By Ahmed Von Denffer
There is agreement among most Muslim scholars that the contents of the sunna are also from Allah. Hence they have described it as also being the result of some form of inspiration. [For details see kitab al-risala, by Imam al-Shafi’i, Cairo, n.d., especially pp. 28-9. In English: Khadduri Majid, Islamic Jurisprudence. Shafi’i’s Risala, Baltimore, 1961, chapter 5, especially pp. 121-2.]
The contents of the sunna are however expressed through the Prophet’s own words or actions, while in the case of the Qur’an the Angel Gabriel brought the exact wording and contents to the Prophet, who received this as revelation and then announced it, in the very same manner that he received it.
The difference between these two forms has been illustrated by Suyuti (following Juwaini) in the following manner:
‘The revealed speech of Allah is of two kinds: As to the first kind, Allah says to Gabriel: Tell the Prophet to whom I sent you that Allah tells him to do this and this, and He ordered him something. So Gabriel understood what His Lord had told him. Then he descended with this to the Prophet and told him what His Lord had told him, but the expression is not this (same) expression, just as a king says to someone upon whom he relies: Tell so-and-so: The king says to you: strive in his service and gather your army for fighting … and when the messenger (goes and) says: The king tells you: do not fail in my service, and do not let the army break up, and call for fighting, etc., then he has not lied nor shortened (the message) …
‘And as to the other kind, Allah says to Gabriel: Read to the Prophet this (piece of) writing, and Gabriel descended with it from Allah, without altering it the least, just as (if) the king writes a written (instruction) and hands it over to his trustworthy (servant) and says (to him): Read it to so-and-so. Suyuti said: The Qur’an belongs to the second kind, and the first kind is the sunna, and from this derives the reporting of the sunna according to the meaning unlike the Qur’an.” [Sabuni, tibyan, p.52]
It is generally accepted that the difference between Qur’an and sunna is as follows:
The ahadith from or about the Prophet Muhammad are:
The words or actions of a human being, and not the speech of God as the Qur’an is.
Not necessarily reported in tbeir precise wording, as the Qur’an is.
Not necessarily transmitted by tawatur, except in some instances.