The Meaning of Sunna

>> Saturday, June 19, 2010

I have not updated this blog for awhile because I have been extremely busy and my computer has a virus (I think it had one even before I went to Umrah). I updated once since i came back from umrah then I had to get ready for ICNA then my brother visited so I did not have time. So in return I made a very long post. Today's post is the definition of the word "sunna". We hear it all the time and just naturally know what it means. However in different fields of knowledge it means different things. InshAllah this post will be useful to Muslims and also to secular nonmuslim who are studying Islam. This is a first of two post that defines commonly used terms. The next post inshAllah will be the definition of Ahlul Sunna wal jamma.

P.S. I did not add in the footnotes because it was getting very difficult to format. So if you see big numbers after certain sentences it is because that was an in-text citation. If you want any of the citation please tell me the number and I'll give you what the footnote says. Furthermore some of the Arabic transliterations were messed up and instead of letters you will see numbers. I started to correct some but it was taking way to long and I thought to myself 2 things; 1) Muslims should know the Arabic because most of the Arabic terms are in parenthesis and come AFTER their translation so you can infer what they are, for example: qawl and saying in the paragraph dealing with the definition of sunna in hadith terminology. 2) Nonmuslims will not care for it. If you see the number 4 after the mentioning of the Prophet (pbuh) or a Scholar it was actually an Arabic graphic that either said peace be upon him (when it came after the prophet) or May Allah's mercy and blessing be upon him (after a scholar).

P.S.S. This is a new book with a new label!

InshAllah May the below text be beneficial

The meaning of Sunna from the book, "Sunna Notes Volume 2"

The Sunna in Islam is more rare and precious than Islam is rare
and precious among the rest of the faiths. - Abu Bakr ibn `Ayydsh6

Sunna means the path that is trodden (al-tariq al-maslak), which entails holding fast to whatever the Prophet and his rightly-guided successors held of doctrines, deeds, and sayings. This is the perfect and complete Sunna. That is why the Salaf of old refrained from applying the name of Sunna to anything that fell short of this.

- Ibn Rajab7

The Sunna is wisdom and wisdom is to place each thing in its right
context. - Isma'il al-Ansari8

The Arabic word "sunna" lexically means "road" or "practice." In the language of the Prophet and the Companions it denotes the whole of licit practices followed in the Religion, particularly the pristine (hanif) path of Prophets, whether pertaining to belief, religious and social practice, or ethics generally speaking.

In its technical sense, "sunna" has several meanings. In hadith terminology it denotes any saying (qawl), action (fi' l), spoken or tacit approval (taqrir), or attribute (sifa), whether physical (khilqiyya) or moral (khuluqiyya) ascribed to (udifa ila) the Prophet whether before or after the beginning of his prophet-hood.' Thus the "sciences of the Sunna" (` ulum al-Sunna) refer to the biography of the Prophet (al-sira), the chronicle of his bat­tles (al-maghazi), his everyday sayings and acts or "ways" (sunan), his personal and moral qualities (al-shamail), and the host of the ancillary hadith sciences such as the circumstances of occurrence (asbab al-wurud), knowledge of the abrogating and abrogated hadith, difficult words (gharib al-hadith), narrator criticism (al­jarh wal-ta` dil), narrator biographies (al-rijal), etc., as discussed in great detail in the authoritative books of al-Khatib al-Baghdadi.

This meaning is used in contradistinction to the Qur'an in ex­pressions such as "Qur'an and Sunna" and applies in the usage of hadith scholars. Imam Ahmad said: "The Sunna in our defini­tion consists in the reports transmitted from the Messenger of Allah, and the Sunna is the commentary (tafsir) of the Qur'an and contains its directives (dald'il).'

The early Sunni Masters such as Abut Hanifa, al-Humaydi, Ibn Abi Abu Dawild, and Abfi Nasr al-Marwazi also used the term "the Sunna" in the narrow sense to refer to Sunni Doctrine as opposed to the creeds of non-Sunni sects.

In the terminology of usal al fiqh or principles of jurispru­dence, "sunna" denotes a saying (qawl), action (fr I) or approval (taqrir) related from (nuqila 'an) the Prophet it4 or issuing (adara) from him other than the Qur'an.

In the terminology of fiqh or jurisprudence, "sunna" denotes whatever is firmly established (thabata) as called for (mathib) in the Religion on the basis of a legal proof (dalil shar` i) but with­out being obligatory, the continued abandonment of which constitutes disregard (istikhfaf) of the Religion and sin, and in­curs blame (lawm, itab, tadlil) or also punishment (` uquba)" according to some jurists. However, some jurists made a distinc­tion between what they called "Emphasized Sunna" (sunna mu'akkada) or "Sunna of Guidance" (sunnat al-hudd), such as what the Prophet 4 ordered or emphasized in word or in deed, and other types of Sunna considered less binding in their legal status, such as what they called "Non-Emphasized Sunna" (sunna ghayr mu'akkada) or "Sunna of Habit" (sunnat al.' ada).

The above jurisprudential meanings of Sunna are used in contradistinction to the other four of the five legal categories for human actions - fard ("obligatory"), sunna, mubah ("indifferent"), makrah ("offensive"), haram ("prohibited") - and applies in the usage of jurists from the second Hijri century. However, the jurists have stressed that the basis for all acts of worship categorized as sunna is "obligatoriness" not mere "permissive­ness" (al-aslu fil-sunna al-wujab la al-ibaha).12 Sunna is thus defined as the strongest of several near-synonymous categories:

"praiseworthy" (mandab); "desirable" (mustahabb); "voluntary" (tatawwu`); "refinement" (adab);

"obedience" (ta` a);

"supererogatory" (nafl); "drawing near" (qurba); "recommended" (raghiba, murghab Pi);

"excellent" (hasan);

"excellence" (ihsan);

"meritorious" (fadila); and "best" (afdal).

Al-Dhahabi relates from Ishaq ibn Rahayah the saying: "If al­Thawri, al-Awza`i, and Malik concur on a given matter, that matter is a Surma." Al-Dhahabi comments:

Rather, the Sunna is whatever the Prophet made Sunna and the Rightly-Guided Caliphs after him. As for Consensus (lima' ), it is whatever the Ulema of the Community both early and late have unanimously agreed upon, through either assumed (zarint) or tacit (sukuti) agreement. Whoever deviates from such con­sensus among the Successors or their successors, it is tolerated for him alone. As for those who deviate from the three above-named Imams, then such is not named a deviation from Con­sensus, nor from the Sunna. All that Ishaq meant was that if they concur on a given matter then it is most probably correct, just as we say, today, that it is nearly impossible to find the truth outside of what the Four Imams of scholarly endeavor agreed upon. We say this at the same time that we admit that their agreement on a given matter does not dictate the Consensus of the Community, but we refrain from asserting, in relation to a matter upon which they all agreed, that the correct position is otherwise.'

In the largest sense, "Sunna" does denote the true knowledge and practice of the Religion and is antonymous with "innovation" (bid' a), as in the expression "People of the Sunna" or Sunnis (Ahl al-Sunna). Al-Junayd said: "The way to Allah is closed except to those who follow the traces of the Prophet and adhere to his Sunna. Allah & said, {Verily in the Messenger of Allah you have a good example for him who looks unto Allah and the last Day, and remembers Allah much} (33:21).""