The Islamic faith, and Muslim believers in general, follow a particular set of spiritual, religious, and ethical guidelines that are based on a number of different sources, one of which is known as “Sunnah” or sometimes “Sunna.” The term is used to refer to the social, legal, and ritual customs of those who practice this faith. It is used in part to determine Sharia law, a set of religiously motivated laws forming another strong part of Muslim tradition. Along with Sunnah, the Islamic faith looks to their holy book–the Quran–and the words of the Prophet Muhammad–Hadith–for guidance.
Before Islam, sunnah meant simply the manner in which someone acted. It had no further connotation attached. Now, it is based on living a life of high moral standing, and helps those who practice Islam denounce evil and those who take part in what they perceive to be immoral lifestyles.
A large part of sunnah involves adherence to Muhammad’s example, as he is firmly believed to be a messenger of God.
Interestingly, all sunnah revolving around the life of the Prophet was not recorded during the time in which he lived, but collected no less than two centuries after his death. Even Muslim historians account for the possibility that the authenticity of this facet of the sunnah tradition is flimsy at best. We only know so much about Muhammad, and we can only follow his example so much. But part of the Islamic faith is just that–faith. They live their lives the best they can according to the strongest code they could hope to make or follow.
The types of sunnah are broken down in three parts as follows:
Sunnah Qauliyah is the first, previously noted as hadith. Sunnah Fi’liyyah is the second, and more precisely denotes what Muhammad actually did (whereas hadith is what he said). Sunnah Fi’liyyah is not only based on his religious actions, but also on any others he appeared to have made during his travels. The third type is Sunnah Taqririyyah, which attempts to discern those actions for which the Prophet approved or simply did nothing to oppose (seen as a more passive type of approval to those of the faith), and those which were met with his disapproval.
Sunnah has benefits that perhaps anyone could (and should) approve of, including the custom of eating healthy and maintaining the delicate balance between eating what is good for you and eating too much of anything (which could be bad for you no matter what). Because of this, a list of Muhammad’s favorite foods was developed to help people find the right ones. The big twelve are: dates, figs, barley, honey, grapes, milk, melon, pomegranate seeds, mushrooms, olive oil, vinegar and, of course, water. All of these have obvious benefits to maintaining good health and a strong immune system, and most people can easily incorporate them into their diet no matter where they live.
As with all religions, there are certain Islamic sects that maintain more strict sunnah traditions, while some deviate slightly. Different canonical literature helps separate the various beliefs into different collections which can be helpful for learning the similarities and differences between them. In essence, sunnah is a way of life for Muslim people–but many parts of this way of life are appreciated and followed by millions of people who have no idea they’re doing it.