What is the Sunnah? (Part 1)

Firstly:

It is essential that it be established in the mind and heart of every Muslim that the Sunnah – which is the words, deeds and approval that are attributed to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) – is one of the two parts of divine Revelation that were revealed to the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him). The other part of the Revelation (Wahy) is the Holy Qur’aan.

Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):

“Nor does he speak of (his own) desire.

4. It is only a Revelation revealed”

[al-Najm 53:3-4]

It was narrated from al-Miqdaam ibn Ma’di Yakrib (may Allaah be pleased with him) that the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah 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 Allaah forbids is like what Allaah forbids.”

Narrated by al-Tirmidhi (2664). He said: It is hasan ghareeb with this isnaad. It was classed as hasan by al-Albaani in al-Silsilah al-Saheehah (2870).

This is what was understood by the righteous salaf (may Allaah be pleased with them):

Hassaan ibn ‘Atiyah said in al-Kifaayah by al-Khateeb (12):

Jibreel used to bring the sunnah down to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) as he used to bring the Qur’aan down to him. End quote.

Narrated by al-Daarimi in his Sunan (588) and by al-Khateeb in al-Kifaayah (12). It was attributed by al-Haafiz in al-Fath (13/291) to al-Bayhaqi, and he said: With a saheeh isnaad.

The importance of the Sunnah is first of all that it explains the Book of Allaah and is a commentary on it, then it adds some rulings to those in the Book of Allaah.

Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):

“And We have also sent down unto you (O Muhammad صلىالله عليه وسلم) 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”

[al-Nahl 16:44].

Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr said in Jaami’ Bayaan al-‘Ilm wa Fadlihi (2/190):

The commentary of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) on the Qur’aan is of two types:

1 – Explaining things that are mentioned in general terms in the Holy 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. End quote.

Secondly:

As the Sunnah is the second of the two parts of Revelation, it is inevitable that Allaah will protect it, so as to preserve the religion from distortion and additions or subtractions.

Ibn Hazm (may Allaah have mercy on him) said in al-Ihkaam (1/95):

Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):

“Verily, We, it is We Who have sent down the Dhikr and surely, We will guard it (from corruption)”

[al-Hijr 15:9]

“Say (O Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم): “I warn you only by the Revelation (from Allaah 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 صلى الله عليه وسلم , as the Companions of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم did)]”

[al-Anbiya’ 21:45]

Allaah tells us that the words of His Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) are all Wahy (revelation), and Wahy is undoubtedly Dhikr, 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 Allaah be upon him) are all preserved by Allaah, may He be glorified and exalted, and He has promised that none of them will be lost to us, because that which Allaah preserves can certainly not be lost at all; it has all been transmitted to us and Allaah has established proof and left us with no excuse. End quote.

Thirdly:

Once it is established that the Sunnah is part of the divine revelation, it is essential to note that there is only one difference between it and the Qur’aan, which is that the Qur’aan is the word of Allaah, may He be exalted, which was revealed verbatim to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), whereas the Sunnah may not be the words of Allaah, rather it is only His Revelation, so it need not necessarily come to us verbatim, but the meaning of it comes to us.

Once we understand this difference, we see that the point in transmission of the Sunnah is to convey the meanings, not the exact same words that were uttered by the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him). Islam tells us that Allaah only preserves the words of the Qur’aan in full, and He preserves the general meanings of the Sunnah, and that which explains the Book of Allaah, not the exact words and phrases.

However, the scholars of this ummah throughout the early centuries strove to preserve the sharee’ah and the Sunnah. They have transmitted to us the words of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) as he said them, and they distinguished between the reports that were right and wrong, true and false.

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