The Sunna And Its Place In Islamic Legislation


The science of hadith deals with Prophet Muhammad’s life, especially his words and actions, and the actions he approved of in others. In this section, we will restrict our­selves to his own words and actions. These words and their mean­ings are his alone, for they are not in the Qur’an, the Recited Revelation and whose meaning and wording belong to God exclusively. His actions include those whose rule and authority we are obliged to follow as laws, and his personal affairs, which are a source of spiritual reward and blessing if followed.

The science of fiqh (Islamic law) does not concern itself with the Prophet’s personal affairs. The fuqaha’ (jurists) consid­er that if those affairs touch upon the voluntary and purposed acts, they should be dealt with under the relevant law. However, if they are matters of the Prophet’s personal likes and dislikes, which are not a basis for legislation, they are of no concern to the jurists. According to the muhaddithun (scholars of Hadith [Traditionists]), everything related to the Messenger is included in the meaning of Hadith (Tradition) and concerns them.

The Sunnah is the record of the Messenger’s every act, word, and confirmation, as well as the second source of Islamic legis­lation and life (the Qur’an is the first one). All scholars of reli­gious sciences, and sometimes those of the natural scientists, use it to establish the principles of their disciplines and to solve dif­ficulties. The Qur’an and authentic prophetic Traditions enjoin Muslims to follow the Sunnah.

The Qur’an and the Sunnah are inseparable. The Sunnah clar­ifies the ambiguities in the Qur’an by expanding upon what is mentioned only briefly in it, specifies what is unconditional, enables generalizations from what is specifically stated, and par­ticularizations from what is generally stated.

For example, how to pray, fast, give alms, and make pil­grimage was established and expounded in the Sunnah. So were such principles or legislation that no one can inherit from the Prophet, killers cannot inherit from their victims, the meat of domestic donkeys and wild animals cannot be eaten, and men cannot marry a wife’s female cousins if she is still living. Indeed, the Sunnah is relevant to all aspects of Islam, and Muslims must design their lives according to it. For this reason, it has been studied and transmitted to each new generation with almost the same care as the Qur’an.

The Messenger ordered his Companions to obey his Sunnah absolutely. He spoke distinctly, so they could understand and mem­orize his words, and encouraged them to convey his every word to future generations. Sometimes he even urged them to write his words down, for: “Whatever I say is true.” The Companions were fully attentive to the Prophet’s words and deeds and showed a great desire to mold their lives to his, even in the smallest details. They regarded his every word and deed as a Divine trust to which they must adhere and follow as closely as possible. Viewing his words as Divine gifts, they internalized, preserved, and transmitted them.

As truthfulness is the cornerstone of the Islamic character, the Companions did not lie. Just as they did not distort or alter the Qur’an, they did their best to preserve the Traditions and entrust them to future generations by either memorizing them or writing them down. Among the Hadith compilations made during the time of the Companions, three are very famous: Al-Sahifa al-Sadiqa by ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Amr ibn al-‘As, Al-Sahifa al-Sahiha by Hammam ibn Munabbih, and Al-Majmu‘ by Zayd ibn ‘Ali ibn Husayn.

The Companions were extremely conscientious in relating the Traditions. For example, ‘A’isha and ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Umar would relate them word for word, not changing even one letter. Ibn Mas’ud and Abu al-Darda’ would tremble, as if feverish, when asked to report a Tradition. Caliph ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz (ruled 717-20 CE) ordered that the orally preserved and circulated individual Tradition compila­tions be written down. Such illustrious figures as Sa‘id ibn al-Musayyib, Sha‘bi, ‘Alqama, Sufyan al-Thawri, and Zuhri pioneered this sacred task. They were followed by the greatest specialists, who were entirely focused on the Traditions’ accurate transmittal as well as studying their meaning, wording, and their narrators’ careful critiques.

Thanks to these Traditionists, we have the second source of Islam in its original purity. Only through studying the Prophet’s life and then conforming our own to it can we gain God’s good pleasure and travel the way leading to Paradise. The greatest saints receive their light from this “sun” of guidance, Prophet Muhammad, and send it to those in darkness so that they may find their way.


Sunnah 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 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 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, 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 for 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 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


The Sunnah is divided into three categories: verbal, practical, and based on approval.

1. The Verbal Sunnah

This category consists of the Messenger’s words, which provide a basis for many religious commandments. To cite a few examples:

·         “No bequest to the heir.”3 In other words, people cannot bequeath any of their wealth to their heirs, since they will naturally inherit the bulk of the estate. A bequest can be made to the poor or some social service institutions.

·         “Don’t harm (others), and don’t return harm for harm.”4 That is, do not engage in any negative and damaging behavior toward others, and do not retaliate against them by returning bad for bad.

·         “A tenth will be given (out of crops grown in fields) watered by rain or rivers; but a twentieth (out of those grown in fields) watered by people (irrigation or water­ing).”5 The Qur’an enjoins charity, but goes into no detail about how to do so correctly. All such regulations were established by the Sunnah.

·         “A sea is that of which the water is clean and the dead animals are lawful to eat.”6 He gave this response when someone asked him if wudu’ could be done with sea­water. This has provided a basis for many other rulings.

2. The Practical Sunnah

The Qur’an usually lays down only general rules and principles. For example, it enjoins prayer and pilgrimage but does not describe in detail how to perform them. The Messenger, taught by God through inspiration or through Gabriel, provided this information through his actions. His life was one long, unique example to be followed by all Muslims. For example, he led the daily prayers before his Companions five times a day and ordered them to pray as he prayed.7

3. The Sunnah Based on Approval

The Messenger corrected his Companions’ mistakes usually by ascending the pulpit and asking: “Why has somebody done this?”8 When he saw something agreeable in them, he gave his approval either explicitly or by keeping silent. For example:

·          Two Companions traveling in the desert could not find enough water for wudu’ before praying, and so used sand (tayammum). When they found water later on before the prayer’s time had passed, one of them performed wudu’ and repeated the prayer, and the other did not. When they asked the Messenger about it later, he told the one who had not repeated the prayer: “You acted in accor­dance with the Sunnah.” Then, he turned to the other one and said: “For you, there is double reward.”9

·          The Messenger ordered a march upon the Banu Qurayza immediately after the Battle of the Trench. He said: “Hurry up! We’ll perform the afternoon prayer there.” Some Companions, concluding that they should hasten and pray over there started out without delay. Others understood that they were to hasten to the Banu Qurayza’s territory only, and that they could pray before departing. The Messenger approved of both interpretations.10


The Sunnah is the main source of our religious life. It is promot­ed and encouraged by the Qur’an: He Who raised among the unlettered ones a Messenger from them, reciting to them His revela­tions, purifies them and instructs them in the Book and the Wisdom

(62:2). According to most Qur’anic interpreters and Traditionists, the Wisdom signifies the Sunnah. The Qur’an, being a miraculous exposition, contains nothing superfluous and does not exceed the proper terms. As Wisdom comes after Book, it must be some­thing different. The Book is the Qur’an, and the Wisdom is the Sunnah showing how the Qur’an is to be applied to our daily lives.

The Qur’an commands absolute obedience to the Messengers, for they have been sent to guide people to truth in every sphere of their lives. Our loyalty is to God, Who sent His Messenger and told us to obey him: We have not sent a Messenger save to be obeyed by God’s leave (4:64), and: O you who believe! Obey God and His Messenger, and do not turn away from him (8:20).

Obedience to God means unconditional obedience to what has been revealed in the Qur’an. Obedience to the Messenger means following his way of life as closely as possible by obeying what is enjoined and prohibited in the Qur’an and by the Messenger. The Sunnah is a comprehensively detailed account of his life. He told his community: “Take care! I have been given the Book and its like together with it.”11

As stated in the Qur’an (8:20), Muslims must not turn away from the Messenger. Therefore, disobeying, belittling, or criticizing the Sunnah amounts to heresy or even apostasy. Many other verses emphasize the necessity of following the Sunnah, such as: O you who believe! Obey God and obey the Messenger and those in authority from among you (4:59). The verse stresses obe­dience to God and to the Messenger. The repetition of obey in the imperative mood indicates that the Messenger is authorized to command or forbid, and that Muslims must do what he says. Besides, where obedience to those Muslims in authority is ordered, the Prophet has a far greater right to be obeyed.

Another verse states: Obey God and His Messenger and do not dispute with one another, lest you should be dissolved (dispersed) and your strength fade away; and be steadfast (8:46). Muslim strength and unity lie in submission to God and His Messenger. The Messenger established the Sunnah by living the Qur’an, which means that it is the only way his community can follow. Based on this, we can say that the Sunnah is both more comprehensive than the Qur’an and indispensable for leading an upright life in Islamic terms.

Muslims can obey God and show their love for Him only by obeying the Messenger or by following his Sunnah: Say (O Muhammad): “If you love God, follow me so that God loves you” (3:31); Surely there is for you in the Messenger an excellent exam­ple for him who aspires to God and the Hereafter, and mentions God oft (33:21); and many other verses. Those who claim to love God or that God loves them, despite their non-adherence to the Sunnah, are seriously deluded and astray.

Muslims must cling to the Sunnah if they want to remain on the Straight Path and avoid deviation. For example: One day a woman said to ‘Abd Allah ibn Mas‘ud: “I have heard that you call down God’s curse upon women who tattoo their bodies, pluck their facial hair, force their teeth apart in order to look more beautiful, and who change the creation of God.”12 Ibn Mas‘ud answered: “All of this is found in the Qur’an.” The woman objected: “I swear by God that I have read the entire Qur’an, but I couldn’t find anything related to this matter.” Ibn Mas‘ud told her: “Our Prophet called God’s curse upon women who wear wigs, who join somebody’s hair to theirs, and who have tattoos on their bodies. Haven’t you read: Whatever the Messenger brings you, adopt it; whatever he forbids you, refrain from it (59:7)?”13

The Qur’an also declares:

Nay, by your Lord, they will never become believers until they choose you as judge to settle the matters in dispute between them. (4:65)


The way of the Prophet is the way of God. As the Sunnah is the way of the Prophet, those who reject it are, in essence, rejecting (and disobeying) God. As the Prophet stated: “Whoever obeys me, obeys God; whoever disobeys me, disobeys God.”14 Such disobedience is “rewarded” with Hell: “My nation will enter Paradise, except those who rebel.” When asked who these rebels were, the Prophet answered: “Whoever obeys me will enter Paradise; whoever disobeys me rebels.”15

The Sunnah links all past, present, and future Muslims. It also enables Muslims to maintain their unity, as it forms a unique cul­ture and system. Concerning this, the Messenger declared: “Those who survive me will witness many disputes and disagreements. Therefore, follow my way and the way of my rightly-guided and rightly-guiding successors. Hold firm to that way—cling to it with your teeth.”16

Following the Sunnah, on both the individual and the collec­tive level, becomes vital when Islam is attacked and Muslims lose their supremacy. The Messenger stated that “at a time when the Muslim community breaks with Islam and consequently disinte­grates, the one who holds firm to the Sunnah gains the reward of a martyr.”17 Given this, those who criticize it should be asked, as the Qur’an asks unbelievers: Where are you headed?


The Sunnah has two main functions. First, it enjoins and pro­hibits, lays down the principles related to establishing all reli­gious obligations and necessities, and determines what is lawful or unlawful. Second, it interprets the Qur’an.

In each daily prescribed prayer, we recite: Guide us to the Straight Path, to the path of those you have blessed, not of those who incurred (Your) wrath, nor of the misguided (1:6-7). The verses mention, but do not specify, two groups of people. According to the Prophet, those who incurred God’s wrath are Jews who have gone astray, and the misguided are Christians who have gone astray.18

The Sunnah and Its Place in Islamic Legislation

The Jews killed many of their Prophets and caused trouble in many places. Although they had once followed Divine guidance and guided others to the Straight Path (during the times of Moses, David, and Solomon), over time many of them went astray and incurred both God’s wrath and public ignominy. Those who follow this way also are included in those who incurred (Your) wrath. Such Jews are condemned harshly in the Bible as well. In fact, the Bible is much harsher toward them than the Qur’an. In many verses, the Qur’an reproaches such Jews and Christians very mildly and compassionately.

At first, the Christians obeyed Jesus and followed his way despite severe persecution. They heroically resisted all forms of hypocrisy and Roman oppression. But over time, many came under the influence of various Middle Eastern religions and philosophies as well as Roman paganism. By the time Christianity became the Roman Empire’s official religion, it already was divided into many sects and had more than 300 Gospels in cir­culation. Although many remained devoted to the original creed of Jesus, many others contaminated these pure teachings with borrowed elements. The Qur’an therefore describes them as the misguided.

By making the above interpretation, the Prophet explained how people who had been blessed with Divine guidance could go astray and end up deserving God’s wrath. Thus, he warned Muslims not to follow such Jews and Christians.

