Sunnah (Arabic: سُنَّة, sunnah, plural Arabic: سُنَن sunan [sunan]), also sunna or sunnat, is the body of literature which discusses and prescribes the traditional customs and practices of the Islamic community, both social and legal. According to classical Islamic theories of Sunna, Sunna is made up of the customs and practices of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, documented by hadith (the verbally transmitted record of the teachings, deeds and sayings, silent permissions or disapprovals of Muhammad), which along with the Quran (the holy book of Islam), are the divine revelation (Wahy) delivered through the Prophet that make up the primary sources of Islamic law and belief/theology.
According to Muslim belief, Muhammad was the best exemplar for Muslims, and several verses in the Quran declare his conduct exemplary, and enjoin his followers to obey him. Sunnah provides a basis not only for how to pray and major laws in Islam, but for "even the most mundane activities", such as the order in which to cut fingernails or the proper length of a beard.
In addition to being defined as "all the traditions and practices" of the Islamic prophet that "have become models to be followed" by Muslims, sunnah is defined in Arabic as "a path, a way, a manner of life". Recording the sunnah was also an Arabian tradition and once they converted to Islam, Arabians brought this custom to their religion.
In the pre-Islamic period, sunnah was used to mean "manner of acting", whether good or bad. During the early Islamic period, the term referred to any good precedent set by people of the past, including both Muhammad, and his companions. In addition, the Sunnah of the Prophet was not necessarily associated with hadith. The classical meaning was introduced in the late second century of Islam, when under the influence of the scholar Al-Shafi‘i, Muhammad's example as recorded in hadith was given priority of over all other precedents set by other authorities. The term al-sunnah then eventually came to be viewed as synonymous with the sunnah of Muhammad, based on hadith reports.
The sunnah of Muhammad as based on hadith includes his specific words (Sunnah Qawliyyah), habits, practices (Sunnah Fiiliyyah), and silent approvals (Sunnah Taqririyyah). In Islam, the word "sunnah" is also used to refer to religious duties that are optional, such as Sunnah salat.
Sunni Muslims are also referred to as Ahl as-Sunnah wa'l-Jamā'ah ("people of the tradition and the community (of Muhammad)") or Ahl as-Sunnah for short. Some early Sunnî Muslim scholars (such as Abu Hanifa, al-Humaydî, Ibn Abî `Âsim, Abû Dâwûd, and Abû Nasr al-Marwazî) reportedly used the term "the sunnah" narrowly to refer to Sunni Doctrine as opposed to the creeds of Shia and other non-Sunni sects. Sunnah literally means face, nature, lifestyle, etc. In the time of prophet Muhammad's companion, newly converted muslims accepted and rejected some set of creed by using reason. So many early muslim scholars started writing books on creed entitled as 'sunnah'.
- Sunnah and hadith
- Sunnah and hadith are sometimes used synonymously (the words, actions or approval that are narrated about the Islamic prophet Muhammad; the name of the group “Ahl al-Hadeeth” which can also be called “Ahl as-Sunnah”; books such as “Kutub al-Hadeeth” which can also be called “Kutub as-Sunnah”, (according to the Saudi fatwa site Islam Question and Answer)).
- but the two term can also have different meanings (Sunnah refers in a general sense to the affairs, i.e. the path, the methodology and the way of the Islamic prophet Muhammad; and to "adhering to Islam in the manner prescribed, without adding to it or introducing innovations into the religion", which hadith does not; fuqaha’ scholars use the word “Sunnah” when explaining the ruling on doing a specific action as being mustahabb (liked or encouraged), which they do not with hadith).
In the context of biographical records of Muhammad, sunnah often stands synonymous with hadith since most of the personality traits of Muhammad are known from descriptions of him, his sayings and his actions after becoming a prophet at the age of forty. Sunnah, which consists not only of sayings, but of what Muhammad believed, implied, or tacitly approved, was recorded by his companions in hadith. Allegiance to the tribal sunnah had been partially replaced by submission to a new universal authority and the sense of brotherhood among Muslims.
