Historically, the Islamic World has seen various periods of serious crises. The current period which we live in is also in a serious crisis. This crisis has both material and spiritual aspects. We can clearly see the material aspect of the crisis. Regarding the spiritual aspect, two main sources of the Islamic culture “the Qur’an and Sunnah” are often approached with some suspicion; they are under attack. When these two sources are attacked, we see that Sunnah is attacked first. This is because if the Sunnah – which explains the Qur’an and helps it to be understood, and gives new rulings – is somehow denied, then, without a doubt, it will be the Qur’an that is attacked next. Since the shields surrounding the Qur’an are “the state, Sunnah al-Saniyya, and the real Islamic scholars,” those who wage war against the Qur’an will first aim at discrediting Islamic scholars, then attack Sunnah through hadiths in order to weaken its position.
Therefore, along with some explanations of Imam Bediuzzaman Said Nursi about Sunnah al-Saniyya, I quoted some short parts from “Miftahu’l jannah fi’l-ihtijaji bi’s Sunnah” of Imam Suyuti (rh), which explains the place of Hadiths in Islam. Adding some titles among the knowledge below and expressing my own thoughts in some parts, we wrote this piece on the importance of Sunnah.
First, we will briefly explain what Sunnah al-Saniyya is and which sections it is separated into. Then we will examine the verses in the Qur’an which command to obey the Prophet (pbuh). We will also examine the authority given to the Prophet (pbuh). Then we will talk about some hadiths which command obedience to the Prophet (pbuh). We will also try to understand what the companions understood from those hadiths. This is because the companions of course became the ones who understood those verses and hadiths best due to the fact that they were the closest to the revelation and they became spiritual guides to the Islamic world through their behaviours.
Definition of Sunnah
Sunnah is defined as “path, method, tradition, behaviour which someone makes a habit whether it is good or bad.” According to the scholars of hadith, Sunnah is everything which has been narrated about the Prophet (pbuh) as “word, action, confirming, physical and moral quality.” 1
The following hadith is used in this meaning: “Whoever opens a good way, the rewards of those who do good deeds with it belong to that person; the doers of good deeds do not lose any reward. And whoever opens a bad way, its sin and the sins of those who commit bad deeds with it belong to that person; the sinners do not lose any sins.” 2
Parts of Sunnah
When we talk about Sunnah, we have to think about it in broad meaning. This is because it is understood from the above definition that the sayings of the Prophet (qawl), his actions (f’il), his confirming some things by silence or approval (taqrīr), and even the things about his nature and moral character are mentioned as being a part of the Sunnah. Thinking about Sunnah in this broad sense, Imam Bediuzzaman states the parts of Sunnah as follows:
“There are degrees in the Sunnah al-Saniyya. Some are compulsory; these may not be given up. This sort are described in detail in the Brilliant Shari‘a. They are incontestable and can in no way be changed. Another sort is voluntary, and this is of two sorts: One sort includes those practices related to worship. They too are described in the books of the Shari‘a; to change them is bid’ah (innovation). The other sort is known as “conduct” (adab); these practices are mentioned in the books of the Prophet’s biography. Opposition to them is called innovation. (…)” 3
– Sunnahs related to worship
– Sunnahs related to habits
The Part which is Compulsory (Farḑ and Wājib)
- These are the types of worship we know as obligatory
- Giving them up is not possible. Whoever abandons them becomes sinner.
- It is not possible to change them.
- Their fundamentals are specified in the Qur’an, their details are explained in Sunnah al-Saniyyah.
- The Five Daily Prayers (Salah), Charity (zakat), Fasting, Veiling (tasattur) and etc.
The scholars of the Hanafi school of thought typically separated the Sunnah into two parts: Sunnah al-muakkadah [which the Prophet regularly did (and encouraged)] and Sunnah ghayr muakkadah (non-emphasized). Examples for Sunnah al-muaakadah are especially related to symbols of Islam like “Azan and performing Prayer in congregation” and the sunnah (the first two units) of the Morning Prayer. And examples for Sunnah ghayr muakkadah are the first sunnahs of the Afternoon Prayer and the Night Prayer.