Out of many examples showing how the Sunnah interprets the Qur’an, we also cite the following:

·          When the verse: Those who believed and did not mix their belief with wrongdoing: for them is security and they are those who are truly guided (6:82) was revealed, the Companions, well aware what wrongdoing meant, asked the Messenger fearfully: “Is there one among us who has never done wrong?” The Messenger explained: “It’s not as you think. It’s as Luqman said to his son: Don’t associate any partners with God; surely, associating partners with God is a grave wrongdoing” (31:13).19

·         ‘A’isha and Ibn Mas‘ud are of the opinion that the mid-time prayer in: Attend the prayers without any omission and the mid-time prayer (2:238) is the afternoon prayer. Once ‘A’isha ordered her servant to write a copy of the Qur’an for her and reminded her: “When you come to the verse: Attend the prayers without any omission, and the mid-time prayer, inform me.” When this verse was to be copied out, ‘A’isha dictated to her servant: “Attend the prayers without any omission, and the mid-time prayer, the afternoon prayer,” and added: “This is what I heard from the Messenger.”20 Although there are some other interpretations, ‘A’isha and Ibn Mas‘ud were certain that it was the afternoon prayer.

In addition to interpreting the Qur’an’s ambiguities, the Sunnah fills in the details about those subjects that the Qur’an mentions only briefly. For example, the Qur’an orders Muslims to pray properly, but does not explain how they should pray. Although some leading interpreters deduce the prayer times from such verses such as: Perform the prayer correctly at the two ends of the day and nigh of the night; surely the good deeds remove the evil deeds (11:114), the exact prayer time was established by the Prophet as follows:

On two occasions, Archangel Gabriel led me in the five daily prayers at the Ka‘ba. On the first time, he prayed the noon prayer at noon, when an item’s shadow was only as long as its base. When the shadow was as long as the actual item, he prayed the afternoon prayer. He prayed the evening prayer when it was time for a person to break the fast. He prayed the late evening (or night) prayer when dusk disappeared, and the dawn (or morning) prayer when those who intend to fast can no longer eat or drink. The second time, he prayed the noon prayer when an item’s shadow was as long as the actual item, and prayed the afternoon prayer when it was twice as long as the actual item. He prayed the evening prayer at the same time he had prayed it previously. He prayed the night prayer after one-third of the night had passed, and the dawn prayer when it was lighter and the sun had still not risen. Then he turned to me and said: “O Muhammad, each of the five daily prayers should be performed between these two periods of time, as the Prophets before you did it.”21

The Messenger also taught his community everything related to prayer: its conditions; all obligatory, necessary, and commend­able acts that validate and ennoble it; and all acts that invalidate and damage it. He passed on, both through words and actions, all that they needed to know about worship. This all-inclusive term is not limited to the actual prayers, but also includes such areas as fasting, alms-giving, pilgrimage, and many more. Just as he told his followers to “pray as you see me pray,” he told them to “learn from me the rites and ceremonies of pilgrimage”22 after he actu­ally performed it with his Companions. If the Qur’an had gone into such exhaustive detail on such matters, it would have been many times its present size.

The Sunnah also restricts general laws and commandments in the Qur’an. For example, it lays down general principles of inheritance. When the Prophet’s daughter Fatima went to Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, and asked for her inheritance, Abu Bakr replied: “I heard the Messenger say: ‘The community of the Prophets does not leave anything to be inherited. What we leave is for charity.’”23 This hadith excludes the Prophets and their children from the laws of inheritance. Likewise, the Messenger decreed that “the killer (of his testator) would be disinherit­ed.”24 In other words, if someone kills his or her parents, broth­er (sister), or uncle (aunt), they cannot inherit from them.

The Qur’an commands: And the thief, male and female, cut off the hands of both, as a recompense for what they have earned, and a punishment exemplary from God; God is All-Mighty, All-Wise (5:38). Whether this punishment is to be applied to every thief, or only to those who steal goods of a certain value, is not clear. Also, in: O believers, when you stand up to pray wash your faces, and your hands up to elbows… (5:6), the hand extends to the elbow. But the Qur’an does not mention specifically what part of the hand should be cut, nor in what circumstances this pun­ishment should be applied. For example, during ‘Umar’s caliphate there was a period of famine, and he did not apply this punishment.

The Qur’an decrees: O you who believe! Consume not your goods among yourselves in vanity [through theft, usury, bribery, hoarding, and so on], except it be trade by mutual agreement (4:29). Islam encourages trade as a livelihood, as long as it is carried out accord­ing to Islamic law. One condition, as stated in the verse, is mutu­al agreement. However, the Messenger decreed: “Don’t sell fruits until their amount is definite in the tree [so that the amount to be given as alms can be determined]”25 and: “Don’t go to meet peas­ants outside the market to buy their goods [Let them earn the market value of their goods].”26

In sum, the Qur’an contains general principles that are explained by the Messenger and then applied by him to daily life. God allowed His Messenger to issue rulings, as necessary, and ordered the believers: Whatever the Messenger brings you, adopt it; whatever he forbids you, refrain from it (59:7).

M. Fethullah Gulen

1               Muslim, “Zakat,” 69; Ibn Maja, “Muqaddima,”  203.

2               Ibn Maja, “Muqaddima,”  7.

3               Ibn Maja, “Wasaya,” 6; Tirmidhi, “Wasaya,” 5.

4               Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, 1:313.

5               Tirmidhi, “Zakat,” 14; Bukhari, “Zakat,” 55.

6                    Abu Dawud, “Tahara,” 41; Tirmidhi, “Tahara,” 52; Nasa’i, “Tahara,” 47. Generally, the Qur’an forbids eating animals that were not  slaughtered  according  to Islamic rules. The Sunnah, however restricts this general rule (commandment) by allowing the consumption of sea animals that die in water.

7               Bukhari, “Adhan,” 18; Ibn Hanbal,  5:53.

8               Bukhari, “Salat,” 70; Muslim, “Nikah,” 5.

9               Darimi, “Tahara,” 65; Abu Dawud, “Tahara,” 126.

10             Darimi, “Maghazi,” 30; “Khawf,” 5.

11             Abu Dawud, “Sunnah,” 5.

12                 This covers such cosmetic surgery procedures  as changing the shape of the nose or lips, inserting breast implants,  or somehow  altering other  bodily features through cosmetic surgery to look more  beautiful.  Such operations  are allowed only when medically necessary, as in the case of severe burns or deformity.

13             Muslim, “Libas,” 120.

14             Bukhari, “Ahkam,” 1; Ibn Maja, “Muqaddima,”  1.

15             Bukhari, “I‘tisam,” 2; Ibn Hanbal, 2:361.

16             Abu Dawud, “Sunnah,” 5; Tirmidhi, “‘Ilm,” 16; Ibn Maja, “Muqaddima,”  6.

17             Abu Nu‘aym, Hilya’, 8:200; Daylami, Musnad al-Firdaws, 4:198.

18             Tirmidhi, “Tafsir al-Qur’an,” 2; Tabari, “Tafsir,” 1:61,  64.

19             Bukhari, “Tafsir,” 31/1.

20             Tirmidhi, “Tafsir al-Qur’an,” 3.

21             Abu Dawud, “Salat,” 2; Tirmidhi, “Mawaqit,” 1.

22             Nasa’i, “Manasik,” 220;  Ibn Hanbal, 3:366.

23             Bukhari, “I‘tisam,” 5; “Khums,”  1; Muslim, “Jihad,” 51; Ibn Hanbal,  2:463.

24             Tirmidhi, “Fara’id,” 17.

25             Bukhari, “Buyu‘,” 82; Muslim, “Buyu‘,” 51.

26             Muslim, “Buyu‘,” 5:14-17.


Establishing The Sunnah



The Sunnah as one of the two main sources of Islam was memorized, recorded, and carefully preserved so that it could be passed down without distortion or alteration. The Sunnah is included in the meaning of: We have sent down the dhikr [the collection of Divine instructions and recitations, the Divine guidance] in parts, and certainly We are its preserver (15:9).

The Sunnah, the unique example set by the Messenger of God for all Muslims to follow, shows us how to bring our lives into agreement with God’s Commands and obtain His good pleas­ure. 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 Sunnah 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:

• God commands Muslims to follow the Sunnah:

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, the Messenger expanded on it through the Sunnah. The word whatever covers every­thing related to the Qur’an (the Revelation Recited) and the Hadith (the Revelation Unrecited). He 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 Sunnah, 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 Sunnah. 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 knew the Prophet would intercede for them only if they followed the Sunnah:

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 Sunnah 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

Other motives

The Companions lived in an ethos that never lost its freshness. Like a growing embryo in the womb, the Muslim community grew and flourished, eventually including all areas of life. It was fed continuously with Revelation. Such factors, along with the Sunnah and the Companions’ devotion to the Prophet, drove them to record or memorize whatever the Messenger said or did.

For example, when ‘Uthman ibn Mad‘un died, the Messenger shed as many tears as he had over Hamza’s corpse. He kissed his forehead and attended the funeral. Witnessing this, a woman said: “How happy you are, ‘Uthman. You have become a bird to fly in Paradise.” The Messenger turned to her and asked: “How do you know that, while I, a Prophet, do not know? Unless God informs, no one can know whether someone is pure enough to deserve Paradise and whether he will go to Paradise or Hell.” The woman collected herself, and said that she would never make such an assumption again.8 Is it conceivable that she and the Companions present at the funeral should have forgotten that event? They did not forget it, as well as others that they witnessed during the Prophet’s lifetime.

Another example: Quzman fought heroically at Uhud, and was finally killed. The Companions considered him a martyr. However, the Prophet told them that Quzman had gone to Hell. Someone later informed them that Quzman had committed sui­cide because of his wounds, and had said before he died: “I fought out of tribal solidarity, not for Islam.” The Messenger concluded: “God strengthens this religion even through a sinful man.”9 Like others, that event and his final comment could never have been forgotten by the Companions, nor could they have failed to men­tion it whenever they talked about Uhud or martyrdom.

A similar incident took place during the conquest of Khaybar. ‘Umar reports:

On the day Khaybar was conquered, some Companions listed the martyrs. When they mentioned so-and-so as a martyr, the Messenger said: “I saw him in Hell, for he stole a robe from the spoils of war before it was distributed.” He then told me to stand up and announce: “Only believers (who are true repre­sentatives or embodiments of absolute faith and trustworthi­ness) can enter Paradise.”10

Each word and action of the Messenger refined the Com­panions’ understanding and implementation of Islam. This moti­vated them to absorb his every word and action. When they set­tled in newly conquered lands, they conveyed their knowledge to the new Muslims, thereby ensuring that the Sunnah would be transmitted from one generation to the next.

They were so well-behaved toward the Messenger that they would remain silent in his presence and let bedouins or others ask him questions. One day a bedouin named Dimam ibn Tha‘laba came and asked rudely: “Which one of you is Muhammad?” They replied that he was the white-complexioned man sitting against the wall.

The bedouin turned to him and asked loudly: “O son of ‘Abd al-Muttalib, I will ask you some questions! They may be injurious to you, so don’t become annoyed with me.” The Prophet told him to ask whatever was in his mind. He said: “Tell me, for the sake of God, your Lord and the Lord of those before you, did He send you to these people as a Prophet?” When the Prophet said that this was true, Dimam asked: “Tell me, for God’s sake, is it God Who ordered you to pray five times a day?” When the Prophet said that this was true, Dimam continued questioning him in the same manner about fasting and alms-giving. Always receiving the same answer, Dimam announced: “I am Dimam ibn Tha‘laba, from the tribe of Sa‘d bin Bakr. They sent me to you as an envoy. I declare that I believe in whatever message you have brought from God.”11

Like many others, this event too was not allowed to fall into oblivion; rather, it was handed down to succeeding generations until it was recorded in the books of Tradition.

Ubayy ibn Ka‘b was one of the foremost reciters of the Qur’an. One day the Messenger sent for him and said: “God ordered me to recite Surat al-Bayyina to you.” Ubayy was so moved that he asked: “Did God mention my name?” The Messenger’s answer moved him to tears.12 This was so great an honor for Ubayy’s family that his grandson would introduce himself as “the grandson of the man to whom God ordered His Messenger to recite Surat al-Bayyina.”

This was the ethos in which the Companions lived. Every day a new “fruit of Paradise” and “gift” of God was presented to them, and every day brought new situations. Previously unaware of faith, Divine Scripture, and Prophethood, these desert Arabs, gifted with a keen memory and a talent for poetry, were brought up by the Messenger to educate future Muslim generations. God chose them as His Messenger’s Companions, and willed them to convey His Message throughout the world.

After the Prophet’s death, they conquered in the name of Islam all the lands from Spain to China, from Caucasia to India, with unprecedented speed. Conveying the Qur’an and the Sunnah everywhere they went, many of the conquered people joined their households and embraced Islam. The Muslims instructed these new Muslims in the Qur’an and the Sunnah, thereby prepar­ing the ground for all the leading Muslim scholars and scientists to come.

