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General Introduction

i. Background After the Holy Quran, the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (sws) is the source of faith in Islam. It needs to be appreciated that all higher religions, in addition to their sacred texts, have a set of rites, rituals, manners, mores, etiquette and religious practices. Together with the doctrine and the conceptual content contained in the scriptures, these practices form the whole religion. Islam also has a set of such practices. These practices are not all of equal importance. Some of them are considered mandatory while the others just introduce manners or etiquette or they are symbolic in nature, signifying larger realities of faith. Among all such practices and mores, the most dear to the Muslims are those that
are

essentially religious in nature were instituted by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sws), (who is the only personality in Islam having the right to declare anything religious) and have reached us through the reliable historical process of tawatur. (This means that such a large number of people have transmitted the Sunnah acts in each generation starting from the Companions (rta) that the Sunnah acts have bee rendered beyond any alteration in any manner). These practices are called the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (sws). Since Islam claims to have been the religion of all humanity since Adam (sws), and claims that Noah (sws), Abraham (sws), Moses (sws), David (sws) and Jesus (sws) were all Muslims, it immediately comes forward to lay claim on the entire heritage of these noble personalities. For Muslims, however, the personality of Abraham (sws) is of particular importance. Abraham (sws) stands at the junction where three world religions meet. He is revered by all the three Semitic faiths - Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The religious practices initiated by Abraham (sws) (of course under divine guidance) are of particular significance to Islam. The religious rites and rituals instituted by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sws) are almost the same as those included in Abrahams tradition of faith. The teachings of Abraham (sws) were conveyed to his sons among whom his first-born Ismail (sws) finally settled down in Arabia where Bani Ismail (children of Ismail) lived and multiplied. Abrahams younger son Isaac (sws), and Isaacs son Yaqoob (Israel) founded the clan of Bani Israil (Children of Israel). Abrahams teachings and practices were inherited by both the tribes, which developed independently. The impact of Abrahams teachings is conspicuous in the history, faith and practice of the Jews, in the form of prayers, fasts, circumcision etc. These practices have in fact remained the single most important distinguishing feature between the Jews and the Gentiles (non-Jews). During the days of Jesus (sws), it was extremely convenient for the Jews to divide the world population on the basis of a practice that began with Abraham (sws), i.e. circumcision. The Jews split the entire population into those who were

circumcised and those who were not. The Jews were required to remain fastened to Abrahams tradition, and came to be known as the progeny of Abraham (sws). In fact their identity as a separate nation owes itself to the personality of Abraham (sws). ii. Definition Literally, Sunnah in Arabic means well trodden path. However as a religious term its definition is as follows: Sunnah is the set of traditions of Prophet Abraham (Sunan-i-Ibrahimi) which the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sws) revived, and after corrections and additions, instituted in his followers as integral part of the faith (the Din). The Holy Quran states: And then we revealed unto you [the command] to follow the religion of Abraham, who was steadfast and was not one of the polytheists. (16:123) History of pre-Islamic Arabia is rich with frequent references to a number of religious and social practices which, the Arabs proudly attributed to their forefather Abraham (sws). It is however apparent that these practices were transformed during the centuries of post-Abrahamic era. The transformations were largely the result of weakening of traditions and the gradual adoption of polytheistic ideas and rituals. The verse of the Holy Quran quoted above stipulates that the Holy Prophet (sws) was to follow the Abrahamic Tradition. The Holy Prophet (sws) therefore gradually re-introduced these practices in their true spirit. He modified, amended and revived them, and induced his followers to practice them meticulously. These practices constitute the Sunnah, and were widely promoted and emphasized by the Holy Prophet (sws). He ensured that his immediate followers adopted them fully and perfectly. iii. History The Sunnah, in the present form, begins with the Holy Prophet (sws). The form, in which these practices existed before the Holy Prophet (sws), does not form an authentic source. It is evident from the pre-Islamic Arabian history that a lot of alterations in the rituals and spirit of the Sunnah had been affected. The Holy Prophet (sws), under the instructions of Allah, identified the genuine ones, reintroduced the practices that had died down, and reformed the practices that had been corrupted. These practices were widely adopted because of their religious and historical importance, which becomes evident in the light of the following: Emphasis laid on Sunan by the Holy Prophet (sws) : The Holy Prophet (sws) instituted these acts as integral part of the religion he preached and ensured that these practices were widely disseminated among his Companions (rta). These were to be strictly observed by all the Companions