Moreover, Hanafi scholars had another classification as “Sunnah al-hudā” and “Sunnah al-zāida.” They mentioned that sunnah al-huda is as powerful a sunnah as Sunnah al-muakkadah. They mentioned Sunnah al-zāida as sunnah related to habit which is the second part of the second part which Imam Bediuzzaman expressed. The most important difference of Imam Bediuzzaman’s classification is that he mentioned the compulsory part of Sunnah.
Imam Bediuzzaman said that the most important sunnahs of the Sunnah al-Saniyya are those that are related to the symbols of Islam. The fact that the enemies who wanted to harm Islam in history first tried to annihilate the symbols of Islam shows how important these sunnahs are.
Verses that Order Obedience to the Prophet
As we all know, what is required from a believer is that he affirms all of the verses of the Qur’an without hesitation. For us, the main source of a ruling is important. If the source is the Qur’an, obedience is compulsory for us. It is the Qur’an that commands obedience to the Prophet (pbuh). If there were only one verse in the Qur’an about this obedience, we would without hesitation obey our Prophet (pbuh). What is meant by the obedience to the Prophet (pbuh) is obviously (obedience to) the Qur’an and Sunnah al-Saniyyah. This is because there are the expressions “obey Allah” and “obey the Messenger of Allah” in the verses which command obedience. It is clearly understood that the obedience to Allah is related to the Qur’an, and obedience to the Prophet (pbuh) is Sunnah al-Saniyyah. Moreover, tens of verses in the Qur’an directly mention the obedience to the Prophet (pbuh) and avoiding rebelling against him. Furthermore, the salvation of those who obeyed other Prophets in different nations in the past and the punishment of those who rebelled against those Prophets while they were still in the world should be understood in this sense.
Some of the verses that command obedience are as follows:
– “O you who have believed, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. And if you disagree over anything, refer it to Allah and the Messenger, if you should believe in Allah and the Last Day. That is the best [way] and best in result.” 4 (Nisa, 4:59)
– “He who obeys the Messenger has obeyed Allah; but those who turn away – We have not sent you over them as a guardian.” 5 (Nisa, 4:80)
– “These are the limits [set by] Allah, and whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger will be admitted by Him to gardens [in Paradise] under which rivers flow, abiding eternally therein; and that is the great attainment.” 6 (Nisa, 4:13)
– “And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger and transgresses His limits – He will put him into the Fire to abide eternally therein, and he will have a humiliating punishment.” 7 (Nisa, 4:14)
– “And We did not send any messenger except to be obeyed by permission of Allah. And if, when they wronged themselves, they had come to you, [O Muhammad], and asked forgiveness of Allah and the Messenger had asked forgiveness for them, they would have found Allah Accepting of repentance and Merciful.” 8 (Nisa, 4:64)
– “But no, by your Lord, they will not [truly] believe until they make you, [O Muhammad], judge concerning that over which they dispute among themselves and then find within themselves no discomfort from what you have judged and submit in [full, willing] submission.” 9 (Nisa, 4:65)
– “Say, [O Muhammad], “If you should love Allah, then follow me, [so] Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.”” 10 (Al-i Imran, 3:31)
Imam Bediuzzaman interpreted the last verse above as follows:
“If you do love Allah, then you must follow Habibullah (the Beloved of Allah). If you do not follow him, the [logical] conclusion is that you do not have love of Allah. If you do have love of Allah, this love will result in following the lofty Sunnah of Habibullah. Yes, anyone who believes in Allah (Exalted is He) will indubitably obey Him.” 11
He expressed that the love of Allah would result in obeying the Sunnah as follows: “Love of Allah entails and results in the following of the lofty Sunnah.” 12
Elsewhere, he expressed that the love of the Prophet (pbuh) begins with obeying the Sunnah as follows: “Longing for him, liking him, loving him is [only possible] through following his Sunnah al-Saniyya and his luminous law.” 13
We shall finish the subject of obedience with a short but perfect word of Imam Bediuzzaman:
