What does the sunna mean for scholars of hadith and fiqh?
Sunna literally means �a conduct and a path good or evil to be followed�.
It is used, in its literal meaning, in the following hadith:
The one who establishes a good path in Islam, gets the reward of those who
follow it without any decrease in their reward. Another one who establishes
an evil path in Islam is burdened with the sins of those who follow it without
any decrease in their burden.7
In its terminological meaning, Sunna has different connotations according
to each group of the Traditionists, methodologists and jurists. According to
the Traditionists, it includes everything having some bearing on or relation
with religious commandments, reported from God�s Messenger and categorized,
according to the Hanafis (the followers of Abu Hanifa), as obligations, necessities,
practices particular to or encouraged by the Prophet himself, recommended and
The methodologists take the Sunna as every word, deed and approval of God�s
Messenger. That is, according to them, the Sunna means the sayings and acts
of God�s Messenger himself, as well as those acts or sayings he approved in
what he witnessed in his Companions.
Jurists approach the Sunna as the opposite of innovation in religion (bid�a)
and is, according to them, a synonym of Hadith (Tradition), it is used for the
words, deeds and approvals of the Prophet which provide a basis for legislation
and categorization of people�s actions.
Hadith, derived from the word haddatha, to inform, means, literally, tiding
or information. It came, over time, to mean every word, deed and approval ascribed
to God�s Messenger. Ibn Hajar says: �What is meant by Hadith in the language
of the Shari�a is everything related to God�s Messen-ger, upon him be peace
Some scholars of fine discernment distinguish Hadith as that which is not
Divine, not eternal or without beginning in time. This is the fine line which
separates Hadith from the Qur�an: as against the Qur�an which is Divine and
eternal, Hadith connotes something coming into existence at a point in time.
God�s Messenger himself distinguishes his sayings from the Qur�an, as can be
understood from the following hadith:
It is two things only, nothing else: the Word and guidance. The best word
is the Word of God and the best guidance is the guidance of Muhammad.8
7. Muslim, �Zakat,� 69; Ibn Ma�ja, �Muqaddima,� 203.
8. I. Ma�ja, �Muqaddima,� 7.