level of scholarship.

To conclude:

In a traditional Islamic syllabus one does not study where the evidences are derived from until perhaps 7 years of full-time studies.  Very few books can be found which will definitively state from where the evidence are derived, because it takes a high level of scholarship and this is not for the ordinary joe.

Is our religion elitist?  No, but like with anything – you need to earn your stripes.  If we have studied our religion from suitably qualified teachers, our practices will be sound and rewardable.  We will not be held to account because we have put our trust in qualified persons – imagine questioning the heart surgeon performing your by-pass when you have no knowledge of medicine?  Even a GP who has general knowledge of medicine doesn’t question the specialist – in fact who refers you to the specialist?  It is the GP!  Why in our religion, which is our source of salvation, do we seek guidance from the person who has little to no knowledge?  Just because someone knows more than you – it doesn’t make them your teacher in this religion.

Step 1  – Find a qualified teacher and learn your religion – the basics of purification and prayer can be learned quickly – Lote Tree can help with this, please WhatsApp or email us.

Step 2 – If you are asked for evidence as to why you do a particular action, don’t feel like you should know or you are doing something wrong by not knowing.  The questioner is likely to be a mere novice in the religion to be asking such a question.

Step 3 – Don’t get hung up on the form of the prayer, concentrate on the inner reality of your prayer.  The prayer is about your connection to Allah and that is about the state of your heart rather than the outward form of your worship.

Step 4 – Realise that this religion has 1400 years of intense scholarship and you won’t learn it in one year.

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