“Yes, anyone who believes in Allah (Exalted is He) will undoubtedly obey Him, and the most often accepted, auspicious, soundest and shortest of all paths of obedience is without doubt the path that Habibullah guided to and himself travelled along.” 14
Commanding of Obeying Sunnah in the Hadiths
Just as it is commanded in the Qur’an to obey the Noble Prophet (pbuh), it is also mentioned in the Hadiths. Some of them are as follows:
“I am leaving behind two things, you will never go astray as long as you hold fast onto them. The Qur’an and my Sunnah.” 15
“All my followers will enter Paradise except those who refuse.” They said, “O Allah’s Messenger! Who will refuse?” He said, “Whoever obeys me will enter Paradise, and whoever disobeys me is the one who refuses (to enter it).” 16
“Knowledge is three: The book telling about shariah, sunnah that reached from the Messenger of Allah (pbuh), and to say ‘I don’t know.’” 17
“Such a time will come that there will be nothing more valuable than these three things: Halal money, reliable friendly brother, sunnah that is practiced.” 18
Bayhaqi narrates from Ibn Abbas (ra):
“Anything you have been given of the Book of Allah, you have to act on it. There is no excuse for any of you to neglect it. If there is no relevant ruling in the Book of Allah, then consider my unambiguous Sunnah. If there is no unambiguous Sunnah on my part, then consider what my companions have said. My companions are like stars in the sky, whichever one you follow you will be guided. Disagreement among my companions is a mercy for you.” 19
Some Words from Important Persons of Islam about the Sunnah
In this section, we will quote some words from important persons of Islam:
Ali (radiallahu anh):
“If the religion were according to reason, wiping under the leather socks would be more proper than wiping the upper side of it. However, I saw the Messenger of Allah wiping the upper side of the leather sock.” 20
Ibn Umar (r.a.):
“The ummah [Muslim community] does not go astray as long as it holds fast to the Sunnah.” 21
“Following the Sunnah is the essence of the religion.” 22
“Once you give up the Sunnah, you perish.” 23
Rabi‘ relates, “I heard Imam Shaf’i saying ‘If you find something contrary to the Prophet’s Sunnah in my book, take the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh) and leave what I say.” 24
Duties of the Prophet
Due to the Prophet being the last messenger and due to the universal nature of his cause, the Prophet was obligated to fulfil many duties. Instead of covering all of his duties, we would like to discuss his authority of “hukm” (ruling) which is most objected by some people. Even so, let us first write some main duties of the Prophet (pbuh) below:
1- Delivering (the message of Islam) (tablīgh)
2- Explaining (tabyīn)
– explaining concise verses
– explaining difficult verses
– assigning the verses which have general meaning (takhsīs)
– binding the absolute expressions (taqyīd)
– confirming the rulings (ta’yīd)
3- Being a means to the spiritual cleaning of people through his good character (tazkiyah)
4- Ruling on the subjects which are not mentioned in the Qur’an
The Authority of the Prophet’s Rulings
Some interpret the verses that command obedience to the Prophet (pbuh) one way or the other. On the other hand, others choose to completely deny his authority of ruling. However, some verses in the Noble Qur’an clearly reveal his authority of ruling. One of them is the seventh verse of Surah al-Hashr. Now let’s read the two events below and see how the companions (may Allah be pleased with them) understood this verse:
Bayhaqi reports from Habib b. Abi Fadala al-Makki:
Imran b. Husayn (ra) tells about shafaah (interceding) in the light of hadiths. One of those listening to him says:
O Abi Nujayd! You are telling us the hadiths, but we cannot find these in the Qur’an.”
Imran (ra) gets angry and asks:
“Have you read the Qur’an?”
“Have you ever come across in the Qur’an that the farḑ of the Night Prayer is four, the farḑ of the Evening Prayer is three, the farḑ of the Morning Prayer is two, the farḑ of the Noon Prayer is four?”
“Where have you learned these from? Haven’t you learned them from us? And haven’t we learned it from the Messenger of Allah (pbuh)? And haven’t you read this verse: “Then let them end their untidiness and fulfil their vows and perform Tawaf around the ancient House [Kaaba].” 26 Have you come across in this verse “circumambulate the Kaaba seven times, and perform two rakahs prayer between the maqam and the Kaaba”?
