Introduction to the Sunnah
Shaykh Suhayb Hasan
Chapter 1 - Revelation
Besides the Qur'ān
The Qur'ān is the word of God
which was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, and preserved both verbally and
in writing by his Companions. Apart from the Qur'ān, whatever the Prophet uttered or did was also preserved by the Companions.
Thus the Sunnah includes the sayings of the Prophet, peace be upon him, known commonly as hadiths (i.e. sayings), his practices,
and actions which gained his approval. Both the Qur'ān and the Sunnah fall under a common title "wahy" (i.e. revelation or
inspiration); the difference between the two is that the Qur'ān is a revelation which is recited (matalu) in the formal prayer
(salat) while the Sunnah is not recited in the formal prayers. The importance of the Sunnah as the second source of Islam
is covered in Chapter 2.
First of all, we will establish
that the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, not only received the verses of the Qur'ān from God, but
he also received other revelation from time to time which is now preserved in the form of hadiths. The following examples
show how the Qur'ān itself refers to this revelation:
1. According to verse 144 of Sūrah
al-Baqarah (Chapter 2 of the Qur'ān), God Almighty commanded the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon
him, to face the Ka'bah (in Mecca) in his daily prayers instead of Jerusalem.
"We see the turning of thy face
to the heavens: now shall We turn thee to a Qiblah that shall please thee. Turn then thy face in the direction of the Sacred
Mosque; wherever ye are, turn your faces in that direction."
But why was the Prophet, may the
peace and blessings of God be upon him, facing Jerusalem before that? Verse 143 (of Sūrah al-Baqarah) shows that God Himself
had appointed Jerusalem as the initial Qiblah (i.e. direction faced when praying) for the Prophet, may the peace and blessings
of God be upon him.
"And we appointed the Qiblah to
which thou was used, only to test those who followed the Messenger from those who would turn on their heels (from the Faith)."
The appointment of the previous
Qiblah is referred to as being in the past. But there is no verse in the Qur'ān which commands the Prophet, may the peace
and blessings of God be upon him, to face Jerusalem at the beginning of his mission! Therefore, the Prophet, may the peace
and blessings of God be upon him, must have received this guidance from God in a form other than the Qur'ān. As we have said
above, this alternative revelation is preserved in the Sunnah.
2. In verse 3 of Sūrah al-Tahreem
(Chapter 66 of the Qur'ān), a certain incident is cited.
"When the Prophet disclosed a
matter in confidence to one of his wives, and she then divulged it, and God made it known to him, he confirmed a part of it
and repudiated a part. Then when he told her of it, she said, 'Who told you this?' He said, 'He told me Who knows and is well-acquainted
(with all things)'."
We must consider carefully the
phrases "God made it known to him" and "He told me Who knows and is well-acquainted", The question is, how did God make it
known to him and tell him? Certainly not via the Qur'ān, since there is no mention of it anywhere else in the Book of God.
Therefore, the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, must have been told via revelation from God which
is not part of the Qur'ān.
3. In verse 5 of Sūrah al-Hashr
(Chapter 59 of the Qur'ān), a reference is made to the expedition against the rebellious Jewish tribe of Banu Nadir, during
which the Muslims cut down some palm-trees and left others alone.
"Whether ye (O Muslims) cut down
the tender palm-trees or ye left them standing on their roots, it was by leave of God, and in order that He might cover the
rebellious transgressors with shame."
Here, their action is attributed
to the "leave of God" given to them. Nowhere in the Qur'ān is such permission found. Hence God guided the Prophet, may the
peace and blessings of God be upon him, in this matter but not via the Qur'ān.
4. According to verses 17-18 of
Sūrah al-Qiyamah (Chapter 75), God took it upon Himself to collect the Qur'ān. The Prophet, may the peace and blessings of
God be upon him, directed the scribes of the Qur'ān to arrange its Sūrahs (chapters) in the order found today; this is not
the order in which they were revealed. Therefore, since this was God's responsibility, it shows that He guided the Prophet,
may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, with respect to the order of the Sūrahs.
