difference between sunnah and hadith
difference between sunnah and hadith

What Is The Difference Between Sunnah And Hadith?

Hadith and Sunnah are concepts in Islam that are often misinterpreted and misunderstood. Both terms have similarities but different connotations and also different status in Quran. In fact, assigning similar meanings to Hadith and Sunnah could create complications for some Muslims.


What is the difference between sunnah and hadith? This article attempts to differentiate between the two concepts by highlighting their features.

What Is The Difference Between Sunnah And Hadith?

Sunnah is always an act of the prophet, SAW, while a hadith is a report of his statement, act, silent approval or an incident that took place in his life. Sunnah has come down to us from generation to generation while hadith has been reported, in most cases, by one individual to another.

Thus the act that qualifies as sunnah is undoubtedly authentic — quite as authentic as the Quran itself — while hadith, at best, carries a strong probability that it may have been correctively reported.

This is because God Almighty arranged the two sources to be the way they are: He arranged sunnah to remain completed beyond doubt, because it was to be a part of His last message and allowed hadith to be a human effort at preserving information about the prophet.


Sunnah is clear in what it stands for where as the context of a hadith had to be understood (and therefore interpreted) by all the narrators involved in the chain of transmission. The process of interpretation has also got to be done now by whoever is to benefit from a hadith.

Sunnah has to be religious because the prophet, alaihissalaam, like all other prophets, came to give God’s message in the form of religion to mankind.

Sunnah is always authentic while Hadith can be authentic as well as spurious. Hadith have been written and interpreted by scholars of Islam. Thus, these are dependent upon their ways of thinking, their character, and their memory and intellect.

Sunnah has been passed on from one generation to another, so there is little chance of any error. Sunnah are related with certain aspects of life while Hadith are not confined to certain aspects of life.

Sunnah means a path that has been trodden and treats Prophet as a messenger of the almighty.


As for the question as to how can we distinguish a sunnah from a non-sunnah in the literature of hadith, we’ll have to look for practices that are mentioned in hadith which are also being universally followed amongst Muslims as such.

Prayers, Jumu’ah prayers, funeral prayers, bathing of the dead and many other practices are the ones that are mentioned in hadith and Muslims have adopted them in their lives as a part of their religion.

Interestingly, this test of universality is the best guide in knowing the antithesis of sunnah — bid’ah — as well.


If there is a practice that has gotten introduced in the name of religion in a certain region but is on confined to a certain region alone, it is a bid’ah, like the rituals performed in the subcontinent after the death of a dear one.

We know that the prophet, alaihissalaam, travelled on the backs of camels, horses, and donkeys; he advised people to resort to the medicines that were available during his times; he had his own taste for dishes which were different from the tastes of others; and he fought battles with swords and other forms of equipment of warfare that were available during his times.

Muslim scholars have never considered any of these acts of him as sunnah, because they have nothing to do with religion.

At times, there can be a difference of opinion on certain acts of his whether they were religious or not. This difference of opinion occurred during the time of the prophet as well. In such cases, it seems that the following criterion would help.

Related: What Are The Difference Between Dua And Surah?

What Is Sunnah?

The word Sunnah has been used in Quran as the Sunnah of Allah which makes clear the implication of the term. It literally means a path that has been trodden; a path that is smooth and beaten.

The Almighty did a great favor upon the believers or the faithful by sending his prophet who took upon himself the job of instructing and purifying the people in the ways of Allah.

The teachings of the prophet and the ways of dealing with friends and family could be deemed to have Allah’s approval or seal. In every sphere or walk of life, what prophet says, or to what he gives his tacit approval, serves as a guide for us.

Through actual practice in his life, prophet has demonstrated to us the rules of conduct in Islam that are of great significance and importance.

However, the role of the prophet is certainly much more than that of courier who has been chosen to deliver the sayings of Allah as he also performs the role of the interpreter as well as teacher.

Though the basic laws regarding zakat, umrah, fast, prayers, pilgrimage etc. have been laid in the holy Quran, there are no details pertaining to these subjects in the Quran. This is where the Sunnah of the Prophet comes in handy for the faithful.

What Is Hadith?

Hadith is the tacit approval of the prophet to a behavior or way of doing. There are scholars in Islam called Muhaddithin who talk about two classes of Hadith namely Kahabar-i-Tawatur and Khabar-i-Wahid or multiple evidence Hadith and single evidence Hadith.

According to these scholars, Hadith is taswib or the approval of the prophet. If a follower acted in a particular manner in the presence of the Prophet who did not say a thing and also did not disapprove of the behavior, it was considered as an approval of the prophet.

In general, Hadith is the narration of Prophet’s life and what he approved of in his life. Hadith literature is Islamic literature that contains narrations of the life of the Prophet and all things that he approved.


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