- The Sunnah
Muslims, it seems, are confused about the SUNNAH. They are not at all
sure what is really meant by it. They ask: "Does it include the personal
habits, likes and dislikes of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon
him?" This confusion about the SUNNAH is not altogether surprising
for even the scholars have differing views concerning it.
word SUNNAH literally means ‘way, path, rule, custom, manner of acting
or mode of life.’
In the terminology of Islam, it generally refers to the sayings and doings of
the Holy Prophet (S) as reported in the HADITH (lit. ‘sayings’).
Thus SUNNAH and HADITH are held to be synonymous and are often
collectively called the TRADITIONS.
is divided into three categories:-
SUNNATU’L-’FI’L - What the Holy Prophet (S) did; i.e. his actions or
- What he enjoined; i.e. a saying which has a bearing on a religious matter.
- The sayings, actions or practice of another person which the Holy Prophet (S)
knew of, did not forbid, and therefore, is considered to have given his unspoken
It can seen from the foregoing,
therefore, that the SUNNAH plays an important part in the teachings of
Islam. Indeed, it is supplementary and second in importance only to the
HOLY QUR'AN. The latter, generally speaking, deals with the broad principles and
essentials of the Faith, while the former supplies the details. It is for this
reason that the SUNNAH is often referred to in the HADITH in
conjunction with the HOLY QUR'AN:-
Book and the Prophet’s Sunnah." (Muslim).
the best word is the Word of Allah and the best rule of life is that delivered
by His Messenger". (Mishkat).
have left you two things and you will not stray as long as you hold fast to
them. The one is the Book of Allah and the other is the Sunnah
of His Messenger". (Ibid).
occasion, people came to the Holy Prophet (S) and asked him: "Send us men
to teach us the Qur'an and the Sunnah." (Muslim). On another it was said: "The Faith has
settled in the depths of the hearts of men. They have thus learned the Qur'an
and Sunnah." (Bukhari).
many Muslims, because of their understandably great veneration for the Holy
Prophet (S) and the importance which is attached to the SUNNAH, actually
place the HADITH on a parity with the HOLY
QUR'AN. Some go even further and place greater emphasis on the former than on
the latter! They become well versed in the sayings and doings of the Holy
Prophet (S) but know very little of Allah’s Revelations to His Messenger!
Many of our
scholars also, because of their meticulous attention to, and literal
interpretation of the HADITH, have contributed in no small measure to
the confusion surrounding the SUNNAH. Some of their pronouncements are
not only contradictory but perverse and illogical. A typical example of this is
that they hold the Holy Prophet’s beard to be SUNNAH but not his
shoulder-length hair; his turban but not his sandals!
mentioned in several AHADITH that the Holy Prophet (S) had beautiful
teeth - strong, well-set and gleaming white. This was due to his assiduous use
of the miswaak (toothbrush). There are
particular AHADITH stating that he declared that he would have made the
use of the miswaak obligatory before every salaat (prayer) had he not feared that to do so
would place a burden on his followers. Some years ago, a well-known Muslim
religious leader in South Africa, a ‘Mufti’, while commenting on these AHADITH,
became so carried away that in the course of a Friday khutba
(sermon) at the Sabiree Masjid, he
thundered: "Those who speak against the miswaak
are kafirs (unbelievers)!"
One of the
Four Imams, Abmad ibn
Hanbal (may Allah bless him), was a great
Traditionist and was renowned for the care with which he observed the SUNNAH.
It is stated that he would not eat water-melons because, although he knew that
the Holy Prophet (S) ate them, he could not learn whether the Holy Prophet (S)
ate them with or without the rind, or whether he broke, bit or cut them.
occasion, when a woman asked the learned Imam whether it was proper for
her to spin material for clothing by the light of torches passing in the
streets at night, he forbade her from doing so because he said that the Holy
Prophet (S) had not mentioned that it was lawful to do so!
It is quite
possible that the pious Imam, when making these judgments, had in mind
one HADITH: "He who does not follow my SUNNAH is not of
me," (Bukhari); or another which stated
that among the six categories of people cursed by Allah, the Holy Prophet
himself and all the other Prophets, are those who have abandoned the SUNNAH,
(Tirmidhi); or the fact that Islam is
considered to be a complete way of life with the SUNNAH an integral part
of its teachings.
help feeling, however, that one can take adherence to the ‘SUNNAH’ too
far - even to the point of absurdity. The point to remember is that the Holy
Prophet (S), despite his unique status as the Seal of the Prophets, and thus
the IDEAL MODEL for all peoples of all times, was nevertheless a human being.
This fact he repeatedly impressed upon his Companions and others, and it is
best illustrated by the following incident:-
Messenger of Allah (S) came to Madinah when the
people were grafting the male bud of a date tree into the female in order to
produce greater abundance of fruit and he said: ‘Why do you do this?’ They
replied: ‘It is an ancient custom.’ The Messenger of Allah (S) said: ‘Perhaps
it would be better if you do not do it.’ And then they left off the custom, and
the trees yielded but little fruit. The people complained to him and he said:
‘I am no more than a man. When I order anything with respect to religion,
receive it; but when I order you about the affairs of the world, then I speak only as a man.’" (Mishkat).
It is obvious
that not everything in the HADITH can be classified as SUNNAH and
very often the latter term is applied too loosely. It is our view, therefore,
that in the matter of the SUNNAH, we should try and not let the
‘experts’ confuse us. We should just use our common sense while always bearing
in mind the general principles laid down in the HOLY QUR'AN.
An Excellent Exemplar
have Indeed in the Messenger of Allah an excellent exemplar for those who place
their hopes in Allah and the Last Day, and remember Allah much." (Holy
May 31, 2002. This editorial was printed in the April-June 2002 issue
of "The Message," a United Islamic Association (UIA) publication,