What is right after all?
Why should we
act upon the
Mufti Muhammad Qasim Attari
Seeing Muslims connected to and admiring their religion of Islam makes for a discomforting sight for some. Equally disturbing in the eyes of such people is the fact that many Muslims act upon the teachings of their faith despite all the widespread temptations in society. Amongst the methods employed to reduce the influence of Islam on Muslims is to distance them from religion in the name of religion itself. This can happen in various ways. One example of this is the tactic used by liberal scholars who are overawed by the West and praise its culture. To turn people away from acting upon the Sunnah and recommended acts (Mustahabbat), they claim: ‘Because people are becoming detached from religion, we are creating ease for them. By doing so, we are bringing people closer to religion. As acting upon the Sunnah is difficult, we only speak about what is compulsory (Fard) and necessary (Wajib). We do not mention the importance of the Sunnah in matters of worship and other aspects of life.’
There are two things to note in response to this flawed claim. The first is that if a person declares Sunnah acts to be as important as a Fard or Wajib, then he is mistaken. For example, eating and drinking whilst seated is Sunnah; offering the Taraweeh Salah is Sunnah; the units (Rak’aat) of prayer that are offered before and after the Fard in Salah are Sunnah or optional (Nafl), except in the case of the Witr. Anyone who declares these things to be necessary (Wajib) is mistaken, although this is a separate issue altogether. However, another thing to consider is the following: should we be teaching people the Sunnah and encouraging them to act upon it, or should no importance be given to the Sunnah at all? These are issues that require addressing. People with vast knowledge of Islam who also have a deep understanding of the faith and look up to its predecessors assert that this thinking of liberal scholars is a major factor contributing to their misunderstanding of Islam’s aims and objectives.
Encouraging people to act upon the Sunnah of the Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم is significant from many aspects. The first point to understand is that the fundamental reason for a Muslim to act upon the Sunnah is because Allah Almighty gave the command to follow the Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم. The Almighty stated:
قُلْ اِنْ كُنْتُمْ تُحِبُّوْنَ اللّٰهَ فَاتَّبِعُوْنِیْ
Say you, O Beloved; that '(O) people! If you love Allah, you should therefore obey me. 
Allah Almighty has also stated:
وَّ اتَّبِـعْ سَبِیْلَ مَنْ اَنَابَ اِلَیَّۚ-
‘And follow the path of the one who has turned to Me.’
The Prophet صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم turned to Allah Almighty the most. We should follow him without any restrictions, which includes following him in acts that are Fard, Wajib, Sunnah and Mustahab.
Allah Almighty declared the life of the Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم an excellent example. The Almighty states:
لَقَدْ كَانَ لَكُمْ فِیْ رَسُوْلِ اللّٰهِ اُسْوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ
Indeed, for you following the Messenger of Allah is best.
Just as the Fard and Wajib acts are a part of this perfect example, so too are the non-Wajib acts of worship and dealings conducted by the Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم.
The third point to understand is that there is great religious wisdom behind acting upon the Sunnah. This can be partially understood through the fact that in life, we not only carry out the tasks that are necessary, but we also do things that help us do the tasks that are necessary. For example, during our educational life, we also study books that are not part of the syllabus or curriculum. Similarly, not only do we acquire skills that are necessary for our occupation, but we also learn skills related to other professions too. Likewise, to protect ourselves from a greater problem, we also avoid the things that are a preface to it. For instance, we avoid going out in freezing conditions without a jacket to protect ourselves from catching a cold. In terms of our worldly affairs, not only do we try to accomplish our main objectives, but we also go the extra mile. For example, after building a house, we also decorate it by painting it a certain colour and opting for unnecessary embellishments like marble flooring. The point being conveyed is that although some things are not necessary per se, they prevent something bad from occurring, enhance the beauty of things, or aid in completing the tasks that are necessary.
