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Difference Between Hadith and Sunnah


Brother, please realize that Hadith that were collected by the most honorable of men, such as Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim, are named Sahih for that reason. They are true, and the Sunni Muslims take them to be accurate reporting of the words of the Prophet  (may peace be upon him). The science of the Hadith is vast, and requires a lifetime to truly understand. If we took the Hadith merely to be words that are 'ascribed' to him, then much of the Sharia'h would not exist nor have any background.

Abu Bakr, being an intimate companion of the Prophet  (may peace be upon him), narrated few hadith in light of the fact that he was very close to the Prophet (pbuh). He, and as the other narrators of Hadith, were so in fear of misquoting the Prophet (S), that he only narrated those instances where he knew the entire conversation by heart. Many Hadith were not included in the Sahih just because of the fact that the narrators were not sure of a single word.

The Qur'an itself was compiled by the very people who narrate the Hadith, as it was not in written form until the Caliphate of Abu Bakr as-Saddiq. The same people who memorized and narrated the Qur'an word for word, related Hadith word for word. The narrators of hadith were great scholars, who had memorized the entire Qur'an and many other Hadith besides their own. Please take this into account when responding to the Christian.

Question from India

It was the divinely ordained duty of the Prophet  (pbuh) to deliver the message of God to all those present. It is a part of the Muslim faith that he fulfilled his duty to the ultimate possible level, under the direct guidance of God.

If we look at the contents of Islam, we can see that all the teachings of the Prophet , that have been transmitted to us can be easily categorized into three groups:

  • The Oral narrative of those teachings, which were taught and given to all and sundry. This narrative has been transferred to us, without any alteration, through the consensus and oral perpetuation of the companions of the Prophet  (pbuh). Even today, with all the differences among the Muslim sects, there is consensus among all Muslims that the Qur'an  is the oral narrative of these teachings of the Prophet (pbuh).

  • Those practical teachings, which were given to all and sundry. These teachings have been transferred to us, without any alteration, through the consensus and practical perpetuation of the companions of the Prophet  (pbuh). Even today, there is consensus among Muslims regarding these practical teachings of the Prophet (pbuh) and to a great extent there still exists a practical perpetuation on these issues too. These issues include:

  • Mentioning God's name and then eating and drinking with the right hand;

  • Greeting one another with "Assalaam Alaikum"[1] and responding to such greeting with "Wa Alaikum Assalaam"[2];

  • Saying "Alhamdulillah"[3] after sneezing and responding to it with "YarhamukAllah"[4];

  • Saying Adhan[5] in the right ear of a new born baby and saying Iqamah[6] in his left ear;

  • Slaughtering animals in a way that most of the blood is drained from their bodies;

  • The Nikah (Marriage) ceremony;

  • Delivering the Nikah sermon;

  • Trimming moustaches;

  • Shaving the pubic hair;

  • Shaving hair from under the armpits;

  • Circumcising the male offspring;

  • Clipping nails;

  • Cleaning the nose, the mouth and the teeth;

  • Cleaning the body after urination and defecation;

  • The ceremonial bath (ghusl-e-janabah) after sexual intercourse or orgasm;

  • Bathing the dead before burial;

  • Shrouding a dead body;

  • Burying the dead;

  • Wudhu (ablution);

  • Tayammum[7];

  • Adhan[8];

  • Iqamah[9] before the prayers;

  • Building and overseeing of mosques for prayers;

  • The five obligatory prayers;

  • The Jum`ah congregation;

  • The Eid Prayers;

  • The Janazah[10] Prayers;

  • Fasting;

  • Aitikaf[11];

  • Eid al-fitr

  • Sadqah of Eid al-fitr;

  • Zaka'h;

  • Hadi (Sacrificial animals brought to the Ka`bah);

  • Tawaf (Circumambulating the Ka`bah);

  • Sanctity of the Ka`bah;

  • The sacred months;

  • Hajj and Umrah;

  • Eid al-Adha;

  • Sacrificing animals on Eid al-Adha;

  • Saying Takbirs after prayers during the days of Tashriq[12];

  • Besides these two sources, because of the extra ordinary importance of the person of the Prophet  (pbuh) among the Muslims, people started recording his actions, sayings, responses to questions asked, approvals etc. The Prophet (pbuh) never persuaded or directed the recording of these things. This recording was initiated by the Muslims, themselves. Later on, the same extra-ordinary importance of the person of the Prophet (pbuh) prompted the Muslims to transfer these sayings to the subsequent generations. These recordings of sayings etc. were sometimes oral and sometimes written. However, these narratives were, generally, not a verbal transmission of the sayings (etc.) of the Prophet (pbuh), they were rather the transmission of the meanings perceived and understood by the narrators. These narratives, besides a few other things, constitute what is called "Akhbar-e-ahaad" (i.e. narratives of a few people) and sometimes "Hadith".

On the basis of the above explanation, we may note that the Qur'an , because of its verbal transmission, and the Sunnah, because of its practical transmission, are not dependent on the interpretation of the transmitters. It is, therefore, that in these two spheres there exists no difference among the Muslims and these entail no teachings that are contradictory to each other. On the other hand, hadith, because it is the narrative of the Prophet 's sayings, actions, approvals etc. as perceived and understood by the narrators may sometimes, because of a misperception, misinterpretation, misunderstanding or an errant communication of any one or more of the narrators in the chain that transmits that particular hadith, be incorrect and contradictory with the Qur'an, the Sunnah or other hadiths.

In my opinion, therefore, the total basic content of Islam, which the Prophet  (pbuh) was ordained to teach to all those present is completely found in the Qur'an  and the Sunnah alone. Hadith, because of its very nature (of transmission), cannot add to, alter or subtract from this basic content of Islam that we have in the shape of the Qur'an and the Sunnah. Whatever exists in the body of Hadith, besides a historical account of the life and times of the Prophet (pbuh), is basically related to:

  1. the explanation and clarification of the directives given in the Qur'an  and the Sunnah; and

  2. the ideal example set by the Prophet  (pbuh) in carrying out the directives of the Qur'an  and the Sunnah.

In my opinion, therefore, Hadith is of great value as it can, sometimes, teach us how the Prophet  (pbuh) understood and explained Islam and what was his excellent example (uswah-e-hasanah) in carrying out the directives of Islam. But, even with this importance, in my opinion, Hadith cannot add to the total basic body of Islam, which is restricted to what has been transmitted to us in the Qur'an  and the Sunnah.

As far as your question: "what hadith do you think are fundamental", is concerned, I would like to stress here that all hadith hold equal importance in my eyes.

All those narratives that are not against the directives or any information provided by the Qur'an , the Sunnah, the established scientific or historical facts and have reached us through reliable sources may be considered as accurate narratives of the sayings, actions, approvals etc. of the Prophet  (pbuh).

5th June 1998

[1] i.e. 'Peace be upon you all'.

[2] i.e. 'And upon you be peace too'.

[3] i.e. 'All gratitude is due toward God'.

[4] i.e. 'May God bless you/have mercy upon you'.

[5] Adhan is the public call for prayers.

[6] Iqaamah is the announcement of the commencement of prayers.

[7] A symbollic representation of ablution, using dry earth, in case of the unavailability of water.

[8] Making a public call for prayers, through stipulated words.

[9] Making the announcement of the commencement of prayers, through stipulated words.

[10] This is a prayer for the forgiveness and salvation of a dead person. This prayer is offered before the burial of the corpse.

[11] Ai`tikaaf is a form of worship, in which a person remains in seclusion, generally, in a mosque, for sometime.

[12]  A few days following the Hajj.

Answer published by Moiz Amjad

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