How about this: Haven’t you ever heard that Allah Almighty says in the Qur’an,
“Whatever the Messenger has given you – take; and what he has forbidden you – refrain from.” 27
Imran (ra) then says, “There are many things which you learned from the Messenger of Allah (pbuh), but you don’t know that.” 28
The second event is follows:
It is narrated from Ibn Mesud (ra) in Bukhari and Muslim:
“The curse of Allah be upon those who practice tattooing and who seek to be tattooed, who get their hair removed from their eyebrows, who have their teeth separated, those who change the creation of Allah.”
When this word of Ibn Mesud (ra) reaches a woman whose name is Umm Yaqub, she comes to Ibn Mesud (ra) and says:
“I heard that you said these words.” Ibn Mesud (ra) says:
“Why shouldn’t I curse those whom the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) had also cursed? And isn’t it in the Qur’an?” Upon this, the woman says:
“I read the Book from cover to cover, but could not find what you said.” Ibn Mesud (ra) tells the following:
“If you had read, you would have found. Haven’t you read the verse “Whatever the Messenger has given you – take; and what he has forbidden you – refrain from.”? 29
“I read it.”
“(You see) The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) has forbidden the things (I told).” 30
These two events clearly reveal that the companions (radiallahu anhum) understood from this verse that the Prophet (pbuh) must be obeyed.
There is also another event about the 36th verse of Surah al-Ahzab:
Taawus used to perform two rakahs of voluntary prayer after the Afternoon prayers. When Ibn Abbas (ra) advised him to give up this prayer, he said “I won’t.” Upon this Ibn Abbas (ra) said the following:
“The Messenger of Allah had forbidden performing prayer after the Afternoon prayer [until evening prayer]. I am not sure whether you are doing a good deed or you are going to be punished [in the Hereafter].” 31
This is because Allah says in the Qur’an:
“It is not for a believing man or a believing woman, when Allah and His Messenger have decided a matter, that they should [thereafter] have any choice about their affair. And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger has certainly strayed into clear error.” 32
Here, Ibn Abbas (r.a.), who was one of those who understood the Qur’an best among the companions, and who was blessed with the prayer of our Noble Prophet (pbuh), gives us the lesson that it is necessary to obey the rulings of our Prophet (pbuh).
Moreover, Almighty Allah says in the following verse what attitude we must adopt:
“The only statement of the [true] believers when they are called to Allah and His Messenger to judge between them is that they say, “We hear and we obey.” And those are the successful.” 33
Finally, regarding this subject, the authority of ruling of the Prophet (pbuh) is clearly stated in Surah al-A’raf:
“(That Messenger) enjoins upon them what is right and forbids them what is wrong and makes lawful for them the good things and prohibits for them the evil.”
The last part of this verse gives us a very beautiful principle:
“So they, who have believed in him, honoured him, supported him and followed the light which was sent down with him (the Qur’an) – it is those who will be the successful.” 34
The Situation of the Ones who Reject the Hadith As Evidence
At the beginning of his book, Imam Suyuti (rh) writes some points against those who reject the Hadiths as being evidence and then relates an event from Imam Shaf’i (ra):
“May Allah have mercy on you! You should know that in the science of the principles of Islamic Jurisprudence (‘ilm al-usul) the Hadiths – let it be either verbal or actual – that have the well known conditions are proofs. One who denies the hadiths of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) will be blasphemous and be out of Islam. He is going to be resurrected along with the Judaists, Christians or any other blasphemous group.” 35
One day, Imam Shafi (ra) relates a hadith and says “it is saḥīḥ (sound).” Someone asks:
“O Abi Abdullah [Imam Shaf’i]! Do you agree (with it), too?” The Imam gets offended by this and says:
“O you! Have you ever seen me as a Christian? Have you ever come across me while I am going out of a church? Have you ever seen me wearing a Christian zunnar? I narrate a hadith of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and I will not agree with it! [It is impossible!]” 36
Imam Bediuzzaman, on the other hand, says about those who do not obey the Sunnah: “While those who are lazy and do not follow them suffer vast loss, and those who consider them to be unimportant commit a great crime, while if they criticize them, which infers denying them, it is serious misguidance.” 37
Revealing the Ignorance of Those Saying That You Should Act According To Only the Qur’an
In every century, there have always been wretched groups calling themselves Qur’aniyyun, which somehow finds followers, and saying “We only obey the Qur’an.” The common characteristics of these groups are that they lack sincerity and they knowingly or unknowingly deny a lot of verses in the Qur’an by uttering those words.
