To deny for Allāh everything which He has denied for Himself in His Book, or which His Messenger denied for Him, along with believing that its fully perfect opposite is confirmed for Allāh – the Most High.
Sunnah: The legal way or ways, orders, acts of worship and statements of the Prophet (ﷺ), that are ideals and models to be followed by Muslims.
For some Muslims, the term Sunnah means nothing. It carries no weight in their lives nor does it inspire them to correct their actions accordingly. Through this prevailing ignorance, it has become a word which is outdated. But the reality is such, that by us rejecting this divine institution, we have taken ourselves down the slippery road of destruction and misery. To reject the Sunnah is to reject the beautiful religion of Islām. And to reject Islām, it to humiliate and degrade oneself, both in this world and the next. So…
What is the Sunnah?
Linguistically, Sunnah is an Arabic word which means a path or a way. However, Islamically, it is a primary source of law taken from the sayings, actions and approvals of the Prophet Muḥammad (ﷺ). As Muslims, we believe that the law Prophet Muḥammad (ﷺ) came with, is a divine revelation from our Creator, Allāh. However, many people believe that the Qur’an is the only form of divine revelation, as it is the literal word of Allāh. This view is incorrect as it contradicts the Qur’an itself. About the Prophet Muḥammad (ﷺ), Allāh says:
مَا ضَلَّ صَاحِبُكُمْ وَمَا غَوَىٰ ﴿٢﴾ وَمَا يَنطِقُ عَنِ الْهَوَىٰ ﴿٣﴾ إِنْ هُوَ إِلَّا وَحْيٌ يُوحَىٰ ﴿٤﴾
“Your companion (Muḥammad) is neither astray nor being misled. Nor does he speak of his own desire. It is (only) the revelation with which he is inspired”
Thus as Muslims, we are required to believe that the Qur’an and Sunnah go hand in hand together as our sources of legislated law. Both are revelation from Allāh, the most High. The Qur’an is composed of the actual words of Allāh, whereas the Sunnah is expressed through the words, actions and approvals of the Prophet Muḥammad (ﷺ). Another difference is that the Qur’an is recited formally in the prayers whereas the Sunnah is not.
As a way of life, Islām is perfect and complete. However, such are the times that we live in, that some of the liberal elite from the Muslims choose to deny aspects of Islām to suit their own desires. It is even more sad, that many choose to deny the Sunnah in particular. However this is clearly wrong, as the saying of the Prophet (ﷺ) indicates: “I have been given the Qur’an and something similar to it besides it. Yet a time will come when a man leaning on his couch will say ‘follow the Qur’an only; what you find in it permissible, take as permissible, and what you find as forbidden, take as forbidden’. But verily what the Messenger of Allāh has forbidden is like what Allāh has forbidden”1. The words of the Arabian Prophet ring truthfully in our ears again. Today there are a group of people in Pakistan called the Pervezies who say exactly as the Prophet (ﷺ) foretold. They firmly insist that the Qur’an is the only source of law to be followed. Thus, they neither consider the Sunnah a source of law, nor a regulation of our daily affairs. This has led to many Muslim scholars declaring (and rightly so) that the Pervezies are not Muslims. So…
Why Do We Need the Sunnah?
Before the advent of the Prophet Muḥammad (ﷺ) , every nation on this planet had received a Messenger. The purpose of these Messengers was to instruct their people in how to worship Allāh correctly. The Prophet Muḥammad (ﷺ) was no exception to this. If we had been given the Qur’an on its own, then most of us who are Muslims would have gone astray through our own interpretations of this book. Rather, Allāh through his mercy, sent a noble Messenger who came to explain this Qur’an so that the people of the earth may understand their Creator better:
وَأَنزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الذِّكْرَ لِتُبَيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ مَا نُزِّلَ إِلَيْهِمْ وَلَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ ﴿٤٤﴾
“We have revealed the reminder (Qur’an) to you (O’ Muḥammad) in order that you explain to the people what has been revealed to them, that perhaps they may reflect”
By explaining the Qur’an through his words and actions, the Prophet through his Sunnah, gives us the best example of how this book is to be understood and practiced. This is why Allāh says:
لَّقَدْ كَانَ لَكُمْ فِي رَسُولِ اللَّهِ أُسْوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ ﴿٢١﴾
“Indeed in the Messenger of Allāh you have the most beautiful pattern of conduct”
Our need for the Sunnah is so great, that without it our religion would be incomplete. In fact, this is the exact predicament which all the other religious scriptures find themselves in. Books such as the Bible and the Baghvad Gita, are so lacking in a divine explanation, that one can never understand (from them) as how to worship Allāh properly. As Muslims we do not have this worry, because the Sunnah is our divine explanation. The Qur’an commands us to worship Allāh through prayer, fasting, charity etc, but it does not inform us of how to perform these duties practically. It is through his infinite Wisdom, that Allāh has sent us a practical example in the form of the Prophet ﷺ and his teachings. The Prophet’s adherence and practice of the Qur’an was so exemplary, that upon being asked about his character, his wife Āʿishah said: “…his character was that of the Qur’an”. So…
Is it Obligatory to Follow the Sunnah?