The Companions considered memorizing and transmitting the Qur’an and the Sunnah as acts of worship, for they had heard from the Messenger say: “Whoever comes to my mosque should come either to learn the good or to teach it. Such people have the same rank as those who fight in the way of God.”13

Anas reports that they frequently met to discuss what they heard from the Messenger.14 Women also were taught by the Messenger, who set aside a specific day for them. His wives actively conveyed to other women whatever they learned from the Messenger. Their influence was great, for through them the Prophet established fami­ly ties with the people of Khaybar (through Safiyya), the Banu Amir ibn Sa’sa’a (through Maymuna), the Banu Makhzum (through Umm Salama), the Umayyads (through Umm Habiba), and the Banu Mustaliq (through Juwayriya). The women of these tribes would come to their “representative” among the Prophet’s house­hold and ask her about religious matters.

In the last year of his Messengership, the Messenger went to Makka for what has become known as the Farewell Pilgrimage. In his Farewell Sermon at ‘Arafat to more than 100,000 people, he summarized his mission and told his audience: “Those who are here should convey my speech to those who are not.”15 Sometime later, the last verse to be revealed commanded the Muslim community to practice and support Islam: Fear a day when you will be returned unto God and every soul shall be paid what it earned; they will not be wronged (2:281).


The Companions obeyed the Messenger in everything. They were so imbued with love for him that they strove to imitate him in every possible way. In fact, the Qur’an itself led them to do this, for it states that obeying the Messenger is directly related to belief:

But no, by your Lord! They will not believe till they make you the judge in disputes between them, then they shall find in themselves no impediment touching your verdict, but shall sur­render in full submission. (4:65)

The following are only a few examples of their degree of sub­mission.

• Shortly before his death, the Messenger raised an army, appointed Usama to command it, and told him to “advance only as far as the place where your father was martyred, and strengthen our rule there.”16 The Messenger took to his bed before the army departed. When Usama visited him, the Messenger prayed for him.

The army was just about to set out when the Messenger died. Abu Bakr, his immediate political succes­sor and the first caliph, dispatched the army without a sec­ond thought, despite uprisings in various parts of Arabia. He accompanied the soldiers to the outskirts of Madina and said: “By God, even if wolves attack us from all direc­tions, I will not lower a flag hoisted by the Messenger.”17

• The Messenger’s death shocked and grieved Madina’s Muslims. The subsequent election to choose the caliph caused some dissension among the Companions. Abu Bakr shouldered a very heavy task, for the army was waiting to be sent, reports of uprisings were coming in, and small groups were not satisfied with his election.

Just at this juncture, Fatima (the Prophet’s daughter) asked him for her share in the land of Fadak. Abu Bakr did not want to offend her, but was also determined to remain faithful to the Sunnah. He used to say: “I can’t for­sake anything that the Messenger did.”18 He had heard something from the Messenger, which Fatima had not: “We, the community of the Prophets, do not bequeath anything. Whatever we leave is charity.”19

• After the conquest of Makka, people from all over Arabia embraced Islam. Of course, many were not as devoted to Islam as the Companions. Some apostatized and, follow­ing Musaylima the Liar, revolted against Madina. Others showed signs of revolt by refusing to pay the prescribed alms-tax. Abu Bakr fought such people until peace and security reigned in Arabia once again.

• ‘Umar was known as “the one who submits himself to truth.” Unaware of the Prophet’s decree, he put forward his own judgment about how much money should be paid to compensate someone for a cut finger. A Companion opposed him: “O Commander of the Faithful! I heard the Messenger say: ‘The blood money for both hands togeth­er is the same as that paid for a life. This amount is shared out equally among the fingers, as ten camels for each.’”20 ‘Umar instantly withdrew his ruling and said to himself: “O son of Khattab! Do you dare to judge, through your own reasoning, on a matter the Messenger decreed?”

• Abu Musa al-Ash‘ari went to visit ‘Umar in his office. He knocked on the door three times and then left, for no one answered. After Abu Musa left, ‘Umar opened the door and asked who had knocked. Learning that Abu Musa had knocked, ‘Umar sent for him and asked why he had left. Abu Musa answered: “The Messenger said: ‘When you visit someone, knock on the door. If you are not allowed to enter after you knock for the third time, go away,’” ‘Umar asked him if he could ver­ify this hadith, which was unknown to him. Abu Musa brought Abu Sa‘id al-Khudri, who testified to its truth. ‘Umar conceded.21

• When ‘Umar was stabbed while prostrating in the mosque, he was asked if he wanted to designate his suc­cessor. ‘Umar answered: “If I designate, one who is better than me (Abu Bakr) did so. If I do not designate, one who is better than me (the Messenger) did not do so.”22 ‘Umar was certain to follow the latter action. However, to pre­vent any possible disagreement, he left the matter to a con­sultative committee that he formed for this very purpose.

• When ‘Umar saw Zayd ibn Khalid al-Juhani perform a supererogatory prayer after the afternoon prayer, he reproached him for doing what the Messenger had not done. Zayd told him: “Even if you break my head into pieces, I shall never give up this two rak‘a prayer, for I saw the Messenger perform it.”23

Umm Salama, one of the Prophet’s wives, reported that one day her husband could not perform the two rak‘a Sunnah prayer after the noon prayer because he was busy with a visiting delegation. So, he prayed that prayer after the afternoon prayer.24 Zayd must have seen the Messenger perform it at that time.

• ‘Ali once drank water while standing. Maysara ibn Ya’qub criticized him: “Why are you drinking while standing?” ‘Ali answered: “If I do so, it’s because I saw the Messenger do so. If I drink while sitting, it’s because I saw the Messenger do so.”25

• Instead of washing the feet during wudu’, Muslims can wipe the upper surface of light, thin-soled boots worn indoors (or inside overshoes26) with wet hands. Showing the Sunnah’s supremacy over personal reasoning, ‘Ali said: “If I had not seen the Messenger wipe the upper surface of his light, thin-soled boots, I would deem it more prop­er to wipe their soles.”27

• If a Muslim kills another by mistake, the killer’s heirs must pay blood-money. ‘Umar thought that a wife could not inherit any blood-money due to her husband. However, Dahhak ibn Abi Sufyan informed him that when Ashyam ibn Dibabi had been killed, the Messenger had given some of the blood-money to his wife. ‘Umar declared: “From now on, wives will inherit from the blood-money of their husbands.”28

• Abu ‘Ubayda ibn Jarrah commanded the Muslim armies fighting in Syria. When ‘Umar went to visit him in Amwas, pestilence had broken out already. Before ‘Umar entered the city, ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn al-‘Awf told him: “I heard the Messenger say: ‘If you hear that pestilence has broken out in a place, don’t enter it. If you are in such a place already, don’t leave it.’”29 ‘Umar, so obedient to the Sunnah, returned home without seeing his faithful friend for the last time.



The Qur’an declares:

It is not for any believer, man or woman, when God and His Messenger have decreed a matter, to have the choice in the affair. Whosoever disobeys God and His Messenger has gone astray into manifest error. (33:36)

. . . Those who believe in Our signs, those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find written down with them in the Torah and the Gospel, enjoining the good and forbidding the evil, making lawful the good things and making unlawful the corrupt things, and relieving them of their loads and the fetters that were upon them. Those who believe in him and succor him and help him, and follow the light that has been sent down with him—they are the ones who prosper. (7:156-57)

The Traditions further declare:

• The best of words is the Book of God; the best way to fol­low is that of Muhammad. The worst affair is innovations (against my Sunnah). Each innovation is a deviation.30

• “Everyone of my community will enter Paradise, except those who rebel.” When they asked who these rebels were, he replied: “Whoever obeys me will enter Paradise; whoever disobeys me is a rebel.”31

• In the case of my community, I am like someone who has lit a fire. Insects and moths flock to it. I hold you by the cloth [of your garments to keep you away from the fire], but you pull yourselves into it.32

• Don’t let me find any of you seated in armchairs, who, when something I ordered or forbade is reported to them, respond: “We have no knowledge of it. So, we fol­low whatever we find in the Book of God.”33

• Be careful! Surely I have been given the Book and its like together with it.34

• Those who outlive me will witness many controversies. Follow my way and that of the rightly guided successors (caliphs) who will guide to truth. Hold fast to it and cling to it stubbornly with your teeth. Refrain from newly invented things (in religion), for each such thing is an innovation, and each innovation is a deviation.35

• I have left to you two precious things that, if you hold fast to them, will never lead you astray: The Qur’an and the Sunnah.36


The Companions and the immediately following generations were meticulous in narrating or transmitting these Traditions.37 They showed the utmost care and exactness in separating sound Traditions from those that had been fabricated (to meet person­al or sectarian needs). After memorizing them word for word, they transmitted the sound ones to the following generations.

The Messenger’s warning and the Companions’ self-control

Islam is distinguished from unbelief by its firm rooting in truth­fulness. True Muslims do not lie. The Companions and their suc­cessors proved their attachment to Islam through their person­al sacrifice. They also feared God, lived austerely, and avoided life’s comforts. Many great scholars and saints appeared among them, and their examples are still followed.

Along with the emphasis Islam puts on truthfulness, God’s Messenger severely warned people not to lie about him: “Those who lie about me should prepare their abodes in the Fire”38 and: “Whoever relates from me falsely is a liar.”39 In the face of such warnings, would the Companions, who had sacrificed their entire lives for the cause of Islam, even think of lying about the Messenger?

Based on these considerations, the Companions took great care when narrating Traditions so that no mistake or misunder­standing would occur. For example ‘Ali, the cousin of the Messenger and the fourth Caliph after him, used to say: “I fear to narrate a Tradition from the Messenger so much that I would rather fall from Heaven than speak a lie on his behalf.”40

‘Abd Allah ibn al-Mas‘ud, among the first four or five people to accept Islam and one of the most knowledgeable Companions who were nearest to the Prophet, was similarly careful. When asked to report from God’s Messenger, he began with: “The Messenger of God said,” stopped and bowed his head, breathed deeply and unbuttoned his collar while his eyes filled with tears. After the narration, he added: “The Messenger of God said this, or something like this, or something more or less like this.”41

Zubayr ibn ‘Awwam, one of the ten Companions assured of Paradise, narrated only a few Traditions from God’s Messenger for fear of making a mistake. When his son asked him why, he replied: “I am so afraid that I might say something contrary to what the Messenger really said. For he declared: ‘Those who lie about me intentionally should prepare their abodes in the Fire.’”42 Anas ibn Malik, who served the Messenger for ten years, said: “If I were not so afraid of making a mistake, I would relate many more narrations from the Messenger.”43

‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Abi Layla met 500 Companions. When he visited a place, people would say: “The man who met 500 Companions has come to our town.” He had a great influence on Abu Hanifa and Imam Abu Yusuf. He reports: “I was per­sonally familiar with 120 Companions. Sometimes all of them were in the same mosque. When they were asked about some­thing, each would wait for the other to answer. If they were asked to narrate a Tradition, no one would dare to. Finally, one of them would place his trust in God and begin to narrate. He would always add: ‘The Messenger said this, or something like this, or something more or less like this.’”44

Zayd ibn Arqam was one of the first people to embrace Islam. In the early days of Islam, the Messenger would meet with the Muslims secretly in his house. Zayd was appointed superintendent of the public treasury during the caliphates of ‘Umar and ‘Uthman. When he saw ‘Uthman give items from the treasury to his relatives, he told him: “O Commander of the Faithful. People will suspect me and will no longer trust me. Allow me to resign.” When ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Abi Layla asked him to narrate a Tradition, Zayd answered: “My son, I have become old and forgetful. Narrating about the Messenger is not something easy.”45

Literal narration

Although the literal narration is better and always preferable, narration of meaning is allowed if the narrator has an expert command of Arabic, if the word used is appropriate in the giv­en context, and if the original has been forgotten. However, the Companions always narrated Traditions literally despite this permission. For example, one day ‘Ubayd ibn ‘Umayr narrated: “A hypocrite resembles a sheep left between rabidayn (two flocks).” ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Umar objected: “He did not say so. I heard the Messenger say: ‘A hypocrite resembles a sheep left between ghanamayn (two flocks).’”46 The meaning is the same; the difference is only between the words rabidayn and ghanamayn.

This same care was adopted by the scholars or narrators of  the generation immediately following the Companions: the Tabi‘un (those who follow). For instance, someone narrated in the pres­ence of Sufyan ibn ‘Uyayna: “The Messenger forbade leaving the juice (of grapes, dates, and the like) to ferment (an yuntabadha) in bowls made of pumpkin and lined with pitch.” Sufyan objected: “I heard Zuhri narrate: ‘The Messenger forbade leaving the juice (of grapes, dates, and the like) to ferment (an yunbadha) in bowls made of pumpkin and lined with pitch.’”47 There is no difference in meaning, only in the verb’s conjugation.

