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The Sunnah, according to the scholars of hadeeth, iseverything that has been related from the Messenger, may the mercy andblessings of God be upon him, of his statements, actions, tacit approvals,personality, physical description, or biography.  It does not matter whetherthe information being related refers to something before the beginning of his propheticmission, or after it.

Explanation of this definition:

The statements of the Prophet include everything theProphet said for various reasons on different occasions.  For example, he said:

“Verily deeds are but by intentions, and every person will have only what he intended.”

The actions of the Prophet include everything that theProphet did that was related to us by his Companions.  This includes how hemade ablutions, how he performed his prayers, and how he made the Hajjpilgrimage.

The tacit approvals of the Prophet includes everythingthat his Companions said or did that he either showed his favor towards or atleast did not object to.  Anything that had the tacit approval of the Prophetis as valid as anything that he said or did himself.

An example of this is the approval that was given to theCompanions when they used their discretion in deciding when to pray during theBattle of Bani Quraydhah.  

God’s Messenger had said to them

None of you should perform your afternoon prayers until you arrive at Bani Quraydhah

The Companions did not arrive at Bani Quraydhah untilafter sunset. 

 Some of them took the Prophet’s words literally and postponedthe afternoon prayer, saying: “We will not pray until we get there.”  Othersunderstood that the Prophet was only indicating to them that they should hurryon their journey, so they stopped and prayed the afternoon prayer on time.

The Prophet learned about what the two groups haddecided, but did not criticize either of them.

As for the Prophet’s personality, this would include thefollowing statement of Aishah (may God be pleased with her):

“God’s Messenger was never indecent or vulgar, nor was he loud at the marketplace.  He would never respond to the abuse of others with abuses of his own.  Instead, he would be tolerant and forgiving.”

The physical description of the Prophet is found in statements like the one related by Anas (may God be pleased with him):

“God’s Messenger was neither overly tall nor was he short.  He was neither exceedingly white nor black.  His hair was neither excessively curly nor lank.”

The Relationship between the Sunnah and Revelation

The Sunnah is revelation from God to His Prophet. 

God says in the Quran

We have sent down to him the Book and the Wisdom

Quran 2:231

The Wisdom refers to the Sunnah. The great jurist al-Shafi’isaid: “God mentions the Book, which is the Quran.  I have heard from people whoI consider authorities on the Quran that the Wisdom is the Sunnah of God’sMessenger.”  God says:

Indeed, God conferred a great favor on the believerswhen He sent among them a Messenger from among themselves, reciting to them Hissigns and purifying them and instructing them in the Book and the Wisdom.

It is clear from the preceding verses that God revealedto His Prophet both the Quran and the Sunnah, and that He commanded him toconvey both to the people.  The Prophetic hadeeth also attest to the fact thatthe Sunnah is revelation. 

It is related from Mak’hool that God’s Messenger said

God gave me the Quran and what is like it from the Wisdom

Al-Miqdam b. Ma’dee Karab relates that God’s Messenger said

I have been given the Book and with it something like it

Hisan b. Atiyyah relates that Gabriel used to come theProphet with the Sunnah just like he would come to him with the Quran.

An opinion from the Prophet was not merely his ownthoughts or deliberations on a matter; it was what God revealed to him.  Inthis way, the Prophet was different from other people.  He was supported byrevelation.  When he exercised his own reasoning and was correct, God would confirmit, and if he ever made a mistake in his thinking, God would correct it andguide him to the truth.

For this reason, it is related that the Caliph Umar saidfrom the pulpit: “O people!  The opinions of God’s Messenger were correct onlybecause God would reveal them to him.  As for our opinions, they are nothingbut thoughts and conjecture.”

The revelation that the Prophet received was of twotypes:

A.    Informative revelation: God wouldinform him of something by means of revelation in one form or another asmentioned

in the following Quranic verse

It is not for a human being that God should speak to him except as revelation or from behind a barrier, or by sending a Messenger who reveals by His leave whatever He wishes.  Verily, He is Exalted, All-Wise

Quran 42:51

Aishah related that al-Harith b. Hisham asked theProphet how revelation came to him,

and the Prophet answered

Sometimes, the angel comes to me like the clanging of a bell, and this is the most difficult for me. It weighs upon me and I commit to memory what he says.  And sometimes the angel comes to me in the form of a man and speaks to me and I commit to memory what he says

Aishah said

I had seen him when the revelation came to him on an extremely cold day.  When it was over, his brow was full of perspiration

Sometimes, he would be asked about something, but hewould remain silent until revelation came to him.  For example, the Meccanpagans asked him about the soul, but the Prophet remained silent until Godrevealed:

They ask you concerning the soul.  Say: ‘The soul is from the affairs of my Lord, and of knowledge you have but little

Quran 17:85

He had also been asked about how inheritance was to bedivided, but he did not answer until God revealed:

God commands you regarding your children

Quran 4:11

B.    Affirmative revelation: This is wherethe Prophet exercised his own judgment in a matter.  If his opinion wascorrect, revelation would come to him affirming it, and if it was incorrect,revelation would come to correct him, making it just like any other informativerevelation.  The only difference here is that the revelation came as a resultof an action that the Prophet first did on his own.

In such instances, the Prophet was left to use his owndiscretion in a matter.  If he chose what was right, then God would confirm hischoice through revelation.  If he chose wrong, God would correct him to protectthe integrity of the faith.  God would never allow His Messenger to convey anerror to other people, because this would cause his followers to fall intoerror as well.  This would contravene the wisdom behind sending Messengers,which was that the people henceforth would have no argument against God.  Inthis way, the Messenger was protected from falling into error, for if he evererred, revelation would come to correct him.

The Prophet’s Companions knew that the tacit approval ofthe Prophet was actually the approval of God, because if they ever didsomething contrary to Islam during the Prophet’s lifetime, revelation wouldcome down condemning what they did.

Jabir said: “We used to practice coitus interruptus [1]  back when God’s Messenger was alive.”  Sufyan, one of the narrators of thishadeeth, commented: “If something like this was forbidden, the Quran would haveprohibited it.”


  1. Coitus Interruptus: Withdrawal of the penis before emission of sperm during sex. –