Early Sunni scholars often considered sunnah equivalent to the biography of Muhammed (sira). As the hadith came to be better documented and the scholars who validated them gained prestige, the sunnah came often to be known mostly through the hadith, especially as variant or fictional biographies of Muhammad spread.
Classical Islam often equates the sunnah with the hadith. Scholars who studied the narrations according to their context (matn) as well as their transmission (isnad) in order to discriminate between them were influential in the development of early Muslim philosophy. In the context of sharia, Malik ibn Anas and the Hanafi scholars are assumed to have differentiated between the two: for example Malik is said to have rejected some traditions that reached him because, according to him, they were against the "established practice of the people of Medina".
History, definitions, alternative viewsEdit
According to scholars such as Joseph Schacht and Ignác Goldziher the pre-Islamic definition of sunnah was simply "precedent" or "way of life". It was first used with the meaning of "law" in the Syro-Roman law book before it became widely used in Islamic jurisprudence.
First century of IslamEdit
- "Ancient Schools"
Prior to the second century of Islam, when the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i, Hanbali, etc. schools of fiqh were created during (what Mahmoud El-Gamal calls) the "golden age of classical Islamic jurisprudence", there were "regional schools" of Islamic law. These "ancient schools" in several cities of the new Arab empire of Islam -- Mecca, Kufa, Basra, Syria, etc. -- had a more flexible definition of sunnah than was used later, that being "acceptable norms" or "custom", not limited to “traditions traced back to the Prophet Muhammad himself” (sunna al-nabawiyyah). It included examples of the Prophet's Companions, the rulings of the Caliphs, and practices that “had gained general acceptance among the jurists of that school”.
- Sunnah without Muhammad
Examples of the use of non-Muhammadan sunnahs at this time is found in a non-Muhammadan tradition/hadith comment
- on the difference in the number of lashes used to punish alcohol consumption, Caliph Ali reported that (Muhammad and Abu Bakr ordered 40 lashes, Umar 80) — “All this is sunna”;
- on Umar’s deathbed instructions on where Muslims should seek guidance: from the Qur’an, the early Muslims (muhajirun) who emigrated to Medina with Muhammad, the Medina residents who welcomed and supported the muhajirun (the ansar), the people of the desert, and the protected communities of Jews and Christians (ahl al-dhimma); hadith of Muhammad are not mentioned.
- Sunnah without hadith
In al-Ṭabarī's history of early Islam, the term "Sunnah of the Prophet" is not only used "surprisingly infrequently", but used to refer to "political oaths or slogans used by rebels", or "a general standard of justice and right conduct", and not "to specific precedents set by Muhammad", let alone hadith. An early theological writing by Hasan al-Basri (Risala fi'l Qadar) also is "empty of references to specific cases" when mentioning Sunnah of the Prophet. Daniel Brown states that the first extant writings of Islamic legal reasoning were "virtually hadith-free" and argues that other examples of a lack of connection between sunnah and hadith" can be found in:
- Kitāb al-Irjāʾ of al-Hasan b. Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya,
- the first letter of Abdallah ibn Ibad to Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan,
- and the Risāla of Abu Hanifa addressed to ʿUthman al-Battī."
Abū ʿAbdullāh Muhammad ibn Idrīs al-Shāfiʿī (150-204 AH), known as al-Shafi'i, argued against flexible sunnah and the use of precedents from multiple sources, emphasizing the final authority of a hadith of Muhammad, so that even the Qur'an was "to be interpreted in the light of traditions (i.e. hadith), and not vice versa." While the sunnah has often been called "second to the Quran", hadith has also been said to "rule over and interpret the Quran".[Note 1] Al-Shafiʿi "forcefully argued" that the sunnah stands "on equal footing with the Quran", (according to scholar Daniel Brown) both being divine revelation. As Al-Shafi'i put it, “the command of the Prophet is the command of God.”