Bara ibn ‘Adhib related:

The Messenger advised me: Perform wudu’ before going to bed. Then lie on your right side and pray: “O God, I have sub­mitted myself to You and committed my affair to You. I have sheltered in You, in fear of You, and in quest of You. There is no shelter from You except in You. I believe in Your Book You sent down, and Your Prophet You raised.” To memorize this immediately, I repeated it to the Messenger and said at the end of it “Your Messenger You raised.” He corrected the final sen­tence, saying: “and Your Prophet You raised.”48

People dream when they sleep. True dreams constitute 1/46 of Prophethood, for the Messenger had true dreams during the first six months of his 23-year period of Prophethood. As they are related to Prophethood, not to Messengership,49 the Messenger corrected Bara. This care was shown by almost all Companions, who studied the Traditions they heard from the Messenger and then discussed them. The Messenger told them: “Memorize and study the Traditions, for some are related to others. Therefore, come together and discuss them.”50


The Companions strove to verify the meaning of every Tradition. None of them lied, for their fear of Divine punish­ment was too great. However, reporters might have misunder­stood the Tradition, missed an important point while receiving it from the Messenger, or misinterpreted it. With no intention to oppose the Messenger, they exerted themselves to understand his true purpose and discussed what they received from him.

A woman asked Caliph Abu Bakr if she could inherit from her grandchildren. He answered: “I have seen nothing in the Qur’an that allows this, nor do I remember the Messenger say­ing anything on this point.” Mughira ibn Shu‘ba stood up and said: “The Messenger allowed the grandmother to receive one-sixth (of the estate).” Abu Bakr asked Mughira if he could pro­duce a witness to testify to this. When Muhammad ibn Maslama testified to it, Abu Bakr gave the woman one-sixth of her grand­son’s estate.51

When the Messenger declared: “Those called to account for their deeds on the Day of Judgment by God will be ruined,” ‘A’isha asked: “What about the Divine declaration in the Qur’an:

Then they will be called to account (for their deeds), and it will be an easy act of giving account?” The Messenger answered: “It is about presentation. Everyone will give account to God for their deeds. If those who did evil deny their evil deeds, God will inform them of their deeds. Such people will be ruined.”52

As recorded in Bukhari, ‘Umar narrates:

I heard Hisham ibn Hakim pronounce some words of Surat al-Furqan somewhat differently from the way the Messenger taught me. I waited patiently until he had finished praying, and then asked him: “Who taught you such a recitation?” When he told me that he had learned it from the Messenger, I took him to the Messenger and explained the situation. The Messenger asked Hisham to recite the sura, which he did. The Messenger nodded, saying: “This is the way it was revealed to me.” Then he asked me to recite, which I did. Again he nodded and said: “Thus it was revealed.” He added: “The Qur’an is revealed in seven different ways. Recite it in the way easiest for you.”53

The Companions were so devoted to the Sunnah that they would travel long distances to learn just one hadith. For example, Abu Ayyub al-Ansari traveled from Madina to Egypt to check one hadith’s exact wording. Among those who had received it from the Messenger, only ‘Uqba ibn Amir was still alive and liv­ing in Egypt. Abu Ayyub arrived in the capital city and, calling on its governor Maslama ibn Mukhallad, found a guide to take him to ‘Uqba. When he found this Companion in a street, he asked him about: “Whoever covers (hides) a believer’s defect in the world, God will cover his (or her) defects in the Hereafter.”54 Being told by ‘Uqba that his memory was correct, Abu Ayyub took his leave, saying: “I came just to ask about this hadith. I wouldn’t like to make my intention impure [by staying] for some other reason.”55

As related in Bukhari, Jabir ibn ‘Abd Allah traveled for a whole month just to receive a hadith directly from its narrator, ‘Abd Allah ibn Unays. Finding ‘Abd Allah, he said: “I’ve been informed that you relate a hadith that I didn’t hear from the Messenger. Fearing that one of us may die before I learn it, I have come to you.” Jabir learned the hadith and returned to Madina.56

Such journeys continued throughout the following cen­turies. Sa‘id ibn al-Musayyib, Masruq ibn Ajda, and others made long journeys to learn a single hadith or even to confirm a sin­gle letter of one hadith. Kathir ibn Qays relates that one such lover of knowledge traveled from Madina to Damascus to learn one hadith from Abu al-Darda’.57

The Tabi‘un exhibited the same degree of caution as the Companions when narrating a Tradition. As stated by A‘mash, they would prefer the sky to collapse on them than to add so much as a wrong vowel to a hadith.58

The Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama‘a agree on the  absolute truth­fulness of the Companions.59 However, after internal conflicts broke out among the Muslims, the Tabi‘un began to scrutinize whatever hadith they heard and to inquire about their narrators’ truthfulness. Muhammad ibn Sirin says: “Before, we didn’t ask about the narrators. But after the internal conflicts broke out, we began to ask.”60

People of weak character and ungrounded faith fabricated Traditions to promote their sectarian beliefs. The Nasiba (the Umayyads and their supporters who opposed ‘Ali) forged Traditions in favor of ‘Uthman and Mu‘awiya and against ‘Ali, and the Rafidites (Shi‘a extremists) forged Traditions against ‘Uthman and Mu‘awiya and for ‘Ali. This caused meticulous, truth-seek­ing scholars to undertake a detailed and careful examination of each reported hadith and its narrators’ character. Abu al-‘Aliya says:

We were no longer content with what was reported to us from a Companion. We traveled to receive it directly from the Companion or Companions who had narrated it, and to ask other Companions who knew about it.61

Imam Muslim relates that Bushayr al-‘Adawi narrated a hadith to Ibn ‘Abbas. Noticing that the latter was not paying attention, Bushayr asked in surprise: “Why aren’t you listening to me? I’m narrating a hadith.” Ibn ‘Abbas answered:

In the past, our hearts would jump for joy and excitement when somebody began to narrate a hadith, saying: “The Messenger said.” We would be fully attentive. But after people began to travel from place to place, we only receive from those whom we already know.62

Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, the great scholar of Muslim Spain (Andalusia), reports from Amir ibn Sharahil al-Sha‘bi, one of the greatest Tabi‘un scholars: Rabi‘ ibn Husayn related to Sha‘bi the hadith:

Those who recite ten times: “There is no god but God, One, and He has no partner. His is the kingdom, and His is all praise. He gives life and causes death. He is powerful over everything,” may earn as much reward as those who free a slave.

Sha‘bi asked Rabi‘ who had narrated that hadith to him. He said that ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Abi Layla’ had done so. Sha‘bi then left and found Ibn Abi Layla, who was living in another city. Ibn Abi Layla testified to the hadith’s authenticity, saying he had heard it from Abu Ayyub al-Ansari.63

Such great scholars as Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri, Ibn Sirin, Sufyan al-Thawri, Amir ibn Sharahil al-Sha‘bi, Ibrahim ibn Yazid al-Naha’i, Shu‘ba, Abu Hilal, Qatada ibn Di‘ama, Hisham al-Dastawa’i and Mith’ar ibn Qudam did their best to determine which Traditions were authentic and which were fabricated. When they were unsure of a Tradition’s authenticity, they would consult each oth­er. For example, Abu Hilal and Sa‘id ibn Abi Sadaqa asked Hisham al-Dastawa’i about one Tradition’s exact wording just to be sure. Shu‘ba and Sufyan al-Thawri referred to Mith‘ar a matter about which they did not have exact knowledge.64 Such great scholars did not allow fabricated Traditions to spread. Whenever and wherever they heard people known for their sectarian views nar­rate a Tradition, these Traditionists would ask who had related this Tradition to them.

Those truth-loving and truth-seeking scholars did not refrain from revealing the weaknesses of their families or relatives. For example, Zayd ibn Unaysa warned Traditionists not to receive hadith from his brother, perhaps because of his forgetfulness, care­lessness, or sectarianism.65 When asked about his father, ‘Ali ibn al-Madini, the first to write on the Companions, answered: “Ask oth­ers about him.” When they insisted, he explained: “Hadith means religion. My father is weak on this point.”66

Waki‘ ibn Jarrah, who was brought up in the school of Abu Hanifa and was a tutor of Imam Shafi‘i, said: “As far as I know, I have never forgotten anything once I heard it. Nor do I remem­ber anything that I had to repeat in order to memorize, if I only heard it once.” Despite his keen memory, Imam Shafi‘i once complained to Waki‘ about his poor memory. Waki‘ answered: “Refrain from sin. Knowledge is a light from God, and so can­not be granted to sinful people.” When his father Jarrah was nar­rating a hadith, Waki‘ was always nearby. When asked why, he answered: “My father works in the state’s finance department. I am afraid he might soften some Traditions in favor of the gov­ernment. I accompany him to prevent such a lapse.”67

While the Traditions were being written down, they also were being memorized by some of the greatest Traditionists of Islamic history. For example, Ahmad ibn Hanbal memorized around one million Traditions, including authentic, good, weak, and fabricat­ed ones (some were identical in text but had different narration chains). His Musnad contains only 40,000 Traditions out of 300,000 Traditions.

Yahya ibn Ma‘in memorized both authentic and fabricated Traditions. When Ibn Hanbal asked him why he did so, he replied: “I inform people of fabricated Traditions so they may choose the authentic ones.”68 Many scholars engaged in this activ­ity and knew hundreds of thousands of them by heart. Among them, the most famous are Zuhri, Yahya ibn Sa‘id al-Qattan, Bukhari, Muslim, Daraqutni, Hakim, Dhahabi, Ibn Hajar al­‘Asqalani, and Imam Suyuti.

Thanks to the tremendous efforts of such Traditionists, authentic Traditions were distinguished from fabricated ones. In addition to recording authentic Traditions in volumes and mem­orizing them, many Traditionists wrote on the narrators’ char­acter so people would know who was reliable or unreliable, careful or careless, profound and meticulous or superficial, and God-fearing or heedless.

When people warned them that revealing people’s defects would bring shame upon those people, they would reply: “Hadith means religion. Therefore it should be given greater care than the hiding of the narrators’ defects.”69 Yahya ibn Sa‘id al-Qattan, renowned for being alert to sins, used to say: “In the presence of God I would rather have them as enemies than the Messenger.”70

Ensuring Authenticity

There were several ways to tell whether a Tradition had been fab­ricated or not. One was to encourage the narrators to confess. This was not uncommon among those who had fallen into sec­tarianism and then, being guided to the truth, acknowledged the Traditions they had fabricated.

In addition, the Traditionists were extremely sensitive to lying. If it could be proven that a narrator had lied even once, all Traditions coming from that source were rejected. Narrators had to be completely truthful, have a keen memory, be very careful in practicing Islam, and not be involved in sectarianism. Moreover, if reliable narrators became forgetful or had similar mental diffi­culties, their Traditions were no longer accepted. For example, when Ibn Abi Lahi‘a, famous for his austerity and God-con­sciousness, lost the notebook from which he used to relate Traditions, Imam Bukhari restricted himself to those of his nar­rations confirmed or reinforced by other reliable narrators.

It is said that one’s literary style is identical with that partic­ular person. So if you are a careful reader, you can identify an author by his or her style and distinguish him or her from oth­ers. Traditionists dedicated themselves to Hadith, and could dis­tinguish easily between the Prophet’s sayings and those of every­one else, no matter how gifted.

Another way was to judge them according to the Qur’an and the mutawatir hadith. If three or more Companions report­ed a hadith from the Prophet, which was then handed down by several transmission chains of reliable narrators, it is mutawatir. Traditions reported from the Prophet by one Companion are called ahadi. Such Traditions usually were accepted as authentic after judged according to the Qur’an and mutawatir Traditions.

Although not an objective method, some saintly scholars saw the Messenger while awake and received directly from him. The hadith qudsi: “I was a hidden treasure. I wished to be known, and so created the universe” is reported to belong to this class.71 Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti is reported to have met with the Messenger sever­al times while awake. Before writing down a hadith he considered authentic, Imam Bukhari performed wudu’, referred it to the Messenger, and recorded it in his notebook only after receiving the Messenger’s approval.72 Some Traditionists saw the Companion who had narrated the hadith from the Prophet.

The Traditionists wrote multi-volume works about narra­tors, in which they detailed these people’s biographies: where and when they were born, where they emigrated and lived, their teachers, from whom they received and to whom they narrated Traditions, and when and where they died.

The first book of this genre was ‘Ali ibn al-Madini’s Kitab al-Ma‘rifat al-Sahaba (The Book of Knowledge about the Companions). Among the most significant are the following: Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr’s Al-Isti‘ab fi Ma‘rifat al-Ashab (The Comprehensive Book of Knowledge about the Companions), Ibn Hajar al­‘Asqalani’s Al-Isaba fi Tamyiz al-Sahaba (Finding the Truth in Judging the Companions), Ibn al-Athir’s Usd al-Ghaba (The Lions of the Forest), Ibn Sa‘d’s Al-Tabaqat al-Kubra’ (a most com­prehensive biographical dictionary of the leading Companions and of the Tabi‘un scholars), and Tarikh Ibn ‘Asakir (History by Ibn ‘Asakir), Tarikh al-Bukhari (History by Bukhari) and Yahya ibn Ma‘in’s Al-Tarikh al-Kabir (The Great History).

The greatest Traditionists, among them Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, Nasa’i, Ibn Maja, and Ahmad ibn Hanbal, collected authentic Traditions in voluminous books. Others, such as Maqdisi, collected fabricated Traditions. Still others, who came later, tested once more the authenticity of all previously collect­ed Traditions.

