So I was thinking and deliberating about this point regarding Sunnah and Hadith and how these two terms are used almost interchangeably and synonymously in many discussions and circles. Sometimes this leads to confusion and blurring of lines to identify the issue at hand. This might even have implications on the way we perceive the structure and sources of Deen. I have listened to some discussion regarding Sunnah but found only very few mentioning or separating these two terms.

If we try to define these maybe this would clear up the distinction a little bit:

(First of all when I say "Sunnah" this is referring to the technical meaning of this word and not the usual literal meaning which can be applied to any habit or action)


"The practice or action oriented part of the Deen. The set of practices and rituals which the Holy Prophet (saw) revived and instituted as a part of Islam and taught the first generation of Companions. This first generation then passed on these practices and rituals to the later generations and part of Ummah along with their overall essential (and maybe coarse) details. Examples include:

  • Salat
  • Hajj
  • Zakat
  • Saum etc.

The essential parts of these practices were transferred authentically via 'tawatur' (continuity) and 'ijma' (consensus) of the entire first generation of Companions and henceforth the later Ummah. Hence we see there are a few opinions/differences regarding the details of these practices but overall structure is agreed upon in the entire Ummah as a bulk. This kind of transmission is authentic and is like the transmission of Holy Quran which is transmitted via very authentic and sound means and also has 'ijma' and 'tawatur' of the entire Ummah from the very first generation of Companions.

The very noteworthy part about Sunnah is that the Prophet(saw) made sure that these get learned and later on transmitted to the whole ummah as part of his responsibility to convey the deen of Islam."


"These are the collections of the sayings and actions and circumstances of the life of the Prophet(saw) which he said or did during his lifetime (if we exclude other small details present about companions for now). Hence these might include details about instances where the Prophet(saw) himself practiced some part of the "Sunnah" in his very excellent manner. Other parts maybe relevant to the circumstances of the time and conversations and sayings about those.

Hadith was primarily an oral and written record of these sayings and actions. Though orally the record started from the first generation of Companions itself (maybe a few written fragments as well) but it did not enjoy the same level of 'tawatur' or 'ijma' of the entire first generation or ummah. Rather this was present with individual companions who voluntarily remembered or wrote down some part of the sayings and actions of the Prophet to whom they had access to and themselves experienced and were inclined to remember and pass on to later people.

The "authentic" collections which we now have of Hadith started getting compiled in the second and third centuries of Hegira.

The very noteworthy part about Hadith is that the Prophet(saw) did not enjoin or encourage the Companions as a whole to remember or write them down in order to pass onto later generations as part of his responsibility to convey the deen. He left it to the volition of interested individuals"

As a corollary to the above distinction made it can be said that the essentials/mandatory elements of Deen are all covered as part of Sunnah (without the necessity of Hadith)

So what are your thoughts regarding above distinction and the way it alludes to about the authentic sources of Deen? Are there any missing points/points of confusion that you see in the above? How much of this seems sound and agreeable?


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.