Sunnah of Muhammad outranked all other, and "broad agreement" developed that "hadith must be the basis for authentication of any Sunnah," (according to M.O. Farooq). Al-Shafiʿi's success was such that later writers “hardly ever thought of sunnah as comprising anything but that of the Prophet”, and sunnah was often considered synonymous with hadith.
Systemization of hadithEdit
While the earliest Muslim lawyers "felt no obligation" to provide documentation of hadith when arguing their case, and the Sunnah was not recorded and written during the Prophet's lifetime, (according to scholar Khaled Abou El Fadl), all this changed with the triumph of Al-Shafi‘i and a "broad agreement" that Hadith should be used to authenticate Sunnah, (according to M.O. Farooq), over the course of the second century.
Hadith was now systematically collected and documented, but several generations having passed since the time of its occurrence meant that "many of the reports attributed to the Prophet are apocryphal or at least are of dubious historical authenticity," (according to Abou El Fadl). "In fact, one of the most complex disciplines in Islamic jurisprudence is one which attempts to differentiate between authentic and inauthentic traditions."[Note 2]
Islam jurists divide sunnah into that which has no legal consequences --al-sunna al-ʿādīyah -- (the "personal habits and preferences" of Muhammad); and that which is binding on Muslims -- al-sunna al-hudā. The literalist Zāhirī school disagrees holding that there was no sunnah whose fulfillment is not rewarded or neglect punished, while classical Islam holds that following non-binding al-sunna al-ʿādīyah is meritorious but not obligatory.
Sufis see the "division between binding and non-binding" sunnah as "meaningless". Muhammad is al-insān al-kāmil, the perfect man, labib-Allah beloved of God, an intercessor, a "channel of divine light". Imitating his every action is "the ultimate expression" of piety. or in the words of Al-Ghazālī:
Know that the key to joy is following the sunnah and imitating the Prophet in all his comings and goings, words and deeds, extending to his manner of eating, rising, sleeping and speaking. I do not say this only in relation to requirements of religion [ʿibādāt], for there is no escaping these; rather, this includes every area of behavior [ʿādāt].
In the 19th century, "social and political turmoil" starting with the decline of the Moghal empire, caused some Muslims to seek a more humanized figure of Muhammad. The miracle-performing "larger than life" prophetic figure was de-emphasized in favor of "a practical model for restoration of the Muslim community," a virtuous, progressive social reformer. Nasserist Egypt, for example, celebrated the "imam of socialism" rather than the cosmic "perfect man". One who argued against the idea of sunnah as divine revelation, and for the idea that Muhammad's mission was simply to transmit the Quran was Ghulam Ahmed Perwez (1903–1985). He quoted the Quranic verse "The messenger has no duty except to proclaim [the message]," (Q.5:99) and pointed out several other verses where God corrects something Muhammad has done or said (8:67),(9:43), (66:1), thus demonstrating Muhammad's lack of supernatural knowledge.
This era of rapid social and technological change, decline of Muslim power, and replacement of classical madhhab by Western-inspired legal codes in Muslim lands, also suggested a turn away from the "detailed precedents in civil and political affairs," called for by traditional Hadith, "for if worldly matters require detailed prophetic guidance, then every age will require a new prophet to accommodate changing circumstances".
Alternatives: Sunnah without hadithEdit
Although "most writers agree", including skeptics, that "sunnah and hadith must stand or fall together", some (Fazlur Rahman Malik, Javed Ahmad Ghamidi) have attempted to "establish a basis for sunnah independent of hadith", working around modernist and Western criticism of hadith authenticity.