These are just a few examples
out of many which leave no doubt that the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, used to receive revelation
from God either directly or through the medium of the Angel Gabriel (Arabic: Jibreel). A part of this revelation was preserved
word for word under the title of the Qur'ān. All other revelation was embodied either in the Prophet's sayings or in his practices
which were carefully preserved by the Companions as the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of God
be upon him.
The various purposes
served by the Sunnah
The Mother of the Believers (Arabic:
Umm al-Mu'mineen) 'Aishah was once asked: "What was the character of the Prophet?" She replied: "His character was nothing
but the Qur'ān". Thus the Prophet, peace be upon him, was an embodiment of the Qur'ān itself: whatever he practiced or said,
i.e. the Sunnah, is related to the guidance of the Qur'ān. Let us explore the role of the Sunnah in relation to the Qur'ān.
1. The Sunnah explains
Qur'ānic injunctions in detail.
a) God says in verse 43 of Sūrah
al-Baqarah (Chapter 2 of the Qur'ān): "Establish prayer and practice regular charity", and many similar verses (Arabic: ayaat)
also exist. All issues related to the prayer, such as the required number of daily prayers, the number of prayer units (Arabic:
rak'at) and the recitation in each prayer, as well as how to perform the prayer from beginning to end, are explained by the
Sunnah. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: "Pray as you have seen me pray." (Reported in Sahīh al-Bukhārī.) Similarly,
all issues related to the Poor Due (Arabic: zakat), such as the minimum amount on which zakat becomes payable, the percentage
paid, the kinds of wealth, goods, and animals on which zakat is obligatory, etc. are clearly expounded by the Sunnah of the
Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him.
Again, a detailed picture of fasting
and Hajj can only be seen in the Sunnah, for the Qur'ān has touched upon both subjects briefly.
b) Almighty God says in verse
38 of Sūrah al-Ma'idah (Chapter 5 of the Qur'ān):
"As to the thief, male or female,
cut off his or her hand - a punishment from God by way of example for their crime. And God is exalted in Power, Wise."
The Sunnah explains the minimum
of stolen goods for which a thief deserves this punishment and the manner in which the hand should be cut off.
To reject the Sunnah, as some
misguided "Muslims" advocate, will render the whole Qur'ān open to a hotchpotch of interpretations inspired by the individuals'
whims and desires, which often come from the devil. For example, someone who does not accept the practical demonstration of
formal prayer (Arabic: salat) given by the Prophet, peace be upon him, will make a mockery of salat by doing it in a way suitable
to his wishes. But how can a Muslim worship God, if he does not know the way in which God wants to be worshipped?
2. The Sunnah can establish
a specific meaning when a number of meanings are possible.
a) God Almighty says in verse
82 of Sūrah al-An'aam (Chapter 6 of the Qur'ān):
"It is those who believe and confuse
not their beliefs with dhulm that are in security, for they are on (right) guidance."
Imām Bukhari relates that some
of the Companions of the Prophet, peace be upon him, took the word "dhulm" in its general meaning, i.e. to do injustice, to
do wrong, to sin. So they were troubled and said: "Which of us has not done wrong?" The Prophet, peace be upon him, relieved
them of this worry by explaining that "dhulm" here means to commit shirk (i.e. to associate partners with God in worship and/or
belief; idol worship; polytheism), as in Sūrah Luqman (Chapter 31), verse 13:
"Indeed, worshipping others besides
God is the greatest injustice (dhulm)."
b) Almighty God says in verse
34 of Sūrah al-Taubah (Chapter 9 of the Qur'ān):
"Those who hoard gold and silver
and spend it not in the Way of God, announce unto them a most grievous penalty. On the day when heat will be produced out
of that wealth in the fire of Hell, and with it will be branded their foreheads, their flanks, and their backs . . . "
The Arabic word "kanz" means a
hoard, big or small. So this verse seemingly dooms a person who hoards any amount and does not spend it in the way of God.
With this meaning in mind, 'Umar, may God be pleased with him, questioned the Prophet, peace be upon him, about this verse,
to which he replied that once the Poor Tax (zakat) which is due on the hoarded amount is paid, it is no longer considered
as "kanz". (Reported by Ibn Majah.)
