What were the motives for the establishment of the sunna?
The Qur’an urges Muslims to follow the Sunna
God commands in the Qur’an:
Whatever the Messenger brings you, adopt it and whatever he
forbids you, refrain from it; fear God and seek His protection, surely God
is He Whose punishment is severe. (al-Hashr, 59.7)
Besides communicating the Qur’an to people, God’s Messenger, as explained
earlier, expanded on it through his words and conduct, applied it in
practical life, and made new rulings to establish the perfect Islamic life.
The word whatever in the verse above covers all permissions and prohibitions
and explanations whether relating to the Qur’an, which is called the
Revelation Recited, or to the Hadith, the Revelation Unrecited. The
Messenger never spoke on his own, whatever he spoke was a Revelation
revealed, or an inspiration inspired. The verse above sternly warns the
Muslims to obey the Messenger and proclaims that a Muslim can deserve God’s
protection only by carrying out the Prophet’s orders and refraining from
what he prohibited. Aware of this fact, the Companions were very attentive
to his speeches and very careful in carrying out his commands.
A Muslim can obtain God’s good pleasure and attain true bliss in both
worlds only by following the example of the Prophet, upon him be peace and
blessings. The way the Prophet established leads man, bewildered in tumults
of life and lost through the zigzags of deviation, to safety and eternal
happiness. The Qur’an declares:
Surely, there is for you a most excellent example in the
Messenger of God, for him who aspires to God and the Last Day, and mentions
God oft. (al-Ahzab, 33.21)
God’s Messenger himself encourages the Muslims to learn his
The Companions, may God be pleased with them all, knew very well what
they needed to do in order to be saved from eternal punishment and to
receive God’s blessing, so they showed great zeal in memorizing and
recording the Prophet’s sayings. They heard him pray:
[On the day when some faces will be radiant and some mournful], may God
make radiant [with joy and happiness] the face of the one who has heard a
word from me and, preserving (memorizing) it, conveys it to others.26
According to another version, he prayed:
May God make radiant the face of the servant who has heard my speech and,
committing it to memory and observing it in his practical life, conveys it
The Companions also knew very well that only by following the Sunna,
could they deserve the intercession of the Prophet, who said:
On the Day of Judgment, I will put my head on the ground and pray to God
for the forgive-ness of my nation. I will be told: ‘O Muhammad, raise your
head and ask, you will be given whatever you ask; intercede, your
intercession will be accepted.’28
God’s Messenger used to speak distinctly and sometimes repeat his words
so that his audience might be able to commit them to memory.29 He taught
them the supplications or recitation other than the Qur’an with the same
care and emphasis as he taught the Qur’an.30 As explained above, he urged
his Companions to communicate to others what they heard from him and teach
others whatever they knew. He threatened those who conceal their knowledge
with the punishment of Hell:
If a man is asked about something he knows and he conceals it, a bridle
of fire will be put on him on the Day of Judgement.31
We read the same threat in the Qur’an:
Those who conceal what God has sent down of the Book and sell it for a
little price, they do not eat in their bellies but the fire; God shall not
speak to them on the Day of Resurrection, nor shall He purify them; for them
is a painful torment. (al-Baqara, 2.174)
Urged to learn the Qur’an and the Sunna and to teach both to others, and
fearful of the threat against those who concealed anything of what they
knew, particularly of the Qur’an and the Sunna, the Companions did their
utmost to commit to memory and record the Prophet’s sayings and actions in
order both to practice them and convey them to others. They also came
together and studied and discussed what they had already learned of the Book
and the Sunna. The Messenger himself encouraged them to do this:
If a group of people come together in a house among the houses of God and
recite from the Book of God and study it, surely peace and tranquility
descend upon them, (God’s) Compassion envelops them and the angels surround
them and God mentions them to those who are in His presence.32
26. Tirmidhi, “‘Ilm,” 7.
27. I. Ma’ja, “Muqaddima,” 18.
28. Bukhari, “Tafsir,” 2/1; Muslim, “Iman,” 322.
29. Bukhari, “Manaqib,” 23; Muslim, “Fada’il al-Sahaba,” 160.
30. Muslim, “Salat,” 61; Abu Dawud, “Salat,” 178.
31. Tirmidhi, “‘Ilm,” 3; I. Ma’ja, “Muqaddima,” 24.
32. Muslim, “Dhikr,” 38; I. Ma’ja, “Muqaddima,” 17.