- "Living sunnah"
In the 1960s, Fazlur Rahman Malik, an Islamic modernist and former head of Pakistan's Central Institute for Islamic Research, advanced another idea for how the (Prophetic) sunnah -- the normative example of the Prophet -- should be understood: as "a general umbrella concept" but not one "filled with absolutely specific content", or that was static over the centuries. He argued that Muhammad had come as a "moral reformer" and not a "pan-legit", and that the specifics of the sunnah would be agreed upon community of his followers, evolving with changing times as a "living and on-going process". He accepted the criticism of Western and Muslim scholars that the content of many hadith and isnad (chain of transmitters) had been tampered with by Muslims trying to prove the Muhammad had made a specific statement -- but this did not make them fraudulent or forgeries, because if "Hadith verbally speaking does not go back to the Prophet, its spirit certainly does". Instead these collections of ahadith of al-Bukhari and al-Muslim's were ijma (consensus or agreement of the Muslim scholars, and another classical source of Islamic law). Doing so they follow the spirit of the Prophet's mission, and "resurrect" the legal methodology of the pre-Shafi'i "Ancient schools". But just as second and third century Muslims could re-formulate hadith and law around a prophetic spirit, so could modern Muslims, redefining riba and eliminating medieval laws against bank interest, while protecting the poor in other ways.
- Non-hadith sunnah
Some of the most basic and important features of the sunnah — worship rituals like salat (ritual prayer), zakat (ritual tithing), hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), sawm (dawn to dusk fasting during Ramadan) — are known to Muslim from being passed down `from the many to the many` (according to scholars of fiqh such as Al-Shafi'i), bypassing books of hadith, (which were more often consulted for answers to details not agreed upon or not frequently practiced) and issues of authenticity.
According to Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, another Modernist, this passing down by continuous practice of the Muslim community (which also indicates consensus, ijma) was similar to how the Qur’ān has been "received by the ummah" (Muslim community) through the consensus of the Prophet's Companions and through their perpetual recitation. Consequently, Ghamidi sees this more limited Sunnah of continuous practice as the true sunnah — equally authentic to the Quran, but shedding orthodox sunnah and avoiding problematic basis of the hadith.
- "Inner states"
Sufi thinkers "emphasized personal spirituality and piety rather than the details of fiqh". According to the view of some Sufi Muslims who incorporate both the outer and inner reality of Muhammad, the deeper and true sunnah are the noble characteristics and inner state of Muhammad. To them Muhammad's attitude, his piety, the quality of his character constitute the truer and deeper aspect of what it means by sunnah in Islam, rather than the external aspects alone. They argue that the external customs of Muhammad loses its meaning without the inner attitude and also many hadiths are simply custom of the Arabs, not something that is unique to Muhammad. and Khuluqin Azim or 'Exalted Character' in the Quran, real sunnah cannot be upheld.
Other uses of the wordEdit
- Sunnah Salat
In addition to being "the way" of Islam or the traditional social and legal custom and practice of the Islamic community, sunnah is often used as a synonym for “mustahabb (encouraged)” rather than wajib/fard (obligatory) regarding some commendable action (usually the saying of a prayer). Mustahabb/sunnah deeds are those that earn a reward in the afterlife for those who do them, but will not bring any punishment for those who neglect them. According to Islam Q&A website of Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid this second definition of sunna is used by "scholars of usool and fiqh" for acts that are “mustahabb (encouraged)”, in the five categories of Sharia rulings (known as “the five decisions” or five akram).
Salât as-Sunnah (Arabic: صلاة السنة) are optional prayers performed in addition to the five daily compulsory Salât prayers. Some are done at the same time as the compulsory prayers, some are done only at certain times, e.g. late at night, and some are only done for specific occasions such as during a drought. They are called sunnah because how they are practiced is based on stories, narrations, interpretations, traditions of Muhammad by his companions. "Examples include al-Sunan al-Rawaatib" (sunnah prayers which Muhammad did regularly), "Salaat al-Duhaa and so on." Sunnah Mu’akkadah are actions Muhammad "never omitted to do, whether he was travelling or not," such as the prayers Sunnat al-Fajr and al-Witr.
- Use in the Quran
The word “Sunna” appears several times in the Qur’an, but there is no specific mention of sunna of the messenger or prophet (sunnat al-rasool, sunnat al-nabi or sunna al-nabawiyyah), i.e. the way/practice of Prophet Muhammad. (There are several verses calling on Muslims to obey Muhammad—see below.) Four verses (8.38, 15.13, 18.55) use the expression “sunnat al-awwalin”, which is thought to mean “the way or practice of the ancients.” It is described as something "that has passed away" or prevented unbelievers from accepting God. “Sunnat Allah” (the “way of God”) appears eight times in five verses. In addition, verse 17.77 talks of both the way of other, earlier Muslim messengers (Ibrahim, Musa, etc.), and of "our way", i.e. God's way.