(rta) and the later generations. Most of them belong to everyday life, relate to acts that are performed in the public and are performed repeatedly on a regular basis. They are instantly visible in a Muslims everyday life and in Muslim communities. The Holy Prophet (sws) emphasized upon the importance of these practices just as he emphasized on the need for the preservation and dissemination of the Holy Quran. The strict compliance of Sunan demonstrated by the Companions (rta) of the Holy Prophet (sws) : Because of the importance attached to the Sunan by the Holy Prophet (sws), the entire community of the Companions (rta) of the Holy Prophet (sws) realized the paramount significance of these Sunan in the Islamic way of life and adopted them. Sunan thus became an integral part of the lives of the first generation of the Holy Prophets followers. Perpetuation of the Sunan by the Companions (rta) of the Holy Prophet (sws): The Companions (rta) taught these Sunan to all their children and to all Muslim converts. With the rapid expansion of the Muslim rule the Companions (rta) dispersed far and wide in different corners of the world. They carried these practices with them to whichever part of the world they went. They themselves became models of these Sunan and preached and propagated these like they propagated the Holy Quran. They carried with them the teachings of the Holy Prophet (sws) that exalt any person who revives a Sunnah that has fallen out of practice. The living tradition of the Sunnah since then : Successive generations of Muslim community thus adopted them with consensus and passed them on to us as a living tradition in a reliable manner, as integral components of the faith. The verdict of history is clear and definite the Muslims in all ages have clung to these practices without fail and have been unanimous in submitting to their sanctity and importance in Islam. Any attempt to tamper with these or to discontinue them was seriously taken by the scholars and laymen alike. Similarly, any attempt to add any innovations to the received and accepted set of Sunan also met grave reaction from all. iv. Transmission We have received these Sunan through the consensus of the Companions (rta) of the Holy Prophet (sws) and, since the age of the Companions, every subsequent generation has faithfully preserved them and handed over to the next in large numbers. The Sunan relate to those areas of our practical lives about which we are sure that no interruption in these practices is possible in history. For example, in the communities, people keep on dying and children are being born. The dead are thus washed and buried and all male children are circumcised. It is impossible that these proceedings could have remained suspended for any considerable time or one of the generations could have missed them. History shows that all these practices were followed by vast majority of each generation of Muslims. Even an attempt to affect the slightest of change or innovation in these Sunan was strongly resisted and harshly criticized by the Ummah. The initiation of these practices by the Holy Prophet (sws) and their

subsequent communication from generation to generation by hundreds of thousands of people means that Sunan have reached down to us through Tawatur just like the Holy Quran. However the mode of Tawatur is different. Unlike the oral or documentary Tawatur of the Holy Quran, the Sunnah has reached us through Tawatur i Amali or Tawatur in Practice of the Ummah. The Muslim position is clear. They hold with certainty that the Holy Prophet (sws) himself instituted these practices. Since their institution, they have been safely and faithfully conveyed to us through the historical process of generation-to-generation communication, involving hundreds of thousands of people in every generation. People practiced the Sunan and religiously transmitted these to the next generation. v. Significance A study of the list of Sunan (given in the following) shows that the Sunnah plays a vital role in giving a concrete shape to the Muslim faith and bestows an identity to the Ummah. Although the mandatory religious rites & rituals representing worship of Allah, like the daily prayers, fasting, Hajj and Zakah and many others have been mentioned in the Holy Quran but no practical details of these rituals are mentioned in the Holy Book. We do not find the detailed description of how Salah (the five daily prayers) are to be offered. Actually the practical form of the daily prayers and other rites & rituals could not be best explained through written text. These rites, rituals and etiquette required a practical and living example instead of written instructions. The Holy Prophet (sws) thus practiced these rites and showed his followers the correct manner in which these rites and etiquette were to be observed. Without the Sunnah, it would have been impossible for the Muslims to offer daily prayers or perform the Hajj. The Sunnah thus gives a concrete and practical shape to a number of very important tenets of Islam. Secondly, Sunnah defines and describes for the Muslims a number of other habits, which have since then become the marked features of Muslim Ummah. Some of the Sunan are based on the requirements of human nature, while others are demonstrations of the principles of hygiene and purity. Through them the internal human purity of head and heart is expressed and materialized. Some of them may sound immaterial and trivial in nature, but like any national emblem or logo, they stand as sufficient and necessary characteristics of each and every Muslim. The Sunnah thus plays a crucial role towards the formation of Muslim Ummah and imparting a distinguished and unique character to all the Muslims.

