What is the Sunnah?
A Revelation like the Quran
The Sunnah, according to the scholars of hadeeth, is everything that has been
related from the Messenger, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, of his statements, actions, tacit approvals, personality, physical description, or biography. It does not matter whether the information being related refers to something before the beginning of his prophetic mission, or after it.
Explanation of this definition:
The statements of the Prophet include everything the Prophet said for various reasons on different occasions. For example, he said:
“Verily deeds are but by intentions, and every person will have only what he intended.”
The actions of the Prophet include everything that the Prophet did that was related to us by his Companions. This includes how he made ablutions, how he performed his prayers, and how he made the Hajj pilgrimage.
An example of this is the approval that was given to the Companions when they used their discretion in deciding when to pray during the Battle of Bani Quraydhah. God’s Messenger had said to them:
“None of you should perform your afternoon prayers until you arrive at Bani Quraydhah.”
The Companions did not arrive at Bani Quraydhah until after sunset. Some of them took the Prophet’s words literally and postponed the afternoon prayer, saying: “We will not pray until we get there.” Others understood that the Prophet was only indicating to them that they should hurry on their journey, so they stopped and prayed the afternoon prayer on time.
The physical description of the Prophet is found in state-ments like the one related by Anas (may God be pleased with him):
“God’s Messenger was neither overly tall nor was he short. He was neither exceedingly white nor black. His hair was neither excessively curly nor lank.”
The Relationship between the Sunnah and Revelation
The Sunnah is revelation from God to His Prophet. God says in the Quran:
“…We have sent down to him the Book and the Wisdom…” (Quran 2:231)
The Wisdom refers to the Sunnah. The great jurist al-Shafi’i said: “God mentions the Book, which is the Quran. I have heard from people who I consider authorities on the Quran that the Wisdom is the Sunnah of God’s Messenger.”
Indeed, God conferred a great favor on the believers when He sent among them a Messenger from among themselves, reciting to them His signs and purifying them and instructing them in the Book and the Wisdom.
It is clear from the preceding verses that God revealed to His Prophet both the Quran and the Sunnah, and that He commanded him to convey both to the people. The Prophetic hadeeth also attest to the fact that the Sunnah is revelation. It is related from Mak’hool that God’s Messenger said:
“God gave me the Quran and what is like it from the Wisdom.”
Al-Miqdam b. Ma’dee Karab relates that God’s Messen-
“I have been given the Book and with it something like it.”
Hisan b. Atiyyah relates that Gabriel used to come the Prophet with the Sunnah just like he would come to him with the Quran.
An opinion from the Prophet was not merely his own thoughts or deliberations on a matter; it was what God revealed to him. In this way, the Prophet was different from other people. He was supported by revelation. When he exercised his own reasoning and was correct, God would confirm it, and if he ever made a mistake in his thinking, God would correct it and guide him to the truth.
For this reason, it is related that the Caliph Umar said from the pulpit: “O people! The opinions of God’s Messenger were correct only because God would reveal them to him. As for our opinions, they are nothing but thoughts and
The Difference between the Sunnah and the Quran
The Quran is the foundation of Islamic Law. It is the miraculous speech of God that was revealed to the Messenger, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, by way of the angel Gabriel. It has been transmitted to us with so many chains of authority that its historical authenticity is unquestionable. It is written down in its own volume, and its recitation is a form of worship.
As for the Sunnah, it is everything besides the Quran that came from God’s Messenger. It explains and provides details for the laws found in the Quran. It also provides examples of the practical application of these laws. It is also either direct revelation from God, or decisions of the Messenger that were then confirmed by revelation. Therefore, the source of all the Sunnah is revelation.