As-Salamu Alaykum (peace be upon you),
The Linguistic Meaning of Sunnah
Sunnah in the Arabic language (without any religious context) means a way or method which can have two states, either a good Sunnah or a bad Sunnah.
Religious Meaning of Sunnah
Another context in which the word Sunnah is used is whatever was reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, did, or permitted to do. These are recorded in the Hadiths.
Sunnah is Needed to Understand Islam
The Companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to take the ruling on different matters in their lives from the Quran, which they learnt from the Prophet (peace be upon him). In many instances, the Ayat (verses) of the Quran treat a subject in a general manner without a specific condition. Sometimes the Ayat (verse) will come as an absolute ruling without any precondition or limitation required by time, place, etc.
Salah (prayer) is a good example of this. The Quran does not mention how many Rak'ahs (units of prayer) we should make, or how to physically move during prayer, or the time for prayer.
Many times, the Companions faced situation that were not addressed in the Quran, and so there was a need to turn to the Prophet (peace be upon him) to know the ruling of such matters. It was the Prophet who was ordered by Allah to teach humanity, and it is the Prophet who is the most knowledgeable of mankind about that which Allah expects from us.
Allah said: "And We have sent down to you the Message; that you may explain clearly to men what is sent for them, and that they may give thought." [Noble Quran 16:44]
Allah also made it clear to us that the duty of the Prophet (peace be upon him) is to clarify the truth to people when there is a dispute:
"And We sent down the Book to you for the express purpose, that you should make clear to them those things in which they differ, and that it should be a guide and a mercy to those who believe." [Noble Quran 16:64]
Rights of The Prophet (peace be upon him)
1. Rights of the Prophet are the most important, after the rights of Allah. There is no human who has more rights than the Prophet. Allah said:
"Verily, We have sent you (O Muhammad) as a witness, as a bearer of glad tidings, and as a Warner. In order that you (O mankind) may believe in Allah and His Messenger, and that you assist and honor him (Muhammad)..." [Noble Quran 48:8-9]
2. Love for the Prophet should be more than one's love for himself, his children, family and worldly possessions. The Prophet said, what translated means:
"None of you will reach belief till I become dearer to him than his children, parents and all humans." [Bukhari & Muslim].
3. Respect and appreciation for him should be practiced in the best manner. Respecting the Prophet includes respect of and adherence to his Sunnah after his death. Due rights should be given to the Prophet without exaggeration. When one reads how the companions used to love and respect the Prophet, one knows the importance of this matter.
When Quraysh (the Prophet's tribe) sent Urwah Ibn Mas'ud to negotiate with the Prophet in the Hudaybiyah area, he was greatly impressed by how the companions treated the Prophet. He said,
"I have visited the kings of Persia, Rome and Abyssinia, but I have not seen any leader more revered and respected by his people than Muhammad. If he ordered them to do anything, they do it without delay. If he performs Wudu` (washing up for prayer) they all seek the remainder of the water he used. They never look at him in the eye, out of respect."
This is how the Prophet was treated by his companions. He was Allah's Messenger who possessed great qualities and the best of conduct ever.
4. Believing him in matters of religion and the past, present and future happenings he told us about. Adherence and submission to his orders are some of his rights. When a Muslim believes in the Prophet and wants to follow his religion, he must do so believing that the Prophet's way is the best way. Believing in the Prophet includes the affirmation that his religion is the best religion.
"Say (O Muhammad to mankind): If you love Allah then you follow me, Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." [Noble Quran 3:31]
Obligation to Follow The Prophet (peace be upon him)
1. It is an order by Allah to take the Prophet (peace be upon him) as the judge in all matters.
"But no, by the Lord, they can have no (real) Faith, until they make you judge in all disputes between them, and find in their souls no resistance against your decisions, but accept them with the fullest conviction." [Noble Quran 4:65]
2. Allah also mentioned that the Prophet (peace be upon him) was given the Quran and Wisdom to teach people the regulations of their religion:
"Allah did confer a great favor on the believers when He sent among them an apostle from among themselves, rehearsing to them the Signs of Allah, sanctifying them, and instructing them in Scripture and Wisdom, while, before that, they had been in manifest error." [Noble Quran 3:164]
3. Those who follow the Prophet (peace be upon him) are the ones who prosper as Allah said:
"Those who follow the apostle, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own (scriptures),- in the law and the Gospel;- for he commands them what is just and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as lawful what is good (and pure) and prohibits them from what is bad (and impure); He releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them. So it is those who believe in him, honor him, help him, and follow the light which is sent down with him - it is they who will prosper." [Noble Quran 7:157]
4. Direct order from Allah to follow what the Prophet (peace be upon him) orders is found in this Ayat:
"...And whatsoever the Messenger (Muhammad) gives you, take it, and whatsoever he forbids you, abstain (from it), and fear Allah. Verily, Allah is severe in punishment." [Noble Quran 59:7]
5. Allah has also made the obedience of The Prophet (peace be upon him) in conjunction with the obedience to Him:
"And obey Allah and the Messenger, that you may obtain mercy." [Noble Quran 3:132] and "He who obeys the Messenger, obeys Allah." [Noble Quran 4:80]
6. Allah warned us from not following the instructions of the Prophet (peace be upon him):
"Then let those beware who withstand the Messenger's order, lest some trial befall them, or a grievous penalty be inflicted on them." [Noble Quran 24:63]
7. Allah told us that disobeying the Prophet (peace be upon him) is Kufr (disbelief):
"Say: Obey Allah and His Messenger.: But if they turn back, Allah love not those who reject Faith." [Noble Quran 3:32]
8. It was never allowed by Allah (that a believer disobey the Prophet (peace be upon him) order:
"It is not fitting for a Believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by Allah and His Messenger to have any option about their decision: if any one disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he is indeed on a clearly wrong Path." [Quran 33:36]
9. Not following the ruling of the Prophet (peace be upon him) when a dispute occurs is a sign of hypocrisy, Allah says:
"They say, We believe in Allah and in the apostle, and we obey; but even after that, some of them turn away; they are not (really) Believers. When they are summoned to Allah and His apostle, in order that He may judge between them, behold some of them decline (to come)....The answer of the Believers, when summoned to Allah and His Messenger, in order that He may judge between them, is no other than this: they say, "We hear and we obey"; it is such as these that will attain felicity." [Quran 24:47-51]
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As-Salamu Alaykum (peace be upon you),