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Sunnah (سنة) literally means “trodden path”, and therefore, the sunnah of the prophet means “the way of the prophet”. Terminologically, the word ‘Sunnah’ in Sunni Islam means those religious actions that were instituted by Muhammad during the 23 years of his ministry and which Muslims initially received through consensus of companions of Muhammad (Sahaba), and further through generation-to-generation transmission. According to some opinions, sunnah in fact consists of those religious actions that were initiated by Abraham and were only revived by Muhammad
The question of hadith (words and deeds of Muhammad) falling within the abode of the sunnah is an interesting one, and is highly dependent on the context. In the context of Islamic Law, Imam Malik and the Hanafi scholars differentiate between the Sunnah and the Hadith. Imam Malik, for instance, is supposed to have rejected hadiths that reached him because, according to him, they were against the 'established practice of the people of Medinah. In Shi'a Islam, the word 'Sunnah' means the deeds, sayings and approvals of Muhammad and the twelve Imams who Shi'a Muslims believe were chosen by God to succeed the prophet and to lead mankind in every aspect of life.
In the context of biographical records of Muhammad, sunnah indeed often stands synonymous to hadith as most of the personality traits of the Mohammad are known through descriptions about him, his sayings and his actions.
 Legality of Sunnah
The sunnah is the secondary source of Islamic law after the Qur'an.
The sunnah's meaning is based on context and this has often gone unappreciated in recent times, leading to misunderstanding and rifts among Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Some things not explained in detail in the quran are clarified in the Sunnah and Hadith of the Prophet. The prophetic example of sunnah, in terms of worship and law, is considered to be obligatory by most Muslims. A few Qur'an Alone Muslims follow only the Qur'an and reject all sunnah and hadith as sources for Divine Guidance or religious law. Many advocates of liberal movements within Islam claim that prophetic sunnah should be followed in matters of ritual and worship, but may be questioned in the case of Islamic law.
 Sunnah and Hadith
The Sunnah is the way or deeds of Muhammad and validated by the consensus of companions of Muhammad (Sahaba) in Sunni Islam, and the way or deeds of Muhammad and the twelve Imams in Shi'a Islam, while Hadith is a collection of the narrations and approvals. The two words are sometimes taken to be interchangeable, referring to the Traditions, but difference lies depending on the context. Hadiths are classified according their status, in relation to their texts (matn) and their chain of transmitters (isnad). Scholars of Hadiths have studied the narrations from their context (matn) as well as from their transmitters (isnad) in order to establish what is true and what is false from these hadiths. These were influential in the development of early Muslim philosophy and modern scientific citation.
Through research on the transmitters of Hadith (isnad), scholars of the science of Hadith came up with the system of knowing the different categories of Hadith, and how to evaluate the text (matn) in order to establish if the text is correct, good, weak, or false. There is a tradition both of historical biography (Ilm ar-Rijal) of Muhammad and of validating hadith — isnad or “backing”.
Sunnah, on the other hand, is established through the practical examples and not via these texts in Islamic law, but mostly through the hadith texts as far as prophetic biography, traits and examples are concerned. For example, prayers, both individual and congregatory, were taught by Muhammad to his followers by practical example and since then have been transmitted generation-to-generation through practical learning. Their documentation in form of Hadith only happened later, but their actual learning and transmission has always been through practical means. On the other hand, many traits about Muhammad, such as his style, his habits and his dealings with others, is known primarily through hadith.
 Sunnah and fiqh
Sunnah must be made distinct from both fiqh, which are opinions of the classical jurists, and the Qur’an, which is revelation, not record. It is one of many terms in Islam which are difficult to translate out of Arabic without loss of meaning. History further complicates the translation since different assumptions about sunnah dominated Islam in past eras. See The Second Era of Ijitihad
 Early Sunni scholars
Early Sunni scholars often considered the sunnah as being equivalent to the sira, as the hadith were poorly validated, and contemporary commentators on Muhammad’s life were better known. As the hadith came to be better documented, and the scholars who validated them gained in prestige, for some scholars, the sunnah came to be known mostly through the hadith, especially as variant or fictional biographies of Muhammad spread, in part from the Christian world, some of them very slanderous. Classical Islam often equates the sunnah with the hadith.
 Modern Sunni scholars
Modern Sunni scholars are beginning to examine both the sira and the hadith, with an eye to justifying modifications to the fiqh, or jurisprudence, which was largely drawn from past interpretations of both. The sunnah in one form or another would retain its central role in providing both a moral example (sira) and ethical guidance via Muhammad’s own social rules (hadith) in Sunni Islam, and via Muhammad and the twelve Imams in Shi'a Islam.
 Absolutist rejection of hadith and sunnah
Qur'an Alone Muslims reject the alleged sunnah of the prophet Mohammad in accordance with the Qur'an's teaching that the sole duty of Mohammad was to the deliver the Qur'an, as per:
42:48 "You (Mohammad) have no duty except delivering the message."
13:40 "(Mohammad) Your only duty is delivering, we will call them to account."
5:99 "The messenger (Mohammad) has no function except delivery of the message."
Furthermore, they observe Mohammad's only message as the Qur'an, as per:
21:10 "We have sent down to you a scripture containing your message. Do you not understand?"
69:44-46 "Had he (Muhammad) uttered any other teachings. We would have punished him. We would have stopped the revelations to him."
 Traditional View of Prophet Sunnah
Traditional Muslims however, believe that verses such as "A similar (favour have ye already received) in that We have sent among you an Messenger (Muhammad) of your own, delivering to you Our Verses, and purifying you, and teaching you the Book and the Wisdom, and in new knowledge." (2:151) justify the Sunnah. Many of these sunnah had their roots coming from Abraham as it is mentioned in Quran, "and follow the Nation of Abraham, the monotheist, and he was never one of those who set up partners, and God chose Abraham as his friend" (4:125).
Had the Prophet's only role been to deliver the verses, the remaining parts of the verse: "purifying you, and teaching you the Book and the Wisdom..." would not have been there. The traditional view then holds that all the above verses, in which Muhammad's mission is to deliver the message ONLY, INCLUDES his TEACHING the explanation of the Book (the Quran) and the Wisdom behind it, to the people, not just relate the verses of the Quran and leave.
In addition, the verse:"Ye have indeed in the Messenger of God (Muhammad) the best of examples, for any one whose hope is in God and the Final Day, and who engages much in the Praise and Remembrance of God." (33:21), further emphasizes that Muhammad's example is divinely inspired and to be followed by Muslims.
According to Traditional Muslims, the point being emphasized in the verses quoted by the Quran Alone argument - is that Muhammad is not to be worshipped or deified - and that his role is to deliver the Quran, complete with explanation and guidelines on how to live the Quran - guidelines which have been preserved in his Sunnah.
 See also
 External links
- What the Quran & Sunnah is
- Sunnah and Hadith
- Sunnah and Hadith - A comparison
- Hadith and Sunnah – Two Different Concepts
- Approaching Qur'an and Sunnah - Classical, Traditional and Progressive Methodologies
- Some Questions relating to Sunnah
- Main Ideas from Sunna
- Sunnah Beliefs
- Hadeeth Encyclopediaar:سنة (إسلام)