Is it okay to act upon a narration which we do not have the sanad [chain of narration] for without thinking that this action is Sunnah, out of caution and with the possibility of it being an actual Hadith?
In Islam, every deed we practice with the expectation of reward needs substantiation. Sometimes the substantiation is clear from (1) a verse of the Quran or (2) an explicit Hadith or (3) the agreement of the Scholars (ijma’). On some occasions the substantiation is general, and is based on (4) analogy (qiyas) on a broader text.
These are the four primary sources for every deed in our Shari’ah.
(The examples below are restricted to number 2 and 4 only.)
For example, One who expects reward for reciting the famous Tasbih Fatimi, has substantiation from the clear Hadith in the Sahihayn (Sahih Bukhari & Sahih Muslim).
On the other hand, one who gifts his neighbour a pair of shoes is rewarded, not because there is a Hadith that specifically mentions a virtue for this particular deed (gifting shoes specifically). Rather the substantiation for this deed is general, and is acquired from the Hadith that encourages being kind to one’s neighbour, which is also in the Sahihayn.
Similarly, if one who has the habit of sending salutations daily upon Nabi (sallallahu’alayhi wasallam) recites the famous Durud Ibrahim as his form of salutations, he has justification from the clear Hadith that prescribes this form of salutation and is therefore rewarded duly.
Furthermore, if one chooses to formulate any other type of salutation from his own side, he will indeed be rewarded for his salutation although that particular wording does not appear in any Hadith.
The question that arises is, that if this particular form does not appear in the Hadith, why is he rewarded?
The answer is that he is rewarded for ‘merely sending salutations’ upon Rasulullah (sallallahu’alayhi wasallam), irrespective of the wording, since there are numerous Hadiths that encourage sending salutations. This is what I mean by ‘general substantiation’.
However in this case, one should not consider these particular words as being from Hadith.
There are two parts to your question:
1. Practicing upon something without attributing it to the sunnah
If there is general substantiation for the deed in question, one may practice upon it with the hope of gaining reward, without attributing it to the Hadith. In this case, there is no reason for -as you say- ‘with the possibility of it being an actual Hadith.’
This ‘possibility’ applies in the next part.
2. Narrations whose chain we cannot locate
Technically, one may not accept a Hadith until its chain is located and then verified. The precaution that you refer to needs justification – which would be the presence of a chain. Precaution cannot be based on thin air, or mere assumption…
However, this also depends on who quoted that particular Hadith as well.
a) For example, if a Mujtahid cites a Hadith, the followers of his madhab may accept the practice it contains even without seeing its chain. This is the case with many issues in fiqh, and is completely acceptable.
b) In non fiqh related issues, there are several Hadiths whose chains may have not reached us, while they were accessible to the Scholars of the past. If the Scholar of the past ruled that chain which he had access to as acceptable, we in our era may rely on that ruling even without seeing the chain, since the purpose of the chain is verification, which is achieved in this case. (See An-Nukat of Ibn Hajar, vol.1 pg.449)
One may not practice on a Hadith without its chain being located and then verified, unless a senior Scholar of the past has already done so.
And Allah Ta’ala Knows best,
Answered by: Moulana Muhammad Abasoomar