This indicates to some scholars (such as Javed Ahmad Ghamidi) that sunnah predates both the Quran and Muhammad, and is actually the tradition of the prophets of God, specifically the tradition of Abraham. Christians, Jews and the Arab descendants of Ishmael, the Arabized Arabs or Ishmaelites, when Muhammad reinstituted this practice as an integral part of Islam.
Basis of importanceEdit
The Qur'an contains numerous commands to follow the Prophet. Among the Quranic verses quoted as demonstrating the importance of hadith/sunnah to Muslims are
"A similar (favour have ye already received) in that We have sent among you a Messenger of your own, rehearsing to you Our Signs, and sanctifying you, and instructing you in Scripture and Wisdom, and in new knowledge.
"Ye have indeed in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful pattern (of conduct) for any one whose hope is in Allah and the Final Day, and who engages much in the Praise of Allah."
The teachings of "wisdom" (hikma) have been declared to be a function of Muhammad along with the teachings of the scripture. Several Quranic verses mention "wisdom" (hikmah) coupled with "scripture" or "the book" (i.e. the Quran) -- al-kitāb wa al-ḥikma. Mainstream scholars starting with al-Shafi'i believe hikma refers to the Sunnah, and this connection between Sunnah and the Quran is evidence of the Sunnah's divinity and authority.
- Quran 4:113 -- "For Allah hath sent down to thee the Book and wisdom and taught thee what thou Knewest not (before): And great is the Grace of Allah unto thee."
- Quran 2:231 -- "...but remember Allah's grace upon you and that which He hath revealed unto you of the Scripture and of wisdom, whereby He doth exhort you."
- Quran 33:34 -- "And bear in mind which is recited in your houses of the revelations of God and of wisdom".
Therefore, along with the Quran, the sunnah was revealed. Modern Sunni scholars have examined both the sira and the hadith in order to justify modifications to jurisprudence (fiqh). Hense, the imitation of Muhammad helps Muslims to know and be loved by God.
Another piece of evidence for the divinity of the Sunnah -- according to its supporters -- are verses in the Quran that refer to revelations not found in the Quran. For example, there is no verse mentioning the original direction of prayer (the qibla) in the Quran, but God in the Quran does say He appointed the original qibla (Quran 2:143). Other events mentioned in the Quran that already happened without Quranic command or description include a dream in which Muhammad would enter Mecca (Quran 2:231); Muhammad's marriage to Zayd's ex-wife (Quran 33:37); and the dispute over the division of spoils after the Battle of Badr (Quran 8:7); all "definitive proof that besides the Quran other commands came to the Prophet by the agency of waḥy," according to revivalist Abul A'la Maududi.
The minority argument against the Sunnah of the prophet being divine revelation (waḥy) goes back to the ahl al-Kalam who al-Shāfiʿī argued against in the second century of Islam. Their modern "Quranists", the modern successors of the ahl al-Kalam, argue that the sunnah falls short of the standard of the Quran in divinity. Specifically because
- with the exception of the ḥadīth qudsī, sunnah was not revealed and transmitted verbatim, as was the Quran; it was often transmitted giving the sense or gist of what was said (known as bi'l-maʿnā);
- the process of revelation was not "external, entirely independent of the influence of the messenger"; it bares the "personality" or "mentality" (baṣīrat) of Muhammad;
- unlike the Quran, it was not "preserved in writing" until over a century after Muhammad's death, which opens the question of how much corruption and/or error entered the writings and why, if it was divinely revealed, eternal truth, orders were not given to the earliest Muslims to write it down as they were for the Quran.
