Towards a Proper Understanding of the Sunnah

Collecting Hadiths Related to the Same Subject *



By Yusuf Al-Qaradawi The Lawful and Prohibited in Islam, Section:Clothing and Adornment.)

In order to have a correct understanding of the Sunnah, all the authentic hadiths on the same subject must be collected so that the ambiguous among them can be understood in light of the clear, the unrestricted in light of the restricted, and the general in light of the specific. In this way, the intended meanings of hadiths would be clear, and no contradiction would be assumed among them. If it is established that the Sunnah explains the Qur'an, detailing its generalities and clarifying its ambiguities, then the Sunnah, with greater reason, should be referred to for explaining and understanding the Sunnah itself.

We shall take the example of the hadiths reported on dragging the lower garment and the strong warning against doing so, on which some enthusiastic youth depend when they vehemently disapprove of anyone who does not shorten his garment to above the ankles; they almost regard such shortening as one of the major obligations and rituals of Islam. Some of those youth may look down at a Muslim scholar or a caller to Islam and deem him not religious enough only because he does not shorten his garment as they do. If only they refer to all the hadiths related to the issue, understand them in light of one another, and at the same time keep in mind a comprehensive view of Islam's objectives concerning the daily life affairs, they would know the intended meaning of the hadiths, and, therefore, would lighten their excessiveness and would not make hard on people a matter that Allah has eased on them.

Abu Dhar Al-Ghifari narrated that the Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) once said, "Three (kinds of people) will neither be spoken to by Allah on the Day of Resurrection, nor looked at, nor purified (from their sins), and shall receive a painful torment." He repeated that thrice, so Abu Dhar said, "They are failures and losers. Who are they, Messenger of Allah?" The Prophet replied, "Al-musbil (the one dragging his lower garment), the one who is used to reminding people of his generosity towards them, and the one who sells his goods through false swearing" (Muslim).

So what is the meaning of al-musbil here?

Does it refer to anyone who lowers his garment, even if it is the custom of his people and there is no intention of boasting and showing off?

The hadith reported in Al-Bukhari from the narration of Abu Hurairah may be a proof of this viewpoint: "The part of the (body below ankles which is covered by) lower garment is in the Fire."

However, reading all the hadiths on this subject strengthens the opinion held by An-Nawawi, Ibn Hajar, and others that this generalization is subjected to the restriction of doing so in arrogance. Let us read the authentic hadiths reported in this connection:

Al-Bukhari reported under the title "Dragging One's Garment Without Arrogance," from the narration of Ibn `Umar that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, "On the Day of Judgment, Allah will not look at him who drags his robe (behind him) out of pride." Abu Bakr said, "One side of my robe gets loose and falls unless I get very cautious about it." So the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, "You do not do that with arrogance."

In the same chapter, Al-Bukhari reported that Abu Bakrah (may Allah be pleased with him) said, "The solar eclipse occurred while we were sitting with the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). He got up dragging his garment (on the ground) hurriedly until he reached the mosque."

Muslim reported that Ibn `Umar said, "I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) with my own ears saying, "Whoever drags his garment with no intention other than arrogance, Allah will not look at him on the Day of Resurrection." This narration clearly restricts the warning to the intention of arrogance, leaving no room for any other interpretation.

In his commentary on Sahih Muslim, Imam An-Nawawi, a scholar who cannot be accused of overlooking, as he is rather inclined toward strictness, comments on the hadith that mentions the punishment of al-musbil:

As for the Prophet's saying "al-musbil izaruhu," it means the one who lets down his lower garment out of arrogance. This is explained in another hadith that reads, "Allah will not look at him who drags his garment out of arrogance." The phrase "out of arrogance" here serves as a restriction to the general warning against dragging one's garment and indicates that it is meant for only those who do so out of arrogance. Actually, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) gave permission to Abu Bakr As-Siddiq (may Allah be pleased with him) to do so saying that he is not one of those who drag their garments out of arrogance.

