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
Quran (the holy book of Islam) and the sunnah
make up the two primary sources of
Islamic theology and law. The
sunnah 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.
In the pre-Islamic period, the word sunnah was used with the meaning
"manner of, acting", whether good or bad. 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. 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-sunnah eventually came to be viewed as synonymous with the
sunnah of Muhammad.
The sunnah of
Muhammad includes his specific words (
habits, practices (
Sunnah Fiiliyyah), and silent approvals (Sunnah
Taqririyyah). According to Muslim belief,
Muhammad was the best
exemplar for Muslims, 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. Recording the sunnah was
an Arabian tradition and, once people converted to Islam, they brought
this custom to their religion.
The word "Sunnah" is also used to refer to religious duties that are
optional, such as
3 Basis of importance
3.1 Providing examples
4 Types of Sunnah
4.1 Sciences of Sunnah
Sunnah and hadith
8 Alternative views on sunnah
9 See also
11 Further reading
12 External links
Sunnah (سنة [ˈsunna], plural سنن sunan [ˈsunan]) is an Arabic
word that means "habit" or "usual practice".
Sunni Muslims are also referred to as Ahl as-
("people of the tradition and the community (of Muhammad)") or Ahl
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 Sunnî Doctrine as opposed to the creeds of
Shia and other
According to Fazlur Rahman,
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 comes to be considered obligatory.
Basis of importance
Among the Quranic verses quoted as demonstrating the importance of
hadith/sunnah to Muslims are
Say: Obey Allah and obey the Messenger,
Which appears in several verses: 3:32, 5:92, 24:54, 64:12
Your companion [Muhammad] has not strayed, nor has he erred, Nor does
he speak from [his own] inclination or desire.
"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
"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" 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), 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."
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."
Surah 33 (Al-Ahzab), ayah 34: "And bear in mind which is recited in
your houses of the revelations of God and of wisdom".
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 sunnah, in one form or another, would retain its central
role in providing a moral example and ethical guidance.[citation
For Muslims the imitation of
Muhammad helps one to know and be loved
by God: one lives in constant remembrance of God.
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".
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) 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.
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.
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 Sunnah
There are three types of sunnah:
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:
Muhammad kept silent for an action and did not oppose it.
When the Islamic Prophet showed his pleasure and smiled for a
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
Sciences of Sunnah
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
Unlike the Quran, the
Sunnah 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
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
Sunnah and hadith
Muhammad O. Farooq states that while
Hadith are not the
same, since the time of Imam
Al-Shafi‘i (the founder of the
Shafi‘i school of jurisprudence), "there has been rather broad
Hadith must be the basis for authentication of any
Sunnah." So the "particular textual source for
Sunnah is Hadith."
The Saudi Arabian
Islam Question and Answer (Supervised by Muhammad
Saalih al-Munajjid) states that while:
*the two terms 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”).
*they also can 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
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
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.
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
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
Islam does not use the
Kutub al-Sittah (six major hadith
collections) followed by
Sunni Islam, therefore the
Sunnah of Shia
Islam and the
Islam refer to different collections of
religious canonical literature.
The primary collections of
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
Man la yahduruhu al-Faqih by
Ibn Babawayh and Tahdhib al-Ahkam, and
Al-Istibsar both by Shaykh Tusi.
Twelver Shiite scholars do not
believe that everything in the four major books of the
Sunnah of Shia
Islam is authentic.
Shia hadith one often finds sermons attributed to
Ali in The Four
Books or in the Nahj al-Balagha.
Sunnah (Arabic: صلاة السنة) are optional prayers
performed in addition to the five daily compulsory
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.
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. 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.
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."
A broad form of sunnah was already being practised by the Christians,
Jews and the Arab descendants of Ishmael, the Arabized Arabs or
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.
Categories of Hadith
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^ a b c Quran 33:21
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^ Quran 53:2-3
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Wikisource has the text of the 1905 New International Encyclopedia
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
Outline of Islam
God in Islam
Prophets of Islam
Timeline of Muslim history
Islam by country
Ma malakat aymanukum
Sources of law
Alchemy and chemistry
Geography and cartography
Liberalism and progressivism
Conversion to mosques
Criticism of Islam
Islamic view of miracles
Persecution of Muslims
Quran and miracles