Establishing the Sunna

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

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The Sunna was memorized, recorded, and carefully preserved so that it could be passed down without distortion or alteration. The Sunna is included in the meaning of: We have sent down the dhikr [the collection of Divine warnings and recitations, the Divine guidance] in parts, and We are its preserver (15:9). The Sunna, the unique example set by the Messenger for all Muslims to follow, shows us how to bring our lives into agreement with God's Commands. This being the case, the Messenger stood at the intersection of ignorance and knowledge, truth and falsehood, right and wrong, and this world and the other. He established, through his words as well as his actions and those of which he approved, the Divine way that all Muslims must follow.

The Sunna is the window opened on the Messenger of God, the sacred way leading to the blessings of Islam. Without it, Muslims cannot implement Islam in their daily lives, establish a connection with the Messenger, or receive his blessings. Those who ignore it run a grave danger of deviating and placing themselves outside Islam, for it is an unbreakable rope guaranteeing Muslim unity and elevating those who hold fast to it to Paradise.

There are several motives for establishing the Sunnah. Among them are the following:

The Qur'an urges Muslims to follow the Sunna. God commands: Whatever the Messenger brings you, adopt it; whatever he forbids you, refrain from it; fear God and seek His protection, surely God is He Whose punishment is severe (59:7). Besides relaying the Qur'an to humanity, the Messenger expanded on it through the Sunna. The word whatever covers everything related to the Qur'an (the Revelation Recited) and the Hadith (the Revelation Unrecited). The Messenger only spoke what was revealed to him, or inspired in him, by God. Verse 59:7 tells Muslims to obey the Messenger so that they can become deserving of God's protection. Aware of this, the Companions paid close attention to his every word and were very careful in carrying out his commands.

A Muslim can obtain God's good pleasure and attain true bliss in both worlds only by following the Sunna, for its sole purpose is to lead humanity to safety and eternal happiness. The Qur'an declares: Verily, there is for you a most excellent example in the Messenger of God, for him who aspires to God and the Last Day, and mentions God oft (33:21).

The Messenger encourages Muslims to learn his Sunna. The Companions knew what they needed to do to avoid eternal punishment and receive God's blessing, and so zealously memorized and recorded the Prophet's sayings. They heard him pray: "[On the day when some faces will be radiant and some mournful], may God make radiant [with joy and happiness] the face of the one who has heard a word from me and, preserving (memorizing) it, conveys it to others." [1] According to another version, he prayed: "May God make radiant the face of the servant who has heard my speech and, committing it to memory and observing it in daily life, conveys it to others." [2]

The Companions also knew the Prophet would intercede for them only if they followed the Sunna: "On the Day of Judgment, I will put my head on the ground and ask God to forgive my nation. I will be told: 'O Muhammad, raise your head and ask; you will be given whatever you ask. Intercede; your intercession will be accepted.'" [3]

The Messenger spoke distinctly and sometimes repeated his words so his audience could memorize them. [4] He taught them supplications and recitations that were not in the Qur'an with the same care and emphasis as he taught the Qur'an. [5] He continually urged his Companions to spread his words and teach others what they knew. If they did not, he warned them: "If you are asked about something you know and then conceal that knowledge, a bridle of fire will be put on you on the Day of Judgment." [6] The Qur'an also conveys this warning: Those who conceal what God has sent down of the Book and sell it for a little price, they do not eat in their bellies but the fire; God shall not speak to them on the Day of Resurrection, nor shall He purify them; for them is a painful torment (2:174).

Keeping these words and warnings in mind, the Companions strove to memorize the Qur'an and the Sunna and to record the latter. They then lived their lives in accordance with Islamic principles and commands, and conveyed what they knew to others. They formed study and discussion groups to refine their understanding. The Messenger encouraged them to do this: "If people come together in a house of God and recite from the Book of God and study it, peace and tranquillity descends upon them, (God's) Compassion envelops them, angels surround them, and God mentions them to those in His presence." [7]

[1] Tirmidhi, "'Ilm," 7.
[2] Ibn Ma'ja, "Muqaddima," 18.
[3] Bukhari, "Tafsir," 2/1; Muslim, "Iman," 322.
[3] Bukhari, "Tafsir," 2/1; Muslim, "Iman," 322.
[4] Bukhari, "Manaqib," 23; Muslim, "Fada'il al-Sahaba," 160.
[5] Muslim, "Salat," 61; Abu Dawud, "Salat," 178.
[6] Tirmidhi, "'Ilm," 3; Ibn Ma'ja, "Muqaddima," 24.
[7] Muslim, "Dhikr," 38; Ibn Ma'ja, "Muqaddima," 17.