The cold expression on their faces, not to be able to accept the Muslim ummah, and not to be able to benefit from the light of Sunnah al-Saniyyah are among their common traits. Our Prophet (pbuh) foretold about them. If we look closely, this understanding exists today. Actually, as we understand from the two events told above, these groups also existed at the time of Tabi’un (the followers) and they argued with some Sahabas (companions).
One of these people’s common characteristics is that they interpret and explain the verses [to their purposes], undervalue or deny the hadiths no matter how much you explain the truths. This reminds us the event which Bayhaqi narrated from Sufyan (ra):
He narrates that the intention with the word ‘trial’ in the verse “So let those beware who dissent from the Prophet’s order, lest a trial strike them or a painful punishment.” 38 is that Allah seals their hearts. 39
Moreover, if it was not certain that the Sunnah is evidence, our Master, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh), would not tell the following in his last sermon:
“All those who listen to me shall pass on my words to others and those to others again; and may the last ones understand my words better than those who listen to me directly.” 40
Then Bayhaqi mentions the following hadith:
“May Allah gladden a man who hears something from us, so he conveys it as he heard it. Perhaps the one it is conveyed to is more understanding than the one who heard it.” 41
The Prophet’s Foretelling Those Who Will Deny the Hadiths
The Prophet (pbuh), with the sight of prophethood, perceived and foretold about some people from among the ummah who will not accept the Hadith. One of the hadith is as follows:
“Know well that I have been given the Qur’an and a similar [thing] along with it. Again know well that I have been given the Qur’an and a similar [thing] along with it. And you should also know the time is close when persons in easy circumstances sit in their chairs and say as follows: The Qur’an is just enough for you. Accept as halal whatever you find in the Qur’an as halal. Know that donkey, animal of uncloven hoof, and the lost goods of the dhimmi are forbidden to you.” 42
The Importance of Following Sunnah al-Saniyya in This Age
Following the Sunnah is really important in every age. However, there are some ages in which following the sunnah has even greater importance. Just as a one-hour guard duty of a soldier during wartime is as valuable as a one-hundred-hour guard duty in other times of peace, following the sunnah is also much more important in certain ages. For this reason it is said in the hadith, “He who holds fast to my sunnah when my Community has become corrupted shall have the reward of a hundred martyrs.” 43
Imam Bediuzzaman concisely explained this as follows:
“To comply with the Sunnah al-Saniyya in even a small matter of behaviour, particularly when the Prophet’s community is corrupted, signifies an important taqwa (fear of Allah) and a powerful belief.” 44
Moreover, Imam Bediuzzaman, after telling of the traps of the Devil in the subject of istiazah (taking refuge to Allah), expresses that the armour against the Devil is taqwa, and the trench is the Sunnah al-Saniyya:
“O believers! Against these terrifying enemies your armour is taqwa which has been made on the bench of the Qur’an. Your trench is the Sunnah al-Saniyyah of the Noble Prophet (pbuh). Your weapon is to seek refuge, repentance, and take refuge in the Divine protection.” 45
In another hadith, those who follow the Sunnah in this age are told the good news as follows:
“In the last days of the ummah there will be a group; they will be given as much rewards as the previous (Muslims). They will deny the deniers and fight against the mischief maker communities.”
They asked Ibrahim ibn Musa:
“Who are they?”
“They are the people of hadith. They will say ‘The Messenger of Allah commanded to do this, and not to do that.’” 46
The Benefits of Sunnah al-Saniyya
– “He who holds fast to my sunnah when my Community has become corrupted shall have the reward of a hundred martyrs.” 47 This hadith shows that one can have the reward or one hundred martyrs.
