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The Arabic word hadith denotes “news” or “tidings” and “a word,” with the plural form being ahadith. In ancient Arabic, the term was employed to express important news and words that are esteemed. The Arabs used to refer to the news of their famous and important days in pre-Islamic Arabia as ahadith and would describe those expressions that had become idioms as sara hadithan or sara uhdutha, meaning “it has become a hadith,” or “it has become a thing, or matter, that is called of, told, or narrated, and transmitted”. The word hadith has been employed in the Qur’an to mean a special discourse. In the Qur’anic verses, “…let them produce a discourse like it,” (at-Tur 52:34) and “Allah sends down in parts the best of the words…,” (az-Zumar 39:23) hadith denotes a special word, or sign. The term also comes to mean “news” or “tidings.” The word is used in the verse, “Has the report of Moses come to you?” (Ta-Ha 20:9) refers to news.

Just as the word hadith is mentioned in the Qur’an, it is also referred to in the words of Allah’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings. The Prophet’s Companion Abu Hurayra, one of those most avid to acquire knowledge from him, once came to him and inquired about the person who will be happiest with his intercession on the Day of Judgment. The Messenger of Allah said, “Abu Hurayra, I thought that none would ask about this hadith (this word) before you since I know your eagerness for hadith [i.e. learning].” The Messenger’s using the word hadith in reference to his own words constituted a model for his Companions. Thereafter, his words were referred to as hadith and the discipline constituting the study of these hadiths was called Ilm al-Hadith, or the Hadith Studies.

The Hadith Studies has also been called Usul al-Hadith, or the methodology of Hadith criticism. Hadith scholars have determined a set of rules for the preservation of the Prophet’s words and the communications of his Companions describing him, and to enable their transfer to succeeding generations without alteration; as such, they have put forth a specific methodology. The discipline wherein these methods are expounded has been referred to as the “science of Hadith methodology.” With the substance of its subject matter flourishing over time, all of its various branches have virtually each become separate disciplines unto themselves. Independent studies have been conducted in relation to each of these disciplines. The entirety of all these disciplines has together been referred to as the “Hadith Sciences” (Ulum al-Hadith).

When reference was made to knowledge in the first Islamic century, the Hadith Sciences were specifically implied, by virtue of their significance. When many separate disciplines arose examining the hadith from myriad perspectives, all of these were collectively referred to as Ulum al-Hadith. Author of one of the first works in the field of the Hadith Sciences, Hakim al-Nisaburi (d. 1014 CE), titled his book Ma’rifat Ulum al-Hadith. Ibn al- Salah (d. 1245 CE) penned the most important work examining the Hadith Sciences, entitled Ulum al-Hadith. Topics expounded in these works such as sahih hadith and hasan hadiths have each been accepted as separate disciplines, for there are a great number of sub-branches and literature which have accumulated under each.



In the same way that the words and sayings of Allah’s Messenger are referred to as hadith, the words of the Companions regarding an incident involving him or reporting one of his actions has also come to be known as hadith. The Prophet’s words, his actions, and decisions as well as the practices that he approved of, allowed or condoned, and reports pertaining to his disposition and character have also been included in this category. For instance, the Messenger of Allah has said, “The Prayer performed without the prescribed ablution is not accepted.”1 This saying is a Tradition that Abdullah ibn Umar heard from the noble Prophet and narrated. Ali’s 1 narration that “The Prophet performed ablution three times (for each limb),”( Sunan at-Tirmidhi, Tahara,) is again a hadith attributed to the Messenger of Allah, for it is Ali’s report indicating the Prophet’s behavior.



The word Sunnah, denoting such things as the visible part of the face, appearance, path, character and nature, has acquired a particular meaning in the Islamic scholarly tradition and has been used to refer to the path pursued by the Prophet in his life and in his actions. The term encompasses the willful actions or deeds of Allah’s Messenger; similarly, it also includes his morality, character and humanity. He is the greatest example for humanity, in his every aspect and manner. There are models of behavior for human beings in his every deliberate and unintentional action.

Alongside the widely accepted literal meaning of the word Sunnah“a way,” “road” or “path”is its being used to refer to a thing’s distinctive characteristics. The words, actions and behavior of the Prophet have become a path followed by human beings and the ostensible, pronounced characteristics of the religion have become known through the Sunnah.

The Sunnah are the words, practices and approvalscollectivelyof Allah’s Messenger, while the hadiths are the duly reported narrations that convey these words, actions, and approvals (taqrir). The Sunnah has been identified and recorded by means of the hadith. The Sunnah can only be known for certain in our day through the hadith. In other words, the Sunnah is known via the narrations of hadith scholars. Such being the case, in periods succeeding the Age of Happiness, the words Sunnah and hadith have more often than not been used interchangeably.

The word having a meaning opposite to the term Sunnah is bid’a, meaning something introduced later or an innovation contrary to religion. Over time, Sunnah also assumed sociological signification, with those dedicated to the way of the Prophet being known as ahl al-Sunnah (those devoted to the Sunnah) and opponents being called ahl al-bid’a (people of innovation in religion).



The word Sunnah has acquired different meanings across different disciplines. Every discipline has employed the term with a meaning suitable to its own particular methodology. Jurists have used Sunnah as the antithesis of bid’a as well as those narrations which serve as the source of legal rulings. According to them, hadith and Sunnah are in this sense synonymous. In books of Islamic jurisprudence, however, Sunnah is used to mean those religious commandments which are not religiously obligatory or necessary for human beings.