According to John Burton, paraphrasing Al-Shafi'i, "it must be remembered that the Quran text are couched in very general terms which it is the function of the sunnah to expand and elucidate, to make God's meaning absolutely clear." There are a number of verses in the Quran where "to understand the context, as well as the meaning", Muslims need to refer to the record of the life and example of the Prophet.
It is thought that verses 16:44 and 64 indicate that Muhammed's mission "is not merely that of a deliveryman who simply delivers the revelation from Allah to us, rather, he has been entrusted with the most important task of explaining and illustrating" the Quran.
And We have not sent down the Book (the Quran) to you (O Muhammad), except that you may explain clearly unto them those things in which they differ, and (as) a guidance and a mercy for a folk who believe. [Quran 16:64]
For example, while the Quran presents the general principles of praying, fasting, paying zakat, or making pilgrimage, they are presented "without the illustration found in Hadith, for these acts of worship remain as abstract imperatives in the Qur’an".
Types of sunnahEdit
Sunnah upon which fiqh is based may be divided into:
- Sunnah Qawliyyah - the sayings of Muhammad, generally synonymous with “hadith”, since the sayings of Muhammad are noted down by the companions and called “hadith”.
- Sunnah Fiiliyyah - the actions of Muhammad, including both religious and worldly actions.
- Sunnah Taqririyyah - the approvals of the Islamic Prophet regarding the actions of the Companions which occurred in two different ways:
It may be also divided into sunnah that is binding for Muslims and that which is not. Ibn Qutaybah (213-276 AH) distinguished between:
- Sunnah "brought by Gabriel";
- sunnah from "Muhammad's own ra'y and is binding, but subject to revision";
- "non-binding sunnah", which Muslims are not subject to "penalty for failure to follow".
In the terminology of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), sunnah denotes whatever though not obligatory, is "firmly established (thabata) as called for (matlub)" in Islam "on the basis of a legal proof (dalîl shar`î).
Sciences of SunnahEdit
According to scholar Gibril Fouad Haddad, the "sciences of the Sunnah" (`ulûm as-Sunna) refer to:
the biography of the Prophet (as-sîra), the chronicle of his battles (al-maghâzî), his everyday sayings and acts or "ways" (sunan), his personal and moral qualities (ash-shamâ'il), and the host of the ancillary hadîth sciences such as the circumstances of occurrence (asbâb al-wurûd), knowledge of the abrogating and abrogated hadîth, difficult words (gharîb al-hadîth), narrator criticism (al-jarh wat-ta`dîl), narrator biographies (al-rijâl), etc., as discussed in great detail in the authoritative books of al-Khatîb al-Baghdâdî.
Sunnah in Shia IslamEdit
Shia Islam does not use the Kutub al-Sittah (six major hadith collections) followed by Sunni Islam, therefore the Sunnah of Shia Islam and the Sunnah of Sunni Islam refer to different collections of religious canonical literature.
The primary collections of Sunnah of Shia Islam were written by three authors known as the 'Three Muhammads', and they are:
- Kitab al-Kafi by Muhammad ibn Ya'qub al-Kulayni al-Razi (329 AH),
- Man la yahduruhu al-Faqih by Ibn Babawayh and Tahdhib al-Ahkam, and
- Al-Istibsar both by Shaykh Tusi.
- Ahmad Hasan calls the dictum that states: "The Sunnah decides upon the Qur'an, while the Qur'an does not decide upon the Sunnah" ألسنة قاضي على ألقرﺁن ,وليس ﺁلقرﺁن بقاض على ألسنة  — "well known".
- (According to at least one source Abd Allah ibn 'Amr was one of the first companions to write down the hadith, after receiving permission from prophet Muhammad to do so. Abu Hurayrah memorized the hadith.
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|Wikisource has the text of the 1905 New International Encyclopedia article Sunna.|
- The Sunna as Primordiality by Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad
- The Meaning of "Sunna" in the Qur’an, Qur'anic Studies
- Sunnah and Hadith, Center For Muslim–Jewish Engagement
- Legislative Authority of Sunnah