I have been a Muslim since birth, but my real journey in Islam began not so long ago. So please forgive my question if it is naive.

How is the Sunnah different to the Hadith?

I know that when the Prophet (PBUH) was chosen by ALLAH, he was the perfect Muslim and lived the perfect life of a Muslim.

And when he was alive, he said, responded and did many things - which firm the basis of the Sunnah.

The hadiths/ahadith as I understand it, are observations and recordings of how the Prophet (PBUH) lived, what he said, what he answered and responded to when asked, etc. And that most of the hadiths were recorded after Muhammad's (PBUH) passing.

Then I have read that the hadiths are also based on the Holy Koran, Sunnah and third party (but reputable sources) observations.

Please forgive me. I am confused.

Can anyone tell me:

  1. What is the Sunnah?
  2. What are the Ahadith?
  3. How they differ? How they are similar?
  4. Are there any firm references to the Sunnah? The Ahadith are entrenched in a dozen or so fixed sources (not going into Sunni vs Shiaa differences here). Are there any firm books that act to be references for the Sunnah?

Many thanks brothers and sisters.

  • 1
    Possible duplicate of What is Sunnah?
    – Sayyid
    Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 1:29
  • A reminder that these terms have been changed and aren't in their original meaning. You have to understand them in 7th century Arabic, since that's when the Quran was revealed. Quran and 7th century Arabs never used 'Hadith' and 'Sunnah' for Prophet Mohammed. This came later.
    – Sayyid
    Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 1:31
  • Well i just would like to add that in many hadith collections there are sayings or narrations which don't have a narrator chain ending at something a sahabi (May Alalh be pleased with them) heard from the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) himself or saw him doing. So you may find some wisdom from sahaba or additions (explanations) from narrators!
    – Medi1Saif
    Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 6:13

1 Answer 1


This is an amazing question, and hopefully I can provide an answer that will clear your confusion.

What is the Sunnah?

Sunnah is what the Prophet (SAW) did on regular basis, said, or approved (approved an action that was done by the companions, whether he approved it verbally or did not object it). I will provide an example for each one.

  • a Sunnah that he (SAW) said: is basically any authentic Hadith that was narrated by the companions.
  • a Sunnah that he (SAW) did on regular basis: like Witr prayer or the 2 Rak'at before Fajr prayer, etc....
  • a Sunnah that he (SAW) approved: when the companions were eating a Lizard (those spiny-tails lizards) on the same table with the Prophet (SAW), he (SAW) did not eat from it, but at the same time he (SAW) did not stop them from eating it.

What are the Ahadith?

Ahadith are very similar to Sunnah; any narration of the 3 Sunnahs mentioned above is called a Hadith. Moreover, any incident that happened to the Prophet (SAW), even if it happened once, and was narrated by one of the companions is called a Hadith, like the Hadith of the journey of Ta'if or the Hadith of the night journey (Al-Mi'raj), we don't say the sunnah of Al-M'iraj or the sunnah of Ta'if.

How they differ? How they are similar?

Now, you could easily spot the similarity between Hadith and Sunnah from what I mentioned above; any authentic narration for any Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW) is a Hadith.

The difference is basically, from my own understanding, the context in which you use either one. I will give you some examples:

  1. How the Prophet (SAW) lived his life; how he used to eat, how he used to sleep, etc, is called Sunnah, we don't say this the Hadith of the Prophet, but we say this is the Sunnah (way of life) of the Prophet (SAW). However, and as I mentioned above, if that incident happened only once in the life of the Prophet (SAW), we say there is a Hadith from the Prophet (SAW) about this incident, we don't use the word Sunnah here.
  2. Following the rules of Sharia and not exaggerating or innovating anything new in the religion is called Sunnah, not Hadith.
  3. When talking about narrations, we use the word Hadith, not Sunnah. We say this Hadith is authentic and this one is weak, we don't say this Sunnah is weak.

Are there any firm references to the Sunnah? The Ahadith are entrenched in a dozen or so fixed sources (not going into Sunni vs Shiaa differences here). Are there any firm books that act to be references for the Sunnah?

I highly recommend a book called زاد المعاد في هدي خير العباد (Zad Al-Ma'ad) by Ibn Al-Qayyim as a very good reference for the Sunnah.

Please forgive me if I failed to answer your questions.

Indeed Allah knows best!

  • Please add that this is one of many 'Sunni sectarian' understanding and not supported by all Muslims.
    – Sayyid
    Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 1:34
  • 1
    Thank you brother/sister for your concise answer. It is very much appreciated.
    – Paul Metas
    Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 7:04
  • 2
    Sayyid, I did not understand what you referred to.
    – Atata
    Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 16:21
  • 1
    Anyhow your answer looks to be deemed as an appropriate and pretty detailed response. Jazak Allah Khaira. Commented Feb 9, 2016 at 7:22

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