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. The 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 (Sunnah Qawliyyah), 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 (ALLAH). 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 Sunnah salat.
Sunnah is an Arabic word that means “habit” or “usual practice”. 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.
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 new knowledge.
“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.
For Muslims the imitation of Muhammad helps one to know and be loved by GOD (ALLAH): 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. [Quran 16:64]
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”.