Explaining the hadiths reported by Al-Bukhari about the punishment of dragging the garment, Ibn Hajar Al-`Asqalani says in his Fath Al-Bari,

According to these hadiths, dragging the lower garment out of arrogance is a serious sin. As for the dragging without arrogance, the surface meaning of hadiths implies its prohibition too, but restricting the matter to the case of arrogance in some hadiths implies that the generalization of dispraising this act is limited. Therefore, dragging one's garment is not prohibited if it is free of arrogance. The prominent scholar Ibn `Abd Al-Bar says, "The understood meaning is that dragging without arrogance does not entail punishment. Nevertheless, dragging garments is disliked in any case."

This attitude of restricting the dispraised dragging to the cases marked by arrogance is confirmed by the fact that the mentioned punishment in the hadiths is a severe one. It is mentioned that "the dragger" belongs to one of three groups which Allah will neither speak to on the Day of Resurrection, nor look at, nor purify and that the "dragger" shall receive a painful torment. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) even repeats this severe punishment thrice, which made Abu Dhar say "They are failures and losers. Who are they, Messenger of Allah?" This indicates that their doing is one of the ugliest and most grievous sins that violate the necessary interests (al-masalih ad-daruriyah ) that the Shari`ah came to establish and preserve: religion, life, mind, honor, progeny, and property.

However, the mere act of shortening the lower garment is classified as one of the "improvements" (tahsinat) rather than the necessary interests related to manners, proprieties, and complementary things through which life is beautified, tastes are elevated, and noble characters are deepened. By the same token, dragging garments, without any bad intention, is fit to be placed under the category of reprehensible (but not prohibited) matters. Actually, what is religiously more important, and to which utmost care is given, are the intentions underlying outward behavior. In this regard, religion is interested in fighting pride, arrogance, vanity, and suchlike diseases of the hearts and souls which deny one access to Paradise. This strongly confirms the restriction of such a severe punishment to dragging with the intention of arrogance, as indicated by the hadiths.

Besides, the issue of clothing is subjected to people's conventions and traditions, which may vary according to hot and cold weather, richness and poverty, ability and disability, kind of work, standard of living, etc. The Lawgiver (Allah) here eases matters on people and does not intervene except in some extent to prevent manifestations of outward extravagance, inward ingratitude and arrogance, and suchlike behaviors detailed elsewhere. (See The Lawful and Prohibited in Islam, Section:Clothing and Adornment.)

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) says, "Eat, drink, dress, and give charity, but without extravagance or arrogance" (Al-Bukhari).

Ibn `Abbas also said, "Eat whatever you like and wear whatever you like, as long as you keep away from these two: extravagance and arrogance."

Moreover, Ibn Hajar reported that his Sheikh Al-Hafizh Al-`Iraqi said in his explanation of Sunnan At-Tirmidhi,

Letting the garment touch the ground out of arrogance is undoubtedly prohibited and any uncustomary lengthening may be prohibited too. Yet, people became used to lengthening their garments and each group of them may have a special kind of clothing by which they are known. In any case, if dragging the garment is out of arrogance, it is unquestionably prohibited.

Al-Qadi Iyad reported the scholars' opinion that anything uncustomary in dress, be it in length or width, is disliked.

Thus, custom is taken into consideration as Al-Hafiz Al-`Iraqi said. Sometimes, breaking habits makes the person liable to being famous, and clothes of fame are also disliked according to Shari`ah. Goodness, therefore, is in moderation.

Nevertheless, whoever shortens his garment with the intentions of following the Sunnah, staying away from the suspicion of arrogance, and following what is more certain, shall be rewarded for that, Allah willing. But he should not enjoin this on people or exaggerate in criticizing whoever does not shorten his garment and who is convinced with the aforementioned opinions of imams and scholars.

Thus, being satisfied with the outward meaning of one hadith without looking into other hadiths and texts related to its subject often causes one to misunderstand the intended meaning of the hadith.


* Abridged and translated from the author's book Kaifa Nata`amal ma`a As-Sunnah An-Nabawiyah.

Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi is the head of the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR), and the president of The International Association of Muslim Scholars (IAMS). He has been active in the field of Da'wah and the Islamic Movement for more than half a century.