Obeying Allāh is without doubt, obligatory. So when Allāh says:
مَّن يُطِعِ الرَّسُولَ فَقَدْ أَطَاعَ اللَّهَ ۖ وَمَن تَوَلَّىٰ فَمَا أَرْسَلْنَاكَ عَلَيْهِمْ حَفِيظًا ﴿٨٠﴾
“Whosoever obeys the Messenger, has indeed obeyed Allāh”
it should be clear that one has obeyed Allāh by obeying the Messenger. Furthermore Muḥammad (ﷺ) said: “…whosoever disobeys me, disobeys Allāh”3. Following the Sunnah is clearly an obligation upon every Muslim.
The obligation is stressed even more when Allāh says:
فَلَا وَرَبِّكَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ حَتَّىٰ يُحَكِّمُوكَ فِيمَا شَجَرَ بَيْنَهُمْ ثُمَّ لَا يَجِدُوا فِي أَنفُسِهِمْ حَرَجًا مِّمَّا قَضَيْتَ وَيُسَلِّمُوا تَسْلِيمًا ﴿٦٥﴾
“But no, by your Lord, they can have no faith, until they make you (O’ Muḥammad) judge in all disputes between them, and find in themselves no resistance against your decisions, and accept them with full submission”
وَمَا كَانَ لِمُؤْمِنٍ وَلَا مُؤْمِنَةٍ إِذَا قَضَى اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ أَمْرًا أَن يَكُونَ لَهُمُ الْخِيَرَةُ مِنْ أَمْرِهِمْ ۗ وَمَن يَعْصِ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ فَقَدْ ضَلَّ ضَلَالًا مُّبِينًا ﴿٣٦﴾
“It is not fitting for a believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decreed by Allāh and His Messenger to have any choice in the matter. If anyone disobeys Allāh and His Messenger he is clearly astray”
As Muslims we know that when Allāh or His Messenger decree something for us, it will always benefit us, even if we do not realise it. Thus, submitting to the Messenger is only there for our benefit and not to oppress us, as some mistakenly believe.
It must also be remembered that besides being the Messenger of Allāh, Muḥammad (ﷺ) was an Arab man living in seventh century Arabia. This meant that he had his own personal tastes and preferences just like any other mortal. These preferences are clearly distinguished from the Islamic law which is binding upon everyone. Thus, his personal Sunnah is clearly distinct from the legal Sunnah which he brought. An example of this distinction is when the Prophet (ﷺ) came to Madīnah4 and found the inhabitants artificially pollinating the date palm trees. When he asked them why they did so, they replied that it was their habit. He suggested to them that maybe if they did not do it; it may be better. So they gave it up and the following year their crop was greatly diminished. When they told him of this he replied: “I am only a human being. When I issue any command to you regarding your religion, then accept it, but when I issue any command to you based on my own opinion, I am merely a human being”5.
Islām is a religion which singles out Allāh alone for worship. It is for this reason that the possibility of Muḥammad (ﷺ) being anything more than a man, is totally absurd. As a Messenger of Allāh we believe that his Sunnah is infallible, but at the same time we maintain a perfect balance by remembering the words of Allāh:
قُلْ إِنَّمَا أَنَا بَشَرٌ مِّثْلُكُمْ يُوحَىٰ إِلَيَّ أَنَّمَا إِلَٰهُكُمْ إِلَٰهٌ وَاحِدٌ ۖ ﴿١١٠﴾
“Say (O’ Muḥammad) : ‘I am only a man like you (except that) it has been revealed to me that your God is one God”
True Muslims will follow Muḥammad (ﷺ), not worship him. So…
What are the benefits of the Sunnah?
