"The messenger of God has set a good example for those among you
who seek God and the Last Day, and constantly think about God"
This glorious Quranic verse has been very badly manipulated by those who wish to find any justification for upholding the sunna of the messenger. And since the Quran states clearly that the only sunna is the sunna of God (33:62, 35:43 and 48:23), hence their need to manipulate a number of Quranic words to make premises for the hadith and sunna. The words in 33:21 are one such example.
According to the hadith advocates, they interpret the words in 33:21 which state that the messenger has set a good example for the believers, to mean that all believers must follow everything he did! This includes all his actions from the way he observed his prayers and other rituals, up to his personal habits such as: which hand he used to eat with, how long he grew his beard, with which foot he entered the toilet, how he blew his nose in the morning and even whether he urinated standing up or seated! Obviously this is not the message of 33:21 nor for that reason why God sends His messengers or what God wants us to learn from His messengers! Needless to say, when we read the words in 33:21 we find a totally different message to the one they preach.
The hadith followers always quote the words "usswaton hasana" (good example) from 33:21 yet they totally disregard the rest of the verse. When we consider all the words in 33:21 we find that God tells us that the prophet has set a good example in specifically two matters, they are:
1- The messenger has set a good example for those who "seek God and the Last Day".
2- The messenger has set a good example for those who "constantly think about God".
As a result, God is very specific in telling us in what capacity did the messenger set a good example. He did not set an example in everything he has ever done, nor should he be followed blindly as a person, but he set an example in specifically those two matters.
Consequently, we should also "seek God and the Last Day, and constantly think about God".
We do not need volumes upon volumes of fabricated tales from the likes of Abu Huraira or others to be able to seek God and the last day nor to constantly think of God.
But that is not all. The Quran continues to provide us with solid confirmation that the good example (usswaton hasana) set by the messenger is related specifically to the context given in the Quran.
Let us look at the following Quranic verse:
“You have been given in Abraham and those with him a “usswaton hasana” (good example) when they said to their people, "We disown you and the idols that you worship besides God. We denounce you, and you will see nothing from us except animosity and hatred until you believe in God alone." 60:4
“You have in them a “usswaton hasana” (good example) for those who seek God and the Last Day.” 60:6
From the above Quranic words we are able to derive the following key issues:
1- The same phrase “usswaton hasana” (good example) which is used in 33:21 in connection with Muhammad is used in 60:4 and 60:6 in connection with Abraham and those with him.
2- In 60:4 and 60:6 God gives us the exact context of how Abraham and those with him have set a good example, that being; in denouncing the idol worshippers and their deeds, and also in seeking God and the last day. This is identical in context to 33:21 where God gives us the exact context of how Muhammad had set a good example, that being; in seeking God and the last day, and in constantly thinking about God. Similarly
3- A very significant observation in 60:4 is in the words “laqad kana lakum” which mean: you have been given. The word “you” addresses all readers of the quran, which includes us today. What this means is that Abraham and those who were with him have set a good example for all readers of the Quran. And since we do not have any hadith and sunna for Abraham, let alone those who were with him, thus the good example can only be derived from the context given in the Quran (good example in seeking God and the last day .. etc).
4- Ultimately, if the phrase “usswaton hasana” in 33:21 constitutes a lawful duty on us to follow the hadith and sunna which are attributed to Muhammad (as the hadith advocates claim), then the same phrase in 60:4-6 necessitates that we should also dig up any tales or stories about Abraham and his followers and copy their sunna!
5- The words “and those with him (Abraham)” indicate that God is speaking about normal believers among the followers of Abraham, and not the sons of Abraham. When God speaks in the Quran about Abraham’s offspring, who were also prophets (Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob), God always refers to them by name. Examples are found in 1:125, 2:132, 2:140, 4:163, 12:38. The prophet sons of Abraham are never referred to in the Quran as “those with him”. So what does this phrase “those with him” tell us?
Well we note that God says that “those with him” (ordinary believers) have also set a good example for us. This provides even further conclusive evidence that the phrase “usswaton hasana” (good example) is not an invitation for us to follow the hadith or sunna of anyone. Otherwise we must also follow the hadith and sunna of the ordinary folk who were with Abraham!
6- The words in 60:4 and 60:6 also confirm that any good believer who observes the righteous deeds spoken of in these verses will also set a good example and not just Abraham and those with him or Muhammad (as in 33:21). Therefore if this "good example" can be set by any genuine believer then this diffuses the manner in which the sunni's manipulate 33:21 to imply that we must mimic the prophet Muhammad in all his personal habits and even try to look like him by growing a beard, etc!
To conclude, the good example set by Muhammad (33:21), and by Abraham and those with him (60:4-6) must be understood specifically in the context given in the Quran; that being; in seeking God and the last day, in denouncing idolatry, and in constantly thinking of God.