Contents of the Sunnah


i. General Subject Matter Broadly categorized, the Sunan consist of the following: Practical guidance regarding performance of all religious rites and rituals: These include the manner in which the five daily prayers should be offered specifying their form and timing. The Sunnah also includes the mode of fasting in the Holy Month of Ramadan, all rituals of Hajj (Pilgrimage to Mecca), the rates and ceilings of Zakah (alms & taxes), the form of Eid

Prayers (prayers offered on two religious festivals annually), Friday Prayers and the Funeral Prayers. Rites of marriage, birth and death : These include the Nikah (solemnization of marriage) ceremony, rites attending the birth and death of Muslims. Examples are the circumcision of all male children, saying prescribed words in the ears of the newborn, the tradition of burying the dead after bathing and wrapping the dead bodies in coffin cloth. Manners and etiquette expected of Muslims : These include beginning every deed with the name of Allah, greeting each other by saying Assalamu Alaykum (Peace be to you) and replying with Waalaykum Assalam (Peace be to you too), saying Alhamdu Lillah (All gratitude is for Allah) when one sneezes, slaughtering animals in a prescribed manner with the proclamation of Allah u Akbar (God is great). These are meant to remind Muslims of God in everyday life. Personal hygiene and cleanliness, and other expressions of symbolic importance that distinguish Muslims among others as members of the Ummah: These include cutting nails, cleaning the mouth, nose and teeth, circumcision, abstaining from intercourse during menstruation & afterbirth, trimming mustaches, removing undesired hair and washing after urination, defecation and intercourse. In short, the Sunnah only consists of practices and not doctrines or dogmas. It does not include religious beliefs and religious opinions. It consists of simple and well-defined acts, manners, etiquette, rites and rituals. ii. List of Sunan instituted by the Prophet (sws) When we turn to the living tradition of the Muslim Ummah, we find the following practices shared by all and commonly believed to have been instituted by the Holy Prophet (sws) and therefore constitute his Sunnah. 1. To eat and drink with the right hand after saying Bismillah ir Rahman ir Rahim (In the name of Allah the Beneficent and Merciful). This practice extends to doing everything that is lawful in Islam. It is meant to remind the Muslims about the fact that on the Day of Judgment the virtuous would be given their account of deed in their right hands and would be honored. On the other hand the non-believers and evildoers would be given their deed account in their left hands and would be the losers. (Al Inshiqaq 84 and Al Haqqah 69). 2. Greeting each other with assalam u alaykum and replying to it by wa alaykum assalam. Muslims are required to nourish good wishes for fellow Muslims and this etiquette encourages them to evolve and maintain this relationship in their social contact. 3. Saying Al hamdu lillah (All praise be for Allah) when one sneezes, and replying to it by saying Yarhamu kum Allah (May Allah bless you). Sneeze relieves us of the tension and pressure and therefore is considered an occasion of thanks to Allah.

4. Calling Adhan (call for the five daily prayers) in the right ear of a newborn baby and Aqamah (Call for the beginning of congregation) in his left ear. This symbolic ritual signifies the entrance of a new member of the Ummah. 5. Tadhkiyah: Slaughtering (Dhibh) animals with Allah u Akbar, in the prescribed manner, that is by cutting the main blood vessels of the neck to ensure that all the blood flows out. This is in compliance to the verses of the Holy Quran that prohibits taking animal blood because it is akin to the habits of wild animals. 6. The procedure of Nikah (Solemnization of Marriage) and Talaq (Divorce).. Nikah represents the only valid and permissible way of forming a family in the Muslim society in which a man and a woman accept each other as husband and wife and declare it in the community. It includes the payment of Mahr (a dowry, in cash or kind) to the wife as an indication of the responsibility of financing the newly constituted family. It also includes the sermon of Nikah means that an elder of the family advises the couple for successful marital life. The contents of the sermon are not prescribed in Islam. Usually any of the several sermons of the Holy Prophet (sws), found recorded in history, is delivered. 7. Keeping the moustaches short to avoid them submerging while drinking or eating. 8. Removing the undesired hair around the genitals to ensure hygiene. 9. Removing hair from the armpits for hygiene. 10. Circumcision of all male children for hygiene as well as to mark Muslim men with a permanent sign on their bodies to denote their membership of the Ummah. 11. Cutting the overgrown nails for hygiene and to differentiate the people from animals. 12. Keeping the teeth, nose and mouth clean for hygiene. 13. Washing after defecation and urination (istanja) for hygiene. 14. Bathing after having intercourse for hygiene. 15. Avoiding intercourse during menses and afterbirth for hygiene. 16. Bathing (of women) after menses and childbirth for hygiene and marking the end of the period. 17. Bathing the dead bodies and wrapping the dead body in cloth (takfin) to bury them with honor to express our respect for the departed fellow beings and offering funeral Prayers (Salah Janazah) to express our good wishes for

