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The term Sunnah originates from the root word ‘sanna’. This root word means to make a path easy to traverse or to pave the way and make following it straightforward. The word Sunnah can refer to a street, path, or road. It can also denote how Allah’s Prophets explained divinely revealed scriptures and laws.
In the Islamic context,
Sunnah means all that is narrated and connected to Muhammad (PBUH), who was Allah’s final Prophet. It includes everything that is authentically narrated of the Prophet’s (PBUH) actions, sayings, tacit approvals, and characteristics.
The Sunnah is the second primary source of Islam, after the Holy Quran. Islamic laws originate from these two main sources.
Each hadith consists of the matn (text) and isnad (chain of narrators). The isnad generally contains honest and righteous believers, who are thoroughly reliable. Scholars developed the science of hadith with rigorous procedures of verifying the authenticity of each hadith. They would use both the matn and the isnad to analyze to gauge the authenticity of ahadith. The Muhadditheen exerted great efforts to abide by the strict principles of the science of hadith.
The Sunnah in Islam: Prophetic Speech
Prophetic speech involves the sayings of the Prophet (PBUH). The Sahaba (companions) and the two noble generations of believers that followed heard and recorded these. Among the prominent examples of Prophetic Speech are the following three reports from Abu Hurairah (RA):
- In a hadith in Sahih Muslim, the Prophet (PBUH) said that one who has faith in Allah and the Day of Judgment should either say what is good or stay quiet.
- In a hadith in Sunan An-Nasai, the Prophet (PBUH) stated that the believer is one whose tongue and hand do not bring harm to others. Also, people’s lives and wealth are safe from him.
- In another hadith in Sahih Muslim, the Prophet (PBUH) declared that Allah does not focus on people’s appearance and wealth. Rather, He focuses on their hearts and actions.
These three ahadith clearly demonstrate that the Prophet (PBUH) said what was recorded in them.
The Sunnah in Islam: The Prophet’s (PBUH) actions
This category of the Sunnah in Islam consists of all that people authentically reported of the Prophet’s (PBUH) actions. Prophetic actions are of two kinds. The first kind is prescriptive actions. Prescriptive actions are Islamic teachings that are binding on all believers, setting an example that all should follow. The second kind is human actions. Human actions consist of regular, day-to-day things that humans have to do. Among these are eating, drinking, and sleeping.
Included in the Prophet’s (PBUH) prescriptive actions were prayer, fasting, Zakat, and Hajj, along with Adhkar. Then, there were acts that were different from these acts of worship, which Muslims should follow. Among these was the usage of the miswak. Also, we should take Allah’s name before consuming food. We should also enter mosques with our right foot first.
Ayesha (RA) also reported that the Prophet (PBUH) used to like starting every action from the right side. Whether he was wearing his shoes or giving people water to drink, he loved to start from the right.
Silent approvals of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)
The silent approvals of the Prophet (PBUH) involve all the sayings and actions of the Sahaba that he witnessed without objecting to them. One example is of this Sunnah is from the time he heard about what some of the Sahaba had done from other companions. Following the Battle of Khandaq (the Ditch), the Prophet (PBUH) instructed some companions to rush to the tribe of Banu Quraydah. He encouraged them to make haste in order to pray the Asr prayer when they arrive.
These companions did not all understand what he said in the same way. Some of them departed from Madinah without praying Asr and only offered the prayer after they arrived at Banu Quraydah. Hence, they were late for the Asr prayer and offered it after sunset.
Others waited to offer the Asr prayer in Madinah before hurrying to their destination. They opted to avoid the risk of being unable to pray Asr until after its due time had passed. When the Prophet (PBUH) was informed about the choices of the Sahaba mentioned above, he approved of both groups’ decisions. As he didn’t reprimand either group, it is understood that he approved of their actions and deemed them acceptable.
Physical and moral characteristics of the Prophet (PBUH)
All authentic narrations pertaining to the Prophet’s (PBUH) physical appearance are a part of the Sunnah in Islam. There is a splendid description of his physical traits provided by Umm Maabad, who had encountered him during his migration to Madinah. She described the Prophet (PBUH) as having a glowing face that was moderate in size, neither too thin nor too fat. He was graceful and handsome. His eyes were deep black in color, and his eyelashes were long. His beard was thick, and he had beautiful long black eyebrows.
Umm Maabad also said that the Prophet (PBUH) showed dignity in silence and commanded supreme respect. His speech was superb, and he was the most handsome of the people. He was unique and blessed with eloquent logic. Muhammad (PBUH) was moderate in his speech and organized his arguments well. His height was moderate, neither too tall nor too short. He never frowned or talked foolishly.
Apart from his physical features, the Prophet’s (PBUH) ways and interactions with others were also recorded in the Sunnah. Anas (RA) said that he served the Prophet (PBUH) for ten years. However, he was never told off by the Prophet (PBUH). The Prophet (PBUH) did not even say ‘Uff’ to him if he erred. He was never interrogated by the Prophet (PBUH) if he failed to carry out some task or did something wrong.
Importance of the Sunnah and why it’s compulsory to follow it
It is essential to refute those who spread misguidance by denying the importance of the Sunnah and claiming that the Quran is all one needs to follow. In fact, it is the Quran itself that refutes such deviant ideologies. The Noble Quran is the foremost primary source of Islam, and it tells us to follow the Sunnah and act according to it. There are many examples of the Sunnah that we follow on a daily basis.
In Surah An-Nisa, believers are ordered to obey Allah and obey Muhammad (PBUH). The Sunnah is the path of Muhammad (PBUH), so following it and adhering to it is the way to obey the Prophet (PBUH). In Surah An-Nur, those who oppose the Prophet’s (PBUH) directive are warned of a trial or a severe punishment.
Also, in Surah An-Nisa, it is said that to have faith, one must fully submit to the Prophet’s (PBUH) decisions. We are also told in the same Surah to refer all disputes to Allah and the Prophet (PBUH). In Surah Ali ‘Imran, we learn that Allah will love and forgive us when we follow the Prophet (PBUH). Finally, the Prophet (PBUH) himself tells us in a hadith in Sunan Abu Dawud to adhere to his Sunnah and the way of the rightly guided Caliphs that follow.