For example, Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 597 AH) judged several Traditions in Ibn Hanbal’s Musnad to be either weakly transmit­ted or fabricated, although he belonged to Ibn Hanbal’s legal school. Later, Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani made a detailed examina­tion of the same Traditions and, with the exception of thirteen, proved their authenticity. Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (d. 911 AH) scrutinized them once more and concluded that none were fab­ricated, although a few may have weak chains of transmission. He also reviewed Ibn al-Jawzi’s Al-Mawdu‘at al-Kubra’ (A Great Collection of Fabricated Traditions) and sorted out the authentic ones. Thinking that the rest might not be fabricated either, he wrote Al-Laa’li al-Masnu‘a (The Artifical Pearls).

Other great Traditionists compiled additional compendia. Such leading Traditionists as Bukhari and Muslim, tremendous­ly exacting scholars, did not include many Traditions in their collections. Hakim’s Al-Mustadrak ‘ala al-Sahihayn (Addendum to the Two Collections of Authentic Traditions) is a voluminous appendix to Bukhari and Muslim. It was reviewed closely by Hafiz Dhahabi, who was famous for his keen memory.

In later centuries, books were written on widespread max­ims, wise sayings, or proverbs regarded as Hadith. Sakhawi’s Maqasid al-Hasana and ‘Ajluni’s Kashf al-Khafa’ examined them one by one and explained which are truly Traditions and which are not. For example, apart from many authentic Traditions and Qur’anic verses encouraging people to learn, such popular say­ings as: “Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave” and “Seek knowledge even if it is in China” were tested by the Traditionists and shown not to be real Traditions.

After such tremendous studies, detailed examinations, and exacting verifications, we can state that the collections of authen­tic Traditions no longer contain fabricated Traditions. Those who continue to question the Traditions and Sunnah act out of noth­ing more than religious, political, and ideological prejudice, as well as from biased Orientalist scholarship, to cast doubt on this vital source of Islam and its implementation in one’s daily life.


Some examples of fabricated Traditions are the following:

·         Abu Hanifa is perhaps the greatest Muslim jurist, and still shines like a sun in the sky of Islamic jurisprudence. But the saying attributed to the Prophet that “Abu Hanifa is the lamp of my nation” is not a hadith.73 It must have been fabricated for sectarian considerations.

·          “Have white cockerels” must have been forged by a white cockerel seller, even though we like white cockerels.74

·         “Beware of the evil of one to whom you have done good” is another illogical saying wrongly attributed to the Prophet.75 You can win somebody’s heart by being good to him or her.  If it were permissible to attribute a saying to the Prophet, I would say: “Do good to the one whose evil you fear,” for it is said that “people are the slaves of the good done to them.”

·         Although rationality is a principle of Islam, Islam does not depend upon rationalism. No one can judge the Qur’an and the Prophet according to the dictates of individual rea­son. Islam is the collection of principles established by God, the Owner and Giver of all reasoning and intellect. Therefore, the saying: “Discuss among yourselves a saying attributed to me. If it agrees with the truth, confirm it and adopt it as a religious principle. It doesn’t matter whether I have uttered it or not,” is a fabrication.

·         Another saying wrongly attributed to the Messenger is: “I was born in the time of the just king.”76 This was fabricat­ed to exalt the Persian king Anushirwan. No one can con­fer honor on the Messenger, who himself brought honor to the whole of creation, most particularly to our world.

·          Another widespread beautiful saying is also mistakenly thought to be a Tradition: “Cleanliness comes from belief.” The meaning is true, but it was not reported from the Messenger through a sound chain of transmission. Instead, he said: “Purity (in body, mind, and heart) is half of belief, and al-hamdu li-Allah (all praise be to God) fills up the bal­ance (where the good deeds will be weighed).”77

·          Aqiq is a place located between Madina and Makka. During a journey, the Messenger told those traveling with him to: “Set up your tents at Aqiq.” In Arabic, the word translated as “set up your tents” is takhayyamu. Since dia­critical points were not used in writing during the early days of Islam, this word was confused with takhattamu (wear a ring). In addition, aqiq is used for cornelian. All this led to a false Tradition: “Wear a ring of cornelian,” with the addition of “because it removes poverty.”78

·         “Looking at a beautiful face is an act of worship” is another false Tradition, one plainly slanderous against the Messenger.

·          The saying: “Seek knowledge even if it is in China” is anoth­er false Tradition. It may have been fabricated to encourage learning. However, the Prophet has many sayings, and the Qur’an urges Muslims to learn or to seek knowledge: Only those of His servants fear God who have knowledge (35:28), and: Say: “Are they equal—those who know and those who don’t know?” (39:9). In addition, the Prophet said: “Angels spread their wings beneath the feet of those who seek knowledge, because they are pleased (with them).”79

Some examples of authentic Traditions labelled as fabricat­ed are the following:

• Imam Bukhari relates in his Sahih: This is in the Torah: “O Prophet, We have sent you as a witness, a bringer of good tidings and a warner, and a refuge for the unlet­tered. You are My servant and Messenger. I named you ‘the one who places his trust in God.’ He is not harsh and rude, nor one who shouts in the streets. He does not repel evil with evil; instead, he pardons and forgives. God will not take his soul until He guides the deviant people to believe that there is no god but God, and there­by opens blind eyes and deaf ears and hardened hearts.”80 Orientalists and their Muslim followers criticize this hadith because it was reported by ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Amr ibn al-‘As, who sometimes narrated from Ka‘b ibn al-Akhbar. What they neglect to consider is that:

–        This hadith does not contradict the characteristics of the Messenger described in the Qur’an and other Islamic sources.

–        Despite their distortions and alterations, the Torah and the Gospels still contain references to the Messenger. The Qur’an points to this in several verses, among them: Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet whom they find written in the Torah and the Gospel with them (7:157); and: This is their like in the Torah, and their like in the Gospel is this (48:29). Husayn Jisri, who lived during the first half of the twentieth century, found 124 allusions to the Messenger in the Torah and the Gospels. The Gospel of Barnabas explicit­ly mentions Prophet Muhammad.

–        Ka‘b al-Akhbar was a Jew who accepted Islam. Many Christians and Jews embraced Islam, especially dur­ing its early spread in Africa and Asia. They brought with them their previous knowledge, but that which was contrary to Islam was either corrected or most­ly rejected. Such Companions as ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Abbas, Abu Hurayra, Anas ibn Malik, and ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Amr ibn al-‘As listened to Ka‘b’s narrations from the Torah. It was impossible for them to accept any­thing contrary to Islam. Would ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Amr, an ascetic who was deeply devoted to Islam and the Prophet, lie or fabricate a Tradition when he knew the punishment for such an action?

• During a severe famine and drought, Caliph ‘Umar held the hand of ‘Abbas, the Prophet’s uncle, and prayed: “O God! While he was alive our Prophet prayed to You for rain, and You sent down rain. Now we take his uncle as the means to pray to You for rain, so send down rain.”81 Some criticize this Tradition based on Jahiz’s objection. But Jahiz is not a Traditionist; rather, he sought to deny even the most authentic Traditions. His teacher was Nazzam, a materialist belonging to the Mu’tazila hetero­dox sect. Jahiz criticizes this Tradition in his Al-Bayan wa al-Tabyin as follows:

In all the Traditions attributed to ‘Umar with regard to praying for rain, there are defects making it difficult for us to accept their authenticity. In some versions, he prayed on the pulpit; in others, in an open area; and still in others, after a prescribed prayer. Such confusions show that those Traditions are not authentic.

The science of Hadith requires profound specialty. Jahiz is not a specialist. Neither is Ibn Abi al-Dunya, who, although a blessed ascetic, criticizes this Tradition in his book, which contains many mistakes and fabricated Traditions. Imam Ghazali is one of the few great revivers of the Islamic religious sciences and one of our greatest religious guides. Yet if you mention him as a reference in a disputed mat­ter of Hadith, Traditionists will laugh at you. A doctor is not asked about engineering, and no one goes to a chemist for medical information or advice. Second, using somebody or something as a means to reach God, provided you understand that the means do not affect the outcome, is allowed: O you who believe! Fear God and seek a means to Him (5:35). The Companions usually asked the Messenger to pray on their behalf. Once during a drought, they asked him to pay for rain. He did so, and it rained so heavily that they had to ask him to pray for it to stop. He prayed on the pulpit, and the people went to their houses in sunlight. After this explic­it favor of God, the Messenger said: “I bear witness that God is powerful over everything, and that I am His ser­vant and Messenger.”82

The Qur’an encouraged the Companions to ask the

Messenger to seek God’s forgiveness for them, emphasiz­ing that his praying is a means of peace and tranquility:

We never sent any Messenger, but that he should be obeyed, by the leave of God. If, when they wronged themselves, they had come to you, and prayed forgive­ness of God, and the Messenger had prayed forgiveness for them, they would have found God All-Forgiving, All-Compassionate. (4:64)

and: Pray for them; your prayers are a comfort for them (9:103). Once a blind man complained to the Messenger about his blindness. The Messenger advised him to per­form wudu’, pray two rak‘as, and say:

O God, I ask You and turn to You for the sake of Your Prophet Muhammad, the Prophet of mercy. O Muhammad, I turn to my Lord for your sake for my need to be met. O God, accept his intercession with You on my behalf!

The man did so and recovered his sight.83 In conclusion, nothing in the Tradition ruins its authenticity.

• It is reported in almost all of the six most authentic books of Tradition: “If a dog licks your bowl, clean it seven times; the first time with soil, the other six with water.”84 Some who are unaware of Hadith principles and medical developments doubt this hadith’s authenticity, despite its authentic chain of transmission and its being a proof of Muhammad’s Prophethood. Had he not been a Prophet taught by God, how could he have known medical facts discovered only centuries later? We now know that dogs may carry microbes of certain diseases in their saliva and excrement, and that these can harm human health if they are transmitted. Moreover, no one in the Prophet’s era knew about disin­fection and sterilization. The Messenger, being a Prophet taught by the All-Knowing, recommends soil to clean a bowl licked by a dog. Today we know that soil is a good antiseptic that contains such substances as tetracycline. Some interpret seven times to mean as many times as needed to clean the bowl. Hanafi jurists regard it as suf­ficient to clean the bowl three times.

• Some contemporary critics, including the French convert Maurice Bucaille, were quick to criticize the following Tradition, reported by Abu Hurayra: “When a fly falls into one of your bowls, dip it completely in the food before taking it out, for there is disease in one wing [or side] and a cure in the other.”85 This Tradition’s narrators are beyond reproach. It was included by Bukhari, Abu Dawud, Nasa’i, Darimi, and Ahmad ibn Hanbal. Like the previous Tradition, this one contains a proof of Muhammad’s Prophethood. At that time, no one knew that flies carry germs. Moreover, we now know that when a fly falls into a bowl, it tries to hold one wing off the food so it can take off again. As a result, it leaves its bac­teria in the food. But when it is submerged in the food with a slight touch, the tiny bag on the other wing or side (the word janah has both meanings) bursts open and scatters anti-bacteria to kill the germs left on the food.

• Another authentic, but criticized, Tradition mentioned in all the authentic books of Tradition is: “It is not worth set­ting out to visit [intending to gain spiritual reward] any mosque other than al-Masjid al-Haram [the Holy Mosque surrounding the Ka‘ba], the Prophet’s Mosque [in Madina], and al-Masjid al-Aqsa’ [just south of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem].”86 This Tradition is criticized for being report­ed by Companions who narrated from Ka‘b al-Akhbar or that it sanctifies al-Masjid al-Aqsa’. This pretext is com­pletely groundless, for it does not belong to the Jews. Our Prophet turned to it while praying in Makka.

It is also the symbol of Islam’s terrestrial dominion. Our Prophet was first taken to al-Masjid al-Aqsa’ during his Ascension and led prayer there before the souls of the pre­vious Prophets. God declares that He blessed the vicinities of this mosque (17:1). This blessed land surrounding it was first captured by Prophet Yusha (Joshua) ibn Nun after the death of Moses. After Prophet Muhammad, it was recap­tured during ‘Umar’s caliphate. Salah al-Din Ayyubi, one of the greatest Muslim commanders, retook it from the Crusaders. If the Messenger included it among the three mosques most blessed and worthy of visiting, despite dif­ficulties of travel, it is because God sanctified it.

Despite their sanctity, however, it is a mistake to assume a special kind of prayer in those mosques. As reported by Ibn ‘Abbas, a woman promised God that she would pray in al-Masjid al-Aqsa’ if she recovered from her illness. She recovered and, before setting out, called on Maymuna (one of the Messenger’s wives), who told her:

Stay here, mind your house, and pray in the Mosque of the Prophet. I heard the Messenger say: “Prayer per­formed here is 1,000 times better than that performed in any other mosque, except that of the Ka‘ba.”87

• The Messenger declared: “Among my Community there will always be a group who support the truth, until the Command of God will come [the Last Day]. Those who oppose them will not be able to harm them.”88

 Despite being recorded in almost all authentic books of Tradition and proved by the long history of Islam, this Tradition has been subjected to unjustifiable criticism. Islam has resisted all attacks. No earthly power has been able to destroy it. Even after the concerted efforts to do so during the last three centuries, Islam is the only alter­native, stronger and fresher than ever, for true human happiness and prosperity in both worlds.