In Islamic legal theory, or methodology of fiqh, Sunnah represents the communications of the Prophet, outside the Qur’an, conducive to functioning as demonstrative evidence. Moreover, not being restricted to its evidential nature, Sunnah has also been defined as everything, other than the Qur’an, issuing from Allah’s Messenger.( Shatibi, Al-Muwafaqat, 4:1; M. Fethullah Gülen, Muhammad: The Messenger of God, 316)

The practice of the Companions has also been called Sunnah, for their practice could well be conveying a Prophetic practice that has not reached us in the form of a hadith.( Shatibi, Al-Muwafaqat, 4:2)  For this reason, the words and sayings of the Companions have been related by scholars of hadith (muhaddithin) along with their list of transmitters, like the hadith. The Companions’ devotion to the Sunnah led them to either seeking a particular practice of the Prophet in their every act, or to determining their way via independent reasoning (ijtihad) in accord with the Sunnah. Moreover, Allah’s Messenger himself enjoined his community to follow the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs who succeeded him: “Hold fast to my Sunnah and the Sunnah of the Rightly Guided Caliphs.”( Sunan at-Tirmidhi, Ilm, 16)



Among the revelations communicated to the noble Prophet, the words of which cannot be recited in worship, are the words ascribed to Allah. The Prophet conveyed these words from his Lord, to the people. These Traditions are referred to as Hadith Qudsi or Divine Hadith. For instance, Allah’s Messenger stated that Allah said, “My mercy prevails over My wrath.”( Sahih al-Bukhari, Tawhid, 15) These words are those belonging to Allah verbatim. However, as this statement was not revealed to the Prophet as part of the Qur’an, it is not a Qur’anic verse. Due to its wording not being communicated through revelation, it is also not of a miraculous nature with respect to its wording. As a result, it cannot be recited in place of the Qur’an during the Prescribed Prayer.

The words narrated by Allah’s Messenger as the words of Allah are juristically subject to the rules which apply to hadith. By means of adding His words among those of His Messenger, Allah the Almighty demonstrates the value and regard He places upon him and his Sunnah.



Those who best know the Sunnah’s importance are the Companions. They preferred adherence to the Sunnah to everything else. When Abu Bakr was appointed caliph, the Prophet’s daughter Fatima went to him and requested her share in the Prophet’s inheritance. Despite his loving the Prophet’s relatives more than his own, he reminded Fatima of something he had heard from Allah’s Messenger. He had heard something from the Messenger, which Fatima had not: “We, the community of the Prophets, do not bequeath anything. Whatever we leave is charity.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Khums, 1)  He thus declined Fatima’s request. Such was his faithfulness to the Sunnah that it had overcome even his own sentiment.

The Companions preferred the Sunnah to their own views and opinions. If there was a hadith in relation to a particular matter, they immediately followed it, and when they were made aware of a hadith that they had hitherto not known, they would instantly abandon their own views and adhere to that hadith. During his caliphate, Umar had embarked on an expedition to Syria for the purpose of inspecting the army. When he heard that pestilence had broken out in Amwas, he was undecided as to whether or not he should return to Medina. Abdu’r-Rahman ibn Awf said to him: “I heard the Messenger say: ‘If you hear that pestilence has broken out in a place, do not enter it. If you are in such a place already, do not leave it.’” Upon hearing these words, Umar returned without hesitation. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Tibb, 29)

Known for his sagacity and knowledge, Ali said in reference to wiping over indoor boots during the ritual ablution: “If the religion were based on opinion, it would be more important to wipe the under part of the shoe than the upper but I have seen the Messenger of Allah wiping over the upper part of his shoes.” ( Sunan Abu Dawud, Tahara, 63) With these words, he has drawn attention to the transcendental nature of religion and has expressed the importance of adherence to the Sunnah.

The Prophets are exempted by Allah from all kinds of sin and wrongdoing. Allah has sent down upon them His blessing and mercy and has commanded the believers to entreat Him for the Prophets and demonstrate their attachment to them with the following Qur’anic verse:

Surely Allah and His angels bless the Prophet (He always treats him with His special mercy, with the angels praying to Him to grant him the highest station of praise with Him, and for the decisive victory of his Religion). O you who believe, invoke the blessings of Allah on him, and pray to Allah to bestow His peace on him, greeting him with the best greeting. (Love and follow him with utmost sincerity and faithfulness, and give yourselves to his way with perfect submission). (al-Ahzab 33:56)

Deeming the fulfillment of the injunction in this verse a religious obligation, Muslim scholars have asserted that saying “peace be upon him” (alayhis- salam) when the names of Prophets are mentioned and “upon him be peace and blessings” (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) at the mention of Prophet Muhammad’s name, is indispensable.

Invoking the peace and blessings of Allah upon Allah’s Messenger at the first mention of his name is necessary (wajib), while recommended and rewarded (mustahab) at repeat mentions. Furthermore, such expressions of praise and devotion as “our master”, “noble Messenger” and “most illustrious Prophet”, in prefix to his name, at each and every invocation is demonstration of our reverence and respect to him.



1. Define the term “hadith.”

2. Which words are referred to as “hadith?”

3. Define the term Sunnah.

4. In what senses has the term Sunnah been used?

5. How must the Sunnah’s being revelation-based be understood?

6. In which Qur’anic verses is the word hikma (wisdom) used to mean Sunnah?

7. What are the characteristics differentiating Hadith Qudsi from other hadith?


Tekines, Ayhan. “An Introduction to Hadith” Tughra Books Press. January 2013.