What is sunnah? What does sunnah means?
This is the term used for the actions and practices of the Prophet (pbuh). There are two types of Sunnah: Sunnah al-huda and Sunnah al-zawaid. Sunnah al-zawaid are the acts of our Prophet, which had no relation to his preaching or message. They are rather his actions that he did as a human being.
Sunnah al-huda is further divided into two sub-categories: Sunnah al-mu’akkadah and Sunnah ghayr al-mu’akkadah.
Sunnah mu’akkadah: These are the acts that the Prophet (pbuh) performed often, and he rarely missed to do them, in order to show his followers that they are not binding actions commanded by a clear source. Such actions include recitation of the iqama before the obligatory prayers (for men), recitation of the adhan, praying in congregation, and performing the i’tikaf.
Sunnah ghayr al-mu’akkadah: Acts of worship that the Prophet sometimes performed and sometimes did not. For example, the sunnah cycles of the late afternoon prayer.
One may often see other terms such as mandub, nafila and mustahab used in place of Sunnah in the books of Islamic law. However, it should not be forgotten that there are some differences among these terms.
The term mandub is used for the acts that have been encouraged by Allah and His Messenger without any binding necessity to fulfill them. Examples include verses of the Qur’an that commands having witnesses present during a divorce, to give extension to a debtor, and to write down the business contracts are all considered mandub acts by most of the scholars.
This term means to do extra acts voluntarily even though there is no requirement for them to do them. For example, performing pre-noon (duha) prayer, etc.
Good deeds carried out voluntarily (tatawwu’) -other than the fard and wajib- that the Prophet encouraged, did at times and did not perform at other times. The first generations were very keen to carry out the mustahab acts with great ambition.
Source: Fiqh1 (According To The Shafi’i School Of Islamic Law), Erkam Publications