For other uses, see Sunna.
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Sunnah (sunnah, سنة, Arabic: [sunna], plural سنن sunan [sunan]) is the verbally transmitted record of the teachings, deeds and sayings, silent permissions (or disapprovals) of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, as well as various reports about Muhammad's companions.[1][2] Along with the Quran (the holy book of Islam), the Sunna makes up the two primary sources of Islamic theology and law.[1][3] The Sunna is also defined as "a path, a way, a manner of life"; "all the traditions and practices" of the Islamic prophet that "have become models to be followed" by Muslims.[4]

In the pre-Islamic period, the word sunna was used with the meaning "manner of acting", whether good or bad.[5] During the early Islamic period, the term came to refer to any good precedent set by people of the past, including the Islamic prophet Muhammad.[5] Under the influence of Al-Shafi'i, who argued for priority of Muhammad's example as recorded in hadith over precedents set by other authorities, the term al-sunna eventually came to be viewed as synomymous with the sunna of Muhammad.[5]

The sunnah of Muhammad includes his specific words (Sunnah Qawliyyah), habits, practices (Sunnah al Fiiliyyah), and silent approvals (Sunnah Taqririyyah).[6] According to Muslim belief, Muhammad was the best exemplar for Muslims,[7] and his practices are to be adhered to in fulfilling the divine injunctions, carrying out religious rites, and moulding life in accord with the will of God. Instituting these practices was, as the Quran states, a part of Muhammad's responsibility as a messenger of God.[8][9] Recording the sunnah was an Arabian tradition and, once people converted to Islam, they brought this custom to their religion.[10]

The word "Sunnah" is also used to refer to religious duties that are optional, such as Sunnah salat.[11]


Sunnah (سنة [ˈsunna], plural سنن sunan [ˈsunan]) is an Arabic word that means "habit" or "usual practice".[12]

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 Sunna" narrowly to refer to Sunnî Doctrine as opposed to the creeds of Shia and other non-Sunni sects.[3]


According to Fazlur Rhaman, Sunnah is a behavior concept. This concept could be applied on mental and physical acts, in other words, sunnah counted as a law of behavior. This behavior belongs to conscious agents who can possess their acts. Besides, sunnah counted as normative moral law. Sunnah also means the actual practice which gains the status of normative and becomes as "ought" rule and named as Sunnah [13]

Basis of importance

Among the Quranic verses quoted as demonstrating the importance of Hadith/Sunna to Muslims are

Say: Obey Allah and obey the Messenger,[11][14][15][16]

Which appears in several verses: 3:32, 5:92, 24:54, 64:12[17]

Your companion [Muhammad] has not strayed, nor has he erred, Nor does he speak from [his own] inclination or desire.[18][19]
"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.[20]
"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."[9]

The teachings of "wisdom" have been declared to be a function of Muhammad along with the teachings of the scripture.[21] Several Quranic verses mention "wisdom" (hikmah) coupled with "scripture" or "the book" (i.e. the Quran), and it is thought that in this context, "wisdom" means the sunnah.
Surah 4 (An-Nisa), ayah 113 states: "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."[22]
Surah 2 (Al-Baqara), ayah 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."[23]
Surah 33 (Al-Ahzab), ayah 34: "And bear in mind which is recited in your houses of the revelations of God and of wisdom".[24]

Therefore, along with divine revelation the sunnah was directly taught by God. Modern Sunni scholars are beginning to examine both the sira and the hadith in order to justify modifications to jurisprudence (fiqh). The sunna, in one form or another, would retain its central role in providing a moral example and ethical guidance.

For Muslims the imitation of Muhammad helps one to know and be loved by God: one lives in constant remembrance of God.[6]

Providing examples

In addition 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 "to understand the context, as well as the meaning of verses".[11]

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 also sent down unto you (O Muhammad SAW) the reminder and the advice (the Quran), that you may explain clearly to men what is sent down to them, and that they may give thought.[25][26][27]
And We have not sent down the Book (the Quran) to you (O Muhammad SAW), 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][28]

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".[26]

Types of Sunna

There are three types of sunnah:[3]

In the terminology of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), sunna 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).[3]

Sciences of Sunna

According to scholar Gibril Fouad Haddad, the "sciences of the Sunna" (`ulûm al-Sunna) refer to:

the biography of the Prophet (al-sîra), the chronicle of his battles (al-maghâzî), his everyday sayings and acts or "ways" (sunan), his personal and moral qualities (al-shamâ'il), and the host of the ancillary[30] 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 wal-ta`dîl), narrator biographies (al-rijâl), etc., as discussed in great detail in the authoritative books of al-Khatîb al-Baghdâdî.[31]

Unlike the Quran, the Sunna was not recorded and written during the Prophet's lifetime, but was systematically collected and documented beginning at least two centuries after the death of Muhammad (i.e. the ninth century of the Christian era).[1]

According to scholar Khaled Abou El Fadl, "the late documentation of the Sunna meant that many of the reports attributed to the Prophet are apocryphal or at least are of dubious historical authenticity. In fact, one of the most complex disciplines in Islamic jurisprudence is one which attempts to differentiate between authentic and inauthentic traditions."[1]

Sunnah and 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.[32]

Early Sunni scholars often considered sunnah equivalent to the biography of Muhammed (sira) as the hadith which was then poorly validated while contemporary accounts of Muhammad's life were better known. 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.

