What is the Sunnah?

The Sunnah is the words, deeds and (tacit) approvals of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). It is one of the two parts of divine revelation that were revealed to the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). The other part of the revelation is the Holy Qur’aan. Allah says:

وَمَا يَنطِقُ عَنِ الْهَوَىٰ ﴿٣ إِنْ هُوَ إِلَّا وَحْيٌ يُوحَىٰ
Nor does he speak of (his own) desire. It is only a revelation revealed. (Soorah al-Najm: 3-4)

It was narrated from al-Miqdaam ibn Ma’di Yakrib (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:

“Verily I have been given the Qur’aan and something similar to it along with it. But soon there will be a time when a man will be reclining on his couch with a full stomach, and he will say, ‘You should adhere to this Qur’aan: what you find that it says is permissible, take it as permissible, and what you find it says is forbidden, take it as forbidden.’ But indeed, whatever the Messenger of Allah forbids is like what Allah forbids.” (Reported in Jaami’ at-Tirmidhi, 2664. Classed hasan by al-Albaani in as-Silsilah as-Saheehah, 2870)

Hassaan ibn ‘Atiyah said:

“Jibreel used to bring the Sunnah down to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) as he used to bring the Qur’aan down to him.” (al-Kifaayah by al-Khateeb, p. 12. Classed saheeh by al-Bayhaqi)

The Sunnah explains the Book of Allah (The Holy Qur’aan) and is a commentary on it. It explains the meanings of what is unclear in the text, provides details for what is depicted in general terms, specifies what is general, and explains its injunctions and objectives. Moreover, it adds some rulings to those in the Qur’aan which are in harmony with the principles, foundations and objectives of the Qur’aan . Allah says:

وَأَنزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الذِّكْرَ لِتُبَيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ مَا نُزِّلَ إِلَيْهِمْ وَلَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ
And We have also sent down unto you (O Muhammad) the Dhikr (reminder and the advice, i.e. the Qur’aan), that you may explain clearly to men what is sent down to them, and that they may give thought. (Soorah al-Nahl: 44)

In explaining what the Sunnah is, Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr said:

“The commentary of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) on the Qur’aan is of two types: (1) Specifying and expounding the things that are mentioned in general terms in the Qur’aan, such as the five daily prayers, their times, prostration, bowing and all other rulings. (2) Adding rulings to the rulings of the Qur’aan, such as the prohibition on being married to a woman and to her paternal or maternal aunt at the same time.” (Jaami’ Bayaan al-‘Ilm wa-Fadlihi, vol. 2, p. 190)

The Sunnah is protected by Allah, so as to preserve the religion from distortion, additions or subtractions. Allah says:

إنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا الذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُ لَحَافِظُونَ
Verily, it is We Who have sent down the Dhikr (the Revelation) and surely, We will guard it (from corruption). (Soorah al-Hijr: 9) 
قُلْ إِنَّمَا أُنذِرُكُم بِالْوَحْيِ ۚ وَلَا يَسْمَعُ الصُّمُّ الدُّعَاءَ إِذَا مَا يُنذَرُونَ
Say (O Muhammad): “I warn you only by the Revelation (from Allah and not by the opinion of the religious scholars and others).” But the deaf (who follow the religious scholars and others blindly) will not hear the call, (even) when they are warned [i.e. one should follow only the Qur’aan and the Sunnah (legal ways, orders, acts of worship, and the statements of Prophet Muhammad, as the Companions of the Prophet did)]. (Soorah al-Anbiya’: 45)

Ibn Hazm (may Allah have mercy on him) said:

“Allah tells us that the words of His Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) are all wahi (revelation), and wahi is undoubtedly Dhikr (the Revelation), and Dhikr is preserved according to the text of the Qur’aan. Thus it is correct to say that his words (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) are all preserved by Allah, may He be glorified and exalted, and He has promised that none of them will be lost to us, because that which Allah preserves can certainly not be lost at all; it has all been transmitted to us and Allah has established proof and left us with no excuse.” (al-Ihkaam, vol. 1, p. 95)

Thus, both the Qur’aan and the Sunnah are divinely revealed. There is only one difference between them, and it is that the Qur’aan is the word of Allah, may He be exalted, which was revealed verbatim to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), whereas the Sunnah may not be the words of Allah verbatim, but is still His Revelation which has been conveyed to us precisely in meaning through the words of His Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).

The scholars of this ummah (nation) throughout the early centuries strove to preserve the sharee’ah (the legislation) and the Sunnah. They have transmitted to us the words of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) as he said them after extensively researching their authenticity and classifying the reports as authentic, weak (in authenticity), unauthentic or fabricated.

Compiled from various sources and edited by Masjid Nur Allah staff.