What does Sunnah mean in Islam?

Sunnah refers to the manner of acting. Learn more about the sunnah and hadith in Islam and how to

In Arabic language, the traditional meaning of the word ‘Sunnah’ refers to the manner of acting. Learn more about the sunnah and hadith in Islam and how to differentiate between each one of them.

What is Sunnah in Islam? 

According to Muslim belief, Prophet Muhammad (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) is the best exemplar for all Muslims and all of his traditions and practices constitute the ideal model for Muslims to follow, so what is defined as ‘Sunnah’ is what all the Muslims of Prophet Muhammad’s time (the companions) evidently saw and followed and passed on to the next generations.

Sunnah is what is confirmed of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as all sayings, actions, practices, approvals, and all moral characteristics after he was commissioned as a prophet. Sunnah is considered the second source of knowledge for all Muslims.

What is the importance of Sunnah in Islam?

First of all, the importance of Sunnah is that it explains the Book of Allah, Almighty God (The Creator), and is a commentary on it, then it adds some rulings to those in the Book of Allah.

In the following aya, Allah the Almighty clarifies the purpose of sending the Quran and the Prophet (PBUH) saying:

” وَأَنزَلۡنَآ إِلَيۡكَ ٱلذِّكۡرَ لِتُبَيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ مَا نُزِّلَ إِلَيۡهِمۡ وَلَعَلَّهُمۡ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ(44) ” سورة النحل
“And We sent down to you the Reminder, that you may clarify to mankind what was bestowed upon them from on high, and that they may reflect”.

Quran [16:44]

What is the difference between Hadith and Sunnah?

The difference in terminology among scholars is one of the issues that is usually a difference in wording. That is because terminology results from a scholar choosing a particular word to refer to something; hence when differences occur, the difference is in wording but not in meaning. 

With regard to the issue of differentiating between the words “Sunnah” and “hadith”, we may say that these two words may mean the same thing in some contexts, and may mean different things in other contexts. 

Firstly: places where they mean the same thing . Whatever is narrated from or about the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) of words, actions or approval may be called “hadith” or it may be called “Sunnah.” 

So, the term Sunnah is applied to the Prophet’s (may the peace and blessings of Allah be on him) guidance which is well-established in a general sense in all of his affairs, meaning his path, his methodology and his way. In this context, scholars do not usually use the term “hadith.”

“Hadith” refers to every incident that is attributed to the Prophet (peace be upon him), even if he only did it once in his life, and even if it was narrated from him by only one person. 

With this clarification, hadith is a part of Sunnah, so Sunnah as a whole part includes Hadith as part of Sunnah.

 What are examples of Sunnah?

There are many examples of the Prophet’s sunnah for everyday life, such as performing ablution before sleeping, sleeping on the ride side, sunnah for entering and leaving the house, visiting the sick, praying qiyaam al-layl (optional prayers at night), Sunan Ar- rawaatib (regular Sunnah prayers), etc.

What are the types of Sunnah?

As known that  Sunnah is the second source of Islamic legislation, it has many categories in its technical sense.

A. In hadith terminology, Sunah denotes any saying (qaul), action (fi’l), approval (taqrîr), whether physical (khilqiyya) or moral (khuluqiyya) ascribed (udifa ila) to the Prophet. So we can categorize them as follows:

  1. Sunnat-ul-Qul – all words, counsels or precepts of the Prophet Muhammad SAW
  2. Sunnat-ul-Fi’l – his action, works and daily practices
  3. Sunnat-ul-Taqrir – his silence implies a tacit approbation on his part of any individual act committed by his disciples

B. In the terminology of fiqh or jurisprudence, sunnah can be further divided into:

  1. Sunnah al-Huda – Sunnah of Guidance
  2. Sunnah al-‘Adab – Sunnah of Habit
  3. Sunnah Mu’akkada – Emphasized sunnah
  4. Sunnah Ghayr Mu’akkada – Non-Emphasized sunnah

C. Another categorization for Sunnah, according to the acts of worship:

  1. Fard (obligatory) 
  2. Mustahabb (encouraged, not obligatory)
  3. Mubaah (permissible, optional)
  4. Makrooh (not encouraged, disliked)
  5. Haraam (prohibited) 

What the scholars of usool and fiqh call “mustahabb (encouraged)”, which are deeds for which the one who does them will be rewarded, but the one who does not do them will not deserve to be punished for that.