3. The sayings of the
Prophet Muhammad (Arabic: ahadith) explain some historical events in detail since they are mentioned only briefly in the Qur'ān.
a) God says in Sūrah al-Anfal
(Chapter 8) verse 7:
"Behold! God promised you one
of the two (enemy) parties, that it should be yours; ye wished that the one unarmed should be yours, but God intended to justify
the Truth according to His words and to cut off the roots of the unbelievers."
Which two parties are meant? Which
of them is unarmed? From books of ahadith we learn the relevant details about the Battle of Badr, which is the incident referred
to in the above verses.
b) Sūrah al-Taubah, verse 118
"(God turned in mercy) to the
three who were left behind;"
Who were these three people, and
why did they remain behind? Again, the books of ahadith explain this.
c) Sūrah 'Abasa (Chapter 80),
"He frowned and turned away, because
there came to him the blind man."
Who frowned and turned away, and
why? Who was the blind man? The details are furnished by the books of ahadith.
4. The Sunnah can specify
exemptions from a general injunction.
a) In Sūrah Nisa' (Chapter 4)
verse 11, the share of children in inheritance is given.
"God directs you as regards your
children's inheritance . . . "
The Prophet, peace be upon him,
explained that the Muslim child of a disbeliever (Arabic: kafir) the non-Muslim child of a Muslim, and the murderer of his/her
own father, none of these can inherit.
b) The Qur'ān declares the flesh
of a dead animal and blood as prohibited (Arabic: haraam) in Sūrah al-Ma'idah (Chapter 5), verse 3. The Prophet, peace be
upon him, exempted fish and locusts from the term "dead flesh", and the liver and spleen from "blood".
5. Deduction of a similar
injunction in an analogous case.
a) Sūrah an-Nisa' (Chapter 4),
"Prohibited to you are . . . and
two sisters in wedlock at one and the same time."
The Prophet, peace be upon him,
declared that to marry a woman as well as her aunt in the same wedlock is also prohibited.
b) Wine has been declared unlawful
by Almighty God in Sūrah al-Ma'idah, verse 93. The Prophet, peace be upon him, extended the prohibition to anything which
is intoxicating in large doses, even if it is taken in a small quantity.
6. The Prophet, peace
be upon him, gave additional injunctions in a number of issues.
One of the many duties of the
Messenger, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, was to tell the believers what is lawful (halaal) and what is unlawful
(haraam) (See Qur'ān 7:157). For example, he prohibited the flesh of donkeys, dogs, beasts with canine teeth and birds of
prey. He also made gold and silk haraam for Muslim men, but halaal for Muslim women.
Chapter 2 - Significance
of the Sunnah
No devout Muslim would ever dare
to go against the teachings of the Qur'ān and Sunnah, but it is regrettable to note that some of the liberal elite tend to
raise the slogan that the Book of God (i.e. the Qur'ān) is enough and that there is no need at all for the Sunnah of the Prophet,
may the peace and blessings of God be upon him. Slogans like this are raised mainly by people who want to get rid of the Islamic
Law (Arabic: Sharee'ah) completely. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, himself was well-aware that such ill-natured
opinions would arise and hence gave a clear warning of this as reported by Al-Miqdam ibn Ma'di Karib, one of his Companions:
"I have indeed been given the Qur'ān and something similar to it besides it. Yet, the time will come when a man leaning on
his couch will say, 'Follow the Qur'ān only; what you find in it as halaal, take it as halaal, and what you find in it as
haraam, take it as haraam.' But truly, what the Messenger of God has forbidden is like what God has forbidden." (Reported
by Abu Dawud and Darimi.)
In fact, ANYONE WHO REJECTS THE
SUNNAH OF THE PROPHET, PEACE BE UPON HIM, DOES NOT BELIEVE IN THE QUR'ĀN, for Almighty God Himself has emphasized the importance
of the Sunnah in many verses, of which a few are given below.
"O you who believe! Obey God and
obey the Messenger and those charged with authority among you; and if you differ in anything among yourselves, then refer
it to God and the Messenger if you do believe in God and the Last Day. That is best and most suitable for final determination."