the departed soul and to pray for him. 18. Burial (tadfin) to avoid their visible decay which is distressing or being devoured by animals and insects. 19. Five daily prayers and the related injunctions like Ablution (wudu) to ensure that one is perfectly pure and clean while presenting ones prayers and Tayammum (dry ablution when water is not available) to keep the ideals of purification in mind even when water is not available. This also includes Adhan (call for prayers) & Aqamat (call for beginning the congregation). This includes the establishment & maintenance of Mosque system in Muslim communities, which includes the establishment, maintenance, nomination of Imam and organization of five daily prayers. The Jumuah (Friday) congregation i.e. a larger gathering of Muslims for the noon prayers on Friday. One of the related injunctions is observing the sanctity of the Kabah, which includes paying respect to the House of Allah and abstinence from bloodshed of humans or animals within the precincts of the Kabah / Baytullah (house of Allah) in Mecca. 20. .Fasting (during the month of Ramadan) and .paying a prescribed alms (Fitranah) on Eid-ul-Fitr. 21. Itikaf (seclusion for prayers and supplications) during the last ten days of the holy month of Ramadan). Muslim men usually opt for seclusion in the mosques while the Muslim women observe these ten days in their houses. 22. Paying Zakah (charity & tax) of which the rates and ceilings on different commodities are prescribed. 23. Performing H~ajj and Umrah (pilgrimage to Kabah). Hajj is the pilgrimage to Makkah on the tenth day of the last month of lunar calendar. Hajj is mandatory (fard), once in life, for those who can afford it. Umrah is the Supererogatory (nafl) pilgrimage to Makkah. 24. Sacrificing animals on Eid-ul-Adha. The related injunctions include observing the sanctity of four months; the seventh lunar month of Rajab for Umrah and the eleventh, twelfth and first lunar months of Dhiqaad, Dhul-Hajj and Muharram for performance of the Hajj. During these months all forms of armed conflicts and any attempt to obstruct the routes of pilgrims are strictly prohibited. 25. Additional Takbirs (saying Allah u Akbar) during the days of Tashriq (the Eid day and the three days after the Eid). 26. Celebrating Eid-ul-Fitr (and offering prayers) on the first day of the tenth month of the lunar calendar. 27. Celebrating Eid-ul-Adha on the tenth day of the twelfth month of the lunar calendar.

Determinants of the Sunnah


A deeper study of the contents of the Sunnah brings out a number of characteristic features of the Sunnah. These features are the guiding principles that help us determine the content of the Sunnah. They tell us what Sunnah is and what it is not. These features, seven in all, are explained below: i. The Sunnah only consists of religious practices The Sunan are only practices that are clearly religious in nature. The Holy Quran categorically asserts that the Prophets and Messengers of Allah were sent only to convey the Din. Their entire activities center on the Din. This has forever remained their prime concern. Although they lived personal lives like other human beings, yet they never demanded anything from the people in their personal capacities. All their demands from human beings were made in their position as Prophets and Messengers of Allah and in this capacity, they had received only the Di#n from God. Conveying the Din to humanity constituted their sole responsibility. They were not sent to preserve their local and tribal culture or to promote it. Thus we know that the Holy Prophet (sws) used arrows, spears and sword in battles, traveled on camels, constructed mosque with roof thatched with date palm logs, ate specific food of his age and liked or disliked them. He wore the customary dress of his times guided by his personal taste. He wore woollen cloth and ate in earthenware. He used the perfumes available in his times and used the traditional medicines known in Arabia. Similarly he adopted a number of personal habits based on his personal liking, in areas which do not fall within the purview of the Din. But he did not make these things mandatory for his followers because they do not form part of the Din revealed to him. None of these acts is part of the Sunnah. Islam is free of the baggage of the Arabian culture or the technology of that age. The Holy Prophet (sws) himself gave a lucid statement on this subject: I am a human being like you. When I give you any religious command, accept it. When I say something of my personal opinion, remember that I am nothing but a human being. I had only guessed (regarding the fertilization method of date palms). Do not accept from me that which is based on guesswork. However when I convey something from Allah, follow it because I will never attribute anything to Allah falsely. As regards your worldly affairs, you are more knowledgeable than I am. (Sahih Muslim, Kitabul Fazail) On deeper thinking this proves to be a brilliant feature of Islam. Muslims are supposed to follow the religious teachings of the Holy Prophet (sws) and they are not fastened to an ephemeral culture of Arabia or to the technology and sciences of the seventh century. ii. The Sunnah only consists of practices and not doctrines and texts When we go through the Sunan of the Holy Prophet (sws), we immediately discover that the Sunnah wholly consists of practical matters (acts to be

