Sunnatullaah - Sunnah of Allaah

The Qur-aan mentions a term “Sunnatullaah” and tells us that Sunnatullaah never changes. The question is what is Sunnatullaah that never changes. Some people take it as an isolated term (without any context) and then speculate that it means the laws of nature as we know and experience them. Then they conclude that because laws of nature as we understand them are the Sunnatullaah and the Sunnatullaah never changes, hence, nothing can happen in this universe against the known laws of nature. Using this logic they reject and deny any miracles shown by Allaah through any of His prophets.

Literally, Sunnah means someone’s consistent way of dealing with certain situations. Allaah’s Sunnah, then, is Allaah’s consistent way of dealing with certain situations. This being a Qur-aanic term, instead of speculating, let us go to the Qur-aan itself to find out how it uses this term and for what situations. Obviously, to understand the meaning properly, we cannot take the verses in isolation. We would have to look at the context as well. Following are the instances in the Qur-aan where the unchanging nature of the Sunnah of Allaah has been mentioned:

  1. “And indeed they (Makkans) are about to uproot you from the land (Makkah) to evict you from there, but then, they would not be able to stay there after you much longer. This has been the way (Sunnah) for Our messengers We sent before you, and you will not find any alteration in Our Way (Sunnah).” Banee Israeel 17:76-77

    In these two verses, which were revealed just before Hijrah (migration) of Rasoolullaah (the Messenger of Allaah) ŝall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, Allaah SWT is assuring him that just as He (Allaah) has always in the past ensured the safety and victory of His messengers and the destruction of their enemies, the same Sunnah of Allaah SWT will continue in the case of Rasoolullaah and his Makkan enemies. Here the Sunnah of Allaah refers to His policy of helping His messengers while eliminating those of their enemies who exceed all bounds and try to kill or evict a messenger. Consequently, just a year after his Hijrah, all those leaders of the Quraish who were instrumental in plotting against Rasoolullaah were killed at the battle of Badr.

  2. “There is not to be upon the Prophet any discomfort concerning that which Allaah has decided for Him. This has been the Sunnah of Allaah with those (messengers) who have passed before, and the decision of Allaah is a destined decree. (This Sunnah of Allaah has been applicable to all prophets) who convey the messages of Allaah, fear Him, and do not fear anyone except Allaah. And Allaah is enough to take account.” Al-Aĥzaab 33:38-39

    The context of these verses is that Allaah had commanded Rasoolullaah to marry Zainab to break an un-Islamic tradition. Rasoolullaah did as commanded being the most obedient servant of Allaah, though he was hesitant and reluctant, anticipating the vilification he would have to endure from the hypocrites and other enemies (and those attacks continue till this day). Through these verses, Allaah is reminding the world by addressing Rasoolullaah that Allaah’s policy (Sunnah) is that a messenger does not have a choice or an option. A messenger has to do what he is commanded, without being concerned about how the world would react.

  3. “If the hypocrites and those whose hearts (mentalities) are diseased and those who spread false, scandalous rumours in Madeenah do not stop, We shall incite you against them and then they will not be able to stay in this city as your neighbours for any length of time – they will be accursed, seized wherever found, and slain altogether. This is the Sunnah of Allaah in the case of those who passed away before, and you will not find any change in the Sunnah of Allaah.” Al-Aĥzaab 33:60-62

    In this case, Sunnah of Allaah refers to His policy of severely punishing those who persistently spread Fitnah[1] against a messenger and an Islamic society.

  4. “And they swore by Allaah their strongest oaths that if a warner came to them, they would be more guided than any of the nations before them. Yet when a warner came to them, it did not increase them except in aversion and, due to their arrogance in the land, in evil plotting; but the evil plot recoils only on the plotters themselves. Are they waiting to be dealt the way (Sunnah) former people were dealt with? Well, you will not find any change in the Sunnah of Allaah and you will not find any turning away in the Sunnah of Allaah. Have they not traveled through the land and observed what was the end of people before them, though they were superior to them in power? Nothing in the universe can escape Allaah’s control. He is All-Knowing, Omnipotent.” (Faaŧir 35:42-43)

    Once again, Sunnah of Allaah refers to the way Allaah deals with people who, due to their arrogance, reject a messenger, turn away from him and his message, and plot against the messenger. It gives Makkans a clear message that they will be dealt with exactly as it has always happened.

