The Sunnah (the actions, sayings and approvals of Prophet Muhammad, salallaahu alayhi wa sallam, is the second source of Islamic legislation and must be in complete agreement with the first source (i.e. the Quran).
The term Sunnah comes from the root word ‘sanna’, which means to pave the way.
Sunnah can be used to describe a path that people follow. In Islamic terminology, Sunnah applies to a prophetic way which includes references to the Prophet’s sayings, actions, approvals, physical features and character traits.
His actions pertain to anything he did, as authentically reported by the Companions, may Allah be pleased with them. His silence on different issues meant he didn’t oppose or mind what he saw, heard or knew of the actions or sayings of his Companions, and this means he approved of them. The Sunnah also includes everything authentically narrated concerning the Prophet's physical features and his traits.
The Quran and the Sunnah complement each other. Without the Sunnah, Islam is not complete, likewise without the Quran, Islam is not complete.
Actually, the Sunnah is so important that, without it, one cannot fully understand the Quran and Islam, or be able to apply them to his life. Both of these sources guide us to the right path.
The Quran is the word of Allah, whereas the Sunnah is its practical interpretation. The Sunnah also gives a full account of the life of the Prophet salallaahu alayhi wa sallam.
The Quran principally deals with basics. It is the Sunnah which gives the details and necessary explanations of Quranic injunctions. For instance, Allah Says in the Quran what means: "…Establish the prayer…” [Quran 2: 43] But it does not specify how the prayer has to be performed.
Even after knowing the details, it may not be possible to follow the divine injunctions contained in the Quran. For not everything can be properly understood by words alone. Therefore, the Messenger of Allah, salallaahu alayhi wa sallam, demonstrated before the believers how the prayer was to be performed.
Thus, not only did the Prophet, salallaahu alayhi wa sallam, inform the believers of the divine injunctions, but he also put these teachings into practice in all matters pertaining to religion and daily life. He, salallaahu alayhi wa sallam, himself practiced these injunctions scrupulously. His practice was not a private matter; it had the status of a detailed interpretation and application of the Quran.
Importance of the Sunnah
The Quran repeatedly reminds us of the importance of the Sunnah, enjoining us to strictly follow the Prophet, salallaahu alayhi wa sallam.
Allah, The Almighty, Says (what means): “…And whatever the Messenger has given you – take; and what he has forbidden you – refrain from…” [Quran 59:7]
Allah also Says (what means): "But no, by your Lord, they will not [truly] believe until they make you [O Muhammad] judge concerning that over which they dispute among themselves and then find within themselves no discomfort from what you have judged and submit in [full, willing] submission.." [Quran 4:65)
Again, Allah Says (what means): "It is not for a believing man or a believing woman, when Allah and His Messenger have decided a matter, that they should [thereafter] have any choice about their affair. And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger has certainly strayed into clear error." [Quran 33:36]
According to many verses in the Quran, the Muslim is bound to follow the Sunnah of the Prophet, salallaahu alayhi wa sallam. No one remains a Muslim if he does not accept the Prophet’s, salallaahu alayhi wa sallam, Sunnah.
The Sunnah is nothing but a reflection of the personality of the Prophet, salallaahu alayhi wa sallam, who is to be obeyed at every cost.
The Sunnah was not, as is generally supposed, a thing of which the need may have been felt only after the Prophet’s, salallaahu alayhi wa sallam, death for it was very much needed in his lifetime. The two most important religious institutions of Islam are the Prayer and Zakat (obligatory alms giving); yet when the injunction relating to Prayer and Zakat were delivered, and they were repeatedly revealed in both Makkah and Madeenah, no details were supplied. 'Keep up prayers' is the Quranic injunction, and it was the Prophet, salallaahu alayhi wa sallam, himself who, by his own actions, gave details of the prayer by saying: “Pray as you see me praying.” [Al-Bukhari]
Zakah is again an obligation frequently repeated in the Quran, yet it was the Prophet, salallaahu alayhi wa sallam, who gave the rulings and regulations for its payment and collection. These are two examples, but since Islam covers the entire sphere of human activities, hundreds of points had to be explained by the Prophet, salallaahu alayhi wa sallam, in word and deed.
The importance of the Sunnah, even as a second source of Islam, was an openly accepted issue by the Companions of the Prophet, salallaahu alayhi wa sallam. Whenever they couldn’t find a solution to a problem in the Quran, they would refer to the Sunnah. And they were the most diligent in preserving it for those who came after them.