(Sūrah Al-Nisa' 4:59)
"The answer of the believers,
when summoned to God and His Messenger in order that he may judge between them, is no other than this: they say, 'We hear
and we obey'. It is such as these who will attain success." (Sūrah Al-Nur 24:51)
"But no, by your Lord! (O Muhammad)
They cannot be believers until they make you judge in all disputes between them, and find in their souls no resistance against
your decisions, but accept them with the fullest submission." (Sūrah Al-Nisa' 4:65)
Anas reported that the Messenger
of God said: "I have left among you two things; you will never go astray as long as you hold fast to them: the Book of
God and my Sunnah." (Reported by Haakim.) The Companions of the Prophet, peace be upon him, used to hold the commandments
given by the Prophet, peace be upon him, in a very high esteem, making no distinctions between them and those given by God.
Once 'Abdullah ibn Mas'ood quoted this saying of the Prophet (hadith) while he was delivering a sermon: "May God curse
the women who tattoo their bodies and those who pluck their eyebrows; those who separate their teeth to make them look more
pretty and those who try to change the creation of God." A woman named Umm Yaqub from the tribe of Banu Asad came to know
of these words. She approached Ibn Mas'ood and said: "O Abu 'Abd ar-Rahman! It was reported to me that you have cursed such
and such women." He said: "Why should I not curse those whom the Prophet, peace be upon him, cursed and who are cursed in
the Book of God as well." She said: "I have read whatever is contained between the two covers (i.e. the whole Qur'ān)." Had
you been a good reader, you would have discovered it. Did you not read the following verse?
"So take whatever the Messenger
gives you and keep away from what he forbids you." (Sūrah Al-Hashr 59:7)
There are numerous examples set
by the Companions which show how emphatically they abided by the Sunnah of the Prophet, peace be upon him, to the extent of
severing their relations with their kith and kin once they discovered someone going against the Sunnah. Let us have some examples
from the lives of the great Khulafah (Caliphs, i.e. leaders) of Islam followed by a host of other Companions. Just after the
death of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, three major issues confronted the Muslim community. They could have left
it apart and disunited, had it not been for the wise guidance of Abu Bakr who settled them amicably in the light of the Sunnah
of the Prophet, peace be upon him. The first issue was related to the appointment of the Khalifah (i.e. leader of the Muslims).
Assembled in Saqifa Bani Sa'ida, a great number of Muhajirin (i.e. those who emigrated from Mecca to Madina) and Ansar (those
helped the emigrants from Mecca) originally had been busy arguing this issue. The Ansar proposed that the leader (Arabic:
Emir) should be appointed from both of the above communities. The noble companion Abu Bakr cited the saying of the Prophet:
"Leaders (Arabic: Imāms) should be from Quraish (the tribe of Prophet Muhammad) as long as they have the understanding (of
the religion)." The Ansar conceded to this quietly. The great companion 'Umar proposed the name of Abu Bakr as the Khalifah
which was accepted unanimously by those present there and later followed by all the inhabitants of Madina through the oath
The second issue was related to
the place where the Prophet should be buried. Again the companion Abu Bakr cited the saying of the Prophet: 'A Prophet is
to be buried where he breathes his last.' Accordingly, his burial took place in the apartment of his wife, the Mother of the
Faithful - 'Aishah, where he died.
The third issue was related to
the inheritance of the Prophet, peace be upon him, as raised by his daughter Fatima who came to the Caliph Abu Bakr asking
for her share. Abu Bakr replied by reminding her of the saying of the Prophet: "We, the community of the Prophets, are
not inherited from - whatever we leave behind us is a charity." Fatima didn't argue further, but retired quietly. Once
the great companion 'Umar saw Khalid bin Walid wearing a silk shirt. He asked him to take it off (since it is forbidden for
Muslim men to wear silk). Khalid replied that Abd ar-Rahman ibn Auf used to have one as well. 'Umar said: "The Prophet allowed
him because he suffered badly from itching." Khalid, then, had no alternative but to take if off. Following the news of the
Muslim's victory in the conquest of Syria, 'Umar advanced to Damascus with a number of Companions. On reaching the outskirts
of Amwas, a town in Syria, the news of a widespread plague in the town reached him. 'Umar consulted his people whether or
not he should venture into the town. The heated discussion that followed came to an end when Abd ar-Rahman ibn Auf cited this
saying of the Prophet: "If you are inside a place where an epidemic breaks out, don't come out of it. And don't go in if
you happen to be away from such a place." 'Umar, eventually commanded his people to retreat. Someone still remarked: "'Umar!