 Examples include al-Sunan al-Rawaatib (Sunnah prayers which the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) did regularly), Salaat al-Duhaa and so on.

Therefore, a person will not be punished for not doing things which are Sunnah in the second sense. With regard to the first definition, this is not the case, for these are divided into things which are obligatory (waajib) and things which are supererogatory (naafil).

Sunnat al-Fajr and al-Witr are Sunnah Mu’akkadah, prayer which the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) never omitted to do, whether he was travelling or not.

Letting the beard grow is an obligation (waajib); it does not come under the category of Sunnah as defined by the fuqahaa’. Whoever shaves his beard is imitating the Majoos (Zoroastrians), going against the Fitrah (natural disposition of man), and changing the creation of Allaah.

The one who neglects an act that is an obligatory Sunnah will be punished; the one who neglects a mustahabb Sunnah will not be punished, but he is missing out on a great reward and the chance to make up any shortfall in his obligations (waajibaat), because on the Day of Resurrection, any shortfall in his obligations will be made up from his Sunnah actions, if he has any to his credit.

 Doing Sunnah actions is also a means of maintaining the practice of waajib actions.

Sunnah VS Bid’ah

The scholars also use the word “Sunnah” in contrast to bid’ah (reprehensible innovation) and say “Ahl al-Sunnah” (the people or followers of Sunnah) to distinguish them from the followers of misguided kaafir sects such as the Jahamiyyah, or innovators who are not kaafirs, such as the Ash’aris and others. 

The Sunnah in this sense has to be followed. Following the way of Ahl al-Sunnah is obligatory, and whoever departs from their way is doomed. Imaam Maalik (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: the Sunnah is like the ship of Nooh: whoever boards it will be saved and whoever stays behind will be drowned.

No doubt it is obligatory for the Muslim to be a follower of his Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) in what he prescribed and it is not permissible for him to go against that or to introduce any innovation into the religion, because of the evidence that indicates that it is obligatory to follow and it is forbidden to introduce innovation. 

What is innovation (Bid’ah)?

But it should be noted that differing from the way of the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) and falling into bid‘ah may mean one of two things: 

  1.  The Real Innovation (Al-bid‘ah al-haqeeqah):

 Introducing an act of worship for which there is no basis in Islam, such as touching graves and seeking help from their occupants. The scholars call this real innovation (al-bid‘ah al-haqeeqah). This is that which was not prescribed at all. 

  1.  Innovation by addition (al-bid‘ah al-idaafiyyah):

The act of worship may be originally prescribed in Islam, and what is contrary to the sunnah may have to do with defining a certain time or place for it, or a certain number of times it is to be repeated, or the manner in which it is to be done or the reason for which it is to be done. 

This is called innovation by addition (al-bid‘ah al-idaafiyyah); it is not bid‘ah unless it is done regularly and repeatedly. If it is done only once or twice without adhering to that, then it is not bid‘ah, such as if people pray qiyaam (night prayer) in congregation (jamaa‘ah) on some occasion, without thinking that there is any particular virtue in doing so.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) had explained the importance of Sunnah and warned of the innovation in this prophetic hadith:

قال رسول الله (صل الله عليه وسلم) :”من رغب عن سنتي فليس مني
“Whoever turns away from my Sunnah has nothing to do with me.” 

Reference : Riyad as-Salihin 143 

Conclusion – Why Do Muslims take Sunnah Si seriosly?

To conclude, Sunnah is a great treasure of guidance for all Muslims all over the world and also for anyone who is seeking the truth with the right path of happiness in this worldly life and in the hereafter.

Sunnah is complementary to the instructions mentioned in the Holy Quran as it is one of the two parts of divine Revelation that were revealed to the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Isn’t it time to know more about  Prophet Muhammad?

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