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Hadith and Sunnah

The Hadith are the records of Prophet Muhammad's teachings, deeds, and sayings, as noted by his Companions; the Sunnah refers to the traditions and practices of the Prophet Muhammad documented in the Hadith.

Literally, the words Hadith and Sunnah have two distinct meanings:

Hadith refers to the sayings of Prophet Muhammad, while Sunnah refers to his actions along with the pre-Islamic practices of which he approved, in other words his way of life. However, the Hadith and Sunnah have used interchangeably because of their slight differences.

The concept of Hadith, the sayings, and actions of the Prophet Muhammad, serves as a primary source of religious guidance and understanding of the followers of Islam, the Muslims. Over centuries, scholars have diligently studied, compiled, and authenticated these traditions.

The Companions of Prophet Muhammad, paid great attention to preserving his sayings and actions until these were evaluated and compiled in written form during the 8th and 9th centuries, generations after Prophet Muhammad’s death, after the end of the era of the Rashidun Caliphate, over 600 miles (1,000 km) from where Prophet Muhammad lived.

Compilation of the Hadith

During the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad there was no pressing need to write down all his sayings or to record his actions because he was present and could be consulted at any time. Though there was no regular compilation of the traditions, for they were not generally recorded in writing. However, according to early practice in Arab society these were orally transmitted, with great accuracy of detail.

The Companions of the Prophet Muhammad memorised his sayings and actions. In addition to memorisation, many Companions wrote these down in their personal collections. The Hadith were passed down to the students of the Companions and subsequently down to their students. Several early Muslim scholars collected and recorded these into compilations which have become widespread and are the main sources of the Hadith today.

The Importance of Hadith

Islam has two primary sources. First is the Qurʾan which is considered by Muslims the direct word of God (Allah) revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. The second source is the Hadith is the compilation of the teachings of Prophet Muhammad that include his sayings, actions, and matters that he approved of or did not object to.

The overwhelming majority of Muslims consider the Hadith to be essential supplements to and clarifications of the Qur’an, the Holy Book of Islam. Without the Hadith, the Qur’an loses its context and meaning. Without the Hadith the verses in Qur’an may not always be easy to understand.

The Qurʾān is a rather concise book and therefore contains many general statements. The Hadith serve as a source of guidance for Muslims in their daily lives. For example, the Qurʾān commands Muslims to pray, but it does not provide the details of how one is to perform prayer. The Qurʾan also commands Muslims to perform pilgrimage and give charity, but it does not provide the details. The details for both are in the Hadith that records the details and procedure explained by Prophet Muhammad.

In Islamic jurisprudence, the Qur’an contains many rules for the behaviour expected of Muslims and in matters of Shari’ah considered as Islamic law.