The Sunna and Its Role

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in The Messenger of God: Muhammad

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Sunna literally means "a conduct and a good or evil path to be followed." This is the meaning used in the following hadith: "Those who establish a good path in Islam receive the reward of those who follow it, without any decrease in their reward. Those who establish an evil path in Islam are burdened with the sins of those who follow it, without any decrease in their burden." [1]

This term also has different terminological connotations according to each group of Traditionists, methodologists, and jurists. Traditionists view it as including everything connected to the religious commandments reported from the Messenger and categorized, according to the Hanafi legal school (followers of Abu Hanifa), as obligations, necessities, practices particular to or encouraged by the Prophet himself as recommended and desirable.

Methodologists consider it to be every word, deed, and approval of the Messenger as related by his Companions. Jurists, who approach it as the opposite of innovation in religion (bid'a), consider it a synonym for hadith. They use it for the Prophet's words, deeds, and approvals, all of which provide a basis for legislation and categorizing people's actions.

Derived from the word haddatha (to inform), hadith literally means a tiding or information. Over time, it has assumed the meaning of every word, deed, and approval ascribed to the Messenger. Ibn Hajar says: "According to the Shari'a, the Hadith is everything related to the Messenger."

Another literal meaning is something that takes place within time. This is why some scholars of fine discernment write that Hadith is that which is not Divine, eternal, or without beginning in time. This fine line separates the Hadith from the Qur'an, as the latter is Divine, and eternal, and without beginning in time. The Messenger distinguished his words from the Qur'an: "It is two things only, nothing else: the Word and guidance. The best word is the Word of God, and the best guidance is the guidance of Muhammad." [2]

[1] Muslim, "Zakat," 69; Ibn Ma'ja, "Muqaddima," 203.
[2] Ibn Ma'ja, "Muqaddima," 7.