The differences Between “Sunna” and “Hadith”
In a previous article on The Meaning of “Sunna” in the Qur’an, I explained how this term developed the technical meaning of the way of life of Prophet Muhammad. In an earlier article on The Meaning of “Ḥadīth” in the Qur’an, I discussed that this term developed the specific meaning of reports about the Sunna of the Prophet.
The terms “Sunna” and “Ḥadīth” are often used interchangeably. This use is inaccurate. As I explained, “Sunna” denotes what the Prophet said, did, approved, and disapproved of, explicitly or implicitly. “Ḥadīth,” on the other hand, refers to the reports of such narrations.
Furthermore, while “Ḥadīth” and “Sunna” are used synonymously because the Ḥadīth literature is the main source of the Sunna of the Prophet, it is not its only source. There are two others sources. First, practices of the people of Medina were considered to have come from the Prophet. Medina is the city where the Prophet lived his last ten years, where most legislations of the new religion were revealed in the Qur’an or devised by the Prophet, and where the first three caliphs and most Companions continued to live. The assumption, which was effectively promoted by Mālik bin Anas (93/715-179/796), is that Medinese practice could not have come from other than the Prophet. Even what is attributed to Companions is linked to the Prophet on the assumption that these elite Muslims could have only behaved and legislated in accordance with what they learned from their Master. Malik even rejected ḥadīths that contradicted the established practices of the people of Medina.
The third source of Sunna is the biography of the Prophet or “sīra.” The Prophet’s oldest surviving and most accepted biography is by Ibn Hishām (d. 218/833), which is a freely edited version of Ibn Isḥāq’s (d. 151/768).
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