How far hadith contributes to sunnah is disputed and highly dependent on context. 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".

Sunnah and Islam

Shia Muslims do not use the Kutub al-Sittah (six major hadith collections) followed by the Sunni. Instead, their primary collections were written by three authors known as the 'Three Muhammads'.[33] 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. Unlike Akhbari Twelver Shia, Usuli Twelver Shia scholars do not believe that everything in the four major books is authentic. In Shia hadith one often finds sermons attributed to Ali in The Four Books or in the Nahj al-Balagha.

Sunnah Salat

Main article: Sunnah salat

Sunnah salat (Arabic: صلاة السنة) are optional prayers performed in addition to the five daily compulsory Salat 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 Sunna because how they are practiced is based on stories, narrations, interpretations, traditions of Muhammad by his companions.

Alternative views on sunnah

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.[34] 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.[9] and Khuluqin Azim or 'Exalted Character'[35] in the Quran, real sunnah cannot be upheld.

According to some scholars, sunnah predates both the Quran as well as Muhammad, and is actually the tradition of the prophets of God, specifically the tradition of Abraham. From surah 17 (Al-Isra) ayah 77, "(This was Our) way with the messengers We sent before thee: thou wilt find no change in Our ways."[36]

A broad form of sunnah was already being practised by the Christians, Jews and the Arab descendants of Ishmael, the Arabized Arabs or Ishmaelites, when Muhammad reinstituted this practice as an integral part of Islam. Both sunnah and Quran are equally authentic and the former includes worship rituals like salat, Zakat, Hajj, fasting (sawm) during Ramadan as well as customs like circumcision.[37]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 Abou El Fadl, Khaled (22 March 2011). "What is Shari'a?". ABC RELIGION AND ETHICS. Retrieved 20 June 2015.
  2. Hameed, Shahul (24 November 2014). "Why Hadith is Important". Retrieved 2 September 2015.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "What is the Difference Between Quran and Sunnah?". Ask a Question to Us. Retrieved 20 June 2015.
  4. Qazi, M.A.; El-Dabbas, Maohammed Sa'id (1979). A Concise Dictionary of Islamic Terms. Lahore, Pakistan: Kazi Publications. p. 65.
  5. 1 2 3 Juynboll, G.H.A. (1997). "Sunna". In P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs. Encyclopaedia of Islam. 9 (2nd ed.). Brill. pp. 878–879.
  6. 1 2 Nasr, Seyyed H. "Sunnah and Hadith". World Spirituality: An Encyclopedia History of the Religious Quest. 19 vols. New York: Crossroad Swag. 97–109.
  7. Islahi, Amin Ahsan (1989). "Difference between Hadith and Sunnah". Mabadi Tadabbur i Hadith (translated as: Fundamentals of Hadith Intrepretation) (in Urdu). Lahore: Al-Mawrid. Retrieved 1 June 2011.
  8. Quran 3:164
  9. 1 2 3 Quran 33:21
  10. Goldziher, Ignác (1981). Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP. p. 231. ISBN 0691072574.
  11. 1 2 3 Hameed, Shahul (24 November 2014). "Why Hadith is Important". OnIslam. Retrieved 22 June 2015.
  12. Sunnah
  14. Okumus, Fatih. "The Prophet As Example". Studies in Inter religious Dialogue 18 (2008): 82–95. Religion Index. Ebsco. Thomas Tredway Library, Rock Island, IL.
  15. Quran 24:54
  16. Quran 3:32
  17. "Obey Allah and Obey the Messenger; One or Two Sources?". Detailed Quran. Retrieved 22 June 2015.
  18. Quran 53:2-3
  19. "The Importance of Hadith". Tasfiya Tarbiya. Retrieved 22 June 2015.
  20. Quran 2:151
  21. Muhammad Manzoor Nomani "Marif al-Hadith", introductory chapter
  22. Quran 4:113
  23. Quran 2:231
  24. Quran 33:34
  25. Quran 16:44
  26. 1 2 Kutty, Ahmad (6 March 2005). "What Is the Significance of Hadith in Islam?". Retrieved 22 June 2015.
  27. "Prophet Muhammed (p) Was Sent To Teach & Explain The Quran". Discover The Truth. May 7, 2013. Retrieved 22 June 2015.
  28. Quran 16:64
  29. source: al Muwafaqat, Afal al Rasul
  30. See al-Siba'i, Al-Sunna wa Makanatuha fi al-Tashri' al-Islami (p.47).
  31. Haddad, Gibril Fouad. "The Meaning of Sunna". Living Islam. Retrieved 21 June 2015.
  32. Nasr, S. (1967). Islamic Studies. Beirut: Seyyed Hossein Nasr.
  33. Momen, Moojan (1985). Introduction to Shi'i Islam. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 174. ISBN 0300034997.
  34. Recognizing the True and Deeper Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad
  35. Quran 68:4
  36. Quran 17:77
  37. Ghamidi, Javed Ahmad (1990). Mizan (translated as: Islam - A Comprehensive Introduction) (in Urdu). Lahore: Al-Mawrid. Retrieved 1 June 2011.

Further reading

Wikisource has the text of the 1905 New International Encyclopedia article Sunna.
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