The Sunnah: Influence on Islamic Beliefs & Daily Life

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  • 0:01 What Is the Sunnah?
  • 1:46 Role in Islamic Law
  • 2:50 Role in Daily Life
  • 3:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

The Sunnah is a collection of guidance rules for Muslims that helps them in almost every imaginable situation, from what to have to eat during holidays to how to pray. It is also very important in Islamic Law.

What is the Sunnah?

Like many religions, Islam required a certain code of conduct for its believers. However, few religious traditions were quite as precise with the requirements as Islam. Much of this is because the earliest Muslims tended to be sure to record as much as they could about the life of the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, and use it as a guide for their own lives.

The examples of the Prophet Muhammad make up the Sunnah, an important source of guidance for not only every Muslim, but also for Islamic law. A very large number of these examples were written down to make them easier to remember in huge collections of books. These collections are known as the Hadith, and it is from these collections of the Sunnah that much of Islamic Law is based.

As you can imagine, when someone tries to record almost everything a person does, says, or allows to happen, the resulting number of entries can be massive. Whereas the Qur'an is only a few hundred pages long, entire bookshelves can be taken up by only one collection of the Hadith! Just to make sure we all understand, the example of the prophet is called the Sunnah, and the books that recorded them are the Hadith.

Of course, someone could say just about anything comes from Muhammad, and early Muslims recognized this. Therefore, every entry in the Hadith is also accompanied by a list of every person by whom the transmission was passed. If this is starting to sound like the possibility of a bad game of Telephone, you are having the same feelings that early Muslims had: once they started to write them down, they graded each and every entry into the Hadith for strength based on the trustworthiness of the people in the chain of transmission, as well as how much sense the saying itself made. In any case, Muslims today only use Hadith that they feel comfortable using.

Role in Islamic Law

The most important use of the Sunnah is in Islamic Law, the legal system by which many Muslims run their lives. In fact, many countries use Islamic Law to govern, so this means the Sunnah is even more important. In fact, after the Qur'an, the Sunnah is the most important place for Muslims to find rules, or even hints, about what Islamic Law says about a given situation.

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