Whoever deals with the Sunnah (Prophetic tradition) should have knowledge of both Hadith (Prophetic sayings) and fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), so that he or she would be able to understand the texts and derive from them legal rulings, lessons, etc. That is why many scholars have shown much interest in combining these two sciences (Hadith and fiqh). They called those who study the Sunnah to fully comprehend both.
Al-Hasan Al-Basri (died AH 110) remarked, “For a person whose fiqh is not [like] an instinct of him, even much narration of hadiths would not be of avail.” `Abdullah ibn Al-Mubarak (died AH 181) was asked, “When can a man give fatwa?” He replied, “If he is well-aware of traditions and well-versed in reasoning.”
Importance of Fiqh to the Muhaddith
Hadiths need knowledgeable scholars who realize how significant the hadiths are, understand their objectives, and put each in its right context. Those scholars should also be able to distinguish the abrogating texts from the abrogated ones, the absolute from the restricted, the ones attached to certain occasions from the general ones, and the legal rulings of the case in question from the general rulings.
Not every hadith is to be treated according to its literal wording because much error can occur. Therefore, a Muhaddith (scholar of Hadith) should learn fiqh to know what to take or leave from hadiths and what rulings are suitable to be derived from them and what are not. Ibn Abi Layla (died AH 82 or 83) said, “A man is not [proved as] having full understanding of a hadith until he is able to take [the required suitable rulings] from it or [proves] that this [hadith] has nothing to do with certain rulings.”
`Abdur-Rahman ibn Mahdi (died AH 198) said, “Mind that a man cannot be an imam unless he knows what is to be held as good and what is not, so that he may not advance everything as proof, and unless he knows the requirements of the science [in question].” The phrase what is to be held as good refers to what is appropriate to be advanced as proof.
That is why `Abdullah ibn Wahb (died AH 197) used to show hadiths to Imam Malik ibn Anas (died AH 179) and Imam Al-Layth ibn Sa`d (died AH 175) to know what was applicable and what was not. He said, “Were it not for Malik and Al-Layth, I would have been ruined. I used to think that everything that is ‘attributed’ to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is [obligatorily] applicable.”
In this regard, he also remarked, “I met three hundred and sixty scholars, but had it not been for Malik and Al-Layth, I would have gone astray in knowledge.” He was asked, “How was that?” He replied, “I learned many hadiths, and I got confused. So, I showed them to Malik and Al-Layth, and they would tell me what to take and what to leave.”
Abu Nu`aym Al-Fadl ibn Dukayn (died AH 218), Al-Bukhari’s sheikh, said, “I used to visit Zufar ibn Al-Hudhayl [a Hanafi jurist who died AH 158] and he would say to me, ‘Come, so I would check over what you have heard.'” He also said, “I used to show hadiths to Zufar and he would say, ‘This is abrogating and this is abrogated; this is applicable and this is rejected.'”
Having been aware of the importance of fiqh to Hadith, the scholars of Hadith used to ask the scholars of fiqh about the meanings of hadiths. Exemplifying this integration between the scholars of the two disciplines, Abu Hanifah (died AH 150) said, “A person who studies Hadith without paying attention to fiqh is like a pharmacist who collects medicines without knowing the diseases they cure until a physician decides this. Likewise, a student of Hadith would not know the indication of the hadith with which he [or she] is dealing until a scholar of fiqh decides this.”
For this reason, many imams encourage the students of Hadith to make their studies based on fiqh. They encourage them not to focus only on how many ways the hadiths have been transmitted or how accurate the chains of transmission are.
Malik ibn Anas said to his nephews Abu Bakr and Isma`il (sons of Abu `Uwayss), “You like this discipline [memorizing Hadith], don’t you?” “Yes,” they replied. He said, “If you want to gain its [very] benefit, memorize a little from it and pay more attention to understanding the content.”
Abu Ya`qub Ishaq ibn Al-Husayn Al-Harbi said, “I said to Abu `Abdullah Ahmad ibn Hanbal [died AH 241], ‘How far should a man record hadiths so that he would feel satisfied?’ He said, ‘O Ishaq, serving Hadith is harder than pursuing it.’ I asked, ‘And how should it be served?’ He answered, ‘By deeply thinking it over.'”
Giving Preference to a Faqih’s Narration
It is well known among scholars that the narration of a faqih (scholar of fiqh) is given preference over that of others in case of contradiction. Al-Khatib Al-Baghdadi (died AH 463) noted, “[As far as the hadiths are concerned] it is preferable that their narrators be scholars of fiqh because they care more than others for the jurisprudential rulings.”
Sufyan ibn Sa`id Ath-Thawri (died AH 161) said, “Take what is lawful and what is prohibited from the famous scholars of the science [of fiqh], and take other than this from other scholars.”
However, this does not mean that a narration of a scholar who is not specialized in fiqh is to be rejected. Rather, this means that preference or priority is given to one of two narrations that seemingly appear contradictory based on certain criteria. One of the criteria is whether the narrators of one of the two narrations are scholars of fiqh, especially if the hadith is narrated according to meaning (not wording). Scholars of fiqh are more aware than others of the meanings and indications of words.
Besides, if a Muhaddith is not well-versed in fiqh, does not know the fundamental rules of Shari`ah sciences, and does not understand the ways of deduction and derivation of rulings, he would blunder.
Importance of Hadith to a Faqih
Just as a Muhaddith should learn fiqh and fundamental rules of Shari`ah sciences, a faqih should learn Hadith and study the principles of acceptance, rejection, and Jarh and Ta`dil (rules of investigating the reliability of the narrators of hadith). The reasoning of a faqih should not be based on unsound or faulty information, and his fatwas should not involve any sin or bid`ah (innovation in religion).
That is why whenever a hadith was shown to the imams of fiqh and they were not sure of its wording or authenticity, they would ask the imams of Hadith about it, so that they would decide whether to base their opinions on it.
Imam Ash-Shafi`i (died AH 204) would say to Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, “Does this hadith have a strong chain of transmitters? And is it recorded (by you or others)?” If the answer was in the affirmative, he would make the hadith a source of derivation of jurisprudential rulings and base his opinion on it. In many cases, Ash-Shafi`i would make a jurisprudential ruling contingent on the authenticity of the hadith in question if its authenticity was not clear to him.
A student of fiqh may indulge for the most part in memorizing the jurisprudential rulings and ascribing them to the imams who derived them. Then he or she neglects understanding the relevant texts or paying attention to their recording or investigating whether they are accepted or rejected. Such a person actually deals with a branch of Shari`ah with little or no knowledge of it. This person’s ignorance can be easily exposed by the scholars of fiqh.
A person who deals with the Sunnah should fully understand the fundamentals of both Hadith and fiqh, so that he or she would be rightfully qualified to draw out correct rulings and fatwas. This will also help the student appreciate the spirit of Islamic legislation and its sublime objectives. In this way, he or she would not be susceptible to misinterpretation of texts or issuance of baseless rulings. Fiqh is a branch of Hadith, and Hadith is the basis on which fiqh is established, so they are indispensable to each other. And Allah knows best.