done). It does not include any matters of faith, belief, religious concepts, opinions, interpretations of the Quran, background of the Quranic revelation, history etc. These are concepts & ideas to be believed and understood. They have nothing to do with the Sunnah. The very word Sunnah connotes practical matters and excludes dogma and doctrine from its sphere. Muslims believe that the Holy Quran adequately covers these areas. iii. The Sunnah only consists of the practices initiated by the Holy Prophet (sws), not by the Holy Quran The practical matters, that are based on a direction that was originally revealed in the Holy Quran, are not part of the Sunnah. We know that the Holy Prophet (sws) imposed penalty of amputation of hand on thieves and flogged the adulterers. Yet no authority among Muslims scholars would term them as Sunnah. These were revealed Quranic commandments which the Holy Prophet (sws) faithfully carried out. Although the directives on Salah, Zakah and Hajj have also been mentioned in the Holy Quran, but the Holy Quran leaves no doubt that these were actually pre-existing Abrahamic traditions which the Holy Prophet (sws) reintroduced after revival, addition and reformation. These are actually the Sunan, which Allah has emphasized upon and confirmed. When it commands the Muslims to offer the Salah (daily prayers) it does not find it necessary to define the form of prayers. The Holy Quran has not coined the word Salah. It already existed among the Arabs with the same meaning. The Holy Prophet (sws) only corrected the errors that had crept in and instituted it as a Sunnah. Here we are referring to two things: a. The Supreme Model of the Holy Prophet (sws): When a religious matter is primarily Quranic in source, and the Holy Prophet (sws) has followed it faithfully, he is actually presenting the proper way of implementing the Quranic command. He is there presenting to us his Supreme Model (Uswah i Hasanah). b. The Explanations (Tafhim & Tabyin) of the Holy Quran: The other category of teachings of the Holy Prophet (sws) arise when he explains and interprets the Quranic message. Both of these are not found in the Sunnah but in the Hadith Literature. The Sunnah thus includes only the practices that primarily originated from the Holy Prophet (sws) and have reached us through Tawatur. This means that the Holy Prophet (sws) has the authority to legislate in his capacity as the Messenger of Allah. The fact that we do have the Holy Quran with us does not place any limits on the Holy Prophets authority to legislate. The authority of the Holy Prophet (sws) to legislate is independent of the laws contained in the Holy Quran, except that all his law making is based on the authority given to him in the Holy Quran and is confined to such limits. It would be a blasphemy to think that he could not institute any religious teachings in his capacity of the Messenger of Allah. However all such instructions of the Holy Prophet (sws) that add to the content of the Din as contained in the Holy Quran, must come down to us through Tawatur and Ijma (consensus) of the Companions of the Holy Prophet (sws).

