Islamic Sources: Quran and Sunnah (part 2 of 2)

Since 2012-12-22

The religion of Islam is based upon the Quran (the Word of God) and the Sunnah (teachings and attributes of Prophet Muhammad). Part 2: Sunnah: The Secondary Source of Islam


The term Sunnah comes from the root word sanna, which means to pave the way or make a path easily passable, such that it becomes a commonly followed way by everyone afterwards. Thus Sunnah can be used to describe a street or road or path on which people, animals, and cars travel. Additionally, it can apply to a prophetic way, i.e. the law that they brought and taught as an explanation or further clarification of a divinely revealed book. Normally, the prophetic way includes references to his sayings, actions, physical features and character traits.
From the Islaamic standpoint, Sunnah refers to anything narrated or related about the Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, authentically traced to him regarding his speech, actions, traits, and silent approvals.
Each narration is composed of two parts: the isnad and the matn. The isnad refers to a chain of people who narrated a particular narration. The matn is the actual text of the narration. The isnad must comprise upright and sincere individuals whose integrity is unquestionable.
The Speech of Prophet Muhammad
The speech of Prophet Muhammad refers to his sayings. For example, he said:«Actions are judged by their intentions; everyone will be rewarded according to his/her intention. So whoever migrates for the sake of God and His Prophet then his migration will be noted as a migration for the sake of God and His Prophet. Conversely, one who migrates only to obtain something worldly or to marry a woman, then his migration will be worth what he had intended.» [Saheeh Al-Bukhari]
«الأعمال بالنية، ولكل امرئ ما نوى، فمن كانت هجرته إلى الله ورسوله فهجرته إلى الله ورسوله، ومن كانت هجرته لدنيا يصيبها أو امرأة يتزوجها، فهجرته إلى ما هاجر إليه» البخاري
The Prophet also said: «Whoever believes in God and the Last Day, should say something good or keep quiet.» [Saheeh Al-Bukhari]
«من كان يؤمن بالله واليوم الآخر فليقل خيرا أو ليصمت» البخاري
The above two accounts clearly show that the Prophet spoke these words. Consequently, these are known as his speech.
The Actions of Prophet Muhammad
His actions pertain to anything he did, as authentically reported by the Sahabah (Companions). For instance, Hudhayfah reported that whenever the Prophet got up at night, he would clean his teeth with a tooth-stick. Also Aishah reported that the Prophet loved to do everything starting with the right side - putting on shoes, walking, cleaning himself, and in all his affairs generally.
The Silent Approvals of Prophet Muhammad
His silent approvals on different issues meant his not opposing or minding what he saw, heard or knew of the actions or sayings of his Companions. On one occasion, for example, the Prophet learned of actions of some of his Companions from other Companions. Soon after the battle of Khandaq, Prophet Muhammad gave the order to the Companions to move quickly to the tribe of Banu Quraydah, encouraging them to hurry so that perhaps they would pray Asr (the late afternoon prayer) there. Some of the Companions of the Prophet responded immediately and left without praying Asr. They arrived after sunset, pitched camp and prayed Asr- after sunset. At the same time, another group of Companions formulated their judgment differently. They thought that the Prophet was merely encouraging them to hasten to their destination, rather than to delay Asr until after sunset. Consequently, they decided to stay in Madinah until they had prayed Asr. Immediately thereafter, they hastened towards the tribe of Banu Quraydhah. When the Prophet was told of how each group responded differently to his announcement, he affirmed both judgments.
Physical and Moral Traits of Prophet Muhammad
Everything authentically narrated concerning the Prophet’s complexion and the rest of his physical features is also included in the definition of Sunnah.
