Sunnah: Practical aspects

Q625 :A friend of mine said that only what the Prophet said is Sunnah. If he simply did something but did not state that people should do it, then it is not Sunnah. My argument is that everything the Prophet said or did is Sunnah. Please clarify.

A625 : Your friend's argument is perhaps more accurate. I will give you an example. Sometimes the Prophet read long passages of the Qur'an in his prayers. It is reported that once he read 26 pages of a surah in Maghrib prayer, dividing it between the two Rak'ahs. On another occasion, he was offering night worship alone when some of his companions joined him. It is reported that in the first rakah he read the three longest surahs in the Qur'an, which together are about one hundred pages. But when it was reported to him that an imam elongated his prayers, he was very angry. He spoke very strongly against making prayers very long and gave the example of a number of surahs suggesting that they are the appropriate length of any rakah in a congregational prayer. These surahs are about 10-12 lines each. This meant that the Sunnah is what the Prophet has said, but not what he did. On another occasion, he explained that further, stating that if a person is praying alone, he may elongate his prayer as much as he pleases, but if he is leading a congregation, he should make his prayer of reasonable length. There are certain things which the Prophet did as matters of personal choice or because they were normal practice in his society. They have no bearing on religious matters. Such practices include the wearing of a particular shape of clothes, or the wearing of a turban or a head-cover in prayer or in normal situations, or the use of kohl (or surmah) to darken his eyes. He did not suggest at any time that we should do likewise. Therefore, such practices remain his own personal choice. They are not Sunnah. However, if one follows the Prophet's example with no intention other than doing what the Prophet did, he will earn reward from Allah, not because he has done a Sunnah but because of his keenness to follow the Prophet's lead. To suggest that those practices are Sunnah, is to make them recommended to all people when the Prophet did not recommend them.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )