Like Hadith 1, this hadith is one of the most important hadiths. Imam Nawawi said it should be memorized by every Muslim.
This hadith is used as a criterion for judging external actions or performance of Ibadah. If an action is not done in accordance with the Shariah or the Sunnah of the Prophet [S], it will be rejected and not accepted by Allah based on text of this hadith. This hadith complements Hadith 1, which was a criterion for judging the intentions or the internal actions of the heart. The Scholars say that the acceptance of actions of Ibadah is based on the above two conditions:
The intention – the action should be done with sincerity, for the sake of only Allah.
It should be done in accordance with the Sunnah of the Prophet [S].
Apart from Hadith 1 and Hadith 5, the acceptance of actions can also be found in Surah Al-Kahf (18): ayat 110:
Whoever looks forward to meeting his Sustainer (on Day of Judgment), let him do righteous deeds, and let him not ascribe unto anyone or anything a share in the worship due to his Sustainer.
Emulating and following the Prophet [S], is a Qur’anic obligation. Allah, the Almighty says:
Verily, in the apostle of God you have the best example to emulate for everyone who looks forward (with hope and awe) to Allah and the Last Day, and remembers Allah unceasingly. [Surah Al-Ahzab (33): ayat 21].
Say (O Prophet): “If you love Allah, follow me, (and) Allah will love you and forgive you your sins.
This hadith is related to a very important concept which is following the Sunnah and violating this concept will lead to bida’ah [which will be discussed in detail, insha Allah, in Hadith 28].
Scholars classify actions of the Prophet [S], into actions done for the purpose of Ibadah (worshiping Allah) and actions which are not done for that purpose (i.e. customs, actions done haphazardly, etc.). There are clear indicators for actions done for the purpose of Ibadah such as commands to do or not to do something, warnings for not doing something, etc.
Muslims are only obliged to follow the first kind of Sunnah.
Looking at it in a positive way, the actions (i.e.forms of ibadah) that we do should be done in accordance with the Shariah or the Sunnah of the Prophet [S], and to ensure this, there is a criterion consisting of five aspects that will keep our actions in check:
Any ibadah that we do has to be done in its designated or specified time. E.g. There are fixed times in the day for the five prayers. For fasting, the month for fasting is Ramadan. The period that we can fast is from fajr to sunset. Similarly, there is a specific time in the year when we can perform the Hajj – from the 8 to the 12 Thul – hijjah.
The Shariah has specified that certain ibadahs have to be performed in designated places. E.g. The places for performing the Hajj, I’tikaf, doing Ihram for Hajj have been fixed by the Shariah and this is something which is sometimes violated by Muslims, e.g. doing the Ihram (starting talbiyyah and niyyah for Hajj) in Jeddah is incorrect.
For most of the ibadahs the Shariah has specified a certain number of times that the ibadahs or their components need to be performed. E.g. For prayers, there are specified number of rakaahs and sujud and for Tawaf there is a fixed number of rounds (7), etc. We should not violate these rules intentionally. To violate intentionally may make the ibadah subject to be rejected.
Every ibadah was described or shown to us by the Prophet, – being our best model to follow and emulate. The way that the ibadahs are performed by him have to be followed – it should not be violated. E.g. There are different ways of performing different prayers – Salat ul-Janazah has no ruku’ or sujud. Even the size of the stones used for throwing at the Jamrat has been specified by the Prophet, , as not to be too big.
Before we perform any ibadah, we should know and learn the way the Prophet, , performed it and we should do it in the right way as he did it. The Prophet, , said, “Pray as you have seen me praying.” Many Muslims today violate the way ibadahs are performed, because of ignorance or because they do not bother to learn, and they end up doing the ibadah in the wrong way.
If the Shariah has specified a type of ibadah, then we should stick to that type. E.g. Al-Udhiah (sacrifice) – the type of animal to be sacrificed has been specified by the Shariah and this should [Type text] not be violated. Recently a Sheikh in one of the Muslim countries made a fatwa that Muslims can use chicken as sacrifice – this is a violation of the type. If a Muslim cannot afford to offer a sacrifice, then they don’t have to do it as it is not a wajib (i.e. an obligation). In certain years, some of the Sahabahs (companions) purposely did not perform the sacrifice so that the people did not think that it was a wajib.
A clear distinction should be made about the actions of the Prophet [S], – whether they were done only from time to time or whether they were done continuously on a regular basis. For example, some of the nawafil are things which he would do from time to time. We should observe this. E.g. Certain Surahs being recited on certain days – it is narrated that the Prophet [S], would sometimes recite Surah As-Sajdah (32) and Surah Al-Insan (76) on Fridays. But some Muslims would recite these two Surahs every Friday. We should be aware of this because if we do something regularly people will think that it is wajib even though it is not.
If the Prophet [S], did something only from time to time, then we too should do it from time to time, especially when we do it in congregation.
As it has been mentioned above, the actions of the Prophet [S], were done for different purposes. There were actions which he would do [not for the purpose of ibadah]. There are things he would do because of the custom of that time. These actions were not done by the Prophet [S], for the purpose of ibadah. We too should not do these actions for ibadah – our intentions should match the intentions of the Prophet [S]. The following are some examples:
At the time of the Prophet [S], the men used to have long hair – it was not done for the purpose of ibadah. So if anyone wants to keep long hair today, it should not be done for ibadah.
The Prophet [S] used to open the top buttons of his shirt – this was because it was hot and not because for the purpose of ibadah.
The turban, at the time of the Prophet [S] was worn because it was the custom then.
Some hadiths mention the Prophet [S] using a stick. Again this was not done for the purpose of ibadah.