God has preserved Islam through a devoted self-sac­rificing community in every period. This community concentrated, in one period, in Damascus, and in anoth­er, in Baghdad or Istanbul; once around ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, and then around Imam Ghazali or Imam Rabbani. While concentrating around a particular person in one place, they may have come together, in another, around someone else. Nor will the world be lacking in such groups in the future.

• Another Tradition denied by some is: “When you get up from your bed, don’t put your hand in a bowl [of food or drink] before washing it three times. You don’t know where your hands have been while you were asleep.”8 

Ahmad Amin and Abu Rayya, under the influence of the Orientalist Goldziher, ridicule this Tradition, even though it contains principles of hygiene. People often suf­fer from allergies or an itch. They might have scratched the affected places while sleeping, thereby accumulating germs, particularly under their fingernails. If such people eat (from communal bowls) without washing their hands, other people may become infected.

The Messenger always depended on Revelation, whether explicit or implicit. His Companions, famous for truthfulness, followed him as closely as possible and narrated whatever they received from him. Meticulous, truth-loving Traditionists collected the Traditions reach­ing them through reliable, trustworthy, and upright narra­tors. Some authentic Traditions predict certain future events and scientific developments. Just as none of these have yet proven to be false, so too no one has been able to falsify any other authentic Traditions.

Creation still holds some mysteries, and will contin­ue to do so, regardless of human scientific and other progress. Psychic events or supernormal phenomena like telepathy and second sight, necromancy and other transcendental experiences, give clues to the existence of worlds or dimensions different from our own. As it is possible to find references to this in the Qur’an, some Traditions also may be dealt with from this viewpoint.

• As recorded in authentic books of Tradition, Tamim al-Dari, a Christian convert, tells of a hairy creature called “Jassasa” whom he saw in a strange island, and of a gigan­tic man who lives in a cave and introduces himself as the Dajjal (Anti-Christ).90 We cannot deny this Tradition on positivistic premises, just as we cannot deny that the breast of our Prophet was burst open.

• Another Tradition that we can deal with partly from the same viewpoint is that God enjoined 50 daily prayers during the Ascension of Prophet Muhammad. On his return, Moses warned him about the difficulty of such an order. After the Prophet’s repeated appeals, God reduced the number to five.91

There are delicate points in this hadith. God is All-Forgiving. He knows how many prayers a day His servants can endure, and expects them to pray to Him for forgiveness and to realize their goals. Praying or suppli­cating is a mystery of servanthood to God and the cor­nerstone of servanthood. When servants perceive their poverty, inadequacy, and impotence, they come to depend on their Lord’s absolute and infinite Richness and Power, thereby acquiring immeasurable power and inexhaustible wealth. Servants should be reminded repeatedly of this so that they are not left to their carnal, evil-commanding, and self-conceited selves. If they are not so reminded, they are subject to incurable, unrecov­erable helplessness and destitution.

As Prophet Muhammad is the last Prophet, he encompasses all aspects and dimensions of Prophethood and confirms all previous Prophets. If we compare Prophethood to a huge blessed tree with branches spreading through­out the universe, Prophet Muhammad represents it in its entirety. His Prophethood is rooted deeply in the mission of all earlier Prophets. Therefore, it is natural for him to benefit from his roots. Moses preceded him, so desiring ease for his nation in car­rying out its religious duties, Prophet Muhammad justifi­ably followed his advice. Although the greatest Prophet, he never allowed his followers to regard the others Prophets as inferior to him.

This matter requires further elaboration, as there is much to be said on it. However, this subject is beyond the scope of this book.

The Number of Authentic Traditions

Some Orientalists and their Muslim followers try to cast doubt on the Sunnah’s authenticity on the pretexts that some Companions narrate too many Traditions and that there are vast numbers of Traditions.

First, the Traditions are not limited to the Messenger’s words. Rather, they cover his entire life: all his actions, likes and dislikes, and approvals or tacit confirmations of what his Companions said and did. He lived for 23 years among them as a Messenger of God. He taught them Islam down to its minutest details. He led the prayer five times a day, every detail of which was record­ed, for he told them: “Pray as you see me praying.” He fasted and explained all of its details to them, just as he did for alms­giving and pilgrimage. The essentials of belief and pillars of Islam (prayer, fasting, alms-giving, and pilgrimage) alone are the sub­jects of countless books.

Being a universal Divine system that includes everything related to human life, Islam has laws and regulations for individ­ual and collective life: spiritual and material, social and econom­ic, political and military, and all other aspects faced during one’s daily life. He laid down principles related to all these. He con­stantly warned his Companions against deviation, and encour­aged them to be deeper, more sensitive, and more careful ser­vants of God.

He also told them about former nations and predicted future events. Abu Zayd ‘Amr ibn Akhtab reported that sometimes the Prophet would ascend the pulpit after the dawn prayer and address the congregation until noon. He would continue talking after the noon and afternoon prayers, telling them what had happened from the beginning of the world until that time, and what would happen from then until the Last Day. Such addresses would include information on the upheavals of the other world, the grave, the Resurrection, the Great Mustering, scaling people’s deeds, the Final Judgment, the Bridge, and Hell and Paradise.92

The Messenger commanded armies, heard and tried cases as a judge, sent and received envoys and delegations. He signed peace treaties, waged war, and dispatched military expeditions. He laid down rules of hygiene and principles of good conduct and high morality. His miracles number in the hundreds. As he set an example to be followed by Muslims, and because of the vital importance of Hadith in Islam as well as his Companions’ love of him, his life was recorded from beginning to end.

He honored the universe with his Messengership, His ser­vanthood to God, and his exalted, peerless personality. As hon­ored witnesses of his life, the Companions recorded everything related to him. When they scattered throughout the lands con­quered by Islam, new converts asked them to relate Traditions from the Messenger. They were so deeply devoted to him that they remained extraordinarily faithful to their memories of him.

Once during his caliphate, ‘Umar passed by the house of ‘Abbas, the Prophet’s uncle, on his way to the Friday congregation­al prayer. A few drops of blood fell on his robe from the gutter. He became so angry that he pulled the gutter to the ground, saying to himself: “Who slaughtered an animal on this roof so that its blood should stain my robe when I’m going to the mosque?” He reached the mosque and, after the prayer, warned the congregation: “You are doing some wrong things. I was passing by such and such a wall on my way here, when some blood dropped onto my robe from the gutter. I pulled the gutter to the ground.”

‘Abbas was upset and sprang to his feet: “O ‘Umar, what have you done!? I personally saw the Messenger put that gutter there in person.” Now, it was ‘Umar’s turn to be upset. He said to ‘Abbas in great agitation: “By God, I will lay my head at that wall’s foot and you will put your foot on it to replace the gutter. Until you do that, I will not raise my head from the ground.” Such was their devotion and faithfulness to the Messenger.93

The Messenger implanted such a zeal for learning in his fol­lowers’ hearts that Islamic civilization, under the blessed shadow of which a considerable portion of humanity lived peacefully for centuries, was built on the pillars of belief, knowledge, piety, and brotherhood. In the lands through which the pure water of Islam flowed, innumerable flowers burst open in every field of science, and the scent diffused by them exhilarated the world.

Some of these flowers, like Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, read in two or three sessions the entire collection of authentic Traditions compiled by Imam Muslim. Imam Nawawi dedicated himself so thoroughly to teaching and writing that he never married—he did not want to assign any time to anything other than knowl­edge. Imam Sarakhsi, a great Hanafi jurist, was imprisoned in a well by a king. During that time, he dictated his monumental 30­volume compendium, Al-Mabsut, to his students from memory. When his students told him that Imam Shafi‘i, founder of the Shafi‘i legal school and regarded by some as the second reviver of Islam, had memorized 300 fascicules of Traditions, he answered: “He knew the zakat (one-fortieth) of what I know.”94

The works of Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, Imam Suyuti, and others cover so many volumes that when divided among the days of their lives, we can see that they wrote about 20 pages every day. We cannot study or even read during our lives what each wrote during his lifetime.

Anas ibn Sirin, son of Muhammad ibn Sirin, one of the great­est Tabi‘un scholars, says: “When I arrived in Kufa, 4,000 people were attending Hadith courses in mosques; 400 were experts in Islamic jurisprudence.”95 To understand what it meant to be an expert in Islamic jurisprudence, consider the following: Ahmad ibn Hanbal, whose Musnad contains 40,000 Traditions chosen from among the one million in circulation, was not considered an expert jurist by Ibn Jarir al-Tabari. Nor was he given the same sta­tus as Abu Hanifa, Imam Abu Yusuf, Imam Shafi‘i, Imam Malik, and the like. The fact that some did not consider such a great fig­ure an expert jurist shows just what intellectual and scholarly heights a jurisprudent had to reach to be regarded as an expert.

The general atmosphere was extremely propitious for the development of both religious and secular sciences, especially the science of Tradition. Every Muslim strove to acquire knowl­edge of Islam and recognize its Holy Prophet fully. People had a great aptitude for literature and languages, for poetry was widespread during the pre-Islamic period.

The Qur’an came, first of all, as an absolute and incompara­ble linguistic miracle. No literary or poetic expert denied its elo­quence, and almost all of them gave up poetry after their conver­sion to dedicate themselves to the Qur’an and the Hadith. One of them, the poetess Hansa, became so deeply devoted to Islam that when her four sons were martyred at Qadisiyah, she praised God, saying: “O God, You gave me four sons, all of whom I have sacrificed in the way of Your Beloved (Prophet). Praise be to You, to the number of thousands.”96

Life was quite simple in the desert. This enabled people to commit themselves to Islamic sciences. Also, they had very keen memories. For example, the Messenger once asked Zayd ibn Thabit to learn Hebrew; within a couple of weeks, he could read and write letters in Hebrew.97 Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri, Qatada ibn Diama, Sha‘bi, Ibrahim ibn Yazid al-Nakha’i, Imam Shafi‘i, and many others publicly said that they never forgot a word after they memorized it. They could do this after either reading or hearing something only once.

When Imam Bukhari arrived in Baghdad, ten leading persons in Islamic sciences tested his knowledge of Hadith and memory. Each recited ten Traditions, changing either the order of the nar­rators in a chain of transmission or the chains with each other. For example, the famous Tradition: “Actions are judged according to intentions…” has the following chain (in descending order): Yahya ibn Sa‘id al-Ansari, from Muhammad ibn Ibrahim al-Taymi, from Alqama ibn Waqqas al-Laysi, from ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab. When they were finished, Imam Bukhari corrected the chains one by one from memory and repeated each Tradition with its own sound chain of transmission. The scholars then admitted his learning and knowledge of Hadith.98 Ibn Khuzayma went so far as to say: “Neither Earth or Heaven has seen a second person as knowledge­able as you in this field.”99

Imam Bukhari never sold his knowledge for worldly benefits. When the ruler of Bukhara invited him to his palace to teach his children, the great Imam refused, saying: “Knowledge cannot be debased by being taken to a ruler. If the ruler desires knowledge, he should personally come to knowledge.” The ruler replied by asking him to assign one day a week to his children. Bukhari refused again, saying: “I’m busy with teaching the Umma of Muhammad. So, I cannot waste my time teaching your children.” The ruler exiled him, and this greatest figure in the science of Hadith spent his last days in exile.100

Recording the Traditions

The first written compilations of Traditions were made during ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz’s caliphate, at the beginning of the sec­ond Islamic century (719-22). However, it should be remem­bered that all Traditions that would be collected and arranged in books were in oral circulation. In addition, most of them already had been recorded in individual collections.

The overwhelming majority of Arabs were unlettered. When the Revelation began, a desire to learn to read and write was aroused and encouraged by the Prophet. Remember that he released lit­erate prisoners captured at Badr only after each of them had taught ten Muslims to read and write.101 Moreover, the Revelation began with the command:

Read, in the name of your Master, Who has created. He created man from a clot suspended (on the wall of the womb). Read, Your Master is the All-Munificent, Who taught (to write) with the pen. He taught man what he had not known. (96:1-5)

Despite the importance attached to knowledge and learning, in the early period of his Messengership the Prophet did not allow his Companions to write down what he said. For example, he said: “Don’t write down what I say. If you have written down some­thing received from me that is not part of the Qur’an, destroy it.”102 He did not want the Companions to confuse the Qur’anic verses with his own words. The Qur’an was still being revealed and recorded on sheets or fragments of leather or wood; it would assume its final book form at a later date.

This was an understandable precaution, for he wanted to be sure that later generations would not mistake his words for those of God. This is clear from a Tradition narrated by Abu Hurayra: “The Messenger once came near us while some friends were writ­ing down what they had heard him say. He asked what they were writing, and they replied: ‘What we heard you say.’ The Messenger warned: ‘Do you know that the communities preceding you went astray because they wrote down that which is not found in the Book of God?’”103

Another reason for this prohibition is that most of the Qur’anic Revelations came on specific occasions. Thus, some of its verses are concise and clear while others are ambiguous. Allegorical vers­es appear beside explicit and incontrovertible ones. As a purely Islamic community was still evolving, some commandments came to replace earlier ones.

