Why do you define the sunnah the way you do?
A definition for Sunnah has been given by Moiz Amjad as follows:
the term Sunnah refers to those actions of the Prophet (pbuh), which the Prophet (pbuh) initiated, performed and promoted among ALL his followers, as a part of God’s religion.
A close look at the above definition reveals three main differences between this definition and the traditional definition of Sunnah (although more differences might be observed when going to details):
The Sunnah is not all the actions of the Prophet but only those that have been firmly established by the Prophet (as a part of religion) among his companions and from them have reached us generation by generation by the consensus of people.
Sayings ascribed to the Prophet are not the primary source of our knowledge of the Sunnah.
The Sunnah is all about religious practices and not religious beliefs.
The reason Sunnah cannot include those practices that were not firmly established by the Prophet as a part of religion is that if we do not agree with this, we are saying: “There are parts of the God’s religion that were not firmly established by the Prophet”. In other words we are implying that the Prophet (PBUH) did not complete his mission (God forbid).
The main reason that the sayings ascribed to the Prophet (PBUH) cannot be seen as part of the Sunnah or as primary sources of our knowledge of the Sunnah is: The Prophet did not direct his companions to collect these sayings and because of this, even the closest companions of the Prophet (PBUH) did not generally start collecting Ahadith after the passing away of the Prophet (PBUH). Accordingly the transmission of Ahadith was not based on Tawatur (mass transmission) in the manner that the Qur’an and the Sunnah were transmitted to us. This is why there are so many different conclusions derived from looking at Ahadith as a primary, independent source. These different conclusions are mainly due to differences of opinion in verification of Ahadith and in deriving directives from the verified Ahadith (because of the often unknown context and associated circumstances). Accordingly, if we believe that Ahadith are part of the Sunnah, we are again implying the same unfounded claim about the Prophet that was mentioned in point 1. In other words, if Ahadith were going to be part of the Sunnah, then it was part of the Prophet’s mission to make sure his sayings were compiled, verified and fully explained before his passing away. If this was the case then there would have been no need for scholars like Imam Malik, Bukhari and Muslim to go to great lengths in compiling their books and there were would not have been so many differences of opinions in deriving directives from the Ahadith.
The reasons that Sunnah does not include beliefs is that: a) The word literally refers to actions and not beliefs. The word has been used in the Qur’an as well as Ahadith in the same way (i.e. related to actions). There are no indications in the Qur’an and no reports from the Prophet (PBUH) to indicate that the Sunnah (in the context of Islam), contrary to its literal and well known meaning, includes any set of beliefs. b) In terms of obligatory beliefs, there are plenty of verses in the Qur’an that describe these beliefs in Islam, to say that there are other obligatory beliefs that are included in the Sunnah would be in direct conflict with those verses. c) If we assume that beliefs are included in the Sunnah, then the only practical way to find these beliefs will be through the Ahadith but this would take us back to the problem described in point 2.
Based on the above reasons the only acceptable definition for “Sunnah” of the Prophet (PBUH), in our view, is the one that can be phrased as quoted from Moiz Amjad at the beginning of this reply (of course many other different wordings are possible based on the same concept).
Please refer to answers to questions on the Sunnah on the site.
June 28, 2005