– “Whoever makes a habit of following the sunnah turns his habits into worship, and [thus] he can make his entire life fruitful and full of good deeds.” 48 As we understand from Imam Nursi’s word, even the smallest part of Sunnah which we call habits is very important. This is because every sunnah we practice makes our entire life fruitful and our every moment becomes a fruit of Paradise and a means of gaining rewards.
– One who follows the Sunnah al-Saniyya acquires good manners. This is because “Sunnah al-Saniyya is good manners; there is not a single part of it that does not have a light and a good manner.” 49 Allah has gathered all the beauties of good manners in the Noble Prophet (pbuh).
– Every time we perform a sunnah we remember the Noble Prophet (pbuh). This remembrance becomes a means to remember Allah.
– One who follows Sunnah al-Saniyya attains the happiness in the world and in the Hereafter both. Imam Bediuzzaman describes this as follows: “Sunnah al-Saniyya is the cornerstone of the happiness in both worlds, and it is the core and source of perfections.” 50
The benefits of following the Sunnah are not only these, of course. We have only given a few examples.
Those who want to get more on this subject can read Imam Suyuti’s relevant book, and especially the Eleventh Flash of Imam Bediuzzaman Said Nursi who speaks to the understanding of this age. We presented a few fruits from those big orchards. May Allah grant us that we are able to benefit from them.
May Allah make us among the ones who follow the Sunnah al-Saniyya of the Noble Prophet. Amin.
- Ahmet Yücel, Hadis usulü, p. 37
- Ahmed bin Hanbel, el-Müsned, v. 31, p. 536
- Lem’alar, p. 54-55
- Nisa, 59
- Nisa, 13
- Nisa, 14
- Nisa, 64
- Nisa, 65
- Al-i İmran, 31
- Lem’alar, p. 54
- Lem’alar, p. 54
- Zülfikâr, p. 262
- Lem’alar, p. 54
- Hâkim, Müstedrek, I, 93, vd.; Miftâhu’l-Cenne Fi’l-İhticac Bi’s-Sünne’ (Sünnetin İslam’daki Yeri), İmam Suyuti, trc. Enbiya Yıldırım, p. 27
- Buhari, el-İ’tisam, bab no: 2, vd.; ibid. p.35
- Et-Taberâni, el-Mu’cemu’l-Evsat, II, 7 vd; ibid. p. 83
- Et-Taberâni, el-Mu’cemu’l-Evsat, I, 96 vd; ibid. p. 84
- Beyhaki, el-Medhal, p. 163; el-Hatib, el-Kifaye, p. 165
- Ebû Davud, et-Tahare, bab no: 63 vd; ibid. p. 73
- Beyhaki, el-Medhal, p. 194; agy.
- Beyhaki, ibid. p. 195; agy.
- Beyhaki, ibid. p. 198; agy.
- Beyhaki, ibid. p. 198; ibid. p. 75
- Teferruatlı bilgi için bkz. Ahmet Yücel, Hadis Usulü, p. 19-31
- Hac, 22:29
- Haşr, 59:7
- Delâlilu’n-Nübüvve, 1/27, ibid. p. 24,25
- Haşr, 59:7
- p. 36
- p. 51
- Ahzab, 33:36
- Nur, 24:51
- Araf, 7:157
- p. 18
- p.18, Ebu Nuaym, vd.
- Lem’alar, p. 61
- Nur, 24:63
- p. 36
- Buhari, İlm, bab no: 9, vd; ibid. p. 22
- Tirmizi, İlm, h.no:2657, Beyhaki,, I, p. 23, vd; ibid. p. 22
- Beyhaki, Sünenu’l-Kübra, v. 4, s. 332, vd; ibid. p. 26
- See al-Targhīb wa al-Tarhīb, 1:61
- Lem’alar, p. 51
- Lem’alar, p. 72
- Ahmed bin Hanbel, el-Müsned, v. 4, p. 62 vd. ibid. p. 100
- Emâli-i İbn Bişran, v.1, p. 218
- Lem’alar, p. 51
- Lem’alar, p. 55
- Lem’alar, p. 58