One of the scholars of the past, Imām Malik6, said: “The Sunnah is like the ark of Noah. Whoever embarks upon it achieves salvation and whoever rejects it, is drowned”7.
This salvation is the admittance into Paradise and avoiding the fire of Hell. Regret is a terrible state. But regret on the Day of Judgement will be even worse for the one who did not follow the Sunnah:
وَيَوْمَ يَعَضُّ الظَّالِمُ عَلَىٰ يَدَيْهِ يَقُولُ يَا لَيْتَنِي اتَّخَذْتُ مَعَ الرَّسُولِ سَبِيلًا ﴿٢٧﴾
“And remember the day when the wrongdoer will bite at his hand and say: ‘Oh! Would that I had taken the path of the Messenger’”
This regret will continue during the punishment:
يَوْمَ تُقَلَّبُ وُجُوهُهُمْ فِي النَّارِ يَقُولُونَ يَا لَيْتَنَا أَطَعْنَا اللَّهَ وَأَطَعْنَا الرَّسُولَا ﴿٦٦﴾
“On the day the faces will be tossed about in the fire, they will say: ‘Woe to us! Would that we had obeyed Allāh and his Messenger”
On the other hand, the one who adhered to the Sunnah will attain the ultimate benefit:
وَمَن يُطِعِ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ يُدْخِلْهُ جَنَّاتٍ تَجْرِي مِن تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا ۚ وَذَٰلِكَ الْفَوْزُ الْعَظِيمُ ﴿١٣﴾
“Whoever obeys Allāh and his Messenger will be admitted to gardens beneath which rivers flow to live there (forever), and that will be the great achievement”
This is further confirmed by the Prophet (ﷺ) himself when he said: “He who obeys me enters Paradise, and he who disobeys me refuses to enter Paradise.”8
The sweetness of the Sunnah will also be tasted during this life. The vastness of the Prophet’s way is such, that it produces a physical, spiritual and psychological benefit to its adherent. This fact is also recognized by non-Muslim scientists who have discovered that the Sunnah is extremely accurate in its conformity with modern scientific data. Scientific and Medical facts which were recorded more than 1000 years ago, from the tongue of the Prophet (ﷺ), have only been recently discovered.
Such findings prove that the Sunnah could only have been divinely revealed. Thus, the one who lives his life by this law will bring goodness upon himself and upon the rest of this decaying world. As for one who chooses to discard these divine rules, then that is a person who has lost a treasure which far outweighs any treasure that the earth can bring forward. A treasure which will bring eternal happiness. So…
We hope that what has been read, will encourage the reader to investigate into the way of this amazing man, and adhere to the law which he brought. Through investigation إن شاء الله (if God Wills) will come reform. And the one who reforms his life around the Sunnah of Muḥammad (ﷺ), can be assured of a complete guidance:
“I have left two things among you, as long as you hold fast to them you will never go astray. They are the Book of Allāh and the Sunnah of His Messenger”9
- Authentic – Reported by Aḥmad and Abū Dāwūd.
- Reported by Muslim – Eng. Trans. Vol.1, Pp358-360, No.1623.
- Reported by Bukharī – Eng. Trans. Vol.9, p.198, No.251.
- The Prophet ﷺ immigrated from his hometown of Mecca to the city of Madīnah.
- Reported by Muslim. Eng. Trans. Vol.4, p.1259, No.5831.
- Malik ibn Anas was born in 713 CE in Madīnah, where he grew up studying Ḥadīth. He soon became the leading scholar of the region and often ran into the authorities for speaking the truth. This resulted in him being jailed and flogged. He compiled the classical book of ḥadīth, Al-Muwaṭṭaʾ, which took over 40 years. The Mālikite School of Islamic law takes its name after him.
- Reported in Majmūʿ al-Fatāwá (4/57).
- Reported by Bukharī – Eng. Trans. Vol.9, p.284, No.384.
- Authentic – Reported from Al-Muwaṭṭaʾ.
[Article from the newsletter ‘Invitation to Islām’ September 1997]