Doubt: What is your answer to what Imam al-Subki said regarding a person who comes across an authentic hadith that no one has acted upon, is it permissible to act upon it? He is quoted as saying that you should imagine yourself standing infront of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), would you then delay in implementing this hadith?
Answer: The above scenario is regarding someone who heard a hadith on an issue directly from the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace), as for us: our situation is different as we in our time may come across two hadith on a single issue which outwardly appear to conflict, such as the hadith reported by Muslim (90):
“Perform wudu from that which touches the fire”
And then we come across the hadith that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) ate a bone with meat which had been cooked, and prayed without performing wudu as reported by al-Bukhari (1:310)
Two Outwardly Conflicting Hadith And the Third Hadith Which Explains Them: The narrators of the first hadith mentioned above who were Zaid bin Thabit and Abu Hurayrah clearly heard the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) saying: “Perform wudu from that which touches the fire” and the narrators of the second hadith who were Ibn Abbas, Amr al-Damri, Maimunah, Abu Rafi all witnessed the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) eating meat that had touched fire, and stood up for prayer without making wudu.
Each of both set of narrators are not permitted to delay in implementing that which they saw just as Imam al-Subki stated, however what do those who came after them who possess knowledge of both hadith do? There is no doubt that such a person investigates and looks for other evidences which explain the apparent conflict in meaning between these two hadith, such as the hadith of Jabir reported by Abu Dawud (192) and al-Nasai (185) that:
“From amongst the final matters of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) was the leaving of reperforming wudu for that which was touched by the fire.”
The companion will act on one of these two hadith, but without the knowledge of the other hadith, or with his knowledge of it- as a companion may have had it narrated to him- but without his witnessing it, so he will give preference to what he witnessed over what is reported to him.
Ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) witnessed the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) eating 3 bites/mouthfuls of meat then pray without reperfoming wudu, and when Abu Hurairah narrated to him the hadith “Perform wudu from that which has touched fire” he did not act upon it, due to his acting on that which he witnessed, giving preference to it to what heard through an intermediary source.
A Companion Places Trust in the Opinion of Other Companions Even Though Outwardly it Appears to Differ With a Hadith: Similar to this in meaning is that which is reported by Imam Ahmad in Musnad (1:252) and al-Tahawi in Sharh Maani al-Athar (2:189) that Urwah bin al-Zubair said to Ibn Abbas:
“You have misguided the people O Ibn Abbas!
He said: How is that O Urayyah?
He said: You have given fatwa to the people that if they perform tawaf of the house (Kaaba) they have exited from their ihram, whilst Abu Bakr and Umar would come to the Hajj reciting the talbiyah, and they continued to be in the state of ihram till the day of Nahr.
Ibn Abbas said: I have misguided them by this? I narrate to you from the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) and you narrate to me from Abu Bakr and Umar!!
Urwah said: Abu Bakr and Umar (Allah be pleased with them both) were more knowledgeable about the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) than you’.”
The wording of the narration in al-Musnad is:
“They were closer in the following and more knowledgeable of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) than you.”
The Followers of Madhabs Are Following the Approach of the Companions: Urwah gave preference to what Abu Bakr and Umar said despite Ibn Abbas having a direct proof from the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace). In this is our answer to those who call us to leave the fiqh of Abu Hanifah, or Malik etc in its totality or on a particular issue and call us to follow the stronger evidence or the research of such and such scholar, as there is no comparison between the scholars of the madhahib and you. Was Urwah fanatically following a scholar despite having a direct proof? Of course not! He simply stated exactly that which the hanafi’s state, namely that the hanafi scholars must have had a basis for their ruling, as they had vast knowledge of the hadith and did not act upon the hadith for a reason.
The Madhab Scholars Following the Hadith and Leaving the Position of the Madhab is Possible for the One Qualified: It is true that the statement of the Imams of the madhab to leave their school and follow the hadith can be put in to practice, but this is only when the research scholar is qualified for this position- the position of giving preference between the proofs of the Mujtahid Imams-along with justice, this is the pride of fiqh and Islam, and how can it not be when it has occurred with many of the latter day scholars such as al-Nawawi, Ibn al-Salah, al-Izz Ibn Abd al-Salam, Ibn Taymiyyah, Ibn al-Qayyim, Taqi al-Subki and Ibn al-Hummam until our day.
Even Imam al-Kawthari who was accused by some of fanaticism for the Hanafi madhab in his al-Maqalat (p.200-215) left the opinion of Imam Abu Hanifah on an issue saying:
“There are issues in which Abu Hanifah followed the likes of Shuraih and al-Nakhai without attempting to strive to know the evidence for their opinion, but if the truth becomes clear and the proof becomes apparent different to this opinion then it is not correct to attribute it to his ijtihad.”
And this is also the case Allamah Zafar Ahmad al-Uthmani who left the dominant opinion of the hanafi madhab in a number of places in his book Ilaa al-Sunan along with his adherence to the Hanafi madhab, but his leaving the dominant position was after his making extensive research, and not just by coming across a hadith without undertaking exhaustive research It is unfortunate that some people who claim to follow a madhab and follow the evidence do not go to the depths that these scholars went to examine if the position of the madhab was weak or not.