The Messenger also had to address, on various occasions, people with widely varying temperaments and levels of under­standing, as well as “new” and “old” Muslims. For example, when a new Muslim asked what the best deed was, he answered that it was belief and performing the five prescribed prayers. However, during a time when jihad had priority, he said it was jihad in the way of God. Further, since Islam is for all time and all people, he frequently resorted to allegories, similes, para­bles, and metaphors.

These and other factors might have led him to forbid certain individuals to record his words. If everyone had kept a personal account and been unable to distinguish between the real and the metaphorical, the concrete and the abstract, the abrogated and the abrogating, the general and the particular and occasional, the result would have been chaos and misunderstanding. For this rea­son, ‘Umar sometimes warned people not to narrate Prophetic Traditions carelessly.

However, many Traditions state that the Messenger allowed his Companions to write down his words. A time came when the Companions attained the intellectual and spiritual maturity to distinguish between the Qur’an and the Hadith. Therefore, they could give the proper attention and importance to each, and understand the circumstances relevant to each Tradition. And so the Messenger encouraged them to record his Traditions.

Abu Hurayra relates: “‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Amr ibn al-‘As is the only Companion who has as many Traditions as I do. I didn’t write them down, but he did.”104 ‘Abd Allah reported that he wrote down whatever he heard from the Messenger. Some peo­ple told him: “You’re writing down everything coming from God’s Messenger’s mouth. He is a human being; sometimes he is angry and other times he is pleased.” ‘Abd Allah referred the matter to God’s Messenger, who pointed to his mouth and said: “Write down, for I swear by Him in Whose hand is my life that only truth comes out from this.”105

Whether angry or pleased, God’s Messenger never spoke on his own; out of personal caprice or whim. Whatever he spoke, is a Revelation [explicit or implicit] revealed (53:3-4). As his every word and action had some bearing on Islam, they had to be recorded. The Companions did this holy task either through memorizing or recording what they heard or saw. As a result, his life is the most complete biography ever produced. Every aspect, even its minutest details, has been handed down throughout the generations. This is why we should feel indebted to the Companions and the two or three generations after them, especially the great Traditionists, who recorded and then transmitted his words and actions.

Someone once complained to the Messenger: “O Messenger of God, we hear many things from you. But most of them slip our minds because we cannot memorize them.” The Messenger replied: “Ask your right hand for help.”106 In other words, write down what you hear. When Rafi‘ ibn Khadij asked the Messenger whether they could write down what they heard from him, he was told that they could.107 As recorded in al-Darimi’s Sunan, the Messenger advised: “Record knowledge by writing.”108 During the conquest of Makka, the Messenger gave a sermon. A Yemeni man named Abu Shah, stood up and said: “O Messenger, please write down these [words] for me.” The Messenger ordered this to be done.109

‘Ali had a sheet, which he attached to his sword, upon which was written narrations about the blood-money to be paid for injuries, the sanctification of Madina, and some other matters.110 Ibn ‘Abbas left behind a camel-load of books, most of which deal with what he had heard from the Messenger and other Companions.111 The Messenger sent a letter to ‘Amr ibn Hazm, which dealt with blood-money for murder and injury, and the law of retaliation.112 This letter was handed down to Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad, his great-grandson.

Likewise, a scroll transferred from the Messenger to Abu Rafi‘ was handed down to Abu Bakr ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Harith, one of the Tabi‘un.113 A leading scholar of that genera­tion, Mujahid ibn Jabr, saw ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Amr’s compilation Al-Sahifat al-Sadiqa. Ibn al-Athir, a renowned historian, writes that it contained about 1,000 Traditions, half of which were recorded in authentic books of Tradition, with the chain from ‘Amr ibn Shu‘ayb, from his father, and from his grandfather, respectively.

Jabir ibn ‘Abd Allah al-Ansari also left behind a voluminous book containing the sayings he had heard from the Messenger.114 Al-Sahifa al-Sahiha is another important source of Hadith from the earliest period. Hammam ibn Munabbih, its compiler, followed Abu Hurayra whenever he went and wrote down the Prophetic sayings reported by him. This compilation, published by Muhammad Hamidullah (d. 2002), has been carbondated to a period thirteen centuries ago. Almost all of its Traditions can be found either in Musnad ibn Hanbal or the Sahihayn of Bukhari and Muslim.

After these first simple compilations, Caliph ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, who reigned between 719-22, decided that all oral and written authentic Traditions should be compiled systematically into books. He ordered Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Amr ibn Hazm, governor of Madina, to supervise this task. Muhammad ibn Shihab al-Zuhri, renowned for his profound learning and keen intelligence, undertook the task and acquired the honor of being the first official compiler of Traditions.115

But such an honor was not restricted solely to him: ‘Abd al-Malik ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Jurayj (Makka), Sa‘id ibn Abi ‘Aruba (Iraq), Awza‘i (Damascus), Zayd ibn Qudama and Sufyan al-Thawri (Kufa), Hammad ibn Salama (Basra), and ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Mubarak (Khorasan) also were involved.

This period of official and systematic compilation was fol­lowed by the period of classification by such great Traditionists as Abu Dawud al-Tayalisi, Musaddad ibn Musarhad, al-Humaydi, and Ahmad ibn Hanbal, who brought out their Musnads. ‘Abd al-Razzaq ibn Hammam and others formed their Musannafs, and Ibn Abi Dhi‘b and Imam Malik produced their Al-Muwattas. Yahya ibn Sa‘id al-Qattan and Yahya ibn Sa‘id al-Ansari also should be mentioned among the pre-eminent figures of this period.

Then came the period of such great Traditionists as Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, Nasa’i, Tirmidhi, and Ibn Maja, who pro­duced the well-known, six most authentic books of Tradition. These celebrated persons, and such other illustrious people like Yahya ibn Ma‘in, included in their collections what they believed to be the most authentic Traditions after judging them according to the strictest criteria.

For example, Imam Bukhari sought a Tradition from a man renowned for his reliability and piety. When he saw that man hold his hat toward his animal as if it contained something to eat, in an attempt to entice it to come to him, he asked the man if the hat contained some food for the animal. When told that it did not, Bukhari took no Traditions from him. In his view, one who could deceive an animal in this way might also deceive peo­ple. Such were the exacting criteria applied when judging the reliability of narrators.

In short, the Prophetic Traditions were either written down or memorized during the time of the Companions. When the first Islamic century ended, they were circulating widely in both oral and written form. Caliph ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz tasked eminent scholars with producing the first official compilation in different cities. Authentic Traditions were distinguished from fabricated ones according to the most stringent care and criteria. After they were classified, one of the most systematic and accurate compilations or collections was undertaken by the most promi­nent Traditionists of that time.

Later on, new authentic books of Traditions were produced. Also, such illustrious critics of Tradition as Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Ibn Abd al-Barr, Dhahabi, Ibn al-Jawzi, and Zayn al-Din al-‘Iraqi reviewed all Traditions and wrote large compendiums about their narrators.

As a result of such scholarly activity, the Sunnah has reached us through the most reliable channels. No one can doubt the authen­ticity of this second source of Islam, which approaches the Qur’an in purity, authenticity, and reliability.

M. Fethullah Gulen

1               Tirmidhi, “‘Ilm,” 7.

2               Ibn Maja, “Muqaddima,”  18.

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 Maja, “Muqaddima,”  24.

7               Muslim, “Dhikr,” 38; Ibn Maja, “Muqaddima,”  17.

8               Ibn Athir, “Usd al-Ghaba,” 3:600.

9               Muslim, “Iman,” 178;  Bukhari, “Iman,” 178.

10             Muslim, “Iman,” 182.

11             Muslim, “Fada’il al-Sahaba,” 161.

12             Bukhari, “Tafsir,” 98:1-3; Muslim, “Fada’il al-Sahaba,” 122.

13             Ibn Maja, “Muqaddima,”  17.

14             Muhammad ‘Ajjaj al-Khatib,  Al-Sunnah  Qabl al-Tadwin, 160.

15             Bukhari, “‘Ilm,” 9; Ibn Hanbal, 5:41.

16             Ibn Sa‘d, Tabaqat, 2:190.

17             Suyuti, Tarikh al-Khulafa’, 74.

18             Bukhari, “Fara’id,” 3.

19             Bukhari, “Khums,”  1; Muslim, “Jihad,” 52.

20             Ibn Hanbal, 4:403; Hindi,  Kanz al-‘Ummal, 15:118.

21             Muslim, “Adab,” 7:33;  Ibn Hanbal,  3:19.

22             Bukhari, “Ahkam,” 51.

23             Ibn Hajar,  Fath al-Bari’, 3:83.

24             Bukhari, “Mawaqit,” 33.

25             Ibn Hanbal,  1:134.

26                  It should be as strong  as one can walk it for 3 miles, and both  itself and whatever is worn with it (e.g., socks or shoes) should be clean. It is usually worn over socks.

27             Abu Dawud, “Tahara,” 63.

28             Abu Dawud, “Fara’id,” 18; Tirmidhi, “Fara’id,” 18.

29             Bukhari, “Tib,” 30; Ibn Athir, Usd al-Ghaba, 3:48.

30             Muslim, “Jumu‘a,” 43; Nasa’i, “‘Idayn,” 22; Abu Dawud, “Sunnah,” 5.

31             Bukhari, “I‘tisam,” 2.

32             Muslim, “Fada’il,” 17,18;  Bukhari, “Riqaq,”  26.

33             Abu Dawud, “Sunnah,” 5; Ibn Maja, “Muqaddima,”  2; Tirmidhi, “‘Ilm,” 10.

34             Abu Dawud, “Sunnah,” 5.

35             Tirmidhi, “‘Ilm,” 16; Abu Dawud, “Sunnah,” 5, Ibn Maja, “Muqad-dima,” 6.

36             Imam Malik, Muwatta’,  “Qadar,” 3.

37                 Those people who are the first two or three narrators  cited in a Tradition’s chain of authority.

38                 Bukhari,  “‘Ilm,”  38;  Muslim,  “Zuhd,”   72;  Abu  Dawud,  “‘Ilm,”  4;  Tirmidhi, “Fitan,” 70.

39             Muslim, “Muqaddima,”  1.

40             Bukhari, “Istitaba,”  6; Abu Dawud,  “Sunnah,” 28.

41             Ibn Maja, “Muqaddima,”  3.

42             Bukhari, “‘Ilm,” 38; Muslim, “Zuhd,”  72.

43             Darimi, “Muqaddima,”  25.

44             Dhahabi,  Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala’, 4:263.

45             Ibn Maja, “Muqaddima,”  3.

46             Abu Dawud  al-Tayalisi, Musnad, 248.

47             Khatib al-Baghdadi, Al-Kifaya fi ‘Ilm al-Riwaya, 178.

48             Bukhari, “Da‘awat,” 6.

49                 A Prophet  is one who receives revelation but is not given a Book, and so follows the way of a previous Messenger. A Messenger is one who usually receives a Book or Pages and sets a way to follow. (Tr.)

50             Darimi, “Muqaddima,”  51.

51             Tirmidhi, “Fara’id,” 10.

52             Bukhari, “‘Ilm,” 35; Muslim, “Janna,” 79.

53                 Bukhari, “Khusuma,”  4; Muslim, “Musafirin,” 270; Abu Dawud, “Witr,” 22. Some words  of the Qur’an can be pronounced with slight differences. For  example, in Surat al-Fatiha, the word  Mâlik also can be pronounced as Melik with no signifi- cant difference in meaning.  As another  example, the word heyte in 12:23  also can be pronounced as hîte with no difference in meaning.  This is a difference of accent only. (Tr.)

54             Bukhari, “Maghazi,” 3; Muslim, “Birr,” 58.

55             Khatib al-Baghdadi, “Al-Rihla fi Talab al-Hadith,” 118-24.

56             Ibn Sa‘d, Tabaqat, 3:178; Bukhari, Al-Adab al-Mufrad, 337.

57             Al-Baghdadi, “Al-Rihla fi Talab al-Hadith,” 78; Ibn Maja, “Muqad-dima,” 17.

58             Khatib al-Baghdadi, Al-Kifaya fi ‘Ilm al-Riwaya, 178.

59                 The Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama‘a (the People of Sunnah and Community) are the great majority of Muslims who follow the way of the Prophet  and Companions. Various factions differ from them in matters of belief (such as the Mu’tazila and Jabriya) or the role of the Companions in religion  (such as the Kharijites  and Shi‘a), partly because of political inclinations and partly because they were influenced by ancient philosophies.  (Tr.)

60             Muslim, “Muqaddima,”  5.

61             M. ‘Ajjaj al-Khatib,  Al-Sunnah  Qabl al-Tadwin, 178.

62             Muslim, “Muqaddima,”  5.

63             M. ‘Ajjaj al-Khatib,  Al-Sunnah  Qabl al-Tadwin, 222.

64             Ibid., 229.

65             Muslim, “Muqaddima,”  5.

66             Ibn Hajar,  Tahdhib al-Tahdhib, 5:176; Dhahabi,  Mizan  al-I‘tidal, 2:401.

67             Ibn Hajar,  Tahdhib al-Tahdhib, 6:84.

68             M. ‘Ajjaj al-Khatib,  Al-Sunnah  Qabl al-Tadwin, 229.

69             Ibid., 234.

70             Ibn Salah, ‘Ulum al-Hadith, 389.

71             ‘Ajluni, Kashf al-Khafa’, 1:132; ‘Ali al-Qari, “Al-Asrar al-Marfu‘a,” 269.