iv. Supererogatory acts are not Sunnah Supererogatory (nafl) acts are those that exceed the minimum requirements of virtue in Islam. For instance, Islam imposes two-and-a-half percent Zakah out of cash savings. A Muslim is required to meet this mandatory directive of his faith. Yet he has every liberty to exceed this limit, and give away all his savings to a social service. Similarly, it is mandatory for the Muslims to keep fasts throughout the Holy Month of Ramadan. Yet he can, if he so wishes, fast even in other months of the year. These actions would be termed as Supererogatory (nafl) practices. Such practices indeed carry great reward. The Holy Prophet (sws) also presented a Supreme Model (Uswah i Hasanah) in such Supererogatory acts. Yet, such acts do not constitute separate Sunan. These are extensions of the Sunnah. For example spending more than the required percentage as charity would be an extension of the Sunnah of Zakah while fasting in months other than the Holy Month of Ramadan is an extension of the Sunnah of fasting. Similarly, the practice of the Holy Prophet (sws) to perform the ordained rites and rituals at the highest level of purity and perfection only bring out the proper way in which these rites are to be performed. These should not be counted as separate Sunan. For example, Ablution (wudu), before the prayers, is a Sunnah. The Holy Prophet (sws) performed it at the highest level of perfection. He would not quickly perform it without properly washing hands, arms and face. He would do it with perfect indulgence with purity of heart and concentration. This is again his Supreme Model (Uswah i Hasanah) and not a separate Sunnah. The Supreme Model of the Holy Prophet (sws) is the proper way of carrying out religious acts. v. Sunnah excludes the Prophetic teachings, which actually attempt to interpret and explain the human nature A number of the teachings of the Holy Prophet (sws) are actually attempts to remind men of their true human nature and to warn them against the possibility of distortions and aberrations among men. Such distortions arise among men due to the impurities that might creep in because of indulgence in sin. On numerous occasions, he asked of many acts from his Companions (rta) or stopped them from doing a particular act. For example the sayings of the Holy Prophet (sws) that the meat of the domestic donkey, insects or wild animals is forbidden, only purports to convey that human beings are naturally averse to these as long as they remain in the state of pure human primordial nature. Similarly, he indicated that normal human beings would never eat the flesh of animals like snakes, vultures and lizards. Such sayings of the Holy Prophet (sws) actually remind men of their nature. They do not constitute fresh legislation by the Holy Prophet (sws). The revealed law (the Holy Quran) did not forbid them nor was it required. These are simply not considered edible by normal human beings. When someone asked him about their status, he only repeated to them the dictates of human nature.

For instance, there are a number of things like wood, glass, cyanide or fecal remains, which are not listed by any religion among the list of things prohibited. Not because these are worth eating, but only because humans themselves are so constituted that they do not normally find these edible and, normally, do not even require an explicit prohibition. This is the reason why, in such cases, religion does not usually interfere. It only suggests that men should reawaken their normal nature. The Holy Prophet (sws) thus points out the reason why such things were inedible the incompatibility of these things with human nature. Such teachings therefore do not form part of the revealed Shariah and therefore are not included in the Sunnah. vi. The Sunnah excludes practices that the Holy Prophet (sws) did not institute as Sunnah The Holy Prophet (sws) taught many good and virtuous things to his Companions (rta). But the context of such teachings clearly informs us that he did not initiate all of them as Sunan. For example, Qadah (sitting in a specific posture at the end of Salah, before saying the Salam) is a Sunnah. However the supplications to be made during the Qadah are optional. When asked by his Companions (rta), the Holy Prophet (sws) taught them different supplications. The context shows that these were not mandatory or the only supplications allowed. The Muslims are free to say other prayers also. Obviously, the supplications taught by the Holy Prophet (sws) are the best to be followed. Yet the context shows that he only suggested a few supplications, showing that they be uttered in the Sajdah (prostrate) state during the Prayers. The variety of wordings taught again shows Muslims are free to make any number and sort of supplications to Allah during the Qadah. Therefore, the Sunnah is only to sit in Qadah and to make some supplications. No supplications during Qadah were initiated as the Sunnah. Similarly, several wordings are permissible to that the selection of the words is actually optional. vii. The Sunnah cannot be established through Individual Reports For Muslims the dictates of the Sunnah and the text of the Holy Quran are equally important. The Holy Prophet (sws) was responsible for safe and reliable communication of both to the Ummah. It could not be left to the choice and will of a few individuals. It logically follows that they cannot be based on Individual Reports. Like the Holy Quran, the Sunnah can only be established through Tawatur. Any other act, however emphasis we may find on it in the Individual-toindividual reports, cannot be accepted as the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (sws). The Sunnah is essential part of the Din. It must come to us through reliable means, which are beyond any shadow of doubt.