Do you run away from a destiny decreed by God?" To this 'Umar replied: "Yes, we run away from one destiny to the other decreed
by God as well." Such was the wisdom of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and centuries ago it foreshadowed today's quarantine
regulations. The Caliph 'Uthman once agreed to buy a piece of land from a person. On the completion of the verbal agreement,
he asked the man to collect the money the following day. But the man turned up after a few days, only to renounce the agreement.
He had changed his mind because his friends had blamed him for selling the land at a low price. 'Uthman could have been adamant
about the sale, particularly when it had been agreed upon completely. But he remembered the saying of the Prophet, peace be
upon him, which admired a person who treated the people easily and wholeheartedly in his sales. So, 'Uthman preferred to concede
to the man's wish without raising any objection. Once 'Ali was approached by a person who wanted his counsel concerning the
engagement of his daughter whose hand was sought by three persons: Hasan, Hussain and 'Abdullah bin Ja'far. 'Ali found himself
involved personally as his two sons were among the candidates. But he recalled the saying of the Prophet: "The one whose
counsel is sought, should be honest." So after giving some thought, he told the man: "Don't go for Hasan because he is
known to have divorced his women many times. And don't go for Hussain as well, as he loves to be admired. Rather go for 'Abdullah
bin Ja'far." In one of his journeys, he found a merchant hoarding a stock of grain in the hope of a good price. 'Ali reminded
him of the saying of the Prophet: "The hoarder is cursed" and instructed his people to set the stock on fire as a punishment.
This is how the Four Caliphs (Arabic: Khulafah) reacted to the Sunnah of the Prophet.
Let us have some more examples
from the lives of the Companions. 'Abdullah ibn Mas'ood heard a man saying after a sneeze: "Al-hamdu Lillah wa as-Salatu wa
as-Salamu 'Ala Rasul Allah." Ibn Mas'ood said to him: "Whatever you have said is true, but that is not the way that the Prophet
has taught us. He instructed us to say simply "Al-Hamdu Lillah" after sneezing." It would be appropriate to remind all Muslims
about this Sunnah, which is commonly abandoned by a great number of them. Say "Al-Hamdu Lillah" whenever you sneeze. If you
hear someone saying this after sneezing, say to him: "Yarhamukumu Allah" (May God have mercy upon you). The sneezer should
pray for you as well by saying: "Yahdi Kumullah wa Yuslihu Balakum" (May God guide you and set your affairs right). There
are plenty of occasions when you should say: "As-Salatu Wa as-Salamu 'ala Rasul Allah". You should say it, for example, whenever
you hear the name of our beloved Prophet or whenever you enter a mosque (Arabic: masjid) or step out of it adding these words
respectively: "Allahumma Iftah li abwaba Rahmatik" (O God! Open for me the doors of your Mercy) and "Allahumma Inni As'aluka
min fadlika" (O God! I ask you for your Bounty).
Once 'Abdullah ibn Abbas was sitting
beside the Ka'bah when Emir Mu'awiyyah entered the Grand Mosque and began circumambulating (Arabic: tawaf) around the Ka'bah.
He kissed the Black Stone in the beginning, but he rubbed his hand on the other three corners of Ka'bah as well. Ibn Abbas
knew that the Prophet, peace be upon him, apart from kissing the Black Stone and rubbing the Yemeni corner - had never touched
the other two corners during tawaf. So he objected to Mu'awiyyah, to which he replied: "To me none of the four corners of
Ka'bah is deserted." "But that was not the practice of the Prophet, peace be upon him," Ibn Abbas emphasized. Mu'awiyyah could
only say: "You have said the truth." Once Ibn Abbas saw a man drawing a picture of a living being. He advised him not to do
that because the Prophet, peace be upon him, forbade such a practice.