«Jabir b. Samura reported that Allah's Messenger (prayers and peace of Allah be upon him) had a broad face with reddish (wide) eyes, and lean heels. Shu'ba reported: I said to Simak: What does this dali-ul-fam mean? And he said: This means broad face. I said: What does this ashkal mean? He said: Long in the slit of the eye. I said: What is this manhus-ul-aqibain? He said: It implies little flesh at the heels.» [Muslim]
«كان رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم ضليع الفم. أشكل العين. منهوس العقبين. قال: قلت لسماك: ما ضليع الفم؟ قال: عظيم الفم. قال قلت: ما أشكل العين؟ قال: طويل شق العين. قال قلت: ما منهوس العقب؟ قال: قليل لحم العقب» مسلم
I heard Anas bin Malik describing the Prophet saying, «He was of medium height amongst the people, neither tall nor short; he had a rosy color, neither absolutely white nor deep brown; his hair was neither completely curly nor quite lank...» [Al-Bukhari]
سمعت أنس بن مالك يصف النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال: «كان رَبعَةً مِن القومِ، ليس بالطويل ولا بالقصير، أزهر اللون، ليسَ بأبَيضَ أمهَقَ ولاَ آدمَ، ليسَ بجَعدٍ قططٍ ولا سَبطٍ رَجلٍ» البخاري
«Jabir b. Samura reported that there had appeared some whiteness on the front part of the head and beard of Allah's Messenger (prayers and peace of Allah be upon him).When he applied oil, it did not become visible, but when he did not (apply) oil, it became apparent. And he had a thick beard. A person said: His face was as (bright) as the sword. Thereupon he (Jabir) said: No, it was round and like the sun and the moon. And I saw the seal near his shoulder of the size of a pigeon's egg and its color was the same as that of his body.» [Muslim]
«كان رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قد شمط مقدم رأسه ولحيته. وكان إذا ادهن لم يتبين، وإذا شعث رأسه تبين. وكان كثير شعر اللحية، فقال رجل: وجهه مثل السيف؟ قال: لا. بل كان مثل الشمس والقمر. وكان مستديرا. ورأيت الخاتم عند كتفه مثل بيضة الحمامة، يشبه جسده» مسلم
Along with his physical features, his Companions also described his habits and behavior with people. Once Anas reported: I served him in journey and at home, but, by Allah, he never asked me about a thing which I did as to why I did so, nor about a thing which I did not do as to why I had not done that.» [Muslim]
«فخدمته في الحضر والسفر، فو الله ما قال لي لشيء صنعته لم صنعت هذا هكذا، ولا لشيء لم أصنعه لم لم تصنع هذا هكذا» مسلم
From the above we can clearly see that when the term Sunnah appears in a general context referring to Prophet Muhammad it comprises anything narrated about the Prophet and authentically traced to him. Once a Muslim learns of the authenticity of any narration, he/she is obliged to follow and obey it accordingly. Such obedience is mandated by God as He declares:
{you who believe! Obey Allah and His Messenger, and turn not away from him (i.e. Messenger Muhammad SAW) while you are hearing.} [Al-Anfal 8:20]
{يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَطِيعُوا اللَّـهَ وَرَسُولَهُ وَلَا تَوَلَّوْا عَنْهُ وَأَنتُمْ تَسْمَعُونَ} الأنفال: 20
Transliteration: Yā 'Ayyuhā Al-Ladhīna 'Āmanū 'Aţī`ū Allāha Wa Rasūlahu Wa Lā Tawallaw `Anhu Wa 'Antum Tasma`ūna
At times, some Muslims are perplexed when people say that Sunnah is something only recommended and is not mandatory. Thus they conclude that we are only required to follow the Qur’an and not the Sunnah. Such an argument results from a gross misunderstanding. Scholars of Islaamic jurisprudence use the term Sunnah to denote what is authentically established of Prophet Muhammad in deeds which were not subsequently made mandatory by God.
They further hold that this includes any saying of Prophet Muhammad where he encourages Muslims to do a particular task and compliments those who uphold such attributes. Thus to them, the term Sunnah refers to what is “recommended” and is not mandatory (fard or wajib).
From the above, we can clearly see that the term Sunnah takes on different meanings when used by different Islaamic disciplines.
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  • ahmedfarhan

    Quran is the primary basis followed by sunnah. Succeeding Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is following God.
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