Some Clarifications
i. Consensus of all Sects on Sunnah Due to the Tawatur and Ijma (consensus) of the Companions (rta) of the Holy

Prophet (sws) on Sunan, there is no difference of opinion amongst Muslim sects on the acceptance of the Sunan. All the sects believe that the Holy Prophet (sws) instituted the Sunan and the Muslims have been practicing them in exactly the same manner since then. The Sunan and the Holy Quran are equally authentic. There is no difference insofar as their authenticity is concerned. Any one who believes in one, should also have faith in the other, because:
both

emanate from the same source (i.e. the Holy Prophet (sws)) and have reached us through the same mechanism of history (i.e. Tawatur) and consensus (Ijma) of the first generation of the Companions (rta) of the Holy Prophet (sws). Similarly, anyone who does not believe in the Sunnah, actually refuses to believe in the Holy Quran also. Therefore someone who does not believe in the Sunnah cannot claim to be a Muslim. The Sunnah has always remained alive in the Muslim society and is, still, a living tradition. Its presence among the Muslim communities, world wide, through all ages, is sufficient testimony of this tradition. It is a living reality with a continuous, permanent and dynamic existence in the Muslim society from the very first day. ii. Sunnah does not depend on Hadith Again, since the Sunan are practices relating to essential and inevitable occasions of our lives, they are received, learnt and acquired from the living traditions in the society. Every Muslim born in this Ummah observes these practices in a concrete and real form and learns them from his elders, teachers and Muslims at large. We do not need to learn Sunnah from books. Sunnah is, as we have stated earlier, a real, living tradition which is ubiquitous in the Muslim Ummah, It is not hidden anywhere and it is extremely easy to understand because it does not consist of concepts and opinions. If there were no books on Hadith, the Sunnah would have still been there with the same authenticity and same clarity. And now when we have the Sunnah and the Hadith literature side by side with us, we do not need the confirmation of Sunnah from the books on Hadith. Instead we would confirm the authenticity of H~adi#th from comparison with the Sunnah. If we study how a common Muslim learns to offer daily prayers, we would immediately know that when he is born, or converted, he finds that daily prayers are being offered in the community by a large number of people. Even those who do not pray do know the formal method to pray. A young Muslim or a new entrant to this faith learns how to offer his daily prayers from the society from his elders and teachers. He does not learn about the method and procedure of this mandatory worship from books on history or Hadith. This is perfectly in line with the wishes of God and his Prophet (sws). The Holy Prophet (sws) did not make any arrangements for recording his sayings.

He only ensured that two things should be preserved and communicated: The body of words and sounds contained in the Holy Quran The body of practices constituting the Sunnah And it is within these two that the entire Islam is preserved. Islam like most of other religions consists of two components beliefs and practices. The beliefs have been succinctly stated in the Holy Quran while the practices are embodied in the Sunnah. According to the Muslim ideology, if we want to find out the Sunan, we should look for them in the traditions and practices of Muslim Ummah and not in the books of history. iii. Do Muslim sects disagree over the Sunnah? We have seen that Sunnah determines the practical shape of religious practices. Due to extreme care and importance given to it by the Holy Prophet (sws), these practices were widely adopted by the Ummah and conveyed onward through Tawatur. In this background, it may appear strange that sometimes different sects of Muslims exhibit minor differences in performing these religious rites. This is a common observation and is sometimes presented as an objection to the authenticity of the Sunnah. According to the Muslim position, this is not a correct representation of the facts. Firstly, the Sunan are largely common among all the sects. If we could once again refer to the list of Sunan given earlier, we would realize that all sects of Muslims agree to them. If at all there are any differences of minor nature they are negligible in the face of much larger common ground among the sects. Actually, the sects agree on most of the details of the Sunan. For example there are more than six hundred aspects that fully define the daily prayers, their timing, ablution, and related issues. Out of these, the Muslim sects differ on two or three aspects. Actually, the differences have been exaggerated by centuries of debate and discussion and have remained in the forefront of academic and scholastic world, while the common aspects have receded into the background. Secondly, such minor differences can also be explained away. In cases where the Holy Prophet (sws) left us with a number of options or remained silent, the act was left to us. Like the instance of permissible supplications in the Qadah, sometimes people have selected one of the options and then insist on it. They sometimes take upon themselves one of the options as binding. This narrow mindedness leads them to overlook the freedom granted to the Muslims and different sects start arguing which of the supplication is mandatory. In such cases also the Sunnah is actually not the point of discord. In fact, the intention in such cases is to leave the details to the choice of Muslims. When Muslims exercise this option, a superficial look may lead one to the conclusion that the Sunnah itself is being disputed, whereas, in fact, the Muslims were given freedom to choose in these areas and have, consequently, chosen variously. Therefore such instances of dissent among

