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Religion Library: Sunni Islam

Human Nature and the Purpose of Existence

Written by: Nancy Khalek

One of the most salient features of Sunni Islam is its emphasis on following and adhering to the custom and traditions of the Prophet (the Sunna). An essential aspect of this adherence is the emulation of Muhammad in everyday life. This, in part, is based on the general Islamic view that Muhammad represented the epitome of good character, that he was, in fact, sent as a prophet in order to teach people how to perfect their character.

Six core beliefs of Islam
  1. Reality of one God
  2. Existence of angels of God
  3. Authority of the books of God
  4. Following the prophets of God
  5. Preparation for the Day of Judgment
  6. Supremacy of God’s will

The idea of the Prophet as a model for behavior, ritual and otherwise, is an important part of Sunni devotion. Aside from the basic tenets to which all Muslim denominations subscribe, Sunnis prioritize cultivating a relationship with Muhammad as a guide for certain aspects of behavior based on the Sunna.  

Although worshipful Muslims often express their "relationship" with the Prophet as one based on affection or even love, this is not meant to imply that he is still alive or accessible to human beings.  Nevertheless, trying to be like Muhammad, following his moral example, is seen as the highest expression of reverence possible for any human being. In the Quran, Muslims are also instructed to imitate the Prophet since he was an example of the best character.

In the classical period of Islam, the codification of Sunni law included a categorization of different types of Sunna. After all, it was natural for Muslims to wonder how much they ought to try to be like the Prophet, how much their daily lives and existence had to mirror his, and what they were obligated to observe. It seemed unlikely that anyone would try to actually replicate Muhammad's life in toto, for he was always singled out and considered the "best of God's creation."

Sunni jurists' considerations regarding the extent to which the Sunna should or had to be imitated in the daily lives of Muslims created three general categories of Sunna. The first was the Sunna that had to be followed, namely that which pertained to acts of worship: how to pray, the rules for fasting in Ramadan, and the like. Then there was the category of Sunna that it was meritorious to follow, but was not obligatory: imitating the Prophet's manner of dressing, using his extra supplications (duaa) as a model for one's own, etc. Finally, there was the Sunna of the Prophet that the ordinary believer could not follow, such as receiving revelation (something Muhammad did with regularity for twenty-three years), or marrying more than four wives at once. This last category pertained to aspects of Muhammad's mission, and was not considered exemplary in the sense of establishing precedent for all Muslims to follow.

 

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