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Nature of the Sunan
Aslam Mir


The following discussion has been taken from the General Discussion Forum of Studying Islam (, one of our sister sites. While Tariq Mehmood Hashmi is the moderator of this discussion, Aslam Mir has compiled it for publication in the journal (Editor).

 Tariq Hashmi: In the light of the material explained in the course module, Understanding the Sunnah, I think we should discuss what is it that sunnah consists of. I would like you to share your understanding with me based on your course modules.

H Khan: The sunnah consists of the practices of the Prophet Muhammad (sws) regarding ‘ibadah, cleanliness, manners and etiquette of social interaction, marriage, birth and death rites etc.  

Tariq Hashmi: This is nice. We believe that the acts that are religious in nature have been instituted by the Holy Prophet (sws). The Prophets of God are sent only to guide mankind regarding their din or religious matters. They are not sent to promote a certain culture of a specific period of history. Therefore, only those acts of the Prophet (sws) are to be considered sunnah and religiously binding upon us which are religious in nature. No one should, therefore, say that wearing a certain kind of dress that might have been in vogue in the Prophet’s time or riding a horse is a sunnah. Another important thing that I think needs to be clarified is that the sunnah is a separate independent source of Islam. This means that sunan may not have been mentioned in the Qur’an or explained in detail. The authenticity and status of the sunan is independent of the Qur’an. A mention in the Qur’an of any sunnah may only be to exhort the Muslims or clarify any question about it. Therefore, for details about the sunan, a recourse will have to be made to the ijma’ and tawatur of the Muslim ummah instead of the Qur’an.

However, the things that originally originate from the Qur’an cannot be termed sunan.  For example, cutting the hands of the thief would not be a sunnah whereas fasting, taking bath when in a state of janabah, eating with the right hand are some of the sunan. Why these acts are called sunnah, despite the fact that the Qur’an refers to them? In fact, these acts which are classified as sunnah were the tradition of Abrahamic religion. This is why the polytheists of Makkah practiced them before Islam and, those who did not, they were at least aware of them. They would, for example, circumcise their male offspring, fast, pray, hold nikah ceremonies, bury their dead etc. With some additions and corrections, the Prophet (sws) only revived this Abrahamic tradition.

H Khan: Can I ask about the sunnat-i-ibrahimi and sahifa-i-ibrahimi. Are these the same? If not, what is the difference? It is said that Divine Book revealed to Abraham was called ‘sahifa-i-ibrahimi’. Is it correct?

Tariq Hashmi: Sunnat-i-Ibrahimi is applied to the practices introduced by a number of prophets of God and later instituted in a crystallized form by Abraham (sws). Examples of these practices are prayer, fasting, hajj, circumcision, burying the dead etc. These do not hinge upon any written historical record. Rather these were instituted as a living tradition of the nations of these prophets. Our Prophet (sws) also reinstituted them among his followers in such a way that they have become part of every day life of all Muslims. We see other people praying and we emulate them, people die and we bury them, Ramadan comes every year and countless people fast during the stipulated time and thus the practices never die away. As for the presence of practices among the Arabs prior to the advent of Islam, we have ample evidence in the Qur’an, hadith literature and history of the Arabs that they knew and adhered to these practices. As regards the matter of suhuf-i ibrahimi (Abraham’s scriptures) this is not the proper name for the books revealed to the Prophet Abraham. Rather they refer to the revealed guidance given to Abraham. The word suhuf has also been used to refer to the Torah in some verses of the Qur’an (see: 53:36, 87:18-9)

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