the sects should not lead one to question the authenticity of the Sunnah. Thirdly, there are definitely cases where the innovating Muslims have audaciously introduced something new in the established Sunan, or have amended a Sunnah or have forsaken a Sunnah. The Holy Prophet (sws) strictly discouraged innovations in the Sunan. Such innovations are termed Bidah. But even here, the innovations have not succeeded to create doubts about the authenticity of the Sunnah. In all such cases of innovations, it is known for sure that either the original Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (sws) has been tampered with or an entirely new practice has been added without sanction of the Holy Prophet (sws). The innovators could not introduce these innovations (Bidat) without being noticed. Even the individuals responsible for such innovations and the historical details of the motives are fully known. It is perfectly obvious, that given the importance of Sunnah in Islam, any such change or innovation in Islam always sparked off strong reactions from the orthodoxy. Such attempts to innovations were therefore recorded prominently in the pages of Muslim history. For example, the annual procession now being taken out in the Muslim communities of the Indo-Pakistan Sub Continent on the 12th Rabi ulAwwal, to mark the birthday of the Holy Prophet (sws), was innovated in the twentieth century. Even those who think that such a procession is desirable, do not ever claim that it is a Sunnah instituted by the Holy Prophet (sws) and that it has reached us through Tawatur and consensus of the Companions (rta) of the Holy Prophet (sws). Thus the few petty differences between sects in performing a few religious practices, are either due to the fact that the Holy Prophet (sws) did not give any rigid specific instruction about something, or due to the fact that a few sects admittedly amended them later. iv. Holy Quran and the Sunnah The entire Islam is to be found in the Holy Quran and the Sunnah. Islam consists of beliefs and practices. The Holy Quran contains all the beliefs and the Sunnah essentially gives the practical form of religious rites and also guidance on a number of other practical issues. Sunnah thus complements the Holy Quran towards fulfillment of Islam. Since Quran (beliefs) and Sunnah (practices) have both reached down through Tawatur, we can say that the entire Islam (beliefs and practices) has reached us through Tawatur. That is why the Muslims believe that their sources of knowledge on Islam are extremely authentic and their authenticity is proven beyond any shadow of doubt. v. Usage of the term Sunnah In common usage, the word Sunnah is loosely applied to all the actions of the Holy Prophet (sws). The Sunnah literally means the well trodden path. In common religious terminology, the word is used for all the actions and sayings of the Holy Prophet (sws) that we may find in the Hadith Literature. This is the laymans usage of the word and should not be confused with the technical

term of Sunnah as used in jurisprudence. In some of the juristic schools like that of Imam Abu Hanifa, the word Sunnah is also applied to rites and rituals that are not mandatory. For example some of the Rakat of the daily prayers are called Sunnah (optional) to distinguish them from the Fard (mandatory) Rakat. This is a term of Muslim Fiqh (law developed by the jurists) and not of jurisprudence or Usul-i-Din (the discipline that deals with the subject of sources of Islam). However, while discussing the subject of Usul-i- Din (Sources of the Din) the early scholars restrict the use the phrase Sunnat-i-Thabitah (the established path) to describe the established religious practices of the Holy Prophet (sws) that have reached us through Tawatur. This is distinct and well-defined sense of the word Sunnah. This excludes all reports received by Individual-to Individual Transmission. The terms Sunnah is then used only for the practices that were properly and formally instituted by the Holy Prophet (sws) and were received through the consensus of the Companions (rta) of the Holy Prophet (sws). vi. Status of different Sunan A look at the list of Sunan also informs us that all the Sunan are not of the same religious importance. So far as the degree of their significance is concerned some of these are more important. In orthodox jurist literature (Fiqh) the importance of different religious acts is usually signified with the help of a number of terms such as Mandatory (Fard) or Supererogatory (Nafl). This terminology developed after the Holy Prophets times but is sometimes helpful in determining the status of different religious acts. In addition to the above, other acts can be categorized as Etiquette or acts of symbolic nature. The list of Sunan shows that Sunan may fall in different categories such as: i) Mandatory (like Salah, Zakah etc) ii) Etiquette (Greeting by saying Assalam u Alaykum) or iii) Symbolic (Calling Adhan in the ears of a new born)