  5. “Have they (Arab Kuffar) not traveled through the land and observed how was the end of those before them? They (the people of the past) were more in number, were mightier in strength and left more significant traces than them, yet none of their achievements were of any avail. When their messengers came to them with Bayyinaat (clear proofs including miracles), (they rejected the messengers and laughed at their message because) they were happy and content with what they had of knowledge. However, they were ultimately surrounded by what they used to mock at. And when they saw Our punishment, they said, ‘we believe in Allaah alone and disbelieve in that which we used to associate with Him.’ But their faith was not going to benefit them once they saw Our punishment as that has been the way (Sunnah) of Allaah in dealing with His Slaves. Hence, the disbelievers lost utterly.” (Al-Mu’min / Ghaafir 40: 82-85

    Here, Sunnah of Allaah refers to His policy of not accepting the faith of people once the punishment appeared beyond a doubt right in front of them.

  6. “And if those (Makkans) who disbelieve were to fight you, they would certainly turn their back. Then they would not find a protector or a helper. This is the Sunnah of Allaah which has occurred before, and you will not find in the Sunnah of Allaah any change.” (Al-Fatĥ 48:22-23)

    Once again, these verses refer to the fact that the disbelievers would always turn their backs and run away in an actual battle against a messenger, and then there would be no place for hiding or for their protection. It reiterates the Sunnah of Allaah that eventually a messenger of Allaah would always be victorious.

These quotations clearly indicate that the Qur-aanic term ‘Sunnah of Allaah’ has been used in the Qur-aan only and only in reference to the way Allaah deals with His messengers and a messenger’s staunch opponents. Hence, the Sunnah of Allaah is the following:

  1. Allaah sends messengers with Bayyinaat (which include miracles) so that reasonable people can realize that this caller towards Allaah is not an ordinary person but a special person sent by Allaah as His representative who must be listened to and obeyed.
  2. Messengers do not have choice. They are obligated to do exactly as and what Allaah instructs them to do.
  3. Once a Messenger has done everything in his human power to bring people back to Islam, his blinded, bigoted or arrogant opponents and hypocrites are either subdued or destroyed and the messenger of Allaah succeeds in establishing a clean and pure Islamic state that functions according to the Deen of Allaah.
  4. When the punishment of Allaah comes to the staunch disbelievers, at that moment even their acceptance of faith does not help.

This is, according to the Qur-aan and its context, the “Sunnatullaah” that never changes, which in other words means that Allaah is consistent in His ways and that He does not deviate from His Sunnah. Allaah’s ways do not change, nor do they need to change, because all of His ways and decisions are based on His infinite knowledge and infinite wisdom and thus are infinitely perfect from the beginning, without ever needing any fine-tuning or adjustment.

Those people who deny miracles do not interpret this term (Sunnatullaah) in its Qur-aanic context, but treat it as an isolated term, outside of its context. Then, because the laws of nature operate consistently, they wrongly speculate that the laws of nature must be the Sunnah of Allaah. On the basis of this misunderstanding, they conclude that nothing can happen in this universe against the known laws of nature because Sunnatullaah does not change. Using this logic, they reject and deny any miracles shown by Allaah through any of His messengers because the miracles by nature are supernatural.

This reasoning shows that, in addition to Sunnatullaah, they do not even understand Taqdeer and the difference between Sunnatullaah and Taqdeer. Otherwise they would know that the Qur-aanic name for the laws of nature is Taqdeer, through which Allaah SWT has automated the operation of the universe and all His creations contained therein. They are applicable only to the creations of Allaah for whom they have been decreed. Allaah SWT can and does overrule them as and when He wants. On the other hand, Sunnatullaah is about Allaah’s own ways, not His creations; and thus has nothing to do with the laws of nature. Taqdeer (laws of nature) regulates the behaviour of Allaah's creations (in terms of automated processes), while Sunnatullaah describes Allaah’s behaviour. As shown above, the Qur-aan indicates it as Allaah’s own way of dealing with His messengers, the Islamic movements and their opponents. The miracles are very much part of this Sunnah of Allaah as they are used to introduce the messengers at the launch of the Islamic movement and to help them succeed eventually over their opponents. These roles of miracles as part of the Sunnah of Allaah are explained in detail in the next section.

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