The matter of Sunnahs and Mustahab acts is similar. To understand this, reflect over the following examples. Have you ever heard of an individual who prays the 20 units of Taraweeh Salah but does not pray Isha? Have you ever heard of anyone who offers the Tahajjud prayer or the Sunnah units for Fajr but does not pray the Fard units? Similarly, have you heard of anyone who offers the Sunnah units for any other Salah but leaves out the Fard? You will not find such an individual, because anyone who offers optional Salah will certainly offer the prayers that are necessary. The same applies to other forms of worship, for it is not the case that someone who observes all the optional fasts of Rajab and Sha’ban will miss the compulsory fasts of Ramadan. In short, optional acts of worship bring a person closer to the related compulsory acts of worship.
Human nature dictates that a person who pays attention to small things will pay extra attention to related things that are of greater importance. It is not the case that someone who avoids doubtful things unreluctantly commits things that are definitively haram. This wisdom has been alluded to in the Hadith that states a person grazing his animals near the field of the king will find his animals entering the field. Hence, it is safer to avoid even the boundary of such a thing lest one falls into that which is actually forbidden. Adopting this careful approach will act as a barrier whereby something unprohibited prevents you from accessing that which is prohibited.
At times, it is fascinating how actions that are optional and Mustahab act as a more effective barrier stopping sins than a barrier premised on actions that are necessary. For example, a person may wear a turban—which is a Sunnah of the Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم —or have a shawl over his head—which is the custom of the pious people. Such a person will not go to the pub wearing this attire as it will stop him from doing so. Even if he was to go, he would first leave this Sunnah by changing into shirt and trousers or some other clothing and then go. It is not plausible that a bearded Muslim will wear a turban or topi and go to the pub. Note how a Sunnah and Mustahab act can prevent someone from the impermissible act of going to a pub. Not only this, but we also observe in society that if a bearded shopkeeper with a turban who, suppose, deceives whilst selling goods, people will make remarks like: i) ‘Brother, how can you do such things despite being religious?’ ii) ‘How can you do such things despite having a beard?’ iii) ‘How can you wear a turban and do such things?’
Looking at another example, if a person wearing a turban sits down and converses with people at the time of Salah and does not get up to go and pray, even those who do not pray themselves will say: ‘The azan has taken place and Salah is taking place in congregation. So, go and pray Salah.’ It is almost as if his turban—a Sunnah—is compelling him to pray Salah. What is the takeaway from all these examples? Acts that are Sunnah and Mustahab are perceived by others as a barrier that prevents sin.
Another aspect of acts that are Sunnah is that they beautify righteous deeds. For example, it is compulsory to wear clothing that covers a person from the navel to below the knees. However, to cover the entire body is Sunnah, which also looks more presentable. Likewise, one can eat and drink whilst walking, but eating whilst respectfully seated is more refined. In a similar manner, when meeting someone, a person can start a conversation and get straight to point without offering any respectful greeting. However, this would be considered discourteous. Conversely, initiating a meeting with salaam is Sunnah, and it is also Sunnah to smile if appropriate. Both things add to the amiability of the meeting.
Specific units (Rak’aat) are Fard in Salah, but the Sunnahs in the beginning and end enhance one’s focus in Salah and increase closeness to Allah Almighty. Similarly, Hajj is Fard, but performing Sunnah Umrahs throughout life immerse you in divine love. The Fard fasts of Ramadan are a means of attaining piety, but observing Sunnah fasts from time-to-time throughout the year helps in maintaining this state of piety.
In summary, it is necessary for us to do whatever is Fard and Wajib and to stay away from haram. However, we should not leave out acts of Sunnah in the process. Rather, we should act upon them too as they help us to fulfil and beautify that which is Fard and avoid sins.
 [Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Part 3, Surah Aal Imran, verse 31)
 [Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Part 21, Surah Luqman, verse 15)
 [Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Para. 21, Surah. Al-Ahzaab, verse 21)