'Abdullah ibn 'Umar was well-known
for his adherence to the Sunnah. He once saw his son Bilal stopping his wife from going to the mosque. 'Abdullah ibn 'Umar
said: "Don't do that because the Messenger of God has said: 'Don't stop the female servants of God from entering the Houses
of God." Bilal was adamant that he would not allow her to go, even after listening to this saying. Ibn 'Umar was so upset
that he swore never to speak to him again until his dying day. 'Abdullah ibn 'Amr bin Aas had a very large garden with a great
number of palm trees. Water in this area was so abundant that his assistant planned to sell the extra amount of it, after
irrigating the whole garden, to a neighbor at an exorbitant price of thirty thousand dirhams. That offer could have attracted
anyone except a companion like 'Abdullah ibn ''Amr who refused to approve of this sale because the Prophet, peace be upon
him, forbade the selling of any extra water. Abu Hurayrah used to address a gathering of Muslims on Friday night (lit: after
sunset on Thursday). Once, before beginning his sermon, he said to the people: "Whoever has cut off from any of his relations
should leave this place." No one stood up. On repeating these words thrice, a young man left the place and went to his aunt
whom he had deserted a long time before and reconciled with her. Abu Hurayrah said this because he knew that all actions are
presented to God on each Friday night. He didn't like his assembly of the devout to be smeared by a person who had committed
the sin of deserting his relatives. By doing so, he saved a person from a major sin. Anas ibn Malik was known to be a faithful
servant of the Prophet, peace be upon him. Once he was invited to a party where a Magian (i.e. a Persian fire-worshipper)
offered him some faluda ( a well-known drink) in a silver glass. Anas refused to accept it. He preferred to drink in an earthen
pot than to use the silver one because the Prophet, peace be upon him, forbade the Muslims from eating or drinking from golden
or silver utensils. This is how the Companions behaved throughout their lives - setting sublime examples of adherence to the
The numerous examples given above
are from the Companions. Let us see what the four great Imāms (i.e. religious scholars) have said about the authority of the
a) Imām Abu Hanifah was asked:
"What do we do if we find a saying of yours opposing the Book of God?" He replied: "Leave my saying and stick to the Book
of God." The questioner asked: "What if it contradicts a saying of the Prophet?" Abu Hanifah said: "Leave my saying in the
face of the Prophet's saying." Again he was asked: "What if it goes against the saying of a Companion?" Again he said: "Leave
my saying in the face of the Companion's saying." (Reported in Al-Qawl al-Mufeed by Shawkani.) Imām Abu Hanifah also declared:
"My way (Arabic: madh-hab) is whatever hadith (saying of the Prophet) that is proved to be authentic." (Shami 1:50, Al-Fulani
in Iqaz, p. 62.)
b) The saying of Imām Malik ibn
Anas is well-known: "The saying of any person can be accepted or rejected, except for the Prophet of God, peace be upon him."
(Reported by Ibn 'Abd al-Barr and Ibn Hazm. Also in Al-Yawaqeet wa Al-Jawahir 2:96.) He also said: "I am just a mortal; sometimes
1 am wrong, sometimes I am right - so check my opinions. Whatever agrees with the Book (i.e. the Qu'ran) and the Sunnah, accept
it; whatever disagrees with them, reject it." (Reported by Al-Fulani in Iqaz, p. 72.)
c) Once Imām Shafi'i narrated
a saying of the Prophet (hadith). Someone from the audience said: "Do you say so as well?" On hearing this, the Imām was enraged.
His face turned pale and he said: "Woe to you! Which earth would carry me, which sky would shelter me if I narrate a saying
of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and do not hold the same view! Do you see a zunnar (belt worn by non-Muslims) on me? Or
have you noticed me coming out of a church? How can I report something from the Prophet, peace be upon him, and not agree
d) Imām Ahmad ibn Hanbal
said: "Do not follow me or Malik or Shafi'i or Auza'i or Thawri, but take from where they took (i.e. from the Qu'ran and authentic
Sunnah)." (Reported by Al-Fulani and Ibn al-Qayyim.) He also said: "He who is on the verge of destruction rejects a saving
of the Messenger of God, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him." (Reported by Ibn al-Jauzi.)