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Importance of the Sunnah

The importance of the Sunnah is first of all that it explains the Book of Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) and is a commentary on it, then it adds some rulings to those in the Quran, the Book of Allah (سبحانه و تعالى). To emphasise the importance of the Sunnah Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) says in the Quran:

“Your companion (Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم)) has neither gone astray nor has erred. Nor does he speak of (his own) desire. It is only an Inspiration that is inspired.” [Quran: Surah al-Najm 53: Ayahs 2-4]

And He says: "Similarly (to complete My Blessings on you) We have sent among you a Messenger (Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم) of your own, reciting to you Our Verses (the Quran) and sanctifying you, and teaching you the Book (the Quran) and the Hikmah (i.e. Sunnah, Islamic laws and Fiqh - jurisprudence), and teaching you that which you used not to know." [Quran: Surah al Baqarah 2: Ayah 151]

And, He says: "Indeed in the Messenger of Allah (Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم)) you have a good example to follow for him who hopes in (the Meeting with) Allah and the Last Day and remembers Allah much." [Quran Surah al Ahzaab 33: Ayah 21]

Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) made clear that the Sunnah is a guidance with His saying: 

“And We have also sent down unto you (O Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم)) the Dhikr [reminder and the advice (i.e. the Quran)], that you may explain clearly to men what is sent down to them, and that they may give thought” [Quran: Surah al-Nahl 16: Ayah 44].

And His saying: “And We have not sent down the Book (the Quran) to you (O Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم)), except that you may explain clearly unto them those things in which they differ, and (as) a guidance and a mercy for a folk who believe.” [Quran: Surah al-Nahl 16: Ayah 64]. 

Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr (رحمه الله) said in Jaami’ Bayaan al-‘Ilm wa Fadlihi (2/190) relates that the commentary of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) on the Quran is of two types: 

1 – Explaining things that are mentioned in general terms in the Holy Quran, by clarifying and giving detail to the general rulings, thus clarifying the matter, such as with the five daily prayers, by giving their times, the prostrations, the bowings and all other rulings. 

2 – Adding rulings to the rulings of the Quran, such as the prohibition on being married to a woman and to her paternal or maternal aunt at the same time. Since this is not clarified within the Quran itself. 

Since the Sunnah is the second of the two parts of Wahy, Revelation, it is inevitable that Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) will protect it, so as to preserve the religion from distortion and additions or subtractions. 

Ibn Hazm (رحمه الله) said in al-Ihkaam (1/95): Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) says: 

“Verily, We, it is We Who have sent down the Dhikr and surely, We will guard it (from corruption)” [QuranSurah al-Hijr 15: Ayah 9] 

and also:

“Say (O Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم)): “I warn you only by the Revelation (from Allah and not by the opinion of the religious scholars and others). But the deaf (who follow the religious scholars and others blindly) will not hear the call, (even) when they are warned [i.e. one should follow only the Qur’aan and the Sunnah (legal ways, orders, acts of worship, and the statements of Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم , as the Companions of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم did)]” [QuranSurah al-Anbiya’ 21: Ayah 45] 

Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) tells us that the words of His Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) are all Wahy (revelation) in His saying:

“Your companion (Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم)) has neither gone astray nor has erred. Nor does he speak of (his own) desire. It is only an Inspiration that is inspired.” [Quran: Surah al-Najm 53: Ayahs 2-4]

And, Wahy is undoubtedly Dhikr, and Dhikr is preserved according to the text of the Quran. Thus it is correct to say that Muhammad's (صلى الله عليه و سلم) words are all preserved by Allah (سبحانه و تعالى), may He be glorified and exalted, and He has promised that none of them will be lost to us, because that which Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) preserves can certainly not be lost at all; it has all been transmitted to us and Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) has established proof and left us with no excuse.  

Once it is established that the Sunnah is part of the divine revelation, it is essential to note that there is only one difference between it and the Quran, which is that the Quran is the word of Allah (سبحانه و تعالى), may He be exalted, which was revealed verbatim to the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم), whereas the Sunnah may not be the words of Allah (سبحانه و تعالى), rather it is only His Revelation, so it need not necessarily come to us verbatim, but the meaning of it comes to us. 

Thus the point in transmission of the Sunnah is to convey the meanings, not the exact same words that were uttered by the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم). Islam tells us that Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) only preserves the words of the Quran in full, and He preserves the general meanings of the Sunnah, and that which explains the Book of Allah (سبحانه و تعالى), not the exact words and phrases. However, the scholars of the Muslims throughout the early centuries strove to preserve the sharee’ah, legislated ruling, and the Sunnah. They have transmitted to us the words of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) as he said them, and they distinguished between the reports that were right and wrong, true and false. The scholars were the likes of Bukhari and Muslim, whose collections hadeeth are known and established among the Muslims.