What is Sunnah?

What is Sunnah

What is Sunnah?

Are you wondering what is Sunnah? Sunnah is an Arabic word with the literal meaning of “habitual or customary practice”, while its meaning pertaining the Islamic diction is “the body of traditional social and legal custom and practice of the Islamic community.” (Britannica) According to a scholar of Usul al-Fiqh (legal theorist/usulli): It is defined as “what was transmitted from the Messenger of Allah of his words, acts and tacit.”

Dawn of Islam

Before the dawn of Islam, the term was prevalent in society and used to describe the rules based on precedent knowledge of the indigenous. However, it can’t be concluded that Sunnah emerged as a tangible philosophy right after the sad demise of the Holy Prophet. On the contrary, it took time in getting its garb the way it has reached us today. Not a single advent of action can be pinpointed for the compilation of Sunnah, however, the first person to give it its shape can be taken as “Abū ʿAbd Allāh al-Shāfiʿī (767–820), who accorded the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad—as preserved in eyewitness records of his words, actions, and approbations (the Hadith)—normative and legal status second only to that of the Qurʾān. (Britannica).

Three Tangible Guiding Realities

The three tangible guiding realities that the Muslim Ummah owns are Quran, Hadith, and Sunnah. All these are reflections of each other and provide an insight into the teachings of Islam. Sunnah the standing at the bottom of these three and are actually the practical aspects of the former in the life of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). Sunnah is all about the implementation of the Quranic laws, rules, and regulations as guided and revealed by Allah Almighty. Whatever the Holy Prophet did in his life, each and every bit of it, was a reflection of the teachings of the Quran, Islam, and Allah. The testimony of the importance of Sunnah is sporadic in the text of the Quran. At multiple places Allah Almighty stressed the significance of Sunnah:

“O ye who believe! Obey Allah and obey the Messenger…” (al-Nisa(4): 59)

Yet at another place, Quran underlines the rank of Sunnah in these words:

And whatever the Messenger gives you, take (observe) it, and whatever he forbids you, abstain from it.” (Al-Hashr (59):7)

Role of Sunnah

Sunnah, as explained above, has a close relation with Quran. The teachings of the Quran are at times ambiguous and might be abstruse or obscure to the common mind. Here comes the role of Sunnah. It helps in an accurate, explicit, and deep understanding of the teachings of the Quran as practically implemented by the Holy Prophet (PBUH) in his life. To quote one of many examples is the detailed explanation of the body posture and salutations during prayers. Quran only tells us about the significance of prayers and their promulgation by the Muslims but nowhere has it told us the ways to perform it. This explanation is to be found in the Sunnah which explicitly and vividly explains all the details pertaining to prayers and that also different types of prayers i.e., Eid prayers, Salat-e-Tasbih, and Jinazah prayers. So actually for these intricacies and details the Muslims look forward to the Sunnah.

Categories of Sunnah

The answer to what is Sunnah also includes its categories. Sunnah is divided into categories according to the scholars of Islam. The first one is the “Verbal Sunnah” or Sunnah by word. It is the saying of the Prophet (PBUH) whatever words or doctrines he passed on to his believers. The second type of Sunnah is “Practical Sunnah” i.e., the actions or deeds of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). These actions have legal value and elucidate important actions or events in Islam such as the performing of Salah/prayers, Hajj/pilgrimage, and fasting. These actions make the ways more clear and elaborate to be performed by the followers. The third one is the “Tacit Sunnah” i.e., the Sunnah by tacit approval or disapproval of the Prophet (PBUH). It gives approval to certain acts and traditions upon whose occurrence the Prophet (PBUH) remained silent and did not object at all. It’s not a verbal agreement but a silent consent for the act of his companions. For example, at an instance, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) stayed silent at the sight of two boys playing with spears in the mosque. Yet another example is when the Holy Prophet (PBUH) did not object to some of the companions eating lizard (Iguana).


Sunnah is a great source of elucidating and explicating from minute to major matters in life according to the Islamic Shariah. It’s an essential and vital source of undertaking a deep study of the paraphernalia of Islam and its teachings in the light of the Prophet’s actions and words. All Muslims should adhere to Sunnah for impeccable guidance and immaculate directions in their lives.