The Sunnah: What is the Sunnah - Why do we need the Sunnah?

Praise be unto Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala,  the Lord of the Worlds. Blessings and peace be upon the Prophet Muhammad

Sall Allahu alaihi wa sallam, his family, his companions, and those who follow his guidance unto the Day of Judgement.


Do we all clearly know and understand what is the defination of the Sunnah? The Sunnah is the legal way or ways, orders, acts of worship and statements of the Prophet Sall Allahu alaihi wa sallam (means: may the peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him),  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 Through this prevailing ignorance, it has become a word which is outdated.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 Islam. And to reject Islam, it to humiliate and degrade oneself, both in this world and the next. 

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 Muhammad Sall Allahu alaihi wa sallam As Muslims we believe that the law Prophet Muhammad Sall Allahu alaihi wa sallam  came with, is a divine revelation from our Creator, Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala. However many people believe that the Qur'an is the only form of divine revelation, as it is the literal word of Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala. This view is incorrect as it contradicts the Qur'an itself. About the Prophet Muhammad Sall Allahu alaihi wa sallam,  Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala says:

"Your companion (Muhammad) is neither astray nor being misled. Nor does he speak of his own desire. It is (only) the revelation with which he is inspired" (Surah An-Najm 53:2-4).

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 Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala, the most High. The Qur'an is composed of the actual words of Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala, whereas the Sunnah is expressed through the words, actions and approvals of the Prophet Muhammad Sall Allahu alaihi wa sallam. Another difference is that the Qur'an is recited formally in the prayers whereas the Sunnah is not.

As a way of life, Islaam 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 Islam 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 Sall Allahu alaihi wa sallam  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 Allaah Sall Allahu alaihi wa sallam has forbidden is like what Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala 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 (saws) 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.

Why do we need the Sunnah?

Before the advent of the Prophet Muhammad Sall Allahu alaihi wa sallam,  every nation on this planet had received a Messenger. The purpose of these Messengers was to instruct their people in how to worship Allaah correctly. The Prophet Muhammad Sall Allahu alaihi wa sallam  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, Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala 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:

"We have revealed the reminder (Qur'an) to you (O' Muhammad) in order that you explain to the people what has been revealed to them, that perhaps they may reflect" (Surah An-Nahl 16:44)

By explaining the Qur'an through his words and actions, the Prophet Sall Allahu alaihi wa sallam through his Sunnah, gives us the best example of how this book is to be understood and practised. This is why Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala says:

"Indeed in the Messenger of Allaah you have the most beautiful pattern of conduct"  (Surah Al-Ahzab 33:21)

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 Allaah properly.  As Muslims we do not have this worry, because the Sunnah is our divine explanation. The Qur'an commands us to worship Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala 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 Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala has sent us a practical example in the form of the Prophet Sall Allahu alaihi wa sallam  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 Aisha said: ".his character was that of the Qur'an"[2].

Is it obligatory to follow the Sunnah?

Obeying Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala is without doubt, obligatory. So when Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala says:

"Whosoever obeys the Messenger, has indeed obeyed Allaah" (Surah An-Nisa 4:80)

It should be clear that one has obeyed Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala by obeying the Messenger Sall Allahu alaihi wa sallam. Furthermore Muhammad Sall Allahu alaihi wa sallam  said: ".whosoever disobeys me, disobeys Allaah"[3]. Following the Sunnah is clearly an obligation upon every Muslim.

The obligation is stressed even more when Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala says:

"But no, by your Lord, they can have no faith, until they make you (O' Muhammad) judge in all disputes between them, and find in themselves no resistance against your decisions, and accept them with full submission" (Sura An-Nisa 4:65)

and :

"It is not fitting for a believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decreed by Allaah and His Messenger to have any choice in the matter. If anyone disobeys Allaah and His Messenger he is clearly astray" (Surah Al-Ahzab 33:36)

As Muslims we know that when Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala or His Messenger Sall Allahu alaihi wa sallam decree something for us, it will always benefit us, even if we do not realise it. Thus, submitting to the Messenger Sall Allahu alahi wa sallam 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 Allaah, Muhammad Sall Allahu alaihi wa sallam  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 Sall Allahu alaihi wa sallam came to Madeenah[4] 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].

Islam is a religion which singles out Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala alone for worship. It is for this reason that the possibility of Muhammad Sall Allahu alaihi wa sallam being anything more than a man, is totally absurd. As a Messenger of Allaah we believe that his Sunnah is infallible, but at the same time we maintain a perfect balance by remembering the words of Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala:

"Say (O' Muhammad) : 'I am only a man like you (except that) it has been revealed to me that your God is one God" (Surah Al-Kahf 18:110)

True Muslims will follow Muhammad Sall Allahu alaihi wa sallam,  not worship him.

What are the benefits of the Sunnah? 


One of the scholars of the past, Imam Malik[6], 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:

"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'" (Surah Al-Furqan 25:27)

This regret will continue during the punishment:

"On the day the faces will be tossed about in the fire, they will say: 'Woe to us! Would that we had obeyed Allaah and his Messenger" (Surah Az-Zukhruf 43:67)

On the other hand, the one who adhered to the Sunnah will attain the ultimate benefit:

"Whoever obeys Allaah and his Messenger will be admitted to gardens beneath which rivers flow to live there (forever), and that will be the great achievement" (Surah An-Nisa 4:13)

This is further confirmed by the Prophet Sall Allahu alaihi wa sallam 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 Sall Allahu alaihi wa sallam's way is such, that is produces a physical, spiritual and psychological benefit to its adherent. This fact is also recognised 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 then 1000 years ago, from the tongue of the Prophet Sall Allahu alaihi wa sallam, 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.

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 inshaa'Allaah (if God Wills) will come reform. And the one who reforms his life around the Sunnah of Muhammad Sall Allahu alaihi wa sallam, 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 Allaah and the Sunnah of His Messenger"[9].  

1. Authentic - Reported by Ahmad and Abu Dawood.
2. Reported by Muslim - Eng. Trans. Vol.1,  p358-360, No.1623.
3. Reported by Bukhari - Eng. Trans. Vol.9, p.198, No.251.
4. The Prophet (saws) immigrated from his hometown of Mecca to the city of Madeenah.
5. Reported by Muslim. Eng. Trans. Vol.4, p.1259, No.5831.
6. Malik bin Anas was born in 713 CE in Madeenah, where he grew up studying Hadeeth. 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 hadeeth Al-Muwatta, which took over 40 years. The Maalikite School of Islamic law takes its name after 
7. Reported in Majmoo al-Fataawa (4/57).
8. Reported by Bukhari - Eng. Trans. Vol.9, p.284, No.384.
9. Authentic - Reported from Al-Muwatta.


Reference: TROID Publications - The Reign Of Islaamic Dawah
"Let the Sunnah Go Forth"

(Article from the newsletter 'Invitation to Islam' September 1997)


Praise be to Allah, may His Ta'ala's Blessings and Peace

be upon the Prophet Muhammad Sall Allahu alaihi wa sallam,

his family,  his companions, and his adherents.


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