72             Ibn Hajar,  Tahdhib al-Tahdhib, 9:49.

73             ‘Ajluni, Kashf al-Khafa’, 1:33.

74             Ibid., 1:36.

75             Ibid., 1:43.

76             Ibid., 2:340.

77             Muslim, “Tahara,” 1; Tirmidhi, “Da‘awat,” 86.

78             ‘Ajluni, Kashf al-Khafa’, 1:299; Daylami, Musnad al-Firdaws, 56.

79             Abu Dawud, “‘Ilm,” 1; Tirmidhi, “‘Ilm,” 19.

80             Bukhari, “Tafsir,” 48/3;  “Buyu‘,” 50; Darimi, “Muqaddima,”  2.

81             Bukhari, “Istithqa‘,” 3; “Fada’il al-Ashab,” 11.

82             Bukhari, “Istithqa‘,” 14; Abu Dawud, “Istithqa‘,” 2; Ibn Maja, “Iqama,” 154.

83             Ibn Maja, “Iqama,” 189;  Tirmidhi,  “Da‘awat,” 118.

84             Muslim, “Tahara,” 91; Bukhari, “Wudu’,” 33; Abu Dawud, “Tahara,” 37.

85                  Bukhari,  “Tib,”  58;  Abu  Dawud,  “At‘ima,” 48;  Ibn Maja,  “Tib,”  31;    Darimi, “At‘ima,” 12.

86             Bukhari, “Al-Salat fi Masjid Makka,” 1; Muslim, “Hajj,” 511; Tirmidhi, “Salat,” 126.

87             Muslim, “Hajj,” 510;  Bukhari, “Masjid Makka,” 1; Nasa’i, “Manasik,” 124.

88             Muslim, “‘Imara,” 170;  Bukhari, “I‘tisam,” 10; Abu Dawud, “Fitan,” 1.

89             Abu Dawud, “Tahara,” 50; Bukhari, “Wudu’,” 26; Muslim, “Tahara,” 87-88.

90             Muslim, “Fitan,” 119;  Abu Dawud, “Malahim,” 15; Ibn Maja, “Fitan,” 33.

91             Bukhari, “Salat,” 1; Nasa’i, “Salat,” 1; Muslim, “Iman,” 263; Ibn Maja, “Iqama,” 194.

92             Muslim, “Fitan,” 25.

93             Ibn Hanbal, 1:210.

94             Sarakhsi, Muqaddima li-Usul al-Sarakhsi, 5.

95             M. ‘Ajjaj al-Khatib,  Al-Sunnah  qabl al-Tadwin, 150-51.

96                  Ibn Athir, Usd al-Ghaba, 7:90.  This blessed woman found eight linguistic or poet- ic mistakes in a stanza of Hassan ibn Thabit,  a famous Companion and poet. After the Revelation,  she gave up poetry and focused on the Qur’an and the Hadith.

97             Ibn Hanbal, 5:186.

98             Ibn Hajar,  Hadiy al-Sari‘, 487.

99             Dhahabi,  Tadhkirat al-Huffaz,  2:556.

100          Ibn Hajar,  Tahdhib al-Tahdhib, 9:52.

101          Ibn Sa‘d, Tabaqat, 2:22.

102          Muslim, “Zuhd,”  72; Darimi, “Muqaddima,”  42.

103          Khatib al-Baghdadi, Taqyid al-‘Ilm, 34.

104          Bukhari, “‘Ilm,” 39.

105          Abu Dawud, “‘Ilm,” 3; Ibn Hanbal,  2:162; Darimi, “Muqaddima,”  43.

106          Tirmidhi, “‘Ilm,” 12.

107          Hindi,  Kanz al-‘Ummal, 10:232.

108          Darimi, “Muqaddima,”  43.

109          Abu Dawud, “‘Ilm,” 3; Tirmidhi, “‘Ilm,” 12.

110          Bukhari, “‘Ilm,” 39; Ibn Hanbal,  1:100.

111          M. ‘Ajjaj al-Khatib,  Al-Sunnah  qabl al-Tadwin, 352.

112          Darimi, “Diyat,” 12.

113          Khatib al-Baghdadi, “Al-Kifaya,” 330.

114          Ibn Sa‘d, 7:2;  Khatib al-Baghdadi, “Al-Kifaya,” 354.

115          Bukhari, “‘Ilm,” 34.

Sunnah By Wiki


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The word Sunnah (سنة [ˈsunna], plural سنن sunan [ˈsunan], Arabic) literally means a clear, well trodden, busy and plain surfaced road. In the discussion of the sources of religion, Sunnah denotes the practice of Prophet Muhammad that he taught and practically instituted as a teacher of the sharī‘ah and the best exemplar.[1] According to Muslim belief, this practice is to be adhered to in fulfilling the divine injunctions, carrying out religious rites and moulding life in accord with the will of God. To institute these practices was, the Qur’ān states, a part of the Prophet’s responsibility as a Messenger of God[Quran3:164][Quran33:21]

The sunnah of Muhammad includes his specific words, habits, practices, and silent approvals:[2] it is significant because it addresses ways of life dealing with friends, family and government.[2] Recording sunnah was an Arabian tradition and, once people converted to Islam, they brought this custom to their religion.[3] The sunnah is consulted after referring to the Qur’an, if the issue is not addressed there. The term “Sunni” denotes those who claim to practice these usages, as part of the Ummah.


Sunnah (سنة [ˈsunna], plural سنن sunan [ˈsunan]) is an Arabic word that means “habit” or “usual practice”.[4] Sunnis are also referred to as Ahl as-Sunnah wa’l-Jamā’ah (“people of the tradition and the community (of Muhammad)”) or Ahl as-Sunnah for short.

Sunnah and hadith

In the context of biographical records of Muhammad sunnah often stands as synonymous with hadith since most of the personality traits of Muhammad are known from descriptions of him, his sayings and his actions after becoming a prophet at the age of forty. Sunnah, which consists of what Muhammad believed, implied, or tacitly approved, was noted down by his companions in ahadith. Allegiance to the tribal sunnah had been partially replaced by submission to a new universal authority and the sense of brotherhood among Muslims.[5]

Early Sunni scholars often considered sunnah equivalent to the biography of Mohammed (sira) as the hadith was then poorly validated while contemporary accounts of Muhammad’s life were better known. As the hadith came to be better documented and the scholars who validated them gained prestige, the sunnah came often to be known mostly through the hadith, especially as variant or fictional biographies of Muhammad spread.[citation needed]

How far hadith contributes to sunnah is disputed and highly dependent on context.[citation needed] Classical Islam often equates the sunnah with the hadith. Scholars who studied the narrations according to their context (matn) as well as their transmission (isnad) in order to discriminate between them were influential in the development of early Muslim philosophy. In the context of Islamic Law Imam Malik and the Hanafi scholars are assumed to have differentiated between the two: for example Imam Malik is said to have rejected some traditions that reached him because, according to him, they were against the “established practice of the people of Medina”.

Sunnah and Islam

Passages in the Qur’an command that the prophet be followed, such as 3:32 “Obey God and His messenger”.[6] For Muslims the imitation of Muhammad helps one to know and be loved by God: one lives in constant remembrance of God.[2]

Shi’a Muslims do not use the six major hadith collections followed by the Sunni. Instead, their primary collections were written by three authors known as the ‘Three Muhammads’.[7] They are: Kitab al-Kafi by Muhammad ibn Ya’qub al-Kulayni al-Razi (329 AH), Man la yahduruhu al-Faqih by Muhammad ibn Babuya and Al-Tahdhib and Al-Istibsar both by Shaykh Muhammad Tusi. Unlike Akhbari Twelver Shi’a, Usuli Twelver Shi’a scholars do not believe that everything in the four major books is authentic. In Shia hadith one often finds sermons attributed to Ali in The Four Books or in the Nahj al-Balagha.

Traditional Muslims believe that the sunnah is justified by verses such as “A similar (favour have ye already received) in that We have sent among you a Messenger of your own, rehearsing to you Our Signs, and sanctifying you, and instructing you in Scripture and Wisdom, and in new knowledge.(2:151) The verse “Verily in the messenger of God you have a good example for him who looks unto God and the Last Day and remembers God much”. (33:21), further emphasizes that Muhammad’s mission is to teach and exemplify The Qur’an, not just to relate its verses and leave. Muhammad was not to be worshipped or deified but his role was to deliver The Qur’an with comprehensive explanations of how to live according to the Qur’anic guidelines preserved in Sunnah. The teachings of “wisdom” have been declared to be a function of Muhammad along with the teachings of the scripture.[8]

For a better understanding of “wisdom” (hikmah), one can refer to The Quran itself. For example, verse 4:113 states; “God reveals the Book (i.e. the books of revealed religion, especially The Qur’an) to you, and wisdom, and teaches you that which you did not know. The grace of God towards you has been very great”. Verse 2:231 states; “And remember God’s grace upon you, and that which He has revealed unto you of Scripture and wisdom whereby He exhorts you”. Verse 33:34 states, “And bear in mind which is recited in your houses of the revelations of God and of wisdom”.

Some have said that “wisdom” here is simply another name for sunnah. Therefore, along with divine revelation the sunnah was directly taught by God. Modern Sunni scholars are beginning to examine both the sira and the hadith in order to justify modifications to jurisprudence (fiqh). The sunna, in one form or another, would retain its central role in providing a moral example and ethical guidance.

Alternative views on Sunnah

According to the view of some Sufi Muslims who incorporate both the outer and inner reality of Prophet Muhammad, hold the view that the deeper and true Sunnah are the noble characteristics and inner state of Prophet Muhammad. To them the Prophet’s attitude, his piety, the quality of his character constitute the truer and deeper aspect of what it means by Sunnah in Islam, rather than the external aspects alone.[9] They argue that the external customs of the Prophet loses its meaning without the inner attitude and also many Sunnah are simply custom of the Arabs, not something that is unique to Prophet.[10] and Khuluqin Azim or ‘Exalted Character’[11] in the Quran, real Sunnah cannot be upheld.

According to some scholars, Sunnah predates both the Quran as well as Muhammad, and is actually the tradition of the Prophets of God, specifically the tradition of Abraham. A broad form of Sunnah was already being practised by the Christians, Jews and the Arab descendants of Ismail, when Muhammad reinstituted this practice as an integral part of Islam. Sunnah and Quran both are equally authentic and the former includes worship rituals like Salah, Zakah, Hajj, fasting in Ramadan as well as customs like circumcision[12]


1.       ^ Islahi, Amin Ahsan (1989 (tr:2009)). “Difference between Hadith and Sunnah” (in Urdu). Mabadi Tadabbur i Hadith (translated as: Fundamentals of Hadith Intrepretation). Lahore: Al-Mawrid. Retrieved 1 June 2011.

2.       ^ a b c Nasr, Seyyed H. “Sunnah and Hadith”. World Spirituality: An Encyclopedia History of the Religious Quest. 19 vols. New York: Crossroad. 97–109.

3.       ^ Goldziher, Ignác. Introduction to Islamic theology and law, page 231. Princeton, N.J: Princeton UP, 1981.

4.       ^ Sunnah

5.       ^ Nasr,S. Islamic Studies.Beirut.Seyyed Hossein Nasr.1967.

6.       ^ Okumus, Fatih. “The Prophet As Example”. Studies in Inter religious Dialogue 18 (2008): 82-95. Religion Index. Ebsco. Thomas Tredway Library, Rock Island, IL.

7.       ^ Momen, Moojan, Introduction to Shi’i Islam, Yale University Press, 1985, p.174.

8.       ^ Muhammad Manzoor Nomani “Marif al-Hadith”, introductory chapter

9.       ^ Recognizing the True and Deeper Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad

10.   ^ The Quran 33:21

11.   ^ The Quran 68:4

12.   ^ Ghamidi, Javed Ahmad (1990 (tr:2009)) (in Urdu). Mizan (translated as: Islam – A Comprehensive Introduction). Lahore: Al-Mawrid. Retrieved 1 June 2011.


The word Sunnah (سنة [ˈsunna], plural سنن sunan [ˈsunan], Arabic) literally means a clear, well trodden, busy and plain surfaced road. In the discussion of the sources of religion, Sunnah denotes the practice of Prophet Muhammad that he taught and practically instituted as a teacher of the sharī‘ah and the best exemplar.[1] According to Muslim belief, this practice is to be adhered to in fulfilling the divine injunctions, carrying out religious rites and moulding life in accord with the will of God. To institute these practices was, the Qur’ān states, a part of the Prophet’s responsibility as a Messenger of God[Quran 3:164][Quran 33:21]

Continue reading “Sunnah”