1.7 Islam: The Hadīth And The Sunnah
Hadith (plural: Ahādīth) refers to the statements, actions and tacit approvals that have been reported from the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). The Hadith were preserved from the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) by memory or written-form by his Companions, who passed them on to the next generation, who then passed them on to the generation after them, and so on. As each generation went by, the incidents of recording Ahādīth increased, and the science of collecting the āhādith and verifying their authenticity became more and more stringent and codified.
The main reason behind this is because after the Companions, who all the Muslims believe to be reliable and trustworthy, their entered into Islam a certain amount of sectarianism, and the Scholars of Islam realised that the supporters of the sects had begun to fabricate Hadith. In fact as early as the first century of Islam, when some of the Companions were still alive, the sciences of Hadith verification had already begun. Imam Muslim stated in the introduction of his “Saheeh” that the great first century scholar, Muhammad bin Sīrīn (died 110 AH), who lived amongst the Companions said: “They used to not ask about the Isnād (chain of narration) but when the tribulations occurred, they would say: “Name to us your men!” So they would look to the People of Sunnah and take their Hadīth and they would look to People of Misguidance and reject their Hadīth.” There are many, many sayings similar to this. So this is a clear proof that verification of Hadith is a very early science in Islam that reaches right back to the Prophet and his Companions. Allah commanded the Companions in the Qur’an: “O you who believe! If a rebellious evil person comes to you with a news, verify it.” (Quran 49:6) The scholars of Hadith used this verse as a basis for the for the study of Hadith narrations. They understood from it that anyone reporting a Hadith must be examined for his precision, and trustworthiness – and that a narrator must have a connected chain of narration leading person after person back to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).
The Prophet’s ahadith cover a vast range of topics: belief, matters of the unseen, signs of the Last Hour, prayer, fasting, charity, marriage, death, divorce, childbirth, allowances and forbiddances (the Halāl and the Harām) – in fact almost every aspect of life that is connected to Religion. The Hadith, alongside the Qur’an are used as the basis of the Sharī`ah (Islamic Law).
Examples of ahādīth: The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Whoever is not merciful to others will not be treated mercifully.” The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Whoever fasts during Ramadān with faith and seeking reward from Allah will have his past sins forgiven.”
Some of the sayings are known as “Hadīth Qudsee”. These are Allāh’s words revealed to Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) that are not a part of the Qur’an. The difference between Prophetic Hadith and Hadith Qudsee is that the Prophetic Hadīth are the intent of Allah expressed in Muhammad’s words. The Hadith Qudsee are the Words of Allah directly stated upon the tongue of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). Example: Abu Hurairah said that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said that Allāh said: “Spend in charity, O son of Adam! And I will spend on you.” It was collected by Bukhāree. The Hadith have as much authority as the Qur’an as shown in these verses: “Obey Allah and obey the Messenger,” and, “Whatever the Messenger gives you take it, and whatever he forbids for you, abstain from it.”
The scholars of Hadith very early on started collected and writing down Ahadith. From the earliest whose books still remaining till this day is the “Muwatta” of Imām Mālik Ibn Anas (died 179AH), the “Saheeh” of Muslim (d. 261AH), the “Musnad” of Imam Ahmad (d. 241AH), and so on. Between them they contain hundreds and thousands of ahādith. Hadith can be authentic or “weak” (inauthentic) or even fabricated. It is the scholars of Hadith who work diligently to decipher that which is authentic (Saheeh) from that which is weak (Da’eef).
Sunnah means: “A path”. It refers to the example and guidance of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) that Muslims are obligated to follow in order to earn the pleasure of Allah: “Say (O Prophet): If you truly love Allah, then follow me, then Allah will love you and He will forgive you your sins.” (Qur’an). And Allah said in the Qur’an: “You have in the Messenger of Allah, an excellent example of conduct for any one whose hope is in Allah and in the Final Day.” (Qur’an 33:21) This Sunnah is based upon the authentic Āhādīth of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). One cannot follow the “Path” (Sunnah) of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) except by following the Authentic Āhādīth. The Sunnah is to act upon the Hadīth in the manner of prayer, fasting, funerals, eating and so on. For example, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Pray like you have seen me praying.” Also: “Take your rites of Hajj pilgrimage from me.” So Muslims follow the Prophet’s Sunnah (i.e. his way) in performing the Prayer and performing Hajj.
There are some Muslim sects who believe the Sunnah does not have the same authority as the Qur’ān, and they are opposed by those who quote the verses and Hadith that state that the Sunnah carries the same status as the Qur’an, since both the Qur’an and Sunnah (or Hadith) are revelation from Allah. The Qur’an states: “And We revealed to you the Reminder (i.e. the Qur’an) that you may explain to the people what was sent down to them.” (Qur’an 16:44) So the explanation is the Sunnah, which is the “Path” of the Prophet taken from the authentic Ahadith. We can learn much about the character and example of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) from his biography (Arabic: Seerah) which has stories of the Prophet’s life. Here are some examples: His kindness to orphans, his joining in to help the Companions in building the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah, his helping with the digging of the trench to protect Madinah from enemy attack, his helping his family in household chores, his playing with his grandchildren, his crying upon the death of his son Ibrāhīm and the son of his daughter out of mercy, he would kiss his grandchildren, hug them and they would jump on his back during the prayer, he would shorten the prayer if he heard a baby crying because he knew that the mother would be upset, he would visit the sick and the poor, and so on.
Muslims believes that the Qur’an and Sunnah is applicable for all times and all places and offers guidance to mankind from the cradle to the grave.
- Explain what is meant by Hadīth.
- Give one example of a Hadīth.
- Give a reason why Hadīth are so important.
- Explain what is meant by Sunnah.
- Give one example of the Prophet’s Sunnah.
- Give one reason why the Prophet’s Sunnah is important.
- What lessons can you learn from the examples of the Prophet’s life quoted above?
- How can examples set so long ago still be relevant today?
I initially compiled these worksheets for my students at the Redstone Academy (aged between 13 and 16 years), Moseley Road, Birmingham, UK who are working towards their General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). I felt that others who do not attend the school can also benefit from these topics since they are presented in simple bitesize chapters. I have relied upon GCSE text books and adapted them for my classes.