Single-narrator hadîth abrogating a verse of the Qur’ân or bringing a new ruling

Can an authentic hadîth abrogate the ruling of the Qur’ân? Can an authentic hadîth add something new to the ruling of the Qur’ân? If yes, please give examples for each of these. 

Answered by
Sheikh Ahmad al-Rashîd
Many people of knowledge accept that the Sunnah can abrogate something from the Qur’an, even if this Sunnah is established only by single-narrator hadîth.

One example of this is where Allah says: “If any of your women are guilty of lewdness, take the evidence of four (reliable) witnesses from amongst you against them; and if they testify, confine them to houses until death claims them or Allah ordains for them some (other) way.”

This verse tells us that a woman who is guilty of lewdness has to be confined in her home until she dies or until Allah offers her another means. This verse is abrogated by the hadîth in which the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Do as I am telling you, do as I am telling you: Allah has made them a way out; if unmarried, he receives one hundred lashes and exile for one year. If he is married, he is entitled to one hundred lashes and stoning.” [Sahîh Muslim (4414)]

Another example of a single-narrator hadîth abrogating a ruling from the Qur’an is the verse that says: “Say: ‘I find not in the message received by me by inspiration any (meat) forbidden to be eaten by one who wishes to eat it, unless it be dead meat.”

The ruling of this verse is abrogated by the hadîth “I forbid each fanged predatory animal and each bird of prey” [Sahîh Muslim(4994)]

A Sunnah may add new ruling to a certain ruling in Qur’ân or even bring a completely new ruling altogether. This matter has been discussed by scholars in detail. This is the principle of the independence of the Sunnah as a source of legislation. There is considerable evidence for this principle:

1. The infallibility of the Prophet (peace be upon him).

2. The numerous verses in the Qur’an declaring the validity of Sunnah whether it confirms what is mentioned in Qur’an, explains it, or brings something on its own.

3. Actual events. Many rulings were applied that were only derived from Sunnah. Had it been invalid, Muslims would not accept and apply them in their practical life. Some of these rulings are:

a. The grandmother’s share in estate. It is authentic that the Prophet (peace be upon him) allocated the sixth for the grandmother. [Sunan Abî Dâwûd (2894) and Sunan al-Tirmidhî(2100)]

b. The rule of preemption (shuf’ah) in jointly owned property. The Prophet (peace be upon him) applied this principle on undifferentiated joint property. [Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim]

c. Invalidity of a man marrying a woman and her aunt together. [Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim]

d. Forbidding the flesh of donkeys [Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim]

These are but a small sampling of rulings of this kind that were accepted and applied by the Muslims during the lifetime of the Prophet (peace be upon him), in the era of the Companions, and throughout the ages. Innumerable rulings were derived only from Sunnah that were never mentioned in the Qur’ân.

For more details see Hujiyyah al-Sunnah by Dr. `Abd al-Ghanî `Abd al-Khâliq.

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